Miles traveled: 0
She's buckling her seatbelt in the driver's seat of their rented Toyota when Sheldon pulls a thick binder out of his messenger bag and places it on his lap.
"Uhm. What the hell is that?"
"It's just a little travel guide I put together…"
Sheldon ignores her remark and gives her a disarmingly giddy smile. Organizing and planning is clearly quite the turn-on for him.
"Oh, Penny, look… I think you'll find it incredibly useful."
She takes it from him and flips through it a little. It's divided by color coded tabs. Each sheet is covered in protective plastic. This is definitely going to be a trip to remember.
"Isn't this a bit much? When I was a kid, we'd just hop into the van and hit the road. Not much to it."
His accent turns distinctly Texan in response. "Penny, we're not in Nebraska, where we chuck the young'uns in to the van and head off to see the World's Largest Porch Swing…"
"Oh, we did do that once… But the best trip was the time we went to Carhenge. See, it's like Stonehenge, but with CARS."
Penny is grinning and wags her eyebrows to emphasize the last word, but Sheldon is clearly not impressed.
"This is a 500 mile journey to one of the most spectacular natural places on earth, the Grand Canyon…"
"Carhenge was all the way across the state from Omaha. And it was awesome."
Sheldon reaches one hand over and flips through the binder as he explains it.
"This is a detailed itinerary with approximate arrival times to our hotel at the South Rim. Then I have an itinerary for the second leg of our journey to Phoenix where I will be presenting my latest research at a symposium. I have included detailed maps, a list of appropriate places to stop for bathroom breaks…"
"Do you really think we're going to need to stop and pee THAT much?"
"I won't. I am in complete control of my fluid outtake. You, on the other hand – well, I find your bladder to be quite unpredictable."
She snaps the binder shut and drops it into his lap. "I'll tell you what. You get to be in charge of this thingy and if there's something in there I need to know, I'm sure you'll tell me all about it."
Sheldon actually seems okay with this idea and gives her a smile and a nod. "Excellent. I can tell you all about the fascinating geological history of the Grand Canyon which I detailed here in the orange section of the guide. The story begins almost 2 billion years ago…"
Penny's head drops and she starts the car as Sheldon prattles on using a couple of dramatic hand gestures to illustrate his points.
She's pretty sure that if they survive this road trip, they'll be able to survive anything.
Miles traveled: 74
"Do not mock me."
"I'm not mocking. What I understood of it was very interesting. I swear. But, uhh, how about we put some music on? My iPod is in the glove box. I even made us a special road trip playlist."
Sheldon quickly retrieves her iPod and is about to plug it in to the car's stereo but he pauses to look at her first.
"You didn't include any songs by that blonde woman who can't actually sing but is inexplicably famous anyway, did you?"
"You're gonna have to narrow that one down."
Sheldon huffs in frustration and though she can't see it, she can sense the twitch in his face as he tries to come up with a name. "You know. The one that used to be crazy and shaved her head."
"Ohhhhh. Britney Spears. No, I didn't. I actually did my best to make a list of songs that both of us would find entertaining. Or, in your case, relatively inoffensive."
"Hmm. That was very thoughtful…"
Sheldon plugs the iPod in and goes to the playlist labeled "Grand Canyon" to start it. Both of them jump a little when the Star Wars theme begins blaring loudly through the car.
He decreases the volume and glares at Penny who is giggling madly. "Okay. NOW you are mocking me."
Penny reaches over and pats him on the arm. "Yeah, maybe just a little."
Miles traveled: 164
"Ooh, ooh… are you the Ninth Doctor?"
"Very good, Penny!"
"Once you stopped being Spock all the time, this game got a lot more fun."
"It also helps that you actually started paying attention to the shows and movies we watch."
Sheldon was actually smiling and if they could keep this up, maybe he would stop hating road trips. When she had initially suggested it, he reacted as if she had asked him to have a lobotomy. But, as she usually did, she found a way to break him down and get him to agree.
"So… different game now?"
"Like what? You never want to play the other games I suggest."
"Because your games involve science. And you always win."
Sheldon frowns as he shifts in his seat to look at her. "Not true. Sometimes I let you win."
Penny laughs, nodding her head as she glances back at him. "Yes, when you give me the answers."
"Well, what do you suggest?"
"The license plate game! We used to play it all the time as kids."
She nudges him in the arm with the sharp point of her elbow. "Oh, Sheldon, come on… it's easy. You just shout out a state when you see it, and then –"
Sheldon flinches and grabs her arm gently, placing her hand back on the wheel where it belongs before interrupting. "I know how it's played. This isn't my first road trip. I just don't care for it."
Penny sighs in defeat but after nearly a minute of silence she's startled when Sheldon points straight ahead and shouts. "OREGON!"
"Sheldon! Not fair!"
He points to his left and shouts again. "UTAH!"
"I thought you didn't want to play!"
"I never said I didn't WANT to play. I just said I don't CARE for it."
Penny seethes and turns her head long enough to give him one of her famous death glares. "Fine then. It's ON, Dr. Cooper."
She puts her eyes back on the road and just as she's about to say it, Sheldon points again, "NEW MEXICO!"
Miles traveled: 291
"Come on, Sheldon, pleeeeeeeease…"
Penny makes a soft growling noise from the back of her throat and reaches over to run her fingers over his forearm, speaking in a sing-song voice.
"I'll make it worth your while, Sheldon…"
Sheldon tries to move his arm away from her but her fingers follow and continue stroking whatever bare skin they can find.
"You cannot just offer sexual favors every time you aren't getting what you want."
Penny lets out a sharp laugh in response. "Oh, I can too. Just you wait until we get to the hotel tonight. Even homo novus isn't immune to what I can offer."
"I realize that sex makes for an excellent behavior modifier. However, I spent most of my life resisting those urges so I'm sure I can resist this."
Her hand moves upward so that her fingers can run through the soft hair on the back of his neck.
"You resisted those urges until you met me, which means you can't resist ME."
Her fingers are now tracing the edge of his jaw line and she darts her eyes over long enough to see the muscles tensing in his neck.
"Whatever it is you are offering you would probably do anyway regardless of whether I agree to this ludicrous request."
"Shelllldoooooooon," she practically purrs his name and Sheldon twitches at her touch. It's one of his happy twitches, and Penny knows she's got him now.
"Will you put both hands back on the wheel again if I say yes?"
"Yes, I will."
"Okay, I'll do it. But I won't enjoy it."
Penny puts her hand back on the steering wheel and snaps her head to glare at him. "What?"
"This part. Not the part at the hotel later."
"Oh good. Ready?"
"If you insist…"
Penny puts her eyes back on the road as Sheldon taps a button on her iPod. She clears her throat and is thrilled when Sheldon sings with her. It's almost as if she slipped a little rum into his Diet Coke again.
"BUT I WOULD WALK 500 MILES, AND I WOULD WALK 500 MORE…"
He even provides harmony when they reach the last line. Penny just grins and mutters under her breath, "Sucker…"
Miles traveled: 372
"This is completely your fault, you know."
Penny's sitting in the passenger seat, arms crossed against her chest, backed up as far against the door as she can get.
"I don't really see how."
"You insisted that I take a turn driving when I was perfectly content in the passenger seat."
"You've had a driver's license for a year now and I thought it would be good for you to drive further than, you know, Burbank. You can't blame your crappy driving on me."
Their spat was interrupted by the police officer getting Sheldon's attention so he could hand him back his license and paperwork.
"Mr. Cooper, you do realize why I'm giving you a ticket today."
"That's Doctor Cooper. And yes, I realize that there is an absurd law about driving too slow as it apparently disrupts the flow of traffic."
Penny interjects with a chuckle. "I guess the state of Arizona doesn't realize that YOUR driving disrupts traffic no matter what speed you're going."
Sheldon gives her a brief glare before turning his attention back to the officer. "I realize that you are just doing your job, but to give someone a ticket for attempting to drive safely seems like a waste of my time, your time and an unnecessary strain on the state of Arizona…"
"Just take the ticket, honey."
"I am a physicist. This makes me keenly aware of the dangers inherent in freeway driving and I was only attempting to reduce those dangers by keeping to a safe speed."
"Sheldon, the nice police officer doesn't seem to care that you're probably going to win a Nobel Prize next year."
Sheldon turns to look at her so fast he practically snaps his head off his neck. "PROBABLY? My latest work is paradigm altering…"
"Sorry. I meant DEFINITELY."
She points towards the window and Sheldon turns back just in time to be handed the ticket.
"Here you go, Dr. Cooper. You can put this in your scrapbook right next to that Nobel prize."
Sheldon stares down at the ticket in his hand for a moment and then looks back to the open window. The officer is already on the way back to his patrol car so Sheldon sticks his head partially out the window and yells in the officer's direction.
"YOU DO NOT PUT A NOBEL PRIZE IN A SCRAPBOOK!"
Miles traveled: 482
Penny comes out of the bathroom in the hotel lobby and senses immediately that something is wrong. Sheldon is at the front desk, his posture as straight as always, but his shoulders are slightly turned in and the veins in his neck look like they are about to burst.
"I believe the definition of customer service is to SERVE YOUR CUSTOMER. In fact, it's right there in the word service. Meaning, TO SERVE."
She jogs over quickly, hoping to diffuse whatever is happening here. The woman behind the desk looks completely apathetic and more than a bit frustrated.
"Hi there. It's been a very long day, so if he's said something to offend you, well… he does that to a lot of people. But he doesn't really mean it. I'm sure whatever is wrong can be fixed… right?"
Sheldon looks at her as she puts her hand on his arm in an attempt to soothe him. "Penny... I've been informed that our reservation is not in their system. And to add to that, there are no rooms available at all."
Penny's friendly smile leaves her face instantly. "WHAT? We made that reservation TWO months ago!"
"I've already informed them that we will no longer be patronizing this particular hotel chain. I will also be writing a strongly worded letter to their corporate office and leaving detailed reviews on several prominent travel websites."
Her hands slap down loudly on the granite counter. "This is RIDICULOUS! What kind of business are you running here? PEOPL E NEED A PLACE TO SLEEP!"
Sheldon suddenly becomes the calm one as he puts one arm around her shoulder to pull her away from the counter. Her rant doesn't stop even as he leads her out of the building and back to the car.
Miles traveled: 492
They spend nearly three hours in a diner down the road calling every hotel and motel within a reasonable distance. Not a single vacancy. That's how they end up in a campground parking lot ten miles away.
Sheldon stretches out as much as he can in the backseat while Penny attempts to find a comfortable position in the passenger seat.
"I would have to agree."
"And things were going so well…"
"Aside from my traffic violation?"
Penny shifts and tries to lay on her side for a bit. "Right. That too. You know… we could have taken my car."
Sheldon sniffs and she can practically hear him roll his eyes in the dark. "What purpose would that have served? We wouldn't be any more comfortable than we are now. Besides, as I told you, I barely trust that death trap to get me to the comic book store, much less across two states."
Penny shivers and tries to curl herself into a ball with no success. "I didn't realize Arizona got so cold at nights."
"There are some long sleeved shirts in my suitcase. Feel free to wear one. Just not the blue one. Or the red."
She jumps immediately and hops out of the car. "Yes! Thank you! I'll never complain about your layers again! Never!"
Penny heads to the trunk of the car but she can still hear his response. "I sincerely doubt that."
She quickly grabs a long-sleeved gray shirt trying not to disturb his perfectly organized suitcase. It's too long for her in every possible way but a lot warmer than just her own t-shirt. Instead of going back into the front seat, she opens the door where Sheldon's feet are at.
"Wrong door, Penny."
Penny just grins and crawls in on top of him, pulling the door shut before she ends up face to face with him. "We'll stay warmer this way."
She finds his lips easily in the dark and he kisses her back tenderly. It's already working, because her temperature is definitely rising. The backseat is incredibly cramped so his arms wrap around her back to pull her close. She runs her hands up his stomach to his chest feeling his heart beat faster as she makes a trail of kisses across his jaw line and then down his neck.
"You know, we don't NEED to have sex every single night."
Penny stops immediately and props herself up, elbows pointedly stabbing him in the chest.
"We don't need to have sex EVER again either."
Sheldon's mouth makes a straight line. "I would not like that."
"I didn't think so. Besides, don't flatter yourself. That's not why I crawled back here. I was just thinking the extra body heat would be nice."
She shifts herself on top of him so that their legs are tangled together and she's pressing her chest against his. "Then again… sex in the back seat of a car is another one of those teenage experiences you missed out on. It could be fun."
Penny nibbles playfully at his throat and Sheldon's words of protest come out a little bit strangled. "Penny… there are families camping here… children… what if…"
She giggles and lifts her head giving him a quick kiss on the lips. "It's okay, Sheldon. I wouldn't want you to get in trouble with the law for a second time today. But someday, I will introduce you to the wonders of sex in a car. I promise."
Sheldon seems less then enthused. "Not that I don't enjoy our sexual encounters, but it sounds… uncomfortable."
"Sexual encounters… hmph. At least you've stopped calling it coitus. And yeah, it's uncomfortable, but I promise you'll like it."
He doesn't respond. He realizes that sex is one area he has to defer to her expertise in. She hasn't been wrong yet.
They spend the next 5 minutes trying to find the least awkward position to sleep in. Penny nearly gets an elbow to the nose and in return she nearly ends his chances at future offspring with her knee before they finally find the right spot. His long arms curl around her and she burrows her head into his chest with a sigh.
"Good night, Penny."
Miles traveled: 504
Penny seems to yawn every 45 seconds and she has a pain that spreads from her hip all the way up to her neck. Sheldon stands awkwardly as if he's still trapped inside the car, all curved and cramped.
She looks over the edge and then back up to the vast canyon in front of her. Her breath almost leaves her for a moment, but then it catches in her throat and she exhales slowly. Words come out slightly muffled, trapped under another oncoming yawn.
"It's beautiful. Really. Just amazing."
They stand there together in silence for minutes until Penny hooks her arm around his and rests her head on his shoulder.
"Apparently some people choose to go on hikes or ride burros down into the canyon."
Penny crinkles her nose and looks up at him. "You're not suggesting we…"
Sheldon looks just as disgusted by the idea as she does. "Absolutely not."
"Good. Because, I'm tired and sore and we still have a four hour drive to Phoenix, you know..."
"So we drove 500 miles to stand at the edge of our country's greatest natural wonder for 10 minutes and then leave?"
Penny nods and rests her forehead against his arm. "Pretty much."
"Fine by me. Let's go."
She takes one last glance at the canyon before they head back to the car. Sure, the Grand Canyon is beautiful, but all she can think of is a hot shower, a comfortable bed and curling up next to Sheldon for the rest of the day.
"You know, Penny, despite my run-in with the law and sleeping in the car, I think you're right about road trips. They can be fun."
Penny pauses mid-step. "If you say bazinga, I will leave you here and make you ride a donkey all the way home to Pasadena."
"No, no bazinga. I actually had fun."
Penny can't help but smile as they reach the car. This was definitely a moment where the journey mattered more than the destination.