Penny glared at Sheldon. The inevitable tension between them had escalated into a prank war, to the point where he had stolen all of her panties. Somehow - she had no idea how - he had strung up every last undergarment she owned on the utility wires outside the window in his living room. They'd spent the past five minutes yelling at each other, and she was furious, but underneath all that anger rose a thin tendril of hope. He had touched all of her underwear; that had to have brought back certain memories he preferred to repress. She leaned closer, going with a different tactic.
"Did it turn you on?" she asked in a low voice.
He startled, and a muscle in his cheek twitched.
"You recognize any of them?" she pressed. His gaze darted toward the colorful scraps of cloth festooning the wire outside.
"I bet you cleaned me out. Took every last pair… except for the ones I'm wearing, of course. Do you want those, too?" She slid a hand to the waistband of her capris. Obviously, she'd have to be a magician to get them off her body without undressing, but he didn't seem to consider that.
He reached out and grabbed her wrist. "Don't," he said in a harsh voice.
"Try to stop me," she challenged.
Heat flared in his eyes, and he pulled her closer until she collided with his chest. Her body pressed against his, and she sucked in a sharp breath. It had been three years since she'd been with anyone. She didn't cheat, and in that time she'd discovered she didn't want to - there was no one else for her. A soft moan escaped her lips, and his gaze sharpened and dropped to her mouth. She wasn't sure who moved first, but suddenly she was in his arms. His mouth was hard and insistent against hers, but that only excited her more. She drank in his essence like rain after a long drought. His pretense at aloofness was abandoned as his hands deftly found all the places he knew she liked to be touched. Shamelessly, she hooked a leg up over his hip and groaned impatiently at finding him already hard for her. His broad hands cupped her backside as he stumbled back against the wall of the tiny alcove. In a quick motion, he twisted them both around so she was pinned between the wall and his lean body. He worked one hand free and brought it up to grasp the back of her neck, tangling in her hair as he brought his mouth down on hers. There was nothing soft or kind in his embrace. His mouth was punishing; he bit her lip as he demanded entrance with his tongue. None of that mattered. He was finally hers again, and she would take whatever he would give her. He shoved up her shirt, pushing aside her bra as he lowered his head to her breasts. She almost sobbed at the feel of his tongue circling her taut nipples until she thought she might come just from that alone.
"Yes, yes," she cried. "I need you… please." She was no longer too proud to beg. She was already working his fly open and wrapped her hand around his length, causing him to moan and buck hard in her grasp.
"Condom," he said, and typical of him, it sounded more like an order than a request.
She stilled and then groaned in frustration. "I don't have any. Maybe Leonard has some in his room."
He pulled away from her, and his expression was unreadable. "You must have some in your apartment."
"No, I don't."
"Then you must at least have one in your purse."
She grimaced. "I told you, I don't have any!"
"Why not?" he demanded.
She took a moment to pull her bra and shirt back into place and straighten her clothes before meeting his gaze. "I never signed the papers."
He immediately knew what she was talking about. "You didn't need to. The documents were simply to notify you that I had filed for divorce. They informed you of your option to retain your own legal counsel."
"You don't get it, Sheldon; I didn't want legal counsel! All I wanted was for you to talk to me, to give me a chance to explain. But you made damn sure that never happened." She crossed her arms. "I never cheated on you. Kurt's gay." He frowned and opened his mouth. She rushed on before he could begin to argue with her. "Shortly after you and I eloped, I met Kurt in an acting workshop. A few months later, we both got parts in that stupid horror movie. While we were filming, he told me that he had the chance to audition for a romantic lead role, but he was nervous about whether he could look convincing kissing a woman. So I told him I'd help him practice." She faced Sheldon defiantly. "You knew that if I ever got a part like that, I might have to kiss another guy on camera. But it wouldn't mean anything to me; it's just acting. I agreed to help Kurt because he was a friend. Maybe I should've told you then, but I knew you wouldn't like it. We used to go hide in his dressing room or some other deserted area so people wouldn't talk about us. It wouldn't have hurt his reputation for the cast and crew to think we were having an affair, but I didn't want anyone to start rumors about me. The whole thing was really awkward, to tell you the truth. I guess you saw me one time giving him pointers, but I never cheated on you. To me, it wasn't any different that if I'd had to kiss someone onscreen for a role. You're the one who blew it all out of proportion."
"Me?" Sheldon cried incredulously. "How is any of this my fault?"
She laughed bitterly. "You never could accept that I loved you. You were always looking for some sign that I would leave you, and eventually, you found something you could twist to fit your crazy world view."
"The word is paradigm, and I've told you before, I'm not crazy!"
She shook her head and dropped onto the sofa. "Yeah, I know - I used to say things like that to get you all worked up. In my family, we all argued with each other all the time. It was fun. I didn't realize at the time that the things I said genuinely hurt your feelings. To me, fighting was just a way of adding a little excitement to our relationship."
"I never wanted that. I just wanted... you."
"Do you still?" She looked directly into his face. "I've spent years trying to move on with my life, but it's no use. I don't know if you believe me, but I'm still in love with you. I never stopped loving you. That's why I let go of my pride and came after you. I know you don't trust me, and I understand why. But if you can tell me there's any bit of hope left for us, I'll stay as long as it takes to win you back."
He stared, stony-faced, down at her. "You expect me to believe you, but how do you explain the fact that you cohabited with Kurt? Or the fact that on the day you moved into this building, you said he was your boyfriend?"
She sighed and wiped a hand tiredly across her eyes. "After you left, I couldn't afford the rent on my own. Kurt was looking for a roommate, so it seemed like a good solution to both our problems. I admit, I sort of used him. As long as he was there to talk to, I thought I could get by without sex or romance. Guys hit on me all the time, but I turned them all down. For the longest time, I was just trying to get over you. Even when it stopped hurting as much, I realized I didn't want to get over you. Every time I met a guy that I thought was cute, or funny, or interesting, your face would flash through my mind, and I just couldn't move on. After two years, I looked you up. I found out you were still working at Caltech, and that you had a roommate too. That was around the time my friendship with Kurt started to fall apart. He was getting jealous of my successes. He kept saying that he wasn't getting callbacks because he was gay." She snorted. "As if he's the only gay actor in Hollywood. When I found out he was bad-mouthing me to anyone who would listen, I knew I had to get out. I'd been trying to work up the nerve to come talk to you when I heard about this apartment. I had to take it. I had to give us one more chance."
He glared at her, and his expression was cold. "A likely story," he said. "As an actress, you're very good at convincing people of all sort of things that aren't true. I don't believe a word you've just said. Leave me alone, Penny. Go back to whatever life you came from and leave me to mine." With that, he rose as if to walk away from her.
A hand on his arm stopped him. As soon as she had his attention, she immediately released him. She met his scowling gaze levelly; she'd been expecting his accusation. "You're right. I don't expect you to just take my word for it." She walked over to the living room and fished out her cell phone from her purse. Handing it to him, she said, "One thing we both know is that I'm not smart enough to hack a phone. So here. Read my texts, my emails, go through my call logs. Have Howard run whatever programs you want on it; I don't care. Once you've seen I have nothing to hide, maybe then you'll talk to me." Then she walked out, leaving Sheldon at a loss for words.
Three years, six months ago:
Penny gasped as their taxi drove through the extravagantly decorated casinos. To Sheldon's critical eye, a few were regally elegant, but most were gaudy monstrosities.
"It's just like in the movies," she said dreamily. "I've always wanted to come here."
He recognized his cue and kissed her, only pulling away, two spots of color glowing in his cheeks, when she tried to pull them both horizontal on the narrow bench of the back seat. She laughed at him, but quickly resumed her slack-jawed perusal of her surroundings.
"Here you are, sir," the cabbie pronounced.
Penny got out and gasped again as her gaze went up and up, taking in the towering resort which that had pulled up in front of. She tugged impatiently at Sheldon's arm until he gave up trying to count out exact change for their fare and simply rounded up to the nearest dollar. After all, if everything went as planned, this would be his honeymoon, so a little extravagance seemed appropriate.
Their hotel room was high up, overlooking the city. Penny was so enchanted by the view she almost didn't want to go down to dinner. Sheldon coaxed her with promises of reservations at a chic restaurant. She noticed that he brought along a small gift bag, but all her teasing and questions couldn't pry the answer out of him. Finally, after their meal, he handed the bag to her with a smile. With a squeal of excitement, she reached into the bag and pulled out a pair of tickets.
"Radiohead?" she gasped. "Holy crap on a cracker, they're almost front row, too. How did you manage it? You know what, it doesn't matter." She hugged him tightly. "You're the best boyfriend ever!"
"I certainly hope you think so," he answered enigmatically. He stared at her for so long that eventually she blushed, smoothing down the front of her dress with her hands.
"Okay, what is it? Do I have something in my teeth? Did I drop food on my dress?"
"No," he answered quickly, reaching across the table to take her hand. "To me, you are perfect. I know you have your flaws, and I know we don't always agree, but none of that seems to matter. I never even looked at another woman in a romantic sense until I met you. You are the only person I can ever imagine wanting to be with. I love you, and I don't mean that lightly." He hesitated, while Penny blushed and murmured that she loved him too. He didn't want to give away too much of his intentions, yet he was concerned his plans might come as too great a shock to her.
"I am very, very serious about my feelings for you. If you don't feel the same way, I need to know now."
Her blush deepened. "I'm not sure what you're getting at, but I… I've never felt this way about anyone else either."
At the concert, Sheldon spent most of the time just watching her. She knew all the lyrics by heart and sang along with her eyes closed, swaying to the beat of the music. Not for the first time, he was grateful for the eidetic memory which would keep this moment alive in his mind forever.
Towards the end of the concert, he told her he had to go to the bathroom and slipped out. A few minutes later, a couple of burly men wearing neon orange "security" shirts approached.
"Oh no. What did he do?" she asked, raising her voice to be heard above the music. The men exchanged enigmatic looks.
"We're here to inform you that you've been randomly selected to win a backstage pass. If you'd like to meet the band, you have to come with us right now."
Penny cast an agonized glance over her shoulder. "I'm here with my boyfriend, but he just left."
"Don't worry; we'll bring him back too, as soon as we see him."
She nodded and bit back a squeal as she followed them through a maze of tunnels and passageways until they finally brought her onto the side wings of the stage. She thought she might faint. Thom Yorke was only about twenty feet away from her. He bent over the mic as he crooned the last notes of the melody. After the applause and cheering died down, he said, "We have a special treat for you tonight. We don't normally do this. In fact, we've never done it before and I don't think we're ever going to do it again, but I'd like you all to meet someone." He turned and gestured in her direction, and before Penny knew what was happening, the security guards were leading her onto the stage. Blushing furiously, she blinked under the bright lights and hoped her hair looked okay.
"Hello, Penny," he said as she drew near. She knew the crowd couldn't hear her, but she waved to them and said, "I can't believe it… I mean, it's so great to meet you. I'm a huge fan."
"Well, there's someone here who's an even bigger fan… of you," Thom answered with a mischievous grin. Stepping back, he gestured toward the other end of the stage. To her complete shock, Sheldon appeared, wearing a tuxedo. He walked toward her, exchanging a brief nod with Thom before sinking to one knee in front of her. The crowd roared its approval, almost obliterating his words.
"I know people might say that we're too young, that we haven't known each long enough. But I don't care what other people think. All I know is that I can't imagine my life without you." He reached into his pocket of his coat and produced a tiny black velvet box, which he opened to reveal a sparkling diamond ring. "So will you marry me?"
For a moment, her mouth hung open. This moment was too surreal. Then she looked around and realized he had done all this for her. Against impossible odds, he'd convinced her favorite band to let him propose during their show. She knew he didn't even like popular music; before they'd met, he had no idea who Radiohead even was. On top of that, he had terrible stage fright, but here he was, baring his soul in front of thousands of frenzied strangers. If she was speechless for a moment, it was out of sheer disbelief that anyone could love her so much. There was only one answer she could give him, and tears of joy slid down her cheeks as she said yes.