A Seat For Two (Pie Included) by WikedFae
Summary: Not all heroes are heroic, not all villains are villainous. What if a night with Captain Hammer had resulted in a very different revelation? Penny/Billy; A short, little"flangsty"thing…not my usual, but nice.
Disclaimer: Whedon & Co. does not employ me. 'Nuff said.
Her apartment complex was far from quiet as the wailing sirens of Los Angeles' finest echoed wearily through the streets, fading in a westward direction, the officers presumably pressing the worn pedal to the metal out of despondent desperation. Every day, those flashing lights seemed to flicker more, the exhaustion of the police force evident in their shabby and run-down cruisers; every night, tragic tales of the beaten cavalry arriving too late inundated the news broadcasts. Penny pulled her jacket tightly around her as she shivered in the cool night breeze. Captain Hammer would be having a busy night tonight…just busy in a way he hadn't intended. The shudder that ran down her spine at that thought had nothing to do with the zephyr weaving through the alley.
Sighing, she tucked her head down and pressed on, occasionally glancing up to check the street name and address. It had to be around here somewhere…she knew he always turned down this street. Looking at the crumpled and faded dry-cleaning bill in her hand, she squinted to make out the address. Thirty-seven…or is that supposed to be an eighty-seven? Stupid block numbers, she thought. Personally, she hoped it was a thirty-seven as the road stretched before her only to be engulfed in darkness after the next street lamp, right at address thirty-nine. Taking her chances, Penny slipped into the complex, anxious to get off the cracked, weed-ridden sidewalk. Next: building 4B, apartment 26. Peering across the fluorescent yellow-tinted courtyard, she spotted a set of stairs leading to the upper levels. Swallowing thickly around the lump in her throat, she carefully ascended, all the while questioning the brashness of her actions. Finding his dry-cleaning bill next to the machine he used hardly qualifies as him freely giving you his address, she chastised herself. But before she could shake sense into herself, she was standing in front of a nondescript door. A chipped plaque that hung there still boldly displayed 26. Hesitantly, she raised her hand to knock, but stopped before her knuckles rapped against the hard surface. Penny, this is sheer lunacy! Stop and go home! Her mind frantically hurtled excuse after pretext in a desperate attempt to st—Oh, no, too late now…her heart chimed in as her hand descended repeatedly. Throwing away her last bit of self-preservation and caution, she tentatively called out, "Billy?"
The silence reverberating from behind the door was unsettling and the sounds of breaking glass down the street did nothing to calm her nerves. Peering around to peek through the window, she saw a small, cramped room with a dilapidated desk that practically sagged under the weight of an impressive computer. Through the worn curtains, she could discern a beat-up couch with faded arm rests and bulky cushions as well as a coffee table littered with papers. The lamp in the corner shed a depressing amount of light on the scene. But the rooms appeared deserted. Maybe this isn't the right place, she thought. She was about to turn around and sprint home when something in the corner of her eye caught her attention. There, by the doorway to the miniscule kitchen, lay a graying plastic basket filled with freshly laundered clothes. The pile was teetering precariously under its own weight and Penny was struck by the thought that whoever lived in the apartment was decidedly male; but the next thought that crossed her mind was that the sweatshirt residing atop the mound looked remarkably similar to the one Billy had attempted to abandon at the laundromat earlier that day. He'd said he didn't love those clothes, but she never believed that for a second.
Then again, having noticed early on his style steered towards the more unremarkable side of casual, there was really no way for her to determine if it actually was the sweatshirt or his residence. At best it was a chance, though, and after the evening she'd had, it was just enough to make her rap on the door again. Skittishly, she tapped her foot against the cold concrete flooring as she briefly glanced over her shoulder and down the hall. Still no answer. Logically, she knew this scenario was beyond ludicrous, but looking in at that dismally lit living room, it appealed to her much more than running back to her cold and empty apartment. At least the dim light offered the possibility of preferred company if it was the right place so once more, she pounded on the door.
And abruptly stopped when the latch slipped and the door swung inwards.
No, Penny. This is where you draw the line. No! PENNY—
"Hello?" her traitorous mouth called out as her brain launched into a tirade dominated mostly by very colorful language. When the curses didn't faze her reckless behavior, her mind turned to concocting scenarios straight from Hitchcock's Psycho. Penny, it hissed in her ear, you know curiosity killed the cat. Guess who's the cat here. Stubbornly ignoring her rational side, she cautiously poked her head in through the gap, one hand clinging desperately to the doorframe as she leaned in. As she took her first step into the apartment, her logical voice pointed out, You know what wasn't on the list of things to do when we woke up this morning? B&E. So would you be so kind as to get your act together and get out of here?
"Excuse me, is anyone home? Your door is open!" she yelled out. She prayed now more than ever before that this was the right apartment as she looked around. Standing fully in the entrance, the sight that met her eyes was more than a tad intimidating. The cold, metal slab of a table combined with the rickety scaffold of a makeshift chemistry lab made the decrepit couch the most comforting and inviting part of the whole place. Stepping forward, she jumped aside as she collided with a wobbly side table and sent a pile of letters crashing to the ground. Scrambling to pick them up, she heaved as sigh of relief as she noticed the name on the envelopes. Billy Buddy. Then it was the right place, but somehow her relief was short-lived as she chanced another look around the apartment. It certainly didn't look like Billy would live in a place like this…but maybe he had a roommate? Or tons of eccentricities she didn't know about?
Returning the mail to the table, she moved further into the apartment, hoping to find some sign of life. But each new empty nook and cranny gradually made her fall into despair. He probably just stepped out…forgot to shut the door…this was a bad idea to begin with, so why not just quietly let yourself out and go home, like you were supposed to…her mind tried to persuade her. Gazing around as she came back to the cramped living room, she was about to give up on the last thread of hope, capitulate, and follow her mind's logical instructions, until she spied something unusual. A flicker of neon lighting slithered across the carpet, its source: a small crack in the corner wall. An unobtrusive door. That in itself would have been interesting, but the broken glass twinkling amongst a puddle of putrid harlequin-green liquid compelled her to quickly creep over to the opening, her heart hammering a fierce tattoo against her ribcage. Drawing level with the door, she carefully pried her fingers through the gap and pulled. She staggered back from the exertion and winced as the glass crunched under her weight. Delicately stepping over the shards, she turned around and inhaled sharply.
If the living room had been strange, this room far surpassed it. She was convinced she'd entered the realm of a mad scientist as her gaze landed on rows of beakers and counters cluttered with tools, cables, and blueprints. As her eyes roved over the room, they grew wider with astonishment and confusion. How did this all fit in with what she knew of—. Her mind cut out as she saw the figure. Another person. Her heart leapt into her throat and viciously plummeted back below her stomach, a wave of nausea breaking over her. Instinctively stepping back and raising her hands to defend herself, it took a moment for her to realize the figure wasn't moving. In fact, it didn't appear the person was even awake. And the most ridiculous thing she noticed, once her vision cleared from the adrenaline, was the chair the figure occupied. It was enormous! It positively dwarfed the body taking residence in it. Ignoring the upholstered monstrosity for a moment, she turned her attention to the individual.
Cautiously, she took stock of the reclining man, clad in white from head to toe. Thick-soled rubber boots went halfway up his calves, fitting loosely around wrinkled pants. A starch-stiff lab coat covered his form from the thighs upwards, its protective layer meticulously clean. What seemed to be industrial-strength cleaning gloves encased his hands, their thick fingers obscuring any detail of the digits beneath. Observing his breathing, she decided he was of a slight build; everything about his attire was slightly exaggerated, almost as if he was ashamed of his slender shape. Then her eyes swept up to his face. A face slackened with sleep, eyes sunken in darkened pools of sleep deprivation, and goggles that glinted silver. It was the glint that jogged her memory and a vision from weeks before swam up from the depths.
A petition. An alley. A van. A set of hands. Garbage bags. Her rescuer…and his hand clamped around the neck of the perpetrator. A perpetrator dressed in white…and goggles that flashed silver in the sunlight. Dr. Horrible. Fear overtook reason. She screamed and stumbled backwards…into a rack of drying glassware.
She froze as the flasks shattered on impact with the concrete flooring and wild, frantic eyes shot open across the room. Hands clasped before her face, she squeezed her eyes shut as the Doctor lurched upright and pinned her with his stare. It's over. It's all over, Penny. He's a supervillain…in training…but a supervillain nonetheless. You'll be lucky if they ever find your body, her mind hissed. All her senses were on alert and she could hear his ragged breathing coming in puffs. She half expected to hear the squeak of the rubber soles and strained to hear what he was doing, still too terrified to open her eyes. But at his utterance of her name, her eyes flew open.
"Penny?" his voice called softly.
Warily, she looked across the room and into those hollow eyes. He shifted forwards on the chair and she backed further against the wall. How did he know her? And why would he have taken an interest in her? Had she somehow foiled one of his plans with all her work with Caring Hands?
"Penny…what are you doing here?" he asked, a tinge of anxiety creeping into his voice. "You're not supposed to be here. You're supposed to be out with Hammer. Not here…in my lab…in my apartment." He looked down and panic seemed to grip him. "And not see me in this!" He scrabbled backwards into the depths of the chair, but his gloves made his moves awkward and shaky as the polymer slid against the patterned fabric.
"Wait," she whispered as her mind frantically put the pieces together. "Your lab…your apartment? Billy? What's going on? And why are you dressed as…" she drifted off as the gruesome reality crashed down upon her. "No…it can't be." She peered at him; he cowered under her scrutiny but gave no sign to refute her accusation.
"Penny…look, I wanted to tell you," he said, his tone gentle and calming, even as his eyes screamed of fear and apprehension. "But I didn't want you finding out like this."
The pieces of the puzzle fell into place and she couldn't believe she'd missed it all before. "I wanna be an achiever, like Bad Horse." Him driving the spork into his leg. "How are things with Cheesy-on-the-outside?" "Stop by here?...Oh goodness, look at my wrist. I gotta go." How could she not have realized? Her inattentiveness only served to stoke the fire of anger which had already been smoldering, flames licking at her nerves all evening. And as that anger roiled through her veins she lashed out. "Tell me what—that you're a monster? That while I've been bending over backwards to make the smallest corners of this flailing city a happier place, you've been gallivanting around, undoing my hard work? The hard work of others? How could you?" She started sidling towards the door, desperate to make her escape. But his muffled words stopped her in her tracks.
"Yeah…like the hard work of Captain Hammer. I'm sure he hardly bats an eye when something doesn't go as planned, him being perfect and all," he scoffed.
"Don't you—don't you dare say that!" she exclaimed, whirling around to face him.
"Oh, I suppose you know just how perfect he is by now, right?" A maniacal gleam had sparked in his eyes and although he huddled, engulfed by the cushions of the chair, his words stung as if he'd walked up and struck her.
She reached out and grabbed the doorframe for support as she saw the world she'd known and relied upon turn upside down and inside out. "Don't talk about things you don't know!" she shouted. "This isn't right…none of it is."
Out of the corner of her eye, she saw his hands slide across the armrests, fingers grappling to find purchase as he hauled himself closer to her. "But I do know, Penny. He told me what tonight was going to hold for you. Told me he'd make you his—and just because I…I…" he faltered.
"You what, Billy?" she whispered. "No, you know what? Don't tell me. I don't want to hear. It's enough that you're a supervillain. It's enough that you've never told me the truth, that you strung me along, that—that—that you were right and Captain Hammer really was 'Cheesy-on-the-outside,'" she sobbed, "…and what was underneath wasn't kind at all…and now…I don't…know…" She started gasping for breath as her vision swam before her; distantly she felt pain as her knees took the full brunt of her falling weight and she slumped against the wall. Her ears registered the rustling sound of his lab coat and the squelch of his boots as he crossed the floor to help her up. Weakly, she batted at his hands, but somehow, even as tired as he seemed, he still had the advantage and roughly dragged her over to the chair and sat her down. His face entered her line of sight and although she tried to look away, repulsed, she noticed how the gleam in his gaze had faded and concern had replaced it.
"Did he hurt you?" came the quiet question.
"What do you care?" she muttered, swiping at her eyes.
"I…I…" He seemed to wrestle with himself. His whispered, "I do care," seemed forcibly pulled from his lips.
"The answer is 'no.' No more than you've hurt me." She finally looked away and set her jaw.
Though she could not see his face, his voice carried with it a chastened countenance as he said, "I know. I know I hurt you." He paused. "You said I was right. He's not so perfect after all."
"Look who's talking, Billy."
"Then let me be honest…not like Hammer, the corporate tool." She grimaced at his appellation but allowed him to continue. "There are plenty of things I know. I know this world is screwed up. I know there are frauds posing as the heroes of a broken society, the new symbols of hope. Hammer is one of them. You are not. I know the system is busted beyond repair. I'm clearing the wreckage on my own, razing the ruins to the ground. But you, you're fixing the cogs that rusted off the machine long ago. I know trust is a rare thing to find. I don't store it in abundance and you practically ooze it…and Hammer twists it around his fat fingers any chance he gets."
She was about to come to Hammer's defense but caught herself at the last minute. If anything, Billy'd made his point about that posturing pretender. It was strange because in this small unexpected and impassioned speech, Penny could still only see snippets of her…what was he? A friend? A lying friend? Or a fiend? Well, whatever he was, it wouldn't get him off the hook so she pushed back. "And what are you a symbol of for this society? Huh? I'll tell you. You're a symbol of obstruction, a blockade. You break in with your tools and your blueprints and dismantle everything!"
"Yes, I break stuff. Stuff that's already a pile of rubble. How's that worse than the Mayor and his Heroes patching everything up with cheap invisible Scotch-tape so you can still see the cracks when they're finished? They're only stalling, trying to hold the house of cards together. What do you think will happen when Bad Horse and a stiff breeze comes through? All those people misled by their blind faith and inundations of heroism…" his voice faded as he blinked, a dazed look in his eyes.
"You mean the people stupid enough to have the wool pulled over their eyes, like me," she said.
"I never said you were stupid!"
"Then be honest again. Why didn't you stop me from seeing Hammer?"
"I tried to, wanted to…but I have people watching me. I have my job to do." He looked down and hastily muttered, "I like you," before evasively continuing even as she did a double take in his direction, "But who are we kidding? Look what's happened. I got caught in a lie designed to protect you. It was easier to live that lie than go up against him. I've had enough broken bones from him for my scheming outside his personal life. Besides, you seemed happy. I figured it was the least I could do. There's not a lot of happy to go around this world, you know." His eyes were tracking up and down the patterns on the upholstery in a disjointed manner and Penny realized there was more truth he was timidly concealing.
"You said you had a job to do. People watching. People…like Bad Horse. That's what you were talking about in the laundromat, wasn't it."
His wild, bloodshot eyes met hers and widened marginally, but he set his jaw and said nothing.
Watching him, she saw his breathing hitch, growing shallower with each inhalation as anxiety flooded his frame. "They wanted you to do something, didn't they? Something you wouldn't normally do, something they wouldn't compromise on." She reached out to steady him as he rocked back on his heels.
And as terrifying as the gleam in his eyes earlier had been, it paled in comparison to the hopelessness that poured out of them now. "It's not my way. But I need in! Bad Horse and the ELE are the only ones with enough influence."
"So they want you to…what? Steal? You already do that. Misdirect? You have no talent for that." She fell silent for a moment before she realized his assigned task. "They want you to murder, don't they? Who—" But it was easy. It was all so easy. He'd gone and told her without saying a single name. "You were going to kill Hammer," she whispered.
"Well…only since this afternoon," he finally admitted, sheepishly.
"You were going to kill my boyfriend?" she shouted, incredulously. "And you were okay with that?"
"Of course not…I mean, not okay with the killing part. But would I have been sad to see you guys split? No. I told you—he's like pie, not some stupid, multi-layered angel cake! He's a jerk, my nemesis and I—"
"What did you think would happen once he was out of the picture?"
"I—n-nothing.," he stuttered. He wrung his gloved hands and looked around, desperate for a distraction. "I didn't think anything would…" But Penny wasn't listening anymore. She was transfixed, staring at him as she finally saw what she'd hoped to find at this apartment and prayed to glimpse since the wild eyes of Horrible had pinned her down. The insecurity, the timidity, the kindness; no trace of malice or fanaticism. A persona with which she was familiar. A friend, even a stubborn friend trying to fix an unjust world in a twisted way. Billy, through and through.
"You're the pie, aren't you?" she interrupted.
"—what? Pie? Me?" he asked, blind-sided.
"You weren't just talking about Hammer when you said that, were you? You were talking about yourself."
"I have no idea what you're talking about," he poorly deflected.
"Yes, you were right about Hammer…but you were talking about yourself! Five minutes ago you said you tried and wanted to stop me from seeing Hammer, said you let me be happy, and now you're saying you didn't think anything would happen between us. Because, what? If I knew the truth, I'd cut my ties? That's why you said he was like pie. You wanted me to know. You're both like pies. And I think I've hit the crust with you."
"But it didn't matter in the end, did it?" he asked, pacing back and forth. "Yeah, I was right about Hammer, but will you look in a mirror? You," he let out a small chuckle, "You…what can I say? Caring Hands. Homeless shelters. Bambi eyes. Now look at me." He huffed dispassionately. "No explanation needed."
Wondering how this evening had gone careening down this twisted path, Penny looked at him with sympathy. Slowly, she scooted over to one side of the enormous chair and motioned for him to join her. He seemed reluctant to take a seat beside her, but eventually gave in when she tugged at his wrist. His posture was rigid, his expression, sterile and blank, and she had to pull at his shoulder to get him to relax back into the cushions. And even with her brain screaming at her that this entire scenario was still beyond ludicrous, her heart eventually drowned out the screeches of logic and bolstered her courage enough for her to nudge him gently in the ribs.
"You know, Billy…I'm glad you were right about everything. My world might feel upside down right now, but somehow you're still the same, deep down."
"Yeah, but Penny…you know now. That's got to change everything," he sighed, miserably.
"Maybe…maybe not," she quietly retorted. Sighing, she closed her eyes and breathed deeply, taking solace in his presence, exhausted at the end of this trying night. After a beat, she said, "You know what I see, Billy?"
"Colors in the darkness." She peeked out of one eye just in time to see a small, unsure smile tug at his lips. Tentatively, he ungloved one hand and haltingly reached over to rest it on hers. She shot him a reassuring smile as was her nature, even though her mind was racing through the new predicament, but once again her heart chimed in to silence all the questions bouncing around her head.
"So…what happens now?" he asked.
"We wait out the rain, Billy. We wait out the rain and see what grows," she said.
"I've got some pie in the refrigerator, if Hammer was dumb enough to forget about dessert."
A/N: There are some direct quotes from Dr. Horrible in this piece and references to song lyrics. Hopefully everyone found them on their own and I won't be subjected to a lawsuit. :)