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Eight Hours to Earth

Author: Red_Line
Email: red_line@sbcglobal.net
Website: Red_Line's Futurama Fan Fic Stash

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1RL01 Eight Hours to Earth 29 January 2006

Author's note: This is my first fan-fiction, in fact it's the first fiction of any kind I've ever written.

Disclaimer: The Futurama name, characters, and settings belong to their respective copyright owners. This is a work of fan fiction which has no commercial intent or value and was created soley for my own amusement and for that of other Futurama fans. The author would appreciate it if this work is not placed on websites or reproduced in any form without his express consent.

The Planet Express ship flew through the empty tracts of space, on it's way home to Earth after a long delivery run. Leela sat at the controls, Fry was at the Engineering console, and Bender was in hibernate mode in the cabin he shared with Fry.

Leela sighed, and squirmed in her seat. She'd have to take a break soon. She looked at the bridge chronometer and did a quick mental calculation - 8 hours to Earth.

She looked over at Fry, who was reading something on the console monitor screen. He'd been doing that ever since they'd left their last stop, and had hardly said a word. In fact he'd been doing that on many of their longer flights. Leela was curious what he was so engrossed in; it only would have taken a couple of commands to her computer console to find out what it was, but that would be invading his privacy, and she wasn't about to do that unless the situation called for it.

She thought about Fry, and the changes that had come over him in the last year or so. It had taken her a while to realize it, but he was slowly maturing - he was on time for work most of the time now. He helped out without complaining. He wasn't always loafing in front of the TV or screwing around with Bender when there was work to do.

She thought back to the night she'd had the date with Chaz, and about how her attitude toward Fry had undergone a subtle shift - she'd couldn't really define it; she'd always liked him, maybe not from the first moment they met, but certainly soon after.

Thinking of that night also unleashed a little streak of sadness in her - she'd realized afterward how bad Fry must have felt - how badly she'd treated him. The words "naughty for disregarding each other's feelings" came back to her; well, she'd certainly been naughty that night. But Fry seems to have forgotten all about it when she kissed him. She didn't understand how one little kiss could erase so much hurt, but there were depths to Fry that weren't at all obvious.

Fry looked up from his screen, stood up, and stretched.

Leela seized the opportunity.

"Fry, could you take over for a few minutes? I need a break."

"Sure" he said.

She got up and he slid into the pilot's chair.

"I'll be back in a few minutes. Call me if you need anything."

"OK" Fry said, smiling up at her.

She smiled back, and then left the bridge. After a brief visit to the "powder room", she stopped by her cabin and sat down on the bed. She laid back and closed her eye, intending to just rest for a moment.

Leela was suddenly awake. Something wasn't right - the ship didn't feel normal. She sat up quickly.

Her wrist communicator beeped. She pressed a button and heard Fry's voice.

"Leela, you'd better get up here. I've got warning lights on converter number 3. I've taken it off line.".

"On my way" she replied, already heading for the door.

It took only moments to reach the bridge. She wasn't in a panic, because if it'd been anything really serious there would be alarm horns blaring all over the ship. The ship had 6 rotary arc converters in it's drive system, not exactly the latest technology, but simple and reliable. It could fly on only one, two were commonly used in normal flight when they were more interested in economy than speed, and four when they were making time. The only time all 6 were ever on line was in those occasional situations where they needed all the power they could get, like when the needed to out run someone who was trying to kill them.

Leela entered the bridge and looked at the status board. There were several red and yellow lights on #3, but it showed off line. #2 was on-line and functioning normally, #1 was warming up, and the rest were off.

Everything else looked normal.

Fry glanced at Leela as she entered and started to get up.

"Stay put, Fry" she said "and tell me what happened".

Fry dropped back into the pilots seat.

"I, uh, don't really know what happened. All of a sudden #3 lit up like a Xmas tree, so I backed off on the power and shut it down, and started #1 up. Then I figured you'd want to know what happened to #3, so I pulled up the ops manual and did what it said to save all the log files and instrumentation data.".

Leela was impressed. She smiled at him.

"You did everything exactly right Fry! Good job.".

Fry sat there with a slightly stunned look on his face for a moment, then broke into a smile.

"Thanks, Leela." he said.

Leela felt a tingle run through her - that happened when ever he had that silly grin of his on his face.

The status board changed as the #1 converter came on line. Fry adjusted the balance between it and number 2, and then ran the power back up so both were loaded about 75%; they were back to normal cruising.

"How did you know how to do all of that?".

"I've been reading the manuals. I thought it might come in handy someday.".

"So that's what he's been reading all this time." She thought.

"Well, good job." she said, "Amy will have something to do tomorrow."

Leela sat down at the engineering console, and looked at the chronometer on the bulkhead behind Fry.

"Fry, how long was I gone from the bridge?' she asked.

"Oh, about an hour."

Before she could reply, he added hastily "I thought you could use a rest".

"Thanks. I guess I did.". Leela swiveled her chair and looked at the instruments on the console; everything was back to normal and the ship was once again settling into it's usual rhythm. She looked at the chronometer again - 7 hours to Earth, they'd get back in the wee hours of the morning, and it was past dinner time.

She stood up. "I'm hungry Fry, do you want anything?"

"Sure, I could use something." he replied.

"All right" she said, "You stay put and I'll see what I can find us".

Leela left the bridge and went to the tiny galley. She pulled a couple of boxes out of the storage compartment and put them in the microwave. A few minutes later she returned to the bridge with the two steaming boxes on a tray.

Fry sniffed the air suspiciously.

"What'd you find?" he asked, peering at the tray.

"Not sure" Leela said. She poked at one with a fork "this looks like sauteed brain slug, and this might be fried tape worm.". This was a standing joke the crew used to describe the mystery meals carried on the ship.

"Choose your poison".

"Ugh." Fry said, making a face. "I guess I'll take the slug.".

Leela laughed at his rhyme, not sure if it was intentional or not.

They sat in silence eating their meal.

"Well, that wasn't Elzar's, but it was still better than Bender's cooking." Fry said when he had finished.

He made another sweep over the instruments with his eyes, and then looked at Leela. He sat up a bit straighter and raised his hand in a mock salute.

"Captain, Sir. Request permission to leave my post to dispose of the trash."

"Very funny, Fry" Leela said, getting up and taking their now empty cartons to the disposal chute.

She sat back down, leaned back and stretched her feet out in front of her. It had been a long day. She tried to relax, but her mind kept drifting back to Fry. She'd never thought about it before, but the fact that he was even here bordered on a miracle. The odds of him being frozen for 1000 years and ending up in this time and place were very long indeed.

She swiveled her chair to face him.

"Fry" she said, "can I ask you a question?".

Fry looked at her; it wasn't like Leela to initiate casual conversation, especially when on a flight.

"Sure" he said.

"Why did you freeze yourself back in 1999?".

"I didn't." he replied. "At least, not on purpose. It was an accident.".

"Well, if that isn't typical Fry, I don't know what is." Leela thought, unconsciously smiling.

Fry didn't notice - he was staring past her with a slightly puzzled expression on his face; something about his being frozen being an accident didn't seem right, but he couldn't quite remember why. After a moment, he gave up on it and said "I had to deliver a pizza to the cryogenics place ...". He told her the story of his last night in the 20th century. When he finished, Leela thought she could sense a trace of sadness in his voice.

"I'm sorry, Fry. If you could, would you go back?".

Fry didn't hesitate to answer. "No. No, I wouldn't."

He paused, then went on: "Sure, sometimes I miss my parents and all, but this is way better. Look at me - I'm flying a real space ship. I never could have done that then. There probably weren't a dozen people who got to, and they couldn't even get to the moon.".

He was silent for a couple of seconds, looking at her, then added "And I wouldn't have you around.".

Leela wasn't sure, but it almost looked like he blushed a little. And maybe she felt a little warm herself.

"That's sweet, Fry. Thank you.".

They looked at each other for a moment, then Fry turned, glanced at the instruments, and shifted his eyes to the window and the stars beyond.

They sat in silence for a few minutes.

For something to do, Leela pulled up the data Fry had saved on the failed converter, but couldn't drum up the interest to focus on it. Finally she gave it up as a bad idea, got up, and stretched. She looked at the crono - still 6 hours to Earth.

She walked forward and sat on the couch and looked out at the stars. She'd never given them much thought before she met Fry. Early in their career at Planet Express, on their first mission in fact, he'd shown her how to see beauty in them - and eventually how to see the hidden beauty in other things that were always there and she took for granted.

"Like Fry." she thought.

Her mind drifted, thinking about the dates they'd had in the last few months. How she felt happier when Fry was around. About the happy, warm feelings she got inside whenever they held hands or hugged. She realized that even when Fry wasn't there with her, she was happier.

She knew Fry was happier. You could see it in his walk, and in his smile.

His smile. She sighed. She sat there for a few more minutes staring out at the stars.

She looked back at Fry.

His eyes were making a sweep over the instruments, slowly and methodically. When he finished, he looked up and saw her looking at him. He smiled.

That smile, that did it.

She unbuckled her boots and slid them off. Then she unclasped the wrist communicator and slid it off, setting in the tray behind the seat. Finally, she reached behind her head and pulled the scrunchy that held her pony tail in place. Her hair seemed to explode. She shook her head a couple of times to straighten it out.

She turned and looked at Fry. He was staring at her with a bewildered look on his face.

"Come here Fry." she said softly.

"Ummmm" he stammered, "shouldn't someone be at the controls?".

"Relax. The ship is on autopilot, and there isn't a solid object anywhere in scanner range in any direction. Just make sure the audible alarms are on. Oh, and turn out the lights and lock the door.".

Fry was dumbfounded. This wasn't like Leela. He was suddenly nervous. He tried to shake it off, and fumbled with the controls for a moment, then got up and walked up to the couch.

He stood there transfixed, unable to move any further. He'd never seen her without her hair in a ponytail. He'd thought she was beautiful then, but now, with a purple mane around her face, he was completely mesmerized.

Leela reached for his hand, and gently pulled him down on to the couch next to her.

"Come on dummy, I won't bite.".

She slid over next to him, put her arm behind his back, and leaned on his shoulder. Fry leaned his head slightly, so his cheek was against her head.

The lights on the bridge faded out. They were in the dark, with only the faint pale glow of the stars for illumination.

They sat in silence, watching the stars.

Fry was on fire inside. His stomach was in knots. His heart raced. Lighting bolts seemed to be shooting up and down through his body. He was as happy as he could ever remember being. He hoped it would last.

Leela was feeling something too. There had been some nice tingling when they touched before, but this was something more. She wasn't sure what it was, but it felt good.

They sat for a time, just enjoying the feeling of being close to each other, watching the stars flow silently past.

The Chronometer showed they still had 5 hours to Earth when Leela stirred.

"Fry" Leela said softy "tell me again.".

"Tell her again?" Fry thought, "tell her what?".

A little spike of worry shot through him. Something told him that he had to get this right, and he had to do it fast. Otherwise he was going to louse up what could be the greatest night of his life, perhaps even his whole future.

"What what what what?" he thought, racking his brain.

Suddenly, it came to him. It was so blindly obvious he almost laughed at himself.

"I love you, Leela." he said softly.

Fry nuzzled down in her hair and kissed her forehead.

Leela pulled her arm out from behind Fry. For a moment, he was afraid he'd somehow said the wrong thing, but Leela just turned around, stretching her legs down the length of the couch. She put her arms around Fry and laid her head on his chest. Fry put his arms around her. He ran his hand through her hair - he'd always wanted to do that.

Leela trembled just a little. A fire, unlike any she had felt before, was starting to burn inside her.

She looked up into his eyes.

"Fry, when did you fist know you loved me?

"Well, it kinda came on me in stages. The day I was unfrozen, when we were down in Old New York, and you took out your career chip and put your hand in mine - I was struck then. I didn't know exactly what I was feeling, but it was something new and different. I'd never felt it before or since, except when I'm with you."

"After that it just kind of grew on me, especially after you kissed me on the Titanic.".

Leela closed her eye and settled back against his chest. Conflicting emotions were surging back and forth inside her. On one hand, this was Fry, the poor kid from the stupid ages. But he'd matured so much lately. He still occasionally said or did dumb things, but his heart was in the right place - he always meant well.

And he loved her.

Leela had realized soon after they started dating seriously, after the opera, that she was on a slippery slope. She was already fond of Fry, and as they dated, he gained confidence in himself and was more at ease. Now she felt as if she were at the precipice - it was to the point where she was going to have to scramble back to safe ground or fall over the edge completely.

Both options scared her, and that in itself was something - she usually didn't scare easily.

If she took the safe course, she would stay in her comfort zone - she'd still be in control of her own fate. But she might hurt Fry terribly, and she would hate to do that. She didn't want to risk driving him away forever. She needed him around.

If she went over the edge, she'd be putting her happiness into Fry's hands. For an orphan who had to make her own way in life, giving up control over her destiny would be a very hard thing to do. It required a level of trust and commitment that she found impossible to comprehend.

A corner of her mind, which was not busy analyzing her feelings toward Fry, amused itself by considering how it was that she could face death in space or on some distant world on an almost daily basis, and yet be frightened of a simple relationship.

Suddenly, she was brought out of her reverie by a drop of moisture falling on her nose. She pulled back and looked up. There were tears in Fry's eyes.

"Fry, what's wrong?".

"Oh Leela, I love you so much. There aren't any words that can say what I need to say. I tried ... I tried to show you so many times, but it never worked. During the time slips, I spelled "I love you, Leela" in the stars, and it got blown up before you could see it. And I got rid of the worms to make sure it was me you loved. If only you could have seen ...".

Fry paused, taking a deep breath that wavered a little, then went on:

"I'm so happy right now, just holding you like this. I never want it to end, and I'm so afraid it will.".

He turned his head, laying his cheek on her head. He held her a bit tighter.

She could feel his chest quiver as he tried, unsuccessfully, so control his emotions.

Leela's eye was now teary. She thought back over some of the things that had happened between them; she knew there had been times when Fry had been hurt. She thought about the time slips, and how she had accused Fry of tricking her into marriage - she knew that really must have torn at him. But what if he really had made a message in the stars. Could it have been?

She fought back tears, but a quiet sniffle leaked out.

"Oh Fry, I'm so sorry.".

"How does he do it it?" she thought. "Why? Why would anyone put up with this kind of abuse and keep coming back for more? Why would anyone let someone else have such complete control over them? "

He hugged her tighter. He kissed the top of her head. His hand moved up her back and caressed her hair.

"It's OK, Leela. I love you. I don't care what happened in the past. All I care about is the future. I want you in my future, and I want to be a part of your future."

They sat, holding each other tightly. How long, neither of them knew.

The bridge chronometer showed 4 hours to Earth when Leela tilted her head back and looked up.

"Fry?" she said, very softly.

Fry turned his head and looked into her eye. She move one hand up and around and touched his cheek, gently caressing it. The fire she felt burned brighter and hotter. She pushed herself up a bit, so her face was level with his.

She laid her head against his, cheek to cheek.

Fry kissed her cheek.

She puled her head back slightly and kissed his cheek.

He pulled his head back a bit more and kissed her back, the corners of their lips just touching.

She pulled Fry's lips to hers, and they shared a kiss; just a short one at first. Their lips parted, they sat there looking into each others eyes for a moment, then kissed again, longer, and more passionate.

Sometime later Leela let out a long, contented sigh, and put her head back on Fry's chest. She could feel his heart racing. She closed her eye and held him tight. She'd never felt so happy.

"Oh Leela" Fry was saying softly, just barley audible, "I love you so much.".

Leela pushed back just a little so she could see his face clearly. The fire that burned inside her had exploded into every fiber of her being. The ship, the stars, everything was suddenly a very long distance away - only she and Fry and the couch existed. The time had come. She knew what she had to do. There was no hesitation, no second guessing now. The path was chosen for her. A brighter, sunnier world was opening up before her.

She looked into his eyes.

"Fry" she said softly, "I love you".

. -. -..

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