I really did want to get this chapter out within two weeks...but at that point I think I was still stuck on the first couple of paragraphs. Then it was supposed to be finished writing this last Saturday, but I didn't finish it until Sunday morning, and it was supposed to be typed up by the end of Sunday, but my sister was sick and I didn't get much done when I went over to bring her some Sprite, and then it was supposed to be done on Monday, but I had to stay at work a pull a double because one of the phlebotomists called in and they were already short handed and I was their last option, and then by Tuesday I was finally able to log in to my online college classes and found that I was already behind, so I stayed in the library because I don't have my own internet (yeah...I'm taking full time online classes for the semester without any internet of my own. I'm just that cheap. Or broke. Or just plain lacking common sense of any sort, who can tell?), then yesterday went much the same, although I finished typing it up before bed, and now today. Today i flexed out of work really early since it was so slow. But I was waiting for the UPS guy to bring me my books, he always brings stuff I've ordered between 2 and 3 in the afternoon before I'm home, and I really couldn't afford to play the three day game with him. I needed those books by this time last week. He showed up an hour ago!
So now I'm here. Stalling before actually updating the chapter. Because I'm not sure I want anyone to read it. You know...I always knew it was never exactly going to be an 'epic' ending or anything of the sort, and if it totally sucks, I blame the fact that I've never written and ending before (Whoo! Congrats to me for finishing my first multi-chaptered something ever! :D), and I might be talking it down in a last ditch effort to make it seem at least pretty okay in the end. If nothing else, I'm hoping that at least it's different enough than anything that may have been expected. Or not expected. You know, whichever.
There gets to be a bunch of talky talky at the end. Blegh...
Alright, I'm done, I've looked through it a gillion times now...it's not changing any...
Plus the library is closing in five minutes...:/
Chapter 6: Blog
She'd looked everywhere.
Lucky for her, he hadn't made it all that difficult. Research had never really been Penny's strong point, a truth only strengthened by looking at the amount of time it had still taken her to figure it all out.
That Thursday had been the longest day of her life. She'd had places to go, suspicions to clear and, rather unfortunately, more walls than she'd had paint to cover them with, which had set her back a couple of hours. Much as Penny would have liked to call it quits early, she'd only had that group of volunteers for the day. Plus the beds and furniture were coming in over the weekend. With only a week and a half until the shelter opened, her own personal anxieties would have to wait; for the first time in years, she was annoyed by that fact.
Eventually, though, the red head had rushed her crew out with hurried thanks and farewells, locked up, and headed straight to the library. She'd rifled her way through years' worth of old newspapers looking for anything—pictures, severity of his crimes. She'd been curious about it since the van incident anyways, and she wondered why she hadn't thought to do this sooner.
Overall, her findings hadn't been particularly impressive. Bank robberies, theft at retailers. Something about exploding parking meters, that, while never proven, had been attributed to the doctor. Several minor disturbances akin to what had happened with the bridge dedication. No injuries save for his own. No fatalities. Penny found these details to be the most relieving.
The pictures she'd found were all terrible. In spite of that, it hadn't taken much to recognize one of the men. Undisguised, small stature, dark hair and skin, and the sheen of moisture glossed over his skin evident even in the black and white of the newspaper photo. He didn't appear in many of the shots, and Penny had only met him once, but despite the shoddy camera work, she knew that it was him. It was James. She was certain of it.
She'd had to sit back for a moment after that revelation. Having her suspicions confirmed was a little bit taxing mentally. She and James had gotten along so well once they'd finally gotten to talking; and he'd seemed like such a genuinely nice guy. She supposed that one could never really tell. Which drove her attention right back to the man making the headlines.
No matter how she squinted or tilted the photos, she couldn't make anything out. The lab coat, gloves and boots didn't tell her anything about the man donning them, and any picture where his face was visible was shot from too far away, the goggles strapped to his forehead making it impossible to see passed the poor quality. Either that or he was being held aloft or detained some other way by Captain Hammer. (Some of those shots made her stomach churn unpleasantly, as it was obvious just how far out of line the hero had gone before they were taken.) But without a close-up of his face, they were all useless.
But maybe she was just getting ahead of herself here. Maybe Billy didn't know anything about his roommate's double life, much less take part in it. He had had to ask James how to introduce him to her yesterday after all. But then there were all the things James had told her the day before: "Billy's kind of a genius", "Technically he is a doctor". They were so painfully obvious, and yet they could be entirely coincidental. Penny just didn't know.
She'd taken to the internet from there, with no more help from the articles posted online. Not until she'd stumbled across an interesting looking site in the last five or so minutes of the library's open hours. Jotting down the address, she'd headed straight for her office at the homeless shelter-to-be. It was already furnished for her: computer, desk, chair and a working internet connection. And that's where she'd stayed. All night. Watching, listening, thinking, and eventually waking up to a slightly drenched mouse pad, that achingly familiar face still plastered on the monitor.
Penny stepped out of the frozen yogurt shop with her laundry basket balanced against her hip, paper sack hanging from her elbow, and a laptop bag slung about her shoulders. She'd left early, and the yogurts would likely me melted by the time she and...Billy...got to them. It gave her a little extra time to think about what she would have to do. A few days ago, this one had seemed like too long of a wait, but now that it was here, she wished that there was more time. There'd been no time to figure things through with all of the work still to be done on the building. And she didn't think she could pretend not to know in order to stall for time.
All in all, Penny didn't feel nearly as upset as she thought she probably ought to upon discovering that while dating the hero, she had inadvertently fallen for the villain. It was just the kind of crazy, upside down hand she could see the world dealing her. He robbed banks, built weapons and was an all around public nuisance. All were things of the sort of nature that she opposed, but she had watched every last blog entry of his over the years, and she couldn't deny that it was all just so...Billy.
He made some sense, in a really warped, misguided sort of way. Not that she agreed with his methodologies, heavens no, but in Penny's mind, his intentions made all the difference. He called himself a villain. She disagreed. She didn't find the self-proclaimed title very fitting in the least. He wanted to fix an oppressive system for the better, and she couldn't think of many things that were less evil than that. He had far too many morals for a bad guy.
He might have made a pretty good hero.
That thought brought her to the one thing on his blog that truly had upset her: he didn't belong in the Evil League of Evil.
In her conversation with James Wednesday, Penny had brought up Billy's excitement for his prospective job and how much she hoped he got it, that she felt kind of bad about how she'd achieved her dream job at last while he was still struggling to get a foothold into his. James had been silent for a while before taking her by surprise and expressing the exact opposite interest. He avoided any details on what it was that his roommate was doing, only that Billy was good at seeing the big picture but often missed the small details at work within. He worried that the job wouldn't be what Billy had made it out in his mind to be and that he would be stuck, disappointed, and thoroughly miserable if he got it. Now that she understood, Penny was inclined to agree with her henchman acquaintance.
She saw what he was getting at, that getting into Bad Horse's group would give him the power to set things straight. But that wouldn't happen. No one else in that circle of most dangerous villains wanted things set straight. They thrived off of the misery and pain they caused. The more corrupt the system was, the easier their own pleasures were to obtain. Going by what she knew of the easily flustered, sweet, idealistic man she did laundry with every week as well as what she had seen from his equally blustering and awkward video blog counterpart, he wouldn't stand a chance. And if he somehow did manage to survive it, his good intentions most certainly would not.
Penny cared too much to let either of these things happen. She just had to make him see what she saw, and with the laundromat door looming not far ahead of her, she still didn't know how. She might just have to wing it. So the red head sighed, frowned at the glass, and with that final thought threw open the door and strode her way inside.
It was a low whistle from her left that finally caused Penny to blink herself back to reality. She'd been fighting with the slow laptop for several minutes now, trying to connect it to the neighboring bookstore's wireless. She didn't really know what she was doing. Computers weren't something she'd had all that much experience with in her life. Maybe it was something she could look into once she started getting paid, though.
"Looks like someone's really moving up in the world."
Penny smirked at the voice and roller her eyes. "Not quite," she replied shoving a melted yogurt into the hands of the blond man leaning casually against the adjoining washing machine.
"I'm still working for free until the shelter opens. This is just borrowed."
Billy peered around the open lid and raised his brow slightly before turning back to the cup of cream in his hand. "Nice cursor," he said dully. "Is it the boyfriend's?"
The red head turned back to the screen wondering what had given it away, when she noticed the cursor. It hadn't really caught her attention before now, but there it was, a hammer pounding away as it signaled the laptop's attempt to load whatever it was that she had just clicked on.
"Yeah," she responded with a cautious look his way. She hadn't missed the underlying contempt at his mention of Captain Hammer. She'd noticed it in the past, the way his jaw tightened and his eyes went blank on those few occasions her boyfriend came up in conversation, but she'd never really focused on it before. It was another one of those things she'd discovered Thursday night. It had been overshadowed by so many other things, though.
Penny was flattered, really, to see just how far back it was when he first mentioned her in his blog. It couldn't have been all that long after she'd started using this laundromat, having finally built up her finances enough to rent her run down apartment down town on her own. Come to think of it, she had run into someone her first day coming in. Clothes scattered everywhere, her profuse apologies, some mumbling from the other party, but that was all she remembered. She never did get a look at the other person, she was so embarrassed at having knocked into him. Penny squinted over at her laundry buddy who was attempting to eat the liquid yogurt with his spork without a single question as to why it was no longer frozen. Had that been him all those months ago?
Who knew how long he'd been attempting to talk to her without her ever noticing? And what were the odds that once they finally had begun to speak that she had already been taken by his arch-nemesis? She couldn't have known. Their first conversation had been a complete bust. Even so, Penny couldn't help but feel guilty for the grief she'd caused him. He didn't show it to her face, but she'd seen it on his blog. It was kind of nice to know for a fact that he felt the same way, though.
"I told him it was for work. It's pretty terrible, though. I think it was some cheap promotional gift for advertising some company or another...So how did Wednesday go?"
The change of subject visibly brightened Billy's mood.
"Without a hitch," he grinned up at her. "I may have to do one or two more, but I think they'll end up taking me."
Penny's smile flickered away some when he said that.
"Congratulations," she managed to force out, hoping the computer in her lap would find it in itself to connect sometime soon. "That's...great to hear."
"Thanks," he said, too excited to notice her strained enthusiasm. "And thanks again about Mo-James the other day. He really didn't want to come. But he said he was glad I talked him into it."
Penny swallowed, her chest constricting. He really wasn't suited for the League.
"He...he's a good guy," she answered, noticing the amused lilt to his lips at her comment. How many times in the past had she said something ironic like that? She couldn't remember them all, but that seemingly random twist of the mouth had found a place on his face several times before. She'd always felt like she was missing something. At least now she knew she wasn't being paranoid. "You should bring him around more often."
"Hm. I'll let him know you said that."
They went silent after that, Billy having given up on scooping up his extra soft serve with the spork in favor of sipping it from the styrofoam instead, Penny's still sitting untouched beside her. Their baskets remained loaded and their machines empty, and the red head wondered if he really even needed to be here at all. Or if he was just wasting his money to be here because she was? Even in the silence and with his liquified dessert, he seemed perfectly content just to be there. With her. Midday on a Saturday.
It was sweet. She'd never had anyone who was happy to merely be in her presence before. It wasn't long before she found herself aiming a dopey grin his way. After a while, he noticed it, too, and Penny could feel it widen further as his endearing nerves kicked up at the attention.
"S-so," the blond stammered, clearing his throat and blinking a few times as he set the cup down on his machine, very nearly upsetting it in the process with his jittery hands, "d-did you really borrow that for work?"
"Not...not exactly," came Penny's sheepish admission, and she tucked some loose hair behind her ear. Looking back to the screen, it seemed the computer had finally taken to one of the networks when she hadn't been paying attention. "It seemed like a believable cover." He eyed her with approval through the corner of her eye. "I actually just wanted to show you something I found the other day. It kind of made me think of you. I thought you might appreciate it."
She caught it briefly, that split second of apprehension in his eyes, but it was gone as quickly as it had appeared, his expression left blank in it's wake.
"Oh?" His voice sounded cautious.
"Yeah. Let me show you."
Penny finished typing in the address and, making sure the volume was low, hit the play button on the first video on the page.
That's when Billy's elbow slipped violently from the washer at Dr. Horrible's first words, sending his roll of quarters to crash to the ground. He gaped at the screen in panic, arms sprawled over the empty machine as though it were the only thing keeping him from collapsing along with his scattered change.
"Balls," he choked out weakly.
"What?" Penny smiled, amused.
"I-I, uh...i-it's just that...I—" blue eyes tore themselves away from the laptop in the midst of his struggle for words to take note of the mess on the floor. "Oh, wow, look at that..." And thus he threw himself, literally, into the task of gathering his laundry money. From her perch atop of her own machine, Penny could see just how badly his hands were shaking, hear the rattle of the coins as he fumbled about for them in blind panic. "Th-that's kind of...I dunno. I don't really see it."
She shook her head and set the computer aside. "No?" she queried, easing herself to the floor to help him. "I do. He's always so cynical, and pretty funny sometimes, though I don't think he really means to be. Seems like he wants to get things straightened out. He has some very...interesting ideas on how to do it, too. It's actually kind of admirable."
Billy's head shot up, his voice significantly steadier than before when he asked, "You do?"
"Yeah." She nodded. "You know...he saved my life once." Her statement was punctuated by the clinging of more quarters against the floor. "I never did get the chance to thank him."
They resumed their hunt for Billy's change in silence for a little while before Penny gave in and said, "Thank you."
She smiled at him knowingly and tried again, "For saving me from the van."
The panic returned to his features, and Penny thought he would try and deny it. She really hoped he wouldn't. But after what seemed like an eternity, the busted villain sighed, his shoulders hunching over in defeat as he reached for another coin. "It was...nothing."
He paused, his eyes popping up to hers in confusion, and the red head shrugged.
"I feel like I should have realized it sooner. Obviously, I'm not very good at searching for people."
Billy let out a short, disbelieving laugh. "I don't think that was really the point," he said, standing to drop his recovered change atop his washer. He looked back down on her, that amused glint still in his eye. "Well, just don't mention it to anybody. It doesn't look too great on my resume."
Oh right. That. Penny frowned slightly, reaching up her hand filled with his loose coins. He took them from her with a small thank you.
"Don't join the League," she blurted.
Billy froze, crinkling his brow down at her, his mouth parting. She didn't give him an opportunity to say anything thing, though before she leaned back against her heals.
"Listen, Billy," she tried to explain, looking about the room for inspiration, and gesturing with her hands to find the words to express her thoughts. There wasn't much to look at; she'd chosen these machines tucked way back in the empty corner of the laundromat today for this very reason, but the whirring sounds of the dryers lining the wall, the barely audible words drifting from the laptop, and the comforting smell of fabric softener seemed to help her find a starting point.
"I don't agree with you. I don't believe that people are inherently bad, that there's no hope for them. I don't think that bad news is the only kind that people take seriously to make them want to change things. I don't understand everything you do, and I'm willing to try, but Billy...the League...you aren't like those people." He bristled at this statement, clearly offended, but Penny continued without pause. "Those people are really dangerous. They don't want things fixed. They want the corruption and chaos and destruction for the sake of causing it. They don't save nobodies from careening vans, or genuinely care about their henchmen, or even turn down showing up a wannabe hero because kids might get hurt. They don't care about anyone but themselves, but you do, Billy. And I don't want that to change."
He softened a little bit at those words. "I won't change, Penny," he assured her. "I just need to get in. If I could do that, maybe overthrow Bad Horse, then the League would be mine. They'd have to do what I—"
"But what if you can't? And even if you did, how many awful things would they force you to do before that happened?" Penny interrupted, exasperated. "What are they wanting just for you to get in?"
The blond's jaw snapped shut, and he looked off to the side. So it really was that bad then? She'd thought so. She just shrugged and shook her head, feeling emotionally drained.
"Just stop...stop pretending that the League is the only way you can make a difference. It's not. You have fans who support what you do now. You have James." A beat, and then, "You have me."
He turned his eyes back to hers. "I thought you just said you were against everything I stood for?"
With a shrug, Penny answered, "If it's a choice between you now and you in the League, I'll take the first one. Lesser of the two evils and all."
Billy scoffed, that affronted look adorning his features yet again. "Gee, thanks..."
The red head looked down. She picked at the stray threads in the frayed holes of her jeans.
"I'll do it, too," she said quietly. "Captain Hammer..."
She tugged at one thread in particular until it's length far surpassed the others, cinching the material a little way up her thighs.
"I'm not happy with him," she admitted. "I haven't been for a long time...maybe even ever. But then the shelter...have you noticed how he's actually been constructive lately? Cleaning up the streets and all? Well, you're not the only one that's been fooling yourself."
And with that, Penny sighed and looked up, unable to gauge the blank expression on her laundry buddy's face. He held out a hand to help her up, and she took it without hesitation. Billy let out a breath. He ran a nervous hand through his hair, and with a tentative look said, "It's not that easy. The League doesn't exactly take kindly to people changing their minds about going in."
"We'll think of something," she said, turning so as to lean against her own machine. He smiled. "It won't be easy for me either. I don't know...if I break up with him now, he might find a way to sabotage the shelter. Maybe not, since it's earned him so much publicity. They want him to speak at the opening ceremony, though. Who knows what he might say?" Penny shrugged again. "But if I wait until after, the press will go wild. I'll be the whore who left the city hero as soon and she'd gotten what she wanted from him. I'd probably lose my job just for the headlines. But I guess at least I wouldn't have to wonder whether or not the shelter would open."
They stood in silence for a while after she voiced her concerns, just looking out over the rest of the laundry goers for the day.
"You know. If you're really worried about the opening ceremony," Billy said, peeking over at her slightly, "I know a guy. He kind of specializes in disrupting those kinds of things. I think he'd be able to have something together by then."
Penny smirked. She turned her head over to him slightly and asked, "You just want me away from him sooner than later, don't you?"
He didn't react like she had anticipated. There was no spluttering or blushing or blinking or stammering of vehement denials, nothing of the like. He didn't even look at her, just shrugged and looked down at the floor, his hands shoved into hid hoodie pocket. Quietly, he said, "Just a thought."
She felt her smile soften a bit, and she looked back out to the hustle and bustle of the laundromat.
"I'd really appreciate it. Tell him to name his price."
The red head caught Billy cast a hopeful glance her way from the corner of her eye. He opened his mouth, but stopped himself short. He shook his head and slumped back against his washer, looking miserable. So he still wouldn't do it then. It was disappointing but not particularly surprising. She'd just have to give it a go.
"S-So...I know this girl." Penny could feel her friend's confused eyes on her as she toyed with the hem of her shirt. "She's dating a guy. He's a real big shot, everyone knows who he is, but he's kind of a—oh, what was it? A...a meat head?" She cocked a brow at him, an amused smile taking over her face as she remembered their conversation from forever ago, he nodded at her as one twitched onto his own face. "You know the type. The I-don't-work-out-I'm-just-like-this type?" Or something along those lines, anyways. She pretended to flex an arm to emphasize the point. Billy snickered. She went on.
"Well, she's been thinking about dumping him for a while, but was worried about his reaction. She's gotten over that now, thankfully. Anyways..." Penny paused for a moment, taking the time to pluck a piece of fuzz from her jeans, "she has this other friend, her best friend really, and lately she's realized that she really likes him, but she's been stuck with the other guy the whole time. They're almost complete opposites, this girl and her friend, but they get along real great. Now that she's leaving her boyfriend, though, she isn't sure she should take the chance with her friend because they're such good friends already." She whipped around to look at him. "What do you think?"
He looked stunned at her confession, but that didn't keep the giddy smile from his face. "She should go for it," he replied fervently. Then, backtracking. "Or at least let him know. Maybe...they could talk through the rest of it later? Somewhere?"
Penny smiled at the invitation, and nodded. Before he could react, she was up on her toes, a fistful of his shirt in her hand and her lips on his. At first he was too surprised to do anything, his arms floundering uncertainly in the air around her. Eventually, though, he calmed down to the point of kissing her back with surprising earnest, his hands finally finding purchase on the curve of her waist.
Kissing Billy was unlike anything Penny had ever felt before, and it had nothing to do with his skill or lack thereof. Given her past luck in relationships, she assumed that was a good thing. She imagined it was the difference between trying too hard to keep someone by her side versus knowing that they already wanted to be there.
But there was still one question left unanswered.
Penny pulled back, smiling a little as Billy moved right along with her, unwilling to let the moment end yet.
"So, Doctor," she said, grinning at his pleasantly dazed expression once she had managed to part lips with him. "What's your PhD really in?"
He actually had the decency to look sheepish when she asked that. "Heh, that, yeah...well, technically the paper says "mechanical engineering". But be honest, it's not really as catchy, is it? Moist keeps telling me to find a new catch phrase, but I dunno. What do you think?"
She pursed her lips and eyed him warily as she prepared to give the villain her first piece of career advice.
"I think we'll come up with something."
He deflated a little bit then, looking rather put out by her rejection.
Penny just laughed and shook her head. Then she kissed him again.
A/N: Heh...'I know a guy'. Thank you, Barney. Ever since my HIMYM kick, I've known that I would borrow that line from you.
I really don't know what else to say about this one except that, 'Wow, it's over.'
I kind of have a couple of other one shot ideas and a kind of afterward story for after this one. Well...I have a title and premise for the kind of afterward story anyway. Ideas, not so much.
But, I thank you all for your feedback during this story. It's really kept me going knowing there are people who actually care about, regardless of my thoughts as to whether or not it's worth it. Y'all have been awesome! And I hope that you all enjoyed the ending to it as well! :)
And this is me stalling to hit the 'save' button. Even though you guys will have already gotten through the chapter by then...