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The Production of Penny

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Penny simply does not have the patience for drama. Many of the others feed off of it, in ways both good and bad. He’d had a steep learning curve, when he’d first joined the family, as he’d watched Margo and El getting into explosive, shouty arguments with each other over every little thing, or seen Q devolve into stony silence for days on end after an off-hand, benign-seeming yet clearly pointed comment from Julia. It had worried him, made him wonder about the sustainability of their group.

But, of course, they’d all been doing it for centuries. Feeding off of one another, fighting so as to find the catharsis of crashing back together. Variety being the spice of life, and all that.

El and Q love each other so ardently it’s like staring into the sun to watch them sometimes, but they can both also be incredibly bitchy, entitled, prickly, and rude, especially to each other. Margo and Julia fight because they both love bossing people around almost as much as they love one another. Julia’s a know-it-all. Margo’s too aggressive. Eliot’s a snob. Quentin forgets to say thank you. And they all turn their noses up at each other over these things sometimes, when the mood strikes. When the charge in the atmosphere demands conflict.

Penny… doesn’t fight unless he means it. He doesn’t dig his heels in during a disagreement, doesn’t let anyone push him around but also doesn’t bother snapping back when things start to escalate. Margo hates that about him, a little bit. Or she did at the beginning, when her attempts to rile him up had been about power, asserting dominance, showcasing her leadership in the best way she knew how. Nowadays, when Margo’s status as Penny’s boss is firmly established, she still tries to make him angry, but it’s mostly just for fun.

That’s not to say that Penny is a calm or cheerful person all of the time. He’s been called a grump, and knows he deserves it. But somehow, even through his more dour moments, he finds himself a natural peacekeeper for the more volatile personalities surrounding him. When he raises his voice, he gets results. He’s learned when arguments need to come to a full boil, and when the simmer of potential rage can be cooled down before it gets to that point.

It’s what makes it easy for him to slip in and out of the relationships surrounding him, supplementing and never supplanting. Interpersonal drama rolls off of him with hardly any effort. In all the years he’s been freely sharing a bed with the rest of his family, he’s never once caused an argument.

El likes it when Penny takes Q to bed, pins him down and makes him scream. He likes watching, he likes participating, and never once has even the smallest flicker of jealousy or fear come between them when they’ve shared Q.

Q loves watching Penny with El, sometimes a battle for control, other times a sweet surrender, a gentleness whose flavor is different than what El and Q normally share together, infinite combinations enhancing one another in a feedback loop.

Margo likes teaching Penny how to touch Julia, sitting back like royalty on her throne, instructing him where best to touch, how hard to push, until Julia is unraveling around Penny’s fingers or against his tongue. Margo sits back and watches, panting and flushed, and then allows Penny the gift of slipping inside of her, a sated Julia cooing her approval at the embrace.

It works because Penny loves them all, and they all love him, and he doesn’t have any desire to own them or be owned by them. He can be an intrinsic, central part of the family without romance tethering him to a particular relationship. He saunters in, he saunters out, they either want him there or they don’t, and he cannot imagine why he’d let himself get upset over any of it.

But drama, it turns out, might just be a necessary ingredient of falling massively, terrifyingly in love with another person. He’d thought himself well free of it, able to enjoy the closeness of affection and the sexual company of people who really fucking knew what they were doing, without any of the melodramatic aspects accompanying the joy.

But then Kady. God, Kady. He’d give up touching any of the others to be with her for the rest of however long he’s lucky enough to live. She’d never ask him to stop sharing a bed with El and Q, but for the first time in his many years with them, he knows he’d say yes if asked that question.

And worse, El knows it. El picks it up right away, the besotted way he runs in circles, caught between the intensity of a new crush and the desire to give Kady her space to adjust to the impossible. And there is drama built in to this, to El’s knowing that Penny would give up a piece of their relationship for Kady, if she asked. It’s enough to sow discord, enough to prove once and for all that Penny is not immune to the drama after all.

They work it out, of course. Growth always comes with an accompanying loss. He’s proud to have El and Q both stand up with him when he marries Kady, and he knows he hasn’t kissed either of them for the last time, knows he’ll enjoy their bodies and their bed again. But he also knows it will never be what it once was.

And there’s drama, too, of the real sort, the serious kind, returning to a life after decades away from it, kissing his wife and missing the woman he left behind in Fillory to return to her. Welcoming Alice into his arms, not as a sometimes visitor but as an equal part of what he and Kady share. Knowing the joy of something new, but still feeling the phantom ache of what can never be again.

The others don’t fight as much as they used to, Penny notices. Fewer petty squabbles, less arguing for pleasure. Conflict sparks hot and deadly between them when it sparks at all, but most of the time they’re gentle with one another, just like they’re gentle with him as he comes back to them at long last. He returns to his loved ones and no longer fits the space he’d left. He comes back and finds a way to tie himself into something new. It’s dramatic, yes, but well worth it all the same.