I don't own the Big Bang Theory, just some dvd's. If I did own the show, Shenny would be real instead of merely the way things should be.

Chapter 1

Penny grimaced as she pulled her mail out of the mailbox. It was full of flyers for florists, lingerie and couple's massages at a local spa-the typical Valentine's Day offerings. She guessed she would go with lingerie again this year. After all, Leonard never got tired of unwrapping her like a present. With her failed proposal still recent in both of their memories, she figured they would stick with what worked for both of them.

As she turned to leave, she saw the lanky figure of her neighbor coming down the stairs toward her. He stopped and greeted her, and then reached to open his own mailbox.

"Sheldon," she said reflectively. "What are you going to get Amy for Valentine's Day?"

He sighed, a long, drawn-out, mournful sound. "Last year, I made her my emergency contact at work. Since that option is not available for me to repeat, I am not certain what would be appropriate."

"Well, you know what she wants," Penny teased in a roguish tone.

He gave her a blank look.

"She wants you to kiss her!" she cried, rolling her eyes. For a genius, he was so frickin' clueless sometimes, she thought.

"I do not wish to be pressured into further intimacies with Amy," he said, his Adam's apple bobbing up and down as he swallowed convulsively.

"Sweetie," Penny said gently. "Like it or not, kissing and hugging and all that stuff are expected when you're in a romantic relationship. Amy's actually been really patient with you so far, but you're stretching things out to the point of ridiculousness."

"But I don't want to kiss her. I don't dream about her," Sheldon complained.

Penny had turned, about to climb the stairs, when his words penetrated her brain. She stared at him, open-mouthed, and then grabbed his arm and propelled him downstairs into the laundry room. After a quick glance confirmed that the room was empty, she shut the door firmly behind them.

"Spill," she commanded.

"What do you mean?" he asked, but a muscle was jumping in his face.

"You said you don't dream about Amy. That implies that you do dream about someone, doesn't it? So who is she?" Penny stalked up to Sheldon, step by step. He retreated until his back hit the wall of washing machines. His eyes darted around nervously as if he were looking for an escape route.

"No one... there is no one," he protested, his face contorting so violently at the lie that she wanted to laugh.

"Sheldon, you couldn't tell a convincing lie if your life depended on it. Now tell me."

"It doesn't matter. She is... not available to me, ever," he said miserably.

Penny frowned. "She's married?" Then she gasped. "Are you in love with Bernadette?"

"That's preposterous," he scoffed. "Bernadette and I are little more than acquaintances, in case you haven't noticed. Not to mention the fact that she's so tiny, she'd need a step ladder to have a conversation with me."

"Well, then, who is it? Someone at work?"

"Please, don't ask me," he begged, sounding so unlike his usual arrogant self that Penny's heart went out to him.

"Sweetie, if you have feelings for someone else, then why are you still with Amy? Staying together with someone just so you don't hurt their feelings doesn't work in the long run. Trust me, I've done that myself."

"I am led to believe that expressing my feelings for this person is forbidden in perpetuity, according to a traditional codified set of rules colloquially known as the 'Bro Code'," Sheldon said.

"Bro Code?" Penny asked, making a face. "Who put you up to that? Was it Howard? Or Leonard? It was Leonard, wasn't it?" she said, watching his reaction. "But why would he..." Her face went slack as comprehension dawned.

"Me?" she whispered. "Am I the one?"

He nodded, head down, unable to meet her eyes.

"That first time I broke up with Leonard, you were the only one of our group of friends who would talk to me. You'd come over and have dinner with me, and I thought... but then I told myself I was just imagining things. Just pretending some other guy liked me in order to feel better." She sniffed, and Sheldon looked up in alarm to see her wiping her eyes with the back of her hand.

"So even though I broke up with Leonard, he still warned you off?" she asked, her voice breaking.

"Yes. He's my best friend, and I couldn't risk losing his friendship. He's the only best friend I've ever had... besides, he called dibs," he replied.

Although she said nothing, Penny was eerily reminded of how Amy always called her "bestie". She never called Amy her best friend, because the truth was that she just didn't feel that way. She'd heard Sheldon say Leonard was his best friend many times, but she couldn't remember Leonard ever saying the same thing about Sheldon. Over the years, there were a lot of things that he had done that weren't the actions of a friend at all, and this was one of them.

There was something she suspected now, something she had to confirm for herself. She took a step closer to him. "Sheldon, do you still have feelings for me? Is that why you haven't been able to... be more intimate with Amy?"

"I tried to push you away. I was rude, obnoxious, and downright insulting. Yet you still liked me. You were still my friend, no matter how much I pitched a fit and insisted on my own way." He smiled a little lopsided smile. "Your persistence would make a barnacle proud."

On an impulse, she reached up and laid her hand against his cheek. He swallowed hard and closed his eyes, his breath coming in stuttering gasps as if he had just run a race. After a moment, he spoke.

"Penny, please go. Leave before I do something that will ruin most of the relationships that we each value."

Her hand dropped, and her vision blurred. He was right. They were both too entangled in a web of obligations. She took a step backward, and then another, never taking her eyes from the tortured expression on his face. She was almost to the door when his low voice echoed through the quiet room.

"I've never been more appreciative of my eidetic memory. It means I'll never forget exactly how it felt when you touched me. No one can ever take that away from me."

Penny clapped a hand over her mouth, whirled and ran from the room. She didn't stop running until she was inside her apartment. She collapsed on her bed, sobbing.

Sheldon mounted the stairs slowly, and then walked out the front doors of the apartment building, heedless of the pile of mail that he had left on the table by the mailboxes. He wandered down the sidewalk in a daze. He had never intended to tell Penny about his true feelings, had spent years hiding how he really felt.

His relationship with Amy had started out so innocuously. She was a rational, straight-forward person, and he enjoyed discussing scientific topics with her. But somehow, he had blundered in allowing his friends to believe he was romantically interested in her. All his friends had pressured them to stay together, most likely from a misguided sense of doing what was best for both of them. Apparently, he and Amy were both so odd that all of his friends thought they must belong together. They never guessed that while he was more comfortable with someone who was logical and intelligent, what he needed was someone who cared for him.

He'd never been able to tell Penny what was in his heart. Even around his friends, it seemed best to pretend he didn't have feelings. That was the only way to avoid being hurt by their careless taunts. But anyone could see that the only people in his life that he truly loved, his mother, Missy, and his Meemaw, were not rational people at all. It wasn't rational to put up with him. Hadn't he learned that lesson over and over throughout his life? That was why he craved their attention, even when he didn't know how to accept their love and pretended not to care.

Penny had become the fourth woman in his life, and she was neither sister nor mother nor grandmother. He didn't know how to categorize her, how to react to her, so he was rude and arrogant and demanding. That usually drove away anyone who might try to get through his defenses. Yet she persisted. She sang him Soft Kitty, drove him to the comic book store, and defended him to his friends. She stayed home on Saturday nights to do laundry with him, she cooked him spaghetti with cut-up hot dogs, and she stood up to him when she thought he was wrong.

His feet had carried him several blocks from his apartment building without any notion of where he was. He was lost in thought, trying to solve an unsolvable equation. He never saw the car come racing around the corner as he stepped into the crosswalk. There was a squeal of tires, and the sickening thud of a body being flung through the air like a rag doll. Horns blared, passers-by gathered, and sirens wailed. Sheldon was insensate to it all.