Characters belong to Joss Whedon, Jed Whedon, Zack Whedon, and Maurissa Tancharoen. Not me. Story line does though. Very alternate universe, very mature. You have been warned.

Penny always noticed him. How couldn't you? There was always something wrong with him and she could never find out why. Well, she knew why, but now how. He was always so quite, so skitterish, so shy. The one time Penny tried to talk to him he had a panic attack and had to sit on the bench by the window for twenty minutes. Penny never attempted communication after that. But the scene has piqued her curiosity.

She watched him now, out of the corner of her eye, struggling with the door. Right arm in a sling, that had to suck. She knew he was right-hand-dominate, so without the use of it that made life even more difficult than having the left arm in a sling. But the left hand hadn't escaped either she could see. He was holding the basket with his left hip and knee, trying to reach forward and open the door to the Laundromat, when his long grey sleeve inched up his arm a bit, showing a wrist brace. Had he sprained it? She hoped that was as far as the injury went. But by the looks of him, it wasn't. He got the door open, his basket tumbling to the ground in disarray. Face blank, he bent down to gather them up as the door closed in front of him. Poor kid.

A few minutes and three tries later he was inside the building. Penny was the only one there at the moment, and the oppressive silence as she sorted her lights from her darks was grating on her nerves. Every Wednesday and Saturday she would see him fight the door to get in, to clean his clothes. Except twice last month he skipped the weekends. Penny wasn't obsessive, nope, not in the slightest. Except that he was quiet, and shy, and cute, and would probably be very tall if he stopped hunching over.

Today was Saturday, which meant a grey long-sleeve undershirt and a red T. Wednesdays always meant a brown or grey shirt with a grey hoodie. His laundry clothes she guessed, fighting to keep herself from turning and staring blatantly. He had a nice build to him. She only got to see it when he reached over the washer or into the dryer on Saturdays, when his layered shirts would ride up and give her a glimpse of grey boxers and toned midriff.

She had a feeling she wouldn't get that today though. He looked too much in pain. His hunch was just a little more pronounced, a little more careful. The slung arm was almost constantly being touched, a flash of agony in his overly expressive silverblues. No, scratch that. He only had one eye today, the other had a thick black ring around it, swollen shut. A split lip was constantly being licked at, hidden by the lip above it. And every now and then he'd tilt his head just right, or just wrong, and the neck of the shirt would shift and she'd catch a bit of a bruise on his collarbone.

She wanted so much to know what was wrong with him. Save him from it. For the last five years he'd been coming in here on Saturday and Wednesday, and not once had she seen him unhurt. Maybe he was a boxer? Maybe. But he didn't seem the type to be fighting. He didn't look like the person that would love the attention winning or losing would bring. After all, she couldn't say hello to him without producing a heart attack.

Billy hated full laundry days. More people meant more chance of being touched. He hated being touched here, because people would bump his arm and it would hurt, or they'd step on his foot and it would hurt. He was in enough pain; did they have to cause more? Well, it's not like they knew, he couldn't blame them. But it also meant that the washers and dryers would be full. And he'd be late coming home. Billy didn't like being late coming home, because Jason didn't like him being late coming home. Jason was slightly protective of his mate, and you did not cross a big man with big arms. But Jason was sweet, on the inside, under the layer of cheese and flakes. Billy had seen it now and again, and it was why he was still with the other man.

But he did miss his friends. Pum and Moist had dropped calling him over the last three years. Pummeler, or John, as his given name was, used to call him once a week after Billy moved in with Jason. There was always some kind of news, since they rarely ever got to hang out. Moist, or Mason (poor dude had the worst sweat-glands), used to call every day. Used to come to the new house and drag his friend out of there, into the sun, out into the world. They had been room-mates until Billy started to date Jason. But after a while, the calls started to get shorter, the appearance at his door stopped, and then he couldn't get the oomph to pick up the phone anymore.

Right about then was when Jason started to get angry. The phone bill was getting too big, Billy was spending more time with Mason than he was with Jason, Billy was having an affair. All of this was untrue, and all of this Billy fought hard against. And once, only once, did he ever show a tempter.

"You're such a slut! Are you sleeping with John now or something?!"

"Jason! No, of course not! How dare you even think that! They're my friends, that's all."

"Sure, friends with benefits. Right? You sneak out while I'm at work and fuck one of them, is that right?"

"NO! I'm here, at home, all day, waiting for you. You made me quit my job, you made me move in, made me stop hanging out with my guys. Then you have the balls to come in here and accuse me of that?! Why? Are you having an affair and trying to pin it on me?" Jason backhanded him then, cracking his lower jaw and sending him to the floor. The big man seethed for a moment, eyes narrowed on the thinner man that was curled up and cowering on the floor. Then his eyes grew wide, dropping to his knees and reaching out to Billy. Who cringed back and tried to avoid looking at him.

"Bill, oh Bill I'm sorry. Oh god, what did I do?! Come here, let me take a look." Billy eyed him, then crawled over letting big warm arms wrap around his frame, pulling him close. Resting his head on the yellow symbol on Jason's chest he closed his eyes and let his lover take a look at the damage. After a moment of careful prodding and pulling open Billy's mouth to get a look inside, Jason sighed and pulled him tighter.

"This is something Captain Hammer can't fix. Let's get you to a doctor, okay?" The on-call handyman muttered, wiping away the tears on the white face on his chest. Billy nodded.

That was the first, and last, time Jason felt remorse in hitting Billy.

Jason had a strange fetish. He loved violence. When he was a teenager, just as his balls started to drop and his voice started to change, his uncle took him to a war flick. The World War II movie was old, and there wasn't much sex in it, so it was boring to the adolescent. But there was one part, right in the middle, that caught him. The men were storming the beach, people were dying, bullets were flying, one of the Americans caught a German bastard and socked him right in the nose.

That was Jason's first ever erection that wasn't brought on by boobs or balls.

Ever since then Jason collected movies with tons of fighting in them. He'd get magazines with guns on display, knives peppered his room. His uncle was so proud. Too bad he didn't know this was his nephew's version of porn. He'd stay up late, watching some martial art movie, jacking off as the main character broke someone's nose. And it always had to be dudes. He tried, once, to enjoy Charlie's Angles and when it came out Kill Bill. But they just weren't the same. Too many chicks.

So when shy little William came into the picture, what wasn't to like? He was frail, skinny, with stunning eyes and beautiful hair. The only thing that could make that image better was a bit of bruises and blood. But how to get that? How to get what Jason wanted? Because he was the handyman Captain Hammer. He had a commercial and a yellow-book advertisement and his own work truck. People called him to come fix things for them, and he always got what tool he wanted. He always got something fixed or to work. He was Captain Hammer. He was the best.

Throw on the charm, grin and finagle your way into the dude's pants. It worked. Billy was his puppy, gel in the hands of a Hammer mould that would form the perfect partner. And the first time he hit Billy had been amazing. He had been stunned, of course. He had loved the idea, but had never actually hit anyone before. So when his knuckles connected with his lover's jaw, Jericho came crashing to the ground. He had felt sorry, at first. He hadn't meant to break the bone, he only wanted to scare him, to make him shut up. So, yes, he felt sorry. But the bruise was hot, and the days afterward of watching it turn colors as the skin and bone healed were maddening. That's when Billy started to go to the coin-wash down the street.

After a while Jason started to get a little rough in bed. Billy never left one of their sessions unscathed. At first it was something small like a finger-shaped bruise on his arms, a slight limp the next morning, a lip bitten so hard it drew blood. Then it started to get worse, and Jason started to get more turned on. But Jason always swore to himself that he'd never go too far. That he'd never push Billy past the limits of what was safe. However far that was.

Penny decided that she was going to find out today. Talk to him, let him have his panic attack, let him calm down, then find out what was up. Because this wasn't right. Something about this was wrong. Penny was going to find out what and help him. Because that's what Penny did. She helped people. She just didn't know how, or if she could. Because if he didn't want to be helped…

Well, she'll cross that bridge when and if she got there. So she got to the Laundromat early that Wednesday, frozen yogurt in hand, clothes sitting contently under her as she sat on her washer. She was going to catch him here today. Even if she sat here until the place closed, she'd do it.

And she wound up sitting there all day, clean clothes in their basket, until the manager told her they were closing. He hadn't come today. Well, Penny had almost a year's worth of sick days saved up at work, she could take the week off and wait for him. So she did. He didn't show on Thursday, or Friday, Saturday was a bust, Sunday was slow, Monday gave nothing, Tuesday was full of people but no blond man, and Wednesday came around again without one hair from him. So she waited one more week. She became great friends with the manager, sitting and talking to the Armenian most of the time. She found out that the man had come to the states about eight years ago, his cousin sponsored him.

She found out that he had worked here for the first three years, then took over when his cousin became too ill to do so. That he had seen so many regulars and new faces he knew the schedule of each of them. He knew that every Tuesday and Friday to have the novelas on because the patrons didn't want to miss María la del Barrio. Wednesday were country western days, so CMT was on the little televisions in the corners. The other days were news, always news.

So she asked what he knew about the people that came in here. He knew Mrs. Fredriks has lost her husband twenty two years ago, and was still holding onto him like a bad penny. He knew that Jesús was the father of eight children, though he only had four with his wife. He knew that the cowgirl that came in every Wednesday was so race-righteous that she came here only to sneer at the manager, and that she had a swastika as a skank mark. He knew that Penny was obsessed with the Blond Kid. So when Penny asked about the Blond Kid, what his name was, what was known about him, the manager shrugged.

"I have no idea."

Billy had never felt so much pain in his life. He thought Jason would know how to tie knots, he thought Jason would know when he was in pain, he thought Jason would bring him to the hospital first before running off to a water main break. But here he was, tied so tightly with rough rope to the bed that his wrists and ankles were bleeding. The rope around his waist wasn't much better, but it wasn't bleeding yet. It still caused pain, however.

He was on his knees on their bed, ropes led from his ankles to the bed-posts at the footboard. His hand had been tied to the same points, pulled behind him at an agonizing angle until his shoulders popped. He himself was tied to the headboard, close enough that he could lick the wood but not actually attached skin-to-stain of it. He was naked, pulled in two directions, and struggling to breathe. He had never had such a love session with Jason. If you could call what they did "love." Coughing a deep angry lung full Billy tried to reason with himself.

Jason wouldn't hurt him on purpose. He's a big guy, he was just caught in the moment, he wasn't thinking. But it seemed that ever since the first slap that Jason was always caught in the moment. This time Jason had pressed all of his weight on Billy, pinning him against the wooden bed frame, pounding away, cracking ribs and fracturing bones. He had one hand around Billy's left thigh pulling him open wide, the other hand was wrapped around the long white neck, growing tighter and tighter as wave after wave of pleasure filled Jason. Billy felt none of what Jason was having. As his lover enjoyed himself Billy fought to stay awake, batted at the black dots that were filling his vision, the white flashes that riddled his brain. And then it was over, Jason fell back from him, sitting on the edge of the bed and stroking his hair. Billy had whimpered around the ball gag, trying hard to get air into his searing lungs. Jason had smiled and was just about to speak when the phone rang. Three minutes later Jason was dressed.

"I have to head off to work love, I'll be back soon as I can to finish this up, okay?" And like that, he was gone.

Jason was not happy. He had returned home, hoping to find Billy open and welcoming for him after a long day at work. Instead he found him slumped in half, passed out, the ropes being the only restraints keeping him from falling face-first onto the bed. There was blood on the sheets, and a perfectly good ball gag was now covered in sticky red goop. Ugh, couldn't he come home just once and not have to clean up after Billy?! The man was always leaving a mess somewhere.

Kicking off his shoes and pants Jason shed his Captain Hammer work shirt and tossed it aside, kneeling on the bed behind his lover. Tracing a big hand lightly over the blackened flesh of Billy's side, Jason rested his chin on the dislocated shoulder. The movement and touch had woken Billy, who wheezed out another cough before turning tired eyes to the man that had loved him.

"You left a mess." Jason muttered, voice soft. He watched Billy's eyes flash in terror before going blank like the rest of him. That was all he needed. "You know what happens when you leave a mess." A large hand rested between Billy's shoulder blades, pushing forward ever so slightly to stretch the arms and make him squeal in pain. Then he let up the pressure, sliding off the bed and leaving the room.

Penny gave up waiting for the Blond Kid. She didn't even know his name. She returned to work, going about her job and life per normal. When Wednesday came she would look up when the bell over the door rang out of habit. To her surprise, Blond Kid was there. And not to her surprise, he looked like shit.

His face was a multitude of bruises, how he could see she'd never know. He held himself almost folded in half, having trouble holding the basket. It looked like he was having problems moving his arms. He had a huge limp, and when he stood in front of his normal washer it was awkward. She could hear him wheezing from her end of the row, could see the flecks of red cover his sleeve when he coughed into it. And she couldn't miss the hand-like ring around his neck. No, this wasn't boxing.

"Excuse me?" Before she even knew it she was next to him, soft voice cutting through the quiet. He jumped, but looked at her, his eyes were so misted over with barley held in tears that is showed her the amazing color in gem tone. He didn't panic like that time. Perhaps he was so far gone he couldn't? She didn't like the sound of that.

"Are you okay?"

He just looked at her, then turned back to his work. Maybe he couldn't speak? That would explain it, but that would suck.

"I'm Penny." He kept ignoring her, though she could see the wheels in his head turning. "I see you here all the time. I thought, you know, it's kind of silly that we've never talked."

"You shouldn't be around me." His voice was so quiet she almost missed it. Raspy, sore, it was almost not there at all.

"Why not? Who did this to you?"

"You ask too much."

"I just want to help."

He picked up his basket, limping to another washer. She followed him, determined to right whatever wrong had happened.

"Can I at least get your name?" He paused at that, a very dirty bed sheet half pulled out of his basket.

"Billy. Billy is my name."

"Well, it's good to meet you Billy Buddy. Come sit with me, please?"

So he did.

Billy spent the whole day with Penny. He sat by the window all day with her, spilling out his life story because she asked, sobbing when he got to the bits and pieces about Jason and what was going on. She hugged him, careful of his ribs, lending him a blanket that she had just washed so it didn't hurt as much to sit on the wooden bench. People came, and people went, and no one disturbed them the whole time. Billy's phone had rung once, and from the look on his face Penny knew it was Jason. She took the phone from him before he could flip it open and answer it. Once it stopped ringing, she opened it, and turned it off.

Billy leaned on Penny as she helped him stand, taking both of their baskets under one arm. She helped him out the door, and lead him to the hospital. He limped there, stopping now and again to gasp for air and lean on a bus bench to ease the pain off his hips. She checked him into the hospital, and was there when they put him under. They had taken pictures of his chest and abdomen, rushing him to the operating room once they were developed.

Penny was there when he woke up in the hospital room they had put him in. She smiled, and told him about his punctured lung, about his fractured pelvic bone, about his bruised larynx. She told him that she had called the police and they had arrested Jason for assault and battery. She told him about the Laundromat manager, and the new homeless shelter, and the new yogurt shop that opened up next to her apartment building. And Billy lay in his bed, and listened to her. Because she was Penny, saver of his life with beautiful flaming red hair. And he was her Billy Buddy, giver of a reason to make a difference. And somehow, that felt okay.