“Sheldon’s gonna shit a brick,” Penny grins with nothing short of unholy glee.
James tenses. “Who’s Sheldon?”
“Nerdy neighbor. Basically my best friend. And when I say nerdy, I mean mint condition Avengers action figures and bidding wars over Howling Commandos memorabilia.”
James’ lips curl up a wicked smirk that matches the gleam in Penny’s eyes. “Oh yeah?”
Penny nods. “Yeah. You guys have to be nice to him, though. He doesn’t really get… people.”
James’ face softens. “I can understand that.”
Steve’s mouth does a complicated twist and he steps close, wraps his arm around James’ waist. “Buck…”
James shakes his head, tucks his face into Steve’s neck. “I’m fine, punk.”
Penny’s heart swells at the sight of them and she can’t help but tuck herself into James’ other side.
He wraps an arm around her shoulders and squeezes. “Let’s find your friends, sweetheart.”
Penny steps away, just far enough to run her hand down James’ arm and twine their fingers together before scanning the crowd. It doesn’t take long to find her boys. Howard is near the bonfire, attempting to dance with any woman he can get relatively close to. Leonard is at a table as far from the dj’s booth as he can get, apparently having a mild amount of success chatting up a pretty little thing Penny had seen surfing that afternoon. Raj is at the bar, also apparently succeeding in chatting up some beach babe - Penny idly wonders how many drinks he’s had. She frowns when she can’t spot Sheldon.
Steve steps up into her space, a warm line along her back. “What’s wrong, doll?”
“Can’t find, Sheldon,” she mutters. She decides against interrupting any of the other guys, digging her phone out of her pocket.
It doesn’t even ring once before Sheldon picks up. “Penny. May we go?”
“Sheldon, sweetie, where are you?”
“In the car.”
“Oh, honey. Hold on, I’ll be right there.”
Steve and James follow her to the parking lot without comment.
She turns and puts a hand on each of their arms. “Wait here a minute?”
They both nod.
She jogs out to her car and finds Sheldon in the passenger seat. She rolls her eyes and raps on the window.
Sheldon startles, sees her, and unlocks the door.
Penny tugs it open. “What the hell are you doing out here by yourself, Moonpie?”
Sheldon frowns. “Only Meemaw calls me Moonpie. I had no desire to attempt socialization with-”
“Okay,” Penny holds up a hand, cutting him off. “Look, I’m not gonna let you sit out here by yourself.”
“I do not wish to return to the -”
Penny cuts him off again. “I didn’t say you had to. I’m leaving, but I’m not going home. I’m gonna give Leonard the keys to my car. You can either come with me, or go back to the party and wait for the guys, but you can’t sit out here by yourself, sweetie.”
Sheldon frowns. “Where are you going? I have no desire to follow you into some sordid- there are two men watching you.”
Penny glances over her shoulder and sees Steve and James where she left them, both staring at her unabashedly. She rolls her eyes and then turns back to Sheldon. “I met my Soulmates, sweetie. I’m going home with them.”
Sheldon’s eyes go wide. “Oh.”
Penny can’t help but smile. For all the science in his head, and the timeless mystery of Soulmates, Sheldon has never quite been able to shake the faith in Soulmates that his mother instilled in him.
“I can’t interrupt that, Penny.”
Penny shakes her head. “I’m inviting you. Please. I know you don’t wanna be alone with the guys. And I want you to meet my Soulmates. Please.”
Sheldon frowns. “I… I don’t have any of my things.”
Penny snorts. “The go bags you made for both of us are still in my trunk, sweetie.”
Sheldon seems to think it over for a moment, then nods. “Very well.”
Penny steps back to let him out of the car, taking her keys when he offers them. She pops the trunk, smiles at all their beach gear stowed neatly, and digs the go bag out of the back. She hands Sheldon his bag, tosses hers over her shoulder, and grabs her beach bag for good measure before slamming it closed and locking it.
Steve immediately takes both of her bags from her once she’s in reach.
James just chuckles and throws his arm over her shoulders. “Ready?”
She smiles. “Almost. Just have to give Leonard my car keys. Did you guys walk or drive?”
“Walk,” Steve answers. “We’re less than a mile away.”
Penny nods. “Wait here?”
Steve frowns. “Don’t like leaving you alone.”
Penny rolls her eyes and points to the crowd. “You’ll be able to see me the whole time.”
James elbows him. “She’ll be fine, punk.”
Penny shoots him a smile, then jogs toward the crowd. Leonard is right where she left him last and this time, she approaches his table without hesitation.
He grins at her. “Penny!”
Penny nods back and holds out her keys. “Ran into some friends. Sheldon and I are gonna head out with them. Didn’t wanna leave the rest of you boys stranded.”
Leonard frowns. “Everything okay?”
Penny smiles tightly. “Great!”
Leonard shrugs. “Alright… you sure you wanna take Sheldon?”
She smiles more genuinely. “Absolutely.”
“Alright… see you guys, I guess.”
Penny waves and jogs back to Sheldon and her Soulmates. “Now we can go.”
James slings an arm back across her shoulders and Steve twines his fingers with hers on her other side. Sheldon follows along behind them silently.
Penny can’t help but gasp at the mansion they lead her to. “You guys live here ?”
Steve shrugs as the front gate swings open silently. “It’s Tony’s place. We told him we’d rent a place or get a hotel when we were here and I thought he was gonna have a heart attack.”
James snorts. “Went on a hell of a rant about how there wasn’t much point in havin’ more money than God if his friends wouldn’t take advantage.”
Penny shakes her head. “I can’t even… wow.”
She feels more than sees James grin into her hair. “He’s gonna love you, doll.”
The door opens as the approach. They walk into the foyer and Sheldon, finally seeing Penny’ Soulmates in proper lighting, actually drops his bag, and his jaw, with a gasp. “Penny,” he wheezes.
Penny grins. “Yes, Sheldon?”
“That’s - they’re - your… is this a Bazinga?”
Penny shakes her head. “Sheldon, meet James and Steve, my Soulmates. James, Steve, this is my best friend Sheldon.”
Sheldon continues to gape. “But, they’re… Penny, they’re superheros!”
Penny raises an eyebrow. “Yeah, and?”
Sheldon’s jaw snaps shut and he finally looks at Penny again. He shakes his head. “And nothing. I don’t…” He takes a deep breath. “I do not have many true friends, Penny. Only you, really. I am glad that your Soulmates are good enough for you.”
Penny beams. “I’m going to hug you now.”
Sheldon grimaces. “Must you?”
“Very well.” He holds his arms out stiffly.
Penny squeezes him briefly, then steps back.
Sheldon starts fidgeting, looking back and forth between James and Steve.
Penny rolls her eyes. “Go ahead and ask. I know there’s at least one comic book in your bag.”
Sheldon gleefully digs an old Howling Commandos comic out and then holds it out, almost sheepishly. “Would you mind?”
Steve smiles. “Of course not.”
Despite his excitement, it doesn’t take Penny long to shuffle Sheldon off to the guest room Steve and James offer. It is after his bedtime, after all.
Penny, Steve, and James are all still awake when the sun rises. Sheldon shuffles onto the patio around 8, freshly showered and fully dressed, and clucks disapprovingly at them. “Penny, this is an excessively unhealthy sleep pattern even for you.”
Penny sticks her tongue out at him. “You only meet your Soulmates once, Sheldon.”
His face softens. “That is a fair point.”
“Are you hungry? There’s pancakes in the kitchen. James is actually a hell of a cook.”
Sheldon nods. “Thank you.” He turns back into the house, and comes back a few minutes later with a neat plate of pancakes, eggs, and bacon, along with a steaming cup of tea.
Penny gnaws on her lip. “Sheldon, I have to tell you something.”
Sheldon looks up from his breakfast.
Penny takes a deep breath. “Sheldon, I’m leaving. James and Steve asked me to come back to New York with them, and, well, I’m going.”
Sheldon sets his silverware down. “I see.”
Penny reaches across the table and sets a hand over his. “Sheldon, I don’t think you do.”
“What do you mean?”
Penny bites her lip again.
Steve gives her a look.
Steve angles his chair toward Sheldon. “Penny wants you to come too.”
Sheldon blinks. “I’m sorry?”
Penny squeezes his hand. “Sheldon, you haven’t been happy since you guys came back from your monopole experiment. And how many times have you gushed over the idea of working at Stark Industries?”
Sheldon’s mouth tenses. “I do not want a job simply because my friend happens to be Soulmates with Stark’s friends.”
James snorts. “Ain’t like that, kid. We called Tony last night. As soon as Penny said your name, Tony flipped shit. Started ranting about how he’s been trying to steal you from CalTech for years.”
Steve nods in agreement. “Had some very unkind things to say about someone called Gablehauser stonewalling him.”
Sheldon gets a pinched look that reminds Penny of death ray ideations. “I beg your pardon?”
“Stark wants you for that beautiful brain, sweetie,” Penny says gently, “not ‘cause you’re my friend. Your asshole boss just wouldn’t pass the message on.”
Penny calls and quits the Cheesecake Factory herself, but she lets Sheldon talk to their asshole landlord about breaking her lease early. Steve and Tony arrange things with the moving company, and Steve goes to their apartments to supervise Monday morning while James drives Penny and Sheldon to CalTech.
“You sure you don’t want me to come with you?” James asks, opening the passenger door of one of Stark’s Audis and helping Penny out.
Penny moves the seat and lets Sheldon clamber out of the back seat. “Sheldon?”
Sheldon hesitates then shakes his head. “No. Thank you. But, Penny…”
Penny smiles. “Oh, I’m coming with you, Moonpie.”
Sheldon relaxes, and doesn’t even protest when Penny takes his hand as he leads the way through the halls. When they get to Gablehauser’s office, Sheldon freezes.
Gablehauser’s assistant looks up with a tight smile. “Good morning, can I help you?”
Penny pastes on a smile. “Dr. Sheldon Cooper to see Dr. Gablehauser.”
“I don’t see an appointment.”
“There isn’t one, but if he can’t make time, we’ll be more than happy to come back with a lawyer.”
The assistant goes a little pale, but keys up the intercom and relays the message. Gablehauser tells her to send them in.
He smiles nervously when they walk in. “Dr. Cooper, what can I do for you?”
Sheldon holds out the envelope he’s been clutching since he got in the car earlier.
Gablehauser takes it.
Sheldon finally speaks as Gablehauser opens it. “I am tendering my resignation, effective immediately.”
Gablehauser drops the letter like it might bite him. “You’re what?!”
Sheldon remains silent and stone-faced.
Penny squeezes his hand and he offers the barest nod. “He didn’t stutter. He’s leaving this restrictive shithole for greener pastures.”
“Greener-” Gablehauser stutters and shoves to his feet. “This is CalTech! Greener pastures are not-”
Penny raises an eyebrow and cuts him off. “Stark Industries has been after him for years. But of course you wouldn’t know anything about that, would you?”
Gablehauser goes pale.
Penny smirks rather unkindly. “That’s what I thought. Now, you can accept that resignation graciously, or as we told your assistant, we can come back with a lawyer.”
Gablehauser drops heavily into his chair and skims the letter. “What? No! This is unacceptable! Your research belongs to CalTech. You can’t take it with you.”
“Actually, I can,” Sheldon says. “If you look back at my initial employment contract, I was rather specific about my work should I ever leave the institution.”
“Stark’s lawyers have already looked over everything and assure us that Sheldon has every right to do whatever the fuck he wants with his work,” Penny smiles sweetly.
Gablehauser turns an interesting shade of red.
It takes Penny the better part of the day, even with James’ help, to pack up Sheldon’s office while Sheldon works tirelessly scrubbing his work from anything with a connection to the CalTech network. Steve knocks on the door as Penny tapes up the last box.
Penny beams up at him. “Hey handsome.”
He smiles back. “How’s it going, gorgeous?”
Penny drops the tape gun and rests her hand on her hips. “All done! Ready to load up.”
“Lucky thing I brought the truck.”
Leonard walks out into the parking lot as Steve and James settle the last boxes into the back of the truck. “Penny, Sheldon! Where have you guys been? Wait,” he stares into the back of the truck, “isn’t that your couch, Penny? And your desk, Sheldon? What’s going on?”
Penny quirks an eyebrow. “We’re leaving.”
Penny smirks. “Yup.”
“Ummm… what? Where? Why? When did-? What is going on?”
Sheldon sighs. “I’ll use small words, shall I? Penny is moving to New York. She has asked me to accompany her. I was able to line up a promising career opportunity, so I agreed. I believe we are leaving now.”
Leonard actually pouts. “Why did you ask Sheldon?”
Penny rolls her eyes. “Because I actually like Sheldon. And I can trust him not to be trying to get into my pants all the time.”
James settles against her back and wraps an arm around her waist and drops a kiss to her neck. “Good thing, too. I’d hate to have to kill your best friend.”
Penny elbows him, but smiles as she does.
Steve comes up beside her and rests a hand on the back of James’ neck. “We’ve gotta hit the road if we wanna make any kind of decent time today.”
Penny perks up. “Can I drive the Audi?”
James grins and hands her the keys.
Sheldon tenses. “I am riding with Steve.”
Penny sticks her tongue out. “Ride wherever you want, Moonpie, but let’s go. We skipped lunch, and I am starving.”
“You skipped lunch?” Steve sounds appalled.
James nods and points down at Penny’s head. “Yup. Our girl is a slave driver. I’m starving. Famished. Gonna die.”
Steve rolls his eyes. “Okay, let’s go feed the drama queen.”
“It’s Thai night,” Sheldon says, worriedly.
Penny smiles. “I know, sweetie.”
It takes them almost a week to make the drive, and surprisingly, none of them kill each other. Penny is actually thrilled at how well Sheldon gets along with James and Steve once the hero worship simmers down. Steve’s eidetic memory and a liberal use of Google means he can actually keep up with Sheldon most of the time, and Sheldon soaks up every second of it.
Part of Sheldon’s employment contract with Stark Industries includes an apartment in Stark Tower. Penny doesn’t think she’ll ever cease to be amazed at how quickly work goes when James and Steve are involved. Sheldon’s belongings are unloaded and the heavier furniture items arranged to his specifications within a matter of hours on the day they arrive.
Steve’s phone dings and he glances down. “Tony ordered Chinese. Invited us up for dinner.”
James and Penny’s stomachs both growl.
Steve rolls his eyes, but his expression is fond. “Obviously those two are in. Sheldon?”
They pile into the elevator and Penny nearly groans at the smell of Chinese takeout wafting toward them when they step out. Despite knowing he would be there, Penny admittedly goggles a bit at the sight of Tony Stark.
Stark, in jeans and a worn AC/DC t-shirt, just grins. “You must be Penny.”
Penny waggles her fingers. “Guilty.”
“You sure you wanna live with the fossils? I can have an apartment ready for you in no time flat.”
Penny smiles, and grabs James’ and Steve’s nearest hands. “Thanks, but I’m good.”
Tony shrugs. “Suit yourself. Where’s your friend?”
Penny releases James and Steve to tug Sheldon forward. “C’mere, genius.”
Tony grins. “I hear you have a beautiful brain.”
Sheldon tenses under her hand and Penny looks up at him, sees his breathing has gone rapid and shallow.
She spins around in front of him and cups his face in her hands. “Hey, Moonpie, look at me.”
Sheldon’s gaze snaps to her. “Only Meemaw calls me Moonpie.” His breathing starts to level.
Penny drops her hands from his face and grips his hands again. “Wanna explain the near panic attack?”
He opens and closes his mouth a couple times, glances back at James Steve, again at Penny, then takes a deep breath and steps around her to face Stark.
Penny starts to have an inkling of what’s going on and turns to make sure she’s got a good view.
Sheldon takes another deep breath.
James comes up next to her. “What’s-”
She reaches up and slaps a hand over his mouth. “Shh! I wanna hear this!”
Sheldon takes another deep breath.
Tony grins slowly, clearly figuring out what’s going on.
“I have no interest in coitus,” Sheldon blurts.
Penny slaps her free hand over her own mouth to contain the laugh that threatens to burst out.
Tony’s grin just grows. “That’s okay. As long as you can keep up with me in the lab - and I’ve seen your work, I’m sure you can - we’ll still connect just fine.”
So much tension drains out of Sheldon so fast, Penny’s a little concerned he’s going to collapse. Tony seems to be worried about it too, because he steps forward and grasps Sheldon’s elbows. Penny almost collapses in relief when Sheldon doesn’t recoil or protest.
Tony squeezes Sheldon’s arms. “Hey, relax, we don’t want anything from you you’re not willing to give.”
Sheldon blinks. “We?”
Tony’s thumbs rub idle circles over Sheldon’s arms. “Yeah, we. You do have two Marks, don’t you?”
Tony grins. “Pep should be up any second.”
Sheldon’s mouth tightens.
“Sheldon!” Penny calls.
Sheldon focuses on her.
He nods. “Thank you, Penny.”
The elevator dings and a tall redhead steps out and smiles. “Tony actually remembered to mention we’d have dinner guests.” She holds a hand out to Penny. “I’m Pepper.”
Penny shakes it. “Penny.”
Pepper smiles. “Ah. So you’re the poor thing that gets to reign these two in.”
Penny snorts. “Trust me, you’ve got a handful all your own.”
“Oh, I know I…” Pepper trails off, noticing Tony’s hand still gently grasping Sheldon’s arms. “Oh. I see.”
Penny nods. “Hold onto him. I don’t care who you are, I will go junior rodeo on your asses if you hurt him.
Pepper nods, then walks over to Tony and Sheldon and smiles up at Sheldon. “I’m so glad you’re finally here.”
Sheldon’s face softens forHo a moment, then he frowns. “I am not easy to get along with.”
Pepper throws her head back and laughs. “Neither is Tony. I manage just fine.”
Sheldon bites his lip, something uncertain in his eyes.
Pepper notices and rests on hand gently on Sheldon’s arm, above where Tony’s still idly rubbing circles. “Hey, I don’t care how difficult you are. We don’t care how difficult you are. We want you, however you’re willing to let us have you, and no more than that.”
Sheldon lets out another shuddering breath. “Thank you.” He glances at Penny over his Soulmates heads.
Penny winks. “Told ya everything would work out when you met ‘em, Moonpie.”