A Tale of Two Suitors
a Futurama fanfic
There was a brief scuffle. Hands started to slip, shins struck knees, and then it was all over. The tangle of bodies collapsed in a groaning, protesting heap. After a moment's struggle, Philip J. Fry removed his hand from someone's armpit and got to his feet.
"Fry!" Turanga Leela held out a hand impatiently.
"Oh. Sorry," Fry said again. He pulled Leela out of the mess and helped her straighten out her ponytail. The others were left to fend for themselves.
"That's three in a row!" Amy Wong complained, fighting her way out of the knots. "What's with you?"
"It's not like you to lose focus during couples 3D Twister," Leela agreed, touching Fry's forehead in concern. "Are you feeling all right?"
Fry was saved from making up an excuse by the groan of the fourth player.
"A little help?" Kif Kroker was the only one left on the color-coded mat, but he had become so entangled in his own limbs that Fry had to count his hands and feet to make sure he hadn't left any behind. They all pitched in to get Kif's rubbery body back in the proper order.
As soon as he was back on his feet, the moss-green amphibiosan turned away to give Amy a kiss on the cheek. Fry scowled at the back of his head. Kif wouldn't look him in the eye anymore when the girls were around. So what if Fry winked at him a few times? It didn't mean Leela was going to catch on to their plan. It was hard to think of anything else when the professor was going to shuffle into the lounge any minute to announce-
"Strange news, everyone!" Hubert Farnsworth announced as he shuffled into the lounge. "We have a delivery! You're off to Wuvu 9!"
Amy let out a shriek of glee and squeezed Kif around the neck so tightly that his eyes bugged out. Fry choked on a gasp and cursed himself, but Leela had snapped into business mode and didn't notice.
"What's strange about that?" She took the slim envelope from Professor Farnsworth's wrinkled hands. Her own face wrinkled in disgust as she read the name printed on it. "Not Zapp Brannigan!"
"The very same!" the professor said happily. "You'll have another chance to pick up some tips on command, Leela."
"That's not all she'll be picking up!" hooted a voice from the conference room. "Wooooo!"
Leela rolled her eye, but Fry scowled as jealousy overrode his nerves.
"Bender!" he called out indignantly, slipping his arms around Leela's waist. "I'm right here!"
"Yeah, so?" replied the robot. "It's not my fault if one loser's not enough for your girlfriend."
"Why aren't we taking this to Zapp's ship?" Leela asked loudly, shrugging Fry aside.
"You're right, Leela," said the professor, nodding. "He'll want to be in on the argument."
"Not the argument! The package!" Leela waved the envelope in Farnsworth's face.
"Oh, he'll never fit in there," scoffed the old man, adjusting his glasses.
Leela groaned and returned her attention to the address. "What kind of planet is Wuvu 9, anyway?" she asked.
"Spluh!" Amy burst out, finally releasing her grip on Kif's neck. He collapsed on the floor, gasping. "It's only the most romantic planet in the universe!"
Fry choked again, coughing to cover any reaction that might have showed on his face. Leela glanced over at him.
"Are you sure you're all right?"
"Fine, fine." Fry glanced down at Kif, who was milking his desperate need for oxygen for all it was worth. Lucky lizard.
Leela glared at the package in her hands. "The last thing I want is to meet Zapp Brannigan in a place like that. Can't we just take it to the Nimbus?"
"We go where the customer wants," declared Hermes Conrad, entering the room. "Even if it's the farthest corner of the universe. Even if it's infested with barb-tongued fireanteaters. Even if it doesn't make any sense, the bold crew of the Planet Express delivery service will go there!" he proclaimed, laying a hand reverently over his heart.
"You already stamped the paperwork, didn't you?" said Leela.
"Stamped and filed," reported Hermes. "Now get going before I have to file an appeal to change the estimated time of delivery."
"Can I come?" asked Amy, bouncing on her feet in excitement. "It's the perfect chance to spend some special time with my Kiffy!" She reached down and gathered the green pool at her feet back into her arms. Kif's skin turned the color of Amy's sweatsuit as he sputtered in embarrassment.
"Like you're really short on 'special time' together," sneered Fry. "Kif's always giving you presents and taking you out on fancy dates." The last thing he needed was Amy and Kif being all gooey with each other when he had his own romantic plans to focus on.
"Yes, God forbid he do something sweet for the woman he loves," said Leela, fixing Fry with a pointed glare. "Come on, everyone. Let's go before Hermes has a chance to fill out any more forms."
Fry finally got a smile from Kif behind the girls' backs as they all filed into the corridor that led to the hangar. He grinned and gave his co-conspirator a thumbs-up. Leela didn't suspect a thing.
"I do appreciate you doing this for us, Fry," said Leela, "but I wish you had warned me so I could've brought something of my own to wear."
"I wanted it to be a surprise." Fry smiled at Leela across the tablecloth. The Fifth Moon was the most exclusive restaurant in the Wuvu system; he'd had to make their reservation six months in advance. He was dying to tell Leela about all the planning that had gone into this evening, but it still had to wait until after the big moment. In the jacket pocket of the suit he'd borrowed, Fry's fingers fiddled nervously with the small velvet box hidden there.
"Well, I'm certainly surprised." Leela picked up the champagne flute on her side of the table and watched a few bubbles drift upward through the golden liquid. "Real champagne, even. Not sparkling water at all. I feel underdressed."
On Wuvu 9, there was no shortage of boutiques and discount chains eager to provide lovers with everything they needed for the perfect date. Leela had found a little black dress hotter than almost anything Fry had ever seen her wear. The shuttle to the restaurant had been awkward, but now that they were seated, no one could tell she hadn't been able to replace her heavy boots.
"You look beautiful," said Fry, reaching across the table. "Those gloves really bring out your eye."
"Oh no! Should I take them off?"
"No!" Fry seized her hand. "I don't care what anyone else thinks. I love your eye. It's what makes you you."
"Thanks, Fry." Leela gave him a soft smile. "You know, I was starting to think you might be taking me for granted now that I finally gave in to your constant nagging. It's been so long since we went on a date that wasn't to Fishy Joe's."
Leela glanced wistfully to her left. Fry followed her gaze and scowled at Amy and Kif, who were seated beside a burbling fountain on the other side of the garden-themed Westview Room. As Fry watched, a Wuvunian approached and began to serenade Amy on the three-handed xylolin. It was just like Kif to show off by taking Amy to the same fancy restaurant, even when he was supposed to be helping Fry. He was always buying Amy flowers and camping out all night for tickets to special events that Amy could flaunt in Leela's face.
The truth was Fry had been living on Torgo's executive powder and noodle remnants for the past six months to save up the money for the ring. He was really looking forward to taking Leela on nice dates again without having to slip her the bill. He was looking forward to the buggalo steak he'd ordered even more, but he couldn't eat before getting rid of the butterflies swarming in his stomach. At least, he hoped those were butterflies.
A rosy glow was beginning to swell at the bottom of the arching glass beside their table. It caught Leela's attention, and she turned to watch the pale pink and blue curve of Wuvu 9's western hemisphere rise into view. Fry's scowl relaxed into a smirk. At least he could boast he'd secured a window seat. He gazed fondly at his girlfriend glowing in the light of the rising planet, the pastel surface of Wuvu 9 reflected in her large eye. His heart began to pound, and the fingers of his free hand slipped on the box in his pocket. He was lucky that Leela's gloves prevented her from feeling how sweaty his palms had become. After years of longing for her, Leela was finally his, and the perfect moment he'd been waiting for had arrived.
"What are you staring at?" demanded Leela, turning away from the view to look at Fry suspiciously.
"I want to remember you just like you are right now, right here," said Fry, a sudden rush of warmth in his heart keeping his voice from squeaking. He etched the entire scene into his memory: the bubbling champagne, the shining planet tinting Leela's violet hair with its light, the way her eyebrow arched as she wondered if he'd gone insane. "Because" - his fingers fumbled with the velvet box - "because-"
"Oh, Kiffy!" Amy's voice cried out from the other side of the room. "Of course I'll marry you!"
Fry's breath caught on the words that had been lined up and ready to exit his mouth. The box and its precious cargo tumbled from his limp fingers as he and Leela turned to see a kneeling Kif sliding a glittering ring onto Amy's finger. Applause and cheers broke out among the other patrons of the restaurant, and the xylolinist hurried over to play an encore.
"Aw, that's so sweet!" gushed Leela. On the other side of the table, the butterflies in Fry's stomach turned into a rolling mass of nausea that made him distantly relieved he'd been eating so little. He clutched at the edge of the table for support, then pulled himself to his feet and strode toward the happy couple on shaking legs, elbowing well-wishers of several species aside.
"Pardon me, Amy," he said bitterly, laying a heavy hand on Kif's shoulder. "I need to talk to my friend for a minute. To congratulate him. In the restroom."
Fry yanked Kif away from his beloved, who was too busy showing off her ring to an envious tentacled something at the next table to mind much. By the time they stopped in the service corridor outside the Westview Room the arm Fry had been pulling was a full foot longer than the other.
"What the hell are you doing?" Fry burst out as soon as they were alone.
"Do you think I should've waited until the dessert course?" fretted Kif, wringing his hands while his stretched arm slowly shrank back to its normal length. "I wanted to, but Amy looked so beautiful in the light of the planet, I couldn't help myself."
"So you asked her to marry you?" wailed Fry. "Couldn't you have at least let me go first?"
"You were going to propose to her?" Kif's face darkened to a deep reddish-green. "I may not be much of a fighter, but Amy's my Fonfon Smizmar Ru and I'm not about to let you-"
"Not Amy!" Fry interrupted, pulling at his own hair in frustration. "Leela! Did this lousy mushy planet make you forget our plan? You helped me set up the whole thing! You logged into Zapp Brannigan's old shipping account and ordered a package delivered here so I could surprise Leela with this dinner and ask her to marry me! Remember?"
"What? I thought you were helping me set this up so I could propose to Amy!"
"You're already married!" Fry cried. His hands twitched with a terrible urge to lock them around the squishy amphibiosan's skinny little neck.
"Well, technically yes," admitted Kif, "but the Fonfon Rubok ceremony is my species' way of doing things. I wanted to prove my undying love for Amy by renewing our vows in the human way."
"Shutupshutupshutup!" Fry seized the alien by his tuxedoed shoulders and shook him. "You're always making me look like a bad boyfriend! This was supposed to be my turn!"
"If Leela loves you, it doesn't matter if you show your affection differently," stammered Kif as his head flopped back and forth on his neck. "You could still ask her."
"I can't now," moaned Fry, letting go of Kif. "I may not be an expert on women, but I know they don't like to share their special days! It would be like getting a new spaceship, and then your neighbor gets a new spaceship! And it's bigger than yours! And he bought his before you did, in front of a whole restaurant of cheering people that made reservations six months in advance!"
"So it all comes down to spaceship size, does it?" said a voice that made the hair on the back of Fry's neck prickle and the bile in his stomach rise. "No contest. You know what they say about men with big ships. Overweight hulks that burn through fuel quickly, or... something."
Fry was already taking stock of the Fifth Moon's escape pods as he turned around to see a familiar figure looming behind them with its fists planted on its hips. Where that velour uniform went, disaster was never far behind.
"Zapp Brannigan? What are you doing here?"
"Investigating a fraud alert on my PayPal account," said the D.O.O.P. commander, glaring down his nose at Fry. "I thought I might have uncovered the missing link in the mail-order scheme hell-bent on tarnishing my reputation by sending me packages I didn't order. Like that plain brown crate from Skinemax Prime."
He glanced away long enough to cough heavily into his gloved fist.
"Anyway, now I see it was all a ploy to lure me here so you could challenge me for the hand of my beloved Leela," pronounced Zapp, resuming his defiant pose. "Well, I'm willing to send wave after wave of my own men to their deaths in the titanium mines to build a bigger ship than anything you could afford on your delivery boy salary."
"Don't bother," grumbled Fry. "I can't ask her now anyway. You weren't supposed to find out about any of this. Looks like Kif messed that up, too." He glared sideways at the bug-eyed alien beside him.
"Kif?" exclaimed Brannigan, staring past his previous target. "I didn't recognize you in that strange costume!"
"It's called a tuxedo," said the former lieutenant, folding his arms. Zapp looked Kif up and down, which didn't take long, and dropped his confident stance to rub the back of his neck.
"Well, this is awkward," he said.
"Not really," Kif replied evenly. "If you'll excuse me-"
"Please come back to the DOOP, Kif!" Zapp cried. He threw himself down on his bare knees at the alien's feet. Fry caught a glimpse of something beneath the commander's short tunic that made him long for the sterile comfort of a suicide booth.
"It's not the same without you!" Brannigan went on, clinging to the hem of Kif's dinner jacket. "The new guy doesn't even know how to perform Swedish massage!"
Fry clapped a hand over his mouth and edged around the pleading Zapp to flee the area before he threw up his own intestines. Once safely in the lobby, he leaned against the wall until his stomach stopped pitching. His hands automatically slid into his pockets, his fingers reaching for the object they'd been guarding obsessively for the past few restless hours.
The ring box was gone.
Fry's heart jumped into his throat. He'd dropped it when he got up to confront Kif. After a hurried apology to a lonely-looking cloud of vapor that had been drifting hopefully in his direction, Fry ran down the corridor and burst into the Westview Room. His eyes searched the floor frantically as he hurried across to the raised row of tables where Leela sat drumming her fingertips on the cloth beside her untouched salad.
To Fry's relief, the little black box was lying on the floor beneath his chair. He knelt down hurriedly and stuffed it back into his pocket before taking his seat at the table.
"What was that all about?" asked Leela, picking up her fork. "Did you drop something?"
"Uh. Crouton!" Fry blurted out. "You know how I love stale bread! Mm, mm!" He worked his jaw emphatically. "Can't let a single one go to waste!"
"I guess not," sighed Leela. She poked at her salad, but her attention drifted to the celebrating couple across the room. A robot in a top hat with an elegantly-welded fembot on his arm was buying Kif and Amy a fine bottle of wine while a sobbing Zapp disappeared through the door between two Omicronian bouncers.
Fry stabbed his lettuce so hard that the salad plate cracked. That should've been his free wine, and his Zuban cigar Kif was choking on. It had taken half a year to plan the perfect proposal, and now he had to come up with an even more perfect plan to get the ring out of his pocket and onto Leela's finger.
"What a great view!" Fry pressed his hands against the elastic surface of the bubble and gazed down at the countryside rolling along below them. "It's so much better now that I'm not heartbroken or falling to my death."
No matter how long he lived, Fry didn't think he'd ever stop being amazed by the wonders of the 31st century. He remembered blowing soap bubbles as a child, imagining floating inside one all the way up to the sky. Now he worked on a spaceship, was literally floating over a planet in a bubble, and was about to propose marriage to a mutant. The desert at sunset was breathtaking, but Fry had other thoughts fighting for attention inside his brain, like the rising price of Bachelor Chow and the ring box in the pocket of his red jacket.
"Isn't this the perfect date?" Fry turned to Leela, who was gazing silently over the landscape. It wasn't a fancy dinner on a fancy space station in fancy clothes, but Leela was still beautiful in the glow of an ordinary sunset. The fact that her everyday clothes were skintight pants and a tank top didn't hurt, either.
"It is nice," Leela admitted, watching the clouds drift by. "The asteroid mini-golf, the soap bubble ride... It's been fun, but kind of... familiar."
"Familiar's good, though, right?" Fry edged closer and slid one arm around his girlfriend's waist, getting a confident grip on the ring box with his other hand. This was one plan that couldn't possibly fail. They were floating in the air, alone for a mile in every direction. "Nice and cozy and fam - Ow!"
Something struck the back of Fry's neck. The bubble popped.
Fry and Leela clung to each other and screamed as they plummeted toward the ground. Having been in worse situations, Fry kept his head enough to clamp one hand over his pocket as the ring threatened to escape. Unfortunately, that meant he had only one arm with which to hold on to Leela. The wind tore them apart, and Fry could only hope Leela would be all right as he tumbled headlong into the cushioning embrace of a patch of bramble bushes.
Ten seconds later Fry was stumbling to his feet, pulling twigs out of his hair and thorns out of his rear. "Leela!" he called anxiously, limping out of the brush.
"I'm over here! This giant velour mattress broke my fall."
Fry emerged from behind a large rock to see Leela climbing off what was indeed a large mattress in the middle of the desert, fully made up with velour sheets and an abundance of pink pillows. Odd, but Fry shrugged and hurried forward, reaching into his pocket. It would come in handy if she said ye-
"Leela! I'm so glad you're all right!" A burly figure in red unfolded itself from the nearby bushes.
"Zapp Brannigan?" cried Leela in disbelief.
"The very same!" declared the D.O.O.P. commander. "I see you've been as fixated on me as I have."
Fry gaped at the intruder for a moment, then frowned as he spotted Zapp kicking a blowgun back under the bushes with his heel.
"Well, isn't this a suspicious coincidence," said Fry, narrowing his eyes.
"Yes, how fortunate I just happened to be here, and with this lovely bed to cushion the lovely Leela's lovely body," Brannigan crooned in a voice like rotten honey. He sidled up to Leela, who looked unimpressed as he puffed out his chest. "How about showing your gratitude by helping me break in these new sheets? OOF!"
Zapp doubled over as Leela planted her heavy boot firmly in the softest part of his stomach, a target she knew well from experience.
"Come on, Fry." Leela grabbed her boyfriend by the arm and dragged him away from the gasping officer. Fry limped along as fast as he could, eager to put some distance between them and Zapp but still pulling thorns out of various crevices.
"Stupid stubborn oaf," he grumbled. "Just because he's a fancy space admiral with a huge ship, he thinks he can horn in on my girlfriend. I'm sorry he ruined our special date, Leela."
They stopped at the edge of a dusty road that was barely more than a trail among the cacti. Leela stuck out her arm. Then she stuck out her other arm to press a button on the device clamped to her wrist. With a buzzing twang, the holographic projection of a giant fist with its thumb sticking up popped into existence high overhead and hovered there.
"To be honest, I was kind of creeped out," Leela confessed.
"Who wouldn't be? Showing up out of nowhere, wanting to do it right in the middle of-"
"Not Zapp," Leela broke in. "He's a creep, but nothing a good boot to the groin won't fix. I meant this date, Fry. The mini golf, the soap bubble ride, the hall of screaming skulls - those are all things I did with Lars."
"Yeah, I know," said Fry proudly. "I remembered all the most romantic dates you had. Tomorrow we can go to dinner at that restaurant he took you to."
"Fry, I don't want to redo a bunch of dates I went on with another man!" complained Leela. "Those were special moments I had with Lars!"
"But I'm Lars!" Fry protested. "You had fun doing those things with me when I was him!"
"You're not Lars, Fry," Leela said quietly. "Lars started out as you, but he had twelve years of different experiences that made him different. I loved him for who he was, like I love you for who you are. Not because you could've been Lars." She looked away as a passing supply cruiser honed in on their beacon. "I'm starting to wonder if you really understand me at all."
"Then she said I didn't understand her," Fry complained. "I understand Leela just fine; I just don't know what she wants!"
"Your problem is you keep dating humans," said Bender. "Fembots come with manuals."
"And viruses," said Fry with a shudder. "Remember the Great ILoveYou Plague? The one that broke out when you started that robot escort service?"
"Bite my shiny metal ass."
"That's how it spreads. Anyway, now I'm all out of ideas." Fry sighed, turning the ring box over and over in his hands. "First the Fifth Moon and now this. At least I found out doing it Lars' way was a bad idea before hiring Robot Santa to attack the city. Stupid Kif messing up my best plan! When I saw that ring he gave Amy, I wanted to disappear through a wormhole forever."
"Bet you were pretty disappointed that the one we went through after Zoidberg ate that slug led us straight back to Earth then, huh?"
"I spent the last of my money on that bubble ride," moaned Fry. "What am I going to do now?"
"Why don't you just go over there and lay it on her, and let me get back to watching TV?" Bender leaned sideways on the couch in an attempt to see around his roommate. "I've only seen this episode five times!"
"This is important, Bender!" argued Fry, planting himself firmly in the robot's line of sight. "I can't just blurt it out! It took me ten years to win Leela's heart. It has to be perfect."
"Look, I'd love to sit here all day and pretend to care about your feelings, but I only have half an hour to watch 'Adventurebot 9000' if I'm going to get to work in time for 'All My Circuits.' Just take her to the historic oil refinery and be done with it." Bender propped his foot cups up on the table and clicked the remote impatiently.
"Bender, you're my best friend! If you won't help me, I'll have to look pathetic in front of someone else!"
"Nothing new there. Man, if this fleshy interference doesn't clear up soon, I'll have to call the repair service. And by 'fleshy interference,' I mean you. And by 'repair service,' I mean my portable vaporizer."
Fry sighed heavily and let his shoulders sag. "Will you at least lend me some money so I can afford to humiliate myself a third time?"
Bender opened his chest panel, reached inside, and took out a fat roll of bills. "For you and 200% interest? No problem."
"You make everything far too complicated, Fry," said Professor Farnsworth. "All you need is a fifteen-foot mutant cyborg teddy bear custom-bred to declare love at 50,000 kisses per second! Nothing says devotion like a sin against nature you raised yourself. If you start now, you can have one capable of speech in only half your remaining lifetime! I'll even let you use my lab."
The old scientist reached under the table and brought out a large box labeled 'My First Genetic Engineering Kit.' The speech bubble attached to the smiling boy in glasses and braces on the side declared 'Chicks dig guys who can reprogram their children!'
"Uh, thanks, Professor," said Fry, but I was hoping for something a little less time-consuming."
"You kids are so impatient these days." Farnsworth sniffed in disgust and opened the box, looking thoughtfully at a nearby ficus.
"There's only one thing to do when your mating display fails." Dr. Zoidberg scuttled over to a large diagram tacked to the wall of his office. It depicted the internal anatomy of a female cephalopod. It was upside down.
"You need to find some aphrodisiac barnacles and apply them here, to the imprint gland," said Zoidberg. He pointed to an indistinct region of the creature's body with his claw.
"Why did I bother to ask you?" Fry grumbled in disgust.
"I was wondering that myself. Let's schedule a mental evaluation for next Tuesday."
"It's all very simple, Fry." Hermes opened a filing cabinet and began pulling forms out of several folders. "First, file a 31B Request to Initiate Formal Courtship. The permit takes six to eight weeks to arrive, which gives you time to assemble your formal marriage registration materials. You'll need fifteen references, a full DNA sequence for you and your intended bride, and the genealogy and blood samples of your friends and family members." He set a tall stack of paperwork and a pen in front of his nervous employee.
"Is all this really necessary?" asked Fry, eyeing the pile with horror.
"Not legally, but why would you want to miss out on the best part of getting engaged?" Hermes patted the stack of forms fondly. Fry buried his head in his hands.
"This is hopeless!" he moaned. "How am I supposed to come up with the perfect proposal when everyone's ideas suck?"
Hermes folded his hands on his desk. "Maybe you're going about this the wrong way," he observed. "I spend a lot of time reading the crew's personal records, and we're not exactly great examples of successful relationships."
"What do you mean?" asked Fry. "You've all been with women."
"Think about it," said Hermes. "The professor's sweetheart is the most sadistic, black-hearted woman since the dawn of time. Zoidberg struck out the one and only time he had a chance to find a mate. Half of Bender's relationships lead to his arrest, and my wife runs off to Barbados Slim at the drop of a head."
Fry blinked. "What's your point?"
"My point is, you can't get advice on your woman from guys who can't handle their own," Hermes explained impatiently. "There's only one crewman here who seems to know how to do it right."
Fry's brow furrowed in concentration as he ran through the various crewmembers in his head. "That guy?" he guessed, pointing to a mustachioed man idly pushing a broom around in the corner.
"Scruffy likes his women coin-operated or two-dimensional," rumbled the janitor.
"I was thinking of someone a little less human," said Hermes, sliding a slim folder across the desk. Fry glanced at the name and groaned before standing up reluctantly.
"I guess a loser's gotta do what a loser's gotta do."
"Are you sure about this?" asked Kif, adjusting Fry's tie with an expert eye.
"Totally sure. I don't know why I didn't think of it before. Full moon - check. Bouquet of flowers - check. Engagement ring - check. Holophonor - check." Fry picked up the instrument and screwed on the atomizer attachment.
"A serenade was the first idea that came to mind, but it's hard to think clearly when someone's threatening to report you for desertion," Kif said coldly.
"You owed me," replied Fry. "Besides, it's not like the DOOP actually hunts deserters down."
"No, but how could I face Amy with that kind of mark on my family record?" Kif stood back to study his unexpected pupil. Fry hadn't been able to afford another tuxedo rental, but he'd bought a nice shirt and a used coat that could almost pass for black. He still looked like a nervous child about to perform in his first recital.
"You should really choose something that's a better fit for you and Leela," Kif pressed.
"I did," Fry said sharply. "Someone messed it up for me."
Kif hung his head and rededicated himself to straightening his coworker's tie.
"This is perfect," Fry insisted, arranging his fingers on the holophonor's levers. "I might not have stomach worms or robot hands this time, but if I try my best, Leela will love it. Because she loves me. Now back off."
Kif scurried away and crouched behind a nearby mailbox as Fry lifted the instrument to his lips. He closed his eyes and stood silently for a long moment, driving all distracting thoughts out of his mind. It had taken a lot of practice, but he was finally able to focus long enough to create what he had planned. It was easier this time. Over the past few days, he'd barely thought of anything but Leela.
Fry took a deep breath and blew his first note, a resonating chord that hung almost tangibly in the evening air. A stream of rainbow light coiled out from the end of the holophonor, condensing into a thick vapor over Fry's head. With a series of bright notes, he shrank and shaped the developing illusion into a tiny golden bell. A fine thread of amber smoke issued from the instrument's atomizer and sank into the hologram, giving it an unusually realistic texture.
Now came the difficult part. A rising scale of tones pushed the bell upwards, away from the stability of the holophonor's primary field. Sweat beaded up on Fry's forehead, but he held the pitches steady, guiding the image higher and higher until it hovered outside the second-floor window that marked Leela's new apartment. With a flutter of notes, Fry directed the bell to swing and tap gently against the glass. It struck with a soft, clear chime.
Kif gasped somewhere to Fry's left, but he didn't let it break his concentration. The light came on in Leela's apartment. Fry smiled and let the music and the bell fade away as he prepared himself for his next tune. So far, so good. He licked his lips and took another breath.
The holophonor was snatched from his hands.
"Hey!" Fry spun around, ready to fight off the mugger, and found himself facing what was rapidly becoming his worst nightmare. "You again! Why? How? When?"
"Let a real man take a shot at that," said Zapp Brannigan. He put Fry's holophonor to his lips just as the apartment window opened and Leela peered out.
Fry ducked and covered his ears as a dreadful blast of clashing notes filled the deserted street. A chaotic mess of violent colors swirled around the stricken holophonor, which screamed as if desperate to be put out of its misery. Here and there, vague images of Zapp's own grinning face faded in and out of existence, but for the most part the smear of light resembled the floor of a taxi on New Year's.
Windows opened up and down the street, and the discord of the holophonor was joined by dozens of angry voices. One of them was Leela's. She hurled down her bedside lamp, which struck Brannigan square on the head and knocked the instrument from his hands. It smashed on the sidewalk.
"Are you crazy?" she roared over the chorus of furious neighbors.
"Only with love!" Zapp proclaimed, drawing himself up. "I'd break a hundred priceless instruments if it meant another chance to see what's under that robe."
"How did you find me?" Leela demanded. She squinted down at the other figure standing in the moonlight. "Fry? What's going on?"
"This idiot keeps following me around!" yelled Fry angrily. "Kif! What do I do now?" He scanned the street, but the amphibiosan was nowhere to be found.
"Kif's here? Then it'll be two against one!" Zapp assumed a confident pose over the remains of the holophonor. "If Kif can't take you, I'll call for backup."
"I'm coming down there!" shouted Leela, wrapping her bathrobe more securely around herself.
"Yes, come witness my heroic victory!" Zapp glanced up at the window. "I hope you're wearing your sexiest lingerie for the after-party."
Leela paused and glanced up and down the street at the other open windows, whose occupants had stopped complaining and were now watching the scene with interest.
"I'll put on some clothes."
"What is the matter with you?" Fry burst out, turning on Zapp as Leela disappeared into her apartment. "It's been ten years! Don't you ever give up?"
"A hero never gives up on his woman," Brannigan said firmly. "Leela deserves a real man. A man with a huge ship and a velour uniform."
"She doesn't deserve any such thing!" snapped Fry. "She's with me, and you'll never have her as long as I'm around!"
"So be it." Zapp raised his wrist communicator to his lips. "Nimbus, this is the Zapper. Fire."
A bolt of laser cannon fire shot down from the stars, striking the pavement with a deafening blast and a rolling wave of heat that curled the leaves on all the nearby trees. It missed Fry by inches, but drilled a giant hole in the street beside him. He teetered on the edge of the gap for a long moment, swaying and swinging his arms wildly in an attempt to maintain his balance. His shoes began to slip on the cracked debris.
Zapp leaned over and poked him in the chest.
Fry toppled into the hole as Leela reappeared at her window with her tank top half on. He reached out desperately and caught hold of a dangling piece of broken pipe, which was spilling its water into the darkened pit below, and dangled there with a pounding heart and slipping fingers.
"Fry! No!" cried Leela in horror, leaning out of her window. Kif launched himself away from the mailbox and ran toward the hole, his skin fading back from a camoflauging blue to its normal pea-soup green. He threw himself down flat on the pavement and reached down to seize Fry's wrists, but although he pulled with all his might, Kif wasn't strong enough to lift him.
"You coward," said Fry with a grateful grin. "You were there the whole time!"
"I couldn't stand the thought of the idiot crying all over me again," said Kif, rolling his eyes. "I can't hold him!" he yelled up to Leela, digging his boots into a crack in the asphalt.
"Kif, I'm surprised at you," scolded Zapp, sneering down at the two of them. "After all those years as my assistant, I should think you'd know how to look a one-trick pony properly in the mouth."
"Hang on to him until I get there!" cried Leela. "I'll never forgive you if you let go, Fry!" Her terrified eye fixed itself on her boyfriend, hanging over oblivion, and the cocky but strong man watching with amusement, and she appeared to reach a difficult decision.
"Zapp!" she called out in a strangled voice that obviously hated every word. "Help him!"
"Are you mad?" Brannigan scoffed. "I'm trying to destroy him! As soon as the Nimbus recharges its weapons, I'll finish the job."
Leela shuddered and rolled her eye skyward as she fought with herself and both won and lost. She leaned against the windowsill and pushed out her breasts, tilting her head as she fluttered her eyelid and pouted.
"Please?" she asked in a syrupy voice. "For me?"
Zapp sized her up appreciatively. "Leela, that body could sink a thousand ships. But not even that could make me go down there; that's mutant territory!"
Fry craned his neck to peer down into the darkness waiting to swallow him. In the light of the full moon, he could just make out the rippling surface of briny liquid far below. His stomach churned. He was dangling over the polluted underground lake, whose waters would turn any creature that touched them into a sewer mutant. On the bright side, he probably wouldn't die if he fell. On the not so bright side, he'd never be able to return to the planet's surface.
"You don't have to go into the sewers!" Leela argued. "Just reach down there and hold on to him until I get downstairs!"
"Hell no," said Zapp, his face twisting with disgust. "You expect me to breathe the same gases that sewer mutants have been expelling? That stuff's murder on velour!"
Fry's eyes narrowed with fury. Leela was a mutant herself, the child of sewer mutants. He wouldn't hesitate to go into the polluted underworld, if it was for her. Hell, he fully expected to spend half his Xmases there from now on.
His hands were slipping. His aching arms were going numb. Kif was holding on as tightly as he could, but that wasn't saying much. By the time Leela stopped arguing with Zapp and made it to the street level, Fry would be gone. He glanced down at the sickly green lake again, then back up at his girlfriend and his rival. He could finally prove, once and for all, that he was the best man for Leela, even if it meant changing his life forever.
"I love you, Leela," Fry called out. Then he let go of the pipe.
"No!" cried Leela as Fry tumbled away into the darkness. Foul air whipped past him as the top of the cavern closed over the stars, leaving a shrinking hole where the moonlight peeked through. A speck that appeared to be moving grew larger in front of the moon, but Fry was too terrified to wonder about it much. What kind of creature would he be when he emerged from the mutating waters? A spark of excitement slipped through the fear. Maybe he'd have wings, or gills! As long as he had some kind of appendage left so he could hold Leela, he'd be all right.
"OOF!" Fry gasped for breath as he struck something soft, elastic, and unexpectedly dry that knocked the wind out of him. His mind reeled as the cavern seemed to jump around him, distant lights dancing as if on springs. Finally, he came to a stop, and put out his hands cautiously to find he'd been caught by a giant net stretched through midair a hundred feet over the surface of the lake.
He was bounced into the air again as Leela landed beside him, just as shocked to find a barrier so high above the ground as he was. As soon as they caught their breaths, they laughed, coming together to embrace each other in relief.
"They must've installed a safety net since we were last here," said Leela, glancing around at the woven ropes and distant support pillars.
"You jumped out your window to dive after me?" Fry clung to his girlfriend's waist as they balanced unsteadily on the net. "That may be the craziest thing you've ever done!"
"Two floors didn't seem like much compared to a mile-deep abyss," said Leela, glancing up at the sliver of moonlight high above them. "You're the crazy one. What were you thinking? The waters would've mutated you!"
"I didn't care," said Fry. "Human, mutant, cyborg; it doesn't matter, as long as I can be with you. What's this?" He glanced down at the rubbery green ropes that were wrapped around Leela's waist. When he poked at them, a familiar face peeked out from behind her back.
"Hello," said Kif brightly, freeing his fingers to wiggle them in greeting. Fry pursed his lips and untied the alien's arms from his girlfriend's waist. Kif snapped upwards like elastic, vanishing into the darkness above with a startled yelp.
"At least I wasn't dumb enough to dive down here without a safety line," said Leela, shrugging her shoulders.
"Who does he think he is, touching you like that?" Fry demanded. "I would've rather you let me fall in the lake!"
"I'm glad you didn't. The sewers are a nice place to visit, but I wouldn't want to live here. And I wouldn't want to live on the surface without you." Leela leaned forward and kissed him lightly on the cheek. "I love you."
Fry gazed at her for a moment, feeling as if he'd sprouted wings after all. He glanced around. There was only the lake below them, casting a green glow over the cavern, and the twinkling lights of the mutant city on its shores. No one seemed about to jump down from the surface or cut the ropes holding the net aloft. It wasn't a perfect moment, but it was special. Fry reached into his pocket and pulled out the little velvet box, which by now had lost a lot of its soft surface to his nervous hands. When he opened it, the ring sparkled brightly in the eerie gloom.
"Leela, will you marry me?"
"Well, it's about time!" Leela snatched the box out of Fry's hands and gazed at the ring admiringly. "Bender was about to close bets on when you'd aks me and start taking them on if you ever would!"
"I just wanted it to be perfect!" Fry protested. "Like you."
"Fry, I accepted a proposal in an alley while a deranged robot Santa was raining gunfire on us. How perfect could I be?" Leela held out her hand, and Fry carefully took the ring out of the box and slid it on her finger. She held it up and angled her head to see it in the light of the lake below them.
"It's beautiful, Fry."
"At least I did one thing right." He smiled and pulled Leela close, gently brushing a lock of dark hair away from her eye.
He leaned in. He stopped. He frowned.
"That was a 'yes,' right?"
Leela wrapped her arms around his neck and gazed at him fondly, her eye twinkling in amusement.
"Yes, Fry. Yes, it was."