Fandom: The Big Bang Theory
Author's Note: For lexiesloan who wanted a post ep. I went a little overboard. And kind of left things open-ended. There might be a continuation of this eventually, I don't know.
Summary: Post 3.21 - "The Plimpton Stimulation". She's everyone's favorite until the next pretty girl shows up, and then the boys are drooling at her feet. And maybe Penny's grown tired of that. Maybe she's grown tired of the sudden lack of loyalty.
He catches her by the mailboxes again.
Penny doesn’t bother faking a sunny disposition, the grin and bear it mantra that she’s been subscribing too in Sheldon’s presence for the most part. She’s tired, she’s annoyed, and the lunch shift at the factory with a smile plastered to her lips pretty much made her face hurt by the end of it. She remains neutral, at best, and hopes this is one of those times that Sheldon’s oblivious to things like feelings and emotions and a world outside of science or comics.
But, you know, those are usually the times when he isn’t. Today, he approaches her with some trepidation. “Hello, Penny.”
Her smile is tight, instinctual. She watches him sidestep her, forward and to the right, some complicated set of movements that come dangerously close to infringing upon his claims that in no universe is there a Sheldon Cooper that dances. “Sheldon,” she says, flatly, though the corners of her mouth lift a little at the little looks he keeps throwing her, wide-eyed and nervous.
Like he’s scared of her.
Like Leonard did sometimes. Like Howard and Raj do every now and then.
The smile disappears in the face of the reminder.
“Penny,” he says, and she realizes she hasn’t stopped staring at him, hasn’t moved despite the fact that her mail is securely in hand. “Is there something troubling you?”
The one day she wanted him to be less perceptive. “No, Sheldon, everything’s fine.”
He gathers his own mail, short, jerky movements and then pauses to look at her again, as if another thought’s occurred to him. “Was that sarcasm?”
She doesn’t know. It was either that or an outright lie for his benefit; take your pick really. She settles for a fairly confident, “No.”
“Alright, then,” he starts walking towards the stairs, pauses at the edge of them when she doesn’t follow. It takes several seconds of significant eye contact before it occurs to her that he expects her to join him on the walk up. Something that will most likely involve small talk that has the potential to turn into accidental interrogation if she’s not careful.
Penny bites her lip. “Yes.”
“Yes what?” He asks. “I’m unclear as to what part of our conversation you’re referencing.”
This is almost too much work. She should’ve just walked up four flights of stairs and shut herself in her apartment. He’d pass it off as her time of the month. Unless he cross-referenced with the calendar; in that case there probably would’ve been a knock on her door and a series of way too personal questions within the hour.
It’s a lose-lose situation, really.
“You asked if something was bothering me,” she prefaces.
“And you said no.”
“And now I’m saying yes.”
He furrows his brow, making like he would be crossing his arms over his chest, if not for the mail. “Then why on earth would you say no?”
She’s pretty sure the better question is why she’d bother to correct herself in the first place. This wouldn’t go anywhere good. “Never mind, Sheldon. Can we just go upstairs?”
Her eyes plead, one foot on the stairs, tentative. He straightens. And then he matches her movements and they fall into step with each other.
There is still a knock on her door within the hour. She turns the volume on the television up but he just knocks harder, speaks louder.
“What?” She asks, when she finally throws open the door, waiting through the third revolution of knocks before she does, so as not to receive questioning looks, his pattern interrupted.
He steps in without being asked and she tries to remember that she does that to them all the time, usually without knocking, and there’s times where he’d probably rather she not as well.
Still, “Come in, Sheldon.”
Somehow, he seems to pick up on that being sarcasm – probably because it sounds like something he would say. Or has said. He stands next to the couch, hands linked behind his back, studying her and, it occurs to her, waiting until he has her full attention, before he speaks. “Given that you seemed agitated earlier, I thought it best to go over my logs in order to locate any disturbance on my part. I also asked Leonard if he’d done anything. He proposed that perhaps you were irritated with him because he and, I believe he said you referred to her as Dr. Slutbunny – ”
Right. She did do that. Which was probably just a little inappropriate and hypocritical. A little. A lot. Whatever. “Don’t call her that.”
“But Leonard said – ”
“Yes, I said that,” she cuts him off, “and I shouldn’t have.”
He clears his throat; he really doesn’t like being interrupted which is interesting because he tends to do it so often. “As I was saying, he believed that your current mood could be explained by your irritation at the fact that he and Dr. Plimpton participated in coitus.”
“Don’t say that either.”
Sheldon balks. “But – ”
“Say sex or…relations. Say relations. That’s a nice non-offensive word.”
There is a long pause and she’s pretty sure he’s just waiting to see if she’s got anything else to say, to minimize his chances of getting cut off again. Then, “Is there a reason you’re focused on my choice of words?”
“No,” she looks down, “there’s not.” She waits for him to continue, rather patiently she might add, but he only looks at her until she replays the conversation back over and remembers that it’s still sort of her turn. She just went off on a tangent first. “And he’s right.”
“Ah, I see,” he replies, in a way that she guesses pretty much means he doesn’t really but thinks he’s supposed to. Gingerly, he takes a seat on the couch. It’s a little bit like he’s giving her the floor, albeit reluctantly. It’s strange. She was pretty sure that as soon as he figured out what was going on, he’d be on his merry way. That’s the way it’s supposed to go.
“You realize you’re basically offering to listen to me talk about relationships right?” She eyes him, feeling mildly concerned for his sanity. And maybe her own. He nods. She does a mental inventory of all the reasons for his behavior, deciding that if he’s here that means that whatever is going on in 4A is worse. Specifically, “Is Leonard singing again?”
“If you can call that singing,” he answers, snidely.
“Sheldon,” she starts, without really knowing where she’s going with it. She walks around the coffee table and settles herself on the arm of the other end of the couch. Then she tries to will herself to start speaking, tries to get her lips moving around the words. Nothing comes out. “Just go home. I’ve heard him sing; it’s not that bad.”
“He’s also violating the clause in our contract that bans whistling.” She blinks; she knows this one. “I told him to leave but he just locked himself in his room and turned his music up to a decibel level that is generally not recommended for people who would like to avoid eventual damage to their hearing. Which I would.”
“You know, sweetie,” she folds her hands in her lap, tension falling out of her shoulders ever so slightly, “if you want to hang out here while he…goes through whatever he’s going through then you can just say so. You don’t have to make up excuses.”
“Why would I do that?” Sheldon’s a shitty liar; he can’t keep up with his elaborations and has more tells than she can count. It’s why he’s the one person she can always count on to be truthful to her.
“I don’t know.” And this next part? Will totally go down in history as the part where she elaborates too much. The part where she makes her mistake and gets way too caught up in her own head. “I don’t know why anybody does anything. I certainly don’t know why every time some new hot piece of ass shows up, I get dumped like I’m yesterday’s news while you guys throw yourselves at her.”
This is probably where Sheldon makes an attempt at cutting in. Problem is, she doesn’t really like being interrupted any more than he does.
“And it’s not just Dr. Plimpton. I mean Alicia from upstairs? The one who tried to basically turn you guys into her man-slaves? But that was fine and off went Leonard like a good little trained puppy. It was like I didn’t even exist. I mean, did he even think about how I’d feel? And then he just jumps into bed with Dr. Whatever like we didn’t just break up like three weeks ago, like he didn’t just say he loved me three weeks ago and – I mean, I do rebound, okay, I get it, but it’s thirty-six hours and then I’m done, it’s over, and usually the guy I just broke up with doesn’t live across the hall, so, no chance of him finding out.”
At this point – at the point where she realizes that she’s been talking for a minute or two there, off in her own little word – Sheldon’s somewhere between horrified and…strangely calm. When he’s determined that she’s done, something which apparently requires a straight minute of nothing but staring, he says, “Penny, I believe you’re missing an important point.”
“What?” She sounds more exasperated than she probably has a right to.
He kind of sounds offended that she doesn’t come up with an answer right away. “I do none of those things.”
“You let her sleep in your bed, Sheldon. You don’t even like people in your room.”
“I fail to see how that falls into the same category as Leonard’s antics, not to mention those of Wolowitz and Koothrappali, whom I’m told briefly considered entering into a ménage a trois in order to participate in,” off her look, he adjusts, “have relations with Dr. Plimpton.”
She rolls her eyes, aware that she probably should be grateful for the effort. She’s not really feeling grateful for much at the moment. Maybe the vodka she’s going to break into when he leaves.
“Furthermore, she’s a very well-respected cosmological physicist, who – ”
“Yeah, well, half the time I’m your well-respected cab driver.”
“Penny, you don’t drive a cab.”
“I know!” Okay, now she has the right to be exasperated. She’s on her feet, pacing half-moon shapes into the floor, and Sheldon’s eyes follow her carefully. This time, she fights to keep her voice steady and just quiet enough that it won’t scare Sheldon out of the room. “That’s not the point. The point is that you made an exception for her, when you don’t make exceptions for anyone. You wouldn’t let me sleep in that bed.”
“Yes, I would,” he answers without much thought at all; it catches her off guard. “It’s the principle of reciprocity. You allowed me to sleep in your bed when I was locked out of my apartment, therefore if circumstances were to be reversed I would be expected to do the same.”
She stares, unblinkingly. “Sheldon?”
“That’s a social convention.” Yeah, this is really how she talks now. She’s around these guys way too much. “And it’s optional.”
“Not according to my mother,” he replies, with a grimace. It’s enough of an amusement to distract her so he can add, “Moreover, though you apparently have declined to notice, in the previous situation that you alluded to – as well as ones similar in nature to it – I tend to gravitate towards you rather than the ‘hot piece of – ’ ”
She holds up her hand to stop him from repeating that phrase, saving her the horror, or possibly the hilarity, of hearing those words come out of his mouth. This is a serious discussion and there will be no laughing. “Yeah and that’s because it’s easier for you to avoid social situations if no one expects you to be social.”
“We exchange pleasantries and converse, often in detail.”
“No, I mean like having to get to know a person and turn down the…” she doesn’t know how to describe the weirdness he tends to exhibit in the face of new people. Or maybe it’s just everyone and she’s so attuned to his quirks that she doesn’t notice it anymore. It’s probably the latter. “Or going to a party and mingling. I don’t expect you to want to do that stuff and I don’t expect you to do it very well all the time either.”
“Oh.” And here is this indescribable expression that comes across his face. She swears she’s reading it wrong; she swears it looks a bit like hurt. “And I was under the impression that I did that because we were friends.”
In that moment, she feels like a complete bitch because that thought never even crossed her mind. She swallows. “We are, sweetie.” The comforter in her feels the compulsive need to lay hands on him but she keeps them by her sides and instead sinks into the couch, this time next to him instead of on the arm. He does not straighten to minimize all possibility of contact, nor does he turn his head to look at her. “I’m sorry.”
“For what?” She watches the way he angles his long neck, follows the line of his jaw, because Sheldon is many things, from total pain in the ass all the way to beautiful mind genius, but he’s also, quite often, a wonder of sorts. His mannerisms and those sudden moments of complete self-awareness, his abrasiveness hiding his loyalty; sometimes she’s fascinated by him.
“Unloading on you.” She runs a hand through her hair, closes her eyes and tries to refocus herself. “I’m just…being overemotional or something.”
“I believe it’s fairly ordinary for someone so concerned with social dynamics and relationships, such as yourself, to experience some amount of distress in situations such as the ones you’ve just described.”
Penny raises an eyebrow. “Is that you’re way of saying you understand?”
“Just because I am aware that it occurs does not mean I understand it.”
She smiles because she can, then takes a risk and reaches over the space between them to plant a hand on his shoulder, maneuvering herself so that she can press a kiss to his cheek, run fingers along that jaw line. Every muscle in his body tenses for a split second but he relaxes into her touch as much as he can at the awkward angle – his ramrod straight position and her attempt to not press her whole body against his, following the theory that too little is better than too much at least when it comes to him and contact, complicate things.
There’s something strange in his expression when she pulls back, something she can’t place, and when she drops her hand from his cheek, he catches her wrist between long fingers. She stills. “Penny.”
The thing is, she has no script for this moment. There is no approved comeback, no set of actions and words that give her a desired outcome. “Yeah?”
“I make it a point not to have these sorts of conversations. I feel I am of little use and comfort in them.” He still has her wrist, gentle pressure, and she watches his thumb brush against her skin before finding his eyes again. She’s probably supposed to deny his concerns but they both know that would be a lie. To most people, he’s correct. Sometimes, though, with her? He’s just what she needs. “But I am not entirely against it, in your case.”
It means I’m here for you. It’s loyalty.
This time, she presses a chaste kiss to his lips, and when she lines her body up next to his he does not stiffen.