If Schneider were a different kind of guy--if he were the kind of guy he so often pretended to be--it would have happened that night.
"There's got to be another way to feel happy."
She couldn’t feel anything half the time and she loved Max but she didn’t trust him, not completely, not yet...so it was Schneider she went to. Even after she’d done her best to ruin their friendship, it was his door she knocked on in her pajamas with her face blotchy from crying.
She had been doing that more lately: turning to Schneider, of all people.
Penelope couldn’t pinpoint the moment when it happened, but at some point Schneider went from being somebody she wanted to lock out of her apartment to the man she trusted with her darkest secrets.
Maybe it was when he came back with Alex, ranting about how he couldn’t keep her son safe, and proved that he was the best one for the job.
Maybe it was when he was there for Elena before she came out, or when he flew her best friend in for her quinces.
She knew it was before he showed up to get her, clean-shaven and with that impossibly bright smile, smelling so damn good it short-circuited her exhausted brain.
It had to be before then; Penelope refused to think she might be that shallow.
What matters is that things shifted when she wasn’t looking, bringing her to his couch with apologies and confessions and her pain and her fear.
And as much as Schneider was an idiot, so casually privileged and cracking jokes at the worst moments...he took her seriously. He gave her the talking-to she needed, and the hugs she needed even more.
He gave her a safe place to land at rock bottom.
After all, Schneider knew rock bottom better than anybody.
What was it about her, Penelope wondered after that, that meant she kept giving up decent, attractive, interesting men for big human-shaped messes with addiction problems?
The difference, of course, between Victor and Schneider was the size of the Grand Canyon. Where Victor lied and avoided and shut down, Schneider was almost painfully sincere. A goofy, open book who had wedged himself into her family until he fit.
Who was working the program, keeping it together, and could talk to her about fucked up brains with personal authority.
Who loved her.
She didn’t think about that often, the way he so easily loved her and her Mami and her kids, the way Schneider made things like that look effortless while she struggled at every turn.
But she knew it was true; she knew that was why it took him less than three seconds to switch from hurt over the horrible things she said to pulling her to him, wrapping his arms around her and trying to comfort before he even knew what was wrong.
He was a good guy.
Which was why nothing happened.
The kind of man she once believed Schneider was, callous and chauvinistic and selfish, could have pressed his advantage, even knowing she was with Max.
Penelope was falling apart in front of him, she came to him when not even her own mother knew what she had done, and after she realized he actually was her best friend now--when did that happen?--Schneider could have made a move.
It would’ve ruined everything, but another man might have tried.
But Schneider didn’t. He tucked a curl behind her ear with that out-of-place sweetness she was still surprised by, and told her she really needed to tell Lydia.
“She loves you,” he pointed out. “She may not get it, but she wants you to be okay. You’re lucky, Pen.”
And with his five moms and distant dad, she knew he was an expert on that. Why else would he have needed the Alvarez clan so much?
She never should have said the things she said--hurting him because she knew he would let her--but they hit the mark because of the parts that were true. Schneider’s life was so empty in the ways that mattered, while in her family and her work she had so much.
In a very real way, Penelope had him to thank for that, because if Schneider had shut the door in her face rather than laying his own pain bare to help her, she couldn’t say she would have ended up okay. But she was.
After Lydia’s recovery, after they both became citizens and things were looking up, she went to him again.
She was back on her meds, she was level, but she still missed Max. Doing the right thing sucked, and Penelope was tired of making the responsible choice and ending up alone.
Kick the father of her children out again because he was never going to pull it together, because she couldn’t trust him?
Tell her boyfriend to go, because it was what’s best for him, no matter how much it hurt?
“Just once,” she told Schneider, who was blessedly alone in his apartment that night, no weird skinny girl hanging around in his t-shirt while he looked at Penelope like she was the only one in the room, “just once I want to do the selfish thing. Not the smart thing, the mature thing, the thing I know I should do.”
“Yeah?” He had an odd expression on his face, but she barely noticed it, too caught up in the pain she kept bringing to his door.
“Yeah. You know, sometimes being a parent really sucks. I can’t just have fun like you, do whatever I want...I have to do the best thing.”
“Penelope, you know you act like I have this charmed life?” Schneider ran a hand over his face and sighed. “It’s not like things are easy for me. I mean, yeah, sure, I’m smart and gorgeous, but that’s no guarantee of a good time.”
“Oh, please.” She rolled her eyes. “Besides the drugs, name one thing that you can’t just wave your money at and have, without even trying.”
Schneider was staring at her like she was stupid, which was usually her role in their relationship. It was unsettling.
“That’s what you think, that I just...get whatever I want?”
“Schneider, I worked my ass off my entire life while you were living on your daddy’s money. You do get whatever you want.”
He blinked at her for a moment, the silence stretching out between them. Penelope watched as he reached up, very slowly, very deliberately, and took off his glasses.
He had done that before, blinking owlishly at her to make a point, but now there was no reason for it. She frowned, and waited.
There was literally nothing Schneider could have done to surprise her more than pausing while his glasses hit the side table with a quiet clink and then leaning in to brush his mouth over hers.
He could have gotten up and performed a musical for her of his own creation and Penelope would have cringed and tried to flee, but she also would have thought, classic Schneider, and taken it in stride.
This...this shocked her.
What shocked her even more was that she didn’t push him away. She was too stunned to kiss him back, but she let him run a hand up her shoulder to cup the back of her neck.
Before he tilted his head to change the angle of the kiss, Schneider pulled away just enough to focus those nearsighted eyes on hers, searching for consent.
Of course he didn’t push, of course he didn’t offer her some stupid comment to snap her out of the moment...of course he just waited, while she looked back at him and realized this wasn’t actually surprising.
Somehow, it also was not surprising, the way his eyelashes fluttered closed when Penelope crossed the distance to kiss him again. She’d seen how soft and sweet and even kind of delicate Schneider could be underneath that frustrating hipster attitude.
When she kissed him back, curiously more than anything, exploring what this was exactly, and he let out a little sigh with his eyes shut, she felt something that shouldn’t have surprised her at all.
Because the trauma that ran through her blood, that she would carry with her for the rest of her life, it was different from the neglect and the loneliness that ran through his...but it was the also the same.
She and Victor had nearly identical scars, which she thought was a good thing, until it wasn’t. She and Schneider had scars that matched like jigsaw pieces--it wasn’t like looking in a mirror, but it was like taking all worst things she wanted to hide about herself, and realizing they fit.
With him, they fit. He gets it.
He was her best friend and her family and the person she trusted when everything was too much.
She loved him, too.
So Penelope deepened the kiss into his sigh, sliding her tongue against his and almost laughing at the way his eyes flew open...as though he didn’t start this, as though he never expected her to reciprocate.
She remembered the conversation that led them here and realized he probably didn’t. It was her he was talking about, when he insisted he couldn’t always have what he wanted.
Penelope nearly stopped things right there, gave him back his glasses so he looked like Schneider again, and demanded answers. How long had he felt this way, been thinking about it?
Had it been there this whole time, while he ate meals with her family and tried to insert himself into her relationship and was always, always there for her?
She was a little bit afraid of the answer, and even more afraid that he’d want to know the same thing, from her side. She was not ready to think about that.
She didn’t come there to think.
She just wanted a break from being a mom and a daughter and ex-Army, the high achiever who could barely sleep at night. He knew all those sides of her, but it turned out Schneider also saw the side of her that she worried she gave up when she gave up Max. The needy, wanting side, the woman who took risks to be happy.
He looked at her, sitting there in a tank top and jeans and thinking the whole thing over, and Penelope looked back at him, his hair mussed and mouth slightly pink from her lipstick--and she knew he saw her. All of her.
When she nodded to herself and climbed half into his lap and kissed him harder, she swallowed his groan and let herself stop thinking.
After all, this was Schneider.
Whatever came next, she could trust him.