“We’re going to Wrightwood!”
Instead of equally enthusiastic responses to Bernadette’s very cheerful invitation, she gets frowns and confusion in return.
“What’s in Wrightwood?”
Leonard, Sheldon, and Penny respond in that order and Bernadette’s smile fades into total annoyance as she stands on the other side of the coffee table from them.
“It’s a ski resort. I’ve rented two cabins for New Year’s, one for me and Howie and one for the three of you and Raj.”
Sheldon repeats his earlier question, “Why?”
“To get away from the city, celebrate the end of 2013 and the start of 2014, and just spend some time together as a group.”
Leonard shrugs and answers, “We spend plenty of time together.”
Sheldon tilts his head curiously and asks, “Do I have to go? I don’t care for traditions that celebrate one day turning into another, as it’s something that happens every day, nor do I care for snow or skiing.”
Penny nods in agreement. “Yeah, does Sheldon have to go?”
“Yes. You all have to go. I promise we will make it fun for everyone. Sheldon, you can fly that new remote control helicopter you got out in the wide open spaces, and Penny you can ski, and Leonard, you can – watch people ski.”
Penny claps her hands together and smiles. “I’m in.”
“Excellent!” Bernadette’s voice quickly turns from her usually perky pitch into the voice she often uses to terrify her husband as she continues, “And you two. You will go, and you will have fun, or I will find whatever your weakness is, exploit it and destroy you both.”
Leonard looks suitably frightened while Sheldon begrudgingly says, “Fine.”
“Good, we leave on Saturday!”
Penny isn’t too thrilled about spending New Year’s with her ex-boyfriend. But she figures there will be plenty of snow and plenty of alcohol and maybe a hot ski instructor she can pick up for that midnight kiss. At least there better be.
Penny prays the car ride there is not indicative of what the rest of the trip will be. It’s only seventy miles from Pasadena to Wrightwood, but with traffic and the utter boredom of sharing a car with Leonard and Sheldon, it feels like seven hundred.
They spend most of the ride discussing work, and Penny wishes she hadn’t put her iPod in her suitcase in the trunk. Things are still awkward with her and Leonard even though it’s been ten months. Ten months since he once again brought up marriage and implied that she’d be better off married to him because he could support her financially and she promptly kicked his ass to the curb.
Penny looks at the empty seat next to her and wishes for just a moment that Amy was there. It’s been eight months since Amy dumped Sheldon to “sow her wild oats” and took a job offer at a school in New York, though not in that order.
They still e-mail and text occasionally, but what they really try to do is not talk about Sheldon.
“Hey guys, once we’re actually on vacation and as long as I’m in earshot, can you cool it with all the science shit for once?”
Sheldon looks over his shoulder at her disdainfully, “That’s fine as long as you don’t refer to it as – you know –“
Penny nods curtly and leans back in her seat with a sigh, praying silently that it won’t be as long of a vacation as this car ride has been.
The first three days are beyond compare. By day, she gets to ski and flirt with a snowboarding instructor, and at night, they play games in their cabin (ones she can actually beat the guys at), and she drinks a lot of wine, and it’s the least awkward things have been in ten months.
That’s until after lunch on New Year’s Eve when she hears shouting from the living room of the cabin and runs in to find Sheldon holding Leonard’s phone high above his head.
“GIVE IT BACK!” Leonard shouts as he jumps repeatedly to try to reach for his phone.
“TELL ME HOW LONG THIS HAS BEEN GOING ON AND I WILL!”
“Nothing is going on! We’re just talking!”
Penny notices Raj staying back from the fray and figures the Wolowitzes are in their own cabin far away from this madness, so she steps in between them.
“WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON HERE?”
Sheldon’s face seems to get redder with every word as he answers, “Leonard has been texting Amy. A lot. And I caught him just now.”
“So you took his phone?”
Leonard tries to reach for the phone again, but Penny just smacks his hand away so he says, “Yes, and he won’t give it back.”
Penny jumps high and snatches the phone out of Sheldon’s hand even though he’s several inches taller than her. Both men look at her in surprise, and she shrugs nonchalantly as she says, “Always had the highest jump on the cheerleading squad. Now, you two children need to calm down, have a seat, and talk to me.”
Cheerleader, skier, champion wine drinker, boardgame queen, conflict negotiator – that’s how she’s spending her vacation apparently.
Both guys take a seat on the sofa as Penny continues to speak, “Okay, now Sheldon, tell me why you’re so mad?”
“Because Amy is my ex, and Leonard is my best friend, and he should be on my side.”
“Okay. Fair enough. Leonard, how long has this been going on?”
Leonard shakes his head before he answers, “There’s nothing going on. We just talk. That’s it.”
Penny raises her eyebrows suspiciously, “You just talk. All the time. In secret? Sounds a little weird to me.”
A victorious smile starts to creep up on Sheldon’s face as he asks, “So you’re on my side?”
Leonard interjects before she can finish, “That’s not fair. You’re my ex, and Sheldon still talks to you.”
Sheldon nods in agreement before he speaks, “Because Penny and I were friends before you dated, when you were dating, after you broke up, then when you dated again and now that you’ve broken up again –”
“Okay, I get it.” Leonard puts a hand up to stop him and then says, “Raj, what do you think?”
Raj contemplates it quietly and then motions towards Sheldon as if to say ‘he does have a point.”
Leonard points at Penny and says defiantly, “Well, you still talk to Amy too.”
Penny and Sheldon shout simultaneously, “THAT’S DIFFERENT!”
Sheldon stands and looks at Leonard with fire in his eyes, “Until you can admit that you’re wrong, don’t speak to me, Leonard Hofstadter.”
He grabs his toy helicopter from the table and heads outside, slamming the front door behind him like an angry child.
Leonard says meekly, “I still don’t understand why it’s so different.”
Penny takes a deep breath in and explains, “Because I’m Amy’s best friend, and I don’t have to take sides, but you do. It might sound irrational, but God, Leonard… for the first time ever, Sheldon is acting like a person with human emotions over friendships and relationships, and whether it’s rational or not, you need to treat him like a real friend.”
She turns and heads toward the door grabbing her coat and Sheldon’s at the same time. She doesn’t look at him but hears Leonard ask, “Where are you going?”
“I’m going to see if your best friend is okay and give him his coat.”
Penny slams the door louder than Sheldon did and throws her coat on as she walks off the porch and into the snow. She’s surprised he’s not within her line of sight, so she calls out his name and hears a weak sounding ‘help’ from around the side of the cabin.
Penny runs and finds Sheldon sprawled face first in the snow, his helicopter half crushed beneath him.
“Oh my God, Sheldon, what happened?”
“Slipped in the snow. Feels like my humerus has separated from my scapula.”
Penny helps him roll off of his helicopter with a painful grunt and says, “Oh right. Like that time with me that we’re supposed to never speak of.”
Sheldon winces as he sits up and looks at Penny with worry, “Tell me the truth, Penny. How bad is the helicopter?”
She looks it over, and though she’s hardly an expert in remote control toys, it doesn’t look good at all. “Don’t worry about it. We’ll make Leonard buy you a new one since this is all his fault. Is the rest of you okay?”
“I think I twisted my ankle too.”
Penny directs him not to move and then runs to get Raj to help her get him up and into the car. Both he and Leonard look properly concerned, but Penny is still pissed at Leonard, so she insists on taking Sheldon to the hospital alone.
He yelps with pain at every move, and Penny can’t help but wince every time he does, remembering her own injury. When she’s finally in the driver's seat buckling her seatbelt, she hears Sheldon mutter, “I’m so mad.”
“Mad about your shoulder?”
“No, the helicopter.”
Of course, she thinks, how perfectly Sheldon. At least she knows he didn’t knock anything in his brain loose.
He’s oddly quiet for the entire ride to the hospital and doesn’t even tell her to slow down or be careful of icy roads, so she figures the pain is overriding his natural urge to pick on her. He’s even quiet in the waiting room, although he does warn her three times to write neater on the forms.
They take him in quickly, and he practically pleads for Penny to come with him, and she figures this is the least that she owes him after he did the same for her once. Of course, when the nurse comes in with a hospital gown, she starts to wonder if this was a good idea after all.
“Let this very nice nurse help you, Sheldon.”
“Penny, you should know by now that I’m uncomfortable enough around my friends. No matter how nice this woman might be, I’d rather be uncomfortable with you than her, and
since my clothes are soaked from falling in the snow, I really have no choice.”
“Fine, I’ll do it. Hand it over.”
The nurse hands her the gown and says, “Just leave his wet clothes on the counter and we’ll take them somewhere to dry. Good luck.”
Penny laughs as the nurse exits the small curtained off area they’re in. She looks Sheldon up and down and frowns as she tries to figure out how to do this with minimal weirdness for them both.
“Okay, this is going to be awkward no matter what, so let’s just get it over with. I’m gonna unbutton and unzip things from here and then I’ll go around the back and… eh… we’ll figure it out?”
Penny breathes in slowly and reminds herself that she’s seen plenty of guys naked, and just because it’s Sheldon, it shouldn’t be weird. It’s just skin after all.
She steps closer to him, and in one swift move she unbuttons and unzips his pants. Sheldon gasps softly in surprise, and she can’t help but grin because she’s had a little practice with that move. Getting his two layers of shirts off is a lot tougher with his constant groans of pain, but at least it’s helping them ignore the fact that her hands are all over his bare skin.
“Okay, I’m going to go around now and help you with your pants and uhh – do we really need to take your underwear off?”
“They’re soaked and I’m cold.”
“Just don’t look at anything.”
Penny walks around and grips the back of his pants and says, “Don’t worry about that.”
But she peeks. Of course she peeks. It’s right there, after all, and she thinks it’s payback for when he did his own peeking years ago.
And it’s not a bad butt if she has to grade it. It’s not like a Chris Evans level of butt, but it’s got its own thing going on, and it’s surprisingly not bad.
“Uhh. Nothing. Just step out of your pants, and we’re done with this part.”
Sheldon does as instructed, and she slips the gown on him as quick as possible but can’t keep herself from taking one last peek at his butt before she ties the gown shut.
He never said the hero couldn’t peek more than once.
There are x-rays and pain medications and a nice middle-aged doctor who is able to put Sheldon’s shoulder back in place with a surprisingly minimal amount of screaming.
The doctor is giving them instructions on what to do once they’re home when Penny asks, “So we’ll be able to get back to our cabin before midnight?”
She gives Penny a sympathetic smile and says, “There was a bit of a storm rolling in when you got here, and they’ve closed the roads back to the resort, so I’m afraid you’re stuck here with us for the night.”
Sheldon and Penny groan simultaneously as the doctor continues, “We’ll do everything we can to keep you comfortable. There’s a cafeteria down the hall if you get hungry, and we can bring in an extra bed so you can get some sleep tonight. Just let the nurses know whatever you need.”
Sheldon is already dozing off so Penny takes this opportunity to get a sandwich before she comes back to sit with him and watch Anderson Cooper count down to midnight on CNN.
His eyes are shut, but she can hear him mumble something, so she looks over and asks, “You okay, sweetie?”
His eyes open, and he puts his free hand on the railing of the bed. “Penny. You know what to do next.”
“Right now? Here?”
“Can’t it wait until we get back to the cabin?”
She sighs and puts her hand on the lower part of the railing then clears her throat and begins singing Soft Kitty as quiet as she can. It’s not quiet enough because she can hear the nurse working on the other side of the curtain giggle.
When she’s done singing, Sheldon reaches for her hand through the railing, and instead of holding it, he just wraps his hand around her ring and pinky finger and smiles at her.
“Thank you, Penny.”
His eyes start to shut ,and she thinks he’s drifting off again, but then he opens them and speaks, “I know I said Leonard was my best friend, but I think you are.”
“That’s sweet, but I think that’s the drugs talking.”
“No, no, no, I see everything very clearly.”
“Suuuuuuuuure you do.” Penny tries to take her hand away, but he refuses to loosen his grip.
“I’m going to tell you a secret and you can’t tell anyone else. Not anyone, okay? Promise?”
“Even though you know I can’t resist good gossip, I promise.”
Penny leans in a little closer, and for a moment she’s sure he’s lost his train of thought but he snaps back again, “Losing Amy was difficult. I did not expect to feel attached to another human that way or to feel that kind of loss when they left.”
“I know, and I’m sorry.”
“Not finished. I wanted to tell you that as bad as that was, I’m glad I’ve never lost you because that would be so much worse.”
Penny opens and closes her mouth at least four times, trying to say something, but she doesn’t know what to say. ‘Thank you’ seems like not enough, and anything else she can think of sounds like too much.
She lucks out because Sheldon hums contentedly and then drifts back to sleep. He doesn’t let go of her fingers, and it’s actually kind of pleasant so Penny scoots her chair closer so they can stay that way comfortably while she watches the countdown to 2014.
Penny doesn’t want to think about what he’s said. From anyone, it means a lot, but from Sheldon it means more. When the clock strikes twelve she leans over his bed and gives him a kiss on the cheek and whispers, “Happy New Year, Sheldon.”
He surprises her by muttering back, “Happy New Year, Penny.”
Penny leans back in her chair with a sigh. It’s going to be a strange year, she can already tell.