Chapter 1: Penny meets Sheldon, invites him to shower with her
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
"Sheldon needs me," Missy said plainly any time Penny even remotely suggested Missy move out after she complained about something new her brother had done that she needed to clean up.
Sheldon pissed off some muscle-head by asking him if the truck compensation myth is true.
Sheldon got booted off a bus today because he tried to tie himself to his seating usin' bungee cords. I had to go pick him up from the middle of no-where suburbia.
Sheldon got pickle juice in his eye and made me pour bottled water over it for ten minutes.
Penny had only ever seen Sheldon twice, both in passing, and both times he had been sitting, the glow of his laptop making his skin turn colours not found in nature. She took in his t-shirts with the gibblygook designs she couldn't make heads or tails of, the striped undershirts, and everything Missy had ever said about her brother and assumed he was one of those people who were geniuses at one thing, but were autistic with everything else. She'd watched a movie about it once.
So she more or less felt bad for Missy for being such a saint and dedicating a huge part of her life to taking care of her brother. When Missy mentioned that Sheldon hated Christmas and she figured it was because he never got any cards, Penny made sure to address hers to the both of them. When Missy agreed to go out on Saturday nights because her brother was doing laundry, Penny wondered at how highly functional Sheldon seemed to be. When Missy mentioned not being able to attend Penny's Fourth of July party because she was obligated to attend some sort of Caltech mixer hosted for the physics department with Sheldon because "I swear that boy thinks that just because he has two of them PhD's that means he doesn't need to talk to anyone in a friendly-like manner. I just have to go, Penny, or that fool is liable to find himself out of funding" Penny kind of realized that maybe she had the wrong impression.
When she broke up with Kurt and Missy found her sobbing in the parking lot behind the Cheesecake Factory (with her car stacked with boxed, bundles of shoes, and a lone table tied to the roof, legs splayed upwards in a pathetic echo of her dead relationship) and nicely called her landlord to see if the apartment across the hall was still available, Penny certainly didn't pause in her gratitude to wonder what it would be like to live across from The Crazy Cooper. She didn't think of it all through picking up a cheap couch at IKEA, or furniture at a second hand store that promised delivery, and certainly not when she and Missy were sitting on the floor of her living room, matching shoes to make sure Penny didn't forget any, listening to Kelly Clarkson's angry break-up music.
"I'm hungry!" Missy announced, getting to her feet. "Come on, it's 12:15 exactly, and I told Sheldon you'd be joining us for lunch. Today is Thai, unless Bob from Minnesota and not from Thailand is manning the kitchen, in which case it will likely be burgers from Big Boy."
Penny's stomach rumbled embarrassingly, and she ignored how little Missy was making sense as she stumbled to her feet and followed behind her friend.
"Thai?" Missy asked as she opened the door, sniffing the air. "Did you serve the food on plates?"
"Did you remember to heat the plates so they're warm but not too hot? You know I hate it when cold plates make my food cool but overly hot plates sweat."
"Yes, Missy. I agree, tritons are for ruling the seven seas."
"And granting wishes to little mermaids," Missy agreed, finally moving out of the way so Penny could enter the apartment. "I brought Penny."
"You said you would," the male voice said.
"Sheldon! You're using the every-day placemats. We have a guest!" Missy stared in horror at the dining table and started fussing.
"Devil woman," he muttered, but bent to get the proper tableware or whatever, Penny was sure, because no one said no to Missy when she started using that tone. Even Penny knew that. It was what made Missy good Assistant Manager material, though Missy's official title was Hostess. Everyone at the Cheesecake Factory knew who the real AssMan was, including the Man(ager) himself.
Penny still hadn't gotten a proper look at Sheldon, but she felt she didn't need it. She'd seen enough over the last year or so to get a pretty good idea of what she was facing. She'd seen the forced Christmas pictures with their visiting mother, matching home-made sweaters and Missy somehow looking like a model despite it, and Sheldon looking like...
...well, like something the Ghostbusters should deal with forth-with.
Not that Penny had anything against people who didn't have a lot going on in the looks department. She felt bad enough about the fact she believed Missy was going home to change diapers for months, yet alone judging the poor genius man based on his looks. Penny thought that anyone who was smart enough to get 2 PhDs by the age she had decided to drop out of college deserved to be exempt from that kind of shallow thinking.
"I'm so sorry Penny, our Meemaw raised us better than that, I promise," Missy fluttered over the set-table, adjusting the centrepiece and re-arranging the flower arrangement.
"It's ok," Penny responded, wandering into the living room to stare at a whiteboard filled with incomprehensible jargon she somehow recognised as being... mathy. It was a good enough opening as any. "If I'm going to be living across the hall, you can't treat me as a guest every time I show up. Sheldon, is this yours?"
"Yes." He must have come up to her as she was perusing because when he answered he was right behind her. He startled her a bit, coming into her line of vision all bright colours and limbs.
Penny was doing her best not to judge his clothes, or Missy for letting him wear them, as her eyes spanned from his t-shirt to his face, frowning slightly as he came into focus. He was watching her in return, from the tips of her toes to the roots of her hair, and she wondered if there was a genius version of the attractiveness scale that would make her come up wanting.
Then he leaned slightly against his whiteboard, careful not to rub away any of the writing, and gave her a slight smile.
Penny was taken back to realize that he had the same bright blue eyes Missy had, but whereas Missy kept hers framed and noticeably sexy with smoky makeup, Sheldon didn't need enhancements, at least the way they intensely took in her face with such keen appraisal that Penny could feel her cheeks start to heat up. His bone structure was angular and lean, and she actually took a step back in surprise, disguising the motion as taking the whiteboard he was explaining to her.
He reached out, hand splayed over an equation he was telling her was a joke, and it occurred to her that he was nothing like what she expected him to be. Where Missy had led her to believe her brother was crazy, he seemed more or less normal to her. Where Penny expected arrogance, she was faced with this quiet pride. Most surprising, he wasn't entirely terrible to look at.
"Holy smokes," she whispered, stunned.
He smiled slightly at her again, pleased at the perception that she was complimenting his work, and leaned his hip a little more against the whiteboard.
"You're one of those beautiful mind genius guys," she said with a smile, and something in the phrase rang wrong to her despite the fact she didn't know him very well. It was something about the way he was definitely complimented, slinging his elbow over his whiteboard casually, eyes crinkling at the corners, that told her he might be more than what his sister made him out to be, which was only a beautiful mind and a whole lotta wacko.
"Yeah," he said, tilting his head to look down at her.
She'd never met anyone his level of smart before. "That's really impressive," she started.
"Lunch is served!" Missy called out from the dining room table. "Sheldon, quit talkin' Penny's ear off about the Bored Oppenheimer Approximation, she doesn't get the joke. Leonard didn't even get the joke when you showed him."
"He chortled. Why would he chortle if not from mirth?" Sheldon asked, moving towards lunch.
"Humouring your delicate senses," Missy snapped back.
"I would rather know if my joke fell flat. I was hoping to use it as an opening when presenting my paper at the Born symposium next month."
"I'm sure it's high-larious?" Penny asked in a clearly questioning tone, realizing that her placating was unappreciated when Sheldon's eyes cut to her sharply.
"Are you commenting on the ratio between nuclear and electronic masses?"
"Yes?" she asked, feeling so clearly out of her depth. Missy very clearly shook her head 'no' in a desperate motion. "No! I mean no."
"Oh. I thought you might have an elementary grasp on quantum chemistry. Why would you say it like that, then?"
Penny felt her face scrunch up that time.
"Sheldon, you're being rude," Missy hissed.
"But why would she say it like that?" Sheldon asked. "High-larious is not the proper pronunciation, nor, accounting for regional variations, is it even close to the pronunciation of the word in any American state."
Penny felt very much in the spotlight, but in a bad way. She was definitely seeing Missy's point about her brother being unable to function in social situations. "I don't know," she said in a quiet voice, not enjoying this feeling of being put on the spot to explain actions she didn't have an explanation to. She was just trying to be cutesy. It was just the way she spoke sometimes!
"Penny likes to play around with what people consider the normal manner of speech," Missy translated. "Like Buffy."
"You mean Joss Whedon and his writing staff?"
"If you want to nit-pick, Sheldon! But by that 'logic' then Spock is also just the Star Trek writing staff."
Sheldon turned to Penny. "I enjoy Buffy. I will allow your culturally relevant lexicons to enter any future interpersonal dynamics where I am present."
Huh? What did that even mean? She picked out enough (the words "allow" and "where I am present" were huge hints) to get that he was giving her permission to talk the way she talked, but how would he stop her if he decided not to allow it?
Would he try to train it out of her or what?
Who gave him the right to decide how she spoke anyway?
She was definitely seeing Missy's point about her brother. At first Penny had been a little confused because Sheldon seemed more or less normal, but no, there was something definitely strange with that one.
Sheldon was full-on crazy, but she hadn't thought about Kurt for the last half an hour and had no desires to drown her sorrows in ice cream and vodka, so maybe he was the kind of crazy she could appreciate.
But now that door was open, and she was thinking about Kurt. Thinking about how she was alone, and despite how nice Missy was being, she'd still be alone by the end of the day. She let out a choked sob as it came rushing back, all those emotions. Penny put her fork down, overcome by feelings of inadequacy and loneliness. "I kept trying with Kurt. I gave him the last four years of my life, and he threw it all away again and again and I took him back again and again. I can't anymore! But I don't know what to do without him. I've never lived on my own before, and it's... it's..." she was so busy crying, she barely noticed Sheldon mouth 'what's happening?' to Missy and Missy snap her napkin at him to get him to shut up.
"Oh Penny darlin', you're not alone. You have me and the rest of your friends, and in worst case scenario, you can just come over here and watch tv with Shelly. Isn't that right?"
"I very much doubt Penny is interested in Battlestar Galacti—ow!" Sheldon leaned over to rub his shin. "That's right."
"TV?" Penny wailed. "I can't even watch America's Next Top Model tonight! Kurt still has my television and he refuses to give it back. And everybody knows possession is nine tenths of the law." By this point Penny was sobbing so loudly, she was having difficulty breathing. Missy had gotten up and was rubbing her back, making comforting noises in the back of her throat as Penny's fingers mangled the cotton napkin in her hands.
"Did you know that adage can be traced back to the 16th Century?" Sheldon asked. "While not literal, it stands that in the absence of clear and compelling testimony or documentation to the contrary, the person in actual possession of the property is presumed to be the rightful owner."
"Do you think you're helping Sheldon?" Missy asked.
"However, in this modern era, even if there is no paper trail leading back to Penny, there is likely an electronic one if she did, in fact, pay for the television. I have a text on the subject if Penny wishes to read it to occupy her mind during the time she would normally be absorbed in Tyra Banks' hair."
"I'm sorry I'm such a mess," Penny sniffed, directing her conversation towards Missy. "From the crying, and the moving, and my stupid shower doesn't work."
"I told you you could use ours," Missy reminded her and then proceeded to have another one of her silent conversations with Sheldon.
"That wouldn't be weird?" Penny asked, correctly identifying the reason behind this one and exactly what the expression on his face meant.
"Yes." Sheldon made an angry face at Missy, eyebrows high and chin jerking in her direction. His mouth pursed, and finally he conceded. "No."
She could do this, Penny decided, staring at her reflection in the mirror. She could go out, knock on Kurt's door, and demand her television back. She had the long arm of the law on her side, or whatever, and Kurt probably would not want the police involved considering the stash of marijuana he kept hidden in the biggest oregano jar known to man as though that fooled anyone other than his mom.
That one time his mom came over and made lasagna: high-larious.
But of course, nothing could go right for her, and she almost had a breakdown over her inability to turn the shower on, and it took a new more moments of deep breathing before she talked herself into putting her towel back on and getting Missy to help her instead of crawling naked into the corner of someone else's bathtub and sobbing over her failure of a life. She was pathetic, but not that pathetic.
"Missy!" Penny called out, exiting the bathroom with a towel wrapped firmly around her breasts. She wasn't sure why she had made sure to tie it in a way that both hid and highlighted her best features instead of wrapping herself up like a mummy, but she had. It was only Missy, she had to remind herself. Missy and her crazy, dependent brother. "Is there a trick to getting it to change from tub to... oh."
Instead of her friend, three strange (in the sense that they didn't look normal as Penny perceived it) men looked up at her in various states of surprise.
"Sheldon, you didn't mention your sister had a guest. Hello," a short, skinny swizzle-stick of a man said to her, practically jumping to her side. "Howard Wolowitz. Charmed. Enchante. Ammaliato."
"Where's Missy?" Penny directed towards Sheldon.
"Gone to procure your television from your esteemed former paramour," Sheldon responded, but he was standing from his stool and gently extricating her from the rest of the men in his living room, all without laying a single finger on her or his friends, and yet each had moved in the way he intended them to.
"Bonne douche!" the creepy one yelled after them.
Then Penny found herself alone in the small bathroom with Sheldon, and for some reason her skin prickled with nerves and she found herself allowing her towel to slip slightly over her skin, surprised and confused by the sensation of the rough fabric as her attention turned to Sheldon.
He leaned over her to turn on the tap, giving the handle a good shove inwards as his wrist deftly twisted it around until water poured out of the showerhead. He also had the same hands as Missy, but whereas his twin considered them her worst feature, on Sheldon they were definitely the best, all long fingers and wide palms. He straightened, hand braced against the shower rod above his head, still leaning so close that she could see the intense blues of his eyes focused on her face, the slight shadow on his jawline of closely-shaved hair, and the flex of muscles and tendons in his forearm as it braced and relaxed.
Her stomach gave a slight kick, breathing becoming slightly more difficult as the steam rose around them. Yes, that was it. The steam was what was causing her to flush a little. She fought against the urge to slide her towel off to escape the heat.
"Don't worry," she told him. "Kurt might be a meathead and a jerk but your sister can take care of herself."
"I'm not questioning that."
"And he'd never hit a woman, no matter how much of a caveman he is," she assured him.
"If only Missy had the same compunction," Sheldon responded. "My sister is just as likely to return with bruised knuckles as she is your television."
"You could have gone with her," she pointed out quietly, tone far more breathless than she meant it.
It just hit her all at once, the uneasy feeling she had once he came into view, the very slight kick to her stomach she felt looking at the reach of his fingers: Penny thought Sheldon Cooper was attractive, and in the days following the crash and burn of her relationship with Kurt, finding a moment where she wasn't dwelling in heartbreak, let alone was able to see another man as attractive, was a huge deal.
"As could you. My sister has taken it upon herself to fight your battles. I have done no such thing," he pointed out, straightening upright and letting his arm drop to his side. "I neither know you and count you as a friend, nor have you asked for my aid, in which case the bounds of chivalry would obligate my assistance."
Chivalry? Really? Penny was starting to see why Missy kept her brother away from all her girlfriends. They would eat this boy alive. "Maybe we can change that," she told him with a grin over her shoulder as she climbed into the shower, pulling the curtain closed before she pulled off the towel. There was a certain thrill about being naked in the same room as Sheldon Cooper that pulsed through her blood as one of her bare arms stuck out of the shower and draped the towel over the rack.
"Maybe you can get to know me," she responded with a flirty grin he couldn't see as she stepped beneath the pulsating water. "Become my friend."
"I already have the requisite two friends, a valued acquaintance and an obligatory female in my life. I do not need more."
Penny thought they'd been flirting, hand to god, she thought there had been a repartee between them, but she remembered now that Missy told her that Sheldon was far too literal to be left alone in conversations and had to be given social cues most of the time or he really didn't know what to do. "Either join me or leave, sweetie," she said gently. "I don't let non-friends in the room with me when I shower."
A/N: And that is how Penny and Sheldon meet.
I could write a whole essay/character study based on the concept of Missy having a role in Sheldon's life: his character would be slightly more understanding of the female mind, he'd have a slightly better grasp on social mores some of the time, and occasionally Missy would browbeat him into wearing jeans. He'd still be friends with the guys, mostly based on the three stooges trying to catch a glimpse of his sister naked. Leonard wouldn't be the first to see Penny and his tenuous claim would hold less meaning. Finally, after hearing so much about Sheldon's craziness from Missy, Penny would actually be able to focus on the less crazy parts of his personality.
On the flip side, some of the wonderful aspects of the show get lost in the translation: Sheldon going along to get Penny's tv and getting pantsed, for one. (Not that I won't try to get him pantsless )
Next Chapter: Leonard and Penny meet. Leonard tries to impress her again. Sheldon is less accommodating.
Chapter 2: Penny meets Leonard, he calls dibs like a fat kid with the last piece of pizza
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Sheldon opened the door to Penny's knock, an eyebrow raised. "Missy is not home."
"That's why I'm here," Penny told him, sliding through the open door. He took a step back to let her in, and it distracted her from her focus for a moment because she could have sworn the last thing he wanted was for her to invade his apartment. The movement was puzzling, him moving aside when she was sure he was treating her with barely veiled hostility for her interruption of whatever he was doing. Penny frowned at him, and he frowned at her in returned before she decided this was one mystery she probably wouldn't figure out within the next five seconds and continued on with the matter at hand. Missy. Being missing. "She went to go get my TV from Kurt and poof, disappeared off the face of the earth."
Sheldon observed her. "I don't believe you have full comprehension of the meaning behind that idiom."
"Does anyone?" she snapped. "Look, I'm worried about Missy, she's been gone an awful long time. You don't think Kurt hurt her? I said he would never hit a woman, but I never tried to get between him and football or the new season of Lost." Penny was ringing her hands. Eight hours ago she would have sworn Kurt was volatile but all bark, but that was eight hours in which her friend didn't return home.
"Oh, is that all?" Sheldon questioned, pulling his phone out of his pocket, fingers going over the keypad rapidly. "I am not Missy's keeper and I never was. I have no more influence over her actions than she has over mine. I have attempted to modify her behaviour countless times and she may as well be wearing Magneto's helmet for all the conditioning perforates her neurocranium. It is to be expected from the lesser primates, of course, but even Washoe the chimpanzee was trainable to some degree."
Wow, talk about unconcerned about his sister's welfare. "What?" Penny questioned, half confusion, half rage.
"There is one point I was able to impart on Missy's mind when she was still in the formative stages, and that is periodic check-ins." Sheldon was silent for a moment, and then quietly, as though he wasn't entirely sure why he was continuing talking, he said: "if we didn't take care of each other, no one would. So Missy always puts aside current hubris when certain key words and phrases come into play."
"I understand," Penny said compassionately.
Sheldon shot her a sharp look. "Do you?" he questioned derisively.
When drunk, Missy had once shown Penny how her pinky finger was slightly crooked, talking about how her brother had set it when they were children. When Penny pointed out he hadn't done a very good job, Missy had taken another drink and said it could be much worse. A picture was taking shape in Penny's mind, and she thought that Sheldon was probably wrong. He was Missy's keeper, and she was his, and as much as either of them loathed admitting it, it was Sheldon and Missy against the world. Penny opened her mouth to promise him that she did understand, when a beep came from his phone.
"Missy is in Long Beach for the evening with friends."
"This is flighty even for her. I imagine some minor celebrity is involved." He paused to observe her for a moment. "Missy has a wide social sphere. She requires personal validation through the acceptance of others to the point of succumbing to peer formulated pressures and societal expectations. As such, she does not formulate close interpersonal relationships commonly referred to as Best Friends Forever."
"She is maladjusted to current circumstances. My sister is loyal to a fault and dependable when it is required of her, but her usual habits are carefree and she is used to only forming brief acquaintances with people. This was not a deliberate slight."
Was he... trying to comfort her? Penny hadn't really even considered Missy going off to Long Beach as something she should be upset about because Penny would do the same if the situation was reversed, but here was Sheldon telling her that Missy didn't form friendships with people, and Penny realized it was true. By that same argument, Penny wasn't particularly close to anyone either, and usually she loved living party to party but tonight it just made her feel exhausted and lonelier than ever.
She sighed, slumping into the closest seat to the door. How did her life get here, where the only person she had for company was a total stranger who also happened to be smarter than Bill Nye the Science Guy? "Can we just... watch that battleship show you were talking about or whatever?"
"You're staying?" he asked in alarm. Then his expression became contemplative. "In that case, I have something for you to do," he told her as he bypassed her position on the couch.
Penny couldn't help but wonder what it was. In her experience, when most men said things like that it was right before they pointed to their crotch. She kind of figured that wasn't about to happen with Sheldon.
Shame. Sex would be really good to keep her mind off relationships right now.
"This light reading should keep you sufficiently entertained," Sheldon informed her, dropping what had to be the heaviest looking book she'd ever seen in her life on the table in front of her. "I have placed post-it tabs in the sections that have particular bearing on your case. The pink directly deal with the division of property after the dissolution of a non-marital relationship contract and the yellow provide background information on the judicial system in the state of California."
"Light reading?" Penny questioned incredulously.
Sheldon nodded sharply. "This is not the California Penal Code in its entirety. This is the condensed version given to pre-law students to ease them into the subject. If a third year English major can comprehend it with little difficulty, it should not pose much difficulty to the masses. Of course, if broadening your severely limited knowledge base holds no value to you, you are free to retreat back to your apartment and your inscient existence."
She would have thrown the book at him, literally, not metaphorically since she didn't intend to read it, but there was a definite dare in those blue eyes, as though he had already dismissed her and expected her to laugh at his suggestion. If there was one thing Penny hated, it was being dismissed based on her looks alone. Sure, she might not be smart enough to get most the things in a law book, but she got enough of that in her career. Too often, she walked into an audition and heard "too mid-western" "too blonde" "not blonde enough" "too masculine" "too busty." She wasn't going to hear it here too.
So yes, she was taking Sheldon Cooper up on his dare. Penny squared her shoulders and opened the book to the first page he had marked.
Sheldon nodded once. "Good. Once you finish there will be a quiz."
That was funny, Penny stewed as she slowly read the dense legalese, because she was pretty sure she had already passed the test.
Penny thought she would wake up with a slight headache from exerting her brain too much the night before followed by a very private crying jag in her bed at three in the morning. Instead, her shoulders felt slightly lighter than they had and she felt less hopeless than she had for the last week. That wasn't just due to her new weapons of knowledge, facts circling through her head of various rights she had. Sheldon had put his own work aside and, with barely veiled impatience explained what she had read to her and then pointed out a number of recourses she had that weren't in the sections of the book he had her read.
He had given her homework, and Penny had returned to her own apartment with the book along with various fantasies about how to use it.
No, it wasn't only her newfound legal power that had Penny feeling lighter. It wasn't the act of arming herself that changed her outlook, but the strength she had found to let go of her old life and take those steps towards moving on. It had nothing to do with figuring out all those cut and dried legal facts, it had more to do with a switch inside her, one that suddenly got turned on to the fact she was self-sufficient and stronger than she'd been acting, and she did not need anyone to tell her who she was.
Wanting to tell Kurt to shove it and give her back her property meant she was moving on, and Penny needed to see that. She'd done enough wallowing. She needed to move on. She needed to look forward.
What she really needed was groceries.
"Hello," a nervous voice said from her doorway, the owner cleared his throat and Penny looked up from her purse where she was trying to locate her new key before leaving.
"Oh hi!" Penny said, looking up and seeing the two men standing in her doorway. Neither were the type of people she would notice on the street, one short and one tall, but utterly unmemorable. The tall one was wearing tan almost from head to foot, a few splashes of colour here and there. The colour didn't really suit him, and the pants were extremely ugly. And his eyes looked all the bigger, bluer for it.
Or maybe that was the way he was looking at her, all wide-eyed and fingers tightening around the strap of his bag.
She wondered if he was eyeing her legs in her very tiny shorts.
She wondered if she had worn these very tiny shorts so he could eye her legs.
"Hi," said the stranger standing in front of Sheldon. Repeated, and drew her attention away from the curiosity of Sheldon acting strangely. She observed the newcomer for a moment, giving him the courtesy of really looking at him, and noticed that he wasn't entirely hideous either. It was his body language and the clothes he wore that would have her walk right by him if he wasn't standing in her doorway in the company of her new neighbour.
"Hello Penny," Sheldon said with a slight duck of his head.
"Hi Sheldon," Penny returned with a smile. "I was just about to go to the grocery store, do you or Missy need anything?"
"We have lunch!" the short man said. "It's Italian. I don't know if you like that or not, I mean I hope you do. I have Italian heritage, but sometimes the pasta is too dense for me and they have a habit of coating everything with cheese, or at least the restaurants around here do, and I'm lactose intolerant so cheese gives me gas and sometimes worse, so I don't order it for myself. So... anyway, if you don't eat carbs or whatever, I'd understand. It's no big deal."
Penny froze with the smile still on her face.
"Of course Penny is coming to dinner, Leonard. Missy warned me she would not have had time to purchase food this morning and I accommodated for her accordingly. You didn't think I procured double servings of spaghetti for myself, do you?"
"You bought me lunch?" Penny asked hopefully.
Sheldon inclined his head. "If you still feel inclined to eat after learning about Leonard's gastronomy. That is not a subject that whets the appetite."
"I could eat," she said with a smile, making an effort to include Leonard in it. She felt bad for him not being able to hold a conversation with her, and it was a little flattering to be the cause of someone's fluster. She followed Sheldon across the hallway and headed straight for the kitchen to take out plates, completely missing the look that passed between Sheldon and Leonard.
"What were you guys up to this morning?" Penny asked once they were all seated at the table, grape juice in front of Penny and Sheldon. Penny because she thought it looked like wine and Sheldon because he thought it tasted good with his pasta.
"Oh nothing," Leonard said at the same time Sheldon responded with "we tried masturbating for money."
Penny choked on a piece of spaghetti. "People pay to see that?" she asked incredulously.
Leonard turned as red as his Bolognese sauce.
Sheldon simply waved her question aside. "Don't be absurd. We visited a high IQ sperm donor clinic in the hopes of obtaining fluid cash in order to purchase an Apple phone prototype. I find the entire premise flawed. Women are buying into the assertion that their children will be born with above average intelligence whereas the reality is there is no guarantee the child will be able to split an infinitive before the age of one. In the end I was unable to commit to such a promise or place my trust in an organization that would blatantly lie to their patrons."
"So you'll masturbate for free instead?" Penny asked with a smirk.
"Yeah, Sheldon's a semi-pro by now," Leonard said somewhat snidely, still trying to recover from embarrassment.
He completely missed the side-eyed glance Penny gave Sheldon, who was completely unperturbed by talk of masturbation in present company. A suddenly flash of an image slid through her brain, gone so quickly she couldn't retrieve it again without giving it more thought than she wanted to under current circumstances but it made her blood quicken and her eyes flit down to his hands.
Yeah, ok. Some people might pay to see that.
"So you're a genius too, Leonard?" Penny asked to defuse the situation.
"I work at Caltech as a physicist. My work differs from Sheldon's in that it's experimental. It's far more hands on than anything Sheldon does."
"I don't know very much about physics," Penny offered, shooting him a smile. "But I've seen some of Sheldon's work and it sure does look important. He's redefining the parameters of the known universe, right? Is your work the same?"
"Oh, well I'm currently working on and experiment for Bose-Einstein condensates. It's pretty groundbreaking stuff in our lifetime."
"Yes, in 1995 when Cornell and Wieman produced the first gaseous condensate," Sheldon answered. "I suggest you refrain from asking for further details. Leonard's work is highly derivative. You'd hear more originality from Beatles cover band."
"Let's not talk about me. Tell us about yourself, Penny."
"Oh, well I..." usually when men asked about her, Penny's default answer was to talk about her star sign. Men tended to respond to that, but it struck her that maybe what they were responding to was the dumb-blonde appeal, because looking back and forth between the two physicists, Penny suddenly didn't want to mention that she was Sagittarius. Whatever. It was part of who she was, and she wasn't changing that. "I'm a Sagittarius, which probably tells you everything you need to know."
"Yes - it tells us that you participate in the mass cultural delusion that the sun's apparent position relative to arbitrarily defined constellations at the time of your birth somehow affects your personality. "
"It tells you that I'm fun and don't take myself too seriously!" She snarled back, not surprised at his tone, even if she didn't entirely understand the words.
"And you wonder at the state of your acting career," Sheldon marvelled.
"You're an actress? Have I seen you in anything?" Leonard asked, squinting at her despite his glasses.
"Ah, no, I'm still waiting for my big break." She tried to get a handle on a subject change to take the attention off of her. "Do you live nearby?"
"I live a few blocks over with Raj."
"You met him last night," Sheldon filled in. "He's an astronomer with Caltech."
"Maybe he'd appreciate the fact I'm Sagittarius," Penny answered.
"Doubtful. He's moderately intelligent," Sheldon sniped back. "He and Leonard have lived together for over three years now, and the relationship seemed to be mutually beneficial."
"Good for you, Leonard! Good for both of you. I just got out of a 4 year relationship myself and I know how difficult it is to make a go of it. The fact that you're so..."
"OH NO!" Leonard expressed with dawning horror. "We're not together. We just live together, in separate bedrooms. As two heterosexual males. In separate bedrooms."
"I'm sorry... when you... I feel so terrible for jumping to conclusions. How about dessert is my treat? I have ice cream in my freez... oh, right. Sorry Leonard."
Now who was the awkward one, Penny reflected.
"While in Germany I encountered a delicacy you might enjoy," Sheldon told her. "To the eye it appears to be spaghetti, but it is really ice cream churned through a Spatzle press and topped with strawberry sauce and white chocolate shavings. It is called spaghetti-eis and is quite startling to behold, but I assure you it tastes as any ice cream based dessert would."
"That sounds fun!" Penny responded, enthused and appreciative that Sheldon had changed the conversation. She couldn't entirely get a handle on him. Sometimes it appeared he was every bit the social idiot his sister claimed him to be, and other times he seemed to have a better grasp on the situation than even she did. Missy had warned her about that too.
There had been a certain knowing glint in his eye when he changed the subject, and Penny wondered if he had set her up to think Leonard was gay. It didn't seem likely from what she had observed about Sheldon, but there was still something there she couldn't quite put her finger on.
If there was one thing Penny enjoyed in a town as fake as Hollywood – and ok, Pasadena was a little out of the way, but there was an influx of people her age, all incredibly good looking and usually shallow, trying to make their big break – if there was one thing Penny had learned to appreciate, it was someone who didn't meet her expectations. Even Leonard was exactly what she expected of a scientist: a little awkward around a pretty girl, but ultimately trying to impress her.
At least Leonard was nice, could talk to her, and didn't make sleazy come-ons like Sheldon's other friends.
"Maybe I'll make it sometime," Sheldon offered.
Penny smiled at that. "I'd really like that. We can have real spaghetti first."
"My mother used to make it with little cut up hotdogs. Chocolate chunks could adequately represent meat."
"My mother never allowed hotdogs in the house," Leonard responded mournfully.
"Excuse me for a moment," Penny said as her phone trilled. She removed herself into the hallway, unable to help the familiar thrill in her stomach at the unfamiliar number and the hope it could finally be a callback.
"Hello, this is Stanley Casson calling from GRO insurance. Are you happy with your current insurance rate? We offer competitive rates and attractive packages-" Penny hung up.
She was about to re-enter the apartment when she heard her name. She paused, unable to stop herself from eavesdropping.
"How many chances do I get at a beautiful woman?" Leonard was asking. "She lives right across the hallway from you, that means we will see each other often. I just want the chance to get to know her. She could be the one. We'd get married and have beautiful children."
Well, ok, that was vaguely sweet, Penny decided, overhearing.
"Not to mention entirely imaginary," Sheldon pointed out. "And even then, only if her genetic markers were dominant."
Leonard seemed to miss the complementary nature of that sentence, but Penny didn't.
"Sheldon, seriously, don't ruin this for me. I... I call dibs."
"On what grounds?" Sheldon demanded. "You did not see her first, I saw her first and then Howard and Raj saw her second. She hasn't expressed any interest in you beyond politeness. The foundations for calling dibs in this situation have not been met. State your reasoning."
"Because... because she's beautiful and I'm lonely and I called dibs first!"
Sheldon was silent for a moment. "When it comes to understanding social interactions, I have to ask myself WWMD. What Would Missy Do?"
"What does Missy have to do with this?"
"I find myself pausing to consider how Missy would feel if you were claiming ownership over her without her knowledge. I believe she'd 'kick you in the nuts if she heard you talkin' like that about her', so I have to believe any friend she likes enough to invite to live across the hall would react the same. You are free to pursue Penny if you wish, but I will not honour a claim based on such faulty reasoning."
"Why are you doing this?" Leonard asked in confusion. "What do you care? The idea of forming a romantic relationship with anyone repulses you! You're completely asexual. Can't you just give me this?"
Sheldon gave Leonard that direct look of his, the cutting one that said he was sick of the rampant stupidity surrounding him. "Then why are you concerned with whether or not I adhere to your claim?"
"Because she looks at you!"Leonard yelled with frustration.
"Of course she looks at me, Leonard. In an unfamiliar environment, I am the familiar."
"Your television is in my car," Missy pronounced, finding Penny seated at the table with the two boys. She was still wearing her sunglasses and had a large coffee cup in her hand, obviously hungover. "And hooboy you would not believe what I had to go through to get keep it there. My night was like a combination of outtakes from The Hangover and Striptease with a dash of porn."
"You didn't? With Kurt?" Penny asked, voice high with betrayal and confusion.
"Of course not! Not with Kurt, anyway!" Missy responded, horrified. Then she smirked, mouth around her cup of coffee. "Though I did get your tv back yesterday this time. Kurt was powerless in the face of my logic."
"Logic is one of the most powerful weapons a person can arm themselves with," Sheldon agreed.
"I know, Shelly. I just told him the facts, and he practically handed over the tv. Even carried it out to the car. Now all we need is a big strapping fellow to carry it up for us. I was thinking Brent in 5 C might fit that bill. He's as gay as Neil Patrick Harris, but just as great to look at." Missy waggled her eyebrows at Penny.
"No need to bother Brent!" Leonard exclaimed, jumping to hit feet. "I'll do it."
Missy eyed him dubiously as Leonard grabbed her keys from the tray next to the door and rushed out the door. Missy turned to stare at Sheldon, and Sheldon stared evenly back at her.
"I did not volunteer," Sheldon said pointedly. "I have no desire to attempt impossible feats to impress Penny in a misguided attempt to achieve coitus."
"Hey! Who brought sex into this?" Penny asked, not as confused as she should be considering she had overhead the conversation between him and Leonard earlier. Missy, however, was squinting at Sheldon as though she genuinely didn't know where half the things that came out of his mouth came from.
"Sheldon!" Missy exclaimed in an exaggerated manner. "A gentleman offers to carry a lady's television. You don't want to prove to Leonard that his mother raised him better than ours, do you?"
"Leonard's mother has a PhD," Sheldon said dismissively. "I'm certain she did, in fact, raise him in such a way that fostered his intellect. If you were provided the same opportunities, Missy, even you would have a degree of some sort, possibly in business or a social-based Masters degree."
"I don't need more than my high school diploma to have a degree," Missy snapped. "I have a certain degree of annoyance with you for talkin' down our mom like that. What about meemaw? Do you want to let her down as well?"
Sheldon averted his eyes and tossed his napkin onto the table. "No," he muttered before walking out the door after Leonard.
Hmm, Penny thought, a boy who respected his grandmother. Yep, Missy's girlfriends should be swarming this place. Sheldon was definitely Missy's best kept secret. "Does that always work?" Penny asked.
"More'an not. Sheldon loves meemaw, and I don't blame him. Momma, well... she didn't always know how to deal with him as a boy and our summers with meemaw..." Missy broke off. "Well, let's just say that it's a card Sheldon never fails to respond to, no matter how often I use it."
An interesting picture was forming in Penny's mind, one with more gaps and smaller pieces than she was used to. People were rarely a puzzle for her. Missy wasn't. Leonard wasn't. Kurt definitely hadn't been. Sheldon just might be unsolvable.
Penny wasn't sure how much she actually liked solving complicated puzzles. She rarely tried to do anything that wouldn't come easy to her and already Genius Cooper had her reading law text books. She liked her easy, uncomplicated life.
But she wanted to know why, for someone whose sister said he was uninterested in relationships, and whose friends thought him asexual, when she looked at Sheldon, he was looking back.
A/N: I am in multiple points of love with this chapter. Let me know which stood out for you...
Join me on tumblr! Also, if you're new around here, check out my other TBBT stories. If you're not new, I always encourage re-reads of Apocalypse Week. You might find new survival techniques against the zombies in Florida (an event that had me sit down and write out a short scene where Penny was raised as a hunter a la Supernatural and when Sheldon tells her about the zombie attack she already knew. And threatened him with a gun. The line "Slowly walk through the door," she urged him, sighting him with her gun. She didn't make the amateur mistake of gesturing with the weapon. "Lock it. And strip." may have come into play).