It started when Penny asked to borrow Sheldon’s blow dryer.
Well, really, it started when the whackadoodle was born. But the current issue began when Penny’s blow dryer crapped out just when she really, really needed to look her best for an audition. She strongly questioned if it was worth it as she listened to Sheldon’s list of rules for borrowing one of his personal possessions. Yes, she promised to clean the thing before she gave it back. Less out of thoughtfulness and more because she didn't want to deal with the meltdown Sheldon would have if he found a single blonde hair.
But when he reappeared with the blow dryer in question (A professional grade salon model, complete with a carrying case. The man barely had a full head of hair.) and a freakin’ contract for its temporary use, Penny couldn't hold back the eye-roll any longer.
“Oh my god, Sheldon…” she whined. Who asks a friend to sign a contract to borrow something as minor as a hair dryer? They live across the hall from each other! Its not like he couldn't use his emergency key to 4B to take it back whenever he wanted.
Sheldon and Penny had known each other long enough that Sheldon knew exactly what she was objecting to without her having to specify. He leveled a look at her but didn't say anything. He didn’t have to. She knew exactly what he would say about the matter. They didn’t even need words to have this exchange.
Annoyed at being backed into a corner, because if she didn’t hightail it back to herself place now, she would be totally freakin’ late… Penny dashed off her signature on the contract. Promising herself she would read the fine print on the copy Sheldon gave her later.
Well, Penny thought as she let herself into her apartment later that day, that was a waste of time and gas.
Flipping on the lights, she threw her purse on the couch where it landed beside the hastily-abandoned hair dryer she’d been using up until the second she left. It really hadn’t been worth it to borrow the thing after all. All that hassle for an audition where the casting agent cut her off after only 3 lines to thank her for her time and shoo her out the door. The sight of the blow dryer was kind of mocking her so she decided to get rid of it.
Of course Sheldon being Sheldon, she was sure there was some highly specific way of cleaning it and repacking it in its carry case that he would insist on. And of course, that would be spelled out step-by-step in the borrower’s contract that had slipped off the cushion and now lay half-hidden under the couch. Getting the thing had been enough of a headache, she didn't need a lecture when she returned it, and she definitely didn't need any more strikes, so she would humor the bat-crap crazy boy and do it his way.
But no way was she slogging her way through Sheldon’s legalese without a glass of wine.
It took way too much reading, a few tries at disassembling then reassembling it, and it wouldn't match his fastidiousness... but eventually the clean blow dryer made it back into the case, packed just neatly enough to satisfy the minimum requirements. Penny pulled the zipper shut and tossed the case on the table, trading it for her third glass of wine. The first two she had sipped (at first, later she gulped) while reading over the highly detail contract. Sheldon must have a million drafts of different contracts on his computer to be able to pull this one out so quickly.
How much time did he spend sitting around thinking of hypothetical situations that could happen with small appliances?
Three sets of three knocks at her door announced the arrival of the very man occupying her thoughts. She hollered at him to come in, remembering too late that would invite him to scold her for apartment safety. Luckily though he was distracted upon entering when he saw the borrowed item and its contract on her table. As they were the only neat and orderly things in sight, it was clear she was preparing to return it.
With a wave of a hand and a sip from her glass she said,
“All yours, Sheldon. Thanks again.”
Now Mary Cooper raised him with manners so he was going to respond with “You’re welcome, Penny.” but when he bent to grab the dryer he happened to notice the level in her wine bottle. What came out instead was a very pointed-sounding “Hmm…”
“What, Sheldon?” Penny asked shortly. “I promise i cleaned the damn thing out. I even used tweezers to get a hair that was caught in the little grate thingy.”
“Oh, I’m sure you did your best, however pedestrian your best may be. I can’t ask for more than that.” Sheldon was oblivious to Penny’s silent seething. “I just realized i neglected to put anything in the lender’s contract prohibiting use of the machinery while under the influence of alchohol. I will have to make the appropriate modifications to the contract for next time.”
“Oh believe me, there won’t be a next time.” Penny said. If she had to, she’d wear her hair in a scarf instead. The mood she was in now, she didn’t particularly want to even see Sheldon again, let alone deal with his kooky contracts.
Or that condescending look that he gave her before he left. The one that seemed to say he knew exactly what a mess her life was and had no doubt she was incapable of keeping it together enough to tend to her own hair. To him it was a foregone conclusion that she would be back to mooch more of his food and borrow his personal hygiene items, as if she weren't putting them both at risk of lice.
Glowering at the door when it closed behind him wasn’t enough for Penny. She sent the contract winging through the air to hit the door with a small but somewhat satisfying thud.
Only Sheldon Cooper could turn a borrowed blow dryer into a stack of papers with that kind of heft.
Ugh, who is knocking at ass o’clock in the morning?! Penny groaned internally, rolling over and shoving her tangled hair out of her face. Of course she didn’t actually need to ask who, that was self-evident from the knock, but the 'why so early' question had better have a damn good answer.
11:03 AM the alarm clock read. Crap. She didn’t even get to start her day with a good throat-punch. Penny seriously considered rolling over and going back to sleep. She could ignore the triple knocks until they went away. If they didn't, she had earplugs. She had actually remembered them to bring them to the club for once last night and now they lay discarded on her nightstand. Penny loved the loud music but a throbbing beat plus a couple glasses of red wine meant a killer headache. She preferred to at least save that part for the hangover the next day.
But if past experience had taught her anything, ignoring Sheldon wasn’t going to make him go away. He would probably linger outside her door, perched on a stair with his laptop on his bony knees so he could ‘get some work done’ while he waited. If leveling professions in Age of Conan could be termed work by anyone sane. And she couldn’t just sneak around pretending she wasn’t home. His freakish Vulcan hearing caught everything and she certainly wasn’t going to go all day without flushing the toilet.
Speaking of toilets, she decided to make him wait while she got up to do her morning business. Penny even lingered to splash water on her face and finger-comb her hair into some order before finally relenting and making for the door. He had waited three minutes passed the “safe” time, which showed a lot of restraint for him. Still, it was not Penny’s job to put up with the whackadoodle first thing in the morning and he only came over this early when he wanted something. So when she opened the door, she didn't bother with a greeting.
Sheldon hesitated for a moment. Social norms suggested Penny had a certain duty as ‘hostess’ (since they were at her apartment) to invite him in and offer him a beverage. However, his visit was unannounced so he was unsure of the the protocol.
“Good morning, Penny,” he said. A generic greeting was always safe to start off with. “I’m ready to go to the grocery store at your earliest convenience."
There. He had stated his purpose in coming and graciously given her time to get ready for the day. Even though it meant his schedule for the day would be thrown off if he had to wait more than 12.4 minutes for her to complete her morning ablutions.
But, judging by the look on Penny’s face as she shut the door without a word, his thoughtfulness and potential sacrifice were not appreciated.
15 minutes later there was a knock on Apartment 4A. Sheldon was surprised to find Penny on the other side. Not particularly astonished that she had shown up after all; people did tend to see the wisdom in giving him what he wanted. He was surprised because she tended to barge right in. Also bewildered by the messy handful of papers she shoved at him. Five or six pieces of paper, ripped unevenly from a Hello Kitty notepad covered with her sloppy scrawl in baby blue gel pen. He reflexively tidied the stack, staring at her in confusion.
“Good morning, Sheldon.” Her tone had that overly-sweet quality to it that Sheldon had learned did not bode well for him. “We can be off to the grocery store as soon as you sign this contract.”
Sheldon’s voice cracked in consternation. She may as well have written it on cocktail napkins. Everything about it ran so counter to the order and legality of his contracts, it was an insult to categorize them together. He couldn’t even form words to express it.
He tried his best quelling glare on her but Penny refused to budge, looking back at him with an impassive expression. Except for that one raised eyebrow that challenged him. Dared him. Insinuated that he could dish it out but couldn’t take it. Sheldon quickly scanned the so-called document she had given him.
Fortunately, it wasn’t long. Unfortunately, it was ludicrous.
But when he opened his mouth to say as much, Penny cut him off.
“What’s it going to be, Sheldon? Better decide now. If we don’t leave soon, you will miss the produce stockers. Other people will put their dirty hands all over the fruit before you get the chance to pick out yours.”
She thought she had him backed into a corner but Sheldon disagreed. The 'contract' she wrote held no legal weight and thus was merely a social agreement between acquaintances. Breaking it would be unfortunate but wouldn’t make him uncomfortable and anxious like breaking a legally binding document would. Besides, PEnny’s rules seemed simple enough to follow.
Sheldon pulled a pen from his pocket and, with some distaste, signed his neat signature over Hello Kitty’s face. He handed the sheaf of notes back to her so they could go.
Penny aimed a smug grin of triumph at Sheldon’s back as he locked his apartment door. But replaced it with a serenely neutral expression when he turned back. She may have won, but there was no need to rub his face in it.
"Rule #1: No making fun of how I'm not as smart as the rest of you."
When Sheldon was forced to sit back and hold his tongue, patterns appeared that he had not observed before. At first he had objected to Penny’s rule because it felt unnecessary. He did not spend an excessive amount of time commenting on her lack of intellectual prowess. At least he didn’t believe he did, until he observed how many comments he had to restrain himself from making to abide by the terms.
Now that he had to stop and think about how his words might affect her, Sheldon found it was only only too easy to say something that might hurt her feelings.
Whats more, he began to notice the others doing it too. Making clever little comments that went over her head on purpose. Sharing science jokes with each other and waving Penny off when she asked them to explain it. When they did explain, they were so condescending that it made Sheldon want to grind his teeth. A toddler shouldn’t be forced to listen to such insipid, patronizing explanations, let alone Penny (who despite her lack of a college degree was a deeply intuitive and street-smart person)!
The truly worst part about it was when he realized that Penny herself didn’t just accept this behavior from her friends, but seemed to unconsciously play into it. One night he sat in his spot and watched, uncomprehending, as Penny played dumb to Wolowitz of all people about a concept he knew for a fact that she understood. With his eidetic memory, he could recollect more than one conversation with her on the topic and, while layman to the extreme, her grasp of the rudimentaries was solid.
Their friends seemed to expect it, quirking eyebrows at each other when Penny turned her attention back to her Thai food. He knew he didn’t have a lot of expertise when it came to the norms of social interactions, but those sly shared smiled over Penny’s head didn’t seem very friendly. They were laughing at her, not with her. Sheldon knew only too well what it felt like to be laughed at, even if he didnt always understand why others were laughing at him.
He watched as they laughed at his kind, blonde friend. And Penny the actress unconsciously set herself to playing the role of the blonde bimbo.
Sheldon hated being wrong, but he rarely felt personally responsible for any errors. His conclusions were only as good as the data he had. The sample size could be too small, or the data collection methods flawed. With behavior like this, he was starting to wonder how accurate his assessment of Penny’s intelligence ever was. Despite a habit of making comments to the contrary, he had always considered her of at least average intelligence. But what if she was more than that? What facets of her mind had he not seen? What had been hidden away behind expectations and prejudices and the phrase "blonde monkey"?
Sheldon decided further data was needed. He would make personal observations to test the now suspect conclusions. He would spend time with Penny engaging her in stimulating conversation. He would have to contrive excuses to spend more time alone with her so the rest of the group didn’t taint the results. The easiest way to get Penny to operate at the level he suspected she was capable of was to play to her strengths, get her engaging at her best at something she enjoyed.
Which is how Sheldon found himself researching how to rent a booth at the local Maker Faire. He could get his data and further the Pennyblossom brand at the same time.
And he knew Penny would enjoy seeing all the homey handcrafts.
"Rule #2: No comments about how pointless you think my acting is."
Refraining from deriding Penny’s career was difficult at first. Sheldon was used to discussing his work. It was an easy go-to when forced to make small talk with people outside of his circle. It was rare anyone understood his work but people were usually (rightfully) impressed by it. And pretending to listen to other people talk about theirs often bought him an extra moment or two of appearing normal before he inevitably started to offend them.
Sheldon Cooper understood many things about the intricate ways in which the universe works. But he found it hard to grasp why people became upset with him for stating facts. It was not his fault that facts were facts, he didn't choose to make them true. Nor was it his fault if the truth was uncomfortable or upsetting to the listener. As a scientist it behooved him to report the facts as he observed them. He much preferred working with numbers to talking with people; numbers don't require tact.
His innate honesty is precisely what kept getting him in trouble with Penny before the contract. When she complained about her stalled acting career, Sheldon’s instinct was to report the problems he saw in her methodology. If she was aware of the problems, she could fix them and hopefully enjoy more success. But what he saw as helpful, she saw as critical. He wasn’t peer-reviewing a paper in a scientific journal. Penny hadn’t asked for his help on the matter, therefore the help wasn’t welcome. No matter how beneficial it could be to her.
When he finally started looking at it as an aspect of her life, of Penny herself, and not like code he had to search for bugs, Sheldon had to admit that Penny did put her heart into it. She attended acting classes and vocal lessons. He often heard her practicing for the latter from across the hall, much to the chagrin of his Vulcan hearing. Auditions were slotted in before, after, and occasionally even during a slow Cheesecake factory shift. Penny sometimes felt she wasn’t doing enough for her career, but truly any more time put into it would have to be sacrificed from her job and her income was already insufficient.
Sheldon was forced to conclude that Penny really was doing the best she could with the resources available to her. Spending more time with Penny was teaching Sheldon to be empathetic and he had an inkling now why his comments on her career bothered her. He wouldn’t want to listen to someone expound on how he hadn’t been able to win a Nobel Prize yet. He was doing his best work trying to achieve that, there was nothing further he could do.
Sheldon had never felt so much in common with Penny as in the moment he made that comparison.
So he took his example from how Penny listened to him talk about his work. Penny listened to him rant about Gablehauser and try to talk out complex equations aloud. It didn’t matter that she couldn't understand them, she wasn’t there to help him with his work. She was there to listen and support, letting Sheldon express what he needed to say. Offering a sympathetic ear and gentle encouragement.
Sheldon replaced his unwelcome critiques and suggestions with “break a leg” and “I am sure you did well, Penny”. It wasn’t long before henoticed the shift in how PEnny talked about her acting.
The complaints about crappy casting agents and surgically-enhanced competition wasn’t gone entirely, but more and more Penny made sure to highlight what went well in an audition instead of what went wrong or how the chips were stacked against her. A bad audition used to make her mope and even weep at times, much to Sheldon’s distress. She still got sad but was more accepting and no long needed a bottle of wine to console her.
And without Sheldon's brand of harsh criticism, Penny took it upon herself to critique her own performance. She analyzed it, looking for weaknesses which she took to her acting classes so she could focus on improving. If a casting agent said something negative during an audition Penny no longer stormed out calling him a dick under her breath, she asked them to clarify so she could decide if there was any merit to it and, if so, what she could do differently. It was the kind of effort Sheldon had always hoped to see her making, long before he had realized he had any emotional investment in her success.
Penny herself didn’t even realize how comfortable she was becoming discussing her career with Sheldon. She had always been dso efensive about it to her friends, with their PhDs, working for universities or big pharmaceutical labs. Every time it came up in conversation with the group, she would agonize over whether it was time to give up her acting dreams and face reality. Her friends, god love ‘em, weren’t the greatest at being supportive. Especially Sheldon. He had always had such derision for her job and the way she went about it.
But the day she found herself approaching him to ask for help in making her resume more professional she realized that wasn’t the case anymore. Not only was he willing to help, but he did extensive research to familiarize himself with resume and head-shot protocol in the acting business. Throughout his suggestions for improvements he never once made fun of her anything she was doing wrong.
Sheldon even praised her for reaching out to a casting agent and landing a meeting. Penny tried to explain that it was less a business meeting and more a drink at a cocktail bar with a guy who just happened to work at a casting agency. But Sheldon insisted it was networking and that knowing more people in the business could only be a good thing for her. She had expected the dude to be a skeezy perv wanting to trade a roll in the hay for a role on a show, but it turned out he was gay. Sheldon was right after all. And when she told him about it, he didn’t even say “I told you so.”! Just said that he was proud of Penny for the effort and determination she put into it.
His pride in her only motivated Penny to try more and reach higher. When she landed a supporting role in a short but popular web-series, Penny raced home, bursting with excitement to share the news with Sheldon. Unable to contain it, she burst through the door of 4A without knocking and launched herself at him in a hug so hard it nearly toppled them both into his whiteboard.
Rule # 3: It's none of your business how much I drink
Whatever misgivings Sheldon may have had about Penny’s alcohol consumption, he was not one to comment on it. His mother’s attempts to curtail his father’s drinking had never worked out well, for Mary Cooper or her children. Even when Sheldon’s friends went out to the bars, he was careful to deride them for their futile plans to gain copulation rather than their intent to get messily intoxicated.
So Sheldon didn’t give much thought to that aspect of the contract until he actually felt an urge to comment on her alcohol consumption. Or rather lack of it. When he began spending more time with her in order to make his observations, it was common for her to have a few glasses of wine during the evening. But lately, it appeared as if Penny poured herself a glass out of habit and didn’t always finish it if they became involved in a game or conversation.
But perhaps that was a symptom of distraction. His company was riveting, of course she would give it her primary focus. And Sheldon also knew she imbibed more while socializing. And evening in with him and the Ninth Doctor was hardly comparable to a club full of pounding music and pulsating bodies. He would need a wider range of data before he could establish a new baseline of consumption for her.
Penny did not know what to think when Sheldon suggested they go out somewhere that wasn’t pre-approved and on Sheldon’s regular schedule of venues. It was more of a cocktail bar with some appetizers than a restaurant but it was a cute, chic sort of place. Penny could see having a girls’ night here. Or even a date. Which made it a very un-Sheldony sort of place.
What’s more, when they were seated (on high stools that had her tugging her skirt hem back down her thighs) Sheldon grabbed the cocktail menu and began studying it intently. At first she thought it was just a Sheldon thing, like how he always looked at the Cheesecake Factory menu even though he never even considered ordering anything that wasn’t his usual cheeseburger. But then she saw him googling things on his phone.
“Sheldon, what are you doing? You don’t drink.”
“I have in the past.”
“Yeah, usually under pressure or because someone tricked you.” Penny said, cringing inwardly because she was usually the one strong-arming him into the alcohol. “And it went really bad each time so… again, what are you going?”
Sheldon folded the menu closed, setting it on the high table and laying his hands on top of it.
“I have been researching the ties between alcohol and social relationships.” And he had. He didn’t mention it was because of Penny, just let her assume it was another overly-intellectual attempt at appearing normal when at a party. “It seems to have quite the ability to form bonds between people, even those with little in common.”
Well, that was true enough, Penny thought. She had a Facebook full of people she became friends with thanks to that tipsy hour or so before last call.
“Its true I have not had good experiences with drinking, but in every situation I drank more than I could handle. I’ve wondered if there is a genetic predisposition towards an inability to stay within my limits.”
“Because of your dad. Because he was an alcoholic.” Penny could not have felt more rotten for all those times she’d slipped Sheldon a double instead of a virgin.
“Precisely.” Sheldon said with a nod. Further evidence of his findings from Rule #1: Penny hadn’t needed an explanation of genetic personality traits. And her empathy made the connection to his father and the fraught relationship Sheldon had had with him. “There is always the risk that when it comes to drinking, I am not able to moderate myself.”
“So why risk it?”
Sheldon was silent for a moment. On the surface this was all just an excuse to put Penny at her ease about drinking around him so see how it affected her level of consumption. But there was nothing but truth to what he said. He did wonder if he couldn’t control himself, could only ever be the kind of messy drunk his father was. Sheldon didn’t feel a desire to imbibe on a regular basis, but he didn’t like having his rational mind be overridden by the fear that he would embarrass himself every time he had a beer.
“To learn the truth. To know more about myself.” Sheldon replied. It sounded like hokey psychobabble but it was factual. “Besides, I am with someone I trust. Any risk is minimal.” He waved off her concern and opened the menu once more.
Penny couldn't help but feel a little choked up. He trusted her even though she had done nothing to deserve it when the topic of booze was involved. She didn’t have the healthiest drinking habits herself and was not a good role model for Sheldon. But he knew that and still trusted her. Mr Robot Whackadoodle even went so far as to tell her that. Compliments came more easily to Sheldon lately but this felt different.
“Well,” Penny said, and has to clear her throat to keep speaking. “Guess i better steer you right then.”
She scooted her stool closer to Sheldon’s so they could both look at the cocktail menu.
“We’ll start with just one, and order some appetizers to help soak it up before we decide if we want more.” Penny suggested.
She raised her hands to stall Sheldon’s objections. He may have picked the place but she knew that vetting the cleanliness of the kitchens was a lengthy process that involved looking into their entire history of grades from Food Safety & Sanitation.
“The alcohol left in your mouth will help kill any germs.” She lied easily. She could tell he would relent but took pity. “I promise if we ever come back you can inspect the kitchens personally.”
Sheldon looked so pleased by the idea, Penny decided she better start buttering up the staff now in case she had to make that happen someday.
“Now,” Penny turned back to the menu, turning the page away from the whiskey and bourbon cocktails Sheldon kept coming back to. “I’m gonna suggest something with vodka instead. Your taste-buds will thank me.”
Penny explained the merits of clear liquors and Sheldon asked about the flavors of various liqueurs. It was the closest she would ever get to giving Sheldon a chemistry lesson, Penny thought with a smile. It wasn’t until the server arrived to take their order that either realized how close their heads were bent over the menu. Or that their elbows were pressed together as they sat right next to each other despite the spacious table.
AN - sorry, its not proofread, I will revise it at some point but it was post it unedited, or procrastinate on it for another two weeks so i figured this was a better option
Rule #4: I have not had sex with 31 guys. Stop telling people I have had sex with 31 guys. In fact, just stop talking about my sex life.
At times Sheldon needed clarification on the terms of the contract.
After he had signed it, he mulled it over as they drove to the grocery store. Penny didn’t fail to notice Sheldon was silent about her check engine light and hadnt suggested one educational road game.
“Whatcha thinkin’ about so hard, moonpie.”
“The dubiously legal document I have shackled myself to. And only Meemaw calls me that.” In his distraction, Sheldon’s protest lacked much heat.
“Did you have any questions about anything?” Penny asked.
“Per the rule forbidding me from discussing your sexual partners, will that include Leonard? Am I not to mention his name in your presence? Should i ignore him while you are in the room?”
Penny rolled her eyes. “Of course not. Sheldon."
“What if you were to have coitus with the mailman, or the Filipino boys who deliver the questionably authentic Thai food we consume each week?”
“Oh my god, shut up!” Penny cried before Sheldon could do any further. Sure, the delivery guys were really cute but he was missing the point by a light year.
“Look, all I’m asking is you not talk about which or how many guys you see me around with. I’m not sleeping with every guy I speak to. You always make it sound like I... get around.”
“And ‘getting around’ is a bad thing?” he asked.
This didn’t seem to be the case in Sheldon’s experience. Most males he knew were often heard to bemoan the fact that they didn't have more sexual partners. Wolowitz in particular tended to idolize males that linked with many women.
“Not in itself.” Penny tapped her fingers on the steering wheel, trying to figure out how to put this so Sheldon would actually process it. “People aren't... nice to a girl with a reputation of having too many sexual partners. A guy can sleep around all he likes but its different for women. They call her a slut.”
“I see.” He didn’t, but he was beginning to. “How many partners is considered an acceptable number?”
“That’s the thing, its different for everyone. Look at your mom. You know she’d think having sex with anyone you aren’t married to was wrong. You never know what the person you are talking to is going to think, so the easiest thing to do is just not talk about it. It’s really no one’s business anyway.”
Sheldon may not grasp all the social mores, but he did understand the effect one’s reputation could have on how they are treated. The double standard was confusing though. He himself was mocked for not pursuing coitus with women, while women who did pursue coitus had to do so with caution and discretion. Perhaps it would be better if everyone just minded their own business when it came to sexual encounters. He certain would continue to tend to his own and stay out of the concerns of others.
“Very well, Penny. for the sake of your reputation I will no longer voice my observations about your paramours.”
A few months later the day of the Maker Faire had arrived. Penny had been a roller-coaster of various moods and emotions since Sheldon had announced he had secured them a table to sell her Penny Blossoms. By turns she was ecstatic by the idea, excited by the potential for extra income, unsure if she had enough variety to sell, insecure about the simplicity of her product’s construction, embarrassed to have not thought of such a idea before, impressed that Sheldon had set it up, and touched that he was with her every step of the way, helping.
In the week leading up the fair Sheldon never knew when he entered Penny’s apartment whether he would find her feverishly designing new barrettes or gnawing on her fingernails while she considered backing out.
But eventually the day arrived and found them with an attractively arrayed table if Sheldon did say so himself. Penny had designed clever displays and Sheldon had arranged them so that the most eye-catching variety was visible to passersby. Naturally he was terrible with the customers so Penny assigned him to refilling the flower pots she had painted to match her various product lines and staying out of the way.
While stocking and readjusting the displays (frequently stepping his tall lanky form into the extreme corner of their space to avoid the people crowding around him) Sheldon found himself flummoxed by the struggle to hold his tongue. Most of the rules had been (or at least became) easy enough to follow.
He hadn’t failed to notice the trend of rules that told him to more or less shut up. But a closer understanding of Penny had still somehow managed to create clearer paths of communication. It wasn’t until he had to suppress the questions that he realized how easy it had become to ask her what he wanted to know.
During a swell in the crowd short moments before, Sheldon had noticed an interaction between Penny and a man standing at a nearby booth. If it could be called an interaction. There were moments of eye contact held while Penny did an impressive job of simultaneously interacting with customers and completing their purchases. Her smile seemed different when she looked at the man, not the cheerful but professional grin of a crafter selling her wares. Sheldon was unable to quantify how but he was sure he had seen similar looks aimed at men Penny had found attractive in the past.
But then abruptly Penny had spun away from the man. Before she turned to help a young teen eyeing the Batman Penny Blossoms, she rolled her eyes. Sheldon looked back to see the man passing on the arm of a female companion. In the past Penny had expressed grave disappointment over failed romantic endeavors, yet now she appeared almost amused. Sheldon found himself bemused and didnt enjoy that state of things.
Penny noticed right away when Sheldon started acting squirrelly. It reminded her of when he had a secret and was struggling to keep it. Between visitors to her table, she grabbed a chance to corner him yet. Once he spit it out he would calm down and stop scaring customers with his gangly twitching.
“Whats the problem, moonpie?” She demanded, arms crossed over her chest.
“Penny, only Meemaw-“ he started.
“Yeah, yeah,” she waved him silent. “I can tell something is on your mind.”
“I am trying to abide by your rules.”
Penny might have asked which rule exactly but Sheldon had raised an eyebrow at her with some significance. There weren’t many subjects Sheldon was shy about expressing his opinions on, regardless of the setting so that narrowed it down considerably. She was actually pretty proud of him for learning how to express subtle social cues with body language that way.
“Sheldon,” she asked, “what could you possibly have to say about my sex life when we are surrounded by crochet doilies and embroidered tea towels?”
What did he have to say? Sheldon wondered.
“I observed you and that gentleman making calf eyes at each other.” He wasn’t sure where he was going with this but thankfully Penny took the lead.
“Who? Oh, him? If he came over i was gonna try to sell him one of the tie pin prototypes i made the other day, see if i should make up a whole line of them.” Penny thought rhinestone tie pins for men would be a hard sell but Sheldon seemed to appreciate the tiny lightning bolt in her first attempt at a Flash design.
“So, you weren’t trying to initiate a sexual relationship with him?” Sheldon asked.
“What? No way! Didn’t you see him following his girlfriend around? I don’t date a cheater and if he’s making bedroom eyes at other women while he’s on a date, he’s almost definitely a cheater. Besides, I’m a little busy too busy for flirting today.” Penny said as she had to step away to greet more people arriving.
Sheldon hadn’t gained any useful information, so he wondered why he had felt so compelled to speak. Nor was he sure why he felt a quiet sense of relief that Penny wasn’t on the prowl for a date. He had expected she would be. Sheldon was aware that not having coitus for many weeks could make Penny irritable and he hadn’t heard of her spending time with any man recently.
Rule #5: I'm not your chauffeur, I'm not going to drop everything to drive you around whenever you want.
Knock, knock, knock.
Knock, knock, knock.
Knock, knock, knock.
The pattern was familiar but something was missing and that was enough to penetrate into Penny's unconscious mind. With an effort she woke up and hauled herself out of bed to answer the door and find out what dire circumstances had prevented Sheldon from calling her name. Nothing had ever stopped him before. When she flung open the door, he jumped back, his hand flying up to cover his throat. He was holding a stack of paper that he flipped around to reveal printed text.
Please don't punch me, it said.
Penny furrowed her brow. He knew the rule, so why was he here so early? But before she could speak Sheldon removed his protective hand and shuffled to the next paper. He immediately started guarding his throat again while she read it.
I have laryngitis. Trauma to my vocal cords could exacerbate my condition.
"Oh, I'm sorry sweetie. Does it hurt much?"
Sheldon gave a noncommittal shrug but Penny had the feeling if he could talk, he would have plenty of complaints.
"You need me to come sing you Soft Kitty?" She asked.
He flipped to the next sign: Soft Kitty would be appreciated.
Then the next: However I must be screened for streptococcal pharyngitis.
Given the throat pain and the first 5 letters of that intimidating medical term, Penny was able to parse that to mean he might have strep throat. Given how much of a fuss he usually made over the discomfort of a minor cold, he would really be suffering if it was strep after all. He might get on her nerves when he was being a big baby over the sniffles, but she was genuinely sympathetic to a serious illness.
"I can look at your throat if you want," she offered. "I mean, I'm no doctor obviously but I have seen strep before."
Sheldon shook his head and offered a new sign.
Until we determine if I am contagious, you should maintain your distance.
Penny was usually rather cavalier about exposure to germs but Sheldon wouldn't wish this suffering on anyone, least of all his best friend.
Penny knew what strep looked like from babysitting a family where all three kids managed to come down with it when their parents were out. She knew what strep felt like too because of course she had caught it from them. Concerns of getting her sick usually didn't stop Sheldon from accepting her help but she didn't particularly want to risk it either. She had refused to babysit for that family again.
"So, why'd you come over then?"
Sheldon looked sheepish as he brought out the next sheet.
I need a ride to the clinic.
"Leonard refused, huh?" If he was even still in the apartment. Or the state. One time Leonard to decide to make an impromptu trip to the East coast to visit his father after hearing Sheldon cough.
Sheldon shook his head and held up a finger, requesting a moment while he flipped through his papers for a specific one.
Leonard is busy.
Sheldon saw Penny's lips purse slightly and he rapidly located the sheets he needed next.
I realize you may have plans for the day as well.
I risked violating the 11AM rule to make sure I spoke to you before you left.
Well, that was fair, she thought. A text message could have accomplished the same thing but that was Sheldon for you. He had painstakingly prepared his half of an entire conversation on paper so he wouldn't have to speak, logically deducing what Penny was likely to say, but it didn't even occur to him to use any of the messaging apps on his phone.
As per the stipulation of not assuming you will clear your schedule for me, I am here to make an appointment.
Penny blinked in surprise. Sheldon adapting to someone else's schedule instead of expecting everyone else to conform to his? That was new.
When would it be convenient for you to drive me to the clinic? And the pharmacy after?
Penny softened. She knew how much Sheldon hated being sick, and how anxious it made him to not do anything about it, like dosing himself with vitamin C or taking his temperature every 15 minutes with both an traditional and digital thermometer so he could compare the readings and track changes. Since he had come prepared with printed signs, he had clearly thought this through and decided the situation was bad enough to risk pushing the terms of their contract, to say nothing of chancing an actual punch in his very sore throat.
"Poor Moonpie. I can take you now, don't worry about it. Come on in while I get dressed and then we can go."
She hustled him into the apartment, closing the door behind him and pressing him into the chair that was his preferred seat before he could find an appropriate response among his papers. He froze for a moment when her palm settled over his forehead but didn't reject the touch. He even had an objection to the inaccuracy of that method of taking his temperature printed out, but her hand felt cool against his skin and he didn't want to risk annoying her into refusing to help him.
Penny clicked her tongue in dismay. "You do feel a little warm, sweetie. And your glands are swollen." She said, hand lowering to his neck and he shivered slightly at her gentle fingertips. Lymph nodes, he wanted to correct her. But not enough to make the effort to speak.
"Here..", she stepped into the kitchen and returned a moment later with a popsicle. "Hopefully this will make you a little more comfortable. I'll just be a minute and then we can go get you checked out."
Sheldon felt a little better already. Usually when he was sick, his friends ran for the hills rather than have to deal with him. But not Penny. He knew he was difficult and she had no hangups about telling him so, but she still took care of him and sang him Soft Kitty.
And gave him grape popsicles. His favorite.
When they made it Penny's car, he turned to her for a moment. She half expected him to have a sign scolding her for her check engine light or for driving in flip-flops but instead he stuck his tongue out at her to display its vivid purple color. Which made her grin.
It wasn't a good thing that Sheldon was sick, of course. But secretly Penny had to admit it was a refreshing change to have him acting this pleasant, without his usual acerbic commentary to ruin it. Since he couldn't play the car games he liked so much and it would be kind of mean to turn on the pop music she knew he hated when he couldnt complain about it, she instead tuned the radio to NPR so he could enjoy Science Friday. Sheldon smiled in delight, then grimaced when the expression pulled at the muscles in his sore throat and set them aching.
"Don't worry, Sheldor." Penny reached over and squeezed his hand in sympathy before grabbing the gearshift to set the car in motion. "Queen P will get you to the healer and we'll get you fixed up."
If only they could visit a healer in the style of the MMORPGs they played, Sheldon thought wistfully. As it was, even the most talented doctor in the world wouldn't be able to make his sore throat go away in a hurry, Streptococcus pyogenes or no Streptococcus pyogenes.
The odds were not in Sheldon's favor. He was sulky as they drove to the pharmacy to pick up antibiotics for his positive strep diagnosis. It was bad enough he was sick but he couldn't even complain about it. Or give Penny a detailed shopping list when she refused to let him out of the car in his contagious state.
"Hold your horses, Typhoid Mary." Penny grinned serenely in the face of his scowl. "I'll run in and grab what you need so you don't start a plague."
Typhoid Mary, indeed, he huffed. The symptoms of typhoid weren't even similar to strep, and Bubonic plague presented even differently. Sheldon suspect Penny knew the difference and simply didn't care, or pretended not to just to rile him.
"Don't worry, I know exactly what strep needs. And if I forget anything you can write me a sternly worded letter." Penny said. Okay, maybe she was enjoying Sheldon's inability to sass back a little more than she should. "You just wait here. I''ll leave the windows cracked and, i don't know, you can play Angry Birds on my phone or something."
She fairly threw her phone at him and exited the car hastily, pleased with herself for her foresight. Now he couldn't send her a dozen text messages reminding her to get this or that.
Sheldon nearly forgot himself, opening his mouth to let her know he didn't play trite mindless mobile games but she was gone before he could speak. He scowled down at her phone a moment before unlocking it. Despite numerous warnings about changing passcodes regularly, hers remained the same (2007, for the year she had moved in Los Robles). After a couple losses, and an attempt at setting a cartoon pig on fire with his mind that left his head aching horribly, Sheldon gave up and closed the app. He noticed a white noise generator app on the same screen as the irritating game and hoped a little peacefulness might help ease his throbbing brain.
The customized setting she had saved was very Nebraska with the sound of wind rustling through a cornfield overlaid with a gentle patter of rain. Rather rural for his taste but it was soothing. Sheldon tipped his head back and closed his eyes against the bright California sun.
And woke as Penny parked the car outside their building.
He was thoroughly groggy and miserable now, trudging up the stairs behind her. Penny had to retrieve his keys when he dropped them. He made a mental note to sanitize them before he touched them next.
"Okay Shelly, you go change back into your pajamas and get into bed. Leave the door open when you are decent and I'll bring you some soup."
It took too much energy to glare at her for that nickname; he thought he might actually prefer her calling him 'moonpie'. It was a laborious chore t change but eventually he was settled against his pillows, his dressing gown wrapped tight around him to ward off the feverish chills. Penny was bearing a laden tray and a plastic bag when she entered his room. The bowl of soup steamed fragrantly; at least he wasn't congested and could still smell the tempting aroma.
"Doctor Penny prescribes Chicken and Stars followed by bed rest." She placed the tray on his bedside table to dig through the bag for the antibiotics she had picked up at the pharmacy. "But first, take your medicine."
She pulled out bottle of water next, followed by two more for his nightstand so he wouldn't have to get up to get a drink later. He took his pills and started on the warm soup while she set up the rest of the sickroom supplies. Soon his humidifier was steaming gently and he could hear the kettle whistling in the kitchen. Penny returned quickly with hot tea in his favorite Batman mug.
Sheldon held up the bag of Werther's Originals she had left behind and cocked an eyebrow at her in question. Hard candies had no analgesic properties.
"I know they aren't medicinal, but those Cepacol things only had that nasty cherry flavor. Just because you are sick doesn't mean you have to be completely miserable." She defended her choice of lozenge.
He did hate the taste of fake cherry, as any reasonable person would. But Penny was prepared for everything and pulled out a bottle of throat spray too. The honey flavor of it was slightly medicinal but paired rather well with the caramel candy. Both flavors reminded him of his Meemaw, which was comforting.
Vick's Vapor Rub was perhaps of dubious help for Streptococcus pyogenes but he handed the jar to Penny regardless. Her touch was soothing as she applied it to his chest and he fell asleep sometime during the third repetition of Soft Kitty.
Rule #6: Stop making my job harder.
While logging in personal data for his bio-metrics, Sheldon noticed the folder where he logged his Penny data. Being a meticulous record keeper, it bothered him that the Last Updated date was over a week old. Gaps in data recording could skew finding considerably. he may have to throw his observations out entirely. But checking in with Penny was a bit more difficult than measuring and recording the size of his stool or the length his fingernails have grown in a seven day period.
Firstly the data was hard to quantify. Summing Penny up in a series of numbers was impossible, even to a man who had always believed that other people were little more than overly-complex data-sets. How did one accurately chart things like mood or personal happiness for another person?
But the greater challenge at the moment was getting a chance to make observations at all. It had been a fortnight since Penny had joined them for Halo or vintage video game night. In fact he had’t seen her at all this week outside of the hour and a half he spent watching her wait tables at the Cheesecake Factory. That may have been enough time to collect his data if not for the burger fiasco.
Really, was it so hard to warn a patron when you suddenly add crispy fried onions to the toppings of their BBQ Bacon Cheeseburger? The resulting change in taste and texture makes for an entirely different experience. Not that Sheldon had experienced it. The fried onions came on the side as with all of his toppings and he didn't opt to add them to his burger. But the consternation and confusion caused by the tidy pile of crunchy onions left sitting on his plate had distracted him for most of the meal.
“Penny, you’ve brought me the wrong plate. This isn’t my order.” he said as soon as food was placed in front of him.
Really it was a mark of the change in Sheldon that he didn’t accuse her of getting the order wrong in the first place despite taking the exact same order from him hundreds of times before. Instead he assumed she had simply grabbed the wrong plate on her way out of the kitchen. Even Sheldon would class that a reasonable and understandable mistake. On a Tuesday evening naturally Penny would assume a plate containing a deconstructed burger was his order.
Penny took a second look but said “Nope, that one’s yours. No one else orders everything on the side like you, moonpie.”
He pursed his lips at the use of the nickname.
“But this plate has crispy onions on it," he said.
“Yup,” she replied.
Penny knew the minute they changed the recipe for the BBQ burger that she was going to catch hell from Sheldon about it. She had even replaced his menu with one that hadn’t been updated to reflect the changes, hoping to ease him into it. Now she wished she had just scraped the crispy onions into the trash and pretended they were never there.
“But I didn’t order crispy onions.” Sheldon insisted.
“The BBQ Bacon Cheeseburger doesn't come with crispy onions.”
“It does now.” Penny said. It took him several moments to process that. “It doesn't have to be a big deal, sweetie. Just leave them off the burger if you don't want them. Next week I will tell the chef not to include them at all.”
That seemed acceptable to Sheldon but the minor hiccup in his usual Tuesday dinner routine made him slightly peevish. “Very well,” he said, picking up his knife to spread a very precise amount of bbq sauce on the bum. “Though I don’t understand why you didn't do that tonight. We could have avoided this brou-ha-ha entirely.”
Penny rolled her eyes but not without some affection. Only Sheldon would classify such a minor detail as brou-ha-ha.
“I don’t know how you feel about fried onions, and my boss is really riding us to make sure the new menu changes are done right.” she explained.
“I don’t object to the existence of the onions, but i have been ordering the same bbq bacon cheeseburger for years, one would assume its already exactly the way I like it.”
“Well you know what they say when you assume things.” Penny laughed internally, knowing Sheldon did not know that saying. “Maybe crispy onions were all that was missing to take your Tuesday burger from ‘acceptable’ to ‘excellent’. I just wanted you to have the option.”
“I’ve never had crispy onions on a bbq bacon cheeseburger before.”
“First time for everything. You might like it. It wouldn’t kill you to occasionally try something new.“
Sheldon looked dubious and opened his mouth to list any number of new things that could in fact harm his person, but Penny interrupted.
“Oh my god, Sheldon, forget it. Look, just ignore the onions for one night, I will make sure they aren’t there next week. Okay? No need to go talk to the manager, right? You’ll be cool?”
He huffed at the insinuation that he wasn’t already being ‘cool’ but nodded an agreement before Penny hustled away to check another table.
The next Tuesday he actually requested the crispy onions for his burger. On the side, as with all the other toppings, of course. He could practically feel Penny trying to set him on fire with her mind as she stared at him, making no move to write down as his order. Which he had long ago insisted she do, even though his order never changed and she could never forget it. She would go to her grave knowing that order perfectly. But if it kept him happy, she would pretend to write it down. Most days. But after the fuss he had made about it last week, she had to wonder if the request was a prank. So she stared at him, waiting for the 'bazinga'.
Sheldon squirmed slightly under her intense scrutiny before he relented, uncharacteristically.
"I was recently informed it would not kill me to occasionally try new things," he said primly. "As change is inevitable, resistance would be futile."
Okay, since he was actually listening to her she would ignore the nerd reference and the total pain in the ass he had been about it last week. Penny scribbled the usual nonsense on her notepad and collected the menus, escaping the table before he had a chance to change his mind.
She dropped the food off when it was ready but a sudden rush prevented her from checking in with him and her other friends until they were finished with their meal. Thankfully they were (excepting Sheldon) easy customers, and by now the other wait staff knew knew not to offer the wack-a-doodle refills on his drink. ("Excessive lemonade consumption throws off my urination schedule" Sheldon had explained. Penny had long since become immune to his bathroom talk. And frankly didn't blame him for not wanting to use the restroom at the Cheesecake Factory. The staff responsible for cleaning the mens room had more interest in their next smoke break than sanitizing anything properly.) With other tables being far more demanding, Penny didn't have time for more than a "bye guys, see you later!" when she dropped off their check.
Though evidently Sheldon took the generic farewell as a formal appointment.
After she got home from work Penny headed straight for the shower to rinse off the smell of french fry grease. Afterwards she puttered around in her pajamas. She wasn't in the mood for wine or magazines, and was definitely too tired for video games so she didn't bother to head across the hall. Tired, but apparently restless enough to wander around the apartment, tidying items she would usually ignore and actually putting her dirty uniform in the hamper instead of leaving it on the floor to be tripped on. She was actually debating just going to bed and playing with her phone until she fell asleep when Sheldon's distinctive knock announced his presence.
Sheldon had been sitting rather impatiently in his spot since he had heard her steps on the stairs. He was used to Penny's lackadaisical sense of time-keeping so he had not questioned her vague use of "later". But she knew when his bedtime was. If he delayed brushing his teeth to wait for her, he would miss precious moments of REM sleep! There was still no sign of her when it came time for his nightly routine, but when he had finished Sheldon realized he didnt want to go to sleep without speaking to her so he belted his robe on and headed across the hall.
"Whaddup, moonpie?" Penny leaned against the doorframe as she greeted him. It was pretty late, she was surprised he was still awake, let alone at her door. Unless there was a spider emergency. That would make perfect sense.
"Good evening, Penny. I trust the rest of your shift was tolerable?"
Sheldon really was doing so much better at pretending to care about small talk with people.
"Eh, mostly the usual. Got chili spilled on me, again, but they tipped 40% to apologize so..." She shrugged. "Could be worse."
"Indeed." Sheldon had heard plenty about some of Penny's worst nights waitressing, so his agreement was sincere. "Meemaw taught me a very effective solution for dissolving tomato juices from fabric. If you like, I could attempt to lift the stain from your blouse."
"Umm." Penny blinked. Sure, Sheldon liked things to be clean, but he didn't actually enjoy the need for it. For him to willingly subject himself to a mess that wasn't his concern and that he would otherwise never even need to look at was a surprise. "That's nice of you to offer Sheldon, but you don't need to do that."
"I know I don't need to. But I offered anyway. You are unlikely to have time to do your laundry before Saturday night and by then the stain may be set. That's assuming you even have the cleaning materials necessary."
Penny was about to bristle at that. Sheldon was always making assumptions about her and annoyingly was right way too often. The look he would give her when he confirmed she didn't have bleach or borax or whatever in the house was bound to her feel like she was failing at adulthood.
"Friends help each other, don't they?" Sheldon asked, expression earnest and innocent.
"Yeah, okay. That would be great actually. Thank you, Sheldon. I'll just go grab it."
Sheldon stepped inside the door while Penny headed for her bedroom to grab the soiled clothing.
He wasn't usually one for small talk, but he'd hardly had a chance to exchange more than a few words with Penny lately. There was no time for extensive conversation at the moment, but a light subject would do.
"My meal tonight was quite satisfactory. While it took time to adjust to the addition of the onions, I found that the added crunch made the overall texture of the burger more complex and interesting. Next Tuesday I believe I will leave a comment for the manager in favor of the change, with a compliment to you for convincing me to try it. In the future, the inclusion of any new toppings on offer will be acceptable. Though I would still appreciate a warning, if its not too much trouble."
Penny honestly felt pretty smug that Sheldon was, in a roundabout way, admitting he was wrong for making such a fuss over a small change to his Tuesday burger. But she was so pleased he had actually tried the thing, even liked it. And a positive comment from such a difficult regular was gonna make her look great in the eyes of her boss. So she didn't smirk, or say "i told you so" when she returned to the living room with her uniform. She had even managed to find a tote bag to put it in, so Sheldon wouldn't have to touch the mess directly.
"That's nice, sweetie. I'm glad you didn't hate it or you probably never would have listened to me again."
"I always listen to you, Penny." Sheldon stated. With nary even a facial twitch. He actually meant it. "I don't always agree with your logic, but you've been right often enough that even I can't argue with the statistics. You know me well enough to know my tastes and preferences by now. I trust you."
His little koala grin warmed Penny and she smiled back broadly. If it wouldn't disturb his inner equilibrium so much, she'd give him a big old hug for that. Instead she thanked him quietly as she handed him the bag which he accepted and made to leave.
"So what made you come by?" She followed him to the door to ask. "Just checking on the state of my laundry?"
Sheldon rolled his eyes fondly, knowing she was joshing with him.
"I didn't get the chance to speak to you again before we left the restaurant. Its been several days since you've joined us for video games or trivia. I've missed you."
Missed your conversation, Sheldon had intended to say. He didn't notice the slip, would probably attribute it to sleep deprivation if he had. A whole 20 minutes after his bedroom was hardly enough to reduce his mental faculties. But how else could he explain such a frank admission of his personal feelings?
"Aww, I miss you too, moonpie." Penny's smile softened. Sheldon's objection to the use the nickname died on his lips when the blonde stepped forward to hug him firmly around the waist. "Sorry for being so busy lately. I guess I do have a lot going on."
"Don't apologize, Penny. You've been busy because you've been successful."
Which was true. Between the roles she was picking up regularly and making new stock for the Penny Blossoms website, she wasn't getting a lot of couch-sitting time in. Not only was she saving a ton of money not drinking wine and online shoe-shopping every night, but she was making a ton of extra cash while she was at it. Still, all work and no play makes Penny a dull girl so she decided she needed to make the time to hang out with Sheldon more. Best friend time was important too.
Penny thanked Sheldon for his efforts to fix her uniform as he left and he wished her a good night in return. Heading back across the hall, Sheldon did some quick calculations as to how long it would take him to get her mustard-colored sweater pre-soaking in Meemaw's magic stain-lifter. His schedule was his sanity. He had spent years determining the optimal time to fall asleep and the best number of REM cycles to achieve maximum rest.
But another hour awake in service of his best friend wasn't such a hardship. He would sacrifice a lot more for Penny.