A/N: I'm struggling so much to make this fic be any good, there's a distinct possibility I'm going to give up on it if the next chapter is as tought to write as this one was...
(For disclaimer, etc. - see chapter 1)
Penny wasn't sure what to expect from Sheldon once he got through his hangover. The ride back home in the car was mostly silent, punctuated only by having to pull over twice for Sheldon to heave some more. Penny felt so sorry for the guy. She and Leonard put him to bed, and before another fight could start, she went back to her own place, telling her so-called boyfriend that he better take care of Sheldon or else. She couldn't imagine that he would be anything but the good guy for at least as long as his room-mate was suffering. In the meantime, it seemed best just to stay out of the way until one of them came looking for her.
It wasn't long before Penny was called on. The regular rhythmic knocking of Sheldon on her door was maybe just a little more subdued than usual. He looked better, and he should since it was almost two days since his night of chaos, something wasn't quite right though. Penny was going to ask him what was wrong, but didn't get a chance. He announced he was here for his hair cut, as promised, and hoped it was a convenient time. The thoughtfulness wasn't entirely new, at least not where Penny was concerned, and she smiled as she told him it was fine.
Concentrating on the task at hand was easier and harder all at the same time. There were a hundred things in Penny's head she felt she ought to say and yet none of them were all that willing to be heard. She put all her focus on giving Sheldon a decent haircut, trying not to think about anything else. It didn't come easy when she could hear him breathing, sighing as her fingers ran through his hair...
When finally she was done, she searched for the hand mirror to let him see her work, and made a big deal of cleaning up, as if she had no time to talk or do anything else.
"Thank you," said Sheldon, polite and proper, as he smiled at his reflection in the glass.
Penny let out a breath she didn't know she'd been holding. She didn't know what else she expected him to say. He could've complained about his haircut but she didn't see how. Of course, where Sheldon was concerned, she often didn't see his comments coming. Maybe now the anarchy and chaos was over, she'd stand a slightly better chance, but Penny doubted it somehow.
"So, that's it now, right?" she asked, helping him take off the towel he'd been wearing as a cape. "Back to our regularly scheduled Sheldon?"
He looked overly thoughtful when he got up from the stool and turned to glance her way. Penny braced herself, but wasn't sure what she was expecting, if anything at all.
"I don't know," he said, with no lack of serious consideration. "Certainly, there were advantages to a planned and regimented life," he told her, scientific as ever, "but, the effects of alcohol aside, there was also something freeing and pleasant about living in anarchy, no rules to hold me back."
Penny swallowed hard as his gaze met hers and stuck her to the spot. This could not be good.
"Well, sure," she forced out eventually, digging up a smile from somewhere and hoping it didn't look too delirious - she was starting to feel as if she was going kind of crazy. "I mean, you got to play the bongos, who wouldn't love that?" she half-joked, before turning away.
Sheldon's hand closing around her wrist was more of a shock than him saying her name. He didn't touch, not as a rule. Penny couldn't help but listen when the little voice in the back of her head reminded her that actually he did, and usually it was her he reached for. She got all the hugs, the friendly pats on the shoulder, all of that. Then the same voice threw their little kissing scene from last night into her mind's eye. Penny felt an involuntary shiver pass through her.
"What is it, sweetie?" she asked, trying for normal and cheery, failing miserably, especially when Sheldon spoke again.
"I'm not sorry," he told her, getting Penny's attention in an instant, her eyes shooting up to meet his own intense gaze again. "I know I should be. The rules of society and friendship dictate that I should have thought of Leonard's feelings, and the Relationship Agreement I have with Amy ought to over-ride everything else, of course, though I believe the mantra is 'bros before hoes'," he rattled out, the way only Sheldon could, and Penny couldn't help but smile. "Whilst I mean no disrespect to Amy or to you by using the gangster vernacular..."
"I know," she interrupted without thinking. "I, er... It's fine," she continued then, shaking her head and pulling her arm from his grasp then, because this was too weird and one of them was just going to have to back off already. "You were living without rules. Any woman who got in your way was going to seem like the perfect candidate for kissing."
She shrugged it off like it was nothing, trying to convince herself she was nuts more than anything else. Sheldon did not have feelings for her and, apart from their oddball friendship, she didn't have feelings for him either. Penny hated that she was silently arguing with herself right now, especially when Sheldon decided to start arguing with her too!
"Not true, Penny," he insisted, following her all the way to her bedroom where she had taken the towel to the laundry basket. "The truth is, I have never really given in to my base urges. As the first and only true example of homo novus, I was half convinced I didn't have the capacity for them," he said thoughtfully. "You, Penny, appear to be the exception to the rule."
"I'm the...?" she began turning around and finding him that much closer than she ever expected. "Okay, weirdest compliment ever," she forced out, even as she looked up and found his eyes looking down into her own.
"It wasn't really supposed to be a compliment, though I can see why your singular position may seem to be a reason for congratulations... I'm getting off topic," he waved a hand and shook his head in unison as he got back on track. "In short, I don't think I will ever be sorry I kissed you," he said too softly, and Penny was pretty sure she forget to breathe when he did so. "As I said, even though I know social rules and protocols ought to have forbidden it, I'm not sorry."
I'm not sorry either. Penny opened her mouth to say the words but managed to control herself at the last. She couldn't say that, not to Sheldon. Kissing him back had been wrong, she was dating Leonard. She loved Leonard... didn't she?
"Um, well, you were breaking all the rules," she forced out eventually. "So, it makes sense, I guess."
"Indeed," Sheldon nodded once, his hands clapping together in front of himself and then behind his back instead as he shifted his feet a little. "I suppose now my next decision must be if all the rules are once again to be adhered to or not. Do you have an opinion?" he asked Penny curiously.
"I-I don't know," she admitted honestly. "I mean, everyone needs some rules sometimes. Anarchy and chaos can be dangerous..."
"Agreed," he nodded again.
"But I guess, it's totally possible to be too organised and..." she started to flounder as her eyes filtered from Sheldon to the bed and back.
Oh God, what am I thinking?! Penny felt like she had no control, like she was the crazy one in the room, and given Sheldon's great level of wacky, that was really saying something. She couldn't seriously be considering telling Sheldon to throw away the rule book permanently and kiss her again, could she? Was she seriously wondering what it would be like if she could really make him give up all his disciplined behaviour and complex neuroses, just throw her on the bed and make love to her like a real man?
"Sheldon," she said, his name coming out in an odd wobbly way that she hoped he didn't ask her to explain. "I think you need to go home and figure this one out for yourself," she told him, after one very deep breath and a very hard swallow.
He just stared at her for a moment, clearly bemused by her tone, or maybe even the fact she was blushing, because Penny was pretty sure she was, however uncharacteristic that seemed.
"Very well," he said eventually. "Thank you again... for the haircut," he told her as he turned to leave.
"No problem!" Penny called behind Sheldon as he walked out of her room and then the apartment, the door thudding shut in his wake.
She stood still just staring for a minute or more after he left. One hand shot up to her forehead then, shock registering on her face as she replayed the conversation they just had. Her and Sheldon, they were friends these days, really good friends sometimes. Sometimes he drove her nuts, but then Penny understood she could make him just as crazy, often without even trying. When it came to the crunch they were there for each other, and she would always count him amongst her closest friends, whether she was willing to admit it outloud or not. Everything changed when he kissed her last night, setting off a chain reaction of thoughts and emotions Penny could never have pre-empted. She was suddenly looking at Sheldon Cooper in a completely new way, and honestly, he was looking pretty good.
"What the hell is wrong with me?" she muttered, sinking down to sit on the edge of the bed.
Penny had no good answer to give herself to that one.
"You let Penny cut your hair," Leonard stated pointlessly as Sheldon returned to their apartment.
"I did," he agreed. "Honestly? It's a little Hollywood, but I think I can pull it off," he shugged, heading straight through the living room towards the kitchen.
He stopped short of reaching for a cup to make tea, turning back to look at his friend sat at the desk. There was a conversation he needed to have here, with someone who might be able to give a little insight. Leonard was usually a reasonable source of information when it came to dating. After all, he had a limited but fair amount of experience in the area, certainly more than Sheldon himself. Still, things had felt strained between the two of them since the rules were broken two days ago. Leonard was upset about Sheldon's kissing Penny, and he did understand that, but as he told the blonde herself, he couldn't be sorry for his actions, not honestly.
"Leonard?" he tried, managing to get his friend's attention, even if he did look a little irritated by the interruption. "May I offer you a hot beverage?"
Honestly, Leonard wanted to say yes, but didn't think he should. He was still pretty mad at Sheldon for what happened before with Penny. At the same time, it was hard to blame a guy that barely understood the rules of society and brotherhood that he was breaking. It was unlikely anything of that kind would ever happen again. It seemed silly to hold onto a grudge that wouldn't benefit anyone. He sighed.
"Sure, I'll take a coffee please," he replied politely.
Sheldon smiled and set to making the drinks, a coffee for Leonard, a herbal tea for himself. Leonard had expected that to be the end of their brief conversation, but apparently that was wishful thinking.
"I've come to a conclusion," said Sheldon as he busied himself with the drinks. "It has taken some fairly serious thought. Having considered my life changes, my relationships, the rules I live my life by, I can't say that I have completely made a solid decision on every aspect going forward," he considered, tossing his tea bag into the trash. "However, I have come to this one conclusion - that I must terminate my boyfriend-girlfriend agreement with Amy Farrah-Fowler."
That certainly got Leonard's attention. His eyebrows shot up so far that Sheldon would've expected them to disappear entirely into his friend's hairline if he didn't know that was a physical impossibility.
"You're breaking up with Amy?" he gasped aloud.
"Isn't that what I just said?" Sheldon rolled his eyes. "I am not in a position where I intend to cut her out of my life completely. Amy is a good friend, she is respectful and intelligent enough to be of interest and of use to me," he explained, in the way that only Sheldon could. "However, there are aspects of our established relationship agreement that I am not willing to honour, and that I wouldn't expect her to keep to her side of the bargain when I cannot."
Leonard opened his mouth to answer and then closed it fast. He would like to say Sheldon was being crazy, but that was often true. Unfortunately, on this occasion, he was actually making a weird kind of sense. A person was quite at liberty to break up with another person if they weren't happy in the relationship, and there was just no arguing with the facts. Sheldon didn't treat Amy like a girlfriend anyway. They went on dates, but there was no physical contact, barely even a compliment that passed from him to her. She was interested, maybe even infatuated, but he wasn't.
"Thank you," said Leonard eventually as Sheldon handed him his coffee. "So, you're going back to the single life?" he checked with his friend, turning around on his swivel chair to follow Sheldon's movement to the couch and his usual spot.
"I suppose if that is the terminology you wish to use then, yes, I am," his friend confirmed.
"And you're going back to being you?" he asked next, expanding on his badly phrased sentence when Sheldon made a face at him for faulty grammar. "What I mean is, you're reverting to your previous state of being, complete with rules, sleep patterns, bathroom schedule, and your job at the university?"
"Yes and no," his friend said with a look of deep consideration. "I'm not so sure that going back to what I was is an option anymore, Leonard," he explained. "My experiment in chaos certainly taught me a few lessons, for example, that my body is not well-quipped to handle a high level of alcohol intake, or a lack of sleep," he said seriously. "However, there may yet be things that I could afford to change, that I may in fact find I am better off for having changed."
With that he picked up his tea and headed off to his room, without another word or even a glance back at his room-mate. Leonard sat staring for a long moment, wondering what these things were that Sheldon wanted to change. His gaze shifted as he moved around on his chair and looked towards the front door. He thought of Penny across the hall. She was his girlfriend again, at least for now. Somehow he wondered how long it could really last. He always thought that way, wondering how long before she left him again, for someone better. This was the first and only time he ever wondered how long it might be before she left him for Sheldon.
To Be Continued...