In five minutes Penny has to be in Defensive Manuevers.
“I’ve got to go,” she says into Gwen’s ear, and Gwen sighs and disentangles herself.
“Defensive maneuvers are good to learn, just in case,” she says, ever surprisingly practical for a megolamaniac bent on conquering the world and bending it to her will.
“See you tonight?” Penny says, and Gwen shrugs.
“I might stay late in the lab,” she says. “There’s a project I’m working on.”
“There always is.”
“This one is special,” Gwen says, and she sounds determined and a little disapproving. Penny doesn’t push further, just hitches her bag up, adjusts her skirt, and brushes back wisps of stray hair before heading back out into the hallway. Behind her, she knows Gwen is doing the same, waiting a calculated minute and forty five seconds before she joins the rest of the student population.
Gwen will never admit that she makes out with Penny in broom closets. For one, it’s plebian, and Gwen is never, ever common. For another, it would make Gwen’s flirting useless, and Gwen enjoys power too much to give any up. This doesn’t bother Penny – sentimentality has never been her thing, and jealousy is just silly. Part of her has always been glad Gwen can’t send her flowers - Penny doesn’t like sweet, and she’s also not sure she would like whatever Gwen decided counted as flowers.
For now, Penny just makes plans. If Gwen won’t be around tonight, she might as well use the time to visit her mother.
Warren Peace is in the waiting room at the jail, and he scowls and barely nods.
“You’re so overdramatic about everything,” she says, sitting down next to him. “One of these days you should try smiling. It looks better, like Prada.”
“Fuck off,” he mutters.
“It also exercises your face,” Penny says, sitting down and primly crossing her legs. “Just think, you could have even more well-defined muscles.” Warren gives her the finger, but there’s little heat in it. They couldn’t ever be called friends, but they know more about each other than anyone else does.
She knows what he looks like when he’s about to see his father.
In return, he knows what she looks like when she’s waiting to see her mother.
It’s a fair trade, Penny guesses, but she’s careful to never let him see how much power that knowledge could give him.
“Asshole,” she says, and Warren smirks.
Her mother is having an off day, the nurse says, harried but kind, and Penny contemplates just turning around and leaving, but goes into the room anyways.
“- some of us had lives before this happened, some of us had children –“ Ellen is saying, halfway through a rant Penny has heard hundreds of times.
“Everything okay, mom?” she says, interrupting her, and her mother turns to her and breaks without flow into her litany of complaints against the staff, rattling her cuffs like a child, angry and petulant and bewildered.
Penny listens. She always listens. It’s easier than lying, at least.
“April, I’m home!” Penny calls out, but there’s silence. There’s a note on the counter, food waiting for her to stick in the oven and warm up. The house is quiet and empty, but Penny doesn’t mind. She likes silence.
Naturally, the phone rings just then. It’s Lash, confused as ever.
“Where are you?” he complains. “Speed and I are at the park, just like Gwen said.”
“We’re meeting Wednesday,” Penny says, and runs a hand through her hair. “Today is Monday.”
“Oh,” he says. “Okay. I’ll see you Wednesday, then.”
Penny hangs up on him.
Penny discovered her power in seventh grade, when she stumbled downstairs on a Saturday morning at noon to her aunt’s horrified shock. It turned out that earlier, she had unconsciously responded to her aunt’s persistent attempts to wake her up by creating a decoy clone to go downstairs.
The extent of her power is unknown, but she’s been the subject of several papers. Cloning is a rare power, and she has an extremely powerful version. She can manifest up to six clones within three hundred yards of herself, and control their actions at distances of up to almost ten miles, though it gets harder and harder the further away from her they go.
This is not the only reason Gwen was interested in Penny initially, Gwen says. Penny knows that Gwen is lying. Gwen is mostly lying when it comes to Penny, but Penny knows, so they’re all good. Besides, Gwen is mostly lying when it comes to everything.
Gwen shows up later after all, carrying her planner and her folder full of plans for Homecoming, a mix of blueprints that would make a Ph. D. in engineering shake his head and color swaths. The first thing she says when Penny opens the door is, “The color scheme is really bothering me.”
“That’s because you chose horrible colors,” Penny says, rolling her eyes, and opens the door further. Gwen walks in, still going about magenta and shades of grey.
“And that green clashes with my banners,” she finishes, and Penny sighs.
“I’m going to put the tea on,” she says. “Put the stuff on the table, we can see it better if it’s all spread out. But you’re right, the green has to go.”
“I knew it!” Gwen says, and Penny smiles and goes to get the tea, a tradition she inherited the roundabout way from her aunt.
“Blackberry or green tea?” she calls back into the dining room.
“Blackberry,” Gwen says from right behind her, and Penny schools what would have been a startled jump into a shrug of her shoulders. Gwen is silent for a while as Penny pulls out the kettle and fills it with water. When she speaks again, it’s harsh and sudden. “You were flirting with Danny today,” she says, and Penny’s eyebrows rise as she turns to look at Gwen.
“Yes,” she says mildly.
“I didn’t like it,” Gwen says, and there’s anger burning in her eyes. For the first time, Penny worries, wonders if she went in over her head with this.
“You flirt with Will Stronghold,” Penny points out, but Gwen doesn’t always fall for reason, despite her insistence that she does.
“Yes, but that’s for the plan,” Gwen says, and she’s crowding Penny now, backing her up against the counter. “It made me angry, you flirting with him.” Oh, Penny thinks, and sighs.
“Jealousy, Gwen?” she says, and leans in to kiss Gwen, lingering and hard. “It’s very unattractive on you, and entirely unnecessary,” she says when she pulls away, and Gwen frowns.
“You’re just saying that,” she says, and sometimes Penny remembers that Gwen is, after all, a teenager.
“I don’t lie to people,” Penny says.
“You do when I tell you to,” Gwen says, and there’s something calculating in her eyes.
“I’ve broken a lot of personal rules for you,” Penny says.
“Tea, then,” Gwen says, turning away, and Penny knows that ‘jealous of Danny’ has been placed into a box marked resolved somewhere in Gwen’s mind.
She gets the tea down as the kettle begins to whistle.
Later, much later, Penny reaches over and wraps her hand around Gwen’s.
“This isn’t over yet,” she promises her, and Gwen looks over at her, startled, and then tightens her fingers over Penny’s and nods, fierce and uncompromising.
“You’re right,” she says. “It’s not.” Penny smiles and settles back, content for now. Perhaps this time they’ll go for subtle. Penny is surprisingly good at subtle.