Penny woke up and immediately wished she hadn't. The sun was taunting her through the window that overlooked her bed, its light cascading with deadly accuracy right into her face. She groaned and rolled onto her stomach, reaching back to grab her blankets and burying herself in them. "Thirteen hours." Sheldon's voice drew a squeal from Penny as she sat up in a rush, looked at Sheldon sitting in her rocking chair and then closed her eyes sharply as the pain drilled a hole in her head.
"Oh God…." She whispered achingly before lying back down slowly and again covering her face.
"Am I right in assuming that you are memory stricken from the events of last night?" Sheldon said, he was keeping his voice quieter than usual and Penny silently appreciated it.
He saw her feet moving slightly under the covers as she curled herself into a ball. "I remember… vodka and linoleum."
"Do you remember losing your job?"
Slowly, Penny pulled the blanket down and Sheldon could finally see her face, that old look of worthlessness had returned and he suddenly wished he'd kept his hole shut. "Yeah," she said softly before he watched her eyes close again. "Did you stay here with me?" She asked, finally offering him the chance to see her eyes. Their beauty greatly outweighed the mess that was her hair.
Sheldon rose from the chair and walked towards her window. "I was in and out; I brought my computer in here at one point and had a rather invigorating round of Battletoads on a wonderful Nintendo 64 Emulator I found online."
"Thank you for taking care of me." She said simply. Sheldon turned from his spot and their eyes locked.
He frowned at her. "You know I don't enjoy the nights when you drink so heavily, Penny."
She nodded shamefully. "I know, Sweetie, I'm sorry." With guilt pouring through her, Penny looked away from him. "It won't happen again." She promised but he merely nodded to satisfy her, he simply didn't believe her.
"Penny," he offered softly and she looked at him again. "I wish to discuss this." He finished before moving to where her rocking chair was and picking up a blue sketchpad.
Her chest tightened at the sight of it and she once again buried her head in the covers. "Oh balls, Sheldon did I tell you to look at that last night?" She knew he wouldn't go through her stuff without asking, and she hadn't shared her art with anyone before, even him which meant that absolutely no one else would know.
"You told me of your desire to be a professional in this field—," he was about to continue but she cut him off with a start.
"I know, it's so stupid, I just draw to take my mind off of stuff sometimes, I mean… I could never do anything like that, right? Just give me today to recover and I'll start looking for another job." She was rambling and scared because so much of her was in that sketchbook and him having seen it was like opening up a part of who she was that had been locked inside of her since she was little. The quicker she could move the conversation away from that, the better.
Sheldon had his lips pursed and was studying her. There were wounds in this girl that were embedded into her psyche he couldn't begin to understand. Things he never would have imagined when he first met her, all smiles and perkiness. She was so filled with life, but he knew now, that even then, she was tortured with self-hate.
He moved to the side of the bed that she was lying towards and knelt down to meet her at eye level. She was looking at him, her eyes big and steady. He was almost lost in them for a moment but was able to pull himself away from a strange want to cradle her. She didn't need coddling now, she needed guidance. "You are a very talented artist, Penny."
"I—I… what?" She said in absolute disbelief, as if she were waiting for the Bazinga and that small chuckle of his that was reserved for the jokes only he found funny. "Sheldon you're being crazy again, I just mess around they're nothing special."
Hastily, Sheldon began to flip through the pages of her sketchbook and eventually he settled on one and displayed it too her.
It was one of her favorites, a memory drawing she'd done of her childhood dog Sammy. He was all white masses of hair and nonstop energy. Sammy had been her first pet, her first real anything on the farm. He would follow her around all day and sleep with her all night. She took care of him and in a lot of ways he took care of her.
In the picture, he was running down a long stretch of road, tall grass flanking each side of the pavement as his tail stuck up high and his feet were in full motion. The detail that she put into that one was pretty immense, she was certainly proud of it, but saw it as nothing more than a lots afternoon.
"The fact that you drew this off of nothing more than a picture in your head proves to me that a future in art is not out of the realm of possibility for you." Sheldon spoke in absolute seriousness and was now finally drawing her out a little.
Penny adjusted so that she was sitting up in the bed now. Her shirt clinging tightly to her body as the heat of the room caused her to perspire just a bit. After their recent intimacy, he wasn't able to ignore the sight of her figure curving in all the ways that seemed right to him. Sheldon fidgeted uneasily for a moment before standing again.
"Do you really think I could be an artist?"
Sheldon nodded. "I do, it certainly won't happen overnight and you will have to find another job in the meantime as my salary will not cover all our expenses, we're lucky that I have insurance through my work in order to pay the medical bills but the smaller things that your salary gave us will need to be replaced." Penny nodded in understanding and slowly laid herself back down. "But yes, I do believe that if you found the proper channels to display your skills, this talent could benefit you greatly."
Then suddenly she was crying again and Sheldon was sick with the sight of her in tears. He discarded the sketchpad onto the dresser and was again at her side. He reached out, hesitating for only a moment before running his fingers over her cheek and trying desperately to remember anything from any romance move she'd forced on him that would apply to this.
"I love you, Sheldon." She whispered with a watery smile as he looked at her with utter bewilderment.
His hand never left her cheek. "And this… distresses you to the point of tears?" He asked with worry.
She shook her head and reached up to grab his hand with her own and held it tightly. "No, it makes me happy. These are happy tears." She admitted and wiped them away with a bit of embarrassment before forcing herself to sit up again.
Sheldon sighed in relief and stood again. "There really should be some sort of distinction."
"What like bright blue tears for happy and dark purple for sad?" She teased and accepted the glare he offered her as a small reward. She smiled again and held her head in her hand to fight away the throb of her headache before swinging her legs off the bed and standing unsteadily. "No more vodka for Penny." She said with a laugh that didn't carry well and Sheldon merely looked away for a moment to prevent his eyes from rolling.
"Penny," he said her name as if he were a teacher calling on her for the answer to a question. She looked at him and saw that he had his hands held behind his back. She raised her eyebrows in response and he continued. "I have two subjects I wish to inform you of, is your head of sound ability to listen or must I wait for you to have a cup of coffee or a warm shower?"
"So long as you don't go on for hours, I think I can handle not showering for a little bit. What's on your mind, Clementine?" The name she called him was so random that Sheldon lost his train of thought for a moment and found himself at a complete loss as to how she could be such a mystery to him. She smiled again and he settled from the confusion.
He raised his hand and held out one finger, first topic of course. "During your alcohol induced sleep, I received a text message from Leonard asking if we'd be interested in having a meal with him. I don't understand why he keeps texting me; I have yet to respond to him and decided I wouldn't until I consulted with you and your opinion on the matter because I'm sure you're more aware of how to handle this sort of social situation." Penny sighed and nodded before taking a step towards him.
"Do you want to have him back in our lives?" She asked simply, Sheldon appreciated getting to the point. If she were to write a guide to Sheldon Cooper, getting to the point would be near the top of the list.
"Leonard's presence in my life wouldn't alter all that much, I suppose we'd have another for a random night of video gaming and I'm sure he'd be around for a few meals here and there. It certainly wouldn't change my feelings towards you as the central figure in my life." His voice wasn't meant to sound sweet or romantic but Penny certainly took it that way. He spoke so technically that things he meant as sweet could easily be missed by most people, not Penny. She loved his protocol.
With a smile, she nodded in agreement. "It wouldn't change how I feel about you either. You should set up the dinner."
"Very well, I'll choose an appropriate restaurant and… do you suppose we should tell him about my ailment?"
Any mention of that always put a cloud over the room. Penny's hangover wasn't already ruining her morning, but this drew the pain away from her head and into the pit of her stomach. "That's entirely up to you, Sweetie."
"I see no benefit in keeping it from him, if anything it might help explain why I've been gone from work on days after I've had treatment and why I will be leaving early tomorrow."
Penny nodded as she remembered more chemo tomorrow. "Have him meet us tonight for dinner then. You probably won't be this up for it on any other night this week."
"Very well," he said before tapping on the keys of his cell phone and sending the message. When he finished he saw that Penny was still looking at him diligently and he couldn't help but smile at her. She blushed and looked away from him, hating and loving how he could disarm her so easily. "Next topic is, of course… your employment. I may have a lead for you."
Her eyes lit up. "You do? Do you know someone in the art world?"
Sheldon suddenly looked shameful. "No, Penny I'm sorry I should have specified. I have not yet delved into the art world to help find you suitable employment, I was thinking of a more current form of work."
"Oh," she said with a bit of disappointment but quickly washed it away. "Okay, what?"
His smile grew. "Well you see I recently spoke with Stuart…"
Leonard could feel a pair of eyes on him; he took the bite from his fork and let it sit in his mouth for a minute before looking up at the full cafeteria and slowly turning his head to the right. Sheldon was there, standing over him expectantly and watching him. Leonard swallowed sharply and raised his eyebrows.
"I never received a return message from you either accepting or declining my invitation."
The boy seated nodded slowly before adjusting his glasses. "I know, I was planning to tell you today but I've been busy, I definitely accept."
Sheldon then reached into his back pocket and pulled out his cell phone and started flipping through it. "Penny has asked that I inform you of her request to eat in this evening, she isn't up to going out."
It was still very hard for Leonard to comprehend that Sheldon and Penny texted, that they lived together, that she loved him. It just baffled him completely. "That's fine with me; I wasn't really up for going out either." He said quickly, in truth he hadn't really thought about it, but it seemed right to simply agree with Penny.
Sheldon sent out a corresponding text and they sat in silence for a moment. His phone then buzzed and he checked the new message. "She's pleased, she'll be making Chicken and Rice for dinner. Be there around seven."
"Okay," Leonard said a little uneasily, Sheldon then pocketed his phone and began to turn away. "Wait," he called and his former best friend turned around. "Why… don't you have lunch with me?"
Sheldon furrowed his brow. "I don't eat in the cafeteria." He said, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world.
This time, Sheldon offered a sigh to match his ever growing annoyance. "Because there has never really been anyone that I wish to socialize with as I eat, Leonard. I—I don't have friends that work here anymore."
Guilt came and Leonard blamed himself for pushing the subject. Still, this was one of the reasons he came back… to make up for walking away. "Well, I'm here and we used to be friends… I'd enjoy it if you'd eat with me."
"I'm afraid I've finished my meal for today." Sheldon said flatly and Leonard nodded slowly. "I—I could sit here, I suppose and… chat." He finished lamely.
Leonard smiled and pushed his glasses up. "Great!"
Sheldon pulled the chair out and took a seat next to his old friend. The moment he sat down it felt as if a brick wall came between them. Leonard couldn't think of anything to say, he just needed one conversation starter and he was drawing absolutely nothing. So they sat in silence for a good five minutes, Leonard slowly eating his salad and Sheldon merely making shapes with his index finger on the table.
"So… did you get that new Spiderman anthology booklet?" He asked, really just blurting out the question in desperation.
Sheldon's face immediately lit up. "Yes, we were first in line at the comic book store, it was a rather big deal, Stuart had Steve Ditko at the comic book store for the release, he was autographing them, he wanted to sign mine but it would take away from the mint quality of the product. Penny tried to tell me that it would make the item worth more but I have no desire to sell it, so I had him sign my Amazing Spider-Man blu ray DVD instead."
"Penny went with you?" Leonard asked, and it annoyed Sheldon that this seemed to be all Leonard took from his response.
"Yes, I still don't drive." Sheldon fidgeted slightly in his seat, remembering perfectly how Penny woke him up that morning with a kiss. "She and I woke at five and drove to the comic book store, we barely beat this horrid little man named Dave who is constantly eyeing every comic book I covet. Plus he flirts with Penny and she has promised that if he does again she'll remove his arm from his body and beat him to death with it."
Leonard smiled slightly. "Thought that'd be your job." He muttered under his breath.
"Why would that be my job?" Sheldon asked, Leonard forgot about the guys incredible hearing. "I'm not Penny's bodyguard, her well-being is a top priority in my life but I'm quite certain that she can handle Dave on her own."
It all sank in on Leonard in that moment, he knew of Penny's feelings, she'd told him… hell she'd practically beamed about them to him. But now he knew it was reciprocated, that Sheldon felt the same way about her. The temperature had officially dropped in Hell.
Suddenly Leonard's watch beeped and he slid his chair back and stood. "Back to work, I'll see you tonight, Sheldon."
"Very well." As the cafeteria emptied, Leonard dumped his tray in the trash and turned back to see that Sheldon was still sitting in the same spot. He had a bit of a distressed look on his face and was acting as if his feet were stuck to the ground.
Leonard took a few steps back to the table. "Hey, you okay?"
Sharply, Sheldon shot his gaze up at Leonard and waved him off. "I'm fine, just taking a moment of peace, all right. Go to class, Leonard and be prompt this evening."
With a small sigh and a shake of the head, Leonard walked away.
Once the cafeteria was empty, Sheldon took a few deep breaths and closed his eyes as he finally felt his legs starting to function again. This tumor would do such odd things to him; he'd forget names and lose the ability in his limbs at certain times. He hadn't had a seizure yet, but he knew and the doctors had told him to be on the ready for one.
When the symptoms came, that frightened him. Now, in the peace of his own loneliness, he drew out his cell phone and started texting.
My legs have frozen on me, it is rather distressing.
He sent the message before using the table to help him stand again. His phone buzzed.
U ok? I can come get U if U wanna come home.
I should be fine. He responded as he reached his office and stepped inside. He shut the door and refused to sit at his desk for a while. With all the effort it took for him to stand, he couldn't risk being stuck again.
Ok, call me if you need ANYTHING… I luv U
He held his phone for a moment and let the comfort of these words wash over him. He felt silly, finding so much solace in typed words on a cellular phone but they made his heart swell.
The message sent and Sheldon decided to bury himself in busywork.
"He gave you the job over the phone?" Sheldon looked over to Penny as she turned the corner that led them to their apartment complex. She was still dressed in her pajamas, save a pair of pink Crocs and it was clear she'd had a very lazy day. He knew she was still a bit hungover, so he'd let go of the fact that those were not very good driving shoes.
Penny smiled a bit and nodded with a chuckle. "Yeah, I told him I was interested, he asked me if I knew who Venom was, I—I don't know how I knew, but apparently I did and he gave me the job."
"Eddie Brock." Sheldon said simply and Penny grinned at him. "You enjoy the comic book world more than you let on."
She laughed genuinely. "It's kind of a big part of our lives, Sweetie. I go there more than I go to the grocery store."
"When do you start?" He asked as she pulled her car into the small parking garage that was adjacent to the building.
Parking the automobile, Penny opened her door and looked over the top of the car as Sheldon exited as well. "Day after tomorrow, I told him I wouldn't be able to go in early… because I might have some late nights when you have you chemo."
The pair started for the complex side by side, their hands brushing against one another every now and then. "I am capable of handling myself in those situations, Penny."
"I know you are but I'm not capable of not being there." She said matter-of-factly and any protests from Sheldon ended there.
Entering the building, they started on the stairs, the same stairs they'd walked so many times over the past seven years together. She could remember memories from these steps, most of the time they were silent here. Like the time they ascended them after his diagnosis or when she told him that she was probably not going to be visiting her family anymore.
Most of them however were exactly like this, simple and empty, just them and their lives moving onward together. Penny didn't like to think about it much, she was more in the moment. All Sheldon could do was think about it, how his life was passing with each day.
"Do you think I should make croissant rolls?" Penny asked as the made their way up the second flight.
Sheldon looked to her with a flash of brightness in his eyes. "I do enjoy croissant rolls." Penny smiled. "Will you be cooking the chicken and rice together or having them separate and allowing us to mix them as we please."
"You can mix your own, Sweetie; I never know how to handle your chicken-to-rice ratio." Sheldon nodded in agreement and suddenly his eyes flashed to his hand when Penny took it into her own.
He glanced up as they finished the second flight and passed the tapered off elevator door. "There is a great deal more touching involved in a romantic relationship than I anticipated."
"Is that a good or bad thing?" She asked as they began another round of climbing.
Sheldon shrugged half-heartedly. "It was just a fact. As a man who has based the better part of his life on education, I find myself rather enjoying this new realm of learning that I've been granted in our current paradigm."
She shook her head with a warm grin and asked herself again how she ended up with this crazy boy from Texas with a mind of gold. It was never what she imagined in her dreams as a child. She pictured the athlete or the rock star, a typical man with his love of cars and sports. Someone she could throw barbecue's with and have massive family gatherings for big football games (you know the holidays that really matter).
Her boy wasn't that, he never would be and she certainly wasn't going to try and make him.
"I'm happy to be your teacher, Dr. Cooper."
Sheldon look at her with bemusement. "Ironic, isn't it." He said with a smile, Penny knew he was a fan of irony.
They finally made it to their apartment and Penny unlocked the door with her key. Sheldon stepped inside first and held the door as she followed. "All right, we've got an hour and half until Leonard gets here, I'll shower first, and then cook while you shower, sound good?"
"Very well, it will give me a chance to get set up." He said, moving towards their television.
Penny looked at him quizzically. "Set up for what?"
He looked back at her slowly. "Leonard is coming over; I have to get the PlayStation ready."
"Oh no, not Call of Duty, Sheldon please." She begged that game and his late nights playing it online were the bane of her summer. He fizzled out on it quicker than she thought he would because he was forced to play it alone most nights, but she knew he was hoping Leonard would play with him.
"Penny…," he wined and she shot him a glare that he was quick to match. "I haven't played in ages Penny!" He said dramatically and she sighed in defeat.
"Ugh, fine!" She caved and stomped down the hall towards the bathroom. "But if it ruins our night, I'm not putting out all week." She called as she shut the bathroom door behind her.
Sheldon furrowed his brow as he hooked up his video game system and whispered to the empty room. "Putting out what? Forrest fires?"
Leonard couldn't describe it, he knew that after tonight he'd have to call Raj and Howard and explain to them what his dinner was like at Penny and Sheldon's and he knew he wouldn't be able to articulate it.
They moved in such a rhythm with one another that it amazed him. They would do things and talk with each other so naturally that he started to think back to all their time spent together and wonder if it were always this serene between them.
He'd arrived only thirty minutes earlier and was now wandering aimlessly around the living room as Sheldon tried to set up the internet connection to the PS3 and Penny continued to prepare dinner.
There were pictures everywhere, most of them were just random photos of random things and a lot of them had Sheldon in them so he assumed they were taken by Penny. Eventually, he came to a photo that drew his attention immediately. It was of Sheldon and Penny standing side by side, both of them looking very serious and in incredibly detailed costumes.
They were both wearing Battlestar Galactica flight suits. Sheldon had a helmet under his arm and he stood facing the camera while Penny was leaning against a wall next to him, her arm covered in a familiar tattoo that replicated the character from the show perfectly.
"Starbuck and Apollo…," Leonard whispered into the air and Sheldon, of course, heard him.
He turned back from his spot on the couch and saw the photo Leonard was looking at. "Oh yes, one of our best nights, we won a rather hotly contested costume competition at a Cheesecake Factory Halloween party."
Penny giggled softly from the kitchen. "What'd you hear, Starbuck?" She said gruffly before turning back to the stove to stir her rice. "Nothing but the rain," she finished in her own voice.
Sheldon sighed, "Penny that is dialogue spoken by Commander Adama, not Apollo."
"I know," she said, dipping her spoon into the pot. "But it's my favorite line from that show, it's so sad at the end when he says it too her."
"How long ago was this?" Leonard asked as he sat the picture back where it belonged and took a sip from his beer.
Of course, Penny looked to Sheldon and his eidetic memory for the answer. "Three years ago, we were practically regulars at those Cheesecake Factory parties; I suppose we won't have to be bothered with that anymore."
Penny looked up from the kitchen at the boys, Sheldon wasn't paying attention and Leonard was paying far too much as he eyed her with concern. "You don't work at the Cheesecake Factory anymore?"
"No, I lost my job yesterday… it's okay though, like a slinky… I always bounce back." She said with a bubbly smile that fooled Leonard but was utterly worthless when it came to Sheldon.
Leonard moved to the kitchen where she was working and awkwardly rested his hands on the counter, it was strange for him being a guest in this place. "So you already have another job."
She blushed and shook her head. "Yeah," she didn't elaborate in the hopes that he may leave it at that.
"At the comic book store!" Sheldon chimed in from behind the television.
Penny leveled a glare that he didn't see but she was hoping he would feel her irritation. She sighed in a small fit of embarrassment and nodded in conceit. "Yep, that's me… comic book girl."
Leonard sent a small smile in her direction and Penny pouted her lips with a glare and started to serve the rice onto the plates she'd brought down. "Wow, now you'll be in the company of Captain Sweatpants and…,"
"Dave." Sheldon spat as he moved from behind the TV and lit up like a Christmas tree as his PlayStation boomed through the speakers of the stereo. "Penny, you must be ever vigilant around that man, I do not like the look of him."
The blonde laughed softly as she moved the plates to the coffee table in front of the television. "I think I can handle Dave, Sheldon. Come on… let's eat."
So they shared random stories that didn't really matter much and Penny listened intently as Leonard told her about his work and his family. Of course Sheldon lit up a little bit at the mention of Leonard's mother and Penny felt an odd twinge of disgust that made her feel a little strange.
As the meal winded down and the conversation started to lag, Penny looked to Sheldon in silence and Leonard was astounded at how they seemed to communicate in this way. Then Sheldon took a breath and glanced at his old roommate with a blank expression.
"Leonard, I have a brain tumor." He blurted out as if he were a computerized message.
The sound of a fork falling into a plate void of rice filled the apartment and Leonard began to shift his gaze between Penny and Sheldon. Sheldon was watching him steadily, almost studying his reaction and Penny was merely starting at the table, the subject clearly bothering her.
"You… really?" He finally said lamely.
Sheldon nodded briskly and started to clean up the plates from the table. "Yes, I've had it for some time now; I'm in my second course of chemotherapy and am hopeful to dissolve the tumor enough for the chance of a successful surgery."
"I—I…," Leonard stammered and stumbled over his words as he felt frozen in his chair. "Sheldon I'm sorry." He said finally and watched as Penny glanced to Sheldon over her shoulder.
"It certainly isn't your fault, Leonard. It merely is what it is and we have been dealing with it accordingly." Sheldon said before sitting down at the table again, this time just a bit closer to Penny and she found his hand under the table.
There was a wave of silence as Leonard took in the new information. "Well… if there is anything I can do… I will. Are you guys keeping this quiet or," he let the sentence hang there and Penny was ready to pick up the pieces.
"It's up to Sheldon, I'm sure Raj and Howard will be grilling poor Leonard about his night here. Do you want him to tell them?" She asked with a sweet smile and Sheldon thought for a moment.
Eventually he shrugged and nodded. "That will be fine, you may tell them what you please, just refrain from giving them my cell phone number."
The night moved on and Sheldon and Penny went on to tell Leonard about his illness, about some of the things they'd been through.
Penny actually found herself a bit out of the conversation at times and she was absolutely thrilled with that. Once Sheldon and Leonard started talking about physics and comic books, she watched as Sheldon's face lit up. He would never openly admit to her that he missed such conversations; he knew she was lost on those topics and he never tried to force them on her.
To see him being able to discuss these things so happily was like music to her.
"Okay," she finally said, breaking up a heated debate about the Legend of Zelda timeline. "I'm going to call it a night, Leonard it was great to see you." She hugged him tightly and he held her back slightly, glancing over to see Sheldon watching them with so little jealousy that Leonard was a bit offended. He knew Penny was never going to be his but a hint of suspicion would have been good for his ego. "Have fun boys." She said simply before giving Sheldon a soft kiss and retreating down the hallway.
The two men sat in silence in the living room for a moment, Leonard wanted to bring up Penny, and he wanted to ask how Sheldon and she ended up together, how they'd been living like this for the last seven years. He wanted to bring up so much but he couldn't find the words for any of it.
So he looked at the TV and then back to Sheldon. "You want to play a little Call of Duty?"