In an alternate universe somewhere in this earthly realm, Penny isn't a waitress at the Cheesecake Factory. She's an actress, right up there with...Julia Roberts or something. She worked her ass off and paid her dues and now she's making movies people go to just to see her. In the same alternate universe, Raj can talk to girls without the aid of an alcoholic beverage, Leonard's kindness and sweetness is appreciated instead of taken advantage of, Howard doesn't live with his mother and has respect and devotion for women, and Sheldon? Well, Penny had no idea what an alternative universe Sheldon would be like. She didn't even understand this universe's Sheldon.
In this theoretical alternate universe, Penny did not have a soul-shattering crush on Sheldon Cooper.
Penny wanted to live in the alternate universe.
Everyone always focused on Leonard's crush on her. All the boys teased him about it and give him crap and in general tried to make him feel as dumb as possible for having a crush on such an unobtainable creature as herself. Yeah, like she'd ever love a geek like him. She was beautiful and socially adept and smart in, well, her own way. Penny would never love a nerd.
Except Penny did love a nerd. It's just a different nerd. She came to this conclusion after countless nights of tossing and turning and wondering and dreaming and she doesn't know what to do about it. It's Sheldon. Sheldon! But there was something so very sweet about him; a strange innocence that she'd never really understand. She was coming to terms with that now. He wasn't just an annoying geek who didn't live in the same world she did. They occupied the same space most of the time these days and, well, they were used to each other now. Except Penny wanted him to be more than used to her. She wanted him to see her for what she was--not Leonard's ex, not the ditzy girl across the hall, not the waitress from the Cheesecake Factory who brought him his cheeseburgers--but as a woman. Who had feelings. For him.
Almost an entire year went by while Penny tried to figure out what to do about this crush of hers. It wasn't going away, and it was just getting more intense. When Leonard tried to reignite their on-again off-again...thing, she thought maybe that was the answer to her problems. Penny tried to throw herself into the relationship and forget about her fledgling crush on Leonard's roommate, she really did. But Sheldon was always there. He always had something to say. And while that repelled her in the first year or two of their rocky friendship, now it only made her like him more. She'd never had such a crush before...every guy she'd ever liked had always returned her feelings. Sometimes she wasn't sure Sheldon even had feelings, much less if he had any for her. Eventually her relationship with Leonard ended as it always did--it went down in flames and she and Leonard barely even acknowledged each other for weeks. They were just now trying to repair their friendship, which Penny truly did treasure. But she knew someday he'd find out about her inappropriate crush and things would get ugly again.
Not helping the situation was Sheldon's relationship--or whatever the hell it was--with Amy Farrah Fowler. Penny liked Amy and wanted her to be happy, but watching them together made her feel kind of stabby. But just a few weeks before Penny's 27th birthday--which turned out to be quite an interesting day indeed--Sheldon terminated their relationship agreement. It seemed as though Amy became fed up with the lack of digital stimulation and gave Sheldon an ultimatum. She wanted to hold hands whenever the mood struck her, and she wanted him to be open to at least discussing taking their relationship to the next physical level. Predictably, Sheldon did not give into her demands and they parted on friendly but distant terms.
Now that both she and Sheldon were single, Penny found herself thinking about how to pursue something with him, and if it was worth pursuing at all. He wasn't a normal relationship kind of guy. Not to mention the fact that he was always so condescending about her job and her education. She learned a long time ago to not take that personally, though. They were still friends, and she knew Sheldon had a certain kind of strange respect for her. But it was definitely going to be a challenge. And if she really thought about it, maybe that was the appeal. Maybe she was just that bored.
In the meantime, Penny wasn't just sitting around her apartment and feeling sorry for herself. She was auditioning more than ever, and even landed a tiny part in a car commercial. She was working out more intensely and more often; finding that lifting weights and running on the treadmill at the gym was almost a sufficient replacement for sex. Almost. And it was working--she'd lost 10 pounds, gained sexy, curvy muscle and was feeling better physically than she had in years.
Almost on a whim, Penny looked up some classes at Pasadena City College and decided to take an introduction to creative writing class. Surprisingly, she actually enjoyed it and found writing to be a perfect way to channel her frustration into book-form. She wasn't going to win awards for it any time soon, but she was proud of her new hobby.
It was just a simple fact, however, that no matter how busy she kept herself and how much she wrote and how many hours a day she worked out, Penny couldn't forget that pesky little crush she had on her neighbor. She was going to have to do something about it. And soon.
On Penny's 27th birthday, the boys threw her a little party at Sheldon and Leonard's. They wanted to do something bigger for her but she insisted it was no big deal. And really, why would it be? Every single one of her friends back in Nebraska had started shooting out babies and she hadn't even gotten around to getting married yet. She was almost 30, and what did she have to show for it? All the things she'd been doing lately to distract herself were just that--distractions. But when it came down to it, where was it all leading? Penny was desperately trying not to throw herself a pity party but she seemed to be going straight down into a shame spiral.
To make herself feel better, Penny put on her tightest little black dress, which was looking a lot better lately after all those hardcore workouts. She was rewarded with three speechless men when she walked in to her party--Sheldon was busy playing WOW and didn't even notice her arrival. As usual.
"OMG, Bestie, you look amazing!" Amy said first. She and Sheldon no longer had a relationship agreement but Amy was still hanging around. It was kind of awkward but Penny was used to her, and she was glad Amy was at her party.
"You look like you could use a few birthday spankings, if you know what I mean," Howard said, sounding like the pre-Bernadette Howard that Penny loved to hate. Bernadette just giggled at her fiance and poked him in the arm. True love.
"Wow, Penny, you look amazing," Leonard said. "I mean, really, you look...amazing."
"Thanks, hon," she said, appreciating the compliment and the look on his face that went with it. She knew she could always count on Leonard to make her feel beautiful. If only she could get the same reaction out of Sheldon.
At that moment, Sheldon finally looked up from his computer, gave her a glance that made her feel dirty for some reason, and said, "Yes, that dress makes your body quite aesthetically pleasing, which I guess is important for some of the males in this room."
Well, that was as much of a compliment as she could ask for from Sheldon.
Raj just nodded and gave her a thumbs up. Apparently he hadn't gotten into the liquor yet.
"We thought we'd eat and then play some Rock Band," Leonard said. "You said keep it small, so we kept it small. You know we would have gone all out if you wanted us to."
"I know, thank you. I'm just not feeling it tonight."
"You know who else didn't feel their 27th birthdays? Jimi Hendrix. Janis Jopin. Kurt Cobain. At least you're doing better than they are," Sheldon said, looking pleased with himself. "Oh, and Amy Winehouse, but that might be too soon."
Penny blinked. How did he know who Kurt Cobain was when he'd never even heard of Radiohead? Sheldon knowing things about pop culture? When did this happen?
"I took it upon myself to do some research on the subject of 27th birthdays," Sheldon said, aware that his newfound knowledge was a surprise. "I don't know why, it's basically useless knowledge. But now I know how you feel every day."
"Thank you. I think?"
After all the pizza was gone and almost all of the beer was consumed, Penny opened her presents. Amy got her some gorgeous new Manolos, which Penny couldn't even comprehend.
"Amy, they're gorgeous! How could you possibly afford these?"
"I had to donate my plasma and sell my underwear online, but it was worth it just to see the look on your face!" Amy said happily. Penny wasn't quite sure what to say to that, so she just hugged her good friend Amy.
Howard and Bernadette's gift was two tickets to the Foo Fighters show in LA. Penny had a bit of a happiness panic attack and gave Howard a hug that Bernadette couldn't have approved of in any way. Raj gave her bath products that were only borderline creepy, and Leonard gave her a necklace she'd admired in a store window like six months ago. He earned a kiss on the cheek for that one. Sometimes she wished she could make it work with her ex-boyfriend, but it wasn't meant to be. They'd tried it enough times to know that.
Sheldon watched and commented on the gift-giving but didn't participate. While this didn't really surprise Penny--Sheldon wasn't really a believer in the normal social conventions of birthday parties--it still stung a bit.
But even though Sheldon hadn't given her a gift, Penny couldn't help but feel touched that he'd gone to such lengths to research a little something to relate to her birthday. And she thought about it the entire time they watched the newest episode of Jersey Shore (it was obviously her pick--she'd watched enough Star Trek, Star Wars and Battlestar Galactica to last a lifetime) and then played Rock Band for an hour or two until Raj passed out and started snoring. It was a nice evening, but it was time to make the long walk across the hall.
"Thanks, guys, I had a nice evening," she said. And it was nice. She was surrounded by her good friends who all came together for her stupid birthday. It just wasn't exactly what she had in mind. But she was getting the feeling that what she had in mind was actually impossible.
Leonard walked Penny to her door. She kissed his cheek again and said good night. Leonard--who was, after all, Leonard--asked, "Is there any chance..."
"No," she said sadly. "I wish there was, but no." He nodded and gave her one last cute smile, and she closed the door.
Penny was so tired, she fell asleep on the couch in her dress. When she woke up, she took one look at herself in the mirror and groaned. Was this what 27 was going to be like? Feeling like shit in the morning just for existing? Sighing, she took a long shower, put on her sweats, and got out the cookie dough ice cream. She wasn't working, and there was a Star Trek: Next Generation marathon happening all day on SyFy. She put the show on mute and opened her laptop. The "novel" she was writing was actually coming along nicely and she could use her pity party day to further the progress.
At 11:00 sharp, as she was completely engrossed in the words of her story, nine very familiar knocks followed by the signature, "Penny. Penny. Penny!" rang out in her ears. Smiling, she opened the door to find Sheldon on the other end, holding a small package and looking...nervous?
"Hey, sweetie. What's up?"
"I woke up this morning and after my bathroom time, I realized I forgot to give you your socially acceptable birthday trinket. So I thought I'd give it to you now, even though it's not your birthday anymore and therefore the gift is moot."
"Your gifts are never moot, Sheldon. Thank you for thinking of me," she said, genuinely touched by the gesture. "Please come in."
Sheldon came in and sat in the new chair Penny bought essentially just for him, to replace the one she got off the street. His eyes lit up when he saw what she was watching.
"My goodness, this is "The Icarus Factor"! I've seen this episode 84 times. I didn't know you were a fan of the Next Generation, Penny."
"Well, I'd seen so many episodes at your place that I'm just kind of used to them now. I don't know, they soothe me, I guess." Not to mention, when she was in her most pathetic of moods, they made her feel closer to Sheldon in some kind of awful, tragic way.
"Fantastic. Maybe someday I can convince you to go to a convention as Deanna Troi."
"What, are you going to be Riker?" Penny chuckled at the visual.
"Penny...I have to say, I am quite impressed with your knowledge of Star Trek. When Leonard and I first met you, I had no idea you'd be so capable of learning so much in such a short time." He looked happy with this revelation. "And yes, I would go as Riker. You don't think I can pull it off?"
"Oh, sweetie, of course you can," she lied.
"I make an excellent Riker, I'll have you know. Well, anyway, here is your gift. I had them wrap it at the store since I have no time for such a ridiculous ritual."
Penny smiled and took the gift from Sheldon. She opened it and was surprised to find a lovely leather-bound journal. It looked expensive, and it smelled like heaven.
"Wow, Sheldon, this is beautiful. Thank you."
"Well, you've mentioned your community college writing course and I thought you could use this for future endeavours."
"I'm touched. This is an amazing gift, Sheldon."
"Yes, well, although I don't really believe in birthdays, I saw this at the store and I wanted you to have it. I want to encourage this writing hobby of yours. Anything that hinders you from watching countless hours of Kardashians or drinking your weight in tequila and making another bad choice at the bar with whatever young, hot stud you spot for the evening."
Penny was so shocked he mentioned the Kardashians that she didn't even care about his other accusation. She thought about how interesting it was that they kept surprising each other with what they did and didn't know. So many years of living across the hall had really changed both of them. Penny wondered if it was for the better or worse.
"Well, thank you again, Sheldon. I appreciate the gesture."
"You're welcome. Oh, and I also wanted to tell you that a professor at the university is looking for an entry-level part time grant writer in her department. I took the liberty of telling her about you and she sounded interested. You'll need to call her for an interview but you basically have the job if you want it. It pays well, and it'll give you a chance to learn more about your craft."
Penny was speechless. Truly speechless. When she found her voice after absorbing the magnitude of what he did for her, she said, "Why would you do that for me?"
"What do you mean, why? We're friends, right?" He said, looking distracted, and it broke her heart a little for so many reasons that she didn't even comprehend.
"I don't even know how to thank you, Sheldon. Um...can I hug you?"
"I guess the normal social convention for gift giving is as such, so yes, I believe that can be arranged." Sheldon rose from his comfortable chair and Penny jumped up and hugged him. He was so warm. And he smelled good. And she only got to hug him like once a year, so she savored the moment for as long as he let her, which was much longer than she expected.
To Penny's surprise, Sheldon sat down on the sofa with her instead of going back to his chosen spot. They sat together for a while and watched Star Trek silently. She knew he was going to want to go back to his apartment soon and she just didn't want him to. For one thing, and she was pretty sure she wasn't imagining it, there was something happening between them right there on her couch. There was a kind of electricity she'd never noticed before. He had to be feeling something; it wasn't just coming from her end. Granted, maybe it was just her and all the energy from the crush she'd had on him for so long now, but maybe, just maybe, he felt the change in the atmosphere, too. The thought occurred to her that even if he did, he probably had no idea what to do with the feelings he was having. This wasn't going to be easy, whatever she had in mind. Sheldon was not an ordinary man. She couldn't just put her hand on his leg and give him a bottle of wine and seduce him. But more than anything at that moment, she wanted to know what it felt like to kiss Sheldon Cooper.
And then she had an epiphany. She was not used to being this poor, hopeless female desperate for a man's attention. Penny was not going down without a fight. She'd always been outspoken, why change now? Why couldn't she just tell him what she wanted? Even if it did freak him out, he wouldn't punish her for it. If anything, Sheldon welcomed honesty. At least...she thought he did.
During a commercial break, she finally found her voice.
"Sheldon, I have a question."
"Yes, I'm sure you have a lot of questions. But what is your current question?"
Penny cleared her throat and hesitated. He looked at her, curiosity piqued.
"Have you ever had feelings--romantic feelings--for any females other than Amy?"
He looked annoyed with this line of questioning, but still answered, "I can't say that I have. Even with Amy, I've just never seen the opposite sex in that way. Forgive me, Penny, but I just see females as distractions, mostly. My life is about science and achieving my career goals, and eventually the Nobel Prize. I don't want to focus on anything else."
"What about feelings for males?" She asked tentatively. Well, a lot of people wanted to know the answer to that question. Maybe he was just waiting for someone to ask.
"No, Penny, I'm not homosexual, either. If you must know, I do find females attractive in a classical kind of way and I do have sexual urges from time to time. I do have testosterone, after all. But I always manage to focus back on the task at hand. It was difficult, especially in my teenage years, but I find my career to be rewarding enough to resist temptation."
"Fair enough," she said, not sure where else to go now. While she didn't particularly enjoy the answers to her questions, she at least took some solace in the fact that he felt comfortable enough to answer them.
They watched more Star Trek in somewhat awkward silence for a while.
"Why do you want to know this about me? We've had a lot of time to talk about this over the years, so why do you choose this moment?"
Maybe he was smarter than she gave him credit for. Maybe he DID sense her change in feelings for him. Then again, maybe not.
"I have my reasons..."
"Oh, come on, Penny. I know you. You have something on your mind. You can tell me, you know I'm an excellent secret keeper."
"Yeah, unless you're drugged with warm milk and Valium!"
"That was one time! Damn that Howard," Sheldon exclaimed, annoyed. "Anyway, I'm not letting you off the hook."
"Okay, well...oh, hell, I'll just tell you. Recently I've been thinking about you. A lot. And not in a scientific way, but in a...romantic way. Sheldon, I've come to really appreciate and like and respect a lot of things about you, and it's turned into a crush. At first I thought it was a schoolgirl crush, but it keeps going and I can't seem to control it anymore. So...that's it. That's what I wanted to say."
And of course she said too much and of course she horrified him. Except he didn't look all that horrified. Actually he looked, well, flattered.
"Is that really it? Or do you have more to say? I need all the information before I can accurately respond."
How did he know her so well? It was unnerving.
"Okay, okay, it's more than romantic. It's also sexual. I dream about you a lot. You and me. And we're doing a lot more than talking. And right now, all I want is for you to kiss me. And I know how you feel about that, and I know how you feel about me, and I honestly can't believe I'm still talking, and ughhh I'll shut up now. Oh, except, one more thing: I'm pretty sure this is more than a crush and actually I'm just completely in love with you. So...yeah. That's it."
Sheldon considered this for a long time. Penny thought she could actually see the steam coming from his brain as he thought this over.
"Nobody but my lovely mother and my Meemaw have ever said they loved me before," Sheldon said in a weird voice Penny couldn't identify. "If anything, it's nice to hear that from a woman."
"Any woman?" Penny asked, wanting to punch him instead of kiss him now.
"No, not any woman. As long as we're being honest. You are the only consistent woman in my life. And, Penny, you are an attractive woman, even I can see that. Your devotion to the gym has paid off, although I can't imagine spending one second in what essentially is a playground for germs and sickness. I have had thoughts of a sexual nature about you many times in the past, and I've had the same dreams you're describing. I have no desire to act upon these feelings as my work would almost definitely suffer for it. But if you must know...sometimes I do wish I was different, and that I could just surrender to my baser urges."
Penny put her hand on Sheldon's arm and he didn't even flinch, so she left it there and said, "Thank you for telling me that, Sheldon. I know this conversation must be hard for you. But can I just ask, why don't you just let yourself surrender to your urges?"
"The germs are a big concern, I must admit. So much contact with someone else's body frankly scares me to death."
Penny sighed. Sheldon looked at her closely, lost in thought. He looked confused. And vulnerable.
"Any other reasons? Besides it affecting your work?"
"I have many reasons, Penny. I don't think you want to hear them."
"Okay, fair enough," she said again, genuinely caring but not wanting to send him more out of his comfort zone than he already was.
"You really have these feelings for me?"
"Yes, sweetie. For a while now.”
"My life would be so much easier if I could just return those feelings. But can you possibly understand why I don't?"
"I do understand, Sheldon. Give me credit. I've known you for a long time. Why else do you think I haven't brought it up until now?"
"Penny, can't you see? That's why this is so difficult for me. As you said, you've known me for a long time. You are a good friend. You have all the standards of classical beauty as described by poets and artists throughout the ages. You bought a chair for me so I'd be comfortable in your apartment. You sing Soft Kitty when I'm sick. Don't you see how much easier it would be if I let myself have feelings for you? If I let myself think about it too much, it could become all I'd ever think about. Then I'd just be Leonard, and look what he's accomplished since he's met you."
"I don't know what to say. Thank you for being so honest with me."
"You deserve it," he said, somewhat shyly. He was so adorable when he wanted to be. "I'm flattered by your feelings, but I'm not sure there's a course of action that will satisfy both of us."
And then Sheldon was quiet again. While she was overjoyed he took her feelings seriously, this was still so frustrating. Why couldn't she just go across the hall, fall in bed with Leonard and never leave? Or better yet, find a nice, stable guy somewhere out in the world who could actually return her feelings in a normal, functional way? At least before she told him, she didn't have confirmation that nothing could ever happen between them. Where did she go now?
Penny was about to tell him he could leave if he wanted to; she was almost sure the environment was that awkward now, but then she felt an unsteady arm try to wrap itself around her shoulder. She turned her head to see Sheldon putting his arm around her. Instinctively, she leaned into him and smiled. She was completely shocked by this turn of events, but didn't want to say anything and ruin the moment.
"I believe this is what Amy called 'cuddling'. I thought I might try engaging in it to see how it felt with you instead of her. I know it brought her comfort when she needed it, and I sense that you need it right now."
"That is so sweet, Sheldon. Thank you." She did need it, and she did want it. It felt so nice to be in his arms. She felt a little pathetic about the whole situation, but Penny figured she could deal with that later. For now, he was holding her and it was all she wanted.
A few minutes later, she said, "How is it? Better or worse?"
"It's...nice." He refused to elaborate. Penny had to agree--it was very nice. He even stroked her hair for a few seconds, and she let out a tiny little sigh/moan.
They watched the next episode of Star Trek in this embrace. At some point, he took her hand and grasped it in his. For someone who wasn't adept in the art of hand-holding or even reasons why hand-holding would be wanted, he caught on fast. Penny was getting so turned on from these simple touches, she could barely keep herself from jumping on top of him. That would freak him out for sure, though.
"You confided in me and now I want to share something with you. It's something I've been pondering for a while, but up until now, I had no reason for practical application. Would you be willing to participate in an experiment? It may be pleasurable for you, but I cannot guarantee the experiment will be repeated in the future. This may be a one-time only situation. I would understand if that doesn't appeal to you, especially knowing the kind of emotions it may elicit from a woman afterwards."
Penny sensed where this was going, but to be sure, she said, "What kind of experiment are you talking about, Sheldon?"
"As in...coitus?!" She said, somewhat shocked but mostly turned on. She'd had some very dirty dreams where she was the one who de-virginized Sheldon, but she never in her life thought they'd come to fruition.
Sheldon looked pleased by her usage of one of his favorite words. "Yes, Penny, coitus, and, I suppose, foreplay. I've never experienced it, but I have to admit I've become curious. Especially after this enlightening conversation with you. I'm not trying to take advantage of you in any way, please keep that in mind."
"Oh, honey, are you sure? I don't want you to do anything you're uncomfortable with, okay? I wouldn't want to take advantage of you, either. That's the last thing I want. And for the record, my feelings for you are more than sexual, although they can be pretty explicit at times."
"You are the only woman in the world I'd trust with this situation," he said. "And since you've had so much experience, you'd be the best person to engage in these activities with me. I want you to teach me. And if I don't receive pleasure from these interactions, well, at least I'll be able to cross that off the list. I suppose sexual intercourse is a rite of passage for every man, right? I'm in my thirties, I should have gotten this over with a long time ago."
Penny felt like she should be offended, but she knew what he was saying. He wanted to get this out of the way, and the only person he'd want to do that with is her. It wasn't exactly the most romantic situation, but she wasn't going to kid herself and say she didn't want it. She wanted it. More than anything she'd ever wanted in her life, if you asked her at that moment. If it happened because of an experiment, so be it.
"I understand, and I am willing to participate. Do you want to do this now?"
"Yes. I feel that if I wait, I might, as less educated people say, 'chicken out'."
Penny nodded, speechless again. Was this really happening? It was so surreal.
"Bear with me. This is new territory for me."
"Oh, I know. I'll be gentle. You're safe in my hands. Not to mention the fact that I've wanted this for a long time now, Sheldon. I want you to know that. So this isn't just an experiment for me."
"You're saying that your emotions might be a factor, yes? I know that for women, sex isn't just about release. I will also keep that in mind. Will you let me know if it's too much? I don't want to overwhelm you."
"Of course. And please do the same for yourself."
Sheldon nodded. "Now, if you don't mind, take off your sweats, please. They're hideous."
Penny shrugged and took them off. At least she was wearing a sexy set of red underwear. He deserved to see what he was getting into up front. So to speak.
"Your breasts are very beautiful," he said, looking her up and down in a way that only turned her on more.
"You haven't seen nothin' yet," she said with a smile. "But Sheldon? Can we please kiss before we go any further? I want to kiss you." I need to kiss you.
"Yes, I assumed you'd be wanting that. To be honest, I have had a number of nocturnal emissions, much to my dismay, in dreams where I am just kissing you. Apparently my subconscious wants this to happen."
"Well...let's do it, then."
Before Sheldon could think about it too much, he leaned in and kissed her. It was quick and introductory and almost bordering on chaste. It was nice, but it was quick. He looked like he wanted to say something, but she didn't want him to ruin the moment, so she kissed him back. It was longer, and it was nicer, and she felt like maybe he was starting to enjoy it a little. Eventually she discretely tried licking his lip, and then his tongue. And then they were full-on french kissing, and Sheldon actually moaned. She ran her fingers through his hair and bit his lip a little to make it interesting. She thought for sure Sheldon would object to that, but instead he bit her lip in return.
God, she loved kissing Sheldon. She could do it all night, really, but they'd have to stop at some point if only to move onto second base. Eventually he pulled himself away from her and exhaled.
"Well, that was something I never anticipated happening."
"You and me both," Penny said, exhaling. "But it was nice. I really like kissing you, Sheldon. If this experiment somehow yields disastrous results, I want you to remember the kiss. I know I will."
He looked at her closely and if she didn't know any better, she'd think there was genuine affection in his eyes. Maybe it was just lust.
"I liked it more than I initially hypothesized. Your lips are optimum for a pleasurable experience."
"That means a lot to me, thank you. Are you ready for round two?"
He nodded hesitantly. "Now or never."