So I really like giving Leonard a girlfriend. I think it helps to move his character along and keeps people from feeling bad for him because he turns into the fifth wheel or whatever. I like Leonard, I do, so a nice stable girlfriend who not only gets him but also complements him is something I like giving him. Also, this way Penny can girl-talk. Sure, she's closer to a Mary-Sue than I like, in that she's sort of perfect for the situation and for the character, but she's also a background character that's in one scene and isn't dating either of the leads. Can that really be a Mary-Sue? IDK.
As it turns out, Michelle is pretty good company.
She’s smart without being socially stunted, can keep up with the boys without being alienating, and still manages to ask Penny where she got the cute little flats she’s wearing.
There’s also the small matter of her helping Penny clean the few dishes that they actually used, to let Sheldon and Leonard continue their rapidly escalating discussion, and Penny smiles and gratefully accepts the help and says, “You two are good together.”
“You think?” It’s an honest question, not sarcasm.
“Yeah, I do.”
Michelle’s drying a dish a few moments later when she picks the conversation back up again. “He’s been nervous since he picked me up tonight. So I guess you guys used to date.”
Her jaw drops a little at how quickly Michelle had deduced that, and she instantly goes on the defensive, “Yeah, years ago I mean, but it’s nothing.”
The other woman is quick to cut her off. “Hey. No. That wasn’t jealousy talking. I just…that’s why he was nervous and that’s why he’s never brought me with him before. It makes sense now.”
She almost believes her. She wants to believe her. It would make things a lot more comfortable. “That really doesn’t bother you?”
Michelle shrugs. “I work with my ex. I know how it is. You shouldn’t be faulted for who you dated five years ago.”
I 100% believe in that, btw. For the record.
From out of the corner of her eye, she watches Sheldon shake his head, making some complicated gesture that he seemed to be using to describe something. Whatever he was saying, she wasn’t processing it above the sound of the running water, but Leonard was, trying and failing to speak and getting cut off at every turn. Just like old times. Abruptly, she asks, “Does Leonard know that?”
Brushing a few strands of auburn hair that had fallen in her face with the hand that wasn’t damp from the dishes, Michelle gave her a sheepish smile. “No. Does Leonard know that his ex-girlfriend might have a thing for his ex-roommate?”
There’s no convincing argument as to why she should refute that. It’s a fact. She might. And Michelle doesn’t seem like the kind of woman who’s going to run off and tell Leonard the minute they get in the car to leave. So she owns up to it. “No.”
“See, there’s a lot of things Leonard doesn’t know. And I’m guessing the same thing goes for Sheldon.” She sets the glass she’s been drying upside down on a towel and it occurs to her that Sheldon hasn’t done much in the way of lecturing this woman. She’s adaptable; a lot like Penny in a way, even if she’s also super smart. “That’s why they have us.”
After that, Penny’s fairly sure that her and Michelle are going to get along fabulously.
Trivia: There is an outtake on this, which fits neatly between these two scenes, however I couldn't make it work so it got scrapped.
First there is a click. A door closing, settling into place.
There’s a five second delay while she registers what’s wrong with that, and then she bolts upright in place, a place that happens to be Sheldon’s couch. And there is light coming in from the windows.
The note on the coffee table in front of her so helpfully fills in the rest of the blanks:
You fell asleep here last night which is why you will most likely experience some sense of disorientation upon waking up. Please remember to lock the door upon your departure.
Her shoes are lined up against the far side of the couch and a blanket’s been tucked around her at some point in the night. It’s smells clean, like detergent and dryer sheets, and it’s warm from her body heat. She levels her gaze at the clock in the kitchen, registers that the click of the door was simply Sheldon leaving for work, and decides that she really doesn’t feel like traipsing across the hall and crawling into her own bed which is most likely cold. Plus she’d probably be more awake by the time she got there.
She throws the blanket back over herself, settles back into the couch, and closes her eyes.
She’s been to work and back again by the time he gets home.
In that same span of time she’s also managed to pick up takeout and bring it back with enough time that it’ll still be hot when he walks in the door. She uses her spare key to let herself back into his apartment (it occurs to her that this is what they call co-habitation, in a way) and settles the food on the coffee table and is just trashing the bag it came in when she hears his key in the unlocked door. There’s a confused noise on the other side.
“It’s me Sheldon,” she says, lest he think his apartment has been invaded by someone with thievery on the mind. He does have a lot of valuable entertainment equipment in here.
I did not actively know about The Bozeman Reaction. Just fyi.
“Oh.” The door falls open. She has his special soy sauce in her hand, five inches from the coffee table. He nods and tugs his messenger bag off. “Okay.”
It should’ve been the same as any other weeknight when they find it’s just the two of them for dinner. She’s lost count of the number of those; they always go approximately the same way. It’s the price of being friends with someone like Sheldon, someone who adapts so slowly it’s barely noticeable that he’s changing at all.
Except for tonight. Too many factors are off.
I occassionally like to throw people into the middle of a scene: this is a good example of that.
Upon hitting fast forward -- if life had a button like that -- you’d eventually land on this scene:
The remnants of takeout on the kitchen counter, half cleaned up.
Random sci-fi related show on pause, the remote control either buried in a couch cushion or under something on the coffee table.
Her cell phone, blinking with a missed call.
Penny with a knee swung over Sheldon’s legs, straddling him with a hand on his arm, the other resting on his shoulder, steadying herself. He’s got a hand resting behind her knee, grip firm and confident even if the rest of him appears to be anything but.
There are a lot of things that Penny doesn’t know the answer to right now, but there is one thing that she undoubtedly does know: he is not unprepared for this. This has crossed his mind. She can tell from the way his lips fit against hers after a second delay; she’d seen him be kissed before -- and not just with Leonard’s mother – seen him stand like a wall, rigid and too stunned to break away, to know whether this was okay or not.
He may have been startled but he wasn’t stunned and he seemed to classify it under ‘okay’ fairly quickly.
Some people like to write Sheldon as wholly unprepared; some people don't. I fall in the latter camp. I don't think he's a virgin, nor do I think he doesn't understand how this works. And as the years go by, in this timeline, he has to have picked up some tricks.
The precursor to this moment, the conversation leading up to it, is fairly irrelevant. It wasn’t an epic talk about feelings, or talking about feelings in metaphors that he probably wouldn’t have understood. It wasn’t about them at all. It was about the aftermath of paintball three weeks ago, about a shirt she’d ruined and the argument in the car on the way back home. His lips had been moving a mile a minute and she’d found her eyes glued there. It would be so easy to just lean in and stop all the wondering and the worrying – to just get it out of the way and into the open.
I like the idea of Penny going paintaballing with them, i don't know why.
So she did. She kissed him and, like in all good fairytales, he’d kissed her back after a not too-long interval of time.
Which is how she ended up here.
“Okay,” she breathes out, the silence grating on her with each passing moment. All she can hear is his breathing, slow and steady, unlike her own, which has become erratic. She wants to lean forward, press her forehead to his and let that sound and the solid feel of him beneath her lull her but she feels like he might panic, like that might be too much. The last thing she needs is deer-in-headlights Sheldon rushing off into his room and leaving her on her own with these swirling thoughts.
“I’m sorry; I’m unclear as to whether you mean that in the context of measuring my performance moments ago, or if you are simply stating your current feelings and/or emotional state.” He says, when she hasn’t elaborated further. Like she said, the statement wasn’t exactly referring to anything specific. Trust Sheldon to analyze everything, even in moments such as these.
“It’s neither,” she replies. He keeps right on staring at her and she thinks she should feel more awkward than she does, with his eyes scrutinizing her like this, right up close and personal, and – this is Sheldon, Sheldon, the guy she’s lived next door to for more years than she can count on one hand, her ex-boyfriend’s roommate, the all-around geekiest guy she knows, with a complete lack of social skills and extensive knowledge of everything in the world but the kinds of things you can find in the tabloids or around the proverbial watercooler.
She’s been thinking about this and him just about non-stop since Thursday morning and yet this is the first time it’s really hitting her that she doesn’t have a damn idea what she’s getting herself into. Not with a man who’s never, to her knowledge, been in any sort of substantive relationship. Not with a man who’s ever expressed any definitive feelings other than friendship to her and yet seems anything but disturbed by this turn of events. Not with a man who approaches everything he does with an absolute drive for perfection.
It terrifies her.
His brows knit together, a frown. “Then why – “
“Sheldon,” she starts, just to get him off of that particular line of questioning. There’s a lot of things she’d like to ask him right now and all of them are variations that begin with the word ‘why’ so she has trouble deciding which one to go with, if she goes with any of them at all. It’s not too late to just get up and leave, a little voice in her head keeps reminding her.
“Penny,” he replies, mimicking the inflection she used on his own name.
Out with it, she thinks, and brings up the part of a days old conversation that’s been bugging her. “You said you ‘had no needs that warranted further satisfying’.”
“Yes, I believe I did. I’m not sure how that’s relevant.”
“You changed.” She’s thinking on her feet and not doing the worst job of it ever. There’s still a lot of room for improvement if she ever hopes that he’ll be able to follow her. “You adapted or…whatever. There was coffee except you don’t drink coffee and then – you hate change and yet I kiss you and you’re acting like you’ve had this factored into the equation already. Like this isn’t entirely out of your realm of possibilities.”
“Very few things can be considered impossible Penny. Improbable perhaps but – “
She kisses him, to see if she can find that rhythm again, and she thinks she feels his pulse quicken under her fingertips that have fallen against his wrist. He’s not entirely unshaken by this and it’s a small comfort to her. The hand on his shoulder moves, wraps around his neck and pulls herself closer. She likes the way his kisses are precise, like following a series of memorized instructions, yet it differs already from minutes ago, like maybe he’s learning. He’s a fast learner with everything else.
His hand hovers by the small of her back before finally settling there, and she knows he’s questioning hand placement by the awkwardness of his movements. That’s okay because that’s expected; Penny’s discovering she’s become a little bit change resistant too, made nervous by the way his actions have so far differentiated from the norm.
When she pulls back, he does not let go.
When she pulls back, it is her who reacts to the ringing of her phone once more, says, “I should get that,” ducking her head and, with a graze of her fingers against his cheek, disentangles herself from him and answers her damn phone.
It’s Greg. The guy she came home with on Friday, though it takes her too long to remember that. He wants to know if she wants to go out sometime.
Sheldon’s frozen on the couch, not yet settled back into reality as they usually know it, and he isn’t looking at her at all.
She tells him she’s busy. And then she walks out of the apartment and nearly collapses against her door as it closes behind her, an awful fight between relief and fresh panic overtaking her.
Work consumes her Tuesday and she’s almost glad for the reprieve, until she remembers that Sheldon and the boys frequent the Cheesecake Factory on Tuesdays, and there isn’t a chance in hell that Sheldon will call that off, even if he felt that there was a reason for him to.
Penny wouldn’t be surprised if he didn’t.
That, compounded by the fact that it’s going to be her table -- just like it always is because Sheldon doesn’t trust anyone else, not to mention that he’s far too finicky for anyone else to deal with without spitting in his food or something – makes her dread seven-thirty, the usual time that they appear.
It only makes it come faster.
“Hey,” Carla jerks her head in the direction of their usual table and Penny’s eyes have no trouble finding them. “Your friends are here.”
Once upon a time, before Howard and Bernadette broke up, not to mention way before Howard moved out of his mother’s house and into an apartment with Raj, Sheldon let himself become acclimated to the idea that Bernadette might not actually be trying to kill him and could figure out his order just as well as Penny could. It made the days Penny was busy with other tables or just wasn’t there a lot easier when there was another person who could handle that table.
The last time she saw Bernadette it was almost a year ago, decisively letting the manager know that she was quitting, with a ring on her finger and a hand on her pregnant belly.
Apparently, I can be all meta with my need to have another girl on the show -- and then I go let Bernadette run off and be all happily ever after away. Consistency thy name is not Stephanie, thank you very much.
Penny is out of options.
She plasters a smile on her face and approaches their table. Leonard smiles, his immediate and possibly unconscious reaction to seeing her, and Howard and Raj squabble straight until she’s standing right in front of them. Howard will make a lewd comment or say something about how great she looks, the latter well intentioned; Raj will offer a wave and a smile but words still don’t come easy to him when women are involved and alcohol isn’t.
Sheldon’s eyes will remain affixed to the menu, mulling over the options even if they both know his order doesn’t change, until she speaks; he will have noticed her long before any of the other three.
That last line might be the favorite thing that I've written all year. And I don't say that lightly because, despite it being February, I have written a lot this year already.
For a moment, sometime around midnight when she can’t sleep and she thinks she hears the sound of the television on low across the hall, she forgets who she is and who she’s dealing with, and almost raps her fist against the door.
Instead, she drags herself back into her bed and flips her pillow over, the cold side now against her cheek (these aren’t nightmares, but she would very much like for this feeling to go away).
Ah, the old cold side of the pillow trick. I honestly have no idea if that works or not.
Wednesday, after work and one nearly sleepless night, she lets herself into his apartment again. She does not bring food. She does not time it so that she arrives and is ready at exactly the same time as he usually gets home.
She waits. First on the couch, except she can’t figure out where to sit and starts to think that maybe she wants to be standing for this conversation, to take charge. The chair feels too confrontational, like it separates her from him. Going into any of the other rooms is useless. Going into his bedroom would probably terrify him and is also pointless. She ends up pacing, leaning against the kitchen counter while she tries to convince herself that she should stay here and not cop out and run across the hall and just forget all about it, when she hears his key in the door.
You know when you're waiting for something and you start to agonize over the stupidest thing? That's this. And I have in fact done this. Although I didn't later get to makeout with Sheldon Cooper, so pity's the more.
It’s not locked. He notices this fairly quickly, an audible sigh before the door is even open. She pushes up with her arms and ends up sitting on his kitchen counter, all at once deciding that’s where she’ll be staying for the duration of this. Her feet dangle.
That sigh is not only him annoyed that she's once again left the door open but also him semi-realizing what he's about to deal with. This is the end of them dancing around each other. This is it. And he quite possibly knows that. Isn't that a miracle?
“Penny,” he says as the door’s opening, before he can conceivably see her. He doesn’t need to see her. Of course, when he actually does, he regards her with concern and slight annoyance. “You are aware you are currently sitting where I prepare my food.”
“You prepare your food by calling for takeout,” she replies, aware that it’s only mostly true for dinner, because there are pans and various other cooking instruments and she’s seen them used before. It’s really only a matter of time before he jumps in to correct her so she shrugs and says, with no amount of seriousness, “So move me.”
Two notes: 1) they do eat a LOT of takeout so that's totally warranted, also 2) this and the section below is born out of a conversation with bebitched about how she wished he would just move her on his own one of these days. Plus the dialogue kind of works in a surprisingly hot way, at least IMO.
He won’t. Although every now and then, when she’s taken his spot and he’s grown tired of telling her not to, he gets this look like he’s contemplating whether physically relocating her would be worth the trouble. Today won’t be the day he attempts this though, as he says, “Though I am often wrong in regards to the motivations behind people’s actions, I do feel as if I might be on to something. Are you perhaps here to continue the conversation you chose to abort in favor of taking what sounded like a rather unimportant phone call, if your tone and the multitude of one-to-two word replies is any indication?”
Holy crap on a cracker, he got this one right. What were the odds of that? She attempts to cover up her surprise with, “Since when have I ever needed a reason to randomly be in this apartment?”
“According to your interpretations or mine?” He asks. Somewhere in here, he’s divested himself of his messenger bag and his jacket. The clothes he’s wearing today, though still double-layered and not color-coordinated, contain no discernable comic book related characters or references, which is a nice change of pace.
It's totally the little things that change with this man.
“Come here,” she tells him, and her tone sounds nothing like the drugged up or drunk Penny that’s said that to him in the past. In fact, to a normal guy her tone would be unmistakable. She likes that he’s not a normal guy here though; she likes that he walks over to her, albeit cautiously, with fairly little idea of what she’s going to do next.
So, the whole making out on countertop? Totally my new kink.
When he stops about a foot in front of her, she grabs him by the wrists and pulls him closer, so that she can tilt her head up and kiss him. She finds that her position on the counter is fortunate, since it makes it so she doesn’t have to stand on tiptoe in order to reach him. Her hands slip from his wrists to his back and she feels his lips start to move against hers. She sighs against his mouth, relief once more.
The idea that Sheldon’s had this on the mind for some time now cements in her mind. The problem is, of course, why the change was never discernable to her at all. It’s all a blur of Leonard this and Leonard that and Leonard’s gone and Sheldon’s door wide open if she can take the failed sarcasm and successful criticism and routine. She must have missed it amid all the chaos of the former and it worries her that this has been something going on for so long, un-acted upon. It colors things, snippets of moments and empty words on the surface, in a brand new perspective.
As a commenter on the original version of this said, this is very much a meta moment. This is how the lovely fans (shout out to the Paradox) are looking at it. We're coloring things differently, tilting our heads just the right way.
Upon separating she finds her hands have slipped to ball in the fabric of his t-shirt and his hands are on either side of her thighs, just barely grazing her. She craves the heat of his skin on hers, shifts so that the few millimeters of distance on one side disappears and his hand comes in full contact with the side of her jean-clad leg, and says, “You have feelings for me. And don’t give me some speech about how you’re a homo novus and have evolved past that or whatever.”
“That’s not what the term refers to,” he cuts in. Trust Sheldon to pay more attention to the science and not the overall content of the conversation.
She yanks him closer, and not in a nice way like before, just close enough to know that she’s really serious about this right now. “I don’t care what it refers to.”
“I wasn’t the one who brought it up.”
He turns his head away, and she thinks it’s defiance first before he shifts his gaze back to her and removes his hands from both her and the counter, holding them several inches above their original spot, flat as boards. It could look like a defensive surrender signal but it isn’t. It’s just that he doesn’t seem to know what to do with them. “Fine.”
She watches him, waits for him to do something or say something, tries to see if those are wheels turning in his head or if he’s just stuck, too thrown off by this huge deviation from the norm. She loosens her grip on his shirt, flattens her palms against his stomach and feels him tense underneath her touch.
“Penny,” he starts, and his hands finally find a place to rest, specifically right on her thighs. His forwardness is only surprising until she feels his hands shake against her; then it’s almost heartbreaking. “There is a significant difference between a person’s needs and wants. For instance, though I believe many elements of the social sciences to be hokum, needs as defined by Maslow’s Hierarchy have several levels, the base of which being physiological ones such as sustenance and shelter, and the height being self-actualization, a level that I believe myself to have achieved. Now, where you are concerned, you fulfill the needs level that includes friendship and a sense of belonging.”
“Sheldon, I don’t – “
“Let me finish. You asked me about needs two days ago and attempted to amend my previous statement which was in fact correct in the first place. I have everything I need.” She’s waiting for the punchline here, a little too desperately. His jaw tenses. “I do not however have everything I want. I want the Nobel Prize. I want to one day create a time machine. I’ve never wanted any type of relationship outside of the realm of friendship – except with you, entertaining that particular notion didn’t come across as entirely uninteresting. In fact, it was just the opposite. At first the concept felt strange to me, perhaps misplaced, but my attitude of this too shall pass clearly hasn’t worked.”
The author's note explaining Maslow's Hierarchy and how this totally works can be found at the very end of the original version. They are a good, solid paragraph long and don't deserve pasting at the moment. Basically: I'm a second-semester psych student who paid a little too much attention in Life Span and Human Development and therefore let that knowledge bleed over. This is also where the story gets its title, since Sheldon has said the social sciences are basically hokum at least once.
She wets her lips, tries to take it all in. “How long have you been waiting for it to pass?”
“Three years, four months,” he replies, confident of the number if not the feeling.
Yeah. So he counted. We know how his memory is. At least it wasn't to the day.
“What do you say next time you say what you’re thinking like you do with everything else?”
“I’m not sure how exactly that would help matters.”
When she kisses him this time, her fingers spread along his neck and his back and she’s finally sure of what she’s doing. She’s finally sure he isn’t going to pull away.
Penny’s finally awake.
This is NOT the ending I planned. This is far from it. This is a tad anti-climatic and it took me awhile to understand why it came out like that. The thing is, this story has been about the little details, the small things that changed, the slow progression. Some big ending didn't make sense in the context of all that. So basically we have Sheldon and Penny, now basically boyfriend and girlfriend, and yes their actions are remniscent of what you might expect from a normal couple but the reactions aren't. They are still very much them and nowhere in their relationship will the word 'normal' ever be apt to describe them.
“You’re not wearing that.”
Sheldon’s about a foot into the living room when she says it and for her trouble she gets a look like she’s grown a third head. She smoothes the skirt of her dress and squares her shoulders. “Excuse me, since when do you take an interest in my wardrobe.”
“Since always,” she retorts, which is true. She has regularly demanded he change and he has regularly and rather resolutely ignored her entirely. The option to insist that since they’re making out now he should actually listen to her now exists but she chooses not to use it; it’s too early. “It’s my birthday. You could at least where something that isn’t blinding fluorescent green.”
“And yet you have no objection to Howard’s rather restrictive pants.”
Seriously, just paint the damn things on.
“I have many objections to Howard, which is not the point by the way. The point is that it’s my birthday and you aren’t wearing that.”
He frowns. “I have participated in several of your birthday celebrations and never have you dictated my wardrobe. Furthermore, you have attempted to commemorate my birthday in one way or another over the years and I have never dictated yours.”
“Sheldon,” she says, her lips a tight line.
He breaks their epic staring contest before it can actually become an epic staring contest, simply by choosing not to participate and thus move on. “I take it you had your car serviced recently, as I recommended after enduring that horrible noise that is caused whenever you hit your brakes.”
This is the ‘check engine light’ all over again. She crosses her arms. “No, I haven’t.”
There’s a very heavy, somehow condescending sigh. “Right. So I guess I’ll be forced to drive in order to ensure both my safety and your own.”
“Not if I want to get there before Christmas.” His mouth opens to correct her statement and probably tell her exactly how slow he’d have to drive in order to get there at Christmas, which as it stands is quite awhile away, but she speaks before he can. “If you’re not changing than I’m risking our lives. Deal with it.”
With that, she grabs him by the arm with one hand, grabs her keys with the other, and drags them both out of there so that they can make it to her sort-of-surprise party at Leonard’s within the next fifteen minutes.
On the first flight of stairs he asks, “By the way, since I understand I should inquire about these things, how did your audition go?”
“Don’t talk about the audition if you want to live.”
“I don’t understand how those two things are correlated. Did you have to sign some sort of confidentiality agreement that extended to – “
“I said don’t talk about it.”
“But I was under the impression you enjoyed talking about your acting career.”
“It didn’t go well Sheldon.”
“Oh. That’s rather unfortunate.” Pause. “Are you entirely sure you wouldn’t be open to at least taking my car instead of yours?”
Nothing changes. Nothing changes because everything had already changed. She just hadn’t realized it.
And scene. I end on the banter because I like the banter, because it's very them, disappearing down the stairwell still bickering.
I hope this provided enough insight to be worth your while. Honestly, since it's such a long fic I didn't have a ton to say that wasn't already said but I tried. Thanks for reading!