In the great known and unknown universe, Physics is the only magic:
A TBBT Saturnalia Love Story.
Penny was fall-on-her face exhausted as she tried to insert her key into the lock of her room. Her eyes were bleary and she had to check twice to make sure she had the right key – which was silly, since it was on its own chain, and was styled to appear like a historical key of yore. She had expressed concern to the clerk downstairs about security issues, but he had assured her that it only looked like an old key, it actually opened the door with a combination of working like a real key did and a small microchip. Penny wasn't convinced that would help keep away any of her more enterprising fans, but she had to hope the hotel itself had some kind of screening process that would keep the crazies out.
She wasn't sure what possessed her to attend the Holiday Party being held downstairs in the ballroom, but she'd been charmed by the old-world costumes and motivated into attended by the idea of the romance of it all. If she was being truthful with herself, she had hoped some Christmas Magic might work on her. The castle turned hotel she was staying in was known for making dreams come true.
There had been no knight or prince for Penny for some time, and tonight was no different.
Penny had everything she'd ever wanted. Her career had taken off more than a year ago, and since then she'd made movie after movie, gathering fans as she worked. Her first role had been in a small independent movie where she'd played a drug addicted college student. In comparison, her current role was child's play, but Penny wasn't stupid enough to think she could just slack off while filming. In terms of fame, this was going to be her breakout role. George Lucas movies were like that.
She also knew the industry enough to know that the people watching this movie were going to be far more picky than any prima donna director she'd ever worked for before. There was a certain standard she had to live up to, which was hugely daunting, but she always had loved a challenge.
So she should be happy. She'd found her vehicle towards being a well-known and well-respected actress. She had enough money to buy a new car, a classy condo in Hollywood, and pay off her parents' mortgage. Though Penny had a spending habit on shoes (which her new condo had a closet specifically built to accommodate her expanding wardrobe), she'd been poor too long not to put half her wages away in savings. She wasn't making the big bucks yet, but her newest movie had her pay as just breaking six-figures.
The only problem with being an internationally successful actress (hopefully) was that filming schedules didn't really care about holidays like Christmas, so she'd been in Stockholm finishing up the final days of filming when the snow storm hit, grounding all flights in Europe from Great Britain and up. Her last minute flight home for Christmas, a trip which would take her at least twenty hours one-way what with the stops in Copenhagen and the O'Hare airport in Chicago before arriving in Nebraska, was impossible to reschedule. As it was, she only would have been home for fifteen hours – just enough time to give her parents the new truck she bought them, which would be delivered regardless, and to hand over tickets to a cruise in February to her entire family, which she hoped to join them on as soon as filming was over.
So being grounded wasn't the worst thing that could have happened to her. She was running on fumes as it was, and even though she probably would have dropped from exhaustion on the plane – thanks to some over-the-counter medicinal candy she had in her purse – she hadn't quite been in the mood for Christmas at home. There was snow here, more than enough of that, so what else did she need?
Twentieth Century Fox thought the answer to that question was an all-expense paid weekend at one of Sweden's most preeminent Christmas galas in one of their best hotels.
Penny knew the invite hadn't been originally for her. It had originally been a gift for Sam Worthington, but the storm went both ways and his misfortune was totally her gain. She wasn't above taking swag from the Studio. Someday, they were going to want to give her stuff based on her name.
So that was really just a long way of saying she was bone tired and going to a party didn't help.
Penny fell face-first onto the bed, the bed that was historically the same as it had been when the hotel had been a castle for some minor prince back in the eighteenth century. Only with a new mattress and linens replicated from the original. She'd checked. She liked free stuff as much as the next girl, but she wasn't sleeping on a 200 year old mattress. That was just nasty.
She was asleep almost immediately. She had an odd dream of a man yelling ("IT WORKS!"), and a strange figure hovering uncertainly over her bed. The man was wearing a cravat, something she certainly wasn't unfamiliar with this evening, but he looked a whole lot less formal than the men downstairs in their resplendent holiday-wear. His sleeves were rolled up, and... wow, colourful.
Sleep Penny didn't see any problem with that. Once she was awake, considering her second movie had been a historical romance where she played Keira Knightley's promiscuous cousin, Penny knew that the costume was just plain wrong.
The other thing wrong? Yeah, the guy was still standing in her suite (only cravat-less, at least that had been a figment of her imagination). She was half-way out of bed to call for security before she realized he was standing in the middle of one of the high-backed chairs in front of the fireplace. Like, at first she thought he was kneeling on it, but she could see his feet between the chair legs, and it was pretty damn obvious that unless he had hollowed out the center of the chair and then stepped in it that he was actually a ghost.
Plus, the fact she could see the evergreen garland on the fireplace behind him, through him, was a pretty good indication.
She paused, half-way out of bed and stared at him, mouth agape.
"Hello," he said, looking down at his feet in distaste before taking a step forward. "This is why I requested a locale which was historically accurate. The hotel guaranteed that the furniture in this room was positioned exactly as it had been for the last two hundred years. It appears as though my trust has once again been unfounded.
Penny stared. She wasn't freaking out because obviously she was still dreaming. That or the tech department of the movie was playing a prank on her using projections. They had been trying to perfect the hologram the last time she had time to stop in for a chat. So yeah, ha ha guys.
"Yes, of course," the man said, nodding to himself. "A Swedish woman circa 1820, according to your manner of dress, would unlikely recognise English. Hej. Var inte rädd. Jag kommer i fred." (Hello. Do not be frightened. I come in peace.)
"Wha?" Penny questioned blearily, wondering if she was actually awake. Sure, she'd heard Swedish often over the last few months, but she couldn't see how she'd have a dream about someone speaking it and either (a) not understand what was being said or (b) panic because she didn't understand. Instead she kind of wanted to punch this guy in the throat and go back to sleep.
"Was that Swedish?" he questioned in confusion. "I am unfamiliar with that word."
"No, it's English, you freak!" Penny said, jumping out of bed with one of the pillows clutched in her hand, brandished like a weapon. "Now tell me what you're doing in my hotel room?"
"Isn't it obvious?" he asked with a frown. "I am a traveller from the future. I mean you no harm. What you see before you is a projection of my consciousness, focused through time with the aid of my time machine."
With a warcry, she slammed the pillow into him. It travelled through his face and almost unsettled her balance when it didn't hit anything solid.
Surprised? Not entirely.
He gave her a condescending look. "I understand that women of your time lack proper education, but I assure you, this is entirely scientific. There's no need to be frightened. I am not a ghost."
She wasn't frightened, but she sure was getting pissed. God, this guy was an ass.
"Oh aye gov'nor," she responded, adopting a cockney accent. If this guy was from the future, then people in the future sure as shitting loved Star Trek: the Motion Picture, since this guy was wearing a t-shirt with Zachary Quinto as Spock on it. Somehow she doubted it was retro, since he was also wearing a pair of Puma sneakers. Penny had always pictured the future as looking... well, less 2010. "Yer from the future dhen eh? I've got me doubts about that, a right proper gennleman like yerself."
He gave her a doubtful look. "I assure you, I am not here to create any distortions in the spacetime continuum. I am merely an observer."
Then, just to mess with him, she whispered reverently. "You must be the second coming of our Lord Jesus Christ."
"I am not!" he said hotly.
"So what are you then, the Darwin of wormhole theory? Bender of tachyons?"
He gaped at her and then in a high pitched voice he shrieked, "how do you know about those?"
Penny shrugged. "Man, you are the least observant time traveller ever. My cell phone is sitting right there on the table next to you."
He looked beside him.
She reached out and snatched it. "But you shouldn't see it. It might distort the spacetime continuum. Create some kind of paradox. You see, I'm from your future."
He shot her a glare. "I think I would know if I travelled forward in time."
"No way," she claimed. "I'm totally from your future, what year is it for you?"
"What year is it for you?" he countered.
"I can't say," she said mysteriously. "Too much information may create a grandfather paradox."
He crossed his arms over his chest. "You haven't given me any information to suggest you're from my future."
"Do you recognise me?" she demanded.
"Do I recognise you?" he echoed. "What kind of question is that?"
"It's a perfectly reasonable question," she answered.
"Do you recognise me?" he countered with excitement. "Do I know you in the future? Did I send you here with a message for myself?"
"Noooooo," Penny answered with a roll of her eyes. "How about my name. Penelope Queen, do you recognise that?"
"Why should I?"
"Ok, you like Star Trek, right?"
"Is this line of questioning going anywhere?" he asked suspiciously.
"Really, it is, just bear with me and it will make sense when I'm done, ok?"
He gritted his teeth. "Yes, I like Star Trek."
"So you're probably also a fan of Star Wars?"
"Incongruous. I'll have you know that there is contention between fans of Star Wars and Star Trek. Obviously Star Trek is far superior, especially after the first three episodes Lucas just released. They ruined the entire franchise."
"How about the new trilogy?" she asked.
"I just said it sucked, to use a colloquialism you may recognise."
"No, I mean the new trilogy," she emphasized. "The one Lucas came up with to combat the popularity of the new Trek motion pictures."
"He did not!" the guy said hotly, and then looked worried. "There is a chance I have not travelled in time, and instead I somehow entered an alternate universe."
"Yeah, ok," she answered, not really caring. It wasn't like he had sucked her into the past or anything and got her stuck. That she would care about. As it was, some guy from the pretty-recent past who was a ghost but wasn't, wasn't much cause for concern. She had much more important things to worry about, like how this corset was digging into her spleen. "Only I assume you're from 2009? 2010? When the first Trek movie came out?"
He nodded reluctantly.
"Well, Lucas didn't announce the new trilogy until after the second movie started filming, and I assume you would pay attention to the new Star Wars, even if it wasn't your thing, right? You seem the type."
"I don't see your logic."
"Well, it's simple. As a nerd boy, excuse the phrase, I don't mean to be offensive since you're like one of my target audiences, you'd recognise my face from spoilers and the trailer and stalking my fansite and stuff."
If anything he looked more perplexed. Penny thought this was the most amusement she'd had all month.
"You know, well, you probably don't since you're still back in the past, but, what did you use? As a colloquialism – you know, because I'm Princess Leia." When he didn't respond. "The actress who plays her, anyway."
"Fascinating," he said. "I'm definitely in an alternate universe."
"Is there any way to check for sure?" she asked. Not that she cared. Ok, she was a little interested. It wasn't every day she chatted with some guy who might be able to give a message to her current 2009/10 self to tell her to just stick with it, to not give up hope and suffocate herself in a cheesecake. Only, since he made her think about everything she knew about time travel, which was a lot considering her love for Michael J. Fox, obviously he didn't give her any messages because she didn't remember ever seeing this guy before.
And she'd remember him. Who'd forget those loud colors he seemed to be wearing? And yeah, ok, so his clothing could have changed, but she'd still remember him. He was also kind of cute. He had really blue eyes and...
Oh geez, what was he doing? He was doing something with the air, dancing his fingers over it in shapes and figures she didn't recognise.
"Aye?" she asked, ignoring the fact that he seemed demented. Just her luck: she had a crazy ghost. He probably really was dead, only didn't know it. "Is there a way to tell for sure?"
"Who won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 2009?"
"I'll Bing it," she said, picking up her phone.
"Bing it?" he echoed.
"Yeah, Google collapsed in early 2011."
"That's impossible!" he said in a high tone, hunching his shoulders forward.
"Geez, take a joke why don't you," she said offhandedly. "The Google app on my phone is glitchy, that's all. The Nobel Laureate," she had picked that up from her Keira Knightley movie too. Keira's husband had won one of the Nobel Prizes. Penny's character had seduced him. It was tragic. "...in 2009 was a Dr. Sheldon Cooper."
His shoulders immediately relaxed.
"Who's that then?" she asked. "And what's a monopole?"
"Me," he told her proudly. "And a monopole is what makes time travel a possibility. I'll win another Nobel for this."
"Yeah?" Penny asked, crossing her arms over her chest. "You can't even get your timeline right. This isn't the past, it's the future, and I've never heard of time travel." She levelled him with an even glare, daring him to argue.
"I'm visiting you from the past right now. Obviously time travel has been invented."
"Uh huh," she said, reaching behind her and pulling down the zipper of her stupid period costume. Unconcerned about the time travelling nerd standing in her bedroom – it wasn't like he was physical anyway – she stepped out of the dress and crawled back in the bed. "It's been nice chatting and all, but I'm exhausted. It might be Christmas Eve, but being a Princess is a ton of work."
"Your under garments aren't period appropriate," he said in an offhanded manner, still doing that swishy air thing with his fingers.
"Whatever," she muttered, turning over to go back to sleep. It didn't bother her that he'd seen her half naked body and had dismissed her. It didn't bother her at all.
Five minutes later she opened her eyes. "Are you gay?" she asked him.
"I don't concern myself with the sexual appetites of humans," he informed her primly.
"Like you aren't human," she scoffed. "I didn't know the Nobel committee was in the habit of awarding their prizes to aliens. Wouldn't that be cheating?"
He didn't have anything to say in response, which she took as a victory.
"You know, you're young to be a Nobel Laureate," she said, not sure why she kept trying to draw him into conversation with her. Ok, she did know. She was bored. She couldn't sleep. If he was a hallucination, he was fascinating; she hadn't known her imagination was that good. She wasn't attracted to him at all.
Except she was, and she couldn't figure it out. Why this guy?
"I'm the second youngest physicist to be awarded the prize," he responded quietly, but with pride. Pride, but not the same amount of hubris he had been speaking with earlier.
"Congratulations," she said with a smile. "I may not know anything about physics, but I can see you're one of those beautiful mind science guys. Is that what you're in Sweden for? The award ceremony?"
"Yes, as last year's recipient it is my honour to present a paper this year," he looked away from his work, which she'd decided was an invisible whiteboard of some kind. Kind of impressive really. And ha, she'd made him admit to his year first. "My calculations are correct, I am still in my own universe."
She watched him as he stood uncertainly in the center of the room, suddenly with nothing to occupy himself with.
"Don't take this the wrong way, but why are you still here?" she asked.
"My body is grounded in 2010, I have to wait until the machine stops projecting my consciousness, which should be in exactly six hours, twenty-four minutes, and seventeen seconds."
"Sounds like a bunch of mumbo jumbo to me," she told him. "Like from some bad movie or something. I thought time machines were supposed to bring your body back. Isn't it dangerous? Having an out of body experience?"
"Not at all. If anything happens, I will simply wake up in 2010. Science fiction would be getting stuck here. I was under the impression you were going to get some rest. Your circadian rhythms will not thank you for this interruption." He then let out a wheeze. At first she thought he was dying, some kind of time travel side effect. Then she realized he was laughing. "I anthropomorphized your sleep habits. Circadian rhythms do not speak."
"Riiiiight," she responded with a roll of her eyes. "Hey, how do I look to you?"
He frowned at her. "I don't understand this line of questioning. You will make an acceptable Princess Leia Organa, due to your low body mass index, but I do not see how this is relevant."
Aww, he had noticed. That was adorable. "Oh sweetie, thanks for saying so, but I mean that you're looking very ghost-like to me, I can see through you but you're still visible. Do I look the same to you?"
"You are translucent to the naked eye. The obvious issue with time travel is I am able to see both realities at once. That is why it is integral to find localities which maintain the same arrangement throughout time. I have been searching for historically significant places, but they're few and far between in Pasadena."
"Pasadena? Really?" she asked, sitting straighter and really staring at him. He still didn't seem familiar to her at all, which was starting to seem unlikely. What were the chances she would meet someone in Sweden, someone who was supposed to travel 200 years into the past but somehow ended up 2 years into his future, who she could have met in real life. It was making her head hurt, but she thought she could see that this was very destined. She was supposed to meet him. The idea gave her tummy little butterflies. Bad tummy, why this guy? "Pasadena, California?"
"No, Pasadena, Texas," he claimed, and for the first time she was able to place the twang in his voice as being Texan specifically. Penny wasn't sure why, but she seemed to know he was being sarcastic, even though evidence pointed to him being literal, and Texas likely being where he hailed from.
"Sarcasm?" she asked. He was still hovering awkwardly in the center of the room. He gingerly sat on the chair he had been standing in, but then leapt to his feet before his bottom could settle. He then tried sitting mid-air, where she assumed the chair was in his time, but ended up wriggling his ass around on what looked to be nothing on her end. With a sigh, he straightened and crossed his arms over his chest.
Penny patted the bed next to her. "Why don't you sit down, you're making me uncomfortable."
"People can't be in my bed, Penelope," he informed her, voice rising decibels.
"Please, call me Penny," she said with an easy smile. One of her talents was easily charming people with the right turn of head or a platitude that immediately put them at ease, but unless she was very much mistaken, the more she chatted with Doctor Cooper, the less comfortable he became. It was like familiarity with her was stripping him of his focus on time travel, and the rest of his persona was unable to function after the science was gone. "And I'm going to call you Sheldon. It's Christmas Eve, and though you've dropped in unannounced, it is still polite for me to make sure you're comfortable. So please sit." Her tone was firm, but she was still surprised when he acquiesced and gingerly sat at her side. It was a large bed, but even still she didn't feel the dip a body should have made when sitting. "I find this super interesting," she said conversationally as he settled in, sneering uncomfortably at the hotel blanket and the situation in general. "At this very moment, Christmas Eve of 2010, I am living in Pasadena, working as a waitress at the Cheesecake Factory downtown. It's around 1am Christmas Day here, right, so it's what? 3 pm Christmas Eve?"
"4 pm," he corrected. "And you will address me as Doctor Cooper if you need to address me as anything."
She ignored that. "Yeah, around 4 pm, 2010 I was walking home from a shift at work, disappointed I had agreed to take on a coworker's shifts so she could spend the holidays in Hawaii with her children. I find it interesting that you and I are meeting here, in Stockholm, when we easily could have met at any point in your present time."
"Not at this exact moment," he informed her. "I am here."
"I didn't mean at this exact moment," Penny responded sharply. "I mean, in general, there was a time when it was more likely for you to meet me on the street than it is for you to travel forward in time and meet me in a foreign country."
His eyes went glazed, for just a moment. "Your math is sound, calculating for all the variables."
Penny rolled her eyes. As if she looked at it mathematically. She could calculate tax and tips in her head no problem, but other than that she had no idea how to even do the simplest math equation. She didn't even know what all the variables were, but common sense told her that the chances of meeting someone because you lived in the same city were greater than meeting someone because you were a (almost) famous actress and he was a mad Nobel Laureate scientist.
The idea that she was supposed to meet him was becoming more and more cemented in her mind. He looked so odd, sitting uncomfortably on the other side of her bed, back ram-rod straight against the headboard, that she wanted to find a way to make him relax.
"How is it that you can interact with me?" she asked.
He went off on some scientific explanation she couldn't understand, his face becoming animated as he spoke. His eyes went intense, focusing on her face as he spewed out a bunch of science mumbo jumbo she had no hope of understanding.
Instead of feeling put-out, she felt a smile develop on her lips. He was pretty cute with his eyes all intense like that. She liked the way he looked while explaining science to her, and Penny was surprised. Usually when men tried to explain their jobs to her, especially when they talked her ear off, she didn't find herself wanting to listen. But then, most of them couldn't hold a candle to the second youngest Nobel Prize winning physicist. Listening to someone talk for hours about how he was an actuary was boring. Listen to Dr. Cooper explain string theory and time travel to her was kind of entrancing.
"Oh," she breathed. "I'm sorry, I didn't understand very much of that, physics isn't really my forte, but I think it was really interesting, and I know that your accomplishment is super, incredibly incredible. You've conquered time."
He grinned and glanced at his knee, no longer looking her in the eye in the face of her flattery. "Yes," he said, sounding surprised. "I could be considered Time Lord."
Ah ha! She knew the answer to this. She and Keira used to catch this show in the makeup trailer while filming The Love Note. "I thought that title was taken by the Doctor."
He looked astonished as he quickly glanced at her, looking almost immediately away again, but Penny thought she could detect a smile in his eyes.
"But maybe you could be Time Conqueror?" she suggested, pleasantly jolted with surprise when he jumped a little and fixed her with his gaze, this time not looking away.
"Sheldor the Conqueror," he said quietly.
"Sure, if you like."
"No, I mean my handle for various online gaming forums is Sheldor the Conqueror."
"Like what games?" she asked, curious. She kind of wanted to have proof he was real, once this night was over. It was possible she'd come across his name in a newspaper, or on Wikipedia while she researched her movie, but if she could find him elsewhere, in places she didn't know anything about, that would mean more.
"Age of Conan. Occasionally WoW, but I find they are lax in their general standards of admittance. Not just anyone can play these games. Or, not everyone should."
She grinned at him. There was something alluring about chatting with a stranger on Christmas Eve – now Christmas Morning. It was why she had gone to the party downstairs, and it was why she continued engaging him in inane chit-chat. She knew enough geniuses from the tech department from LucasStudios that she knew most of them didn't like talking. They were insanely shy, or people of less intelligence than them gave them hives. She didn't think Dr. Cooper was any different, but beyond a few exasperated sighs, he didn't seem too bad.
She thought he kind of liked it.
"Can we touch?"
"Weren't you listening when I explained the entropic properties of time dilation?"
"Partially, but I didn't really understand, remember?"
"I have an eidetic memory, I remember everything."
"Is that anything like a photographic memory?" she asked casually, easing closer to him.
"Photographic!" he sputtered. "I just said I remember everything. Everything is far more complex than simple images."
Penny grinned, now on his side of the bed. He hadn't even noticed, too intent on lecturing her on memory, and explaining ways she could make hers better.
"Sheldon," she sing-songed. "I can memorize fifty pages of script in about three hours, which may not seem like much to a genius like you, but to mere mortals like I am, it's pretty darn good." She poked him. Her finger disappeared inside his arm like he was thin air. There wasn't even a cold tingle or anything she had always heard in reference to ghosts. It was like he wasn't even there.
Maybe she was hallucinating.
So she did what she always did when she felt herself lose her footing around attractive men: she straddled him.
Only, not really, since he wasn't really there, was he?
She made sure her knees weren't resting in the space he was occupying, bracing her hands on either side of his head. With no actual lap to rest on, she was actually just hovering in thin air, and it was hell on her hamstrings, but she was in top physical condition for her role as Princess Leia and so maintaining the position wasn't too difficult.
He was staring at her with wide-eyes and she would bet ten percent of her 2012 earnings that he had no idea how he had gotten into this position. He could get free, she knew, just by moving through her, but either that thought didn't occur to him or he didn't want to get free. Or possibly the thought of moving through her was just was weird to him as it was to her.
Penny considered laughing at him, because really she'd done this just to torment him, but he had managed to endear himself to her in such a short amount of time that laughing just seemed wrong.
"If you were here I'd kiss you," she said, leaning forward so her mouth hovered just over his. She kept her eyes wide opened and was gratified to find him doing the same. The only sense they had to rely on was sight, and through it, this almost seemed real. Since she wasn't actually touching any part of him, she could almost pretend that he was really there, and she was really about to kiss him. It was a heady feeling, charming in the sense she hadn't wanted to see if she and a man had any kind of chemistry since she had broken into acting. She'd been so focused on her career, and there he was, so similar to her with his singular goals in physics. He'd succeeded in his, and she was so close to succeeding in hers. On the surface they didn't have much in common, but Penny knew that she and Dr. Cooper would probably find themselves getting along very well.
She wanted more than anything for them to meet in real life.
"I find you intriguing, Doctor Cooper," she told him, saying his title warmly and with a teasing lilt. Her mouth was still millimetres above his and she could see his hands unclench from his side, hovering next to her waist without touching. "You're so obviously a genius of the highest calibre, but Christmas Eve finds you alone, working on your newest experiment. I find it strange."
"There's nothing strange about it, Penny. I do not celebrate Christmas."
"I find it strange that you used an experiment to seek companionship when there is a party going on downstairs. I also find it endearing. You are entirely in luck, because I think I'd like to get to know you better."
"I don't want to get to know you better."
"Don't you?" she asked, bring her face close to his ear. She was careful to keep her hair away from him, not wanting to ruin the illusion. She pulled back. If there was one thing Penny knew, it was how to ensnare men. "I'd like to kiss you," she repeated. "Press my lips against yours. My mouth would be soft and warm, and you'd feel tingles right down to your toes. Lips are really sensitive to touch," she told him. "You've got this pouty bottom lip that looks delectable."
She licked her lips, allowing her tongue to stick to her bottom lip for a fraction of a second. She was gratified to find him do the same unconsciously.
Yes, Penny knew how to ensnare men, even those she couldn't touch.
"I'd slide my tongue into your mouth. Would you let me?"
"No," he denied, but his eyes watched as she trailed her hand from her mouth, over her neck and to the valley between her breasts.
"I think you would, if I were really kissing you," she told him, her voice soothing and seductive. "You've got great hands. Would you touch me?"
"No," he responded, but sounded less firm with the idea. His pupils were dilated and his skin was flushed. He appeared like a man who had been thoroughly kissed.
"I think you will," she teased. "I'm going to find you, Dr. Sheldon Cooper. Once I wake up tomorrow, I'm going to find you, and you're going to kiss me."
He froze, if a man who was already still could freeze, and gave her a startled glance.
"I find it doubtful that your interest will remain after this brief dalliance."
"I swear to you," Penny promised. "Christmas of 2012, you'll be hearing from me."
His head turned sharply to the right, and his gaze became focused on something beyond her sight. "That's impossible," he muttered, rolling forward, moving through her so quickly that she was startled despite the lack of sensation.
Then he disappeared entirely.
Heart beating rapidly, Penny quickly grabbed her phone and checked Wikipedia. There was no death date next to his name, she found with relief.
Christmas Day, 2012 – Sheldon & Leonard's Apartment
"Hey Sheldon, did you see the new stills for Episode Seven? Princess Leia looks hot in her uniform."
Sheldon got an odd smile on his face. "Merry Christmas, Leonard."
January 11th, 2013 – Dr. Sheldon Cooper's Office
Subject: Greetings from your future!
Dear Dr. Cooper,
Do you remember me? Of course you do! Not only was our night together unforgettable, but I know you have an eidetic memory. I promised you I would contact you after Christmas to show I was good on my promises, but did you know that your email address wasn't supplied along with your long list of credentials on the Caltech website? Well, I probably know more about it than you do, because I had a heck of a time finding even the smallest bit of info on you! I almost hired a PI to do the grunt work, but that seemed a bit like cheating, don't you think? I eventually found one of the lighting guys here who has a sister who works for your department, and (for a price) she supplied me with both your email and phone number. So if you don't answer me, I'll assume you have unfamiliar emails blocked, never received this email, and I'll have no other option but to phone you up. :D
I don't have any emails blocked on this account, so I don't mind if you use your private email. Otherwise, there may be some other inappropriate-for-work subject headings in your future!
PS: We just finished filming in Stockholm and will be moving to the desert. Do you have any tips for coping with extreme changes in climate?
March 22nd, 2013 – Penny's Voicemail
Hello! You've reached Penny's phone. I'm probably out filming some amazing scene in a foreign countryside, but if you leave a message I'll get back to you ASAP.
Hello, Penelope Queen? This is Doctor Sheldon Cooper. I regret to inform you that I will have to postpone our scheduled chat on March 24th, at 20:00 hours. Please forward a list of appropriate times you will be available for rescheduling and I will allot you exactly an hour and a half of my personal time. Good day.
To understand this message, she had to read between the lines. He never willingly gave her more than an hour personal time – the extra thirty minutes was an apology, and a concession of sorts to the fact she always kept him on the phone for an extra half an hour anyway. He'd actually stopped being entirely formal, leaving his name, professional qualifications, and contact number at the end of the occasional message he left her, and the Good Day almost boggled her mind. For Sheldon, that was the same as how other men said 'I hope you're having a fantastic day babe, and I miss you.'
Well, maybe not exactly that, but it was a good start.
July 22nd 2013 – Comic Con International
"Man, oh man, oh man," Howard said in delight, bouncing on the tips of his toes. "Q&A with Penelope Queen and Zac Efron, the most epic sibling duo ever."
Raj looked back at the girls dressed as Sailor Scouts behind him and then leaned over to whisper in Howard's ear.
"You're right, Jessica Alba and Chris Evans were pretty awesome too, but the Fantastic Four movie sucked, and Episode Seven will not."
"You can't know that," Sheldon pointed out.
"Look at the cast!" Howard said loudly, pointing to a life-sized display of Penny and Zac sexualized in various states of undress. "They are not only beautiful, they are talented. Zefron is actually a fantastic actor, kid's going places, and Penelope's last movie won an Oscar."
"For costumes," Sheldon snorted in derision.
"Yeah, but just the fact she was affiliated with a movie that was even nominated for an Oscar is a pretty good sign that she's probably a good enough actress to be in a Star Wars movie," Leonard pointed out.
"And she's hoooooot," Howard said meaningfully. "Move over Carrie Fisher. Penelope Queen is definitely the new Mrs. Wolowitz."
"She'd just as likely marry Sheldon," Leonard said, pointing his thumb at his friend and entirely missing Sheldon's surprised half-grin as the VIP doors opened and they slipped inside.
Once inside, they took their seats in the front, waiting for the room to fill and the actors to arrive on platform.
"Look!" Howard exclaimed, waving frantically. "There she is, there's Penelope. I swear, I would go Christian just for her to smile at me."
Penny walked across the platform and took a seat next to Zac Efron. The crowd was screaming, half of them women excited to see the new Luke Skywalker, and half of them fanboys who were anticipating her Leia with blind devotion.
Her eyes scanned the VIP section, falling on Sheldon sitting diffidently next to three other men. Her eyes lit up and she raised her hand to wave exuberantly, smiling widely.
"Oh Sweet Jesus," Howard worshiped, "she smiled at me."
Again, all three of them missed Sheldon raising his hand covertly in response, and Penny winking at him.
Zac, there have been rumours for years that you will play the role of Light in the anticipated Death Note motion picture. Any comment?
Penelope, after The Love Note's success at the Oscars, do you have any personal goals to win one?
Zac, a lot of people still think of you as Troy Bolton from High School Musical, do you think this movie will change that?
Penelope, is there anything to the rumour that you and Zac are dating?
Penny looked over at Zac Efron and grinned. "No, definitely not. We've become really good friends, like the siblings we're portraying on the silver screen. I can't speak for Zefron of course, but I'm kind of seeing someone, and by seeing someone I mean I've mentally committed myself in a budding relationship with someone I haven't had the opportunity to see in person since Christmas. We've both got busy schedules, so there's a lot of Skype-ing, phone calls, and emails back and forth during our free time, but he's here at Comic Con, so maybe that will change. Ask me again next year!
That's all she said on the matter, no matter how many people tried to fish if the person she was dating was James Franco, her co-star on The Love Note.
They were just finishing up the Q&A section, when security ran on stage, pulling both actors off in a flurry of motion and Penny lost sight of Sheldon.
She thought for sure she'd be able to meet up with him at Comic Con, but instead some disgruntled fan was threatening the lives of the stars of the new Lucas trilogy, and she spent the evening under guard.
Sorry, death threat. Brunch tomorrow 11am? She texted. She had a breakfast meeting from 8-10:30 with special guests and at 1:00pm the Star Wars extended trailer was airing for the first time. Then she was flying out to start filming the final part of the trilogy. With a sense of dread, she realized they probably missed this opportunity too. The reason they were supposed to meet tonight was it was really the only time.
The Star Trek Panel is from 10:30 – 1:00. He wrote back.
Penny would never ask Sheldon to miss the Star Trek Panel.
September 2nd, 2013 – Penny's condo in Los Angeles
Penny finally had a month off between filming movies, she was in California with nothing but 28 days worth of free time awning ahead of her with the promise of blissful relaxation.
Doctor Cooper was in Japan supervising an experiment on string theory and performing a circuit of guest lectures on the subject.
One of life's ironies was that the two of them had never actually met in person, at least with any kind of proximity. She had seen him at Comic Con briefly, and thought that she had been obviously broadcasting her interest in the way she was unable to keep her eyes off him. Even after Zac had laughed at her fretting and told her she was imagining things, and she watched the video and noticed she had been looking almost everywhere but directly at him, she still felt like she had spent the entire hour staring at him.
She'd offered to travel to Japan for a visit, but Sheldon didn't want the distraction on such a sensitive project and didn't think the host faculty would appreciate her presence, especially if press got wind of her location.
They still chatted on webcam. Unfortunately, when he was free between supper and his bedtime, it was around 3am her time. Despite his concern for her sleeping habits, Sheldon still called at exactly the same time every day.
It all changed after knowing him for 9 months, 7 of those with them in contact at least once a week. She arrived home from a party at ten minutes to 3, a little buzzed off champagne so when she saw his face and felt that familiar thrill as he greeted her, she didn't bother tempering her reaction.
"Why are you staring at my mouth?" he asked, five minutes into a story about a Japanese physicist's erroneous interpretation of his instructions.
"I always stare at your mouth," she told him. "I'm just usually not so obvious about it." She gave him a teasing grin and slipped her top off over her head.
He licked his lips and she mimicked the motion, reminded of Christmas Eve when she promised him a kiss.
"Are you inebriated?" he asked suspiciously, belying his concern by allowing his eyes to drift over her.
"You've seen me in less," Penny answered coyly. "You can see me in less if you want."
"This is highly inappropriate."
"It's not, Sheldon, we've been circling around this for months now. I promised I would find you and kiss you, but I think it's become more than that. I swear to you, I'm going to find a way to meet you before Episode 7 is released. That's less than three months from now."
September 30th, 2013 – Leonard & Sheldon's Apartment
Leonard was enjoying his time alone without Sheldon. It had almost been a full month without the terror that was Sheldon Cooper, and his schedules were all messed up. He wasn't sleeping properly because no one reminded him not to drink caffeine after 8pm, and he sometimes forgot to go to bed at the proper times because video games were just so addicting. He wasn't eating properly because without Sheldon he just ate pizza all day, every day, not even worrying about keeping his assigned toilet times. He'd gained about 5 pounds in the last month, which Sheldon would comment on when he returned.
The worst of it was that Leonard no longer had women coming up to him when he was out shopping. It really was the worst because now he knew for sure that they were drawn by Sheldon. Sheldon, who never showed interest in any of them, and who probably saw his penis as being evolutionary baggage: useless, but necessary to maintain.
And wasn't that just a terrible indictment of the human race?
So he was eating the last of his pizza when someone knocked on the door. He opened it, surprised to see a pretty girl standing on the other side. Her hair was shoved back in a messy bun, and large sunglasses covered her eyes. Despite that, she looked familiar.
Leonard grinned and preened.
"Is Sheldon here?" she asked.
Leonard deflated. One of Sheldon's Grad Student Groupies, he should have known. He was starting to hate GSG. Almost every female Grad Student and quite a few male grad students all flocked to and orbited Sheldon. It had gotten worse since that bastard won the Nobel Prize.
Leonard really hated Sheldon sometimes.
Now was not one of them. Now was one of the times he kind of loved Sheldon. There was a hot female grad student here, all alone, and they were always impressed when he told them he helped with the experiment that won Sheldon the Nobel. "Sorry, he's not here. Are you here from Caltech? You know, I helped Sheldon prove that monopoles exist. I was in the Artic with him."
"Uh huh, how nice for you," the girl said impatiently. "I don't know anything about physics. I thought he was travelling back last night?"
Leonard frowned in confusion. If she wasn't a GSG, then who was she? And how did she know about Sheldon's schedule. Did Sheldon find a stalker who wasn't with Caltech? That was just creepy.
Creepy and kind of awesome.
"He elected to take the train from Osaka to Tokyo and won't be arriving until tomorrow."
"Oh," the girl said, a frown appearing between her eyebrows. It made her even more adorable. "You mean he pissed off the air company, or they didn't meet his standards, or whatever excuse he was able to come up with so he'd be able to take the... uh... bullet train. What's it? The Shinkansen?"
"So you do know him?" Leonard asked with an uneasy chuckle. STALKER! RUN!
"He'd only been talking about it all month," she muttered beneath her breath. "Look, I'm leaving the country tonight, so tell him I'm sorry I missed him and give him this."
Leonard looked down at the DVD case in his hand. The Love Note. As if Sheldon would watch this shit willingly.
"He'll know who it's from," the girl said, misinterpreting his expression of disbelief as confusion.
Yeah, Leonard thought as he closed the door behind her. He wasn't going to throw himself in the path of Sheldon's ridicule, even for an adorable girl.
Three days later Leonard sat through all two and a half hours of The Love Note, ashamed to find himself crying in the end when the Penelope Queen character and the Keira Knightley character buried their mutual lover, the James Franco character. He entirely missed Sheldon sitting through the love scenes with an odd little grin on his face, he was so engrossed in the storyline.
"You should take notes," he told Sheldon when he was finally able to speak without betraying his tears. "That girl knows how to seduce a Nobel Laureate. You may need to avoid those tactics in the future. In fact, the more I think of it, the more obvious it is that strange girl probably meant to leave the DVD as some kind of message-slash-warning that she was out to seduce you."
"Don't be absurd, Leonard. Penelope Queen could hardly seduce me using those methods. My Nobel Prize is in physics, not literature. She'd have to try a little harder than simply slipping off her dress." Sheldon wheezed out a chuckle to something that was only funny in his mind, bless his asexual heart. Then he got this grin on his face that Leonard would categorize as goofy if it was on anyone else but Sheldon. On Sheldon, he categorized it as indigestion.
"Would you like me to file this DVD alphabetically, or will we donate it to the library?" Leonard asked, hoping to keep it so he could show it to Raj later. Raj was going to sob like a baby.
"Leonard!" Sheldon exclaimed. "This DVD was a present to me from a friend. I will be keeping it with my private collection in my room."
"You don't have a private collection," Leonard responded in confusion.
"I do now," Sheldon retorted, grabbing the DVD and bringing it into his room.
Weeeeeird, Leonard thought. Maybe Sheldon was gathering evidence against his stalker.
October 13th, 2013 – Siberia
They have cyber sex. That's all.
Christmas 2013 – Sheldon & Leonard's apartment
"I'm glad we went to the Midnight showing," Leonard gushed, opening the lock to their apartment door. "That was amazing. I feel so wired, I don't think I'll be able to sleep."
"Yeah man, we should rewatch the episodes three through six and then go to the movie again tomorrow!" Raj said with enthusiasm.
"My circadian rhythms have already been disrupted enough. I'm going to bed immediately," Sheldon answered, but sat on the couch instead, frowning at his phone.
"Who do you keep texting?" Leonard asked.
"No one!" Sheldon claimed hastily, shoving his phone back in his pocket.
"No one?" Leonard echoed. "I think you have a secret girlfriend. Is it this Penny I keep hearing you call out at night for?"
"Sheldon?" Howard asked with a laugh. "As if. Speaking of secret girlfriends, I hear Penelope Queen is secretly dating Zac Efron."
"No way, you heard her at Comic Con, its James Franco!" Leonard pointed out.
"If it was James Franco, she would have said it was James Franco! I hear it's some normal guy." Raj argued.
"There is no way someone that hot is dating some normal guy," Howard responded. "More importantly, what did you guys think of Penelope Queen's acting? She certainly was an arousing Leia."
"She was ok," Raj said with a shrug. "But Carrie Fisher will always be my first Princess Leia. Zefron was above and beyond as Luke though."
Leonard frowned at him. "Penelope was much more believable as a strong female character, though. I really believed the force was with her."
"What did you think, Sheldon?" Raj asked.
"Lemme guess!" Howard crowed. "You thought she was far too sexualized, or didn't live up to the standard of the actresses before her?"
"Or you thought her face symmetry was off."
"Or, I bet you thought her acting was inferior."
Sheldon shot them all a quelling look. "I believe Penelope Queen's Princess Leia was... stimulating. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to bed."
Three jaws dropped simultaneously. Sheldon may as well have quoted Jayne Cobb's famous 'I'll be in my bunk' line or outright said he found Princess Leia was HAWT. Sheldon had never, ever, ever thought an actress was attractive before, especially to the point of commenting on it without giving any negative points to her performance. He hadn't for Number Six, Sarah Walker, any of Angelina Jolie's various roles, the women from The Watchmen, or Scarlett Johansen. He liked Zoe Saldana based on acting merit alone, and thought Ali Larter needed to stop making movies.
Obviously, Sheldon had no hottie-taste, except he seemed to find Penelope Queen more than acceptable.
"What?" Raj blurted out as Sheldon stood, but instead of going towards his room he cocked his head to the side curiously.
"There's someone at the door, Leonard."
Leonard stared at him. Had Sheldon finally cracked? "There is not! And it's 2am, who would visit at this time of night?"
Just as he finished the question, there was the sound of high heels on the stairwell.
Penny was running late, oh so late. She felt like she was late by a year, but really her timing was only off by a few hours. She had promised Sheldon she'd meet him before Episode 7 was released, but she'd been roped into attending the Los Angeles red carpet premiere mere hours after she got off the plane from filming Episode 9 in Siberia. Between filming final scenes that were about a month behind schedule and conforming to the Studio's press releases and Red Carpet events, she'd averaged about 4 hours of sleep a night. She actually started to love travelling to and from events on the plane because it meant she was able to nap.
So she broke her promise to Sheldon about meeting him before the movie was released. She really hoped he didn't take it as a sign that they couldn't work out. 2014 would probably be a lot less hectic for her. She was only scheduled to be a voice character on the next Disney movie and had a romantic comedy in negotiations for the summer.
Her time was almost 100% Sheldon's if he wanted it.
So there she was racing between Los Angeles and Pasadena at 1:30am, and didn't arrive at his apartment until around 2. She was hesitant about knocking on his door at such an early time, but the last text she had received from him said he was going to the midnight showing of the movie, so chances were that he was still awake.
She knew for sure when she saw the lights on in his apartment.
With little regard for her ridiculously high heels and tiny dress, Penny ran up all three flights of stairs and pounded on the door to apartment 4A. There was barely time for her to adjust her skirt back over her ass before the door opened in front of her.
Her eyes were so centered on Sheldon that she barely even noticed his friends standing around the living room. The one wearing lurid colors snapped a DVD case open so far the DVD popped out and dropped to the floor.
It was foolish, but when their eyes met across the room, Penny could have sworn that time finally stood still and everything righted itself. She hadn't just spent a year chasing after the ghost of Sheldon Cooper, instead she had opened herself up to the possibility of forever with a man she technically hadn't even met yet, but whom she knew better than anyone.
Penny grinned. "Sorry I'm late. I only just convinced George Lucas to release my soul."
"Penny!" Sheldon exclaimed with obvious delight that had her echoing the sentiment with a tingle up her spine. Then he frowned at her. "Night driving on the highway hazardous and should only be attempted in extreme emergencies."
"This was an emergency," she teased, sauntering towards him, unseeing towards the three stunned nerds watching her every move in shock. "I couldn't allow you time to decide I ruined the entire Star Wars franchise singlehandedly."
"Penny," Sheldon said in exasperation. "I already told you Lucas did that more than a decade ago with the prequel. If anything, you've elevated it in my estimations."
Penny grinned. Aww. It must be love. "Come here, Doctor Cooper," she said, grabbing him by the front of his shirt and hauling him down for a kiss.
"Penny," he murmured. His hands encircled her waist as he gathered her towards him. She had been worried that all their webcam fun wouldn't prepare him for touching her in real life, but she didn't have to be concerned. His mouth met hers and she wasn't sure which of them had touched first, but it didn't matter.
She was finally kissing Sheldon Cooper, PhD and Nobel Laureate for real, and it had been well worth the wait. All his denials a year ago, when she had first teased him, had long ago been overcome by familiarity. She thought there was something to be said for making a man anticipate something as simple as a kiss, especially this man. He couldn't seem to be able to get close enough to her, his hands caressing the bare skin of her backless dress and his tongue entering her mouth first.
Christmas of 2013, Penelope Queen found Doctor Sheldon Cooper, as she promised, and he kissed her, as she also promised. He felt it down to his toes, and he went counter to all his standard rebuffs towards physical contact because once in a very long while, magic does happen on Saturnalia when a time machine that only ever worked once righted the alignment of the universe.
A/N: My apologies for the terrible Swedish translation, first off. Let's go with Sheldon messing up languages being canon and I did it on purpose, ok? I wrote this story for Talitha Koum last year as a present after she created that beautiful work of art that goes with chapter 5 of Caper Continuum.
Happy Holidays to everyone. I hope everyone feels the Saturnalia spirit this year, whenever your holidays may be.
I'm going to be alone over Christmas this year, so feel free to stop me a note to say hi over the next few days.