Disclaimer: The Big Bang Theory doesn't belong to me; it belongs to Chuck Lorre, Bill Prady, CBS, etc.
A/N: I am a huge Shenny shipper, but I came up with the idea for this story as I wondered how I could have a fair and balanced story that showed Penny's love for both Leonard and Sheldon. It takes place after the events of season six. I'm not sure how fair and balanced it ultimately ended up being, but here goes.
Penny woke up with a start. It had been almost six weeks since Leonard had left on the North Sea expedition. She had almost gotten used to sleeping by herself again, but in the past few weeks, her dreams had become especially vivid. It had been one of these dreams that had actually woken her up tonight. She had seen her mother's face, frowning at her, saying, "Never good enough, Penny. Nothing's ever good enough for you, is it?"
She gazed blearily at her alarm clock. It was a few minutes shy of five AM. She rolled over with a sigh, fluffing her pillow as she tried to get back to sleep. She wished Leonard were there. She missed his self-deprecating, lopsided smile. She missed having someone to cuddle up to at night and of course, she missed having sex. As she thought about Leonard, realization struck her like a bolt of lightning. It was Leonard that her mother had been talking about in her dream. She had a good relationship with him, comfortable and content. But she was always wondering if there was something more, some grand passion that she was missing.
"Leonard is a good man," she murmured to herself in the darkness. "And he loves me. What else am I waiting for?"
She knew that she was scared of commitment. Maybe she just needed to dive in and get over her fears. With that thought, she rolled over and went back to sleep. In the cold light of day, however, Penny still questioned her decision. Was it fair to Leonard, she asked herself, that marriage to him also represented stability for her? If she married him, she would never have to worry about paying the rent or the utilities, or have to choose between buying groceries or a new pair of heels. On the other hand, if they were engaged, she could stop feeling guilty about letting him pay for her meals every time the boys ordered takeout. She sighed. With any other weighty problem, she would have asked Sheldon's opinion, but there was no way she could ever talk to him about this. She knew the least hint of change would send him into a blind panic. Or worse, he would spend the next six weeks trying to talk her out of it just so his life wouldn't change.
As Leonard's return date drew near, she was still nervous and unsure. But she decided, to hell with it. She was not the kind to sit back and experience life passively. She was a junior rodeo champ after all, and she was not going to be conquered by her fears. Over the next few weeks, Penny actually found herself worrying more about how Sheldon was going to take the news. Despite her feelings for Leonard, she considered Sheldon to be her closest friend. She had gotten used to his quirks, and actually appreciated his sometimes-harsh brand of honesty. Often, Leonard drove her crazy with the fawning compliments he paid her, especially since she knew he was just trying to stay on her good side. How had he put it that one time they had tried to go out as just friends? He did what she wanted so he could have sex. It was hardly a flattering thought, and so she quickly put it out of her mind. Sure, Leonard isn't perfect, she thought, but neither am I. That's why we work so well together.
Penny was standing at the end of a long concourse just past the baggage claim, wearing the little black dress that Leonard loved to see her wear. In her hands were three large poster boards. The one in front said "Hofstadter" as if she were some sort of chauffer service. As she waited, feeling a little silly, her mind drifted back to her concern over Sheldon. Over the summer, they had once again fallen into their old routine, established a couple of years ago when she had dumped Leonard. Her brow unconsciously furrowed as she remembered that at that time, not only Raj and Howard had seemed to avoid her, but to a lesser extent, Bernadette and Amy as well. Sheldon, oblivious as always to social context, had started coming over to her place for dinner. In the same way, they had started to have dinner together again while Leonard was away. Sheldon would bring some sci-fi DVD with him, and after dinner they would watch Star Trek or Firefly or the Avengers movie (which Penny secretly adored). She knew that Sheldon's biggest issue with her engagement to Leonard would be his fear of losing his two closest friends. Of course, he loved to disguise his feelings behind contracts and complaints about the inconvenience to him, but Penny had learned that he was just trying to maintain consistency in his life. And right now, she was about to turn his world upside-down.
Penny shook off her musings as she saw a knot of people headed her way. Craning her neck, she thought she saw a mop of brown curls, but it was hard to tell because there were taller people in the front of the crowd. Finally, she saw her man, and she squealed and waved. He was much closer to her than she had wanted him to be for her perfect set-up, so she quickly shuffled her posters. The second one read, in large letters, "I love you." Leonard stopped for a moment, the weariness dropping from his face and posture as he drank in the sight of his beautiful girlfriend. His heart swelled with pride as he saw her standing there, holding up a sign proclaiming her love for the entire world to see. When he had first met Penny, it had been love at first sight for him, but it had taken a long time for her to date him, and even longer for her to admit she had feelings for him. As Leonard hurried toward his love, she shuffled her signs once more. The last one read, "Will you marry me?"
Leonard paused for a moment, stunned, and then he was running toward her, picking her up and swinging her around as he kissed her passionately. Some of the onlookers broke into applause, and there was a smattering of congratulations and way-to-go's as Leonard stood there looking into Penny's eyes and grinning madly.
"Do you really mean it, Penny?" he asked, giving her his patented puppy-eyed look.
"Duh… sign," she replied with a mega-watt smile of her own, waving her poster board.
"Then, yeah, I guess that would be ok," he said in his mock-nonchalant way. She punched him lightly on the arm. "You have to say 'yes'," she prompted teasingly.
"Ow. I mean, yes. Yes, I will marry you, Penny," he said proudly. At that moment, he couldn't believe that even winning a Nobel Prize could ever compare to this moment. She had chosen him, she loved him, and he couldn't wait until the day when he could introduce her to the world as his wife, Mrs. Leonard Hofstadter.