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When I was eighteen years old, I made a decision. I was not going to live the same life that my sister was living, or that my mother had been living, or even my Gran. So, after one semester of community college, I decided that Omaha just wasn't going to cut it for me. I packed my clothes, took the remaining money I had from graduation, got into my shitty red Volkswagen and left Nebraska for good. The seed had been planted in my mind when my Acting I professor told me that he thought I had great potential. Of course, being an eighteen year old girl, I didn't realize at the time that he probably said that to everyone and took it as a sign that I should be a professional actress. I had spent the following two weeks Googling acting agents and jobs in California. An old cheerleading friend of mine, Katie, who had graduated the year before me, offered to let me stay with her until I found my own apartment.

 

To say that my parents were supportive of my decision would be completely false. My mother, who should have never reproduced to begin with, told me that she didn't understand what I thought I was going to accomplish by moving to L.A. and being another starving actor. My mother had always had the uncanny ability to make me feel inferior without so much as the blink of an eye. It seemed like she was always praising the people around me, but to give her own child a compliment was difficult for her. Yet, when I did achieve something, such as making Assistant Cheer Captain senior year, she took complete credit for my success. She even made me a "celebration pie" when it was rumored that I was going to be head cheerleader. It was in those rare moments that she would show that maternal side of her when I would allow myself to hope for more out of our weak relationship. When my coach had made skanky Valerie Mossbacher Captain, Mom had simply sighed, and shrugged her shoulders.

 

"Well, that was a waste of a perfectly good pie." Those were her only words of "comfort."

 

Dad didn't really say anything. We had drifted apart since my unwelcome venture into puberty. But I love my father, I really do. He's a good man, a hard worker and he's full of love. He deserves a much better life than he has, which was another deciding factor in my deciding to become rich and famous. Maybe I couldn't fix my parents' shitty marriage or the years of tension, but I could at least help to ease it. My parents had met at my aunt's wedding. Dad had been a groomsman and Mom was a bridesmaid. My older sister was the result of that night. Six months later, they had gotten married and moved into the house I grew up in. 

 

When Darcy was born, she was Dad's princess. He spoiled her and catered to her, while Mom tried to pretend she was interested in being a wife and raising children even though she made no secret that she would rather be out with her friends and "living her youth."

 

Two years after Darcy came Tim. Tim was also spoiled, not only by Dad, but also by Mom this time. For some reason, she attended to his every whim and doted on him as if he were the freaking second coming. If he ever became irritated or cranky, my mother's favorite expression was, "Just give it to him." A quiet house was a happy house in her opinion. Especially when she was nursing a hangover from going to the bar with her bowling friends the night before.

 

By the time I was born, five years following Tim, my sister was a perpetual whiner and tattle-tell and my brother was a monster of my mother's creating. So, when they found out that (Oops!) Mom was pregnant again, Dad decided that he would finally get the son that he'd been denied by my mother's babying of Tim. Imagine his disappointment when his new Slugger was a girl. Another blonde girl, only bigger and louder than his precious Darcy. So, I was named Penelope and Dad decided that he would mold me into the perfect little tomboy. We spent our days outdoors with him teaching me how to fix tractor engines, plow fields and play catch. I loved it. 

 

Most of my time was spent with my Gran while Mom was at her desk job in town during the day. Gran was the only constant thing in my life. Mom just wasn't interested in dealing with toddlers anymore, so Gran took me on when Dad was busy.

 

It's funny, but when a kid realizes that her mother isn't into her, she craves the mother's approval even more. So I made it my mission to make Mom notice me. I sang loudly. I put on shows with my Barbies. (Hand-me-downs from Darcy.) I stole Mom's clothes and wore them around. I cried in my bed at night if I had a bad dream until one of my parents finally heard me and came to check. If there was a thunderstorm, I made damn sure I was the first one to their room so I could sleep between them (even though they never really frightened me). Dad was always my ally with Mom, and with Tim, but I could not deny the jealousy I felt at the inexplicable bond that he and Darcy shared. Tim was always in trouble and Mom was always making excuses for him while I tried to understand why she didn't love me as much. My Gran told me that Mom loved us all equally but in different ways to which I replied, "Then why does the way she loves Tim and Darcy seem like more?"

 

Gran was a strong woman, who had lived a hard life. She'd lived during the Great Depression and had married her high school boyfriend. Gramps passed away when I was still a baby. She taught me early on that love is not a game. You do not play with a person's feelings. You do not say you love somebody unless you mean it. She also told me that I only get to live once, and that I'd better be the one to follow my dreams and get out of Omaha since she'd never gotten the chance. Darcy was becoming increasingly spoiled and irresponsible by this point at fifteen years old, while Tim was showing early signs of being a slight sociopath. All in all, it was not looking great for the family.

 

When I was eight years old, Darcy had come home from school sobbing and I had watched from the shadows of our dingy old hallway as she had blurted a tearful confession to my father. She was pregnant. Dad had bowed his head and ran his hands fretfully through his hair, while Darcy continued to sob. Mom just kept shaking her head and smoking cigarettes one after the other.

 

"Wyatt, this is your fault," Mom said unkindly, "You've done nothing but spoil her. She appreciates nothing. Take her to the doctor and take care of it." My eyes had widened at this. I had no idea what she meant at the time, but my father had become so angry that he'd jumped out of his chair and glared at Mom while Darcy had watched in the same hushed horror as I did.

 

"You'd like that, wouldn't you Roberta? You'd just love the fact that your daughter will never have to live the same life you did. You've made no secret that you were stuck with me." He thundered at her. "You've always hated it out here."

 

"I'm not getting an abortion!" Darcy interjected, tearfully.

 

"Oh, don't play the martyr, Wyatt!" Mom retaliated, ignoring Darcy. "You expected me to change who I was! You've always made me feel like I'm not good enough for you."

 

"I've never thought that!" Dad countered, horrified. "I only wanted you to grow up! You weren't ready to give up the partying, the drinking. I know you smoked pot when you were pregnant with Penny, Roberta! You hardly gave up drinking!"

 

"Penny's fine, Wyatt!" Mom argued, while I sank to sit on the floor, hugging my scrawny, bruised knees to my chest and crying silent frightened tears while I wished I was sitting on Gran's old worn couch while she brushed my hair. Though I had two siblings, I had never felt close with them. I felt completely isolated and alone. I felt unwanted. I wondered if other kids felt this way.

 

Life went on. It always did. My nephew Brian was born when Darcy turned sixteen. She and her boyfriend Joey got married and moved into a trailer on my parents' property. Even though Dad adored Brian, I noticed that his relationship with Darcy would forever be strained after that. Dad seemed to focus more attention on me, though it was not in the way I had hoped. If anything, he tried harder to make me into the son he'd never had in Tim. It was as if he were terrified that I was a girl and would end up disappointing him the way that Darcy had. He decided that I should join the Nebraska Junior Rodeo and began training me. I was ten when I won my first competition. (Another achievement Mom took credit for by saying, "That's my daughter." As if she'd personally given me my strength and hog-tying ability.)

 

The two years following were the best of my childhood. Dad and I spent every day together. He took me hunting, I played for the local little league baseball team and I continued to tear up the rodeo circuit. I even got to travel to a National Championship in Texas when I was eleven and was in the Houston newspaper when I came in third. Gran kept that news clipping, and it stayed on her fridge for as long as I could remember.

 

"You're famous, Penny Blossom." Gran had told me. I rolled my eyes, but smiled anyway.

 

"It's not even front page, Gran." I’d pointed out, grabbing a cinnamon roll off of the counter. Gran frowned and squinted down at the front page.

 

"Some silly story about a sixteen year old doctor," She scoffed, "What sixteen year old needs to be a doctor when my granddaughter is in the top three of the National Junior Rodeo Competition?" I had laughed at this and watched her cut out the article before putting it on the fridge. "Someday," She told me, standing back to look at her work, "This paper is going to be worth money."

 

It was precisely six months after this that I made an awful discovery. Boobs. Not only did I have them, but it hurt when they were growing! It seemed to happen overnight. I came home sick from school one day with horrible pains on my chest. I had lain in my bed, writhing in agony until Dad had decided to take me to my pediatrician just to be safe. When the doctor had assured him that I had simply begun developing "breast buds," Dad had stared at him as if he'd just told him I was going to sprout an extra head.

 

After that day, Dad stopped calling me 'Slugger,' and simply referred to me as 'Penny' or 'Penelope.' And, although I’d continued with the Junior Rodeo, though my interest sort of fizzled by the time I had entered high school. I decided to try out for the cheerleading team instead and had somehow made the Varsity team my Freshman year. The summer before high school, I went to Cheer Camp instead of taking a camping trip with Dad. I got my hair highlighted and used magazines to figure out how to do makeup. I was asked to Homecoming by a Junior, which is when I realized that guys found me attractive. From that point on, I’d had a boyfriend constantly.

 

I received mostly decent grades in school, even though I barely passed math and science. I just would never understand how geometry would be used in real life or why I would need to know how to dissect a shark. (Ew.) Sophomore year, I was introduced to sex. In the back of my current boyfriend Ryan's pickup on a dirty blanket. I was not impressed. It hurt, it was messy and it was quick. (At least with Ryan it was.) The second time was better, but still underwhelming. I decided to wait a while before I had it again and dumped Ryan before moving on to Darren.

 

The summer between Junior and Senior year, my entire world was shattered. I was out, working on the old John Deere when I heard my sister's voice. She was running toward me from the house. My heart sank. Had Tim gotten arrested again for making Meth? Were Mom and Dad finally going to get a divorce?

 

"Penny! It's Gran!" Her voice was clipped, choked. I dropped my wrench and stepped down to stare at her, praying it wasn't what I thought.

 

"What?" I asked, swallowing hard.

 

"Gran's dead, Pen!" Darcy sobbed, rushing forward and pulling me into her arms. Stunned, I didn't hug her back, I simply stared into space, broken. "They said she just went to sleep and never woke up!"

 

"She's only seventy-two." I murmured, keeping my arms at my sides. Gone. My grandmother was gone. I was alone again.

 

That was when I decided to rediscover sex. I went on a spree of partying, reckless driving and smoking that would probably rival Lindsay Lohan. I stopped caring. I got kicked off of the cheerleading team mid-year when my grades dropped. My life was going nowhere fast and if I didn't do something soon, I was going to die here miserable and unpleasant like my mother.

 

So I left. I fled to California, where it was warm and sunny and perfect. I strove to be an actress and found an agent, who immediately informed me that I should probably lose about ten pounds and get a tan. Also, some better highlights. It was at an audition for one of those crappy teen prime-time dramas that I met Kurt. Six feet, four inches of pure sex. He was everything I'd never had in Nebraska. Dangerous, muscled, tanned, a great lover. We were both immature, we fought constantly. He was particularly mean sometimes, telling me when he noticed a zit or any signs of cellulite. And yet, I couldn't deny the pride I felt when girls looked at me with envy when they found out that we were together. Call me superficial…call me stupid.

 

I was.

 

Looking back at the four years that I stayed with Kurt, I can't believe how big of an idiot I was. I brushed off his snide remarks, his hurtful teasing, his bullying of those weaker than him. I pretended he was deeper, that he was a good person inside. But I knew he wasn't. And I also think I knew that someone like Kurt would never be enough for me.

 

Love is not a game, Penny Blossom. You do not play games with a person's feelings. You do not say you love someone unless you mean it.

 

I truly did think I loved Kurt. I'd given him four years of my life. My entire adult life so far, as a matter of fact. What would seem like the worst day of my life turned out to be the best thing that had ever happened to me. I got off of my night shift at the Cheesecake Factory an hour early and decided to stop and get Kurt's favorite pizza from our favorite place for dinner as a surprise to him. Like a horrible cliché out of some Lifetime movie, I walked in on him mid-fuck with my friend Maria, another actress wannabe. It was like I finally saw Kurt for what he really was, which was a big, enormous douche.

 

I was too stunned to do anything but gather my stuff, ignoring his apologies, his pleas for me to stay. It's funny how, when apologies aren't enough, some people turn to anger, because that's when he decided it was my fault.

 

"You drove me away. We haven't had sex in a week, Penny. I have needs!" I didn't respond. "Damn it, Penny! You're a slob, you're always crabby when you get home from work and you never wear makeup anymore!"

 

I’d spent that first night in my car, sleeping in the back seat under the blanket that I had taken from Gran's house. How I wished I could call her. She would have had some sort of advice…a word of encouragement. Four years I had been in California. How many acting jobs had I gotten? Oh, that's right! None. And, how many auditions had I been to? At least two hundred. I was twenty-two years old. I was a waitress working for minimum wage and crappy tips.

 

When I woke up with a sore neck and legs, I decided living in my car was not an option. I bought a newspaper and started circling options for myself with the red Sharpy on my key ring.

 

Pasadena

 

2311 Los Robles

 

Apartment 4B

 

One bedroom, one bath, refrigerator included, free water. Please call if interested.

 

I capped my Sharpy and I dialed the number as fast as my fingers would let me. I moved in the next day after Katie and I got the rest of my stuff out of the old apartment. Kurt wouldn't let me have the T.V. You know, the one I had just paid off with my money. Asshole.

 

Katie left just before lunch for her shift at the Cheesecake Factory, and leaving me alone with my cardboard boxes. I stared at the small apartment with the turquoise couch we'd found this morning at a thrift store, and the few tables I'd brought from my old place. I had no idea what I was doing. Thank goodness Dad had wired me the money for the deposit. He'd been so glad I'd dumped Kurt, I think he would have put a down payment on a house for me. Tomorrow, I'd have a brand new entertainment center from IKEA. (With no T.V. to put in it.)

 

I was scared shitless.

 

Rifling through my books, I searched for the newspaper clipping that I'd also stolen from Gran's house, needing something to make it feel like home. I could hear voices in the stairwell, along with footsteps. I hadn't met any of my neighbors so far, so this would be my first.

 

"New neighbor?" A male voice. Probably around my age, I'd guess.

 

I kept my head down, pretending to continue what I was doing even though I'd already forgotten.

 

"Evidently." Another guy. Same age range.

 

"Significant improvement over the old neighbor." The first voice said. I bit the inside of my cheek to keep from smiling.

 

"Two hundred pound transvestite with a skin condition?" The response came, the words falling from his lips like rapid fire. "Yes she is." I looked over at them, knowing I was either going to burst into tears or laughter. Two guys in their twenties stared back at me as if they'd never seen a girl before. All bug eyed and slack jawed. It kind of made me feel the slightest bit better about myself. My self-esteem was virtually in the gutter after the four year travesty that had been my relationship with Kurt. The taller one in the bizarre plaid pants looked down, uncomfortably, but the shorter boy with the glasses looked like he might drop on the spot.

 

"Oh, hi!" I said, trying to sound friendly. My voice sounded extremely high pitched in my own head. Did I always sound like that? I hoped not.

 

"Hi." The short guy said.

 

"Hi." Plaid pants said.

 

"Hi." The short guy repeated to which his friend repeated like a parrot on crack, "Hi." I swallowed.

 

Ohh boy.

 

"Hi?" I said cautiously, not wanting to scare them off. They reminded me of when Dad and I used to hunt deer. If you startle them, they bolt. These boys were like deer, especially the tall man-child with the lost expression. I had no idea how to approach them.

 

"We don't mean to interrupt." The smaller of the two finally said, coming forward nervously, followed by his buddy. "We live across the hall." Suddenly, it made sense. This was California after all. Two guys shacking up together…together,

 

"Oh…that's nice." I said with a smile, wondering briefly if they were the type I could take shopping. Then again, the one guy was wearing the most heinous pair of plaid pants I had ever laid eyes on. Where do you even buy pants like that? Short guy seemed to catch on.

 

"Oh, uh n—uh, we don't live together. I mean—" He gestured wildly with his hand while his boyfriend stared at him in completely confusion. "We live together, but in separate – heterosexual – bedrooms." The other guy nodded, though he still looked unsure as to what he was agreeing to.

 

"Oh!" I laughed breathily. "Okay well, I guess I'm your new neighbor!" I moved toward them. "Penny."

 

"Oh!" The boy with the glasses said. "Leonard." He indicated himself and then pointed at Man-Child. "Sheldon." Sheldon? What the hell kind of name was that? But, I smiled at them and there was suddenly another round of rapid fire "Hi's." A moment of slightly awkward silence before, "Uh…well," Leonard seemed to search for something to say. "Welcome to the building!"

 

"Aw, thank you!" I replied in that obnoxious squeaky voice I didn't recognize. I had slept in my car the night before after all. "Maybe we can have coffee sometime."

 

"Oh, great!" Leonard replied.

 

"Great!" I agreed.

 

"Great!" Sheldon the Plaid Panted Wonder chimed in.

 

"Great!" Leonard said again. He was sweet in a lost puppy kind of way, making me want to hug him. The other one still looked like a deer in the headlights. And then there was another lovely round of similar "Byes," and they were gone. For about two seconds, that is before there was another knock at my door. I grinned to myself, opening the door.

 

"Hi." Leonard said weakly. "Again…"

 

"Hi!" I said cheerfully. More of the same. I suppressed the urged to rub my temples. This was going to be a long day.

 

"Anyway," Leonard went on, "We brought home Indian food—" He held up a paper bag, "—And um, I know that moving can be stressful…and I find that when I'm undergoing stress, that good food and company can have a comforting effect!" He was trying so hard it was adorable. Then, he started going on about curry being a laxative and pooping and clean colons.

 

"Leonard, I'm no expert here, but I believe in the context of a luncheon invitation, you might wanna skip the reference to bowel movements." The same rapid flow of words tumbled from the taller guy's mouth. So he was smarter than he looked. I held back a smirk, taking pity on the poor bastards.

 

"Oh, you're inviting me over to eat?" I asked, hoping to steer this conversation toward a more appropriate ending.

 

"Uh, yes." Leonard said, trying to sound sure of himself.

 

"Aw, that's so nice!" I exclaimed, smiling at him. "I'd love to!"

 

And…the rest is history. Sort of.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

The day starts well enough. I wake up at Bernadette's apartment, which is where Amy and I had stayed last night after celebrating with our own private bachelorette party. Bernadette had barely drank anything, because she was terrified of having a hangover on her wedding day. Amy is pretty much a lightweight, and was tipsy before she even started her second glass. Which left me to finish three quarters of the bottle by myself. Something that's happening far too often for my liking.

I've been in California for eight years. I still work at the Cheescake Factory. I've been in one hemorrhoid commercial (gross), and possibly the worst production of Diary of Anne Frank that had ever been put on. I didn't even get paid for that one. I ruined the one healthy relationship I had ever been in. Sometimes, I think of going home to Nebraska, but it seems wrong putting the word "home" and "Nebraska" into the same sentence anymore. There is nothing there for me. At least I had friends here, strange as they may be.

There's Leonard, now my ex-boyfriend and probably the nicest guy in the freaking world. The only man who I had ever believed when he told me he loved me. Of course, my natural response was to flee in the other direction, because what sane girl would ever want a man who truly loves her without conditions?

Sarcasm.

There's Raj. Who, after four years of knowing me, still cannot speak in my presence while sober. Raj, who I ended up in bed with after I had consumed half a bottle of red wine. (Not unlike the wine I had consumed last night.)

There's Howard, who is marrying Bernadette in six hours in some sort of freaky Catholic/Jewish combo wedding. Howard is a living, breathing cartoon character. He's like a cross between Quagmire from Family Guy and Artie from Glee. It is the most fucked up mix of traits I have ever encountered, but Bernadette loves him, despite his love of dickeys and fluorescent skinny jeans, so who am I to judge? (Ruined my one good relationship, remember?)

Now I have Amy, my self proclaimed bestie. My biggest champion and weirdly, my greatest admirer. Sometimes, I don't know if it's me or Dr. Whack-A-Doodle she wants. (More on that later, though.)

Which brings me to Sheldon. The craziest, strangest, most disturbing individual I have ever met. He's the Man-Child from when I first moved in, remember? That's six feet, two inches of pure clueless. Okay, so I thought he was cute for like 0.0002 seconds, ya know, before he opened his ridiculous, arrogant mouth. He's been driving me nuts ever since. He's got a masters degree and a couple PhD's and never fails to point out that others are less intelligent than he is. Especially me. The uneducated waitress from the Midwest. Like I said:  Whack-A-Doodle.

He hates touching people, is terrified of germs, lives in a room surrounded by dolls (I don't care what anyone says, they are DOLLS.), he has to create a contract to dictate every part of his life because he's a major control freak, he owns far too many superhero T-Shirts and has an unnatural preference for plaid clothing.

That said, he's pretty much wormed his way into my life, my home and yes, even my heart. I adore the psychopath. Somehow, I've become his go-to person for advice (God help me.), running errands (the overgrown third grader doesn't drive), and taking care of him when he's sick. I get to sing him a delightful tune called "Soft Kitty." Lucky, lucky me.

Sarcasm.

Oh yeah, by the way, he doesn't "get" sarcasm. He can use it just fine mind you, but he has a hard time distinguishing when others are using it. For one of the smartest people on the planet, he can be a huge dingbat.

Which now brings me back to Amy. Sheldon's girlfriend. If you had told me four years ago that the goofball germophobe who had his own "spot" on his couch was going to end up with a girlfriend, I would have laughed at you. But Howard and Raj somehow managed to find Amy Farrah Fowler on some sort of dating site and thus, the "Shamy" was born. I am sort of invested in this relationship since I accompanied them on their first date like some kind of chaperone. I've seen everything from them talking about creating a super genius test tube baby to Sheldon telling me that Amy had discovered what the word "horny" meant and wanted some sugar from him.

Only recently had Sheldon come to his senses (sort of), and finally asked Amy to be his girlfriend after over a year of…well, whatever it was that they'd been doing. Naturally, Sheldon drew up his usual contract, which I'm sure only made their relationship more special and meaningful.

Insert Sarcasm sign here.

That was five months ago. To my knowledge, they had barely kissed since then. Once, under the mistletoe at mine and Leonard's insistence. It had been a fast peck on the lips after which Sheldon fled across the room. To his credit, he did not disappear to take a decontamination shower or rinse his mouth out with antiseptic. It was a giant leap forward in my opinion. Unfortunately, it's starting to become apparent that occasional touching and a peck on the lips is not going to be enough for poor Amy, who had never been in a relationship herself and is realizing that she's been cheated a little. The poor girl craves affection and her boyfriend is not giving it to her. If I hear Sheldon say "relationship of the minds" one more time, I may have to murder him. Or decapitate one of his dolls or something.

I understand how she feels. It's been over a year since I've had sex. The worst part is, it's not even the sex I miss. It's the closeness. I hate waking up alone every morning. I hate that I still regret dumping Leonard after two years, even though it's ten million times easier to be around him now that he's not sucking face with Priya around every corner. She'd broken his heart by cheating on him with her ex. Raj better hope I don't see her before the rest of them, because shit will go down. I've done my share of shitty things, but I do not cheat. Ever. Priya had tried to change who Leonard was into something shewanted and he'd complied with everything. She made him get contacts. She changed his wardrobe. She instructed him to avoid me, the soul sucking ex. The worst thing I had done to him was not tell him I loved him and then she goes and does this.

I hate Priya.

I hate her perfect face, and hair, and her designer clothes and her stupid accent. I hate that she hurt Leonard and I hate that she hurt Sheldon too. The woman went out of her way to antagonize him and to take advantage of his naïveté. That was the night we learned Sheldon could dance. I don't think I've ever laughed so hard or so much. Not because he was bad at it, but because it was Sheldon. There was something about seeing Dr. Sheldon Cooper doing the Cha-Cha with Amy Farrah Fowler that was completely insane and not possible…or probable. Whatever.

Penny, while I subscribe to the "Many Worlds" theory which posits the existence of an infinite number of Sheldons in an infinite number of universes, I assure you that in none of them am I dancing.

You are a little liar aren't you, Dr. Cooper? What's next? He's a ladies' man with a penchant for leather and motorcycles? Yeah, right.

So, all in all, it's no surprise when I wake up to a text message.

Penny, I need your help immediately. Please come to my apartment as soon as you get this message.

Dr. Sheldon Cooper

Who the hell signs their text messages "Dr. Sheldon Cooper?" Oh right, Whack-A-Doodle. I quick dial his phone number and sneak out of the bedroom where Amy and Bernadette are still asleep. It's 8:30 A.M., and I have about three hours until I'm supposed to be at a hair salon with the bride and maid-of-honor.

"Hello?" His voice sounds exactly the same as always and I sigh, suppressing a yawn.

"What's up, Moonpie?" I ask, fumbling blindly around Bernadette's kitchen for a K-Cup to make coffee.

"Penny, do not call me, Moonpie. Only MeeMaw can call me Moonp—"

"Yeah, yeah." I interrupt him impatiently, finding the coffee and pulling out a mug. "Get to the point." I can hear him huff impatiently on the other end.

"Alright." He pauses for a moment before going on. "I need a new suit."

"What? Why?" I ask, watching in amazement as the Keurig coffee maker dispenses the sweet liquid of awakening that will make my headache go bye bye. "Didn't we get you a new suit a while back? You've only worn it like once, Sheldon." I remind him, pulling the mug close and letting the aroma fill my nostrils. I feel better already.

"I…" He sounds unsure of himself, which is really weird. "It doesn't fit. I tried knocking at your apartment earlier, but obviously you weren't there."

"I'm sorry, what?" I ask, sitting at the kitchen table and rubbing my temple. "How doesn't it fit? You didn't like, try to wash it in the machine or something…did you?"

"Penny." There's the patronizing voice I've come to know so well. "I am a physicist. I have an I.Q. of—"

"Okay, got it. You're smart. We know." I sigh and take a long gulp of coffee and nod resignedly to myself. "I'll be there in fifteen minutes."

"Very well. See you then." He hangs up as if he were the one doing the favor and I sigh. I let Bernadette know I will be back and to let Amy know that I was taking Sheldon to the mall for a new suit. She smiles brightly and agrees to let her know. I love Bernadette. Just the sound of her voice and her pretty smile make me happy. Howard is a very lucky man.

No sarcasm here.

I throw my hair into a messy bun and put my dingy old hoodie on before heading back across town to the building where I have lived for the past four years. He is, of course, waiting when I get there.

"Hello, Penny."

"Hey, Sheldon. You ready to go? Where's Leonard?" I ask, looking past him into the quiet apartment.

"Sleeping. Apparently, the night of alcohol induced idiocy and naked women was too much for him." He responds with a roll of his eyes. I have to suppress a snicker. There's the Man-Child I know and love.

"Did you go with them?"

"Against my will. Thankfully, Koothrappali had to leave early and brought me home. Wolowitz and Leonard stayed out."

I bite the inside of my cheek to keep from laughing at the thought of Shelly getting a lap dance.

"So show me the suit." I say, urging him back toward his room. He instructs me to wait in the living room and when I move to sit on the couch, he reminds me not to sit in his spot. When he comes back out of his bedroom, I am floored. He's absolutely right. The suit does not fit him. The shirt is bursting at the seams, barely staying buttons and the shoulders of the coat are stretched unnaturally, making Sheldon stand with a slight hunch. I study him for a moment, trying to figure out why. He hasn't gained weight. He's the same height.

"Take the coat off." I tell him, helping him with it as it's tight in the shoulders. That's when I realize the problem. "Um, what the hell, Sheldon?" I ask wrapping my hand around his upper arm and ignoring his attempt to pull away. "Have you put onmuscle?" He lurches backward, staring at me with horrified blue eyes. I notice him flee to the cupboard and pull out a can of spray disinfectant.

Oh Lord. I look skyward in exasperation.

"To answer your query, Penny, yes." Sheldon says, feverishly spraying himself with the Lysol. "I've been using the Wii EA Sports Active 2 program four times a week." I raise an eyebrow. Of course Sheldon Cooper would bulk up with the help of a freaking video game. "It's been very beneficial."

"Clearly." I respond, indicating his suit. Even the pants are too tight now. He looks ridiculous. Bizarre. "Okay, Moonpie. We gots to go."

"We've got to go. Honestly Penny, I know you dropped out of community college, but I was under the assumption that they taught proper grammar in elementary school. At least they did in Texas." Swallowing a retort, I nod, deciding to let it go to get this over with.

"You're right, Sweetie. Go change and we'll take care of it." I tell him, and when he turns to go back into his bedroom, I hear a ripping sound and Sheldon freezes in mid-step. The shirt lost its battle with Sheldon's new frame and had ripped completely down the middle. I have to cover my mouth to keep my giggle from coming out, but he hears. Of course he hears…crazy Vulcan hearing. The glare he's giving me tells me he is not amused.

"Sheldon. Time!" I bark at him, gesturing to my invisible watch. Shaking his head, he stalks back into his bedroom and I have the most disturbing curiosity to see what he looks like without a shirt on now. A thought which I immediately push to the back of my brain and banish. This isSheldon. The outside may be a little different, but it's still got the same Whack-A-Doodle cream filling.

Sheldon emerges in his Violet Lantern shirt and customary undershirt. This one has red sleeves because Purple and red go together because red is used to create purple and some other goofy nonsense that he's spouted off a thousand times. He grabs his jacket, the same one he's hand probably since he inherited it from his grandfather or something like that. We finally make it out of the apartment and into the car.

"Waste of a perfectly good dress shirt." He mutters, staring out the window.

"It didn't fit anyway, honey." I remind him, reaching over to pat his arm and thinking better of it.

"Maybe I should stop with the EA Sports." He sighed, shaking his head. "I didn't anticipate that my body would be altered so dramatically that my own clothing would no longer fit."

"Don't!" I interject quickly, feeling my cheeks heat up. I like a little bulk on my guys. And Amy will certainly appreciate it. I'm thinking of her.

"Penny, you just drove through a Stop sign." Sheldon informs me, gripping the door handle.

"Sorry." I answer absently, gripping the steering wheel and shaking my head to get my thoughts straight. It's too early still.

"I do have to agree with you, however." Sheldon goes on, "Since I began this new exercise routine, my immune system seems to have improved and I have not been sick since."

"Knock on wood." I sing out, glancing over at him. He gives me a condescending look and shakes his head.

"Penny. I do not put stock in juvenile superstitions. I am a man of science—"

"I'm gonna stop you right there, Moonpie." I cut him off.

"Please do not call me Moonpie. Only my MeeMaw—"

"Can call you Moonpie. I know." I smirk, parking the car. "Come on, Shelly. Let's go get you a new suit."

"You mean, let's go get a new suit forme." He corrects me and I give him a death look. He shuts up immediately and gets out of the car. I snicker and follow after him, locking the doors.

An hour later, he's suited up. At least, he will be when he gets dressed before the wedding. Speaking of, it's almost ten-thirty and I have to get back to Bernadette and Amy. I drop him off and tell him I'll see him later before heading back to Bernadette's.

Amy is in the shower when I get back and Bernadette is pacing in her bedroom, staring at the wedding dress every so often.

"Hey, Speedy. What's up?" I say, coming into the room and throwing my car keys on the floor before flopping into Bernadette's bed.

"My sister is going to be late. She said she'll make it to the ceremony, but that it's going to be close. Her flight was delayed a little."

"Well, that's good, because she has to walk down the aisle with Leonard. You said she's short, right?" I ask, remembering the fact that I didn't wear heels much when I dated him. I'm not that tall, but neither is he.

"She's my height." Bernadette tells me, sinking to sit beside me as Amy re-enters the room with her hair in a towel.

"Hey Bestie." She grins, indicating her eyes. Amy got contacts. She looks adorable. She has beautiful eyes. Blue with bits of green and gray in them. Her hair has gotten long. She's going to look beautiful today. Now, if we could just get her idiot savant boyfriend's ass in gear, she could finally get the lovin' she wanted from him so badly.

"Cute!" I exclaim, sitting up and checking the time. "Okay girls. We have to get to the salon."

Amy and I somehow get Bernadette to drink a Mimosa to calm her nerves once we get there and by the time she's finished, she is smiling. Her mother meets us there also, and she is not what I expected. First of all, she's young looking. She's tiny (of course), and she looks exactly like her daughter. She keeps muttering things about how she couldn't even invite her priest because she couldn't bear his face when little "Bernie" married a Jew. It was kind of awkward. So, I make Mrs. Rostenkowski drink a Mimosa too and by the time she's done, bothRostenkowski women are smiling.

Bernadette is a stunning bride. Her blonde hair is half pulled back and hands in stunning gold waves to the middle of her back. I feel slightly choked up, not because she's getting married (although she's marrying Howard, and that's enough to make anyone weep.), but because I'm kind of jealous. I mean, I always thought that I'd be married by twenty-five. I'm twenty-six now. Maybe it's not so much that I want to be married as the fact that I want my life to go somewhere. I'm stuck. It's been almost a decade and I'm still where I was when I was nineteen. Only now I have friends.

Amy is the real surprise today. She looks amazing. Her brown hair is curled into perfect mahogany ringlets and her makeup is just perfect. Purple eyeshadow to compliment the bridesmaid dresses, a dark burgundy lipstick. Sheldon is going to faint. At least he should…then again, this is Sheldon. He'll probably give her a sermon on why makeup is bad for the dermis or something absurd like that.

I don't look half bad either. I just have the front of my hair pinned back and let it hang loose. It's gotten so long lately, it almost reaches my waist. We all pose for a quick picture together before we move to head toward the hall. They are having both a Rabbi and a Priest officiate, which sounds like a bad joke in itself. This is probably why Mrs. Rostenkowski hates Howard. (It has nothing to do with the fact he's a smarmy Beatles reject.)

The first person I see is Mrs. Wolowitz, who is wearing the loudest blue dress and hat I have ever seen. She is as wide as the door and is already in tears. A frightened looking Raj is stuck standing with her. She pulls Bernadette into the tightest hug I've ever seen and for a second, the tiny blonde nearly disappears behind the billowing arm skin. I shudder at the thought and guide Amy past them into the bridal room provided, where we come face to face with another Bernadette, with shorter hair.

"Hi!" Her voice is exactly the same too. Freaky. "I'm Bernie's sister, Bridget!" The tiny blonde flings herself into my arms and then Amy's as Bernadette and her mother rejoin us.

"Bridgie!" Bernadette squeals, rushing forward while I stare at them slack jawed. Maybe it's like when the guys tried to say that Sheldon could reproduce by Mitosis. Maybe Bernadette had "mitosed" herself…or whatever the right word is.

Ho-ly Shit. Bernadette is a twin. Anidentical twin.

"You didn't mention you were a twin, Bernadette." I say, staring at the two of them while Amy absently tugs at her curls.

"Oh, yeah." Bernadette giggles dismissively. "That." An older man comes into the room and I recognize him instantly as her father. They talk briefly before we are ushered out into the lobby near the entrance to the hall. Leonard and I bump into each other first. He looks terrible…all pale and tired.

"Penny, you look great!" He says weakly, sighing. I tilt my head and reach out to touch his arm.

"Are you okay, honey?" I ask, looking into his dark eyes. Poor, sweet boy.

"No." He answers tiredly, patting my hand. "But I'll live." I watch him trudge away with a slump in his shoulders. I'd seen that look a few times since I'd known him. I scanned the room for his cuckoo roommate and found him standing near Amy.

"I must say, Amy Farrah Fowler, you are looking rather winsome this afternoon." Sheldon said, never even breaking his cool. I wanted to punch him.

Tell her she's stunning, you big secretly muscular dummy.

"That's so sweet." Amy replies in the same tone and I wonder how two people can consider themselves boyfriend and girlfriend and never kiss…never touch. He'd barely even given her a compliment. I make a mental note to pinch his ribs and reprimand him during the wedding party dance.

We all line up, Bridget and Leonard at the front, Amy at the back, which leaves me with Dr. Whack-A-Doodle by default because I'm taller than Leonard.

Balls.

I practically have to force my hand into the crook of his arm and wonder for a sec how Sheldon even ended up in this wedding party and why the hell the guys didn't just rent tuxes like normal people. And…there's that damned bicep again. Seriously, what the fuck?

Why is this happening?

When we reach the front, he practically tears away from me, fleeing to the safety of Leonard's left.

So that's how Dr. Bernadette Rostenkowski became Dr. Bernadette Wolowitz. Even I have to admit, it was a nice ceremony. Howard even teared up a little, which surprised me. Raj was staring blankly at Bridget as if he couldn't fathom the fact that identical twins existed.

Later in the evening, after the obligatory dance (during which Sheldon left more than enough room for Jesus), I dragged Sheldon over to the bar with me while he protested. Loudly.

"Penny, I have no interest in alcoholic beverages and in fact, you know I promised my mother—"

"Sheldon Cooper, you are almost thirty-two years old. You can have a damn drink." Before he can say another word, I hiss at him, "I need to ask you something."

"If you're going to ask me why I dislike the taste of alcohol, I'm not—"

"Sheldon." I cut him off. "No. What is going on with Leonard?"

"Oh." His eyebrows rise in surprise. "Late this morning, he received an email from Priya Koothrappali. You know, Raj's sister—"

"Yes, Sheldon…I was there for the year they dated." I insert dryly. He gives me a baleful look, but continues.

"She informed him that she is engaged to her former fiancé and wanted to be the first to tell him. He's been a complete milksop all day." He sighs as if he's bearing this burden himself to which I suppress the urge to slap him for the thousandth time that day.

"No wonder…poor guy!" I exclaim, ordering a vodka and cranberry and a Diet Coke for the Man-Child. Sheldon leans against the bar sullenly and I realize for the first time that he too seems to be in a bad mood. "So what's up your butt, Moonpie?" I swat at him and he stares at me as if I've snapped. Yes, I'm the crazy one here.

And, once again we have…sarcasm.

"If you're referring to my anatomy, then I assume you're talking about the rectum which is the final straight portion of the large intestine and is comprised of—"

"Good God, Sheldon. No." I cry out, covering my eyes. "It's an expression. I meant, why are you in a bad mood?"

"I see. Well, why didn't you say that to begin with?" Sheldon replies. "Amy and I had a disagreement. She's decided that she wants to engage in coitus and that she wants to make amendments to the Relationship Agreement."

"Can you blame her, Sheldon?" I ask incredulously. "It's been like five months since you guys became official and you've kissed her once. Women need to feel beautiful. They need to feel loved…Everyone needs affection. Even you."

"I beg to differ." He argues stubbornly.

"Whatever. Listen, if you want to keep her, I think you should make an effort to compromise. Like you did when you agreed to make her your girlfriend. You know? I noticed you didn't run to the shower when you kissed at the Christmas party." I point out. He seems to ponder this for a moment and lets out a little breath. I know then that I've got him and my mind wanders to poor Leonard again. Maybe this Priya thing is a sign…maybe he and I can have another chance now. Maybe I can make things right and do what I should have done two years ago. I decide that it's finally time we talked for real.

Only, I can't find him.

"Penny, I've decided you may have a point and I believe it would be beneficial to amend my Relationship Agreement."

"Perfect. Have you seen Leonard?" I ask distractedly, standing on my toes and looking around the room. Sheldon crosses his arms and squints through the flashing lights and the booming music. He begins to shake his head when I notice his eyes zero in on something. I've seen this expression on his face before. It was right after the guys got back from the Arctic Leonard admitted to rigging his results. "Sweetie, what's wrong?" He doesn't move. He's frozen, staring at something on the dance floor. I follow his locked eyes to a couple making out behind the speakers. When the lights come back around and reveal the two, I feel my stomach drop and my heart clench in sudden pain.

"Oh God," I whisper, clutching the purple satin of my skirt.

It's Leonard and Amy.

Chapter Text

I'm not sure how much time has passed before I hear him speak.

"He's the guy, isn't he?" Sheldon's voice is soft, almost childlike. As if he's afraid to speak louder than a murmur. I stare at him dumbly.

"What?" I asked, staring up at his stunned face with wide eyes.

"The guy whom you never told how you felt and who started dating somebody else?" He pauses. "It was Leonard." The vague memory of a conversation we had before seems to reappear in my mind and I make a vague connection.

"Alright honey, let me tell you a story. There was a guy I liked and I never told him how I felt. Eventually, he started going out with someone else and I always regretted it. Do you…see where I'm going with this?"

"I believe I do…I'm the guy."

"You're not the guy."

"Are you sure? That would explain so much. Your constant presence in my apartment. That baffling dalliance with Leonard just to be near me. The way you call me Sweetie all the time…

"I call everyone Sweetie."

"You tramp."

It brings a smile to my face, even in the shadow of this awful, horrible betrayal. I meet his eyes and nod.

"Yeah." I breathe, chin quivering. "He was." I touch Sheldon's arm. He looks like he's been shot. "Until this…this is so not okay."

"Penny, I want to go home." He says with an air of finality. I'd love to get the hell out of here myself, but the problem is, I didn't drive. We came in the limo. My car is parked at Bernadette's apartment.

"You know what? Let me call a cab to take us back to my car…okay?" I speak very gently as if to a little kid, but he nods in agreement and starts toward the lobby. I take one last look at Amy and Leonard and ignore the stab of pain spreading through my body, before rushing toward the doorway. Thankfully, everyone else is busy doing the hustle or something, so I don't have to deal with any awkward goodbyes.

As soon as I am safe in the much quieter lobby, I pull my IPhone out of my clutch and call a cab to come get us. I glance around and find Moonpie sitting on a nearby bench with his back ramrod straight and his hands on his knees. With a deep breath, I sink into the seat beside him and clasp my hands in my own lap. He's never known what it's like to be cheated on or heartbroken. Thirty-one years old and he's barely been to first base. I have no idea what to say…usually when people go through this, they're thirteen.

"It should be here in ten minutes." I finally say, flicking my eyes toward him. He nods, still staring ahead. "Oh, honey…I'm so sorry. Are you okay?" He looks at me as if I've lost my mind.

"Of course." He replies. "I have a Master's Degree and two doctorates. I have an eidetic memory and I am on the path to winning a Nobel Prize. Of course I'm okay." I roll my eyes, trying to ignore his narcissistic rambling and reminding myself he's only saying it to mask his pain.

"I meant with this whole Amy thing." I say cautiously, my natural reaction to reach out and pat his hand. Of course, you can't do that with Sheldon. So I just stare at him.

"I must admit, I am slightly irritated that the effort I put forth in writing the Relationship Agreement was in vain as it is now void." He replies resignedly.

"Void? You mean over?" I ask, hating how stupid I sound. I feel even more like an idiot when he gives me that patronizing look of his.

"Section ten, subsection D. In the event that one party is unfaithful, the relationship shall be terminated and the Relationship Agreement deemed null and void." He spouts off, the same rapid tumble of words as the day we met outside my apartment almost five years ago.

"Wow." I mutter, shaking my head. "Just like that." Looking desperately toward the door, I see that the orange taxi has just pulled up and I leap off of the bench, waving for Sheldon to join me. He's caught up in two strides and we're both fleeing the scene, eager for an escape. Sheldon is completely silent, staring out the window the entire way back to my car and then, back to our building.

We climb the stairs side by side, just like we have so many times before, but this time feels different. There is a heaviness in the air and for the first time, I don't want to leave Sheldon alone. I can't explain why, but there's something in his tired blue eyes that's unnerving. He's too quiet. He seems almost…human. So I do the first thing that comes to mind.

"Sheldon…do you think I can stay in your apartment tonight? I don't want to be alone." I say. Better to make him think I'm the one who needs companionship than to make him admit he's hurting.

"That would be acceptable." Sheldon concurs with a diplomatic nod of his head as we round the final flight and he steps toward his door, slightly hunched.

"I'm just going to change…I'll be right over okay?" I instinctively reach toward him to touch his arm, but he recoils before I can even touch him. Catching myself, I give an apologetic look before driving into my dark apartment and dashing to my room. I pull out a shirt and shorts to sleep in along with my pink robe. Sudden tears sting my eyes as the weight of what has happened catches up with me, and I have to brace my hands on my dresser to catch my breath. Why am I so upset? I just feel so…bad.

"Okay." I gasp, wiping my eyes and breathing. "Okay." I repeat and step into my slippers before heading over to Casa de Whack-A-Doodle. I swallow before knocking softly. The door opens instantly, revealing Sheldon in one of his various pairs of plaid pajamas/robe combos. He looks like he always does.

"I'm just…is it okay with you if I sleep in Leonard's room? He's staying at the hotel with everyone—"

"Very well." Sheldon agrees, shutting and locking the door. I keep a wary eye on him as I plod over to the couch and sink into the leather cushion. He moves to his spot and picks up what looks like a manuscript. I watch in morbid fascination as he begins circling things in red pen and making notes in the margins. It's a wonder the guy doesn't need glasses at this point, with all of the reading and math he does.

"Whatcha doin'?" I ask, leaning over and ignoring the drone of late night television. He huffs a little and raises one eyebrow, but does not look at me.

"I am reviewing some documents and making necessary alterations." He says testily and I assume it's his Relationship Agreement. Standing up, I move toward the kitchen.

"Do you want some tea, Sweetie?" I ask, opening his cupboard and swallowing a smirk at the meticulously labeled items within.

"Yes, thank you." He replies distractedly. I remove the Chamomile tea and fill the kettle with water before putting it on the stove. I sigh against the counter as I wait for the water to heat up. I hadn't realized I was so tense.

"Sheldon, level with me. Are you really okay? Do you want to talk about this whole thing? I know you have to be bummed." I blurt, unable to take his indifference to everything in life. He looks up at me startled and I see it. Only for a second, but it's there. For once I don't see Dr. Sheldon Lee Cooper, I see little Shelly Cooper, lost little boy whose best friend has basically just broken his heart and I want to cry. It's gone as quickly as it appears.

"What is the correct reaction in this situation?" He asks pragmatically.

"Sheldon, there is no correct reaction for this…you've been hurt. I can see that. Break something. Cry. Curse for Christ's sake! Ask me to sing Soft Kitty…let me give you a freaking hug, I don't know!" I exclaim because I can't take it, not knowing how someone is feeling. I've always shown my emotions easily. I don't understand how someone can bottle it all up. One day, he's going to explode.

"Do you need a hug, Penny?" He asks, eyeing me as if I'm the one with the problem. I make to respond when the kettle whistles and draws me back to the stove. I pour the water into two mugs and put the tea bags in them.

"Talk to me." I implore him, handing him his tea and sitting cross legged beside him.

"I cannot say I'm surprised at this turn of events." He finally admits. "Amy Farrah Fowler has made it clear over the past months that although she has great respect for me and for my preference to remain, for lack of a better word, chaste, that she does not want to remain so."

"Every girl needs to feel loved. Even smart girls." I tell him.

"Sexual arousal is constituted by increased heart rate, dilated pupils and—"

"Whoa, Sheldon…where ya goin' with this, Sweetie?" I ask, gripping my mug to the point where it's painful.

"I've kissed Amy four times over the course of the past year. Not one of those times, did I ever experience such symptoms or any others." He explains, sounding slightly guilty and more than a little confused.

"Honey, are you trying to say you're not attracted to Amy?" I hear myself utter, staring at him like a goldfish on crack. His cheeks turn a surprising shade of pink, confirming this. I take a contemplative sip of my tea. "Sheldon, can I ask you a personal question?"

"Of course you can…but I'm assuming you are inquiring as to whether I will answer you." He tells me, pursing his lips impatiently. I fight the urge to hit my forehead with my palm and nod. "Yes…you may ask me a personal question that I will answer."

"Okay…" I say through gritted teeth, "Have you ever found a girl attractive or been attracted to someone?" His face barely changes as he responds.

"Yes." He turns back to his papers and leaves me gaping. That's it? That's his answer? Then I remember. This is Sheldon. To him, that is an answer.

"Elaborate, please!" I squeak in frustration, sloshing a bit of tea onto my knee, which I quickly wipe off with my hand.

"How do you mean?" He really doesn't get it.

"Who? How? You know, details please!" With a defeated exhale, he once again sets his documents aside and turns to face me.

"Well, there was Susan Chutney when I was seventeen, who I found physically appealing. She was my professor when I was obtaining my second doctorate. There was a girl who collided with me in line at the cafeteria six years ago, and there was—" He cuts off abruptly, twitching unnervingly, but goes on before I can ask anything else. "I have always repected Amy Farrah Fowler's intelligence and have enjoyed her companionship these past months. I think she is a very appealing potential mate for any male. That being said, if I may speak unscientifically, there was no – chemistry if you will – when we kissed."

"Okay, that was a lot of words…" I shake my head, feeling like I want this conversation to end.

"What attracted you to Leonard?" He finally asks, returning his eyes to his work and taking a drink of his tea.

"Seriously? You want to talk about this?" I finish my tea and set the mug on the table.

"You asked me a personal query. It seems only fair that I should be able to ask you as well." He reminds me.

"Yes, but you usually don't give a crap about me." I laugh, brushing a long strand of hair from my eyes. "Okay, Leonard was the first guy that seemed to care about more than just getting in my pants. He wasn't just with me because he thought I was hot. Or if he was, he never made me feel like he was. He didn't criticize me or judge me…" I stop, coming to a realization. "He didn't really know me…and I didn't really know him. How do you date someone for that long and not even get to know them? I don't even know his sister's name."

"Based on my observations of your relationship with Leonard, the two of you spent much of your time engaging in coitus, which—"

"That was rhetorical. Ew." I stop him, but I feel like we're making progress here. At least he seems less like Homo Novus and more like a normal(ish) guy. Absently, I run my fingers through my overly long mane of hair and turn my eyes to the T.V., where the werewolf kid from Twilight is on a rerun of Saturday Night Live. The next few moments happen in a weird surreal blur.

Out of the corner of my eye, I see Sheldon jump and hear him let out a cry of distress. He's on his feet before I can get a look and I notice the front of his pajamas is sopping wet. His empty mug dangles dangerously from his index finger. His eyes are wide as he feverishly wipes at himself. I'm across the room in a flash, grabbing handfuls of paper towel and bringing them back.

"Take that off." I instruct him. "I'll go grab you another pair—"

"These are my Saturday pajamas, Penny." He says blankly. "I can't wear another pair." Oh yeah, forgot he's a complete kook for a second with all that 'I've been attracted to women before' talk.

"Right. Sorry…well, take it off and dry yourself. Are the pants wet too?" I ask, while he shakes his head vigorously. Thank God. I don't think I can handle the sight of Sheldon in his Superman briefs right now…it never ceases to amaze me that he is thirty-one years old and still wearing superhero undies. Now he's nervous and I'm once again thinking of my quiet, peaceful apartment just feet away. I could just leave him to his madness.

When he makes no attempt to unbutton his pajama top, I decide to take matters into my own hands and reach upwards. I am working on the third button when the sound of his mug hitting the floor echoes through the room and his long fingers wrap around my wrist stopping me.

"Sheldon, I've seen you with no shirt on before. Relax…I'm just going to run it down to the dryer." I assure him.

"You can't just dry it and expect me to wear it!" He says, still clenching my wrist in his hand. "It's covered in tea. It's dirty! I can't wear dirty pajamas."

"Well, you can't sleep in wet ones either, Moonpie." I advise dryly, waiting for him to release his death grip on me. "Guess you're goin' shirtless, Tex." His face is red now…even his ears are turning red. I can't prevent my lips from quirking into an amused smile. Giving me a look, he swiftly unbuttons the last five buttons and turns away as he removes the shirt. Yep, still the pale six foot two scientist I rub Vicks on when he's sick, except…

Back muscles? Sheldon Cooper has back muscles? What is this world coming to? Oh, he's no Kurt, mind you…but this is Sheldon. When he turns back toward me, he has his arms folded across his chest as if he's a woman trying to hide his exposed bosom. I laugh.

"Oh, quit being so modest, you goofball." I shake my head. "I'm not going to jump you." Carefully, I stoop and pick up the pieces of broken mug and take them to the trash while he uses the paper towel to dry off. I come back with fresh towels for him.

"Do you want me to—"

"No." Sheldon squeaks, lurching backwards into his spot and covering himself again. "Oh, this is a nightmare." He mutters, still a violent shade of red.

"Would it help if I take my shirt off too?" I joke, trying to lighten the mood. Of course, seeing as he is nuts, he doesn't see this and his eyes become wide as saucers.

"No." He repeats. "There is no reason for you to—"

"Sheldon, I'm kidding." I say, sitting beside him again. I turn back to the T.V. and pretend to watch whatever is on SyFy, which he just switched the channel to. I glance discreetly back at him and for just a moment, I let my eyes rest on his shoulders and his weird new chest muscles and the strangest phenomenon. Abs? They're no Taylor Lautner abs, but they're freaking abs! Maybe I slipped into one of those other universes he's always talking about.

"I'd appreciate it if you didn't ogle me, Penny." Sheldon tells me moodily. Damn his crazy heightened…everything. This is the weirdest night ever.

An hour later, I'm being jostled awake by Sheldon. Apparently, I've fallen asleep and have slumped against his shoulder. (Which feels a lot different from this side of his clothes.)

"I didn't drool on you, did I?" I ask, feeling my mouth cautiously.

"No, but you did snore." He is staring at the spot where my cheek had been as if he wants to possibly bathe in Lysol. Overly tired and not paying attention, I pat his chest affectionately.

"I'm gonna go to bed, Sweetie." I tell him, and then pat his head. "You should get some sleep, okay?" I start toward Leonard's bedroom when I hear him say my name.

"Penny."

"Sheldon." I turn around again and he's standing there, shirtless and I really don't know how to process the development that the weirdo is kind of attractive.

"Will you sing Soft Kitty to me and tuck me in?" He asks in that innocent voice that always lures me in.

"Soft Kitty is for when you're sick. You're not sick." I croak.

"Sad and betrayed is a kind of sick." He protests. Why does he always do this to me? Why do I always fall for it? But I do, and a few minutes later, I'm perched on the edge of his bed singing that damn song. Only it's weird now. I don't know why, but I'm out of it. Like I'm drunk or something…only I haven't had a drink in four hours. I kiss his forehead before I flee the scene. That's like the number one "No no" in Sheldon's book. And yet, from inside Leonard's room, I do not hear him get up and rush into the bathroom to shower. I hear nothing but the vague sound of the ceiling fan in the room.

I wake up to my phone ringing at 9:00 A.M. It's Leonard. Shit.

"What?" I answer testily, yawning as I sit up in his bed.

"Penny, I did something completely stupid last night."

"Trust me, I know. We saw you guys making out." I growl at him, thinking of Sheldon who I can't hear, but I know he's awake.

"Oh God…you did? Wait, we?" Leonard's voice cracks.

"Me and Shel—"

"Oh God." He groans and drops his voice to a whisper. "Penny, it's worse."

"You had sex with her, didn't you?" I gasp, feeling my stomach drop. I get that nervous trembling feeling and my teeth even try to chatter. His silence tells me everything I need to know. "Oh, Leonard." I cannot keep the disappointment out of my voice. "When will you be home?"

"I'm on my way." He says. We hang up and I leap from the bed. I mumble something to Sheldon about going home for a shower and leave before he can say anything to me. Thankfully, he's put clothes on. I relish the feeling of the near scalding water while I try to process the damage that has been done here. By the time I'm out and getting dressed, I've received a notification on my phone that my bank account is negative (again), which means I am going to be late on rent (again). I am really so tired of this…I can barely afford this tiny one bedroom apartment. I'm too tired and too worried to care about this right now. I need to get across the hall and find out what the hell is going on.

I let myself in, entering quietly and find Leonard prattling constant apologies while Sheldon holds the same pile of papers from last night.

"Come on Sheldon…neither of us ever meant for this to happen. I know you're upset, but we were both really drunk—"

"You do not have to explain to me. I forgive you as I know that my lack of physical contact with Amy has driven her to these drastic measures and I can assure you that I am willing to put it behind us." Sheldon tells him, shocking me. Leonard is even staring at his roommate slack jawed. "However, per the section of the Roommate Agreement that you insisted on putting in yourself, you must find other living arrangements."

"I…what?" Leonard cries, looking over at me. I'm probably staring at them like I'm on some sort of sedative or I've lost my mind. Did Sheldon just tell Leonard he has to move out?

"Whoa…let's not be hasty, Sheldon." I say, stepping forward. He gives me a look of warning and I shut up immediately, alarmed by the sudden fear in his eyes. There's that sad baby deer look again. It reminds me of the time when his mother had come and compared him to a deer.

Shh…you'll spook him. He's like a baby deer. You gotta let him come to you.

He is like a baby deer…except now, he's my baby deer and you don't mess with my baby deer. I remember my anger with Leonard and the look on Sheldon's face when he'd realized he'd lost Amy last night.

"You may stay for two weeks until you can make other arrangements." Sheldon turns back to Leonard, ignoring my presence.

"But I live here too! It's been eight years, Sheldon! I pay half the rent."

"You were the one who added subsection F to the Termination Clause." Sheldon reads it off, "In the event that one party pursues a romantic relationship with the significant other of the opposite roommate. That party shall be required to move out."

"Yeah, but that was back when I didn't think either of us would ever have a girlfriend!" Leonard protests.

"It's out of my hands, Leonard." Sheldon says, setting the papers aside again. Leonard looks at me for guidance. I shrug, lost, looking from one man to the other and run a hand through my wet hair. "Perhaps we can come to a compromise." He finally adds.

Compromise? Sheldon Cooper? Leonard looks hopeful under his mask of guilt and anger.

"Perhaps you can move into Penny's apartment." He suggests, making me bristle with horror.

"Are you kidding me? My place is barely big enough for me and I don't think—"

"I'm not moving in with Penny." Leonard agrees, crossing his arms. At least we agree on something.

"Who suggested you move in with Penny?" Sheldon asks in mild bemusement. Now I'm confused.

"If he moves into my apartment, how will he not be moving in with me?" I demand to know. He's supposed to be one of the smartest guys in the world. He gives me one of those long suffering looks.

"I suggested Leonard move into your apartment…which can only provide one possible conclusion."

"Being?" Leonard asks incredulously. Sheldon sighs.

"Really, must I spell everything out for you?" Shaking his head, I decide to watch and let the chips fall where they may. Hell, call me curious. Call me a glutton for punishment…whatever. I really shouldn't be surprised by what comes out of his mouth.

"I was suggesting that you take Penny's apartment and Penny move in here." Sheldon finishes, turning to me. "Penny, what do you think?"

 

Chapter Text

"You're joking, right?" I say, staring up into Sheldon's loony, serious eyes. "Are you crazy?"

"No." He answers simply, shaking his head. "My mother had me tested." I clench my fingers on the fabric of my zip up jacket and meet Leonard's eyes. For that second, we are both on the same page.

"Honey, I think it might be a good idea to get a second opinion." I snap, brushing past them and into the kitchen to steal some coffee.

"Are you opposed to residing with me or leaving the apartment that you cannot afford?" Sheldon inserts, following me with that ridiculous Roommate Agreement still in his hands.

"Both…but mostly the second." I say, pouring the coffee and taking a long sip.

"You mean the latter." Sheldon corrects, setting the paper on the counter. "Think about this realistically, Penny. Your monthly rent is seven hundred fifty dollars. With the amount of money you make at the Cheesecake Factory, and the estimate of the cost of your utilities…it's no wonder you have trouble. If you become my new roommate, your portion of the rent will be four hundred fifty dollars. We will divide the cost of utilities. Mathematically speaking, you can afford it and still have money left over for your own spending pleasure…and it is blatantly obvious to all of us that you have a tendency to overspend on accessories and clothing…namely, shoes."

I can only gape at him. He has a major point. My rent would be almost half the price of what I'm paying…then again, this is living with Sheldon. So, what I am not paying in money, I'll be paying in booze consumption. But still…money for shoes? Oh, Dr. Whack-A-Doodle has my number, and judging by the thinly veiled look of triumph in his eyes, he knows it.

What a butt.

"We'll kill each other within the first week." I tell him and I can hear Leonard start to wheeze slightly.

"You're actually considering this?" He asks in disbelief.

"Kind of." I shrug. "He has a point, Leonard. I mean, it would be kind of nice to be able to afford things without having a negative bank account. Which, I do." I brandish my phone tiredly. "And it's not like you're hurting for money, Leonard. And you keep talking about getting your own place."

"You do?" Sheldon asks, looking mildly pained again. Another guilty look passes over Leonard's pale, hungover face.

"Yeah, talking about it…" He says blandly, looking at me with pleading eyes.

"You can keep the couch." I hear myself say as I grip my coffee tightly. What am I doing? "And the entertainment center. The only thing you'll need to move is your T.V. and bedroom stuff."

"Are you really serious?" Leonard asks again and I sigh.

"I don't know." I lean against the counter and stare into the black liquid in my cup. "Yeah. I guess I am. But I need you to do something for me."

"Okay…" Leonard begins cautiously, while Sheldon watches in pure confusion. Some things are just over his head. Maybe that's better.

"Were you…considerate…of Amy?" I give him a fervent look and he catches onto my meaning right away.

"Penny, I didn't take advantage of Amy if that's what you're asking. She was the one—" He stops immediately, shaking his head and glancing at his best friend. "I'm so sorry, Sheldon."

"Leonard, I've already told you I forgive you. Biology suggests that primates are only designed to remain faithful until they reproduce and—"

"Oh for the love of Pete, stop giving textbook answers, Sheldon!" I cry, making him jump as I come around the corner to his side. "Leonard hooked up with your girlfriend. Not cool, Bucko!" I fire at my ex, who now looks like the sound of his own apartment doesn't seem so bad. "You didn't like it when Priya cheated on you." I remind him and the obvious memory of Priya's new engagement brings another grimace to Leonard's face.

"You're right." Leonard meets Sheldon's eyes. "I accept your proposal if Penny accepts." They both turn to look at me and suddenly, I'm in the hot seat. Life changing decision in the blink of an eye…GO!

"Oh God." I mutter, "I know I'm going to regret this, but I accept too." Sheldon lets out a sigh of relief and starts toward his laptop.

"Wonderful. I'll start to draw up a new Roommate Agreement." He says excitedly.

"Hold up there, Cowboy." I stalk toward him. "I want in on this. You ain't takin' me for a fool, Moonpie."

You aren't taking me for a fool." He tells me stubbornly, "And don't call me Moonpie." He motions to the seat beside him. "Have a seat. We can get started." I look back at Leonard, who immediately withdraws to the room that I'm going to occupy soon enough. Holy crap on a cracker. What have I done?

Three hours, two pots of coffee and one carton of leftover Chinese later, we have our contract. It's very similar to the previous one, except for some strange additions. Namely, the fact that Sheldon thinks my life revolves around menstruation.

"Are you going to be taking care of your own menstrual products and medicinal treatments, or should I supply them?" He asks, making me nearly drop my coffee.

"God, Sheldon…of course I'll supply them. You'll never even see one!" My face is hot with horror. "My menses…my business. Deal?"

"Well, that's a relief. What about Pre-Menstrual Syndrome?" He asks. I shake my head.

"Sorry…nothing I can do about that." I tell him.

We decide that he will get the shower first since I am not an early riser like him. Also, I agree to give him six hours notice if I am going to have a guy spend the night with me.

Which then brings us to the point of transportation. I would be required to drive him to the grocery store on Tuesdays and to the comic book store on Wednesdays.

"I'm not driving you to work." I state, moving to the sink to wash out my mug and place it in the rack. For some reason, I don't have a problem doing dishes at the guys' apartment (Well, I guess our apartment now). I freeze, realizing I'm a slob and I'm going to be living with Sheldon the Anal now.

"No need. I will still ride with Leonard." Sheldon says, making note of it. "I've already confirmed this via text message."

"Sheldon, he's twenty feet away. Couldn't you just have gone in his room and talked to him?" I say, receiving a delightful patronizing look. "I'm sure he's just loving that…" I add under my breath.

And so, it's done. We are Roommates. (In writing at least.) At the end of the day, there's nothing left for me to do except start packing. I say a quick goodbye to the boys and head back to my apartment. I shriek at the sight of someone sitting outside my door and relax instantly when I realize it's Amy. My heart sinks. I'm not mad at her. Not at all…because I get it. I still hate that she and Sheldon both got hurt, but I totally understand why.

Over the past year, I've come to see the real Amy underneath her monotone voice and layers of wool and polyester. She's the girl who never got asked on a date. She's the girl who never had a group of friends or went to prom…she never had the chance to be called beautiful. So naturally, the first guy who'd paid her any attention got her into bed. Unfortunately that guy happened to be her boyfriend's best friend and my ex.

"Amy." I say, sighing resignedly. She looks worried, almost frightened that she's going to lose her first best friend. "Come inside." She scrambles to her feet and I guide her inside.

"I'll make coffee." I tell her. Her hair is still hanging in messy mahogany curls from the night before, though she's dressed in her usual skirt/sweater/wool tights and loafer preference. "Do you want to talk about it?"

"Not really." Amy says in her normal, Sheldonesque tone, but she looks completely devastated.

"Too bad. Talk, Bestie." I demand, scrounging through my cupboard for something to offer her. "How did you end up sucking face with the homunculus?" I watch as my decrepit coffee maker struggles to spurt out the coffee.

"I don't remember too much after dinner. I remember finishing my third Sex on the Beach, Leonard and I danced the Cha Cha Slide, he complimented my perfume, he said I looked very nice, and I asked him what he thought I should do to get Sheldon to second base with me."

I choke on air. She's so blunt sometimes, that I don't know how to respond. Amy eyes me worriedly, but continues.

"Leonard then told me that he thought Sheldon was being ridiculous and that any guy would be lucky to be with a woman like me. Then, he kissed me. And…" Her voice lowered and her eyes sparkled with tears of shame. "I liked it." I am sympathetic immediately, pouring coffee and setting a glass in front of her.

"You know…even though you should have broken up with Sheldon first, I don't really blame you. I mean, there's only so much indifference a girl can take. And hey, if it makes you feel better…you're doing better than I am. I haven't had sex in a year." I click my glass with hers and pat her shoulder. "Was he good to you? Was Leonard kind to you?"

"Are you asking if he gave me an orgasm?" Amy asks, bringing us back to my normal shock of her bluntness and her being brutally honest. I manage to shake my head yes. "He was very thorough."

"Yeah, he was always one for the foreplay." I say under my breath and drink what is probably my sixteenth cup of coffee today.

"It was slightly painful, but I think the alcohol consumption dulled the pain. After I severed the webbing between my own toes at the age of fourteen, I have an extremely high tolerance for pain." She explains and I try to smile at her encouragingly.

"Well that's…good." I manage, patting her arm. "Have you spoken to Sheldon yet?" She shook her head.

"I must admit, I am not looking forward to it. But I would like to get it over with. I do regret hurting him, even if he was the cause of my initial anguish."

"Break ups suck." I agree, getting off of the stool. "I have to tell you something, okay?"

"All right." Amy crosses her arms as if bracing herself. She looks almost pained, as if she knows what's coming.

"Leonard is moving out of the guys' apartment. He's…we're…I'm—" I stop to catch my breath nervously. "We're switching. I'm moving in with Sheldon to save money and he's moving in here." Her mouth falls open for a second, but she nods.

"Leonard violated the Roommate Agreement." She muses aloud and I can only stand there awkwardly with my arms at my sides.

"It's more as a favor to me." I say, hoping she's not blaming herself for Leonard's moving. "My bank account is negative and living over there will bring my rent down three hundred bucks a month. And I think Leonard wants some space now. He's been talking about getting his own place."

"Penny, do you still have lingering feelings for Leonard?" Amy asks suddenly, startling me. Her eyes are intense, reminding me of her loony tunes ex-boyfriend across the hall and, oh yeah, my new roomie.

"You know Amy, I thought I might…but I can honestly tell you right now…Leonard and I are a thing of the past. I see now that there's no way we can go back there. We might have had a chance had we acted sooner, but that window is gone." I sigh, because even though it's true, it's very bittersweet. My relationship with Leonard was a turning point in my life. He made me realize that I deserve better and that I can get better. Maybe. What are the odds that I'll find a sexy science nerd that has a rockin' body and a beautiful mind? Oh, and maybe who is at least taller than five ten so I can wear heels once in a while?

Probably nil.

"Do you have feelings for Leonard, Amy?" I ask finally, watching her reaction. She furrows her brows and shrugs.

"I'll admit, when we attended that wedding together, I wasn't sure we were suited for one another. However, over the course of the past few months, I've come to realize that Leonard is quite attractive in his own way. I mean, sure he uses far too much product in his hair and has more health issues than an English bulldog, but I find him appealing. Like a sexy Smurf."

I burst out laughing, the tension leaving my body and I pull Amy into a hug. I love this girl. I want her to be happy. How could Sheldon not have chemistry with her? She's adorable. I wish I had a bestie like her growing up. Hell, I wish I'd had anyone growing up. Which only made me think of Gran, who'd been gone a decade now.

God I missed her.

"Well, my Gran used to say that everything happens for a reason. I'm sure you will all find your way. Meanwhile, I have to get packing. You should probably go talk to Sheldon. Leonard's busy packing right now and he's alone." I pat her on the shoulder and give her a smile of encouragement.

"Beautiful. Wise. The soft touch of an angel…how are you not married?" Amy says, making me simultaneously uncomfortable and flattered in her usual way.

"You're all of those things too, honey." I assure her and shut the door behind her when she crosses the hall to my future home to end her relationship with my future roommate.

Seriously, what in the hell have I gotten myself into here?

I'm going to be permanently sharing space with Dr. Sheldon Cooper, O.C.D., M.A.N.C.H.I.L.D. while Leonard gets to move his ass over here and enjoy doing whatever the hell he wants.

Balls.

Where do I freaking start? There are clothes on the floor, under the bed, in my closet, in my bathtub…for once, I'm regretting becoming such a slob since leaving Omaha.

I grab an empty laundry basket and start grabbing. By the time I hear the knocks on my door, I have most of my clothes off the floor at least, but I'm still getting nowhere fast.

Knock, knock, knock.

"Penny." Oh Lord.

Knock, knock, knock.

"Penny." Kill me now.

Knock, knock, knock.

"Penny."

I'm there by the end of the last knock and leap over a basket to throw the door open.

"Hey Sheldon." I gasp for breath, stepping aside to let him in. He looks around at my messy version of "making progress" and I see his eyes and hands twitch as if he wants nothing more than to make the horror of it go away.

"What are you doing?" He asks, peering down at a pile of clothes. I shrug and glance to my kitchen counter, where half a bottle of red wine sits beckoningly.

"Packing." I say with a slight shrug. "You?"

"I had intended to come over and let you know that Leonard said he would be ready to move in by Tuesday, but now…" His eyes flit around nervously. "What is this cesspit?"

"I know…I have no idea what I'm doing. The last time I moved, I just threw all of my clothes into garbage bags. I left most of my stuff at Kurt's." I move past him, brushing against his arm as I do and reach for my wine. Everything is dirty at the moment, so I pick up a Styrofoam cup and fill it. "Want some?"

"No, thank you. I don't drink." He tells me as if we're strangers. I roll my eyes.

"Sheldon, I've known you for almost five years. I was kidding." I sigh and sip the wine. What am I doing? This is starting to become a problem…I'm kind of becoming my mother. Horrified, I dump the cup down my drain and let the rest of the bottle go down with it. I don't want to become Mom. I back away from it as if scalded and knock straight into Sheldon, who is still looking around as if trying to analyze the situation.

"Sorry!" I grumble, shoving past him and looking around. Without another word, he leaves my apartment. I stare at the open door and try to process everything that's happening. I must not have been staring very long, because he's back in an instant with a boxful of stuff. Quirking an eyebrow at him, I watch him sit beside me on the couch and begin to pull things out. Labels, Sharpies, packing tape, and bubble wrap.

"What are you staring at? Let's get crackin'." He says, sounding very Texas. I want to ask about Amy, but I obey as he begins to sort through the first pile of clothes. "What is dirty and what's clean…? He stops and sighs. "Oh, you know what? Let's just assume all of this is dirty." He meticulously arranges the pile into a laundry basket. "We'll wash these ones tonight. Where are your clean clothes?" Blankly, I point toward my bedroom while he stares at me as if I'm an idiot. Waving his arm, he huffs at me. "Well, go get them. I'm going to start packing your collectibles and trinkets."

"Trinkets?" I ask, watching him quietly.

"Your framed photographs and these little Hello Kitty collectibles." He explains, not even sparing a glance. "Do you have any storage bins or boxes?"

"There's probably some boxes down by the laundry room where people drop of their recycling." I offer and he whirls around to stare at me.

"No. Those boxes are practically a housing unit for germs. We'll have to go to the store and get some." He tells me, making me feel like a small child. I resignedly disappear into my bedroom and start folding clean clothes. He appears less than an hour later in my doorway.

"I have all of the items off of your entertainment center and your refrigerator magnets wrapped and labeled. I put them into a box I found under your counter." I nod tiredly, looking up and seeing something in his hand, delicately clutched in his fingertips. "I found this on your refrigerator. I was unsure how you would want to proceed with it." I move to take it from him and realize it's the old yellowing news article from Gran's house. My Junior Rodeo third place article.

"I'll just put it in a book or something." I tell him, reaching for it, but he doesn't relinquish it into my hands.

"Why do you have this?" He asks me, staring suspiciously at me.

"My Gran bought it when I was at the National Junior Rodeo Championship in Texas. She was the only one who really cared—" I stop myself, feeling a little short of breath. "I came in third place…see?" I point to the third little girl. Me. His face twitches and I am even more confused.

"I see." He agrees, letting the paper into my hand. He moves around me and begins arranging clothes and baskets into neat lines while I look back down at my news article. He says nothing else about it and I don't bring it up again. We decide to stop for dinner and I remember that I have some spaghetti and sauce. He offers to bring hot dogs over, because the giant toddler needs cut up hot dogs in his spaghetti. How Mary Cooper managed to raise him without killing him I will never know. Seriously, the woman should apply for sainthood.

"You've never spoken about your grandmother before." Sheldon says when I've got the sauce cooking on the stove and the water starting to boil for the noodles.

"Oh. Yeah." I say, staring intently into the pot. "She died when I was sixteen." I swallow. Hard. I've never really spoken of her to anyone. Not even Kurt, who I lived with for four years. "She was my best friend." I add, hating the way my voice becomes a whisper at the end of that phrase.

"Like MeeMaw." Sheldon says, tracing the pattern of the tiles on my kitchen counter.

"Yeah. Like MeeMaw." I say, feeling suddenly exhausted. And then, I don't know why, but I go on. "Look, my life growing up wasn't what people would call healthy. My Dad groomed me to be a boy until I was twelve, my mother is a perpetual sorority girl who has the maturity of a teenager, my sister got pregnant at fifteen and my brother is a meth dealer. All in all…I would say, I'm the pick of that litter and that's not saying much." I eye the bottle of wine I emptied earlier and suddenly wish I hadn't been so impulsive.

"I disagree." Sheldon voices pointedly. "You're a very appealing person. You're physically attractive, you're a hard worker and you are very bright, despite your appalling lack of education and dedication to better yourself."

"Well, whatever good qualities I have…they're because of Gran." I tell him, stirring the noodles into the boiling water and checking the clock. "And thanks…I think." Even though I'm pretty sure there were a couple of insults in that sentence, he seems like he genuinely was trying to be nice.

"You should meet my MeeMaw. She's a hoot." He tells me, and I can't help it, I laugh.

"She'd have to be, wouldn't she?" I turn down the heat for the sauce since it's bubbling a little and put the cover on the pot.

"Once, when I was six, my older brother George thought it would be funny to lock me in MeeMaw's hen house—"

"Oh my God, that's awful!" I exclaim.

"Yes, it was." He agrees seriously. "I was in there for half an hour before MeeMaw figured out that George was being too quiet and she washed his mouth out with soap until he confessed what he'd done. By the time she found me, I was covered in hen excrement, feathers and bites. Thus, was born my fear of birds and my fear of germs. All in one thirty minute stretch."

"Sheldon!" I squeak, absolutely disgusted.

"MeeMaw pulled me out and gave me a bath and as punishment to George, she made him clean the hen house with a toothbrush." He does that silly little breathy laugh of his. "She's hilarious." Suddenly, it makes sense. That's kind of when Sheldon stopped maturing. He's never gotten over being locked in that dirty hen house.

"Well, I'd love to meet her." I agree, draining the noodles and turning off the stove.

"Oh, good…she wrote me yesterday to tell me she's going to visit with my mother for my birthday next month! She's never visited me here in California." He tells me excitedly as I place a bowl of spaghetti in front of him. "I had planned on introducing her to Amy, but…" He trails off, and he looks lost again.

"How did it go with her?" I ask, stepping up onto the stool to sit beside him.

"She was very apologetic. We both agreed to retain our friendship and continue to collaborate in our fields of work." He says, but there is an underlying sadness just barely evident in his voice.

"I'm sorry it didn't work out for you guys. I love Amy." I tell him honestly, eating a mouthful of hotdog spaghetti. He doesn't respond to this. "Um, Sheldon…what is your mother going to say when she finds out that we're living together? I mean, we both know her views on people of opposite sexes cohabiting."

"Very good, Penny!" His voice is full of praise. "You used the word cohabit properly!" I snort, unable to hold back my derisive laugh.

"You are such a Whack Job, but I love you anyway, you weirdo." I say, elbowing him in the ribs. He says nothing in answer to this, but I notice his lips quirk upward slightly.

"To answer your query, my mother is opposed to people living in sin, as she refers to it. So, as long as we don't engage in coitus, we shouldn't offend her." He says this so casually, I nearly choke.

"Well, no worries there." I agree, thinking of poor Amy, who only kissed Sheldon four times in the five months they dated. "Is your grandmother religious like your mother?"

"She believes in Jesus, but she doesn't attend that hokum church that my mother does where the people practically roll in the aisles and throw their hands in the air." Sheldon's voice changes when he speaks of his MeeMaw. He sounds normal. It's the weirdest thing. For just a second, I wonder what he would be like if his ass of an older brother hadn't trapped him in a tiny shed with a bunch of dirty chickens. What would the world be like if Sheldon was just another guy?

It would suck.

Where did that come from? I mean, he's probably the most narcissistic person I know. He's naïve, an inconvenience and so childish it's frightening. But if he was different, he wouldn't be Sheldon. And my life would have been a lot less interesting. Yeah, Sheldon's crazy (I don't care what his doctor said), but the world could use a little more crazy and a little less boring. He's always been there for us all when it matters. He loaned me money without a thought, he picked my naked ass up out of my tub and drove me to the hospital and stayed with me until I fell asleep, and he cuddled with Amy when she was upset even though he's not into touching people.

When did Sheldon Cooper become my best friend?

That night is the last night I spend in my apartment. At the end of Tuesday, with the help of Sheldon, Leonard and Raj, my bed is moved into Leonard's old room and he is moved into my old place. Leonard's room is bigger than mine was. I even have room for my T.V. and my small computer desk.

It's funny but even though everything is different now, nothing's really changed. We all still gather in the living room and eat together that night. We watched those stupid Sci-Fi shows the guys love so much. They play video games. Leonard secretly tells me that Sheldon has agreed to give him twenty-five dollars a week in return for driving him to work. I'm relieved, because I don't think I could have handled being Sheldon's personal chauffeur.

It finally sinks in when Raj and Leonard leave for the night. I'm perched on the couch beside Sheldon's spot, where I've been sitting all evening as I watch Sheldon cross to the door and lock it. I've slept here countless times, but with the click of that lock, it's real. We both stand facing each other for a few quiet moments before he nervously brushes his hands on the front of his khaki pants.

"I need to go to sleep now, Penny." He says and I nod.

"Okay. 'Night, Sweetie." Most normal people would hug or something, but I just watch him turn and leave the room without another look. I go into my room and change into my shorts and tank top, throwing my robe over them. When I go into the bathroom to brush my teeth, something catches my eye. I look down into the bottom of the tub and see several yellow ducks holding umbrellas decorating the pristine white surface.

"Cause of Accident: Lack of adhesive ducks."

I grin.

 

Chapter Text

I can smell pancakes before I even wake up. The aroma covers me like a warm blanket on a snowy day. Stretching languidly, I swing my legs over the side and peer out my bedroom window at the streaming morning sun. I throw my robe on and open the door to the hallway that's leading out into the kitchen and living room. The apartment is brighter than usual, it seems. On the counter is an appealing array of breakfast foods. An inexplicable feeling of happiness bubbles in the pit of my stomach as I notice the champagne sitting beside the orange juice. What is going on here?

Suddenly, I am enveloped from behind by a pair of arms. Instinctively, I lean back into the warmth of the guy who is holding me. I feel a pair of lips press just below my ear and I turn to look into a pair of shockingly blue eyes.

"Good morning, Penny. I trust you slept well. Would you like some breakfast?" He lowers his head and I feel his lips brush mine—

I sit bolt upright in bed and try to breathe. Through blurry, exhausted eyes, I check my alarm clock. 6:45. Burying my face in my hands, I try to process what just happened.

Just a dream…

No more Funyuns before bed, Penny.

I grab my robe and get out of my bed, practically tripping over my desk chair since I'm not used to my new surroundings yet. My heart is still racing and I'm wired with the adrenaline pumping through my body. Guess I'm an early riser today too.

The light from the living room hurts my eyes and my head and my brain. There is a half drunk bottle of water sitting on one of the end tables. Remembering what fucked up image my mind just projected to me, I whirl around and make sure no one is behind me in the hallway. Plastering my back against the wall, I peer around the corner Mission: Impossible style and sigh in relief. He's sitting at the counter, eating what looks like Frosted Mini Wheats. A slight sheen of sweat remains on his forehead and I realize that he's most likely just finished his morning workout…I hope. I've only seen guys that sweaty after two things. Working out and sex.

Oh God.

I'm going to need the Jaws of Life to get that image out of my brain.

"Oh, Good morning Penny." His voice comes from the counter. "I trust you slept well. Would you like some breakfast?" I can only stare and as I step forward, I can hear his warning and then I'm on my butt staring up at him in his sweaty T-Shirt and shorts. He's not wearing one of his clashing long sleeved undershirts and his recently acquired bicep is clearly visible. His T-Shirts are fitting much tighter these days…

Oh. My. God. No. No. No. No. NO!

"Are you alright?" He asks, looking kind of concerned as he crouches near me. "Look at me." I obey and I reel backward into the step I missed. When did his eyes get that blue? "Your pupils aren't dilated. You should not have a concussion." Shaking his head, he grabs me by the elbow and drags me to my feet before heading toward the table where he keeps his emergency stash of Purell. "Where are your slippers?"

"Uh…what?" I'm really trying to catch up here, but I'm kind of out of it. I haven't been up before 7:00 A.M. in ages.

"Your socks have no grip on them, Penny." He gives me that look. The one that says, 'How can I be so much smarter than you?'

"Oh…I was just—" I stop talking. I have no idea what I'm saying. I've never been at a loss like this with him before. "How was your workout?" I change the subject.

"It was very invigorating. They become more challenging as the weeks go on. Today was biking and mountain boarding. To say it lightly, I 'feel the burn.'" Sheldon laughs that gaspy little chuckle of his. My eyes fall to his calves, which definitely look different from the time he tried to go jogging with me. I mean, it's not earth shattering changes or anything, but it's enough to freak me out. I humor him, giving him a smile and pat his chest before walking past him to make coffee.

"The coffee is already made, if that's what you're looking for." Sheldon points to the full pot. "We have a timer."

"Hmm." I respond tiredly, yawning and pouring myself a cup. "Thanks, honey."

"Also, you should note that I've changed the WiFi password. Since you're now paying half, the password is now 'penny-now-knows-the-value-of-a-dollar'." I stare at him until he notices and starts. "Oh, I'm sorry. No spaces." I scowl at him and nearly sag in relief that the world has gone back to normal. "Penny, don't forget. Tonight is Comic Book night. There's a new Green Lantern out today."

"Oh, goody." I mutter, taking a long sip of coffee while Sheldon washes his cereal bowl.

"Sarcasm?" He asks innocently, making me half sigh and yawn.

"You bet." I tell him. When he finishes his dishes and has settled them into the rack to dry, he stretches his arms upward, revealing about an inch of his midriff. I look away as if he's stripped in front of me. This is ridiculous.

"Okay, I'm going to go get dressed!" I cry, rushing out of the room with my coffee and into the sanctuary of my bedroom.

It's my day off, so I decide to call my parents while the guys are at work and tell them that I've moved, even if it's only a few feet. My father immediately assumes I'm back together with Leonard.

"No, Dad!" I exclaim. "It isn't like that. I switched with Leonard, so I'm living with Sheldon now."

"The gangly guy with all the goofy T-Shirts?" My Dad replies, obviously confused. "Are you two dating now?"

"No. Oh my God, no!" I insist, cradling the phone between my shoulder and ear as I make myself a sandwich. Per the instructions in the Roommate Agreement, I clean up the counter afterward with a Clorox wipe. It makes me roll my eyes, but then I think of six year old MoonPie locked in a hen house and covered in chicken poop and I feel bad again. "It's just to save money." I inform Dad, covering my face in horror. "How's Mom?" I ask, mostly to change the subject. My mother is still a tough subject for me. She's completely against me living in California and thinks that my pursuing an acting career is a waste of time and that by the time I figure out it's not going to happen, my youth will be gone. She's really supportive and special. (Sarcasm.) This is why I don't visit home much anymore.

"Mom is…fine." Dad answers with a sigh. I can tell he's frowning. "Tim is in court appointed rehab and Darcy is trying to find the money to send Brian to Washington D.C. for a school trip to the Smithsonian. He's on the Honor Roll and is already up for a college scholarship!" Dad sounds so proud. I burst a little with pride too. Maybe my nephew will have a better life than we did after all. "Joey keeps trying to get Brian into football, but the poor kid is just not cut out for it. He's all bones, Pen."

"Poor kid. Joey's a dipshit. Of course he wouldn't understand that his kid is obviously smart and meant for better things." I say in irritation, thinking of my sister's idiot husband who sweats beer and lives his high school glory days to get by.

"Are you happy, Penny?" Dad asks and I freeze. Suddenly, I miss him. Swallowing the lump in my throat, I blink quickly and take a breath.

"Not really, Dad. But I think I will be." Change is good and at this point, things can only get better. I hang up with my father and take a long, hot shower. I've always preferred this bathroom to the one in 4B. I reach for the vanilla scented shampoo I use, which has been placed on the first shelf in the rack beneath the shower head, but I stop when I see the shampoo above mine. A yellow bottle with a pink teardrop on it.

No More Tears, Johnson's Baby Shampoo.

A slow, quiet laugh rumbles in my chest as I reach out to grab it and pop the lid open. I've always loved the smell of baby shampoo and really, I'm not surprised. It's so Sheldon. I don't use any, because Lord knows the nut job checks the levels. I mean, he noticed when I took a tablespoon of milk for my coffee. I carefully close it and set it back in place before picking up my vanilla shampoo. I blow dry my hair and put on makeup and I realize how badly I need highlights. My roots are long and I don't like my hair darker. It's been so long since I've been to a salon. Maybe, now that I'm saving money, I can afford to have my hair done once in a while. But, this is a start. I pull out the trusty old flat iron and get to work. I'm amazed at how long my hair is straight.

Oh, what the hell? If I'm going to be hitting up the comic book store, I might as well get Stuart's attention. At least someone will be looking at me. God, is this what I've resorted to? I'm so sexually and emotionally frustrated that I'll take any scrap of attention I can get? I decide on Capri pants and a long sleeved shirt. I put one of my purple Penny Blossoms in my hair to keep it out of my eyes and I feel sort of like the girl I used to be. Happy. Pretty. Attractive.

I settle onto the couch in Sheldon's spot (Hey, he ain't here!) and decide to watch the third Twilight movie until Dr. Whack-A-Doodle gets home. I'm about halfway in when the door opens and Sheldon walks in, followed by Raj.

"Oh my goodness, is that Eclipse?" Raj, squeals in delight, obviously forgetting that I'm sitting right here. When he looks at me and clams up, I give him a small wave and pat the seat next to me. I'm vaguely aware of a tall shadow staring down at me with his arms crossed over the Riddler symbol on his green T-Shirt.

"Hey Roomie." I tell him dryly, receiving an expectant glare and a quick jerk of his index finger, demanding that I move. I grin at him and scoot toward Raj, now patting his seat. He sinks down with a huff and shakes his head.

"Really, Penny? Twilight? The vampires don't even have fangs and they glitter in sunlight, which is impossible for various reasons—"

"Yeah, it's just eye candy for teen girls, Sheldon honey." My eyes glance over to where Raj is watching with his hand to his lips as if he's never seen this before. (I borrowed it from him.) "And Raj." Standing up, I brush a stray piece of his dark hair off of his forehead and walk around him. "Are you ready to go to The Comic Center?" Sheldon stares at me vacantly for a moment until he nods enthusiastically and stands up. I flip off the T.V. and hear a slight whine of protest from Raj, though he still can't talk to me. "Where is Leonard?"

"He claims he had to work late, so he won't be joining us."

"What, you think he was lying?" I ask, not really interested in the answer as I pluck my zip up hoodie off of the hook that Sheldon has so carefully placed it on.

While we're at the comic book store, I get a text from Bernadette.

Is it true? R U living with Sheldon?

I look up to where Sheldon is admiring some figurine or another and discreetly answer her.

Yeah. I guess I am. It's a mess back here. Enjoy ur honeymoon. We'll talk when u get home.

I begin to pocket my phone again when my phone vibrates.

Is there a section in your contract about giving Sheldon his private time? If there's a tie on his doorknob, DO NOT GO IN THERE! :-P

I cringe, not even wanting to know what that is implying. Half a sec later, it's going off again.

Sorry, that was Howie! He says to tell you Sheldon is a semi pro.

Oh, that's disgusting.

Ask Howie what that makes HIM? And ew.

I text back, shaking my head and cringing. I don't ever want to know about that. There's just something unnatural about the thought of Sheldon spending "time" with himself, even though I'm sure Howard is full of shit. And there is NO section of the new Roommate Agreement about private time, which is good because if there was, that would mean Sheldon had a—

Arghhh!

Penelope, get control of your undersexed hormonal body! How pathetic is it when you start scamming on your basically asexual roommate? I'm going to murder Howard when he gets back from Hawaii.

When I look up, Stuart is standing there and I manage to smile tiredly at him.

"Hey Stuart. How are things?"

"You're living with Sheldon?" He asks, foregoing all small talk. Geez, does the whole world know?

"Yeah. Who told you?" I eye him warily and he begins to splutter.

"Sh-Sheldon just did." He points to where Sheldon and Raj are thumbing through the comic collection.

"Oh." I relax.

"What happened with Amy?" Stuart inquires, looping his fingers through his belt loops.

"Uh…it just didn't work out." I tell him mindlessly, heaving a long sigh.

"Do you think she'll go out with me now?" He goes on, making me feel completely uncomfortable. I like Stuart, I really do, but there's only so much insecure, self-loathing nerd I can take.

"I don't know, Sweetie. You'll have to ask her." I pretend to flip through some kind of Asian comic. The kind where the women have HUGE boobs.

"Until Sheldon broke up our date back in November, we were having a good time. She's easy to talk to." He takes a queasy breath, looking a bit ill. "She didn't tell me to go grow a penis or throw myself out of a moving car, so…"

"Jesus, Stuart." I mutter, patting his shoulder. "Give her a call. If she's not dating anyone else, I'm sure she'd love to." A moment later, Stuart is blocked because six feet two inches of crazy has stepped between us.

"Stuart, I realize that you are slightly delusional, but Penny is not interested in you. She does not have any desire to have Pumpkin Lattes or intercourse with you." Sheldon tells him and then turns to me, "Penny we need to go soon. It's Halo night and it is now seven forty-five." I immediately pinch him in the rib, making him squeak.

"Thank you, O' Chivalrous One. Stuart was asking me about a friend." I growl at him before giving Stuart a look of apology. "Sorry…somebody didn't have their nap today." Stuart nods, eyeing Sheldon with a look of defeat.

"I'll check you out now." Stuart gestures for Sheldon to go to the counter. Still glaring at the shorter man, Sheldon stalks past and I pinch the bridge of my nose.

"I'm sorry, honey. He's still a little bitter about the breakup." I explain.

"That's okay." He shrugs. "For a second I thought he was—"

"Stuart! Penny!"

We both look at the counter to Sheldon, who is pointing at his watch. Raj looks like he wants to disappear into the floor.

"We'd better go so I can change his diaper soon." I crack, patting Stuart's shoulder.

"Question." I say on the way back to the apartment after we grab takeout. "How are we going to play Halo with just the three of us if Leonard is working?"

"Curses! I hadn't thought of that." Sheldon looks desperately at me. "What should we do?"

"We could play one on one." I offer, but Raj is shaking his head fervently to warn me.

"No. We play teams." I turn the corner onto Los Robles and shrug.

"I don't know what to tell you, honey. Maybe we're S.O.L." I reach over and pat his knee, which he jerks away.

"S.O.L? Sole?" Sheldon is staring at me as if I'm crazy. Or stupid. Or both.

"It stands for 'Shit Outta Luck.'" I tell him darkly.

I pull into the parking lot and Sheldon lets out a sigh of relief.

"Oh good! Leonard is home. Crisis averted." I can only blink in exasperation. We climb the stairs and Sheldon steps straight over to 4B.

Knock, knock, knock.

"Leonard." So that's what this looks like from the other side…

Knock, knock, knock.

"Leonard." The sound of shuffling and a loud thud comes from within, making Raj and I share a look.

Knock, knock, knock.

"Leonard."

The door opens just wide enough for us to get a glimpse of the right side of Leonard's face.

"What is it?" He asks impatiently, looking behind him. I watch suspiciously as his eyes keep flicking nervously around.

"It's Halo Night." Sheldon states simply. "Since you're no longer at work, we need you to play."

"Sorry, I can't." Leonard replies impatiently, avoiding my eyes.

"But we need a fourth…you're our fourth since Howard is in Hawaii." Sheldon argues. Leonard swallows, hesitating for a moment too long.

"Sheldon, I think I'm coming down with something. I have a sore throat." Leonard says, causing Sheldon to reel backward into me all long limbs and sharp elbows.

"Ughh!" I cry as he gets me in the gut.

"Why didn't you tell us?" Sheldon asks, pulling his shirt over his nose to "protect" himself. "Oh, just what I need…" He quickly opens our apartment door and rushes inside with Raj. I shake my head at Leonard and give him half a smile.

"You're still a shitty liar." I tell him, and then I'm being pulled by the elbow into 4A and sprayed down with Lysol.

"Did he breathe on you?" Sheldon asks, inspecting me closely.

"No, Sheldon…he did not. He's not sick. He just…" A sick thought comes to mind. "He needs private time." Slow understanding comes into MoonPie's blue eyes, which grow wide. "I'm sorry, Sweetie…I know it's Halo Night. How about—" I look around for something to placate him. "How about we watch the first season of Star Trek, The Original Series?"

This does the trick. He's not happy, but seeing Spock makes his unhappiness just a bit more bearable. He continuously spouts off little tidbits of trivia throughout the next two hours. Some of which, I've heard a thousand times and some I haven't.

Somehow, I end up curled up at the opposite end of the couch and wake up to Sheldon locking the door behind Raj.

"What time is it?" I yawn, rubbing my eyes.

"Eleven-thirty." Sheldon tells me, lovingly replacing his DVDs in the case and brushing off the slip cover for good measure. "Do you know why people rub their eyes when they're tired?" I don't know or care, but I have the feeling I'm going to hear it either way, so I just shake my head. "When we're tired, our eyes don't produce enough moisture and rubbing the eyes stimulates our lachrymal glands, which create tears."

"Fascinating." I tell him, standing up and flipping off the lights as we move toward our rooms. "G'night, Sweetie."

I wake up to complete silence. When I walk out of my dark room to go to the bathroom, I notice something is off. Looking into the living room, my heart practically stops in my chest as I realize there is nothing in the apartment. It has been cleaned out.

Eyes burning, I burst into Sheldon's bedroom to tell him we've been robbed, but find myself standing in an empty room. Dashing back into my room, I fumble around for my phone and can't find it. When I look up into the mirror in my room, I see my mother in a Cheesecake Factory uniform.

I scream.

"Penny." Something is poking me while I thrash. "Penny." I'm fighting for my life and finally wrap my arms around the only thing I can find. "Penny!"

I reach out, grabbing a fistful of fabric and wake up with a start, realizing I'm having yet another dream. Opening my eyes, I realize I'm clinging to Sheldon and clutching his goofy plaid pajamas in my hand. Hot tears fall, unbidden, from my eyes and I don't really care at the moment that he has issues with personal contact. I'm just so glad he's here. I can't stop my body from shaking as I bury my face into his shoulder. He is completely rigid beneath me, not holding me, not touching me. I don't even think he's breathing.

"I need to go back to bed, Penny." Sheldon says, swallowing and staring at me like I sprouted another head.

"It was so bad." I sob, shaking my head. I'm getting the front of his pajamas all wet, but I don't care. I've taken care of his neurotic, sick ass enough times. "I woke up and I was all alone…you were gone. Everything was g-gone. And I was my mother…and nothing changed." He tries to pry himself away from me stiffly, but I don't let him.

"You're violating the Roommate Agreement on two counts." He says weakly. "You're preventing me from enjoying my REM cycle and you're touching me. That's two strikes, Penny."

"I'm sorry." I choke, trying to breathe. You know how when you're so upset, it just won't stop? That's what this is.

"There, there…" He mutters, swallowing.

"I can't be like her." I finally let myself look into his stricken face. "I can't become my Mom." He's quiet for a few moments, and I kind of expect him to just pull away and leave. But, he doesn't. I know he's uncomfortable. He hasn't relaxed one bit. He's probably planning how fast he can get to the Lysol and bathe in it.

"It's why I don't drink." He says after I've slowed down a little.

"What?" I sniff and meet his eyes.

"I don't want to be like him." Sheldon's eyes are downcast. "My father." Oh. I wait for him to go on. Thankfully, he does. "Missy and I used to have a saying; 'Don't be the first one in Dad's sight after he finishes the bottle.'" Sheldon stops. "He died ten years ago…but every time I smell bourbon, my heart rate still accelerates and I feel panic." I watch him curiously as he swallows and I realize, he is now kinda sorta holding me, sitting with his arm around me. I'm the one keeping the contact, but he's not leaving. "My older brother is just like him now. Last I heard, George was living in a trailer park with a woman he met at Alcoholics Anonymous."

"No wonder your mother turned to Jesus." I whisper, releasing my death grip on him. "I'm sorry for that. For making you uncomfortable and waking you up."

"Consider this a warning." He tells me in a husky, tired voice. Sheldon's voice is deep when he's tired. If I wasn't so drained, I would find it funny. "I will waive the strikes this time." He slowly gets up and backs away, as if he's afraid I'm going to pounce on him. I bring my knees to my chest and rest against my pillows. Sheldon stops in my doorway and looks back at me, silhouetted by the hall light. I can just barely see his face. "And Penny?"

"Yeah?" I manage weakly.

"You're not your mother. No more than I'm George Cooper." He says this so matter of fact, like it's no different than if he were discussing physics…or Star Trek.

"Thanks, Sweetie." I smile at him. He backs away again and pauses once more.

"Penny?"

"Yeah, Sheldon."

"You left your towel on the floor in the bathroom earlier. That's a strike." He shuts the door, leaving me in silence.

And…he's back. Good night.

 

Chapter Text

Work on Thursday is absolutely ridiculous. I have never seen so many loud, rude people in one night. Not to mention, the cheapskates who leave less than fifteen percent as a tip. I don't mean neurotic Sheldon 'don't touch my food' obnoxious. I mean cruel. One man asks if I know the difference between medium well and well done. Another man grabs my ass to get my attention.

By six, at the end of my shift, I am so ready to go home and curl up on the couch for Pizza Night. The ridiculous banter of the guys has never sounded so appealing. Hell, I don't even care if they decide to do one of their goofball experiments, like the one with the corn starch on the speaker. (Seriously, why?)

As I am getting into my car after clocking out, I feel my phone vibrate in my hoodie pocket and fish it out while I fumble with my keys. Glancing at the caller I.D., I drop my keys when I realize it's Mary Cooper.

Oh Boy.

"Hi, Mrs. Cooper!" I answer cheerily. Like her son, she wastes no time getting to the point.

"Hello Darlin'. Are you and Shelly livin' in sin?" I choke, reaching blindly at my feet for my keys and manage to hook them on my pinkie and get the car started a second later.

"Oh my God, no!" I assure her. "It's strictly platonic." I hear her sigh in relief while I maneuver out of the parking lot with one hand on the wheel.

"Well, that's a relief. Shelly sent me an email this afternoon, sayin': 'Mom, I'm writing to inform you that I've ended my relationship with Amy Farrah Fowler. Also, Penny and I are now living together. Love, your son, Dr. Sheldon Cooper.'" I shake my head, torn between laughter and utter frustration. He signs his emails to his mother 'Dr. Sheldon Cooper?'

"Oh good grief." I reply, stopping at a light and brushing my hair out of my face. "Leonard and I switched apartments…for a few reasons. But, it's helping me save money, so I'm not complaining."

"As long as you're bein' appropriate with each other." Mary agrees. It's a really good thing she can't see my face, because it's red.

"No worries, Mrs. Cooper. I hear you and your mother are coming out for a visit next month." I say, guiding our conversation toward a comfortable end.

"Yes…Momma is so tickled. She hasn't seen Shelly in over a year." Mary tells me. "But you kids don't need to worry. We'll be stayin' at a hotel. Momma's gettin' up there in age and she likes to have a place to stretch out."

"You know you guys are welcome to stay in the apartment." I insist, feeling bad that Sheldon's MeeMaw who he hasn't seen in over a year, has to stay at a hotel.

"Oh, we know, Sugar." Mrs. Cooper chuckles. "But Momma's all excited about the Continental Breakfast. She hasn't been on vacation since my Daddy died."

"How is Missy?" I ask, feeling better about it now.

"Oh, you know Missy." (I met the girl once.) "She's still workin' at the Fuddruckers. She's real active at the church though. The Pastor's son has taken a likin' to her."

"How…nice." I say with a swallow, thinking of Sheldon's gorgeous sister, who should be out here in California modeling and not hostessing at a burger joint. Then again, look what's happened to me.

"Well Penny. I gotta tell ya, I'm glad it's you he's livin' with…even if your shirts don't cover your bosoms." Mary goes on, managing to pull off the same blunt honesty as her son even if she's world away vocabulary-wise. "Lord knows, my baby ain't comfortable with many people, but he's always taken to you."

"That's because I don't take his crap." I laugh.

"I think you're right, Penny. Anywho…we'll see ya soon. Tell Shelly his MeeMaw is excited to see 'im in a couple weeks. Can you believe he's gonna be thirty-two?" Nope. Mostly because he dresses like he's five. Of course, I don't tell her that.

"Time flies." I tell her, turning onto my street. "Well, I'm just getting home from work, Mrs. Cooper. Should I have Sheldon call you?"

"Nah, he hates talkin' on the phone." Mary chuckles. "You take care, Penny." We hang up and I'm left as perplexed as I am when I talk to Sheldon. I fear the children Sheldon would produce. Little high vocabulary know-it-alls with the same mop of short brown hair and blue eyes. It's a horrifying thought, because they'd be absolutely adorable and then they'd open their mouths and take over the world. Like Stewie from Family Guy. Or the Olsen twins.

Okay, we're veering off here, Penelope.

Raj, Amy, Sheldon and Leonard are all gathered around an empty pizza box, debating something about a high energy cosmic ray. I kind of deflate at the sight. I'm starving. They all look up as I slump in and give a feeble wave. Leonard smiles back, looking better than he has since before the wedding. Amy is positively chattering Sheldon's ear off about some huge breakthrough she's had with Ricky, her smoking monkey.

"It's incredible." She's saying. "He's refusing cigarettes now. He's made a conscious decision to quit smoking. I can't figure it out, but I've tried offering him a different brand, I've tried cigars. He's had it with them."

"Remarkable." Sheldon agrees, grinning at her. It's almost like nothing's changed since last week for a second, until he looks up at me. "Penny, I made sure to save you some pizza if you're hungry. I took the liberty of putting it on a paper plate and wrapping it in aluminum foil. It's in the microwave." I feel a weird wave of gratitude wash over me, and have to suppress the urge to rush over and hug him. Sometimes, the big demented genius just surprises us at every turn. I give him a small, tired smile and nod.

"I'm just gonna…" I point to my bedroom and then indicate my clothing to tell them I'm going to put my sweats on.

"You never saved me any pizza." Leonard teases in mock horror.

"Penny has been working all night. It would be unfair if she did not nourish herself after being on her feet for the past seven hours." Sheldon rolls his eyes and shares a look with Amy.

"Need any help, Bestie?" She calls as I reach my door. I bite back a laugh and grip the doorknob.

"I'm good, Sweetie!" I return, disappearing into my bedroom and hearing their voices become a dull murmur through the walls. The memory of the bizarre scene from the night before returns as I look at my unmade bed. I am embarrassed in an instant. Sheldon probably saved me pizza because he thinks I'm mentally unstable and can't fend for myself now. I wonder if he's burned the pajamas that I basically cried all over last night. I'm sure the thought of Penny Snot on his precious Wednesday P.J.'s sent him into the contamination shower at Cal-Tech. It's almost hilarious.

I pull on a pair of blue sweatpants that say 'Juicy' on the butt and a pink camisole. I'm just going to leave my hair in the long braid from work. I'm too tired to deal with it right now. Trudging back out to where my friends are, I grab the perfectly wrapped plate in the microwave and swallow a sudden lump in my throat. It's kind of touching…my egomaniac of a roommate thinking of something other than himself. Then I realize, it's probably a bribe to keep me away from him after last night. Whatever. I don't care…I'm hungry. I squeeze in between Amy and Sheldon and ravenously devour my pizza, which is thankfully, still warm.

"Oh pepperoni, you are my friend." I sigh, picking one off and eating it.

"Rough day at work?" Leonard asks and I shake my head, trying not to remember.

"The worst." I nod, taking another luxurious bite of cheesy Heaven.

"Are you in need of comfort?" Amy asks, looking at me. Our shoulders are touching. "Do you want to rest your head on my breasts and talk about it while I stroke your hair?"

"No…" I pat her hand, giving her a resigned smile. "Thanks, though."

"Of course." She clasps her hands together. "Perhaps later, if you're still upset, we can wash each others' hair." I meet Leonard's eyes and bite the inside of my cheek to keep from giggling. I feel substantially better already.

"I'll keep it in mind, honey." I agree. Raj leans over to whisper something to Sheldon, who practically knocks my plate out of my hand trying to get away from him.

"Raj, I've told you before. I don't like your moist breath in my ear. It's the fastest way to transfer bacteria." Sheldon gives me a pointed look. "Need I remind you of Valentine's Day, two years ago?" Of course. When I'd ruined his chance to go see the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland and Raj got to take my romantic trip with Leonard while I ate soup on this very couch with Dr. Blockhead. "And no, I don't think Penny and Amy are going to take a shower together." He adds, shaking his head and flipping through the channels on T.V.

"Hey, I made it up to you. I took you to Disneyland." I remind him, finishing my second piece of pizza.

"Yes, I'll admit, that was extremely enjoyable. Mickey was just as nice in person as he seems in the cartoons." Sheldon smiles that childish grin and then frowns. "Of course, then dumb old Goofy had to come along and screw it all up." He folds his arms and I share a look of amusement with Leonard.

"Sweetie, he was just trying to get in the picture with you. He was being nice." I assure him, accepting the hand sanitizing wipe he offers me. Sheldon is still pouting.

"He wasn't asked to be in the picture with us. I was spending quality time with Mickey and he just strolled right in. Stupid dog wearing clothes. Pluto doesn't wear clothes…I don't see why Goofy does. And that dumb green hat?" He lets out a short exhale. Oh Good Lord.

"My God," Amy muses, staring at her former boyfriend. "You really are like a toddler, aren't you?" I snort, hiding my laughter as I get up to throw away my garbage.

"Raj, honey. Do you want a cocktail? I hate seeing you so quiet." I call from the counter. He nods enthusiastically and I feel a slow smile come over my face. I have a plan. I pull out a pitcher of "pre-mixed" margarita from the freezer and get him a glass. Within a few moments, he's chatting it up with everyone. I remain near the counter, still drinking my own while they all watch T.V.

"Did you hear that Cameron Diaz is dating P. Diddy now?" Raj is saying enthusiastically. "Apparently, she's jealous of J. Lo, and the two are in a diva feud." Sheldon stares at him blandly and shakes his head.

"What is wrong with you?" He hisses, standing and stalking to me, obviously with the intent of reprimanding me. "What did you taint his beverage with?"

"That's just it," I tell him conspiratorially. "It's a virgin margarita. It's a placebo experiment." I giggle quietly. Sheldon looks impressed.

"Interesting." Sheldon says. "He's just as obnoxious sober as he is intoxicated." He shakes his head, but smirks. "You are one deceptive woman, Penny."

"Hey, I'm just trying to keep things interesting and he's an easy target." I tell him dryly, raising my glass in a toast.

"Okay, experiment successful. Tell him the truth and shut him up now." Sheldon demands, watching as Raj starts to sing the theme song from Dirty Dancing.

"Okay, okay…" I say. "Hey Raj, honey?" Raj looks at me and I hold up my glass. "Congratulations, you've been drinking a virgin margarita. Isn't it nice to be sober and talk to us?" Raj stops singing immediately and stares at his cup as if it's betrayed him. Leonard and I laugh together while Sheldon once again gives Raj a disapproving look.

"I understand." Sheldon says, moving back to his spot. I ruffle Raj's hair as I pass by him and slink back into my spot between Amy and Sheldon. We finally decide on watching Back to the Future on cable when Amy's phone rings.

"That's odd. Mom usually doesn't call past seven-thirty. It's her bedtime." She explains, reading the caller I.D. and meeting my eyes. "Stuart Bloom."

"Huh. How 'bout that?" I utter, shrugging and shift my body so that I am sitting Indian style.

"Hello?" Amy answers. Raj looks slightly ill, Sheldon is staring at the T.V. and is blabbering on about how he doesn't understand why anyone would write their name into their underwear. "Hello Stuart. Yes, I'm well even though I'm still slightly bloated from my last menstrual cycle." I cringe. Too much, Amy. "Oh? Well, I'm free, but I am otherwise engaged on Friday night. Yes. You as well. Good night, Stuart." She hangs up and puts her cell phone back in her purse.

"Well, I think I'm gonna turn in." Leonard says, checking the time. "Sorry again about Halo Night, Sheldon." We all watch him leave and Sheldon doesn't seem to notice, immersed in Back to the Future.

"This movie is rife with scientific inaccuracies." He begins, and just as he is beginning his tirade about Einstein and wormholes and how string theory relates and I've checked out, because I just don't get it. "For instance, in order for them to go back to the future, one would have to be traveling at the speed of light, not eighty-eight miles per hour. And I suppose it's moot that backwards time travel cannot be explained. According to Hawking-" Amy stands up abruptly and we all turn to look at her.

"I have to go home. It is late." She announces strangely, before walking straight out of the apartment without another word. I stare at the door she just left through with my head tilted and then turn back to Raj and Sheldon.

"Good Lord." Sheldon sighs. "Not even in their mid-thirties and they're already turning in before nine o'clock?" I meet Raj's dark eyes and he seems to figure out what I'm thinking. He stands up and straightens his sweater vest. He points to himself and then the door.

"Oh, come on…you were talking for a while completely sober!" I remind him. He just shrugs and smiles, waving goodbye.

After the movie has ended, we both head to our bedrooms with a quick goodnight. I realize I forgot to give Sheldon his mother's message and head back out to the hallway to knock on his door. I have just raised my hand to knock, when I stop my fist in mid-air. There is a tie hanging from the doorknob. I stumble back from it and turn away as if I've seen what's behind that door.

A shower sounds nice. Yeah…loud running water sounds like a great idea. I waste no time getting in, and letting my thoughts get lost in the pure pleasure of warm water. It's just a quick shower to relax myself and I remember my strike from the night before when I left my towel on the floor. I make a mental note to make sure I don't do it again. That's when I realize I have no towel in the bathroom. The towels are in the linen closet. The linen closet is in the hallway. Uh oh.

Okay, well at least someone is having his private time now, so I can just sneak out to the closet and grab a towel, then disappear into my room. When I turn the water off, I manage to grab the decorative washcloth off of the towel rack, and creep toward the door, listening closely for any footsteps. Nothing. I open the door and tiptoe toward the linen closet across from Sheldon's bedroom. I manage to get the door open with hardly a creak, when I hear the door behind me open and whirl around to cover myself. Shrieking in surprise, I struggle to cover myself with a towel, while Sheldon immediately covers his eyes with his hands.

"What are you doing?" I wail, wrapping the green towel around myself and securing it.

"I was going to urinate." He explains, eyes twitching. After what he might have just been doing in his bedroom, I decide to make a run for it. This is even too much for me to deal with. It's not like Sheldon hasn't seen me without clothes on. That's not the issue. It's the fact that he may or may not masturbate and I'm not sure I'm okay with the fact that he may or may not have just done it and is now face to face with a naked women. I am also nearly certain that he has never been in the vicinity of a nude woman and I really am kind of afraid to see his reaction to it.

"It's safe to look." I tell him, shutting the linen closet. I wait for one second before rushing into my bedroom and shutting the door behind me. My heart is still racing when I hear the toilet flush and then the shutting of Sheldon's door next door to mine. I sigh in relief as I realize there was no clause for Indecent Exposure. Superhero powers, yes. But seeing each other naked…nope.

Sheldon is already gone for work when I wake up to get ready for my day shift. I'm not looking forward to it after yesterday, but I feel a little better, despite my awkward encounter with Sheldon last night. I'm halfway through my bowl of cereal when my phone begins to vibrate wildly. It's him.

"Hello?" I call into my phone, praying he doesn't bring up yesterday. He doesn't.

"Penny, it's Dr. Sheldon Cooper." He says quickly.

Yes Sheldon, we know you have a PhD.

"Hey, Sheldon!" I force myself to sound cheerful. "What's shakin'?"

"I have no interest in small talk, Penny." He insists. My morning smile is now a scowl.

"What do you want, Moonpie? I'm kinda busy. I have to work in—"

"I know that. I…" He pauses. "I forgot my wallet." He admits and I crack up. Sheldon Cooper, one of the most brilliant minds in the world forgot his wallet. Eidetic memory Sheldon Cooper. "You have to bring it to me." He adds, all business. I make a noise of protest.

"Um, no…I have to be to work in thirty minutes." I remind him. "You don't drive. Have Leonard spot you for lunch." I begin to say goodbye, when he calls my name again.

"No. I cannot function without my wallet." He says and I really shouldn't be surprised.

"This is a strike." I tell him in mock disapproval. "You know, the part about you inconveniencing me and affecting my work."

"We'll call it a draw and set the board back at zero." He counters quickly and I consider this with a shrug. What the hell do I care? I'm not actually going to make Sheldon attend a seminar.

"Yeah, okay." I nod. "Where is it?" I can hear him take a slow breath.

"In my bedroom. In the drawer of my night stand." He explains. "Do not touch anything else in the room." With a yawn, I walk to his bedroom and cross to his night table. I've been in his room before. I mean, never in an extended period of time, but I know it's full of comic books, Star Wars sheets and more plaid clothing than the Scottish would know what to do with.

"Okay. I'll be there in fifteen. Sheldon, meet me outside your building. You owe me." I add.

"What do you want?" He asks, sounding tired.

"I want to have a girls' night at the apartment." I state, almost hearing the frown in his face. It makes me grin. "And I want you to teach me how to waltz."

"Penny, I don't think—"

"Well, you know…I don't think I'll have enough time to swing by before work." I warn, and I hear him breathe in frustration. I know I've won.

"Very well. I will teach you how to waltz. But in private. And as long as you promise never to tell anyone."

"Deal." I agree, and we hang up. I pull his drawer open and see the wallet right away. The Justice League Membership card gives that away immediately. I pocket the wallet when I see something sparkling from further in the drawer. That's weird. This drawer looks mostly empty. Of course, curiosity gets the better of me and I reach in.

When I bring my hand back, I'm holding an orange Penny Blossom.

 

 

Chapter Text

Saturday starts off with a bang. Literally.

Knock, knock, knock.

"Penny." Son. Of. A. Bitch. I roll over to check the clock. 7:30 A.M. On a Saturday.

Knock, knock, knock.

"Penny." I swear to Jesus, I'm going to murder him as I throw the covers off and storm toward the door.

Knock, knock, knock.

"Penny." Throwing the door open, I grab the collar of his T-Shirt and roughly pull him toward me, giving him my most (hopefully) terrifying look.

"Do you have any idea what time it is, Sheldon?" I hiss, making him flinch. Even he knows better than to wake me up before eleven on a Saturday.

"Yes. And I realize it's a Saturday, so I'm going to make this brief." He tells me, trying to pry my fingers off of his clothing. When I let go, he tumbles back a little. "I witnessed Leonard coming home in the same clothes he was wearing last night."

"Huh?" I stare at him, uncomprehending, through bleary eyes.

"He left the restaurant before we did last night. Why is he getting home at five int he morning?" He's looking at me as if he's afraid I might burst into flames."I passed him on my way down for my morning run."

"Your morning run?" I shake my head, trying to find a coherent thought. "Who are you? And don't you watch Doctor Who on Saturday mornings?"

"Yes. I left at five." Sheldon gives me an impatient look. "You're avoiding my query. Why would Leonard be getting home this morning?"

"Oh, Sweetie." I mutter, patting his arm just a bit harder than necessary. Mostly because he's woke me up at seven-thirty on a Saturday to gossip. "All right. You win. I'm up." I point toward the kitchen with a jerk of my finger. "Coffee, Sheldon." He's gone in a flash while I stare longingly back in my bed, which has no doubt already grown cold. Okay, breakfast it is. I'll figure out a way to elbow the big doofus in the gut when he's least expecting it.

He's rewarding himself with Honey Puffs today while I am content with just a hot cup of coffee which he's already placed at the counter beside his stool. The weirdest sense of déjà vu makes me shake my head, but I take it with gratitude, pouring milk into it. Sheldon sits beside me and starts eating while I stare blindly out the window of our apartment from across the room.

"I have a proposition for you." Sheldon says, breaking the silence. I nearly spit out my coffee and make a sound of surprise.

"Are you kidding?" I choke.

"No." His voice is very serious. "You expressed an interest in learning how to waltz. I was merely going to examine the possibility of starting your lessons today." He is eyeing me, puzzled. "What did you think I was going to ask?"

"Sweetie, usually when someone makes a proposition, they're referring to sex. It just threw me off." I explain, rubbing my eyes.

"Oh." Sheldon seems to consider his for a moment. "No. That wasn't what I was talking about."

"I know." I mutter.

"Is that an acceptable proposal?" He urges, watching me expectantly. I nod, gripping my coffee mug in both hands. "Are you in possession of a pair of dance shoes?"

"Uh, I can't just wear heels?" I furrow my brows at him. He looks absolutely affronted.

"Penny." And, here we go. "This is a Viennese Waltz. You can't go gambling about in a pair of stilettos." He lets out a little puff of air and shakes his head, taking his bowl to the sink, and suddenly his Texas is coming through clear as day. "Why don't we just go barefoot and stomp through the woods like pagan savages?" He stands before me with an eyebrow quirked and gives me half a smile. "Sarcasm."

"Got it." I bite back, feeling my hand itch with the need to punch him in the throat. "I have character shoes. Is that acceptable for you?"

"If you're referring to the heeled mary-jane shoe that is often used in musical theatre and various forms of ballroom dancing, then yes." He moves away from me. "I'm going to take a shower. I suggest you wear something comfortable." Then he's gone and I'm left remembering the good old days a week ago when I had my own apartment with my own shower and no goofball roommate.

Thirty minutes later, I'm standing in the middle of our living room wearing black leggings and a flared pink skirt. I've been to enough dance classes that I know what to wear. My black character shoes haven't been worn since I played Anne Frank, so my feet are already starting to protest.

I'm studying the DVD case of one of Sheldon's collective Star Trek box sets when I hear him come out of him room. Glancing at the clock, I realize it's still only eight-thirty in the morning.

Balls.

I turn to say something and immediately forget what I was going to fire at him, because it's Sheldon standing there, but he doesn't look like Sheldon Cooper. He looks like…a guy. He's wearing his black shirt and tie along with his new dress pants and shoes. His hair is still somewhat messy from his recent shower.

"During Cotillion, we were required to wear a full suit at all times. A proper young man is always immaculately dressed and mannered." He recites. My earlier irritation is replaced with a surprised grin.

"It's kind of hot." I tease him and he gives me a frown.

"Yes it can be. Wearing all black in Texas and trying to ballroom dance with your sister is no picnic, let me tell you." I roll my eyes. He doesn't know what I mean. It's probably for the best. Silently, we move the furniture out of the way to make a temporary dance area. I walk toward him while he sets up his IPod on the speaker dock. He turns to me, now all business.

"Did you wash your hands?" He interrogates. I let out a long sigh.

"Yes, Sheldon."

"Are you currently experiencing any symptoms of the flu or the common cold?" At my glare, he nods. "Alright. Let's begin. The Viennese Waltz is one of two waltzes that are made up of the three four time signature." He hits the play button on his remote and sets it aside. Waltz music fills the room. "First we bow."

"Delightful." I answer, staring at him and dropping a half assed curtsey. He gives me a look of disapproval. Biting my cheek I do it again, this time slower.

"Place your hand on my shoulder." He instructs as I put my right hand on his shoulder and, to his credit, he only winces for a second. He's come a long way in four years. He gingerly picks up my free hand and positions it correctly in his. "Start back with your right foot and follow my lead." We start off slow, and he counts, "One, two, three. One, two three." I watch his feet carefully and yelp when I trip over myself. "This part is called the cross turn." He explains pulls me back to the starting position. "And, starting over. Keep your shoulders down. One, two, three…" He sighs when I fumble again as he tries to teach another turn. I almost feel as dumb as I did when he attempted to teach me physics a couple years ago, but I refuse to give up. I'm going to learn some classy dancing if it kills me. (Even if I have to learn it from a six year old trapped in a thirty-two year old man's body.)

"Again." Sheldon tells me, gesturing with his hand and guiding my shoulders down. I watch his feet again as we start to go around and am startled when I feel his index finger crook under my chin. "Don't watch your feet. It breaks the flow of the steps and will make you lose your focus on the timing. The key is to keep turning and stay on your toes. Try again." I swallow a retort, and feel myself looking down again.

"Penny, look up." Sheldon says. "Or you're going to collapse the both of us and frankly, I just showered."

"I'm afraid I'm going to step on your foot." I admit, biting my lip.

"Well don't." He responds, making me bristle with frustration. I'm sorry my parents weren't classy enough to send me to fancy ballroom and etiquette lessons as a kid. I was too busy learning how to fix a tractor and stay out of my mother's way. "Look at me." For some reason, I'm afraid, but I do as he tells me and swallow my pride. "And…one, two, three…" Once I get the feet working right, the turns become easy and the music makes sense. For someone who is so gangly and awkward, Dr. Whack-A-Doodle is really light on his feet. Then he shocks me even further by pulling closer and turning us quickly a couple of times. That's when I notice he's kind of smiling.

Sheldon likes dancing, the little shit.

I saw it before, when he was dancing with Amy last year. And I see it again.

"You are such a little liar." I tell him when the music stops and we pull apart. He looks at me with panic plain on his face.

"I don't lie, Penny." He tells me soberly and I wave my finger at him.

"Oh really? 'Penny, while I subscribe to the many worlds theory, I can assure you that in none of them am I dancing.'" I mimic him, tilting my head. "Liar." His eyes widen like a deer in the headlights as if he's been caught with his hand in the cookie jar.

"I…" He doesn't say anything.

"Sheldon, I'm kidding with you." I insist, reaching up to ruffle his hair. Hey, if we're on a touching basis here, I'm gonna mess with the boy a little. "You wanna go again?"

"Your grammar is appalling." Sheldon snips stubbornly as he tries to smooth his hair down, making me laugh again.

"Whatevs." I beam at him. "Put on another song, MoonPie." Giving me a scathing glance, he presses the remote and a waltz I immediately recognize floats through the room.

"The Blue Danube." I sigh, feeling that odd fluttery stuff in my stomach again. I try to pull him by the sleeve, but he wrenches his arm away and gives me a reprimanding look.

"Penny, you have to bow." He tells me and I can't help it, I smile at the Whacko. What the hell? We both bow and begin to dance again and by the time we're spinning again, we're both out of breath and even Sheldon looks like he wants to laugh, but he doesn't. He still remains completely Sheldon. A knock at the door makes us both halt and pull apart.

He's across the room in three steps while I take a long drink of water and attempt to dry myself. This is a better workout than jogging. A moment later, Leonard is standing inside looking around as if we've both lost our minds.

"Should I even ask?" He says dryly.

"Probably not." I agree, grinning at him. Sheldon, crosses to the fridge and pulls out a bottle of water. He gives me a look of warning. We agreed to keep this between us, so I improvise. "I'm uh…auditioning for a musical and was practicing a dance routine."

"Why is Sheldon wearing dress clothes?" Leonard asks in disbelief.

"He was…standing in for me. It was so I could visualize the character in formal wear."

"What are you auditioning for?" He looks from me to Sheldon and back again. I can tell he's calling bullshit on us.

"Phantom of the Opera." I answer so quickly, even I don't believe it.

"You're going to audition for Phantom of the Opera?" Leonard asks me while Sheldon starts doing that weird thing where his face twitches when he knows he's being involved in a lie.

"I've done musicals before, Leonard. I was in Rent." I remind him and I see him cringe slightly at the memory. Okay, so I wasn't the best singer back then, but I've taken some lessons since then. I'm not Phantom of the Opera material, but I can hold my own.

"I was teaching Penny how to do the Viennese Waltz." Sheldon blurts, looking wildly between us and I smack my palm to my forehead. Leonard chuckles and meets my eyes.

"Seriously, what were you guys doing?" He asks, ignoring Sheldon's confession. I fold my arms and look at him.

"Sheldon was teaching me the Viennese Waltz." I repeat shortly, moving past him.

"Since when does Sheldon waltz?" Leonard asks skeptically.

"Since when do you contribute anything useful to physics?" Sheldon fires back acidly. I inwardly groan. Are we about to go into a nerd bitching match here?

"Okay guys…that's enough." I say. "And for your info, Leonard, Sheldon is a great dancer."

"You're serious." Leonard exclaims.

"Why the hell would we make that up?" I challenge, taking another drink of water.

Leonard starts to say something, but then shakes his head. "No, I guess you're right."

"Where were you coming home from so early this morning, slut?" I add, poking Leonard in his ribs and grinning at him. He turns red immediately.

"I went to the university last night and just stayed overnight. I was working." He lied. I crack a smirk at him. Sheldon has already disappeared into his bedroom, no doubt to change into normal clothing. I bend down to remove my shoes.

"What did you come over for?" I ask, moving toward the kitchen barefoot.

"Oh, I heard music and was wondering if Sheldon finally lost his mind." He shrugs. "I wasn't really wrong."

"Howard and Bernadette are getting home later. I was thinking, we should all go out to dinner tonight and like, celebrate or something." I inform him, motioning for him to help me move the furniture back to normal.

"Oh, I can't tonight…" He replies quickly.

"Leonard, I know you still feel awkward about what happened last weekend, but you've kind of been avoiding us all week. Raj and I noticed on Pizza Night when you and Amy left at the same time." I give him a meaningful look of question. "Are you and Amy seeing each other?"

"God, Penny. I don't know…yeah?" He runs a hand through his hair and fixes his glasses. "Please don't tell Sheldon. She's just…she's different than I thought – you know – before ." His voice is quiet. "We're trying to take things slow now. And keep it to ourselves for a while. Can you just…keep it between us?"

"Yes." I agree, lowering my voice further and pulling him by the scruff of his collar and looking down into his face. "But if you hurt her, so help me God, I'll beat the shit out of you." I kiss him on the forehead and give him a smile as our favorite lunatic re-enters the room and eyes his spot longingly. "I heard about Priya. I'm sorry." Leonard shakes his head.

"I'm not. And I would never say this in front of Raj, but I'm better off." He tells me. I nod, patting his cheek.

"Agreed. I'm gonna shower." Sheldon shushes me from the couch and I leave the two guys to talk as I head toward the shower.

"Penny?" Sheldon calls after me.

"Huh?"

"Don't forget your towel!" He reminds me. I feel myself turn completely red. Eidetic memory. Wonderful.

Lucky me gets called into work that night when our bartender gets sick and calls in, but at least it's Saturday night and the tips are pretty good. I'm just glad I don't have to work with food tonight. I'm mixing someone a gin and tonic when I hear my name being called. I look up to find Bernadette and Howard sitting at the bar and brighten up instantly. (Not about Howard.)

"You're home!" I cry excitedly. "How was Hawaii?"

"The first day was fun, until Howie forgot to put sunscreen on and ended up blistering." I notice Howard's face is red and blotchy and peeling.

"Ugh. Tough break." I pour him a shot of Cabo Wabo. "Here. On me."

"Why, thank you, milady." He grins rakishly and I scowl at him.

"Behave." Bernadette tells him, turning back to me. "So how did you end up switching places with Leonard?"

"Oh yeah…" Howard interjects. "I forgot. You and Sheldon are shacking up!"

"We are not 'shacking up,' you perv! I was having trouble paying bills, so I switched with Leonard." I glare at him. "And there is no clause about private time." I add, recalling his text from earlier in the week.

"Well there should be." Howard tells me, looking slightly nauseated. "I don't know what goes on behind that door of Sheldon's, but I can tell you it ain't pretty."

"That's gross." I mutter, turning to help someone else.

"So is it true about Amy and Leonard hooking up after the wedding?" Bernadette inquires when I come back to make her a Cosmo.

"Yep." I reply, popping the 'P.' "That's another reason Leonard and I switched. He violated his own amendment to the Roommate Agreement."

"Oh yeah…" Howard chuckles. "The one about going after the other guy's girlfriend. I told him that would come back to bite him in the ass."

"Poor Amy!" Bernadette says, ignoring her husband's idiotic joking.

"What did I say? Sheldon's patented blend of condescension and no sex isn't enough to hold onto a woman. The poor girl probably offered it up with a bow when Leonard gave her attention." I never ceased to amaze me how crass and ridiculous he could be, but he was sort of right. Poor Amy.

"Well, whatever. It's over now." I pour beer for someone and cash someone else out. I'm feeling a little bit protective of Sheldon today after he taught me how to do the Viennese Waltz. Speaking of that, Bernadette would get a huge kick out of it, but I'm not going to tell her. I promised I wouldn't tell anyone even though the big dummy blabbed to Leonard.

"So, did your sister have a good time?" I ask her casually, deciding to change the subject.

"Oh, Bridget loved it here! She's thinking about relocating here permanently again."

"What does she do?" I ask, pulling out the maraschino cherries and plopping one into a drink.

"She teaches sixth grade science." Bernadette giggles. "We were both always into the sciency stuff! I liked biology, and she was always fascinated by space. We used to have a complete rotating model of the solar system on the ceiling in our room with glow in the dark stars."

"That's so cute." I agree, giving Howard a beer. "So, how's your mother taking you not living at home anymore?"

"Actually," Bernadette starts, "We've decided to move into her house. Poor Mrs. Wolowitz couldn't make it a week on her own. Howard's aunt had to come stay with her."

"She's round." Howard explains, cringing. "She can't bend down to zip up her housecoat…or put her shoes on…or bathe—"

"Okay, we get it." I cut him off quickly. I have no desire to hear Howard talk about his mother's weeping sores or possibly cancerous mole.

"She's actually been in a terrible mood." Howard says, looking a little pale beneath his sun blisters. "My father sent a card for the wedding."

"Oh geez." I say, wincing. I know that Howard's father abandoned him when he was eleven, so this must be hard for them. Even though Howard was more than slightly creepy and handsy almost all of the time, I know deep down, he has a good heart.

"Yeah. Apparently, he has this whole other family now. I have a half-brother who is eighteen and a stepmother. He wants Bernadette and I to come visit."

"Holy crap. Are you gonna?" I ask, meeting eyes with Bernadette, who is shaking her head.

"I don't think he should. You don't owe that man anything, Howie." She insists. Howard nods.

"I know…but I kind of want to meet my brother. I mean, I was an only child growing up. You know?"

"I have a brother and a sister. Trust me…it's not all it's cracked up to be." I quip, moving to take another drink order.

"Well, we need to get back. Mrs. Wolowitz needs help getting into bed." Bernadette says and Howard sighs, making another face.

"Welcome home!" He groans sarcastically. We say a quick goodbye and then they're gone.

To my surprise, Sheldon is still awake when I get home at midnight. He's at his whiteboard and is poring over a bunch of letters and numbers and equations that I definitely do not understand.

"Hey, Sheldon. I brought home some cheesecake." I hold up the bag and he nods, but does not turn toward me or say anything. I put the cheesecake away and move over to where he's standing. "Something got you stuck again, MoonPie?"

"Penny, don't call me MoonPie." He retorts, but the normal fire isn't in his voice. He sounds exhausted.

"You okay?" I reach out to touch his arm, which he pulls away immediately, as usual.

"Yes. I'm okay." He says, not really answering my question. I hate when he does that. I watch as he makes some quick markings and erases another grouping of numbers."My sister called me this evening to inform me that she is marrying the son of my mother's pastor."

"And that's…bad?" I ask cautiously.

"Well, it means that Missy has officially converted to our mother's hokum evangelical beliefs. It means that when I visit Texas, I'm going to have to hear both of them talk about trying to save every heathen." He continues to scribble madly on the whiteboard, and I'm not even sure that he's writing existing equations anymore. Sighing, I reach out and grab his wrist, stopping him.

"Sheldon honey, stop." I plead, and he turns to look at me finally. "It's late. You need to go to sleep." His eyes fall to my hand on his wrist. "Come on." I say, pulling him by the arm toward his room.

"Penny you can't be in my bedroom." He protests.

"Sheldon, shut up." I command, throwing his bedroom door open and marching to his dresser to find his pajamas.

"Penny, people can't be in my bedroom." He says again, and I spin around and stand on my tiptoes, placing my hands on either side of his face.

"Then pull it together!" I warn him, patting his cheek, which is scratchy. I would smirk at the discovery that Sheldon has a night beard, but he still looks slightly deranged. "Okay, good night!" I call as I'm rushing out the door and closing it behind me.

Once in my bedroom, I flop onto my bed and close my eyes, exhausted. I decide that if Sheldon is still acting bat crap crazy in the morning, I'll call his mother to come early. Maybe I'll make French Toast. I don't know.

Knock, knock, knock.

"Penny." Oh, here we go.

Knock, knock, knock.

"Penny."

Knock, knock, knock.

"Penny."

I open the door to see Sheldon still dressed in his normal clothes. He still has that crazy look in his eyes with dark circles beneath them. He's holding out his arm and I realize he's holding the orange Penny Blossom from his drawer.

"Trying out a new hair accessory?" I ask, eyeing him dubiously.

"No." His voice is deep again. He's tired. "You went in my drawer."

"To get your wallet and bring it to you." I remind him.

"I can explain." He says and I shake my head.

"I don't care, honey. You're entitled to have privacy in your life. I'm not going to go snooping through your room." I close his hand over the Penny Blossom. "Go to bed, Sheldon. Sleep." Next time I have to work late, I'm hiring him a sitter.

"Penny."

"Sheldon?" I yawn. He doesn't say anything else, but he awkwardly reaches out and pats my shoulder before turning and walking away. I wipe my face, shaking my head and chuckle to myself.

"Good night, Sweetie!" I call after him before I hear his door close. Oh, what the hell? Maybe a glass of wine before bed isn't such a bad idea.

Chapter Text

When I wake up on Sunday, the apartment is silent. It freaks me out a little, like that dream I had when everything was gone and I was my mom. I creep out of the bed and look in my mirror.

Just Penny.

It's almost 10:00A.M., so I'm sure Sheldon is already up, but I'm wrong. I tiptoe out into the hallway and notice everything is still turned off. His abandoned whiteboard is still in the same place as last night and is still full of scribbles and numbers and letters. I'm just about to go use the bathroom, when I see something written in Dr. Man-Child's scrawl in the corner in blue ink. Just one word.

Penny?

Penny? What the hell does that mean? What did I do now? I've been overly careful of making a mess. I've cleaned everything down with freaking disinfectant. I gave him my rent money already when I got paid on Friday. It hasn't even been a week. Maybe it's a cry for help. He did look pretty lost last night. So I pick up the red marker and write underneath.

Sheldon?

I grin to myself and walk over to the fridge. I have to admit, even though Sheldon is crazy and keeps an inventory of our groceries, it is nice to always have food in the house instead of leftover takeout that may or may not have mold on it. Speaking of, today is Grocery Day, so I might as well make the most of it and do something nice for the poor whacko.

I get out the butter, eggs, and the bread and get to work. Fifteen minutes later, I am setting out a plate full of French Toast since, I've recently learned, that Sunday is French Toast day.

"What are you doing?" I hear from behind me. I do not even turn to face him.

"Good morning, Sheldon!" I sing cheerfully, turning toward him and placing the bacon I've made beside the other plate. "It's French Toast day per Section six: Food." He looks like he's not sure what day it is. His night beard is still there, creating a light shadow on the curve of his jaw. He doesn't look like a six year old anymore. Huh. "Did you sleep okay, Sweetie?" I ask, using a spatula and making him a plate.

"It's nearly ten in the morning!" He chirps, blearily taking his plate and sitting at the counter. "Penny, you let me sleep half the day away. My Circadian rhythm is going to be thrown off track."

"I'm sure one day of sleeping in is not going to kill you." I insist, pouring myself a cup of coffee and him a cup of orange juice.

"I beg to differ. Numerous sleep studies have proven than lack of sleep can substantially—"

"Sheldon, hush." I cut him off, using my fingers as a model for him to close it. He glares at me, but does as he's told and begins to pick at his food. "We need to make a shopping list."

"I've already made one for the week with the inventory checklist I have." He explains, sounding more normal than he has since yesterday. He still looks a little like he escaped a mental hospital, but at least he's speaking Sheldon again. "This French Toast is quite good, Penny. Not as good as Meemaw's though. She makes it with cream and puts cinnamon sugar on top." I have to fight myself not to retort, but I don't really think he's insulting me. I think he just loves his grandmother. After five days of living with him, he's getting easier to read. Let's see if we make it a year.

"Hmm," I say with every ounce of patience I possess, "I'll have to try that." This seems to please the big, loveable dope and he gingerly continues to pick at his breakfast. There is a knock at the door and I hop up to grab it, knowing full well it's probably Leonard. I'm right.

"Do you guys have coffee?" He asks, raising an eyebrow at the sight of an unshaven Sheldon devouring his French Toast.

"Yeah." I giggle. "Bet you never thought you would be coming to my apartment for coffee!" I tell him, sitting beside Sheldon while Leonard grabs a mug.

"I just ran out." Leonard grumbles, pouring himself a glass. "No waltzing this morning?"

"Nah, we slept in today." I reply with a wave of my hand, attempting to steal a piece of bacon off of Sheldon's plate. He gives me a death glare and I smirk.

Nothing's changed.

"I ran into Leslie Winkle last night." Leonard says, sitting at the counter. It feels just like old times…except I'm not sleeping with him anymore. "She's pregnant."

"Ugh!" Sheldon and I both say at the same time before sharing a look of surprise.

"With who?" I exclaim, trying not to laugh.

"Some poor, unsuspecting man who she's no doubt hoodwinked into thinking that her work is valid." Sheldon mutters, spearing his last piece of bread with his fork. "Although, who would partake in coitus with that harpy one can only imagine. You don't suppose she's hermaphroditic, do you?"

"Huh, wha—?" I say, staring at him with my mouth hanging open.

"No, she's not hermaphroditic, Sheldon." Leonard sighs, shaking his head. "She said that she and the father have agreed not to tell anyone about their relationship."

"Well, I still maintain that the day she left the university was a cause for celebration." Sheldon says acidly, wiping his mouth with his napkin and moving swiftly to clean his dish. "I'm going to take my shower time now, Penny. I realize it's later than usual—"

"Go for it, honey." I wave for him to go ahead. "You should leave the scruff though!" I tease. "The girls'll be all up on that."

"Up on what?" He looks mildly confused. "My jaw?" I just shrug and give him a look.

"She means girls will find you attractive." Leonard explains, unable to hold back his amusement.

"Oh." Sheldon frowns. "Why would a woman find a man with unshaven facial hair attractive?"

"Girls like to see a guy with a little edge." I tell him, praying he catches my drift. "You know…a little scruff, an earring, a tattoo…jeans."

"I promised my mother I wouldn't get a tattoo." Sheldon tells us quickly. "And I can't imagine I would want an earring."

"And you don't own a pair of jeans." I add, snickering. He looks offended for a moment.

"I own jeans." He argues, looking like a stubborn little boy again. "Missy always sends me these awful designer jeans for our birthday. I don't understand why."

"Because they're fashionable?" I offer. "Prove it, MoonPie. Why don't you wear them today?"

"Alright." Sheldon replies while Leonard looks between us, near laughter. "I'll prove to you how ridiculous my sister's sense of fashion is."

"He's so going to lose." I tell Leonard, clicking our coffee glasses together. He is staring at me with an odd expression on his face. "What?" I say, suddenly self conscious.

"Something's up." He's studying me with that scientist look on his face and I don't like it.

"What do you mean?" I demand to know.

"I don't know…but it is. You guys are different than you were a week ago." Leonard points out.

"Well yeah. Living with someone does that to a person. I can either accept the crazy or deny it. I might as well accept it, 'cause it ain't goin' nowhere." I shrug. Leonard's eyes flicker over the whiteboard, but he doesn't say anything about it.

"I want to have a girls’ night this week." I inform him. He tilts his head.

"Um, thanks…but I'm all tied up." He's joking, but he sounds lost. I smack him in the shoulder.

"No, dummy…I'm talking about Amy. You're gonna have to give her up for a night. You gotta share." I grin at him with a wink and touch his nose. He turns completely red.

"Shh…you know Sheldon and his Vulcan hearing." He whispers.

"He's in the shower, Leonard." I protest. "Mrs. Cooper and his MeeMaw are coming up for his birthday." I add. "I was thinking we should do something for him. Like a dinner with just us, Amy, Raj, Howard and Bernadette. That way we can all meet his grandmother."

"I don't know if he'll go for it." Leonard muses doubtfully.

"I'll put some feelers out when Mrs. Cooper comes in a couple weeks. Just keep it in mind, okay?" I plead. He nods.

"Great. Do you guys want to hang out later?" I ask. I realize I haven't hung out with Amy at all really all week except for Pizza Night, when she and Leonard bailed early. I'll say this for the girl: she isn't wasting time. And she shouldn't. She's just realized she's young and attractive.

"So are you going to tell me what happened with you guys? When did you realize you liked Amy?"

"When she laughed." Leonard says, looking a little embarrassed. "I'd never heard her laugh before. She was really upset about Sheldon and their Relationship Agreement. I tried to make her feel better, so I told her about the time Sheldon got drunk and took his pants off. And she laughed." He shrugs. "She has a great laugh. And smile."

"Yeah, remind me to thank Raj and Howard for finding her one day." I agree, unable to keep a small smile off my face. Maybe they're not in love yet. (It's only been a week. Even for Leonard, that's too soon.) It's a start, though. I kiss his cheek and say goodbye to him before I disappear into my room and put on a pair of jeans and a shirt/vest combo that I love. I've just gotten the tangles out of my hair, when I hear the door to the bathroom open and the door to Sheldon's room open and close.

I slip into the still steamy bathroom to brush my teeth (staying behind the designated tape line of O.C.D.), and put on a little bit of makeup. He's still in his bedroom when I'm done, so I slump onto the couch and flip through bad Sunday T.V. Nearly twenty more minutes passes before I finally hear his door and footsteps.

"This is absurd. I look like a hoodlum." I hear him complain. Forcing myself not to chortle, I turn toward him expectantly.

All thoughts of laughter are gone. It's not funny. It's the farthest thing from funny I've ever seen. He's wearing the jeans as promised. Thank God his sister knows how to shop. They're dark jeans with that pre-faded look. He's wearing a pair of dress shoes with them and a brown long sleeved shirt that has buttons at the top, which are unbuttoned. NO SUPERHERO SHIRT! And, for the love of Nebraska, he still hasn't shaved.

"I know." He tells me, folding his arms. "Just like I told you. Missy has ridiculous tastes." Wait, he thinks I'm agreeing with him?

"Holy crap on a cracker, Sheldon!" I blurt. "Look at yourself!"

"I have." He shakes his head. "I look absolutely absurd. Now," He wrings his hands nervously, "I'm going to go change and we can—"

"God, Sheldon!" I cross the room and study him closer. "You look great!" Okay, so I'm kind of circling him like a vulture. Sue me. The guy looks good! "Just one thing." He stares at me quizzically as I reach up and tousle his hair. A shriek of protest tumbles out of his mouth. I motion for him to follow me into my bedroom and shove him in front of my full length mirror.

"Penny!" He whines as I stand next to him and point at the mirror.

"God damnit, Sheldon, look at yourself!" I'm kind of irritated with him because he doesn't even know he's hot. His eyes widen.

"You shouldn't curse like that—"

"Look!" I screech, pointing my finger and using my other hand to turn his face to his reflection. He still looks unimpressed.

"So what?" He asks, shrugging.

"Bear with me, honey." I tell him and smirk. I have an idea. "Sheldon, would you be willing to assist me in a little experiment?"

"What sort of experiment?" He crosses his arms and stares down at me.

"Go grocery shopping with me dressed like that. I want to watch how women react." I tell him slyly. "If you don't get one reaction, then you're right and I'm wrong and I'll never bring up those jeans again."

"Interesting…" Sheldon murmurs, thinking about it.

"But if I'm right…" I pause and tap my finger against my chin. "You have to dress that way for a week." His eyes widen.

"Penny!"

"With the scruff." I add, for good measure. He looks as if I've just asked him to walk around town naked.

"No." His voice is firm, stubborn as usual.

"Why? Are you afraid you'll be wrong?" I challenge. I know he won't be able to resist. The possibility of being proven wrong by an intellectual invalid such as me is too tempting for him.

"Challenge accepted." He agrees, walking past me. My eyes fall to the back pockets of his jeans, which probably fit tighter than they should, what with his new muscles, but who's complaining? God, I'm going to Hell in a hand basket. Who wants to join me?

I've already won thirty seconds into the store. Sheldon is bent over, doing his usual examination of apples, making sure there are no dents or spots or whatever it is he checks for. I don't know, I don't care. A girl around my age saunters up to him while he's hunched over and flirtatiously introduces herself as Rachel. I have to bite my lip to keep from laughing like a demented hyena. He gives her an odd look.

"I'm sorry to bother you, but I can't reach the top shelf over by the vegetables and I need to get a couple of peppers. Could you help me?" She stands with her chest out and toys with her hair.

"Well, my mother taught me that I am never to refuse a lady who needs help." He replies. The girl takes this as flirting and lets out the most obnoxious giggle I've ever heard. I smother my own snort of amusement in my hand. Sheldon easily plucks a couple of the peppers off the shelf for the girl and starts back toward the apples.

"Hey, wait!" She follows him and I am now eating grapes straight off the display as I watch this unfold. This is too much. I'm dying here. He stops and looks back at her warily as if he's afraid she's going to molest him. I notice the way she eyes him up and down and roll my eyes. Yep…these are the kinds of girls I used to hang out with. "My friends are having a party tonight…" She twirls her hair and gives him a huge smile, biting her lip provocatively. I notice she's wearing fake eyelashes. Ew. "It's not like a big deal or anything, but you should stop by." Sheldon looks like he wants to argue, but she doesn't give him a chance, pulling a pen out of her purse. I choke on my grape as she grabs his hand and writes her freaking number on his palm. (Oh, this is classic.) She gives him one last sultry 'I'm a total slut and you can do whatever to me' look before walking away while Sheldon stares at his hand as if she's just exposed him to some kind of disease.

I have the Purell out of my purse in an instant and hand it over without a word. I'm still chomping on my grapes. He looks helplessly at me and I give him a look of triumph.

"I win." I thump him on the back and take control of our cart. "A number constitutes attraction. Less than a minute…" I whistle. "You should go to that party."

"Why would I desire to go to a party?" He asks me, "I have no interest in that sort of frivolous behavior. I am on the path to earning the Nobel—"

"And what happens once you get your Nobel Prize? You realize you're middle aged, balding and alone and you have no one but your prize to talk to?" I know this is heading into deep waters, but the boy needs a reality check. "Honey, I'm not saying a Nobel Prize isn't an amazing achievement…but what good is it if you have no one to share it with? You need someone who's going to cheer you on and root for you."

"I've never considered that aspect of it." He admits contemplatively. "However, I could never share a Nobel Prize with that sort of girl." He shakes his head disapprovingly, looking at the spot where she had just stood. "Penny, she had synthetic eyelashes on." I laugh out loud.

"I'm just saying, keep your options open. I know it didn't work out with Amy, but there's a whole world of women out there. Don't rule it out." Of course, I pity the poor woman who ends up with Sheldon. She'd be subjected to drug tests, S.T.D. tests, health tests…he'd probably make her take a friggin' I.Q. test. He's still talking.

"She's probable addled with any number of infectious bacterium."

"Honey, just putting this out there, people have been having sex since the beginning of time, and they're doin' okay."

"Penny, there is no 'beginning of time.' Unless of course, you're referring to the Big Bang, which would then indicate—"

"We're veering off course here, Sweetie." I mutter dryly. "I'm not saying you're wrong. I'm just asking you to maybe consider that I could be right too. And, life could be worth sharing with another person if you found the right person. You've said it yourself that you've been attracted to women."

"Well, of course I've been attracted to women. Even if I am a scientist, I am still a man. I'm not blind. And I can't prevent myself from having hormonal urges, even if I'd prefer to not have them." I'm staring at him dumbly, trying to process the fact that Sheldon Cooper just admitted to being a man, much less one with sexual urges.

Oh Christ. I need to go on a date. I need to have sex. Amy's electric toothbrush idea is sounding really good right now and I really just can't process Sheldon standing in front of the potatoes with one hand crossed over his chest, one hand on his chin with his head slightly tilted, freaking beard scruff, tousled hair and his hip cocked to the side, accentuating his—

Fucking A.

That's it. I'm calling Zack.

Ugh, no I'm not. He's so dumb he's not even cute anymore. This is not cool. And definitely not fair. Sheldon is not supposed to be hot. And even though I'm kind of still staring at his ass, I find myself missing his layered shirts and khakis or plaid pants combos. I weirdly miss the overgrown six year old.

"What do you think?" Sheldon's voice cuts into the sick hum of my mind.

"Uh, hum…I—what?" I babble incoherently at him and he gives me that delightful look of condescension that I'm so used to. He's holding a bag of potatoes.

"Idaho potatoes or red skin?"

"Um, that one." I point blindly and he nods.

"I think so too." He agrees, placing the red skin potatoes in the cart.

In the cereal aisle, another woman "accidentally" bumps into Sheldon. She then proceeds to flirt with him just like Skank #1 did, only this one isn't a cute twenty-something. She's at least forty. And she has her eye on a piece of Dr. Cooper. She's not unattractive, I guess. She reminds me of one of the Desperate Housewives. Or the Kardashian mom. Okay, yeah. She's worse than the first one with her fake boobs and hair and orange tan.

"Penny?" Sheldon calls weakly, looking at me for help when Kardashian Klone feels up his bicep. Okay, I feel bad for him now. He's being sexually harassed when all he wanted to do was buy some Honey Puffs.

"Sorry, honey." I say moving beside him and flashing his friend a smile. I link my arm through his and he stares at me as if I've gone bat crap. "Hi, I'm his wife." I tell her with a quick wink. "Honey, we have to get going. We're having company tonight." He's lost. I can tell, but it worked and Mrs. Kardashian leaves in a high heeled huff. "You're welcome MoonPie." I tell him, slapping him on the back. "Ooh! We need Diet Coke."

"What is wrong with you?" He asks moodily, pushing the cart.

"Let's get you out of here and call the experiment a success. I'm afraid the next soccer mom who sees you is gonna strip in the aisle." I inform him. Shaking his head, he begins talking under his breath.

"Conclusion. Women are bat crap crazy."

We decide to make a roast for dinner. Sheldon cuts up the potatoes while I arrange the carrots and attempt to dice an onion without crying. I'm enjoying a glass of wine, mostly to slow my damn heart rate because of the fact that I practically burst into flames in the middle of the produce section. I start to sing while I cut veggies, remembering when we made Penny Blossoms so long ago.

"What are you doing? He asks, looking up from his meticulous cutting.

"Singing. To help the time go faster." I tell him, taking a sip of my wine. (I'm allowing myself one glass a day.) "Like we did before, remember?"

"Oh." He nods enthusiastically and suddenly, we're both singing sea shanty tunes again and, after we get the roast in the oven, I flop onto the couch. Carrying groceries up four flights of stairs is full of suck. My eyes fall on the whiteboard mid-stretch and I realize it's been completely erased, except for three things.

Penny?

Sheldon?

Occam's Razor.

What the Hell does that mean? And when did he do this? And why?

And how can he just sit at that damn counter looking like that and not even know how amazing he looks today? Maybe it's the wine talking, or the fact that I haven't been with anyone in over a year, but Dr. Whack-A-Doodle is starting to look pretty damn good. And he's the one guy I can't get because he has no deal. (Or, I guess technically, he does have a deal, he just chooses to pretend like he doesn't. Which doesn't help him or me.) I've lived with Sheldon Cooper for five days and learned more about him than I've learned in five years.

He's secretly muscular.

He's afraid of becoming an alcoholic like his dead, abusive father.

He has "private time."

He's secretly hot.

I look back at the counter. He's reading one of his boring science magazines with one hand absently running over his hair and messing it up more. Dust Weekly, or some crap like that.

Raj and Amy show up around the same time for dinner, and Howard and Bernadette aren't far behind. Leonard comes last, his eyes flickering over Amy for the fastest of moments before he gets a load of Sheldon sitting in his spot and chatting up Amy and Bernadette.

"Um, Sheldon?" He asks, while everyone else simply stares in silence. "What are you wearing?"

"Doesn't he look great?" Bernadette squeaks, clapping her hands.

"Sheldon, I realize we are no longer boyfriend and girlfriend," Amy begins, "And although I have no lingering romantic feelings for you, I must say: Hoo!" Bernadette and I meet eyes and crack up, remembering her reaction to Zack. Sheldon shakes his head slowly and tries to look put out, but I think he's secretly enjoying the attention. Leonard even looks slightly jealous, which amuses me to no end.

"Just answer us honestly," Howard says. "were you abducted by aliens? Are you hosting some sort of inter-galactic worm that is controlling your brain?" Sheldon gives him a derisive look.

"Why is everyone so obsessed with what I'm wearing?"

"Because Sheldon. To put it into clinical terms: Yum." Amy delivers in her usual dry tone, and I crack up again. I love seeing the kook squirm.

"Oh, come on…it's just jeans and a beard." Leonard protests, sitting in the armchair. I notice Amy smirk, but she doesn't say anything to him.

"It's not a beard, it's scruff." I correct him. "And you should have seen the freaking Housewives of Pasadena all up on Sheldon's junk at the grocery store!" I giggle uncontrollably, joined by Bernadette. Even Raj makes a little sound of amusement. I quickly grab a beer out of the fridge and thrust it into his hands.

"You think it's funny, but you weren't molested and written on." Sheldon grouses, pouting. When everyone looks at me in question, I explain.

"Some slutty sorority girl wrote her number on his hand." Another round of laughter. The rest of the evening is quiet enough. We watch the four guys play a little bit of that ridiculous card game about Ka'a or whatever it's called.

"You're a miracle worker, Penny!" Bernadette tells me when I'm gathered with she and Amy in the kitchen.

"No, I just know how to manipulate men." I tell her, grinning at them both. Amy is looking at me with an odd expression on her face.

"You're like a modern day Mary Magdalene. Slightly promiscuous, but you have a heart of gold." I cringe at being compared to a biblical prostitute, but I pat her arm.

"Thanks."

They all finally leave around eleven and I wearily shut the door and lock it behind me. I am exhausted, but my mind is still buzzing. Sheldon is cleaning up while I wipe down the counter with, you guessed it, Clorox wipes. My nerves are shot. I need a hot, hot shower and maybe a handful of Valium. As I watch Sheldon bend over in those jeans, I squeeze my eyes shut and turn away.

"Sheldon. I changed my mind!" I say, maneuvering around the counter toward him. He turns to look down at me.

"About what?" He sounds the same as always.

"You win. You can wear whatever you want. You can shave. I'm good. I've proven my point. Experiment successful." I pat his shoulder. He gives me a look of satisfaction.

"I knew you would see reason, Penny." His voice is smug, bringing the arrogant dumbass in him. I nearly weep in relief.

"Why don't you go get ready for bed, honey? I'll finish up out here." I tell him. He nods and looks like he wants to say something else, but he doesn't and turns away.

Once he's out of my sight, I turn around and lean against the counter for support, breathing slowly. What this all boils down to is loneliness. And I have enough of that lately. Even though I'm constantly surrounded by people, I'm alone. It was worse last year, but now…

"Penny." Why does he always do this right before bed? I turn around and there he is, still dressed and once again, holding that Penny Blossom.

"It's the first one." He says, "Remember?"

"Why did you keep it?" I ask, feeling like I'm having a weird, out of body experience.

"I don't have an explanation." But I know. It's kind of the first time we really found out that we like spending time together. It certainly wasn't our first bonding experience, but it changed things.

"I understand." I assure him, feeling the weirdness of the day go away. It's just us. Just Penny and Sheldon. Roommates. Friends. "But I'm going to hug you."

"Penny, I don't think—"

"Non-optional social convention." I tell him lifting his arms and wrapping mine around his middle. Tomorrow, I'll Google Occam's Razor. Tomorrow, I'll call Zack. Or I'll sign up on eHarmony. Right now, I'm gonna hug Sheldon. That's when I feel his arms settle hesitantly around me. He's getting better at this; though it's still one of the goofiest hugs I've ever been involved in.

"Penny?" Sheldon murmurs quietly.

"Mmm?" I mumble into his shirt.

"You're touching me. That's a strike."

"Oh, shut up. It's so not a strike." I dismiss him, pulling back. "You're not going to die from hugging me."

As I watch him stalk away from me and my eyes fall to the back of those damned jeans again, I laugh in disbelief.

I really need to get laid.

Chapter Text

The following Friday, I have a date. Turns out, Zack has a girlfriend now, but he was nice enough to set me up with a friend of his named Chris. It's kind of nice to have something to look forward to after so long. Things have started to even out and Sheldon and I have settled into a routine of some sort. We've developed a new sense of normal, which involves at least one argument a day. I think I have eighteen strikes now for everything from leaving dishes in the sink to getting toothpaste on the bathroom mirror. That's not to say we don't have fun. Two nights this week, we played Age of Conan for hours, which is really kind of sad if you think about it, but we like it. And then there've been the nights when we've sat together in comfortable silence with him at his laptop working while I either read or watch bad reality T.V.

Truth be told, I've kind of started avoiding him a little bit. Since the grocery store, I haven't really been able to process his untapped cuteness, but I notice that even though he's gone back to his normal fashion, he's a little different. He's carrying himself differently. To the untrained eye, it's nothing, but I notice him walking a little taller, a bit more self-aware. I notice him smiling sometimes and it's nice. Some confidence would do the boy good. I think part of it has to do with the fact that he's looking forward to seeing his Meemaw.

When I tell him I have a date, he reacts with his normal condescension.

"Are you planning on engaging in coitus in our apartment?" He asks, not even sparing me a glance from his laptop. I grimace.

"I don't know, Sheldon." I groan. "Maybe."

"Penny, as you know per our Roommate Agreement—"

"Yeah. So, here's my six hour notice just in case. And if I'm not home by midnight, just assume I'm not going to be home." I state, crossing into the bathroom to plug in my curling iron. Raj has just arrived and is drinking his first beer when Chris arrives. Raj and Sheldon are waiting on Howard and Bernadette to arrive. Leonard is working late. (He's fooling nobody.) Amy is visiting her mother. (Riiight.)

Chris is pretty much what I expect. Tall. Muscular. Blonde. Pretty much my usual type. He seems nice enough…even a little smarter than Zack, which is a plus I guess. He kind of reminds me of Kurt, though not quite so intimidating. I'll say one thing though. The guy can wear the shit out of a polo shirt.

"Penny?" He says when I open the door. I smile brightly at him.

"Hi. Chris, right?" I reach out to grab my purse and fish in it for my keys.

"If you're looking for your keys, they're in the bowl." Sheldon says from his spot on the couch. Chris looks past me at the two men in the living room. One, six foot two, wearing an Orange Lantern shirt and the other in a purple jacket and a yellow argyle sweater vest. I can't help it, I smile.

"Chris, this is my roommate, Sheldon and my friend Raj." I say, grabbing my keys out of the bowl and waving at them. "I'll see you guys later." Sheldon looks up at me and I notice his eyes narrow for a second on Chris as if he's analyzing his I.Q. or something. I remember when the guys basically made Zack feel like a moron. (Even though he kind of was.) I mouth 'Be nice.' He rolls his eyes at me and turns back to Raj to complain about something that had happened at work. "Okay, bye!" I call out, closing the door behind us.

Chris takes me to an Italian restaurant out in Santa Monica, which has a view of the beach. He's being polite and charming, which is really nice. I think he has a nice smile.

"So, Zack told me that you're from like, South Dakota or something?" Chris says, sipping his wine. I smile and look down at my hands.

"Nebraska, actually." I correct him. Why am I feeling so shy? I'm usually chatting guys up and carrying the conversation. Have I lost my touch?

"Oh, wow." He replies and I swallow. Is that 'Oh wow, I'm surprised' or 'Oh wow, that sucks'? He's still smiling though, so I don't take it as a bad thing.

"So, how do you and Zack know each other?" I ask, wanting to turn the conversation away from me.

"We used to work together. My dad has a construction company, and we do a lot of contract work out in the suburbs." He tells me, finishing his glass of wine with a long sip. I stare into my own half drunk glass and frown, feeling weird.

"Well, that's cool!" I say brightly, kind of wishing for a second that I was sitting on the couch watching Metropolis, a silent film from the twenties which was apparently, the inspiration for one of the robot dudes in Star Wars.

Huh?

"So, do you live with your brother?" Chris inquires, obviously referring to Sheldon. I laugh unexpectedly.

"Oh. No." I explain, sipping my wine. "He's my friend. It's kind of a long story." I notice Chris looks a little confused, so I launch into my story and tell him how we all met. By the time I'm finished, he's laughing too.

"I just never would have pictured a girl like you hanging out with a bunch of geeks." He muses and I tilt my head, feeling oddly offended. I suddenly see Chris clearly. He's the guy whose parents praised him from the second he was born. He was raised to believe he deserved to get whatever he wants whenever he wants it. Even the way he talks about when Zack worked for his dad is kind of rude. It's not Sheldon's 'I'm destined for great things and have worked my whole life for this' ego, it's 'I am hot and rich and I've never heard the word no.'

"Oh." Is all I say in response, but I'm kind of fuming. My friends may not be football stars or into going to bars every weekend, but they're actually contributing to the world. They're good people. I miss them.

The remainder of our dinner cannot go fast enough for me. Chris talks about his car, his job, his house…and suddenly, I can't find anything likeable about him. Even when he talks about his family, it's almost like he's bragging.

"My parents are a little overly protective, but aren't all parents?" He asks at one point. I finish my third glass of wine and set the glass aside.

"Couldn't tell ya." I say, wiping my mouth with the back of my hand and cutting into my chicken parmesan. "My mom spends most weekends trying to pretend she's still twenty-five while my father works his ass off for shit. My sister got pregnant her freshman year of high school and brother is in rehab." I can tell I've stunned him. He stares at me as if he's afraid I may start tearing off my clothes and sobbing uncontrollably. I don't. How dare he judge me? Why am I here?

After we finish eating, he suggests we walk around the pier and get an ice cream. I don't know how to say, 'Please take me home' without sounding like a huge bitch, so I agree and keep to myself as we walk.

"So what's Nebraska like?" He asks once we're eating our ice cream on a bench in a less busy part of the pier.

"It's okay." I answer. "I mean, we get snow in the winter and that's different. I lived on a farm. I can milk a cow, I can groom a horse. I can fix any tractor…and I'm pretty damn good with cars."

"Zack said you're an actress?" Chris says with mild interest. I stare at him in surprise.

"If by actress, you mean I audition and get rejected constantly, then yeah. I'm an actress." I laugh mirthlessly. "I've been in a hemorrhoid commercial and some community theatre. I work at The Cheesecake Factory, so I guess I'm a waitress."

"Well, that's okay!" Chris says patronizingly, and I have to swallow the urge to say something really rude, so I grit my teeth and attempt to smile.

"I know." I grind out at him and he moves closer to me, putting an arm around me, which I immediately brush off. I really want to go home now. Even his cologne is making me sick.

"I like you, Penny." Chris tells me, pulling me closer again. I try to push back, but his beefy arms are locked around my waist. My heart begins to thrum in panic. I can smell the half a bottle of wine on his breath as he smashes his lips to mine. Squeezing my eyes shut, I make a noise of protest. "Come on…I'm better in bed than Zack. Why don't you come back to the car with me and we can—"

"Stop!" I scream at him, once again unsuccessfully trying to push him away as he buries his face in my neck. "I want to go home."

"What the fuck?" He growls. He's angry now. Great. Don't make me do it, Chris… "Zack said you put out."

"Excuse me?" I cry as he dives in again, putting his hand on my boob. Oh, buddy…you have no idea what you're getting into here.

"He said you were one of the hottest chicks he'd ever gone out with. Kinky and shit." He tells me and I've lost it at this point.

"Are you fucking kidding me?" I mutter while he fumbles with the halter top of my dress. Okay, no. "You asked for it, Asshole." I lean back and throw a perfect right hook into his throat making him reel back off of me. I follow up nicely with a swift kick to his groin. "Tell Zack he was wrong." I say, watching him groan in agony. "And if you try to touch me, I will make sure you can never get a boner again." I hurry away from him, stumbling when I realize my heel has broken off.

Fuck.

I quickly remove my shoes and trudge blankly through the sand back toward the city. I'm half an hour away from home by car. I'm sort of stranded. Closing my eyes, I feel the onslaught of real tears begin to seep out and ruin my mascara. I don't really care right now. With a long sigh, I sit on a parking block and pull out my phone.

Damn.

I dial and wait. He picks up after two rings.

"Penny?"

"Sheldon?" I say and then I burst into hysterical sobs. I don't really know how much time goes by before I hear him say my name again.

"Penny?"

"Sorry!" I gasp. "I'm…um…something happened – I'm stranded –"

"Where are you?" His voice is calm as ever, making me feel the slightest bit better.

"I'm at the Santa Monica Pier." I cry again. "Help me!"

"I will be there soon. Stay where you are." He sounds more sure of himself than I feel. "And Penny?"

"Yeah?"

"Do you have your pepper spray?" He asks and I manage to laugh, despite the fact that I'm still crying.

"Uh huh."

"Good. I'll see you in approximately thirty minutes." He says a quick goodbye and I put my phone back in my purse and bury my face in my hands. This was a mistake. I should have stayed home with my friends where I belong.

I recognize Leonard's car immediately when headlights bring my head up out of my lap. The wine I drank is giving me a headache and I'm sure that my face looks somewhat like a drowned hooker, but I'm so glad to see that car. The passenger side opens first and a second later, I'm enveloped in Amy's arms. I hold her tightly, grateful to have such wonderful people in my life. I love them all so, so much in this moment.

"Is she okay?" I hear Leonard ask, before I feel his hand on my shoulder.

"I'm okay." I sigh, sniffing. "I'm okay…"

"She's shivering and her heart rate is elevated." Amy informs him. "Are you experiencing any nausea or hallucinations?"

"No." I laugh tearfully. "I'm just relieved. Thank you. Thank you so much."

"Don't thank us. Sheldon was the one who marched over to my place and practically broke down the door." Leonard chuckles. I pull away from Amy and see Sheldon standing back, closer to the car with his hands in his jacket pockets. He's pale and quiet, but he looks relatively normal.

"What happened?" Leonard asks, while Amy rubs my back soothingly.

"Let's just say, Chris had the wrong idea." I tell them. "He tried to, um, ride the roller coaster without buying a ticket." I say, for lack of a better explanation.

"Of course he did." Amy sighs. "With your body and your undeniable wit, what man could resist you?" Oddly, this makes me feel better.

"Where is he now?" Leonard interjects.

"I don't know. Last I saw, he was lying on the ground holding onto his jewels." I inform them tiredly. I meet Sheldon's eyes and immediately choke up again. I can't control myself tonight. I haven't been this upset since Leonard and I broke up. I climb into the back seat of Leonard's car beside Sheldon and accept a tissue from Amy, wiping under my eyes.

"Sheldon." I hear Amy's voice and look up. She's making some sort of gesture with her eyes. He nods, and sighs resignedly, putting his arm up. I give him a look of confusion.

"Amy is telling me that you are in need of human contact for comfort." He informs me. I gape at him.

"Sweetie, it's okay—"

"It's not optional." Amy insists. I hesitantly scoot over toward Sheldon and meet his eyes for permission for a second before I carefully settle myself against his side, feeling the warmth of his body through his jacket and shirts. A couple of seconds later, his arm drops over my shoulders and I cautiously drape my arm over his middle, burying my hand inside his jacket and resting my cheek against his shoulder.

I meet Leonard's startled eyes in the rearview mirror. He doesn't look angry, he looks amazed. My eyes fall to where his hand has fallen over Amy's on the armrest. Her palm is turned up and their fingers are laced together. I feel my heart tug in happiness for her. For both of them.

"Thank you." I say quietly to Sheldon when we're finally on the road. When he doesn't say anything to me, I continue. "For coming to get me. For everything."

"You're welcome, Penny." He tells me quickly. I know he doesn't understand why I'm so emotional and quite frankly, I'm sure he's terrified. Sheldon doesn't do well with crying women. I can't explain it, but I already feel ninety percent better, resting the top of my head against the crook of his neck. I can smell the No More Tears shampoo and I can feel the slight scratch of his unshaven face against my forehead. I'm still sniffing a little, but the burn of tears has slowed substantially. I'm even further surprised to realize that I'm being woken up when we get home. Amy guides me gently up the stairs and I feel kind of dumb, because all three of them probably think I'm unstable at this point.

We all part on the fourth floor, with me clinging to the sleeve of Sheldon's jacket as we walk into our apartment. Wordlessly, he hangs his tear-soaked jacket on the hook and moves into the kitchen, retrieving the Chamomile tea and filling the kettle with water.

"Sweetie, I think I need something a little stronger tonight." I stop him and open the fridge, pulling out a can of Diet Coke. "Would you like a virgin Cuba Libre?" He nods and puts the tea back into the cupboard. I quickly pour each of us a glass and add some rum to mine while he slices a lime. Handing him his glass, I plod over to the couch and sink into my spot. My spot. I take a long drink and let the carbonation pleasantly burn my throat. Sheldon sits next to me and gingerly takes a sip of his Coke. He pauses for a moment, but sets it in front of him before picking up the remote and turning on the T.V.

"So what happened with Howard, Bernadette and Raj?" I ask, hating how congested I sound after an hour and a half of sobbing. My eyes feel heavy and tired, but I'm no longer upset.

"Howard and Bernadette had to cancel at the last minute because Bernadette's sister decided to move back into town earlier than expected. They took Raj with them to help her move her things."

"Oh." I say, feeling undeniably grateful that they'd cancelled on him. I don't know what I would have done if he hadn't answered. I'd probably still be at the Pier, wandering aimlessly barefoot and alone. I inhale and realize that I'm crying again while Sheldon stares at me in some sort of wide-eyed fear. "Sorry!" I moan, shaking my head. It's kind of embarrassing. I feel a pat on my shoulder.

"There, there." He says quietly. I bet if he could get away with it, he'd use the remote to pat my shoulder. "Uh…" He begins and trails off, picking up his phone and obviously looking for something while taking another drink. "Do you need me to…" He reads off of his screen, "gently stroke your head and say, 'Aw, who's a good Penny?'" I forget my tears for a moment, staring at him with my mouth hanging open in disbelief. I feel laughter begin to bubble in the pit of my stomach as I shake my head.

"What?" I manage to say. "No." I wipe at my eyes with the back of my hand, crying and amused all at once. It's a weird emotion.

"Do you…" He returns his eyes to his phone, "need a neck massage?"

"I'm sorry?" I choke, holding my drink and struggling really hard not to crack up. Did Sheldon Cooper just ask me if I need a neck massage?

"Should I play feminist music and turn on the Lifetime Movie Network?" He asks and I can take it no more. I reach out and push his phone away and shake my head.

"Honey, you don't have to do anything. You've already done everything right tonight, okay?" I assure him. He sets his phone aside.

"Missy used to play this horrendous wailing female singer when she was upset." Sheldon explains, shuddering. "Have you ever heard the name Alanis Morissette?" That does it.

"Yep. I'm not really a fan either, but I can see where Missy was coming from." I finish my drink and place the glass on the table (on the provided coaster). "You know what would be really helpful?" He looks at me like he'd rather not know, but he shakes his head anyway. "I could use a good cuddle." He closes his eyes as if I've asked him to chop off his own foot with a butter knife and exhales.

"I thought you might say that." Sheldon says in defeat. "Of course, I suppose I should be thankful. When I comforted Amy Farrah Fowler last year, she asked me to go to 'second base' with her." He shakes his head at the memory. "I'm not entirely sure what second base means, but I am entirely sure that it involves more contact than I can handle."

" I'm not going to ask you to go to second base with me." I assure him, picturing poor Amy begging Sheldon to feel her up.

"Very well." He nods, turning his body slightly and lifting his arm again like he did in the car. I move closer to him and wrap my arms around his middle again, this time resting my cheek against his chest. His other arm slowly curves around my body, holding me. I can hear the regular heartbeat through his chest. I am going to say something to him, but stop when I feel his hand moving over my back slowly, sort of the way Amy had been comforting me at the Pier. I can feel my body relax into his overly gentle touch. It's like he's afraid to hurt me and he's afraid I'll hurt him, like when you put your hand out for a dog to sniff. I respond by holding him tighter. The fact that he's willing to do something so far out of his comfort zone is more touching than I can say. It's right up there with the whole dislocated shoulder incident.

I wonder for a second, what he would have done if Leonard and Amy hadn't been at Leonard's tonight. Would he have taken a cab to come all the way out to Santa Monica? Would he have driven my car? And I come to a conclusion.

Yes. He would have done either of those things because Sheldon Cooper is not above human emotion. He's the type of person who would do anything for his friends and family.

"Put on your Sunday clothes when you feel down and out…

Strut down the street and have your picture took…"

Opening my eyes, I realize one of the classic movie channels is showing Hello Dolly tonight. I watch as a young Michael Crawford dances around onscreen. He reminds me of Sheldon, all gangly limbs and brown hair. It makes me grin.

"You're not going to make me listen to harp music, are you?"

"Harp music?" I ask, looking up into his face. His face is a little flushed.

"Amy made me listen to harp music." He purses his lips for a second. "I despise harp music. It's emasculating." I choke out a sharp laugh.

"No. I'm not going to make you listen to harp music. Just Hello Dolly." I tell him, unable to keep a smirk off my face as I lay my head back down.

"Hello Dolly is Meemaw's favorite film." He replies. "We used to watch it all the time when we stayed at her house."

"What's your Meemaw's name?" I ask, feeling my eyelids start to fall shut.

"Helena." I can tell he's smiling just by hearing his voice.

"My Gran's name was Virginia." I say, even though I don't know why. "Her nickname was Gigi."

"Did you know that the first English baby born in the New World was named Virginia? Virginia Dare…she was born on Roanoke Island in fifteen eighty-seven." He says it in that same tumble of words that he always does when he's rattling off textbook information.

"Fascinating." I chuckle, pinching his rib gently and making him jump. "Ticklish?"

"Penny, please don't." He begs, while I pat his chest tiredly.

"Just checkin'." I tell him. "And guess what?" I add, "You're still not a robot."

"Much to my chagrin." He grumbles, making me laugh again.

"You don't wanna be a robot, honey." I say. "And, I think we can say that not all robots are immune to feelings. I mean, look at Wall-E." I hear him huff indignantly.

Oh, here we go.

"Penny. Wall-E was a Disney film. Disney has a history of retelling stories inaccurately. In the original Hans Christian Andersen story The Little Mermaid, the mermaid dies. She is supposed to kill the prince after he marries another woman and cannot do it, so she throws herself into the sea."

"Ugh, that's awful." I exclaim. "I like the Disney version better."

"You would." He agrees. I look up and glare at him.

"Hey!"

"Penny, you are a woman. You only see the romantic side of things. Hans Christian Andersen's stories weren't written just for entertainment. There is a lesson in his stories."

"What's the lesson here?" I ask, laughing, "If you can't have the man you love, drown yourself?"

"No." He rolls his eyes at me. "It's about redemption. At the end, the mermaid is resurrected as a spirit and that she is bound to do three hundred years of service. For each good child she finds, one year is taken away from her sentence while for each bad child, one month is added."

"Okay, Sweetie…I'm failing to see how this is redemption."

"At the end of three hundred years, she will rise up into the kingdom of God and have eternal life." He tells me impatiently. "Of course, it was simply a moral tale created for the purpose of making Victorian children behave, whereas the Disney version is advocating that women need to change who they are to make a man happy."

"So did Grease, but people seem to like that." I quip.

"If you're referring to that awful rock and roll musical from the seventies, then yes, you're correct. If you're referring to actual grease, then—"

"I'm referring to the musical." I cut him off, patting his chest. "Sheldon, can I ask you a question?"

"Of course you can, but—"

"I know, I know…what I mean was, will you answer me?" I fire off, impatient with his constant corrections.

"Yes."

"Would you really have amended your Relationship Agreement with Amy to involve touching and kissing?" I can tell I've hit a nerve, because I feel him tense underneath me.

"I would have, yes." He finally says, surprising me. "However, I can't say it would have saved our relationship."

"Because?"

"Penny, Amy and Leonard are in a relationship. Are you aware of this?" He asks and I draw in a breath.

"Yeah. I figured it out." I admit, wondering if he's upset. "But honey, if you two would have started this sooner, you might have—"

"It would not make a difference." Sheldon insists. "As I've stated before, even though I greatly respect Amy and feel she is a desirable mate for any man, she and I are not physically suited for one another."

"Right. No sparks. Got it." I finish for him, still coming to terms with the fact that Sheldon has a deal, much less wondering who would fit that deal. It's a frightening thought. But then again, maybe not. He's practically lying on this couch with me. It's kind of nice.

"Penny?" His voice is deeper now, more tired.

"Yeah, honey?"

"I think you gave me the wrong Cuba Libre." He tells me. I let out a surprised giggle.

"Why didn't you tell me sooner?" I ask, sitting up and looking down at him.

"I thought it tasted odd, but I came to the conclusion that the Diet Coke was flat. However, as I am feeling slightly lightheaded and tired, I can only deduce—"

"You're buzzed." I explain gently, reaching out to brush his hair back off his forehead. His eyes are really blue right now. They widen for a second, but he doesn't say anything. Carefully, I reach out and touch his cheek with just the tips of my fingers, feeling the bristle growing there. I feel like I'm buzzed too. I mean, I have had three glasses of wine, but that was like two hours ago. He reaches up and grabs my wrist, wrapping his long fingers around it. Using my other hand, I open his palm and delicately thread my fingers through his.

"What are you doing?"

"An experiment." I reply. We both stare at our entwined fingers before looking at each other again. Neither of us move, but I can't deny that I feel something odd. I can't identify it, but it scares the shit out of me.

"Penny?"

"Sheldon?"

"I have to pee." I burst out laughing, feeling better than I have all night. Leaning down I give him a quick peck on the cheek before reaching over to the table and handing him the hand sanitizing wipes.

"Go ahead, Sweetie. And thank you. For everything." I move away from him so he can get up and watch as he flees toward the bathroom before turning back to Hello Dolly.

There's no place like home.

 

Chapter Text

I guess I should be surprised when Zack shows up at the Cheesecake Factory on Monday and talks to me on my way out, but for some reason, I'm not.

"Hey." He says cautiously, stepping forward from his car. I grip my purse, but nod at him, trying not to blame him for what happened. There isn't a mean bone in Zack, he's just not smart. I know he had no idea what his friend would do.

"Hi." I finally say, crossing my arms. Slowly, he reaches into his pocket and produces a yellow box, holding it out to me.

Milk Duds?

"I'm sorry about…you know, Chris." He runs a hand through his hair. "Sheldon called me. He said you were pretty upset."

"He called you?" I ask, wondering if I've lost my mind for a second. "I didn't even know you two talked."

"Yeah. We don't really." Zack admits, getting that same lost puppy look as he always does when he really isn't sure what's going on. He again, holds out the Milk Duds for me to take, which I do.

"Well, it's not your fault your boss's son is a dick." I remind him, thinking I might have to smack my roommate upside his Vulcan head. "You should really find yourself a new company to work for , Sweetie." Zack gives a little unsure laugh and shrugs.

"I just…we cool?" He thrusts his hands into the pockets of his jeans. I smile at him and sigh.

"Yeah. We cool." I tell him, kissing his cheek before getting into my car and heading home. What am I going to do with that big goofy scientist? He's so clueless that he thinks he's helping when all he's doing is being an idiot male like all the rest of those lowly Homo Sapiens. Homo Novus my ass. But I kind of can't be angry with him because his intentions were good, so I now find myself a cross between annoyed and completely touched.

"Dr. Cooper, get your little ass out here!" I call out when I get in. "I have a bone to pick with you, MoonPie!" Sheldon appears, coming out of his room holding a notebook and wearing a confused expression on his face.

"Is something wrong, Penny?" He asks, frowning as if he is trying to figure out what I'm talking about.

"No." I tell him. "Nothing's wrong…but listen," I take a breath and take pity on the poor bastard. "Sheldon honey, I don't need you to fight my battles for me." He pauses for a moment before I see a hint of guilt in his eyes.

"Are you angry?" He asks, watching me very warily, as if I could maul him at any moment like a wild tiger.

"No." I run a hand through my hair impatiently and let out a laugh of disbelief. "God. I'm not angry. But you can't just go and order people around…I mean, granted Zack is easy to manipulate, but—"

"I apologize?" He tries and I shake my head.

"Nope." I walk toward him and he backs away, covering his throat. He's trapped himself into the corner between the wall and the fridge. I stare up at him; arms folded, and stand on my toes as close as I can get to his eye level (Which is maybe nose level for him). "But from now on…why don't you let me be the muscle?" He nods, trying to flatten himself against the fridge like I have a gun to his head. "And, thank you for being on my side. It's very much appreciated." I give him a quick peck on the cheek, which he immediately wipes off with his sleeve and eyes the Purell from across the room.

We're both quiet for the remainder of the evening, even when Raj and Leonard come over with Thai for dinner. We sit in our usual spots, we watch Battlestar Galactica, which to this day, I still do not know one thing about. Raj is kind of excited about something, but obviously, I won't know until he gets at least half a beer in him, (He will now only accept bottled alcoholic beverages from me, because of the last time I made him a cocktail. A knock on the door informs us that Howard and Bernadette have arrived and they've brought a guest. Bridget.

Oh…that's what Lassie was trying to tell us.

Bernadette and Howard sit on the floor together while Bridget sits in the chair beside the overstuffed armchair.

"Hello, Raj!" He nods at her, holding up his beer weakly. Howard rolls his eyes, but I think it's hilarious.

"So, have you found a job in the city yet?" I ask Bridget, elbowing Sheldon as he tries to stop me from taking another dumpling. I give him a death glare and he backs off.

"Well, nothing permanent yet." She replies in the same voice as her sister, "But I'm subbing for now until a position opens. I have an interview on Thursday."

"Great!" I agree.

"Hey Penny, I was thinking about doing a girls' night with Bridgie tomorrow night to show her around. I already called Amy—" I smile apologetically at her.

"Oh, sorry! I can't tomorrow night. Sheldon's mother and grandmother are coming into town and we're going to pick them up from the airport." I explain as Howard gives me a suggestive wink.

"Oh…getting in good with the family, are we?" He teases in that smarmy ass voice of his.

"Why would Penny care about getting in good with my MeeMaw?" Sheldon asks, looking to Leonard for assistance. Leonard rolls his eyes with a sigh.

"He's insinuating that you two are doing it because you live together." Leonard tells him in the same impatiently patient voice he always does. I can only shake my head and glare at Howard, who is grinning like a fool.

"I see." Sheldon replies, turning to me. "Doing what, exactly?" I roll my eyes, sighing resignedly.

"Oh, Sweetie…" I mutter dryly, patting his shoulder while he recoils away. "He means having sex."

"Oh." His voice becomes quieter as he shakes his head. "No. We are not." He affirms, returning to his Mee Krob.

"How long have you guys been together?" Bridget inquires innocently, making me choke on my Pad Thai.

"They're not together." Bernadette quickly explains to her sister, giving me an apologetic look.

"Oh, I'm sorry!" Her twin exclaims, turning pink. "I just assumed…I mean, I thought—"

"It's okay!" I wheeze as Leonard thumps me on the back. Sheldon seems not to have heard, still meticulously eating his food. "So, what's Amy up to tonight?"

"Oh, she's doing an overnight study on Ricky and the effects his quitting smoking is having on his sleep cycles." He says. "I told her I would bring her some food later on."

"That's so cute!" Bernadette cries, grinning at me. I smile back in agreement and rub Leonard's back in encouragement.

"I'm really happy for you, honey. Really." He gives me that cute shy grin and his cheeks turn pink. I touch his nose and turn back to Bernadette. "But you guys, have fun tomorrow night…I'll catch up with ya later in the week."

"I'd love to come out for a girls' night tomorrow." Raj says unexpectedly, making me giggle. Guess the limit has been reached, but Bridget tilts her head and grins at him.

"Well," Bernadette looks at a stunned Howard for guidance. "Of course you can, Raj!"

"Yeah, me too. I'm up for a girls' night!" Howard says, giving Raj a suspicious look. He's obviously remembering when his best friend had a thing for his wife.

"Guess it'll be all the girls." I laugh, meeting Bernadette's eyes. She's trying unsuccessfully to hide her amusement. She wasn't around for the roller disco days. Howard and Raj were under serious suspicion for a while even if Howard hit on everything in possession of breasts before he met her.

I go to bed that night in a substantially better mood than I got up in.


"So," I say to Sheldon during the drive to the airport in the morning when I realize our elevator doesn't work. "If your grandmother is coming over to the apartment to visit, how is she going to get up four flights of stairs? I'm assuming she's in her eighties?"

"Yes. Eighty-nine." Sheldon agrees. "But she's very active. She still tends to her garden every day and takes care of those wretched hens of hers."

"But, four flights of stairs is different. I mean, it may take a while."

"Penny. Don't underestimate Meemaw. She is in excellent health." He insists and I drop it. It's really none of my business anyway.

"What should I call her?" I ask, pulling onto the exit toward L.A.X.

"Meemaw." Sheldon answers, staring at me blankly. I give him a withering look.

"Sheldon. She doesn't even know me. She's not going to want some strange girl calling her Meemaw. What's her last name?" I'm already regretting agreeing to do all the driving. I can see Dr. Whack-A-Doodle is a little lost.

"Her last name is Lee." He tells me. "That's where my middle name comes from."

"Perfect." I mutter, looking for terminal six. I pull into the first available spot behind another car and turn off the engine while we wait for Mrs. Cooper and her mother to emerge from inside the airport. "So, what's the plan for the day, MoonPie?"

"Penny, don't call me—"

"Sheldon, answer me." I insist. "Are we going to check them in first?"

"Check in is at four P.M., so they will spend the afternoon in our apartment and then we will accompany them to their hotel." He states as if he's reading off an itinerary, which he no doubt typed and memorized with that insane memory of his.

I guess I have an idea of what I expect Sheldon's Meemaw to look like and, of course, I'm completely off. For starters, I guess I was expecting someone taller and a bit more formidable. What I get is five feet two inches of the sweetest little old lady I have ever encountered. I watch Mrs. Cooper emerge from the door first, carrying the luggage while Mrs. Lee follows close behind. Sheldon's right, she looks like she's in better shape than I am. She doesn't really hobble or shuffle like other elderly people and her eyes are a piercing bright blue. It's her smile that throws me off. It reminds me of sunshine. I hang back near the car as Sheldon reunites with his beloved grandmother.

Okay, here's the thing.

The Sheldon Cooper I'm friends with who doesn't understand hugging or human affection is gone and replaced with some sort of parallel universe kindergartener. He allows his grandmother to hug him tightly and press any number of kisses to his cheeks. He's smiling, which would freak me out, except it's so damn adorable that I sort of choke up because I find myself missing my own Gran more than I can say. When he finally pulls away and turns to speak with his mother, Mrs. Lee finally looks in my direction. I freeze in fear until she grins. Her smile reminds me of a mischievous child.

"Penny?" She sounds excited, like we're old friends catching up. I stare at her dumbly for a moment, but manage a nod. I start to hold out my hand for her to shake, when she takes me completely by surprise and pulls me into the tightest, warmest hug I've had since Gran. "Oh you are pretty!" She informs me, as if she knew all along. Hell, I didn't even know the woman knew about me, much less what I look like. "Green eyes." She pats my cheek.

"It's nice to meet you, Mrs. Lee." I tell her pleasantly and she laughs.

"No, I beg you Darlin'." She chuckles. "Meemaw. Just Meemaw." I look behind her at Sheldon, who raises his eyebrows and gives me a look that seems to say, 'I told you so.' I stick out my tongue at him as I open the trunk of my car and help them load their suitcases.

"Missy sent your present along, Shelly." Mrs. Cooper informs her son. Sheldon sighs.

"Another pair of jeans, no doubt." He says, and again, I'm accosted with the vision of "Sexy Sheldon" being hit on at the grocery store and smirk. Sheldon carefully helps his grandmother into the back seat of the car (She insists he take the front since he's so 'Gosh darn tall').

"Thank you, MoonPie." She tells him, squeezing his hand and I have to detain the squeal of glee in my throat. Oh, I wish I could get this on camera. It's priceless. I give him a smirk and he glares back at me before settling into the front seat.

"So Penny," Meemaw says as we pull back out into traffic. "You're from Nebraska?"

"I…" Again, I'm kind of surprised she knows anything about me, but I nod. "Yep. Omaha. I grew up on a farm."

"Me too." She exclaims. "Shelly tells me you're tryin' to be an actress." I glance over at Sheldon in question. His cheeks are pink, but other than that, he seems normal.

"Trying is the key word." I chuckle in self derision. "Four years, I've been here and I've done a commercial and a semi-professional production of The Diary of Anne Frank." Her eyes light up like I just told her I was an A-List celebrity.

"Anne Frank? That's a heavy show! You must be pretty talented." She tells me. Sheldon and I share a look of equal disbelief.

"Well, it wasn't much, but it's all I've got to show for myself." I shrug. "I work at the Cheesecake Factory as a waitress."

"Waitresses always meet the most amazing people." Meemaw insists. "Shelly told me about how you got him that Mr. Spock's signature."

"He did?" I look at him again. He kind of looks like he wants to climb out the window now.

"Well, actually, he first said you got him D.N.A." She corrects and I can see Sheldon's mom shaking her head, but smiling. "But when he told me about how he signed the napkin first, I just thought that was so nice." Now I'm red in the face. "He's lucky to have a friend like you."

"Yeah…I'm pretty lucky too." I assure her. "You know, a couple years ago, I fell in the shower and dislocated my shoulder and Sheldon helped me. He got me up and dressed and drove me to the hospital."

"You never told us that, Shelly." Mary Cooper says, eyeing her son. "I didn't know you were drivin' now."

"I'm not." He responds, keeping his eyes forward. "It was a onetime occurrence. And if you recall, Penny, I ended up paying the price for it." He was referring to running a red light at my insistence and getting a ticket, which he then fought and ended up in jail because the big dummy can't keep his mouth shut. Ever.

"Disneyland, Sheldon." I remind him swiftly. He shuts up immediately.

"Meemaw, can we make fried chicken?" Sheldon asks, ignoring me. His grandmother reaches forward and pats his arm.

"Of course we can, MoonPie." She meets my eyes in the mirror. They're exactly the same as Sheldon's. "It's our tradition. Makin' fried chicken."

"I didn't know you made fried chicken." I say to him in an accusatory tone. He gives me a wary look.

"I don't. Only with Meemaw." I want to slap him because he's acting like a spoiled child again, but I simply give him a glare that makes him turn front again.

"I can teach you too, Penny. If ya want." Meemaw assures me and I can't help it, I grin at her.

"Thanks, I'd love to!" I agree. Gran had let me help her make dinner every so often, but she never made fried chicken. She was better known for her pies and her roasts.

"So, ya got any brothers or sisters?" Meemaw asks me, and I nod, knowing she's probably going to be appalled when she finds out my brother is a Meth dealer who is in rehab and my sister is the poster child for sixteen and pregnant.

"I have an older brother and sister." I explain cautiously. "They're a little more troubled than I am."

"Ah, you're tellin' me, honey. Sounds like you got yourself quite a story to tell." Meemaw chuckles. "Poor Shelly's got himself a couple a pain in the ass siblings too."

"Momma." Mary warns, though she doesn't really sound serious.

"Well, it's true, Mary Beth." She argues. "Melissa's gone and got herself engaged to the son of that Whacky-Doo Pastor of yours and Georgie is livin' in sin with that alcoholic."

"Ben is a very nice man and Missy is very fond of him." Mary points out.

"He's ten years older than her and he's been married twice." Meemaw scoffs. "Melissa can do a lot better." Mary looks like she wants to retort, but she says nothing. I glance over at Sheldon, who looks kind of uncomfortable with talk of Missy's engagement. I reach over and touch his arm.

"You okay, honey?"

"Penny," Oh good, I'd forgotten what egotistical condescension sounded like in the past hour, "I am a senior theoretical physicist with an I.Q. of—"

"Smart. Got it." I finish for him. "You're good." He purses his lips in satisfaction and I quirk an eyebrow.

As usual, Sheldon is right and his Meemaw, though somewhat slower than a normal person, makes it up the four flights of stairs with little to no help. She's a little out of breath, but still smiling as we all pile into the apartment. Sheldon has taken the next two days off work, so he can spend as much time with his Meemaw as possible. I've arranged for everyone to come for dinner on Sheldon's birthday on Wednesday night after we go to the comic book store, but I've cleared it with him per Section 7. Birthdays, subsection C. No surprises. Sheldon hates surprises. Because he's an anal retentive control freak who needs to manipulate everything in his life. Well, guess what, MoonPie? You can't control everything.

As soon as we return, Sheldon and his Meemaw set about getting everything out for fried chicken and I'm a little surprised, because I didn't realize that we even had all of the ingredients for fried chicken! Then again, until today, I wasn't sure what the ingredients for fried chicken were. Crisco, eggs, flour, milk…hot damn, it's a heart attack waiting to happen! I hang back with Sheldon's mother while Meemaw puts cold water into a bowl and Sheldon spoons out Crisco into a frying pan.

"Okay, Penny!" Meemaw calls out to me. "I need you to lay out two dishes. We need flour in one and then we'll crack the eggs into the other." When I hesitate, Sheldon gives me an impatient look and I speed forward, while Mrs. Cooper settles onto the couch to watch her soap operas. I do as I'm told, cracking the eggs into a bowl and adding a little milk until Meemaw stops me. "Good girl! You're a natural at this!" She praises me and it's easy to see why Sheldon loves her so much. I don't think I've heard her say one negative thing. "Now, we wanna whisk them together with a little cold water." She instructs, using her hand to guide me until I get the hang of it. "Oh, that's perfect, honey, just perfect!" She pats my cheek again. I glance over at Sheldon, who seems to be immersed in his own task of heating the Crisco to the exact degree.

"See Mom?" Sheldon says triumphantly, giving his mother a look. "Meemaw likes to cook even though she traveled." He turns to look down into his grandmother's face. "Mom wouldn't make me fried chicken last time she was here, because she wanted sushi."

"Well, now…you know your Momma works hard, baby. She just wanted to relax, I'm sure." Meemaw reminds him firmly, bringing the chicken to the counter. "Now, we're gonna egg and flour it. Shelly, you come help Penny and I'll make sure the pan is ready."

"You mean, put my hands in egg?" Sheldon asks, sounding extremely uncomfortable with this idea. Meemaw, obviously foreseeing her grandson's cuckoo and producing a pair of rubber gloves.

"Still havin' a hard time with the germs, huh Baby?" She says. There's the understatement of the century. He only nods, but gingerly picks up a piece of raw chicken. When I make to pick one up, he glares at me.

"Have you washed your hands, Penny?" He demands and I scowl.

"Yes."

"Are you aware that raw chicken is a common cause of Salmonella poisoning?" He raises a brow at me and holds up another pair of gloves. I reluctantly accept his O.C.D. cooking gloves and begin to dip the chicken into the egg mixture.

"Are you aware that I came in third place at the National Junior Rodeo Championship and can take you down with one hand tied behind my back?" I fire back sweetly, hoping he catches the sarcasm in my voice.

"Noted." He agrees. Within a few minutes, we have the chicken coated while his grandmother expertly fries it while humming to herself. I've just started to relax, when Sheldon turns to me after washing his hands and disposing of our gloves.

"Penny, I need your advice on something." He says, sounding oddly cheerful. I stare up at him tiredly.

"Great. What is it?" I ask, making to pick up the dirty dishes and take them to the sink so we can Clorox the shit out of the counter.

"I'm thinking of giving up physics to pursue a career in music." He tells me casually. The way he barely blinks when he says it makes my jaw drop and I don't really know how it happens, but I spill the remaining egg on the floor and when I try to rush to grab a paper towel, I slip and flail without aim, trying to catch myself. The only thing in my grasp, however, is Sheldon's Batman T-Shirt and a second later we are both on our asses on the kitchen floor and covered in flour. I close my eyes, unable to see through the cloud of flour drifting lazily around us while Mrs. Cooper and Meemaw frantically are trying to make sure we're okay and nobody got hurt. As I'm attempting to wipe the flour from my eyes and off my lips, I hear a sound I have never heard before and when I look up I see Sheldon's head bent over and his shoulders shaking. I immediately think he's crying and panic.

Oh shit. He's hurt himself because I lost control of my own footing. I move onto my knees and reach forward, taking him by the shoulders.

"Hey. Sheldon! Honey, are you okay?" I cry, scared shitless that he's really hurt. It's a weird muffled deep sound coming from him. "Look at me, Sweetie!" I tilt my head to get a closer look and when he looks up, my mouth falls open. I'm sorry, what universe have I slipped into? He's laughing, and I'm not talking about that freaky little gaspy weird thing he does. I mean, he's really laughing! A rich, deep sound. I'm instantly filled with warmth even though I want to smack him for scaring me. His smile, yeah, his real genuine smile is probably the cutest thing I've ever seen. And that beautiful, sweet laugh that keeps going…and I can't help myself, I smile and brush flour out of his hair and off his cheeks with my own flour covered hands. I've kind of forgotten that his grandmother and mother are probably standing over us, thinking we're both nuts, because I'm still grinning at him with my hands on his cheeks.

"Penny?" He gasps when he's able to break from his laughter.

"What?" I ask, shaking my head and trying to sound irritated. I'm not even close to successful.

"Bazinga." My mouth drops open and I'm speechless for a second, before I rub more flour into his hair.

I'm still freaking smiling though.

Chapter Text

I wake up earlier than usual and take a quick shower. (In my allotted time by Dr. Goofball.) I have a plan…kind of. I'm going to go to the comic book store before work so I can buy my overgrown preschooler of a roommate something that he will actually use. His mother and grandmother will be arriving in about an hour to keep him company for the rest of the day. I have to say, I'm pretty relieved Mrs. Cooper rented a car, because I just do not have the strength to do all the driving. This wouldn't be an issue if Shelly would grow a pair and get a damn license, but since that isn't happening, this is the alternative. I don't get days off.

I'm still a little freaked anyway. After the incident in the kitchen yesterday, I've felt like I'm having some weird out of body thing going on and I can't really make sense out of my thoughts. It's that damn smile…well, and the laugh. But holy shit, where did it come from?

I mean, I've known Sheldon for almost five years. Five years. I've seen him at his worst (rubbing Vicks on a man's chest who is not romantically involved with you is not really normal.) I've watched the man play with model trains…which is highly disturbing and I don't recommend it for any man who wants a girl to touch his fun parts. I've watched him buy Amy's forgiveness with a freaking tiara, which was (I guess) sweet, yet still highly, highly absurd.

Okay, again…this is Sheldon. Sheldon who, after we managed to get the flour and eggs out of our hair and eyes, managed to not so vaguely insult my intelligence when I asked him if a sixteenth was bigger than an eighth. (Once again, still not good at math stuff.)

So, why then could I not stop watching him? And I don't mean that freaky, obsessive Kristen Stewart Twilight stare…I just mean, I didn't want to miss anything since the guy was pretty much throwing me for a damn loop. When he saw a commercial that showed a cartoon koala promoting some kind of bath soap and he did that ridiculous kindergarten school picture smile of his, I had to stop myself from going 'Awww…" I can honestly say, the first time I had the 'pleasure' of seeing that face, I had to force myself not to slap him silly. But that was mostly because he was being an assface about Amy.

I'm dressed in my Cheesecake Factory uniform already with my hair braided as I come out into the living room and find Sheldon in his spot, playing one of his video games.

"Good morning, Penny." He says, not sparing me a glance as I turn into the kitchen and pour myself a nice cup of coffee.

"Morning, Sheldon." I tell him, moving around the couch (careful not to block his precious game), and slide into my seat beside him. "Whatcha playin'?"

"Are you asking what I'm playing?" He replies, barely blinking as he does a move. I roll my eyes.

"No, not at all." I mutter, taking a drink. I really don't care. I don't understand most video games. Halo is alright, but the rest all kind of meld together for me. He sighs and turns it off after saving his progress.

"As you are sitting beside me, I suppose the social convention would be for me to engage you in conversation." Sheldon tells me, sounding entirely put out. I purse my lips for a moment before shrugging.

"It's your birthday. You’re off the hook," I remind him. "And I have to leave in a few minutes." That catches his attention.

"What? But your shift doesn't start until noon. As it only takes approximately ten minutes to reach the Cheesecake Factory by car, there is no reason for you to leave so early." He gives me a disapproving shake of his head. "It's simple math, Penny. With the time it takes you to walk down to your car and—"

"I have to run an errand." I tell him impatiently, cutting him off before he basically calls me something like a backwoods peasant or something equally derisive.

"I see." He tells me, turning the T.V. back to cable and bringing up the guide. So much for the loveable sweetheart from yesterday who was all smiles. I finish my coffee with a sigh and stand to walk back around the couch.

"Happy Birthday, by the way." I tell him, pausing behind him and dropping a kiss to the crown of his hair. Okay, I admit. I wanted to smell the No More Tears shampoo. He immediately looks scandalized and wipes at his hair. Maybe he's pondering pouring Purell straight onto the hair.

"Yes, another year older and still no Nobel Prize." He rubs his hands together and sighs. "I had planned to win it by the time I was thirty, but that notion has been tossed out the window."

"Well, with that attitude." I mutter, putting my mug in the rack and turning back toward him. "Honey, my Gran used to say, 'if it's meant to be, it will happen.'"

"Oh, Penny," Sheldon's voice adopts his normal tone of superiority. "That's just something people tell other people who will never amount to anything." I bring my hand to my forehead and massage my temple, staring at him in disbelief.

"Okay, honey…I love you dearly, but I'm trying to encourage you. And just so you are fully informed, I can easily go into your bedroom, find one of your dolls—" He makes to interrupt me and I hold up my hand.

"Ah!" I stop him. "I will find one of your 'action figures' and shove it up your cute little behind. Got it?" His eyes have gone wide, but he nods. I smile brightly at him in response. "Good boy. Have a great day! I'll see you for dinner. Leonard is going to take you to the comic book store right?"

"Yes." He agrees.

"Good! I'll see you later, okay?" I call, grabbing my purse and keys and heading out the door.


Stuart is reading a comic when I walk into the store. He looks up when I say hi to him and sets it aside with his normal tired, depressed look.

"Hey, Penny."

"Hi, Stuart. Can you help me?" I lean on the counter and give him my sweetest smile…I think. He stares at me hesitantly.

"Are you going to ask me for money?" His voice is quiet, full of trepidation. I frown at him.

"No…why would I ask you for money?"

"Usually when a girl asks me for help, she wants me to loan her money." He shrugs. "The first time it happened, I didn't really think anything of it. But after the fifth time—"

"Stuart, I'm not asking you for money." I insert. "I need to get Sheldon a birthday present and I don't really speak comics."

"I have a special edition Batman comic signed by Adam West." He looks uncertainly behind the counter as if he's not sure why he would bring it up.

"That's the dude who was in the T.V. show right?" I ask cautiously. Stuart nods. "Oh, what the hell?" I agree and pay the money for it. "So, how's life treating you anyway?" I ask while he's bagging the comic.

"I recently decided to stay with my cousin Dale for a while…but I had to move back into the back room of the store because Dale has this bad habit of sleepwalking naked and ended up in bed with me…twice."

"Ew." I groan, shaking my head. This is why Stuart can't find girlfriends. Girls don't want to hear about things going wrong in peoples' lives. They want to laugh and smile and feel pretty and have fun. "Sweetie, do yourself a favor and keep that stuff to yourself." I start to walk out, when he calls to me again.

"Penny, would you be interested in grabbing dinner this weekend?" Oh boy. Why does this always happen to me? Do I have some kind of magnet for emotionally damaged man-children? I mean, Stuart is nice and everything, but I'm not really feeling going on another date after Friday, and I've kind of got my own conflicting thing going on. I don't really understand what I'm conflicted about, but I do know that something is really swerving off course here. So, I smile at Stuart and lie.

"Sorry, honey…I'm kind of seeing someone." I tell him and his eyes widen knowingly as his eyes fall to the bag.

"Oh…I didn't…I mean, I knew you guys were living together, but—"

"Oh, Stuart…" I laugh. "No. Jesus, no. Not Sheldon! Really? Have you met him?" I snort, pushing my braid back over my shoulder. "Sheldon. You're funny, Stuart."

"I am?" He says disbelievingly.

"Yeah." I sober up immediately. "I gotta go." I leave without further conversation and head straight to work.


The afternoon shift is pretty boring aside from the fact that they're training a new girl, who has never been a waitress before. She's probably eighteen or so, and just moved to town from Wyoming. Christ, if that ain't like looking in a warped mirror of my past, I don't know what is. She's planning to be an actress (of course), and has fallen in love with a guy at an audition (yep). Her name is Nikki.

I'm stopped by three of her customers in a row and reminded that they haven't had their orders taken…or their drinks haven't come and it's been twenty minutes…

By the time it's almost time for me to get the hell out of this godforsaken hellhole, I hear a loud clang followed by shattering glass.

Oh, Balls.

Rushing past a large group of people, I find Nikki on the ground, surrounded by the remains of this party's food. She's in tears and covered in gravy. I sigh.

"Go clean yourself up. I'll get started here." I tell her, quickly retrieving a mop, broom and bucket. I begin to carefully pick up broken shards of plates and place them into one of the containers. This is what my life has come to. Me picking up spilled garlic mashed potatoes off of the floor at twenty-six years old. I've worked at the Cheesecake Factory for eight years…that's like a third of my life. I'm going nowhere. I can't work here for the rest of my life. So how can I change it? Or maybe, I'm destined to become my mother and end up with a guy who knocks me up at a wedding.

I can't. I won't.

"I remember you." A voice from nearby says pleasantly and I turn to see a man sitting alone at a nearby table. I smile immediately, a little dumbstruck for a second while my heart begins to beat wildly. Talk about a sign! And those turds don't believe in psychics or fate.

"Yes! Of course!" I nod, smiling down at him. "Is everything okay? Can I get you anything?"

"No, I'm fine. Just enjoying some time to myself." He chuckles. I draw up every ounce of courage and brace my hands against his table.

"Why don't you let me pick up your lunch tab?" I blurt quickly. "I would be forever grateful if you could help me with something." He smiles, looking at me in interest.

"I'm listening."


Meemaw is setting the food on the table when I walk in after work. Mrs. Cooper is talking to Amy with a look similar to the one she adopts while talking to her son. Bernadette and Howard have not arrived yet, so Raj and Leonard are playing Jenga while Sheldon is cleaning (I'm not kidding) one of his toy trains with a toothbrush.

When Meemaw catches sight of me, she walks over and hugs me, catching me by surprise once again.

"Afternoon, Gingersnap." She says to me and I can't help it, I grin. It's becoming clear that she likes food related nicknames as I've learned that she calls George Jr. 'Ding Dong', though I guess that's for a different reason. Missy is Shortcake. I don't care. I think it's awesome and hilarious. I offer to help her set the table and get my hands swatted away.

"I've got it in hand, Darlin'." She assures me. Reluctantly, I crook my finger at the scientist with the unnatural love for trains. I hand him the gift bag with his comic in it and watch him open it. He seems very pleased with the gift and looks up at me.

"I had wondered why Stuart wouldn't answer me about this issue when we were there earlier." He admits. "I had intended on buying it myself."

"Well, there ya go." I tell him, and he's sort of smiling again, which is nice. I wonder for a second what I have to do to bring back that smile from yesterday. It's kind of a sick fascination now.

I begin to feel a little nervous as I check the clock while Meemaw talks to Leonard.

"You know, I met my late husband Arthur when his car broke down on my Daddy's land. I mistook him for an intruder and got out the old shotgun. Got him right in the foot. We never spent a day apart after that." She grins impishly, and I can see a bit of the feisty young girl still in her, shining in her mischievous blue eyes.

There is a knock at the door, nearly making me jump out of my skin.

"Sheldon, why don't you answer that?" I say, noticing him look at me in confusion.

"But, you're closer to the door." He points out, ever the butthead.

"You're the birthday boy!" I tell him, crossing quickly into the kitchen and pouring myself a glass of wine to soothe my nerves. What have I done? Oh God…now I'm nervous. With a scowl, he gets up and moves to open the door. I hold my breath worriedly until he moves aside and three short figures come inside. Two blonde and Howard.

"Happy Birthday, Sheldon!" Bernadette exclaims, grinning up at him. Sheldon likes Bernadette. I can tell…he always seems to relax when she's around and they have this easy way of communicating which she attributes to her years of taking care of her younger sister and brother and the kids at her mother's illegal basement daycare. I guess that explains why she doesn't really want kids. I think she'll change her mind.

"You're never going to guess who we saw earlier." Howard says, moving into the center of the room. "Leslie Winkle." He grins, rubbing his hands together. "You're never going to believe it. She's—"

"Pregnant." Leonard, Sheldon and I all say together. Howard stares goggle eyed at us.

"Yeah, Amy and I ran into her at that seafood place in L.A." Leonard tells him.

"Who do you think the Daddy is?" Howard asks in that creepy, smarmy voice he does, waggling his eyebrows.

"I don't want to know who would waste their seed on a shrew like Leslie Winkle." Sheldon snips, rolling his eyes. Flicking my eyes over to the clock again, I begin to pace a little nervously.

"Everything alright, Darlin'? You look as nervous as a doe on the first day of huntin' season." Mary asks me, catching me by the arm. I nod and turn to make sure Sheldon is (sort of) out of hearing reach.

"Yeah. It's just…I kind of have a surprise for Sheldon and he's either going to love it or kick me out of the apartment." I watch as Mrs. Cooper discreetly studies her thirty-two year old child, who is giving Raj a sermon on the hokum that is hypnosis. Apparently, Bridget suggested it as a treatment for his selective mutism.

Oh, poor Bridget…she's not used to the crazy that is Shelly Cooper.

"Good luck with that, Sugar." Mary tells me dryly. "Alright, y'all! Why don't we all sit down together and start eating?" I begin to panic. It's a few minutes later than I originally planned for, but I haven't lost hope yet. It was kind of a long shot, but I'm praying. I begin to move toward the table when there's a knock at the door.

I can almost feel my heart stop.

"Sheldon?" I hear myself say, avoiding Leonard's questioning look. "Can you get that?"

"Penny," He protests, looking at me in irritation. "I'm just going to sit—"

"Sheldon. I think you need to answer the door." I pause and when he doesn't move, I stamp my foot. "Now." Keeping his eyes warily on me, he stalks toward the door. I do not look away. I can't look away because this is either going to make or break my living arrangements in this apartment. Leonard and I may be switching again if this goes badly.

"I'm sorry," Sheldon is saying as he flings the door open. "You must have the wrong—" He stops dead, his whole body tensing. I am holding my breath watching this unfold. He backs away in a slight daze and reveals the tall, stately man standing there. His eyes are kind behind his glasses and he is wearing a casual sweater.

"Who is it, Shel—?" Leonard begins, standing up and moving to get a better look. "Holy crap on a cracker." He utters, stealing a page from my book. Howard is equally perplexed.

"What the frak?" He turns to look at me suspiciously and I can feel my whole face turn a bright shade of red or something similar.

"Happy Birthday, Sheldon." Leonard Nimoy says, holding his hand out for Sheldon to shake. Blankly, I can see Sheldon's eyes fall to the proffered hand as if he's never seen one before. The other hand is held up in the iconic Star Trek gesture. If I wasn't so thrilled, I would laugh hysterically.

"Sheldon." Leonard urges, physically guiding his hand forward. I choke up when Dr. Whack-A-Doodle's hand is clasped by his hero's.

"Oh, damn." I sniff, wiping futilely at my eyes.

"Who is that?" Bernadette whispers to me, holding out the tissue box. I swallow.

"That's Spock." I tell her hoarsely.

"How did…why?" Howard sputters, looking from Mr. Nimoy to me and back again in confusion. Everyone else in the room is silent.

"I ran into Penny at The Cheesecake Factory." He explains. "She asked if I could drop by to say 'Happy Birthday.' She assured me that there will be no phone calls or letters." He adds, referring to the restraining order that he'd once had on Sheldon.

"You did this, Penny?" Leonard cries. I manage to give him a shrug.

"What can I say? We're old friends." I answer, sniffing again through my laugh. When Sheldon's vague gaze turns to me for some sort of confirmation, I nod. "Happy Birthday, Sheldon." I can see his grandmother beaming from her seat at the dinner table while Bridget, Raj and Bernadette all clump together. Amy has moved beside me and is staring curiously at the two men.

"Sheldon Lee Cooper." Mary reprimands, "Your friend did a very nice thing for you. What do you say?" Hesitantly, Sheldon lets go of Leonard Nimoy's hand and silently walks across the room to me. I know what's coming, so I hold my arms out and let him pull me into one of his strange hugs. It's definitely improving, but it's still weird. Maybe it's weird for a different reason…I don't really know. I can feel him breathing against my hair until he finally says one word.

"Penny."

It's not really a 'thank you,' but at the same time, it's all I need to hear. I've never heard so many different things in one word. Happiness, fear, gratitude, confusion and hope all rolled into one. I don't know what it means, but I'm glad he's happy.

"I know, honey. I know." I assure him, pushing him gently away to go and speak with Mr. Nimoy.

It's much later, once everyone finally leaves and Mr. Nimoy has signed any number of Star Trek memorabilia items that I lock the door and kind of sag in relief and exhaustion. Sheldon is wiping down the counter with his usual Clorox wipe while I turn off the lights. Neither of us is really speaking, but it's okay. It's not that awkward silence where you feel like you have to say things to make conversation. Thankfully, it's never like that with Sheldon. But there are things hanging in the air that need to be said. I know something is coming and I remember a thought I had once. That one day he's going to explode.

He hasn't kicked me out of the apartment yet, so I'm going to take it as a good sign.

"Honey, I'm gonna go to bed." I tell him, moving toward my room. He doesn't answer, but I can tell he's listening. It's like when a cat's ears turn toward you and you know they can hear you but they ignore you anyway.

I pull on my sweatpants and a tank top, throwing my robe over it. Even though my first instinct is to just kick my discarded uniform under the bed, I force myself to put it in the hamper labeled 'dirty'. Yawning, I decide to lie in bed and put on a chick flick while I fall asleep.

I've just flopped down onto the bed and turned on A Walk to Remember, when I hear it.

Knock, knock, knock.

"Penny." It's barely a whisper.

Knock, knock, knock.

"Penny." I can hear my blood rushing in my ears while I attempt to draw in a breath. Here it comes. I'm getting kicked out. Or twenty strikes. Or he's going to make me attend a seminar.

Knock, knock, knock.

"Penny."

"Okay." I tell myself, turning the knob and opening the door. Sheldon's cheeks are still flushed from the excitement earlier and his hair is a mess from absently running his hands through it. "Hi." I say softly. He doesn't speak, so I stay completely still while I wait for him to get it out. Really, your guess is as good as mine where he's going with this. My eyes follow as he falteringly reaches out to me and I can feel only the tips of his fingers on either side of my face.

Okay, what have I done?

I don't speak. I don't move. I don't even think I breathe as he bends down to my level. My hands grip handfuls of sweatpants while I wait for him to do whatever it is he's going to do. I think I know, and I think I'm okay with it, but I don't want to think. I'm tired of thinking. So I wait.

It isn't until his cheek is sort of pressed against mine that I can feel his breath on my ear and I kind of sigh in a mix of relief and inexplicable disappointment.

"Thank you, Penny." He finally murmurs into my ear.

"Anytime, Sheldon." I respond, reaching for his hand and squeezing it. "Happy Birthday." Nodding, he starts toward his bedroom. Feeling a little buzzed on the strange, slightly awkward, weirdly charged moment we just had, I call after him.

"Sheldon!"

"Penny?" He stops, turning to look at me. His eyes are twinkling.

"What is Occam's Razor?" I blurt. I think for a second, I almost see a smile quirk the corners of his lips.

"It's a line of reasoning which suggests that when there are two hypotheses, the simplest answer is usually correct." Sheldon opens his door. "Good night, Penny."

Holy shit on a shingle.

I'm kind of in trouble, aren't I?

 

Chapter Text

By Friday morning, I am a nervous wreck. For the past two nights, I have gone through the motions of my normal life with shaky uncertainty because I am so freaking confused…and disturbed…and…and I don't even really know. Sheldon's Meemaw thankfully is taking up a lot of his time by spoiling him with sweets. I quickly realize that Sheldon's fondness for singing sea shanty songs to work more efficiently was another thing he learned from his grandmother, along with playing the piano.

The worst part is, Meemaw loves me. And I love her right back. It's like Gran never left and I don't want her to go home to Texas because, for the first time, I don't feel like Penny the girl who came the California and wasted eight years being a waitress. I feel like, Penelope, a woman who can do anything with her life as long as someone believes in her.

And I haven't seen such unwavering faith since Gran either. Which brings us to Friday morning, when Meemaw and Mary are getting ready to go home and we drive them to the airport again. I'm feeling this heavy melancholy in my chest, wishing she had more time with us. It almost makes me want to call Mom…almost. Sheldon seems to be taking it fine, as always.

"I expect you to write me first thing Monday morning, MoonPie." Meemaw tells her goofball grandson, who gives her a nod.

"Of course I will." He assures her. "And, as I am obliged to be there, I will see you at Missy's wedding, assuming that it happens."

"Sheldon." Mary hisses at her son, slapping his arm. "I won't have you talkin' behind Missy's back about her engagement."

"I said nothing, other than an obvious statement." He argues calmly, making me shake my head in frustration. "Her fiancé has been married twice and seeing as this will be his third endeavor at marriage, I can only assume with two out of three marriages ending in divorce, that his average does not agree with him. I only hope that, if it does end badly, it ends before the wedding." He turns to look down at me with a derisive look. "What a waste of money and time that would be."

"Oh, honey…Ben is payin' for the reception." Mary assures him. Sheldon huffs, folding his arms.

"I meant for me." He answers hastily. "I will, naturally, have to take time off work and the travel expenses—"

"Sheldon, shut it." I growl, pinching him in the rib and making him shriek. Meeting his mother's eyes, I nod. "Tell Missy he's thrilled for her."

"But I'm n—" He begins and I cut him off by putting my hand over his mouth and giving him a warning look. "Yes, that sounds fine." He remedies, rubbing his side and glaring at me.

Meemaw pulls me into a hug and draws me aside while Sheldon and his mother discuss flight times.

"I'm going to miss you." I tell Meemaw, already feeling a lump in my throat. I'm not really ready to give this up yet.

"Aw, Gingersnap…don't think you're gettin' off clean here. You better be writin' to me too." She warns and I can't help myself, I laugh.

"Of course I will." I promise. She takes both my hands and her eyes flick over to where Sheldon is now listening to his mother rant about George living in sin with his girlfriend.

"Now listen to me." Meemaw says conspiratorially. "I know my grandson ain't the easiest person to deal with. He's a pain in the ass and he's stubborn to boot. I love him dearly, but I've had to suppress the urge to throttle him myself a few times." She admits, making me snicker.

"Oh…Sheldon?" I say jokingly. "I've always found him to be a gem." Meemaw grins knowingly with a wicked gleam her in blue, blue eyes.

"I know. It's a real damn shocker, ain't it?" She agrees, tightening her hands in mine. "But, I'm beggin' ya, Penny, sweetheart. Don't give up on 'im. He needs ya. He's a good boy and he deserves a lot better than he was born with. Do you know over the past four years, out of all the people he writes and complains about, you're the only one he ever really praises?"

"I…huh?" I stare at her, taken aback. "That's impossible." Her eyebrows rise and she purses her lips. Another Sheldon-ism.

"He talks about how ya take care of him, how y'all like spendin' time together." Meemaw sighs. "You gotta understand, Gingersnap. Shelly ain't never liked bein' around other people because he didn't know how to act around 'em. He tolerated Missy and even George, but he never had friends until he moved out here. And he does adore those boys, even though he pretends they don't matter to 'im. But it wasn't until you came along and gave it right back to him that he started changin'. He told me about how ya gave him that napkin and took him to Disneyland and all the times you sang Soft Kitty." She grins at that. "That damn song. I created a monster when I started singin' it to Mary as a girl…but Penny, you oughta know, Sheldon thinks the sun shines outta your ass." I look over at where Sheldon is rolling his eyes at his mother.

"Mom, I am sure God isn't going to send fire raining down because George is having coitus with an unsavory woman." He's saying and I share a look with Meemaw. Unsavory? Does he steal his adjectives from historical romance novels? Yeah, he really seems to think the sun shines out of my ass.

"I don't understand." I say, turning back to Meemaw.

"I'm just sayin'," She goes on. "Even if he pisses you off so bad you wanna kill 'im, just be patient." She leans up and kisses me on the cheek so she can speak into my ear. "My Shelly is worth the wait."

What wait? I mean, does she think I'm going to bail on Sheldon and leave him to live alone and become a psycho weirdo like he kinda was when Leonard first moved in? I mean, yeah, Sheldon is a huge pain in the ass, but I'd never desert the guy. Eventually, I'm (hopefully) going to get married and maybe have a kid or two, but I'll have to make sure that we have a room for Sheldon to grow old.

Oh yeah…I'm sure my husband would love that. 'Yeah, honey…by the way, this is Sheldon. I sing to him when he's sick and basically have to make sure he doesn't live the rest of his life in a physics lab in front of a whiteboard.' Probably not the best environment for kids. Oh God…maybe I can find a nice home for him to live in…or he can move in with Leonard and Amy.

I need a drink.

It's not until we're on the road that I nearly veer off the highway and gasp to myself.

Wait a hot second! Does Meemaw think something's going on with us?

I glance over at Sheldon, who is gazing adoringly at his pocket watch and shake my head. Sheldon? And me?

I laugh out loud, making Dr. Whack-A-Doodle turn his head in my direction.

"What is so entertaining that you are endangering both our lives by tittering like a hyena?" He grumbles, obviously a little cranky from saying goodbye to Meemaw.

"For your info, MoonPie," I reply tauntingly, "I was laughing because I think your grandmother thinks we are having a thing?"

"A thing?" His brows furrow as he pockets that ridiculous watch of his. "What thing are you referring to?"

"Sheldon, I think Meemaw thinks you and I are...that we have…" Oh Christ on a cracker. I take a breath. "I think…that Meemaw is under the impression that you and I like each other."

"Well of course we like each other." Sheldon states, still confused. "I would never have suggested you move into the apartment in Leonard's stead if I didn't like you. I consider you one of my closest friends." I feel a little tug of affection for the big idiot as I reach over and cover his hand. I can feel it jerk with the obvious need to pull away, but to his credit, he doesn't.

"Thank you. But that's not what I mean, honey." I inform him gently. "Meemaw thinks you and I have romantic feelings for each other."

"Oh." He responds, looking vaguely at my hand over his. A second later, it sinks in. "Oh."

"Yeah." I pat his hand and pull it away, biting my lip to keep from smirking as he pulls out his emergency Purell. "Hilarious, right?" I add, turning onto our exit.

"Why would I find that hilarious? If anything, it's odd. I have never indicated that I harbored any sort of romantic notions for you." He insists, looking at me with a sort of desperate look in his eyes. His voice even goes up a little at the end of the sentence.

"Nobody is accusing you, Sheldon!" I promise. Good Lord, I need a drink. "Your Meemaw just wants you to find a nice girl to settle down with." Oh dear baby Jesus, he is still talking. He hasn't heard a word I said.

"And I don't see why you would find that funny. As I have said before, you would be lucky to find a fellow like me." He finishes, giving me a surly look. Taking pity on him, I smile.

"Oh, Sweetie…I didn't mean it like that. I just…we've known each other for so long. It's funny because we're friends!"

"I see." He replies, folding his hands together. After he pauses, he does his usual gaspy laugh and I sigh.

We are back to normal.

When we get home and Sheldon settles before his laptop to play World of Warcraft, I decide to take a shower and put on some sweats to spend the rest of my day off relaxing. I've just settled onto my bed with a glass of wine and Legally Blonde on DVD, when I'm interrupted.

Aw, damn.

Knock, knock, knock.

"Penny." With a sigh, I pause the movie as I wonder what treats Shelly has in store for me this afternoon.

Knock, knock, knock.

"Penny." I finish off my glass as I walk around the bed and wait for him to finish his next round of Sheldon Cooper presents O.C.D.

Knock, knock, knock.

"Penny." Throwing the door open, I grin at him jokingly.

"Come to confess your romantic love for me?" I tease. He is not amused.

"Your incessant asininity is highly amusing." Sheldon retorts, quirking an eyebrow. "Sarcasm."

"Yep." I roll my eyes at him. "Whatcha want?" He looks like he wants to correct my grammar for a moment, but presses on.

"Amy is here to see you." His voice is dry as if enduring my presence is simply too much for him to bear.

"Oh, thanks!" I exclaim, reaching up and patting his cheek.

"Penny!" He whines, sounding every inch the five year old. I snort, swallowing a laugh as I pass him. Amy is sitting on the right end of the couch, nervously playing with the ends of her long hair.

"Hey, Bestie."

"Hey, Ames. What's goin' on, honey?" I ask, hoping she and Leonard haven't had a fight. He's been known to talk out of his ass and she isn't used to it. I seriously will go Junior Rodeo on his ass if he did.

"I need your help." She tells me, accepting a glass of water from Sheldon, who sullenly heads back to his laptop. I wink at him, making him scowl at me. It's too damn easy to provoke him!

"Okay, shoot." I tell her and she looks at me in confusion for a sec.

"By shoot, do you mean…?"

"Talk, Sweetie." I correct, remembering that Amy sometimes thinks like her former robot wannabe boyfriend.

"Very well. Penny, I need you to make me sexy." She says bluntly, taking me off guard as usual. My mouth has dropped open and I must look like I've had a stroke.

"I, uh—" Looking at Sheldon, who is glaring at the screen of his damn computer, I realize he's going to be no help, so I turn back to Amy. "What brought this on?"

Amy smoothes the fabric of her skirt and sets down her water.

"I want to surprise Leonard, and I read in a female magazine that when you look good, you feel good. As a neurobiologist, I am curious as to whether that is true." Amy adjusts her glasses, peering at me through the glass. I must still look like a goldfish.

"Okay, Sweetie…I'm willing to jump onboard if you're really just curious. But I need to know that you aren't trying to change who you are just to please your boyfriend."

"Oh, that's not the case." Amy assures me stoically. "Although, I have noticed that, based on the way Leonard reacts to female celebrities, that he prefers women who have rounder buttocks, rather than a woman who is better endowed in the chest." I stare at her blankly for a moment.

"Huh-wha—?" I mutter and Amy turns to Sheldon.

"Tell her." She instructs him. Sighing, Sheldon turns away from his computer and gives both of us a withering gaze. Brat.

"Leonard is an 'ass man.'" Sheldon explains calmly, making air quotes with his fingers. I give him a pointed look.

"I'm sorry, I just hallucinated. Did you say, ass man?"

"Yes, I—" His jaw clenches in irritation. "Weren't you listening?"

"Unfortunately, yes." I grumble, turning back to Amy. "Okay, doll…let me change and we can head over to the salon and then we can swing by the mall and grab a few things."

"Penny, I thought we were going to go to Big Boy later." Sheldon protests, standing up. I forgot I promised the man-child a rousing night on the town at the always classy Big Boy.

"Well, how about I get takeout from Big Boy and bring it home on the way back?" I offer in compromise. He seems to think about this for a moment, before nodding.

"That is acceptable." He agrees and I almost roll my eyes.

"Oh good." I respond sardonically. Because I wasn't giving you a choice, MoonPie.

I dash into my bedroom and dig through my drawers for something to wear and settle for skinny jeans and a billowy top with a pair of boots. I pull the front part of my hair back and secure it with a red Penny Blossom, surveying my reflection in the mirror. Eh, whatever. Good enough.

"Effortless style and cool confidence…you should be on the cover of Cosmopolitan." Amy tells me when I come in the room. I look skeptically down at my outfit and shake my head.

"I doubt that. But thanks."

"But who would want to be on the cover of that awful feminine magazine, which contributes nothing to the world other than superficial advice and projects an unsuitable body image to women?" Sheldon pipes up from his spot, because what afternoon would be complete without the high opinion of his highness?

"Me." I tell him, reaching for my purse. "I'll be home around six. You pick the movie." I tell him, taking Amy by the arm and herding her toward the door.

"Maybe we should see if Bernadette and her sister want to come hang out too?" I suggest and Amy shakes her head.

"I inquired earlier if they would be available to come and Bernadette informed me that her mother was having their younger brother and sister over for dinner to welcome Bridget back to California." Amy tells me.

"Alrighty!" I smile brightly. "Let's go get you sexy."

After an hour at the salon, Amy is good to go. The stylist hasn't changed her drastically, thankfully. All that has really been changed is the style. The shining mahogany locks are now cut into flattering layers around her face. Since her hair is so fine, the layers give her hair some much needed body. I like it because it doesn't make her look different; it enhances what she already has. And her eyes pop.

It's not until we're in the middle of Victoria's Secret that she stares around, lost. I urge her toward the lingerie and hold up a thong.

"Black is always the best choice." I inform her. "Guys see black and instantly think hot."

"How is this a practical choice? It doesn't seem natural to have a piece of fabric lodged between your buttocks. Underwear were design to protect the outer clothes from bodily secretions and to provide support. Neither of which this garment can—"

"Oh. No." I stop her. "Honey, thongs are about looks. And preventing panty lines…but mostly, thongs are to put your booty on display for your man." She gingerly takes the thong by hooking her finger under one of the side strings. Her eyes are doubtful. I brush her new bangs out of her face. "Trust me."

"Alright, I'll take your word for it." Amy agrees, making me smile.

"Now, let me show you something else." I say, pulling her toward the side and lifting a hanger from the rack. "This is a pushup bra."

We leave Victoria's Secret with two bags full of new undies for Amy. The fact that I'm helping my best girl friend buy sexy lingerie to show to her boyfriend who happens to be my ex-boyfriend and the best friend of her ex-boyfriend and—

Holy shit…this is really fucked, isn't it?

After a quick trip to Macy's for some cute clothes (that don't involve cardigans, brown tights or loafers), quality makeup and a tutorial from the girl at the counter, I am satisfied with our progress and we head out.

"Aw, crap on a cracker." I mutter, checking my phone. "It's almost seven!" I hadn't realized we'd been gone so long. Sheldon is probably going stir crazy without his Big Boy burger. I'm surprised I don't have twenty missed calls or ninety-five texts telling me I have a strike for starving him. I quickly call and order the takeout as we rush to my decrepit Volkswagon.

I meticulously inspect the food to make sure that it fits Shelly's nutso standards before I pay and we finally head back to the apartment. Amy and I part ways in the parking lot as she heads home to get ready for her date with Leonard at eight. Apparently, he's picking her up and taking her to some bar with Howard and Bernadette. Ah, to be young.

"You kids have fun!" I call after her as I head inside to eat dinner on my couch with a six foot two inch first grader and watch a movie I don't understand. Opening the door, I brace myself for a stern talking to and cautiously set my keys in the bowl. "Okay, Sheldon honey, I am so sorry I'm l—" I stop dead, gasping and nearly drop the bag of takeout at the sight before me.

Okay, let me try to find the words to explain the absurdity of the situation before my eyes.

Dr. Sheldon fucking Cooper is lying upside down in his spot on the couch with his long legs dangling over the back and his head his hanging down off the seat and he's twirling the T.V. remote lazily in his fingers. His shirt has come up, baring his belly button.

What. The. Hell?

"Hey Penny…" He says, sounding kind of like he's underwater.

"Hi, Sheldon." I tell him, carefully setting the food on the counter and trying to figure out how to approach him. "Whatcha been doin'?" Hey, he's not berating me for being over an hour late, so I'm playing my hand for all it's worth.

"I'm watchin' T.V." He tells me all Texas, giggling a little and frightening the hell out of me. "Have you ever heard of a program called Jersey Shore?"

Oh God.

"Uh huh." I say, inching closer and watching him lose hold of the remote. He forgets about it in an instant and begins playing with the hem of his T-Shirt.

"Well, there's this girl named Snooki an' she's orange!" Another giddy chuckle. "She laughs funny an' her hair looks silly."

What has he gotten into? Has Howard been around and given him more of his mother's Valium?

"Um, honey…what's going on here?" I ask, moving to sit beside him on the couch and trying to pluck the hem of his shirt to cover his stomach again. He grabs my hand quickly and brings it close to his face, studying it. I'm kind of terrified as I scan the room and notice an empty pitcher on the coffee table.

Oh. Fuck.

"Sheldon, what have you been drinking?" I ask in a low voice.

"I had some of that iced tea you made." He tells me, confirming my suspicions while he plays with my fingers. (I had made a pitcher of Long Island iced tea for when the girls come tomorrow night.) "It tasted funny…"

"And you drank the whole thing?" I urge him, turning my face away when he pulls my hand to his cheek.

"I was thirsty." He whispers as if he's confessing his darkest secret.

"Okay." I whisper back. He's going to have one bitch of a hangover tomorrow. "Do you want to eat your burger?" I brush his hair off his forehead with my free hand. Sheldon attempts to sit up, long legs flopping over me as he tries to turn himself upright. I scoot over while he fumbles to sit in his spot and falls into the seat, half facing me with his cheek resting against the back of the couch.

"Hi." He says, giving me a silly grin. I cross over to retrieve our food and return, pulling food out of the bag and splitting it up.

"Honey, you know that tea had alcohol in it…" I begin, handing him his box.

"That explains a lot." He nods, nearly dropping his burger as he takes the biggest bite I have ever seen him take. Drunk Sheldon is terrifying. "Hey," He looks up in vague realization. "You let me consume alcohol…That's probably a strike." He hiccups a little and takes another bite.

"I'm giving myself a strike." I mutter, biting into my own sandwich.

"Nah, it's okay. I won' give you one." He shrugs, making me snort in response.

Let's see how you feel about that in the morning Dr. Whack-A-Doodle.

"I gotta tell you a secret." He slurs, finishing off the burger. Jesus. I set my food aside, full of morbid fascination as I study my drunk roommate.

"Okay." I eye him warily as he smiles similar to his 'koala face.'

"But, you can't tell Leonard." He adds worriedly. His cheeks are flushed from the alcohol.

"Of course not." I agree, feeling a jumble of nerves in the pit of my stomach.

"Or Amy." Sheldon continues, maddeningly. I exhale.

"Alright."

"You have green eyes." He murmurs and I frown in bemusement.

"That's not a secret, Sheldon."

"Tha's not the secret, Penny." He tries to give me a condescending look, but is unsuccessful, "You're pretty."

"You are drunk." I laugh, shaking my head and starting to get up and clear away our garbage. He catches my arm just above the elbow and pulls me back down onto the couch.

"Don' leave!"

"Honey, I'm just going to throw away this stuff." I assure him, patting his cheek.

"No." He shakes his head vigorously, still gripping my arm.

"Sheldon, sweetheart…I need to get you some water." Carefully, I pry his fingers one by one off of my arm and dart across the room with the trash, pulling the filtered water from the fridge and retrieving a glass before putting it on the counter. I've got to get his ass sober. Now. "I can never remember, do you like ice in your—" I turn around and bump straight into Sheldon's chest and scream.

"Shh!" He puts his finger to my lips quickly and I freeze, eyes wide. I am officially freaked. I have no idea what the weirdo is going to do, but I'm not prepared for this. I've never dealt with this Sheldon. I miss the old one…condescending and blunt, meticulous. Give me a strike. Give me twenty! Just, go back to normal!

"That wasn't the secret either." Sheldon finally says, trapping me against the fridge and bending to my eye level with his eyes boring into mine.

"Oh." I murmur in a quavering voice, my eyes must be like saucers. I feel his hand rest on the side of my neck. I'm not afraid he's going to hurt me…not the way it was with Chris. I just don't know what is happening right now.

"The secret is…" He trails off again, and I say nothing, mostly because I'm waiting for him to just get it out, flattening my sweaty palms against my thighs. "This secret is…" I squeeze my eyes shut, afraid to watch. A second later, I can feel warm breath on my face. Sweet, alcohol scented breath.

Ohhh boy.

"The secret is…this." He barely gets the last word out before I feel something soft barely brush my lips. My eyes fly open. His eyes are closed, but he presses forward and our lips are fully merged together. Without thinking, my hands come up between us and grip the front of his Flash T-Shirt in my hands. Sheldon Cooper is kissing me in our kitchen and I can only think one damn thing.

The cat's alive.

 

Chapter Text

Saturday morning is really fun (sarcasm) because not only do I wake up before eleven, I wake up to the luxurious symphony of barfing coming from the bathroom. I'm not really all that angry since I haven't slept anyway, so I force myself from my warm sheets and trudge into the kitchen, where I very calmly and quietly pour a glass of water and plop in a couple of Alka Seltzers. Shaking my head, I cautiously approach the bathroom, afraid of the monster that lies behind that door and softly knock.

"Sheldon?" I call in the quietest voice I can manage because Lord knows I've been in his position a million times before. I hear a muffled grunt and snicker before carefully nudging the door open and peering in. Sheldon is sitting in a tangled heap of long limbs in front of the toilet, looking around as if he's never seen the bathroom before. "Hey." I say as if I'm talking to a skittish dog. He glares at me, though I'm pretty sure it's more irritation with the situation rather than with me. I didn't tell him to drink an entire pitcher of alcoholic iced tea! Without another word, I hand him the glass with the Alka Seltzer and sit cross legged beside him on the floor. Giving me a suspicious look, he takes a sip of the water and cringes.

"Oh, what fresh Hell is this?"

I snort, trying to hide my amusement. "It's medicine. It'll make you feel better, honey." I assure him.

"What was in that tea?" He growls after managing a sip, gagging a little at the thought of it. I bite my lip.

"Um, Gin, Tequila, Vodka and Rum?" I offer and he closes his eyes. "I'm sorry, Sweetie! I should have labeled it. It was for when the girls come over tonight. I already gave myself a strike, but you told me not to worry about it." I stare at him, wondering how much he remembers from the night before.

"Excuse me?" He asks, drinking again, and wincing as his stomach fights with him.

"Actually your exact words were, and I quote, 'Nah, it's okay. I won't give you one.'" I urge him to drink the rest of the water and gingerly take the empty glass from him.

"That doesn't sound…" He starts to argue, but his face goes blank a second later.

"Do you remember anything?" I ask, holding my breath. It had been a really strange long night and I'm not sure I have the strength to inform Sheldon of his…uh, behavior.

"Penny." Sheldon sighs, swallowing against another wave of nausea. "I have an eidetic memory and an I.Q. of one hundred eighty seven. I can assure you—"

"Okay, what happened?" I challenge, gripping his empty glass in my hands as I get off the bathroom floor and move to the towel rack to wet one of the clean washcloths there.

"I was thirsty, so I went to the refrigerator with the intention of having a Diet Coke and I saw the iced tea. As it was quite warm yesterday, I decided some iced tea would be nice, so I had a glass and found that, even though it tasted different, that it was creating a rather pleasant feeling…"

"And you didn't catch on that you were tipsy?" I ask incredulously, pressing the wet washcloth to his forehead. His blue eyes shoot fire at me and I hold back a smirk.

"I attributed it to the heat." Sheldon tells me moodily, but I can feel his body has relaxed a little.

"Okay, so then what?" I prod, kneeling beside him and keeping the washcloth on his head.

"So then, I was waiting for you to return from your shopping excursion with Amy Farrah Fowler, which you were late returning from." He adds, giving me a pointed look. "And I decided to watch a television show, but something must have been wrong with the station because it was upside down."

Yeah, eidetic memory my ass…he's not remembering much.

"Then I must have fallen asleep." Sheldon finishes, "Because the next thing I remember is waking up this morning with the urge to vomit."

"So, you don't remember wolfing down your burger from Big Boy faster than one of those Japanese eating contest guys?" I laugh, placing his hand on the washcloth to hold it himself and getting up again. Reaching down, I pull him by the wrist to his feet and realize he is still in his clothes from last night.

"I did no such thing!" Sheldon cries, horrified. Oh no? Buddy, you have no idea what you were up to last night…

"You don't remember hanging upside down on the couch?" I go on, pulling him toward his room.

"Of course not." His voice is full of arrogance as if he could never do such a thing.

"Do you remember telling me a secret?" I finally force myself to ask. He looks down at me with apparent pity on his face.

"Penny, as you know, I cannot keep a secret. And since I remember being told no secret, I can assure you that there is no possible way that I told you a secret." His face adopts that smug look of his and it makes me want to punch him momentarily.

"Okay, I guess it wasn't a secret then." I shrug, opening his door and pushing him inside. He stumbles a little, frowning at me.

"What wasn't?" Sheldon now looks genuinely perturbed, which is giving me an insane amount of satisfaction.

"Honey, you're the one with the eidetic memory. You tell me." I reply casually, practically hauling him onto his bed…pretty much exactly the way I had to only hours before. At least he's holding his own weight and not singing show tunes. Of all the weird nights in my life, last night hits the top five.

Let's see…

Took Amy shopping for slutty lingerie to surprise Leonard. (Again, this is screwed up for multiple reasons.)

Came home to find Sheldon Cooper hanging upside down and watching fucking Jersey Shore. (Speaks for itself.)

Watched Sheldon inhale a burger like Kobayashi.

Oh yeah, did I mention Dr. Whack-A-Doodle kissed me?

Seriously, what the crap? And, the big goofball doesn't remember (thank Jesus). Because I'm not going to tell him. He'll probably accuse me of trying to steal his virtue or something like that.

Okay, so maybe I kind of enjoyed it, like…a lot, or whatever. But it wasn't real. He probably would have kissed Leonard if he'd been there. I was just the one who was unfortunate enough to be near him. And it's not like it was this great romantic moment, I mean, the guy kissed me out of nowhere, pulled away and looked back toward the couch with a squeal of childish glee.

"Ooh, Penny!" He'd cried excitedly, already halfway across the room. "Let's watch Star Trek and count all the times Spock says, 'Fascinating!'"

Meanwhile, I had been left standing against the fridge wondering what the hell had just happened. So, I'd grabbed a couple cans of Diet Coke, headed back to the couch and watched Star Trek with MoonPie until probably three in the morning, upon which time, I'd lugged him from the couch to his bedroom while he sang If I Were A Rich Man from Fiddler on the Roof.

Back to the present, where Sheldon is now staring suspiciously at me as if I'm the one who was acting out of the ordinary last night.

"Penny, I am in no mood for mind games." Sheldon sighs, falling onto the bed and placing the wet cloth over his eyes.

"Neither am I, MoonPie." I agree, patting his arm. "When you figure it out, you let me know, 'kay?"

"Pen—"

"Go to sleep, Sheldon." I warn and he lets out a small sigh of distress.

"Penny." He whines, making my head hurt.

"Huh." I reply, starting toward the door.

"You have to sing Soft Kitty to me per Section Eight." He informs me moodily. "Hungover is sick."

Balls.

"Oh, goody." I mutter, coming back to the bed and sitting on the side of it, placing my hand on his chest. He moves his washcloth and gives me a look.

"What are you doing?" He asks, looking at my hand.

"Shut up." I warn, and he falls silent while I sing that song. "Good night, Sheldon."

"It's day, Penny. You can't say—"

"Good day, Sheldon." I amend through gritted teeth, fleeing toward the door. He doesn't answer me again and I shut the door behind me, hoping he's out for a while so I can recover. I walk into the kitchen and weakly start a pot of coffee when I hear a knock at the door.

It's Leonard.

"Hey." He says, smiling until he notices the state I'm in. "Baby keep you up all night?" I step aside so he can come in and shut the door behind him.

"You don't even know." I grumble, walking slowly back toward my beautiful pot of coffee. "Coffee?" I offer. He nods and I pull out two mugs.

"I…just came over to thank you." Leonard says while I pour and put a little milk in mine. He drinks his black.

"For what?" I ask, sitting on the stool beside his.

"For what you did for Amy yesterday. I've never seen her so…happy?" He tells me. "And thanks for not making her blonde or something."

"Hey, what's wrong with blonde?" I protest, pretending to be offending. Leonard chuckles.

"You know what I mean. I don't want Amy to change who she is." He insists, making me smile. There's the right answer. Too bad he wasn't around for the little mermaid.

"Well, you're welcome. I think all Ames ever needed was a little confidence." I assure him, patting his arm. "She looks pretty damn good, huh?" The way that Leonard's cheeks turn pink tells me that, yeah, she definitely looks damn good.

"The black lingerie didn't hurt either." He inserts and I bite back a giggle and smack his arm.

"No details!"

"So, what happened here last night?" Leonard continues, and I realize I must look like death warmed over.

"Oh God." I shake my head. "I came home from shopping with Amy to find your ex-roommate upside down on the couch after drinking an entire pitcher of Long Island Iced tea."

"What?" Leonard laughs in surprise. "Did he take his pants off again?" I close my eyes against the memory of that incident.

"No, thank God." I answer. "He was just…out of his mind. He was watching Jersey Shore."

"Ew."

"I know." I agree, nodding enthusiastically. "Then he made me stay up until three a.m. counting how many times Spock says 'Fascinating.' on Star Trek!"

"Oh God!" Leonard laughs. "Well at least he kept his clothes on."

Yeah…it's his mouth that was doing the wandering.

Gah! Holy fucking goddamn shit!

"Yeah." I agree, forcing a laugh. "He's sleeping it off now." Biting my lower lip, I grip the sleeve of Leonard's shirt. "Hey, don't tell him I told you though."

"Yeah, and listen to his sermon on how nobody having a good time ever achieved anything? Pass!" Leonard sighs, drinking his coffee.

"Touché." I click our glasses together, but I am not really listening. It's really not fair that I have to live with what happened well Dr. Pain-in-my-ass gets to blissfully sleep it off and not remember anything. Usually, I'm the one who doesn't remember anything.

"You okay?" Leonard asks out of nowhere and I nod.

"I just didn't really get a lot of sleep." I yawn. "I think I'm gonna take a really long, hot shower and I nap."

"Yeah, I'm meeting Raj for lunch anyway. I think it's about Priya." He cringes. "He sounded kind of urgent. I don't know…oh!" His eyes light up. "I meant to tell you. Howards Dad and his half brother are coming into town to meet him. His little brother is looking at UCLA as a college."

"Oh, shit! How is Mrs. Wolowitz taking it?" I ask, moving to put our mugs in the sink and wash them quickly.

"Howard said he isn't telling her." Leonard rolls his eyes. "I don't know how Bernadette deals with it."

"I know she's against him meeting his dad." I say, running a hand tiredly through my hair. Even my scalp hurts I'm so tired.

"Yeah, he said they've been arguing about it." Leonard sighs. "Well, I'm sure you'll hear more from her tonight. Thanks for the coffee." Leonard leaves and I head toward the bathroom, yearning for the feel of hot water on my aching limbs.

Sheldon doesn't emerge from his room until well after three in the afternoon and though he still looks like he just survived the Titanic, he seems to be back to normal. If anything, he's in a bad mood. I simply avoid him and set about getting things ready for the girls to come over later. It's Sheldon's laundry night, so we get the absolute pleasure of his company as well. I run out and buy mix for Cosmos to replace the iced tea that has been consumed by Dr. Whack-A-Doodle.

He's at his whiteboard when I get home, working on more equations that I will never understand.

"Hey." I say, moving around to put the stuff I bought away. "I got stuff to make some pasta tonight. Is that okay with you?" He looks back at me and for a second, I think he might throw up again. "Oh, sorry Sweetie…still feeling sick?"

"Minimally." He responds. "Pasta will be acceptable."

"Perfect." I murmur, putting the noodles in the cupboard and putting the Cosmo mix in the freezer. "The girls will be here around six. We're going to watch the movie Clueless, so if that's too girly for you, I'm pretty sure the guys are going to be at Leonard's." No response.

Awesome.

"Cool." I finally retort to his silence. "How are you feeling?"

"If you are referring to my earlier dehydration caused by my consumption of your tainted iced tea, I am feeling much better, if not somewhat weak from my earlier vomiting. If you are referring to my emotional state, I am content though slightly puzzled."

"Puzzled about what?" I inquire, pouring myself a nice medicinal glass of red wine. Oh, sweet warming liquid. Not even sparing me a glance, he continues to write on the board while simultaneously making notes in a notebook.

"As my REM cycles last evening were not sufficient, I was plagued with vivid dreams which projected disturbing images." He says casually, as if discussing the weather. I choke on my wine, earning a scathing look from my very cheerful friend.

"I'm sorry, Sweetie." I shrug helplessly, sitting on the couch and flipping through the channels past another rerun of Jersey Shore. There's no way in hell I'm going to try and jog that memory. I settle for Toddlers and Tiaras and watch as some horrid woman pimps out her little boy while simultaneously making her daughter (who is also in pageants) feel like crap about herself.

Around five I start the water for the pasta and throw the Alfredo sauce into a pot.

"That is your idea of an acceptable Alfredo?" I hear from nearby and turn to see Dr. Crackpot reading the label on the jar. This is normally when I would come back with a snide remark and roll my eyes, but I kind of don't have the energy at this point. I'm staring at his freaking mouth and thinking about how the snooty expression on his face is kind of weirdly hot.

NO!

"Ow, shit!" I cry as I touch the pan without thinking. I immediately put my finger in my mouth and try to ignore the burning.

"No, no, no!" Sheldon patronizes me immediately, pulling me by the wrist to the sink while I stumble along.

"What?" I ask, watching as he swiftly turns on the cold water and thrusts my finger underneath the faucet.

"Cold water first to draw out the heat. Then antibiotic." He sighs. "Honestly Penny, if I left it up to you, you would probably stick your hand in a jar full of scorpions if some magazine told you that that was the way to fix it." I'd barely even burned it and he's acting like I stuck my hand in a furnace. Hey, at least he's touching me. I can almost smell the No More Tears…

"Arghh!" I cry out, closing my eyes against my screwed up brain and the weird things it's envisioning.

"Have I hurt you?" Sheldon asks, searching my face. I shake my head.

"No, it's my mental state I'm worried about." I grouse. I am the picture of patience as he makes me sit on a stool while he uses a Q-Tip to put Neosporin on my finger and carefully wrap a bandage around it.

"Now, we will need to change the dressing daily." He informs me.

"Thank you, Doctor." I tell him dryly, looking at my hand, covered in an ever classy Batman Band-Aid while Sheldon puts away his extensive First Aid kit. Once he's re-sterilized himself, he then proceeds to add ingredients to the pre-made Alfredo sauce. I watch him add garlic, parmesan cheese and pepper to it. My eyes fall to the back of his plaid pants. What is happening here?

Drink up, Penny!

Mercifully, Bernadette, Bridget and Amy all arrive early and we settle around the T.V. to watch Clueless, one of my all time favorites. Amy looks amazing again today. She's wearing her contacts and has her hair lying casually in layers over her shoulders. I almost squeak in glee when I see she's wearing one of the outfits I picked out for her. Dark skinny jeans with a black shirt that is decorated with rhinestones and topped with a short sleeved shrug. She's wearing a pair of yellow high heels, a pair that she bought last year with us.

"Wow." I grin, hugging her when she comes into the apartment on slightly shaky legs. She takes my arm and holds on tightly.

"Ho, Mama. These shoes make my behind look juicy, but they make my feet ache like they're in a damn vise." Amy groans, hobbling over to the armchair and looking at Sheldon, who is checking his watch to determine when he needs to go change his laundry to the dryer. "Hey sexy." She tells him, raising an eyebrow at him jokingly. I smirk, sharing a look with Bernadette while Bridget stares at them in surprise.

"Amy, while your current state of appearance is visually pleasing, I would appreciate if you did not sexually harass me in my own home."

"Oh, get over it." I get Amy a bowl of pasta and bring it to her so she doesn't have to walk more than necessary. I forgot how much I love Clueless. Even though Cher, who I used to wish I could be, is actually kind of irritating now, I have to admire her in the end. She makes the right choice in the end when she chooses Josh. And, a young Paul Rudd ain't offending anyone.

Yum.

Hell, Paul Rudd now ain't offending anyone.

"Howard's father and brother will be here next Saturday." Bernadette says while the credits are rolling. I dole out the Cosmo mix to everyone and make sure Sheldon gets a nice Diet Coke.

"How is he taking it?" I ask, forcing Sheldon to move over a little bit with my butt. He exhales and gives me a baleful glance.

"He's acting like it's no big deal, but I can see how hurt he is." Bernadette shakes her head, full of her own brand of rage. "I mean, the man left him when he was eleven. Why should Howie even give him the time of day?"

"I guess we should try to see it from his point of view, Bernie." Bridget chimes in brightly. "He hasn't seen his father since he was a little boy. Even though he doesn't owe him anything, it makes sense that he would want to see his father because he never got closure with the man. And he's obviously always longed for a family, so I don't see why he wouldn't want to meet his little brother."

"Bridget makes a valid point." Amy agrees, sweeping her hair behind her shoulder. It makes me smile. "As a biologist, I'm surprised you didn't draw that conclusion yourself, Bernadette."

"I work with yeast." Bernadette points out, taking a sip of her Cosmo.

"Like I said," Sheldon cuts into the conversation and gives me a pointed look. "Yucky, squishy things."

"You're a yucky, squishy thing." I retort acidly, elbowing him sharply. He simply shakes his head as if he is so far above responding to that, he won't even acknowledge it.

"You know, this movie couldn't be more unrealistic." Sheldon finally says when he has no comeback for me.

"Of course it couldn't. That's why we like it." I remind him dryly.

"You like a story about a spoiled, rich girl who really does nothing to better the world other than to superficially change people into what she thinks they should be and still gets everything she wants in the end?" He challenges.

"Oh, here we go." Amy mutters, but she's smiling at me with a conspiratorial grin. The girl did spend five months of the past year dating the nutjob, so she understands better than most people.

"I think the point is that she changes herself to be better so that she does deserve a guy like Josh in the end." I gently explain.

"Nonsense." He sighs, getting up after checking his watch. Without another word, he leaves the apartment to go and retrieve his laundry.

"So, he's fun…" I chuckle, eyeing Bridget, who mostly looks confused.

"Asperger's?" She guesses and I tilt my head in confusion.

"Ass what?" I say, looking to Amy for help.

"Probably mildly, undiagnosed." Amy agrees, grinning. "Among other issues." Turning to me, she explains that Asperger's is some kind of Autism that shows difficulties in social interaction (pretty much) and set routines (Bingo). "However," She continues, "Sheldon has also had significant familial issues in his past, so even if he does have Asperger's, it is not the only contributing factor. Not to mention how far he has come since I met him."

"You should have seen him when I met him." I grin. "He was worse."

"Well, that makes sense." Bridget agrees. "You know," She adds, changing gears now. "Raj said the weirdest thing to me when we were out last time. I think he was trying to ask me out, but he's gay, right?" I nearly spit out my Cosmo.

"What? No!" I cry, laughing. "He's not gay!" Bridget's eyes become as round as saucers.

"Oh! I thought…I mean…he's so sweet and funny, and cute…and those sweater vests…"

"Bridgie, Howard wears Dickeys." Bernadette giggles. "They're all just quirky. Raj is definitely not gay." She and I share a look, remembering when he had a huge crush on her.

"You should go out with him Bridget. It might do the boy some good to have interaction with a female." I am officially having a great time now. This is why I love these girls.

After they've gone home and I'm cleaning up, I finally am ready to get the first sleep I've gotten in two days. I turn off the lights and trudge to my bedroom, almost in tears at the thought of bed. I've just changed into my shorts and tank top when I hear it.

Knock, knock, knock.

"Penny." Why? Why must you torture me MoonPie?

Knock, knock, knock.

"Penny."

Knock, knock, knock.

"Penny."

I hesitate for a second before opening the door to reveal Sheldon in all his plaid pajama glory. I make myself smile even though at this point, I'm so exhausted I can't really feel my face. He looks equally tired.

"What's up?" I yawn. He looks like he's fighting with himself to get it out, so I wait, leaning against my door frame.

"I kissed you." He blurts after a moment and I can feel the blood leave my face. Slowly, I nod.

"Uh huh." I finally say. His cheeks are rapidly turning a violent shade of pink as he begins to stammer.

"I'm…I didn't…please don't—"

"Sheldon, stop." I reach out and put a hand on his arm, which he stares at as if I've burned him.

"I propose a restore." He says and I look at him warily.

"What?"

"When something goes wrong in a computer, you restore it to before it went wrong and then—"

"No." I say firmly. "You don't get to pretend it didn't happen." His eyes are wide with, I don't know? Fear?

"But Penny, I—"

"Nope." I shake my head. "No harm done, but I'm not a computer, Sheldon. You can't just reset me." With a sigh, I carefully hug him and stand up on my toes to kiss his cheek. (He can pour Lysol on himself later, I don't care.) "But you want to know something, MoonPie?" I add, folding my arms and staring at his stricken face. "You aren't a computer either. And I think last night proved that. Go get some sleep, honey." With that, I shut the door and fall into my bed into a dreamless, deep sleep.

I'm glad tomorrow is Sunday.

 

Chapter Text

Sunday and Monday go by pretty uneventfully, if not a little awkward after Sheldon tried to reset our odd relationship on Saturday night. If anything, he seems to try and avoid speaking to me like he's afraid of what will come out of his mouth. I'm kind of confused myself. I'm confused about his reaction, but mostly I'm confused about my reaction to the ordeal. I mean, it's still Sheldon. But it's not…I don't know. Every time I remind myself that it's Sheldon, I feel this nagging feeling in the back of my mind…but I can't identify the feeling. It's kind of like a conscience or something, except it's not telling me what to do...or how I'm supposed to feel. I mean, It's not like I have feelings for Sheldon, you know? Just because he kissed me when he was trashed?

Please, if you fell in love every time you shared a sloppy, drunken kiss with someone, I'd have been—

Let's not go there, Penny, 'kay?

And it wasn't a sloppy, drunken kiss. It wasn't even open mouthed, for goodness sake! It lasted maybe ten seconds. And then he forgot about it and ditched me for Spock.

Sheldon is a Spock-tease! (Okay, if I wasn't so fucking disturbed that would be gold and you know it!)

I just wish he would talk to me…even belittle me. Anything to make me feel like things are okay with us. But he doesn't. He's become this quiet, careful person around me and I hate it. I do notice his anxiety must be off the damn charts, because he's acting more O.C.D. than usual, cleaning things meticulously. Arranging his food on his plate before he eats it. That's when I remember that Sheldon doesn't like things he can't control, so he becomes obsessed with the things he can. It's actually kind of sad when I think about it. So, I find myself being extra nice to him, making sure everything is to his liking. Carefully cleaning up after myself.

I hate this.

On Tuesday, I decide to try a different approach while hiding out in my bedroom. Turning on my laptop, I put my headset on and sigh. Is this really what I've resorted to? It's really a good thing Sheldor the Conqueror is so easy to find, under his favorite tree in the jungle, obviously plotting something. Queen Penelope sneaks up on him.

"Hey, Sheldor!" I fire at him, making Queen Penelope shove him.

"Penny!" I hear him whine over the headset and roll my eyes.

"Oh, so you'll talk to me now?" I challenge, letting her go at him again. Sheldor stares at Queen Penelope, obviously dumbstruck, which means Dr. Whack-A-Doodle is probably not happy right now.

"Sheldor the Conqueror signing off." He says and then he's gone.

Damn him.

By Wednesday, things are weird. Like, really weird. Sheldon and I are being polite to each other, barely communicating. An uneasy silence has settled over our apartment and I find myself craving those times when everyone is over and there is noise in the room. I've been taking extra shifts at the Cheesecake Factory just to keep busy so that I don't have to sit next to Sheldon all night and wonder what he's thinking. He's just so damn hard to read! And who does he even think he is? Why does he get to stop talking to me? Is he really pissed that I refused to let him "reset" our friendship or whatever kind of weird thing this is.

I'm a ball of freaking nerves and I'm really off my game at work too…I literally brought someone a grilled chicken sandwich and they order pasta. Seriously? I've been a waitress for eight years, so I'm no rookie at this! I haven't screwed up an order since my first month! And I brought the wrong drinks to the wrong table, and spilled a hot bowl of potato soup on myself. All in all, not my best day.

So, I'm not surprised when my manager, Jerry, calls me into his office. I fully am expecting to be punished or at the very least, scolded. Jerry is a squirrely little guy with a really bad comb over and a sad love of wearing short sleeved dress shirts with ties. It's not a nice combo. He's like a middle aged version of Napoleon Dynamite's brother. So, I'm not really scared, per se, when he asks me to come in.

With a resigned sigh, I sit in the shabby chair facing his desk, trying not to look at the fake wood paneling in the room and folding my hands in my lap. My clothes are all crusty and damp from when I spilled soup all over myself. I'm a hot mess.

"Penny, I know you're having a bad day today…" Jerry begins and I close my eyes, nodding.

"Look, I'm sorry, I—"

"You've been working here eight years now." He cuts me off, cleaning his glasses. "And it's time for a change." My eyes open. Is he seriously going to fire me right now? I've made one mistake in eight years! Come on! I mean, I hate working here, but I need to work! Full blown panic begins to boil in the pit of my stomach.

"Jerry, I'm sorry. I know I messed up, but—"

"Hold on, Penny." He stops me again. "I know you're having a hard day, but I suppose now is as good a time as any to tell you that we want to promote you to assistant manager." I begin to protest again, until I realize that he just gave me a promotion.

"I…seriously?" I say, raising my eyebrows and staring at him in disbelief. He smiles and nods.

"Your work has always been very consistent and we love your reliability. You've earned your place here." He assures me. That's when the warning bells go off in my head.

My place.

Okay, I mean…I know I haven't really done anything else in my sad life. I haven't earned anything or achieved anything significant. But, my place is so not at the Cheesecake Fucking Factory! I can't work here for the rest of my life. If I accept this job, I am nothing better than I would be in Nebraska.

What have I let my life come to?

I'm wasting time! I'm not even living! I'm twenty-six years old and what do I have to show for it? Nothing! I'm not an actress…I'm nothing. I'm not even a college graduate. I have no skills. God, I'm so stupid! How did I let this happen? I promised myself I wouldn't become my sister or my mother and what did I do? Nothing! Not a damn thing!

I'll never know where it came from, but I stand up and stare down at Jerry, removing my apron.

"Jerry, I'm really grateful you thought of me. And I do appreciate this opportunity, but I can't." I sigh and set the apron on his desk. "I'm resigning. I can't work here anymore. I'm sorry." Before he can say anything, I'm fleeing out the door and grabbing my things from my cubby, not even stopping to say goodbye and I leave the Cheesecake Factory for good.

The second I'm in my car, I burst into tears. I mean, I know it's what needed to be done, but I'm terrified. What am I going to do now? I have to do something…and fast. And not in food service. Okay, Penelope. Pull it together! This is going to be fine…right? Right?

Oh my God. What have I done? I should march straight back in there and beg Jerry for another chance. Put that apron back on and become assistant manager.

No. You were not meant to waste away in a cheap chain restaurant.

I am going to go home. Eat probably half a pint of Ben and Jerry's and figure out what to do with my life. Catching my breath, I start the car and pull my phone out of my purse.

3 Missed Calls.

Mom.

Since when does my mother call me? Irritated, I shove the phone back in my purse and pull out of the parking lot, looking one more time at the Cheesecake Factory before I turn the corner.

I'm free to do anything.

What would Gran want me to do?

I really don't know. But I'll figure it out. Right now, I just want to be home and kick some ass in Halo. And see my buddies…and Sheldon.

Everyone looks up when I walk in after a quick stop at a convenience store with a pint of ice cream clutched in my hands. No doubt my makeup is smeared and my face is pale. I don't care though…

"Jesus, Penny!" Leonard exclaims, standing at the sight of me. "What happened?" Ignoring him, I move into the kitchen and pull the top off my ice cream while fishing in the drawer for a spoon. I then proceed to take a huge spoonful of cookie dough ice cream and savor the taste for a moment before noticing that seven pairs of eyes are staring at me inquisitively.

"She doesn't look so good." Howard agrees, leaning in as Raj whispers in his ear. "No Raj, I don't think watching Love Actually is going to help her." I continue to eat without speaking to anyone, until I notice Amy inching toward me cautiously.

"One of my alcoholic chimps, Coco, acted just like this when we took away her Captain Morgan. She's either suffering from some sort of depression or something big happened. "You want to tell us what happened, Bestie?" Amy asks in a very soothing voice.

"I quit my job." I blurt out, closing my eyes for a moment and letting the feeling wash over me. Even though I am scared to death, it feels good to say it.

"What?" Leonard says, sharing a look with Howard. I notice Sheldon's mouth drop open, but he still says nothing. Not even a snide remark!

Turd.

"Yeah." I say, sniffing against tears of, I don't know, relief? "Jerry offered me the assistant manager position and I just…" I shrug. "Quit!" I take another large bite of cookie dough. "I couldn't do it. I couldn't be like her." I'm sobbing now, while Amy and Bernadette stand on either side of me, each of them eyeing me like I'm unstable. Everyone is silent. I feel like a crack head.

"Penny." Sheldon's voice finally breaks through the quiet and I look across at him, wondering what he could possibly have to say. I feel my stomach fill with nervous butterflies and I'm worried now that I'm going to blurt everything in front of our friends. That somehow, they're going to know what happened on Friday night.

"Yeah?" I ask in a shaking voice, so terrified of what he might say. He points impatiently to his watch.

"It's five after eight. We need to play Halo now." He insists and, instead of getting irritated, I sag against Amy in sickening relief. It's normal. He's acting like his normal crazy self. With an antsy look, he scoots over and gestures sharply to the spot beside him. Without another word, I put the ice cream away and cross the room in my gross, stained uniform and sit my ass beside Dr. Whack-A-Doodle, accepting my game controller from him.

"Dibs on Penny!" Howard says quickly and Sheldon glares at him.

"Nonsense." He huffs, "Penny and I are a team tonight. You had her last week." At Howard's suggestive look, I show him my fist, reminding him of the time I broke his nose.

"I wish you guys wouldn't refer to me like I'm a thing you can pass around." I grumble, gently elbowing Sheldon in the arm. I notice Leonard staring at us with a strange expression on his face. It's the face he makes whenever he's trying to solve a problem. Amy is perched on the arm of his chair, staring at the T.V. with a look of defeat. I know I'm the only female here who cares anything about video games, so I'm glad Bernadette and Bridget are here to keep her company.

Some best friend, I am.

Sheldon and I are just about to close the deal and kill Leonard when my phone rings. I glance down at it for a second and see it's my mother. Again.

"Penny!" Sheldon cries in disbelief. When I look up again, I'm dead.

"Sorry! Sorry…" I sigh, and reach for my phone. "I have to take this. It's my Mom." I leave the couch and head back toward the kitchen counter, hesitating for a second, before picking up.

"Hello?" I say, wondering what the hell she wants. In eight years she's called me maybe three times. It's always Dad who calls first and then hands the phone to Mom. Oh God…are they finally going to get a divorce? Is Darcy pregnant? Did Tim O.D.? My mind is racing.

"Penelope. It's your mother." She sighs and I frown.

"Yes, Mom. I know…I have caller I.D." I remind her, twirling my hair. "What's going on?" I can hear her draw in a long sigh, but she doesn't answer. "Mom?"

"Penny, it's…" She stops again, and I can hear her sniff. "It's your Dad."

"What?" I whisper, nearly dropping my phone. My heart has stopped. At least, that's how it feels. Please…you already took my Gran. You can't take my father too. You can't. "Is he…?" I trail off, unable to say the word.

"No!" I can hear the thickness in Mom's voice. "No. He had a heart attack…but he's alive. He's in surgery now." She's sniffing now and I am leaning against the counter for support. "I think you should…you know, I think it would be good if you came home for a few days."

I am stunned. Speechless. I don't know what to say. Of course I have to go home. My father just had a freaking heart attack! I should be on a plane like, an hour ago. Problem is, planes cost money. I don't have a job.

Oh fuck.

"Penny?" Mom says again, to make sure I'm still there.

"I'll figure something out." I sniff numbly, wondering if this day can get any worse.

"Okay." She agrees tearfully. For the first time in a long time, I feel kind of bad for her. I think she really is scared of losing my father. "I'll see you soon." She adds. "And Penny?"

"Yeah." I reply, blinking rapidly.

"I love you, honey." That's when I can feel a tear escape the corner of my eye.

"You too, Mom." I hang up without saying goodbye, trying to figure out what happened today and what I need to do. I have to get to Nebraska and I have no money. My father had a heart attack and could die any second.

Dad.

He doesn't smoke. He barely drinks…he probably works too hard and eats a lot of junk, but he's in better shape than a lot of guys!

"What's wrong?" Bernadette's voice finally forces its way into my thoughts. I stare at my friends, who are all standing now…all unsure of what to do or say as I'm broken for the second time tonight. I lock eyes first with Leonard, who looks worried and then I look at Sheldon, whose calm exterior is betrayed by the frantic gleam in his eyes. Without a single word, I close the distance between us and don't give him an opportunity to protest as I bury my face in his chest and wrap my arms so tightly around his middle that I'm afraid I might break one of his ribs. That's when I let myself bawl.

I can feel his arms hesitantly move around me to hold me, however gently it may be. I don't know why I chose him, but I don't care.

"Penny…" I can hear Leonard's voice beckoning to me. "Tell us what happened." I can only shake my head, still buried in the smell of baby powder and soap.

"Honey," I hear Bernadette say softly. "I think you're suffocating poor Sheldon." Pulling back, I look up at my big goofball roommate, who looks torn between fleeing and obeying social convention.

"I'm her best friend." Amy says quickly, moving beside me and pulling me into her arms. She is. She really is.

"My Dad." I choke out, kind of embarrassed at how big of a mess I am tonight. It all tumbles out in one breath."My Dad had a heart attack and I have to get to Nebraska and I just quit my job and I don't know what to do!" I break down again, burying my face in Amy's shoulder now. I can feel Bernadette sandwich me from the other side.

"Oh my God." I hear Leonard say from behind Amy. I turn to see Raj and Bridget sitting silently on the floor near each other while Howard watches uncomfortably from his seat on the right end of the couch. "Is he going to be okay?"

"I don't know." I sigh. "I don't know."

"Is he stable?" Bernadette asks, smoothing my hair.

"Um, I think so." I try to breathe, accepting a tissue from the box Leonard holds out to me. "He's in surgery, Mom said."

"What are you going to do?" Amy asks, holding my hand.

"I have to go…" I look at Sheldon and I can tell my eyes are swollen as hell. "I'm gonna have to owe you on the cable bill." I tell him. "I'm sorry…" Pulling away from my friends, I start toward my room. "I'm going to go get my ticket. Maybe my mother can spot me to get me a ticket home. I don't think I can afford round trip." With a long sigh, I disappear into my room and pull out my laptop again and immediately go on Priceline.

The cheapest one is almost two hundred bucks! And that's one way.

I barely even have two hundred bucks. I bury my face in my hands, losing all sense of sanity. I'm never going to be able to catch up financially now! I might as well just go back and stay in Nebraska, because I can't even afford to visit. I sigh and move the mouse to click on the trip.

Knock, knock, knock.

"Penny." I look toward the door, feeling out of my mind with frustration.

Knock, knock, knock.

"Penny." Slowly, I stand and move to the door.

Knock, knock, knock.

"Penny."

I open the door to six feet two inches of physicist staring wildly down at me. His right arm is extended toward me, clutching something.

"What's this?" I sigh, blowing my nose. He thrusts it toward me again. I realize it's a wad of bills that Green Lantern probably just shit out.

"Take it." Sheldon says.

"What?" I ask, astonished. "I can't!"

"Yes." He insists, and I shake my head, backing up.

"No. I can't accept that." I tell him, as he continues to move forward. I remember the last time I borrowed money from him. It's too easy. I feel too guilty. I can't ever pay him back!

"You have to!" He argues, catching my wrist and putting his palm against mine, forcing me to take the money. I don't let him pull his hand away, keeping the money between us as I stare into his face.

"I can't pay you back!" I tell him, sniffing again. "I'm broke! I'm jobless…"

"I don't care about that, Penny!" Sheldon exclaims shrilly, looking extremely panicked. "Take it!"

"Why?" I cry, wondering if the others can hear us. "Why?"

"Because you have to come back!" He cries out, leaving me gaping at him with our hands still together.

What?" I utter, watching him. I kind of wish we would have closed the door. I don't want my friends around for this.

"Penny." He lets go of my hand and begins pacing wildly in front of the door. I notice him run a hand through his hair. "Almost five years ago, you disrupted my life. You brought with you chaos, germs, a knack for mindless chatter, a disturbing love of astrology…homeopathy and you thought Ryan Reynolds was a good choice for Green Lantern." He stops pacing to give me a derisive look while I remain slack jawed. "Really, Penny? Ryan Reynolds? When Nathan Fillion was clearly the correct—" He shakes his head. "Not the point. The point is…I've had to make significant changes to my life and my routine to include you. I do not wish to inconvenience myself further by having to—"

"Sheldon, are you trying to tell me you'll miss me?" I ask, wondering if I should be touched or completely insulted that he just rattled off a list of things he found annoying about me.

"I—" He glares at me. "Weren't you listening?" He throws his arms out. "Who will sing Soft Kitty to me? Leonard? Koothrappali?" I almost crack a grin at the thought of Raj singing to a sick Sheldon.

"You got along without me before!" I remind him and he makes a sound of annoyance.

"That is true, but circumstances have changed since then." He exhales heavily. "Take the money. Go to Nebraska." He moves closer and I can tell he's struggling with every instinct he has when he puts his hands on my shoulders. "But Penny," His eyes are blazing blue fire. "You have to come back." I tighten my fist around the bills and close my eyes, feeling my heart hurt. I'm scared and sad and tired and so, so touched…I am at a loss for words.

"Okay." I finally agree, nodding. "Okay. I'll take it. But I don't know how I'll ever—"

"It's not necessary." He reiterates strongly. I reach up and pull his hand off my left shoulder, squeezing it. He looks a little uncomfortable, but he lets me keep it there.

"God, Sheldon…I don't understand you sometimes. I really don't." I move forward and pull him into another non-optional hug, resting my cheek against his shirt, which is still damp from my tears. I feel something against the top of my head, and I think it's his cheek. That's new.

"Penny?" His voice is quieter now. More like normal Sheldon.

"Yeah, honey?"

"What is that horrid muck on your clothing?" He asks in disgust.

"Oh," I sigh, tired with relief. I don't pull away though. I'm kind of using him for warmth and support right now. He's going to be my crutch right now and like it. "It's potato soup. I spilled earlier."

"I see." He says. "Penny?"

"Hmm?"

"I suggest you dispose of that uniform as quickly as possible as you are no longer employed by the Cheesecake Factory." He pulls away from me and gives my clothes an assessing look, shaking his head as if it is just the most offensive thing he has ever seen. I laugh in surprise, but nod. His eyes widen in realization and he gasps.

"Drat!" He looks slightly pained.

"What's wrong, Sweetie?" I cross my arms and tilt my head, watching him closely.

"I'm going to have to find a new restaurant to get my barbeque bacon cheeseburger from on Tuesday nights." Clicking his tongue he takes a breath. "I guess it's back to Big Boy."

"Oh, Sheldon, honey…you don't have to. It's okay. You can still have Cheesecake Factory." I promise him. He slumps in relief.

"Thank goodness. I don't relish the thought of having to analyze the wait staff at Big Boy again. And they had a knack for making the burger a bit too rare for my liking." I can't help myself, I smile at the complete whack job, shaking my head. He starts out the door and pauses, looking back at me.

"Penny? Aren't you coming?" He checks his watch. "It's only eight forty-five. It's Halo night." I nod and wipe under my eyes, sticking the money on my dresser.

"Lead the way, Sheldor." I chuckle, grabbing his sleeve and forcing him to let me link my arm through his.

The thing is, he lets me.

 

Chapter Text

My flight leaves at eight A.M., so I am up around six to make sure I have everything together. Not that I slept much, but it doesn't matter at this point. My mother texted me after Dad got out of his surgery and said that he was doing okay. I still feel this urgent need to get there and see him…I feel weirdly hollow and vague, like I'm having an out of body experience. Even though Halo took my mind off of things for a little while, I was distracted all night long.

Leonard and Amy both made me promise to text them when I find out any news. Sheldon has just finished his morning workout and is checking his heart rate when I come out into the living room, lugging my suitcase. It's still bizarre to see Sheldon Cooper sweating after a workout. It's bizarre to see Sheldon Cooper with muscles, never mind the working out. He's still no Channing Tatum, but he looks good. Like, really good.

How do girls not notice him more?

Or maybe they do and then they hear him talk and go 'Oh hell no!' Kind of the way I did when I met him almost five years ago. Whatever. Why do I even care about what girls think of Sheldon? It's not like he's interested in anyone.

Is he?

I mean, I know he said there were no sparks with Amy, but maybe he was just trying to convince himself that he was better off without her. Maybe he really was heartbroken.

No one will ever know.

Sheldon is watching me with an expectant look on his face, arms folded. I like when he doesn't wear a long sleeved shirt underneath his T-Shirt. I can actually see his new biceps. He's gonna have to buy some new shirts soon. These ones are starting to become a little hoochie on him. I snort, swallowing a laugh at the thought of Sheldon walking around with his belly hanging out.

"What? Why are you glaring at me?" I ask, trying not to think of the hellish day I have ahead of me. First, Mom. Then, the hospital.

"I am not glaring at you." He informs me, wiping his face with a towel. "I'm merely making sure you have everything you need. Have you packed enough clothes to last you through Saturday?"

"Yes." I roll my eyes. "I have enough clothes to last two weeks."

"Underwear?"

"Sheldon." I groan, putting my hand over my eyes. "Yes. I have my underwear. Would you like to see them?" I challenge impatiently. He stares at me as if I've lost it.

"Why would I want to see your underwear?" He asks, clearly lost on the subject of female lingerie. I just shake my head.

"Sorry, I forgot you're not Howard." I retort, setting the suitcase aside and moving over to him to put my hand on his arm. He barely flinches.

Progress!

"Seriously, honey. I cannot thank you enough for this. I mean…it's probably the nicest thing anyone has ever done for me." I tell him sincerely, feeling a little like a dork, but he's pretty thick. Everything just goes over his head anyway.

"I would have done the same thing for any of my friends." He insists and I feel a twinge of niggling disappointment. A beautiful moment, ruined with words. Sigh. "Of course, Leonard, Raj and Howard are all financially stable. Amy Farrah Fowler is no longer my girlfriend and is dating my best friend, so that would be inappropriate and I certainly would not loan another man's fiancé money, so Bernadette is out. And, of course, I don't know Bridget well enough to formulate an opinion—" He ponders this for a moment. "I guess I wouldn't have done this for any of my friends." He shrugs and moves toward the kitchen. Am I supposed to say thanks? As usual, I'm left more confused than not.

"Plus I have to come back." I remind him, slightly put out that he's barely acknowledging the fact that he was practically freaking out over me leaving yesterday. That gets his attention.

"Yes." He agrees, nodding while he plucks the Big Bran off of the fridge. "And that." That's it. That's all he says. No wonder Amy was driven to get it on with the nearest man. After five months of guessing what the hell Dr. Cooper is thinking, any woman would be driven to drastic measures. Especially when he's walking around like that? Seriously, what the hell? Is he doing this on purpose?

Yeah, bend over and show that tight little—

Jesus. Help me, Jesus. Please help me get through the next few days without fantasizing about MoonPie over here.

"You should probably have breakfast before you go." Sheldon suggests, gesturing toward the cereal as he sits. At least his weird sexiness has eased my mind about Dad a little.

"Yeah." I sigh, slumping into the seat beside him and pouring some Big Bran into a bowl. "I'm kind of surprised you didn't insist on coming with me." I tell him.

"I had considered, but seeing as I took three days last week off work, I am slightly behind." He informs me. I feel my mouth quirk upward in a smirk.

"Ah." I reply, taking a big bite of cereal. "Well, I'm gonna miss you, MoonPie."

"It's only three days, Penny." Sheldon reminds me, calmly handing me a napkin when I spill a little milk on the table. "Do you have your pepper spray?" I nod, knowing he's not going to relent until he's interrogated me like a murder witness. "I put some Purell in your purse. Please use it. I do not wish to contract any diseases you may pick up while in a strange environment. I seem to recall becoming violently ill after one of your visits home."

"Yeah, I will." I mutter, remembering why girls don't check out Dr. Doofus. Lowering my voice I add, "Sure, I'll miss you too, Penny…" In response to my earlier statement. Sheldon turns his head toward me.

"Sarcasm?" His voice is completely unsure as if he doesn't understand what I'm doing.

"Not really…" I reply, taking another bite of poop causing goodness. "And thanks for saying you'll miss me."

"Was that sarcasm?" Sheldon asks again, looking down at his empty cereal bowl.

"Yep." I tell him, cleaning up my bowl and his and placing them in the sink.

"In response to your ill tempered remark, it will be a great inconvenience with you out of town. I will be left without transportation and I'll have to do laundry alone on Saturday night." He gives me a look of exasperation. "Does that suffice?"

"Oh yeah…that's adorable, thanks." I stick my tongue out at him. "By the way, Shelly. I am loving your little trampy belly shirt." I pinch the exposed skin on his stomach, making him yelp and pull his shirt down.

"Penny!" He shrieks, making me laugh evilly.

"Oh, you'll be okay. It's not like I tried to put my hand down your pants." It's not like I haven't thought of it in the past few minutes, but quite frankly, I'm afraid that I'll actually find something down there. I crack up at his scandalized expression. Yeah. I'm gonna miss him. "Can I at least get a hug before I'm going to inconvenience you?"

"You want me to hug you because you're inconveniencing me?" He huffs, looking puzzled. "Well, that hardly make sense. We're not hippies."

"Tough." I inform him, and pull him toward me by the shirt.

"Penny." He protests, resisting slightly. "I'm all sweaty from exercising."

"I don't mind." I assure him. "It's very manly." I don't mind sweat. I just usually like it when both of us are sweaty. Oh, there's a thought. Me and Dr. Whack-A-Doodle. Sweaty. Together.

"Okay, you have a good time while I'm gone! Don't party too hard!" I pull back and look up into his bemused face. His hair is slightly mussed, so I lightly smooth it with my fingertips. I notice how red his cheeks are and bite my lip to keep from smiling. Am I getting to him?

"Penny, I do not, nor have I ever partied." He insists. "It is now almost six forty-five. I have to get ready for work."

"Right." Routines and shit. "I gotta get to the airport anyway." I sigh and grab my jacket. "See you Sunday morning." I start out the door when I hear him call after me.

"Remember the Purell!" He reminds me. I shake my head and roll my eyes, but I'm unable to stop myself from a quick giggle.

The plane ride is pretty painless, other than the popping in my ears. I've spent the last hour and a half ripping up a page out of a magazine and watching the pieces of paper disintegrate until the flight attendant comes and takes my garbage. Mom and Darcy are waiting for me outside the terminal in the car. I am kind of surprised at the state my mother is in. I mean, I've seen her upset before, when my grandfather died when I was ten, but this is different. Her eyes are dark and with lines seemingly etched around them. She looks like she hasn't sleep in days. She's lost a little weight since I saw her last and her blonde hair is limp, pulled back into a ponytail.

I let her pull me into a hug and although our relationship will never be perfect, right now, she's just Mom. And I need her because she might be all I have.

"Penny, look at you. You look great." Mom tells me with a tired smile. "I like your hair long like that."

"Oh, thanks." I nod, feeling awkward. This is not how mothers and daughters are supposed to act. But, it seems like she's trying. Maybe. Turning to my sister, who has put my suitcase in the back of the van, I hug her.

"Hey Darce. You're lookin' great." I smile. "How's Tim?"

"Still in that rehab facility. He says he's doing good." Mom tells us, sounding every inch the proud mom. Funny, she never sounds like that when she talks to me. Or about me.

"Yeah, some of them kooky ass evangelicals went in there and Timbo thinks he's found Jesus now." Darcy tells me under her breath. "Dumbass."

I climb into the back seat of Darcy's old minivan and sag back against the seat.

"How's Brian?" I ask, playing with the strings of my hoodie as nerves gather in the pit of my stomach. I am itching with the need to see my father.

"He's seventeen, Pen." Darcy mutters, meeting my eyes in the rearview mirror. "I love the kid to death, but teenage boys are disgusting. He's irritable, kind of mouthy, too damn smart and he masturbates too much." I choke. I've forgotten how blunt Darcy can be. "Seriously, Penny. If you have kids, pray they're girls."

"Thank you for that…illuminating visual, Darcy Ann." Mom tells my sister, turning to look at me and shake her head.

"I'm just saying. Between Brian and Joey, there is garbage on every surface in my damn house. This is why I can't have nice things." Darcy laments, groaning as she flips off someone in the next lane. Yeah, my sister also has road rage and a penchant for not paying attention when she drives. I grope for a handle that isn't there and close my eyes as Darcy "merges" onto the expressway. "And I have to live with Joey bitching all the time because Brian is into comic books and trains instead of sports."

"Wait, trains?" I ask, leaning forward to hear easier.

"Yeah. Well, anything with engines really. He wants to be an engineer. M.I.T. has been sending him all kinds of letters and shit." Darcy changes lanes without putting her blinker on. "Aw, kiss my ass you old hag!" She honks her horn. "Senior citizens should not be behind the wheel." No Darcy, you shouldn't.

"Darcy, I'm telling you right now. If you kill us before Penny gets a chance to see your father, I'm going to personally make sure that God punishes you." Mom insists, gritting her teeth. I snicker, thinking for a second that I'm glad Sheldon didn't offer to come. He would not be able to handle this. I would have to keep a valium on my person at all times and shove it down his throat or wrap it in a piece of cheese like we used to have to do with our old dog.

"So, are you still working at the Cheesecake Factory?" My mother asks, and I can hear it now. The tone that tells me she expects no less.

"No." I inform her, feeling a small thrill at the thought. "I quit. I'm thinking about going back to school."

"Penny, honey. School costs money. You already dropped out once." Mom tells me, always quick to crush my hopes. Maybe she doesn't mean to, but it still stings. After all these years.

"That was eight years ago, Mom." I tell her acidly. "I think I've grown up a little by now."

"And what are you going to study, Penelope?" Mom asks, looking back at me again with a firm look in her eyes.

"I don't know. I haven't really thought—"

"That's the problem, Penny." Mom tells me with a sigh. "You don't think. You make these decisions without thinking. You didn't think when you let your grades go senior year. You didn't think when your father and I caught you in the back of that pickup truck with T.J. and you didn't think when you packed up and left for California without so much as a goodbye." My Mom doesn't sound angry, she sounds oddly hurt. "You left us a note."

"I was young." I reply, blinking against tears of frustration. Why does she always have to make me feel like shit about the decisions I've made?

"So was I once." My mother answers bitterly as we pull into the hospital complex.

"Enough with the bitching match." Darcy cuts us off. "Penny doesn't need to be goin' in with Daddy all teary." Neither of us say another word. I follow behind them with my arms folded as we head up to the Cardiology floor. Room 510.

Mom and Darcy go right in, but I linger outside the door, bracing myself. I miss my friends. I wish I had Amy and Bernadette with me right now. I have to sniff and I don't blink, waiting for the burning in my eyes to stop.

"Penny?" Darcy's voice cuts in. I look up at her. She's like looking into a mirror of my future. She and I are almost identical, except she's rougher around the edges. She seems a lot older than her thirty-three years. Her hand is held out to me. I take it and let her lead me in, past the curtain to where our father is in his hospital bed, in upright position. He looks alert and almost normal except for the tubes in his nose…and his arms…and the bags of medicine and the heart monitor.

"Hey, Slugger." He says, grinning at me. That's when I break. Rushing forward, I carefully hug my father and bury my face in his shoulder.

"Dad." I sob. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry I wasn't here faster." His hand comes up to stroke my hair.

"Are you joking, kiddo?" Dad chuckles weakly. "You're the one who got out of here. You're tryin' to make your dreams come true."

"I don't know what my dreams are anymore, Dad." I tell him.

"You know, I have always told you to follow your heart. Your Gran taught us both that." He is smiling at me. My mother leaves the room in a sudden huff. Darcy rolls her eyes.

"I'm dealing with it." She assures me, while I sink into the chair beside the bed, holding Dad's hand.

"How has she been?" I ask, nodding toward the door where my mother has just left.

"She's dealing as well as she can. You know she doesn't have the survival skills we have." He sighs. "I think this whole thing scared the shit out of her. I know you guys have some bad blood between you, but I really think she is trying to change things. Do you know what she said to me?"

"Huh?"

"When I came out of surgery, she told me she loved me and that she was so glad I had made it. That she didn't think she could handle being on her own anymore." I can see his eyes shining. "She resented me for so long for takin' her independence, and when she was finally almost rid of me, she realized didn't want it anymore. And I've always wanted your Mama, Penny. Always. Since the second I saw her at that wedding."

"That's beautiful, Dad." I sniff, swallowing the lump in my throat.

"That's just how us guys operate, Sweetie. We pretty much know from the second we slap eyes on the girl if we want her. Even if we deny it till the day we die." He chuckles. "Men are simple. Women are harder." His eyes narrow. "How is Leonard?"

"Um, good, I guess." I shrug. "Dad, it's never gonna happen again. He's got a girlfriend. He's happy." I meet his eyes. "She's my best friend."

"Well, good for him. And as long as you're okay with it, I'm happy for 'em." Dad tells me as Mom and Darcy return, looking none the happier.

"I'm just glad you're okay." I tell him, looking up as a nurse enters.

"Hey Wyatt, it's time to change your I.V." She says brightly, smiling at me. "Is this your younger daughter?"

"Yep. This is little Penelope." He pats my shoulder. "Pretty isn't she?"

"Oh, a beauty for sure." The nurse replies, sounding genuine. "Both your daughters are pretty girls. Look like their mother." The nurse winks at Mom, patting her arm on the way out.

"Yes they do." Dad agrees proudly, reaching out to my mother, who takes his hand. She really does look like she could use about two straight days of sleep.

"When is the last time you slept?" I interrogate her, reminding myself of Sheldon as I think of REM cycles and Circadian Rhythms. Oh Lord. Please tell me I haven't caught the cuckoo.

"Tuesday night." She informs me. "That house isn't right with no one in it. I've been sitting up watching late night infomercials just so I don't have to hear the silence."

"You need to get some rest, Roberta." Dad says, grasping her hand.

"Quit worrying about me, Wyatt and get yourself better." She tells him coarsely, but I can see she's trying not to grin at him. I haven't seen Mom smile in years. It reminds me of some of the good times we had. Dancing around the kitchen to Britney Spears music. Playing Slap Jack on the kitchen table. I like the good side of my mother…it just doesn't surface much. What I really wish I could do is go hang out at Gran's house and ask her what to do with my life.

Dad falls asleep and we decide to head back to the house, which means, Round Two of Death Car driven by Darcy Evans. She's a little calmer this time around, thank God, because my nerves are shot. Pulling out my phone, I blink my heavy eyes and shoot a couple of texts to Leonard and Amy to let them know what's going on. Then I decide to page Dr. Whack-A-Doodle.

Hey. How's pizza night?

Damn guy must be waiting near the phone because he responds within seconds.

Slightly disappointing. Giacomo's is selling to new owners. Also, Priya Koothrappali is in town and Leonard and Amy Farrah Fowler had an argument.

I feel my throat close slightly. Damn Priya. She'd better not mess with Amy or Leonard and their happiness. She had her chance with him. She cheated. Of course, Priya never deserved him, but that's not even the point. The point is, Amy is amazing and nobody better screw with my girl. I decide to text her again.

Hey Ames. Do I need to cut a bitch?

A few minutes later, she answers.

Leonard had lunch with Priya last Saturday. I'm unsure of how I am supposed to react. Maybe I can get Ricky after her.

Now I'm pissed. Leonard had told me he was having lunch with Raj. So he lied to me and to Amy. I don't go for that.

"You're awful quiet, Penelope." Mom says, breaking into my thoughts. I sigh.

"My friends are falling apart and I haven't even been gone a day." I yawn, resting my head against the back of the seat.

"Dad said you hang out with a bunch of scientists or something?" Darcy adds, taking the exit and nearly swerving out into oncoming traffic.

"Yeah. Physicists, actually. They're all going to be famous one day. Hell, they've all already achieved stuff." I inform them. "Leonard is the son of one of the most respected neuroscientist and he does experiments with like lasers and dark matter and stuff. Raj is an astrophysicist and he was in People magazine! Howard is an engineer and has designed satellites and stuff. And my roommate Sheldon, went to college at like eleven years old. He's a theoretical physicist. One of those beautiful mind geniuses, but no social skills."

"That's a lot of words that end with 'ist'." Darcy laughs. "How'd you end up being buddies with a bunch of geniuses?"

"They lived across the hall and were really nice to me when I moved in. Well, Leonard was…" I roll my eyes. "Speaking of Leonard, I'm going to kill him." I add under my breath as I text him.

Not cool, Leonard.

"Isn't that the little guy you dated for a few months?" Darcy asks, pulling down the dirt road that leads to our farm. I can't believe I grew up here. I mean, I lived here my whole life and it doesn't feel like home. It feels like a memory from a bad dream.

"Yeah. It wasn't meant to be." I shrug, looking down at my phone as it goes off.

Penny, it wasn't like that. Priya used Raj's phone to text me to meet 'him' for lunch on Saturday. I showed up and it was her. She was having second thoughts about her wedding and wanted to see me. She said she never got real closure. I told her I was happy with Amy. Amy thinks I still have feelings for Priya and I'm trying everything in my power to convince her that's not the case. So please, if you have advice, I'm open to anything.

I scowl. What is it with these guys? Why do they always have to take the hard route when the answer is sitting right in front of their dumb faces?

Two words, Leonard: Man Up. Get your ass over Amy's and show her you mean business. (Don't forget your inhaler)

I put the last part as an afterthought, because poor Leonard can barely get through sex without having to take a breather. Asthmatic dumbass. My phone goes off again. It's Dr. Whack-A-Doodle himself.

Penny, when is the last time you cleaned your bed sheets?

Really? That's what he's going to ask me? Not, how is your father? How you holding up, buddy? Remember when you said you missed me? Well, I miss you too.

Yeah, I don't get that from him.

I don't know. Like a month ago?

Oh, I can just picture his eyes and hands twitching like he's a Chuck E. Cheese puppet gone haywire. I wish I was there to see it.

I see. I also, feel obligated to inform you that I somehow ended up with a pair of your feeble undergarments in my laundry last week and only discovered this upon putting on my Thursday pajamas tonight. That's a strike.

Oh, goody! Hey Dr. Cooper: Should I mention that you kissed me while drunk off your ass a week ago?

No it's not. Good night Sheldon.

The house is dark and quiet and weird when Darce drops us off before heading home to her son and husband. My parents don't have a dog anymore, so it's just the house and the dark and the few farm animals my parents have. Chickens, pigs, a couple of cows and two horses.

With a yawn, I drag my suitcase up to my old room and let the rickety door swing open with a creak. It looks just like it did when I lived there, complete with the Hello Kitty bedspread and the posters of the Backstreet Boys on the walls along with a bunch of pictures of me and my friends from high school that I don't talk to anymore. The same friends who wanted to leave Kathy Geiger in a cornfield overnight.

I sit on the bed and look around dejectedly. This is a room from someone else's life. That girl in the pictures…she's not me. Picking up one of the dusty stuffed animals on my bed, I fall onto my back and stare up at the ceiling. I turn my head and look to see a box of stuff that wasn't there before. It's labeled.

Penny/Gran

Setting aside the dopey looking penguin, I cross the room and fall to my knees on the floor to see what I inherited from when they had cleaned out Gran's house. Dad had only just sold it a couple years ago. There's a couple of old, withering drawings. Terrible, stick figures. I never was very artistic in that way. There's a satin purse with a Rosary in it, which Gran used to keep in her night stand. That's when I notice an old purple notebook with stickers all over it.

Penny is written in glitter pen on the front.

I laugh in surprise, cringing in mild humiliation. My journal from eighth grade. Sitting Indian style, I open the notebook and roll my eyes at my swirly, female scrawl with all of the 'I's' dotted with little hearts. (Or upside down asses according to Amy.)

Today, I fell in love. It was freshman orientation and I met a guy named Jesse Dawes, who is tall and has dark curly hair and dark eyes. He's a football player and he told me I was pretty.

Shaking my head, I close my eyes. Jesse Dawes was the guy who had taken me to my first Homecoming and introduced me to the joys of French kissing. And had dumped me mercilessly for an upperclassman. Ah, youth. I turn to another page.

Maybe I'm not perfect. But someday a guy is going to look at me the way Jack looks at Rose in Titanic. And we'll be in love…and we'll be happy. Not like Mom and Dad or Joey and Darcy. I have to believe that, because all of life can't be like this, can it? It has to work out sometimes, doesn't it?

Aw, little Penny. So full of hope. When you're young, you have hope. I remember, sitting there at Gran's kitchen table, scribbling furiously in this notebook.

"Penny," She'd said one day when I was feeling left out after Dad had forgotten the Girl Scout Daddy Daughter dance because one of the horses had gone into labor. "When you're feeling down, it's not good to keep those feelings inside. You gotta get them out, honey. Why don't you try writing?"

So I did. And I'd written everything down after that. She'd kept the journals for me so that Tim or Darcy didn't try to nose into them ever. After she had died, I'd pretty much given up on them at all. But I had forgotten how much I liked writing things down. I mean, I was not very eloquent or wordy, but I always felt better after getting the stories out of me and onto that paper.

Closing the notebook, I set it aside to keep reading later and reach back into the box, feeling a bundle of papers. I withdraw a bundle of at least three newspapers bound together with a rubber band. These must be from when I was in Junior Rodeo and Gran had decided that everybody she knew was getting a copy of my second page article. Third Place.

Third place in the country. Gran's voice says in my mind and I smile, turning the paper over to pull off the rubber band. I scream and drop the paper when I see the front page headline.

Youngest Stevenson Award Winner Earns PhD

Sixteen year old Galveston native, Sheldon Lee Cooper was eleven years old when he left home to go to college. An intellectually gifted child, he has earned two Masters Degrees and was awarded the prestigious Stevenson Award, the youngest ever, at fourteen. This year, the young man can add Dr. to his name. An active church member

I stop reading and hunch over, leaning back against my bed. I can only stare at the picture of scrawny, awkward Shelly Cooper on the front of my grandmother's newspaper.

What sixteen year old needs to be a doctor when my granddaughter is in the top three of the National Junior Rodeo Competition?

Oh Gran, you don't even know. You just don't know how much I need you now.

My phone begins to vibrate wildly and I fish it out of my purse, hoping that Leonard and Amy have solved their problems. No such luck. It's the headliner himself.

"Hello?" I answer in a very husky, exhausted voice.

"Penny." His voice is soft, almost sad. Maybe the goof does miss me.

"Sheldon." I say, trying not to yawn.

"I can't sleep." I look upward and shake my head. Oh boy.

"Why not?" My voice is resigned, defeated. I'm still staring at the news article about him. But yeah, you guys are right, fate isn't real.

Bullshit.

"It's too quiet and I don't like being alone in the apartment in the middle of the night. It's raining." I want to groan, but I'm kind of glad to hear his voice to be honest. It almost makes me feel like I'm back in the apartment and not sitting in the middle of this constant reminder of why I left.

"Just count superheroes or something." I tell him, tightening my grip on the paper.

"I can't. Will you sing Soft Kitty?" He asks in that pathetic little voice he does when he's being purposely manipulative. Little shit.

"Are you sick, Sheldon?" I sigh.

"Lonely and scared is a kind of sick." He whines, making me chuckle. It's so dumb, but it makes me feel better. It makes me feel like nothing has changed and everything is going to be okay. Even though everything is changing and there's nothing I can do to stop it.

I'm not sure I want it to. So, I do the only thing I can think of.

I sing that damn song.

 

Chapter Text

I wake up before Mom, which is weird, because most of my memories of waking up at home involve her nagging me through my bedroom door while I shove the pillow over my head and pray for five more minutes of sleep. Instead, I find myself lying here, staring up at my ceiling and watching the first rays of sun creep into my dusty bedroom window. Reaching for my phone, I check the time. 5:45A.M.

"Ugh." I grumble, and sit up, wiping at my eyes and stretching. I haven't slept in this tiny ass twin bed since the last time I visited a couple years ago, so my back is killing me. I quickly get up and change into a pair of jeans and a comfortable shirt. My eyes fall back to the newspaper lying near my suitcase and I look away.

Sheldon is probably just getting up and deciding what cereal he wants. No workout on Fridays because it's one of his "off" days.

Okay, why do I know that? More importantly, why do I care?

I don't. I just have to live with it on a daily basis. The crazy is seeping in. I'm catching it! Oh God, please…if I start spouting off random textbook facts and wearing T-Shirts with random superhero emblems on them, please…I'm begging you, put me out of my misery. Then again, don't. I could be a lot worse off than being a kook like my roommate.

The little shit.

The house is dark and freaky quiet as I creep down the old staircase, which groans under my busted tennis shoes. As I scour the kitchen for something to make for breakfast, I worry about Amy and Leonard.

And that bitchfaced slutbag Priya, who better keep her perfectly manicured hands off of the asthmatic dumbass. Poor Amy. Just when the girl is finally getting her some action with a nice guy, the Wicked Witch has to swoop in and try to steal her thunder. I decide to find out if Dr. Oblivious knows anything new.

Hey, did Leonard and Amy make up?

I pull out eggs, a pack of smoky links and some fruit. While I'm scrambling the eggs, my phone goes off.

As I no longer live with Leonard, I am not privy to his activities. And, as I am no longer Amy Farrah Fowler's 'boyfriend,' I am no longer aware of her feelings.

Good God. I roll my eyes and shake my head, wishing I was back home in the middle of it all, so I could get some damn answers. Hell, I wish I was back home period.

Do you miss me yet?

Throwing some butter into a pan, I pour the eggs into it and let it cook while I start the sausage in another. I love smoky links. They're one of my weaknesses. I could just eat them plain out of the package. (That's gross, I know. Sheldon would probably die if he knew.) But seriously, smoky links and I have been having a long term love affair my entire life. It's a love to last a lifetime and I'm not throwing it away.

Jesus, if only I could find a guy I felt that way about, then I'd be set for life. I can't marry these smokies. Not when I'm about to devour them. But I have to marry somebody. I don't want to be alone for the rest of my life. Could I have married Leonard?

Probably.

But, it wouldn't have worked. We wouldn't have worked, as much as it pains me to admit it. As wonderful and sweet as he is, he needs someone who will challenge him, but who can speak his language. In the end, it was our differences that killed us. We weren't that cute, opposites attract kind of thing. We were, Leonard thinks I'm hot and wants to have a lot of sex, but doesn't understand one thing I'm interested in. That went both ways. I was no better. I was immature and an ass. The weirdest part of all was, he never really challenged me (Other than his lame psychic thing and minor boring crap). I mean, I enjoy a good argument! I'm from Nebraska. I used to tie up animals for sport, okay? I need some kind of a challenge!

It's like when I argue with Sheldon. While the nutjob can get on my last nerve, I have the most fun when I am sparring with him. I love that I can get under his skin and that he won't fold because he's as stubborn as I am. It's like a weird, sick game for us. Like foreplay without the closure.

Oh my God. Did I just conclude that I have more chemistry with Sheldon than with Leonard? I nearly drop the smokies as I begin to put them on a plate. I've just been living with the big weirdo for too long. The vibrating of my phone makes me jump as I turn off the burner on the eggs and put some on a plate.

Penny, is this some sort of female trick question?

Yeah, I'm definitely off my rocker right now. Is he serious? What possible trick could I possibly pull on him with that question? It's probably the easiest question he's ever been asked. Then I realize that's probably the problem. Sheldon has made it his main goal in life to solve problems nobody else can. So, I guess it makes sense that he's the only damn person in the world who can't answer the easy ones!

Sheldon. Occam's Razor. No. It is not a trick question.

I head over to the kitchen table to eat my breakfast and try not to think thoughts. Instead, I stare out the kitchen window at the morning light and see the barn. I spent my entire childhood looking at this very thing every morning and it still seems like a memory from someone else's life. Not necessarily a bad memory, but it's not mine anymore. With every passing moment I spend here, the feeling begins to gnaw at me. I do not belong here. The table vibrates with MoonPie's response, which I'm sure is a gem.

Assuming this is not a trick question, then yes, I cannot deny that there is a certain emptiness in the apartment without you here. So, I suppose that I will have to acquiesce that I do indeed 'miss' you.

I am stunned. The dummy finally caught on. Maybe there is hope for him after all. I try to picture him, sitting at the counter and eating cereal while reading his boring science magazine. Probably wearing his Green Lantern shirt…or maybe one of his striped shirts.

This is unhealthy. Why do I care? It's Sheldon. As we once told a jewelry salesman.

Trust me, we are so not a couple. Because Sheldon doesn't do dating. His failed relationship with Amy makes that clear. Of course, when both parties are inexperienced in dating, then the relationship is kind of doomed from the start. Amy's first mistake was allowing him to draw up that ridiculous contract. It would take a freaking saint to take Sheldon and his adorable bag of crazy on.

I'm not even being sarcastic right now.

Okay, this is bad. Like, this is not even normal. Seriously? Am I really doing this? Am I considering the pros and cons of dating Sheldon?

Fuck it. Yes, I am. I'm considering. Judge me later. I know I'll be judging myself.

Pros?

Okay, here we go. He's generous to a fault. He's smart as hell (which can also be counted as a con, but whatev). He is prone to the weirdest random acts of kindness. He's secretly hot, and he's…

He's Sheldon.

That's his biggest pro, which is a huge surprise for me. I don't want him to ever change. Not one quirk, not one neurosis. Nothing. Maybe grow, but never change. Because the truth is, and I will deny this if anyone ever asks, but I kind of adore him. Yeah, I said it. Holy shit, I said it.

Oh my God. Oh my God. What the hell am I going to do? When did this happen? Why did this happen? And how big of a train wreck is it going to be for us all?

I screwed up my relationship with Leonard. How could I ever make a relationship with his doofus best friend work? And how is that okay? Isn't it kind of taboo to date your ex's best friend?

You know what? Leonard did it first, so I'm off the hook.

And the fact of the freaking matter is, the chances of it happening are slim to nil, because Homo Novus doesn't really do relationships. Or human contact. Not with me anyway. He basically constantly rattles off my faults. Not to mention, I am sure he finds me inferior to his inflated ego whatever.

There's the basis for a healthy and loving relationship.

Seriously, out of all of the guys in California, or even the world, I go for that?

I blame Leonard for this. If the little bastard had kept his hands to himself at Howard and Bernadette's wedding, then none of this would have happened! I would still be barely making rent across the hall and Sheldon and Amy would still be doing…whatever that was they were doing. And I probably would be back together with Leonard in a relationship that doesn't work. Again. And we'd probably end up never speaking again.

Damn it!

I want to punch things right now because I don't know if I'm supposed to be happy or completely pissed that I've reached a sorta kinda conclusion.

What would Gran tell me to do? For a brief second, I consider calling MeeMaw, but I decide against it.

Penelope Elizabeth, you need to write them feelings down before you explode.

I scarf down the rest of my breakfast, making Mom a plate and wrapping it in foil to keep it warm for her before I bust into my father's computer room and steal one of his legal pads. Sitting at his desk, I tap the pen against the wood of his old desk and trying to think of what to say. I know what to say, I just don't know where or how to start.

When I was nineteen years old, I made a decision. I was not going to live the same life that my sister was living, or that my mother had been living or even my Gran. So, after one semester of community college, I decided that Omaha just wasn't going to cut it for me. I packed my clothes, too the remaining money I had from graduation, got into my shitty Volkswagen and left Nebraska for good.

I'm not sure how, but I finally hear my mother walking around before she appears in the doorway of the office.

"Penny, honey?" I lookup and see her leaning against the doorframe looking much better than she had the night before. When I check the time, I realize it's noon and I've been at this for five hours!

"Hey." I say, pulling back and stretching my arms above my head. My eyes are blurry from concentrating so hard on my words.

"What are you doing?" Mom asks, coming inside. I shrug and brush my hair out of my face.

"Just writing." I sigh and gesture to the legal pad, which is messy with my writing and scratching out words.

"Writing what?" Her voice is kinder than I've heard it in a long time. She leans on the edge of the desk and looks down.

"My life." I tell her. "It's not very interesting, but it feels good to tell it anyway." Mom reads a bit of the first page and I notice her frown before sighing.

"Penelope. Let's talk." She pulls another chair to the desk and the pit of my stomach fills with dread. When Mom says she wants to talk, it's never a good thing. The last time she did this, she told me that I she was using my Senior Spring Break money to pay Tim's lawyer bills. He'd been caught growing weed in his car like a freaking moron.

"What's to talk about?" I ask, swallowing and shoving the legal pad aside. My mother's green eyes are not cold, only sad.

"You and I have never had an easy relationship, have we?" Her voice is gentle, but firm. I immediately feel my defenses bristle, but I swallow my retort.

"No." I concede reluctantly. Her eyes are sparkling with what looks like tears.

"It's my fault." Mom sniffs, and I swipe the box of tissue off the corner of the desk. "I know that now." She shakes her head. "When I was your age, I had plans for myself. I wanted to get out of Nebraska. I was a lot like you. Pretty, popular and so full of dreams. I wanted to be an artist. A painter." She smiles through her tears. "I met your father at Aunt Karen's wedding. He was so cute…we got ahead of ourselves and well, you know the rest." My mother sighs. "Please don't misunderstand. I love Darcy. I love all of you. It's just not how it was supposed to happen. I know now that it was all part of the plan. And marrying your Dad was the best thing I ever did, because I don't deserve him and I think I've always known it. Maybe it's why I resented him so much. He's able to see the good in everything. I can't do that."

I have to swallow a lump in my throat and I realize my own eyes are burning, but I am not crying. I'm just watching, and listening and praying that this doesn't escalate into a fight.

"Then your father doted on Darcy so much and I was a little jealous. It was almost like he had no use for me now that he had his daughter…and Darcy never wanted to be close to me because she was so absorbed in your father."

"So, that's why you were so protective over Tim." I finish for her, wondering how far a little communication would have gone back then. Maybe it could have solved a lot of problems. This is why people need to talk to each other. This is why I love that my friends are so blunt, even if they are a bit brutally honest. This is why I think Leonard and Amy are going to be fine.

"Then you came along," Mom continues, touching my arm. It feels nice. "And you were so independent. So strong and full of life and everything that I wasn't. You were just like your father, but you looked like me and Darcy." Her voice drops, "And this makes me sick to my stomach, but I was jealous of you."

"You're joking." I respond dryly, staring at her. She shakes her head, wiping her eyes.

"I wish I was. It's disgusting. Envying your own little girl and wishing you were more like her." My mother smoothes my hair lovingly. Something I used to wish she would do when I was little. "And then you grew up and you were a lot like me too. A cheerleader, popular and on your Homecoming Court. And then you left without talking to Dad or me and went to California. And I was so hurt." Mom's voice breaks and I draw in a ragged breath.

"Mom, I'm—"

"Don't you dare say you're sorry." She cuts me off, her green eyes are piercing. "I was hurt because you left, yes…but I was more hurt that I couldn't go too! I was so envious that you got to follow your dreams when I never did."

"But Dad would have let you. You still could have." I insist, placing my hand over hers. She exhales and nods.

"I wanted so badly to be angry…to blame someone for ruining my plans, that I refused to consider it. I was playing a martyr and it was wrong and immature of me." Mom takes another tissue. "And I'm so, so sorry." She breaks, pulling me close. I get out of the chair so I can hug her fully and rest my cheek against her hair while she cries. I don't cry. I don't need to. I'm just so relieved to hear that my mother doesn't hate me. That she loves me even. I mean, she's never going to win Mother of the Year and I'm never going to get those years from my childhood back, but it's a start. "Penny," She says after a few moments. I look down at her and let her take my hands into hers. "I need you to know that I am so proud of you. For getting out of here. Don't ever give up on yourself, okay? Don't be like me."

"I think you're stronger than you think you are, Mom." I assure her. "But I am so lost. I don't know what to do with my life."

"That's the beauty of it, Penelope. You can do anything you want if you're brave enough to try."

"I've been trying for eight years and I've been in one commercial and pretty much nothing else worth a damn." I point out, sitting against the desk.

"So do other things. Try your hand at writing." Mom tells me, pointing to the legal pad I've scrawled all over. "It looks like you got a start there. Tell your story…but keep trying. Take some night classes…just do something that makes you happy. Because, if your father and your Gran taught me anything, it's that it doesn't matter what you do. As long as you're happy." She squeezes my hand. "Are you happy?"

"I think I'm on my way." I nod. Maybe I don't know where I'm going or what I'm doing…or what to do about myself and everything I'm dealing with right now. But I'll figure it out. Because I have to.

"Thank you for breakfast. It was wonderful." Mom adds, smiling now. She really has a pretty smile. I hope she smiles more now.

"Mom? Penny?" Darcy's voice comes from below. Mom stands.

"Looks like your sister and Brian are here to go to the hospital." She keeps her hand in mine, which is a really weird feeling, but I don't stop her.

I gasp at the sight of my nephew, who is now taller than I am and gangly with blond hair and light eyes. He's going to be very handsome once he grows into his height. His hair is curly and slightly too long and his wire rimmed glasses are a little big on his face, but he's adorable in a geeky way. The guys would probably love him. I grin at the familiar shirt he's wearing.

"Green Lantern, huh?" I grin at him and put my arms out. "Come on. Give Auntie a hug."

"Hi, Aunt Penny." Brian says, smiling politely.

"Jesus, kid. Stop growin', okay?" I let go of him and ruffle his curly hair. He reminds me of a slightly nerdy young Justin Timberlake. "So I hear you wanna be an engineer?"

"Yeah." He shrugs modestly. "I like math…and science."

"Yeah, pretty much everything we weren't good at." Darcy laughs, putting an arm around her son. "This kid starts talking about algebra and my eyes just glaze over. It's pretty damn amazing though."

"Definitely." I agree, smiling at him. "So are you a DC Comics or Marvel?"

"I like the DC Universe better." A slow grin spreads over his face. "I mean, come on, they've got Superman and Batman."

"And Wonder Woman." I add, remembering the New Year's party at the comic book store.

"Yeah. Her too." He agrees amiably. Well, I'll say one thing for him, he has enough social skills. He's like a freaky mix of Leonard and Sheldon, but with a little bit of normal splashed in too. I think he's got a chance.

"Don't get him started on the comics." Darcy warns. "And come on, we gotta get to the hospital. Dad's coming home tomorrow, so we have to get his paperwork filled out."

Dad is sitting up and chatting with a friend of his when we arrive. Everything is checking out great for him after the Angioplasty and the stent. Other than a moderate change in diet, he's good to go. He'll be re-evaluated in a few months and we'll see where to go from there.

To celebrate, Mom, Darcy, Brian, Joey and I have dinner at Olive Garden. Joey is still a douche and I hate that Darcy is stuck with him, but they have this weird bickering relationship that seems to work. It's strange, but kind of funny to watch. I cannot believe how someone so smart came from two people so dumb. Poor Brian. When Joey calls Darcy a "Procrastulator." I share a look with my nephew and we hide our smirks. Joey also says something about it being a "Doggy Dog World," and I nearly lose my shit. I hide it by taking a drink of water and biting the inside of my cheek until I taste blood.

"I'm just sayin'." Joey is droning on. "Nobody ever got a girlfriend playin' computer games."

"Dad." Brian sighs, looking at my mother for help. Mom glares at her idiot son-in-law. "I don't play computer games. I'm developing one for a project in school."

"You're creating a game?" I ask, looking to Darcy for confirmation. She nods, staring into her wine.

"It's just a very rough, one player crime fighting game, but my teacher is writing a recommendation for me to get into M.I.T."

"And that's another thing." Joey pipes in. I roll my eyes. Oh, here we go. Freaking moron. "You keep talkin' about that 'Mitt" school."

"Massachusetts Institute of Technology." Brian sighs, resting his cheek on his hand. Poor kid.

"To be a geeky scientist." Joey argues, looking around as if any of us are going to agree with him. Why Darcy is still living with this turd, I will never understand. She's pretty and at least she supports her kid. From what I can tell, she's proud of her son.

"Well I think that's awesome Bri." I tell him reassuringly. "Keep working hard and it'll happen. Jocks always end up being beer bellied losers anyway." I say, flicking my eyes over to Joey, who is no longer listening and is trying to poke holes in his straw with a fork. Darcy is staring at him in quiet disbelief.

I am weak with relief when they drop Mom and I off at home. The minivan squeaks as Darcy drives away. (Joey's license was revoked with a D.U.I.)

"Oh no." Mom sighs tiredly, stopping halfway to the door. I stare at her.

"What's wrong?" I ask.

"I dropped my little coin purse back there." She looks back toward the dark yard.

"I'll grab it." I tell her, motioning for her to go into the house. I turn on the outside barn lights and hunch down, looking for her little purse. I find it lying half under the hen house and stop dead.

By the time she found me, I was covered in hen excrement, feathers and bites. Thus was born my fear of birds and my fear of germs. All in one thirty minute stretch.

I close my eyes, trying not to think of a little boy locked inside one of these stinky little houses, crying for his grandmother to find him. I choke up a little and shake it off, running back toward the house after turning the lights off again.

I quickly learn that I left my phone here all day, so I have about 90 text messages that I haven't gotten.

Shit.

Penny, you've got to get home soon. Sheldon is terrorizing the village.

That's Leonard.

Bestie, what is the protocol for kicking out your former boyfriend so you can get busy with your new boyfriend?

Oh. Ew. Ew. EW.

The only thing worse than that visual is Howard and Bernadette. Speaking of Howard.

Penny, I can't guarantee that your bat shit roommate will still be living when you come home. You know it's bad when my mom says he's meshuga.

Wait, so Sheldon is bothering all of his friends? What the hell?

Then I see the eight hundred texts from Dr. Whack-A-Doodle.

Penny, there was a clump of hair in the drain, which consequently clogged the drain. That's a strike.

Awesome.

Penny, there is a centipede somewhere in the living room. Per Section 15 of the Roommate Agreement, it is your job to kill insects.

It's called a shoe, Shelly.

Penny, Leonard met Amy for an early dinner and I had to take the bus home.

Penny, you haven't answered my text messages all day! Are you being held against your will? Please call me when you get this.

I sigh. Oh God…I ignore the other fifty texts and quickly dial his phone.

"Hello?" His voice is impatient. I almost laugh at how bitchy he sounds.

"What up, MoonPie?"

"Where have you been?" He demands to know, reminding me very much of his mother when she's mad.

"I'm sorry, Sweetie. I forgot my phone at the house when we went to the hospital." I explain, hearing him huff.

"I could have been dying." He says, affronted. "Zombies could have been attacking—"

"Sheldon, Zombies are not real." I sigh, rubbing my eyes and moving toward the cupboard to find some coffee. "What are you doing?"

"I am watching a horrid movie with Raj and Bridget Rostenkowski." He explains and I groan aloud. Tonight was Raj and Bridget's first date and my delightful roommate has obviously crashed it.

"Sheldon, put Raj on the phone."

"But Penny, I—"

"Now." I growl at him. A second later, I hear Raj's slightly boozy voice.

"Hello, Penny." He doesn't sound amused.

"Hi honey. I'm so sorry. I'm going to find him a babysitter, okay?" I promise. "What movie are you guys watching?"

"How to Lose A Guy In Ten Days." Raj tells me. "Sheldon is sitting between us on the couch because he likes the acoustics in that spot." He grinds each word out with force. I close my eyes in horror, but I'm kind of on the verge of cracking up at the visual of this goofy ass threesome.

"Give me twenty minutes." I reply, waiting for Sheldon to come back on the phone.

"Penny, nothing about this movie is enjoyable." He complains.

"Okay, you big butthead. I'm going to find you a playmate. Standby."

I quickly dial the only person I can think of to take him on.

"Hello?"

"Hey Stuart. It's Penny."

"Oh, hey…" His voice is down and depressed.

"Listen, I need a favor." I say, getting to the point. "I need you to take Sheldon to the movies. I will pay you back when I get home from Nebraska on Saturday."

"You're kidding, right?" Stuart breathes, sounding as if he couldn't be less interested.

"No. I'll do anything. Name it." I fire off.

"Dinner?" He suggests and I cringe.

"Still seeing someone." I reply.

"Can I see your boobs?" He offers and I let out a sound of disgust.

"No." I growl. "Oh my God, no." I pace around the kitchen table. "Okay, I'll get you a date."

"Deal." Stuart says without hesitation and I grin, knowing I've won. I quickly rattle off Raj's address and hang up to call Dr. Looney Tunes back.

"Ahoy!" Sheldon says into the phone and I stare into space for a second. "Penny?"

"I'm sorry, did you just answer the phone Ahoy?" I ask incredulously, hardly suppressing the laughter.

"Yes, Penny." He tells me. "I'm a very whimsical person." I burst out laughing.

"I guess so." I agree. "Stuart is on his way to pick you up. You guys are going to see The Avengers."

"With Stuart?" Sheldon scoffs and I roll my eyes at him.

"You can keep watching How To Lose A Guy In Ten Days." I suggest and I can hear him sigh.

"You're right. As much as I don't look forward to spending time with Stuart, I cannot deny that The Avengers sound much more entertaining than this."

"Hey!" I can hear Raj complain in the background. "This movie is cute! And Kate Hudson is the image of her mother at that age—"

"Raj, you're embarrassing yourself." Sheldon tells him pointedly.

Sorry Raj!

"Do you think you can handle one more night on your own tomorrow without having people wanting to make a voodoo doll out of you?" I add, bringing Shelly back into the conversation.

"Penny, please don't tell me you actually believe in that hokum. I mean, I suppose I've come to accept your belief in Astrology, but Voodoo?"

"It was a joke." I mutter through gritted teeth. "Ha ha."

"Are you being sarcastic?" He asks, sounding innocently confused. Damn him for being so adorable even when I want to murder him.

"No." I reply. "Have fun at the movies. I have to go."

"Goodbye, Penny." He says, hanging up. I set the phone on the table and look at the can of coffee before turning to the stairs.

"Hey Mom?" I call. "Do you have any wine around here?"

 

Chapter Text

"I think Joe is cheating on me." Darcy says during breakfast on Saturday, making me choke on the biscuits and gravy I'm eating. It's a good thing Brian is in the other room, helping Mom clean for Dad's homecoming this afternoon, because I don't think any kid needs to hear his dad's a cheater. Even if he's already smarter than Joey will ever be.

"Why?" I ask, washing down my biscuit with some orange juice. Darcy plays with her long, blonde hair and shrugs.

"He's been staying out way past midnight…he only works three days a week right now and he should be off at five." She rolls her eyes, scowling and she spears her fork into a biscuit. "Oh, and the fact that I found a pair of panties in his fucking jacket pocket."

"Who the hell would sleep with him?" I exclaim, trying to keep my voice down. "I mean, no offense Darce, but he's not really anything special anymore…he used to be okay looking, but now he kind of looks like a stereotype for rednecks." Darcy bursts into tears and I panic, hoping my nephew is out of earshot. I quickly fly around the table and put my arms around her. I can't really remember the last time she and I hugged like this. Probably when I was really little.

"I know!" She sobs quietly, giving me a watery look. "I hate it. I can't stand him, Penny!" Her eyes are flitting about wildly. "I gotta get out of there, or I'm gonna die. I gotta get Brian the hell away from him…and I've got to get him out to that school." She's whispering, but it's that kind of desperate not whispery voice that's pretty much talking. Her mascara is running down her face. "He needs recommendations, especially for the scholarship and I don't really know what to do for him! His teacher already wrote one, but the guidance counselor suggested having three." Darcy buries her face in her hands. "I'm really tryin' to be a good Mom, Penny, but it's really hard when I'm doing it alone and when his father treats him like shit."

"You want my advice?" I say, raising my eyebrows, and squeezing her shoulders. "Honey, I was in a slightly unhealthy relationship for four years with Kurt and then I went on a spree of sleeping around before dating Leonard, who was great, but it just didn't work…so if you have any ideas, please throw them out there!" She laughs a little at this, dabbing at her eyes with a napkin.

"All I know is, I think I deserve better than this." Darcy admits, resting her head on my shoulder. "I mean, when we were fifteen, I loved Joey. And I thought he loved me…and Brian turned out so great even when I started to see Joey was never going to change. So what am I supposed to do?"

"I think you just answered your own question, Darce." I meet her eyes. "Leave him. God, do it today. Dad would pay for the divorce in a second! He was against the marriage to begin with." Darcy nods and sighs.

"Seventeen years is a long time." Her voice is tired, but she doesn't sound sad. I don't really know what she sounds like. I didn't spend the last seventeen years of my life married to the stupidest man on earth. If I wanted that, I would have stayed in Nebraska and married T.J. or I wouldn't have dumped poor, dumb Zack. No, instead I'm scamming on the smartest man on earth which is probably going to go over like a fart in church.

What am I going to do?

Nope. Not the time…I need to be here for my sister.

"Look. After the school year is over, why don't you and Bri come visit California? You've never visited me. We can go shopping and we'll leave Brian with his own kind for once." I offer and she stares at me in confusion.

"His own kind?"

"Smart people." I explain gently. "The guys are all scientists and – hey!" I cry excitedly. "Brian wants to go to M.I.T. for engineering, right?" She nods. "Howard went to M.I.T. Maybe he can write a recommendation for Bri. I mean, he's a creepy, perverted little weasel, but he's got a good heart…I think." I ponder this dryly. "Well, minus his arrhythmia or whatever. But the point is, Brian could actually hang out with people who like what he likes! You know, science…comics…pretty much stuff you and I will never understand."

"Amen to that." She responds. "I don't know, Pen. Let me think about it and get with you…this is a lot to take in. And I have to think of Brian and his reaction."

"I'm good with it." Brian says, stepping into the room. Clearly, he's inherited his eavesdropping skills from Aunt Penny. "Mom, leave him."

Okay, you know it's bad when your own kid wants you to leave his Daddy.

"Brian, are you serious?" Darcy asks, standing up and crossing to her son. "Look at me."

"I'm serious." Brian nods, towering over his mother. "He has no use for me anyway. That's always been clear. I want you to be happy, and I want to be happy too."

I decide to give them some privacy and discreetly leave the room. I find Mom sitting in the living room, pretending to watch T.V.

"Oh, don't even play dumb." I laugh, sinking into the seat beside her. "I know you heard the whole thing. I learned from you."

"God, I hope she does it." Mom whispers, looking at me. "I can't stand that little prick, Joey."

"I don't know who can. Except maybe Joey." I roll my eyes. "Even his kid thinks he's an asshole."

"Penny, don't curse." Mom pleads. "But yes, he's an asshole." I snort, shaking my head.

"What time is Dad getting released?" I ask, checking my phone to make sure that nobody has died or ended up in jail or…crashed any dates.

I cringe, thinking about poor Raj and Bridget. Hopefully, she hasn't bolted back to Michigan or blocked his number or anything because of his crazy ass friend. If we can just get through tonight without Shelly going ape shit, then we'll be okay. I get home at noon tomorrow.

"He said after twelve." Mom replies, sighing and resting her head against the back of the couch. "I think it's a great idea for Darcy and Brian to visit you in California." She adds. I turn to stare at her in surprise.

"Really?"

"She hasn't been on vacation in seventeen years. When she got pregnant with Brian, she lost her youth and by marrying Joey, she lost her freedom because half the time, he doesn't have a job. He's a parasite."

"Jesus." I mutter, making a face.

We don't talk about it anymore. In fact, we're all a little quiet until we get to the hospital to pick up Dad, who is just waiting on his release papers. He grins at the sight of us.

"I'm a free man, kids!" He states, putting on his hat and patting Brian's shoulder. "Look at this kid, Pen! Tall as me now!"

"Yep." I agree, smiling. It's weird to see my family almost…functional. It always amazes me how something like almost losing a family member can change things so drastically. I mean, let's face it, we're never going to be The Brady Bunch, but at least we all kind of know that we can tolerate each other.

While everyone is fussing over Dad and getting dinner together, my phone vibrates and I fill with dread.

What now?

Penny, Bridget told me to thank you. After Sheldon left Raj's apartment with Stuart, they spent the entire night talking. Even when the booze wore off! I don't think he realized he wasn't drunk anymore…but she really likes him!

Bernadette. I sag in relief. Finally, some good news! Maybe they can fend for themselves sometimes. Well, most of them. I wonder what Homo Novus is up to. It's not quite eight yet, so he's not doing laundry. Probably watching Battlestar Galactica or Firefly or something like that. I long to be on that couch in my sweats. This house, which used to be so comfortable, feels as foreign to me now as a stranger's home.

What are you doing?

I fire off quickly before helping Darcy bring the potatoes to the table. Joey is out with his old football buddies, so we don't have to deal with him. We clued Dad in on the situation already and he's onboard for Project Divorce. In fact, he couldn't have been happier.

He motions for me to join him in the hall, and I help him walk, worrying about him straining.

"Thank you, Penny, for helping your sister. She's been so lost." He whispers. "Somehow, you ended up being the smartest of us all."

"No Dad…I just have had to learn a lot of hard lessons." I remind him. He knows. He saw when he visited last year.

"You're a good girl." He pats my cheek.

The remainder of the night is very nice. Not one fight. I can't even believe it! We even play a game of Monopoly and laugh. I can't remember the last time the whole family was together without a fight breaking out. Of course, most of the fighting was instigated by Joey and Tim. Neither of whom are present.

I miss my brother, but I don't really know him. He and I have never really been close. Then again, neither have Darcy and I and here we are. Me giving her advice on how to end her crap ass marriage to Larry the Cable Guy. Maybe there's hope for all of us.

I don't sleep that night. I stay up all night with that legal pad and continue to scribble until I see the first rays of sun over the barn. Again, I can't believe I've been going for nearly seven hours. My eyes are literally aching, but I feel accomplished. And I want to go home.

"Hey Mom," I say, getting out of the car at the airport. She looks at me expectantly. "I know it's not for another like five months, but why don't you and Dad come out to California for Thanksgiving? It might do you both some good to get out of this town." I see her eyes fill with, I don't know, excitement? She nods slowly, reaching forward and I let her draw me into another hug.

"You know I love you, Pea, don't you?" I stand back and laugh.

"You haven't called me Pea since I was in first grade." I tell her, stooping to grab the handle of my suitcase. "I never did understand the nickname."

"Well," She takes my hand. "It's your initials. P.E.A. Pea."

"I love you, Mom." I squeeze her hand and quickly peck her on the cheek.

"Remember, I want to talk to you at least once a week, Penelope." She adds firmly. "At least."

"I won't forget." I agree. "Make sure Dad listens to his doctors and doesn't do anything dumb like try to fix the tractor or something."

"I won't." Mom promises. "I think we're gonna have Darcy and Brian around now she's leavin' the asshole."

"Mom, don't curse." I tease.

"I'll try harder next time, Sweetie." She chuckles. For the first time in my life, I don't want to leave her. It's a weird feeling, but after one more quick hug, I tear away blinking back inexplicable tears and walk back towards the entrance and home.

I can't explain the wave of relief I feel as I set foot outside L.A.X. and wait for a cab to take me home. The air is warmer, the sun is shining and people are everywhere. This must be how Dorothy felt when she woke up after being in Oz. Now, to get home to the Scarecrow and pray he hasn't set fire to the building or himself.

I love California. I love the palm trees and the vague smell of the ocean. I love the weather and the people and the shopping. I hold my breath as we pass The Cheesecake Factory and remember that I don't have a job. But I tighten my grip on my suitcase, remembering the two legal pads that are almost completely full within. I am itching to type them out and see what I have. After about ten hours of sleep.

Then tomorrow, I'm going to go and find a new job. One that doesn't involve me bringing cheesecake to people.

I actually freaking tear up at the sight of 2311 Los Robles. My whole body seems to sag in relief with the knowledge that just four flights up is my home…and the crazy that lives inside. Ah, who am I kidding? I can't wait to see the Whacko. I overpay the cab driver and bolt out of the car, dashing up the stairs as quickly as I can while lugging a twenty pound suitcase with me.

I am fishing in my purse for my keys when I stop dead, hearing something. Staring at the door, I hear the muffled sound of piano music.

What the hell?

As quietly as I'm able, I push it open and take a tentative step inside. Sheldon is sitting near the window with his Yamaha keyboard set up and is playing the shit out of it. Some kind of classical piece that I've never heard but it's beautiful. I knew he could play after his drunken episode at The Cheesecake Factory years ago, but this is like…wow.

He really could give up science for music. It's those hands with the crazy long fingers. And the freaky memory. When I stop thinking stupid things I realize it's quiet and MoonPie is staring at me expectantly.

"Hello, Penny."

"Hey, Sheldon." I reply casually, trying to smile. I'm not successful. So, I swallow and quietly walk toward my bedroom with my suitcase wheeling behind me. I can hear my heartbeat in my ears. I feel slightly like I'm having a panic attack.

It's when I open the door to my room that I nearly collapse. The bed has been made. My blue sheets are crisp and I can smell nothing but clean clothes. My hamper, which was overflowing is empty and the clothes are folded perfectly in a basket on my bed.

"I took the liberty of doing your laundry." His voice is right behind me. I whirl around and stare up at him, torn between being surprised and scared shitless. He looks the same as always. Calm, collected, dressed like a kindergartener, vaguely smelling like baby powder and No More Tears. The only thing that seems different is the tightness in his jaw.

Aw, fuck it.

I launch myself upward and, before he can protest, I hug him tightly, burying my face in his neck.

"Penny!" He cries in terrified shock, but he catches me, bending to make it easier for me. I can feel him place his hands hesitantly on my back.

"I'm sorry." I say into the warmth of his neck. "Just missed you."

"You're touching me," He says. "That's a—"

"Shut up, Sheldon." I cut him off, grinning like a moron and pulling back to look at him. His face is flushed, sending a long thrill of satisfaction through my body. "So you survived."

"Of course I survived." He says, straightening and quirking an eyebrow at me. Something immediately tells me that he's not as annoyed as he's pretending to be. "Penny, I have an I.Q. of one hundred eighty seven. I am one of the most evolved people on the planet and contain a working knowledge—"

"Can it, MoonPie." I stop him, though it comes out all breathy and Marilyn Monroe because my voice hasn't caught up with my adrenaline fueled blood racing through my veins. Even he seems to notice and gives me a look. "You missed me." I point an accusatory finger at him. He rolls his eyes in response and looks away, twitching slightly.

"Why must you keep dwelling on this fascination of yours with me 'missing' you?" He does flipping air quotes with his fingers, making me snort in amusement.

"Because you did." I tell him. "Why else would you end up bothering all of your friends on Friday night? It's okay to admit you were lonely, honey." I reach for his arm and he looks ready to jump backwards full force. "Sorry." I say. "And thank you for doing my laundry…for helping me with the trip…for just…" I take a long breath. "For everything."

"You're welcome." He nods. "Are you hungry? I think I may have a sub from Giacomo's delivered since they will be under new management soon."

"I could eat." I agree, feeling the sick urge to take his hand and let him lead me out to the couch. We all know that's not gonna happen, so I leave my stuff and follow behind him with my hands in my back pockets. At this point, I haven't slept in over twenty-four hours and I'm kind of moving in a daze, so I somehow find my way over to the couch and pull the blanket off the back of the armchair and throw it around my shoulders.

I watch, unhearing as Sheldon orders our food and comes back to sit in his spot.

"How much do I owe?" I ask tiredly, resting my head against the back of the couch. Out of the corner of my eye, I see him sit and have to stifle my urge to scoot closer to him.

Pull it together, Penny.

"Nothing." He tells me, setting the cordless phone back on its charger. I'm too exhausted to argue. And really, I'm broke as hell.

"I started writing." I hear myself tell him.

"Writing what?" He stares at me in bemusement. "Not another screenplay about a girl from Lincoln, Nebraska who comes to work at the Cheesecake Factory? I know you claim it was not autobiographical, but Penny, you weren't fooling anyone."

"Actually," I say, trying to focus my eyes so I can glare at him. Not working. "It is about a girl from Omaha, Nebraska, but it's not a screenplay. And it is autobiographical."

"I see." He says, looking uncertainly at the T.V. I can tell he doesn't know how he's supposed to react.

"Well, it's inspirational, I guess." I shrug. "I don't know…right now, it's just therapeutic to get these thoughts out onto paper." Sighing, I fold my hands in my lap and bring my legs up onto the couch cushion. "I am thinking about going to night school…after I find another job. Do you think Stuart is hiring at The Comic Center?"

"No." Sheldon tells me firmly. "Absolutely not. He leers at you, Penny." I choke out a startled laugh.

"Jealous?" I accuse jokingly. Maybe a little, hopefully. He scowls at me.

"Dear Lord." He grumbles. "No. But it's obnoxious to watch Stuart bumble his way from woman to woman. First you, then Amy Farrah Fowler…"

"Then it's probably a good thing you don't know what he wanted from me to take you to see The Avengers on Friday night." I challenge. His head snaps up and his blue eyes become piercing and alert. I feel a surge of triumph in the pit of my stomach.

"What did he ask for?" Sheldon inquires, narrowing his eyes at me. Casually, I pick up the abandoned copy of Popular Science and flip through it.

"Oh, first he asked me out to dinner, but when I said no, he decided he wanted to see my…" I drop my voice and gesture to my chest. "You know." Sheldon's face immediately turns bright red because, as you know, he is a man-child who can't comprehend that anyone has ever gone through puberty and might want to see them. Unless he does…

"And you agreed to that nonsense?" He fires at me, and for the first time in a while, I hear a little testosterone in his voice. It's impressive. God, he's an easy guinea pig sometimes. Instead of telling him no, I simply shrug and pretend to keep reading about what humans will look like in 10,000 years. "Penny." He says, tearing the magazine from my hands. I look up at him with a faux offended look.

"Uh, I was reading that, MoonPie."

"Don't call me MoonPie." He growls. "Only MeeMaw can—"

"What are you gonna do about it?" I challenge, folding my arms and staring him square in the eyes, which are blazing with Alpha Male fury. If only I could get him to show it outwardly.

"What did you say to Stuart?" He asks in a very low voice, making my mouth drop open for a second.

"I told him no." I answer sharply, glaring right back. "Of course." I watch his expression go from murderous to relieved to confused all in a couple of seconds. He makes to say something else, but there is a knock at the door.

Food.

My heart is still thundering behind my ribs when he comes back and unpacks the two subs. Jumping off the couch, I dart to the fridge and pull out a couple of Diet Cokes.

"What is your deal with Stuart? I thought you guys were friends." I finally ask when we're eating. Sheldon doesn't spare me a glance.

"He is a pathetic, depressing individual who constantly hits on females who are out of his league." Sheldon gingerly wipes his mouth with a napkin, before looking at me sideways. "Plus, he prefers Marvel Superheroes over DC."

"No." I cry in mock horror, putting a hand to my cheek. Sheldon nods in agreement.

"I told you." He says, as if I've confirmed that he is correct. I hide my amusement in my sub, choking down a bite as I attempt not to laugh. "Not to mention, he thought Batman and Robin was a good movie."

"Oh, the horror." I smirk, earning a nice glare from Dr. Whack-A-Doodle.

"Are you being sarcastic?" He asks. I nod.

"Just a little." I assure him, reaching out to rub his shoulder with my fingertip. He flinches slightly, but recovers quickly. "I ended up promising Stuart I would help him find a date. He thinks I have a boyfriend."

"I see." Sheldon says in a voice that I can't read.

"He thought you and I were dating." I add, mostly to provoke him as I finish my sub. The remainder of Sheldon's sub falls limply back into his carryout box.

"Where would he draw that conclusion?" He asks, puzzled.

"It's because we're living together." I try to explain. "Usually, when a guy and girl move in together it means they're getting serious…or at the very least doing it on a daily basis."

"Doing wha—?" He cuts off and shakes his head, realizing. "Oh. That would explain why Bridget Rostenkowski assumed we were—"

"Yeah." It comes out more as a sigh as we both turn toward the T.V. We fall silent for a while and as I continue to not watch the special on the Big Bang, I become less aware of my surroundings.

"You know, we could just let Stuart believe it." Sheldon finally says, making me look at him in wonder. Did he really just say that or have I finally killed my last brain cell? I watch with huge eyes as his hand moves hesitantly over to pick up mine out of my lap and place our palms against each other.

"We could." I reply in a stunted whisper.

"You were right. I am jealous of Stuart. I can't stand the thought of him ever laying eyes on your body." His eyes are gleaming bright blue in the dimming afternoon light.

"So do something about it." I breathe and a second later, he closes the distance between us, murmuring my name.

"Penny." I can nearly feel his lips against mine…

"Penny!" I'm being jolted awake. I realize I'm lying with my head against Sheldon's shoulder while he stares at me as if I've just condemned him to death. "You were sleeping."

Of course I was. I knew Sheldon was being too freaky normal. Damn it.

Oh, how the tables have turned on me. Betrayed by my hormones and my stupid new weird abnormal feelings for my buddy.

I'm screwed.

"I'm gonna just…" I stand up and point blankly toward the bathroom, stumbling away from him while he watches me in quiet worry. "Shower." He stands up and looks like he wants to say something, but doesn't. Stretching his arms, that damn shirt comes up just a tiny bit to show the barest glimpse of skin. I turn away quickly, fleeing down the hall.

Cold Shower.

 

Chapter Text

The first thing I do in the morning – well, afternoon (It's 1:00 P.M.) – is apply for financial aid online so I can, hopefully, get back into school part time. What I want to study, I don't know. It doesn't really matter right now. I'm getting my foot in the door and I'll figure it out from there. I have bigger problems at the moment.

Like finding a job.

It's really beautiful outside, so I decide to take a walk across the street to the gas station and pick up a newspaper to check the job listings and buy myself a crappy cappuccino. Just as I get back into the apartment, the cordless phone rings. Why Sheldon insists on having a landline when he has a cell phone, I will never get, but whatever. I don't contribute to that bill, so I don't really give a damn. At this point, I'm just happy to have a place to live.

"Hello?" I answer in a cheery voice. I hear a female voice on the other line.

"Oh! Penny?" I recognize Missy Cooper's voice instantly and brighten. We don't know each other very well, but we're Facebook friends. We 'like' each others' statuses and comment on pictures and such.

"Hi, Missy!"

"Oh, I'm so glad it's you." She breathes. "I mean, I did call for Shelly, but I think it's better if I talk to you first."

"Oh, he's at work anyway." I remind her.

"Oh damnation." Missy says, sounding tired. "I always forget that y'all are two hours behind us. I'm havin' a slight crisis. I know Sheldon ain't happy about me marryin' Ben, but he's my brother. Look, MeeMaw told me you two were—"

"What are you getting at here, Missy?" I ask, nearly spilling my coffee when I bang my foot on the coffee table. My eyes well up as my toe throbs.

"She said y'all are livin' together and Leonard moved out. I know you two are good friends and Momma says you seem to have a way with him, so I'm going to just come out with it. When y'all come down for the weddin', can you just…I don't know…make sure he doesn't try to start some kind of science riot? Ben's real opinionated and he don't like to hear about science because he says it goes against God."

Say what?

"I…" I trail off, chewing at my nail. What the heck am I supposed to say to that? "That's really not up to me, Missy. I mean, if Sheldon wants me to come, of course I'd join him, but—"

"You mean he hasn't asked you yet? MeeMaw told me he was goin' to. He got the Save the Date card last week!" Her voice is full of surprise.

"Did she now?" I respond dryly, still chewing that nail. I'm pretty sure it's almost down to the nub. "I was in Nebraska last week." I inform her, wiping my sweaty palm on my sweats.

"He wrote to 'er." Missy babbles on, obviously caught and embarrassed. "Oh, I'm sorry darlin'! I thought he'd have asked ya by now!"

"Your brother isn't the best when it comes to communication." I mutter, taking a swig of the crappy French Vanilla cappuccino.

"Preachin' to the choir, sister." Missy laughs. "Well, when he does, I just…I'd really appreciate it if you say yes. Because I don't want my brother and my husband to get into it on my wedding day."

"You know, he's worried that you're going to be all into that born again stuff like your Mom." I confide in her, wondering if I'm overstepping my boundaries here.

"Honey, this is Texas. You're either into hunting, football or Jesus. There ain't much else. Unless you're like our brother George, who is into bourbon and trashy women." She sighs. "He takes after our Daddy."

"So I hear." I reply tightly, remembering our conversation a while back about their father's drinking. "And, of course I'll come." Hell, I'm already trying to get the guy to notice me, I gotta take what I can get here!

After we hang up, I return to my job hunt, scanning through the classifieds and find one possibility.

Receptionist wanted. Entry level. $11.50/hour

Well, it's more than I made at The Cheesecake Factory. Everything else requires experience or at least, an Associate's Degree. Damn you, eighteen year old Penny! I dial the number and get a woman who sounds like she smokes about thirty packs a day.

"McIntosh Photography." She rasps into my ear. I cringe.

"I'm calling about the job listing in the paper." I tell her meekly and hear her cough.

"The position's been filled already, sorry." She doesn't sound sorry. Sighing, I thank her and hang up, slouching against the back of the couch. Now what? Setting the paper aside, I try to think.

The Cheesecake Factory is only a few minutes away. I could go there, explain—

No! Damn it, Penny! You're not working at The Cheesecake Factory!

Defeated, I pull the remainder of my Ben and Jerry's out of the freezer and settle onto the couch, looking for something to watch on T.V.

A Walk To Remember is playing on one of the Hallmark stations or something. Awful, sad movie. Of course I'm going to watch it. I always thought Shane West was a cutie. I've never been big on Mandy Moore as an actress, but she's passable I guess. At least she hasn't been in one hemorrhoid commercial. She probably hasn't been told she looks "too Midwest" nine billion times. I mean, maybe my shoulders are broad and I have huge hands and not really the cutest feet ever, but I think I'm attractive…ish. Guys like me enough…granted, most of the time, the see a little too much of me, but still.

"The doctor said I should go on and live life normally best I could. I-I didn't want anybody to be weird around me."

"Including me?"

"Especially you! Ya know, I was getting along with everything fine. I accepted it, and then you happened! I do not need a reason to be angry with God!"

That's it, I'm sobbing already, watching my ice cream melt. Why do I watch this evil? Stuff like this doesn't happen. I keep telling myself that, but I can't ever look away from it. Is the ending sweet? Yes. But seriously, I'm sitting here in a pool of my own tears watching Mandy Moore pretend to die of Leukemia while her sexy boyfriend demands that his convenient Cancer Doc Father make her better.

Obviously, he can't. So, they pull a Bella and Edward and get married straight out of high school. And I sob some more because it's so damn cute. The door opens, revealing Sheldon, Raj and Leonard.

"Oh dear Lord." Sheldon mutters, walking past me to his spot and setting down the Thai food they brought home. Ah, Mondays. "Must you watch this hopeless female fodder?"

"Shut up." I sniff, handing a tissue over to Raj, who is already misting up.

"It's so heartbreaking." He agrees tearfully, and I turn to look at him in surprise.

"Are you drunk?" I ask, opening my eyes wide. He shakes his head, still focusing on what now seems to be some sort of little music montage while the two leads dance with each other. "You're talking!" I cry gleefully, throwing my arms around Raj and kissing his cheek. "Look at you!"

"I'm still working on it." He whispers, slightly embarrassed. Leonard settles into the chair, accepting his food from Sheldon. I settle my red rimmed eyes on him.

"Did you fix things with Amy?" I ask shortly, glaring at him. He looks into his food sheepishly.

"I apologized and we began to make up and that's when…" His eyes flit to his kooky best bud. "I ended up talking too much as usual and we fought again."

"What did you say?" I groan, eating a dumpling.

"He accused her of continuing a romantic relationship with me to justify his lunch date with Priya. That's when I left and went to Wolowitz's." Sheldon finishes for him, finally settling back with his food. Raj looks at Leonard suspiciously.

"What lunch date with Priya?" He fires in an accusing tone.

Oh balls.

"Look," Leonard sighs, obviously starting to panic. "She used your phone when she was in town a couple of weeks ago and made it seem like you wanted to have lunch and when I showed up it was her."

"Did you disgrace my family?" Raj asks, forgetting I'm in the room and fully talking out loud now.

"No!" Leonard insists. "I told her I was happy with someone else, we hugged and she left!" He meets my eyes. "That's it, Penny, I swear."

"Then why would you accuse her of still having a thing with Sheldon?" I demand to know, raising my voice.

"Please stop yelling." Sheldon says in a quiet voice, twitching slightly.

"I was upset. I was defensive and she wouldn't calm down." Leonard says, trying to breathe. "And I didn't accuse her of anything. I told her that I was fine with her continuing to have a friendship with Sheldon and that she should trust me as well."

"Leonard!" I cover my eyes tiredly. "Amy doesn't know how this stuff works! She's probably heartbroken! She probably thinks you don't trust her now!"

"Penny, don't yell." Sheldon pleads, slightly louder.

"I know your mother raised you to believe that you will never measure up to anybody, but you need to stop this!" I cry. "Get your ass over to Amy's and make her believe you want her. That you choose her. Because, as insecure as you are about yourself, Amy is just as insecure. Fix it!" At this point, Sheldon rises and quietly removes himself from the room, disappearing into his bedroom and shutting the door behind him. All three of us move to get up and I hold up my hand, pointing at Leonard.

"You, go to Amy's." I instruct, before looking at Raj. "You, wait here."

"I'm just going to—" He trails off, losing his words and points to the door, following Leonard and leaving the food sitting on the table. With a sigh, I stand and creep toward Superman's big ice thingy and knock.

"Sheldon?" I call in a gentle voice. No response. Too bad, I'm coming in. I turn the knob and poke my head inside. He's sitting on his bed with his head against the head board. "I'm sorry about that out there."

"I left Texas in the hopes that I would never have to listen to constant yelling and bickering. I do not appreciate being subjected to it in the comforts of my own home." He glares at me and I fold my arms.

"Sheldon, you can't avoid conflict your whole life. I was angry. I expressed my anger. You shouldn't bottle up emotions."

"I've been quite successful at it for the past thirty-two years." He retorts sullenly. Cautiously, I approach his bed and perch beside him so that we're almost touching arms.

"Talk to me, Sweetie." I urge him.

"Don't call me Sweetie." He murmurs resignedly. I stare at him, unsure of what to say or do.

"I always call you Sweetie." I protest, earning a baleful glance.

"Along with everyone else." He points out and I wonder for a second if he's bitter.

"I call everyone Sweetie."

"You tramp."

"Okay." I inhale and try to gather my thoughts. Because the last time we had a conversation like this, he was asking me how to ask Amy out. Is he upset about Amy? I am really having a hard time figuring him out. And why hasn't he bitched at me about leaving his bedroom yet? "Sheldon, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to upset you."

"Apology accepted." He says, though he still doesn't sound very thrilled. In fact, if I didn't know better, I'd think he was about to cry. God, how bad was his childhood? What did his father do to them? No wonder Sheldon abandoned religion in favor of science. Facts are certain, faith is blind…he's never been able to have faith in anything other than his mother and his grandmother.

I'm very cautious as I reach over and cover his hand with mine.

"Penny." He says, but his tone is uncertain like he doesn't know what he's feeling.

"Do you trust me?" I ask, meeting his eyes. His brows furrow for a second before he nods.

"Yes." I almost roll my eyes when he sounds surprised. "I do." A second later, I can feel his hand move beneath mine and falteringly grasp mine. My eyes drop to confirm that this is happening and that I'm not asleep. Again.

Nope. Sheldon Cooper and I are holding hands. Holy shit. I remember vaguely that we have uneaten food in the living room, but I really don't want to ruin this moment. It's bizarre and scary and completely wonderful. His hands are slightly pink because he washes them so much, but somehow, it only makes him more endearing to me.

"Okay, listen to me, honey." I tell him, turning to face him a little and giving his hand a squeeze. "I don't know what happened when you were younger…and frankly, I don't think I want to because it will kill me. But I want you to know," I reach out and use my free hand to turn his face back toward mine. "If you do ever need to talk. Or want to. I'm just through this wall." I point to the wall of his room that is connected to mine. "And, you don't have to worry about me hurting you, because I am your friend, and I care about you irregardless." I smile at him. "Like, a lot, okay?" He still looks completely perplexed, but he nods.

"Penny?" His voice is soft, hesitant.

"Yeah, honey?"

"Irregardless isn't a word. It's regardless." He gives me a disapproving look, but I swear to God he's on the verge of smiling. I head butt him in the shoulder and hear him take in a slow breath.

"Come on, MoonPie." I say, pulling him up with me. "I'm hungry and I only ate one dumpling."

"Penny, I'd appreciate it if you didn't pull my arm out of the socket." He complains meagerly.

"You're not as delicate as you think, buddy." I inform him, patting his back and reluctantly letting go of his hand to grab us something to drink. "And it all worked out for the best. Leonard left his Pad Thai, so we can have leftovers!"

That night, there is a thunderstorm. This is something I haven't experienced yet in the apartment, but I love storms. I've always found them very soothing. Living on a farm my whole life, I used to lie in bed at night and watch the lightning illuminate my bedroom. The sound of the rain on our old roof was like a weird, quiet lullaby and the dim roll of thunder never frightened me. Dad and I used to sit on the front porch under the awning and just watch it happen sometimes.

So, I'm not surprised that I fall asleep very easily and quickly. I'm not sure what time it is when I hear the knocking. It's not on the door, it's the wall.

Knock, knock, knock.

"Penny?" What the heck is he doing? Is he sleep knocking?

Knock, knock, knock.

"Penny?"

Knock, knock, knock.

"Penny?"

"What?" I ask tiredly, wiping my eyes and checking the clock as thunder shakes the building again.

2:30A.M.

"Can you come in here?" He whines and I groan, not wanting to leave the warmth and comfort of my bed.

"What's wrong?" I ask impatiently.

"Please?"

Ugh, alright. I'm up…dragging on my purple robe, I stumble out the door and toward Sheldon's room, throwing his door open. Even though I've established I have a thing for him, I do not appreciate being woken up at two thirty in the freaking morning. Sheldon is sitting bolt upright in his bed, clutching the covers to himself as lightning fills the room.

"Okay, what's wrong, Sheldor?" I demand to know and he points to the window.

"I don't like thunderstorms." He tells me, cringing at the sound of another rumble. I would laugh if I wasn't so, so tired. I probably look like one of the trolls in World of Warcraft at this point, but I'm really not worried about it. Of course Sheldon doesn't like thunderstorms. What man-child would be complete without a fear of thunder? And spiders.

Oh, boy.

"Honey, just ignore it. It's not gonna hurt you." I promise him and he shakes his head.

"No. Will you sit with me until I fall asleep?" His voice becomes that 'I'm an adorable overgrown preschooler and I know it and I know you can't say no to me when I use this voice, Penny.' Or better known as: Penny, you're a freaking sucker.

"Yeah, okay." I mutter, plodding over and sitting beside him again as I did earlier. He sinks lower to lay down, staring up at me. "Don't even think about asking for Soft Kitty." I laugh when he meets my eyes. "You know, I think depriving me of my REM cycle is a strike." I add teasingly, lying down beside him, staring at his ceiling.

"You don't have to work in the morning." He sighs. "I do…and with the lack of sleep I'm getting tonight, I cannot fathom how useless my mind will be tomorrow."

"I have to find a job." I utter, remembering.

"You could come work at the university as my assistant." He offers and, though I'm very flattered and kind of touched, I wouldn't work for him if my life depended on it. I like him too much and I've seen the issues he and Raj have had.

"Thanks, honey, but I don't think so. I have to find a job on my own." I reply softly, turning to face him on my side. "I could always see if Stuart—"

"You are not working for Stuart, Penny." He growls. I bite my lip to keep from smiling as I carefully inch closer to him. Thunder rattles the window and his hand flies out and grabs my arm tightly.

"I never knew you were so terrified of storms." I chuckle, gripping his hand like I did earlier. This is kind of weirdly nice, lying here like this. If I squint my eyes, I can pretend like it's real. Like it will last.

"George used to make fun of me." Sheldon says, his voice deep with his exhaustion. I groan. Of course he did. It seems like there wasn't much George didn't pick on Sheldon for. "I know that thunder is nothing more than the increase in pressure and temperature as a result of rapid expansion in the air in and around a bolt of lightning. But I always feel a certain panic at the sound of the noise."

"I love it." I confide, lacing my fingers with his. He doesn't seem to notice, tense while he waits for the next rumble. "I always feel safe when I hear thunder. Even though, when I was little, a tornado hit near our farm and took out half of our barn. I remember we had to run out to the storm cellar in the middle of it and there was hail and the wind was crazy. But I was never afraid."

"What are you afraid of, Penny?" He asks, yawning. "Certainly not the check engine light in your car."

"No," I agree, grinning. "Not that."

"What then?" He interrogates and I sigh, looking up at the ceiling again. I don't want to sound like one of those cheesy Lifetime movies, but I don't think he's going to care.

"I'm afraid of being alone." I finally say aloud, hearing my words sort of echo through the silent room. "I'm afraid of waking up one day and realizing I don't matter."

"In reference to your fear of being alone, MeeMaw always says, 'Those who have friends are never truly alone.'" He looks down at my face and kind of looks slightly normal, scratchy chin and all. "The other is up to you. You will always 'matter' to your friends, but what you make of your life is your choice. I cannot tell you what to do, but if you want to succeed, then you have to find the will within yourself."

"That's kind of beautiful, Sheldon." I tell him, impressed. He shrugs.

"I have been lauded since childhood as a prodigy and a scientific treasure," He begins, making me snort and roll my eyes. Ah, there's the ego I know and love. "However, I would have gotten nowhere without the love of my greatest supporter and admirer." He smirks slightly. "Myself." I let out a noise of amused irritation and tap his arm.

"You are really a piece of work, Dr. Whack-A-Doodle." I shake my head, still laughing a little. "Egomaniac."

"Perhaps." He concedes, smiling a little. "But all in all, I'd have to say well worth it."

"You're a pain." I inform him, listening as the thunder starts to slowly fade further away and is replaced only with the sound of the rain. I can feel Sheldon's hand relaxing in mine as the room falls silent and I listen to his breathing begin to fall evenly.

I wake up relaxed and surprisingly comfortable on my side. My pillow is a little hard, but I'm so comfortable I don't really care. Blinking in the bright room, I stretch my legs and sigh.

And open my eyes wide.

There's a leg between mine and the pillow I'm wrapped around is a chest. My first thought: What did I do last night and where am I? Then I start to remember the knocking on the wall, the storm, going into Sheldon's bedr—

My eyes fall downward and I see it. The green plaid. I gasp.

Oh God. Oh God. Oh God. Oh Shit.

I turn my head slightly and realize that one of Sheldon's arms is lying lazily over my back and one of my legs is draped over his.

Human contact boundaries = BROKEN.

Uh oh…this is not going to be pretty.

"Penny?" I hear him say and I halt, staring forward at the wall with my eyes unblinking. "What're you…?" He trails off, turning his head and then gasps, sitting up and breaking us apart forcefully.

"Penny!" He shrieks, panicking and falling out of the bed.

"It's okay." I try to assure him, leaning over the side of the bed and holding up my hand. "We just fell asleep during the storm. It's going to be—"

"No." He insists, scrambling up from his position on the floor. "You don't understand!"

"Sheldon, calm down!" I stand up on his bed and grab him by the shoulders to steady him. "Everything is fine."

"Penny, it's ten-thirty!" His voice is hysterical at this point and I can feel his fingers dig absently into my hips, freaking me out. "I'm two and a half hours late for work!"

Aw, shit.

 

Chapter Text

Step One: Get Sheldon to calm down. I begin to plead with him as he begins fumbling through his drawers for clothes, either uncaring or unnoticing that I'm there. Yeah, never mind the fact that you just slept the entire night with a half naked woman mashed up on your junk (who is no doubt a germ carrier), let's dwell on the fact that you're late for work.

"Honey, please calm down, we will get you to work, just—"

"Calm down?" His eyes turn to me wild, looking kind of like those patients in the loony bin that eat paste and set fire to the place. "Calm down?" His voice goes up with every word. "Penny, I will not calm down! I am never late for work! I cannot understand how I managed to sleep through my alarm or the fact that Leonard never came to pick me up! I will not calm down!" I back up, toward the door, wanting nothing more than to flee into my own room and bury myself beneath the covers. Instead, I watch, half freaked, half fascinated that Sheldon begins throwing off his pajamas and tossing them to the floor. Am I going to get to see him completely in his undies?

I mean, it's not like a sight I haven't seen before, okay? Let's be real here. But holy hot damn can he wear the shit out of that white undershirt! Trying to think of something to do, I begin to pick up his discarded pajamas and neatly place them in his hamper. (I don't want the poor lunatic to have a mental breakdown!)

"Sheldon, sweetheart, have you checked your phone?" I ask gently. "Maybe Leonard texted you or something." Wrenching his long sleeved shirt down over his head and completely messing up his hair, he lunges for his dresser, where his cell phone is charging. I have to bite my lip to keep from grinning at the state he's in. There's no way to describe it. He's a hot mess and I love it. I wish I could get this on video and send it to Leonard, who would probably crack his shit up after living with the guy for eight years. Yeah, I'm kind of totally into his weird sexy vibe right now, but he's still a freaking goofball.

Sheldon tears his phone off the cord and turns back to face me, still looking like someone shot him in the foot.

"What's wrong, MoonPie?" I ask, suppressing a chuckle.

"The storm caused a power outage at the University today." His voice is calmer, though still slightly quiet, as if he is too terrified to believe his ass is saved. "It's closed. I don't have to work today." I sink in relief against his closet door and smile. "Leonard texted me earlier, but I was asleep and the power here must have gone out for a little while because my alarm clock is not working." He falls to sit on his bed, still clutching his phone in his fingers. I slowly approach him as I would a skittish dog.

"That's good news, right?" I ask uncertainly, sitting down a precise distance away from him so I don't set off any other alarms. Sheldon haltingly turns to look down at me, his eyes wide with dawning horror.

"You slept in my bed." He murmurs, shaking his head a little. "With me."

"I didn't mean to." I remind him quickly.

"You were practically on top of me!" He shrieks, backing away and making me bristle.

"You were the one who woke me up at two-thirty to comfort you! I was dead tired!" I defend myself, standing up and throwing my arms out in a gesture of exasperation. I swear to God, if he tries to give me a strike for this, I'm going to show him what a strike is. On his ass.

"Oh, good Lord!" His voice has taken on that desperate tone he gets when he realizes that he's been bested. I watch in vague fascination as he takes off like a shot and hightails it straight for the bathroom. A second later I hear the shower turn on and roll my eyes.

The germaphobe has returned, ladies and gents. With flying colors. Ah, bliss. I shake my head, stifling my amusement and irritation and leave his bedroom, walking out into the kitchen. Before I can even reach for the coffee, I hear something thud and go running. Has Sheldon finally snapped? Has he fainted? Dislocated his shoulder?

"Sheldon?" I call out carefully, wondering if I should go in. I reach for the doorknob.

"Penny, do not come in here!" He begs and I fly back away from the door. You got it, Dr. Whack-A-Doodle.

"'Kay!" I return and flee back to the safety of the kitchen and the coffeepot. I pick up my phone and text Leonard.

You would not BELIEVE the morning I've had. Did u and Amy make up?

Clutching my breakfast – coffee – in my hands, I walk back to the couch and sink contentedly into my spot with my feet under me as I turn on bad daytime television. Day two of the job hunt starts now. And maybe later, I can get some writing done for my…whatever it is I'm writing. I don't know if it's supposed to be a book or what, but it's pouring out of me in droves. My phone goes off and I check my message. To my surprise it's Amy.

Yes, we made up. Thanks, Bestie!

Which means, Leonard either didn't come home last night or Amy is across the hall right now. I'm gonna go with option one. Damn. Good thing work got cancelled, because I would have been stuck taking Shelly the Insane myself. Woohoo. I hear the shower turn off and snort to myself. Poor guy is probably pink and scraped to death after scrubbing himself from head to toe after prolonged contact with yours truly.

I guess I should go get dressed so I can find me a job. Finishing off my coffee, I fling myself up off the couch, feeling oddly buoyant and set the mug in the sink. I'm already thinking of my most boring pair of gray pants and a sleeveless white sweater as I head back toward my room. Thing is, I don't hear the bathroom door open because I'm not paying attention and I crash straight into Sheldon, who looks slightly maniacal as he reels backward and I drop in a heap at the doorway of the bathroom.

"Penny!"

I immediately rebound up, while Sheldon does the same and watch in slow motion (at least that's what it seems like) as his green towel goes bye bye and falls to the ground at his feet.

Holy balls and wieners!

I quickly avert my eyes and turn my head. Nope, I don't look. Not at all. Not even a little bit.

Okay, that's a lie. I look. I totally look. I mean, I don't really get a view of the front, but that back. Um, wow. Okay, let me put it this way. I've seen some nice asses in my life. Big Ol' Five, remember? But holy crap on a cracker, Sheldon Cooper has a sexy hiney that I'd personally love to take a bite out of. He glares at me one more time before disappearing into his bedroom and slamming the door behind him. I wait a second, trying to compose myself before I crack up.

I just saw Sheldon naked. Butt ass naked. And I can't even tell anyone because I don't want anyone to know I'm having naughty thoughts about him. Son of a bitch! This should be on T.V. Seriously, that's what my life is coming to. Half the stuff I wouldn't believe myself if I wasn't living it. I couldn't make it up if I tried!

I continue into my room and shut the door, quickly pulling on my clothes and brushing my hair. I pull it back into a low ponytail and put on some light makeup.

I notice Sheldon is still submerged in his lair when I come out and snicker to myself before knocking on his door.

"Sheldon? I have to leave for a bit. Are you gonna be okay?" I call out. The door opens almost instantly, revealing MoonPie dressed in a striped T-Shirt with the long sleeved one underneath.

"Where are you going?" He asks indignantly. I take a long breath.

"I'm going to an employment agency." I inform him tiredly, holding my arms out. "How do I look?" He stares at me in confusion.

"Are you asking me if I like the way you look, because I can never tell with you women." He mutters, crossing his arms. I scowl at him.

"Yes. I was asking if I look appropriate for a job interview." I grumble, feeling my good mood fade. He shrugs.

"Eh." He says disapprovingly, making me glower at him.

"Eh?" I ask, trying to make sure if I've heard him right.

"Penny, you're wearing thong sandals, which are hardly appropriate for a job interview." He points out. I raise my eyebrow at him, making him swallow and back away a little.

"I saw you naked. That's a cute little booty you got there, MoonPie." I fire at him. I've got nothing else and he's probably right, which pisses me off to no end. Scoffing he tries to shrug, but I notice him twitch. Ha!

"Yes, well I've seen you naked too." He comes back and then, he smirks. "Twice."

"You little shit." I say, but it comes out more as a surprised laugh than an argument. "You weren't supposed to look." I'm referring to when he helped me get dressed after I dislocated my shoulder, of course. You know, when Dr. Asexual grabbed my boob like his life depended on it and apparently, saw my Chinese tattoo. (Which I looked up and damned if I don't have the word soup on my ass. Not courage.)

"I told you before. The hero always looks." He says haughtily.

"Yeah, yeah…keep practicing your kolinahr, Spock." I joke and his face lights up.

"Very good, Penny." He answers grinning, following me as I begin to gather my things, stopping to change my shoes into a pair of ballet flats. "I'm very impressed!"

"Well, prepare to be even more impressed." I tell him, swinging my purse suavely over my shoulder, and looking back at him over my shoulder as I open the door. "jIbel."

"Penny, is that—?"

"Yeah. Klingon." I shrug casually before starting out the door. "I'd tell you goodbye, but as I understand it, Klingons don't say goodbye, they just leave the conversation." Winking at him, I close the door and wonder if he's still standing there with the slightly dumb look on his face.

The Pasadena Employment Agency is only a few blocks away, so I'm kind of grateful I get there early. It's kind of crowded actually, so I have to take a number and wait.

It's almost two before I get called in and take a seat with a woman who clearly hates her job. She has those really long fake fingernails so when she types it's extra loud and clicky.

"What do you want to do?" She asks, not even looking at me as she enters information into the computer.

"Anything but food service." I laugh, wiping my hands on my pants. "I just spent eight years at The Cheesecake Factory." That gets her attention.

"Let me guess. You came here from Ohio and you wanna be an actress." Her voice is dry and full of cynicism. But I wince as the accuracy of her words hits me.

"Nebraska." I reluctantly tell her and she purses her lips.

"Thought so." She nods. "You wouldn't believe the number of girls I get in here every day who came to California to be famous."

"I'll bet." I mutter, playing with a string hanging on my sweater.

"You seem like a smart kid." She tells me, finally looking at me. "What are you good at?"

Waitressing.

"I am pretty good at typing." I weakly tell her, "I can learn pretty much anything."

"So, very new at this." She clicks her fingers some more and does a quick search. "You interested in anything besides acting?"

"I like writing." I shrug, wondering how that can help. She looks at me again, interested.

"Yeah?" She prods and I nod. "Hmm…I think I might have something here. It isn't much, ten an hour, but it's easy enough."

"Okay, what is it?" I ask eagerly, leaning forward in my seat.

"One of the writers over at NBS is looking for an assistant." She informs me and I stare at her with my mouth hanging open.

"Like…the T.V. station? National Broadcast System?" I whisper, afraid to hope. She nods, giving me a knowing look.

"Just came over today. They need someone as soon as possible." She starts writing down information for me. "Let me call over and see if I can get you an interview for this afternoon. While I'm doing that, you need to fill out these papers and pee in this." She holds up a prepackaged plastic cup. I stare at it.

"Excuse me?" I ask softly and she thrusts the pee cup into my hands.

"Standard drug testing for all potential employees. Put the cup in the baggie when you're done and take it to that counter in the back." She explains. "Bathroom is down the hall to the left." I dazedly stumble away from her desk and find the bathroom with no problem. There are a bunch of little Dixie cups on the counter and a tank of drinking water too, probably to help people pee.

She's already off the phone when I return, holding a stack of papers for me to sign.

"Just sign here, here and here." She instructs me. "And then you'll want to head over to this address for your interview. Mr. Spinnett is waiting for you."

"Charlie Spinnett? The writer?" I know I must look like a moron, but this guy has written on so many sitcoms and T.V. dramas that I can't even begin to explain my nerves. I've tried to get into an audition for one of his shows I can't even tell you how many times.

"That's the one." The woman nods impatiently, handing me the paperwork. "If he hires you, he'll contact us and then we will call you."

"I—" I falter, unsure of how to react. "Thank you."

I leave the employment agency full of fear and hope, forgetting the absolute weirdness that has been my day thus far. Using my phone as a GPS, I find the office building with no problem and head up to the third floor, where Charlie Spinnett's office is. There is a receptionist with a very sleek hairstyle at the front desk when I enter through the glass door.

"Can I help you?"

"Yes." I take a breath, trying to catch up with my brain, which is going about nine hundred miles a minute. "I'm here for an interview with Mr. Spinnett." I discreetly wipe my clammy palms on the legs of my pants and hold my breath as she nods, picking up her phone.

"Penelope?" She asks, reading her appointment book. I shake my head to confirm. "Mr. Spinnett? Penelope is here for the interview." She pauses, eyeing me over her trendy black glasses. "Yes, of course. You're welcome." She nods toward another set of glass doors.

"Through those doors to the right. His name is on his door." I thank her and head through, trying to gather my nerves.

"Okay." I whisper to myself as his door opens. A man in his early fifties with glasses and dark, graying hair smiles at me, holding his hand out for me to shake. I peer behind him at the office which looks like it's pretty much covered in paper.

"Penelope?" He says, shaking my hand.

"Penny." I correct him, trying to look casual. I think I must look more like a lost high schooler.

"Great name." He clears some papers off a chair and motions for me to sit down. "Do you want some coffee or anything?"

"No, I'm okay." I respond, folding my hands in my lap tightly.

"I can't thank you enough for coming in today." He exclaims, chuckling. "As you can see, I'm in desperate need of some help around here. You don't have to worry. This isn't some kind of Devil Wears Prada thing where you have to be available all the time. Just Monday through Friday, eight to five." It's weird, but he's talking to me like he's trying to convince me to take the job. "Obviously, we'll provide health insurance for you and whatever else you need."

Health insurance? You mean, I'll be able to pay for stuff like gas in my car so I don't have to make my Blue Cross payment?

"Does that sound okay?" Mr. Spinnett asks and I laugh, feeling terrified.

"Where do I sign? I mean, don't I have to pass a test or something?"

"Oh. Right, right." Mr. Spinnett nods, grinning. "Can you type?"

"Yes."

"Do you know your alphabet?" He inquires, and I gape at him.

"Of course…" I start and he shrugs.

"That's pretty much it. I need someone for typing, filing, organizing and keeping things clean. I'll need you to answer my office phone and schedule appointments."

"Aren't you going to ask me about my goals and stuff? I mean, every other interview I've ever been to, they ask a bunch of questions that don't have anything to do with working." I say. He shakes his head.

"No thanks. Do you have any experience as an assistant or receptionist?"

"Not really." I tell him honestly. "I worked at The Cheesecake Factory for a while."

"Really? I love that place! My wife and I go every so often."

"That's great." I try to seem cheerful, but I don't know what to think. I mean, he's not really interviewing me. It's more like we're having a conversation about the weather or something.

"Oh, you'll have to deal with my actors sometimes too. I'll have to bring you on set once in a while, if we hire you, because I need someone to answer my phone while we're filming and take messages for me."

Oh, twist my arm please.

I leave really not knowing how to feel. On the one hand, Charlie Spinnett seems like a nice guy. On the other, he did most of the talking and I know that usually when someone is going to hire you, they ask you like nine thousand questions. At The Cheesecake Factory, they asked what my hobbies were.

Oh, I like fishing, and going to the beach and serving cheesecake to complete strangers.

I have a text when I check my phone. It's from Leonard.

Hey, we're all up at Cheesecake Factory for dinner. Meet us here when you're done.

I am not looking forward to this. Mostly, because this is the first time I'll have actually dined at The Cheesecake Factory without having to work there. I'm kind of nervous about seeing all of my old co-workers and Jerry after fleeing his office that day. But, I might as well face it because the chances of Sheldon giving up his Tuesday night cheeseburger are pretty damn slim. After the debacle this morning, it's a wonder that he hasn't tried to break into UCLA just so he can have his daily routine. I know how difficult it was when he took the days off for MeeMaw.

This is getting crazy. I mean, if someone had said before Howard and Bernadette's wedding that I would be living with Sheldon and enjoying it, I probably would have cracked up. But I am living with him and I do enjoy it. And all of the things that used to piss me off about him, are now kind of what I like about him. I mean, yeah…he's still an anal retentive control freak who is afraid of germs and his own shadow basically, but deep down, he's this amazing, complex guy. Yeah, he has issues – oh boy does he ever – but, if I were to compare Sheldon 2012 to Sheldon 2007, the results would be astronomically different.

Sheldon has dated a woman now. Granted, he still refers to sex as 'coitus,' which is disturbing on so many levels, but even in the month we've been living together, he's relaxing a little. He's not drowning himself in rubbing alcohol or Lysol every five seconds.

And it's those times when I see glimpses of the real Sheldon, the one he tries to hide from everybody, that I know he is just a man. And maybe he's a little broken inside. But aren't we all?

As I pull into a parking space, my phone vibrates and I quickly pick it up.

"Hello?"

"Penelope?" A woman's voice says. "This is Lavenia from Pasadena Employment. I'm calling to tell you that Mr. Spinnett's office has contacted us and has decided to hire you. Now, you start tomorrow at eight A.M. The dress code is business casual—"

I don't really hear any more of it because I'm staring at the sign of The Cheesecake Factory while I'm getting the call that I have a new job. With benefits. For one of the most successful writers on television.

Oh. My. God.

I have a job!

I breathlessly thank Lavenia and get out of my car, practically skipping into the place I used to work. I am not smiling. My face has kind of lost the capacity to show emotion because I am so dumbfounded. Everything is different now. Everything is changing and I'm so afraid to hope, to believe that it's real.

But it is.

They're all at the usual table, the guys are blabbing about a new version of that stupid card game they all seem to love. This one takes place in ancient Greece. The only difference is, there's an empty chair between Sheldon and Leonard. I say a polite hello to Natalie, one of my old co-workers before slipping into the seat. Bernadette and Amy are both watching me carefully, eyebrows raised expectantly. I take a quick sip of water before realizing that all eyes are on me.

"Well?" Bernadette says in her sweet, high voice. I glance at Leonard before looking at Sheldon. (Who has pink cheeks.)

"I got a job." I murmur, receiving noises of excitement from Amy and Bernadette.

"Where?" Leonard asks, setting his menu aside. I bite my bottom lip, unable to contain my excitement now.

"As an assistant to Charlie Spinnett." I tell them and Howard stares blankly at me.

"Charlie Spinnett from NBS? The guy who's developing the show about post apocalyptic Earth sending the remaining survivors to a civilization in space?"

"Um." I share an unsure look with Bernadette and then Raj. "If that's the same guy who writes for Frienemies, then yes." I reply, shrugging and looking at the menu. Why am I looking at the menu like I don't know everything they have?

"I love Frienemies." Bernadette squeaks. "I love that the girls all love each other even though they hate each other."

"Bernadette. I'm confused." Amy chimes in. "How can somebody hate someone and love them at the same time?"

"It's like, they all want to one-up each other." I tell Amy, "But at the end of the day, no one better mess with any of them because they will like, stand up for them." I shrug. "I don't know, it's weird. But I think it's funny."

"I will never understand the paradigm of female friendships." Sheldon mutters, with a huff, before turning to me. "Penny, I completely forgot to tell you. I received the Save the Date for Missy's wedding in September and was wondering if you would accompany me." I try to ignore the stares of our friends as they all gape at us.

"Like, your date?" I ask, hesitantly.

"Well, normally I would say no, but seeing as in this case, you would be exclusively my guest, then I will have to concede that yes, you will be my date." He does not even look at me as he inspects his water for specks before taking a ginger sip. I chance a look at everyone else, who are all pretending not to be paying attention.

Except Howard. He's always good to make people uncomfortable with no qualms. In fact, he's watching with a look of sick fascination on his face. Bernadette notices and smacks him.

"I…" I really would have liked to do this in private, but have it your way, MoonPie. "Of course, Sheldon. I'd love to." We both turn forward, looking at our menus again, but I discreetly place my hand over his under the table. I feel him jump a little at the touch, but a second later, there it is again. He's turned his hand so that we are clasping them. Flicking my eyes sideways at him, I can see just the corner of Sheldon's mouth quirked up into a half smile just as Natalie comes to take our order.

"Oh God." Howard mutters, looking around. We all look toward him, waiting for him to spit out whatever inappropriate comment he's got, because I know damn well it's coming.

"What?" Leonard asks, giving me a look a dread. Howard nods at Sheldon and I, grinning like a damn Cheshire Cat.

"It's the Shenny."

Oh, God.

 

Chapter Text

Shenny.

We're the fucking Shenny. Good God, and I thought Shamy was ridiculous, but this…this is absurd. This is crazier than when Sheldon and Amy were doing that goofy ass Youtube series. And I don't even know what this is.

We're both quiet as we ascend the stairs behind Leonard and Amy. Neither of us looks at each other, but I'm in this completely surreal contented mood and I can't really stop smiling. I mean, I have finally done something. Or lucked the hell out. Either way, I'm not a waitress. I am an assistant to one of the most successful writers on T.V. I get to wear nice things to work and have health insurance.

I watch Leonard and Amy closely as we follow them, noticing the way he holds her hand. It's not like he used to hold my hand. I don't really know how to explain it, but the way their fingers are entwined and the subtle way he squeezes it every few seconds, it's like he's protecting her. When he and I were together, I always felt like the protector. But maybe that's it. I've always had to be stronger than everyone around me. Being so much younger than my brother and sister, I spent a lot of time alone. I've never had anyone baby me or take care of me. And I'm not saying I want that, because I don't, but maybe equal partnership? Give and take and all that jazz?

"Well," Leonard says, turning to us as we reach our floor. "Goodnight."

"Night." I reply, winking at Amy before turning back to our apartment, which Sheldon has already opened our door and is standing impatiently, waiting for me. "Aw, keep your panties on, Shelly."

"Don't call me Shelly." He whines, closing the door and locking it behind us.

"God, I feel like I should be celebrating!" I say, moving to the fridge and pulling out a bottle of white wine. "It's eight-thirty…we're not an old married couple!" I remind him. "And I swear to God, if you mention tea or snickerdoodles, I may have to murder you." I pour a glass for myself.

"That seems a bit extreme, Penny." Sheldon retorts, rolling his eyes in irritation.

"Yeah, well." I shrug, grinning at him and taking a sip. "I'm extremely excited."

"Shouldn't you go to bed early?" He points out, sitting in his spot and turning on the T.V. "You do have to work in the morning." I smile even wider, taking another drink.

"Yes, I do!" I sing, watching him shake his head. I think it's funny how we continue to bicker, and neither of us even brings up that we held hands pretty much until our food came. (Even while Sheldon was berating poor Natalie about his order, he kept his hand in mine.)

You know, I should probably call my parents. I did promise to talk to my mother more, and I'm still worried about Dad overdoing it. Pulling out my phone, I bring up my contacts and dial the home phone. My mother picks up, laughing.

"Brian honey, stop teasing your mother." I hear her say. "Hello?"

"Mom?" I start cautiously and hear her gasp.

"Penny?" Her voice is cheerful, almost excited to hear me. I breathe in relief. It wasn't a fluke, hopefully. "It's Penny." I hear her tell my father. "What's up, Sweetie?"

"I got a job." I admit, almost shyly. Mom lets out a sound of excitement.

"Where?"

"That's the thing." I begin, unable to contain my happiness now. "I'm assistant to Charlie Spinnett. One of the big writers at NBS."

"The T.V. company?" My mother exclaims. "Wyatt! Darcy! Penny got a job working for NBS!" I feel my eyes well up at the proud sound of her voice. My mother is proud of me. "Honey, Dad wants to talk to you."

"Okay." I say, wiping at the corner of my eye and smiling so hard my face hurts.

"Hey, Slugger!" Dad cries jovially on the other end. I chuckle.

"Hey, Dad!" I answer back, sniffing.

"NBS, huh? Pretty impressive kiddo. How'd that happen?" He asks and I shake my head. Even I don't know.

"A stroke of luck. Divine intervention? I don't know." I am kind of wired with adrenaline now. I can hear Dr. Cynical scoff from his spot. Doesn't believe in luck or any of that.

I have something that will prove him wrong.

"Listen, I have to get going. I start work pretty early tomorrow." I tell my Dad. "Love you, okay? Please take it easy."

"Love you too, Penny. And don't you worry. Your Mama and sister are takin' good care of me." Oh right. I forgot. Darcy left Joey the Douche and is living with Mom and Dad now.

"Tell Darce I'll talk to her soon about visiting in the summer, okay?" We say goodbye and I hang up, settling my glare on Sheldon.

"You don't believe in luck. Or fate." I state. It's not a question. I know this to be true. He looks at me as if I exhaust him.

"Penny, I am a scientist. Of course I don't." He heaves a long suffering sigh.

"I can prove it." I insist, not waiting to hear his response as I dash to my room and throw open my bottom drawer, removing a bundle of paper. Stalking back out into the living room, I hold it up and begin to read aloud. "Sixteen year old Sheldon Cooper was eleven years old when he left home to go to college. An intellectually gifted child, he has earned two Masters Degrees and was awarded the prestigious Stevenson Award." I stop. "Need I go on?"

"How does an article from sixteen years ago prove the existence of fate?" He demands to know, standing and moving over to me, looking over my shoulder at the photo of himself as a teenager. Wordlessly, I open it to the second page and thrust my article toward him. "Recognize this?"

"Penny. I've already seen this." He still looks puzzled. "I knew when I found it on your refrigerator." He shrugs. "We were mentioned in the same issue of newspaper. I believe the word you're looking for is 'coincidence.'"

"I believe the word I'm looking for is 'throat punch.'" I grumble and fold the paper again. "The point is, there are millions of people in this world—"

"Billions." He corrects stubbornly, making me give him a death look.

"Billions of people." I remedy through gritted teeth. "The point is, out of all those people, you and me were in the same one! Years before we met."

"You and I." He whispers, correcting me again. Losing my temper, I drop the newspaper and grab him by the shirt. I'm just about to tell him off, when I see the fear in his eyes that he probably doesn't even know is there. I stand on my toes, trying unsuccessfully to be eye level with him.

"You are so damn bull headed, Sheldon!" I growl. "Can't you open your mind enough to see the universe always planned for us to be friends?"

"If you are implying that the universe has a mind of its own, I can assure you it—"

"Gah!" I give up, letting go of him and stomping away. (Sorry Mrs. Vartabedian.) "Forget it!"

"Forget what?" Sheldon asks, following me as I thunder back toward my room.

"I don't even know!" I retaliate, frustrated and so confused. I move to slam the door, but he catches it.

"Why are you angry?" His voice is full of worry, because he really doesn't understand and I want to stay mad and frustrated, but I really can't when he's giving me that sad puppy look of his.

Manipulative little con artist.

"I'm not angry, Sheldon!" I tell him, turning back toward him. "I wish that were it. I'm…I don't…what is going on here?"

"Where?" He looks around, oblivious to my meaning as always. I stare at him in quiet disbelief.

"Here." I gesture to he and I. "Stuff is happening with us and I don't get it! I know I'm not crazy. You've been doing it too."

"Penny, if this is some kind of a trick—"

"It is not a trick." I groan. "It's a sick joke that God or whatever is playing on me. And it's the fact that I can't do anything about it because I don't want to freak you out! Because I saw the way you were with Amy, and—"

"Amy?" Sheldon's voice goes up in confusion. "I don't see how Amy would have anything to do with – " His eyes widen and he cuts off. "Oh."

Oh, look who finally caught up. Big, geniusy dumbass.

"I see where this is going." He finally says softly and I want to sing to the fucking heavens. Hallelujah!

"Oh, thank God!" I cry, wiping my face in relief.

"You're worried that I am upset over Amy Farrah Fowler and Leonard's current relationship and that I have feelings for her."

Rewind. What? When did I say anything about Leonard and Amy? Oh. Dear. God. What am I going to do with this whacko? How does he always manage to completely misread a situation?

"But you don't have to worry about me, Penny," He goes on, "because as I've said, there was no physical attraction to Amy. In fact—"

"Ugh!" I snarl, interrupting his tangent. "You. Don't. Get. It." I charge toward him and grab the collar of his shirt, rising up on my toes again. Snaking one hand firmly around the back of his head and threading through his dark hair, I pull him down to my level and crush our lips together, holding his face in my hands and keeping it as gentle as I can while completely invading his personal space. I'm conveying a point here. Sue me. His hand hang limp at his sides, as if he's short circuited. I angrily pull back and let go of him. "I'm done." I tell him. "I'm not tiptoeing around you anymore or playing games. So when you figure out what the hell it is that this is, you come talk to me."

I roughly push him out my door and shut it, leaning back against it for support and sinking to the floor. What the flipping hell have I done? I seriously just kissed Sheldon. I've finally flipped my lid. I'm bat shit. But I'm not doing it. If this thing is supposed to go somewhere, then fine. I see where the universe is taking me. But I'll be damned if I stand around and wait for Sheldon to come to his senses like poor Amy did. I'm not going to beg for kisses. So either, this will have pushed Sheldon over the edge and I'll be back out on my ass faster than you can say, 'String Theory,' or maybe it'll give the big butthead the push he needs and bring him closer to the realm of reality.

Maybe Sheldon will never be you know, the king of romance. (That's probably the understatement of the millennium.) Maybe Sheldon will never say he loves anyone or enjoy hugging. Maybe the guy just doesn't need it.

But maybe he does. Maybe he's been hiding inside that lovely little shell of neurotic that he's built for himself because he's been hurt constantly his entire life by people who were supposed to love him. Maybe he's such an egomaniac, because even though he's the smartest guy on the planet, he's worried that his family wishes he was different. He's special and he wants to feel special. And maybe I am the person that can show him it's okay to be special. Just like it's okay that I'm not. And just maybe, between us, we can find a little bit of balance and be kind of okay.

But that's only if he goes with option two. And with a fifty-fifty chance, I really can't see him choosing it. After a few minutes of silence, I stand up and move over to my desk, opening my laptop to the place I left off.

"Can I get you anything else?" I ask, smiling brightly at the man in front of me, who has just finished his meal. He gently dabs at his mouth with his napkin and shakes his head.

"Just coffee." He says, returning the gesture. My jaw drops as I realize who this is.

"You're Spock, aren't you?" I exclaim, feeling my mouth drop open. Oh this is perfect! I can finally get my whacky neighbor a gift for Christmas…or whatever it is those two call it. Weirdos. The guy shrugs sheepishly.

"Guilty."

"Listen, this is going to sound really creepy, but can I get your autograph for a friend?" I quickly blurt, making him laugh.

"Oh, I don't see why not. Do you have something I can sign?" He chuckles and I fish in my apron for something to write with. I have a Sharpy, which is good enough, but I can't really use my order pad, so I just grab his napkin.

"Just sign this. Trust me. He'll love it." I rattle off excitedly. "His name is Sheldon." I notice his eyes look up, startled for a second, but he shakes his head and looks back down, scrawling on the dirty napkin.

To Sheldon,

Live Long and Prosper.

-Leonard Nimoy

Yeah, this is perfect.

I stop typing at the memory of that day, remembering how Sheldon had sagged against the armchair and had weakly read the napkin. It wasn't until he found out that the napkin had Spock's D.N.A., however, that he freaked. And hugged me.

The weirdest hug of my life.

That was before all of this…this weirdness. This strange parallel universe that I've slipped into where I'm attracted to Sheldon and Leonard is not 'the guy' and I'm questioning every decision I've made for the past almost nine years. When did Sheldon stop being my oddball neighbor and start being my…when did he start meaning so much to me?

I think part of me believes that it's always been there, underneath everything and we just never acknowledged it. From the first Soft Kitty to last night, when we listened to thunder together, it's always been waiting underneath. Waiting for me to give up on Leonard. Waiting for Sheldon to learn that there's more to life than just physics.

I save my work and stand up, moving to my closet to pick out some clothes for tomorrow. I pick out a dress with a belt and an awesome pair of heels with some black lacy tights. I'm not really sure I can pull this look off, but I'm gonna try.

I quickly pull off the clothes I've been wearing all day and change into some old sweats and a tank top, tying my hair up on top of my head. It looks like my first assumption was accurate. Sheldon is probably redrafting the Roommate Agreement right this second, plotting my eviction. I wonder if Leonard will switch back. Now that I have a job, I can probably make rent easier if I have to.

But I so don't want to.

I've begun to love living in this apartment. It's almost hard to remember what it was like living on my own. I think Leonard is enjoying his freedom as well, now that he and Amy are getting kind of serious. I think we're all outgrowing the way our lives used to be and I'm terrified that I might have come this far to lose everything I've gained over the past month.

Visions of waltzing with Sheldon, grocery shopping, watching countless hours of science fiction, coming home to find him upside down on the couch and being covered in flour with him play through my mind. I don't want to give that up. I feel like I'm just starting to explore the possibility of being happy…for real.

Knock, knock, knock.

"Penny!" Here we go. I swallow the lump in my throat and slowly walk toward the door.

Knock, knock, knock.

"Penny!" Goodbye room and apartment. Goodbye whimsical ducks.

Knock, knock, knock.

"Penny!" I tense, opening the door and staring back up at him, clenching my jaw and bracing myself. We stand, facing each other for a few moments, each obviously unsure of what to say. I finally can't stand the silence any longer and open my mouth to speak, cutting off when he carefully puts his hands on my shoulders. I stop breathing completely, waiting to hear what he has to say. When he says nothing, I lose my nerve.

"What are you—?" He shakes his head, instructing me to be quiet. I shut up immediately.

"Three." He murmurs, and I watch him swallow, noticing his prominent Adam's apple bob up and down becomingly. "Two." My breath is now coming in quick gaspy spurts as he moves down, closer, almost as if he's experimenting, and I can't keep up with my lungs. "One." My eyes close as his lips barely graze over mine, lingering delicately.

This is the first sober kiss that Sheldon has ever initiated (drunk does not count), so I'm not doing anything to ruin it. I don't even touch him for fear he thinks better of it and flees again, but God, it's so sweet. He pulls back just a couple of seconds later, looking a little like he wants to go write it down in his weird social log. He doesn't though. Instead, he stands in front of me, giving me another impatient look.

"Did you figure it out?" I ask, challenging him. Without a word, he grabs my wrist and urges me down the hall, out into the living room, where he's set up his whiteboard. On it is a list of some sort.

Physically appealing

Strong

Bright despite no education and an average I.Q. Um, thanks?

Generally cheerful

Outgoing, perhaps to a fault

Sympathetic

Sings Soft Kitty to me

It's a list of things he likes about me…I think. Even though I'm pretty sure a couple of them aren't exactly compliments, I can't help but be flattered. If he's listing my traits, that means he's considering something. Well, that and the fact that he just totally kissed me. Still silent, he moves forward and picks up a dry erase marker, his body covering what he's writing. It's not until he steps away that I can see what he's written.

Attraction: Affirmative

Warp speed ahead, Captain? What the frigging hell is happening? Are we doing this? Is this even possible? And if we do, do we tell anyone? He's facing me with his hands behind his back, looking slightly like he's in pain. I can't help it, I laugh.

"Why do you look like someone just decapitated your Spock doll?" I ask, wanting to do something, but unsure of what I can and can't do with him. Obviously sex is off the table…for now.

"This was not in my plan." He confesses, exhaling. "Since the afternoon we met, I have attempted to reason with my better judgment that you and I are not a compatible match. We are simply too different."

"You're wrong." I tell him, moving forward and rolling my eyes when he blanches backward. Hell, I'm even surprising myself here, so bear with me. "You're crazy." I put my hand up to stop him from talking. "I don't give a crap what you say about being tested. You're slightly insane. And unstable, but we won't talk restraining orders or prank wars." Wow, I am nervous. "You're afraid of germs, you schedule your bowel movements and you have more comic books than a teenage boy. But I don't care." I laugh in quiet disbelief, shaking my head.

"The fact is, Sheldon, you need me. I'm not perfect. God, that's the truth." I sigh with a rueful chuckle, surging onward. "I have my own trunk of screwed up that I'm bringing to the table. I'm a mess. I drink too much. I've done far too many things that I regret in my life. But when you put your crazy and my crazy together it evens things out. Like a balance."

"Penny." Sheldon speaks again, and I shake my head.

"No. I know I'm a slob and I irritate you…"

"Penny." He repeats, still remaining calm.

"Please, Sheldon!" I beg. "I know I'm never going to be able to talk physics with you or contribute anything academically to the world, but—"

"Penny!" He cries, cutting me off. "You didn't let me finish." Giving me a pointed look, he shakes his head. "Which is another bad habit of yours, rudely interrupting, but that's neither here nor there." Sheldon crosses his arms. "What I was attempting to convey was, I've always felt a certain, for lack of a better word, kinship with you. Despite our differences, I find that I enjoy your company above everyone else's. And you have never referred to comic books as 'lame-o.'" I think he's trying to say he likes me back, but it seems like we're taking up more time than we need to. Either shit or get off the pot, MoonPie.

"Spit it out, Sweetie." I order, receiving another glower.

"I have been unable, over the course of the past five years, to construct a reason solid enough to deny my gravitation toward you. And I was quite relieved when you and Leonard were involved, because that meant that you were off limits to me."

"Huh-wha?" If this is some kind of romantic declaration, I'm kind of lost. Too many words, not enough action. "Are you trying to say you've always been attracted to me, because I'm kind of lost here." He huffs in frustration.

"Penny! We really need to work on your attention skills." Sheldon, presses his fingers to his temple. "Must I spell it out for you?"

"Please." I beg, out of patience. "Speak English." Sheldon rolls his eyes…again.

"Very well." He folds his arms and looks past me at the fridge. "Penny. I harbor affections for you."

"English." I grind out, now just enjoying watching him squirm.

"I like you." Sheldon blurts, and I bite my bottom lip to keep from grinning like an ass. When I don't say anything, he gives me an indignant look. "Well?"

"I like you." I echo sincerely. "It snuck up on me, but I…I want to, you know, to try to—" I look away and run my hand through my hair, aggravated. "Can we try?"

"I assume you're referring to a romantic relationship." He utters, sounding unsure of himself.

"Uh, yeah." I agree, thinking that this has to be the strangest opener to a relationship I've ever had.

"I see." Sheldon says, setting the marker he's still holding down. "I'll have to draw up a Relationship Agreement, and—"

"Nope." I shake my head, standing my ground. "No contracts."

"But Penny!"

"Absolutely, not." I return sternly. "You do not get to dictate the limits of our relationship, because I don't do limits. It's all or nothing with me, Sheldon." I feel my heart catch in my throat as I await his answer, terrified. His face is tense with conflict as he meets my eyes, finally.

"Very well." He finally concedes.

"All or nothing." I warn. "That means, kissing, hugging, hand holding. I'm not Amy…I'm not okay with being neglected."

"No coitus." Sheldon says firmly and I raise my eyebrows.

"I won't rush you, but I'm not going without sex forever." I tell him bluntly. "I like sex."

"So I've heard." He says acidly, pissing me off. Again. Ah yes, this is love. (sarcasm)

"Forget it." I say, starting toward my room.

"Very well!" He calls, making me stop. Did I just win an argument? "Under the stipulation that I agree to attempt coitus—"

"Sheldon, do not call it coitus." I groan.

"Fine. Sex," He bites out, "we enter into a tentative relationship. Since it is a verbal contract, should we shake on it?"

"You're joking, right?" I asked with one eyebrow quirked.

"Of course not." Sheldon insists, holding his hand out. "And I would advise that we keep this to ourselves for the time being."

"Agreed." I nod, sighing again as I reach forward and shake his hand, selling my soul to the devil and being far too happy about it. "Now, kiss me, you Whack-A-Doodle." I close my eyes and tilt my head upward, waiting for him to come to me, because, damned if I'm going to be the one doing all of the initiating here.

A moment later, I feel another very gentle kiss on my lips and suppress the urge to laugh. Lesson one: Don't skimp. I wrap my arms around his neck, loving the fact that I'm on my toes to reach him, and pull him a little tighter to me.

I'm dating Sheldon Cooper.

Alright Howard, you asked for Shenny, you got it.


 

Chapter Text

My alarm goes off at exactly 5:30 A.M. and I am surprised that I wake up so easily. The truth is, I'm all kinds of excited about starting work with Charlie Spinnett today. I slip out of bed and head down the hall to grab a towel so I can shower, and let out a shriek when I see Sheldon coming out of his room at the exact same time in shorts and a T-Shirt.

Why hello muscles. It must be a workout day. Even though we're – whatever – now, I still don't think I can handle the sight of Sheldon Cooper working out with the help of a Wii without losing it. Then again, the time he attempted to go running with me, he was a lot scrawnier. Those knees are looking much less fragile.

"Hey." I say, casually.

"Good morning, Penny." He looks at the towel in my hand inquiringly.

"Oh." I realize he's probably analyzing the fact that his shower time is before mine and my scheduled time is usually around eight. Problem is, I start work at eight now, so I have to get ready now. "Yeah…I know I'm supposed to shower after you, but that was before…when I was still at the Cheesecake Factory."

"I see." Sheldon says, looking like he's thinking really hard about it. See, normal people would be like, 'Oh sure, just go ahead. No biggie.' Normal guys would be like, 'Want some company?' But it's still Sheldon. Boyfriend or no boyfriend, he's still all kinds of loony.

What have I gotten myself into here?

"We will amend the contract later." He sighs, looking at his watch. I must be cutting into his workout time. "In the meantime, we will consider this a Section seven. Bathroom emergency." I try so hard not to roll my eyes at him, even though I am impressed that he's acting slightly reasonable…for Sheldon.

"Thanks, honey." I pat his cheek and I give him a once over before heading toward the bathroom to shower. I feel slightly more awake once I am out and dried off, pulling on the black dress with the belt and the tights. Retreating to my room, I blow dry my hair (which is a huge chore lately because it's so long.) As I'm putting on makeup, I sigh disapprovingly at my reflection. I need to do something about my hair. Yes, I'm a natural blonde, but the roots are a darker blonde and I miss having lighter hair. No sex for over a year makes you kind of not care about stuff like that.

But things are a little different now.

Now, I seriously doubt that Sheldon gives a crap what I look like. I mean, I'm pretty sure I could walk out in an old Nebraska T-Shirt that I stole from Tim in high school and my dingiest sweats and he'd probably not even look. But that's the thing.

I want him to look.

If it's the last thing I do, I'm going to get that boy naked. Project Basic Instinct: Go! Time to pull out the sexy pajamas and parade around in them. I decide to just clip half of my hair back and leave it down. I wish so bad that I could tell Bernadette or Amy about this, but I'm honestly afraid of hurting Amy. I mean, I know she's with Leonard now and that's great. But she was with Sheldon for five months! I know she liked him. I don't want her to ever think that I was scamming on him while they were dating.

I also just kind of want to figure this out alone before we let other people know what's going on. It's my secret. And I really don't want to hear Howard's creepy pervy comments on what he thinks of us as a couple. Like he has any room to talk. Bernadette's told me some of the strange shit she's had to deal with. Like the fact that he still has his mother style his hair in the morning or that his mom makes them 'after sex' snacks.

At least Sheldon lives on his own. I mean, yeah, okay. He still needs someone to rub Vicks on him when he's sick and sing him baby songs. He also watches cartoons and collects toys and sometimes I worry about the fact that he has more costumes than a little girl playing dress up. But he's an adult. He can function in the real world. He pays his bills. He's never been in debt. (My ship sailed on that one.) He cleans and cooks for himself along with doing his own laundry.

I have the sneaking suspicion I'm slightly over dressed for this job, but I want to make a good impression. And really, I've had to wear a mustard yellow sweater vest with a jean skirt to work for the past eight years, so I'm enjoying looking nice. I've also never gotten a chance to wear these shoes. They're a little higher heeled, and I bought them in February, back when I attempted to go on a couple of dates with Leonard. Yeah, could never really wear heels around him. Poor, short bastard.

Sheldon is sitting at the counter as usual, eating his bowl of cereal. I cross quietly to the fridge and pull out the milk for my coffee before reaching up into the cupboard to get a mug.

"No need." Sheldon says, making me turn toward him, taken aback. "Your coffee is already here." He nods at the mug sitting beside him, not even looking up from his magazine. I stare blankly at him with my mouth gaping open like someone who just got smacked in the head. This is weird. I move beside him and sit down, putting a packet of Splenda into the coffee.

"Thank you." I finally reply. His eyes move up off of the article about…a new species of bacteria discovered in an underwater cave somewhere in the South Atlantic Ocean.

Delightful.

"Bacteria, huh?" He makes a noise of acknowledgement, shutting the magazine.

"Amy Farrah Fowler recommended the article, but as I've said before, I have no interest in biology." He responds, making me look into my coffee.

"Yeah. Got that message loud and clear." I agree. Because, according to MoonPie here, the only science worth caring about, is physics. And pretty much only what he works on. So basically, whatever Sheldon likes is what counts.

Big. Baby.

"Hey, hand me that paper." I point to the newspaper, setting my mug aside. "I wanna check my horoscope." This earns me a baleful glare as he slides yesterday's newspaper over. "If you're going to say something, I suggest you think before you speak." I glance at him knowingly over the paper. He immediately twitches and turns back to his cereal, while I read my horoscope.

Big changes are coming in your life. Keep an open mind and embrace them.

Yeah. I know horoscopes are mostly crap, but I like them anyway. They entertain me. And some of them are pretty freaking accurate. Plus, they irritate the hell out of Dr. Whack-A-Doodle and I love to see him squirm.

"You are aware that horoscopes are written so that every person who puts stock in their idiocy will find something that applies to them, aren't you?" He says, unable to hold in his opinion anymore. I bite the inside of my cheek to keep from smirking.

"You are aware that superheroes are not real, aren't you?" I fire back, giving him a pointed look.

"We don't know that, Penny." He insists, sounding a lot like a stubborn first grader. "They have secret identities." I cannot fathom how a man who is as crazy smart as Sheldon Cooper believes in superheroes. But it's kind of adorable. I can't help myself, I smile at the goof and smooth my hand over the back of his hair while he stares at me in confusion.

"It's called affection." I tell him and pretend to gasp. He scowls, but I notice one corner of his mouth quirk as if he's suppressing a grin, which only makes my smile bigger. Good start. "So, I need to talk to you about something." I go on. He stares at me, waiting. "My sister just left her husband and—"

"You're not suggesting she come live with us, are you?" He looks panicked and I shake my head vigorously.

"Good God, no. I lived with Darcy once. I don't think I could live with her again. You think I'm a slob." I laugh and he simply stares in horror. "No, the thing is, my nephew Brian is like super smart. He wants to be an engineer and is already getting like scholarships and stuff to M.I.T. Problem is, he needs like three recommendations. So I thought, maybe in June, that Darcy and Brian could come out and visit and maybe Howard could write a recommendation for him." Sheldon snorts derisively at this.

"And you think a recommendation from Wolowitz will ensure your nephew a place at M.I.T.?" His voice is so snotty, that I feel my hand twitch with the need to punch him in the gut.

"Well, yeah, I did." I counter, turning to face him on my stool and lightly kicking his shin. He yelps.

"And, you're planning on inconveniencing me by having your sister and nephew stay here, where there is no room for them." Sheldon finishes for me.

"Yes." I growl at him. "I figured they could sleep in my bed and I would take the couch."

"Penny." He begins patronizingly. Oh, how can I keep my hands off of him? We haven't even been dating twelve hours and I'm already on the way to killing him. "I will concede to the visit under two conditions."

"Oh, goody!" I exclaim, rolling my eyes. He frowns.

"Sarcasm?"

"Bingo." I wave my hand at him. "Go on."

"Very well." He says, watching me carefully. "One: I will write your nephew a recommendation so that he at least has a chance of being accepted into the program." How considerate of you, Dr. Egomaniac. "Two: I will make provisions for them to stay at a hotel."

"You mean like, pay for them?" I ask, furrowing my brow and playing with a piece of my hair. Sheldon rewards me with curt frown.

"Penny, please pay attention in the future." He lets out a little sigh. "Yes. Of course I was suggesting that I would pay. I consider myself a reasonable man," I snort at this and raise an eyebrow at him, making him scowl at me. (I'm telling you. A love for the freaking ages.) "But even I don't think I could handle two extra people residing with us."

"You don't say." I shake my head, but I can feel the first trickle of laughter starting to bubble up in my stomach. He is such a doofus sometimes.

"It's nearly seven, Penny. I need to take a shower." Sheldon says looking at his watch.

"Remember not to spill the beans to Leonard." I remind him, finishing off my coffee and moving to the sink. "I don't think either of us wants to deal with everyone else having their nose in our…this."

"This?" Of course he doesn't get it.

"The fact that we're…" I give him an impatient look. "You know. Dating."

"Oh, I see." He seems to consider this for a moment. "Even though I would normally be uncomfortable with keeping a secret from Leonard, I must say I concur thoroughly with your assessment."

"Okay, Sweetie, a simple 'Okay, Penny' would have been fine." I chuckle, patting his arm. "Go take your shower, Sheldon. I'm gonna get going anyway so I can stop at Starbucks."

"Very well." He nods stoically, starting toward the bathroom without another word. I watch him in quiet disbelief. Okay, Sheldor, time to learn.

Lesson Two: Goodbye Kiss.

"Oh my God! Sheldon, I think one of your posters is crooked." He whips around so fast that I'm afraid he's going to take flight. I quickly take my opportunity and hop up onto the step catching him by the arm and holding his face in my hands.

"Just kidding." I grin evilly at him, and his eyes spark with irritation.

"Penny, that's a str—"

"Shut it." I laugh, pressing a gentle kiss to his lips. He doesn't protest, but he looks like he doesn't know if he's annoyed or kind of happy about it. "All or nothing." I remind him. "We kiss goodbye." I move in and let him come to me for the second kiss, lingering for a second. He's obviously got no idea about deepening the kiss, and I'm not going to push him at this point. The fact that he's allowing me extended contact with his mouth is amazing in itself. (Even though I have the sneaking suspicion that he's going to go wild with the antiseptic mouthwash when I leave.)

I begin to pull back when I feel Sheldon's hands settle on my waist and I am so surprised and kind of thrilled, that I don't have the heart to end it. Screw Starbucks. They're overpriced anyway. Vaguely, I become aware of the door opening and launch backward just as Leonard comes into the apartment. Sheldon is still looking at me like he's forgotten his own name, so, I push him toward the bathroom.

"Have a good day, Sweetie!" I call after him, not looking back as I come into the kitchen.

Damn Leonard and his terrible timing.

"What's up?" I ask, grabbing my purse. Leonard looks around as if he's trying to figure something out.

"You look nice." He says and I shrug.

"Thanks." I reply shortly. I know I'm probably coming off a little bitchy, but I was kind of getting somewhere and I've just been interrupted.

"Sorry to barge in. I ran out of toilet paper and I was kind of hoping I could have a roll." Leonard gives an apologetic look.

"You'll have to sign the stupid Sheldon crazy waiver form." I roll my eyes. "You know the drill."

"Oh, do I." He mutters, sighing.

"Listen, I gotta get going. Today is my first day of work." I start toward the door. "'Kay, bye!" I don't wait around to hear his answer to me as I flee down the stairs.

So, Charlie Spinnett is not at his office yet when I arrive, but the main secretary Alice is already there and shows me what to do.

"So, basically, we've had a rough time finding Charlie an assistant because A. He's a little unorganized and B. He's kind of eccentric." Alice informs me, watching me with a cautious look on her face.

"Oh, I wouldn't worry about that. I think I could write a book on eccentric." I inform her, laughing nervously. "My um," I bite my lip. "roommate is kind of a whacko. O.C.D."

"Oh. So, the opposite of Charlie." Alice laughs. I like her. She seems like fun, which is a relief, because the other day when I came for my interview, I kind of got the impression she was an uptight bitch. "I'm the neat freak. Drives my husband crazy, but I can't sleep if I don't check the locks like four times or if someone leaves the toilet seat up."

"Yeah, that sounds a little bit like Sheldon." I agree, smiling as the door opens and Charlie walks in on the phone.

"No, Rob. I'm just saying, let's pool some ideas and we'll see what we come up with. I just don't think people want to see a reboot of The Brady Bunch. They need something fresh. You know, something that hasn't been done!" He notices Alice and I standing at the counter and waves. "Listen, Rob. I gotta go. My new assistant is here. Yes, I'll let her know. Bye." He hangs up and smiles at us.

"Sorry I'm late. Traffic." He shrugs. "My writing partner says to tell you he's sorry that you got stuck with me."

"Hey, as long as I don't have to bring people cheesecake, I don't care." I tell him, following him when he motions toward his office.

"Great! So, here's the deal Penny." He says, plopping down at his desk. "I have a meeting at eleven. We're working on developing a new sitcom. So, the thing is, I need you to answer the phone in here and take messages. If Andi Weston calls, give her my cell number. It's in the front of my planner. I need to somehow get this mess arranged into something I can make sense of. If you need anything like labels, or folders or whatever, Alice has the low down." I stare at him blankly, making quick notes on a piece of paper.

"Okay." I reply uncertainly. I'm starting to feel a little intimidated, but he's so nice I can't help but be grateful.

"If my daughter Nina calls, just tell her to call my cell." He adds. "And really, thanks again, Penny."

"No, seriously." I laugh. "Thank you."

And so, he leaves me alone in his office, amid piles of paper. Some of them are business documents. Some of them are scripts. Who the hell am I kidding? I don't really know how to organize anything.

Balls.

Digging through my purse, I pull out my trusty old phone and dial.

"Dr. Cooper." Sheldon answers his office phone, making me shake my head.

"Um, yes, Dr. Cooper. This is Penelope. You know, you're roommate?" I quip.

"Penny?" He sounds confused and I hear Raj in the background.

"Penny is calling you at work? Is she playing Age of Conan again?" I cringe at the memory.

"No she is not." Sheldon fires at him. "What do you need, Penny?"

"Listen. I got a situation here." I start and hear him exhale.

"You have a situation." He corrects me. I'm going to have to murder him. Perhaps by smothering in his sleep. Or arsenic. I don't know, I haven't really decided. But right now, I need his help, so I keep quiet.

"Yeah, that." I answer quickly, rolling my eyes at his snort. "The reason I called, Sweetie, is because I need your advice. I have to organize my boss's office and honestly, I don't know where to begin."

"Very well." Sheldon says. "Raj, get out." I hear him tell his friend, who begins to protest.

"I work in here too!" Raj cries.

"I see." Sheldon pauses for a second. "Please go to the vending machine and buy me a Diet Coke. Get yourself something as well." A moment later, he continues while I groan. "That boy does not know when to take a hint."

"Whatever." I grumble. "Help me!"

"Pick up the first thing you see. What is it?" He instructs and I grab the first packet in front of me.

"It looks like tax papers." I respond, biting my lip.

"Are there filing cabinets in the room?" He inquires calmly.

"Yeah…" I reply, eyeing the large black cabinets behind the desk.

"Are they labeled?"

"Um…yeah. Kind of." I tell him, peering down at the label.

Scripts

Not that one.

Accounting

There we go.

"I see an accounting drawer." I murmur into the phone. Sheldon makes a noise of approval.

"Open the drawer and see if there is a folder specifically for tax documents." He tells me.

An hour later, I'm still on the phone with Sheldon as he blindly instructs me how to organize an office. I feel really bad because I'm obviously keeping him from working, but he hasn't complained once. Probably because organization gets his blood going. It really is too bad he's not quite ready for more. Because I would so make it worth his while if he was.

Baby steps.

"Okay," I say, "I think I can take it from here."

"Very well." He says.

"I'm sorry for keeping you so long. I know you have work to do." I apologize.

"Hmm, yes. However, one of the great comforts of physics is that numbers remain constant." He replies and I can just picture him waving his hand arrogantly.

"And with your superior mind." I add sardonically, laughing a little.

"Exactly." He says in agreement and I can't really do anything other that shake my head again.

"Well, you get back to work. Thanks again, honey." I tell him.

"Penny!" He says before I can hang up.

"Yeah, Sheldon?" I ask, straightening another stack of papers and putting them neatly on the corner of the desk. They look to be ideas that Charlie is working on, so I don't think he'll want those filed. They look kind of like my legal pads, all scratched up and scrawled on.

"Remember, tonight is Comic Book night and Halo Night." He reminds me. As if I would forget after five years.

"Got it. I'll see you around five-thirty." I tell him. And this is the point when most boyfriends and girlfriends would say something sickly sweet to each other like, 'I can't wait to see you later.' Or, 'I miss you already.' Instead, this is what I get.

"Very good. I will see you then." Without another word, he hangs up. Um, okay? The phone doesn't really ring much all day, which is kind of a relief. While I'm wiping dust off of everything, my eyes fall to Charlie's list of ideas. Things he's written and crossed out and scratched new words in.

Three sisters who all have to move back home after their lives fall apart. Crossed out.

Stay At Home Dads. He has a maybe written next to that.

An undercover female cop dressed as a man. Overdone and cheesy.

Is this what writers do? They just sit around all day and throw out shitty ideas until inspiration strikes?

Charlie returns around four-thirty from his appointments and looks around his office in shock.

"Whoa." He chuckles. "I haven't seen the place like this since I first came here."

"It wasn't really mess per se." I shrug modestly. "I mean, yeah, there was a lot of paper, but once I figured out where everything went, it was kind of easy."

"Any calls?" He asks, crossing behind his desk and pulling out his appointment book.

"Not really." I admit. "Someone called trying to sell you office supplies, but I think it was just a telemarketer."

"Hate those." Charlie agrees. "Hey, Penny. Can I ask you a question?"

"Okay." I nod.

"What's your story? You from California?" He inquires.

"Oh." I snort. "Nope. Nebraska. Typical, right? I came to California to be famous. That was eight years ago…clearly you see where it went." I smirk. He looks amused.

"You're a farm girl?"

"Yep." I shrug. "Clearly not one with enough talent to get a part."

"Acting is a shitty business, kid." He agrees, adjusting his glasses.

"Yeah. Well…if it wasn't for my friends, I don't know where I'd be." I tell him honestly. "I mean, I'm not the smartest person on Earth, but I somehow ended up being best friends with a bunch of physicists from Cal-Tech. And my best girl friends are biologists."

"Geez." Charlie shakes his head. "That must have been new for you."

"Well, considering the valedictorian of my high school class went on to manage the local K-Mart, then yeah. I'd say California brought a bunch of crazy experiences. I actually started writing it all down because I couldn't make that up if I tried. I mean, there was this one time," I'm laughing already, "When Sheldon – he's my roommate – he helped me start my own business making hair accessories. And so, it was me and four physicists hot gluing little rhinestones to fabric flowers all night long to get a rush order out."

Charlie chuckles at this as I continue to babble like a moron. This is what I do when I'm nervous. I talk.

"Then, there was another time after I broke up with Leonard – he's Sheldon's best friend – and Sheldon wanted to come over and eat spaghetti with me, so he pretended like he was going for a walk because the guys were making him feel guilty for being friends with me still. Oh! And he wanted cut up hotdogs in the spaghetti because he's a two year old and he got chased down by this dog and showed up to my place all jacked up." I crack up, remembering how he'd been panting and holding the one hotdog he'd managed to salvage.

"Sounds pretty interesting!" Charlie agrees. "I'd love to read it, if you ever want another opinion."

"Like, seriously?" I ask. I mean, I've only been working for this guy for one day. Stuff like this doesn't happen normally.

"Well, honestly, I'm strapped for ideas at the moment and what you just told me is probably the most interesting thing I've heard in a while."

"Aw, that's so sad for you." I joke. "That my life is the most interesting thing you've heard in a while. It bores me."

"Well, I'm desperate." Charlie sighs. "The best idea I've had was—"

"Yeah, I saw. Stay at home dads." I quirk an eyebrow. "Kinda lame."

"Yeah. Believe me, I know." He checks his watch and sighs. "Five o'clock."

"Hey, do you drink coffee?" I ask, grabbing my purse. Charlie looks at me over his glasses in surprise.

"Uh, yeah." He smiles.

"Cool. How do you like it? I stop at Starbucks on the way in. I can bring some for you too." I offer, earning a look of surprise.

"I just drink it black. No crap in it." He tells me. "And you know you don't have to do that stuff. I'm not one of those crazy weirdoes who is gonna make you pick up dry cleaning and take my kids to school."

"No, I know. It's called being nice. I mean, you did agree to read about my crappy life." I point out.

"Have a good night, Penny. And thank you." He gestures to the office. "I forgot what color my desk was for a while."

"Well, you are paying me." I tell him, before leaving to pick up the boys and head over to the Comic Center. Raj, Leonard and Amy are all waiting in the apartment for me. Sheldon and I both kind of freeze like deer in the headlights for a sec, but neither of us say or do anything out of the ordinary.

"Hey." I say casually, smiling brightly at Amy. "You guys ready?"

"Yes," Amy replies, looking at Leonard. "Of course, it's a shame that we have to take Penny to a comic book store rather than out to show her off in that dress."

"I think she'll be fine." Leonard assures Amy.

"Yeah. I'm good." I agree amiably, avoiding looking at Sheldon. "Who's driving?"

"Me." Leonard says. "Bridget is going to meet us there. She said she's never been to a comic book store."

"That's absurd." Sheldon scoffs. "Can you imagine?" He asks, coming up beside me. I slowly look up at him and really try not to roll my eyes.

"It's unbelievable." I mutter dryly, which Sheldon assumes is me agreeing with him. Oh who cares? Let him think that. I really, really want to hold his hand like normal people, but stupid us decided to keep it a secret. Unless Sheldon spilled the beans as usual. No one is staring at us or making comments so I'm gonna go with no.

During the car ride, I'm smashed in the middle in the back seat between Raj and Sheldon. I hate sitting in the middle because of that stupid hump on the floor, so my feet have to awkwardly straddle it and to be honest, that's not really the easiest accomplishment in four inch heels. Glancing over at Raj, who is texting, I discreetly touch Sheldon's pinkie with mine and link them together. He looks at me as if I'm a complete mental case and should possibly be hospitalized. But I think deep down, he likes it. I mean, he's not pulling away. This is the most affection I'm going to get all night and I haven't had a boyfriend in forever, so anyone who thinks this is lame (which it probably is) can kiss my ass.

We manage to keep everything under wraps for the remainder of the evening. To be honest, the real show of the night is Raj and Bridget discussing the ending of Titanic and whether or not Rose was really dead or dreaming while Leonard and I whip his and Sheldon's asses in Halo. And why did Rose get reunited with Jack when she was clearly married to some dude for like fifty years who she had all her kids with? (But that's just my pet peeve with the ending.)

"I would love to hear more about Rose and Jack." Sheldon says, coming at me. I throw a grenade at him and he dies.

"Really?" Raj squeals. "Well, I've always thought that Rose might have been—"

"Bazinga." Sheldon snaps. "Now quit rattling on about that dumb movie and get your head on straight. They're killing us and Penny's partnered with Leonard."

"Hey!" Leonard protests and I give him a sympathetic look. It's kind of true, but I'm not going to tell him that. Amy shakes her head.

"He has an astigmatism, making it more difficult to focus." She says defensively. Leonard smiles a little at this, still watching the screen.

"Thanks, Amy."

"You're welcome, Sweetcheeks." She responds in her normal dry voice and I crack up, earning Sheldon a chance to blow me up.

"Ah, sweet victory." He sighs.

"Yeah, congrats. You managed to kill me once tonight. Pat yourself on the back, Sweetcheeks." I joke, while he makes a sound of annoyance.

"Penny, we never discussed any nickn—" Uh oh, he's blabbing. I clap my hand over his mouth and shake my head curtly while his eyes grow huge. I distantly notice our four friends are watching curiously.

"It was a joke, MoonPie." I tell him, removing my hand and shrugging it off while he reaches for his sanitizing wipes.

"Hmm." Sheldon says and does a quick little gasp laugh. I'm unable to contain my smile, looking back down at my controller. I'm really glad Howard and Bernadette went out for a date night together because I don't think I could handle him being an ass right now.

We wrap up around ten-thirty and Raj leaves first to walk Bridget out. They aren't outwardly affectionate, but he's definitely trying. He did have a couple beers, so at least he was talking more than normal.

Leonard stands up and holds his hand out for Amy to take. She smiles a little bit, I notice. It's really odd to me how natural they fit together. It's like this quiet, perfect balance of personality. And even though Amy is sometimes weirdly similar to Leonard's mom, she never cuts him down. In fact, she's more a constant, quiet support to him and she understands his pedantic lingo. It's not like Sheldon, who loves being the most intelligent and I know damn well the little shit gets off on confusing me.

Once they leave, I let Sheldon lock up while I slip into my room and pull out the next step in Project Basic Instinct.

Purple is so my color.

Casually, I walk back out into the kitchen and decide to make myself some herbal tea, standing up on my toes to retrieve it. It's just slightly out of reach, so I climb up onto the counter and grab it. And wait.

Perfect.

"Sheldon! When you're done changing, can you come help me?"

He doesn't respond, but I know he heard. It's Sheldon. He hears everything. A few seconds later, I hear his door open and snicker. Poor guy has no clue what he's in for.

"Penny, what impossible situation have you—" He stops dead, coming around the corner and I turn to look at him, feigning embarrassment.

"I was trying to get the tea down and I didn't want to bother you, so I got up here, and now, I'm kind of afraid to get down." I say, even though that's not true. That's so not true. I used to climb trees like it was my job. I once scaled the trellis on the side of our house and went up on the roof to pull a bird's nest out of the chimney.

"Penny, what could you possibly have been thinking climbing onto the counter? I cannot even tell you how many safety regulations you are violating. Not to mention sanitary violations." Sheldon proclaims.

"I'm sorry." I respond demurely. "I wasn't thinking. Can you…?" I gesture to myself. "I mean, I'm not too heavy, I hope but—" Sheldon sighs heavily as if I am the biggest burden in his life. I stifle a laugh as he comes to the counter and allows me to put my arms around his shoulders while gripping around my waist. Easily, he helps set me to my feet on the floor and that's when he really notices what I'm wearing.

It's not that big of a deal. It's just a purple nightie, but it's kind of short and lacy and I have matching undies that are showing a little out the bottom. You know, the boy short kind that show enough cheek to make them kind of sexy in a not sexy way.

"Thanks, honey." I reply casually, bouncing past him and putting water on the stove to heat up. Wordlessly, he uses his crazy Clorox wipe and wipes the counter and cupboard down. It's while he's bent over the counter, furiously wiping that I realize his ears are bright red.

It's a start.

 

Chapter Text

I'm in the middle of typing out Charlie's appointments for the week when I get a text from, guess who? Yep. Sheldon.

Penny-

Social protocol dictates that, as we are now 'dating,' we are obligated to go on dates. As everyone else is otherwise occupied tonight, I propose that perhaps we dine out this evening.

I snort, shaking my head and finishing the line I'm typing. Of course Sheldon would think of a date as an obligation. I mean, he had a scheduled date night in his Relationship Agreement with Amy. I suppose I should be glad he's even suggesting it at all. This is Sheldon. He probably wouldn't even realize he had sex until he was told it was over. (Maybe someday I'll find out, but that day is way down the road.) Hell, we're barely even on a kissing basis. For Sheldon, it's huge, because he actually is allowing me to touch him for prolonged periods of time.

Last night, for example, we ordered pizza and after everyone had left for the night, he let me sit right up against him (even though I was the one who had to put his arm around me.) Hey, it could be worse. He could be a grabby and try to put his hand down my pants at every turn like, oh…pretty much every guy I ever dated before him. (Not including Leonard.)

I would like to, I don't know, make out with him a little, but I am pretty much letting him do the work right now, because I don't want to freak him out. And, even though it's been only two days since we became…this…I'm really afraid to ruin it, because yes, Sheldon drives me nuts. He's beyond bat crap crazy. But, he's also like frustratingly sexy because he's so damned clueless! Watching his reactions to things that normal guys usually do is hilarious. He's probably never blushed so much in his life. At least, not while I've been friends with him.

And it's not like he's really any nicer to me. Not even slightly. It's almost like nothing's really changed except for the fact that he kisses me goodnight and goodbye. There have been people at our apartment both nights, so the only privacy we get is after everyone is gone. And that's pretty much just a few minutes so that Sheldon can get his required eight hours of REM vampire sleep.

God, he's a weirdo.

And I've become Howard in a female form. Trying my damndest to get a look at Sheldon without clothes on…creepily staring him down while he eats breakfast in his shorts and T-Shirt after working out. I guess one glimpse of his tight little booty wasn't enough for Big Ol' Five here.

Gathering my senses, I pick up my phone and text him back.

Sounds good. Chinese, right? Then maybe some Super Mario Bros. 3?

I do a quick proofread of Charlie's schedule before printing out the spreadsheet. It's really weird, but I haven't seen him very much at all since I started working here. I mean, the guy is running pretty much all the time. He has like two sitcoms on the air and a cable special effects drama that is coming out soon, so the guy has no time on his hands. And he is looking for new ideas for a show. When does the guy sleep and see his family?

I gave him the first part of my journals (as I'm calling them) to peruse. But when the hell would he ever have time for that? Not like it matters, because nothing is ever going to come of it. But it's nerve wracking because nobody has ever read anything I've written. Of course, I've never really written anything besides diary stuff and really crappy term papers.

And I've eaten lunch with Alice for the past two days, who I'm starting to like more and more. She's fast, funny, snippy and is full of stories. Mostly, she talks about her little daughter, who is a year old now. I don't know much about babies, being the baby of my family, but I like the idea of them. They're cute. They burp and poop a lot. Oh, and the crying…but I still like to hear people talk about their kids. I like to see pictures of their chubby faces and their cute little clothes.

But Alice is cool. She almost seems grateful for another person in the office to talk to. I can see why. The place is always dead. Charlie's business partner, Ryan Massey is never in either. I haven't even seen him yet. Apparently, he's on vacation in Cabo with his boyfriend.

Welcome to Hollywood, Penny!

My phone goes off as I'm carefully using the three hole punch to add the schedule page to a red binder that I've made to keep Charlie's schedule accessible at all times for him. He is very scattered, I've come to learn, so bright colors do well for him. That was actually my idea. Came up with it all on my own.

Hey, it happens sometimes!

And he's so nice. He's not creepy like a lot of T.V. and movie execs. You know the type that tries to scam on their assistant. Yeah, this guy is like normal. Which is refreshing because sometimes it seems like I haven't met many normal people since moving to California.

Understatement.

And Charlie weirdly reminds me of Dad. Obviously my father doesn't wear dorky sweater vests or glasses, but he has that same graying hair and oddly, Dad's sense of humor. It's easy to just joke with him. My phone vibrating on the desk makes me jump and nearly drop the binder.

"Jesus!" I cry, clutching my heart as I pick it up.

Chinese food is acceptable. But, you meant Super Mario Brothers 2, didn't you? Super Mario Brothers 3 was already played and since we played the first Super Mario Brothers last week while you were out of town, Super Mario Brothers 2 is the clear choice.

Oh Good God. Penny, why do you always forget Sheldon is O.C.D. and cuckoo banana crackers?

Of course. How silly of me.

Now, I'm clearly being sarcastic. But Dummy isn't going to grasp that, so it comes as no surprise when I receive a response lest than a minute later.

Not to worry, Penny. It's an honest mistake. You were absent last week, so it is natural that you would be unaware that we played Super Mario Brothers.

I slap my palm to my forehead, trying unsuccessfully not to laugh. He's so dense sometimes. At least if any of our friends were to look at our texts, they wouldn't be able to tell that we're a couple…sort of. I mean, we agreed to try dating, but he hasn't come out and said I'm his girlfriend or anything. Of course if he had it his way, our entire relationship would consist of making YouTube videos about flags and going to the zoo.

Poor, poor Amy. Leonard better be taking damn good care of that girl now.

But here's the thing with me. Sheldon's wall of kook doesn't intimidate me like it does everyone else. He's like a three year old. You just have to let him cry until he falls asleep on his own.

Sadly, this is not even really a metaphor. At least he's potty trained.

But no. MoonPie is not going to dictate this thing we have here, because I think if he would ever loosen up, he could be a good boyfriend. I don't know how I've come to this conclusion, but I think it's little considerate things he does for people. The guy cares way more than he wants to. He's not Spock, as much as he would like to be.

By the time Alice and I are locking up the building, I'm kind of excited. I mean, this isn't the first date Sheldon's asked me on. (The one other time, he was trying to make Amy jealous when she went out with Stuart.) But a lot has changed since November. I almost wonder for a second what might have happened if I'd actually said yes to that pretend date and then I crack up. Because Sheldon had said something like, 'Maybe take in a prize fight.' Oh yeah…sitting and watching two guys beat the shit out of each other sounds like an engine starter.

Actually, it kind of does sound fun. Maybe some other time though.

So our first official date is going to consist of eating over at Szechuan Palace in a dingy booth and then going home to play video games from the eighties.

So…a low cut black dress should be appropriate, right? Oh wait, I'm sorry…how stupid of me. With a bright pink bra and matching panties underneath. What? That's what I always wear when I play Super Mario Brothers.

Oh, don't judge me.

"Shit!" Alice sighs as we're walking out to our cars together. I give her a questioning look and she holds up her phone. "Baby's sick. Ear infection. Tyler just got out of the pediatrician's office with her. Looks like it's going to be a pizza and movies at home night." She smiles ruefully. "Kids change everything, Penny."

"Oh, I know. My sister had a baby when she was fifteen. He's going to be graduating from high school next year." I reply, thinking of Brian. They're going to see how things go with the end of the school year and come out at the end of June for a week. I don't really know what Darcy is going to make of Sheldon, but I'm pretty sure Brian will like him. Our place is every nerdy guy's dream. Granted, Leonard's vast collection of Star Wars memorabilia is now across the hall, but we're still chock full of Star Trek, DC Superheroes and even a few Marvel heroes sprinkled in. Every woman dreams of having a living room adorned with science fiction paraphernalia. The Spock cutout really sets the mood.

"Well, I'll see you Monday." Alice says, opening her car door. "Have a good weekend."

"You too!" I call cheerily. "Hope the baby feels better."

I walk in just as Leonard is leaving our apartment with a grim look on his face.

"Hey, you." I say, grabbing his sleeve. "What's wrong?"

"We're having dinner with Amy's mother tonight." Leonard sighs.

"And that's…bad?" I ask, unsure. I mean, this isn't like when she asked Sheldon to meet her mother almost two years ago. Leonard seems to be invested in the relationship.

"It would be fine, except…" Leonard takes off his glasses to clean them. A nervous habit of his. "Amy informed her mother that we were having sex."

"Ooh." I groan, remembering how blunt Amy can be. "Well, I mean, Amy's thirty years old. She can have sex if she wants, Sweetie."

"Yeah, but this is the woman who wrote 'Dear Amy: Self respect and a hymen are better than friends and fun. Love, Mom." He mutters and I stare blankly at him. That explains a lot about Amy. "You know what's sick?"

"Hmm?" I say, because I really don't know. After the past few months, he could tell me that Amy used to date Zac Efron and I probably wouldn't be surprised.

"She told me that back in September, when we went to that wedding together." He shakes his head. "Who would have thought she and I would be…and you and I wouldn't be and—"

"Leonard." I say, stopping him before he goes too far. "It's all going to be fine. You and Amy are going to be fine. You and I are fine. Please stop panicking."

"You're right. I mean, of course you're right." Leonard agrees fanning himself. "Is it hot in here? I think it's kind of hot, I'm just going to go…" He points vaguely at his door and leaves, shutting the door behind him. I slump against the door and notice Sheldon at his laptop, typing furiously.

"Hello, Penny." He says, not sparing a glance.

"Hey, Sheldon." I reply, slipping past him and giving his shoulder a soft scratch with my finger. "Give me a couple minutes, honey, okay?" I take his silence as a 'Sure, babe.' Because when I answer myself in the voice of my boyfriend, I use cute pet names that Sheldon will probably never say. Then again, the thought of Sheldon calling me 'Babe' or 'Baby' is possibly the creepiest thing I've ever pictured. I did hear him talking to his model train once and he called it Baby. It was kind of unsettling. Even more so, the hat he was wearing while talking to Thomas the Tank Engine.

I put on my pink undies and the stretchy black dress along with my favorite pair of black heels before throwing a silver shrug over the outfit to keep a slight semblance of decency. I am actually a little nervous and I don't know why. This is Sheldon. I'm comfortable with him. He's the only guy in the world who wouldn't know the difference between sweats and formal. (Plaid…so much plaid.) I stand in front of my mirror and analyze myself.

"Okay girls," I say, pulling the neckline of my dress down a little. "I know it's been a while, but let's try to work some magic." God, sometimes I wish they were bigger. But, does it even matter? I mean, Sheldon dated Amy, who actually has a pretty good rack and he never made a move on those suckers, so I'm gonna say we're okay.

After a little spritz of my favorite perfume, I head out, heels clicking.

"Penny, it's already nearly six, and—" Sheldon turns toward me in his computer chair, falling quiet abruptly before staring at me in confusion. "Penny, we're just going to Szechuan Palace. I'm nearly positive that there is no formal—"

"Sweetie. This is a date." I remind him. "People get dressed up for dates. Especially first dates." Yeah, it's hard to believe after almost five years of knowing each other, this is our first time on a date. Together. In public.

"I see." Sheldon sighs, shaking his head as if he's just consumed with exhaustion. "Very well." He brushes past me and disappears into his room after shutting his laptop. I almost laugh in disbelief. We have so far to go.

He emerges less than five minutes later in dress pants and his black dress shirt and tie. I bite my lip to keep from grinning like an ass, but I have to say it.

Aww.

It's not until he gives me an impatient look and points to his watch that my scowl returns. I follow him toward the door and then gasp, remembering.

"Sheldon, wait!" I hiss, pushing him aside and checking the peephole to make sure the hall is clear. "Okay, we're good." I declare, ignoring his expression and grabbing his arm while he turns off the lights.

Szechuan Palace is hopping tonight, and by hopping I mean there's a good seven people in it. Because everyone wants to spend their Friday night in a dingy Chinese restaurant. It's seat yourself, so I let Sheldon pick because God knows that he has a list of criteria that the booth must meet. Thankfully, he chooses quickly and we slide in.

A waitress brings us some water and menus. It's really funny, because the food there is pretty decent, but the service is awful. The waitress doesn't speak a lot of English, so she comes off as kind of rude and they charge fifty cents extra for chicken rice soup as opposed to egg drop. I'm gonna make it easy and just order dumplings…as usual.

After we order, I notice Sheldon's cheeks are a little red and look down for a second, noticing a little bit of the pink bra is showing. My smirk is practically impossible to detain. I pretend not to notice and take a sip of my own water.

"So…how was your day?" I ask, fixing my neckline and watching him exhale like he was holding his breath and waiting for me to notice.

"Very pleasant. I found out this morning, that I was going to be possibly receiving a grant to do research on the Higgs Boson Particle, which may include a trip to the Large Hadron Collider." His voice gets all excited like a kid on Christmas Eve.

"Wow." I exclaim, raising my eyebrows even though I still have no idea what the Higgs Boson Particle is or does. "Pretty impressive."

"Yes, it is." He agrees, grinning. "They nearly had a breakthrough in December of last year. If we can just use a little more energy to collide the particles together, I have every confidence that it will be detected."

"Well, I'm proud of you, Sweetie!" I say, reaching for his hand. As always, he seems puzzled over this like his first reaction is to protest, but he doesn't pull away and I even feel his fingers close hesitantly around mine.

"I'm proud of me too." He agrees contentedly, making me snort. Ah, there's my egomaniac Whack-A-Doodle.

"Brat." I tease, giving him a look. "Well, it's too bad we didn't go somewhere with a bar. I'd say your news deserves some champagne."

"Penny, I don't drink." Sheldon states firmly, making me chuckle.

"Okay, we'll stop and get some sparkling cider on the way home. Deal?" I give him a bright smile and he nods.

"Very well." He says like he's doing me a favor. "Penny, I must say, that in light of—" He cuts off abruptly, eyes growing wide. My mouth drops open and I feel my stomach roil with panic. Are some of our friends here? Have we been caught? I quickly turn to look and see someone very familiar looking.

"Isn't that…?" I trail off and Sheldon's hand grips mine tightly.

"Ramona Nowitzki" He answers for me. Good thing he knew, because the only thing I could remember was that she was even crazier than Sheldon. She accused me of being in love with him because she caught him begging me for sanctuary. I could cackle with the turn of events.

Ramona goes pale, instantly recognizing Sheldon. It's clear the girl still has the hots for the oblivious goofball, but she doesn't say anything. It's Sheldon who goes in for the kill.

"Well…if it isn't the little credit freeloader." He says and I kick him under the table. She may be a kook, but she was a kid.

"Let it go." I warn, earning a scathing glare.

"Penny, she tried to take credit for my work." He insists.

"It was a long time ago, honey." I plead, watching Ramona approach out of the corner of my eye.

"Hello, Dr. Cooper." She says with the same breathy admiration she had for him before. Except now, it's annoying. Back then, it was hilarious.

"Ms. Nowitzki." He acknowledges, his eyes blazing as I kick him in the shin. "Still searching for someone's coattails to ride on?" I cringe, giving her an apologetic look. She glowers down at me.

"I knew you were in love with her." She says sounding frighteningly close to tears. My eyes widen. Is she jealous? I mean it's been like four years since the…whatever.

"Ms. Nowitzki—"

"It's Doctor." Ramona sobs.

"Dr. Nowitzki. You should not concern yourself with whom I am associated. We are not, nor will we ever be friends. Please show yourself away from myself and my girlfriend. We are trying to enjoy our date." He waves her off arrogantly and I'm suddenly torn between glee and feeling bad for the poor loony girl. I mean she looks kind of like Taylor Swift did when Kanye stole her moment at the VMA's. Ramona immediately bursts into tears and takes off like a bat out of hell.

"Balls." I mutter, shaking my head and looking at Sheldon, who is calmly taking a sip of water. Holy shitballs! He just totally went Alpha Male in public and called me his girlfriend. Maybe I'll get to see him naked one day after all.

The rest of dinner goes by shockingly pleasantly as we make small talk about the upcoming Batman movie.

"I think Anne Hathaway could possibly bump Eartha Kitt as my third favorite Catwoman. She has dark hair and I think she possesses the sultry duality needed to play the role."

"Yeah…I loved her in Bride Wars." I nod, finishing my dumplings. Sheldon quirks an eyebrow at me.

"Bride Wars?" Clearly he's never heard of it.

"Yeah…with Kate Hudson. It was hilarious." I laugh. "See, they both got engaged and they both wanted to have their weddings at the Plaza—"

"Penny, I don't think it would be accurate to compare the upcoming Dark Knight Rises film to a half rate chick flick starring Kate Hudson." He sighs. "She was in that absurd film that Raj and Bridget were watching while you were in Nebraska."

"Whatever. I guess I won't bring up Little Women with Winona Ryder which starred a young Christian Bale as Laurie." I give him a look, pursing my lips.

"At least Little Women is a story of some literary importance, though it is overly dramatic and drawn out for my taste." He shrugs. "Missy used to be obsessed with that film. As well as Edward Scissorhands for some reason."

"Young Johnny Depp." I reply knowingly. At his lost expression I shake my head. "Never mind. You ready to go?"

"Yes." He stands and places a couple of dollar bills and exact change on the table for the tip. O.C.D. ahoy!

"What's my share?" I ask, and Sheldon stares at me in horror.

"You don't pay." He conveys sternly. "Social protocol states that the man pays on a date." I peer up at him, impressed. It's a big step up from him calling me a mooch. On the way out, I hold my hand out for him. He stares at it for a couple of seconds before sighing resignedly and placing his hand in mine.

"It seems silly to hold hands just to walk twenty feet, Penny." He complains and I bite back a retort.

"Honey, you can use Purell later. It's a non-optional social convention." I add, making him shut his hole immediately. On the ride home, I am really surprised when he reaches over and places his hand in mine, giving me a look of defeat.

"I suppose if it's non-optional." He mutters, sounding completely put out. But he's not fooling anybody. Sheldon doesn't do things unless he wants to. It's part of his narcissistic charm.

"Well thank you for tolerating it." I reply melodramatically.

"Hmmpf." He replies, looking out the window. I suck in my cheek to keep from bursting into laughter.

We arrive at the apartment building and start up the stairs, but halt, hearing voices coming down.

"I'm just saying, Amy, I don't want your mother to think I'm some kind of sexual deviant." Leonard's voice says and I share a look of alarm with Sheldon, grabbing his hand and dragging him back down the stairs with me and around to the stairwell leading down to the laundry room. I motion for him to be quiet as we both stand against the wall, eyes wide.

"Leonard, my mother is the one who forced me to go on one date per year. If she really didn't want me to engage in coitus, then she shouldn't have suggested I date." Amy points out. "And besides, I'm her only hope of having grandchildren, so really she could consider my being sexually active a step in the right direction."

Their voices trail off as they leave the building and I sag in relief, still clutching Sheldon's hand. Carefully, I peer around the corner and nod to him. We begin back toward the stairs and start the four flight ascent to our apartment.

"That was close!" I tell Sheldon, laughing in relief. He nods in agreement.

"Even though it is none of Leonard's business what we choose to do, I am not ready to include him or Amy Farrah Fowler in the new paradigm of our romantic relationship." He says, as always a confusing tumble of words falling from his mouth.

"Agreed." I tell him, pretty sure that's what he was going for anyway. We're about halfway up, when I hear Leonard's agitated voice again.

"I'll just be a second!" He calls down. "I forgot my wallet—"

Oh shit.

I tighten my grip on Sheldon's hand and look up at him.

"Run." I whisper and we start a mad dash up the stairs, letting go of each other. I stumble a little because I'm wearing high heels, but Sheldon manages to grab my elbow before I bite it and pulls me up the final flight, already dashing toward the door with his key ready. We just barely get inside before we hear Leonard's footsteps in the hall, followed by his door opening and closing. Once we hear him leaving again, we both stagger over to the couch and fall on it, exhausted and out of breath. I'm pretty sure a sexy sheen of sweat is making me glisten like Amy's damn tiara.

"Perhaps it would be easier if we simply told our friends." Sheldon gasps, resting his head against the back of the couch. Oh, like he's winded. He does that damn EA Sports junk.

"I don't know," I joke. "I kind of like living on the edge. It kind of gets me off."

"Gets you off what?" Sheldon inquires, looking at me in confusion. I can't help it, I snort with laughter.

"Oh Sheldon, honey…you have a lot to learn." I lean over and kiss him chastely just under his ear and stand up. His wide eyes are bright, bright blue against the blush of his face.

"Hey, can you unzip me? There's no way I can play Super Mario in this dress." I tell him. He looks suspicious, but stands up behind me and I can feel his gentle ministrations bring the zipper of my dress down, which brings us to the next step of this project.

Partial nudity.

I mean, obviously Sheldon has seen me naked a couple times, but I am of the firm belief that lingerie adds a little something that nudity doesn't Maybe it's a sense of mystery. I don't know. But guys seem to like the bra and thong combo, so we're gonna try it out. Let's call an exercise in male libido and their inability to use their brain and their penis simultaneously.

And these guys think I don't pay attention.

Without a word, I let the dress drop and stoop down to pick it up wearing nothing but a hot pink bra and thong. Straightening, I turn back to a frighteningly red Sheldon and pull him down for a quick peck on the lips.

"Thanks, honey." I smile before walking toward my room, carrying my discarded dress in my hands.

I don't need to look back at him to know his mouth his slightly hanging open.

Asexual my ass.

 

Chapter Text

And so it begins. My impossible effort to get Sheldon Cooper to notice me…I mean, you know…in a 'I need to take a cold shower' kind of way. Saturday night consists of my wearing possibly the shortest pair of shorts I can possibly get away with and a tank top. When I emerge with my basket of laundry, Sheldon gives me a scathing look and lets his sigh come out in a resigned puff.

"What's your issue, toilet tissue?" I crack, grinning up at him and making him roll his eyes at me.

"You're ridiculous." He grumbles, leading the way and holding the door for me so we can head down the stairs together. Even if we run into Leonard and Amy, they won't think anything of it because Sheldon and I always do laundry together. Even while he was dating Amy, Saturday was Laundry Night. Which is kind of sad, I guess, but I never minded. Still don't.

"I'm ridiculous?" I counter, turning the corner onto the third floor. "Says the man who screamed bloody murder at the sight of a pigeon on the window sill this morning." I remind him, snickering. Even though he's claimed that his ornithophobia was cured, he's full of shit. The window was barely cracked open.

"That thing came out of nowhere, Penny." He whines, sounding very Sheldon 2009. It's kind of neat, though I will never admit to him that I love that he's crazier than Joan Crawford. Eh, why would I anyway? He wouldn't even know who she is, so what's the point?

"Poor baby." I tease, bumping his hip with mine as we finally reach the first floor. Sheldon gives me another sigh and we start down into the basement together.

As usual, no one is down there, because no normal people want to stay home on a Saturday night and do laundry. Just another weekend with the Coopers.

Wait, what? The Coopers? Okay, that came out wrong. That is not what I meant. I meant Cooper and—

Oh, you know what? Nevermind. I have been dating Sheldon for four days. Four. I can assure you that is not what I meant.

I'm just gonna shut up now and do my laundry. Sheldon immediately moves to his favored machines while I haphazardly toss my clothes into one. I look up to see you know who staring at me in disgust.

"What?" I growl. Swiftly, he pushes me aside and begins gingerly removing clothes and putting some into another machine.

"Penny, how many times must I tell you that you cannot wash white clothes with colored clothes? First of all, whites should be washed with bleach and at a hot temperature while—"

"Who cares?" I groan at him in frustration. Some things will never change. "It's all going to be clean." His eye twitches, and I begin to reach past him to retrieve my clothing to continue with my wash. I wiggle my way between him and the washer and pull out some socks.

"Penny—" He pleads and I turn my glare on him.

"Back off, MoonPie." I warn, holding up my dirty sock toward his face. He lunges backward and stumbles a little bit over a small wastebasket for dryer lint. I turn back to my task and nearly have everything back in the washer when I feel Sheldon's hand on my shoulder. Startled, I drop the pair of underwear I'm holding and start to turn toward him to tell him off when he awkwardly grabs my face and bends down to plant what is probably the most hilarious looking kiss anyone's ever seen. It's not romantic. It's not even sexy…it's pretty much a quick smack of lips before he pulls back.

"Um, what the hell was that?" I ask, now near laughter because it is both cute and bizarre that he just initiated a kiss in the middle of a fight.

"Google answers suggests that the best way to solve a relationship fight is by kissing." Sheldon explains, sounding very scientific about it all.

"Sweetie, I think anybody can pretty much answer those questions on Google." I inform him, looking back at my open washer with a sigh. "Okay…come on. Help me sort this." Sheldon's eyes widen and he stares at me for a few moments as if he can't believe he's getting his way.

I don't really know why it should surprise him. He always gets his way because he is a damn con artist.

Deftly, he sorts my laundry into three separate loads. (Luckily, he has enough change for this.) Whites in one, reds in one and dark clothes in another. I watch him expertly arrange everything before turning back to put his own clothes in washers.

Once everything is settled, we head back upstairs, each carrying our empty baskets (because Dr. Whack-A-Doodle thinks somebody is going to steal our dollar store crap baskets). Leonard must be out, because we haven't heard from him all night so far. I saw him a little earlier, carrying a shiny bag, but he didn't say anything about it. I do know that Amy's birthday is coming in June, so I'm sure it's something to do with that. Leonard was always one to remember birthdays. And every single anniversary from first date to first kiss to every damn annoying detail. He probably remembers the first time I burped in front of him.

But it's nice, having the apartment all to ourselves because we don't have to sneak around. Raj and Bridget are doubling with Bernadette and Howard. And thankfully, I'm here to keep Dr. Cooper out of trouble this weekend.

"Must you wear clothing that clearly displays your buttocks out of the bottom?" Sheldon asks as I open a Diet Coke. Mission accomplished. He noticed the booty shorts, which means he was looking at my booty, which means—

We have liftoff!

I grin to myself and take a long drink, fanning myself.

"I'm sorry, Sweetie. It's just hot in here." I nod to the window, where Sheldon had seen the offending pigeon this morning. "Maybe we should open the—"

"No." Sheldon shakes his head vigorously. "It will affect the thermostat, which must remain at—"

"I could take my shirt off." I suggest, and Sheldon shrieks.

"Why?"

"Honey, I'm teasing you." I explain tiredly, coming back toward him and sitting beside him with my feet up, scooting as close to him as he will allow. "What should we watch?"

"There is a special on dark matter on the Science channel." He offers, making me cringe. Oh, that's what gets a girl's motor running. Black holes and outer space. Oh, talk dirty to me, Sheldon! (Sarcasm.) Although, if I were a less mature person, black holes could be considered an innuendo.

If I were less mature.

"Why are you smirking?" Sheldon asks, and I realize I've let my thoughts get away from me. I shake my head. I'm not even going to tell him, because he won't get it anyway.

"No science stuff." I insist, making him pout. "No." I laugh, setting my can of Diet Coke on the table and turning toward him. "You said no Ghost Hunters, so I get a veto too."

"Very well." He mutters, paging through the guide. I decide to take my chances with luck and move up to nuzzle against his shoulder, making him look down at me suspiciously, flinching away slightly.

"Penny…" He starts, but trails off, obviously unsure of what to say. It looks slightly like he would love nothing more than to go spray down with the trusty old spray disinfectant, but he stays, sitting rigidly straight in his spot.

"There's nothing on." I tell him dismissively, waving my hand.

"I beg to differ. The special about dark matter is one of the most accurate—"

"Shh." I cut in, wrenching the remote out of his hands and setting it aside. "I have a better idea." His entire body tenses as if I've shot him and he starts to get up.

"Penny, I told you that we would attempt coitus, in time…but in no way, shape or form—"

"Okay, Sheldon honey. A. Stop calling it coitus. It's sex." I roll my eyes at him and pull him back to sit down. "And B. No. That wasn't what I was suggesting."

"Then what were you…?" At my impatient brow raise, he purses his lips, lost.

"Okay, you gotta trust me on this one, honey." I say softly, holding one of his hands in mine and playing with his fingers. I have a weird fascination with his hands. Thin, long fingers, but not bony at all. The skin is smooth and clean and kind of pink because he washes them so much. And the nails are always perfectly cut and clean. If I could get the boy up to speed, he could do some really great things with them.

"Alright." He replies hesitantly, watching me with pink cheeks as I take a breath. Okay…let's see how far he can be pushed. "Just let me…" He inhales slowly. "I need a couple of moments." I nod, silently watching as he closes his eyes and whispers to himself, "Three…two…one."

When his eyes open again, he nods and though I'm scared of what is going to come of this, I guide him to move away from the arm of the couch just enough so that I have room. Very deliberately and carefully, I keep my eyes on Sheldon's reddening face as I hold his shoulders and lower myself into his lap, facing him with my legs on either side of his. His Adam 's apple bobs with his swallow, but he doesn't say anything. I have to pry his hands away from his sides and physically bring them to rest on my thighs. (Good thing I shaved my legs really well today!)

I do not make any sudden moves with him, there's no way he could ever handle that. Hell, I'm not sure I could handle it at this point. I'm coiled so damn tightly that by the time we do have sex down the road in, like, twenty years or whatever, I'm probably going to burst into flames. And I still have yet to see proof that Sheldon can get aroused. By this point in all my other relationships, I have been to at least third base. (Big Ol' Five, remember? Don't judge.)

"Okay, honey." I tell Sheldon, gently holding my fingers beneath his jaw and making him look at me. He looks as terrified as I feel. "Close your eyes." He complies, and I can feel how fast is beating in the pulse point of his neck. Poor thing.

I firmly bring our lips together, cradling his face in my hands and I give him the tenderest kiss I have ever given anyone. You have to understand. I have never put so much effort into kissing someone for the simple reason that I need him to like it. I have to prove to him and myself that I'm not an idiot. I distantly feel his fingers dig instinctively into my skin, gripping my legs in his hands. I don't know if it's a sexual thing quite yet, or if he's just nervous and clinging to the only thing that's near. I'm gonna go with the latter.

Using my own face, I nudge his cheek to tilt his head further so I can get a better angle down at him and it's when his lips part to take a quick breath that I realize I've found my opening. Literally. Before he can close his mouth, I very, very softly run my tongue along his bottom lip and hear his sound of protest as he pulls back.

"Penny." He says in a hilarious husky voice about two octaves deeper than his normal voice.

"It's okay." I assure him, trying to steady his shoulders. His hands are still pretty much white knuckling my thighs. At least I'll look a little like I got some.

"Did you even rinse with mouthwash?" Sheldon cries, trying in vain to stop me. I abandon his mouth and begin pressing warm, wet kisses along his throat and up the side of his neck.

"Yeah, of course I rinsed." I lie, my voice muffled against his skin and biting my cheek to stop myself from snickering. With a wicked grin, I nip at his sweet, untouched earlobe. His startled gasp causes me to giggle unexpectedly.

"You bit me!" He yelps, looking down at me. "I could get any number of diseases…"

"Sheldon." I say dryly, leveling a stare at him. "Do I look like a rabid animal?"

"I wasn't implying that you are rabid." Sheldon sighs, shaking his head. "I was merely stating that it is possibly unsanitary to—"

"Shut up, Sheldon." I growl and kiss him a little more forcefully this time. He remains still under my ministrations, making me moan in frustration. "What?" I ask, glaring down at him. He folds his arms stubbornly.

"Well, I can't be expected to touch the inside of your mouth unless I can be assured that I am not going to be subjected to a cesspool of transferable bacterium, and furthermore—"

"Fine!" I grumble, climbing off of his lap and starting toward the bathroom angrily. I can hear Sheldon moving around a little bit before settling back into his spot. I forcefully swirl his gross antiseptic mouthwash for a full minute before spitting it out. Ah, the taste of menthol and mint does wonders for the female libido.

"Better?" I ask roughly, resuming my position in his lap and setting the mouthwash on the end table to ensure easy access because I don't doubt that Dr. Crackpot will need a swig after tongue tangling with me. Vaguely he nods and I get close enough so that he can smell the Listerine on my breath. Now, where did we leave off? "Do what I do." I tell him before kissing him again. I feel like one of those lecherous villains in a trashy romance novel trying to steal the virtue of the heroine. Except…Sheldon is the heroine.

Oh Christ. That is fucked.

He is surprisingly pliant this time as I urge his head to the side and hold his face, combing my fingers through the back of his dark hair. I've never realize how thick his hair is. Probably because he always wore it short until recently. It's longer than I've ever seen it and I love it. And of course, it's baby soft because he uses No More Tears.

I wish my twenty-two year old self could get a glimpse of this and I wish I could watch my reaction, because the Penny who met Sheldon in 2007 would be in shock and probably faint. A year ago, I would have laughed about it. But holy crap, how did I never think about this before?

When I told Sheldon back in November that he was not "the guy," I wasn't lying. I was talking about Leonard. But between then and between Leonard hooking up with Amy and me moving in with Sheldon – somewhere in there, this happened and even though he is not even close to being an experienced kisser, it's somehow one of the hottest encounters I've had. Because it's all new for him and watching and feeling his reactions are so much fun.

It's subtle. His breath is a little quicker. His skin is hot to the touch, and his cheeks are flushed. But it's there…

And then it happens and I feel only the tiniest silky touch of his tongue against mine, before he withdraws it. Maybe to anyone else, it doesn't seem like much, but to me…this is huge. I move up a little, so I have the vantage point and continue to basically pet through his hair in soothing strokes while I keep pressing shallow kisses against his lips. I pull back to look down into his face and realize he has a strange look of confusion on his face.

"What's wrong, honey?" I ask, hating how throaty and breathless I sound. Following his eyes, I turn slightly and realize that both of his hands are clutching my ass cheeks. He's looking at them like he just can't figure out how they got there. And I burst out laughing, resting my forehead down on his shoulder. "I think it's time to stop for now." I tell him, watching his eyes flit longingly to his gross mouthwash. Snorting a laugh, I press another kiss against his swollen lips. His hands tighten on my bottom again, making me grin against his mouth.

Sheldon must be enjoying himself, because he doesn't hear the creak of the front door opening. But I do. Holy balls! I can't let Leonard see me straddling Sheldon! What if Amy is with him? I scramble off of his lap and dump myself unceremoniously over the back of the couch as the door opens all the way.

"Sheldon?" Leonard's voice comes and I can hear that he notices something about his friend is off. I press myself against the back of the couch and pray to Buddha or God or Tom Cruise not to let us get caught yet. "What's going on? Why are you all red?"

Aw, shit…damn it! I didn't think about Sheldon's blushing.

"Penny had mentioned something about it being hot in here earlier." I hear Sheldon reply, sounding pretty believable. Maybe there is hope after all. I hope he's not twitching like Britney Spears when she performed on the VMAs after she went crazy a few years ago. "Perhaps the thermostat is off."

"Oh, Sheldon, don't give her a strike." Leonard sighs, and I can hear the fridge open. "I guess you're wondering why I stopped by. Where's Penny?"

"She is in the basement doing laundry." He answers very quickly, and I can just tell he's twitching now. Hopefully, Leonard is too caught up in his own issue to care why he's lying.

"Oh. Good. I need to talk to you about something." Leonard says.

"Alright." Sheldon agrees. I can hear him move a little and get comfortable again. "Should we play a little Red Dead Redemption and have a drink?"

"Um, no." Leonard says. "Thanks though. Looks like you already got started without me." He adds and I hear Sheldon snort.

"Leonard. That's mouthwash." He corrects and my eyes widen. Fuckballs.

"Yeah. Why is it out—you know what? I don't care. Not important." He sighs. "I need your help."

"Let me guess." Sheldon says haughtily, "You've done something to complicate your relationship with Amy Farrah Fowler and you came to me for advice because I am her former boyfriend."

"No." Leonard mutters. "Close. But no. I have complicated things—"

"No surprise there." Sheldon scoffs. I really want to reach up and smack the back of his head, but I want to know what idiot thing Leonard has done now.

"I'm thinking of asking her to move in with me." Leonard blurts and I let out a gasp, immediately clapping my hands over my mouth. It's only been like, a month! I mean, I moved in with Kurt like a week after we started dating, but that was different. I was a moron. Amy and Leonard aren't.

Then again, they do seem to balance each other in a weird, sciency way. And I've never seen Amy smile so much. She's always happy and, since she got her hair done and learned how to wear contacts, she's got this happiness around her. Not like pregnant glowing happy (Could you imagine?), but like satisfied woman.

I think they should do it. Maybe Amy should keep her apartment for a while, just to be safe, but I think they've reached that point, quick as it may be. The weird thing is, they don't ever seem to fight. At least, not the way Sheldon and I do. Leonard and Amy's relationship almost looks easy, which is a far cry from when I dated him. We fought a lot. And when we weren't fighting, we were having sex.

I miss sex.

"I'm not following your train of thought Leonard. Though, I rarely do, so I supposed I really shouldn't be—"

"I want your blessing. You guys just broke up a little over a month ago." Leonard explains tiredly.

"Why should my opinion have any sort of bearing on the decision you and Amy Farrah Fowler make together? If anything, I would tell you it is a wise idea for the two of you to cohabit due to the amount of time you spend together. It would save gas money and it would be more convenient for me to get to and from work as, I am currently relying on Penny and Raj when you stay the night at her apartment."

"Of course it is." Leonard responds sardonically. "Well, thanks for your input." I hear him get up and move toward the door. "Hey Sheldon?"

"Yes, Leonard?"

"Can you not tell Penny about this? I don't want her to feel weird or upset." Leonard says and I feel a weird sense of guilt. Like it's my fault that Leonard is terrified to commit. I mean, I guess it kind of is. He poured his heart out to me and I kind of went, "'Kay thanks! Bye!"

Sometimes, I hate myself.

Once I hear the door close, I stand up and let out the breath I've been holding.

"Shit, that was close." I sigh, marching back around the couch and looking down at him.

"Yes, but conveniently, Leonard is exceptionally unobservant." Sheldon replies, watching me as I sink back into the seat beside him.

"You know, honey…I think that's enough excitement for one night." I sigh, resting my head against the back of the couch.

"I agree." Sheldon answers firmly and I feel defensive until I remind myself that it's Sheldon. He doesn't mean to come off as a dismissive a-hole. And he certainly wasn't complaining a few minutes ago when his hands were on my ass.

Sheldon is an ass man.

It makes me giggle like an eighth grader. Maybe next time we can get to second base. I'll probably have to drug him when we try to go to third. Hell, I'll probably have to drug myself so I don't have a heart attack.

"What are you tittering about?" He asks, getting off of the couch. I shake my head, laughing a little harder.

He said tittering.

Okay, I'm done. Get out of my head thirteen year old Penny!

"Nothing." I assure him, giving his behind a light smack as I walk past him. "I'm gonna put some pajama pants on and we can go put clothes in the dryer. I tell him.

"Penny?" He calls after me, making me smirk. I bet I know what he's looking at.

"Sheldon?" I reply.

"You put your can of Diet Coke on the table with no coaster. That's a strike." He informs me and I roll my eyes.

"No, it's not!" I sing back at him.

After I change, adding a zip up hoodie to my ensemble, we head back downstairs just like always. It's the same every Saturday. Except this week we were sucking a little face. It makes doing actual chores a little more bearable. And seeing Dr. Control Freak out of his comfort zone always gets my motor running.

"Wait! You gotta help me get into bed! 'Sheldon has to help me get into bed.' Bet you never thought I'd say that!"

"Hmm yes, the charm of your drug addled candor knows no bounds."

Oh Penny, you dumb, dumb girl. You didn't even know then…Hell, I was dating Leonard at the time. It's really funny looking back on that time in our lives, but even though I dated Leonard for like, months, somehow I ended up spending more time with his kooky ass buddy. Sometimes, when I think about that time, I don't even remember details about mine and Leonard's relationship. I remember falling in the tub and going to the E.R. With Sheldon.

Spending Valentine's Day on the couch with the flu…with Sheldon.

Going to Disneyland after the breakup…with Sheldon.

I mean, geez, I almost feel like I dated Sheldon instead of Leonard. Yeah…I guess that's not really surprising. Leonard and I had a lot of sex. And I'm not saying it wasn't good sex. I'm just saying, there wasn't much else. All the little stuff people do…going on outings, going shopping…hell, going to the freaking zoo, Leonard and I didn't really do much of it. Dinners. Movies. Sex. Fighting.

Yep. Did that.

We are so much better as friends. I don't know what I was thinking earlier this year when I decided to try again. Thankfully, I put the stop on sex and it fizzled before we reached that point.

"Penny, you nearly just walked into that wall." Sheldon hisses at me as we round down onto the first floor. I lift his arm and put it around my shoulders, wrapping my arms around his middle and walking that way, flooded with some kind of strange gratitude.

Yeah, he's a pain in the ass…he's my pain in the ass.

 

Chapter Text

I wake up on Sunday to the smell of French Toast and a text message from Charlie Spinnett.

Penny – We need to talk. I will see you in the A.M. CS

Um, what the hell does that mean? Did I do something wrong? Did something happen? Or did he read my work in progress? I emailed it to him on Friday before bed after a glass of wine to calm my nerves. That's probably it. He said he would give me some advice.

But what if it sucks?

What if he read it and he thinks it is the stupidest thing he's ever read? It's not a masterpiece. I know that. It's just the written down thoughts of a twenty-six year old girl. But it's all I have. It's all I am. Maybe all I'll ever be. I've come to realize that I will never be famous. And maybe that's okay. But I have to have something.

And I'm terrified about what happens when Sheldon and I finally do get to some point and try to hump each other.

Coitus. I hate that word. It sounds so cold and scientific. Not at all what it should be. It's the closest connection two people can ever have and I'm kind of over the whole casual thing. Even though my body is basically a tingling mess of nerves and horniness, I want the next time I have sex to mean something. And it's been five days, but I kind of want to be the first person Sheldon does it with. Which is so weird for me, because I was the Shamy's biggest fan. Now I guess I'm the Lamy's biggest fan.

Ooh. I cannot tell Leonard about that mix of names. Poor guy can barely take criticism as it is. He'll just think Lamy sounds like an insult. I guess we could call them Amard or Lemy…but I kind of like Lamy.

And Captain Moves Too Fast is going to ask her to move in with him already. But it's kind of okay. In fact, it's perfect. Because they fit. And he knows it already. And I love them both so much and want it to happen so badly that I wish I could call him up and tell him.

Wow, I am in some sappy mood!

Knock, knock, knock.

"Penny." I smile in amusement, shaking my head and setting my phone aside, waiting for two.

Knock, knock, knock.

"Penny." There's two…lucky number three?

Knock, knock, knock.

"Penny." I move and quickly open the door, looking tiredly up into Sheldon's face. He is wearing an impish half smile, which is very reassuring since I'm sure he's still insistent that I tricked him into leaving his laundry unattended last night. Maybe my buns of steel made him forget he was nutso for a day.

"Good morning, Sheldon!" I say as brightly as I can manage for nine in the morning on a Sunday.

"It's French Toast Day." He informs me, standing with his hands behind his back. "I used MeeMaw's recipe with the cream." My mouth immediately begins to water. After only a few days with Sheldon's MeeMaw, the sound of anything she cooks is amazing. My stomach gives me away, growling a little. I put an arm across my middle as if that will stop it.

"It smells amazing." I agree, following him out into the kitchen, where he has meticulously arranged each of our plates. On the counter sits butter, syrup and cinnamon sugar he's made.

"I prefer it with cinnamon sugar, but if my eidetic memory serves me correctly – and it always does – then I recall that you prefer syrup." His voice still carries his usual touch of arrogance, but he is smiling and looking damn near content.

"My Gran used to eat it with honey." I confess, unsure why as I climb onto the stool beside his like always, watching in quiet wonder as he pours me a cup of coffee and adds milk and Splenda to it.

"Hmm, thank you." I accept the mug from his hands and smile over at him.

"You're welcome." He responds, cutting into his French Toast, which looks absolutely amazing and tastes even better, because Sheldon Cooper would never burn food. Ever. If it isn't an exact shade of brown or whatever, then the internal temperature is too low and the taste suffers—

I'm telling you, the crazy is rubbing off on me.

The phone rings and Sheldon looks pained, torn between his morning routine and answering the telephone. I make his decision easy for him.

"Got it!" I cry, springing up and flying over to pick up the cordless. Snapping it up, I hit TALK.

"Hello?"

"Gingersnap? That you?" I recognize MeeMaw's voice in an instant and grin.

"Hi, MeeMaw. Yep. It's just me." I tell her, glancing over to Sheldon whose attention has snapped up and his French Toast is forgotten.

"How did the French Toast turn out?" She asks knowingly and I can hear the devilish smile in her voice.

"Oh, it is absolutely delicious." I assure her, watching carefully as Sheldon moves toward me in his blue plaid pajamas. "Do you want to talk to Sheldon."

"Oh, my MoonPie can wait." She trills, laughing sweetly into the phone. "Penny, he told me you an' him…that you two was...you know…together." I gasp, looking at a very guilty faced and slightly twitchy Sheldon. But I don't care that he told his grandmother. In fact, I'm thrilled. I can hear the happiness in her voice and I know that Sheldon is not so secretly her favorite of the three children.

"He did, now did he?" I struggle not to develop a Grinch like smirk on my face as I keep watching him. Little pink flags of color stain his pale face.

"Never could keep a secret, little Shelly." MeeMaw says fondly, making me snicker. "You don't know how happy he is, Penny, honey." She goes on excitedly. "I got his letter yesterday and he just went on about how he was worried that you two was gonna clash and end up killin' each other." I can hear her laugh. "Here, I'll read it to ya, 'I fear that Penny and I have too volatile a relationship and that due to this dynamic, our new situation will implode on itself.' In short, sweetheart, my baby likes ya bunches and he's worried he gonna screw it up."

"I think he's going to be fine." I reply, watching him, continue to turn a violent and adorable shade of pink.

"I told ya he was worth the wait." MeeMaw adds. "Now let me talk to 'im. And Penny?"

"Yeah, MeeMaw?"

"I'm real proud of ya for gettin' that job with that big Hollywood writer. Shelly is too." I quickly thank her and say goodbye, handing the phone off to Sheldon.

"Hi, MeeMaw." He says, sounding five. I shake my head, even though I can't help laughing. It's hysterical that Dr. Sheldon Cooper, future Nobel Prize winner turns into a toddler when he talks to MeeMaw. "Yes, the French Toast came out fine." He doesn't even rattle off random facts with her. It's crazy. "Penny," He says to me while still on the phone. "Did you like the French Toast?" I nod, watching him sigh. "Yes, she liked it. What do you mean, Missy is acting strange?" Sheldon's voice takes on that puzzled, clueless tone he gets when he's trying to understand normal people. "MeeMaw, she's probably just getting her menstrual cycle." I scowl at him, wondering how he can possibly believe that all girls' lives revolve around their periods.

"You want me to talk to her?" Sheldon asks, his voice raising with each syllable. "When has Missy ever listened to my superior judgment and intellect—" He cuts off and bites his lip. "No, MeeMaw. I'm not sassin' you." I stifle my laugh into my coffee. "Yes, MeeMaw." Another pause and a sigh from him. "I promise." He meets my eyes and shakes his head. When he hangs up the phone, he rolls his eyes and comes back to the counter, looking sadly down at his French Toast.

"What's wrong, MoonPie?" I ask teasingly.

"Well firstly," He begins, obviously irritated since he doesn't correct me. "MeeMaw has it in her head that Missy and her fiancé are experiencing difficulties."

"What, you mean like money? Paying for the wedding? Is the guy married still or something?" I ask, throwing out a couple of random idea. I really watch too much reality T.V. Okay, listen…those wedding shows on like, Oxygen and We, are addicting. I can't get enough of David Tutera and Bridezillas. Them bitches are whacked in their skanky ass heads.

"No, not money…and even though I would not doubt that her fiancé is still married to his second wife, that is not MeeMaw's concern." Sheldon resignedly picks up his French Toast and takes it to the garbage, dumping it. I let out a sound of protest.

"What're you doing?" I cry out. "That was still good!"

"It was cold." He argues. "Focus Penny." Sheldon goes on, making me glare at him. "I was saying, that Missy and her fiancé came to MeeMaw's assisted living home and had dinner with her and she said that Missy was acting strangely. Quiet." He begins to absently clean up the spot he was sitting, taking a wipe and scrubbing down the counter with vigor. I notice he does this when he gets nervous or upset. My red flags start to go off.

"And?" I prod, taking my own dishes to the sink and washing them.

"And, MeeMaw said that Missy informed her that she would like to be henceforth known only as Melissa." He explains, scrubbing harder. I don't like this…I don't like where this is going because I lived this a little bit during the four years I was with Kurt. "She also mentioned catching a glimpse of a small bruise on Missy's arm when her sleeve came up."

Yeah, I don't like this at all.

"But I don't see where a tiny little bruise means anything. It was only—"

"It's a pinch bruise." I interrupt quickly, swallowing and feeling a knot form in the pit of my stomach. "You use the pad of the thumb and forefinger to get a good grip on the skin and you pinch…and it hurts."

"Why would anybody—?" Sheldon begins, looking lost, but I shrug.

"To show dominance. To intimidate…I don't know…I mean, Kurt did it to me a couple times, but not enough to—"

"What?" His voice grows shrill and he stares at me as if I've lost my fucking mind. I fall silent, kind of wondering what he'll do. "Your former boyfriend Kurt, whom you lived with used to—why didn't you—" He shakes his head. "What are you saying?"

"I'm saying, Sheldon, that I think Missy might be dealing with a little bit of abuse." I meet his eyes squarely. "Maybe it's nothing, but—"

"Where did Kurt pinch you?" Sheldon intercepts, folding his arms, a tower of plaid and flashing blue eyes. It's a little overwhelming and all kinds of hot.

"Here." I show him my side near my ribcage. "And, here." I point to my right ass cheek. "When I finally left him, I got the tattoo that was supposed to say 'Courage' in Chinese and apparently all it says is 'Soup.'" Sheldon looks slightly queasy and a tad murderous, making me uncomfortable for a moment. I'm afraid he's going to be sick.

"So you agree with MeeMaw." Sheldon says, though it sounds more like he's asking. I sigh, moving toward him.

"I don't know, Sweetie. I mean, I don't want to make assumptions. But now that you mention, she did call here earlier in the week about her wedding and said how she was worried that you and her fiancé would get into it because he doesn't like to hear about science and stuff like that." I reach for his hand and carefully draw it between mine. "I think, when we go down there in July for their engagement party, that you should talk to her. At least get the details from her."

"Did your—did he—" I watch Sheldon struggle to find the correct words. For someone who always knows what to say, this is a little freaky for me. I can't tell what he's thinking or feeling and it scares the crap out of me. "Did Kurt ever strike you?"

"You mean, like hit me?" I yelp, feeling my mouth drop open. I am shocked, mostly because Sheldon just asked me if my ex beat me. Kurt is a huge guy. Six feet five inches. Muscular. Temperamental.

"Penny." His voice adopts that impatient tone, but there's something beneath it, almost like he's desperate for an answer, but also like he's pissed.

"Sheldon, Kurt did not hit me." I insist, staring him square in the eyes. "Kurt was an emotional asshole. He told me constantly that I was fat, that I had bad skin…or that I wasn't that pretty or talented." I take a breath. "But Kurt never hit me. Just a couple of pinches that he claimed were joking."

"How does one inflict pain on another as a joke?" Sheldon looks angry now. Uh oh. I don't want to see this.

"I don't know." I tell him tiredly, patting his arm and moving past him. "But I think you should speak to your sister." I am startled when he catches my arm.

"Penny, even though you and I argue and constantly find ourselves at odds with one another, I would never intentionally harm you." My brows furrow as I stare at him. Does he think I'm scared of him? Does he think that my experience with Kurt is still haunting me? Taking pity on the poor sap, I reach up and pat his cheek. (He's going to take a shower in a minute anyway.)

"Sheldon, I know that, okay? I'm past that time in my life." I promise, threading our fingers together. I really like these small moments of genuine sweetness with him because I know in an hour, we'll probably be at each others' throats. "Now, go take your shower, I'm going to take a few more minutes of sleep before I shower." He nods slightly and I feel the very subtle tightening of his fingers through mine and I just smile a little.

We kind of work.

We, who fought so bitterly, have made it five days as a couple. It's longer than I would have ever thought.

"Come here, you big doof." I laugh, touched and a little bit shell shocked still as I stand up on my toes and patiently guide him down to me to give him a quick lingering peck on the lips. "Thank you." I add when we pull apart.

"For what?" Sheldon asks, looking bemused. I shrug.

"Everything." I reply, taking on a teasing expression. "Do you want some company in the shower?" I know he's going to say no, I just want to see how far I can push. His eyes twitch for a second (This means I've gotten through the big, logical brain and he's thinking about it.)

"Penny, you know the Roommate Agreement states clearly that only one party shall occupy the shower at a time—"

"I know honey. I'm just pulling your leg." I respond gently, grinning at him. He stares blankly at me.

"No you're not."

"Huh?" I ask, watching him twitch again.

"You didn't pull my leg, Penny. You weren't even—"

"Expression," I grumble, covering my eyes with my hand. "It means I was just kidding with you."

"Oh." He pauses, staring at me and then immediately does his breathy laugh. I snort, unable to hold back my own giggle.

"Go shower!" I chortle, giving his ass a nice little round of Penny's own brand of sexual harassment. (He's my boyfriend, get off my back.) He watches me warily over his shoulder as he stalks toward the bathroom like he's afraid I'm going to jump on his back and force him to have sex with me.

If only…

I can hear my phone vibrating, bringing me out of the lusty haze of scamming on my mentally preteen boyfriend. It's Amy. I smile to myself, hoping it's what we think it is.

"Hey, Ames!" I say, brightly, moving over to the couch and plopping down into Sheldon's spot, reclining sideways as I talk.

"Hey, Bestie." Her voice is still Amy, but there's a tone of excitement underlying her dry timbre.

"What's goin' on, honey?" I ask, checking the polish on my nails.

"Leonard proposed—" I choke, coughing roughly.

"He did what?" I shriek. I distinctly heard Leonard telling Sheldon he was going to ask Amy to live with him, not marry him. Holy Shit! Way to scare the girl off!

"Penny, do you need me to come across the hall and administer the Heimlich Maneuver on you?" She's firm.

"No! No!" I insist, regaining my composure.

"I think you misheard me, Penny." Amy interjects. "I was going to say that Leonard proposed that I move into his apartment with him and we cohabit."

Oh, Jesus Fish and Chips. Thank you, Lord.

"Oh!" I say, waiting hesitantly to hear her answer. "And?"

"And, what?" She replies, sounding puzzled.

"What did you…say?" I urge, biting my lip so hard that I may draw blood if she doesn't answer me quickly.

"I acquiesced to the parameters of his offer and as of next week, I will officially be your neighbor." She rattles this off quickly, reminding me so much of Sheldon, I have to slowly sift through her words to make sure I've heard correctly.

"So you said yes," I state slowly, just to affirm that we're all on the same page here. Meaning I'm a slow reader and I need to catch up to the rest of the class.

Remind me again why a bunch of geniuses hang out with me?

I mean, besides the fact that Leonard wanted to bang me when we first met.

"Yes. Even though his apartment is substantially smaller, I cannot deny that living across the hall from your infectious cheer and radiant smile holds a certain appeal for me," Amy adds, making me shake my head and smile resignedly. I don't know why she has a girl crush on me, but at this point, I'm used to it.

"Yeah, that is a bonus," I laugh. "And just think, we can all—"

I am cut off by a scream that sounds like it came from a five year old girl, but I'm pretty sure it came from a six foot two thirty-two year old whacko.

"Penny!"

Yep. Definitely option two.

"Listen, Amy. I gotta go. Why don't you come over while the guys are playing paintball?" I offer.

"Well, I'm a little constipated, so I will let you know after I—"

"Yep," I wince, "got it." I hang up with Amy just as I hear the bathroom door fly open. Sheldon burst out of the bathroom like a bat out of hell, clutching his towel around his hips. He looks like a crazy person. (I'm sorry, looks like?)

"What's the matter, MoonPie?" I ask, keeping my tone light. Silently, he points toward the bathroom.

"There is a monster in our tub," he heaves, leaning against the wall for support. My eyes discreetly fall to the little slit created by his towel, revealing the top of his thigh and making me smirk.

"Godzilla monster or arachnid monster?" I chuckle, moving past him toward the shower and Sheldon's tiny nemesis.

"First of all," he begins, following behind me, "while I appreciate your use of the word arachnid, I can assure you that neither a spider, nor Godzilla is in there. I believe it is a Scutigera Coleoptrata."

"A who-tiga wha-trata?" Looking back at him and receiving an impatient glower.

"A centipede, Penny. Really," he huffs, still clutching his towel. He's obviously forgotten he's mostly naked, but I'm not going to remind him. I'm going to enjoy every nude second.

"Aww." I stalk into the bathroom and peer around the curtain and jump a little. This thing is the biggest centipede I've ever seen.

"Balls!" I screech, trying to regain my composure as the thing scrambles around inside the tub. Now, I grew up on a farm. I've seen my share of icky things. I once watched our horses mate (which is the most disturbing thing I've ever seen and that includes walking in on Mom and Dad in bed.) But even I feel a little squirmish about this thing. Thinking quickly, I shove past Sheldon and into my bedroom, grabbing my hairspray off of the dresser. Returning to a still cowering Sheldon, I steel myself and spray the shit out of the little bastard.

I scream a little as it falls from the side of the tub to the bottom of the tub and makes a thud. Yes, a fucking bug just made a thud in my tub, no doubt defiling our poor little innocent whimsical ducks.

Sorry duckies.

"Sheldon, grab me some toilet paper," I demand, holding my hand out and watching this thing squirm around. He's quick to do the job, thrusting the wad into my hand. I swiftly crush the centipede and move to flush it. I hate the way you can feel them crunch. Both of us are breathing heavily, which is funny because it's still like ninety times small than us.

"It was crawling up my leg," he murmurs, shuddering. Or maybe he's shivering because he's dripping wet and naked.

How do I make that towel go away?

Sorry, lost my focus there.

"That was a big one." I agree and then snicker at the innuendo, mentally adding a 'that's what she said' to it. "Well, carry on." I say, waving toward the shower as I start out. As I pass, I feel Sheldon's fingers wrap around my arm very gently and I can feel his breath on my ear.

"Thank you, Penny," he whispers.

"You're welcome, Sweetie," I respond, reaching back to pat his cheek and ignoring the blood rushing through my ears. He's being sexy and he doesn't even know it. A second later, he's moved away from me and I am pulling the bathroom door shut behind me.

That boy is going to be the damn death of me.

 

Chapter Text

Monday morning is a huge surprise for me, because Charlie is already in the office when I get there at eight. His laptop is open and he has a cup of coffee from Starbucks sitting in front of him. A second cup is sitting on the corner of the desk. When I enter the room, he looks up at me behind his glasses and grins.

"Morning, Penny." His voice is cheerful and his smile is infectious, so I give him a puzzled look and set my purse down.

"Morning, Charlie." So this is it. This is what he's going to talk to me about. I've either lost something that he's looking for, or filed something wrong or—

"I have spent the past forty-eight hours reading your story," Charlie tells me in a mock accusatory tone. "I have found myself fascinated by your life. You have a voice, Penny." I stare at him in stunned confusion.

I'm sorry, did he just say he liked it?

"It's nothing special," I hear myself say dazedly while Charlie removes his glasses and cleans them.

"Penny, it's more interesting than some of the shows I've pitched. And that's saying something," he chuckles, "a girl from Nebraska, who grew up on a farm and is tough, but is still the sweetest person ever…moves to California to make it big, ends up a waitress and befriends four guys who are geniuses." Charlie's smile grows wider. "That's gold, kid."

"What, like seriously?" I gape at him like a four year old who just got told she was going to Disneyland.

"Absolutely," he nods, "I mean, I'm only to the part where you and Sheldon had your prank war, but I find myself unable to look away. I think my wife was worried that I had died, but then I would laugh out loud and she knew I was okay. Is this for real?" He asks, nodding at his computer screen. Numbly, I shake my head yes.

"Every word."

"You have to finish it, Penny," Charlie insists, shutting the laptop and nudging the extra cup of coffee toward me. "This is for you." Grateful, I take the cup into my adrenaline addled and shaking fingers and sink into the chair.

"And do what with it?" I laugh, feeling like this has to be a dream. Like, I've accidentally taken some sleeping pills or finally drank my last brain cells away.

"Look, first you need to finish it. I know some publishers that are always looking for new authors and fresh ideas. I've never read anything like it. When it's finished, talk to me and we can see if any publishers are interested. You may want to look into getting a literary agent."

"Like a book agent? Is that like an acting agent?" I ask dumbly, knowing I must sound like a moron. I had an agent for a while. He was kind of an asshole and he wasn't very helpful at all, clearly.

"Exactly the same, except with books." Charlie nods, frowning as his phone begins to ring. "I'll give you a couple of names and we'll—" He cuts off, seeing the caller I.D. "It's Ryan. I gotta take this. Sorry." I open Charlie's appointment book and start checking messages on his office phone while he talks to his writing partner.

"What do you mean, she's quitting?" Charlie asks, sounding more irritated than I've ever heard him. "She's the star of the damn show!" I try not to look over as I cancel an appointment in red pen and make a note to call and reschedule. "We haven't even started filming, Ryan! We don't have time to hold more auditions. How about the girl that was our second choice? Yeah, the redhead?" Another pause. "Damn. No, don't do anything. I'll be there in twenty."

Charlie hangs up and gives me a sigh.

"Cancel all of my appointments for today. Call my wife and tell her that I won't be able to make it to pick up Nina after practice." I nod and write this down neatly on a Post-It. "The female lead in Home Planet just quit. She's under contract to do some movie series for the next three years."

"Oh wow," I reply, unsure of what to say in this kind of a situation. As a writer, this must be scary because it puts his show in jeopardy. Home Planet is the show about humans being forced to leave Earth after a meteor strikes and going to live on an Earth-like planet just outside the solar system. It's the one Howard is all excited about.

Of course, Howard gets excited when he finds a dickey in a color he hasn't seen before, so…

"Yeah…she was the only one we liked. I mean, now we're going to have to call the girl who we turned down after three rounds of callbacks." Charlie sighs. "But I didn't like her interp as well. She played the part too harsh…Maura is supposed to be tough, but vulnerable. She's broken. Her family is gone and she's the only one who's survived."

"So what do you do now?" I ask, taking a sip of beautiful coffee. I don't care what anyone says. Coffee is the breakfast of winners. Yeah, it tastes like dirt when there's nothing in it, but once you get past that, it's delicious…it's like Matthew McConaughey. He looks stinky and douchey on the outside, but when he takes a shower and shaves, he looks pretty yummy.

Okay, I don't know where I'm going with this. Maybe that wasn't the best analogy.

"Well, we call Danielle back in to read again and see if we can use her. Or we hold another round of auditions…let me tell you, Penny, auditions could hold the show up months and we need to get the pilot shot and on the air by September," Charlie tells me, sighing.

"I just don't see Maura as a redhead. She's got to be light haired. I mean, I suppose we could dye Danielle's hair or put a wig on her." He shakes his head, resting his cheek in his hand, my story forgotten as he tries to figure out how to handle this Hollywood crisis I have never learned about. I decide to leave him to it and set about typing the notes he's given me to organize.

"What about you?" Charlie cuts in, making me drop one of the papers I'm holding in my hand. I stare at him blankly.

"I'm sorry, what?"

"You've acted before, right?" He asks, and before I can respond, he's taken a picture of me with his phone. "I'm sending this to Ryan and the director, Rob," Charlie explains when I frown, "Penny, I think you should read for Maura."

"Me?" I laugh. "I've never done anything of note. I don't even have an agent anymore."

"That's almost better. You're unknown—"

"That's an understatement," I interject quickly, feeling my heart racing so fast that I'm out of breath trying to keep up with it. Did I just get an audition for a major network show?

"The worst that can happen is that it won't work out," Charlie points out mildly.

"It never works out, Charlie." I sigh, wishing I could call someone and freak out like I really want to at the moment. "I've been told I'm too Midwest."

"Penny, this show takes place two hundred years in the future. No one is going to give a shit about the Midwest," He adds. "Just one reading. If Ryan and Rob and I don't think it's a good fit, no harm done." As he finishes, his phone beeps and he smiles at it, holding it up for me to read.

Ryan: I like her look, but can she act? Rob and I will be there in an hour. Have her read over the script.

Oh my God. Oh my God.

This is the closest I've ever gotten to a real part. Like, I'm seriously about to read for a leading role on an NBS sci-fi series. Sheldon may just have an orgasm if I get it. Of course, this is probably all a fluke and I'm just going to end up going home for Thai food disappointed. Maybe Sheldon will let me cop a feel on his goodies or give me a back rub.

Yeah. Right. And may I say: L.O.L.

Sheldon + Backrub = Nope. Although, he did offer me a neck massage when I was upset after that dumb ass date with Chris the A-hole.

Maybe he'll let me give him one.

Wait. Why am I thinking of ways to console myself when I don't even know what's going to happen yet? I mean, there is an off chance that these guys might like me, right? I have taken acting lessons and I am pretty good. (I better be for the amount I paid!)

Charlie hands me a bound script.

"Just read through it, see what you think of Maura and show us what you would do with her. We're up for anything at this point…and I do not want Danielle."

"Okay," I nod weakly, sinking down to read the script and pulling out my phone. I fire off a quick text.

I just got an audition for Charlie's new show Home Planet.

He's going to have a heart attack. Oh God, what if he shows it to Howard? The guy will cream his pants. (Ewww…there's a nice visual. Again, and I cannot repeat this enough: Poor Bernadette.)

I open the script and begin to read it.

[Fade in on post-apocalyptic Earth]

V.O. MAURA

Save the planet, they said. Save the world. It's been six months since the meteor hit and signs of rebirth are futile. Our only hope to survive is to leave Earth. We have one chance.

[Show Maura walking in the dark, head down. She knows where she is going, but she doesn't want to go there.

Close up of dilapidated house.]

V.O. MAURA

It's been six months since they died. Six months I've lived alone in this house. I've reached the end of my tolerance. It's always night now…or at least the cloud of dust makes it seem that way.

I continue to read about this girl who was the only survivor of the meteor crash and how she is selected at random to be one of the first settlers on the new planet known as Gaea. And she's broken because she was at odds with her parents and her siblings and they never got to say goodbye. She hasn't spoken in six months and the Earth's atmosphere is slowly disintegrating, destroying the oxygen. If they don't leave soon, they'll all suffocate to death.

I kind of love her.

My phone vibrates with my response from Sheldon.

This is a good thing, correct? In which case, as they say on the streets: 'Break a leg.'

I smile so hard my cheeks hurt, because he's so freaking adorable sometimes. And it's probably one of the first texts I've ever received in which he hasn't insulted my intelligence or corrected my bad vocabulary.

So, when Ryan Massey and the director, Rob Klopp arrive, I steel myself and push my dread into the bottom of my feet.

Don't be like me. Mom's voice rings through my mind and I realize I'm not just doing this for me. I'm doing it for Mom and for Darcy, who never got to be a teenager and for Brian, who deserves everything in life. But mostly, I'm doing it for Gran, because she had hopes for me and I'd hate to die without at least trying.

"Penny, you know Ryan and this is Rob Klopp." Charlie says as we walk into the conference room in their office. I quickly shake Rob's hand, clutching the script under my arm.

"I love your last name." Rob says with a polite smile. He seems friendly, though slightly less outgoing than the other two. "Then again, I'm a huge LOST junkie."

"Yeah, this show is going to be a little like LOST in Space." Ryan quips, giving Charlie a thumbs up. Charlie just shakes his head, laughing as if he's heard Ryan make bad jokes a million times before. It reminds me a little of Howard and Raj in a weird alternate universe kind of way.

"I've actually never watched LOST. I always had to work when it was on," I tell Rob, giving him a grin, "But my boyfriend has the entire series on Blu-Ray."

"The special edition in the pyramid case?" Ryan cuts in excitedly. "I've got it too."

"Let's get started, so Penny can have some lunch." Charlie interrupts. "Poor kid's probably starving by this point."

"I'm fine." I assure them, taking a long breath to calm the jumble of nerves in the pit of my stomach.

"Okay. I want you to start from the final part of the episode. When Maura finally talks to Darwin about her family on the ship." Rob says, now all business. I nod, flipping the script open to that part.

"Do you think this is easy for me?" I begin, thinking of how I would feel if I'd never made up with Mom and Dad had died after his heart attack. "Do you know what the last thing I said to my mother was? It was 'I wouldn't take help from you if you were the only option I had left.' I said that to my Mom." I can feel my eyes burn, which is a definite plus for this. "Then I got a call that they were all dead. That the reason they were dead was because they were poisoned by the air and all I could think was, 'I wish I was dead too.' It's what I deserve."

"Maura, everybody makes mistakes," Rob reads in as Darwin. I shake my head, sniffing.

"It's not just about my family," I continue, "I'm guilty because I'm happy to be leaving. I'm glad I get a second chance…a new start. Earth holds no appeal for me anymore. It's just a dying rock. But Gaea, there's hope there…and hope's all I have left." I stop reading at the end of the monologue and set the script down, waiting with my stomach in knots as they all stare at me.

"Thanks Penny," Charlie says kindly. "That was great. Listen, I want you to take the rest of the day off – paid – and I'll see you in the morning. We have a lot of work to do and you've already helped so much." I nod, speechless with fear and hope and awe.

"Thank you, Penny," Rob adds, staring at me with his head tilted. I don't know if he's thinking about it or if it was so bad that he's cringing, but I'm not sticking around to find out. I fly out the door and quickly grab my purse, rattling off an explanation to Alice about what's going on. Her eyes are alight with excitement.

"I'm pulling for you, Penny." She tells me conspiratorially with her fingers crossed. I smile at her and nod, leaving the office. When I get in my car, I notice the Check Engine light and sigh. Maybe someday I'll be able to have a car that works properly. I can't tell Sheldon, but sometimes the damn engine stalls, and I have to keep my foot on the gas the entire time (even when the other is on the brake) just to keep the engine running. So, I'm now driving with two feet, which is breaking like every driving rule in the book.

What MoonPie don't know won't hurt him.

But I have to tell him, and Caltech is on the way home, so I can just swing by his office and peek in. Even if the guys see me, I'll just play it off like I wanted to tell all of them. It's still only eleven-thirty and I know they don't eat lunch until noon. Perfect.

It's really hard to find a parking space at a college. It's a pain in the ass. I have to drive around the stupid parking lot until someone finally walks out and leaves, for which I have to aggressively crowd the person and wait for them to pull out so I can pull in.

Parking sucks.

I actually have only been here a couple of times. And it's been a while, but I remember where the cafeteria is, so I start there. There are a couple of people sitting in there, but no one I know. (So not one of the four people I know who actually work here.)

"Awe you wost?" I hear from behind me and kind of groan. Okay, maybe I know more than four people here. This is that dude that told me my name wasn't hot enough and decided to call me 'Woxanne.' Dumbass.

"I'm looking for Dr. Cooper's office," I inform him, watching his eyes widen in surprise. You know, if he wasn't such a turd, he might be kind of cute. But not really.

"I wemembew you," he grins at me.

"Cool," I manage to say as politely as I can, "I need to see Dr. Cooper."

"Awound the cownew to the wight of the wectuwe haww." Okay, I'll be taking a second to decipher that code. I divide each word in my mind and pinpoint what it is. Around the corner to the right of the lecture hall…I think.

"Thanks," I give him a quick grin.

"Awe you the giwl who's wihving with Coopew?" The guy asks, following me like a pathetic little douche. I make sure he gets the gist of my glare.

Not. Interested.

"Yep," I answer shortly, not looking back at him. He continues to follow.

"The one who dated Hofstadter?"

"Yep," I pop the 'P' this time and follow the hall to the left once I get to the end.

"Would you wike to have dinnew sometime?" He keeps going, which is kind of annoying and a lot creepy. I meet the guy's eyes squarely.

"Look, buddy—"

"It's Bawwy," he corrects.

"Okay, Barry," I remedy, fighting the urge to call him 'Bawwy,' "Let me spell it out for you, hon. I'm seeing someone."

"Oh. Wight," He responds, looking a little despondent. I don't really feel that bad. This is the same guy who used helium to embarrass Sheldon on NPR. The bastard's lucky I don't castrate him. Only I am allowed to torment Dr. Whack-A-Doodle.

SHELDON COOPER, PHD. Particle Theory

RAJESH KOOTHRAPPALI, PHD. Astrophysics

Yep. This is it. Shit, I hope Raj isn't in there. I need me some sugar and I don't mean brown sugar. (I heard Leonard called Priya Brown Sugar. That's what I think about when I'm trying to watch what I eat. It works every time.)

Kripke has obviously taken the hint and left me alone. Taking a breath, I knock three times on the office door and wait. A moment later, it opens and Dr. Cooper himself is looking down at me.

"Penny?" His voice is unsure, as if he can't imagine why I would be here when I should be at work myself. I smile at him.

"Is Raj here?" I ask, peering around him. Raj does not appear to be in his office. Sheldon shakes his head, stepping aside so I can enter the room and shutting the door behind me.

"Raj took an early lunch today because he has a meeting with Dr. Gablehauser, who is going to be taking a vacation." Sheldon sits at his desk, leaving me standing awkwardly near the edge.

"I see." I don't see. I have no idea what he's talking about.

"Dr. Gablehauser is getting married," Shelly further explains, grimacing, "which brings me to my next point. Leslie Winkle showed her ugly face in here this morning."

"Well, damn. Everyone's just stopping by," I laugh, watching Sheldon sit back in his chair. Sure, don't offer your girlfriend a chair to sit in or anything. I make the first move and cross to lean facing him with my butt against the desk and my legs between his. He gives me a look as if he thinks I'm unhinged. He's not completely wrong…and it's his fault. Little tease.

"Hmm, yes," he agrees, "it made sense when we found out that she is Dr. Gablehauser's fiancée, and incidentally, carrying his child."

Oh, ew.

"Isn't he a little old for her?" I groan, thinking of Leslie and Dr. Gablehauser going at it. Blech!

"There is a fourteen year age difference," Sheldon explains, "A man can reproduce as long as he is able to—"

"Ah!" I close my eyes and stop him. "Thanks…but I don't wanna picture old guys getting busy."

"Getting busy?" Sheldon replies, giving me a cautious look.

"You know, doing the nasty…being naked." I explain quickly, making him understand.

"I absolutely loathe the euphemisms for coitus that people use. Howard is always going on about bumpin' uglies." Sheldon gives me a disapproving look.

"I prefer 'tappin' that ass.'" I giggle, raising my eyebrows at him. Sheldon scowls (because he has no sense of humor, ever.)

"Back on point," Sheldon says, "was your audition a success? Or have you come here in need of comfort? In which case, I must tell you that per our Roommate Agreement, if you prevent me from doing my work, that may be counted as a strike—"

"You're not giving me a damn strike, Sheldon," I growl at him, crossing my arms, "And I think it went well. Charlie gave me the rest of the day off. Their star quit on them and they were desperate…I don't know. I think I was just lucky."

"I don't believe in luck." Sheldon insists, rolling his eyes. "Circumstances either arise or they don't. There is no in between…or divine intervention as you hippies like to put it."

"Just because I believe in things that cannot be proven, doesn't mean I am a hippie," I remind him. "And I don't go to church, so that's not what I'm saying."

"Aren't you the least bit happy for me?" I ask, pouting a little bit.

"How can I know if I am happy for you, when you have not been informed if the audition you partook in was a success or not?" Sheldon challenges, "I am hopeful and confident that you have the ability to earn the role. But, of course, I am not the one who is assigned to choose you, so I cannot say."

Using my foot, I pull his desk chair closer to me and guide his hands to rest on my hips. As I've noticed over the past almost week, his fingers wrap into the fabric of my shirt, tightening on the skin over my hip bones. Even though I'm still not sure if it was an insult or a compliment, I 'm going to pretend he said, 'Of course I'm happy for you. I know you'll get it. Wanna make out?'

That's how I heard it. And really, who am I to tell him no?

"Come here." I instruct, using my finger to tilt his chin up, and perching my butt on the desk so I am looking down into his face. Very softly, I place a chaste kiss on his lips, just like the one I gave him before I left the apartment this morning. Gently, I cradle his face in the tips of my fingers, continuing to plant whisper soft kisses on his lips.

If just doing this makes me forget my irritation with him, I'm terrified to see what sex with him does to me. I may go crazy and buy him the Enterprise or at the very least kidnap Leonard Nimoy for a playdate with Sheldon.

Poor Leonard Nimoy.

My eyes snap open when I feel the timid wet tip of Sheldon's tongue touch my partly opened lips.

Jesus H, did he just initiate a tongue kiss?

The jolt in my loins tells me yes. I forget being cautious and careful for a second, wrapping my arms around his neck and joining him. He's still very unsure in the way he pulls back for a moment and then gets swept up again.

I'm going to end up with about thirty-five strikes before I leave this office, but I don't care. It's worth it. I don't care if I have to listen to Sheldon talk until the end of time about proper Roommate Etiquette. Hell, he could lecture me about cloud shapes and I'd let him if I could just keep doing this. I have to ignore my natural instinct to drag him on top of me and wrap my legs around his sexy little waist, but I'm not going to be a Big Ol' Five. Not this time. He's going to come to me. Or I'm going to burst into flames…whichever comes first.

I hate the annoying whimper that leaves my throat as I grip the back of his hair in one of my hands. This is getting a little addicting…sucking face with Dr. Whack-A-Doodle.

What the hell has happened to me?

Seriously. There was a time when I would laugh at the thought of Sheldon with a girl. I mean, I did that while he was with Amy because he was sometimes the most ridiculous boyfriend I've ever seen.

"You're my girlfriend and you're not going to cater to my every need? Oh, where'd the magic go?"

"Sheldon, that's not what girlfriends are for…although you don't use 'em for what they're for, so what do I know?"

That was four months ago. I can't even believe this shit. Now, I'm sitting on Sheldon's desk, furiously swapping spit with Dr. Cooper…my boyfriend.

If I woke up in a mental hospital and realized that I've dreamed this whole thing…I would seriously be less surprised than I am right now. Especially since Sheldon's hands find their way to my gluteus maximus, their new favorite spot.

Ha, even Sheldon's hands have a spot.

"This is so hot," I murmur against his mouth.

"It is somewhat stuffy in here," he concedes, tightening his hands and making me giggle.

"What the hell?"

Sheldon and I pull apart immediately and I practically dive off of the desk, tripping over Sheldon's leg and tumbling into a heap on the floor.

There's Brown Dynamite himself staring down at us, mouth hanging open as his dark eyes move back and forth between us while he splutters, trying to speak.

Balls.

 

Chapter Text

"Raj…" I begin carefully, pulling myself up and stepping toward the poor stammering man. His head is whipping back and forth as he attempts to say a coherent word. Mostly, because he's torn between confusion and horror, I'm sure.

"How did – why did – when?" Raj chokes out, while Sheldon stalks past me and shuts the door Raj left open.

"Keep your voice down," Sheldon hisses at him.

"You were making out with Penny!" Raj shrieks, making me lunge forward and clap my hand over his mouth.

"Shh," I shake my head, eyes flitting toward the door in panic. If Leonard or Howard hear, this is going to be the death of me. Leonard cannot know about this. Not yet. I'm not ready to share us. "Listen to me," I start, looking Raj straight in the eyes, "Sheldon and I are dating, but we do not want anyone to know…that includes Howard." Hesitantly, I remove my hand from the poor boy's face and cross my arms. Sheldon's already gone back to his desk, pretty much acting like nothing happened. Sometimes, he overreacts to the dumbest shit, and sometimes the big moron doesn't react to things he should. A little panic would be nice…

"You expect me to keep this a secret?" Raj squeaks at me, looking a lot like I just told him I eat babies or something.

"Uh, yeah," I nod.

"From Howard." Raj repeats, looking again at Sheldon, who has returned to his work. "You and Sheldon are getting it on, and you expect me to keep it to myself?"

"Really, Raj. You're being overdramatic," Sheldon sighs from his desk, "Perhaps you should refrain from indulging in frivolous female targeted films. And we are not having coitus—"

"Sheldon," I begin quietly, letting go of poor Raj's collar and turning back to Dr. Mental, "I swear to all that is sacred that if you call sex 'coitus' one more time, I am going to drag you home and force you to have it with me. Got it?" Sheldon's eyes widen, and he nods…and I sigh.

Sheldon is the only guy I can threaten with having sex rather than withholding. It would be kind of funny if I wasn't wound up like a freaking music box.

"So, this is really happening? This isn't like a prank or anything?" Raj finally responds. I shake my head, holding my breath.

"It's really happening. And good for you for talking so much!" I add, trying to butter him up. Raj rolls his eyes.

"Dr. Gablehauser took me to The Cocktail Room for lunch. I'm toasted," he scoffs, walking over to his desk and plopping messily into his seat.

"Look," I sigh, perching on the edge of Sheldon's desk, "just forget you saw anything."

"Forget?" Raj shrieks, staring at me as if I've gone crazy. "Penny, that's not something I can ever unsee. I mean, it's not as bad as the time that I walked in on Mrs. Wolowitz while she was on the toilet—"

"Oh, that's sick." I groan, covering my eyes against the mental image. "Look, Raj," I sigh, glaring at Sheldon who is obviously going to be no help in this situation, "This has only been going on since last Tuesday. We're not ready to share it with anyone."

"What is it?" Raj mutters, looking tiredly between us.

"We're," I glance at Sheldon, who now seems to be ignoring us. He's such a delight sometimes. "Uh…"

"Penny and I have entered into a romantic relationship based on mutual attraction and trust," Sheldon answers impatiently, his fingers flying on his laptop keyboard. Wow, really? I have to hear this in front of Raj? Sheldon has never told me he was attracted to me. I mean, from the way he was grabbing my backside, I'd say he felt a little tingle in his fun parts…but still.

"Maybe I passed out at the restaurant. Maybe I'm lying on the ground and I'm having the craziest alcohol induced dream of my life," Raj is muttering to himself. I let out a sound of irritation.

"No. You're not," I say, bending down and putting my hands on the loopy little (sometimes) mute, "and you're not going to say a damn word—"

"You can't be serious!"

"Let me put it this way for you, Sweetie," I raise an eyebrow and look him straight in his coffee colored eyes, "if you do blab…I'll beat your tight little brown butt, 'kay?" Raj nods, wide eyed. "Good." I smile at him and kiss him on the cheek. Even though my heart is racing like crazy, I'm a little relieved. Someone knows.

"Penny," Sheldon says with a sigh, "I need to get back to work and you're distracting me." I look up at him and notice his cheeks are still slightly tinged with pink. Or is it because…?

Holy Balls! Sheldon was totally checking out my ass while I was bent over threatening Raj. We have a little bit of success! I might get to have sex before I die!

"Right," I say, unable to keep from grinning. He gives me a baffled look. "I'll see you at home later for some Thai food." Leaning down, I give him a quick peck on the lips. He looks slightly impatient, but I think it's a front. Behind me, I hear Raj sigh.

"I'm just going to google P.T.S.D. therapy." He grumbles, making me roll my eyes before winking at Sheldon one more time and leaving him to his work.

Around three, I get a text from Charlie.

Hi Penny, Rob loved you. We want to try a screen test tomorrow. Dress neutral and wear your hair down. CS

I drop the phone. I mean, this does not mean I got the part. In fact, it's well known that you can do multiple screen tests and still not get a part. But I've never gotten this far before. It's only been a week since I've started working for Charlie and two since I quit The Cheesecake Factory and it seems like my life has changed more in fourteen days than it has in eight years.

Job? Check.

Boyfriend? Check.

I know as an actress, rule number one is not to get my hopes up, but I can't help it. I want this. I want it so bad I can taste it. I text him to thank him before calling my Mom, who picks up on the third ring.

"Hello?"

"Hey, Mom," I start, biting my lip, "how's Dad feeling?"

"He's doing good," She lets out a breath, "What's going on, Pen?"

"I'm um," I falter, feeling my stomach roil in a jumble of nerves, "I had an audition today for a big T.V. show and…and I got a screen test." The sound my mouth lets out it could shatter glass. I can't tell if it's excitement or what, but she finally composes herself.

"Really?"

"Yeah," I reply, still quietly, though I'm smiling now.

"That's exciting! Right?" She sounds unsure, "You are excited…aren't you?"

"Of course," I agree, twisting my hair in my fingers, "I'm thrilled. It just hasn't sunk in yet, Mom, I—" I cut off, swallowing. I need to talk to someone and since I can't talk to Bernadette or Amy, Mom has to be it. Even if it's still a little weird between us. "I'm dating my roommate."

"Which one is that, Sweetie?" She asks, sounding puzzled. Obviously, Mom has never met Sheldon. She doesn't know he's bat crap crazy.

"Sheldon. Um, Sheldon Cooper," I say, feeling a long exhale leave me and slumping against the arm of the chair. It feels damn good to admit it.

"Is it serious?" She asks, good naturedly. I snort to keep from laughing out loud.

"Oh, it's serious, alright," I tell her. Serious as in, it's Sheldon. A serious head case. Seriously bizarre. And, crazy enough, seriously, weirdly comfortable.

"Have you two…?" Her hanging sentence is filled with innuendo, making me cringe.

"Mom!" I shriek, closing my eyes tightly.

"Oh, don't be a prude. We both know you're no virgin," She laughs.

"He is." I explain awkwardly, feeling my face turn about twenty-five shades of pink, purple and red. I hear my mother gasp as if the concept of a man who hasn't ever had sex is appalling. I kind of regret telling her now.

"By choice?" Her voice is curious, fascinated. I feel suddenly protective of Sheldon. It's really a new feeling, because I know that he and I have always bickered and teased each other, but I realize that I have never been okay with it when other people threaten or hurt him. I've been on their side from day one and I'd kill for the jackasses. Both of them. Hell, all of them. And Ames and Bernadette.

Ah, fuck it. Throw Bridget in there too. She looks just like Bernadette.

"Yeah, by choice." I tell her defensively. "In fact, until this past year, he'd never even had a girlfriend."

"Oh, honey…is he," her voice lowers, "okay?" Oh my God. Did my mother just ask me if Sheldon Cooper is "special?" The smartest guy in the world…and she thinks he's got something wrong. Oh boy.

See, this is why I'm effed up. This is why I jumped into relationships with big, douchey a-holes and slept around. My mother never understood anything because she herself, (trying to be better or not) is a giant teenager. She has no idea how adult minds or relationships work. This is why I never knew it was not okay when Kurt "jokingly" pinched my side and laughed at my "love handles." Or when I took a shower and noticed the little spots on my hips and ribs from him and when everyone asked why I suddenly had a thing for one piece bathing suits, I told them it was because I saw Reese Witherspoon wearing one in Star Magazine and it was the new in-thing.

Or the time Kurt slapped me when I accused him of cheating on me.

We'd been at a surprise party for his friend John and I was good friends with John's wife K.C. (Which was short for some stupid name like Kathleen Camille or some other country ass name.) John had asked me where K.C. was and I'd lost Kurt too. I just remember the sinking feeling I'd felt when they'd emerged from the basement together, laughing. The look on John's face broke my heart. When we got home, being the drunk twenty-one year old I was, I'd fired all kinds of accusations at him and he'd popped me across the cheek so hard and so fast, that I wasn't sure if I'd imagined it. The throbbing in my cheekbone the next morning told me it had happened.

I don't talk about that though. It was a onetime thing and it never happened again. Of course, Kurt was cheating on me, but I guess that's irrelevant now.

I don't miss him. Not even a little bit.

And I don't want to tell Sheldon. Because I think it freaked him out enough to know about the pinching. I don't really know if it was protectiveness over me or the fact that he barely understands human interaction as it is. Maybe a little of both?

I like to think so.

"Yes, Mom," I finally respond through gritted teeth, "He's okay."

"And you like him." She goes on, sounding unsure.

"Yes." I am way frustrated at this point. She's not being mean, she just doesn't understand. And I get that. I just want so badly for everything to work out…yes, even with myself and my kooky ass boyfriend. Hopefully Raj can keep his drunken trap shut.

"Then I am happy for you. There's nothing wrong with taking it slow," she adds, taking me by surprise. How the hell can the woman drive me batty and then turn around and make me want to hug her.

"I've never taken it slow," I admit, chewing on my lower lip and hear her chuckle.

"Maybe that's the difference, honey." Her voice is quiet, but she sounds like she's happy. "What matters is that you make each other happy."

"Yeah," I breathe, swallowing the sudden lump in my throat. Too many emotions colliding at once. I need a break. "Listen, Mom. I gotta go. Just wanted to tell you and…I'll talk to you soon."

"Okay, Sweetie. Love you."

"You too," I answer with a ragged sigh and hang up. I hate thinking about the past. About my lonely childhood and my grandmother's death and then coming to California and becoming another statistic. I yearn to be better, and I'm starting to feel like it's a possibility.

Who would have ever guessed that Sheldon would have been the answer?

Not me.

Sheldon walks in at his usual time with the Thai food in hand and finds me on the couch, watching Ghost Hunters On Demand. I notice he's alone.

"Koothrappali will not be dining with us tonight," Sheldon informs me, hanging up his jacket and coming over to his spot, "Apparently, he's terrified he might spill the beans, as it were, when the others arrive."

"Oh," I reply, still feeling a bit down even with the prospect of my screen test tomorrow, "I got a screen test tomorrow." His eyes narrow, studying me closely.

"That is preferable…right?"

"Oh, yeah," I nod, "I'm just…thinking."

"Penny, are you considering ending this new element of our relationship?" He fires it off as anything else he ever says, but I can catch the tone of worry beneath. "Have my efforts not been enough?"

"No," I assure him, patting his shoulder. "No. Honey…that's not—" I shake my head. "Why would you even think that after this afternoon in your office?"

"Penny," his voice does not hold the same condescension as usual. It's more resigned. I don't like it. I miss the condescending Whack-A-Doodle, "It's no secret that we bicker. And now that Raj has discovered the nature of our current courtship, perhaps it would be better if we broke things off?"

"Oh my God, Sheldon. No!" I cry, gripping his sleeve in my fingers. "If anything, I'm glad. It's been so hard keeping this all to ourselves. It feels nice to have another person who knows." I lean toward him, with my knee tucked beneath me and my right leg dangling off the couch. I can feel myself begin to shake a little as I anticipate what I'm about to reveal to him. "We need to talk." Sheldon makes to speak and I shake my head. "Sorry," I correct, "I mean I need to talk and I need you to listen. I've never told anyone this. Not even Leonard, okay?"

"Alright." His voice is very quiet, but he concentrates the same look on me that he uses when trying to decipher an equation.

"I wasn't completely honest when I told you about Kurt and me," I begin slowly; terrified of what he's going to say and how he's going to react. I'm probably going to be banished for lying or something.

"I don't understand." And he doesn't. Because he always tells the truth.

"Kurt did hit me," I say this with my eyes closed and tense up. I don't know why. I mean, it's been almost five years and I know Sheldon isn't going to hit me. "Once," I finish, opening one eye. Sheldon's brows are furrowed as if he cannot comprehend what I am saying to him.

"You lied to me," He sounds hurt, making me sag in humiliation. Yeah, I feel like crap.

"I was scared," I tell him, and realize my voice has gone up about three octaves because my lip is quivering and I am scary close to crying.

Fuck.

"We were really drunk and I knew he cheated on me…so I stupidly called him out, but he'd had like four shots of Jäger and he…slapped me." I point to my right cheek. "Here."

"Did you think I would hit you?" His voice is so innocently perplexed that I lose it. Yep. Crying like a five year old and I'm not talking little sniffs. I'm talking ugly crying with the big sobs.

If he stays with me after this debacle, I may have to marry the bastard.

"No!" I wretch, "I've never been afraid of you. I told you that before. I know you would never hurt me. I just have never told anyone before," I gasp for breath, still clutching his poor sleeve in my fist, "And it just feels so good."

"I…" Sheldon looks lost. This is completely out of his comfort zone. "There, there." He hesitantly pats my knee. That does it. I burst forward and dive onto his lap, feeling him stiffen for a moment before gradually relaxing under my weight. At least I can't snap him like a twig anymore. That's good, right? Wrapping my arms around his neck, I tighten my grip on him and bury my face in his shoulder. This is a far cry from the first time he comforted me after my nightmare on the first night I was living in this apartment. It's hard to believe that was only a few weeks ago. I begin to calm down as I feel the gentle circular motion of his hand on my back.

"Sheldon," I sniff, clasping my hands together around his neck and keeping my forehead under his chin.

"Yes, Penny?"

"I'm sorry." I tell him, finding the courage to look up. His face is pale and his eyes are cold blue. "You have every right to be angry with me, and—"

"Angry?" His brows furrow closer together. He sure looks a little pissed. "You think I'm angry?" His hands have gone still while he stares at me in cold disbelief. "At you?" His voice heightens again with each syllable. "And you're sorry?"

"Well, yeah…" I offer, getting off of his lap and watching him spring from his seat.

"You just informed me that you were physically abused by a man who is six feet five inches tall – a full foot taller than you, Penny – and you think I'm angry at you." I notice his voice drop now into a baritone.

"Once," I say weakly, receiving a glare.

"No. Not once," He sounds really pissed. Oh my God, remember when I said Sheldon was going to explode one day? Yeah, I'm thinking this might be it. "Not once, Penny. You told me he pinched you. On your ribs and buttocks. Physical abuse is defined by any sort of aggressive physical contact, whether it's hitting, punching, kicking, pinching—" When he cuts off with a loud exhale, I mentally add a Fuck to his sentence because we all know he's thinking it. Or I guess, Drat for him. I don't know. Knowing him it's more like, You shall rue the day, you cursed villain. Or some sort of superheroey dialogue. "But he slapped you in your face, Penny. Now, I'm no expert on romantic relationships, but I know enough to be able to tell that you do not strike a woman. I, of all people know that."

"What do you mean, you of all people?" I ask, horrified to hear the answer to this. And yet, I need to. His face is a cold mask of anger.

"I witnessed it daily, Penny," He spits out venomously, "My father slapped my mother daily. And she stayed. Until he left her for the barmaid at his favorite local haunt." His voice falls to a whisper, but does not lose the contempt, "Don't be the first one in Dad's sight after he finishes the bottle."

"Sheldon," I gasp, bringing my hands to my mouth, "Did your father hit you?"

"Not with his hands." He explains darkly, but does not elaborate.

"I'm sorry!" I pant, feeling like I've been kicked straight in the chest. "Fuck, Sheldon. I'm so sorry!"

"Why do you keep apologizing?" He asks, standing with his arms at his sides.

"Because I hate the thought of you being hurt!" I shriek at him, kind of irritated that he's not getting the picture. I push feebly at his chest. "Because I care about you, you big obstinate butthead!"

"Well, it wasn't your fault. And it was a very long time ago," His eyes are a lot less cold now. "And very good on using the word obstinate." I gape at him in disbelief. Really? He's commending my vocabulary when I'm trying to have a real moment with him? Oh, he so would. "And I haven't been called 'butthead' since before I left for college in the fifth grade." He adds with a slip of a smirk. I laugh in disbelief. Un-freaking-believable. Sheldon Cooper just made me forget how upset I was by being adorable.

"Maybe not to your face." I reply, quoting Legally Blonde.

"I'm still displeased about what you told me," Sheldon says, the smile dropping from his face.

"I didn't mean to lie to you, I was just—"

"Penny," He says this as if I am the most exasperating person he has ever known, "I am not displeased because you lied, although there was never any need for that. I am displeased because of what was done to you."

"You mean, you're pissed at Kurt?"

"Well, my baser biological urges coupled with the Alpha Male in me along with a rise in adrenaline are giving me the potent desire to cause physical harm to your former boyfriend. So, to answer your question in a word: yes. I am, as you worded it, pissed."

I am unable to hide my snicker, because it took him an entire paragraph just to say 'yes.' But I'm also deeply, deeply touched and kind of turned on by this side of Sheldon.

Definitely not a robot.

"Like you said, honey, it was a long time ago. And I was very young…and it's over. And I'm here now. You guys kind of saved me. If it hadn't been for the four of you…I probably would have ended up back in that situation." I carefully guide his arms around my shoulders and rest my cheek against his chest. I can hear the gentle thud of his heartbeat.

"Penny," He says softly, making me lift my head to look up at him. I think for a moment that he's going to kiss me, but his eyes flicker over to the table. "The food is getting cold." He begins to pull away, but I shake my head.

"No, no…you don't get out of this part. Non-optional, Buddy." Placing my hand against the back of his hair, I guide his head down to mine and rise up on my toes to kiss him. It's not a passionate kiss, or a long one. But it says more than any other kiss we've ever shared.

It says we've got each others' backs.

There is a knock at the door, making us pull apart with a secretive smile as we settle into our spots. Leonard's head pokes around the door, before he walks in followed by Amy.

"Food here?"

"Yep," I respond, grinning at them and sitting cross legged.

"Bestie, as always, you look stunning, but I can't help but notice that your eyes are tinged with red and slightly swollen. Have you been weeping?" Amy rattles this off casually, taking her seat beside me while Leonard crams on the other side of her. Four people on this couch is kind of mashing us all together. And it's also really funny because Howard and Bernadette aren't here yet.

"Just a little. I got a screen test," I tell her, thinking it better to let them believe I was crying tears of joy. Leonard brightens immediately.

"Oh my God, for what?"

"I'm going to tell everyone when Howard and Bernadette get here," I assure him, smiling tiredly and biting back a smile as my arm brushes Sheldon's.

They arrive a few minutes later, when we've all opened our containers and are digging in while Sheldon is still "preparing" his O.C.D. Mee Krob.

Some things will never change.

"Hi." Howard mutters when Leonard lets him in. Bernadette looks equally irritable as they sort of stalk to their respective seats. Howard on the armchair and Bernadette on the kitchen chair.

"Rough day?" I ask, watching the two of them sit in cranky silence beside each other.

"I don't want to talk about it." Bernadette retorts. Even angry, Bernadette sounds a little like a bratty child because of her adorable voice. It amuses me endlessly.

"Bernadette got sick at work," Howard admits, looking slightly ill himself. Sheldon immediately pulls up his shirt to cover his face. I give him a glare. "Not that kind of sick. She thinks she might be—"

"Howie!" Bernadette wails, "Not now." But we all know where he was going. And to be honest, I wouldn't be surprised anyway. I mean, the two make no secret that they go at it like rabbits. (Seriously, ew.) And since condoms are only like 97% effective…

Oh God.

Howard reproducing is frightening. And truthfully, he's been a little down for the past couple weeks. His father and brother never showed and Bernadette told me he's taken it really hard. That's why they haven't been around much. And even though he's a creepy little tool, I can't help but feel bad for the tiny bastard.

"Oh! Penny…I've been meaning to tell you. I work with this guy who is a pharmaceutical chemist and he just broke up with his girlfriend. I was thinking that you two would be—" I begin to choke on my drunken noodles, accepting a glass of water from Amy and drinking as she thumps me a couple times on the back.

"Sorry, Bernadette," I choke between sips, "Not interested. I'm not really up for the whole dating scene right now." Everyone in the room (except Dr. Oblivious) is staring at me.

"Penny doesn't want to date?" Howard asks aloud, slack jawed. Bernadette rolls her eyes and cracks him in the arm. He perks up with excitement, looking better than he has all week. "Who's the guy? Is it Zack again? Stuart? Kurt?" That gets Sheldon's attention and his head snaps up.

"Penny is not seeing any of those men, least of all Kurt." He bites, sounding very haughty. It almost makes me break down and smile. Instead, I stare into my food.

"Seriously who is it?" Howard goes on, looking at us all and glancing at Leonard.

"It's the Flash." I answer pointedly, giving him a look. He's too dense to catch the truth in that phrase, so he just shakes his head and looks back into his own food. I send Sheldon a discreet sideways glance and carefully tap my foot against his.

There's that vague half smile.

 

Chapter Text

Since I have a screen test at one in the afternoon, Charlie texts me to inform me that I shouldn't come into work. Instead I should just go straight to NBS studios and show my I.D. at the gate.

I'm on the list.

Of course, I get this text at freaking five in the morning, so my stomach becomes this tangle of nerves and excitement. And…I'm up. There's no way my adrenaline addled brain is going to let me sleep in this morning. I need a distraction, like…now. There's a perfect Whack-A-Doodle solution just in the next room, of course. I wonder how many strikes he'll give me if I barge in and straddle him.

Nah…he'd probably head butt me when he bolts up, screaming "Danger! Danger!" Seriously?

Yep. Still does that.

So, I get up and head out into the living room, where Sheldon is just getting set to do his morning workout.

Oh yeah.

Noticing me, he does a quick double take and furrows his brows in confusion.

"Penny, you're awake!"

"Yep," I nod, looking around uncomfortably and running a hand through my knotted mass of blonde hair, "can't sleep. Too nervous."

"You are referring to your screen test this afternoon," he states, to which I just shake my head yes. "Well," his eyes flit back to the T.V. and then down at the Wii remote he is holding, "if you would like to join me, I find that exercise helps to increase strength and the release of endorphins can alter your mood and—"

"Are you asking if I want to work out with you?" I stare up at him in quiet suppressed amusement.

"Yes, I—" Sheldon gives me a look of pure impatience and condescension. Why, hello Dr. Egomaniac. How we've missed you. "Haven't you been listening?"

"Attentively," I wink, placating him because he doesn't catch on to my sarcasm.

"Well, alright," is his response, making me work very hard to hide my laugh, "go change into your exercise apparel and be ready in five minutes. Thankfully, I bought the expansion pack along with the game for this exact dilemma. Of course at the time, I had intended it for Leonard, but that is neither here nor there."

"You're losing me, Sweetie," I mutter dryly, starting toward my room. A couple of minutes later, I walk out with a pair of running shorts and a sports bra on. (I'm not even bothering with a tank top. I'm just going to sweat all over it anyway.)

Sheldon already has his little sensor thingies on and is placing batteries into a pair. He sighs.

"These are the last triple A batteries I have. I'll have to purchase more on the way home from work. Perhaps Leonard and I—"

"Don't worry about it Sweetie, I have a whole pack in my nightstand," I assure him, then clamp my mouth shut, looking away and biting my lip. Oops.

"For what?" He asks, and I can only shake my head.

"I need them for…stuff." Yeah. I got nothing. He wouldn't understand what they're really for anyway.

"Well, nonetheless, I would like to get another pack. We may be in need of them if you need to energize your…stuff."

I know what I need to energize my stuff. The problem is, Dr. Chastity isn't ready to give it to me yet. I feel like one of those hormonal teen boys scamming on their high school girlfriends and trying to get some action any way they can.

I no longer think getting busy is out of our realm. Not after the serious tongue action on Sheldon's desk yesterday afternoon before we were interrupted by Raj. But we aren't there yet.

We're about to get our work out on. I let Sheldon put the sensors on me, because I want to feel his hands on me in some capacity even if this workout doesn't end with me and him in the shower.

Oh, shit. Didn't even think about one of the sensors going on my thigh! I watch, holding my breath as Sheldon very professionally guides me to lift my right foot so he can slip the sensor up my leg and tighten it mid-thigh. It's like a reverse garter toss at a wedding. And it's the closest Sheldon's fingers have ever been to my—

Hello!

"Penny?" Sheldon's voice cuts into my fuzzy brain and he thrusts a Wii remote into my hand. "I made you a profile while you were getting dressed." Looking at the T.V., I notice a blonde character standing beside Sheldon's dark haired character. They weirdly remind me of Sheldor and Queen Penelope. In workout clothes.

The workout seems easy enough at first, and by at first, I mean the warm ups. Heel lifts, hips circles, so minor stretches…not too bad at all. Even the initial running in place seems pretty easy, though I'm pretty sure we look ridiculous and Mrs. Vartabedian is probably not enjoying living below us right now. Especially at five in the morning.

It's not until we get to a fun little exercise called Mountain Biking that things start to get ugly. You have to squat the entire time and then jump, like you're on a bike. And then you have to run up freaking hills and shit. My heart rate is well into the hundreds while Sheldon's stays at a regular pace.

Okay, see here's the thing. Yeah I "work out." I jog around and then stop for donuts…or McDonald's. This is crazy boot camp shit. I don't know who created this game, but my thighs are not going to thank me later tonight. By the end of the exercise, I'm sweating and panting more than a woman in labor. Sheldon pauses the game and hands me a bottle of water.

"Sheldon," I gasp, trying not to sound too much like I'm winded. That's not working, "What the hell?"

"Challenging, isn't it?" He smirks, wiping at his face with his towel.

"Balls," is my only response. "What's next?" Sheldon restarts the game as the next screen pops up.

"Stride jumps." He reads aloud and I cringe, not liking the sound of the word jump. Sure enough, it's not something easy. I haven't worked out this hard since I was with Kurt, when I would go to the gym while he was at poker night…or pool night…or secretly at parties with his friends which I would find out about all over Facebook, or as we called it back then: Myspace, the next day. Kurt may be an intimidating man, but smart he ain't.

Sheldon and I finally get to the greatest evil of all: Mountain Boarding in which you not only have to squat like in the Mountain Biking, but you have to jump and turn and run up hills.

"Come on!" The fake trainer lady yells at me, "This is all for you!"

"Oh, quiet you Bitch!" I wheeze, gripping my thighs and squeezing my eyes closed. Sheldon scoffs at my cursing.

"Penny, there's no need to be cross with her. She is a very helpful trainer!" Shaking his head, he pulls off a turn with some ease. "Just because you do not have the dedication and drive that I possess does not mean that you couldn't acquire them if you would just—"

"Leonard, I may be mistaken, but if I didn't know better, this seems to be some strange form of mating," Amy's voice makes me turn my head and my arm flails out, whacking poor Sheldon in the chest. Yelping, he tumbles back onto the chair while I collapse onto the ground. "Gerard and Sugar did almost this exact same ritual before he tackled her to the ground and had his way with her."

Did Amy just liken Sheldon and me to horny apes? And why do all of her female monkeys have stripper names?

"I don't think that's what this is. It's—," Leonard tells her reassuringly, giving the two of us another quizzical look, "Actually, I have no idea what this is." He meets my eyes, lost. Sheldon moodily pauses the workout again when the trainer starts bitching about effort.

"Leonard, are you in need of something, or do you intend to stand here and continue to not contribute?" Sheldon fires, narrowing his eyes at his best friend. Leonard lets out a skeptical laugh.

"What are you guys doing?"

"What does it look like?" I ask, moodily, hopping to my feet and fixing my sensors.

"It looks like you two are trying to wake the dead," He shares a look with Amy, "it sounded even worse. We were worried someone was being attacked in here—"

"Or partaking in coitus." Amy shrugs, giving Sheldon a look. He glares at her, then Leonard and then me.

What the heck did I do to him?

"Nobody is partaking in—" I give Sheldon a furtive look, reminding him that he is not to use that word. "—sex." He bites out, making Leonard's mouth drop open. It would actually be kind of amusing if it wasn't so damn embarrassing.

"I'm sorry, Sheldon," Leonard chokes, "did you just say the word sex?"

"Oh, grow up, Leonard," Sheldon rolls his eyes, shaking his head as if he can't believe he's been reduced to hanging out with such inferiors. I kick him lightly in the shin and glare at him. I notice a little muscle tick in his jaw, but he shuts up, crossing his arms with a huff.

"We were working out, actually," I explain to them, gesturing for them to help themselves to some coffee since I'm not drinking any anyway.

"Since when?" Leonard asks, pouring himself a cup, while Amy settles onto the couch.

"As usual, you are highly unobservant. I have been exercise with the assistance of this program since early September," Sheldon sighs, "this is why you haven't made any progress on your current line of work, and—"

"Excuse me, but it was both of us who received that grant for the paper we wrote on the Higgs Boson Particle." Leonard stares at Sheldon for a moment. "Together."

"I really need to stop co-authoring papers with you," he mutters, "we'll have to stop this and finish it tonight, when you get home from your screen test. It's nearly six and I was supposed to be in the shower at five forty-five."

Yes, God forbid we disrupt your detailed 'to the second' agenda, Dr. Whack-A-Doodle.

"Go take your shower," I tell him, rolling my eyes and without a thought, giving him a playful pat on the butt and then realizing my mistake. Luckily, Sheldon is oblivious and just scowls at me, leaving the room.

"That was weird," Leonard finally utters, peering at me over his glasses.

"I'm, uh…trying a...I read this article about helping people with touching issues and how pushing their comfort zones helps them out with that kind of stuff."

Now, I'm obviously lying. I've never read such an article. I don't even read magazines that have articles relevant to the real world. When I buy a magazine I want to see hot guys or beautiful woman that make me feel like shit about myself. I don't want to read about how food with gluten causes Autism or how a nine year old girl had to drive her drunk father to the hospital when he had alcohol poisoning. I've had enough of the real world. I live in it. I don't want to read about it.

"What magazine was that in?" Leonard asks, and I notice Amy watching me closely with her head tilted.

"It was an old issue of Current Biology that I lent her," Amy inserts, and gives me what I assume is a wink. My mouth drops open slightly, but I regain my composure within seconds.

"Huh," Leonard shrugs, giving Amy's shoulder a gentle squeeze, "I'm gonna go finish getting dressed for work." Amy nods, standing and moving to follow him. She pauses beside me and waits for Leonard to open the door across the hall, disappearing into the apartment.

"I got your back, Bestie." She whispers, and I can feel the blood leave my face as I watch her leave.

That little shit.

I wait very quietly and calmly on the couch, gripping a cup of coffee in my hands and pretending to watch early morning T.V. Sheldon emerges at precisely the same time as always, 6:20, and heads for the Big Bran. He's a little distressed at having missed out on part of his workout. Poor bastard.

"What's the matter, MoonPie?" I call out teasingly, "Need to loosen up?" Sheldon gives me a bemused look before looking at his box of Big Bran and letting out a little giggle. Yep. He kind of sounds like a fourteen year old girl. But, it's still weirdly adorable. "Talk to Amy lately?" I ask, as he moves to pour his cereal. He freezes mid pour and I see it.

The twitch.

"You told her?" I yelp, crossing over to him. He instinctively covers his throat.

"I told her that I – I informed her that, yes!" He glowers down at me. "I told her."

"Why?"

"As her former boyfriend, I felt obligated to reveal the true nature of our relationship as you know I am uncomfortable with deceit in any form," His eyes narrow, "and she asked me. You know I can't lie, Penny."

Damn. Amy really is too damn observant after spending so much time with monkeys. Stupid monkeys with their cute tails and their gross poop flinging.

"So, now what?" I challenge, folding my arms.

"Proposal," he answers easily and I feel my fingers lose a little grip on my empty mug, which Sheldon easily catches, hooking a long finger through the handle.

Proposal? What is this guy thinking? We've been dating a week. One. Week. No proposals, thank you!

"What the hell are you talking about?" I fire off dryly, snatching the mug back and stalking to the sink to clean it.

"I have a proposal. I suggest we mutually inform all of our friends this weekend."

"Oh my gosh," I sag against the sink in relief, "I thought you were proposing."

"Proposing?" His eyes go blank, "I just did. I proposed that we tell—"

"No, yeah…got that loud and clear, MoonPie," I haul in breaths in deep droves and fan myself a little. Panic is no fun.

"Penny…don't call me MoonPie," he whines.

"Well, what am I allowed to call you?" Yep. I'm totally flirting with him and he has no clue. So I'm not even surprised with his response.

"Sheldon, of course."

"What about…Baby?" I offer, knowing damn well that's not going to fly. I just want to watch him react. It's a sick fascination of mine.

"I am thirty-two years old," is his protest.

"Lover?"

"Seeing as we are not lovers—"

"Yet," I remind him furtively, earning a sigh.

"Yet," he concedes.

"Sweetheart?"

"Penny," his voice is full of impatience. I have to swallow my chuckle. "I do not wish for you to use a pet name with me. I find that I am more inclined to enjoy it when you simply call me by name." His eyes grow huge. "I hope you aren't expecting that I will refer to you by some sort of frivolous nickname."

"No," I agree vehemently. "Just Penny. And I think we should still try to keep it to ourselves."

"As you wish," He nods, turning back to his cereal. I'm just about to go change my clothes when I notice the tiniest, barest twitch of his lips into a smirk. He's enjoying himself, bantering with me. He's having fun while we argue.

He's a dirty little fun haver!

"I think I'm gonna go shower," I inform him. He gives a slight nod, barely reacting. If I was less observant, I would be annoyed, but living with the little Vulcan has made me pay attention to the subtle things. Like the pink tinge in his pale cheeks.

He's thinking about it. I think…or maybe he's thinking about the Higgs Boson Particle and it's making him blush, but I'm going to choose to believe he's thinking about me. Naked. Though I have yet to see evidence of – uh – physical attraction to me, I can't help but notice he kisses me back. And he was the one who started the whole French kissing thing on his desk.

I spend the remainder of my morning meticulously preparing myself for this screen test. After Sheldon leaves for work, I straighten my hair so that it's practically to my waist. (I think that adds more to the futuristic look. Yes, this is how I believe women will wear their hair in two hundred years. Shut up.)

I wear a plain black shirt and black pants. That's neutral, right? Oh hell, I want this part. I want it so badly that I think I might die if I don't get it. Okay, I won't die, but it will majorly suck ass. I wonder how many other girls got screen tests, because I've heard that usually, multiple girls do them.

At least, according to Howard, Kristin Cavallari and Ashley Tisdale both did screen tests for this show months ago.

The poor bastard had practically choked on his food when I told them all about the audition.

"So, I have to tell you guys something," I'd started, watching everyone turn to look at me.

"You're not pregnant, are you?" Bernadette had asked, looking ill. I'd winced and shook my head.

"No, I…" I snuck a glance at Sheldon, "I got a screen test for the role of Maura on Home Planet."

"Home Planet?" Howard had shrieked, dropping a noodle on the floor and causing Sheldon to squeak in horror. "With Charlie Spinnett and Ryan Massey? I thought Alli Stewart was going to be playing Maura."

"Yeah," I'd replied, "She's under contract to be in some movie series and they wouldn't give her the time."

"Oh, right…right," Howard had nodded, "the Guardian Angel series."

We'd all just stared at him in a mix of pity and amusement.

So, here we are now, and with each passing second, I feel more dread. For a brief moment, when I pull up to the entrance gate at the studio, I'm worried they won't have me. I wait, feeling sick as they check my I.D. and then I watch as the gate opens slowly, and with it, I feel a tiny bit better.

But I still have a screen test.

I am directed to Studio C and a parking lot, and am instructed to wear this pass around my neck. My car splutters a little bit, embarrassing me as I pull into my parking space between a BMW and a Range Rover. If all goes well, I could maybe have a new car someday. Maybe I can buy Sheldon and I a house with a huge playroom for him. You know, a nice padded room with lots of toys and video games and Star Trek D.V.D.'s and fun things.

Kidding.

But maybe a house. With a pool. And a nursery or something…

Whoa.

Let's not talk babies here. I'm so not ready for that. I'm twenty-six years old. I had no real example of how to parent a child. I can't imagine how Bernadette must be feeling. Especially at the prospect of reproducing with Howard. I think I would be a shit parent. I can barely take care of myself and to be honest, I sometimes already feel like I have a toddler. You know who I mean. But then, he does something like be all goofy sexy and I want to drag him into his nine year old boy's bedroom and teach him how to be bad.

Oh boy does Penny need some adult fun time. Or maybe a hobby. Do you think scrapbooking is a good fill in for sex?

Yeah, me either.

There is an assistant with a clipboard inside the building. When I show her my pass, she checks something off and nods.

"Around that corner and in the studio. They're ready for you, Penelope."

"Thanks," My voice is small, sounding a lot like I used to when I was younger. Charlie, Ryan, Rob and three other men are all in the room, waiting, while a young man I recognize as Grant Jordan, an up and coming actor who used to do one of those lame shows on the kiddie channels and grew up to be a little hottie.

A little gay hottie, from the looks of the way he's stroking some guy's hair and making lovey eyes at him. I love playing opposite gay guys. They make things so much more comfortable because you know they aren't scamming on you. And they're not afraid to try things.

"Penny!" Rob calls, waving me over. I glance around, looking for the other girls. Other than the assistant and a few crew members, I am the only female actor.

"Penny," Charlie grins, shaking my hand, "this is Grant. He's Darwin."

"Nice to meet you," I tell Grant, who gives a thousand watt smile.

"You too," He replies genuinely.

"Okay, we're going to do the scene where Maura and Darwin meet. Penny," Rob guides me into the set, which looks like a dilapidated house, "I want you set…here." He places me behind a half opened closet door. "Grant, you come in the door because you're looking for survivors."

I have the scene memorized, because Charlie emailed it to me last night and I spent a few hours going over it in bed. I'm running on about four hours of sleep here. Suck.

"Start with Grant's line," Rob says, "Action."

"Is someone in here? I thought I saw someone—" I bump the door, remembering what the script had instructed. "—who's there?" Slowly, I move the door, and peer around him, thinking of how a lost little kid would look. I try to make my eyes all big. He's holding up his prop gun as Darwin and looks shocked. "Easy!" He cries, "I'm Captain Darwin Finster. I'm here to help you…what's your name?" I shake my head. (Maura is still mute at this point.) "Here, just give me your—"

"No!" I cry, stumbling over something and slamming into the wall. Hopefully that looks like it was meant to happen.

"I'm not going to hurt you…" He whispers, reaching out to me again, "Come on." I shake my head and cross my arms protectively around myself. "What's your name?"

"Maura," I respond quietly, "Maura Jenner." And this is a huge moment for Maura, because she hasn't spoken in months. She's been living alone in this house, waiting to die. But the truth is, she doesn't want to die. She doesn't know what she wants because she doesn't know what's possible.

"Are you alone?" He asks, to which I nod. "The meteor did it, right?" Again, I nod.

"Come with me, Maura. I can help you."

We stop and do a few different little parts, including the scene I read yesterday. It all takes a little under four hours. By the time we finish, I am beat, and so full of hope, I could cry. I know it's way past the time for me to meet the guys at The Cheesecake Factory, so I decide to run through Taco Bell on the way home. Charlie tells me they will be in touch. I know what that usually means. We'll be in touch…meaning, we'll never call you again and your resume is now scrap paper.

There are two texts on my phone when I get in the car. The first is Bernadette.

Dodged that bullet. NOT PREGNANT. Do you think I could convince my OB-GYN to tie my tubes without Howie knowing?

Yeah, that's healthy Bernadette. I shake my head and text her back.

No. You are still young, Sweetie. Give it time. You may want a baby someday.

The next is from Sheldon.

Are you going to arrange to feed yourself or am I to be responsible for making sure you are fed?

Okay. I think he's trying to make sure I eat, but the way he words it makes me want to both hug him and smack him. We really need to work on his wording so he stops coming off as a compulsive ass.

But he is a compulsive ass.

And I still want to be with him. Wow, this is actually getting pretty serious. And the thing with it is, it feels so different than when I was Leonard. I wouldn't say better just yet, but it's different. And it's nothing like I thought it would be, which is a good thing. Because I was kind of sure we would have murdered each other by now.

Thanks, honey. I'm getting Taco Bell. See you at home, okay?

I'm just getting on the expressway, when I get his reply.

Very well. See you soon.

At least he's not signing these messages, "Dr. Sheldon Cooper" anymore. Oh shit, I wonder if he's going to ask me to call him that in bed? Or if he'll be into superhero roleplay?

I'm not going to think about it.

I will not think about Sheldon's juicy little butt. Especially since he's been working out.

The smell of Taco Bell is torture on the way home. I'm going to just douse the shit out of that Mexican Pizza in Fire sauce and, hopefully, sink into my spot on the couch and watch bad T.V. My stomach is rumbling because I haven't eaten anything all day long. Nerves don't really allow for an appetite! I'm so close…I can almost taste it. Literally. Even when my car stalls on the way out of the Taco Bell driveway, I fight it and manage to start her back up so I can get home. She may be dying, but I'm gonna suck every inch of life I can out of the old car.

It is dark outside when I get home and park my decrepit Volkswagen, and I'm almost to the front door when I hear it.

A squeak.

The tiniest squeak, but a squeak nonetheless. I turn toward the dumpster and pull out my phone, so I can see better. I know it's probably something like a rat, but I have seen rats in our barn and when our basement flooded back home. No rat I've ever seen sounded like that.

I carefully pull open the gate to slip into where the dumpster is and hear the squeak again. It sounds a little like a doggy chew toy. I set my Taco Bell down and carefully crouch so I can get a better look around the side of the dumpster. I fly back a little when I see a pair of huge bluish green eyes staring back at me. Another squeak. I can hear myself gasp a little as I instinctively reach out my hand feeling every protective whim I've ever known.

Staring up at me is the tiniest, cutest, gray striped kitten I have ever laid eyes on.

"Come here, Soft Kitty." I whisper.

 

Chapter Text

This is a ri-goddamn-diculous situation I've gotten myself into here. I'm crouching inside the dumpster area trying to coax what looks like a six to eight week old kitten to come to me. The poor thing is watching me as if it's worried about me, rather than the fact that I just heard thunder in the distance and it's probably going to rain like hell in a few minutes.

"Come to Penny, Baby," I croon in that stupid high pitched voice that everyone uses with animals and babies. I click my tongue a couple of times and finally, the little brat comes forward, obviously checking to see if I have food. I don't want to think about where the Mama Kitty is because I know the answer will devastate me, so I scoop it up in the palm of my hand and cradle it in the crook of my arm just as I feel the first drop of rain smack me right on the forehead. "Time to go inside and meet Dr. Whack-A-Doodle, Kitten."

This will either go one of two ways. Sheldon will be completely thrilled with the kitten (we know he loves cats since he had twenty-five once. I'm telling you: BAT SHIT), or he'll throw a fit and give me a strike. Since it's not his idea, I'm guess option two.

And, I'm right.

The second I walk in the door, I am greeted with seven expectant stares. I know they're all waiting for me to tell them if I got the part, but I don't know. I might not know for a week…or weeks. This is Hollywood, people! So, I very slowly and carefully turn and present the tiny gray bundle of fur I have, holding it up like fucking Simba from the Lion King.

"What the hell is that?" Howard asks, sharing a look with Raj.

"Howard," Sheldon rolls his eyes, "I realize you are not a doctor, merely having a Master's Degree, but surely you can recognize a common kitten when you see one." He gives Bernadette a sympathetic look to which she just looks confused.

"I know what it is," Howard retorts through gritted teeth, "What I meant was, why is it here?"

"I found it hiding under the dumpster," I inform them, turning the cat back toward me and checking to see if it's a girl or boy. I don't see a you know what, so I'm going with girl. "Isn't she cute?" I gush, bringing her close and pressing our faces together. She gives an indignant squeak.

Awww.

"Penny, you just admitted you found this creature beneath the dumpster, and you're letting it touch your face?" Sheldon shrieks, rising and crossing to the kitchen, where he immediately dons a pair of sexy (sarcasm) rubber gloves and a face mask (even sexier). "Give the animal to me." He instructs and I instinctively hold her away from him.

"No," I protest, "She's just a little baby."

"Probably about eight weeks old, judging by the size," Amy agrees, moving toward us. Reluctantly, I hand the kitten to Sheldon, who lifts the tail and sighs.

"Penny, this is a male kitten," He informs me, "Note the position of the anus in reference to the genitalia. These are his testicles. A female cat's is closer to the anus, while—"

"Arghhh! Ew! Okay! It's a boy!" I cry, covering my eyes. So much for calling it "Hello Kitty" or "Sparkles." Don't judge me.

"Penny," Sheldon says all business, "In my desk drawer you will find a box of baby wipes. Please retrieve them." I do as I'm told, even if I'm not happy about it and grab the baby wipes. Why does Sheldon have baby wipes? You know, I'm not even going to ask. At this point, I wouldn't be surprised if I found a pacifier and a blankie in that bedroom of his. He did sleep in Mickey Mouse ears once.

So I bring him the damn wipes and, while the rest of us watch in dual horror and sick fascination, I watch Sheldon and Amy wipe the poor baby down from top to bottom with baby wipes, although I cannot help but notice how gentle Sheldon is as he gingerly holds the kitten's ear back and dabs inside.

"It's a fact that if a cat has bacterium in their ears, they can attain any number of illnesses including upper respiratory infections, which can be fatal at this age," He explains while he does it. It's like watching one of those goofy after school science specials. Presenting, Fun with Science starring Dr. MoonPie and his lovely assistant Dr. Fowler.

I really need a hobby. Maybe ice dancing or making clothes for cats.

"You see, this is why I don't want kid," Bernadette grumbles from behind me.

"Because you don't want Sheldon to compulsively clean them with baby wipes?" Howard answers, confused, making me snicker.

"Because we would always be worried about whether they were clean…or safe…or fed! It's just a lot of pressure," She answers. Sheldon looks up from his work, finally satisfied with the poor cat's state of cleanliness. I hear another little squeak and bite my lip, reaching out my arms and taking the animal from him.

"So, you still have that litter box and cat food from when you had nine thousand cats last year, right?" I ask, rubbing my nose against the little pink nose of the kitten, who does not look amused.

"Well yes, I—" Sheldon cuts of, his eyes widening to the point where they're kind of bugging out. "Do you mean to keep it?"

"Um, yes?" I scowl at him, wondering how someone so smart can be so unobservant.

"But according to the Roommate Agreement, all possible pets must be approved in advance by both parties—"

"Sheldon, in case you haven't noticed, I don't really give a crap about the Roommate Agreement," I challenge, glaring at him. I so wish I could threaten him by withholding sex, but since he doesn't work that way, I simply stare at him. I notice his face twitch slightly and I hear Leonard sigh.

"Here we go," He mutters. I can only imagine what all of their faces look like now.

"What's going on?" Bridget whispers loudly.

"Oh, Sheldon makes every person who's stupid enough to live with him sign a contract full of rules that only benefit him," Howard answers her dryly, "That about covers it, right?"

"Pretty much," Leonard agrees.

"My father always says that it's good to have things in writing just in case," Bernadette pipes in.

"Of course he does. He's the one who insisted on us getting a prenup," Howard reminds her.

"Which I refused to do!"Bernadette adds angrily. Oh boy…everyone's fighting! It's like Christmas in Nebraska! Add a bottle of rum and some cheap beer and you've got a good old fashioned Omaha party!

Holy shit am I glad I moved here.

"Knock it off!" I growl at my friends, who all immediately fall silent. "We're keeping it. I can't put a kitten like this in an animal shelter. They're just going to kill it. You know the policy is to euthanize strays." This gets him. His face grows pale and I remember why I like him. Because, as big of a poophead he can be, the kook still has a heart of gold. Even he can't turn an innocent little animal into a shelter where they will kill him.

"Alright," He replies, meeting my eyes and probably lingering for a second too long as he reads my expression, which I'm hoping says, 'If you don't listen to me, I'm going to drag you into the other room and have my way with you.'

But that's not really a threat. It's a promise…I'm patient, but it's gonna happen. But you know what? I'm okay with waiting. And I don't want to have sex with Sheldon for the sake of having sex. I want to have sex with Sheldon because I know how special that kind of an experience would have to be for him. I want to have sex with Sheldon because I know that when it happens, it's not just going to be a one night thing, followed by a walk of shame and self loathing. Even if it's the most awkward sex I've ever had (and let's face it, that wouldn't be a surprise), it will mean that Sheldon trusts me and possibly cares about me enough to let me be close to him.

Maybe I'm jumping the gun here. I mean, it's only been a week. Let's be real, people. I dated Leonard for months and freaked the fuck out when he dropped the L-Bomb on me. But then again, Sheldon and I have been at this for almost five years. The only thing that's really changed with us is that we kiss and he grabs my ass.

Holy balls! Have I been not-dating Sheldon for five years? Have I liked him longer than I thought?

"This is absurd. I look like a clown."

Only Sheldon Cooper could possibly think he looked like a clown when he clearly didn't. I always knew he was cute in a –I'm a little off my rocker so don't come too close to me – kind of way, but when I saw him in that black suit, I could tell there was an attractive man standing there. If I hadn't known him (or had I not been dating his best friend), I would have stopped and looked. I would have slipped him my number.

But there was no way I was ready for a dose of Sheldon when we first met. I'd just gotten away from Kurt and Leonard was so persistent and so sweet. And it was what I'd needed at the time. I wasn't ready to take care of him because I was still recovering from four years of being treated like a possession. Compared to other women who deal with abuse (whether verbal or physical), mine was mild. But that doesn't just go away. It takes time. And I healed. And I lived and dated Leonard, and I found myself again somewhere in the mess of my mind and my life.

Wow. I really need to stop watching Full House. I sound like Bob Saget. I feel like there should be sappy violin music playing behind me. (I watch it for young Stamos in tight jeans. Yum.)

While Sheldon scurries away to retrieve the cat accessories, or "catcessories," I tenderly smooth the kittens fur on his little head and look back at my friends, who are all gaping at me.

"What?" I ask, adjusting the kitten when he tries to struggle a bit.

"How did you…?" Howard begins, looking to Raj, who looks down into his beer. Raj knows damn well what's going on. Amy has the same blank expression she usually adopts on her face, which is a damn relief, because Leonard has an eyebrow raised and is also sitting with his mouth open a little. So at least Amy hasn't told him. Bernadette looks tired while her sister just looks lost. She leans over to Raj and whispers into his ear. This is amusing to me because, A. Raj is usually the one whispering into others' ears, and B. He doesn't know what to say to her question because he's clearly remembering my threat.

The angry squeak, makes me look down the kitten. I can't decide if I like the name Snuggles or Mr. Fluffypants better. I set him down on the ground and giggle when he takes off like a shot toward Raj, who lets out a little shriek of surprise when Kitty starts batting his shoelaces around. There is a collective "Awww!" from the girls. (Myself included.) That's when Sheldon comes back with a blue litter box. It's one of those covered ones…because everyone knows he could never handle a cat actually moving the litter around. And there's a giant bag of cat food in his other hand.

"You won," Leonard tells me dazedly, "you actually won…how did you win?"

"Because I was right," I reply, scooping the cat back up in my hand. He's so little he almost fits in my entire palm. "Really Leonard, Sheldon's a very reasonable person. I don't know where you got the idea that he's not," I add. I notice a very fast quirk of Sheldon's lips, but it's gone as quickly as it came.

Everyone splits up a little early, citing separate reasons. Howard and Bernadette promised Mrs. Wolowitz they would watch Glee with her and Raj and Bridget want to catch a movie. Which leaves Leonard and Amy, who excuse themselves with a flimsy story about needing extra sleep or something. Note to self: wear earplugs for the next two hours.

Sheldon is sitting in his spot while I sit on the floor with the kitten, watching him eat. All we have is dry cat food, so I hope he won't die because it's not kitten chow. I don't think one night will kill him. It's really adorable though, because, between every bite, he lets out a tiny little meow.

"What should we name him?" I ask Sheldon, knowing he's probably going to suggest something ridiculous like Einstein or whatever. He sighs, looking at me in defeat.

"Anything I suggest you will find fault with," He reminds me knowingly. It makes me laugh, despite myself.

"True," I nod, watching the kitten lose interest in his food and amble quickly toward Sheldon's foot, batting his shoelaces around. "He's fast!" I gasp, chuckling as I try to catch him and he dodges me. Sheldon easily bends down and catches him. If the kitten looked small in my hands, in Sheldon's he's even tinier. He lets out a sound of protest. "Here, let me…" I start, trailing off when I notice the kitten calming down. Sheldon Cooper: Cat Whisperer. We could have our own reality show!

I sink down onto the couch beside Sheldon and look down at the cat, sitting on his lap, blinking tiredly up at us. This must be how new parents feel. Although I can't imagine a baby being cuter than this little guy. I'm a sucker.

"Are you okay with this, Sweetie? Be honest," I urge Sheldon, carefully setting my hand on his arm. He cautiously looks down at me.

"This is a distinct interruption to my life and to my routine and I cannot say that I am thrilled with the aspect of that. I also am not pleased that the decision to keep it was reached without my input. However," I sigh, settling in. Looks like I'm in for a lecture, "I cannot deny the innocent appeal and the sweet disposition of this feline. Moreover, I will concede to keeping him on two conditions."

"Oh boy!" I exclaim, clapping my hands. He glares at me.

"Sarcasm?" He asks warily.

"Nope." I retort, knowing I should just let him get on with it.

"Was that sarcasm?"

"Conditions, Sheldon! Go!" I gesture with my hand, watching him shake his head impatiently.

"One, you will allow me to draw up a contract which will evenly and fairly divvy up the responsibilities pertaining to the subject in question—"

"But, Sheldon, I don't want—"

"And," He continues, cutting me off and making me seethe with anger, "Two, we will make an immediate appointment to take him to a veterinarian and arrange for him to be neutered. Male cats have a tendency to spray, and though I am a tolerant man—"

I snort at this.

"—I am completely averse to having feline urine touch any of my belongings. Or the furniture. Do we have an accord?"

"A what?" I ask, staring at him in irritated confusion.

"Are we in agreement?" He sighs impatiently.

"Sure…" I respond suspiciously. Oh God, would he be like this if we ever got to the point where we were married and thinking about kids? Would he want to draw up a contract about parental responsibilities?

I'd never let him.

I'm just going to look at this like I view our Roommate Agreement. General guidelines that I neither follow nor care about. He hasn't kicked me out by now…I don't think he's going to. I have like three hundred strikes.

"Wonderful," Sheldon says, placing the kitten into my lap, "I'll start on it right now and we—"

"Ahem," I clear my throat, "Excuse me."

"Yes?" He looks down at me questioningly, his eyebrows rising when I grasp his hand and pull him back down. "Penny!" He yelps.

"Thanks for this," I tell him, "and for everything. For not making me want to kill you…too much."

"You're welcome…" His voice is cautious and I can tell he wants to inch away from me. "And I'd like to thank you for not killing me." I can't help it, I laugh, which makes the kitten jump a little bit now that he's lost his vigor and is starting to doze in my lap.

"Come here, you complete whacko," I tell him, pulling him gently by the shoulder toward me and planting a quick kiss on his lips before letting him go back to his contract.

The kitten ends up sleeping in my room with me, which is why I am terrified when I get up and he's nowhere to be found, but the door is closed still. Flinging the bedclothes off of the bed, I start searching, wondering where he could have crawled or what he might have gotten into. What if something on my dresser fell on him and smashed him?

Oh my God!

"Here, kitty!" I cry, feeling a slight nagging desperation as I throw things around. He's not under the bed or in any of my drawers or my desk…

Throwing the door to my bedroom open, I rush out into the living room and find Sheldon already sitting in his spot, watching early morning T.V. and eating a bowl of cereal. That's when I see it. Sitting beside him on the couch, is the kitten, carefully lapping at his own tiny bowl of milk.

Sheldon notices me, nodding, "Morning Penny," he says, while I sag in relief and stumble over to the coffee pot to pour some for myself. I have to go back to work this morning, which I know will be torture since Charlie won't be there and I still won't know what happened with the screen test. The acting world sucks. It's hard and brutal. Don't do it if you can help yourself. "I've put the Pet Agreement on the counter for you to peruse," He adds, while I take a sip. I nod grumpily.

Woohoo.

Stepping to the counter, I am surprised to see just one sheet of paper typed out. Basically, all it is is a list by day of who will take care of what for the kitten. Vet trips are clearly my responsibility since I am the one who drives. We will split the cost of the neutering. I'm impressed. I'm pretty sure this is growth. It's not a thirty page contract that I'm going to have to read through and sign.

"This is…unexpected," I tell him, holding up the paper. Sheldon rolls his eyes.

"MeeMaw suggested that I adopt a freer attitude and a higher tolerance for the unknown. I am not completely thrilled with the possibility that this agreement could come back to haunt me, but as I've said before, what's life without whimsy?"

"Hmm," Is my only response as I quickly scrawl my signature on the page and move over to the armchair, flopping into it.

"Penny, tonight is Halo night, but Amy Farrah Fowler has just informed me that tonight is Date Night for she and Leonard. Which strikes me as odd, because they also had a date last Friday night, and—"

"Yeah, but normal couples go on dates whenever they feel like it," I remind him, biting my lip.

"Is that social protocol?" Sheldon asks, looking like he may want to take some notes. I smile, despite my frustration.

"Well, no…that's the thing. With dating, most people try to be spontaneous."

"Well, that doesn't sound practical at all," He huffs, shaking his head and removing the empty bowl of milk from beneath the kitten, who is half in the bowl as he continues to lick it. Calmly, Sheldon crosses to the sink and cleans it. I am just about to reach out for the kitten, when he tears off the couch and springs toward Sheldon, sliding a little on the tiled floor and crashing into Sheldon's shoes. It's the cutest thing ever.

"He is fast!" I laugh, watching him watch Sheldon while whipping his tail back and forth. I'm a goner with that one. I gasp aloud, making both Sheldon and the kitten jump. He turns to me with a scolding look as I hop off the chair. "I know what to name him, Sheldon!" Running across to him, I ignore when the cat goes straight for my sock covered foot, feeling his tiny teeth biting me. Catching myself on Sheldon's arm, I grin up into his face. "Sheldon…his name is Flash."

I win. I so win. Not only does Sheldon love this cat, I've chosen a name that he approves of. I can tell in the way his blue eyes light up with excitement.

"It's…it's perfect," He agrees in a hushed voice, as if he cannot fathom the fact that I've said something that makes sense. I smack him lightly on the arm.

"I'm not a complete moron," I tell him, looking down at the kitten, rolling around with a coin he found under the counter.

"Of course you aren't a moron," Sheldon explains logically, "A moron is somebody who is unintelligent and, as I've said before, the only thing you have ever really lacked is a determination to better yourself. I'm sure your I.Q. is at the very least, average. Of course, you will never achieve the level of intelligence I possess as you do not have the eidetic memory and sharp—"

"You could have just stopped at 'you aren't a moron,' Sweetie." I sigh, patting his arm and leaning up to kiss his cheek.

"Perhaps we could try this…this spontaneity suggestion of yours and Saturday night, we could go on a date…perhaps to a dance club or—"

"Seriously?"

"Yes," He furrows his brows at me, "you know, you really do have a bad habit of interrupting me."

"Let me let you in on a little secret, MoonPie," I thread my fingers through his and give a little squeeze, dropping my voice to a whisper and motioning for him to come down to my level so that his ear his close enough, "I do it on purpose." With that, I flick my tongue out and catch his earlobe, which causes him to let out a sound of surprise.

"Penny!"

I just laugh evilly, walking away from him and winking down at Flash, who looks confused too. Poor babies. I disappear into the bedroom, glancing around at my room, which is in disarray from my panic earlier. I notice my phone lying face down on the floor and crouch down to pick it up. I'm surprised when I see I have a missed call.

Charlie.

Uh oh. Is he calling to apologize? Hey, sorry Penny, just calling to say you look too Midwest. We don't think you're the right fit for the part. Thanks for auditioning. See you at work!

He didn't leave a voice mail, so I have to call him back now. With a heavy sigh, and shaking limbs, I ignore the pounding in my ears and the roiling of my stomach as I sink onto the edge of my bed, absently picking at the material of my shorts while I listen to the phone ring.

"Spinnett," He answers.

"Hi, Charlie. It's Penny," I say, trying not to tremble as I speak, my lip is already quivering with every emotion I've ever felt. Hope, fear, disappointment and absolute terror all rolled into one.

"Penny!" His voice is kind. "Good, I'm glad you picked up. Listen, I'm definitely going to need you to come into the office and maybe stay a little late with me today."

"Oh," I shrink in disappointment, "Okay."

"I need to start looking for a new assistant." He adds, and I feel myself gasp in horror.

"You don't want me anymore? I mean, I know I'm new at this stuff, but I'm trying really hard and I've appreciated all of your help so much, please—"

"Penny," Charlie cuts in, sounding far too happy, "I'm not firing you. Damn kid, can't you read the signals? We're offering you the part."

I drop the phone.

"Penny?" I can hear Charlie yelling on the other line, between laughs, "Penny!"

Vaguely, I am able to pick up the phone in my shaking fingers and bring it back to my ears.

"Sorry!" I choke, wiping at my face, which is covered in tears I didn't know I was crying. I notice a shadow in my doorway, and turn to see Sheldon standing there with Flash at his feet, looking more than a little worried. "Really?" I ask Charlie again, feeling my whole body begin to tingle with awareness. My teeth are chattering I am so excited and scared and so, so happy. I am now sobbing and Charlie probably thinks I am unstable, but who gives a shit?

I'm a T.V. actress!

I have a lead part in a T.V. show on a huge cable network! This is insane. This is why I came to California…why I left Nebraska and it's real!"

"Oh my gosh," I breathe into the phone.

"I'll give you all the details when you come into the office," Charlie chuckles, "Penny, you were perfect. Exactly right for the part. And just so you know…whoever told you that you look too Midwest is going to kick themselves now."

I laugh brokenly into the phone, still shaking with sobs and smiling so wide I definitely look like the Jack Nicholson Joker right now. Sheldon is eyeing me carefully, while Flash puts his head into my tennis shoes.

I'm a T.V. actress.

"See you in a bit, Penny," Charlie finishes.

"Okay. Bye, Charlie…and thanks. Thanks for everything."

"Anytime, kiddo."

Hanging up the phone, I set it on my bed and slowly turn to look at Sheldon, sniffing. I'm a snotty, teary mess, but I don't care.

"I got it," I whisper, standing and moving toward him. "I got the part!" I launch up into his arms, forcing him to catch me and wrap my legs around his waist, burying my face in his neck. "I got the lead in a huge T.V. show. One that you'll actually watch!" I laugh. He doesn't say anything in response, but his arms tighten around me and I can feel him smiling into my hair.

We finally break apart to the sound of a crash and I release my death grip on Sheldon and slowly get down, keeping my arm around his waist as we turn to look into my room.

Flash has managed to pull on a scarf that was hanging off my dresser and is now surrounded by various picture frames and jewelry.

Sheldon and I share a quiet look and he's the first one to crack a grin.

Little shit.

 

Chapter Text

I never imagined that becoming a T.V. star would involve so much paperwork. Since getting the part on Wednesday morning, it seems like every day I have another contract and agreement to sign, which Sheldon insists on reading. (You know, since he's the expert in contract making and general bat shit craziness.)

I've received my first call sheet through email already, which has dictated that filming is going to begin Monday morning at 4:00 A.M., but my call time is actually 2:30 A.M. for hair and makeup and costuming. I have to go for fittings Sunday at noon.

Holy shit.

This is already flying. Since NBS is pressed to get the show out by fall, we have to start like, yesterday. Which means, my weeks are going to be pretty full, but I'm sure the paycheck at the end of the week is going to make me happy. They haven't told me how much I'm making yet. Whatever it is can't be worse than the money I made as a waitress.

So, my ass is going to make the most of tonight which is technically Laundry Night, but which Sheldon and I had to make a very technical stipulation that we would do laundry during the day. I'm a little worried about how my new schedule is going to screw with him, but that's the thing. I've waited too long for this.

So this is my last free night for a while and I'm planning on making the most of it. Which means, I'm pulling out that green dress that I thought about wearing on my date with Leonard back in January. If that doesn't get his attention, I'm pulling out the old Wonder Woman suit. Or going the full monty and jumping on him like a spider monkey.

Maybe I am more like the primates than I thought.

I also have it on good authority that Sheldon has been doing research on where to take me on a date. Mostly because Amy texted me earlier.

Hey Bestie, Sheldon asked me where he should take you tonight. I suggested a place where he could show you off like the arm candy you are. Don't worry. This is an ears only operation.

I'd stared at the paragraph for a full minute, trying to decipher what the hell it meant before responding.

What is an ears only operation?

Spy lingo. We're keeping Leonard in the dark. Do you know morse code by any chance?

Not even slightly.

Don't worry, Bestie. I got your back.

I know she's got my back. Even if she is slightly obsessed with it, at least I know I can count on her to cover my back. Painstakingly, I straighten my hair with the flat iron and put the front part back.

Again, I know this stuff doesn't matter to Sheldon, but it matters to me. How am I supposed to make my boyfriend want me if I don't even want me? I love feeling attractive and this dress makes me feel attractive. I've never gotten a chance to wear it after finding it on seventy-freaking-five percent off! Sure, it's probably last season. But I love this dress. It matches my eyes and it makes me feel like J. Lo. Minus the giant booty.

I am finally just finishing up around six when I hear Sheldon answer the door and speak to someone. Leonard and Amy are gone for the night, so it's not one of them. I peek my head out and see Sheldon shutting the door again, dressed in his black suit. I love that on him. He looks like a man, not a six year old. Which is good, because I kind of don't want to feel like I am going to end up on To Catch A Predator even though I know he's five years older than me. Because I'm planning to debauch him just a little tonight. I'm not going to violate him, I'm just going to give a little push in the right direction.

Hopefully.

"Sheldon?" I call out, walking toward him. "Who was—?" My words die out when I see the bouquet of flowers he's holding. He looks a little uncomfortable, but holds them out.

"Social protocol—"

"Don't you dare talk about social protocol," I warn, giving him a look and taking the flowers – lilies – from him. "Spontaneity, Sheldon."

"These are for you," He tells me, sounding as if he's forcing every word out. The gesture is not unappreciated, but it is amusing anyway.

"Thank you!" I grin and his eyebrows furrow worriedly.

"Sarcasm?"

"Not even a little," I assure him, leaning up to kiss his cheek as I pull the little card out.

Your hair is like the purest gold and your eyes the most sparkling green…

Slowly, I look up at him in suspicion, the suggestion of a smirk twisting my lips a little.

"You let Amy write the card, didn't you?" I say and notice his eye twitch. That does it. I crack up.

"I don't want Amy's words, Sheldon," I tell him, trying to sound stern and only succeeding in giggling more.

"Don't worry, you big dummy," I laugh, laying the flowers on the counter as I move to retrieve a vase from the cupboard, "the flowers are enough. I don't want some stupid sappy card that doesn't mean anything." He visibly relaxes…well, for Sheldon at least. "So whatcha got in store for me, MoonPie?" I ask, setting the flowers into the vase and making sure no little tiny kittens can jump up and get to them. He's going to chill in my room with his toys and litter box while we're gone. I don't want to risk him ripping anything of Sheldon's. God forbid he ruin the toys…the toys! Oh, the horror!

Sorry, that was melodramatic.

"As always, your grammar is deplorable," Sheldon says, though I notice with less snark than usual, "We will have dinner at Angelina's Bistro followed by dancing at The Ballroom Center. I assume this to be acceptable by your standards, considering prior to this your idea of a good time was dinner at a T.G.I. Fridays with a man you hardly knew followed by an evening of casual sex."

"Jesus." I groan, wincing. Yeah, it has been over a year, but I don't want to hear about that. The worst part is, the smart ass is right. "Honey, you really need to learn when to shut your hole." I say this because even though what he said was highly offensive, he believes he's just stating a fact. He's not being purposefully hurtful…this time.

"Are my plans not preferable to you?" He inquires innocently, making me want to slap him and kiss him at the same time.

"No. You're absolutely right. Just lay off the bratty comments. No talking about who I used to date or the things I used to do. That is over," I give him a pointed look, "Deal?"

"Very well," He nods, still not getting my point, but at least dropping the subject. "You look very aesthetically pleasing."

"Wha—?" I laugh, shaking my head. "Thank you. So do you."

A tiny mewl makes me turn my head and see Flash chasing a tiny little ball with a bell inside. He looks so sweet and happy, I pout my lips a little at the thought of leaving him all by himself.

"Come on, little guy," I laugh, picking him up with one hand and the toy with the other. I kiss his furry little cheek before placing him on the floor of my room and tossing the ball, causing him to spaz in a flurry of kitten energy. I shut the door quietly behind him and turn back toward the living room.

"Look, Sheldon…I want you to know how much I appreciate this. I know how hard it is for you to screw with your routine," I tell him sincerely, grabbing my purse.

"I've come to realize, over the course of the past five years, that I am finding it increasingly hard to say 'no' to you, Penny," Sheldon sighs, "it's very distressing, I can assure you." I hide my surprise, with a quick smile and grab his sleeve.

"Alright, you. Enough of this mushy, bullcrap. Let's go eat us some pasta," I urge him toward the door, while he gives me a weary look.

"Penny…" he whines pleadingly. I can see his desperate need to correct me, so I roll my eyes and shake my head.

"I'm sorry. Let's go and eat some pasta, oh King of Grammar and Science," I correct acidly.

"While I am certainly no king of any sort, I appreciate the sentiment all the same," He says, barely hiding his satisfaction as we walk out into the hall and he locks the door.

"Of course you do," I answer, snickering, "you're an egomaniac."

"I am merely less modest than most people, and I would say deservedly so," He informs me, as we start down the stairs, "Penny, if this new research trip to Switzerland gets approved, I may well make the discovery of my career and finally win my Nobel Prize."

"Of course you're going to win it, Sheldon," I chuckle, "it's just a when." And I realize, that's exactly what he's needed to hear. Even though he praises himself all the time, what he really wants is someone to agree with him. To believe in him and to reassure him that what he's doing is worthwhile.

"…what good is it if you have no one to share it with? You need someone who's going to cheer you on and root for you."

Who would have thought that someone would end up being me? Even though I don't understand what the freaking hell a Higgs Boson Particle or a monopole is, I couldn't have more faith in Sheldon. Because, if I'm being really honest, if anyone is going to prove string theory and the existence of a God Particle, it's MoonPie.

I know this is what he needs, because his hand voluntarily grabs mine. Of his own accord. First. Which is a huge thing. We both turn to stare at our clasped hands as if neither of us knows how it happened. But he doesn't let go until we get into my car, which really does not want to start.

"Penny, you really should get that—"

"Not tonight, Sheldon," I remind him. "I will. As soon as I get a little bit ahead money wise, I will get it fixed."

We don't talk about it the rest of the way to the restaurant. And he never knows the difference; that I'm keeping the damn thing running with two feet.

Okay. I have to admit, it's kind of cool walking into a classy restaurant and having Sheldon step up to the Maitre d' and tell him there is a reservation for Dr. Cooper.

Yeah, that's right. Penelope is on the town with a doctor. I mean, he's not like, a medical doctor or anything, but who the hell cares?

"Right this way," The hostess says, leading us into the dining room, which is adorned with crystal chandeliers.

"This place is classy," I whisper to Sheldon, trying not to think of what this dinner may set him back, "Are you sure you can afford—"

"Penny. It is impolite to bring up the subject of money on a date," He reprimands me as we are shown to our table and given menus.

"Your waiter will be along shortly," the hostess informs us politely, leaving us to look at the menus. Okay, I know this place is way out of my financial range because there are no damn prices on the menu. It just lists the dishes.

"Sheldon, there are no prices—"

"Penny," He cuts me off in a very Alpha voice. Not un-Sheldon, but more authoritative than condescending. You know, the kind that makes me want to rip his clothes off.

Shit. I need a drink.

I immediately order a glass of white wine and Sheldon orders an iced tea. While we're waiting, I reach across for his hand and feel a tiny thrill when his fingers close around mine. Seriously never would have dreamed this. What if I wake up and I'm back in my own apartment and none of this ever happened?

I think I would be a little devastated. Or a lot.

Don't even think it yet. I warn myself, squeezing my eyes closed for a moment as I brush the thought from my mind.

"So, your sister will be arriving in two weeks, yes?" Sheldon asks, making conversation. I nod, distantly remembering my sister and nephew are coming to California to visit. And so Brian can get his recommendations from Sheldon and Howard.

"Yeah, a week from Saturday, after my nephew's school lets out."

"And is your sister content with the prospect of staying in a hotel?" Sheldon inquires cautiously, eyeing me over his drink. I let out a breathy laugh.

"Are you kidding? Darcy hasn't ever been out of Nebraska! She's probably sick with glee over getting to stay in a hotel." I sigh again, "Which is another thing I'm going to do when I get my money situation going better. Pay you back."

"Penny, I've said this before and I'll say it again. Repayment is not necessary. Especially given the paradigm of our relationship and the new dynamics of which—"

"You're getting the damn money back, Sheldon."

"As you wish, but let it be known that I have no expectations of you regarding the money. Also, I do not wish you to start avoiding me as you did the first time I loaned you money."

"Well, maybe you should give me a reason to stick around…" I tell him seductively, sipping my wine. Of course, he doesn't get it. Sighing, I begin to lean over the table to tell him what I'm talking about when I hear a voice from behind me and see Sheldon's eyes widen to the size of silver dollars.

"Well, well, well…what are you two kids up to?"

Fuck.

I panic for half a second, meeting Sheldon's eyes before turning to face Howard and realizing that it's Howard, Bernadette, Raj and Bridget. All staring at us. It's pretty damn obvious what's going on here.

"We were just…celebrating," I lie, swallowing. "You know, a belated dinner thing to celebrate my getting the part in Home Planet." Howard's face lights up like a kid on Christmas morning…or I guess Hanukkah for him.

"You've got to get me into the set, Penny," He pleads, forgetting his original purpose. I should have known. Mention the sci-fi T.V. show I'm going to be starring in and the guy turns into goo. "I need to see it."

"Uh…we'll see how things go," I bullshit, glancing over at Sheldon, who looks thoroughly irritated.

"Is it true that they are thinking about Katee Sackhoff being plugged for a recurring role?"

"Howard," I reply, "I just found out I got the part on Wednesday. The only things I know are the lines I've memorized for the pilot episode and the fact that I have a costume fitting at noon tomorrow."

"But you'll let me know if you hear anything, right?" He chirps interrogatively. I make a face.

"Yeah…probably not." I don't want to picture Howard (even married Howard) skulking around my film set ogling the female actors. "I don't think we're allowed to bring friends on set unless we're married to them or they're our kids." Raj is pointedly looking down at his phone, while Bridget and Bernadette titter back and forth.

"Lookin' sexy, Sheldon!" Bernadette pipes in cheerfully, giving him a wink which he rewards with a puzzled stare.

"That is a very nice suit," Bridget agrees, smiling at him politely.

"Well, we have to get going," Bernadette urges, pulling Howard by the hand and nodding toward the door, "or we're going to miss our movie!"

"Oh, that's too bad…" I say…really trying to sound sincere, but I know damn well that I don't. Howard gives us another once over.

"You guys could always come with," he offers, while Sheldon starts to twitch. I suppress the urge to cover my face with my hand and shake my head.

"Nah, we just ordered and I haven't eaten all day, so…"

"Well, you kids behave yourselves," Howard waggles his eyebrows at us, making me glare at him. Saying a quick goodbye, they leave as Bernadette practically has to drag him away. When I turn back to Sheldon, he is looking down at his phone, perplexed.

"Finally found a problem you can't solve, Shelly?" I tease, relaxing and taking a long sip of wine. Giving me a scathing look, he turns his phone toward me and shows me the text he's reading.

Shelly plz tell Mama that I am 32 years old n capable of making my own choices If I wanna move to Austin that's my decision

"Wow," I say, raising my eyebrows. Sheldon sighs, looking back down at it with a slight shake of his head.

"I know…it's a tragedy. The poor girl can barely spell, much less use proper punctuation and grammar," he utters, pocketing the phone while I stare at him in silent disbelief.

Why do I always forget he's a big ball of clueless when it comes to things that are plain as day? The poor schmuck can't even tell that his sister just kind of gave him a cry for help by telling him that she's moving away from her hometown with her possibly abusive soon-to-be hubby. I recognize the tone of that text as if it was a voicemail. It's saying, 'Sheldon, you're my twin brother and I need you to understand that my fiancé is forcing me to live hours away from my friends and family to isolate me so that he can destroy my ego and my support. Help me!'

Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe years of making stupid decisions and dating assholes has made me cynical. But what if I'm not? What if Ben is abusing Sheldon's sister and I didn't do everything I could to help him help her?

"Sheldon, I don't think it's a good idea for Missy to live in Austin with Ben. Isn't that like, over an hour away?"

"It's three hours away," he corrects, sipping his iced tea. "Two hundred, fifteen point seven miles away."

"So, far," I conclude. Slowly, he nods. "Sweetie, I want you to listen to me, okay? Because I need you to understand…I think Missy is in trouble. I think this guy is bad news and I think she's falling into a trap a lot of girls fall into. Moving three hours away from your mother and your brother and MeeMaw is a mistake."

"You are insinuating that you still suspect that the man to whom she is affianced is abusing her…?" His voice is unsure, but I nod, biting my lower lip. "And what would I be able to do about it? Even if Missy would listen to me, which she's never done up to this point, my attempt to aid her would be futile as I am here and she is there."

"I'm not saying that…" I insist, "I'm saying I think you should talk to her when we are down in Texas in July for the engagement party. Just let her know you're here for her. I think that's what she needs right now."

"I still don't think anything I say will—"

"Trust me on this, Cowboy," I stop him, "Just…I know how she feels, okay?" His eyes flash with understanding for a second and I kind of sag in relief that he's getting the message. "Tell her you are here for her," I urge again, watching him reluctantly text his sister back though he still looks skeptical.

The rest of dinner goes by pretty pleasantly with almost no problems (other than Sheldon kind of freaking the waitress out when his steak is not as well done as he ordered, but I'm sure the trusty cooks in the back will follow the oath of food workers or whatever garbage Leonard told Sheldon years ago.)

"Honey," I begin on the way out of Angelina's, "I'm thinking, maybe we should just go home and watch a movie…maybe?"

"But, we planned to go dancing," Sheldon answers, confused as I take his hand.

"But wouldn't you rather be safe at home in your spot watching a DVD, than in some dirty, germy dance club where the people could be transferring any number of germs—"

"Penny," he stops me, and I turn to look up at him, "you had me at my spot." I laugh, rolling my eyes and giving him a shove, noticing his smirk.

"Ass!"

The prospect of getting Sheldon all to myself tonight is both a daunting and a dizzying thought. It's only a little after eight, and the laundry is done, so we have all night to ourselves. Not that he's going to be watching much of any movie. We'll call it an experiment in progress.

Of course, just as I'm pulling out of the restaurant parking lot, my damn car stalls out. Again. Luckily, I get it restarted before Sheldon can fully catch on to what happened. He does give me a suspicious look, but manages to hold his tongue on the subject, which is probably good.

As soon as we're in the apartment, I run to let Flash out of the bedroom and find him asleep on my pillow, sprawled on his back. Leaning down, I kiss his little pink nose and head back out to join my date, who is at present perusing his DVDs.

How am I going to do this subtly?

I wait for him to decide on the first Transformers movie, settling on the couch in my green dress, which is not the most comfortable thing to lounge around on. But the thing is…I don't plan on wearing it much longer.

Because I think we're ready for our next lesson: second base. Sorry, MoonPie…these teacups need a little spinning.

I wait for him to put in the movie and settle into his spot before I pounce, reaching for his tie and loosening it, wrenching it over his head. Loosening the first couple of buttons of his dress shirt, I notice his eyes widen in wary surprise.

"Penny, I wish you wouldn't grope me like a wench in a brothel," he pleads, making me giggle.

"What the hell do you know about brothels?"

"I visit the saloon all the time in Red Dead Redemption. I saved a prostitute just the other day."

"Did she at least put out?" I joke dryly, watching him frown.

"No, I received a medal," he answers, making me shake my head.

"Sounds like you got screwed," I tell him, depositing myself onto his lap and using his tie to bring him toward me, lifting the skirt of my dress so I can straddle him. He, of course, resists me at first, but after the first few seconds of struggle, he relaxes into my touch. Dropping the tie, I carefully cradle the back of his head, combing my fingers into his baby soft hair. I try not to smile as our lips mesh together sweetly, very gentle at first. It's a rule of mine with him. He has to make the first move to go a further before I start to push buttons. This is seriously so bizarre to me still…not just the fact that we are dating and it's working…but that we are living in the same apartment and haven't murdered each other.

I'm just getting ready to pull away a little, when I feel something touch the side of my neck and realize it's one of Sheldon's hands, holding me in place. That's when he does it again. I feel the tiniest brush of his tongue past my slightly parted lips and meet him halfway, carefully caressing his with mine. I can hear a breathy moan escape me when the long fingers of his other hand tighten on the silky material of my dress at my hip and pull me forward. The poor thing must be running on pure instinct, because his hips seem to grind upward on their own and his eyes fly open as if he himself can't believe he just did that.

"Penny…" He gasps, turning his face and taking in a large amount of air.

"It's okay, honey," I assure him, smoothing his hair back, "it's normal. It just means you're aroused."

"Penny, I am one of the most gifted minds of my generation, if not the most gifted," Really? Now? "I have an eidetic memory and I have an I.Q. of one hundred eighty-seven. I neither need a lesson on male sexual arousal, nor do I want one. But I can assure you, that this is not my first experience with sexual arousal and nor will it be my last."

"Really," I reply sardonically, giving him a look, "so you know all about it, smart guy…huh?"

"I've been suppressing my attraction to you for the past five years, so I would say that yes, I do know all about it," Sheldon retorts, eyes blazing with challenge. And yet again, the big whacko has managed to render me speechless.

"You—" I stop myself, shaking my head to gather my wits, "Seriously?"

"Yes," Sheldon answers immediately, "Why on Earth would I make something like that up?"

"You wouldn't," I mutter, exhaling and resting my forehead against his. "You're crazy, you do know that, right?"

"No. I was tested," is his only response. "Furthermore, I don't appreciate—"

"Sheldon, shut up." I growl, taking his face back into my hands and making him shut up. When I pull back, he's pink and his lips are swollen and I love it. But we need to stop, because he's weirdly too good at this for someone who never wanted to have physical contact with another person. And there's only so much more I can take before I debauch him completely. "Hey," I whisper, kissing his nose and making him open his eyes. Jesus, I hope if he ever has kids they have his eyes. "Let's get in our pajamas and make some kettle corn and watch Optimus Prime kick Megatron's big metal ass."

(And if we happen to make out a little more, so be it.)

 

Chapter Text

It is amazing how fast time flies by when you're busy as hell. Two weeks have gone by and I've filmed three of the first six episodes of Home Planet. Filming is actually not that hard, it's just so time consuming. Early in the morning, I have to get there for hair and makeup. Then we have to wait for them to set up the scenes and the shots. Then we rehearse. Then we shoot. And we break. And we eat. And we shoot some more. By the time I get home, I'm whipped. I guess I'm lucky though. I mean, we're shooting most of the show in a studio since it takes place on a futuristic spacecraft like luxury cruise at this point. So I don't have to live in Hawaii like the cast of Lost did for like six months a year. And, this show is only doing twelve episodes at present because the network wants to see if it's even a hit. They keep telling me, 'Sometimes it takes a few tries to find one that sticks.'

You know, even if it doesn't work out, at least I can say I did something with my life. At least I can say I don't work at The Cheesecake Factory anymore. At least I can say that the best acting gig I ever got wasn't playing a dead whore on C.S.I. And I didn't even have to sleep with the producer. I mean, how freaking cool would that be to tell my kids, "Yeah, when I was twenty-six I was the lead in a T.V. series."? Because it would be freaking sweet. Even if they don't care, at least I'll feel cool.

Luckily, I get a couple days off while Charlie and Ryan work on some script changes and they prepare the set for the landing scene on Gaea. So, I get to prepare everything for Darcy and Brian's arrival this afternoon while Dr. Whack-A-Doodle is at work. Which is nice, because then I don't have him following me around with his clipboard of crazy while he checks things off. Don't get me wrong, the guy definitely gets my engine running in a huge way, but he still drives me absolutely nuts sometimes. He's lucky he's cute. He's asked me eighteen times if my sister has a history of kleptomania. Eighteen times. When I told him no, he proceeded to then store away all of his valuables (meaning his Green Lantern shit and some Star Trek stuff) and lock them in his closet.

Somehow, I don't think Darcy is going to want his life sized cutout of Mr. Spock. Even if he did get the Leonard Nimoy one after sending Quinto Spock back. I'm not even sure if Darcy knows what Star Trek is.

I'm just about to head out to pick them up when I hear a familiar voice in the hallway.

"…ex-girlfriend lives here. Yeah, she lives in that one." I peek out the peephole like I'm James fucking Bond and see Kurt walk by the door toward the next staircase with Alicia? The skank bitch from 5A?

Oh this is just perfect. This is freaking wonderful. My asshole ex is now dating the biggest ho-bag on the planet, who just happens to live above me. Oh boy! I can't wait to hear the two of them going at it. And I'm sure Sheldon and Leonard are going to just love him being around. I'd almost forgotten she even lived here. Of course, they would meet. She's an actress…he's an 'actor.' Meaning he's hot with muscles so he's a shoo in for any jocky type extra needed. Plus, he's six five, so he kind of stands out in a crowd.

Oh, and actually Kurt, I live in this one now. So don't even think about knocking on that door. Unless you plan on making love to a five foot five lactose intolerant scientist with an astigmatism and asthma. And mommy issues. Go for it!

"You used to date that Penny girl?" Alicia replies in her bitchy stuck up stupid nasal voice. "I beat her ass once you know."

Yeah, because you're eight feet tall, you bimbo! And trust me, she did not win that fight. I had a black eye and a fat lip, but she needed surgery to fix the deviated septum I gave her. It bled like crazy. Sheldon was freaking out about blood borne diseases and took like three showers in a row while Raj and Howard took her slutty ass to the E.R.

"Psycho bitch, that one," Kurt says, and I have to force myself to push the urge to grab my baseball bat and beat both their brains out. "You know, she once accused me of cheating in the middle of my best friend's birthday party. She ruined the whole night. And everyone told me that she was banging some guy in the basement."

As their voices trail off, I punch the door with the side of my fist and squeeze my eyes shut against tears of frustration. It's one thing to say things that aren't true. It's another thing to tell someone I did something that he did. I wasn't the one in that basement. Everyone at that party knew it.

I've seen John a few times. He's still with K.C. But he knows just as well as I do that it wasn't me in that basement with a guy. It was Kurt and his wife.

But to hear the man who I lived with and trusted for four years basically tell a lie about me to one of the biggest bitches on earth is possibly the lowest I could possibly feel. How, after almost five years away from him, does he have the ability to make me feel like absolute garbage? Like I'm the one who wasn't good enough!

I wait until I hear Alicia's door above me and then I open the apartment door, glancing cautiously around the hall before darting down the stairs as if my life depends on it. I cry almost the entire way to the airport because I'm so damn pissed. And I'm really upset because I don't want Darcy to see me like this. And I really don't want Sheldon to see me like this. Especially since we haven't gotten to spend as much time together over the past two weeks. Of course, we're talking about the master of avoiding human contact, so it's probably not a huge issue. He's also the first guy I've date who really doesn't have jealousy issues.

Probably because he couldn't possibly see how any woman would not want Homo Novus.

And it's oddly perfect that he's so in love with himself. If he likes me half as much as he loves himself, we might have a shot. Because it's starting to scare me how much I like him. I mean, I've always liked Sheldon. That's not the problem. The problem is, I have never needed him to like me back. Our relationship has always been antagonistic, but it was never complicated. Now it's a little complicated…but in a good way.

I sound like a lunatic.

We're still antagonistic. We bicker like hell and I still love to push his buttons, but now we kiss. And we laugh. I never thought I would laugh so much with Sheldon Cooper, but he cracks my ass up. And the best part is, he doesn't even know why half the time. In the past two weeks, I've heard his real laugh, you know the secret one from when he pulled a Bazinga over on me, three times. Once, when Flash got his head stuck in Sheldon's shoe, another when we were doing the Wii EA Sports thing again and I fell on my ass doing Mountain Biking, and the third time, when I gave Howard a strike for making a comment about my 'glow of satisfaction.' (I think our friends all nearly died at the sound of it, much the way I did the first time I heard it.)

Obviously, our friends are starting to suspect that we are at the very least doing it. (Don't I wish!) After running into Bridget and Raj and Howard and Bernadette at Angelina's, it's getting kind of hard to hide it. The only person who really doesn't know is Leonard. And I'm good with that. I'm not really ready to tell him. Even though I know he's happy with Amy, I'm not comfortable with telling the guy who once told me he loved me that I'm now making out with his old roommate on a nightly basis.

I manage to wipe my eyes and fan myself before Darcy and Brian come out of the airport and I flag them down. I still can't get over how tall my little Brian is. And by little, I mean, I was nine when he was born so it's almost like we grew up together a little. But I do remember Darcy bringing him over when he was a sweet little blond baby boy and I remember asking if I could dress him up. This was right at the end of my sweet little girl days and the dawn of my Daddy's little Slugger days. There is a picture of Brian and I asleep on the living room floor surrounded by my stuffed animals though. It's cute. If my babies are half as cute as Bri-Bri, I'll be lucky. Darcy's lucky he doesn't look much like Joey.

Darcy looks great. I mean, she looks really great. She looks happier than ever and her hair is brushed and she looks her age. She's wearing makeup and I can see Mom must have taken her for some new clothes because she's dressed like a woman and not an overgrown fifteen year old girl who never got a chance to grow up. And how come I never inherited Mom's boobs?

That shit's just not fair.

"Penny!" Darcy sighs happily, pulling me into a tight hug. It's such a far cry from how she was last month, that I can't even find words to describe it. She's like a different person.

"Oh. My. God. You look amazing!" I gush, squeezing her tightly.

"Yeah. Mom took me into town for a makeover. Made me get highlights and new clothes. She said it was cleansing or some crap like that," Her green eyes light up, "Oh! Tim's home! Still into the evangelical bullshit, but at least he's off drugs."

"Really?" I laugh, thinking of my brother, who had hair longer than mine that last time I saw him and a sick soul patch that I told him made him look like a hippie child molester.

"Yeah…" Darcy lets out a whistle. "Besides havin' you around, it's like havin' the whole damn family back together. Except Timbo is now a Jesus freak who likes pastel man sweaters and and collared shirts. He cut his hair all perfect and shaved that gross beard off. He's clean." Darcy rolls her eyes. "Oh God, you should see Mom. She's all over him. It's disgusting." I don't know why, but this is funny to me. A month ago, I would have been annoyed, but the thought of Tim dressing like a metrosexual man and going to church is hysterical.

Shit, if she thinks our brother is a goof, she's got a whole bag of crazy coming at her in a little bit. Not to mention, it's new Comic Book Night. And Halo Night. Well, at least Brian will have fun.

We get a sweet little surprise when we arrive at their hotel to check them in. First of all, they can't find the reservation.

There's strike one.

Then, they give us trouble because Darcy is not related to Sheldon Cooper in any way and he's not here. Even though he paid in advance. (Trust me, I know, I had to drive his ass here and watched him interrogate the hotel clerk for half an hour because he doesn't trust making reservations over the phone.)

Strike two.

So finally, the bimbo finds the reservation, which is under the name Cooper even though Shelly made specific instructions that the reservation was supposed to be under Darcy's last name, which is Landry. It's not. So after the girl (who looks like a Hugh Hefner girlfriend reject) finds the reservation, she pops her gum and plays with her hair extensions.

"Um, yeah…so, those reservations are for tomorrow. And we're full tonight because of a wedding. So…"

"Tomorrow?" I cry, sharing a look with my sister, who looks like she may fly over the counter and beat the tan off of this chick. Sheldon is going to go off the deep end. He's going to kick us all out and we're going to have to go stay at Leonard and Amy's. Reluctantly, I pull out my phone.

"Give me a sec, Darce," I say, walking toward the door so I am out of earshot. This is probably going to get ugly. Paging Dr. Whack-A-Doodle!

"Dr. Cooper," He says into his cell phone, making me roll my eyes a little.

"Um yes, Dr. Cooper. This is your girlfriend," I reply, rubbing my temple already in anticipation of his overreaction to the fact that I'm bringing not one, but two guests into our apartment for the night. I'll sleep on the damn floor if I have to.

"Penny?" He sounds unsure, and I can almost picture him pulling the phone away from his ear and looking back down at the caller I.D.

"Yes, Sheldon," I sigh, "it's me. Listen, we have a problem—"

"This isn't going to be a pleasant conversation, is it?" He asks, as if he expects me to drop a bombshell on him like the building burnt down or someone died.

"The hotel reservation isn't until tomorrow," I blurt quickly, glancing at my sister and nephew, who are standing awkwardly together. "Darcy and Brian are going to have to stay with us for a night. There's a wedding here and—" I can hear him sigh. Oh dear Jesus, be a little more melodramatic, will you, Sheldon?

"I see," is his only response. Frustrated, I run an agitated hand through my hair.

"Look, this is my sister, Sheldon. I don't ask you for much. But she needs this. And I am asking them to stay with us for the night. So, don't even—"

"Penny, are you experiencing Pre-Menstrual Syndrome?" His voice is very calm as if he is speaking to someone who is borderline unstable.

"I – what?"

"I do not understand why you are attacking me when I said nothing to provoke your anger," He pauses and I can then hear him speaking to someone else, "Raj, I now know what my mail carrier meant when he told me that 'bitches be crazy.'"

"Excuse me, did you just call me a bitch?" I ask, wondering if I should laugh or be pissed. Because I'm leaning more toward cracking up now. I can feel that sickening surprised smile widen on my face, the one I get whenever Sheldon does something out of the normal. Or really does anything.

"Penny, have you taken leave of your senses or perhaps stumbled into an opium den? I've said no such thing and would never refer to you in such a derogatory manner. If you would pay attention once in a while, you would have heard me say that my mail carrier—"

"No, I got it. Forget that," I stop him, before he goes from being adorably sweet to condescending butt in two seconds. I'd rather remember him saying something nice than talking about my lack of paying attention. Seriously, has the guy ever heard himself talk? I feel like I'm trying to crack a code half the time…and I am paying attention!

"Very well. As to our conundrum, even though this is highly inconvenient to my routine and to my comfort, I would not object to your sister and her son staying for one night in our apartment, given that neither of them plays a percussive instrument—"

"Sheldon, you once played the bongos at three in the morning," I remind him dryly.

"Penny," he counters, stopping me, "and both of them agree to sign a waiver stating that should I find any of my personal belongings missing or broken, that they shall be held responsible for replacing that object if proven guilty."

That's right, MoonPie. Protect your dollies.

"Fine," I nod, even though I know he can't see me, "We'll meet you at the comic book store. I—" I stop myself, shaking my head, "I'll see you then."

"Very well, Penny," He says agreeably, hanging up the phone. I shake my head once more before putting my phone into my purse and turning to Darcy.

"Okay, no biggie. You guys are just gonna stay with me and Sheldon tonight. I just gave him the heads up," I inform them, pushing my hair out of my face. The heat from outside is seeping in despite the air conditioning in the hotel lobby. I give the dumbass Playboy bunny another scathing look before dragging Darcy and Brian back out to my car.

Which stalls…again.

"Geez, Pen…aren't you like, a big time actress now? Don't you think you should get a new car?" Darcy asks as I fire the old girl back up. I sigh.

"It's a matter of principle. I wanna see how far I can get her to go. Plus, I haven't even received my first paycheck. It's supposed to come this week," I explain, catching poor Brian's flushed face in the rearview mirror. My air is gone too, so we're all just letting the hot air wash over us as I drive.

At least I don't have road rage like my psycho sister here.

"So you and this Sheldon guy," Darcy starts and I cringe. Mom.

"Yeah, me and Sheldon," I nod, swallowing and getting back onto the freeway to head toward Pasadena.

"He's good to you?" She doesn't sound like she's asking, she sounds a little envious. Like she doesn't know what it's like to have a nice guy. Of course, Darcy would not be able to handle Sheldon. She's a little broken right now. She needs to be coddled. She needs a guy who's going to treat her like a princess.

"Yeah. He's great, but listen," I figure, I better prepare them for their first taste of Whack-A-Doodle, "he's a little different. First of all, he's a scientist. He's like, super smart…like super smart. Second, he's quirky. He has routines and he can come off kind of uncaring, but he's not. Just have a little patience and keep an open mind. I love him dearly, but he's a kook."

"Honey, after livin' with Joey for the past eighteen years, this guy is gonna be a cake walk," She turns and glances back at her son, "sorry Bri."

"No, you're right," Brian agrees, "Dad's a prick."

"Brian James Landry!" Darcy and I cry together, though I'm giggling anyway. Darcy isn't doing a very good job of hiding her amusement either.

"He is," Brian goes on, "he hates that I'm smart. He thinks I should give up my chemistry shit and start getting laid. Those are his exact words, Mom."

"Ugh," I shake my head in disgust.

"I don't even do chemistry. I want to be an engineer. I mean, he doesn't even know the difference between biology and chemistry."

"God, what an idiot." Darcy says in response, but gives me a look that says, 'I have no idea either, but I love my son, so I'll support anything he does.' She kind of weirdly reminds me of Mrs. Cooper. Who also had a shitty marriage and a genius son. Interesting. Of course, Brian is just smart, I'm not sure he's a genius, but he's still smarter than I'll ever be.

The guys are already at the comic book store with Amy when we get there. Amy is hanging near the counter with a copy of the latest issue of Neuron, but brightens at the sight of the three of us.

"Hey, Bestie!" She says brightly…for Amy. "As if the world wasn't already full enough with your golden beauty and you bring your equally beautiful sister here?" Oh God. I forgot to warn Darce about Amy. And also the fact that we look a lot alike.

"Darcy…this is Amy," I begin, gesturing as Amy puts her arm around my shoulders.

"I'm her best friend," Amy states proudly, and I squeeze her waist affectionately. Because she is. Darcy smiles politely at her while Brian brushes past to the comic books and I turn to introduce him.

"Guys," I say as Brian begins to thumb through a stack, "This is my sister, Darcy—"

"Enchantè, mademoiselle." Howard says, creepy even after there's a ring on it. Delightful. I give him a look, making him back away.

"And my nephew, Brian," I add, nodding to the six foot tall boy standing beside me. Leonard grins politely at him and shakes his hand.

"Nice to meet you, Brian. Your aunt is real proud of you, you know," He adds.

"Yeah, Penny tells us you're going to M.I.T.," Howard pipes in, and it's funny, because both of them are staring way up into the seventeen year old's face.

"Where's Raj?" I ask Amy, who sighs.

"He got some bad news. According to Bernadette, Bridget and he broke up. Apparently, her ex-fiancè is in town and she said she needs time to think," she rattles off quickly.

"Oh no…poor Raj," I sigh, biting my lip and feeling bad for my poor little ambiguously metrosexual friend. Maybe I could convince him to come over and we could all share a bottle of wine and watch Nine Months. Damn guy's a sucker for movies about babies. And sparkly vampires…and bittersweet cancer deaths. I can't tell you how many times he's made me watch Terms of Endearment.

"I know," Howard says dryly, "Bernie feels so bad, she's got him coming over to watch Wheel of Fortune with her and Mom and they got him a fifty piece chicken nuggets from McDonald's."

"Jesus," I cringe, shaking my head as I notice Brian approach Sheldon.

"You're Dr. Cooper aren't you?" His voice is full of reverence, like he's meeting a celebrity. Leonard and I share looks of confusion.

"Yes, I am," Sheldon agrees, looking up from the Batman comic book he's reading.

"Aunt Penny, I didn't even put together that when you said you were living with Sheldon, that it was Dr. Sheldon Cooper," He looks back at Sheldon, "my Physics teacher read us one of your articles on Finite-Mass Monopoles."

Oh God, my eyes have glazed over. But this obviously soothes Sheldon's sickeningly huge ego and he sets aside the comic book.

"Brian, no…" I say weakly, but it's too late. The two of them are talking about electromagnetism or something and I'm left standing between Leonard and my sister.

"It's like watching Luke and Vader have a heart to heart," Howard mutters, tilting his head and watching Brian brighten and talk like I've never seen him talk. Even Darcy is watching in fascination with a small smile lingering on her lips.

"Poor kid's never been able to talk about stuff with his Dad," Darcy says quietly, "I wish I were smarter so I could. Look at him, Pen. He's so excited."

I'm still trying to get over the fact that my nephew is fangirling over Sheldon. Even Sheldon, who normally wears a constant mask of superiority seems a little impressed with my nephew.

"He looks like you, you know," Leonard tells me, and I turn to look at him in surprise.

"You think so?"

"He has the blond hair and he has your smile, Penny."

"He does, huh?" I grin, glancing at Brian, who is listening to Sheldon regale him on something to do with quantum gravity.

"Hey, Penny," Leonard says quietly, touching my arm, "Can I talk to you for a—"

"Penny, who is that?" Darcy asks, pointed toward the back wall, where a man is bent over. A second later, he stands up and I feel my mouth drop a little as I realize it's Stuart. "Hello Hottie!" She whispers, nudging me. I stare at her in disbelief.

It's. Stuart.

"Perhaps your eyesight is going, I think you're confused," Amy interjects, following her gaze and shaking her head, "She doesn't have your street smarts or keen intellect." I cover my eyes with my hand.

"Do you know him?" Darcy asks, straightening her hair while the rest of us just watch. It's like a when you hear tires squeal and you wait to hear the crashing sound.

"Yeah. He owns the store," I reply carefully. Darcy's eyes widen as Stuart comes toward us with his arms full of comic books.

"Hey Penny," Stuart says in his sad sack usual voice and I notice Dr. Obvious look over at us with a keen eye.

"Hey, Stuart!" I manage to smile cheerily at him, "This is my sister Darcy."

"I'm single," Darcy interjects quickly, making me smirk.

"Coming on a little desperate, don't you think?" Amy whispers to me. "She's nearly as attractive as you are."

"Ames, you don't know what she's spent the past seventeen years married to," I remind Amy gently. "Yeah!" I add, pushing Darcy forward, "I told you I'd get you a date. Give Stuart your number, Darce!" I instruct, watching Darcy follow Stuart over to the counter and continue to attempt flirting for the first time since she was fifteen.

"…I mean, I don't expect you to say yes. In fact, I just hope that you won't tell me to go drown in my own vomit, but—"

"Are you kidding? I love Italian!" Darcy exclaims excitedly. "I'm only in town for a week, but I'd definitely love to go out to dinner with you. Er—" Darcy looks at me, "is that okay, Penny? I know we had plans and stuff, but—"

"Go, Darce. Have a good time."

"Has your sister suffered a mild stroke or perhaps some memory loss as a result of lack of oxygen to the brain?" Sheldon asks, moving toward us. I glare at him.

"No, she has not."

"Well, I can't come up with another explanation as to why she would agree to go on a date with Stuart. It's preposterous," Sheldon scoffs, making Brian snicker. I give him a look.

"Don't you dare say anything about it, Dr. Cooper or so help me, I will—" I remember vaguely that Leonard and Amy are still huddled nearby with Howard, "—I'll go Junior Rodeo on you," I finish lamely. Sheldon rolls his eyes.

"You have been threatening me with that for the past four years and I have yet to see evidence of this Junior Rodeo," He retorts, making me narrow my eyes at him. Swiftly, I grab his wrist and pin it behind his back, locking my ankle around his. He shrieks like a little girl.

"If you want to see the rest, I promise you, I am not afraid to take you down and hog tie you. But I'll need to borrow your pocket knife to castrate you," I add, giving him a dark look.

"That. Was. Awesome," Howard says, grinning like an idiot until I snap my head and look at him menacingly. He immediately retreats with his hands up in defeat.

"I'll see you guys at the apartment. I'm just gonna…fire up the Vespa." He scurries out the door without a glance back.

"Wimp," I grin, winking at Darcy, who just shakes her head.

"My sister, the tough girl," She says, "Stuart, this is my son, Brian."

"Hey, nice to meet you," Stuart nods at my very tall nephew, looking slightly intimidated.

"You don't have to return the sentiment," Sheldon assures him, "Stuart is aware of his mediocrity and his pathetic nature."

"Sheldon Lee Cooper!" I whack him in the arm. "He's just crabby because it's hot." And it is hot. It's ninety-six damn degrees outside. Sheldon isn't even wearing his goofy old man jacket, but I'm sure the long sleeved undershirt isn't helping matters. And that shirt is really clinging to him, which isn't helping me.

Oh crap. I haven't told Darcy and Brian to keep us on the down low.

"Amy, get Leonard out of here," I mutter quickly.

"Not to worry. I'd drive off a cliff with you in a show of feminine solidarity ala Thelma and Louise," She assures me, turning to Leonard promptly. "Leonard, I am overcome with lust for you. Perhaps we could squeeze in a quickie before Halo?" I drop my purse on the ground and watch Leonard start to stutter in surprise.

"What is a quickie?" Sheldon asks, looking down at me in confusion. I just shake my head and pat his arm.

"Not now," I sigh.

I let Brian play Halo for me, much to Howard's chagrin (since it's his turn to have me on his team). And I spend the night catching up with Darcy on everything from movies to hot celebrities over a bottle of Moscato. She enjoys Chris Hemsworth, who played Thor while I prefer Chris Evans as Captain America. Holy hot! I actually have a good time with Darcy, which I've never had the chance to do. And it's really nice to see her smile. I also managed to inform her discreetly on the drive home that Sheldon and I are top secret material. Even though I'm kind of sure everyone knows, I am trying to keep it from Leonard as long as possible.

After the guys and Amy leave, we decide that Darcy is going to take the couch while Brian sleeps in my bed.

"And where will you sleep, Penny?" Sheldon asks, when I am pulling out pillows and blankets for Darcy. I give him a tired look.

"Where do you think, MoonPie?" I ask dryly. "I'm going to sleep in the hallway with Flash."

"I hardly think that's an acceptable solution. Surely, there are other—"

"Sheldon, I swear I adore you, but I'm going to have to slap some sense into you," I sigh, "I'm going to sleep in your room."

"You certainly aren't!" Sheldon squeals, looking at his bedroom door as if willing it to lock. Maybe he has a mind activated laser shield.

"Sheldon," I advance on him, cornering him against the wall, "I can always take all my clothes off and go put on your Wednesday pajamas."

"But then, what would I wear?" He asks, looking lost. I sigh, but stare at him with half a smile.

"Nothing." I notice his face twitch a little, but he manages to keep cool for the most part. "Or you can wear your pajamas and I can wear nothing…but I am sleeping in your bed."

"It's a twin," he argues weakly.

"We've slept in it before," I point out, hearing a small squeak. Looking down, I see Flash sitting in the doorway of Sheldon's bedroom, cleaning himself.

"That was before we—" Sheldon stops himself, "that was before."

"Come to bed, Sheldon." I order, patting his chest and stooping to pick up Flash, pressing a kiss to his little chin. "Bet you never thought you'd hear me say that." I giggle a little, looking at him over my shoulder. He looks like he doesn't know what to think. Finally, he comes and shuts the door quietly behind him. I climb into the small bed and wait, cross legged, while the ten week old kitten bats at the drawstring of my shorts.

Sheldon efficiently pulls out his pajamas and gives me a suspicious look as he pulls his T-Shirts off one by one and places them delicately into his hamper and I so have the decency to look away and give him some privacy. I totally look away.

Yeah right. I watch. I watch like my damn life depends on it. He's my boyfriend. I'm supposed to lust after him. And he has back muscles now. Come on!

The guy looks good. He looks damn good. Even when he drops his pants and reveals his Hulk briefs, I still continue to stare at his surprisingly juicy little behind.

Sheldon must notice, because he gives me a coarse glare and pulls his pajama bottoms on quickly, before buttoning up the top and coming toward the bed, where Flash is already sprawled across his side.

"Honestly, Penny," He states, gently moving the kitten over and receiving a baleful glance from the little cat, "I don't know where you got the idea that it would be acceptable for us to share my bed."

"You're not going to die from sleeping next to me," I assure him, rolling my eyes and turning onto my side, gathering Flash closer to me so that Sheldon can settle in.

"I'm never going to achieve REM sleep in this state," He murmurs, turning off the light, "my space ratio has been compromised and—"

"Sheldon, be quiet," I mutter, pulling some of the blanket over myself and trying to get comfortable. He pulls the blanket forcefully a second later, pissing me off. "Sheldon, if you would just relax—"

"Well, if you weren't as handsy as an octopus—"

"Well, maybe if you weren't such a control freak!" I fire back, pulling at the covers again.

"Well, perhaps if you would pay attention once in a while—"

"Well perhaps if you would just calm down, we could—" I let go of the covers and hear a resounding thud, feeling the bed bounce a little bit. Leaning over the side, I see Sheldon staring back up at me and I bit my bottom lip to keep from laughing. He looks hilarious really. He's clutching the bed covers in his hands and staring up at me in resigned silence while I cover my mouth with my hand, trying in vain to stifle my laughter.

"Oh honey…" I giggle, reaching my hand out for him as he struggles to get up, "I'm sorry!" But I can't stop laughing. He fell off the fucking bed. Flash is staring over the side with his ears quirked as if he doesn't understand why Sheldon is on the ground while we're up here. To my surprise, Sheldon does not take my proffered hand and stands up huffily.

"Now that I've most likely thrown my vertebrae alignment off," He sighs moodily, lying back down with the quilt over us.

"Let's try something," I suggest, and he looks expectantly at me.

"Penny," Oh good! I was worried Dr. Whack-A-Doodle would stop being bat shit for a second! "I am a theoretical physicist. I have a complete working knowledge of the universe and all of its—"

"Hush," I insist, pulling his arm up and fitting my head into the crook between his neck and shoulder, letting Flash settle into the space between my ankles. "Occam's Razor, Sheldon." I slowly relax against Sheldon's side, still allowing him to have his freaky lumbar back sleeping thing.

I open my eyes in unfamiliar surroundings with the sun pouring into the room and feeling cold in the queen sized bed. I look around my expensively furnished room and sigh. I feel an arm draped over my middle and stretch, feeling my sore body ache. Carefully, I remove the arm and get out of the bed, creeping over to the mirror to look at myself.

Something's off. My face is swollen and there is a greenish purple blotch under my eye. Looking back at the bed, I back up into the dresser forcefully and realize it's Kurt. I back toward the door, wondering how I got here and where my friends are. I notice a gold wedding band on my left hand.

"Mommy?" My eyes widen and I look down to see a little boy peering into the door.

"No, no! Justin, we have to go back to bed!" I whisper. "Can't wake up Daddy," I insist, guiding him back toward the door, "Now, be a good boy and—"

"Penny, how many times do I have to tell you I need you to keep that kid outta here while I'm asleep?" I usher the little boy out of the bedroom.

"Go play downstairs for a little bit," I instruct, closing and locking the door behind me and turning toward Kurt.

"Get your fat ass over here, now." He growls and I swallow the lump in my throat, walking forward.

I gasp, my whole body jolting as I wake up from the nightmare.

"Penny?" Sheldon says, looking down at me. "What are you…?"

"Bad dream," I sigh, burying my face tiredly into his chest. "Don't make me go back, 'kay?" I know I'm not making any sense, but I can't help it. What if things don't work out and I end up alone again? I think it would kill me if I had to move out now. What if I did run back to Kurt? What if I had never left him?

"It was just a dream, Penny," His voice is very deep with exhaustion. I tighten my grip on him and a second later, I feel his hand cover mine, removing my fingers from the fabric of his plaid pajamas. "Go to sleep."

"Don' leave me, 'kay? Don' make me leave," I mutter numbly into his chest.

"I'm not going to make you leave. Now please, I'm begging you…go to sleep," He sighs, "I have to work in the morning."

"Remember when I punched you in the face when I was in bed with Leonard and you tried to steal that stupid ring?" I ask, yawning and feeling Flash still nestled between my ankles.

"How could I forget?" He responds dryly. "Your fist makes quite an impression."

"I just mean how different things are now," I tell him, "did you ever think that you and I would be…that we'd—?"

"I have always seen the capacity for the pair of us to be romantically linked. However, as you were involved with my best friend, I had considered you nothing more than a friendly acquaintance. If you're asking if I'd ever considered pursuing you, then the answer is no," He does not say this in a cruel way. "Until you came into our fold, I had never considered pursuing any woman romantically. And although I was attracted to you, I never considered the possibility that you would reciprocate—"

"It was you first, you know," I admit, glad it's dark. I can feel how red my cheeks are, "When I saw you guys…you were the one I wanted. But then, you never said anything and you were so…you. And I thought you weren't interested. There were times when I thought…you might be…interested, but then you would say something mean or comment on my lack of intelligence. And then Amy came along and I—"

"Amy Farrah Fowler was a surprise," Sheldon agrees, "and she and I suited wonderfully. But, as you I'm sure know, you cannot build a relationship based on mutual intelligence and common interests if there is no biological pull toward each other."

"And you feel a biological pull toward me?" I ask, unable to stop a smile from spreading over my face.

"Penny, you are lying mashed up against me in my twin bed. What do you think?" Sheldon replies, and I can hear him yawn. "Even if I have tried everything I know to suppress my urges, I am still a man."

"You're still crazy," I add, sighing into his chest and realizing my hand is still under his.

"I'm not. I've been tested," he tells me for the millionth time. Still not true. "Aren't you tired?" He asks weakly.

"Sheldon?"

"Yes, Penny," His voice is getting quieter and I know he's falling asleep.

"Thank you for letting Darcy and Brian stay here," I breathe.

"You're welcome. I must admit, you're nephew is surprisingly astute and has a very clear mind for a seventeen year old. Of course, by his age I'd achieved my first doctorate and—"

"We're not all insanely smart like you, oh Egomaniac," I remind him, snickering a little. "Sheldon?"

"Penny."

"I'm really glad we started…dating," I say. But I hate calling it 'dating', but I've never been in a relationship like this. It's new and frightening and unlike anything I've ever experienced. It involves real feelings and no sex. Something with which I have no experience.

"I am not unsatisfied either," He replies and I think that means he's glad too. I think.

"Where are we going with this?" I ask, looking up at him in the dark. I can just barely see his blue eyes meet mine.

"Wherever the music takes us, Kitten," He smirks and I smack his chest, snorting with laughter.

"You are such a kook."

 

Chapter Text

I wake up before Sheldon, checking the clock and making sure I have enough time to squeeze in a shower before his. I practically fall out of his teeny tiny six year old bed due to the fact that my teeny tiny kitten is wedged between us on his back with his little white paws in the air. If I wasn't so dead tired, I may die from the cuteness. I slip from the room, pulling my pink robe on and creeping down the hall to the bathroom. It's cold in the apartment because of the air conditioning. It's going to be over a hundred today, so I'll take any cold I can get.

I start the shower and recall the last shower I took in my old apartment back in April. The water pressure was never that great and the drain would sometimes back up. Of course, Leonard's had that taken care of since he can, you know, afford a plumber and a nice state of the art showerhead. And I never had little whimsical ducks on the bottom of my tub. Or the periodic table as a shower curtain.

Where would he even find that?

I am in just my shirt and underwear when I realize I forgot to grab a towel. With a groan, I tiptoe back out into the hall (because we all know Spock can hear everything) and grab a big, green towel out of the closet. I feel something soft brush my ankle and look down to see Flash rubbing against my leg, looking up at me with big eyes.

Feed me, Penny.

"Hungry, huh?" I grin. The little shit must have slipped out with me when I left the bedroom. He's so fast. Careful not to wake Brian, I quickly set Flash's food bowl down in the kitchen and head back toward the bathroom. Huh. I don't remember leaving the door closed. Trying the doorknob, I open it and toss my towel onto the sink, removing my shirt and underwear.

Alright, here's where things get tricky. If I had been more awake, I would have noticed the pile of discarded pajamas near the toilet. I would have noticed the pristinely folded clothes and socks on the toilet. Instead, I blindly drop my things and pull the shower curtain aside to step in.

And collide with a shoulder. (Thank goodness for those duckies.)

He screams. Like a girl. It's actually kind of funny how fast Sheldon covers himself while I just stare up at him in exhausted disbelief.

"Did you seriously just hijack my shower, MoonPie?" I ask incredulously, folding my arms as casually as if we're sitting on the couch having a conversation about Halo.

"Penny, you can't be in here with me," Sheldon says, turning partially away from me and what looks to me like he's trying to figure out a way to disappear through the tiles.

"Technically this is my shower, Sweetie," I point out, raising an eyebrow and giving him a once over.

"I always shower first. It's in the Roommate Agreement," he insists, looking every inch the stubborn child even though he's blushing so much that his ears are practically purple. "This is a strike!"

"For you, maybe," I laugh, enjoying myself. Luckily, I'm not as modest as he is. I don't care if he sees me naked. I have no problem with my body. "You stole my shower, you little shit! Did you think I wouldn't come back? You know we don't have a lock on the door," I drop my voice, hoping Darcy is still as deep a sleeper as she used to be, "Or maybe you were hoping I'd get in here with you."

"Penny," he glares at me, "the rules clearly state that only one party shall occupy the shower at a time. You signed the contract."

"Things have changed since then, Tex." My smile only grows wider as I continue to antagonize him. "Now, move over so I can get some water. You can stay if you want, but I'm not leavin'." I easily brush him aside, making sure to bump his hip with mine as I dive under the warm spray of water.

Any other guy would have had me up against the wall of the shower about five minutes ago.

Instead, I have my man-child roommate/boyfriend/best friend goggling at me like he's torn between relaxing and tearing out of this bathroom like a bat out of freaking hell. Turning away from him, I reach up for my vanilla shampoo and continue to quietly ignore him as I lather up my overly long hair. Sneaking a glance over at Sheldon, he's straightened a little bit and I think he's going to stay.

We're naked. In the shower. Together.

And I'm pretending like it's any other day. I'm just washing my hair and ignoring him while suppressing every sexual instinct I possess. I want to see what little (or big) surprises Sheldon has in store for me. But I'm not going to force him.

Let him come to you.

"Here, I'll move so you can get some water," I tell him, reaching for his arm. His eyes widen and he shakes his head.

"Penny, don't." He whispers, and I see it. His pupils are dilated and he licks his lips nervously.

Sheldon is horny.

"Are you saying that Amy is…oh, what's the scientific word—"

"Forget science, she's horny."

Apparently Homo Novus isn't above baser biological urges. Or boners. And I suddenly take pity on him, because I'm so damn relieved that he's got a deal.

I'm his deal.

"Oh, honey…it's okay!" I assure him, holding my hand out to him. "It's normal."

"Of course it's normal." Sheldon sighs, rolling his eyes. "But I'm not supposed to be normal. I am supposed to be above normal."

"You've said it yourself, sweetheart. You're a man," I remind him gently, "I'm not going to force you to do anything you aren't ready for. We've still only been dating a few weeks."

The longest I've ever waited to have sex in a relationship before this was a week.

Shit. I'm invested in this relationship actually working. Weird!

"Sheldon…" I'm still holding my hand out to him, "come here. Trust me." He stares at my hand tensely for a few seconds, before he finally extends his arm and takes it, our palms flattening tightly against each other. Giving a gentle tug, I pull him toward me, coaxing him near me and placing his hands on my hips.

"I…" His voice falters, "I do…trust you, Penny." And what do I do? I choke up like one of those idiots who watches soldiers come home on YouTube. (Which I have never done. Nope. And I don't cry either. YouTube is evil.)

"Okay," I gently take his face into my hands and brush the pads of thumbs over his slightly scratchy jaw. I do not remove my eyes from his, noticing how blue on blue they are against the flush of his skin. "Kiss me," I whisper, standing up on my toes and making him lean down a little so that our lips can touch. As always, I hold back at first, gently pressing silky soft kisses against the sweet bow of his lips. (Seriously, how did I never notice how sexy the guy's lips are? They're prettier than Angelina Jolie's!)

When I part my lips and tentatively skim his lower lip with my tongue, he does not wait this time before meeting me halfway. I can tell he's stopped thinking, which is probably a nice break for that big oversized brain of his. And then, the big lunatic shocks the shit out of me when I feel his large hand cradling the back of my head, long fingers tangled in the wet mass of my hair. I stop breathing for a second when Sheldon deepens the kiss (yeah, I said Sheldon). Distantly, I hear what sounds sadly like a whimper escape me involuntarily as I cling to him with my arms around his neck like I'm drowning.

And then, the most wonderful thing happens. Sheldon's other hand splays over my behind (the side with the soup tattoo) and pulls me forward and I can feel every part of him.

Sheldon has a deal. I know this because it's pressed against my stomach right now.

Screw mitosis.

I force myself to stop kissing him and smooth his wet hair off of his forehead, running my lips along his throat and down over his chest. He's not stopping me. In fact, his hand is still lightly tangled in my hair. It's probably a good thing this is happening in the shower since he's got a germ problem.

"Penny…" I hear him murmur as I nip very delicately at the skin near his navel. Oh my God. I'm about to come face to face with Sheldon's…deal. I press one more kiss to his flat stomach before pulling away a little just to get a glimpse at what I'm dealing with.

You know, I consider myself an experienced person. I've seen my share of guys' business. I've imagined Sheldon naked a lot over the course of the past month, but I am still not prepared for the reality of it.

Holy crap on a cracker.

Why am I even surprised? Everything about the guy screams long. Long fingers, long legs, long feet. So I guess I shouldn't be surprised that his downstairs isn't much different.

Wow.

I stand back up and bring his face back down to mine to kiss him some more, letting my hand glide over the skin of his back and down over that sweet little behind I adore.

"See what you've been missing?" I gasp, pulling away and flicking my tongue over the shell of his ear.

"Penny," He says again. I think it's the only word he remembers right now.

"Okay," I assure him, stroking his cheek and making him look at me, "it's okay…it's okay…" I keep repeating this as I bring my hand back around his body and run my fingertips over his stomach again. I slowly move my hand downward, feeling my heart hurt a little as he rests his forehead weakly against mine. I can feel the heat coming off of his skin in waves.

"Penny…" He echoes again, his hand tightening on my hip as my fingers wrap around the length of him. Hell, even my eyes close because I'm so happy. I'm probably grinning like a damn fool. Sheldon's blue eyes fall closed and his whole body clenches nearly immediately before relaxing a second later.

And I tear up again. Because it's so special to me. Because I'm the first person who has ever seen Sheldon this way. The only person he's ever trusted to show this vulnerability. Because it means so much to me that he's allowing himself to be intimate with me. It's not a sexual thing for me. It's emotional. Because it means that everyone is wrong about him. And I think I've always known that. And I don't need anyone to understand. I don't give a damn what anyone thinks or says about us.

Oh shit I'm in trouble.

"Are you okay, honey?" I ask, caressing his dark hair back again and soothing his trembling body with my hands.

"Yes, I…" He trails off, opening his eyes in surprise. "I am."

"Good," I nod, pulling him in for a hug and holding his head against my shoulder, waiting for his heart to slow as I continue to rub his back in circles.

"Penny?" His voice is languid, he almost sounds drunk and it almost makes me laugh.

"Yeah, sweetheart?"

"Thank you, Penny," I can feel him smiling against my shoulder and I can't help myself. I giggle a little.

"Anytime. And Sheldon?" I urge him away and look up into his pink face, lowering my voice to a whisper, "That's what girlfriends are for." I notice his lips quirk upward a little at this. I finish showering first and give Sheldon a quick kiss before leaving him to finish washing.

Darcy is obviously still asleep, but Brian is awake playing with Flash when I come out with a towel wrapped on my head and Sheldon's plaid robe (which I totally just stole out of the bathroom) around me.

"Morning, Aunt Penny," Brian says, dangling a piece of string in front of Flash and making the kitten pounce. Cutest thing ever.

"Hey…I see you made a friend," I tell him, heading over to the kitchen and thanking Buddha that Sheldon's got a timer on the coffee. I love waking up to coffee being made.

"He's got a lot of energy," Brian agrees, laughing as Flash flops over, batting at the string like it's attacking him. "Did you guys name him after The Flash?"

"Of course," I nod, sipping my beautiful coffee and perching against one of our kitchen stools, "have you taken a look around this place?" I nod to all of the superhero and sci-fi paraphernalia. Brian laughs.

"I still can't believe that you live with Dr. Cooper," he shakes his head and takes his glasses off to clean them.

"Brian…it's Sheldon," I laugh, "I don't see the big physics scientist. Until recently, he was just my quirky buddy."

"How long have you been in love with him?" Brian asks and I dump a little bit of coffee on the ground.

"I – I'm not…I don't…" I stammer, watching my seventeen year old nephew smile my smile at me. Brat.

"Aunt Penny, I've spent my whole life watching my parents not love each other. I've watched my own father not love me. And I've seen Papa and Nan and they do love each other…even if they don't show it much. It's a lot like you and Dr. Cooper."

"Sheldon," I correct weakly, staring at the puddle of coffee at my feet.

"Yeah. Sheldon…" Brian grins, "I'm going to Cal-Tech with them today. Leonard is going to show me what he does with lasers. They said I can get a visitor pass and just stay with them all day. Howard's gonna write me a recommendation too. He's actually a really brilliant engineer, Aunt Penny."

"Yeah, I guess," I manage a smile, "it's just hard to see past the way he acts sometimes. Although, you haven't met his wife Bernadette yet, he's a million times better now that he's with her."

"He talks about her a lot," Brian agrees, nodding and picking up Flash, who paws at his nose. "Then again, he talks about Raj just as much. Are you sure they're not in love?"

"Sometimes I wonder, kid," I chuckle, moving to wipe up my spilled coffee. A few minutes later, Sheldon emerges from the bathroom, fully clothed, hair still damp from the shower and though he's still slightly flushed, he seems back to normal. He heads straight for the lower fiber cereal, Honey Puffs.

Someone's in a decent mood today.

"So, Brian says that you're going to take him to work with you guys today?" I ask, finishing my coffee and taking it to the sink.

"Yes, I trust that is an acceptable plan, considering that you promised your sister that you would spend some 'girl time' with her," Sheldon answers, pouring cereal into his bowl and measuring out his milk precisely.

"It's great, actually. Thank you," I tell him, putting an arm around his shoulders and giving him a squeeze. He doesn't even flinch. This is huge. He hasn't flinched when I touch him in over a week. He doesn't fly off to use Purell every five seconds. He touches me without my having to make him.

Do I…you know…(L-word) Sheldon?

The truth is, I don't know. I don't really want to know yet. I just want to see where it goes. I don't need to complicate things yet. Because the last time I thought I was in love, it was with a man who used intimidation to control me. Now, I'm at the polar opposite end of the spectrum. I'm with a man who didn't even like touching until a few weeks ago. Hell, he's still on the fence. So, I am not going to say anything.

But I'm not saying that I don't (L-word) Sheldon.

The front door opens, and, right on cue, our lovely neighbors from across the hall come in. Leonard gives me a strange look for a second, before heading for the coffee. Amy closes the door and sighs.

"Amazing. Even in a towel turban and a robe that is obviously too big for you, you still radiate the same sex appeal as Jennifer Lopez did in her iconic low cut dress at the Grammys twelve years ago."

"Delightful," I agree, cracking a grin. I'm in a pretty good mood this morning and I'm not going to let anything bring it down.

"So, you guys are sharing clothes now?" Leonard asks casually, taking a sip of coffee. "Isn't that like a huge no, no?"

I'm wearing Sheldon's robe. Damn. So close! And, of course, Sheldon can't lie, so he's twitching like he needs new batteries.

"Yeah, it's my third strike, so I have to take his class now," I reply quickly.

"Technically, a more accurate description would be that this is your twenty-third strike," Sheldon adds, though his tone does not have the same bite as usual. Even though it's adorable, it's definitely suspicious. Why can't he be cute at the right time?

I'm gonna have to come clean soon.

"Yeah, laugh it up, MoonPie," I crack him lightly on the arm. Leonard is staring between us, looking even more suspicious. I turn to Amy with pleading eyes. She nods knowingly, pulling him by the arm toward the door.

"Leonard, it's time for me to leave for work. Could you walk me down to my car just in case any hooligans are wandering the streets?"

"Um, sure," Leonard nods, taking her hand and giving me a look that says, 'this isn't over.'

"Bye Bestie!"

"Bye, Ames!" I call quietly after her, looking down at Sheldon and raising my eyebrows, "We're screwed, Shelly."

"Don't call me Shelly, Penny," He moans, closing his eyes as if I've said the most offensive thing he's ever heard.

"What can I call you, then?" I tease him again, taking the towel off my hair wiping at it to dry it better.

"You may call me Sheldon," He replies seriously, "That is my name."

"You call me Penny and my name is Penelope," I remind him, winking at my nephew as I brush my hair back over my shoulder. I notice Sheldon hesitate for a second before answering.

"Yes, but you had originally introduced yourself as Penny, thus revealing your preference for the nickname 'Penny' as opposed to your given name of 'Penelope.'"

"But doesn't Shelly and Penny have a nice ring to it?" I ask, unable to keep the laugh out of my voice. Especially at the look on his face.

"It sounds like a Disney tween after school program," Sheldon tells me dryly, "Yet another negative repercussion from my mother naming me Sheldon."

"There is nothing wrong with the name Sheldon," I assure him. I mean, sure I ain't naming my kids Sheldon, but I can't really imagine him being named 'Ryan' or 'Kyle.'

He's Sheldon.

"Besides," I add, unable to believe I'm doing this, "can you imagine seeing a Nobel Prize with the name Ryan Cooper, PhD. on it?"

"Yes, that would be atrocious," Sheldon sighs, "I suppose it's the price I must pay for being one of the brightest minds on the planet."

"Yes," I say in a patronizing voice, even though I'm trying not to laugh, "It must be so hard to be smart." Messing up his dark hair, I kiss his cheek and head toward my bedroom to get dressed.

Darcy is just waking up when I walk in and fumble through my dresser.

"Penny…? What time is it?" She asks groggily, sounding like she's still half asleep.

"Almost seven-thirty, Babe," I tell her pulling on a pair of panties and some capris. "You don't have to get up yet, Darce. Brian is going to work with Sheldon and the boys today, so you and I get to relax all day long. Maybe go shopping. I mean, I'm broke, but…window shopping is fun too!"

Darcy laughs.

"I like it here, Pen. I haven't even been here a whole day and I like it better than Omaha. It's sunny and pretty and I feel happy. And that Stuart guy…can you believe he actually asked me out?" She's so excited, I can't tell her that yeah, I totally believe he asked her out because he asks out every girl he meets and then proceeds to make them feel like shit because his self esteem is sub-zero. He's like the anti-Sheldon.

Darcy flops back against the pillows and sighs, "Is it wrong that I have no desire to get up? I haven't slept in in probably ten years."

"Go for it, Sweetie," I laugh, pulling on my bra and a shirt. Carefully, I fold Sheldon's robe and place it on my hamper. "I'll wake you up in a couple of—"

Knock, knock, knock.

"Penny." Oh good, Darcy can see the crazy in full swing.

Knock, knock, knock.

"Penny."

"Aren't you going to get—"

"Just wait…" I tell her, holding up a finger.

Knock, knock, knock.

"Penny."

"Now, I'm going to open it," I snicker and open the door. "Well, hello Sheldon!" He stares at me in confusion.

"Hello," He says as if we're once again neighbors who are exchanging polite greetings, "I've come to inform you that we are leaving for work and that Leonard and I are going to get the pizza on the way home tonight."

"Ah, very good," I agree in a teasing business-like tone. "I'll see you then." With a small nod, he starts to turn and leave, but catches himself a couple steps down the hall and turns back to me, bending down to press a very quick kiss against my lips. To anyone else, it might look like nothing but a peck. But to me, it always means something when I'm not the first person to make the move.

Maybe Sheldon (L-words) me too. Or maybe it just means that he's capable. Whatever it is, I'm not complaining.

I occupy myself for the rest of the morning watching talk shows and playing with the cat. I get an email with my call sheet for the next day and decide that Darcy will come to the set with me and watch filming. She'll get a kick out of being on a really Hollywood set. I don't even realize I doze off, because when I open my eyes again, it's almost noon. I sit up in confusion and turn to see Darcy sitting in the armchair.

"Looks like someone else was tired too," She grins at me. "So, what's on the plan for today, little sister? Lunch and then…wish shopping?"

"Yeah," I yawn, picking up the sleeping kitten off me. It's crazy how easy it is to fall asleep with a warm cat on your chest. The purring is almost a lullaby in itself. And he's just so cute when he's sleeping and not being a hyper terror. "Sorry, you could've woke me up!"

"Yeah, but then I wouldn't be able to tease you about your snoring," Darcy quips, brushing her hair out of her eyes. I notice she's got a yellow Penny Blossom in her hair, holding her bangs back.

"Hey…you have one of my hair things in your hair!" I tell her, sitting up.

"Yeah, sorry…I hope that's okay."

"Oh, no problem. I have like a million of them, so keep it!" I assure her, moving to grab my purse. "So, I'm thinking we can eat at this awesome little Mexican place that I love and then hit up Rodeo Drive for a bit."

"Aren't you worried about Paparazzi?" Darcy asks and I snort, laughing.

"The Paparazzi doesn't even know my name yet, Darce. I've only filmed three episodes and they won't even air until September," I remind her gently. "Besides, I don't think they hound T.V. actors like they do movie actors."

"So, do you like, get to go to the Emmys and shit?" Darcy asks, following behind me as I open the door to the apartment and quickly lock it.

"I don't really know, but I think if it does well, maybe!"

Just as I think we're in the clear, we see Alicia at the mailboxes when we come into the lobby. I cringe, remembering her talking to Kurt the day before.

Just ignore me. Just ignore me…

"Oh hi Penny," Her sickeningly sweet voice makes me want to punch her all over again.

"Hey, Alicia," I say without looking at her, opening mine and Sheldon's mailbox.

"So I hear you finally got an acting job. Who did you have to screw?" She's baiting me. This is how insecure women work. I am not going to give her the satisfaction. Especially knowing that she and Kurt probably talked shit about me all night long. Ugh, they probably got off on it.

What the hell did I ever see in that prick?

"It's great to see you Alicia. And looking so young…you don't look a day under forty," I tell her sweetly, turning and nodding Darcy toward the door.

"Who was that?" Darcy asks, once we're outside. I shake my head.

"The slutbag that lives above me. I think she's banging my ex," I inform her.

"The sasquatch or Leonard?"

Darcy knows about Kurt. She's met him a couple times. I was with the guy for four years. She never liked him. But I never thought anything of it because Darcy doesn't like a lot of people. And she married Joey, so I don't really trust her judgment. But, she could do a lot worse than Stuart. And that's a step in the right direction.

"Squatch," I laugh, getting into my car and thumbing through the mail as Darcy sits in the passenger seat. Bill, bill, bill, Sheldon bill, Sheldon letter from MeeMaw, bill…NBS Studios?

Holy shit, this is my paycheck.

I quickly rip open the envelope, excited at the prospect of maybe being able to get an oil change and buy a pair of new shoes. Setting the other mail aside, I pull out the check to see what I have to work with here.

I nearly drop it.

I can only stare at it for a few moments, closing my eyes and opening them a few times to make sure that I haven't seen correctly. Maybe there was a problem with the printer. Maybe they typed it out wrong. I should probably call them and let them know something is wrong.

"Is something wrong, Penelope? You look like you might faint…" Vaguely, I turn the check toward Darcy and show her what I'm seeing and I hear her let out a gasp. "Jesus!" She cries, meeting my eyes, identical to hers. "Penny!"

"Holy crap on a cracker," I manage to wheeze as I look down at it again.

Amount: Nineteen thousand, nine hundred, ninety-eight dollars and 56/100—

$19,998.56

"Lunch is on me," I say weakly, turning to my equally stricken sister and managing a small smile.

Screw window shopping.

Chapter Text

Taking Sheldon's advice, I put a small portion of my pay money into my checking account and decide to open a savings account for the rest. It still hasn't really sunk in that I can pay rent for like the next year without having to worry. I could buy a new car if I wanted, but I think I'm going to let this one die first. It seems fair that I should stick with it to the end. We've been through everything, that car and I.

Nebraska. Kurt. Todd Zarnecki's house. Euclid Avenue. I'm not really ready to let her go yet. (Yes, my car is a female and no I do not call her Bessie. Not at all.)

Filming is from six in the morning until around three in the afternoon, which is good since Darcy's big date with Stuart is tonight. Which is still weird to me, but I'm dealing with it. My sister thinks Stuart Bloom is sexy. And after seventeen years with Joe Landry, I can see why Stuart suddenly looks like fucking Brad Pitt.

Poor Darcy.

I just hope Stuart doesn't depress her and blow it, but somehow, I think they could weirdly click. Darcy is desperate for affection and Stuart is desperate to please, so it could be enough balance.

My nephew is in his damn glory. Last night, he and the guys watched The Green Lantern (while Sheldon and sadly, Brian pointed out all of the flaws). Yes, for some reason, my seventeen year old nephew finds Sheldon entertaining. He encourages the crazy, which drives me crazy and makes me want to slap both of them.

The apartment is, of course, quiet when I get home, but there's a message on the machine. I decide to play it while I set about making some iced tea (of the non-alcoholic variety). I'm surprised to hear Missy's voice.

"Hey Shelly…I um…just wanted to check in to make sure you were comin' down for the party. Y'all haven't RSVPed . I got your letter, but you shouldn't worry. I'm really happy with Ben. He's a good man. He's a really good man. I love him very much."

She takes a breath here and I freeze, holding my breath as I listen to this message that was obviously not meant for my ears.

"MeeMaw tells me that you and Penny are datin'. I'm proud of you, Shelly. It's real good. I like her. MeeMaw says you really like her too. That's good. I'm…"

Another pause and a sniff. Is she crying?

"I miss you. I know I used to get on your nerves because I'm not a genius, but I miss talkin' to you and seein' you at Momma's. I—"

She cuts off suddenly.

"I'll see you soon. I have to go. Bye Shelly."

And she hangs up. Yep. My red flags are going off like crazy right now and it takes everything in me not to call Sheldon and take a little bit of money out of that savings account and fly down there to check out this dude for myself. I remember that shit. I remember feeling so isolated from my friends and from my family that I would wait until Kurt was out of the house to call home. Of course, I didn't have a close sibling like Sheldon does. My sister and brother were quite a bit older than me.

By the time I moved into 4B, I had friends at work and that was it. All of the people I'd talked to when I first moved here had long since given up trying to keep in touch. Kurt's friends had become my friends. Where Kurt stayed, I stayed. Where Kurt wanted to go, I went.

I guess it's why I was such a crazy dater when I dumped him. It was the first freedom I'd had in four years. I had possibilities. I was allowed to do whatever I wanted. And so I did. And I don't regret it. I'm not apologizing for enjoying sex. Maybe that makes me slutty or something.

Oh well.

But the truth is, I wouldn't be who I am if it wasn't for that period of discovery and growth. All of those guys I dated (I did not sleep with every guy I went out with. I did not sleep with most guys I went out with, thank you very much.) were just stepping stones to who I am now. I'm strong. I will never be in that position again. Whether it be with Sheldon or whoever, I will never allow someone to rule my life…check my email…my cell phone.

Never.

Picking up the phone, I dial the number I have in my phone for Missy and let it ring. She answers after two rings and her voice is very quiet, but she uses that fake cheerful voice that people use when they're trying to convince themselves that everything is wonderful.

"Hello?"

"Hi, Missy. This is Penny," I say softly, biting my lower lip. She sighs.

"Oh, hey Penny!" She sounds relieved. "It's my brother's girlfriend."

I'm her brother's girlfriend. Crazy. I shake my head to bring myself back to reality and force myself to be bright and cheery with her.

"I'm just calling to R.S.V.P." I inform her, "You said we needed to and—"

"Oh, sure…sure," Missy agrees quickly, "Got y'all down. I'm sure Shelly's just been so busy what with the pair of ya datin' and everything…and MeeMaw said you got some big T.V. part?"

"Yep. It's a new series…so we'll see how it does. I'm just grateful to have some work," I tell her, feeling extremely awkward. But I don't want to hang up with her. She needs to know someone is here for her. Believe me, I know. "Listen, Missy…I need your advice on something," I say, making things up as I go, "If I knew something about my friend hurting and she didn't know I knew…should I say something to her?"

"I…I'm not sure what you mean, Penny," Missy says in an even quieter voice.

"I mean, I just want to let her know that she's not alone. That if she ever needs to talk to someone or wants help, that I'm here for her. Do you think I should let my friend know?"

"I think so…" Missy says, sounding a bit unsure, but I think – hope – she's catching my drift here.

"Thanks, Missy," I say, blinking against the burning in my eyes, "We'll see you in a few weeks." I hang up and grab the box of tissue off the end table, sinking into Sheldon's spot and pressing the tissue against my eyes. I feel so helpless. I want to help her, but I don't know how to make her listen to me.

I take a long shower to clear my head and wash off the makeup and sweat from filming the big landing scene. I then immediately change into a pair of skinny jeans and a shirt and vest, pulling on my favorite brown boots.

Darcy arrives at five, dressed for her date with Stuart. She looks hot, but she also looks like she needs a drink.

"Penelope, what the hell am I doing here?" She asks, sitting on a stool while I pour each of us a much needed glass of wine. "You know, my divorce won't even be final until Christmas."

"No one says you have to marry, Stuart, Darce," I remind her, "It's just a date. When was the last time you were on a date?"

"Probably been about five years," Darcy sighs, "Joe isn't really one for romance. He's probably screw his truck if he could get away with it."

"He probably has," I mutter, clicking our glasses together, "Now listen to me, Darcy Ann. You are gonna go out with Stuart tonight and have a good time. You are not going to think about Joey Landry. You're just Darcy Ann. Not Darcy Ann Landry."

"It's going to be weird to have my maiden name back," Darcy laughs, "I've been Darcy Landry longer than I had our last name."

"There's nothing wrong with our last name, Darcy," I assure her.

"What if Stuart doesn't like me?"

"Honey, I think you could pretty much be a Wookie and Stuart would like you," I quip, taking a sip of the sweet red liquid.

"Penny?"

"Yeah, Darce."

"What the hell is a Wookie?" She asks, staring at me blankly.

"It's, um…Chewbacca…you know, from Star Wars?" I mumble, looking into my wine while my sister assesses me.

"Oh, you've got it bad for this guy," She tells me and I shush her, even though I know nobody's here, making her giggle. "Look at you blush…I've seen the way you two make eyes at each other."

"Excuse me? We do not make eyes at each other!" I protest, hoping it's not that obvious that something is going on.

"Are you kidding me?" Darcy finishes her wine and sets the glass on the table, "You two have eye sex so bad. It's might not be so obvious to your friends, but you two share these little looks and exchanges and there's this weird little connection between you. You're like…magnets. There's like a pull between the two of you. Where he is, you need to be. Whenever you move, he watches you like a hawk. It's the cutest thing." By this point, I've finished my wine and am pouring another glass, because Darcy, like her overly observant son, is talking L-Word stuff here. And I don't think I'm ready for that.

Am I?

No. It's only been three weeks. I dated Leonard for over six months and didn't L-Word him. Not that way...

"I'm not going to say anything, Penny," Darcy promises me, "but I see what I see."

"You see too damn much," I grumble, sipping again as the door opens and just Sheldon walks in. I stare at him blankly from a second before raising my eyebrows, "Please tell me you didn't lose my nephew or blow him up in Leonard's laser lab."

"Penny," His voice is resigned, because I clearly am too exhausting to deal with, "I can assure you that I want nothing to do with what goes on in Leonard's lab, but I can also assure you that your nephew is unharmed. He is going to attend a movie with Koothrappali and Wolowitz, which leaves the two of us with Leonard and Amy…or as Howard is now referring to them: Lamy," He shakes his head and rolls his eyes, "More like lame-o."

"Aw, it's kinda cute…" I grin, "Lamy. Sounds better than Shamy. I'd rather be Lame-y than Shame-y."

"You're exhausting me with your portmanteau name references. You sound like those crazy people on the internet that 'ship' popular culture couples," He fires this in that rapid word tumble that he used the first day we ever met. And I still have no idea what he's talking about.

Good times.

"Ship?"

"Yes," He sets his bag down and moves toward the fridge, pulling out a bottle of water, "the term 'shipping' comes from the word 'relationship' and is generally used by fans who want two characters to be together. For example, following the success of the travesty that was the newest Star Trek film, there is an increasing number of Spock and Uhura or 'Spuhura' shippers, which is disturbing on many—"

"Sweetie," I stop him, "You're veering off here. We get it. You don't like the name mash up thing." I feel a smirk come over my face, "Of course, you do know the mash up name—"

"Portmanteau," He corrects.

"Oh, forgive me…portmanteau," I grin at him, "I think you're a dirty little liar, Sheldon Lee Cooper. I think you secretly like that Spock got him a little lovin'."

"A little lovin'?" Sheldon squeaks, looking to Darcy for help. She looks completely baffled. "Spock is a Vulcan, Penny. He lives a life centered around logic, not emotion."

"Well, logic or not, the guy has a penis," I point out, setting my empty win glass aside, "And let's face it, honey, Zoe Saldana is hot. I'd do her."

"Don't be vulgar," Sheldon sighs, making me snort and share a look with Darcy. The knock at the door makes both of us sigh in relief.

"That's probably Stuart," I say, moving toward the door and throwing it open. Sure enough, there's Stuart with a dozen roses and a forlorn expression on his face.

"Hey Penny," He drawls, giving me a weak smile.

"Hey Stuart, come on in," I step aside and let him in, watching as my sister moves toward him, obviously grateful for an escape from Sheldon and I and our weird magnet love…or whatever she was blabbing about.

"These are for you," Stuart says, handing the flowers to Darcy, "I thought roses would be the best bet..." Darcy looks down at the flowers, clearly touched because she hasn't gotten flowers from a guy in decades. For a second, I'm afraid she might burst into tears, so I hang near Sheldon's spot, ready to grab the tissues. "You hate them, don't you?" Stuart asks in defeat and I slap my palm to my forehead.

"Are you joking?" Darcy whispers, taking the flowers. "They're the most beautiful roses I've ever seen…"

"I doubt that—" Stuart begins and I hop into action, determined not to let him kill it before it happens.

"Let me put those in some water for you!" I cry, tearing the flowers out of Darcy's hands and nodding toward the door. "You two go have a good time!"

"Thanks, Penny," Darcy gives Stuart a smile. Apparently, his self loathing isn't enough to frighten her off. Maybe there is someone for everyone out there. Now if we could just figure out how to get Missy away from her Jerk-Ass fiancé, we'd be good. Which reminds me…

"Sheldon," I say, once the door is closed and we're alone. He's settling into his spot until we have to leave with Leonard and Amy. Szechuan Palace closes at nine, so we have to leave soon. "We need to talk."

"Well, that doesn't sound promising," He says, making me glare at him, "Wolowitz said that whenever a woman says she needs to talk, it's never a good thing."

"He's right this time," I reluctantly agree, cringing at the thought that Howard is right about something, "I talked to Missy today."

"Missy? My sister?" He asks and I bite back the sarcastic comment on the tip of my tongue, nodding instead.

"Yes. I RSVP'ed to her party. Something's wrong there. She sounds weird."

"Weird how?"

"Weird like her fiancé's hitting her," I tell him bluntly, knowing it's the fastest and most effective way to get his attention. His eyes widen momentarily for a second, but he says nothing. "I know this is bothering you, honey. I can see it in your face."

"Even if I am experiencing discomfort at the thought of my sister experiencing abuse at the hands of her fiancé, ultimately, there is nothing I can do to stop her."

"That's not what I'm saying, Sheldon honey," I move around the table and sink in beside him. "I'm saying, just let her know that you are here for her no matter what…that's all she needs. To know you support her."

"Penny, the truth of the matter is, I'm disappointed in Missy for allowing herself to end up in this situation." He lets out a long sigh. "We both saw and experienced the volatile nature of our father. I know George bore the brunt of his drunken raving, but out of the three of us, I was the only one to strive to better my situation."

"Honey," I say gently, knowing he's not being cruel. He's genuinely confused. "I think you were just the only one who was strong enough. And you left home at eleven to go to college."

"I hadn't considered that," Sheldon muses, making me nearly smile in triumph. I finally stumped him for once. "I've felt like an adult for so long, that I simply disregard the fact that I was merely eleven when I began my freshman year of college. The price of being remarkable, I suppose."

"And modest," I tease gently, though he doesn't get it, of course. "I'm kidding, sweetheart."

"I will speak to Missy when we are in Texas in July," Sheldon agrees, and I reach over, taking his hand just as the door begins to open. We meet eyes and I hesitantly let go of his hand, moving a little bit away from him as Lamy enters the apartment.

"Hey guys," I say tiredly, smiling at them.

"Hey, looks like it's just us," Leonard says with forced cheer and I can tell something's weighing on his mind. And I feel guilty, because I know we're hiding this from him and it's really shitty, but I'm so afraid he'll hate me. And I'm even more afraid I'll hate me.

"What about Bernadette?" I ask, looking at Amy, who shakes her head.

"She and her sister are spending the evening together to try and sort things out through female bonding. Although, I don't see how any attempt they make at bonding could ever come close to the bond you and I share," Amy smiles slightly, "astounding that we put the bond of identical twins to shame."

"If you two are done jabbering on about menstrual cramps, it's after six and Szechuan Palace closes at nine. I'd like to get there before we're forced to eat bottom of the pot chicken," Sheldon mutters and I rap him lightly in the gut.

"How are your menstrual cramps, MoonPie?" I challenge, moving toward the door as he grabs moodily for his keys.

Just another Friday night.

Szechuan Palace is dirty and the service is bad…as always. Luckily, there is no Ramona Nowitzki in sight this time. It's weird watching Leonard with Amy. And not in the Priya and Leonard are being stuck up assholes together kind of way. He keeps giving her these long, meaningful looks as if everything she says is the most interesting thing he's ever heard. And it's different than the way he used to pretend to be interested in stuff I liked. He really looks like he's enjoying it. Like she surprises him.

And Amy has really come into her own lately. Since I went with her and got her hair done, she's been wearing makeup and her contacts once in a while. She is stunning. I mean, she's always been beautiful in her own Amy Farrah Fowler way, but she is really really beautiful. And the funny thing is, she looks exactly the same. It's almost like she's so happy that she's glowing from the inside out. And it makes my heart ache a little bit. In a good way. Beneath the table, I reach for Sheldon's hand, which is in his lap and carefully lace our fingers together.

I want that. I want us to be able to be happy like that in public. I mean, this is still the strangest relationship I have ever taken part in, but it's working. It's really working because it just…fits. And I've never felt that. Even though everything about us screams opposites attract, we're a lot alike. We're both a little effed up emotionally. Our families aren't perfect. We're certainly not perfect. But we're kind of what the other needs...the perfect balance.

Like Leonard and Amy. I can see now that Amy is exactly what he needs. Similar enough to his mother to fill that void that she never filled, but there's enough Amy Farrah Fowler to make up the difference. She's warm and wonderful.

I purposely hang back when we get back to the apartments, letting Leonard and Amy go up first. Mostly because I want to hold Sheldon's hand on the way up the stairs. Yeah, I know that sounds stupid, but it is what it is. I wait until Leonard and Amy are at least two flights ahead of us before taking Sheldon's hand. He gives me a resigned look, but I get no complaint because he secretly likes this stuff.

Halfway up, I hear giggles and wonder for a second if Leonard and Amy stopped and are making out in the stairwell, so I slow my walk. And then I hear the voice.

"…you are so bad!" Alicia's voice squawks. "I'm not telling you any—"

She cuts off when they round the corner on the second floor in front of the broken elevator and we come face to face with my worst nightmare. Alicia and Kurt.

So close.

My hand tightens in Sheldon's, and I can feel his whole body go rigid as we stare up at Kurt.

"Hey, Penny!" He says in that smarmy asshole voice he does when he's trying to be charming.

"Hi, Kurt," I say, tugging Sheldon toward the stairwell with force, but he's not budging. "Sheldon, come on."

"Really, Penny? You're dating this guy?" Kurt chuckles, looking at Alicia, who gives him a fake smile and then glares at me.

"Yep," I answer him, pulling at Sheldon again, who, since putting on muscle, is not that easy to move anymore.

"You may be able to intimidate people with your absurd height and your obvious penchant for anabolic steroids, but at the end of the day you'll still be nothing more than a pathetic, insipid colossus with no regard for anything but yourself," Sheldon bites out, sounding harsher than I've ever heard him speak. Even at his most angry or upset, I've never heard him sound this way.

Kurt stares at him, perplexed for a few seconds. It's obvious he has no idea what Sheldon just said. Alicia is staring, bug-eyed in disgust.

"What's your problem, man?" Kurt starts, moving forward and I leap forward, putting my hands up. When Kurt doesn't get something, he gets pissed. I remember when he bullied poor Leonard at my Halloween party five years ago. I don't want this to go there.

"Stop." I growl at him, glaring up, up into his dark eyes. "Go!" I order, pointing my finger. Kurt stares down at me for a few seconds, before smirking slightly.

"How about a hug?" He asks, making me scoff.

"I hardly think so," Sheldon's haughty voice comes from behind me.

"Come on, Penny…just an old friend…one little hug won't kill you."

Here's the sick part. He puts his arms up to come forward for a hug and I have an instinctive reaction…one that I thought was long dead. My arms come up to cover my head and I reel backward as fast as I can, knocking into the solid wall of Sheldon's chest. My heart rate is now through the damn roof and I hear both Alicia and Kurt share a laugh.

"What a nutjob!" Alicia cackles, and their voices trail off.

"Good to see ya, Penny!" Kurt calls back to me. Vaguely, I feel Sheldon's hands on my shoulders as I try to catch my breath. What the hell was that? It must be all of this stuff with Missy dredging up old wounds. A second later, I can feel Sheldon's hands urging my arms down from my head, and I reluctantly look up at him in embarrassment.

"That was so dumb," I tell him miserably, "I'm sorry."

"To which part are you referring? The part where your former boyfriend nearly lost his temper with me or when you panicked when he came toward you?" His eyes are not cold, but his voice is clipped, tight.

"Both," I say, swallowing the lump in my throat and feeling my lip quiver.

"You need to stop apologizing for things that you neither did nor can control," Sheldon sighs, and I burst into angry, frustrated tears, burying my face in my hands. This is humiliating. "Penny…" It's not the same scolding voice he usually says my name with. He's pleading with me. And, a second later I am being drawn into the warmth of his body and it's not me initiating the contact. Sheldon just pulled me into his arms to comfort me.

"There, there," He says, and though it's only because he doesn't know how to say something else, the sentiment behind it comes through loud and clear. I wait a few seconds, before bringing my head back up and allowing myself to look into his eyes. And I can't breathe, because everything washes over me so fast that I can't stop it, and I don't want to.

All I know is that I'm sure.

I love Sheldon.

 

Chapter Text

I love Sheldon.

When did this happen? I wasn't ready for this. I didn't ask for this…but now that I have it, I don't want it to go away. What am I going to do?

I love Sheldon. And the thing is, I don't feel any differently for him than I ever have…I just know what it is now. It's the thing that always drags us together that nobody understands. It's the reason that I'm the only person who can sing him Soft Kitty and why he's the person I turn to for comfort.

And I think I've known for a while now, but I pushed it down to the bottom of my brain so I wouldn't have to acknowledge it. Because I'm so afraid he'll never love me back. When was my first inkling?

Maybe as far back as that Christmas I gave him the napkin? Maybe it was as recently as when I took him shopping for Amy…I don't know. It's just something that's always been there.

I love Sheldon.

Though he is not holding me tightly or particularly close at the moment, there is an amazing comfort that the new brawniness of his body is giving me. The first time he ever hugged me, he was all bones. There's substance there now. It suits him. Except for the fact that it makes me antsier than Amy when she excuses herself to brush her teeth. (Seriously, I'm really glad she has Leonard to satisfy her needs now, because I was getting a little worried with that Gerard shit.)

And I can't just blurt it out at Sheldon. His own mother said it: he's like a baby deer. Startle him and he'll bolt. And the last thing I want to do is scare him off…you know, like Leonard did to me when he dropped the L-bomb.

"Penny," his voice is soft and gentle, making me wonder for a second if he's going to say something sweet. I should really know better.

"Yeah, honey?"

"Are you intending us to stay on the second floor for the remainder of the evening, because I have to urinate," He informs me steadily, making me sniffle and wipe my eyes. Yep. That's love alright.

"Oh, sorry," I chuckle, grabbing his hand and moving toward the stairs to the third floor, "I forgot you have a bladder the size of a peanut."

"I do not have a bladder the size of a peanut," he retorts indignantly, "that's virtually impossible. The adult human bladder can hold anywhere from three hundred to one thousand milliliters of urine and—"

"Sheldon," I sigh, glad that he's at least still himself even when bad things happen, "I'm teasing you, sweetheart. I realize that a bladder isn't actually the size of a peanut." (Actually, I have no idea how big a bladder is and how much fluid it holds and frankly, I don't give a crap. I just know that MoonPie here pees more than anyone I know. He's also a secret Mountain Dew fiend.)

"So you were making a joke?" He asks as we round the third floor and start toward the fourth.

"Yes…" I nod with every ounce of patience I possess.

"Oh…" He pauses for a moment and then does his little gasp laugh. It makes me smile, feeling significantly better than a few minutes ago. We nearly reach the top when I hear what sounds like something hitting a door followed by a sound that is definitely Leonard saying, "Ow!"

"I'm sorry, did I come on too strong with my sexual transcendence?" Amy's ever calm voice asks. I clap my hand over my mouth and stifle a gasp.

"Oh good grief," Sheldon mutters quietly from beside me as I drag beside me against the wall to give them some privacy.

"Shh," I tell him, putting a finger to his lips. He glares at me and gently urges my hand away from his face. I very stealthily peer around the corner and see Leonard with his back against the door to 4B Amy is standing in front of him with her feet between his and his hands resting gently on her hips.

"It's okay," Leonard says in response to her, smiling. It's an extremely private moment, I can tell. I don't want to ruin it, so I look at a very sullen Sheldon and put my finger to my lips to make him keep that hole of his shut. "I like it," Leonard adds, grinning. I watch as Amy pulls him closer to her by his hoodie and his hands clasp together at the small of her back. And it's so cute.

I am so digging the Lamy.

"Sweetie, let's go inside," Leonard says, "Sheldon and Penny should be coming up in a minute—"

"You're right," Amy says, straightening, "We don't need to flaunt our obviously perfect relationship. It's tacky. Besides I'm wearing a leopard print thong and matching bra that clasps in the front. I know how you like that."

"Oh, this is revolting," Sheldon groans, putting his hand over his eyes. I give him a light tap in the side and wait until the door to 4B opens and closes.

"All clear," I tell him, pulling him by the arm toward the door and waiting for him to pull his keys out of his pocket. There's no way I'm fishing around in the pit of my purse for mine and judging by the thump I just heard from inside Chez Lamy, I don't want to stay in this hallway much longer. Not to mention, my adrenaline levels are still sky high from our encounter with Princess Areola and her Sasquatch lover. My ex.

Oh yeah, and I love Sheldon.

Could this night seriously get any crazier? The answer is, of course, yes. Sheldon carefully places his keys in the bowl and heads toward the bathroom to relieve his teeny tiny bladder while I set about making some tea. He emerges a few moments later, looking extremely relieved.

"Tea?" I ask him, holding up his favorite empty mug. I know it's his favorite because it's the one he always uses for his nighttime tea. Robot Evolution it's called and it's that same Evolution of Man picture, but it ends with a robot. He so would. I'm good with my Hello Kitty mug. It's pink.

"Yes, thank you," Sheldon replies, and I notice a little silver blur at his feet. The Flash himself, ready for play. He's grown in the past couple of weeks. Obviously, not much, but he's definitely getting bigger. And his little tummy sticks out. It's so cute. I always considered myself a dog person, but I definitely am enjoying this cat thing. It also helps that I hit the jackpot and found the most adorable kitten on the planet. Recently, he's discovered he has nails, so Sheldon immediately insisted on buying him not just a scratching post, but an entire carpeted tower that he could lie on and climb.

Naturally, Flash prefers to be at the top of the tower and look down on everything. He and Sheldon are alike that way.

After all of the drama and the tension that just happened, my body is starting to feel like a wet noodle and I can feel my fingers slipping a little as I work to fill the kettle with water. A shadow falls over me and I start a little as Sheldon silently reaches forward and removes the tea kettle from my hands, finishing the job for me. I sag against the counter in relief, burying my face into my hands and just letting myself breathe.

"Thank you," I say quietly, watching Sheldon's back as he smoothly starts the water on the stove.

"Thank you?" Sheldon asks, confused as he turns back to face me.

"For…standing up for me down there. For comforting me," I sigh. For making me fall in love with you, you big Whack-A-Doodle.

"Of course I would defend you," Sheldon answers evenly, standing across from me and looking down, meeting my eyes, "even if we weren't currently in a relationship, I would have defended you, Penny. First and foremost, you are my friend. A fact which you established some four years ago. And, of course, with the knowledge I have of your prior relationship with Kurt, I could not turn a blind eye to the situation, despite my conscience quite vehemently ordering me to run the other way."

"You were very chivalrous," I agree, managing a tired smile.

"Are you still troubled, Penny?" He inquires, his eyebrows furrowing in that adorable way they do.

Yeah, I'm troubled. I'm still a little shaky, I'm tired, I just realized I love Sheldon and I'm wound up like a damn Jack-In-The-Box. I don't know what to say or do, so I just stare at him with what is probably the most pathetic expression he's ever seen.

"I think perhaps, you should sit down," Sheldon instructs, nodding toward the sofa. I follow him numbly, finally feeling the shock of everything that's happened wash over me and plopping into the spot beside Sheldon's. He easily grabs the blanket draped over the back of the arm chair and sets it around my shoulders. "The tea should be done soon, I—" He cuts off when I reach out and take his hand.

"Sit with me," I plead, urging him downward. Reluctantly, he sits, perched on the edge of the cushion. I have no inkling to say what I'm feeling because it scares me just as much as it would terrify Sheldon. And he's still bat shit crazy.

"Penny, the tea…" He argues weakly as I scoot closer to him.

"Can wait. It will whistle when it's done," I swallow, embarrassed. I'm not supposed to be like this. I'm tough. I'm the girl who can handle stuff. I'm not a crybaby. "Can you…?" I stop, taking a breath. "Will you—?" I can't seem to get it out, so I just put my arms out helplessly and pray he gets my meaning.

"Are you asking if I would be willing to 'cuddle' with you?" Sheldon asks, eyeing me dubiously.

"Please," I sigh, shaking my head yes. I can see his Adam's Apple bob as he swallows and scoots his butt into the corner of the couch, turning toward me and opening his arms resignedly. Biting my lower lip, I slide up into his side and just as I move to put my arms around him, the tea whistles. Sheldon darts off the couch and toward the kitchen, swiftly pouring our water and putting the teabags into the cups before bringing them to the coffee table.

We've done this a million times. One of us brings the other tea and we sit on this couch and watch T.V. But it's different now, because things have changed. We're still Sheldon and Penny, but now we're Sheldon and Penny.

And I love Sheldon.

Take two. Sheldon settles back into his spot facing me and this time seems a little smoother as I ease into his side. It's not like the first time we cuddled after my date disaster. In the past few weeks we've become accustomed to each other. The hesitation at prolonged contact with me is slowly leaving him with every day that goes by. Of course, he's still a neurotic anti-touching mess with everyone else in the world, but I'm not complaining. He said something about his body being able to resist my germs or some whacko nonsense recently and I just kind of stared at him.

This cuddle is a far cry from the last one because he's not barely touching me. He's holding me. Well, and the fact that I know I love him now definitely changes things. His hand moving in delicate circles over my back is more sure, more soothing than that first time. He's not afraid to touch me anymore.

"Why did you flinch, Penny?" Sheldon asks finally, after a long few moments of quiet. Our untouched tea is probably getting cold, forgotten on the table.

"What?" I look up into his face, seeing that slight shadow of his night beard that I love so much. It makes him look less like a elementary school student and more like a thirty-two year old.

"When Kurt came toward you to hug you? Did he hit you more than you let on?"Sheldon asks, narrowing his eyes.

"No!" I exclaim, rising up a little bit so I'm looking down into his face. "I swear…just the one time. But, he liked to play this game where he would pretend he was going to hit me and after he slapped me in the face, I didn't know what he would do, so I always panicked. It was an intimidation game. I was one of the lucky ones, I guess."

"Lucky?" Sheldon yelps, shaking his head, "Sometimes I fear for your well being with your lack of logic."

"Hey!" I protest, tapping his chest lightly.

"My father was a wretched human being, Penny. He belittled me, he hit my mother, and sometimes he hit us. But, MeeMaw used to say whether he hurts you with his hands or his words, abuse is abuse. She always says you can call SPAM 'Spiced Ham', but it's still a can full of disgusting meat and it's just not natural." I smile, despite myself at this analogy, feeling the slightest bit better.

"You are so cute when you do that, I—" I stop myself before I blurt it all out.

"When I do what?" Sheldon asks, clearly lost. I reach out and brush his hair off his forehead. I kind of like that he doesn't cut it as close as he used to.

"Just when you're you," I assure him, smiling and swallowing the lump in my throat. "I know we fight, and we bicker, and we drive each other crazy, but I don't know what I'd do…without you. You're brilliant. And you know it."

"I do," Sheldon agrees, thoughtfully, making me reach out and mess his hair. I don't think he'll ever let me cut it again, but he doesn't seem to have an issue with me touching it anymore. "But, Penny. Even though you are neither a genius, nor equipped with the knowledge of physics – despite my best efforts – you are not without value. Your recent accomplishments have more than proven that you are meant for greater things than being a waitress at The Cheesecake Factory." Sheldon exhales. "Even if it has interrupted my Tuesday night routine and I am forced to accept my Barbeque Bacon Cheeseburger from Pam."

Yes, God forbid anything in anyone else's life interferes with Shelly's cheeseburger. Goofball.

"Yeah, sorry about that, honey," I laugh, realizing that we are lazily lounging on the couch together and engaging in what Sheldon would refer to as banal chit chat. It's nice. "And now, you're getting funding to do more work with the Higgs Boson Particle…and you'll finally get to go see that collapser thingy."

"Penny," His eyes widen in slight horror, "It's the Large Hadron Collider."

"Oh, right," I shrug. I don't really care what it is. It could be a damn death ray for all I care. It could be a machine that shoots rainbows so long as it makes the Whacko happy.

Because I love him.

"But if this is successful," He goes on, "I will finally have a chance at winning a Nobel Prize."

"I really hope you do, you know," I tell him sincerely. All joking aside, I mean this. "Sheldon, nobody I've ever known has ever worked harder or deserved something more than you deserve the Nobel Prize." I meet his eyes directly, cupping his cheek in my hand. "And you're going to win it."

This is where Sheldon surprises me for the thousandth time since becoming my boyfriend. Driven by either his ego or emotion…or maybe both…Sheldon leans up, cradling one of his large hands tenderly at the back of my hair and pulls me toward him, kissing me with fervor. Wow, maybe I should soothe his ego more often.

I mimic him and tangle my fingers in the back of his dark hair, letting out a little sound of surprise when he very delicately finds my tongue with his and deepens our kiss. His eidetic memory and fast learning skills have made him quite an accomplished kisser in the past couple of weeks.

We struggle for a couple of seconds with the awkward position of me leaning over him until he finally takes the initiative and turns us so that I'm lying on my back with my head against the throw pillow and he's on top of me with one of his long legs between mine. He doesn't realize this, but his knee is in exactly the right spot and I can feel my hips move of their own accord against him. When I whimper, his blue eyes open wide, staring down at me for a second. I must look crazy. I know I'm pink, my lips are probably swollen and I'm a little lust driven right now. (I haven't had sex in over a year, people.)

"Sheldon, for the love of Christ, don't stop," I plead, pulling him back down to my lips and arching my back. Slowly, I guide his hand up my shirt and over my breast, cupping it fully through my bra. Yeah, that's the same breast he grabbed when he pulled me out of the tub and helped me put my shirt on. My own hands smooth over the curve of his back and – while I'm pushing buttons here – I give his butt a little grab and feel his exhale sharply into my mouth. This makes me sigh as I can feel his quite obvious arousal against my left leg.

Gently, I begin to pull his shirt up, letting my fingertips trail over the silky skin I reveal as I do. I can feel him tense a little.

"What's wrong?" I ask, pulling back a little and making him look at me. His eyes are wide and more than a little unsure.

"Nothing," He tells me, sounding surprised. I forget my worry and pull him back down to me, lovingly biting his lower lip. "Penny…" He whispers against my mouth, his hand still on my breast while the other clutches me tighter to him as I continue to pull his two shirts off along with the white undershirt he always wears.

"Take mine off too," I gasp, dragging the shirt over his head, while he feverishly works my shirt upward and reveals my hot pink bra. Leaning up to help him out, I press a trail of kisses over his neck and under his ear, eliciting a little hiss of what I'm assuming is pleasure from him. I'm just reaching back to unhook the bra when I see something out of the corner of my eye.

Two people are standing there staring at us.

Oh no.

Leonard and Amy are standing there in their bathrobes. Obviously, Leonard is now aware of what's going on or at least has a clue. This wasn't how it was supposed to happen! What the hell? Weren't they just having raucous sex or something like twenty-minutes ago? We have got to start locking the dead bolt.

"You're never going to believe who we just saw in the hall…" Leonard starts weakly, looking between us. We're still kind of frozen in place. Sheldon on top of me with no shirt on. Me with no shirt on.

"Oh, I bet I can," I groan, reaching for my shirt and handing Sheldon's back to him.

"You two are…?" Leonard trails off, letting the question hang in the air. Oh boy. This is going to be awkward.

"Yeah, we're…" I put my arms out as if that will explain it. Leonard looks at Amy, who nods knowingly at him. Meeting my eyes, he nods toward the door and I follow, glancing once more at a very puzzled Sheldon. "Do something with him," I tell Amy on the way out.

"I'm on it Bestie. And if you need help relieving your sexual tension when you come back, I'd be happy to help."

"No, no…" I assure her, shaking my head. "Just babysit Sheldon."

"I'll watch him like a hawk," She gestures to her eyes and then to Sheldon, making me smile despite my growing dread. Leonard has already left, making me shake with nerves as I step across the hall. It's been a while since I've been in my old apartment. It doesn't even look like the same place between Amy's stuff and Leonard's stuff. Amy's couch has taken the place of my little love seat, which has been moved to the side. Leonard's Star Wars figurines are gracing the bookshelves and his light sabers are hung on the wall proudly. The apartment basically looks like his old room exploded in here with a little bit of Amy thrown in.

Sitting on the couch beside him after closing the door, I sigh.

"Hi," He says quietly.

"Hi," I respond, feeling sick to my stomach.

"Okay, I'm going to ask you to start with when?" His voice is soft, that hurt tone that always makes me feel like I'm two inches tall.

"When did we start dating?" I ask slowly, wondering how he's going to take this. After everything we've been through, even though we're no longer together, the last thing I want is to hurt him. This is his best friend.

"You are dating?" Leonard interjects quickly. I nod, swallowing and trying to find words to explain.

"It's been almost a month," I admit, staring at a crack in the coffee table.

"A month," He is quiet, adopting that 'How could you possibly keep this from me for a month?'

"But he kissed me almost two months ago…when he was drunk," I explain and Leonard stares at me over his glasses.

"How?" He asks, looking hurt and making me feel like the biggest jerk on the planet.

"I've been…I know I started having feelings for him right after the wedding—"

"Howard's wedding?" His voice goes up at the end of the sentence. I just nod.

"—I wanted to tell you. And then, all that stuff with my Dad…and he gave me the money and…" Now I'm crying and rambling. This is just adorable. "…and we were in a newspaper together, and he taught me how to dance and he kept a Penny Blossom, and I'm just so sorry—"

"Hey…" Leonard's voice softens and he pulls me into a hug. "Hey, hey…I'm not mad at you," I rest my head on his shoulder, taking comfort in his kindness and his warmth. "But Penny," he goes on, "I have to say, I'm extremely hurt. I mean, even though you and I have…history…I consider you one of my closest friends. I told you about Amy and me before I told anyone. The fact that you two hid it from me…I mean, that's not right!"

"I know," I sniff, taking his hand, "and I am so sorry, Leonard. I just didn't want to hurt you. You have to know I adore you. And I love you and Amy together…you're just…perfect."

"If someone had told me two years ago that I would end up living with Amy Farrah Fowler, the girl Howard and Raj found for Sheldon, I would have called them insane."

"Oh, I remember…Amy's come a long way in two years," I agree, accepting a tissue from him and dabbing under my eyes.

"I love her, Penny," Leonard blurts, looking at me with a terrified expression on his face. It almost makes me smile. "I haven't told her, but I'm completely in love with her. It snuck up on me…and it's only been two months. Is that crazy?"

"Yes," I manage a smile. "It's crazy. But I don't think you can put a time frame on love. When it hits you, it hits you."

"It's not like it was with you," Leonard says, referring to the time he dropped the L-word in bed with me, "I was desperate to have you…I wanted to be able to say I got you. And it was for all the wrong reasons and, even when we tried again this year, something was missing…but then, I started this Amy thing and everything just fits. At the risk of sounding like a terrible cliché, she was the missing piece of my puzzle."

"Aw," I squeak, hugging him again and kissing his cheek, "You deserve to be happy."

"That's what I keep telling myself. She's coming to New Jersey with me next weekend to meet my mother and my brother and sister."

In six months of dating, Leonard never took me home to New Jersey to meet his brother, who I think is named Michael and his sister, who I have no idea what her name is. This must be huge.

"This is serious," I tell him with a smile. He smiles slightly.

"Yeah. I guess it is," He agrees, before adopting another serious expression. "But listen…I'm worried about this Sheldon thing. He doesn't know how this stuff works. You saw what he was like all those months with poor Amy, he—"

"Leonard, I am not Amy. I know what I'm doing…I know how to handle him," I insist, giving him a straight look.

"You do, don't you?" Leonard says curiously. "You're in love with him…aren't you?" I chew the inside of my cheek for a moment, pondering my response to this, but finally, I allow myself to nod, openly admitting it. It feels like a huge weight off my shoulders.

"I think I have been for a while now," I whisper, looking into my lap.

"I think I knew," Leonard sighs, squeezing my hand. "I think I tried to cling to you so hard for so long because I knew that, on some level, you would never be available to me. And I never knew why, but I can see now."

"I am so sorry, Leonard," I tell him, feeling my lip quiver.

"I'm not," He gives a little half grin, "we're both happy now. And we're still friends after everything that's happened. That's pretty amazing, right?"

"Yeah." I agree, sniffing and wiping my eyes again.

"Come on," Leonard sighs, pulling me to my feet, "we better see what those two are up to. They've pulled some crazy stunts when unsupervised."

"Ah yes, Sheldon Cooper Presents: Fun With Flags." I chuckle, rolling my eyes at the memory of finding that video.

"You took him on willingly. You are so screwed," Leonard points out with a gleeful look, making me glower at him, feigning irritation.

I take his hand and pull him into a tight hug.

"I do love you, Leonard. I hope you know that," I say, smiling when I feel him hug me back.

"I know you do." We pull apart and walk across the hall to find Sheldon and Amy setting up a game of Monopoly. When we come in, Sheldon looks up and raises his eyebrows.

"Oh good, you're back. Amy Farrah Fowler and I are going to play Klingon Monopoly. I, of course, will be using the bat'leth game piece and Amy has the Bird of Prey warship. What piece would you two like?"

Leonard and I look at each other with equal looks of amusement.

 

Chapter Text

I wake up on Saturday morning to a text from my sister.

Brian and I R going to leave tomorrow. Have to get home. Joey is being an ass.

Nothing new there. Checking the clock, I realize it's almost ten and sigh. Since I've been filming Home Planet, the days start a lot earlier for me. I feel like half the day is gone. Why didn't Dr. Whack-A-Doodle wake me up?

Glancing down, I notice Flash's little gray body sprawled out beside me on his back. It makes me grin, because he has to sleep with his head on the pillow. He thinks he's a human or something, I swear. The damn cat even looks like he's smiling in his sleep. Leaning down, I press my nose into the downy fur of his cheek and kiss him. As soon as he feels my touch, he gives a tiny chirp of acknowledgement and opens his big green eyes.

"Morning, Buddy," I whisper, gathering him into my arms and carrying him out of the room with me. The distinct smell of pancakes and maple syrup is heavy in the warm June air. This is vaguely familiar…

"Sheldon?" I call out cautiously, setting Flash on his feet and watching him dart across the room, fully awake. I wish I woke up that easily.

Turning the corner, I notice an array of breakfast foods along the counter, but no Sheldon.

"Shel—" I begin, and shriek when I feel a pair of hands cover my shoulders.

"Good morning, Penny," his voice comes from behind me. I whirl around, looking up into his mischievous blue eyes. He has that little shit-eating smirk that he gets when he's really damn proud of himself. He knows he's being adorable.

Well, either that, or he's successfully figured out how to take over the world…and we're all in trouble.

"I trust you slept well…would you like some breakfast?"

"Did you make this?" I ask, turning back toward the beautiful piles of food and hearing my stomach rumble in response. "Are those smokies?" I squeal, drifting away from poor Sheldon, who deserves at least a kiss. Who can think about that when there are smokies on the counter?

Pancakes + butter + syrup + smokies = happy Penny. That's an equation I know.

"In answer to your query: yes and yes," Sheldon tells me with his arms folded across his chest in smug satisfaction. If I didn't love the big butthead so much, I'd probably smack him.

"Well, you're just full of surprises ain't ya, MoonPie?" I beam at him, earning my first condescending look of the day. Oh, how I've missed it!

"Penny," (Here we go.) "As always, your use of the colloquialism 'ain't' is an appalling reminder of the sad lack of emphasis on proper education in schools. Secondly, even if we are romantically involved, the fact remains that only MeeMaw is allowed to call me MoonPie."

"Are you really offended, or do you just like the sound of your own voice?" I challenge, unable to hold back a snicker, smacking him lightly on the arm. Sheldon is not amused, pursing his lips and glaring down at me. "I'm kidding, you crackpot!" Standing on my toes and kissing his cheek, I add, "Thank you, Sheldon."

"You're welcome," He replies, letting me take his hand and drag him toward the food.

"I invited Leonard and Amy Farrah Fowler for breakfast, and I spoke with your sister this morning. She and Brian will be arriving shortly. Apparently, Darcy is cutting her trip short due to the discommodious behavior of her husband. Are you aware that your brother-in-law has moved in with an eighteen year old woman he met at Applebee's?"

I stare at Sheldon in blank confusion. Did he just tell me that he and my sister chatted it up on the phone this morning?

"No, I wasn't aware," I reply, settling onto a stool and reaching for the smokies, "but, I'm not surprised. Joey's a disgusting loser who can't keep it in his pants. Why do you think he's got a seventeen year old kid?"

"Hmm, yes," Sheldon agrees, sitting next to me and serving himself a portion of pancakes. "Your nephew and I have discussed it at length. I can relate with him wholeheartedly having been raised by the intellectual equivalent of Homer Simpson." He snorts derisively, "Perhaps I'm being too kind, George Cooper made Homer Simpson look like Mike Brady."

"So you did watch the Brady Bunch D.V.D.'s I got you after the physics bowl," I snicker, but there's that same niggling feeling I always get when I hear about Sheldon's late father. It's uncomfortable, because even though I get the impression that Mr. Cooper was nice enough sober, he was obviously a very mean drunk. And, it seems he was drunk a majority of the time.

"It's amazing the things you can force yourself to watch in extreme boredom," Sheldon replies dryly, lovingly slathering butter on his breakfast. I can only shake my head at him, knowing damn well he enjoyed the show. I know because I caught him watching it once when I was dating Leonard and had stayed the night. I came out to use the bathroom and saw Sheldon sitting on the couch watching T.V.

Having grown up in the normal world, I could tell that theme music a mile away. I remember it, because he'd been watching with that childish look of enchantment on his face. Because really, who could resist the damn Brady Bunch and their sugary goodness. Sure, it's about the fluffiest, most unrealistic show on the planet, but look at how cute it is…

"I do admit, however, that I cannot deny the inexplicable feeling of happiness I experience while watching that sitcom," Sheldon grudgingly admits, making me smirk.

"Thought so," I chuckle, taking some smokies and a couple of pancakes. When I hear a knock on the door, followed by Leonard poking his head in, I turn to look.

"Did I read my text correctly? Sheldon cooked pancakes?" He's holding his phone up to display his text message. Sheldon rolls his eyes, giving him an impatient look.

"Assuming that you can read, then yes, you read correctly," he snaps, sighing and glancing over at me, "honestly!"

"Calm down, hyper," I say, patting his arm, "come on guys, help yourselves."

"This looks great," Leonard says, moving inside and retrieving a couple of plates. Amy appears in the doorway a moment later wearing a long sleeved black shirt and a flared skirt. "You never made me breakfast."

"Yes, well…" Sheldon trails off, meticulously cutting his pancakes.

"It seems that romancing a woman as stunning as Penny has inspired Sheldon to cook." Amy begins, making me choke a little. "And who could blame him? If I were a man, all it would take would be a smile and a little cleavage—"

"Eat pancakes!" I sputter, coughing a little. I notice Leonard chuckling a little to himself though. It makes me smile.

"I'm still trying to wrap my head around the fact that you two are…you two," Leonard insists, serving Amy first before himself and settling across from Sheldon and I.

"Yeah…this is bizarre," I agree, realizing how different it is with Sheldon and I on one side of the table and Leonard and Amy on the other.

"It's really not," Leonard counters, taking a sip of coffee and turning to Amy, "do you want some juice or something?"

"Just water, please," Amy replies, buttering her pancakes while Leonard hops up and takes a glass out of the cupboard, before opening the fridge and pouring her some filtered water. It's amazing watching the two of them. They're effortless together. Everything about my relationship with Leonard was full of uncertainty. Neither of us knew how to communicate with the other. These two are so in tune with each other.

Leonard loves Amy.

"Here," Leonard says, setting the water in front of her.

"Thank you," Amy responds just as casually. I can only watch, fascinated by the enormity of every word they exchange. Three words and yet, they say so much. I take a quick glimpse of my own conundrum (look at me using big words!), and I see Sheldon has finally stopped arranging his food. Maybe he can actually eat it.

"Hey listen," Leonard breaks the silence, "we're all going to go out for an early dinner around five at Olive Garden—"

"You have to watch them, there," Sheldon cuts him off, "they treat you like family. I once had a waitress pinch my cheek and tell me I was a 'little cutie'."

"Well, I'm sure things have improved since you were little," I offer with a shrug, making him shake his head.

"That was two months ago," he says, making me snort with laughter.

"That was our last date night," Amy nods knowingly, hiding her own smirk. My eyes flick over to Leonard, who's lost the tiniest bit of his smile, but he composes himself quickly enough.

"These pancakes are delicious, Sheldon. Where did you learn to cook?" Leonard inquires, changing the subject and making me sigh in relief.

"MeeMaw, of course. The better part of my childhood was spent in her kitchen," he explains, rising and clearing his plate. "She makes everything from scratch."

Yes. Yes, she does. Sheldon's grandmother is quite possible the best cook on the planet. I don't know how I survived that week she was here without gaining twenty pounds.

The knock at the door makes me jump, but before I can hop up to grab it, Sheldon is across the room in an instant.

"Hey, Sheldon!" Darcy says brightly, and I once again feel my eyes widen, remembering that Sheldon Cooper and my sister were allegedly gabbing away at each other on the phone.

"Good morning, Darcy. Brian." He nods at both of them, standing aside and letting them into the apartment. They have all of their luggage with them already, having checked out of their hotel.

"Morning, Sheldon," Brian grins at him, bending down to pet Flash, who is rubbing against his ankles. "Morning, Aunt Penny."

"Hey, kid," I reply, giving him a tired wave and eyeing my sister, "so you and Sheldon are phone chatting like little gossipy old ladies now?"

"I called for you and Sheldon informed me that you were still asleep and that it was not a good idea to wake you before eleven on a—ooh! Are those smokies?" She cries, brushing past me without so much as a second look and helping herself.

"They were…" I sigh, shaking my head, "what time are you guys leaving?"

"Our flight is going out at two. They actually gave me a lot of trouble for switching our tickets, so Sheldon called down there and gave 'em hell."

"All of this happened before I woke up?" I ask, looking from my sister to Sheldon.

"Yep," Darcy agrees as the smile leaves her face, "Joe's running all over town with some bimbo. I gotta get back there and do some damage control. I have the suspicion she's not quite eighteen and I don't want him being an idiot to affect Brian's future."

"Mom, Dad's always going to be an idiot. Unfortunately, that's just one of those things we can count on in the universe," Brian pipes in, tossing one of Flash's toys and watching the tiny cat dart across the room.

"I gotta take care of this. I have to be rid of Joe," Darcy says, sighing. I nod, swallowing.

"I know."

It's a lot harder to say goodbye to Darcy and Brian than I anticipated, but I feel slightly better at the prospect of having dinner with all of my friends. It's been a while since it's been just the seven of us. I know it's going to be a little hard, what with all this Raj and Bridget drama, but I don't doubt there's a girl out there for Brown Dynamite.

Sheldon and I are the last to arrive at Olive Garden after spending the afternoon sorting laundry for later. Yep, that was my afternoon after dropping off my sister. We sorted laundry, watched a rerun of Firefly, and I played with the kitten. It's a very strange thing, feeling this comfort around each other. Sitting in easy silence was a nice change from when everyone is around and everyone is talking over each other and arguing and laughing.

Sheldon and I squeeze into the seats at the end of the table, across from Leonard and Amy. I give Raj a small smile and pat his hair as we pass him. His dark eyes are sad, but he seems like he's doing okay. He has such a sweet face. It really is too bad he can't speak well in front of women. I know half a dozen girls who would love to date him.

"Darcy and Brian leave okay?" Leonard asks, peering at me over his glasses. I nod, sighing and looking down at my menu.

"Look," I say, carefully nudging Sheldon in the arm with my elbow. It's time to come clean to everyone for real, even though I'm pretty sure all of them know. "We have to tell you guys something."

"You're pregnant," Howard utters dryly, making me glare at him.

"You're such a pig," I shoot back, rolling my eyes. "No. I am not pregnant. Sheldon and I are…you know, dating."

"No…" Howard responds sardonically, earning a smack from Bernadette.

"Knock it off," she tells him warningly, smiling brightly at us. "Honey, we knew."

"How did you know?" I ask and suddenly, Dr. Twitchy next to me begins to fidget like a kindergartner who just had an accident in his pants. Slowly, I turn to look at him. "What did you do?"

"Raj blabbed!" Sheldon blurts, glaring accusingly at Howard, who looks bored.

"Yeah, after we ran into you two practically making out at Angelina's Bistro."

"We were not—" I start, but receive a gentle glance from Bernadette.

"Honey, you may have thought you were being inconspicuous, but you two were holding hands and it was obvious," she tells me sweetly.

"Any more obvious and you would have needed a condom," Howard adds with a devilish smirk. I give him my most menacing death glare, making him look down into his glass of water.

"That's enough," I snap, giving them all a pointed look.

"I wouldn't let it bother you, Penny," Amy tells me, glancing up from her menu, "Howard is obviously just bitter that he's the only member of his group of friends that hasn't had a shot with you."

"But, Amy," Bernadette starts, "Howie is perfectly happy with—"

"Oh please, look at her. She could make the Pope fall in love with her," Amy insists, making me cover my face. Why is this happening? I love them, but they are driving me crazy.

"And I could have had a shot with Penny," Howard adds defensively.

"No you couldn't," I interject.

"But I met Bernie and I'm much happier and more fulfilled now." The two of them rub noses and share one of their nauseating little kisses. Amy meets my eyes and shakes her head.

"That's right, Howard…perhaps someday you'll convince yourself of that," Sheldon adds, scanning over his menu with a sigh. It makes me choke back a snicker.

"Howard could have never survived with an independent woman like Penny," Amy adds, patting Bernadette's hand as if to reassure her. "He thrives on being needed, which is most likely due to his thinly veiled Oedipal Complex. Bernadette is an extension of his mother." Leonard's eyes widen as he grins at her.

"And this is why I love you," he tells her, laughing, making me choke on an ice cube and causing Bernadette to completely knock her water over, into Howard's lap.

"Oops!" She cries, "I'm sorry, Sweetie! I didn't mean—"

"Forget that," Howard says, waving his hand distractedly, "Did Leonard just drop the L-bomb?" (I'm still choking on my ice cube at this point. Raj thumps me on the back a couple of times, helping considerably.)

"Typical," Sheldon sighs, looking over at me as I take a long sip of water. Leonard looks like he wants to shoot himself as the table falls uncomfortably silent. Amy is very calmly studying him as if she is trying to figure out if he's serious or if he just said something in the spur of the moment.

"Is this a joke? Like the time Jason Cummings asked me to the Homecoming Dance and paid a homeless man to come pick me up instead?" I cringe, remembering that most of my friends harbor delightful scars from childhood and beyond.

"Amy, of course this isn't a joke," Leonard says, his dark eyes flashing. "I would never joke about something like that." He meets my eyes for just a second and I shrink, remembering the time he'd told me he loved me and I'd panicked. I swallow a lump in my throat and nod at him to tell him that I understand. Turning back to Amy, and ignoring the rest of us, he takes her hands into his and gives her a sincere look. "Amy Farrah Fowler, I'm in love with you. And if you're not ready to say it back, I completely understand. If you're freaked out, I'm sorry. I just think you deserve to know, and—"

"Leonard," Amy stops him, her face remaining the same blank, unreadable mask as always. I glance over at Sheldon, who still seems uninterested in the goings on at our table and kick his foot. He gives me a puzzled look and I nod at Amy and Leonard.

"Penny, I realize that Leonard has once again made a fool out of himself, as is an inevitability with him, however—"

"Shut up," I mutter, kicking his foot again. "You know you're going to get the linguine with five cheese marinara, so set down the damn menu."

"I realize that your life has been a continuous stream of trying to live up to the impossible standards set by your mother," Amy continues, and I dig my fingers into Sheldon's sleeved arm. He stares at me as if I've gone ape shit crazy. "And even if I initially was not attracted to you, I've found over time, that I crave your presence. I thought living with you might quell that, but it only makes it more potent. So, in response to your admission, I would like to confess that I, as well, love you." That's when I see the expression on her face fall just slightly. Maybe not enough to be noticeable, but her lower lip quivers just barely. "I realize it must be quite different from dating someone like Penny—"

"Amy, I swear, if you compare yourself to Penny, I may have to slap some sense into you," Leonard interrupts, putting a hand on her shoulder, "I don't want Penny. I want you."

From my right, I hear a loud sniff and turn to see Raj with tears streaming down his face, his glass of Lambrusco empty.

"It's so beautiful," He weeps, burying his face in my shoulder. Biting my lip so I don't burst out laughing, I rest my head atop his and hand him a clean napkin to wipe his eyes. And he's right. I'm not hurt in the least by what Leonard said. If anything, I'm proud.

Leonard loves Amy.

Amy loves Leonard.

I love Sheldon.

Does he love me?

From the way he's staring distractedly into his water, I can't tell. All I know is, there's no way I can tell him how I feel. Maybe after we've been dating for like…twenty years or something.

I stay quiet for the remainder of dinner. Even when Raj mentions something about going on a blind date with Kripke and his girlfriend the next day, I don't really have much to say.

It's not until later, in the laundry room, that I bring it up.

"So," I say, folding my underwear and setting it neatly in my basket. (I don't use Sheldon's goofy blue foldy thing.) "What do you think of this whole Leonard and Amy thing?"

"Are you asking if it bothers me that they've both confessed their feelings for one another or are you wondering if I think it valid?" Sheldon responds, barely looking up from his clothes.

"Um, both?" I suggest, trying to figure out how to fold a g-string. I decide on just rolling it up and throwing it in the basket.

"Alright," He nods amiably, folding his Violet Lantern T-Shirt, "No, it does not bother me. And, it's hard to say whether Leonard can have a healthy relationship. Due to his subconscious need to please and the obvious similarities between Amy and his mother, I can only surmise that if Leonard were to genuinely care for a woman, that Amy Farrah Fowler is as good a candidate as any."

"So…yes?" I offer, watching him expertly fold his next T-Shirt.

"Yes, what?"

"Nevermind," I sigh, delicately placing a bra in my basket. "What are your thoughts on the whole…love thing?"

"I'm not sure I follow your meaning," Sheldon returns, looking at me with his brows furrowed.

"I mean…" I stop myself, realizing this is neither the time nor the place to have a conversation like this. We can save it until after we go to Texas in a couple of weeks. One step at a time, Penny! "I don't know what I mean. I guess I'm just tired."

"Would you rather me finish folding your clothing?" He asks, concerned. It makes me smile, despite my shot nerves.

"Nah," I shake my head, patting his arm, "it's just a couple shirts and some shorts."

"Oh, that reminds me," Sheldon says, noticing me holding my Hello Kitty shorts. I notice he has something hooked on his index finger.

"Whoops!" I chuckle, snatching the garment out of his hand. Hello Kitty thong that somehow got mixed into Sheldon's batch.

"Your underwear got stuck in with my clothing," Sheldon sighs, "that's a—"

"If you say that's a strike, I may have to punch you in the throat," I warn cheerfully. I wonder for a second if this is how I'm going to spend every Saturday for the rest of my life? (I mean, assuming we haven't ripped each other to shreds by September.) Could I actually see myself married to Sheldon with a bunch of evil genius babies running around?

Yeah. Yeah, I can.

I mean, clearly we are both not ready for that. I've never even been around a baby, other than Brian. I was nine and I don't remember much about it except gagging at the smell of his poop. Tim never got married or had a kid and I sure have never considered it before. But despite the fact that I've never had so much as a twinge of a desire for a baby or despite the fact that the thought of Sheldon parenting a child is a frightening thing, I can see it.

I can see Sheldon sitting at a desk in his house with a pair of wire rimmed reading glasses perched on his nose. Maybe with a shadow of a beard or a goatee. Poring over any number of documents and surrounded by whiteboards while kids chase each other around the constantly disinfected house he lives in. Sheldon singing Soft Kitty to a sick little girl or boy. Or teaching them how to cook fried chicken.

I can see me chasing a couple kids around and reminding them to eat their vegetables. I can picture myself driving a minivan and going to soccer games and baseball games and dance classes. I realize that I need to have a kid because I need to prove to myself that I can be a parent.

I'm so not ready to have a kid. But it's nice to know I might be someday. And it's also nice to know that Sheldon may not be hopeless.

I can only hope that someday, Sheldon will be ready to love me back.

 

Chapter Text

It's been over two months. Two months since I moved in with Sheldon. Two months since Amy and Leonard got together…everything is different. A blistering heat wave has settled its ugly, humid head over Pasadena and even our air conditioners aren't doing much to help with the heat. Even the food in the refrigerator is kind of thawing and it's literally painful to wear too much clothing.

We've finished filming for the initial six episodes of Home Planet and, depending on the response in the fall, we will film six more. In the meantime, I get to relax for the rest of the summer and wait to find out if I have an acting career or not. Although, I can't deny that I like looking at my bank statement a lot more right now. It's really weird. Now that I actually have money, I don't want to spend it.

So, I'm waiting it out until I absolutely have to buy a new car. I'm starting a savings account. I'm going to college. Just online classes for now, but it's still something. And I'm going to finish writing my life out and see what I come up with. I know how it starts; I just don't know where to end it. Because it's not over.

So, I'm just going to play it by ear and see where it takes me. In the meantime, I'm reduced to walking around the apartment in a pair of Barbie boy shorts and a tank top. Even Sheldon has on a pair of shorts and only his short sleeved shirt, rather than his usual two layered preference. We're also avoiding the couch, since leather is not advisable on someone who is sweating.

You know damn well that Shelly's going crazy because he can't sit in his spot. He just keeps walking by it and looking at it and sighing. Like a frustrated Labrador or a temperamental cat. Our cat has disappeared, taking refuge under my bed and sprawling out as far as his lanky body can manage.

Poor baby.

"How ya holding up, Shelly?" I ask, glancing over my shoulder as I pour myself some more water before pouring him a glass too.

"Don't call me Shelly," he answers weakly, perching uncomfortably on the arm of the chair and looking down at his spot in defeat. "So close and yet, so far…" he adds wistfully, making me roll my eyes.

"Dramatic much?" I tease, handing him his glass of water. "We could always go take a cold shower together," I offer with a small shrug, noticing his eyes not so discreetly rake over my barely clad body. We haven't done anything since that morning shower back when Darcy and Brian were staying here. Mostly, because we haven't had time.

We leave in two days for Texas to go to Missy's engagement party. Neither of us are much looking forward to it, because we both kind of know what's going on there and we all know how socially gifted Sheldon is and how gentle and emphatic he is when it comes to comfort. (Sarcasm)

"Four years I lived with him! Four years! That's like, as long as high school!"

"It took you four years to get through high school?"

Ah, the good old days. But, to give him credit, Sheldon has come light years away from the way he was then.

"Penny," Sheldon begins miserably, "please don't take this the wrong way, but the last thing I want to do right now is to be pressed against you in any form." It makes me snicker.

"Ditto," I agree, sinking to sit on the cool wood floor. "Can you imagine what it would be like without air?"

"Yes, I can," Sheldon nods, holding his glass against his face and closing his eyes. His face is flushed and his dark hair is matted against his forehead, "back in Texas, we didn't have air conditioning in the house at all, so when it would get hot – and it did – Missy, George and I would all be shooed out of the house to the creek. Of course, I never swam in that filthy water, but my brother and sister gladly did. I was only too glad to leave for college, where the dormitories were air conditioned."

"Where did you go to college?" I ask, more to keep myself from thinking about the sweat rolling down my back.

"For my undergraduate, I went to the University of Texas in Austin. As I was eleven years old, it was the compromise my mother made with me. I could have gone to Cal-Tech or Harvard, but my mother insisted on me staying in the state."

"I can't imagine why," I retort dryly, and of course, Sheldon doesn't understand that I'm totally being sarcastic.

"I know! The University of Texas is rated fourteenth for physics programs, while Cal-Tech—"

"I think it's because you were eleven, honey," I sigh weakly, fanning myself with a Game Informer magazine, "I don't blame her. I can't imagine having to let my kid leave at eleven years old!"

"Perhaps…" Sheldon says absently, even though he looks like he could give a crap right now. I sigh and lie back on the floor, staring up at the ceiling.

"Why don't you take your shoes and socks off, Sweetie?" I suggest with my eyes closed and hear him let out a huff of indignance.

"Are you aware of the damage you can do to your feet by walking around barefoot? There are numerous fungi and bacteria that can be transmitted by—"

"Sheldon, what is that?" I ask, noticing something sticking out from beneath one of the couch cushions.

"What is what?" He returns, tiredly as I get onto my knees and crawl toward the couch.

"This," I answer, plucking the object out and checking it over. It's a CD or, judging by the inscription on the front, a DVD. It's one of those re-writeable ones and it's written on in Sharpie.

5-14-11

Leonard's birthday last year…

"It's a DVD," I tell Sheldon, holding it up, "Do you know what this is?" He leans forward, peering at the DVD and shaking his head.

"No, I—" His eyes widen in excitement. "Wait! Of course! This was the day that Raj came over here after hearing his sister and Leonard engaging in—"

"Argh!" I squeal, covering my eyes, not wanting to remembering anything about that day…or night. "Ew!"

"That was the same night that you and—"

"Yep!" I nod, still holding the DVD, "Got it, that's enough!" Changing the subject, I add, "What is this?"

"I've never seen that before," Sheldon admits, taking the DVD from my fingers and studying it, "Perhaps it's something Leonard recorded on T.V." Rising, he crosses to his computer and opens the DVD drive, delicately placing the disc into it. Dragging myself off of the floor, I trudge over to stand behind his chair.

Here's where things get weird. And by weird, I mean totally traumatic and disgusting. It's Leonard looking into the camera and wearing a Star Trek uniform.

"Okay, we're recording!" He says brightly and I'm wondering if this is some stupid Star Trek scene that the guys reenacted or something.

"Oh God, I feel ridiculous in this dress," a voice I immediately recognize comes from off screen as Leonard folds his arms.

"You look beautiful, Lieutenant Uhura. Now prepare for inspection," Leonard grins past the camera as Priya walks into the shot wearing a very short red dress. Her silky dark hair is pulled up into a high ponytail.

Wait a second…

"Shh…my brother's going to hear you!" She hisses at him and my eyes widen in horror as they both lie on the bed and Leonard's hand settles over her behind.

"Relax, he's got headphones on. And we're ten miles above Earth in a starship," he assures her and Sheldon snorts in irritation.

"You see? This is where Leonard's lack of attention to detail and accuracy comes into play…ten miles above Earth is still within the atmosphere!"

Yes Sheldon, by all means, let's pay attention to his scientific inaccuracies rather than the fact that I'm pretty sure we're about to see Leonard and Priya go at it. In Star Trek role playing costumes. On Raj's bed. Priya pulls away and rolls her eyes a little, tugging uncomfortably at the dress.

"I can't believe I'm wearing my brother's Halloween costume," she mutters, making Sheldon and I look at each other in surprise.

Okay, what?

"I can't believe you think he only wears it on Halloween," Leonard chuckles, climbing over her, "Open the landing bay doors, shuttle craft approaching—"

"No!" I shriek, pressing the button on Sheldon's DVD drive just as he covers his eyes. I rip the DVD out of the drive and toss it onto the floor, leaping back and falling into Sheldon's lap. We're both staring slack jawed at the offending disc, too horrified to move or say anything, despite the fact that the prolonged contact is really no fun today.

"Oh. My. God." I manage to choke, still dazedly looking at the object. And then I start to laugh, because we just saw Leonard and Priya fucking role playing. In all the months I dated Leonard, I never did that. (Not that he didn't ask.)

"What in the world could you possibly find funny about this?" Sheldon asks, carefully urging me off of him and to my feet.

"Oh, come on," I choke out, "Leonard and Priya using Star Trek to get off…that funny! I mean, we have to destroy it, but it's hilarious!" Sheldon gives me a baleful glare and dubiously lifts the disc off the floor, moving to his shredder. Thirty seconds later, Leonard's only claim to fame is destroyed and the world is a slightly safer place. "We can never tell him!"

"We will never mention this abomination again!" Sheldon insists, giving me a stern look. If it wasn't so godawful sticky hot, I'd probably tackle him. Even those plaid shorts make his cute little butt look sexy, but I'm too gross to care right now.

"Deal," I nod, brushing past him and throwing the freezer open, sticking my head in the cold air and closing my eyes. It's almost orgasmic, that icy air.

"Penny, what are you doing?" Sheldon's voice inquires from behind me.

"Cooling off," I reply, grabbing a handful of ice and turning toward him, inspired. His eyes fall to the ice and then return to my eyes. "I have an idea," I tell him, crooking my finger at him, "come here." He looks like 'coming here' is the last thing he wants to do. But he does it anyway.

Grabbing the hem of his shirt and yanking it up a little, I rub one of the ice cubes over his stomach, making him scream like a tween girl at a Justin Bieber concert and fly back.

"Penny!"

"Shut up," I chortle, grabbing his wrist and putting a couple of ice cubes into his hand. "Now, you do me."

"Excuse me?" Sheldon says warily, eyeing me as if I've gone off the deep end. Rolling my eyes, I turn away.

"Come on!" I whine, looking at him over my shoulder. "It's hot. Just rub one over my back. Please?"

"Is this non-optional?" Sheldon asks doubtfully and I bite my lower lip, wondering if I should play that card. It would be so easy…

"No," I sigh in defeat, "but it would be really nice…I'll do your back—"

"Very well," he cuts me off. Holy shit. He must be miserable. "Turn around."

You don't have to tell me twice, MoonPie. I turn away from him and start a little at the feel of the ice on my overheated skin.

"Oh my God," I practically moan, nearly snickering with the thought that if Leonard and Amy are lurking outside the door, it probably sounds a little different. "Nothing has ever felt so good."

"You do have a flair for the dramatic," Sheldon grumbles as I turn back toward him and press an ice cube to the side of his neck. Yeah, he called me dramatic, but the big goofball's eyes practically roll in the back of his head at the feel of the ice.

"Sheldon, get the back of my neck," I whine, grabbing his wrist and realizing the ice cubes have already melted. Oh, fuck the heat! Standing on my toes, I grab the front of his shirt and pull him down to my level, kissing him quickly on the lips. Just as quickly, we both pull away and I let out a ragged sigh of frustration. I finally get Sheldon to a place where he can make out and it's too damn hot for either of us to care.

We call it a day and I pull on a pair of shorts before we head over to Wolowitz's Funhouse, or as it's better known, No Man's Land.

Figures the fourth of July would fall on the hottest damn day of the year. We have a little bit of trouble with old Bessie when she starts smoking at an intersection, but she pushes through and we make it to Howard's. I can smell the damn beef brisket before we even reach the door, and though I know Mrs. Wolowitz can cook the shit out of a brisket, the smell makes me kind of queasy because I'm so damn uncomfortable.

Bernadette answers the door wearing a sundress with her bikini top showing underneath.

"Hey, you guys! Everyone is out back!" She tells us brightly, though her pink cheeks and tired eyes say it all. "Mrs. Wolowitz is down in the basement. The heat was too much for her and that's where the air is working the best."

"So, avoid the basement," I quip, grinning at her, "got it!"

Now, I've seen a lot of goofy stuff being around these guys for the past five years. I've seen them dressed up as Superheroes, I've seen (some of) them naked. I've seen them fight over a fake movie prop ring. I've seen Sheldon play the goddamn bongos at three in the morning.

What I haven't seen, is what greets us when we're shown out onto the back deck. Howard has a kiddie wading pool set up and he and Raj have their lawn chairs set beside it and their feet in the water. Raj has on a pair of swim trunks adorned with bright orange fish and a pair of snorkel goggles on his head. Howard has on the shortest, tightest pair of purple trunks and is wearing a pair of orange water wings. (Bernadette, seriously, if you're reading this, my door is always open. There is help for you!)

Leonard and Amy are parked beneath the unhelpful shade of a measly little tree near the garage. It makes me crack a grin, because Amy has on a wide brimmed straw hat and a pair of Jessica Simpson-esque sunglasses. Leonard is dressed in his own (thankfully semi-normal) bathing suit and a Spiderman T-Shirt.

"This is absurd," Sheldon complains to Leonard while I move to the blue cooler and retrieve two bottles of water.

"What the hell?" I say to Amy, glancing back at Raj and Howard, who are lazing in their chairs, sipping umbrella drinks like two sorority girls trying to get a tan. "Who roofied the dumbasses?"

"Oh, they've been drinking since noon," Leonard explains, shaking his head.

"Like two boozy middle aged hair dressers," Amy inserts dryly, shaking her head.

"If I don't die of dehydration by the end of the day, it will be a miracle." Oh good, the endless symphony of Dr. Whack-A-Doodle's uh, Whack-A-Doodleness is in full force. "And furthermore, I have an extremely delicate epidermis, which is susceptible to Ultraviolet rays. My father's mother died of a combination of melanoma and—"

"Oh my God, put on some Coppertone and put a cork in it!" I tell him, exasperated. (I love him, but sometimes, I want to kill him.) "I bought you the special extra SPF kind that you put on toddlers. It's in your diaper bag." I withdraw the pink bottle of sunscreen out of my tote bag and thrust it into his hands.

"Firm patience and a strong maternal instinct paired with your sunny skin and golden hair. You'd be the envy of every soccer mom on the field," Amy tells me, grinning. I now realize that she's being mischievous when she says this stuff because she gets this devilish gleam in her eyes whenever she compliments me. I half expect a wink and a giggle. I don't know how she spouts this stuff off without so much as a grin. It's that calm confidence and self assurance that's really bloomed over the past couple of months. (I'm sure the sex doesn't hurt either. I'd like to know the feeling someday.)

"Howahd! Get your tuchas in here and bring me a new ice pack!"

"Ma! It's two feet away from you!" He screams back, darting into the house.

Everyone cringes at the sound of Mrs. Wolowitz. Well, everyone except for Raj who is fascinated by the umbrella in his drink.

"You know what's a funny word?" He giggles, using his umbrella to spear the cherry in his drink. "Maraschino…" Another laugh and then he drops the empty glass, still holding the cherry in front of his face.

"He's cut off," I mutter, meeting Leonard's eyes.

"So, how's the packing coming?" Leonard inquires, sipping his bottle of water while Sheldon sinks miserably into a lawn chair beside Amy.

"Um," I begin, earning a glare from my overheated, temperamental toddler of a boyfriend.

"I've been prepared for days. Penny, however, brings new meaning to the term, 'procrastination.'"

"We're leaving in two days!" I argue casually, raising an eyebrow at him. "I still have all day tomorrow to pack."

Howard returns outside, water wings and all, looking slightly ill. Bernadette brings out a plate full of food and puts it on the patio table, giving him a quick kiss.

"Howahd!" We all let out a collective groan. "Someone's at the door!"

"So answer it!" Howard screeches back at his mother, but disappears back inside anyway. Bernadette just shakes her head, rolling her eyes as she begins to put meat on the grill.

"I can't! This heat is making my thighs rub togetha! My legs look like hamburgah patties!"

"Argh!" All of us cry at once and I cover my eyes, begging my brain not to picture it.

"Good Lord, I'm in Hell," Sheldon mutters, covering his eyes. "Penny," he adds, leaning toward me, "do you think Bernadette properly washed her hands before handling that meat?"

"Oh, Sweetie," I weakly pat his knee, "at this point, I don't care if she uses dirt as breading. I'm too hot to eat anything anyway." Sheldon looks at me like I've just told him I kill puppies for sport. Leaving Dr. Kook with his little buddy and my bestie, I head over to poor Bernadette, who may pass out at any moment.

"Need some help, honey?" I ask, glancing at the shriveling meat. Bernadette shakes her head, staring blankly down at the food before looking back at the door.

"What is taking Howie so long? We weren't expecting anyone else," she tells me, agitated as she forcefully flips the food.

"I'll go check," I tell her, patting her shoulder and running into the (barely) cooler sanctuary of the kitchen. I hear a male voice that's both familiar and foreign to me, so I hang back, afraid to interrupt.

"…Dad said it was a bad idea, and changed his mind. We've been fighting, and I finally got sick of it, so I left and used my graduation money to come down here."

"Jordan, I mean, I'm really super glad you came, and I really did want to meet you, but you are underage…your parents are probably freaking out. You need to call Dad." Howard's voice answers, sounding more like an adult than I've ever heard him sound.

"Yeah," Jordan agrees weakly, "I know. I just got so sick of all the secret keeping. I deserve to know my brother."

Oh shit. This is the other Wolowitz. Howard's mysterious half brother who never showed back in May. Some heavy stuff is going down here and if he's not careful, he's gonna have an audience. (I mean besides me. Yeah, I'm eavesdropping. I'm nosy. Oh well.)

"I think it's real crappy that we never got to know each other. Howard, Dad didn't even tell you about me until Christmas last year. I wrote to you so many times and I always trashed it."

"You know what's crappy, Jordan?" Howard sighs, "The fact that you got to have a father all your life. He left when I was eleven without so much as a Hanukkah card or a birthday card after it."

"Yeah, I know." Jordan replies, and it falls silent for a while. I reach for a celery stick and carefully crunch it so I don't give away my presence.

"You know what? Give me the number…I'll call Dad," Howard sighs and I take that as my cue to go back outside and report to Bernadette. Raj is now sitting fully in the wading pool, playing with a plastic boat.

That boy needs to get a girlfriend, stat.

"Who is it?" She asks, seeing the look on my face and going pale beneath the flush of her skin. I bite my lower lip and shake my head.

"It's his brother," I whisper, making her eyes widen frighteningly.

"What?"

"Jordan. It's his little brother. Kid ran away. They're getting ready to call Papa Wolowitz right now," I explain in a quiet voice.

"Shit." Bernadette hisses, "Penny, do you know how to grill?"

"I'm from Nebraska," I tell her, snatching the spatula from her teeny hand. Of course I know how to grill. As Dad's little Slugger, I had been groomed to be the perfect husband from age seven on.

A girl would be lucky to land a fella like me.

Of course, the fact that I realized I was a female and had boobs and that I liked boys kind of changed things, but I think I'd be a pretty badass wife too. Maybe a little unconventional, but look at the people I'm associating with.

Brown Dynamite is singing the theme song from Spongebob Squarepants while sitting n the middle of a kiddie pool wearing snorkel goggles.

Amy Farrah Fowler looks like a cross between Joan Crawford and Britney Spears in her Scarlet O'Hara hat and sunglasses.

Sheldon is clad in plaid shorts and a Flash T-Shirt. His dark hair is matted to his forehead like he just gave birth to triplets. I think it's the high socks and orthopedic tennis shoes that really sets off the ensemble, though.

Leonard would be fairly normal, except for the fucking zinc oxide he has on his nose.

Howard and Bernadette are their own brand of freaky and strange, both having an affinity for the color purple and sequins. (And really tight pants.)

And then there's me. The sweaty blonde bimbo in the Hello Kitty shorts and a white wife beater.

We're a hot damn mess. And you know what? I wouldn't trade my buddies for the world. Not even Howard, who is more handsy than a goddamn octopus. They're my family.

"Hey everyone," Howard says, stepping back outside as I finish grilling the chicken and the burgers. "This is Jordan. He's my brother."

Crickets.

For about a full minute, it's completely silent. That is, until the slurred, boozy voice of Raj comes from the kiddie pool. "Come on in! The water's fine! Howard, get him some water wings."

"Raj," Amy begins patiently, "You're sitting in roughly eight inches of water. I think he'll survive without the use of floatation devices."

"Happy Fourth of July!" I tell the poor kid brightly. It's actually kind of frightening. He's a slightly taller, thinner version of Howard with glasses and softer features. In a weird way, he's adorable. Mostly, because he's not wearing pants that show off the outline of his Angels in the Outfield or trying to grope anything with boobs.

"Welcome to insanity," Leonard mutters, staring at Sheldon who is once again rubbing Coppertone on his pale, girly knees. I snort a laugh and hold up a plate.

"Chicken's done!"

 

Chapter Text

Anybody who has ever gone on a trip with Sheldon Lee Cooper knows that he's a pain in the ass. He meticulously plans everything down to the second. He goes to excruciating lengths to ensure that everything is sterile and meets his extremely high O.C.D. standards. Okay, you know what? I can make this a little shorter.

Sheldon's crazy.

I know this. I accept this…and however much I may want to murder him, I brought this on myself by making myself his girlfriend. So, I really shouldn't be surprised when he lists every single thing we're taking with us to Texas and attaches a corresponding tag to the respective item.

And then, there's the part when it takes twenty minutes to get through airport security because, apparently, Shelly's got a Mexican Peso up his nose from when he was five. What the hell?

So then, we get to our terminal and there's a kid with a cough, which sends MoonPie into nervous conniptions as he mercilessly interrogates the child's poor mother as to where she's seated. Sheldon proceeds to pull out a face mask and put it on while I try to figure out how to melt into the tile on the floor and count down the seconds until I can get me a mini bottle of booze.

I let out a shriek of surprise when I feel something cover my face and realize that Dr. Whack-A-Doodle has now placed a face mask of hypochondria on me.

"Sheldon!" I smack at him, trying unsuccessfully to remove the offending object.

"Penny," his voice is soft, and though I can't see his mouth moving, his eyes are wild with desperation, "children transmit germs faster than any other source of contamination. I'm begging you: unless you wish to spend our trip singing Soft Kitty to me in my childhood bed, I suggest you wear this."

"This is crazy," I bite at him, glaring at him over my paper prison. "You owe me."

"How so?"

"Tonight. Kissing. No shirts," I answer swiftly, looking up as our flight is called and his eyes widen while his face turns that delightful shade of pink I've come to know so well.

"In my mother's house?" He squeaks, voice rising on the last word. I raise an eyebrow at him.

"We could do naked kissing," I suggest casually and hear him gasp; glad he can't see me bite my lower lip in self satisfaction, mentally patting my own back. It's too easy.

"Very well," He concedes quickly, standing as our seats are called. Luckily, the contagious child is at the back of the plane and we're closer to the front, so Sheldon allows me to remove my mask. (And by allows, I mean I tear it off and elbow him in the gut when he tries to stop me.)

After about an hour, I fall asleep with the help of my friend Captain Morgan and wake up three hours later in Houston, Texas. Before we can even make to get up, Sheldon tries to inflict his ridiculous face mask on me and I give him a warning look. Mrs. Cooper is waiting for us at baggage claim, which we (thankfully) don't have to deal with because Sheldon insisted on carry-on only.

"There's my little scientist," Mary grins, pulling Sheldon into a hug and kissing his cheek while he hugs her dutifully, "and his girlfriend."

Oh, here we go.

"Hi, Mrs. Cooper," I smile tiredly, still a little groggy from waking up after my two hour nap.

"You act like this is a new development in my life, Mom," Sheldon scowls, "if you recall, I dated Amy Farrah Fowler for five months."

"Sweetums, that wasn't datin', that was…well, I don't know what that was, but it wasn't datin'," Mary returns dryly, linking her arm through mine.

"We went on dates," Sheldon continues to argue, making me cringe as his mother links her other arm through his.

"Sweetie, just stop," I sigh, shaking my head and suppressing a snort. Because I know the big goof is never going to get it. Hell, if you didn't know us that well, you'd barely know we were dating. We don't do P.D.A.'s. We fight like it's our job. We pretty much do all of the same stuff we used to…with the added bonus of kissing.

It's just in private.

I'm still not too keen on lip locking in front of Leonard with his best friend, and I don't really like the idea of Amy being forced to watch her ex kiss her best friend when she couldn't get shit out of Sheldon for five months.

Jesus, this is still so jacked up.

Mary brings us to a shiny SUV, and I realize that we are going to come face to face with Missy and her fiancé, the possible abuser.

Missy is grinning from ear to ear, and I nearly shriek, because she's chopped her hair all off into a bob that comes to the bottom of her chin. Her beautiful, shining dark hair. Gone. Good Lord, she looks like Sheldon with short hair. And the thing is, even though she still looks gorgeous, she looks wrong. Her smile is too big.

"Hey, Sheldon!" She exclaims in a very excited, if not subdued voice. Cautiously, she moves forward to embrace her brother while he reluctantly hugs her back. I notice her let out a breath that she seemed to be holding and relax into Sheldon's arms for a moment before pulling back to look at him. "You look happy, Shelly."

"Of course I'm happy," Sheldon insists in his usual tone of arrogance (oh, how do I resist him?), "I have been approved for a research trip that will possibly change the course of my career and earn me a Nobel Prize. And…? Guess that's my cue.

"And he's dating an actress," I interject dryly, stepping forward and bumping Sheldon aside so I can hug Missy. This is my own little experiment. I'm gauging her reaction to my touch, and Bingo! She tenses as soon as my hands touch her back and I feel my heart begin to race, quickly pulling away and smiling up into her beautiful face. "Congratulations, Missy."

"It's Melissa now, actually," Missy answers in a quiet voice, though that pseudo smile lingers on her lips. Sheldon's lips.

"Melissa, sweetheart," A smooth tenor voice comes from nearby, "Aren't you going to introduce me to your brother?"

"Of course, Darling," she nods, reaching out to him and I finally turn to look at the infamous Ben. Who is nothing like I expected. I was expecting some tall, muscular guy with maybe a unibrow and a grunt.

Okay, so maybe I was expecting a slightly prehistoric looking Kurt, but this guy is so not. This guy is Brad Pitt. Hell, this guy is an improvement on Brad Pitt and that's saying something. I hated Jennifer Aniston the entire time she was married to him. It wasn't until they were divorced that I realized she's awesome. Now I hate Angelina. Skinny bitch.

"Sheldon, Penny, this is Ben. My fiancé," Ben puts an arm around her and brings her close to him, kissing her cheek tenderly. Well, he certainly doesn't look like the abusive type.

"What an honor to finally meet you, Sheldon," Ben says, holding his hand out for Sheldon to shake, which of course, he doesn't, "Melissa has told me so much about you."

"If she referred to me as a 'rocket scientist,' I can assure you that is a gross understatement," Sheldon mutters, giving his twin a pointed look. Ben chuckles and shakes his head.

"No, she didn't," he replies pleasantly, "she's very proud of you, though. As, I'm sure, is this lovely lady." Oh balls, now he's looking at me. This guy is good, but he's too good. He's bullshitting. I can smell a fake a mile away. I smelled it on Alicia, I smelled it on Priya and I can smell it on Ben.

"Ben, this is Penny, Sheldon's girlfriend," Missy says, gesturing to me. I manage a fake smile of my own.

"Pleasure," Ben answers, charmingly. If I wasn't so used to people lying to my face at pretty much every audition I've ever been to, I probably would have fallen for that. If I hadn't watched Kurt come out of the basement with his friend's wife and tell me that I was overreacting, then I may have believed Ben was a good guy.

But I'm not. And I don't. And I notice the way Missy's summer sky eyes flit between Ben and her brother, almost as if she's praying that neither says anything to set the other off. And I notice the way she kind of carefully carries herself now. The collected, effortless confidence from four years ago is gone and replaced by someone who is timid and tired looking. She moves like she hurts. Maybe I'm reading too much into things, but my instincts are screaming at me that I'm not.

Shit.

Mary, Sheldon and I cram into the back seat of the SUV and everyone falls silent, while Ben continues to regale us all with charming tales of how he organized a fundraiser at the church that raised over ten thousand dollars for the homeless. About how he was interviewed on some Christian radio station. About how he saw Missy serving soup to the poor and fell head over heels for her.

Gag me.

And Mary doesn't seem to notice the off putting, overly nice façade he's showing all of us. So, it's up to me, I guess, to sniff the bastard out. Sheldon is brilliant, but he's not really good at judging people. I mean, the guy has a mortal enemies list (that I've been on about four or five times in the past five years). The ride is about an hour long, which is kind of excruciating when Ben turns on some backwoods Christian radio station that's basically spewing out garbage about how gay people are the instruments of the devil and blah, blah, unwed teenage mothers are a sign of the end. Sheldon is barely holding his tongue as it is, I can tell he's literally twitching with the need to ridicule, but I have a death grip on his knee.

"Penny," he whispers to me, "you have to do something."

"Me?" I hiss back through my teeth, plastering on a fake smile.

"I can't take it. I'm being driven to insanity. I feel less intelligent just listening to this."

"Sheldon!" Mary scolds softly, making sure Missy and Ben can't hear us. "Zip it. We're almost home."

"But Mom!" He whines, and I kick his foot in warning, shaking my head slightly.

"You want no shirt and no pants?" I threaten into his ear. He puts on a pout and stares out the window like a forlorn Labrador. I snort, rolling my eyes and looking back at his mother, who is wearing the exact same expression that I am.

It's going to be a long weekend.

When we arrive back at Mrs. Cooper's house, MeeMaw is already there, bustling about the kitchen and making what smells like some kind of cookie. She's exactly the same as she was a couple months ago.

"Shelly!" She cries, moving spryly around the kitchen counter and rushing over to her still grumpy grandson. Yet again, just like the time before, Sheldon's spoiled brat attitude melts completely away and he becomes everyone's favorite six year old.

"MeeMaw, you wouldn't believe the trip we've had," he complains in a voice that makes me cringe when Missy and Ben look questioningly at me. "There was a sick child on the airplane and we were forced to endure a baby crying and coughing and they made us watch a movie called Mr. Popper's Penguins."

"Is he okay?" Missy asks, leaning toward me. Glancing up, I meet her eyes and shrug.

"Oh, yeah. He's just crazy."

"I heard that!" Sheldon's voice interrupts, "And I'm not crazy. Mom had me tested. Tell her, Missy."

"Okay," Missy agrees, turning back toward me. "Shelly's crazy." We both snicker, before she sobers up immediately. "And don't call me Missy, Shelly. It's Melissa."

"Since when?" MeeMaw challenges sweetly, stooping to check the cookies in the oven before she looks at me. "Come here, Penny, so I can give you a kiss." Eagerly, I move toward her and let her pull me into a hug.

"You look adorable! I see y'all been gettin' some sun," She adds, noticing my tan from the fourth of July barbeque that neither of us has recovered from quite yet. It had been a long, uncomfortable evening which had culminated in Raj passed out on the back lawn, and everyone had pretty much left after dinner so that Howard could deal with his brother in private.

"I guess you could say that," I agree, smiling at her as another tall figure enters the room. I have never met him, but I recognize him immediately, because he's Sheldon…kind of. He's an older, rougher, sicker, broken Sheldon.

This must be George.

His skin is pale like his brother's, but his handsome face is slightly bloated (probably from all of the drinking), and the dark circles under his eyes make it seem like he hasn't slept in months, years even. I notice his eyes narrow on his sister and her fiancé for a second before moving to Sheldon.

"Shelly," he says, sounding tired and weak. Not at all like the childish bully I had imagined him to be.

"George," Sheldon acknowledges his brother cautiously, eyeing him with accusing eyes. I watch as Mrs. Cooper eyes her eldest child with a silent look of defeat, obviously waiting for the shoe to drop.

"You look…different," George murmurs, obviously noting the changes in his formerly stick thin little bro.

Remember when Sheldon looked like a praying mantis? Yeah, he doesn't so much anymore.

"I could counter that your look has differed as well, George," Sheldon answers, but it doesn't sound like he's mocking his brother. In fact, if I didn't know better, I would think Sheldon sounded worried. But that's impossible, because that would mean that Spock was showing human emotion and we all know…

Maybe I'm rubbing off on him.

"Yeah," is the only response George gives as Mary ushers us all into the living room. Missy and Ben excuse themselves to go home so that they can get ready for the engagement party tonight.

"Boy, she's acting weird," George mutters when they're gone, glaring at the door that their sister and her fiancé just disappeared through.

"Somethin's not right," MeeMaw agrees, brushing past her daughter and placing a plate of cookies in front of Sheldon and I.

"So, who's your friend, Shelly?" George asks, leaning over and reaching for a cookie.

"This is Penny," Sheldon replies simply, taking a cookie for himself and offering no other information. Leave it to Sheldon to completely ignore the unspoken questions.

"Penny's Shelly's girlfriend," MeeMaw cuts in brightly, seeing the need and patting my hair.

Have I mentioned I adore Sheldon's grandmother?

"Girlfriend?" George brightens slightly and gently taps Sheldon on the arm, "Who woulda thought, eh?"

"Who would have thought what?" Sheldon returns, glancing at me in confusion.

"Ya just…ya never seemed all that interested in girls or…anything," George tells him, taking a bite of his cookie.

"That's because I wasn't," Sheldon retorts quickly, "Up until recently, I saw no need in my life to make provisions to 'date' or to engage in any sort of unnecessary social relationship."

"Sheldon finally hit puberty," I quip, smirking and grinning sweetly at his glare.

"Hmm, yes, Penny has a delightful sense of humor and a charming way of being completely obtuse." I can feel my eyes furrow at his sideways look. "Though, I daresay, her folksy humor and tough exterior do hold a certain corn fed appeal."

"Corn fed?" I ask, wondering if I've just been insulted or complimented…or both?

"Alright, that's enough chit chat boys," Mary says, distracted, "we got a few hours till the party, so we need to get movin' here, kids. Penny, you can get ready up in the guest room. Shelly, why don't you go on to your old room?"

"Mom, what's the deal with Missy's fiancé? He seems as little…what's the word?" George begins and Sheldon gives him a blank look.

"Moronic?" Sheldon offers dryly and I smack him.

"Too good to be true?" I add, feeling MeeMaw's hand on my shoulder.

"I'm with this one, Mary. Somethin' 'bout that boy rubs me the wrong way," she chirps. "Missy hops around him like a chicken with 'er head cut off. Nervous as a whore in church—"

"Momma!" Mary cries as I bite my inner cheek to keep from cracking up.

"I'm just sayin', Darlin', I don't think Ben's as perfect as he's tryin' to make you believe," she finishes, giving my shoulder a squeeze.

"You don't know that—"

"Penny thinks he's abusing her," Sheldon chimes in, making me want to disappear into the floor. I cover my face with my hands as it goes silent. If I could do that mind exploding thing, I totally would do that to MoonPie right now. I am mortified.

"Is that true?" Mary asks in a hushed voice, and I shrug helplessly, giving Sheldon a look that tells him he broke social protocol.

"I…" I begin, swallowing slowly and trying to think of something to say. "I spoke to her on the phone recently and the way she was acting was—" I shake my head, stopping and changing directions, "I was in a slightly abusive relationship for four years. I know the signs and…well, Missy was definitely showing some signs of abuse. She's very nervous, the whole 'Melissa' things, the haircut, and the fact that she's so defensive of Ben…it's almost like she's trying to convince herself."

"I don't think Ben's like that!" Mary insists, "He's such a presence down at the church. People who are so close to Jesus, are—"

"You mean like them priests that rape little boys?" George snips curtly at his mother. "Or daddies that beat their sons?"

"George Cooper!" Mary cries in horror. "After all the sinning you been doin'—"

"Don't even talk to me about sinning, Mom," George thunders back, looking a little bit like he's been slapped. "After the shit I had to deal with as a kid, the least I can do for myself is having some drinks."

"Please stop fighting," Sheldon pleads quietly, making me swallow and look up at MeeMaw, who just shakes her head as if to say 'let them have at it.'

"Do you know what he used to do?" George fires at his mother, "When he got drunk, if you weren't around, he'd look for me and the twins. Half the time he couldn't tell me and Shelly apart, even though there's three years between us. Well, I'll tell you, Mom," George's blue eyes are wild and full of I don't know what. He looks deranged, terrified.

"George, stop," Sheldon begs. I can't help it; I grab his hand to keep him from flailing. This is the thing I never wanted to hear, but I guess I'm going to hear it.

"We had a hiding place up in the crawlspace above my closet," George confesses, "They were so little, especially Shelly. So I made sure they were up there with their toys…or, in Shelly's case, his books and science stuff. But, Daddy would take that old willow switch from above the mantle and—" George cuts off at his mother's choked plea to stop. I'm still holding my breath and gripping Sheldon's hand so hard, I'm surprised I haven't broken any of his bones. "So, don't you ever tell me I'm a sinner! I deserve to enjoy a little sinning. And so do the twins. But let me tell you somethin', Momma," George goes on, sounding fully Texas, "if I find out that that pretty boy piece of religious shit is hurting Missy, I'm going to fucking murder him!"

With that, George storms out of the room and the only sound is the reverberating slam of his bedroom door while the rest of us stand around in stunned silence.

"Shelly, is that true?" Mary asks quietly, holding her temple. Sheldon looks like a deer in the headlights, but he knows he's trapped between me, his grandmother and his mother. Slowly, he nods.

"Yes," he finally says, "everything George admitted was true."

"And you all never thought to tell your Momma?" MeeMaw asks gently, reaching out to smooth Sheldon's hair.

"There was nothing to tell. By the time it had gotten worse, I'd already left for college in Austin," he explains.

"Sheldon Lee Cooper," Mary's voice is slow and determined, "Did your father ever beat you with that willow switch?" I squeeze my eyes closed, unable to watch his face, because I'm too afraid of the answer. But I already know. I've seen the look in his eyes before. So, even though I'm not surprised by his answer, it still kills me.

"Yes."

All three of us let out a collective breath and I open my eyes, staring at Mrs. Cooper, who looks like she's been blindsided.

"And you never told me," Mary goes on. I am floored by how fierce she is, because if that was me…I'd be a sobbing mess.

"I never saw a need," Sheldon replies, sounding calmer than he looks, "the damage had been done."

"It could have been done a lot sooner if I'd known somethin' was goin' on there, Sheldon Cooper," Mary growls at him, looking like she may faint. I leap off the couch and grab her elbow when I see her sway.

"George took a majority of Dad's abuse to spare Missy and myself," Sheldon explains, "though he was not always successful."

"Good God," Mary sighs, leaning into me. I kind of want to shrink into a little ball and sleep for about a year. "No wonder y'all are so screwy."

"I think if we continue to recapitulate the events of the past, then we are no better off. The current predicament that Missy has herself in is the important issue," Sheldon insists, looking more like a thirty-two year old than I've ever seen him look, "the main query we must answer, is whether or not Ben is, in fact, hurting her."

"Sheldon's right," I hear myself say in a scratchy voice, "it doesn't do anyone any good to go flinging hollow accusations. If we're wrong, then Missy's mad and that's no good."

"Say that again," Sheldon says, barely suppressing a minute smirk. I frown at him, agitated.

"I said, it doesn't do any good to—"

"Not that part…the former," he insists, making me look to MeeMaw, who is now sitting in an armchair.

"I said…Sheldon's right?" I answer slowly, before focusing a glower on him. Of course he would want to stroke his inflated ego in the middle of a serious discussion! I let out a growl of frustration, but involuntarily smile a little, knowing he got me. Little shit. "Butthead," I tell him.

"Enough of this heavy talk," MeeMaw says firmly, "these poor kids just flew all the way from California and drove an hour to get here, Mary. Why don't y'all go unpack and maybe rest a little before ya have to get ready for the party?"

I tentatively let go of Mrs. Cooper and nod, gesturing toward the door and stooping to grab my suitcase.

"Shelly, show Penny where the guest bedroom is," Mary instructs her son. I feel him beside me and turn to look as he leads me out of the living room and up the stairs to the guest room. I start to move inside when I feel his hand on my shoulder and pause.

"Penny."

"Sheldon?"

"We need to be ready by five-thirty, so please don't dawdle. Please be prompt and ready. You do have a tendency to take your time with your appearance," he rattles off quickly, raising an eyebrow at me.

"Do you want it to be no shirt and no pants?" I ask, crossing my arms and looking up at him.

"You're impossible," he snaps at me, making me smile.

"I can't be impossible because I exist. Therefore, I'm improbable," I fire back at him in satisfaction. He looks like he might argue with me for a moment, but then it happens.

We both grin.

 

Chapter Text

So, Sheldon can suck it because I am ready before he is. That's right people. Let it be known that Penelope, on this, July 6, 2012, was ready for a party before Sheldon. Okay, so it's by like three minutes, but the point is, I win.

Air's gettin' a bit thin up here!

"Penny, we need to leave in ten minutes, please hurry—" Sheldon stops dead in the doorway, noticing I am already dressed and good to go. –up," he finishes, a little dumbstruck. I smirk at him, entirely too satisfied with myself to hide it.

"You were saying?"

"You're ready," he murmurs, eyeing my lilac colored dress with the cute cap sleeves.

"You're observant Dr. Eidetic Memory," I roll my eyes, enjoying teasing him as I sidle up to him. His pupils are slightly dilated and I bite my lip, realizing that he's impressed and maybe, just maybe, a little turned on because I actually did what he told me to.

Again – egomaniac. Oh, who am I kidding here? I adore the kook. Even if his idea of appropriate behavior, is forcing his girlfriend to wear a stupid medical face mask that was suffocating and all kinds of embarrassing.

"Come on, Sheldon, it's five twenty-seven!" I grab him by the hand and drag him out the door as he regains his composure. And, as much as I'd like to drag Shelly over to that bed and have my Big Ol' Five way with him, there are more important things at hand right now. Like smoking out Missy's gorgeous, possibly (likely) abusive douche of a future husband.

We can make out after we help his sister.

I guess I shouldn't be surprised that the party is at the gigantic evangelical church that Missy and Mary go to. In the basement. Oh goody, all we need now is some Kool-Aid and we can all celebrate the Rapture.

Let me make something clear. I have no problem with religion. If that's what makes you happy, you go and you be religious. Personally, I don't see a need for it. I'm not saying I believe, but I'm also not saying I don't believe. What I am saying is, I don't really believe in the whole religion thing. If you don't believe, that's your choice. I don't have a problem either way.

What I do have a problem with is those judgmental hypocrites who say stuff like homosexuals are evil. Yeah, I don't go for that. Or, when guys who claim to be a 'servant of Jesus' go around hurting their fiancées! George is headed straight for the bar.

"Shelly," Mary says, grabbing Sheldon's arm, "come here, I want to introduce you to Pastor Duncan. He's been askin' after ya."

"But, Mom!" He complains, looking over his shoulder at me for help. I wave at him, grinning, and split to grab a quick drink. I could use a little liquid courage. Unfortunately for me (and George), this bar only serves soft drinks.

"You have got to be kidding me," George drawls, glaring at the squirrely little guy pouring drinks.

"No booze?" I ask, pouting. The man behind the bar stares at me as if I've asked directions to the nearest Planned Parenthood. "Guess that's a no."

"How does a girl like you end up with my baby brother?" George asks, leaning against the bar and sullenly accepting a Coke while I order one too.

"What do you mean, a girl like me?" I challenge, staring into almost the same face as Sheldon's. Same blue eyes, same bow shaped lips, same nose. The difference is in his haunted blue eyes, his longer hair and his slightly swollen face.

"Honestly?" George laughs, "Hot." Before I can retort, he holds a hand up to stop me. "Don't get all bristly on me, girly. I'm just sayin', Shelly's not the most social person on a good day. And believe me, Darlin', I've seen him at his worst. And he can get pretty crazy sometimes."

"He's not crazy. Your mother had him tested," I reply weakly, sipping my Coke. To my surprise, I see George's smile for the first time. It's like the first time I heard Sheldon's real laugh back in May, when we made fried chicken with MeeMaw. It changes his entire face.

"You do like him," George laughs, shaking his head, "he's a good man. A little goofy, but what the hell right do I have to judge? I love him. He's my brother."

"Well, let's just say, it wasn't love at first sight..." I tell him, "Well, I did think he was kind of attractive, until—"

"He spoke," George finishes knowingly, "It's okay, honey. Shelly's gotta grow on people. He's always been a little different."

"Understatement," I agree, "But, despite all that, and if you tell him this, I will go all Nebraska on your ass, I wouldn't change a thing about him."

"Good," George says gruffly, but I can see him smile a little bit as he finishes his Coke.

"I'm sorry you had such a hard time growing up," I hear myself say, and silently scold myself.

"It wasn't the growin' up that was the hard part, sweetheart," he admits darkly, "it's livin' with the consequences of it. Sheldon had enough to deal with, what with bein' so damn smart and small and havin' no friends. I didn't want him to have to deal with being afraid of turning into our father, too. So, I took it all on myself."

"He is afraid, though," I tell George, putting my hand over his, "He won't drink. He's terrified that he's going to be like your father. He's told me." George's blue eyes grow wide.

"Shelly told you that?"

"Yeah," I nod, noticing Missy and Ben heading toward the coat room outside the door, "Hey, I'm gonna go find Sheldon. Tell him to come find me if you see him."

"Will do," George acknowledges, pushing away from the bar and crossing to where his grandmother is seated near the door. I find him in the corner, standing beside his mother with a look on his face that tells me he is not amused.

"Oh, good!" Mary exclaims happily, "Pastor Duncan, this is Shelly's girlfriend, Penny."

"Ah yes," The aging blonde man nods, shaking my hand. I look around in agitation, wanting to catch a glimpse of Ben or Missy. Nothing. "Mary's told me so much about y'all. Good things."

"Nice to meet you," I agree, trying my best to sound pleasant and not rude.

"So, what are you workin' on now, Sheldon?" Pastor Duncan inquires kindly and Sheldon gives him a suspicious look.

"At present, my work is comprised of researching the Higgs Boson Particle. I've been granted a trip to Switzerland in a year to partake in a possibly groundbreaking experiment that could prove its existence. It's actually been nicknamed the God—"

"Hey, Sheldon!" I cut him off before he can piss off his mother's pastor, "I think your MeeMaw is waving us down." Pulling him by the hand, I smile at the man, "Nice meeting you."

"Penny, what in the world—?"

"Sheldon, that is Ben's father. You don't want to make him mad before we find out what's going on," I insist, "Hearing that you are working to basically prove God doesn't exist is not something a guy like that wants to hear."

"Well, it isn't my fault that he's delusional," Sheldon snaps irritably. At my look of warning, he clamps his mouth shut and sinks into the seat beside his grandmother.

"Oh, Shelly," MeeMaw smiles, reaching for his hand, "I been meanin' to talk to ya 'bout somethin'," she starts, her blue eyes twinkling mischievously, "why don't ya take me over to the punch bowl, MoonPie?"

"What about Penny?" Sheldon asks, glancing back at me. I wave him off.

"Go," I insist, "I'm gonna go find the bathroom. I'll be back in a sec." I peck him on the cheek and hop out of my chair, watching his MeeMaw guide him toward the punch bowl. Turning my attention back to Operation: Find Missy, I creep toward the exit into the hallway, and just as I start to poke my head around the corner, I see Missy disappear into the bathroom before bumping flat into another person.

"Oh, sorry!" I cry, embarrassed.

"No problem, Penny," I look up, jarred, and realize I've crashed right into Ben. "Going somewhere?" The sunny grin seems like it's plastered on his handsome face.

"I was just gonna go to the bathroom," I tell him, starting past him. He puts a hand on my shoulder, making me freeze.

"You'll want to use the other one," he tells me in a smooth, pleasant voice, "just across the room. This one's out of order."

"But, I just saw Missy go into it…"

"No, you didn't."

"Yes. I did," I insist, snatching my arm back and glaring at him suspiciously.

"You have the most smashing green eyes," he tells me, still fucking smiling, "Has anyone ever told you that?" Yes, Ben. As a matter of fact, they have. Has anyone ever told you that you're a shady liar?

"Yes," I answer him, watching his eyes subtly move down my body as I tear away from him, throwing the bathroom door open and hearing a gasp. I swiftly lock the big door to the bathroom so no one can barge in and start inside.

"Missy?" I call, feeling my heartbeat in my ears. "It's Penny." I hear quick shuffling in the last stall and hang near the sink, waiting. "Listen, can we talk?"

"Penny?" I hear her finally say and I sag in relief against the sink.

"Yeah, it's Penny," I echo, trying to catch my breath. Who knew that asking someone if they're being beaten would be so hard? The lock in the stall clicks and Missy's heels click on the tiled floor as she comes out. Her eye makeup is a little smudged, but other than that, she's physically unharmed. At least, from what I can see. But then she moves a little and lets out a little groan and my bells and whistles are going off like crazy.

"You okay?" I ask, watching her closely. She manages a smile and nods, leaning against one of the sinks for support.

"Just a little…tired…" She sounds like she's having a little trouble breathing. I start toward her and she lurches away.

And there it is.

"Missy, what happened?" I ask firmly, no longer skirting around it.

"Nothin'," she replies quickly, "I'm just—" An involuntary cry of pain escapes her, and I realize whatever is bothering her, just happened this afternoon.

"Let me see," I tell her, reaching her in a couple of seconds. There's a pounding at the bathroom door.

"Melissa! Open this door!" It's Ben.

"Don't," I murmur to her, holding out my hand like I'm beckoning to a skittish dog. Jesus, I feel like I've done this before. Imagine that. "Show me." With huge, terrified eyes, Missy begins to lift her dress. Ben knocks at the door again.

"Please, sweetheart! I'm worried!" Ben insists. Missy looks like she's going to lose her nerve. I shake my head.

"Let me see, so I can help you, honey," I plead. She shakes her head, sniffing.

"I can't, Penny."

"Listen to me, Missy. I lived with a man for four years. I thought I loved him. I thought I wanted to spend the rest of my life with him. He hurt me, Missy. He pinched me, and slapped me and called me awful names when I made him mad. And I stayed…and I told myself that it was my fault he was being that way. But, you know what?" I grab her hand and very gently hold it between mine, feeling the clammy cold sweat on her palm. Her face is glistening a little with sweat too.

"Melissa, now!" Ben demands, banging a little harder on the door.

"No!" Missy cries, gasping a little for breath. "Penny, I think I need to go to a hospital…I can't…I can't breathe…" She begins to slide down the wall, and I catch her under the arms, helping her settle to the floor.

"Tell me what happened."

"It was…it was this afternoon—"

"Melissa!"

"—and we'd just got home after takin' y'all to Momma's…" She gasps again, holding her side, "he said somethin' about needing to cleanse the evil from my life and…and…" Another gasp, "and, he told me that he didn't think it was such a good idea for me to talk to…my brothers after the wedding, and—"

"Missy, Darlin'?" This is Mrs. Cooper's voice now, "It's Momma. Are you in there?" Missy squeezes her eyes shut.

"I'll be out in a sec, Momma…just…havin' some female problems. Penny's helpin' me!" Her voice is now a little wheezy. We're running out of time.

"Melissa, open this door at once!" Ben persists, knocking again. I feel my stomach begin to roil with rage.

"He told me George is nothin' but a wastrel and Sheldon is a blasphemous lunatic," Missy wrenches out, wincing. I notice her eyes are watering. She's not crying, but I can see she's in pain. "I slapped him across the face. He…he's done some things he's not proud of before, but never…" She stops, staring me in the face, "Penny, I do love him. I know he's good deep down…"

"What did he do?" I ask, still fuming at the thought of Ben calling Sheldon a 'blasphemous lunatic.' Missy finally manages to pull her dress up and I see it. It's the most hideous bruise I've ever seen and it's all along her right side. The deepest, darkest purple I've ever seen in my life. I shriek at the sight of it. "Jesus!"

"We had a scuffle and I fell over the coffee table, and he—" She stops, and buries her head into her knees. A scuffle? The guy beat the living shit out of her! Her ribs have to be broken…she'd be lucky if he didn't do something to her lungs.

Oh fuck.

That's it. I have to get her out of here and to a hospital. The girl can't breathe because she's suffocating a little. What if her rib punctures her lung or something? Can that even happen?

"Hold on," I instruct, pulling out my phone as the knocking at the door grows more intense. "Shut up!" I scream at him, furious as I dial 9-1-1.

"Nine-one-one, what is your emergency?"

"I need some cops and an ambulance sent to Morning Star Pentecostal Church in Galveston," I rattle off, watching Missy's eyes flit about wildly.

"Penny, no…" She whispers fearfully, not at all the head strong girl I knew a few years earlier.

"Hurry," I snip, hanging up and crouching beside Missy. "This is not okay. Ever. We're gonna get you some help, Sweetie. I'm gonna go get your brothers."

"I don't want him to hurt them!" Missy protests, looking terrified. I smooth her short hair and shake my head.

"I won't let him," I promise her, meaning it. I'm sorry, nobody is getting near Sheldon and I don't think I have to worry about George. Moving to the door, I unlock the bolt and pull it open, realizing vaguely that there's a large group of people gathered around the door.

"Melissa!" Ben screams, starting in, trying to push me aside. Anticipating his intrusion, I immediately throw a right hook into his beautiful nose, hopefully breaking it. Quickly, I hook my foot around his and take him down in one swoop, instantly dropping with my knee on his chest and my hands holding his arms down.

"You don't ever get to touch her again, you piece of shit," I growl, barely suppressing my own surging emotions.

"I got him, Penny, help Momma with Missy," George instructs authoritatively, urging me up and stooping to grab Ben by the scruff of his neck. "You better hope the cops get here before I kill you, you sick little fuck." I notice Sheldon standing with MeeMaw to the side, looking more worried than I've ever seen him. That's when I start to cry, the fear and stress of the situation catching up to me as I hear Mrs. Cooper's wail of horror. Pastor Duncan can only stare in mute disbelief as George Cooper Jr. drags his son out of the bathroom and back toward the exit. I watch him scurry after them, probably to make sure that George doesn't murder his douche of a kid.

"Don't move her!" I hear Sheldon's voice distantly, as MeeMaw pulls me into her arms and he darts into the bathroom. "We aren't completely sure what injuries she has suffered and, depending on the severity, we could do more damage by prematurely moving her."

"Can't breathe…" Missy tells them, wheezing again as I finally hear sirens.


Four hours later, Missy and Mary have been taken to the hospital and Sheldon and I are left with George and MeeMaw in the waiting room. Mary finally emerges from the back of the Emergency Room with tired eyes.

"She's got two broken ribs and a bruised lung," Mary informs us, exhausted, "She's sleepin' now. I'm gonna stay with 'er."

"Mary, Darlin'," MeeMaw pleads, "I don't do no good for you to get no sleep. You ain't helpin' our girl."

"I can't leave her, Momma," Mary replies defensively, "I failed these children enough."

"You didn't fail your children, Mary Beth. Your husband failed 'em. You're about the only thing that they could count on," MeeMaw says comfortingly. Mrs. Cooper nods, though she looks unconvinced.

"Y'all go on home and get some sleep," she tells us, "I'll come in the morning after I see how she's doin'."

Sheldon and I look at each other and I sigh, because I am tired, but I'm still worried about his sister. We all ride back in heavy silence, the anger and regret hanging over us like a velvet cloak.

Ben makes Kurt look like the fucking Boyfriend of the Year.

I glance over at Sheldon and realize he's being extremely quiet. Suspiciously quiet. The way he gets when he's hiding something, but I'm not going to bug him right now. We're all too freaked right now. And, honestly, I'm whipped. I'm so tired, I don't even care that we part without so much as a 'goodnight', before disappearing into our separate rooms. I don't really know how I managed to pull off my dress and get into my Hello Kitty pajamas, but I'm woken out of a dead sleep some time later.

Knock, knock, knock.

"Penny." Oh, it's like the good old days!

Knock, knock, knock.

"Penny." Drearily, I get out of the bed and stumble, like I'm drunk, to the door.

Knock, knock, knock.

"Penny." Opening the door, I squint up at my giant, shadowy boyfriend and try not to be too grumpy.

"What are you doing?" I whisper, looking over my shoulder at the alarm clock on the night table. "It's three in the morning."

"I couldn't sleep," He looks a little sheepish and a lot like a stubborn toddler, "It's scary down there."

"Alright," I sigh, pulling him inside by the lapel of his blue plaid robe, "Get in here." I shut the door and push him toward the bed, throwing back the covers and crawling in. He hesitates, staring down at the bed as if it were a foreign concept to share space with someone. "What, have you figured out how to sleep standing up?" I ask grumpily, wiping at my eyes.

"You intend for me to…?" His question hangs between us, making me glare at him and point at the empty spot.

"Lay down!" I hiss, and he quickly discards his robe, draping it meticulously over a chair and settling into the bed, lying beside me with the covers pulled up to his chest.

"Penny?"

"Mmpf," is my response. I'm not very conversational at three in the morning. Oh well, I guess I should thank my lucky stars that he's not playing the bongos or some other crazy bullcrap.

"Thank you for helping my sister this evening," he says quietly into the darkness of the room. My eyes open and I sigh. Damn him for being sweet when I really need to get some sleep.

"Of course," I answer, patting his arm absently and fumbling for his hand, feeling the long fingers instinctively clasp around mine.

"Penny?"

"Sheldon?" I mumble, still half incoherent.

"Are you still going to force me to partake in kissing with no shirt?" Really? He's going to be all cute and hilarious now?

"You bet," I tell him, squeezing his hand. To my utter surprise (again), he turns so that he's lying on his side facing me, still holding my hand. It's crazy, how far we've come in two months. And it still scares me how much I love him even if I want to kill him from time to time. And it still scares me that he might never say he loves me back. Oh, alright…I'm up. Might as well take what I can get.

I carefully place my hand against his bristly cheek (the things I would do if we were further along in this process), and pull him toward me a little, letting him close the distance between us. He's getting better at this.

"Um," I pull back and raise an eyebrow, "you still have two shirts on, Shelly."

" Penny, please don't call me Shelly when we're lying in my childhood home together. You're lucky my mother opted to spend the remainder of the night at the hospital. I doubt I would have found the nerve to approach you."

"Wait, you approached me for this?" I ask incredulously, pulling back to look into his face. His eyes are wide.

"Penny," his tone is vaguely condescending, "you know me well enough to know that as I was indebted to you, I could not allow myself to enjoy a REM cycle without fulfilling said debt."

"Say what?" I ask, too tired to comprehend.

"I owed you," he sighs, placing a hand on my hip, "that's what you told me, at least."

"Well, pay up then!" I grin, unbuttoning his pajama top with ease and wrestling his white undershirt up over his head, before removing my own tank top.

"Penny…" Sheldon says again, sounding unsure of himself. We've been naked together before, but neither of us is sure what to do now. So, I adjust my position to my back and pull his hand to my chest, placing one large hand over my right breast. He keeps it dead still, face frozen and eyes wide with question.

"Here," I tell him huskily, using my hand to guide his fingers over the taut nipple and the smooth, tanned skin around it. Maybe I don't have D-Cups like Mom and Darce, but I think my C-Cups will do fine. The feel of fingertips other than my own over the sensitive flesh makes me shiver. Forgetting myself for a second, I take his face into my hands and bring his lips to mine, letting them move together, and velvety soft. "Come closer," I beg, dragging his body over mine and feeling our skin come completely together (well the top half anyway).

"Penny," Sheldon gasps raggedly, burying his face in my neck instinctively. I can feel the whisper soft bristle on his jaw and the jutting arousal below his waist, pressing insistently into my thigh.

"What do you want to do?" I ask, letting him set the boundaries. Because, at this point, if I get to pick, I'm going to take advantage of him. And I don't want that. So, it's up to him. Even though it's killing me.

"I don't know," He sighs, moving against my leg and letting out a long exhale. We both stop when his hand falls accidently between my legs and brushes against my poor, neglected friend.

"Oh shit," I sigh, arching readily into his hand and praying he doesn't move it away.

"Penny, don't be vulgar," he scolds, making me chuckle, despite my almost painfully throbbing downstairs.

"This is so not fair," I whine, arching up against his still hand again. As if that's going to miraculously make him want to touch me down there.

"We did not specify anything beyond kissing—"

"Spontaneity, Sheldon…" I breathe, losing patience and reaching down to hold his hand against the damp outer layer of my Hello Kitty shorts. I feel like I've defiled the purity of my friend Hello Kitty, but she'll live. Penny needs some lovin'.

"How should I…?"

"I'll show you," I tell him, pulling my shorts and panties aside so that he has access. If he goes through with this, I swear I'll give a thousand dollars to charity or sell my soul to the devil himself, just please, let him do it. Please?

I feel the touch of just the tip of his middle finger against the swollen, throbbing flesh of my deal, and I'm both amazed and a little embarrassed by how wet I actually am.

"Please," I hear myself whine. I'll be ashamed tomorrow; I just need him to give me this little, tiny bit. Grabbing his wrist with one hand, I show him how and where. "Don't worry," I gasp, feeling my eyes burn as his finger begins its slow entry, "I have Purell."

"Penny…" He says, but it doesn't sound like a protest. It sounds like he's just letting out a breath and my name slipped out with it. I can still feel him against my thigh and it's only serving to arouse me further.

"You're doing fine," I groan, closing my eyes and bucking upward, "Just keep…keep doing that…" A moment later, he begins to move his hand with a bit more purpose, his thumb brushing delightfully against the spot above as he does so.

This is happening. Sheldon Cooper is getting me, Penny, former mortal enemy and neighbor, off in his childhood home.

And then, it happens. I feel the languid relief of my climax wash over me and my limbs become heavy and limp as I continue to cling to him, a sweaty, sticky mess.

And I didn't even take my shorts off. Damn I'm good.

When I open my eyes and see him staring at me in quiet wonder, I arch up toward him for a kiss, needing to feel close to him. I want to tell him so badly how he really makes me feel. About how I feel about him. But I can't…I open my mouth and nothing comes out. And I suddenly feel guilty, because we're here in this bed together enjoying ourselves, while poor Missy is lying broken in the hospital.

"Penny, you're crying," Sheldon tells me, caressing his knuckle over my cheek, where a tear has fallen.

"I'm sorry," I sigh, holding him tighter around the neck.

"You have no reason to apologize, therefore, you should not be sorry," he assures me, letting me hold him.

"Thank you, for that," I tell him, urging him back down to me, so that I can brush our lips together again.

"You're welcome," He answers quietly, pausing for a moment and moving us so that I am lying with my head on his shoulder and our hands clasped together on his chest. "Penny?"

"Yeah, honey?"

"I need to change my pajamas."

I look down and realize the front of his pajamas are equally soaked too, and I can't help myself, I laugh. While I subscribe to the many worlds theory, which posits the existence of an infinite number of Sheldons in an infinite number of universes, I assure you, that in this one:

Sheldon is definitely not asexual.

 

Chapter Text

Time flies when you're busy, and we are crazy busy. Sheldon and Leonard have been working extra lately on their new research for Sheldon's trip to Switzerland next summer, while I have finally decided to start considering a new car. My decrepit car has now started making this sick, coughing sound before it stalls. It is like twenty years old, so I'm kind of shocked it's still kind of working. I know this sounds weird, but I feel like a traitor for looking at cars…like I'm betraying it. That sounds stupid. And crazy. But this car has been through everything with me. It got me out of Nebraska. It got me away from Kurt. It's taken Sheldon to work (and numerous other inconvenient places) about a thousand times. So, yeah…I feel a connection to the ugly piece of crap.

Leonard took Amy to meet his family in New Jersey in late July, which must be huge for him, considering he avoids his mother most of the time. I've never met his father or brother and sister, so I don't really have an opinion on either of them. From what Amy told me, his father is a timid guy with glasses (now I see where he gets it), while his brother Michael is tall, self assured, and handsome. His sister, Lila, is some kind of medical researcher who can (bear with me here, I'm not a scientist) like, grow organs or something.

Basically, I would have never survived around the Hofstadters.

And that's fine. Because, from what I hear, Amy was a hit. Even Beverly approved immediately, and is planning to collaborate with Ames on an experiment to see how a child who has felt neglected and unloved their entire life reacts when with someone who loves them as an adult.

I think you can guess who the subject is.

What it's really going to be is Beverly is going to visit more to check on Leonard's 'progress' while Amy just continues doing the same thing she's been doing. In short, it was a clever ploy on Amy's part to help Leonard mend his shaky relationship with Beverly. She's not actually planning any sort of experimentation. Have I mentioned I love Amy?

We've also just found out that Missy is healing well and that Ben is probably going to be in jail for a while. His two former wives both came forward and testified against him, so it's not looking good for old Ben. George, from what Missy told me, warned Ben that if he ever came near Missy again that he was going to shove a shotgun up his ass and shoot it, which appalled Sheldon, but made me chuckle. George would love Nebraska.

I wake up on a particularly stifling August day (thankfully the air is cranked and working full force), to a phone call from Darcy, pulling me out of a particularly spicy dream involving me and Sheldon on the Enterprise.

Oh my God, I'm having geek sex dreams now. Save me!

"Hello?" I croak into my phone, not even bothering to see who's calling.

"Hey, Penelope," Darcy's voice comes through, sounding super excited. "You're never going to guess what I just saw on T.V.!"

"The time?" I groan, looking at the clock. "Darcy, it's eight in the morning."

"Oh shit. I always forget the damn time difference thing," She replies dryly, "I called poor Stuart at six A.M. the other day." Before I can process the revelation that she's still talking to Stuart, she continues, "Anyway, I just saw you in Entertainment Weekly."

"What are you talking about?" I ask tiredly, not comprehending. It's eight on a Saturday. I am not having an easy time waking up.

"The magazine, Pen!" Darcy explains. "There was an article about shows to watch in the fall and your show was on it! Home Planet. There's a picture of you and Grant Jordan and everything! It says, 'New Sci-Fi show from NBS promises to be the next LOST. Cast in the lead role is unknown Penelope Black—hey! Why are you using Mom's maiden name?"

"Because I don't want people to Google my real name and try to stalk me," I grumble, realizing Darcy isn't going to take the hint and leave me be. "It's just a stage name."

"Oh. Anyway, aren't you excited?" Darcy exclaims, "Mom's bought about four of these and has the article framed." This kind of makes me brighten. I sit up and wipe my eyes in defeat. Flash is nowhere to be found, so he must be out in the living room with Sheldon. I've stopped worrying when I can't find him, because he has his own hiding spaces, but always turns up when he wants food or attention.

"That's awesome. And I am excited, but right now, I'm still half asleep," I tell her, trying not to sound like a bitch. We say our goodbyes and I make a mental note to check out this Entertainment Weekly thing and probably look back into getting a P.R. rep. Ah, the price of fame. Throwing on some clothes, I step out into the hallway and hear voices immediately. It's kind of like the old days when I was dating Leonard and I would stay over, because I come out to find Leonard and Sheldon playing some video game. Amy is not with him.

"Really? Eight o'clock on a Saturday morning?" I ask, heading straight for the coffee.

"Jesus, Penny, I haven't seen you up this early on a Saturday since…well, ever," Leonard says, cursing when Sheldon kills him in whatever madness they've engaged in and turns off the game.

"Where's Amy?" I ask, taking a long drink of my coffee and savoring the aroma. I love the smell of coffee almost as much as I love the taste. I can drink coffee any way it comes. I prefer a little milk and some Splenda in it, but I take it any way I can get it.

"She's having breakfast with her mom. You know, it's Amy's birthday today…" Leonard informs me, moving over to the counter and pouring himself a cup while Sheldon settles for a glass of water.

"Oh my God! I completely forgot, because my dingbat of a sister forgot the time difference and woke me out of a very good sleep…I gotta go get her a present," I glance at Sheldon, who sighs at me as if I exhaust him.

"You have to go get her a present," Sheldon corrects me (as usual), "Honestly, Penny, sometimes I wonder if they even taught grammar in your elementary school…"

"Are you finished?" I ask, folding my arms and giving him an expectant look. He nods.

"Yes."

"Wonderful," I turn back to Leonard, "So, what are you guys doing tonight?"

"Actually," he begins, turning a little red, "I was hoping you could help me today. I want to get her something really nice for her birthday, but I have no idea what I'm doing."

"Oh, Sweetie…I know. If I left it up to you, Ames would end up with a jeweled light saber or something," I tease, grinning at him. "Well, let's go to the mall!" I glance at MoonPie, who has moved back to his desk and is gathering things. "Do you want to come?" I ask in my most grammatically proper voice.

"No, thank you," he insists, "I dislike the mall and I distrust people who sell things out of kiosks."

"Why do you...you know what? Nevermind," I stop myself, meeting Leonard's eyes and rolling mine.

"He doesn't like kiosks because we walked near one once and a woman selling body sprays sprayed him without warning. He was convinced that he was going to die of a combination of airborne bacteria and chemical ingestion," Leonard explains patiently, shaking his head and barely suppressing a snicker.

"Oh!" I nod, suddenly understanding, "No wonder you insisted on cutting through the food court and around the back to Frank & Sons when we bought Amy's tiara."

"Hmm, yes," Sheldon agrees, grinning, "an inspired choice."

"Sheldon, you bought her a tiara," I remind him dryly, sharing a look with Leonard.

"Precisely," he gives Leonard a sympathetic look, "I have given you an impossible standard to live up to in that regard." Oh good Lord.

"I'm sure Amy will love anything Leonard buys her," I insist, glaring at my giant, Whack-A-Doodle boyfriend.

"I don't see how," Sheldon replies, shrugging as I reach for my purse. We're gonna go now, before he talks more.

"You are such a damn charmer," I tell him, "How do I keep my hands off you?"

"Sarcasm?" He asks, looking to Leonard for help, before turning back at looking me in the eyes, "And you don't. You're constantly pawing at me." Yes, but what MoonPie doesn't want you to know, is he paws right back. He still has yet to actually initiate anything of a sexual nature himself, but he doesn't ever tell me no.

"I'll be back in a couple hours," I tell him, looking down at Flash, who is cleaning himself at Sheldon's feet, "keep an eye on him, Flash. Don't let him do anything crazy."

"Penny, you are speaking to a roughly three month old kitten," Sheldon interjects, "you can't honestly think—"

"Yes Sheldon, I think the tiny kitten can understand what I'm saying and manage to keep you out of trouble," I sigh, rubbing my forehead soothingly.

"Well, you're wrong," Sheldon retorts moodily, making me snort a laugh at him.

"Sarcasm, Sheldon."

"Drat!" He laments, "and I was doing so well this month." I give him a quick peck on the lips and pat his arm.

"Goodbye, Sheldon."

On the way down the stairs, Leonard sighs, "Thanks for coming with me, Penny. I know next to nothing about this stuff. I really want this one to be special for her."

"It will be special, honey. She's got you…she loves you." I assure him, as we reach the parking lot.

"Did you want to drive, or…?" Leonard asks and I bite my lip. Bessie's not faring so well in the heat. Or at all.

"I think you better," I answer, and he gives me a confused look.

"You're getting paid now," he tells me as we move toward his car, "why don't you just buy a new one?"

"Yeah, yeah…I know, I know," I grumble, "I've been meaning to."

"You know, he worries about you," Leonard admits, pulling out onto Los Robles, while I give him a skeptical look. "He does. It's the weirdest thing. We'll be at work and he's constantly checking his phone. He thinks he's being discreet, but you know Sheldon is about as good at keeping secrets as a kindergartener. Penny, I think he's in love with you."

"Well, if he is, he's never said so," I remind him, "and it's not like he's cut back on his oh so sweet insults or his condescension."

"Yeah, but he's always complaining about your car or how late you're getting home from filming and how you're likely to get raped or killed walking out of the studio that late at night with any number of hooligans and bandits on the loose in Hollywood," He confides, making me laugh out loud.

"Hooligans and bandits…he's such a goof," I laugh, shaking my head.

"Penny, this is Sheldon. He's never cared about anything other than himself, the Nobel Prize and his MeeMaw. But, damned if he doesn't care for you."

I want to believe Leonard. I want that to be true more than anything in the world, but the truth is, I don't think Sheldon is there yet. We've been together for three months now. He dated Amy for five. He's come a long way since then, but he's still very much a beginner. (And he's still a loon.) But maybe Leonard is right. There are things…little things that make me wonder sometimes if he is there. At least subconsciously. He does this thing, where he always makes sure that I'm taken care of. If he makes tea, he always makes sure I have some. If I'm chilly, he gives me a blanket (all while berating me for wearing clothing that doesn't cover me properly). When I was filming, he made sure he was awake when I left in the morning so that he could interrogate me about remembering to eat lunch and never to walk outside the studio alone.

So, I'm not saying it's not possible, but I feel like I would know if Sheldon was there. He can't keep a secret. I mean, the guy keeps track of his poop schedule. (Which I have forbid him from putting on the fridge.)

Leonard and I walk through the main entrance and we both crack up at the sight of the first kiosk, but darned if that same booth that accosted Crazy Shelly doesn't spray me right in the damn face as we walk by too. Which only makes me laugh harder as the poor, dumb woman stares forlornly after us.

"So what are you thinking for Amy?" I ask Leonard, shoving my hands into my back pockets and eyeing the display in Victoria's Secret as we walk by. Memories of bringing Amy to buy sexy lingerie make me grin.

"I am lost, Penny. I know nothing about women. This is the first birthday I've shopped for where I didn't shop at the Comic Center or online," he admits, pushing his glasses up and running a hand nervously through his hair.

"Okay…so, how much money are we looking to spend?" I inquire, looking around at our options. He could buy her more lingerie. We could go for shoes, even though Amy and heels don't really connect well. Or there's Frank & Sons.

"I don't know," Leonard sighs, "I have a bunch of money saved, so anywhere from a hundred to…—" That's all I need to hear before I'm already dragging him across the way to the jeweler. Amy could use some jewelry that she can actually wear in public. (Although I know for a fact that she used to wear her tiara around the house because Bernadette showed up to surprise her for a girls' night once and she was still wearing it without realizing. It was adorable.) "Jewelry?" Leonard asks in a voice that tells me we might as well be on a foreign planet.

"Leonard, if Sheldon could go shopping for jewelry, you'll be fine," I assure him, giving his arm a gentle squeeze. As we pass the pocket watch display, I involuntarily grin to myself and shake my head, following Leonard to the counter to look at some earrings and bracelets. I notice his eyes flit nervously around. I realize he must feel a little uncomfortable and put my hand on his shoulder, making him jump. "I'm here to help you, Sweetie, okay? I'm sure anything you pick out will be perfect for Amy, okay?"

"Yeah, I know, it's just—"

"How are we today? Looking for anything spec—" It's the same man as before, who helped Sheldon and I and I get the weirdest feeling of Déjà vu, "I remember you! You were here with the tall gentleman and you were so not a couple," his voice is light and his eyes are teasing, making me grin.

"Yeah, funny thing about that…" I say dryly.

"So, perhaps we can try again. Are you looking for anything in particular?" The man asks, turning to Leonard, "Maybe a ring for the lady?"

"Oh!" I laugh, shaking my head, "No! No! We aren't a couple. I'm here to help him—"

"Find a present for his girlfriend," the man finishes knowingly, chuckling a little. Leonard is chewing his lip distractedly and looking down again. "You must be a good friend to have."

"Yeah," I mutter, "I'm applying for sainthood. Anyway, it's his girlfriend's birthday, who happens to be the same girlfriend that I came shopping with the other guy for, but—" At his odd look, I laugh sheepishly. "It's a long story."

"It must be," He agrees, smiling and pulling out a display of earrings. "These are our diamond studs. We also have hoops and teardrop earrings. Unless you'd prefer a bracelet or a necklace, then—"

"Can I see that?" Leonard asks, pointing at something in the case. Confused, the jeweler reaches in and carefully plucks a small display from within the case, setting it on the counter before Leonard. I gasp.

"Leonard, that's a…honey, that's not an earring," I tell him gently, staring at the sparkling diamonds set in it. "Sweetie, those are engagement rings!" Slowly, Leonard takes the ring between his fingers and looks at it for a long moment. Then he meets my eyes.

"Penny, I want to ask Amy to marry me," he confesses, making me almost drop the earrings I was looking at as I blink dumbly at him.

"You want to…"

"I want to marry Amy, Penny," Leonard nods, speaking in a hushed voice while the sales associate stares between us, "I love her."

"But, Leonard, you've only been together since April. That's four months. That's a month less than how long she and Sheldon went out! That's crazy! You and I were together for six! How do you know you're not going to freak her out with this…this…bombshell?" I rail at him, freaking out, wanting him to see how impulsive and nutso he's being. Four months? Sheldon would be lecturing him on the evils of spontaneity. Not to mention, I freaked out when he told me he loved me two years ago. How the hell is Amy going to react when he proposes to her out of nowhere?

"Penny," Leonard starts softly, "I can't explain it, but I just know. I know that I'm supposed to be with Amy for the rest of my life. We've had this effortless connection really, since that wedding we went to last year, but mostly since Howard's wedding. I don't have to try with Amy. It just works. We fit. When I told you I loved you a couple years ago, I meant it. I really did. But this…this is so much more than I felt for you then. Because I know Amy loves me back. And I know that she's going to say yes."

And…I'm crying. I'm a sappy, sentimental schmuck and I don't care. That's the cutest thing I've ever heard. And he's so darn sweet. I immediately launch forward into his arms and hold him as tightly as my arms will allow while tears continue to roll embarrassingly down my cheeks.

"I'm so happy for you," I sob into his shoulder, "Nobody deserves to be happy more than you do, Leonard. And if Amy is what makes you happy, and you make her happy too, then you have my full and undying support." Leonard nods; looking a little teary eyed himself, before turning back to the sales associate.

"I'll take it," he announces to the man, who looks more than a little confused, even though he's still smiling. Hey, he just made a hell of a lot bigger sale than he was originally going to, so I don't think anything could stop that.

"Leonard," I say, pulling back and kissing his cheek, holding his face to look at me, "You're going to ask Amy Farrah Fowler to marry you!" I let the excitement race through my body, my gut filling with butterflies like I'm the one who's going to propose.

"I know!" He's beaming from ear to ear, looking more scared and excited than I've ever seen him look. Pulling out his wallet, he removes his credit card and places it on the counter. "Penny, I'm going to need your help. Can you and Bernadette maybe keep her out of the apartment for a couple of hours? I need to get some things together and prepare…how am I gonna do this?"

"Leonard, as long as you speak from the heart and be honest with her, she's going to be happy," I assure him as he pays for Amy's engagement ring. (Can you believe it?) "We'll tell her you got called into work, it will probably make her a little mad, but it's just for a couple hours. So Bernadette and I will 'comfort' her by watching a moving at my place…now, what to do with Dr. Whack-A-Doodle...?"

"Just throw in Homeward Bound. He's a sucker for it," Leonard tells me, "We once watched it on T.V. and he didn't speak for the entire two hours. It was a beautiful, beautiful day. I read a book!"

"Oh, he so would," I grin to myself, thinking this could work. "Text Amy right now and tell her you have to work."

"You're all set," the sales associate tells him, "just bring it back if it needs to be resized, and congratulations, Mr. Hofstadter."

"It's Dr. Hofstadter," I explain gently, winking at the man and ushering Leonard toward the door, clutching the bag in my hand. "Thanks for your help!"

Amy is waiting for me inside my apartment when I get back, looking more than a little sad. (Bernadette is on her way over after I filled her in.)

"Hey Ames," I say, sitting beside her as Sheldon brings her a cup of tea, "Happy Birthday, honey!" There's no way I'm telling MoonPie about this plan, since he'd blurt it all out in a second.

"Leonard informed me that he has to work today," Amy said, "but Sheldon told me that nobody works on the weekends. Do you think he's having an affair?"

"Leonard?" I ask incredulously, trying not to laugh, "No. Not even slightly."

"I agree with Penny," Sheldon insists, sitting beside her in his spot, "No woman in her right mind would want to have an affair with Leonard. Society dictates that if a woman is looking for a carnal partner, that she looks for someone more appealing than her current or former partner."

"Sheldon?" I say, sighing, "Stop talking, please."

"But, Penny, it's—"

"Zip it, MoonPie!" I hiss, glaring at him warningly. He is not going to ruin this for Amy. Or Leonard. He clamps his mouth shut immediately, but gives me a baleful glower.

"And don't call me MoonPie!"

"Look, Bernadette is gonna come over and we're gonna watch Homeward Bound," I tell Amy, watching Sheldon's reaction discreetly. Sure enough, his eyes light up and the glare is gone, replaced by the innocent excitement of a five year old at Disneyland. (Or Sheldon at Disneyland…uh, pre-barfing.)

"A classic film," Sheldon interrupts, "it's based on the book, The Incredible Journey, which was also made into a film."

"Yeah, well…we're gonna watch it!" I nod, glad he's being semi-agreeable again.

"Oh, goody! Oh, goody! Oh, goody!" He claps his hands a little and I smirk, moving to the kitchen and shaking my head as I pour myself a glass of water.

Bernadette arrives a few minutes later and we decide to order subs from Giacomo's, mostly to throw Amy off. We're about an hour into the movie, when Howard and Raj come in with slightly guilty expressions on their faces. They know.

"What are we watching ladies? And Sheldon," Howard adds, sinking to the floor beside his wife and taking a bite of her Italian Sub.

"Homeward Bound," Bernadette answers him, "The poor doggie got hit in the face with a porcupine tail…poor baby!"

"Our cat once disappeared for three days and came back with a bunch of quills in his back," I tell them, "we changed his name to Spike after that."

"What was it?" Howard asks, making me wrack my brain to remember. I shrug and take another bite of my Taco Sub.

"I don't remember. Fluffy or maybe it was Boots. I don't know," I sigh, cringing as the onscreen vet tries to remove the quill from the poor animal's face.

"Was this the same cat who got locked in your brother's camp trunk?" Sheldon inquires dryly and I look at him over Amy's head.

"Yep, same one. Poor…whatever its name was…" I add, putting an arm around poor Amy, who looks like she may cry. I can't blame her. She thinks her boyfriend ditched her. On her birthday. I feel awful for her being upset, seeing as I kind of was the instigator. But, I keep telling myself how happy she's going to be in about an hour or…

My phone vibrates.

Or now.

It's safe to send Amy over. I'm ready.

"You know what, Ames? I think I heard Leonard come in just now," I tell her, putting my hand over hers. Hell, I think I'm more nervous than he is.

"I didn't hear anything," Sheldon says in confusion, and I think fast.

"Yeah well, you were engrossed in watching the dogs dig their way out of the pound," I remind him.

"I know," Sheldon nods, "I can't help it. They're so endearing." Okay, if I wasn't so freaked at the moment, that would be cute as hell.

"Well, that's too bad for Leonard," Amy insists, sounding irritated, "If working on my birthday was so important to him, then I have no desire to associate with him at the moment. I'm going to be a woman in charge of my own life now. Like Farrah Fawcett in The Burning Bed."

Uh oh.

Shit. This is backfiring on me. Okay, Penny…think. Think…

"You should go give him a piece of your mind!" I hear myself say, eliciting a horrified stare from Bernadette, Howard and the ever silent Raj. Amy meets my eyes.

"Should I make a scene?"

"Um," I look at Bernadette for help; she shakes her head, eyes wide. "No, but you should…see what happened…"

"Bestie, I can't help but notice you're glistening becomingly with sweat and your pupils are slightly dilated. Are you feeling well?" Amy asks, "You look like one of my chimps before she had a depressive episode after she quit smoking cold turkey."

"I'm fine, I just…" I'm lost. I got nothing, "Go talk to Leonard! It's your birthday! And you deserve to tell him how you feel!"

"You're right!" Amy nods, "I am a strong, sexy woman. I don't think he's ready for this jelly," she gestures to her body, "I'm Bootylicious."

"Oh dear Lord," Sheldon sighs, rolling his eyes while I smack him in the arm.

"Knock it off," I growl at him, turning back toward Amy. "Sweetie, just go talk to him." Amy finally nods and adjusts her sweater, before heading for the door and stalking across the hall. A hush falls over the five of us, waiting.

"Well, that's not going to go well," Sheldon tells me and I glare at him.

"Leonard is going to propose to Amy," I tell him impatiently, "That's why we told her he was at work. So she wouldn't know."

"Leonard is going to propose what?" Sheldon looks confused. Of course he doesn't get it.

"Marriage, you kook!" I tell him, unable to suppress a laugh.

"I wish we could see what's going on!" Bernadette adds, looking at me with big, excited eyes and an extra high voice.

"Leonard is going to ask Amy to marry him?" Sheldon interrupts. Welcome to the party Dr. Man-Child!

"Bingo!" I nod, still looking at Bernadette. "Do you wanna go listen at the door?"

"Yeah! We can—"

"No need," Howard says, setting up his laptop and typing quickly into it, "all we have to do is tap into the video camera we set up when—" his eyes fall on me and he clamps his mouth shut. My jaw drops in horror as I glare at him, realizing what he's implying.

"What did you do?" I ask quietly. Raj leans over to whisper in Howards ear.

"No, I'm not going to tell her that we used to watch her dance around the apartment to Shania Twain!"

"What?" I cry, lunging toward the smarmy little asshole as Raj catches my around the shoulders, shaking his head and putting his finger to his lips. He then points to the screen, where we have a perfect view of Leonard and Amy in their living room. We all fall silent, gathering around the computer screen. Even Sheldon is curious and is grudgingly watching in sick fascination.

"…the truth is, I didn't have to work today," Leonard is saying to Amy (this is the point I start holding my breath), "I went to the mall with Penny and I had no idea what to get you for your birthday. And she took me to the jewelry store, so I thought…earrings would be nice…or maybe a bracelet, but none of it seemed to fit. And it's not like I could buy you a tiara," he chuckles nervously.

"Well, that's simply not true, Leonard. Nothing dictates that a girl can't have more than one tiara—"

"Honey, bear with me here," Leonard tells her gently, taking her hand, "So then, I saw something else and I knew what I had to get you. It made sense. And I know it's only been four months, but I just…know."

"This is not going to end well," Sheldon says, but he kind of looks nervous too. For a second, I wonder if he's actually nervous for Leonard. I know I am! And I can see it in his face. He is scared for Leonard. Because Leonard is his best friend and, as much as he would love to deny it, he does feel human emotion. Sheldon has the same hopes and fears that all of us do. He just shows them a little differently.

"Shh!" I hush him, gripping the sleeve of his shirt in my fingers.

"I'm not afraid to tell you how I feel, Amy," Leonard continues, "Falling in love with you was the easiest thing I've ever done. And even though I'm scared to death right now, that you're going to tell me to get lost, I don't think you will, and I think—"

"Leonard, if this is some sort of joke like the time when Jason Powers asked me to the Homecoming Dance and then left a flaming pile of canine excrement on my porch, then—"

"Amy!" Leonard stops her, taking her hands, "This is not a joke. I have no intention of giving you flaming dog crap," he reaches a visibly trembling hand into his pocket and withdraws the box.

"Oh my God!" Bernadette squeaks, smacking Howard excitedly as Leonard gets down on one knee in front of Amy.

"Amy Farrah Fowler, I am hopelessly, endlessly in love with you," He tells her in a wavering voice, "Will you marry me?" Amy kind of stares at the ring for a few seconds before she looks up at Leonard again, still silent. Come on, Ames…say something! "Amy? Sweetheart?" Leonard urges, looking cautiously up into her face. Amy leaps off the couch in a surge of pent up energy.

"I'm gonna be a bride! Me! My mother told me she didn't think she'd ever see me be a bride! But I'm gonna be a bride! With a dress! And a veil! And I'm gonna get married!" Amy cries, pulling Leonard to his feet by the front of his shirt and planting a big, wet one on him.

"Is that a yes?" He asks in a muffled voice, still mashed against her lips, making me laugh. I take a tissue from the proffered box in Sheldon's hand, before handing it to Raj and Bernadette, who are both as big of a hot mess as I am.

"Yes, that's a yes!" Amy adds, kissing him again for good measure, letting him put the ring on her. She admires it for a few moments, before looking toward the door. "Bestie! You're never going to believe what just happened!"

Oh, I think I am, Amy.

 

Chapter Text

Remember the awkward, quiet girl with glasses who was "a girl who was Sheldon's friend?" Yeah, she's gone and has been replaced with this bubbly, beaming creature who kind of looks like the Amy we all used to know. Her hair is hanging in gleaming layers over her shoulders and her eyes are wide with excitement as she barges back into our apartment, dragging her poor fiancé behind her. (Though he looks like he doesn't really mind that she's practically pulling his arm out of the socket.)

"I'm engaged!" Amy cries, busting through the door and almost knocking over Sheldon's Leonard Nimoy Spock cutout. (Oh, the horror!)

"Yes," Sheldon replies dryly, giving her a tired glare as he watches his Spock teeter dangerous before resettling back into its spot, if not slightly askew. (Phew!) "We've deduced as much."

"Congratulations!" I squeal, forgetting I'm a fully grown woman of twenty-six and launching forward at the two of them, pulling them both against me.

"You're going to be the most beautiful bride!" Bernadette adds, wrapping her arms around them from the back. We probably look like we're doing some weird, hippie, interpretive dance or something.

"Of course I will," Amy agrees, still smiling, "With my hourglass shape and my high cheekbones, I'll be stunning." This only makes me smile harder, until my cheeks hurt.

"We have to go out and celebrate," I insist, pulling back and looking around the room at the other three weirdoes standing around. Sheldon's eyes widen in horror.

"But, Penny!" He whines, "It's Laundry Night!"

"Not tonight it's not," I reply, moving toward him and earning a stern look.

"Yes it is, Penny. It's Saturday. Saturday is Laundry Night," He tells me as if he's telling me that the sky is blue or that Earth is a planet.

"Yes, but our friends just got engaged, Sheldon," I explain, trying to be patient with him. Why does he have to make it so damn difficult? Of course he doesn't get it.

"I fail to see how that would affect Laundry Night," Sheldon retorts, unmoved.

"God Bless Us, Everyone!" Howard chimes in, dryly.

"Oh my God," I growl, pointing at Leonard and Amy, who are showing an ecstatic Bernadette and a far too enthusiastic Raj the ring. "We are happy for them, you damn Whack-A-Doodle!" I tell him, "It's social protocol for us to celebrate with them."

"Oh…" Sheldon finally seems to grasp the concept, "Well, you should have prefaced your declaration with that. Honestly, Penny, you really do need to pay more attention to detail."

"I'll keep that in mind," I answer through gritted teeth. "Now, go change into your jeans and a dress shirt."

"For what?" Sheldon asks, looking around the room.

"You're not going out looking like a third grade dropout," I inform him, turning him toward his bedroom and giving his bottom a sharp pat. "Get moving, Flash." Giving me a cautious look and placing his hand distractedly over where I just patted his butt, he hesitantly leaves the room and disappears into his bedroom.

I turn to look at all five of my friends, who are staring at me in awe. Howard stumbles forward and bows to me a little.

"Teach me, Penny," He begs, looking back toward where Sheldon disappeared, "How did you do it?"

"Do what?" I ask, confused.

"Get him to do what you told him," Howard replies, looking back at Raj for support.

"Oh, that," I wave my hand dismissively, "Turns out, all men can be convinced with the possibility of third base."

"Argh!" Leonard, Raj and Howard all yell collectively, making me laugh. They're too easy to get a rise out of. I wink at Bernadette and move back to Amy, grabbing her hand and pulling it up to inspect the ring I already saw. It's a really classic looking ring, with three stones set in white gold. For a little homunculus, Leonard has pretty good taste in jewelry.

"Where do you guys want to go?" I ask, putting an arm around her as us three girls continue to stare down at the ring (which has not changed in the past five minutes).

"Somewhere classy, but fun," Amy states, looking at Leonard, "Like the Chuckles House O'Fun!"

"Sorry, Sweetie," Leonard tells her, reaching for her hand, "Sheldon was banned after he broke in one night and abused the ball pit."

"What happened?"

"Sheldon's escaped and is terrorizing the village."

"Okay. Have fun."

God, that seems so long ago. It seems like someone else's life, not mine. Everything was different. I was with Leonard. Howard and Bernadette were newly dating, and there was no Amy. That was back when we weren't sure if Sheldon had a deal. Looking around this room, nothing would have made sense to me back in 2010. It's okay, though. I don't like her as much as I like 2012 Penny.

"Chili's has a two for twenty deal," Howard offers, making me shake my head. Chili's and I don't have a good history. I'm banned from two separate locations back in Omaha.

Good times.

"No go," I insert, "Hey, how about T.G.I. Fridays?"

"It's not Friday," Sheldon says, coming back into the living room and huffily tucking in his shirt. Okay yeah, even though he drives me cuckoo and sometimes makes me want to pull my hair out, the guy can wear the crap out of that outfit. I realize the last time he wore those jeans, was when we went grocery shopping that first Sunday we lived together.

"Sheldon, you don't just go to T.G.I. Fridays on Friday," I remind him, trying my best not to look like I'm imagining what it would be like to pull his shirt off with my teeth. (Which I am not. I am having pure, innocent thoughts and practicing restraint.)

Oh, who am I kidding? I'm one step away from dragging him by the arm back to that teeny tiny bed of his and having my way with him.

Damn, it's been a long time since I had sex. But it's not sex I miss, because it's not like Sheldon and I have done nothing. I miss that closeness. Trusting someone so much that you can lie together afterwards and just enjoy being near each other. I want that for us. Yeah, I complain about how Sheldon is crazy and a pain in the ass (and he totally is), but I love him. Even he can't change that. I just want to be able to tell him.

"Well, then it seems, that the name T.G.I. Fridays is irrelevant," Sheldon argues, sighing. "If we must."

"Oh hell, let's just go to The Cheesecake Factory," I suggest, garnering a favorable response from everyone, included my whacko boyfriend, "My treat."

I am loaded after all. Ah yes, times have changed.

One hour later, we're gathered around a table in the bar area at The Cheesecake Factory. I'm nursing a Mango Margarita, though, for some reason, I can't keep my focus. Watching Leonard and Amy together, being romantic (which is really just the two of them sitting a little closer together than usual and kissing every now and then), and even Howard and Bernadette have made me realize that life is kind of short. I'm twenty-six. Sheldon's thirty-two. We're not getting any younger and what matters is sitting right in front of me wearing a blue dress shirt and dark jeans.

"I have some news," Raj says, after we receive our food. He takes a long sip of his own Mango Margarita and rubs his hands together nervously. "I've decided to return to India."

"What?" We all cry simultaneously. Howard looks like he might burst into tears.

"The fact is, I'm wasting time here. I haven't found a wife and my parents want me to come home and settle down," He explains, looking sadder than I've ever seen him. My heart breaks a little bit at the thought of losing Raj. I've always felt a kinship with the odd little man. Maybe it's our mutual love of Edward Cullen…maybe not. I don't know. What I do know is that I like the way things are. And I like having Raj around, even if I would never know the sound of his voice if it weren't for alcohol. "You wouldn't understand," Raj continues, "All of you are paired up. Leonard is getting married. Howard is married! Sheldon and Penny are…doing whatever it is they do," he throws his hands up in frustration, "And where does that leave me? I can't talk to women. I live alone and I have an unnatural fascination with Bridget Jones."

"But Sweetie," I tell him, feeling my voice catch in my throat, "We're your friends…you can't just go."

"I have to," Raj tells me, equally upset. I can see his dark eyes glimmering a little when he meets mine. "Listen everyone; nothing happened with Penny and I last year."

"Raj, what are you doing?" I ask, feeling my face heat up with embarrassment at the memory of that night.

"Telling the truth," he informs me, "Penny and I did not have sex."

"Oh God," I groan, burying my face into my hands.

"That explains a lot," Leonard nods, looking uncomfortable.

"New topic!" I insist, grabbing Raj's hand. "We're going to miss you!"

"Of course, I will miss you. I will try to keep in touch with Skype, but I've already been offered a position with The Department of Science and Technology for the Indian government. I plan to accept and leave as soon as possible." His face is pale beneath the dark complexion, and the table goes silent.

"I suppose I'll have to hire someone else to work for me," Sheldon sighs into his Diet Coke. To an outsider this would seem like a heartless and cold statement. But, having lived with Sheldon for four months now, and knowing what I do about the way his mind works, I know this is a mask. He's terrified at the thought of losing his friend. He, who puts so much effort into including the people in his life in his schedule, is devastated that his life is going to be altered again.

"Is this because of Bridget?" Bernadette finally asks, letting out a breath she must have been holding. Raj shakes his head vigorously.

"It's because of a lot of things. Mostly, it's because of me. I need a change. I want to get a grasp on this selective mutism. I don't want to live alone for the rest of my life."

"But there are plenty of women here," Bernadette insists, her lower lip trembling, "Don't go!"

"I've been here for the past decade. Nothing has changed, other than I've learned I can speak to women with the assistance of alcohol."

"Or virgin margaritas," I mutter under my breath.

"Well, it's your life and if that's what you want, then we can't stop you," Leonard sighs, raising his glass, "here's to hoping you find what you're looking for, Raj." We all raise our glasses in a silent, resigned toast.

"Raj," Amy says when we've finished, "as sad as it may be that your lonely life of chick flicks and silence has driven you back to your homeland, you're totally harshing my buzz. Please save your pity party for tomorrow, after we've celebrated." Everyone falls silent, staring at Amy in shock, but I can see the smile in her light greenish blue eyes. She knows that Raj doesn't want to make a big deal out of his decision, so she's steering the conversation in another direction without making him the center of attention. For someone who wasn't very social, Amy is incredibly perceptive as to how to interpret a situation and fix it.

"To Amy and Leonard, and their upcoming marriage!" Raj corrects, smiling again and looking the slightest bit better than he had a moment ago. I sigh in relief, looking over at Sheldon, who is inspecting the rim of his glass with a scrutinizing eye.

"What are you doing?" I ask, knowing I probably shouldn't. He points to the glass, and I fully expect him to show me a speck of dirt that's not there or something, but he doesn't.

"There's a crack in this glass," he tells me, and I frown, looking down at where he's pointing. Sure enough, there's a tiny fracture in the glass.

"So, we'll get you a new one," I tell him quickly, reaching to pull it from his hands.

"Do you know why this glass is cracked?"

"Someone probably dropped it," I tell him, reaching for it again. Sheldon shakes his head, holding the glass away from me.

"When glass is exposed to a sudden change in temperature, for example, pouring extremely cold water into a glass that has just come out of the dishwasher, the glass will shrink, causing a fissure in the composition of the molecular structure of the glass," he tells me excitedly, and I can't help it, I smile.

"Fascinating," I reply, reaching out to brush a wild piece of dark hair away from his forehead.

"Isn't it? Some people actually consider glass to be a liquid, but it's not. Glass is actually an amorphous solid, and exhibits the atomic structure similar to that of the supercooled liquid phase, yet displays all the mechanical properties that a solid does."

Oh, talk dirty to me, MoonPie. But you know what? His face is so thoroughly adorable right now, that I can't even find the willpower to make fun of him. It's amazing to see Sheldon in his element, dressed his age.

I really, really do love him.

When we finally say goodnight to Leonard and Amy (who are now going to be Lamy forever), we trudge inside our own dark apartment and each of us stands silently, staring at the expanse of the room. My eyes fall on the still small two month old kitten curled up in Sheldon's spot and I smile. He looks up at us, blinking into the dim light, before seeing it's just us and rolling onto his back with his paws in the air. Sheldon doesn't even make him move.

"It's late," he says, when we reach the hallway and stand, facing each other in front of his bedroom door.

"Yeah," I agree, biting my lower lip.

"Do you—"

"Sheldon, can we—"

We both start speaking at once and stop, smiling at each other. I feel oddly shy right now; like this is a first date and we're gearing up toward our first kiss.

"You go first," I tell him, gesturing with my hand for him to continue. He nods.

"Thank you. I was going to ask if you wanted some warm milk," He tells me, making me smile unexpectedly.

"Oh. Um, no thank you, honey. I was actually wondering…I don't…can we try to, um…" Boy this is harder than I thought it would be! "I would like to attempt to…have—" I shake my head, "I mean, I think we should try to—"

"You want to attempt coitus, don't you?" Sheldon sighs in defeat while I give him a look.

"Please don't call it coitus…that makes me feel like I'm doing some kind of sexual experiment," I plead with him, gripping his shirt sleeve in my hand.

"Well, technically you would be doing some kind of sexual experiment as I have never engaged in—"

"Sheldon, if you call it coitus, I may have to slap you," I warn him, meeting his eyes, which widen.

"Very well," he concedes, "sex. I have never engaged in sex."

"I know," I exhale, hoping he's not going to shoot me down. Three months is the longest I've ever waited to sleep with a guy since I started having sex in the tenth grade. "And yes, I want us to try to...have sex."

"Well, in our preliminary verbal relationship agreement, I did acquiesce to that condition," he finally says, making me sag a little in relief, letting out a breath I didn't know I was holding. "I will request that we partake in our…activities in your bedroom as my bed is uncomfortably small and I do not relish the thought of us sharing it again."

"I do have a bigger bed," I agree, hardly able to believe my own ears. I might be getting lucky tonight!

"Shall we each prepare and meet in your room in say, ten minutes?" He offers, and I manage to nod.

"Penny," he adds, "please be mindful of the Listerine when you brush your teeth. The less worry I have about transferring possible germs, not to mention the residue from your dinner, the better. I will, of course, allow the same courtesy to you."

"How…thoughtful…" I mutter, watching him disappear into his room. I stare at his closed door for about one second, before I race toward the bathroom and scrub the shit out of my teeth and rinse thoroughly with mouthwash. (Hey, if this is what gets my boyfriend to get busy with me, then who am I to refuse?)

I feverishly run a brush through my tangled, long hair and rifle through my underwear drawer, pulling out a black see through nightie that I bought a while back from Victoria's Secret. So what if it leaves little to the imagination? I don't plan on wearing it for long.

I've thought about this moment for a long time now. When it would happen…how it would happen…but I never imagined it would be so easy. Sheldon has managed to surprise me at every turn. Pulling on the negligee, I study my reflection, wondering why I feel so nervous. I've done this before. But he hasn't. And I need him to like it as much as I do.

Knock, knock, knock.

"Penny." Here we go. I suck in a breath and shove my fear to the bottom of my stomach.

Knock, knock, knock.

"Penny." Ohh, boy.

Knock, knock, knock.

"Penny." I grab the doorknob and open it, staring up into Sheldon's pale face. He looks just like always, clad in his green plaid pajamas, with a matching robe over it. His eyes fall to my nightie, taking in the sight of my barely concealed body beneath the thin mesh of the lingerie. I notice him swallow hard, before nodding and stepping into the room while I shut the door behind him.

"Why don't you, uh…" I motion for him to sit down, which he does. I sink slowly into the spot beside him, carefully placing my hand over his. "Listen to me, Sheldon," I tell him, curling my fingers around his, "you don't have to do anything you aren't ready for, okay?" Slowly, he nods, allowing me to lift his hand and place it against my breast. Instinctively, the pad of his thumb caresses over the taut peak, as a slight blush colors his pale cheeks.

"I'm unsure what to—"

"Let me," I tell him, cupping his cheek in my hand and pressing my lips against the pulse in his throat, trailing my lips over the smooth skin, feeling the slight increase of his breathing. His jaw is becomingly scratchy as it always is just before bed, making my lips tingle as I guide his mouth against mine, keeping our contact shallow and slow. A moment later, I can feel his hand settle at the base of my neck with his long fingers twining up into my long hair.

"Penny," he whispers, pulling back only a little to look down at me, squarely meeting my eyes. His eyes are blue, and warm and full of something I can't identify, even though I've seen it a few other times since we've known each other.

"Lay down," I tell him, watching him scoot fully onto the bed. Reaching for his sash, I untie his robe and pull it off of him, laying it neatly over my hamper. He watches with half closed eyes as I unbutton his pajama top and drag off his undershirt with it. Running a hand over the muscles of his smooth, finely haired chest, I lower myself down and press a lingering kiss to the tight muscles of his stomach, making him jump in surprise.

"Penny…" he gasps, clutching an involuntary handful of my hair and making me grin.

"Shh," I tell him, looking back up at his flushed face, running the backs of my fingers over the bristle on his cheek. Turning my attention back to my slow seduction of him, I pull my fingers over his middle before venturing further down and covering the swollen evidence of his arousal through his pajama bottoms. A low hiss escapes his teeth and he arches upward, clutching handfuls of the blanket in his fists. Rising over him, I carefully swing my leg over and settle atop his hips, feeling him throb with need beneath me. Leaning down, I brush his hair tenderly back from his face and press a whisper of a kiss to his forehead, before making him look into my eyes.

"Sheldon," I tell him, feeling his hands settle at my hips as he gazes up at me, "I have to tell you something."

"Alright," he says, though it comes out more as a sigh than an actual word. When I lean farther over him, so that we're eye level, my hair falls around us like a protective curtain. For some reason, this seems to please him.

"I love you," I tell him, swallowing, "I have for a long time now. I think it's always been you I was supposed to be with." Sheldon's body becomes tense as he struggles to sit up, staring at me with obvious alarm on his pink face, but he doesn't say anything. I notice his eyes flit around the room wildly for a moment, before he brings them back to me. "Sheldon? Please say something…"

"Why?"

"What?" I ask, confused as he continues to stare at me in bemusement. I can feel my stomach drop as his hands fall from my hips to his sides.

"Why?" He asks again, "Why do you think you love me?"

"Why do I think I love you?" I cry, clamoring off of him and pulling on a pair of Hello Kitty pajama pants and a nearby tank top over the nightie. "I don't think I love you!"

"Penny, you're being unreasonable…" He begins in a hesitant voice and I glare at him, feeling tears of rejection sting my eyes.

"I'm being unreasonable? I just told you I love you, and you asked me why I think I love you!" I shake my head, completely horrified as I stumble backward toward the door, pulling on my flip flops, "I knew you weren't ready for this."

"I never said—"

"Just stop! Please!" I choke, sobbing now as I fumble blindly for my keys, darting from my bedroom and stopping only long enough to grab my purse. I see Flash lift his head just as I pull the door shut and fly down the stairs as if demons are at my heels.

I have no idea where I'm going. I just know I need to get away. Visions of the night I left Kurt run through my mind, but the thought of starting over somewhere else makes me feel physically ill.

Go back upstairs and talk to him…

No! I'm so sick of being the one to come to him. Let him come to me. I'm done making all the sacrifices! I love Sheldon, but I'm not going to wait around forever while he decides if he loves me back!

My car chokes to life, sputtering a little as I slam it into reverse and whip out of the parking lot as best I can while keeping my foot on the gas and the brake at the same time to keep the damn thing running.

Why do I think I love him?

If only he knew how I've agonized over how to tell him the truth. How I pray every night to a God I may or may not believe in that he wins his Nobel Prize. How the thought of spending a night away from him is making me shake so badly that my teeth are chattering.

"Sing Soft Kitty to me."

"Soft Kitty is for when you're sick. You're not sick."

"Injured and drugged is a kind of sick…"

Turning onto Euclid, I completely ignore the speed bumps, desperate to get away. I can go to a hotel…I have money now. I'm not the same lost girl I was when I left Kurt. Sniffing, I sob into the silence as I approach a red light, feeling tears roll down my face in wet streaks. When the light turns green, I press the gas and start forward.

Now, Bessie and I have been together since my senior year of high school. The check engine light's been on about as long as I've been driving it, since Tim bought his pickup truck and I inherited the car by default. This car has given me more trouble than I care to admit, and yet, somehow old Bessie always pulled through for me. So, I'm not terribly surprised when it splutters and stalls in the middle of the empty intersection, but it only makes me sob harder.

And then I realize…this is a sign. Fate…or Aristotle…or whatever is telling me to get my ass back to Los Robles and knock some sense into Dr. Whack-A-Doodle. This isn't over until I say so. And I'm going to hear what Sheldon has to say even if its, 'Penny, I don't love you back.' So, I fight with the damn car, turning the key and listening to it whine and turn over, but refuse to start. Frustrated, I slam on the gas as I turn the key and hear Bessie come back from the dead, purring like an angry tiger. Triumphant, I turn the wheel and start forward. Out of the corner of my eye, I see a huge blur of shining black before the world falls apart in front of my eyes.


I know I've been hit. Hard. My car is clean across the road from where I'd been and there's a pile of broken glass in my lap. My head is throbbing and my lip is burning. It's a little hard to breathe, and every breath aches. I see the pink case of my phone on the floor of the passenger side and reach for it with my left arm since my right arm is trapped, yelping in pain as I strain to grab it in my finger tips. Looking to my left, I notice the other car, an Escalade is pretty banged up and the driver seems to be unconscious.

I have to call someone.

Ignoring the searing streak of agony that courses through my body, I force myself roughly downward and grasp the phone in my hand, growling in absolute torment. There's definitely something wrong with my chest. I catch a glimpse of my reflection in the rearview mirror and notice a large gash in my forehead, my left eye is black and my nose is swollen. I also then notice that my right arm is hanging at an unnatural angle, and I remember all too well what it's like to have a dislocated shoulder.

Using one hand, I manage to pull up my recent calls and press the first number there.

Leonard.

It rings twice, before I hear his voice.

"Penny, where are you?" He asks worriedly, "It's her," he tells someone else.

"L'nard…" I say, slurring.

"Penny? Is that you?" He asks again, sounding a little unsure of himself.

"L'nard…need help…" I can feel my eyes begin to close a little, "Car acciden'…Eucli'…bad…it's bad…"

"Are you okay?" His voice becomes a little more shrill with each syllable. "Penny?"

"Tell Sheld'n I'm sorry…tell 'im…'kay?" I force out, gasping for breath as I feel a little like I'm being suffocated.

"Penny, we'll be right there," Leonard informs me weakly, "Don't move."

"Can't move…" I answer druggedly, lolling against the head rest. I feel so tired…everything is blurry.

The next few minutes are a little hazy for me, because I'm drifting in and out of consciousness. The sound of wailing sirens brings me out of my dozing and the next thing I know, my door is being wrenched off and a pair of strong arms carefully takes off my seatbelt and lifts me. A neck brace is immediately latched around my neck and I can feel my eyes struggling to focus as flashing lights cloud my vision.

"Do you know your name?" A paramedic asks me, and I try to nod, stopping when it hurts.

"Penny…"

"Good girl. Stay awake for me, hon, okay?" The older guy with the gray mustache tells me, smoothing my hair back. "Your friends are here too."

"Penny?" Leonard's terrified voice comes before his face does.

"L'nard," I swallow. My mouth feels horribly dry.

"You're gonna be okay, Penny. Okay?" He insists. I try to shake my head.

"Where's Sheldon? Want Sheldon," I gasp, squeezing my eyes shut at another wave of chest pain.

"He's here, he's here, honey," Leonard tells me, looking back and reaching for something. A second later, I'm staring into Sheldon's tight, waxy pale face.

"M'Sorry…" I gulp, "So sorry."

"Penny," is all he manages to say, but the strangled sound of his voice tells me everything I need to know. A second later, I feel something curl around my hand and I think it's his fingers. Everything starts to go blurry again and I feel my head fall limply to the side.

"We gotta get her down there now," The older man's voice says, and the hand over mine is gone as I feel myself moving. "Steady, hon," he says, helping the other two guide the gurney I'm on up into the back of the ambulance. An oxygen mask covers my face, making breathing a whole lot easier.

The last thing I see before the doors close is Sheldon's stricken face, before everything goes dark.

 

Chapter Text

I've been here before. I recognize the room immediately. The faded floral wallpaper is peeling off the walls a little and the cupboards look a little worse for the wear, also adorned with faded daisies. The distinct smell of cooking food wafts pleasantly through the air, filling my entire body with a comfortable, familiar feeling.

I'm sitting in Gran's kitchen back in Omaha.

How? We sold the house years ago and Gran's been dead for a decade. Yet, when I turn my head, she's standing at the stove like always, humming her favorite song (You Are My Sunshine) and stirring what smells like meatballs. Noticing me, she turns and gives me a cheery grin.

"There you are, Penny Blossom, I thought you'd never get here!" She tells me casually, as if I'd just come in from school. "Food's almost done. Made your favorite: meatballs and mashed potatoes."

"What are you…" I begin, staring around again. Everything is exactly the way I left it, which is impossible. Dread fills my gut as I realize what's going on here. "Oh my God…am I dead?"

"No," Gran laughs, waving me off, "You aren't dead, you silly girl. You're dreaming. Banged yourself up pretty good this time, little girl."

"Then why am I here?" I ask, playing with the basket she always kept in the middle of her table.

"I don't know, honey. You tell me. I suppose it's because you always felt most comfortable here," she explains, setting a glass of chocolate milk in front of me, before setting the food on the table and sitting beside me. "You know, I've been watching you for a long time, Penelope."

"Oh God," I groan, taking a bite of potatoes. It tastes just like I remember. Delicious. Gran chuckles, biting into her own food.

"I'm proud of you, Sweetie. You done exactly what you set out to do…you're an actress. You're living on your own, making your own way…you got a guy," she adds, grinning at me mischievously.

"I've got a…Sheldon," I correct her, eating more. Hell, if I'm dream, I'm not watching my weight.

"He's definitely something else, that boy," Gran agrees, nodding. "Got enough crazy to fill a loony bin, doesn't he?" Despite myself, I grin at this, finding it highly amusing.

"Yep," I tell her, feeling oddly proud of Dr. Whack-A-Doodle.

"Sounds like he'll fit right in with us, then," Gran replies, grinning at me over her mashed potatoes.

"I screwed up, Gran," I admit, staring at my food and setting down my fork, "I got mad and left in the middle of an argument…"

"I know it, Penelope Elizabeth," she sighs, shaking her head, "I told you never to leave in the middle of an argument."

"Yeah," I breathe, looking down at my hands in shame, jumping a little when her smooth hand covers mine.

"But you didn't lose him," she reminds me, "yeah, you're a little banged up, but you're still there. You can make it right. You did tell him you love him, didn't you?"

"I did," I agree, squeezing her hand back.

"And did you mean it?"

"Gran…" I begin, cutting off at the stern look on her face.

"What did I teach you, Penny? Do you remember?"

"Of course, I do," I affirm, inhaling slowly, "Love is not a game. You do not play with a person's feelings. You do not say you love somebody unless you mean it."

"Good girl," Gran beams at me, tightening her grip on my hand. "And did you mean it?"

"Yes," I respond in a small, choked voice as she reaches out and brushes my hair back off my face.

"You look like your mother, little girl…so pretty…" She smiles, before sighing, "But you have her temper too. You know what you need to do, don't you?"

"If you tell me to go into the light, I may freak out," I joke, letting her pull me into a warm hug.

"I'm not telling you nothing like that," Gran scoffs, laughing, "You gotta hear him out, kiddo. He's a good boy."

"Gran, he's thirty-two years old."

"Still a boy in my eyes," she insists, running a hand through my hair, "Just listen to him, okay? My time's running out here."

"Don't go," I plead, knowing damn well she can't stay. This isn't real, but it feels real. I can smell her flowery perfume and feel her breath on my cheek.

"You know I have to, Penny Blossom," she tells me, pulling back to hold my face. "I am, so proud of you, little girl. So proud. Now, get your behind back there and talk it out. God don't give second chances too often." I stand, turning toward the front door.

"Gran, have you seen—" I turn back to look at her and notice she's gone and the kitchen becomes a blur.

"…but you have to wake up, okay?" A voice from far away comes through, echoing in my mind. Slowly, the room comes into focus and I notice a vague figure sitting beside the bed with his dark head in his hands. "Just, open your eyes."

"Leonard?" I croak, hating the gravelly tone of my voice as he comes into focus. Leonard looks up as if he can't believe he just heard me speak.

"Penny?"

"Wuz goin' on?" I ask, trying to clear my throat and wincing at the sharp pain in my chest. Bleary, medicated memories of the past twelve hours return in a distant, hazy images. Having X-Rays taken. Being checked over and poked and prodded and asked questions that I have no recollection of answering. Leonard lets out a long exhale, looking like he might cry at any second. "Where's Sheldon?"

"Amy dragged him down to the cafeteria to eat. You're parents are on their way here from Nebraska—"

"Oh, balls…" I groan, hoping Dad's heart is okay and that I haven't stressed him too far.

"Penny, you broke two ribs, bruised your lung, fractured your sternum, fractured your fibula," his voice begins to break a little, "you dislocated your shoulder and strained the tendons in your neck," Leonard sniffs, shaking his head and looking down at me, "you're lucky to be here."

"What's a fibula?" I ask, swallowing the lump in my own throat. Surprised, Leonard lets out a sharp sound between a laugh and a sob.

"It's the back bone in your ankle," he says, reaching for my hand. "you're in bad shape, honey."

"Really," I reply dryly, "I feel super." Leonard quickly texts someone before brushing my matted blonde hair off of my forehead.

"You should have seen him, Penny," he murmurs, sitting again and squeezing my hand lightly, "I've never seen him that way. I've seen Sheldon do his share of crazy things, but this…he was demented. His hair was all crazy, his eyes were wild...I thought he was drunk for a second. He was in a full panic…yelling at us and just freaking out. Thankfully, Amy got him to calm down and drink some tea, but he was a mess. And then you called and—" Leonard stops, pausing as he tries to regain his composure. "You have no idea how hard it was for me to hear you tell me you'd been in an accident, but when I…when I told him, he bolted out the door with my car keys! Luckily, we were able to catch him on the first floor before he did something stupid, like try to drive! And then…the accident. Your car—" He shuts up and turns away, bringing his hand over his face. I can see his shoulders shaking a little and I really feel like I want to reach out and hug him, but there's no way I can move right now. I'm aching like a son of a bitch. So, I just watch, helpless, as one of my best friends sobs his little heart out while I can do nothing to comfort him.

"I'm s-sorry!" I rasp, "Leonard, I'm sorry!" He whirls back around and shakes his head, wiping at his eyes.

"Stop apologizing," he tells me, "it was just so awful. When they pulled you out of that mess, you looked so fragile like a little rag doll. I was so scared, but I was even more scared for him. He looked like he might faint at any second."

"I told him I loved him and he…he…didn't say it back," I confess, feeling both embarrassed and ashamed. "I panicked and left. I shouldn't have gone…I shouldn't have run away. I did it to you when I wasn't ready and I did it to Sheldon when he wasn't ready."

"But, Penny, you—" he cuts off as the door opens, revealing an arguing Amy Farrah Fowler and Sheldon.

"Sheldon, you had on gloves and a face mask. That woman probably thought you were trying to kidnap her son," Amy is says, while Sheldon rolls his eyes.

"Amy, are you aware of the number of transferrable diseases and illnesses that are most likely running rampant throughout this establishment? I have a weak immune system as it is," (Welcome back, Dr. Whack-A-Doodle) I do not intend to be struck down in my prime because some bleeding heart mother couldn't be bothered to make her toddler wash his hands."

"Are you aware of the