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the lonestar excursion

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Leonard is so busy arguing with Howard and Raj and trying to figure out a way around going all the way out to Texas, that he doesn't even seem to notice when she grabs her purse off the table, shoving her keys into it.

When she moves past him is a different story however. "Where are you going?"

"To Texas," she says, turning to look back at him. "You don't want to go, fine. I'll go."

"Penny, that's not…" he starts towards her, which seems to be the opposite of what he'd prefer. She knows he'd rather be having this discussion inside her apartment, away from Howard's commentary, and most likely he'd prefer to not have it at all. He grabs her hand and she expects him to say 'that's not what I mean' but he doesn't, instead she gets, "You really don't have to do this."

"No, I do." She replies, with all the confidence that she knows she won't feel on her way to airport. "I mean, someone has to go get him right? And maybe its better that it's not you guys considering that…maybe it's better." There is significantly more cheer in her voice on those last three words. "I may not understand him half the time but it's Sheldon and I'm going."

The telling part of this all is that she simply does not wait for their inevitable protests, she just starts down the four flights of stairs that she's traveled so many times. That she's traveled so many times with him.

---

She catches the same red-eye she figures the boys were going to. While waiting for her flight, she buys coffee and magazines and calls Leonard because she doesn't have his address and maybe wants to know if someone will let Sheldon's mother know that it's her coming and not them.

"Are you sure about this?" Leonard asks, and there's a lot that can be said about good intentions when it's not this late and she isn't nervous and already a little jittery from the coffee.

So she says, "Yes."

"Because you don't have to --"

"I know." The words are there, solid and firm, her way of breaking up the repetition between this conversation and the last. "I'll see you when I get back."

The next fifteen minutes are spent flipping through Vogue, looking at clothes there is no way she's buying unless she borrows money from someone other than Sheldon ��" like Bill Gates or Oprah ��" or, you know, takes out a loan, but she isn't really focusing on it anyways. She's thinking. She's had three months to think, three months in which she's killed time by working extra shifts and hanging out with her friends and maybe hooking up with one or two guys that already knew they were going down as bad decisions due to alcohol and poor judgment.

Three months of building it up in her head, their reunion and the aftermath of it, and the first chance she gets she's running off to Texas to go retrieve Sheldon. And if it wasn't her, it would've been Leonard, and it would've been her doing.

Her priorities are skewed, and definitely not in the way that she expected just days ago.

---

The drive isn't all that bad. She turns the radio way up, because she knows she won't be able to on the way back with Sheldon (and there's no if here, there's just a when, because she isn't leaving without him) and taps her fingers on the steering wheel along with the beat straight up until she pulls up into the driveway of Sheldon's old house. At least, one of them. The non-aluminum trailer one.

Penny only has to knock twice before the door opens and she's face to face with Sheldon's mother. She kind of gives her this once over that Penny's not entirely unused to but still finds mildly uncomfortable, and then says, "Well they did say there was a change of plans."

Her smile is too wide as she says, "Hi Mrs. Cooper."

The other woman motions for her to step inside the house and she finds no signs of Sheldon in the room, which is probably for the best. She imagines that this is the part where, if Leonard and the others were here, Sheldon's mother would've taken them to task about messing with his results and getting him to run back home. However, the worst thing Penny's done to Sheldon in the last three months is spoil Star Trek for him, and she's fairly sure she won't be hearing anything about that.

"I'll call for him," his mother says, opening the door, poised to yell for him.

Whatever conversation she's going to have with Sheldon, she'd feel more comfortable if his mother wasn't around during it and so perhaps unwisely, Penny intercepts. "It's okay, I'll go to him."

"I ought to warn you he's in his room. And Shelly does not like other people in his room."

This doesn't faze her in the slightest. "He'll make an exception."

His mother shakes her head. "Oh honey, I doubt that very much."

Still, she points out the door of the dining room, and Penny can see a hallway through the door of the adjoining kitchen so she figures that's where she's supposed to go. Once there, she finds four doors, all of them open except the one farthest down the hallway on the left. That tells her which room is Sheldon's.

She knocks three times, to the beat of his normal knock but without his name thrown in there. She ends it with, "It's Penny."

Sheldon doesn't answer but she can hear him moving around in there, and when she turns the door knob it gives, unlocked, and she moves inside, quickly closing it behind her in one swift movement.

This leaves her with Sheldon sitting on his bed, a model of something scientific and complicated and what he probably refers to as a toy, sitting on the floor in the corner of the room, most likely recently abandoned as soon as he heard her knocking. She waits for the expected 'people aren't supposed to be in my room', the futile comment that she always ignores, but she realizes he didn't say it to her in his room yesterday, and he isn't going to now. She was right; they're past that.

"I suppose you've come to take me home." He says, the same sad tone from earlier, before he started correcting her and being, well, Sheldon. The look on his face is just forlorn enough that she'd think to give him a hug if human contact was looked upon as something other than a mild inconvenience by him, so she keeps her hands to herself.

"No, actually I was just in the neighborhood." He frowns at her. It's a joke she instantly regrets. "Sarcasm."

"Ah, yes, of course it is." His eyes shift to his hands now, instead of her face. "As repetitive as it is to bemoan your abilities to persuade and give pep talks, I do feel the need to point out that if this is how you're choosing to go about convincing me to return with you, a result that is highly unlikely, you're doing it wrong."

There are other people who would've said that in about five words and still gotten across their meaning. Penny shakes her head, taking advantage of the fact that he isn't in fact looking at her, before she decides to take a risk and moves to sit next to him on the bed.

He tenses when the mattress dips and again she wants to put a hand out, to reassure him, maybe to comfort him.

"Okay," she starts, "well how am I supposed to do it?"

"I'm fairly sure you're supposed to have come up with that on your own. My aiding you would be considered cheating." She bites back the 'by who' that rises to her lips. "Also, as I stated previously, it isn't likely to work."

She sighs and, without anything to lean back against, she lets herself fall back against his bed. The mattress feels good, after going from the car to a plane to another car in quick succession, and she's fairly sure her hair was a mess when she got her, and this certainly isn't helping that. Not that he cares. She shifts so that her hips are in line with his, still sitting on the edge of the bed, close but careful not to touch.

Penny doesn't have a clue what to say to him but she knows if she doesn't say anything and stays here she'll not only be failing miserably at persuading him to come back, but she'll also probably fall asleep. And she thought she was tired at the airport.

"Alright," she begins, decisively, "you have to come back. You don't have a choice."

He looks down at her on the bed, and it occurs to her that perhaps her position isn't the most advantageous one for this conversation. "On what premises are you basing that statement on?"

This time she does straighten back up, so that she's as eye level as she's going to get with him. "On the premise that you have too much talent to waste. I mean what are you going to do here?"

"Teach evolution to creationists," he tells her, rather proudly.

She blinks at him, questioning his sanity. "Sweetie, you'd probably have better luck teaching me string theory."

This too seems to perk him up. "Are you volunteering?"

"No." There is no hesitation in her answer. There are certain things she would do for Sheldon, like fly the red-eye to Texas, and then there are things that she won't do for him, or anyone else, and that's willingly let him lecture her on anything and everything science related.

"It's probably for the best considering all of my results were incorrect and my credibility is currently in question." He replies, defeated, and she wishes she had chosen different words, had veered around all things string theory and North Pole. Sheldon's so off-putting and so neurotic sometimes that she forgets he's human; there's no question of that now.

"So it's a set back." Off his look, she corrects, "A big set back. But isn't the best way to get back at them to prove it without their help?"

It shouldn't change his mind. These are basic things that anyone could've told him if they'd taken the time to. Turn it into a revenge scenario, make them out to be the bad guys; it's ridiculously simple. And he doesn't go so far as to say anything but some of the tension in his body has eased. Somewhere, some of this making sense, and it shouldn't shock her but it does.

"Maybe you want to get your stuff and meet me in the car?" She asks after a long moment, testing the waters and his reaction. Penny wants so badly for him to just nod and get in the car without further protest, but she knows that's nothing more than a pipe dream so she waits.

She waits, sitting on the bed, holding his gaze. She waits as she rises in silence, heading for the door. She waits when she hears him shift on the bed and come this close to clearing his throat before he says, "I texted Wolowitz. Why did you come?"

Penny turns back to him, unwilling to tell him that Leonard had stood there and argued against it vehemently enough that she'd gone to get them to stop. Instead, she has to dig deeper than that. Or try. "Who else would I do laundry with on Saturday nights?"

He frowns, though not for the reasons one would expect. "You flew to Texas in order to have someone to do laundry with? I'm sure Leonard would've gladly aided you." The tapping of her foot against the carpet isn't intentional. "And also I imagine you would much rather be with him right now given your need to give into your primitive biological urges."

"Sheldon," she starts, without really knowing where she's going with that. These are not things that are easy to say or explain. She didn't have the words necessary to explain the need to get him back and return to some sense of normalcy after three months of…well, not normalcy, or how all these expectations in the face of reality with Leonard had kind of blown up in her face. He screwed Sheldon, more or less, and then hesitated on both the apology and trying to get him back, and that leaves her with a sour taste in her mouth that she desperately wishes she could shake off.

But she can't. She can't shake off any of it, and so now she's in Texas, and she's walking back towards him, dropping back down next to him, and he's looking at her like he expects her sentence to actually go somewhere instead of just lingering.

It's frustrating and she's conflicted and tired and still a little stunned from the vulnerability she's seen him display in the past thirty-six hours, and somehow that all leads to her leaning up and kissing him. It's short and she doesn't quite know where to rest her hands, so she ends with one bracing herself against the bed and one against his cheek, wondering if this will all even click in his mind before she regains control of her senses and breaks the kiss.

He does not pull back, in fact his lips move against hers, slowly, delayed reaction but most likely a voluntary one, and she isn't sure what she expected to happen but she pulls back. She pulls back and ends up with his eyes locked on hers, confusion and something else, and she realizes this means she's supposed to talk, explain, do all of the things that seem unappealing, so she presses her lips back against his and this time his reaction is instant.

She moves closer now, moving her hand from the bed to his shoulder, shifting so that she's on her knees, her legs folded beneath her, and she's pressed right up against his thigh. It's already far closer contact than it was when he hugged her, even without the kissing, and it's made even more intimate by way he turns his body and lets a hand fall on the small of her back.

Penny remembers the door isn't locked. She doesn't want to know what his mother would have to say about them all but making out on his childhood bed. Then both hands are on her, falling on her waist, and this is usually the part where someone ends up on top of each other and that's exactly how they end up, back against the pillows at the top of his bed, her in his lap, half-straddling his hips and they're lips are still locked.

His hands have worked their way up under her shirt, as if this was permission, which it kind of was, and he has big hands and long fingers that span her back, his movements controlled and not at all frenzied, just like his lips against hers. Everything's measured, everything is just so, the exact opposite of her. It's just like everything else with them.

"Shelly," his mother's voice comes from somewhere in the hallway. Penny shoots up abruptly, and with the rate she's going she probably would've fallen off of the bed or crashed into something in her haste. Instead his hands wrap around her forearms, holding her there, eye contact all she needs to know that he intends for her to stay still and quiet. "Tell me you aren't using that poor girl in there as a guinea pig for one of you little experiments."

Sheldon balks at the idea, open-mouthed and far more concerned with her accusation than he is with the possibility of his mother walking right through that door that she hadn't thought to lock because she hadn't thought she'd be, you know, making out with him any time soon. Or any time this century. "I do not experiment with humans, mother."

"And what do you call what you tried to do with the neighbor kids?"

"I was eleven," he retorts back, for apparent lack of any other defense. "And thank you for once again failing to understand the nature of my work."

He's seriously arguing right now. He could've just said 'no' and then his mother would be gone and she wouldn't feel like she was having a flashback to her sixteen year old self.

"Don't take that tone with me," his mother warns.

Sensing this was about to go somewhere that she didn't want, Penny ignores Sheldon's previous unspoken orders and keeps her voice steady as she says, "We're fine Mrs. Cooper."

"Penny is simply attempting to explain to me why I should return, in light of being both betrayed and humiliated by people I considered friends." He adds. The flush in his cheeks from earlier is gone now, but his hands remain just as tight on her.

No answer comes after that, just an audible sigh and footsteps that get farther and farther away. When a moment has passed, she gives him a raised eyebrow. "I thought you couldn't lie?"

"No. I can't keep secrets." He corrects, in something of a condescending tone.

She rolls her eyes. "Same difference."

"I'm sure Webster's would something to say about that. You see lying is the supposed art of --"

"Sheldon," she says, in a tone that's just deadly and commanding enough to stop him in his metaphorical tracks. "I know the difference okay. I'm just saying, if you can lie then you cover up whatever secret you're trying to keep. It's not that hard."

This time when he tries to argue, she gets one of her hands free and presses a finger to his lips, universal language for shut the hell up.

"You really know how to kill a mood, you know that?"

Again, there's that frown. "Excuse me?"

"Kill the mood? You know when a person…" and she can already see where this is going to go, "never mind. Language barrier."

She's off of him now, back on the edge of the bed. He's still lying flat on his back. It looks like something out of a movie, where the heroine has just come to her senses and is about to leave the guy she almost slept with, dignity still intact, huge mistake successfully avoided. Except she isn't sure what that was, much less if it was a mistake, and she isn't going anywhere without him.

Leonard slips into her mind once more and how she'll either be awkward or someone will give Sheldon valium again, and it will all be over after that. She thinks about how she ditched him to go running off to retrieve Sheldon and how she's already gotten farther with Sheldon than she did with Leonard and that can't be a good sign for them. If anything, it's a sign that she needs to reevaluate all of this.

"Penny," he pipes up, after too much silence from her, lost in her thoughts. His voice is marginally less condescending, back to the softer, kinder Sheldon that shows up for about ten minutes once a month.

Her reply isn't as snappy as it would've been, accounting for tone. "What?"

"I think I want to go home now."

The smile that overtakes her face is one of relief and maybe the mood isn't totally shot because she turns her body just so, pressing a kiss to his cheek. It's not the lips, but she'd rather get home and get her thoughts sorted out before she does anything stupid and possibly friendship altering.

Things will look clearer from her apartment -- at least she hopes they will.

---

"I hate flying," he complains, not a second after his seatbelt clicks into place. Her hands are on the steering wheel and she's looking over her shoulder as she backs out of the driveway, making sure she doesn't run over a cat or one of those stupid kids who apparently lack the common sense necessary to avoid playing in the middle of the road.

"I know," she tells him, familiar with it all by now. "But you didn't take a train to Texas and you certainly didn't drive, so suck it up."

Lo and behold, nothing between them in the past hour and a half, and that's exactly how long it's been since he told his mother that he was leaving, has been at all different or awkward or whatever she was worried about. There was an argument over something she didn't quite understand, brief as it was, and she had time to call Howard, not Leonard, to tell him that she was bringing Sheldon back. She could hear Leonard making inquiries on the other end of the phone, but Howard didn't relay them and Penny did her best not to focus on them.

"Can you not say anything about that to anyone?" She asks, just to get it out of the way. It's better not to have it lingering in her mind.

"Say anything about what?" And the saddest part is he isn't making a joke. He literally has no idea what she's talking about.

She looks at him for a long moment, pausing at a stop sign at the end of the street, and he meets her eyes like he's waiting for an answer. It's when she knows that all of the thoughts coursing through her mind about what they just almost did are hers alone. He either doesn't care or he's made the decision that there wasn't anything wrong with it and so it serves no purpose to discuss it.

It's both comforting and not, because, while it eases the tension she's feeling, it leaves her feeling just a little alone.

"Let's go home," she replies, finally, taking the left turn and driving toward the airport. It's not two minutes before he's done away with the radio completely, just like she knew he would, and on the flight back she nudges him with her shoulder, giving him a small smile that he matches halfway, genuine and somehow it ends up that he's the one reassuring her.

She'll figure this mess out. Maybe she already has.