Misery Loves Company
For Venus, and all the other inspiring PEELers.
Comments welcome. Futurama isn't mine, and I'm getting nothing out of this but amusement.
Note: This short story takes place before Leela's HomeWorld.
Leela was having a thoroughly miserable day. When she'd opened her eye that morning, it was to the most radiant, glorious sunshine that had ever bestowed a loving blessing on the Earth, the sun merrily nestled in its cozy spot in a perfect azure sky. Instantly, Leela had known without a shred of hope that it was going to be a personal record setting day of misery.
In all fairness to the sun, the dark premonition was not strictly due to the blinding light streaming through her stark window. No, it had really started the night before. Leela was late getting up thanks to Bender's surprise visit. Leela hated surprises.
The saucy robot had come barging into her building the night before, pounding on randomly chosen doors until at last, Leela had staggered into the hallway, somewhat less dressed and far more disoriented than she preferred to be in a public space. After the hoots and scandalized cries from her neighbours faded to a dull roar… of anger at being interrupted by a friend of the weirdy in 1I, she realized Bender had zoomed into her apartment and slammed the door.
Naturally, this left Leela to enjoy the tender ministrations of Mr. McGertchem, who had been trying to get the cyclops into his apartment since she'd moved in.
"Looks like you need a place to stay, toots," he'd said slyly, sending a rancid blast of warm, cabbage-scented breath into her airways. She'd been entirely too occupied choking on the foul fumes to prevent him from pinching her backside and only the thought of how long it had taken for her to find her homey, affordable, barren, apartment had prevented the cyclops from sending the sleazy landlord out the nearest window.
"I'm fine, thank you," she'd said in an acid-laced voice that promised pain. The two functioning brain cells in McGertchem's head got together for a friendly conversation and after a lengthy debate, decided that life slightly outweighed the carnal delights of copping a feel. They sent the slovenly landlord back into his apartment.
A cantaloupe-sized glare sent the other gawkers grumbling back to their beds, leaving the bleary-eyed cyclops alone in the hallway. One problem down.
Leela turned her attention to problem two: the soon-to-be inanimate robot.
"Bender!" she hissed softly, not wanting to draw anyone else to the humiliating scene. There was no vocal response, but Leela heard the all too familiar sounds of someone rifling through her cabinets looking for liquor.
"Bender!" she called again, the hiss morphing into a growl. A gleeful chuckle told her he'd found her specially locked cabinet.
"Bender!" she cried, thumping a furious fist against the door and hurting her wrist in the process. A shattering of glass accompanied a bubbling laugh.
Leela squeezed her eye shut and took a slow, steadying breath. "All right," she whispered, "we can play this your way." Her eye opened into an intimidating slit. It was a truly effective expression; pity Bender couldn't see it. "You're going to let me in by the time I count to three or I'm going to tell the robot Preacher that you've decided to take a vow of poverty… a binding vow of poverty."
She hadn't quite got the word 'one' out when the door flew open and she was dragged inside.
"You humanoids, always getting worked up over the littlest things, theft, fraud, home invasion," Bender muttered, tossing her long-saved, Very Hopeful hope chest champagne bottle over his shoulder to shatter on Leela's formerly pristine floor.
Intimidating all laws of physics, the eye slit narrowed to the infinitesimal. Unfortunately, she'd moved beyond looking threatening into the realms of looking comically squinty-eyed.
'If I scream, someone will call the police,' Leela thought darkly. 'Not because they care if I'm being murdered, but because I've interrupted their evenings.' She contemplated Bender silently. 'If he screams, someone will call the police. They will come and throw me in prison," she took a slow step towards Bender, who had flicked on the TV and settled heavily on her couch, breaking the springs. "…and I will have peace and quiet.'
Bender's highly sophisticated self-preservation circuits alerted him to the eminent threat to his continued existence. It was almost time for action. Wait for it. Wait for it. Now! "Zapp Brannigan's added a new video to his website," he said easily, not even turning to look at his rather predatory hostess. Calculon had just been caught in a thresher. Well, his stunt-double had been anyway.
The simple, brilliantly timed statement had the desired effect. "What?!" Leela shrieked, dropping the microwave and heading for her internet hook up.
"Don't worry," Bender breezed, "It's not your body. As a matter of fact, she almost looks good …for a flesh-based life form."
Leela hauled the VR helmet off her head and let it slip through her nerveless fingers. She opened her mouth up to protest when sanity once again caught up with her. It was pointless. With Bender, with any of the PE crew, it was always pointless. Breathing raggedly at this point, she once again approached Bender.
"Bender? Why are you here?"
He didn't respond. Leela turned off the TV.
"Bender?" she began.
"I didn't do it," he began.
"Ah," she murmured, icily calm now that she understood. "Out."
"I need to-"
"Out," she commanded in her best Captain Voice.
Bender was unimpressed.
"Robot Preacher!" she snarled. Pouting, which is a neat trick for a bending unit, Bender slowly headed for the door.
"You know, that Preacher thing isn't gonna work forever," the robot pointed out helpfully.
"Will it work now?" she asked sweetly. It wasn't so much a question as a threat.
Positively sulking, Bender muttered, "yes," then left.
Of course, if Leela had been on top of her game she would have realized that her convict coworker had capitulated far too easily, but her head had just been delivered a splitting headache out of the nightmares of bananas everywhere and Leela wanted only to get to bed.
It wasn't 'til the morning, late morning, therefore, that she realized that he'd made off with her alarm clock…. again.
Leela had lost four alarm clocks before she nailed down the culprit. She'd lost five more since, and she expected to lose many more before she understood why, if she ever did. Bender had shrugged saying with an odd finality, "It doesn't matter; it's gone now, and it's never coming back." Offended, the PE captain had forced him to buy her a new one. She hadn't even tried for four clocks; there's no bending an unbendable girder. Well, not that one anyway. Leela had liked the new clock, cheap as it was, and she'd deeply enjoyed it for the two days she'd had it.
Sometimes, even highly successful spaceship captains had to surrender.
Upon waking a scant few hours after the irritating encounter, Leela had leapt out of bed, forgone her shower and skidded into the kitchen, frantic to feed Nibbler. She didn't find him, however; the little creature was prone to disappearing, especially when he was hungry. She didn't know how he escaped her apartment, but locked doors didn't seem to mean much to her insatiable pet. Leaving a tin of Kibbles and Snouts for Nibbler, Leela grabbed her jacket and headed for the door. Nibbler would be back; he always came back, generally dragging a puppies' distraught owner behind him.
Things hadn't gone much better at work. Leela's late arrival meant astonished stares and critical whispers would follow her for at least a week, and Fry would follow her around for at least two weeks, acting all concerned and generally intruding in her personal space.
Except, this time, he didn't.
The Professor had been building his ranting strength in the angry dome, and it showed. He lambasted her mercilessly for more than thirty minutes, not counting the five-minute break when he'd slumped, exhausted, into a chair. No one was particularly sympathetic, of course. If anything, they were less sympathetic then ever, whispering and casting sharp glances at her. 'If they wanted to say something, they should at least insult me to my face,' she thought bitterly, 'rather than sneaking around like this.' At least they weren't hurling pitchforks, this time.
Amy raked her two, perfectly adorable eyes, down Leela's clothing, saying nothing. Fed up with the intern's tacit criticism, the cyclops lashed out with a vicious tirade of her own that was met by stunned silence.
For the rest of the day, no one said a word to her unless it was business oriented. Fry in particular, seemed to want to avoid her. Even after she'd bit the bullet and apologized for her irritability, he didn't seem to want to talk to her. First, it rankled her, who was he to judge? Fry was late all the time! Then it worried her, there had to be something wrong. Then, when her efforts to discover the problem were unsuccessful, it simply annoyed her. As they took off for the day's delivery, Leela wanted nothing more than to buy a new alarm clock and go home.
In following with the rest of her day, the delivery was a comedy of errors. That wasn't particularly unusual. They went on a tour. That wasn't at all unusual. They ended up running for their lives. That was old hat. Leela tore a hole in her beloved jacket. That was devastating.
Still, no one was talking to her, even during the "Hey, we're still alive!" post delivery celebration. As one, they pled exhaustion, quickly leaving her alone on the bridge. Leela's spirits sunk to new lows, hovering somewhere around -273 degrees Celsius.
The Captain took a brief shower on the ship before disembarking for the day. The water was not cold. Leela could have endured a cold shower, maybe even enjoyed it in a masochistic sort of way. Unfortunately, the water was a sickly lukewarm: too cold to be hot and too hot to be cold. It was completely indecisive water. Leela hated it.
Wearily, she strode down the ramp and back onto Earth. The lights were off, which surprised her. She didn't think she'd been on the ship with the lukewarm water for long enough for even Hermes to leave for the day. A sudden terrible thought struck her. What if they were planning a party? Or worse, a party for her? People did that for Captains sometimes, she'd heard. The very idea filled her with dread. Today of all days, no matter the good intentions, she did not want to be swarmed with cheerful well-wishers.
She took a few cautious steps into the darkened bay…. nothing. Leela let out a breath she didn't realize she'd been holding. She laughed lightly and addressed the empty air. "I don't know what I was thinking. Why would anyone have a party for me?"
A tiny flame flickered in the darkness.
"'Cause it's your birthday." Startled, Leela went around the end of the ship. Sitting on the ground, holding a cupcake with a little striped pink candle, was Fry.
Leela tried to think of something more clever to say than, "Fry?" but she was too flabbergasted.
"Fry?" she whispered.
The delivery boy grinned the grin of the victorious. "This has been the hardest day of my life," he chuckled.
Leela did not know what to say to that, so she said nothing.
By the light of the birthday candle, Leela could just barely make out the redhead. Even still, she knew his eyes were lit up in childlike joy. A sudden tenseness on her face told her she was smiling too. For the first time that day, she was smiling.
Feeling a bit like a kid herself, Leela sat down next to Fry, cross-legged like him, close enough so that their knees were touching casually. The pleasant intimacy of close friends. Leela had missed it that day. With an ungainly flourish, Fry presented her with the cupcake.
"Happy birthday, Leela." Fry spoke quietly, but with great sincerity. Touched beyond her ability to express, Leela was grateful for the shadows. They kindly hid the moisture in her eye.
"It's not my birthday," she pointed out. The cyclops had no idea when her birthday was.
"It is now. Go on, make a wish; blow out the candle." Fry urged eagerly.
A bubbly little laugh worked its way from her throat. Fry's smile broadened. When Leela still hesitated, he began squirming with impatience. The gentlest, sweetest warmth settled over her. "I don't need a wish," she whispered, "with a great friend like you."
She could feel the startled expression on his face. Without seeing, she saw it slide into the kind of smile people write lame poems about. It was his turn to be speechless, she noted with some satisfaction.
"Thank you, Fry," she murmured as, for a brief moment, the terrible loneliness of being an orphaned alien, unique on Earth, evaporated from under her.
"Uh, Leela? The candle's melting." With another laugh, this one a bit more confident, Leela gave in and blew out the candle with one quick breath.
With a whoop, Fry leapt to his feet, nearly knocking the wax-licked cupcake into her lap. "Whoo! It's Leela's first birthday!" Leela let him bounce around exuberantly for a minute, then firmly hauled him down to the floor.
"Come share this with me. It's not right to eat a birthday cake by yourself." Fry was perfectly happy to comply with her request. She pulled out the candle and gently pulled apart the cake.
They munched on the treat together, she, nibbling delicately on small pieces and Fry licking off the icing first. Between bites, Leela asked, "So, how long have you been planning this?"
Fry shoved the rest of the cake in his mouth and swallowed it quickly, if messily. "Oh, only forever," he replied gleefully. "You have no idea how hard it was keeping this from you. I couldn't look at you all day!" he chuckled. "I'd have given it away for sure."
It was a silly question, but Leela couldn't stop herself from asking. "Did you mention this to anyone else?"
Fry nodded energetically, 'til she fancied his head would shake loose. "Oh yeah, everyone knew! We were gonna have this huge bash for you with balloons and presents and everything, but then," he shrugged sheepishly, "I guess you weren't having such a great day. I wasn't sure how you'd react to having us all jump out at you, and no one really wanted to get booted," Fry flicked her boots with a strange affection blended with a measure of healthy respect. Leela smiled again, with warm amusement. "It seemed safer to break the surprise to you this way."
"Hey, Fry! Leela kill you yet?" Bender's unmistakable voice careened into the bay.
"No!" Fry bellowed back, making Leela wince a bit from the volume. He turned his attention back to the birthday girl. "We've got a party waiting for you, if you want it. It's okay if you don't," he hastened to add.
"I'd love to go," she smiled at him. Jubilantly, Fry started to stand; still glowing with the success of his surprise, but Leela caught his jacket and pulled him down again. "But first, let's just sit for a while, okay?" She looked away from him, into the night. "I haven't gotten to talk to you all day." 'And I kinda missed you,' she thought to herself.
"Whatever you want, Leela," he said equitably, a bit befuddled, yet pleased.
Leela didn't know what to say once he sat down, however and the pause dragged awkwardly on.
Finally, Fry broke the silence. "That went pretty well, didn't it? The surprise?" Leela nodded happily, but Fry couldn't see her smile. "I mean, I guess I get things right from time to time," he continued, a bit sheepishly.
Feeling a bit giddy, overwhelmed by the consideration they'd shown her, Leela slipped her hand into Fry's and gave it a tight squeeze. "No doubt about it, Fry, sometimes, you get things just right."
"Tell Leela Zoidberg ate her cake!" Bender yelled in their general direction.
"Okay!" Fry hollered back.
"C'mon, let's go celebrate," Leela said firmly, getting to her feet with Fry in tow.
"That was company cake, you hungry shellfish!"
With light hearts, Fry and Leela entered the fray.