As birthdays went, it hadn't been all that bad. Low key, yes, but that didn't matter. The people who meant the most to her were still here, even though it was well into the early hours of the morning. She was feeling mellow, content. Sure, the apartment looked like a small tornado had blown through it, but then, didn't it always?
Penny twisted around from her position on the couch. There was Leonard, talking with Stephanie and Howard (gesturing wildly to the pair of them, Penny noted, but there was a grin on his face, so she knew it was all good-natured), and if she turned back she had the rather sweet view of Raj curled up in a ball on her green and white chair, a bottle of something in his lap and a look of utter contentment on his face. Penny knew for a fact that Howard had done the placebo thing again and there was not a drop of alcohol in that bottle. Raj might complain about being duped, but he was going to feel a damn sight better than most of them come breakfast time the next---oh. Today. Okay, yeah, she needed to sleep.
She rolled off the couch with a grunt, and padded towards the bathroom. Her bedroom door was closed. Penny leaned into the doorknob and fell through blearily.
And landed smack bang against something.
No. Not something. Someone.
She stumbled back, hitting the door so it closed behind her, plunging the room into semi-darkness. This individual seemed to consist of nothing but arms and hands; hands which now attempted to steady her until she was standing upright on her own two feet. There was some indistinguishable shuffling as whoever it was left her and bent over by the side of the bed, and then--
A light flickered on.
Except it wasn't a light. It was...
Penny gasped. She'd always wanted one of these but had assumed Sheldon's experiments in genetics had fizzled out with the weaving and scrambled eggs. Or that his production line had resulted in a series of one and one goldfish only.
He looked down at her in the dim light. "The blue colouring was actually a rare error on my part--when I dropped the compounds in the water Raj happened to be standing by and knocked my elbow when something presumably consisting of scantily dressed females flickered subliminally on the television during the PBS News Hour--but I think they turned out well. Your bedroom decor is more or less in the blue spectrum and a complimentary tone when you are having trouble sleeping will do its job quite nicely." And then, in a softer tone she'd only ever heard him use to his equations and numbers (and sometimes, in unguarded moments like these, to her), he said, "Happy birthday."
The goldfish, a pair, turned lazily about in the round bowl, glowing prettily. She bent down to examine them more closely, and saw that he'd inserted an Eiffel Tower in amongst the pebbles and swinging blue fronds. "Thank you, Sheldon." She smiled, even though she knew he couldn't see.
He was still standing behind her. It took very little effort for Penny to stand and turn against him, wrapping her arms around his waist. She felt him go rigid through his chest and back, but after a second when neither of them moved his hands slowly came to rest on her shoulders, splayed a little at the back of her neck.
On the other side of the door, she could hear Howard asking the room at large if anyone was up for a game of superagent-strip-laser tag-twister, only to be met with resounding silence followed by Leonard suggesting he try it solo and at another party. In here though, there was only the sound of her breathing, Sheldon's breathing, and nothing else. Her eyelids were heavy, she was warm all over, from the drink and...and--
"I need to sleep," Penny murmured. "So. I'm just going to sleep standing upright, here in my room with my blue nightlight, if that's okay with you, Dr Cooper."
"We are not horses," Sheldon said carefully, his voice coming from somewhere above her head. "I believe one or either of us would fall and cause the party out there to come lumbering in like a herd of curious, drunken elephants, and then I would have to explain why my no hugging rule has yet again been breached by Penny from 4B and why there are blue goldfish in here and I don't want to explain anything I just want to...be."
Another time, another place, she would have teased him about run-on sentences and the like, but he sounded so serious that Penny merely smiled against his chest, and didn't say a thing. Beside them the bowl flickered with blue luminescence as one fish chased the other. She would remember this birthday for a good while yet.