Title: Thinking Of Tomorrow.
Pairing: Well, if you squint a bit, you might see one :)
Set after episode 13x20, 'No Credit, No Blame'. Contains spoilers for that episode.
Synopsis: Neither Penny nor Oliver is handling the day's events particularly well...
Antoine Malick closed his locker, and pulled his cap on. Turning around, he caught sight of Oliver Valentine sitting on the bench, still trying to avoid his gaze. He shook his head, snorted derisively and walked out of the locker room. Heading out of the front doors, he was making for his car when he spied Penny Valentine out of the corner of his eye. She was perched on top of one of the tables, arms wrapped around her knees. She didn't look very happy.
Malick sighed and walked over to her. "Pitstop!" he called out. "What are you still doing here? Should have been gone an hour ago. Thought you liked to relax at the bar after work?"
Penny didn't look up as he approached. "Go away," she mumbled. "I don't want to talk to anyone."
Malick cocked his head to the side and made a sharp intake of breath. "Bad choice of words, you know? Now I'm gonna take that as a challenge. And you know how much I love to rise to a challenge."
Penny glanced up at him, revealing that her eyes were puffy and red-rimmed, and sighed. "Sit down," she said softly.
Malick did so and fixed Penny with a look. "So tell me - what is the divine Persephone doing out here on a chilly night, moping and depressing passersby, instead of putting this place out of her mind?"
"I was thinking."
"Not a good idea." Malick shook his head. "Not everyone can handle the whole thinking lark...best to leave it to the professionals."
Penny shot him a look. "Did you want anything in particular, or are you just here to insult me?"
"Nah, the insult thing is just a bonus." Malick grinned. "Seriously though, Penny, what are you doing here? After the day you've had, I'd want to put this place far, far behind me for the evening."
"And go where?" Penny gave a mirthless laugh. "Back home to my empty flat? Out to the bar, where my idiot brother will no doubt go?" She shook her head. "I'm sorry. I'm wallowing in self-pity, I know..."
"I think, tonight, you're eligible for a little bit of self-pity." Malick grunted. "Unlike a certain relative of yours, who, no doubt, is even now trying to figure out someone else he can blame his problems on."
Penny gave a small smile at that. "What's wrong with me?" she asked quietly. "It's been over six years now...six years of struggling, and working, and sacrificing...most of my family doesn't want to know me, I've lost touch with almost every friend I've ever had, I haven't had a real relationship in...I don't even know. And sometimes I feel like I'm just a laughing stock in there."
"Laughing stock?" Malick raised an eyebrow.
Penny sniffled. "There's Penny Valentine - she shags patients! She leans on her brother! She takes the fall for everything! She's got a stupid name! She's too stupid to realize when someone's taking advantage of her!" Her eyes fell to the ground. "I'm not surprised that no-one respects me."
"That's not true!" Malick cocked his head to one side. "Persephone's not that stupid a name. Better than Antoine, anyway." At Penny's incredulous look he grinned. "What, you thought that demanding to be called 'The Malick' was just because of my ego?"
"A little..." admitted Penny. She gave a small smile. "Thank you...that did cheer me up a little."
"Good." Malick's expression became serious. "Because I'm going to be blunt with you, Pitstop. There's a couple of things that you need to know if we're going to keep working together - and we are going to keep working together. First of all, I respect honesty. You admit it when you screw up. You learn from your mistakes, and that's good. Sink or swim, I always say. But..." He shook his head. "You also have a dishonest side, and that really bugs me. Normally that would be a deal-breaker, but you don't lie for your own benefit, you do it to protect people. And...that's admirable in some ways, and pathetic in others. So that's a contradiction, and I don't like those - I like to know where I stand with people. I need to know who I can trust, and who's a cock-up. So, please - don't do this again, okay?"
Penny looked at him for a moment, then nodded. "I won't. I know it was wrong, and it would have just...encouraged Oliver to keep screwing up, and not try to improve. I'm sorry."
Malick's expression softened slightly. "I'm not doing this to make you feel bad, Pitstop...I just want to know that we're both on the same page here. Because, you know, I was starting to feel that we had a nice little team going on in AAU...I mean, don't get me wrong - Spence's little 'pep talks' still always make me want to retch, and I've had brother dear's deal sussed since we met - but I was actually starting to think that you might be okay to work with."
Penny raised an eyebrow. "Really?"
Malick shrugged. "Even Morticia's not seeming so bad now."
"Frieda's nice when you break through her barriers, you know."
Malick snorted. "Well, of course you think that."
Penny frowned. "What do you mean?"
Malick stared at her for a moment, then shook his head, grinning. "Clueless. Completely clueless." He fixed Penny with another look. "One other thing that bothers me, by the way - you're always asking 'What's wrong with me?' and 'What did I do?'. Any particular reason why you've got this whole self-hate thing going on? I only ask cause you know me - I'm pretty damn confident - with good reason, of course - and it baffles me that you're the opposite. Any insights into that Valentine mind, there?"
Penny looked ahead for a moment, deep in thought. "It's just...I always think it must be me. That I'm doing all this stuff wrong, that I keep making mistakes, that...no matter what goes right, I'll always find a way to screw it up." She paused. "It's been like this since we were kids. Mum and Dad always wanted a son - Dad especially - and once Oliver came along, it was like I was just the...test model, and that Oliver was the real thing - the one they'd been waiting for. Then it turns out he's just naturally brilliant, and he coasts through school while I'm lagging behind. He never screws up, while I go through stupid teenage rebellions. He aces all his tests, while I fall behind and have to repeat things. He's the golden boy, while I just...struggle on. The runt of the litter."
Penny hugged her legs tighter. "Now I'm just whining...you don't want to listen to my self-pity. I'm just wallowing here."
"No arguments here." Malick grinned. "But everyone needs a wallow from time to time. Besides, you really think if I wanted to go, I'd be polite about it? I'd just go." He gestured towards her. "So, go on - before I come to my senses."
Penny gave a grateful smile. "So I'm struggling for all these years...and because I need to really work at it, I don't have time for anything else. So, I lose friends, I ignore romance...but it's okay. Because this is what I want to do - I want to help people. And I'm not totally alone - my brother is there. And he supports me, and he'll never abandon me - not like everyone else." She closed her eyes, tears forming at the sides. "But he wasn't there for me, was he? He was undermining me. Sabotaging me. Pinning his mistakes on me. Because as soon as we get into the real world, he can't handle it. He's never had to work for things - he doesn't know how. And he can't handle not being the golden boy anymore . So what does he do? Well, there's poor Penny. She's used to failure - she won't mind a little more. Besides - how dare she steal his thunder? Doesn't she know that he's the successful Valentine? So, down she goes - all for the glory of Oliver." She wiped a tear from her eye, and turned to Malick. "Do you know what makes it so hard?"
Malick shook his head. "Nope."
Penny turned away again. "That he's family. That's what hurts the most," she said weakly. "Because he's my brother, and I always thought he'd be there for me - that at least he loved me, even if no-one else would. But no...he'd let my career - my whole life - be destroyed just so he could avoid punishment. And the worst part is - I don't think he even did it maliciously. I think he just didn't care who else was hurt as long as he was okay. And that's how much he cares for me - not a damn bit." She shrugged. "So that's it. Maybe it is me. Maybe I'm just destined to be alone."
Malick held a hand up. "Okay. Gonna stop you there - I said everyone needs a wallow, but you've just reached your limit. Probably for the rest of your life, to be honest. I'm going to cut off your self-pity party, and give you some of the patented Malick honesty again. First - and I'm going to be blunt here - there are a lot of annoying things about you - the self pity, the Enid Blyton accent, the fact that you're a suck-up..."
Penny gave a hollow laugh. "Are we going to get to any positives here?"
Malick ignored her. "The fact that you seem to spend far, far too long on that hair..."
"Says the man with the neatest trimmed facial hair that I've ever seen."
"But you're good. You work hard. You learn. You're not afraid to admit your own mistakes. You stand up for your friends - even the annoying Gothy ones - and you're not afraid to fight your corner when you know you're right." Malick cocked his head to the side. "I'll even go so far as to admit that I misjudged you. A little."
"Wow." Penny gave a small smile. "High praise indeed from you."
"Don't get used to it, Pitstop. I'm only this nice in exceptional circumstances."
"You sort of remind me of Frieda sometimes, you know?"
Malick raised his eyebrows. "What gives, Penny? I'm being all nice here, and you've got to insult me like that?"
Penny gave a wry grin. "She pretends to be all harsh and nasty and cold...but inside I think she's all soft and soppy. I bet you're the same way."
Malick laughed. "I'm going to add 'poor judge of character' to that list of bad traits, okay?"
Penny's expression grew serious. "Thank you," she said softly. "I'm just...this has all just thrown me for a loop. Never thought I'd reach the day when I'd be cutting my brother out of my life." She sighed. "Although I should have, given everything that's happened."
"Wisest choice to make at this point. I can give second chances when I know I'm wrong - rare as that is. But third and fourth chances? No way. You burn me over and over again? Then I'm going to make sure you can't do it again."
Penny was silent for a moment, then looked away. "Do you have any siblings?" she asked quietly.
"Only child here."
Penny nodded. "That's what makes this so hard. Because he's my brother. Because he's the only one of my family that...well, that I thought was looking out for me. Even now, I'm telling myself I should go back and forgive him - though I'm not going to." She closed her eyes. "You know what else? Even though I'm in the right here...by cutting off contact with him, I'm cutting off contact with all of them - all of my family. He's the one they love, so they won't believe he's in the wrong. They won't like me after this."
"Screw them." Malick's harsh tone made Penny glance over at him in shock. "I mean it. If they're going to side with an idiot like him, and give you aggro for making him take some responsibility for once in his stupid, privileged life - then you're better off without them."
"You make it sound easy."
"It won't be easy, I know that. But what's the alternative? Letting you take the blame again? Not a chance, Pitstop. You know that as well as I do." Malick grinned. "Glad to hear that you won't be going to see him, though. I've got the distinct impression that someone else will be paying him a social call tonight."
Oliver was still sitting in the locker room, hiding. He didn't like to call it hiding, but if he was honest with himself - and for the first time in a while, he was being honest with himself - hiding was all it was. After Malick had left, contempt for Oliver dripping out of every pore in his body, Oliver had ventured out in the corridors, only to be greeted with equal reactions from everyone else he met. Evidently news had spread around the hospital quickly - as usual.
He put his head in his hands and exhaled heavily. It had just been a stupid mistake - one anyone could have made! He'd owned up to it, hadn't he? He'd come clean in the end. But still Penny was sticking to her guns. Every call to her phone, every text, had been unanswered. Normally he would have known deep down that she would forgive him. Even after he'd told Connie Beauchamp about Scott, he'd known things would still be okay in the end. But now...he wasn't sure, and that worried him.
How could things have gone so wrong? This hadn't been the way he'd planned his professional career - his life, even. Now his entire future was up in the air, his sister hated him, and he wasn't looking forward to having to explain this to his parents. Their disappointment was definitely going to hurt. Oliver moaned softly into his hands. Why was this happening to him? What had he ever done to deserve this?
A familiar voice shook him out of his self-pity. "I can't believe I ever had fancy for you."
He looked up to see Frieda Petrenko standing in front of him, dressed in her street clothes, an icy look on her pale face. "Go away, Frieda."
Frieda ignored him. "I mean, you're cute enough. You have that bumbling English charm, you have nice eyes, you're tall..." She shook her head. "But once you scratch the attractive surface, all there is beneath is bile." The last word was all but spat out.
"I said go away." Oliver shook his head. "I don't need this, especially not now..."
"Oh! I'm sorry." Frieda pursed her lips. "I realise this is bad time for you, because you've had bad day, and...oh, wait! This is all your fault. You had bad day because you tried to screw your sister over, and then..."
"It was an error of judgement!"
"You tried to screw her over, and then you were caught!" Frieda's tone was harsher than Oliver had ever heard. "You have no right to feel sorry for yourself. But still, you sit here, and you sulk, and you feel that somehow you are the wronged party here. But you are not."
"You don't think I know that?" Oliver stood up. "You don't think that I feel bad?"
"Frankly? No." Frieda crossed her arms and stared at him. "If you had felt bad, you would have owned up before you were caught." When Oliver opened his mouth to protest, she cut him off. "And do not say that you were going to, because we both know that you were not. And so does Penny."
"The relationship between me and my sister is none of your business." Oliver's eyes narrowed. "You need to back off."
Frieda shook her head at him. "But what happens to Penny as a result of your actions is. Because at least one person in this room actually cares about your sister."
"You know...once I said to you that I knew you were rubbish at many things, but that I didn't think you were a coward." Frieda looked away. "I was wrong. You are a coward."
"You know what?" Oliver took a step towards Frieda. "I've had just about enough of you. You, with your stupid hair and make-up, with that idiotic accent of yours, and your smug, holier-than-thou attitude. As if you've never screwed up in your life! Someone really needs to put you in your place for just once." He gave a hollow smile. "And you know what? I don't think Penny even really likes you. I think she just feels sorry for you because you don't have any other friends..."
His words were cut off as Frieda slapped him - hard - across the face, sending him reeling back. "Shut up!" she yelled. "You are...unbelieveable. First you try to ruin your sister's career, then you try to destroy her friendships? Maybe, just once, you should try thinking of someone else for a change."
Oliver gathered his wits, stunned by the slap. "I could report you," he mumbled.
Frieda held her arms out. "So what? No-one would believe you. No-one is ever going to believe anything else you say for a very, very long time. Nobody likes you, Oliver."
Oliver stared at her for a moment, then say back down. "Did you come here just to abuse me, or is there anything in particular you wanted?"
"Don't flatter yourself. I have better things to do than worry about you." Frieda paused, then took a breath. "I came here to give you a warning."
Oliver raised his eyebrows. "A warning? Really?"
Frieda's voice was hard. "You get one warning, and you only get that because it would upset your sister if anything were to happen to you. So - here it is. Stay away from Penny. Talk to her for work, if you have to. But that's all. Don't try to make her guilty, or convince her that you really do care about her, or weasel your way back into her graces. Because she doesn't need you, and she doesn't want you. Nobody does."
Frieda's tone made Oliver extremely nervous. "You...you can't tell me what to do," he stuttered.
"I am not telling what to do. I am simply advising you what would be best course of action. You can ignore me, of course." A sinister smile creapt across her face. "But you would not like what happened next."
"What do you care anyway?" asked Oliver, finding himself unable to meet Frieda's gaze. "Why are you so interested in my sister?"
That question seemed to rattle Frieda slightly, but she recovered quickly. "It is none of your business what is between me and Penny, or what happens between us. Just know that I have her best interests in mind, and I will be very...annoyed if anything else happens to her." She gave Oliver a final stare, and then turned to leave. As she reached the door, she paused, but did not turn around. "One more thing..."
"What?" asked Oliver helplessly.
Frieda still did not turn around, but her voice was low and menacing. "I mean what I say. Do not go near her. But there is one more thing - that was just about trying to weasel your way back into her good books. If anything else happens, and you hurt her again...I will hurt you. A hundred times worse. Do we understand each other?"
Oliver wanted to throw her stupid demands back in her face, but everything she had said and done so far made it very clear that she had been completely serious. "Yes," he said weakly. "Yes, I understand."
"Good." Fried walked out of the locker room without looking back, leaving Oliver sitting there, alone in the dark, hated by his sister, alienated by his peers, and without any idea of how to fix any of it.
Back outside the hospital, Penny and Malick were still sitting on the bench. "So..." said Malick, breaking the silence. "What's next?"
"What do you mean?"
"Well, you've had a knock..."
Penny laughed humorlessly. "A bit more than a knock, don't you think?"
"Only if you think of it that way."
"What other way is there to think of it?"
"A wake-up call." Malick looked at her. "You've done this before, right? You've let that naive little heart of yours rule your actions for too long. So, now you know that brother dear probably isn't going to change. This is an opportunity. A chance to cut those strings and see what happens when you don't keep sabotaging yourself for people who aren't worth it."
Penny looked at him for a moment, then sighed deeply. Her hands twitched. "You don't smoke, do you?" she asked.
Malick snorted. "Hell no. This body's a temple, Pitstop."
Penny nodded. "Okay. Probably just as well...I've got enough going on without starting to smoke again."
"Didn't answer my point."
"It's...it's not that easy," said Penny softly. "I know I should...I know this is probably the best thing for me, but..."
"It's as easy as you want it to be," said Malick bluntly. "Take a piece of hard-earned advice. Some people are just out to screw you. They might not plan it, or even realise they're doing it, but that just makes them all the more dangerous. Ditch them and don't look back. You can do it."
"Why are you so sure?"
"Because if you don't, then I wouldn't want to work with you. I don't have time for weakness, and I know you're not weak. So...you can do it. Perfect sense, no?"
Penny smiled slightly. "I suppose."
"Ignore the Malick at your peril, Persephone. Lesser people have, and they always regret it."
"You know," said Penny, with a smile, glancing over at Malick. "I really misjudged you. I got really irritated by you when you started...I thought you were just this arrogant, cocky idiot who only cared about his own glory...but you're not, are you?"
"I don't just care about my own glory...just mostly."
"A lot of people would have just accepted Oliver's story at face value...but you cared enough to go looking."
Malick shrugged. "I like to cover myself...and people who haven't done anything wrong. That was a grade-a idiot mistake in there, and I think you're a little smarter than that. So, all I had to do then was look for someone who was stupid enough to do it, and that left Oliver. Then, I just needed proof. Nothing to it, really."
"Thank you," said Penny sincerely. "I mean it."
"Besides...seeing Hanssen tearing you apart? That would have been like watching someone kicking a kitten...I can't hack that." Malick paused. "I don't do hand-holding, and I don't do sentiment. If you screw up, then I'm going to make sure you take responsibility. Also, I like to make sure that the right person takes responsibility. I need to know who's with me, and who's against me on my team."
"Michael's team, surely?"
Malick grinned. "For now, Pitstop. For now." His voice went softer. "You doing okay now?"
Penny nodded. "Yeah, I think so." She gave a small smile. "Would it be really awkward if I hugged you?"
Malick recoiled in mock-fear. "Whoa there! Pretty awkward, yeah. Ask me again in about...a decade or so." He nodded over to the hospital. "Tell you what, though. Looks like there might be a better candidate coming over."
Penny looked over to see Frieda walking over to them, an annoyed expression on her face.
"You don't answer your phone," stated Frieda bluntly when she reached them.
"Had it turned off. Didn't want to be bothered," explained Penny.
Frieda looked doubtful. "And yet I find you out here with 'The Malick'? He is second most bothersome man I know."
"See," said Malick with a grin, "this is why I don't do nice. Just gets me abuse."
"Don't be baby," said Frieda in a chiding tone. She glanced at Penny. "Since you don't want to be bothered, I assume you are all right? Don't need help?"
Penny gave a sad smile. "I could still do with a little. Malick's cheered me up a lot, though."
"Damn, Penny..." Malick sighed. "And now you're ruining my reputation, too."
"She does that," said Frieda to Malick. "Annoying, isn't it?"
"Like you wouldn't believe."
"I'm still here, you know," interjected Penny. She stood up and looked at Frieda. "I'm going to hug you now," she said quietly. "And it's going to be a long one."
Frieda pursed her lips, and made a show of doing some heavy thinking. "I guess," she said finally, "is okay this one time."
Penny nodded, and wrapped her arms around Frieda, holding her tight. Frieda did the same, pulling the anguished doctor close to her, and doing her best to make her feel safe. As she held Penny, she opened her eyes and looked at Malick, eyes filled with gratitude. She mouthed thank you to him, and he nodded in reply.
Malick stood up himself, and took a final look at the two women, then turned and made his way towards the car park, satisfied that Penny Valentine was definitely going to be in good hands for the rest of the evening.