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The Hero Hypothesis

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"Penny, what are you doing here?"

Sheldon frowned, clearly confused at the sight of his neighbour sprawled out on the couch, still in her going-out gear. No way was she explaining she got stood up to him… not like he'd understand anyway. Not unless she used a Star Trek metaphor or something.

Instead Penny folded her arms across her stomach and answered "What's wrong? Am I interrupting your wild Saturday night plans? What's it going to be, a Star Wars marathon followed by alphabetising your comic books?"

He settled himself down in his spot, laptop balanced carefully on his knees, what looked like 'Age of Conan' already loaded up on the screen.

"I have never understood the female capacity to avoid a direct answer to a question," he said, looking entirely too pleased with himself. Penny raised an eyebrow, mouth tight like she was sucking on a lemon and Sheldon's smile fell a little as he obviously got the 'Danger Will Robinson!' vibes.

"I was quoting Spock…" he paused momentarily as if waiting for a look of recognition to appear on her face, but didn't see too perturbed when it didn't "… from This Side of Paradise. Like myself he was often baffled by the lack of logic employed by human females. Also, don't be absurd my comic books are of course stored numerically in order of issue date. "

"Yeah, well maybe you'll find a woman of your own species eventually." She gave him a sarcastic little smile, scrunching up her nose. She really wasn't in the mood for Sheldon's….Sheldon-ness tonight.

He levelled her with a 'oh please' look, and then picked up his gaming headphones, settling them very definitely over his ears, signalling the end of conversation "Sheldor is online."

Penny rolled her eyes, slumping further down into the couch. Great, now she was being passed up in favour of online gaming… her social life was so bad she couldn't even keepSheldon interested in talking to her. Not to mention so bad that she was spending her Saturday night trying to get Sheldon to talk to her in the first place. High-school Penny would be horrified to learn that this was what she had become… when she was young she'd thought as soon as she'd moved out to California it would be non-stop parties and drinking, definitely not hanging out with well…someone like Sheldon.

Sheldon Cooper seemed to be stuck in the gawky adolescent phase that most people grow out of around 15. He was the perpetual annoying teenager. Or perhaps that should be the perpetually annoying teenager. His entire life was 'the awkward phase'.

So…yeah. Not exactly the type of person Penny pictured spending her Saturday nights with once she reached that fabled status of 'grown up'.

"Sheldon… I'm booored." She drew the word out, all whiny and junior-high for a moment. Okay maybe she wasn't such a 'grown-up' sometimes. Sheldon didn't even glance her way, instead muttering about something happening onscreen, fingers flying over the keyboard.

"Sheldon…"

Still no response. Penny frowned, she really didn't like being ignored… it was one of her pet peeves. It came from being the youngest of three siblings she supposed.

"Sheldon!"

Reaching for one of the rather squashed cushions, she brought it round and whacked him squarely on the side of the head. That did the trick.

"Penny! I am attempt to take part in a very important mission currently so could you please refrain from any attacks upon my person."

He readjusted his headset, glaring at her, the blue tinted light from his laptop making him look vaguely super-villanish.

"Well quit ignorin' me then!"

They glared at each other for a moment before Sheldon's attention was pulled back to the laptop screen, addressing it in annoyed tones "No I cannot control her, and for the record she is not 'my woman'. She's merely an annoyance."

"Aww honey, it hurts to hear you say that!" Penny called out loudly, watching as Sheldon gave her the skunk-eye and hunched further over his laptop.

"No she's not… the apartment temperature remains at a pre-agreed upon 71 degree's so there's no reason for her to be…" he trailed off, frowning "…oh. Well then, objectively, yes….no you may not have her phone number! Are we going to raid this stronghold or would you all prefer to simply continue to speculate on the woman I have sat next to me… oh good lord… no…. NO… if you are going to focus on such childish things as women then I'm afraid that my character can no longer take part in this raid. Good day gentleman, IM me when you finally realise that gaming takes priority over females."

With a decisive button stab he exited the game, pulling down his headset and fixing her with an exasperated look.

Penny blinked across at him innocently, using her sweetest voice "What's wrong? Not going on your little raid?"

Sheldon looked at her like she was evil incarnate. The demonic hellspawn of Wil Wheaton and Leslie Winkle perhaps.

"Penny… has the bacterium on your unwashed dishes finally evolved to be point where it can take revenge on you for its existence? By which I mean… why are you in my apartment, disrupting my Saturday night when you have one of your own a mere fifteen feet away."

"I told you, I'm bored!"

"Not my problem."

The glaring match continued for a long moment before Penny huffed, toed off her ridiculous heels and pulled her feet up under her on the couch. As she reached for the remote, Sheldon observed in a rather long-suffering voice "You're not leaving."

Flicking on the TV set, she smiled slightly smugly across at him "Nope."

There was a pause, Sheldon obviously considering the probability of his success when it came to getting her to leave. Apparently deciding the odds were against him he settled further back into his spot and brought up his web browser "Fine, but if you put on any of that inane trash you call reality television I'll be forced to take drastic measures."

"Ooh I'm so scared." Penny sarcastically muttered, but obediently flicked past the America's Next Top Model reruns. Finding something they both agreed on to watch was going to be a mammoth task.

"There's a Next Generation rerun…" Sheldon began but Penny cut him off with a sharp 'No Star Trek!'… if he got to veto something so did she, and she wasn't in the mood for Sheldon narrating along to a Star Trek episode. She didn't exactly dislike the series, and she'd probably like it a whole lot more if someone figured out how to mute the on-going 'Sheldon commentary track of useless Star Trek trivia' that flipped on every time they watched.

Eventually they settled on Sherlock, which managed to run half an episode with only minimal commentary from Sheldon ("He doesn't know the solar system? I'm sorry but what kind of genius doesn't know the solar system!" "Sssh!") until Penny noticed something.

"Hey! He's a bit like you. Except a whole lot hotter…and better dressed. You even have similar names Shhhherlock and Shhhheldon."

"Oh well done, you can spot similar sounds. Maybe eventually we'll move on to rhymes." He paused, looking at the TV "I don't see the resemblance."

"Come on, yeah you do! You're both tall, dark genius types who completely suck at being normal and doing normal people things yet are really good at the weird things you actually enjoy!"

"Hardly. I have dedicated my life to science, a far more worthy pursuit than solving a few meaningless crimes."

"Well, whatever…" Penny then snorted in laughter "You both have really short best friends too."

Sheldon lips tightened, and he turned the volume up in an obvious attempt to drown her out.

"Penny… you're missing the plot. I am not going to explain it to you again because you weren't paying attention."

"No, no I got it….wait who's that guy?"

"Penny!"

"I'm messing with you Sheldon, jeez!"

He didn't look like he believed her.

They both settled down, Penny on the middle cushion with her long legs curled up underneath her and Sheldon bolt upright in his spot, laptop balanced on his knees and his attention flicking between his web browser and the TV with seeming ease.

It took the rest of the Sherlock episode and half of some weird TV movie where people who died respawned under the sea before she finally said,

"I got stood up."

Penny closed her eyes, leaning her head back against the throw that was always slung across the back of the couch. It smelt vaguely of fabric softener, probably Sheldon's doing… he seemed like the kind of person who regularly washed his soft furnishings. Penny had throws in her apartment that hadn't been near a laundry room since before she moved out of Kurt's because honestly who remembered to wash throw rugs?

"I see… so your reason for coming round here and disrupting my perfectly satisfactory Saturday routine was that your routine of dating yet another innocuous man had been disturbed so you felt the need to pass it on?"

She opened her eyes, tilting her head to the side to look at him. He wasn't even looking at her, attention still focused on his laptop.

"No! God, Sheldon I came round because… I don't know, I wanted a friend. I wanted to hang out with a friend after someone had let me down."

"Why didn't you contact Amy Farrah Fowler? She would be more than happy to assist you through this… I can get her on skype if you'd like…"

"No."

Amy meant well, that was for sure, but sometimes she was a bit much and Penny didn't want to think what borderline lesbian admiring comments she'd get from her 'bestie' to reassure her of her attractiveness after she was stood up.

"Alright…" Sheldon closed his laptop with a thunk and turned to her "But I feel the need to point out I'm not exactly familiar with the protocol in these situations. As a 'shoulder to cry on' I might not be the best choice. In fact tears make me uncomfortable so if you are going to start sobbing about how your self-worth is irrevocably tied into having a man you hardly know take you to bed then I would like some warning please. "

As if on cue Penny felt her insides start to twist… no, no way was she going to start crying in front of Sheldon over some stupid guy standing her up…

She blinked furiously, swiping at her eyes with the back of her hand but it didn't prevent the tears from starting to stream down her cheeks. Sheldon jumped swiftly to his feet, laptop held out in front of him like he could use it as a shield against her pesky feminine emotions.

"I'll make you some tea."

"I don't want tea."

"It's not optional. Someone is upset; you make them tea, that's the protocol."

He returned with a cup of tea in his favourite Batman mug and a fresh towel. The tea was placed on a coaster in front of her and the towel he proceeded to carefully fold over his shoulder. Penny actually stopped mid sob to stare at him.

"I don't wish for you to leak all over my Green Lantern t-shirt. This seemed the best solution, so please… continue with your emotional outburst."

Penny was torn between laughing, feeling offended and just going with it. Well… he meant well at least and this was Sheldon Cooper giving her what was basically permission to invade his personal space… how often did that opportunity arise?

With a slightly overdramatic wail she threw her arms round Sheldon's neck and buried her face in the scratchy cotton of the towel. He was so stiff you'd think he was sitting on a spike but he made no effort to throw her off. Instead he brought up a hand and patted her arm gingerly, like she would explode at any minute. "There, there."

"It's just…so… stupid… I didn't even LIKE him that much!"

She hadn't…he'd been cute sure, but he'd seemed like a bit of a jerk. But this wasn't just about him, not really… this was about every guy she'd been out with recently who was just trying to get her into bed, every guy who pretended to be nice and turned out to be an asshole, this was about not being sure she'd done the right thing letting Leonard get away, this was about her lack of acting career, her mounting bills, her lack of 'normal' friends, her mind-numbing, frustrating job…

This was about everything, and as usual for some reason when she broke down Sheldon appeared to be the only one around to comfort her.

"That is stupid."

Which sucked because he was so bad at it.

She smacked his arm lightly, glaring at him through blurring eyes "You're not supposed to agree, idiot!"

"Oh. My apologies… is this one of those social situations in which casual lying is encouraged? In that case, Penny your emotional turmoil over a male you have known barely a week is completely justified and understandable, I believe the best course of action would be to continue down the road you are on and continue to date these troglodytes you have reverted to seeing lately because it will certainly lead to future happiness." He looked pleased with himself "How was that?"

"Very comforting" Penny muttered, wondering why in fact that had done the trick. She no longer felt like crying… okay now she kinda felt like punching Sheldon but that was better than crying at least.

He'd resumed his cautious almost robotic patting of her arm… it ran in a pattern like his knocks… pat, pat, pat…pause….pat, pat, pat…in a bizarre way it was actually comforting.

"How long is this 'comforting' usually required to last?" he asked finally, eyeing the table and then adding with reproach "You haven't drunk your tea."

Penny had pushed herself right up close to him, invading his personal space with a little sadistic glee now she felt a slightly calmer. Her head, cushioned by the towel, was right in the crook his neck, which meant he was probably throwing an internal fit about her germ-laden breath on his neck, and she could feel the jut of his hipbone pressing into the top of her thigh. The robotic patting had switched between hands, his left one obviously getting tired… so he was now methodically patting her back in the same pattern of three.

"Comforting lasts as long as the person feels upset Sheldon."

She felt the sound of annoyance reverberate through his throat.

"Oh good lord, you mean I might have to sit here like this all night… that's intolerable, really. I'm not sure your friendship is worth it."

"Yeah, well good luck getting Howard or Raj to sing 'Soft Kitty' to you next time you're sick then…"

"Hm. So are you implying that if I do not continue to offer you comfort then you will refuse to sing to me when I'm sick? Breaking previously signed and notarised pledges that you would sing Soft Kitty to me anytime I was unwell, barring any major disasters that prevented you from reaching my side, until such a time as one of us dies?"

"Firstly, I did not realise what I was signing and secondly, yes! Friendship goes both ways Sheldon, so you have to help me feel better if you want me to help you in the future, okay?"

"Oh…." He looked down at her briefly, then resumed his awkward patting "There, there."

At least he'd improved a little when it came to comforting someone; she remembered the creepy velociraptor hands and creepier smile when he'd tried to decide whether or not to pat her on the arm that time he'd had to take her to hospital. This time at least he was allowing physical contact, however begrudgingly and the tea had been a nice thought…

"I bought you ice cream when you broke up with Leonard… I'm unsure as to if this is an ice cream level upset… not that I have ice cream but I'm sure we could drive to the store and buy some…"

"Sheldon," she said sternly "This is not an ice cream level emergency, and you are not moving from this spot."

He thought he was being sneaky, but really the boy was as transparent as a window, he was just looking for ways of getting her to relinquish her hold on him.

"Darn."

"You can buy me ice cream tomorrow."

"I could make you ice cream if you feel too emotionally distressed to drive…for some reason we appear to be in possession of an ice cream maker though neither Leonard nor I can remember buying it…I'm unsure of the exact procedure for using it but one would imagine it was fairly self-explanatory…"

"Tomorrow, Sheldon."

Later, when Leonard came home from his date he found them in the same position- Penny curled up on her side, snoring loudly, head resting on the towel on Sheldon's shoulders and her arms in a death grip around his throat. Sheldon looked very much like a cat that had been picked up against its will, and was working on something on his laptop as best he could given the limited mobility of his right arm.

It's a strange sight that's for sure but the first thing Leonard just had to ask was…

"Why do you have a towel on your shoulder?"

Sheldon flicked his eyes up from the screen momentarily "So that Penny's excretions don't get on my Green Lantern t-shirt of course. See, had it not been there my t-shirt would've been covered in saliva." He used his head to gesture to where Penny was drooling rather copiously on his shoulder.

"Okay…second question, why is Penny here? And why is she asleep on you?"

"Technically two questions but okay… Penny is here because she appears to find enjoyment in disrupting my routines and she is asleep on me because she has no concern for my need for personal space."

"Yes, okay Sheldon I get that but… didn't she have a date? Why is she over here?"

Sheldon's fingers paused on the keyboard, and he looked down at Penny who was frowning in her sleep.

"Because I am the hero. And she was in distress."

"Huh." Was all Leonard could think to say.