Spoilers through Episode 7x12, The Hesitation Ramification, and AU from very close to the end of the episode. Unbeta'd, and I'm not sure I'm going to add any more to this. I was just so excited at the possibilities presented by this episode. I want to see Sheldon and Penny get their confidence back.

Leonard had just finished telling his roommate about how Penny had proposed, and how he didn't say yes. He was feeling depressed, unsure if their relationship was over.

Sheldon awkwardly patted his friend's shoulder. "I'm sorry, Leonard."

Leonard squinted up at him disbelievingly. "That's it? You're not gonna make some dumb joke or inappropriate comment?"

"No, Leonard. In the past, I've made no secret of the fact that I don't think the two of you are good for each other. Yet I want you to know that when I had heard that you and Penny had initiated your 'beta test' that I had a conversation with her."

Leonard groaned aloud. "What did you say to her?"

"I told her, don't hurt my friend."

"Oh. Wow, Sheldon... I had no idea. That... that was actually a really nice thing to do," Leonard noted, the surprise evident in his voice.

"The problem with your relationship, Leonard-" At this, Leonard groaned again and buried his head in his hands.

"-is that you have been in love with Penny for a long time, without ever really asking yourself if you liked her. When you looked at her, all you saw was how beautiful she was. You never considered her core personality traits, probably because they don't suit your own temperament. Your relationship started because she felt sorry for you, and you capitalized on those feelings to strengthen the emotional ties between you. Eventually, when her self-esteem hit a low point, you were able to swoop in. Your attention made her feel good about herself, but then her sense of worth became enmeshed in a destructive relationship. Instead of working hard to accomplish her dreams, she just tried to convince herself that you were all she needed to be fulfilled in life."

"Now your relationship has progressed to the point where her reaching for her dreams threatens your relationship, since it may bolster her self-esteem to the point where she might realize that the two of you shouldn't be together. She had the strength to do it once before, and she could do so again. So when she suffered a setback, you were quick to undermine her confidence. And when she finally felt she had nothing good left in her life but you, you turned her down. I don't know what your end game is, Leonard, but I must say, you are quite the evil genius. For myself, I must say that while I do not love Penny, I like her too much to treat her that way."

Leonard was staring at his roommate, mouth agape. "That's not- I don't- where are you even getting all this psychological bullshit?"

Sheldon raised his chin defiantly. "I have agreed to read one magazine per month in the 'softer sciences' of neurology and psychology. In exchange, she has agreed to read one magazine in the field of particle or theoretical physics in the same timeframe. It gives us something to talk about on date nights. While I still have no respect for the biological sciences, never let it be said that Sheldon Cooper cannot psychoanalyze with the best of them." With that, Sheldon swept off, leaving his roommate to wonder if he had accidentally stumbled into an episode of the Twilight Zone.

In the middle of the night, Sheldon tossed and turned in his sleep. He was having a very vivid dream which was about to cast some light on certain aspects of his life. In his dream, he was lying on a steel table, strapped down with restraints. He looked down and began to sweat when he saw that below the neck, he was a furry black and white capuchin monkey. He cast an apprehensive glance upward and almost shrieked in alarm. A giant-sized Amy towered above him. She was clad in a white lab coat, and she held a scalpel in one hand and a pair of tweezers in another.

"Just a little bit more..." she was saying as the tweezers dipped down and disappeared above his line of sight.

"Amy, what are you doing?" he cried fearfully.

"I've finally figured out the way to turn you into a normal boyfriend," Amy replied happily. As she spoke, she held up a hand to reveal a miniature TARDIS clasped in her tweezers. "This definitely has to go. And this, too," she added after a pause, holding up a tiny Enterprise.

"No! Not Spock! Amy, you have to stop!" Sheldon begged.

She looked at him quizzically. "You're not making logical sense, Sheldon. All I have to do is remove the parts of you that stand in the way of our relationship, and then we'll both... be so... happy together." She was struggling with something, yanking harder and then putting her foot up on the edge of the table for leverage.

"Amy, you must cease this nonsense at once," Sheldon ordered, trying for a stern and commanding tone of voice.

Instead of replying, she gave a final tug, and then held up a model of a bacterium with a wide grin. "Ha! We're getting closer. This is your germ phobia."

"Why are you doing this? I thought you were fond of me," he said, trying another tack.

"Fond of you? Sheldon, I love you. I've loved you for a very long time. Now, if you'll just stop squirming around, I think I can finally reach this last obstacle."

Sheldon struggled harder, but his small form was no match for the tight bands holding him fast. It seemed that Amy was deep inside the recesses of his mind now, and she was glaring ferociously as she jerked and worried at whatever it was she had found. With one final heave, she tumbled backward onto the floor, but the scowl on her face indicated that she had not been successful.

Instead, a holographic recording projected from his brain into the air above him. Both he and Amy could see it quite clearly. It was a memory from almost a year ago, when Amy had been trying to "cure" him of his need for closure. She stopped winding a jack-in-the-box toy before it popped up, sang all but the last few words of a song, and prevented an elaborate domino set-up from completely tumbling over. When she presented Sheldon with a mock birthday cake and then blocked him from blowing out the candles, he had had enough. In his frustration, he growled that he wished she were dead. Then the scene moved forward, speeding past Sheldon's trickery to get rid of Amy. He completed all the tasks Amy had interrupted. Then, Penny stuck her head in the door and told Sheldon that she loved him. He replied, "I love you too" in a voice that was somehow preternaturally amplified. The words echoed off of the steel-topped table, the linoleum floor, and the neat rows of cabinetry in the lab.

With a shriek of rage, Amy began to grow larger and larger until her head pushed up the ceiling tiles.

"No! You're mine! You love me! I will make you love me!" She began slashing away at his head with wild swings. Although it didn't hurt, Sheldon could feel his mind and soul slipping away under the onslaught. Then Amy, eyes glowing red, raised the scalpel in a two-handed grip and brought it down aimed directly at his heart.

Sheldon sat bolt upright in bed, the echoes of his screams fading from the room.

A soft rapping noise intruded into Penny's slumbering unconsciousness. She rolled over, taking half the covers with her as she sighed and opened her eyes. She shrieked at the sight of her quirky next door neighbor looming over her bed.

"Sheldon, what the hell! You scared me! What are you doing here?"

"I had to talk to you," he blurted out.

"At 2:16 in the morning?" she moaned, after glancing at her Hello Kitty alarm clock.

"Actually, yes. Tomorrow may be too late. Tonight is the only time I could be assured of having a private conversation with you."

"Fine," she grumbled, sitting up and turning on a small table lamp on her nightstand. "What is so important that you had to interrupt my sleep?"

Sheldon hesitated, then gingerly sat down on the edge of her bed. He began telling her about his dream and about the advice he had tried to give Leonard earlier that evening.

"I told him that he loved you but didn't like you, and that I liked you but didn't love you. But I was overlooking one crucial piece of evidence. In fact, with my eidetic memory, I am amazed that I could have missed it. Up until a few years ago, there were only three women in the world to whom I have ever said 'I love you', and they were all related to me."

He paused, then soldiered on. "Recently, Penny, you became the fourth. I remember it was after a particularly exasperating evening in which Amy once again tried to force me to change. I told her that I wished she were dead. Then I told her she was a wonderful girlfriend with my fingers crossed behind my back, just to get her to leave. A few minutes later, you poked your head in the door. You told me that you loved that I was in your life, and I responded, 'I love you too.'"

"Sheldon, that doesn't mean-" Penny began.

"I think it does mean something," he interrupted her. "I think we have both been trying to change to make someone else happy, instead of being with someone who will allow us to be ourselves."

"This coming from the guy who tried to train me with chocolates?" Penny asked skeptically.

Sheldon fidgeted. Darn, he was hoping she had forgotten about that.

"I will concede that neither one of us has been a perfect friend, but I am willing to start over. I have drawn up a relationship contract that specifies how we can resolve our differences."

She stared at the sheaf of papers as if it would bite her. He was serious, she thought. Holy crap on a cracker, Sheldon was seriously considering dating her! Well, she knew exactly how she could nip all this in the bud.

"Sweetie, there's one thing you're forgetting. Amy is willing to put up with a lot from you, and that includes your phobia about germs and being touched. I could never be in a relationship with someone who didn't want to touch me."

"I have considered that aspect of a relationship with you as well," Sheldon replied. "As you may recall, I have already had my hands on a rather intimate area of your body-what I believe you would refer to as 'second base'. I have seen you naked, and I have voluntarily hugged you on more than one occasion. Our friendship is already far more physically intimate than my dating relationship with Amy, which I plan to terminate tomorrow, regardless of your decision."

"All right, let's settle this here and now, Sheldon," Penny said. She just wanted to get back to sleep. Even when she was at her best, he could talk circles around her, but she was sure she knew how to shut him up for good.

"Kiss me, Sheldon," she commanded, leaning forward. The neckline of her nightie fell open, and his eyes were involuntarily drawn to her cleavage before he looked away, tongue running nervously over his lips. Hesitantly, he put a hand on her shoulder, feeling the bare skin surrounding the thin strap. She smirked at him. He reached up to touch her hair, tangling his fingers in her golden locks as he drew his hand down. Her smug look faltered. With his other hand, he brushed her cheek with the lightest of caresses. Her mouth dropped open slightly. His gaze fastened intently on her lips, and suddenly she felt unsure and nervous. He leaned in slightly and met her eyes with a heavy-lidded look. She swayed toward him and closed the last fraction of a gap between them.

His lips were firm, but very soft.

Her lips moved across his in a unbearable frisson of pleasure.

His hand fisted gently but insistently in her hair, and she sucked in a quick indrawn breath. Her hands crept of their own volition to clutch at his pajama shirt. He didn't know exactly what he was doing, and there was really no way she should be getting turned on by the idea of his inexperience.

He pulled away, and she felt bereft, staring into his eyes in bewilderment.

"Actually, I think you were the one who kissed me, Penny," he said in a baritone that sent shivers down her spine. He pushed the relationship contract into her unresisting hands.

"Think about it," he whispered. "I'll be waiting."