Title: True To Ourselves

Author: Canonisation

Pairing: Frieda And Penny

Rating: 15, to be safe

Set right after 13x13, 'China In Your Hands'. Contains spoilers for that episode, and will feature some mild sexual stuff.

Synopsis: Frieda's going to become a doctor, thanks to Penny's persuasion. But is she having second thoughts?


1


Penny Valentine wandered back from the bar and sat back down next to Frieda Petrenko, setting down the bottle of champagne on their table a little more forcefully than she had intended. "There!" she said happily. "Champagne!"

Frieda stared at her without comprehension. "To celebrate," Penny said by way of explanation.

"Celebrate what? The fact that I am no longer nurse, and will no longer be bothering you?" Frieda frowned. "Funny thing to celebrate while I am still here."

"Don't be silly!" Penny punched here lightly on the arm. "Celebrating a new chapter in your life - of course! I mean, you'll be a doctor soon. Fulfilling all that potential at last. Worth celebrating, right?"

Frieda raised an eyebrow. "It seems one of us is doing more celebrating than other. How many drinks have you had already? Or are you just lightweight?" She glanced at the number of empty glasses. "Never mind - it is lightweight."

"Don't be grumpy." Penny poured a glass of champagne for both of them, then looked at Frieda with a small frown. "Come to think of it, why are you so grumpy? You've been scowly all evening. I mean, more scowly than you normally are."

Frieda took the proffered glass and downed it in one gulp. "It has been strange day. Was not expecting all this when I came in."

Penny couldn't argue with that. It had, indeed, been a strange day. Getting used to Malick's rather odd ways and figuring out the AAU's new dynamic was still something she was working on. She had also been hoping against hope that Ollie wouldn't embarrass himself too badly, which he hadn't exactly managing to do on a regular basis at the moment.

However, Frieda's shock announcement that she was being laid off - right away - that morning had been like a blow to the gut. Suddenly, one of the few people she considered a friend in the hospital was leaving. It was the sort of thing that made her want to start smoking again.

The day had then gone from bad to worse as she had tried to get Frieda to consider applying her not inconsiderable talent as a doctor, which had lead to Frieda's secret being revealed, leading her to lash out at Penny. The rest of the day after that had then been spent trying to show everyone what a great doctor Frieda could be, while also trying to make sure that there was no lingering resentment on Frieda's part. Penny imagined that being on Frieda's bad side was not a good place to be.

It had been a mixed success. Frieda had definitely outshone Oliver, but didn't seem to have impressed Malick all that much, despite Penny's initial hopes. However, after what had seemed to be a blazing row with Malick, Frieda had decided to apply to be a doctor, and didn't seem to bear TOO much ill will towards Penny.

Glancing over at Frieda, Penny couldn't help noticing that her eyes kept darting over to Malick, seated at the other side of the bar. She'd only heard a bit of their row, but whatever was said, it had been enough to spur her into action. Penny couldn't read Malick at all. She'd thought Frieda was impressing him, but then there was that argument. She honestly couldn't figure that man out yet.

Not that figuring men out was something she was particularly skilled at, she thought ruefully, and chuckled a bit.

"What?"

Penny looked at Frieda. "I'm sorry?"

"You go quiet for long time, stare off into space, then laugh for no reason. Is this normal for when you are drunk?"

Penny poured herself another glass, then Frieda. "I'm not drunk, okay? It's just...I'm happy. You know? Glad you're not leaving."

Frieda took another gulp. "Why?"

"Why am I happy you're not leaving? Cause you're a great nurse...and I think you could be a great doctor. Come on, I mean, not meaning to be rude or anything, but you're..."

"No - I meant, why do you care so much? Why not just let me go - more nurses will come and replace me. You would forget me in few weeks."

Penny set her glass down. "Don't say that! You know, we got off on the wrong foot, and...and we haven't got on all the time...and you seem to delight in making fun of me sometimes..."

"You are very easy to make fun of."

"But I...I like you. I just...I consider you a friend...not just a colleague. And you are a great nurse, you know." She blinked nervously. "I just don't...want to lose you - that. A friendship, I mean."

Frieda stared at her for a moment, then took another gulp of champagne and turned back to the table.

Penny frowned and leaned forward slightly. "That was sort of your cue to say "I consider you a friend, too, Penny! Thanks for believing in me. This is going to be a bold new step for me." Something like that."

Frieda still would not look up from the table. "Thank for not doing accent. I feel your impression of me would have been so bad." She looked up to meet Penny's gaze for a moment, then looked down again. "But you are okay. You are a little bit of a...suck-up. You cover for rubbish brother and let him blame you too often. But...you are good doctor." There was a slight pause. "You forget this is not new step for me. I have been doctor before."

Penny tried to lower her face slightly to meet Frieda's gaze. It didn't work, and she realized she was looking a bit foolish. She raised her face back up and thought of reaching over to Frieda to lift her face back up. Probably a bad idea - she might have been quite tipsy, but she wasn't nearly drunk enough to risk that with Frieda. Hugging her was about as bold as she could get at the moment - she might consider Frieda a friend, but she still did not know exactly how close Frieda considered them.

However, something was bothering Frieda, and she wanted to find out what. She downed her glass quickly and steeled herself. "Is that what's bothering you? Did...did something happen when you were a doctor? Is that why you're nervous?"

Frieda's eyes snapped back up to meet Penny's. They flashed with anger. "I am not nervous. You want me to tell you another secret you can spread over AAU? Is that what this is?"

Penny's eyes widened. "No! I'm just...Frieda, I said I was so sorry about that. I know you told me in confidence...I just...I just wanted Malick to know how good you were..."

"Yes, it made day much easier. Thank you for that."

"I'm sorry...I just wanted to help you okay? I didn't want you to leave...like that."

Frieda stared at her for moment, downed her glass, and made to stand up. "Anyway. Is late, so I am going home. Thank you for champagne."

Penny reached out her hand and laid it across Frieda's. "Don't go...I'm sorry. Besides, it's still early and neither of us has to work tomorrow. Don't leave because you're mad at me."

Frieda stood up, pulling her hand from Penny. "I said I would go to bar, and buy everyone drink. We are at bar, everyone has had drink, so I am going. Nothing to do with you, Valentine."

Penny tried to stand up, and her head swam. Clearly, she was a little more drunk than she'd thought. "Frieda, wait..."

Frieda grabbed her jacket. "It has been long day, and I need to go home." She gestured at the almost empty champagne bottle. "Enjoy rest of champagne."

Penny grabbed her arm gently. "I didn't mean to offend you...look, tell me what I've..." She tailed off as she saw Frieda look down at her hand, then glare at her. The look in her eyes was clear - let go of me. Penny did so and Frieda walked off quickly without another word, stopping only to say a quick goodbye to some of the other staff members. Some of which, Penny noted with dismay, had clearly been listening to the end of the conversation.

She slumped back into her chair, her head swimming. Angry tears gathered and she blinked them away. Why was it she always messed up relationships? Frieda was one of the few people at the hospital she considered a friend, and definitely one of the people she did not want to lose. She'd thought their friendship was growing, and now she'd messed it up.

The worst part was, she didn't even know why. Something she'd said must have hurt Frieda. It was certainly hurting Penny enough, that was for certain.

Penny blinked and mentally scolded herself. Wow, that had been a pretty intense burst of self-pity. It was Frieda that was hurting here, not Penny. She needed to fix what she'd done, not sit and feel sorry for herself. Glancing over, she saw Malick, staring at her. When he caught her eye, he turned away and went back to his drink.

She poured out the rest of the champagne and downed it quickly. Then she stood up - a little more gingerly this time - and walked over to Malick. He didn't look up as she approached.

"Fight with the girlfriend?" he said.

"She's not my...never mind. Hey! Have you heard the good news?"

Malick turned to face her. "Emo Barbie applying to be a doctor. Yeah."

Penny smiled. "Exactly. Take it from me, she'll be great." She tried to accentuate the last part with a sweeping hand movement, but just succeeded in feeling slightly unbalanced. Perhaps that last drink had been a bit unwise.

"Yeah. Of course." The tone was most definitely not sincere.

Penny sat down opposite him - again, a little too hard - and winced. "Why don't you like her? She was a great nurse."

"Exactly - a nurse. If you want to be a nurse, be a nurse. Don't act like you're a doctor unless you'll willing to put in the work to get all the way. Otherwise, you're just a mouthy nurse who likes stirring."

"She's putting in the work. She'll be amazing."

"Maybe." He shrugged. "Either she'll put in the graft and make it, or she'll drop out, and I won't have to see her ever again. You know what I think it'll be, and it wouldn't bother me one bit if I don't see Little Miss Gobby Slacker and her clown makeup ever again."

Penny leaned forward. "You're wrong," she said with a smile. "Just you wait and see." She then stood up - feeling more than a little unbalanced. "She's going to be one of the best doctors here."

"Couldn't be worse than your brother."

"Exactly!" Penny frowned. "No, wait...he's my brother...he's really quite...never mind. Time to go."

Malick sat back and looked at her. "Don't think that I'm suggesting that posh birds are lightweights or anything, but do you need help with a taxi or something? Cause the last time I saw someone wavering like that, the next thing I knew was that I had to try to put them back together after they fell on their backside on a busy street at three a.m."

"I'm fine," said Penny unsteadily. "Why does everyone think I'm a lightweight?"

Malick grinned annoyingly. "Can't imagine...maybe...cause you are?"

"Fine!" Penny waved her hand dismissively. "I'm going to go home now and you'll - you'll see." She looked over and saw Ollie walking over with that annoying look on his face. No doubt he was going to try and impress Malick with his exhaustive knowledge of hip-hop, gleaned from a 10-minute Google search. That was probably going to get ugly, so now was a good time to leave.

As she walked out of the bar, she quickly ordered a taxi and stood outside to wait for it. However, try as she might, she couldn't get the image of Frieda out of her head. She had seemed really upset, even more than she had been after her earlier confrontation. Penny was worried about her. She was also worried that she may have offended Frieda in some way, and that was not good. She'd worked enough on their friendship to see it harmed now.

In the back of her mind, she did wonder exactly why she was so concerned about losing Frieda. It wasn't like she'd never fallen out with classmates or colleagues before, after all, and it had never bothered her too much. But...Frieda was different. For some reason, every time Penny tried to work out why Frieda was so different, she found herself wanting to think about something else, and she didn't quite know why.

However, that was besides the point. Tonight, Frieda was upset, and Penny wanted to help her. As the taxi pulled up, she got in and cursed to herself. She should have chased after Frieda right away, instead of talking with Malick. Now Frieda was probably home and in bed, and Penny wasn't even 100% sure of when she would be seeing her again.

Penny sighed very deeply. Once again, she was proving that relationships were not something she excelled at.


2


This was either a brilliant idea, or the worst idea she'd ever had. And, Penny thought as she cleared the last few steps, she'd had some pretty awful ideas in her time. She had gone home, fully intending to deposit her tipsy self into bed and wake up the next morning with an appalling hangover. However, on arriving home, she'd sat down, unwisely cracked open a bottle of wine, and started thinking.

A few glasses later, she had become even more drunk, and could not stop thinking of Frieda. The thought of Frieda in her flat, all alone, upset and without anyone to talk to bothered Penny immensely. And so, emboldened by the unwise amounts of alcohol she consumed, Penny had set off to Frieda's apartment in another taxi, ready to be there for her.

After all, thought Penny, as she walked towards the door of Frieda's flat, Frieda was hardly the type to ask for help. She obviously wanted Penny to be there for her, she was just too reserved to ask. At least, that was how Penny saw it in her current state.

Luckily, they'd shared a taxi home on other nights at the bar, and she remembered how to get to her flat. She'd never been inside the flat though, and idly wondered if Frieda's taste in decor was as unique as her personal style.

As she moved to ring the doorbell, a thought suddenly occurred to her. What if Frieda wasn't alone? Penny still didn't know that much about her. What if she had a partner and was with them at the moment? Wouldn't this be awkward?

Penny shook her head. No, if Frieda had a partner, she would have surely said something to Penny. Besides, Penny was her friend - Frieda wouldn't need to go running off to someone else - Penny was right there.

Penny blinked. That had been strange. It had felt like a rush of...jealousy, of all things. That was weird. You shouldn't get that jealous over a friend, should you? She put the thought out of her mind and rang the doorbell. As she waited, one thought about their friendship did work its way back into her head.

As she was thinking, the door swung open, and revealed a surprised looking Frieda Petrenko. Her face was free of makeup, her long brown hair was loose and hung down her back, and she was clad simply in a white tank top and some black shorts. She looked quite different from her normal self.

She also looked quite annoyed once she saw who it was. Before she could say anything, Penny's thought verbalised itself.

"You never said that you considered me a friend too!" said Penny, a little more indignantly than planned.

Frieda's eyes widened. "Did you come to my flat at four o'clock in morning simply to say that? I have phone, Valentine, you could just call."

Penny suddenly felt incredibly silly. Of course she could have just called! Why hadn't that occurred to her? The drink, probably, she thought ruefully. Oh well, she had better make the best of the situation now. "I...I was worried about you. You seemed angry and hurt. I wanted to see if you were okay."

"I am angry now, certainly. I am woken up in middle of night by crazy doctor!"

Penny's face fell. "I'm...I'm sorry."

Frieda's expression softened. "Is okay." She paused. "Come in. Is cold out here."

"And tiring - you know that lift's broken, right? I had to use the stairs."

Frieda shrugged. "Landlord is in prison, I think. Entire maintenance schedule is sort of in air at moment. But...is cheap place to live, so I can't complain too much."

Penny smiled and followed Frieda inside. Her apartment was fairly austere - in the living room, the only items of furniture were a large sofa and several large bookshelves, containing a large number of fairly hefty books and a lot of CDs. A small TV stood in the corner, and the walls were bare. Penny was a little surprised - she had expected it to be a little more decorated. She glanced at some of the books, but none of the titles seemed be in English.

"I don't like clutter," said Frieda, noticing Penny looking around. "Is always hard to find things." She gestured at the couch. "Sit. I would offer you drink, but you seem to have had enough already."

"I'm not drunk," protested Penny unconvincingly. She pulled off her jacket, and sat on the sofa in a very unsteady way.

Frieda sat down next to her and looked at her with a quizzical expression. "So what are you doing here? You can't have come here just because you wanted me to call you friend. Although that does sound like something you would do..."

Penny looked at Frieda for a short while. "You know, you look so different without all the make-up, and without the hair all tied back...I don't think I've ever seen you like this..."

"So now it seems that you're here to critique my appearance? That is much better! Definitely worth getting up at four after only two hours sleep."

Penny shook her head. The room swam and she immediately resolved never to do that again. "No...I'm sorry for bothering you...but I was worried about you. You weren't yourself tonight...and I know it's been a weird day, but something seemed wrong. And I was hoping I hadn't said anything wrong, because I never...I don't want to hurt you, Frieda."

Frieda looked away from Penny, down at the floor. "You are silly sometimes, and annoying sometimes, and just...weird sometimes, but you would not hurt me on purpose...I do consider you a friend, Valentine. You did not do anything wrong."

"I did tell everyone about you...I feel so bad about that."

"It hurt at first, yes. And...still a little bit now, because you promised. But...I know why you did it. You did it for me. I am sorry that I snapped at you." Frieda sighed. "It is...maybe Malick was right about me."

"What? No! Frieda, you are not a slacker. You're one of the hardest working nurses we have - I...the department...we would be lost without you sometimes."

Frieda glanced at her briefly, then looked away again. "But...I do like acting as more than nurse...sometimes at catching doctors out. It is...enjoyable sometimes. He is right - if I want to be doctor, I should put work in and be doctor, not just...super-nurse."

Penny found herself grinning at Frieda's description.

"It is time that I stop...wasting potential," continued Frieda. "I am...what is that expression? Coasting."

"You weren't coasting, Frieda," said Penny softly. "I meant it - you're one of the best nurses I've ever seen." She paused, wondering how far she should pry. "Is that...is that the only reason you were upset - because you felt that's what you were doing?"

There was a long pause. Frieda kept staring at the floor. Finally, she spoke in a soft tone. "What if you are wrong, Valentine? What if I do not have a gift...if I cannot make it as doctor?"

Penny had never heard Frieda sound so unsure before. She was used to the take-charge, no-nonsense Frieda Petrenko, who knew her mind and didn't mind speaking it. It didn't suit her to be so self-doubting. Was this something to do with the reason she had quit being a doctor before? Based on Frieda's reaction the first time, Penny knew it would be a bad idea to ask about it again, but she had to do something.

Emboldened by the fairly large quantity of alcohol inside her, Penny reached and touched the side of Frieda's face, moving it to face her, and leaned in closer. "Listen to me," she said in a quiet, but firm voice. "I wasn't wrong. You have a gift, and you are going to be so incredible as a doctor.

"After the Scott..thing...I didn't think I could handle this. I wanted to move away, quit being a doctor and forget the whole thing as a mistake. But I stuck at it...I got better...I did it. And you are so much stronger than I ever was. You are going to be great...better than me, even."

Frieda smile slightly. "Well, that part was obvious." The smile widened. "Thank you...you are good friend."

As Frieda was talking, Penny found herself unconsciously studying her face. She looked like a different person without the makeup and fringe brushed down. Her face was more open - her cheeks even had a slight rosiness to them. Her lips were a soft pink. Her eyes were less defined, the green softer with a slight smokiness to it. Her smile, a wider, more vulnerable smile than Penny had seen before, added to the effect.

She had always looked amazing, but now, Penny found herself staring at Frieda, seeing a new side to her. A side that she imagined Frieda was not comfortable showing to anyone. She became acutely aware that her hand was still resting on Frieda's cheek and, unable to help herself, Penny stroked her cheek slightly. The skin was as smooth as silk, as utterly perfect as the rest of Frieda. Her hand glided over it effortlessly, and she kept it there, not wanting to stop touching her.

Penny's mouth opened as if under its own accord. "Have I ever told you," she said, her voice feeling as if it was coming from a million miles away, "how beautiful you are? Because you are one of the most radiant people I've ever met."

Frieda's eyes darted to Penny's hand, still on her cheek, then back to Penny. Her expression was unreadable. "Penny..." she said softly. "I..."

Whatever she might have been going to say was lost as Penny leaned forward and pressed her lips to Frieda's. Her other hand came up to Frieda's other cheek and she pulled Frieda gently to her, drawing her into the kiss. Frieda's mouth opened, almost as if she was trying to speak, and Penny took advantage of that, slipping her tongue into Frieda's mouth, kissing her as passionately as she had ever kissed anyone.

After a few of the most pleasurable moments Penny had ever had, she drew back, Frieda's face still in her hands. She drew her hands away as she pulled back, her fingers savouring the feel of Frieda's skin. Penny exhaled heavily, feeling out of breath and light-headed. As she sat back, she saw Frieda's face, wearing an expression of utter shock, and for the first time since Penny had known her, completely speechless.

Penny's eyes widened as the impact of what she had just done raced through her. Her face flushed scarlet in shock and embarrassment. What had come over her? Frieda must hate her - she had offended her, spilled her secrets, forced her out of the bar by asking stupid questions, and now practically forcing herself on Frieda. She had ruined their friendship - Frieda was certainly shocked enough not to speak, probably figuring out how to handle this crazy woman in her flat.

The fact that none of this made much sense did not matter to Penny. In her drunk state, she was now convinced that their friendship was ruined, and it was all her fault. Tears sprang unbidden and flowed freely down her cheeks.

"I have to go!" she said, finally breaking the silence, choking out the words. She stood up - far too fast - and the combination of the alcohol and her mood caused the room to spin violently. She pitched forward, almost falling flat on her face. Frieda sprang to her feet and grabbed her, steadying her.

"No. Valentine, you are not going anywhere tonight." Frieda guided Penny back down on the sofa. "You are drunk, you are tired, you are emotional. It would not be safe for you to try to get home. You will stay."

"No..." Penny was feeling distinctly queasy now, and tears were still rolling down her face. "I have to go..."

"You will stay," said Frieda in a tone that would brook no resistance. She stood up and manoeuvred Penny into lying down. She then knelt down and unbuckled Penny's boots, pulling them off and lifting her legs up onto the couch. "Nice boots...I don't like the colour, but design is good."

"Frieda..." said Penny weakly. The whole day's events were now seriously taking their toll on her. She was exhausted.

Frieda stood up. "Do not move." She walked out of the room, and returned a few moments later with a blanket, which she lay over Penny. "Sleep, Valentine. Please. We will rest and talk in morning, okay?"

Penny nodded weakly. "Okay."

Frieda nodded and walked towards her bedroom. "And Valentine? Please do not think of leaving. I know where you live, remember?"

Her tone made Penny smile slightly. It sounded more like the Frieda she was used to. "I promise."

"Good." Frieda walked into her room, leaving Penny alone. That last exchange had brightened her up a little, but she was worried about what the morning might bring. She lay there, her eyes open, utterly exhausted, but unable to sleep, hoping that she hadn't ruined everything. She was still worried about what would happen to her and Frieda's relationship when she finally fell asleep, almost an hour later.


3


Penny awoke to the sound of running water, lurching upright on the sofa. Her head was pounding, and for a moment, she struggled to remember where she was. It wasn't her flat, that was for sure. She rubbed her head, trying to stop the pounding, and trying to place where she was.

Suddenly, she remembered - she was in Frieda's flat, and she had come here last night to find out what was wrong., and to try and help Frieda.

And then, for some reason, she had kissed her.

Penny sank forward, her head in her hands, as the memories came back. What had she been thinking? She glanced around, trying to look for any sign of Frieda, but didn't spot her. However, from the sound of the water, it sounded like she was in the shower. And, if she was anything like Penny, that meant Penny had quite a bit of time to figure out what to do.

The first option was to wait on the sofa for her to come out, and then they could talk about what happened in a mature and rational fashion. That would be the sensible thing to do.

The second option was to join her. Just walk into the bathroom, acting like nothing was out of the ordinary, and nonchalantly ask her if there was room for two in there.

Penny blinked. Where had that come from? She could explain away the kissing - barely - by saying she was drunk, but now she was considering taking a shower with Frieda? She shook her head, trying to get rid of that thought. Deep down, of course, she was realizing that maybe her feelings for Frieda ran a little deeper than she had thought, and that she should try to sort them out. However, her surface thoughts were trying as hard as possible to avoid thinking about that.

The third option was, of course, to make a run for it.

Penny looked at the door, then back to the bathroom. Frieda had said not to leave. However, Penny really needed to get herself together before she could face any sort of confrontation. At least, that was just her justification to herself - deep down she knew she was just being a coward.

Hating herself, she pulled her boots on quickly, grabbed her jacket and made for the door.


4


Penny finished running a towel through her hair, feeling a hundred times more refreshed after her shower. She pulled her dressing gown closed and walked into her kitchen to make some coffee. She had come straight home and jumped right into the shower, after taking one look in the mirror. She had looked a mess - hair mussed up, her face still tear-streaked and blotchy from the night before, her make-up running all over her face. No wonder the taxi driver had kept asking nervously if she was all right.

Now, she felt clean and refreshed, and probably looked a good deal more together. Her head still hurt like hell, though - both from her hangover and the guilt. As she pottered around the kitchen, getting the coffee ready, she couldn't help but wonder how Frieda must have reacted. She must have been furious. Penny's eyes filled with tears as she wondered how she was ever going to make it up to Frieda. She felt bad about running, but knew she just couldn't have faced Frieda this morning.

Penny sighed heavily. That was just the cowardice talking. She just didn't want to face up to reality - as usual. The second anything got difficult she just wanted to leave - just like the situation with Scott and leaving Holby. The fact was that she was starting to realize that her feelings for Frieda might be far deeper than she had previously wanted to admit.

Sitting down with a cup of strong black coffee, she grabbed her phone from the coffee table. Nothing from Frieda, but there was a text from Ollie.

WHERE DID YOU GO LAST NIGHT? YOU VANISHED.

Penny decided it might be better not to disclose exactly what had happened at this time. AM FINE, she texted, JUST HAD VERY LATE NIGHT. RESTING NOW. HOW IS WORK?

BAD. I THINK MALICK HATES ME EVEN MORE NOW, IF THAT'S HUMANLY POSSIBLE.

Penny couldn't help smiling a little. She'd known that pub conversation wouldn't go well. YOU'LL BE FINE. SEE YOU LATER. She set the phone back down and drank her coffee, hoping it would help her headache a little.

Suddenly, there was an almighty banging at the front door. She jumped, almost spilling coffee all over herself. Swearing, she set down the cup, wondering who the hell was banging at her door so loudly. There was another set of loud banging on the door, so she walked over to answer it, fully prepared to tell whoever it was to pack it in.

Penny swung the door open angrily. "Now, look here..." her anger and voice tailed off as she saw who it was.

Frieda Petrenko was standing on her doorstep, an expression of extreme irritation on her face.