What Friends Do

Part I

She'd be the first to admit that she didn't understand the science. She wasn't sure what the Arctic had to do with proving that monopoles exist but she knew that it was far away, cold and that her troupe of nerdy guys weren't in their usual places for far too long. She missed talking to them, having them explain science fiction to her, missed doing laundry with Sheldon and the silly back and forth teasing they did. If he hadn't made it clear that he wasn't interested in dating she'd have made a pass at him a long time ago. But he was pretty much her best friend. And that wasn't anything to sneeze at. It had been a long three months without him, them, she corrected herself.

She'd been happy to see them, happy to see Leonard, she'd missed him, missed all of them. Sheldon had greeted her as if he'd only been gone at work for a day rather than months. That was just so Sheldon. Leonard had been much more enthusiastic, and she'd practically jumped him when he'd come knocking at her door. Even if it wasn't love, she liked him, and he was a nice guy and he loved her, and they'd be good together if it worked out, right? She'd just about decided to give him the chance he wanted so badly. When Sheldon had come knocking she'd been less thrilled at being interrupted but she'd let him in. At least they'd only been making out at the time.

Sheldon had nodded to her politely, but he'd zeroed in on Leonard, "Wolowitz has informed me of your grand deception. Do you have anything to say for yourself?"

She'd watched as Leonard had then proceeded to blow Sheldon off, "Yes, I feel terrible about it. I will never forgive myself, I don't expect you to either, and I would really appreciate it if you would leave me with Penny for a session of self-criticism and repentance." Leonard's puppy eyes had no effect on Sheldon's mood whatsoever. Her stomach twisted when she remembered all the times he'd used that same look on her.

"Okay, can someone please tell me what's going on here?" Penny looked at the two of them, completely lost as to what was happening. Admittedly that wasn't an uncommon occurrence around her friends but this was happening in her apartment and that wasn't cool. Plus she'd never seen that look on Sheldon's face before. Furious and shattered at the same time.

Sheldon had done his best to enlighten her, "What's going on is I was led to believe I was making groundbreaking strides in science, when in fact, I was being fed false data at the hands of Wolowitz, Koothrappali and your furry little boy toy."

She'd ignored his derogatory term for Leonard looking at her potential boyfriend, "Is that true?" Vaguely she was aware that she sounded like one of those stupid heroines she had apparently always judged way too harshly.

"It was the only way to make him happy." Leonard was trying to justify it. That much was patently obvious.

"Why did you have to make him happy?" She frowned at him. Sheldon was unhappy a lot of the time and no one ever seemed concerned about it before.

"Because when he wasn't happy, we wanted to kill him." Leonard retorted. "There was even a plan." Penny could only stare at him, unable to believe what he was saying. "We were going to throw his Kindle outside, and when he went to get it, lock the door and let him freeze to death."

Of course Sheldon had an opinion on that, "That seems like a bit of an overreaction."

Penny sighed and Leonard rolled his eyes. "No, the overreaction was the plan to tie your limbs to four different sled dog teams and yell mush. Look, we kept the original data. You can still publish the actual results."

Sheldon shook his head, "Yes, but the actual results are unsuccessful and I've already sent an e-mail to everyone at the university explaining that I have confirmed string theory and forever changed man's understanding of the universe."

Penny frowned as Leonard began to turn the conversation around on Sheldon, "Aw, see, yeah, you probably shouldn't have done that. So write another e-mail, set the record straight, it's no big deal."

Sheldon seemed to take that in the spirit it was meant, it hadn't escaped her notice, nor Sheldon's most likely, that Leonard hadn't really even apologized. "You're right, Leonard, it's not a big deal. All you did was lie to me destroy my dream and humiliate me in front of the whole university. That, FYI, was sarcasm. I, in fact, believe it is a big deal."

He stormed out of her apartment and Penny looked after him, worried. "Oh, the poor thing."

"Yeah, I feel terrible." Leonard nodded, moving towards her again.

Penny stared at him and wondered if Leonard even realized what he was doing. She'd seen Sheldon's face. She hadn't ever seen him look like that. As if someone had told him that logic didn't exist, Star Trek was hokum and physics were being replaced by classes in literature. And for once a man telling her he wanted her didn't seem so important. "I think you'd better go Leonard."

"But-" There'd been whining and pleading and she really hadn't been able to bring herself to care. She walked past him out her still open door and into his apartment. Sheldon was at his desk typing something in his email account, "Sheldon? Sweetie? Are you all right?"

"I'm in perfect physical condition Penny thank you for asking," His reply was polite, honest and completely uninformative.

"What are you doing?" She moved so she was within his eye line, ignoring Leonard as he entered the apartment behind her.

"I'm explaining that I was premature in proclaiming the success of our experiment and tendering my resignation so that I can return to Texas in disgrace forthwith," Sheldon told her quietly and without any visible emotion. Leonard had poutingly continued onto his room with his bags, thus missing the conversation.

"But..." Penny shook her head and shut his laptop before he could type anymore, "Come with me Sheldon." She took his unresisting hand and pulled him back to her apartment. The fact that he wasn't arguing or trying to remove his hand from her grip told her more than she wanted to know. Sitting him down on her couch she looked him in the eye, "Sheldon, I don't know if you know this, but you are...well you're my best friend. You give me advice, you've lent me money, and you've been as kind to me as you know how. I've done my best to be a good friend to you but I can't be as good a friend if you won't tell me what's wrong and let me help."

He stared at her uncomprehendingly and shook his head, "Penny you don't possess a time travel device, you don't have the ability to hack the mainframe of the college and you can't change the inevitable result of what has occurred, so I don't really see how you could help."

"Sheldon, I'm the first to admit that I don't understand what you do. And I don't understand exactly what Leonard did. I just know it was really bad. But if you tell me what happened...I can support you. And I can help you try to fix it," Penny tried. "I can at least listen if you talk about it. Sheldon, I'm on your side." She touched his shoulder gently, "Do you understand that? I might not always agree with you Sheldon, but I'm always on your side."

"Even against Leonard?" Sheldon was looking at her with that lost expression that proclaimed just how every contest of friendship ever went in his life. She could read on his face that no one had ever chosen him over anyone else, not when something as simple and important as friendship was concerned.

And that pissed her off more than anything else. Why couldn't people see that he might be finicky and fussy and overly precise but he had a heart that was huge and starved for affection and attention for something other than his brain. She knew he was one of the beautiful mind guys and she'd never understand what went on in his head, but she got his heart. Sometimes she thought she was the only one who did. "Yes Sheldon, even against Leonard. Against Raj, and Howard and anybody else. Even Captain Sweatpants and Stuart. Definitely Leslie Winkle and Kripke. I'm on your side against your mother even." She nodded firmly and sat next to him on the couch, "Now I know you were going to figure out how to find those monopoles. I'm guessing it didn't work out that way?"

There was a knock at her door and she huffed in annoyance, "Don't move, sweetie. I'll get rid of whoever it is."

"It'll be Leonard again. He wants to..." Sheldon let his word drift away uncomfortably.

Penny ignored the door and concentrated on Sheldon, "Did he say something to you Sheldon? That you didn't like?" She knew how Sheldon felt about gossip. He was rude about some things but in others he was a complete gentleman.

"I'm not comfortable repeating it, but he was hoping to...be welcomed back with enthusiasm," Sheldon prevaricated and Penny nodded her understanding. She'd bet that Leonard, with the encouragement of Raj and Howard had phrased it on somewhat less romantic or polite terms. But that was Sheldon to the end, bluntly scientific or courteously circumspect. You just never knew which way he'd go on any given topic.

The knocking sounded again and she rolled her eyes, "Just a second sweetie. I really am going to get rid of whoever it is. Especially if it's Leonard. Then I'm going to make you some tea and we'll have some of those sugar cookies you like and you'll tell me what happened."

She stalked over to the door and jerked it open, "Yes Leonard?" She wasn't surprised it was him. He never had any patience.

"I was wondering if I could come in? Talk? I missed you," Leonard was giving her the puppy eyes. Again. Penny frowned. She hadn't wanted him to go, had missed him for a couple of weeks and then realized she'd missed all of them, especially her favorite whack-a-doodle pal. Nobody else talked to her the way Sheldon did. He never talked down to her, as if she was the dumb blonde next door. She'd always liked Sheldon but he'd never given any indication of interest. And Leonard was so nice and sweet and really liked her a lot. She'd thought she and Leonard had something special, had happily kissed him, would have 'welcomed him back with enthusiasm', had she not heard what he'd done to Sheldon. That wasn't sweet, or nice; and neither was talking with Howard and Raj about getting her in bed. She'd already kicked him out once and he hadn't gotten the message.

"I missed you guys too," Penny smiled coolly. "But I'm in the middle of something. Maybe we can talk tomorrow after I finish my shift at work?"

"Yeah, uh, sure," He nodded brightening up. "We could get dinner."

Penny refrained from mentioning that she wouldn't be in any mood to go out again after working a ten hour shift on her feet but smiled politely and then shut the door in his face. As an afterthought, she twisted the deadbolt. Then she went to her little kitchen to make tea and put the cookies on a plate. Sheldon was regarding her in something like amazement. "You didn't let Leonard in," He marveled.

"Of course not sweetie," She tilted her head. "I've only got chamomile, is that all right? You don't mind it making you sleepy?"

"I don't normally enjoy artificial sleep aids but at this point I suspect it can only help," He admitted. She turned to see his long fingers nervously plucking at themselves.

"All right, kettle's on," Penny got out the honey and sugar and some of her skim milk because she liked it in her tea and waited. Sheldon didn't say anything. Finally, the water boiled, the kettle whistled and she brought the whole kit and caboodle over to the coffee table so he could dip his teabag exactly as much as he liked and pour the boiling water on top of said teabag. Ritual completed Penny watched as he deftly removed the tea bag and set it aside before doctoring his tea with honey and a little milk. For an added sleep aid she guessed since he didn't normally use it. "Spill the beans Sheldon."

"I must ask you to refrain from interruption," Sheldon cautioned her. "I do not find this to be a particularly happy tale and as it is I who must relive it I would like to do so as quickly as possible."

Penny nodded, "I get that Sheldon. I'll bite my tongue." She waited expectantly and part of her half expecting the story to being with the immortal phrase 'it was a warm summer evening in ancient Greece'. But it didn't. It wasn't even remotely funny. It was cold and cruel and filled with betrayal of the worst kind. Because they'd promised to help. He'd trusted them with the most important thing in the world to him and they'd betrayed that.

When he was done she looked at him and took a deep breath and realized he was waiting for something, "How did you find out?" She asked finally. "I mean... Did they really just tell you? When... I mean... You said you'd already emailed the results to Caltech."

"They told me right before I came over to speak with Leonard," Sheldon's voice was bitter. "Too late of course. They waited until we were here, in the building, after I'd already emailed my colleagues of our success. Then they told me."

Penny stared at him, "That's what you meant, about going back to Texas in disgrace?" She shook her head, "No. You're not leaving." She shook her head. "You stay here tonight. Tell me what clothes you want and anything you need from your apartment. Or could I just grab your suitcase?"

"What do you mean no?" Sheldon shook his head, "Penny I'm publically disgraced. I'm a laughingstock. And I couldn't even figure it out on my own."

"I mean I'm not letting you fall on your sword for this," Penny retorted. "This isn't your fault. They're supposed to be your friends. They're scientists, like you. You trusted them." She folded her arms. "Now drink your tea and get my extra sheets out of the bathroom closet. You'll feel better with clean sheets on the bed. Give me the old ones and I'll make up a bed on the couch. Now, can I just grab your luggage or do you need to make me a list?"

"My luggage will be fine, thank you," Sheldon was staring at her in bewilderment still. "But why?"

"You didn't finish the email did you?" Penny realized, "You haven't told anyone yet? That you're leaving I mean? And the results were wrong?"

"No, you interrupted me," Sheldon told her standing up as she did in automatic courtesy. "You do that quite a bit Penny."

"Yep," She nodded. "Go on and make up the bed sweetie, just dump the used sheets on the couch. I'll grab your bag." Penny was fuming as she grabbed her emergency key and stalked over to the boys' apartment. Sheldon's bag was by his computer desk. His laptop was open and she grabbed it as an afterthought along with its case. Bringing it all back to her apartment wasn't hard. Leonard was undoubtedly in his room sulking that she hadn't welcomed him back with open arms and legs.

Sheldon was carefully making up the couch for her as when she entered her place and she blinked at him in surprise. "It seemed rude to just 'dump' them on the couch. Especially as you are kindly offering me sanctuary."

"Thanks," Penny smiled and went to put his things in her room. "Here's the deal sweetie," She began. "Tomorrow morning you're going to get dressed, and we're going to see your boss. I'm going to drive you to Caltech and I'll stay with you the whole time for moral support. We're going to tell him exactly what those jerks did to you."

"What will that accomplish?" Sheldon asked weakly as she took the sheets from his hands and ruthlessly turned the couch into a bed. He followed her into the bedroom where she began to put fresh sheets on her bed. "Other than further humiliation?"

"Sheldon, it costs money to send people to the Arctic, and the university invested that money in you and your experiment," Penny didn't have much of an education but she knew that everything cost something. "The guys screwed it up. It'd be one thing if the experiment itself produced...well nothing. You told me even a failed experiment can be useful. But you didn't even get to disprove your theory right? Because they screwed with the data. So you don't have..." She looked at him helplessly for a minute... "I can't think of what you call it. All that's popping into my head right now is AC/DC for some reason."

"Oh, you're thinking of positive and negative," Sheldon awarded her an approving smile. "A very nice correlation Penny. You have more scientific knowledge than you realize."

"Thanks." She couldn't help grinning at him, "Basically what you got out of the experiment is a big fat goose egg Sheldon, which means those three messed with not only a scientific inquiry but with the university's money. In my experience, no one likes that. It would be like me, busting my butt to wait on a table full of people only to find out that half of them can't pay and the other half won't even leave me a tip. All that work, time and energy for nothing, you know? And CalTech is this really important place and they get money from the government. Screwing with an experiment like that…I think that's fraud or something."

He thought about that for a moment, "Technically fraud is planned, so it would only be fraud if they intended to sabotage my experiment from the start."

Penny sighed, "But it's still wrong honey. And you shouldn't lose your job because of it. I'll help you explain. If nothing else, having me there might make things easier for you, I'm your friend, but I'm also better at social interactions." When he looked skeptical she persisted, "I know I'm not as smart as you and I definitely don't have a doctorate but I do know how to talk to people."

Sheldon nodded slowly, "I don't completely understand but I trust you Penny. If you say we should go to see Doctor Gablehauser in the morning then we will. But will you be able to arrive at the Cheesecake Factory in a timely manner?"

"I lied to Leonard," Penny smirked. "I took tomorrow off because I wanted to spend it with you guys. Now I'll just be spending it with you. My best friend. It actually works out."

"That's...remarkably kind of you Penny, to use your limited free time in pursuit of helping me," Sheldon looked shy. "I really don't think there are enough gift baskets in the world to repay you. Even if I am still disgraced, you will have tried to help me and that's more than anyone else has done." Penny smiled; he looked helpless, like he wasn't sure of what to do, "Would a hug serve as a partial thank you?" He finally asked, "It can't be enough but you seemed, at Saturnalia, to like it..."

"Sheldon, anytime you want to thank me, a hug is always more than adequate," Penny assured him. "Don't do it if you're not comfortable though. You've had a hard day. I don't want to break your beautiful mind."

He'd smiled, very sweetly, "I don't think I'll be uncomfortable Penny." Sheldon then tentatively wrapped his arms around her and she was cuddled into a gentle, albeit slightly boney, embrace.

Morning wasn't as awkward as she'd thought it would be. Sheldon had gone out and bought the makings for eggs and bacon as a thank you for putting him up for the night and between the two of them they managed get everything cooked and cleaned up. Sheldon was actually very quick to dress for work. Penny was having a harder time.

"Penny, I doubt informing Doctor Gablehauser of the failure will be received better by making him wait for the bad news," Sheldon was fretting in her living room.

"I'm sorry Sheldon, I just want to look nice and responsible, so I don't embarrass you in front of your boss," Penny finally admitted aloud and to herself the cause of her dithering, (Sheldon's word not hers) in front of her closet.

"I don't see the problem. You always look nice, though it is a bland and inadequate way to convey how attractive you are. And you either are responsible or not. Appearances don't aid in that quality," Sheldon's voice was confused and she could picture his expression. "You're very responsible about some things. Not so much about others. Like putting your clean laundry away. Honestly Penny, I offered to help with that."

"Hang on, I think I've got something," Penny had already done her make up and hair, so it was a matter of pulling on the dress she'd bought for a very boring acquaintance's wedding and finding shoes that matched. Thankfully she had some leopard pumps that perked the gold and brown shirtdress up some.

When she came out Sheldon looked at her thoughtfully, "I think I understand what you mean now. You don't look like your typical self. I think the phrase is…toned down?"

She grinned at him and grabbed her purse and keys, "That was the idea sweetie. I want to impress him as your friend, not as a…beach bunny."

"He cannot fail to find you impressive," Sheldon reassured her. "Admittedly he isn't as intelligent as I am, but he is not stupid."

The drive, avoiding Euclid, didn't take long and soon enough they were waiting outside Doctor Gablehauser's office for him to arrive for the day. Sheldon had pointed out some of the more distinctive buildings on campus when she'd expressed an interest and had seemed gratified that she wanted to hear about the place where he worked.

When Sheldon's boss walked in he was surprised to see Sheldon waiting quietly for him and did a double take when he realized that Penny was with Doctor Cooper. Penny noticed he recovered pretty quickly and guessed that anyone who worked with people like Kripke, Leonard and Raj as well as Sheldon had to have a pretty high weirdness threshold. The ability to think on your feet came in handy too, she thought as Sheldon courteously held the door to Gabelhauser's private office for her.

"Doctor Cooper, what is it I can do for you? And may I offer my congratulations on the success of your experiment," Doctor Gablehauser smiled as he gestured to the chairs in front of his desk and took a seat himself.

"I am afraid that your congratulations, like my belief in success, are premature," Sheldon began slowly. Penny watched his face and shook her head, gently laying a hand on his arm to stop him.

"Let me tell him sweetie, this is hard enough for you," Penny smiled as Sheldon's blue eyes brightened in unspoken thanks before turning to his boss. Her smile faded as she looked at the distinguished man in front of her. "Sheldon and the boys came home yesterday, and apparently, things didn't go so well in the artic as the boys led Sheldon to believe."

"Didn't go so well," Sheldon snorted. "Penny you might as well call the San Andreas fault a little crack."

"Compared to the earth and its size, it is a little crack," Penny retorted. "But I see your point," She looked at Doctor Gablehauser. "Sheldon sent you and the others that email before he was told that Leonard, Howard and Raj had deliberately sabotaged the experiment." She watched as the doctor's expression grew stony, "If you know Sheldon at all, you know that science is…well it's the one thing on which he won't compromise his ethics. I've seen him bend over backwards to accommodate the other three in a lot of ways, despite what they seem to think of him, but not scientifically."

"Doctor Cooper," Gablehauser looked sternly at Sheldon whose expression was blank with betrayal and anguish. "Why did you not inform me of this immediately upon discovering it?"

"I stopped him," Penny didn't let Sheldon answer. "Sheldon was writing you an email announcing the experiment's failure and his intention to quit and move back to Texas. I didn't think you'd want that to happen, and I didn't want Sheldon to leave because of something the guys did."

"Well in that you are correct, though I could wish we'd talked about this last night, the sooner the better," Doctor Gablehauser sighed. "Doctor Cooper, I want to make it clear that I will not accept your resignation over this." He steepled his hands and regarded his young colleague, "I'd like to hear the sequence of events at the Arctic. Specifically, the course of your experiment, and when you began to see these false results."

Penny listened as Sheldon began to recount everything that had happened, three weeks of failed results, everyone's increasing irritation, including his own and the first day he'd gotten a positive indicator of monopoles. He produced his laptop with its log of the data. He described the varying tests, the general mood of the group improving and by the time their trip was done, he proclaimed himself almost giddy with pleasure over proving the existence of monopoles.

"Then of course, I sent you the email with our reports as soon as I was within suitable distance of the university," Sheldon looked at Penny. "I couldn't send it from the plane so I had to wait until we were in the car. And on the plane I'd been double checking my notes and verifying that all the calculations were accurate one last time."

Penny nodded her understanding, "I still don't see why they waited until you had sent the email and before they told you. I mean it wouldn't have been so bad to come home and the experiment failed right? Because that happens. And you always told me that even a failed experiment has the potential to teach something."

"I suspect it had something to do with not wanting to listen to me speak any further," Sheldon admitted with a sigh. "I was very excited. We had triumphed. My theory had been proven correct and they were part of the team that had proven it. Apparently, I grew more irksome as we neared the apartment."

Doctor Gablehauser's gaze had sharpened, "Were they aware that you were emailing myself and your other colleagues?"

"I fail to see how they could have been unaware. Leonard kept reprimanding me for asking questions while he was driving. Raj suggested that the notification could wait until I'd had some sleep," Sheldon was frowning thoughtfully. "He's not the most forceful of my friends or associates, that distinction actually goes to Penny, but he made the attempt several times to prevent me from sending the email."

"What about Howard and Leonard," Penny asked him. She was well aware that her voice was chilly over their names.

Sheldon regarded her with a slightly confused look, "Howard was sleeping in the back seat. Leonard was driving. Leonard was curt when I attempted to verify data with him, he said 'I was the one with the perfect memory, why did I need his input'. In retrospect perhaps his conscience was bothering him, but it seems unlikely considering Howard and Raj were the ones who 'fessed up' as it were and explained Leonard had come up with the deception in the first place."

"In other words, Doctor Koothrappali attempted to keep you from public humiliation while Mr. Wolowitz was oblivious, though exhaustion would explain that, and Doctor Hofstadter was actively hostile," Doctor Gablehauser summarized. "Doctor Cooper, you aren't due back in your office for another two days. I suggest you take them and try to relax. I'll be doing some administrative work and calling the other members of your team in. Please don't say anything to them about our meeting."

"You'll have to avoid them sweetie," Penny told Sheldon who was looking worried and explained to Doctor Gablehauser. "Sheldon can't lie to save his life," She turned back to Sheldon, "You can stay with me. We'll wait until Leonard is out of the apartment and get some more of your stuff."

"Doctor Cooper, your work has always been exemplary even when our interpersonal communications have been difficult," Sheldon's boss was trying to be nice apparently. Penny smiled as the man continued, "I truly do wish to keep you at this university." He frowned, "I had forgotten that Doctor Hofstadter was your roommate."

"It'll be all right, I live across the hall so Sheldon can bring his white boards over and hang out there while we're avoiding Leonard," Penny assured the man. "Right now I'm gonna take Sheldon out for some lunch and then we're gonna hit the comic book store."

"Really?" Sheldon looked so pleased at the thought Penny was glad she'd set it. "I could pick up all the comics Stuart set aside for me."

"And you'll have something to read while I'm at work tomorrow," Penny nodded.

"Well I suggest the two of you enjoy your day," Doctor Gablehauser regarded Doctor Cooper with a little frown. "Doctor Cooper, may I ask, given this situation, and how it came about, is it safe to assume that you will not wish to work with these three associates again?"

"That is an accurate assumption," Sheldon nodded. "Though I hold Raj and Howard slightly less responsible than I do Leonard. Since, according to the two of them, it was Leonard's idea. Additionally Raj did try to stop me sending the email and Howard was unaware I was doing so. And the two of them did ultimately confess to the sabotage. But they went along with it and not only betrayed me but betrayed science and the university's code of ethics. I dislike absolutes but in this instance, I feel it is safe to say you are correct, at least until they have proven themselves trustworthy once again."

"I thought as much," Doctor Gablehauser nodded. "Thank you very much for coming in and taking the time to explain all this in person. Why don't you try and enjoy some time with your lovely girlfriend. It's good to see you have someone in your corner Doctor Cooper. And please don't communicate further regarding the experiment, I'll take care of the retraction."

Penny could recognize a dismissal when she heard one and tugged at Sheldon's arm to get him out of the office. Sheldon was still reeling in shock over what his boss had assumed, and it wasn't until they were out in the hallway that he managed to speak. "Penny, that was, Doctor Gablehauser assumed that we, that we're-"

"I know sweetie," Penny could recognize the beginnings of a breakdown when she saw them. "Let's set that issue aside for now and go have lunch. What food day is this for you?"

"Oh," Sheldon frowned she could see him retrieving the information from his big brain, "Today is the day they usually serve chicken salad in the cafeteria."

"Do you want to eat here?" Penny looked around dubiously and wondered if that would be staying under the radar like his boss had wanted.

"Not particularly," Sheldon shook his head. "But I don't have any alternate suggestions."

Penny smiled, "Why don't I surprise you then sweetie. I know the places you like and I know the places that have good kitchens. So you should be safe with me right?"

"Your experience in food service does give you an edge in evaluating the health and safety of a restaurant," Sheldon nodded.

She patted his arm, "C'mon then. I'm gonna take you to one of the best chicken places I know."

Sheldon had been worried until he'd seen the way the servers cleaned down the booths. And Penny had noticed his sharp eyes take in the gleaming kitchen visible behind the lunch counter. But he'd asked Penny questions about the menu, not the waitress and his order hadn't been overly fussy.

He'd given his meal the attention it deserved and then finally he looked at Penny with a worried expression. "Penny, even if I can avoid Leonard at work, he still lives at the apartment. Your kindness is most appreciated, but I can't stay with you forever."

"Honey, I never understood why you had a roommate to begin with," Penny shrugged at him as she at her salad. "You have more than enough money to pay the rent on your own." She tilted her head, "I really thought you were saving up for a house or something and that's why you had a room mate. But you didn't seem interested in a house."

"A house," Sheldon's face grew far away. "You mean with a yard and a laundry room and a kitchen I wouldn't have to share with someone who's lactose intolerant?" He made a wry face, "I might be able to swing enough for a good down payment in another year if I could tolerate Leonard as a room mate. But I don't know if I'd be able to handle a mortgage, insurance and all the things that come along with a house on my own. Inevitably there will be repairs and basic upkeep which I've learned can be quite prohibitive."

"So you rent out a room to someone you know. Or you buy a place that has a detached garage with an apartment over it and you rent that out to a student," Penny shrugged. "I just hate to think of you in that apartment with Leonard for another year." She added with a frown. A thought occurred to her and she blurted it out before she thought better of it, "Isn't there something in the roommate agreement about betrayal or anything? At all?"

Sheldon seemingly changed the subject, "How is your financial situation Penny?"

"Oh, well," She shrugged, "Its never great. But I'm getting by. With you guys gone all summer I picked up a lot of extra shifts. And the tips were decent. So I tried to pay as much of my credit cards as I could and I had my car checked out." Penny grinned, "Its fine. They say there's nothing wrong with the engine. Just the engine light apparently."

"Have you been putting anything into savings?" Sheldon's eyes were shrewd and she sighed.

"No, I wanted to get one of the credit cards paid off so I could give it to you and you could keep it for emergencies for me," Penny confessed. "I knew I could trust you with it. I've only got a couple hundred left to pay on it."

His smile was very approving and he nodded, "I'm very proud of you. That is a very well thought out decision." Sheldon's blue eyes fixed on her with a very thoughtful expression. "I asked because there is something in the room mate agreement that I could use to remove Leonard immediately rather than wait another four months for his annual roommate review. At which time I would terminate the roommate agreement. But I think you'll agree that the quicker Leonard is out of the apartment the better."

"Oh?" Penny arched an eyebrow curiously and Sheldon's smile could only be termed a smirk as he answered her.

"There is a clause which says that should either of the two signatories become a supervillain that the other is obligated to request that they immediately vacate the apartment, unless of course they wish to become a minion," Sheldon offered. "There is also a paragraph Leonard insisted on which said that if either of us acquired a significant other the other signatory would be obliged to find other accommodations if that significant other wished to share the apartment, in place of the roommate. He insisted we add that to the roommate agreement shortly after tricking you into going out on your date."

Penny frowned, "It's your apartment, why would you sign anything like that?"

"Oh, mostly it was to humor him, but I also stated that should he acquire a girlfriend and wish to apply the terms of that clause he was required to give me four months notice so I could make other arrangements, and that he assume, in written contractual form, all obligations for the apartment, such as paying me the security deposit. As I am the primary signatory on the lease he agreed to those terms." Sheldon almost smirked, "Of course I made certain the terms could only be applied to him, since it is my apartment and if he failed the roommate review I wanted the ability to terminate the agreement immediately."

Penny was glad she didn't have anything to eat or drink in her mouth when Sheldon had dropped that little grenade. She'd expected something like the supervillain clause. Or a non-support clause. The significant other clause was completely out of the blue. She was vividly conscious of staring at him for a solid minute before she finally formulated a question, "Which of those options were you thinking of using sweetie?"

"Well, I wanted your opinion," Sheldon seemed a bit nervous. "I hesitate to ask you if you would move in under false pretenses. Though I cannot deny the appeal of your company I've never had a girlfriend. You're the first girl who's been a friend and it seems the height of folly to assume myself fortunate enough that you would enjoy a dual role in my life. I've been told that I am quite difficult to live with and unreasonably demanding. Additionally, I've been assured that if friends start to date if it goes badly the friendship is usually ruined and cannot be reset to its platonic parameters. I do not wish to lose you as a friend." He frowned, "But though I find Leonard's actions worthy of supervillain status I don't know that anyone else would."

"I do," Penny said fiercely. She grinned suddenly. "Tell you what Sheldon. You tell Leonard he has to leave because of the supervillain clause. If he argues too much you tell him that you are then exercising the girlfriend clause. If he wants to know who you tell him it's me. You spent last night in my apartment and you spent today with me. And I'm packing up my apartment as we speak. He can take over my lease if he needs somewhere to stay."

Sheldon's smile tilted charmingly and he looked down, "So would I be lying to Leonard?"

"No," Penny grinned at him. "I am a girl and I am your friend. Technically I am your girlfriend. And if you ever ask me out then we can have a date and we might make it past technical. But I'm not going to push you on that sweetie."

"Would you mind if we skipped the comic book store then," Sheldon asked hopefully. "I'll help you pack. We can retrieve my moving boxes from my storage unit in the basement. If Leonard has gone out we could move you in today."

"You kept your moving boxes sweetie? Why?" Penny wrinkled her nose.

"You misunderstand. I kept the plastic containers and covers I used to move. They are airtight when sealed and are perfect for long or short term storage. Especially for vintage collectibles." Sheldon explained. "They were a considerable investment but well worth it I thought. And they didn't take anymore space than cardboard boxes."

She grinned, nodding her understanding. "That makes a lot more sense knowing you." Penny's grin turned into a giggle, "I don't mind skipping the comic book store Sheldon. But I am curious as to how you're going to get Leonard packed up and moved and me the same in one day. With just us two doing the moving."

"Oh," Sheldon blinked at her and his tilted smile was back. "I'm going to hire a small moving company. There are several that are available on short notice and are bonded. You and I pack up your private things and the food in your fridge and then we'll have them do the heavy lifting. I will have them pack Leonard's belongings first and keep them in the hall. We can procure cardboard boxes from the grocery store for his things."

Penny nodded slowly, "We'll have to clean and tag go or stay on the furniture I guess." She was thinking of how her things would fit in Sheldon's apartment. "Will my things fit?"

Well your couch might not," Sheldon conceded. "But the leather couch is too large for your apartment so Leonard can't take that. The chair maybe and the coffee table, but then we'd have room for your coffee table and if we moved his desk we could fit your entertainment center." He was drawing up a little plan on the paper napkin and Penny leaned over to look.

"My bed will fit in his room though," She'd seen Leonard's room when she'd been nursing sick Sheldon and it was larger than her current bedroom.

"Yes," Sheldon began another little plan for the bedroom. "I believe you'll be more comfortable than Leonard as a roommate. You don't have dietary restrictions and you like to cook."

Penny felt herself blushing, "Apparently I snore, when its allergy season." She admitted and was surprised when Sheldon actually grinned.

"I know, I've heard you," His blue eyes were mischievous. "If you slept on your side you wouldn't."

"I never sleep on my side unless someone's holding me that way," Penny shook her head. "I even tried one of those cuddle pillows back when I was someone else's roommate and it didn't help."

His gaze turned more wicked than she would ever have credited him with and he nodded, "Your snoring doesn't bother me Penny. I slept just fine when I heard it before. It was a nice subconscious reminder that I wasn't alone in the apartment. You were there." Sheldon's smile was slow and dangerously sweet, "But if you insist we could put it in the roommate agreement that if the snoring bothers you so much you can sleep with me and I'll hold you so you stay on your side." He blushed when he said it but he still said it.

Penny gaped at him and he kept grinning at her, "Bazinga?" She asked not sure what answer she was hoping for, yes or no.

"Not completely," Sheldon shook his head. "You've...acclimated me Penny. I'm better at hugs now. I'm better at touching other people. You've been in my room and sang soft kitty to me. I don't particularly like women. But I really like you. I'm not...averse to asking you on a date. But I...I'm not good at interaction."

She wasn't sure what was more surprising, Sheldon admitting that he'd like to ask her out or admitting that he wasn't good at something. And he'd been actually...flirting, or a very good imitation of it, with her. "Sheldon, would you say that I'm good at interaction?"

"You're an expert at it. You could really, if they offered such things, have a doctorate in interaction and social adaptability," Sheldon nodded.

"So when you're ready you can ask me out. And I'll help with the interaction bits," Penny offered as gently as she could. "After all, I know you. I don't expect you to suddenly change. I like you the way you are or I wouldn't be your friend."

"Then we agree that your snoring is a non-issue?" Sheldon asked hopefully and she couldn't help grinning at him.

"It's a total non-issue sweetie," She looked at the little floorplans he'd made. "How much of what's in your apartment will we have to replace? I mean when Leonard takes his stuff out?"

"Very little," Sheldon shrugged as he finished his meal. "I was in the habit of procuring storage such as the shelving whenever we required more of it so it isn't his. Most of the DVD collection isn't even his."

"And he implied I was a mooch?" Penny muttered as she folded her napkin and tidied her plate and silverware into a neatly stacked pile the waitress would find easy to take away. After watching her Sheldon did the same thing.

"I don't mean to imply that Leonard doesn't purchase things. But he has the tendency to keep them in his room," Sheldon shrugged. "I never minded much. And now it saves us having to go through the DVD collection. If he objects I have all my receipts."

Penny chuckled, "Somehow hon, that doesn't surprise me one bit."

With Sheldon helping it didn't take much to pack up her apartment. Leonard left Sheldon's apartment shortly after they returned from lunch and Sheldon took that opportunity to print out the appropriate roommate termination papers. Penny boxed up her clothes and shoes in the boxes Sheldon retrieved for her and Sheldon began to pack her kitchenware. Sadly the movers couldn't come until the next day but that didn't mean Sheldon and her couldn't make a start on her things. And Sheldon was happily cleaning the apartment as well.

When Leonard returned they heard him almost right away. His furious pounding on Penny's door as they were enjoying their meal of spaghetti with hotdogs cut up in it made it obvious that he'd seen the paperwork Sheldon had left on his bed.

Penny sighed and opened the door. "Gee Leonard, was there something you wanted?" Her voice dripped with honey as she stared at him coolly.

"Sheldon, you wanna catch me up?" Leonard waved the papers wildly.

Sheldon sighed heavily and stood, folding his napkin neatly and coming to stand in the doorway beside Penny. "About what do you need clarification Leonard? I believe the paperwork is quite clear."

"I am not a supervillain!"

Penny sighed and shook her head. "You betrayed your best friend. That kinda makes you a supervillain."

"I disagree." Leonard shook his head. "And I'm not moving out."

Penny rolled her eyes, "Leonard, Sheldon was trying to spare your feelings, even though you don't deserve it. You're moving out because I'm moving in. I'm Sheldon's girlfriend."

Leonard sputtered for a moment and then began laughing. Penny sighed and looked up at Sheldon wondering what they were supposed to do now.

Sheldon's hands on her shoulders and his mouth pressing to hers was a surprise, if a pleasant one, and when she made a pleased sound in her throat, his lips moved minutely over hers, a tiny sweet caress. When he pulled back his eyes were shining brightly down at her and he was smiling that sweet little smile she loved to see.

"Sheldon," Leonard's voice was almost squeaking. "You didn't say bazinga."

"Because there is no bazinga Leonard. Penny is my girlfriend. She is moving in with me, therefore you have twenty four hours to vacate the apartment. Penny has graciously offered the use of her apartment since it is unlikely you will find an appropriate dwelling in less than the day you have remaining." Sheldon's arm had snaked around her waist and now he drew her close to his side.

"But, she, I, we, she..." The experimental physicist was almost speechless until he rallied. "I called dibs!"

"So did I," Penny retorted. "Dibs I, Sheldon." She grinned up at her new boyfriend. "According to the room mate agreement that makes this a tie. And Sheldon breaks all ties. Therefore you are moving out. A mover will be arriving tomorrow to remove your things and move mine in. You can rent a storage facility or you can take this apartment. But either way you're moving out."

Leonard sputtered incoherently for a moment and finally burst out, "But he doesn't have a deal, he can't be your boyfriend."

"I really don't think that's any of your business," Penny narrowed her eyes at him. "Now do you want this apartment or do you want to go and find a new one. Your stuff is out of Sheldon's place no matter what."

"You can't do this. You're required to give four months notice," Leonard was back to arguing about the roommate agreement.

"No," Sheldon shook his head firmly. "You, Leonard, as the roommate of the primary signatory of the lease, are required to give four months notice. I am not. I have spoken to the landlord and he is fully aware that you will be moving out and Penny will be moving in."

"She'll drive you crazy in a week, she's messy and unorganized and she can't even discuss physics with you." Leonard was on yet another argument.

"I'm certain that I will cope. After all, I am coping with the sudden downward trajectory of my career. Dealing with Penny's chaos will be child's play in comparison. And I cannot discuss physics with you either, obviously." The blue eyed physicist stared at his former friend. "You will not be having beautiful, smart babies with Penny, imaginary or otherwise."

"Wait what?" Penny stared up at Sheldon and then down at Leonard. "What are you talking about sweetie?"

"Leonard called dibs on you and shortly after your acquaintance began, proclaimed that the babies you had together would be smart and beautiful." Sheldon stated calmly. "At which point I added the addendum that they were also imaginary considering you had shown no signs of interest in him."

"You know that's just creepy." Penny wrinkled her nose. "And besides the point. We're a little busy here packing up my apartment. You got any other arguments for us to shoot down?"

"You can't do this! You can't take Penny from me." Leonard was turning a bit red in the face and his volume was definitely going up.

Sheldon shook his head, "Leonard, your egocentricity amazes me. Penny is not yours. You did not buy her. Penny is my girlfriend. We have spent the day together. I spent last night with her in her apartment. If I use your methodology for determining a significant other Penny and I might as well be married."

"I'm egocentric? You were making us all crazy. You were picking at every little thing. So I screwed with your experiment. It's not a big deal. That doesn't mean you can take Penny." The experimental physicist shouted at his ex-roommate. "You can't do this to me!"

"I've done nothing Leonard," Sheldon regarded him coldly. "The situation you are in is of your own making. I am merely attempting to move on with my life as you recommended, if you'll recall. No big deal right?"

"Go away Leonard. If I were you I'd start packing." Penny began to shut the door, "Because the movers are coming tomorrow and if you don't figure out where you're going to stay you'll have to figure out how to get all your stuff off the landing."

Leonard's face was bright red and she seriously thought he was going to pop a blood vessel. "And if I tell the movers I'm not leaving what are they going to do about it? Possession is nine-tenths the law."

Penny took her cell phone out of her pocket and dialed, praying she looked calmer than she felt. "Well I'm calling the cops." She looked at Sheldon, "Sheldon, you call the landlord."

That sent Leonard storming back to the apartment, grabbing his keys and slamming the door shut before he stomped down the steps. Penny frowned, "Honey, don't hang up on the landlord all right? Tell him he needs to come and rekey your apartment. You've terminated the agreement already..."

She was aware of Sheldon studying her face with a concerned expression. "You think Leonard will attempt something untoward?"

"I think that he's going to have a copy of his key made right now. And you've got a lot of valuable stuff in your apartment. He looked pissed enough that he'd smash the hell out of your things or your face." She told him worriedly. "I'd feel better if the landlord switched out the locks on the door."

Sheldon nodded and she listened absently as he spoke with the landlord and finally hung up, a dissatisfied expression on his face. "He said that he can't get anyone over here to change the locks but that if we wish to incur the expense of a locksmith he will reimburse us for part of the cost." He was busy Googling on his phone and shortly afterwards began a conversation with a locksmith.

Penny began to clean up the remains of their meal and started her packing again, only looking up when Sheldon's call ended. "So you have a locksmith on the way over?"

"I do." Sheldon nodded. I've also received a text from Wolowitz asking 'WTF you and Penny are together?', with several emoticons I'm given to understand represent excitement, disbelief and shock."

"So Leonard went to them to complain," Penny nodded. "Where are they, did he say?"

"It seems that they are out drinking so that Leonard may 'drown his sorrows'," Sheldon made air quotes with his fingers. "If we are very lucky he will not return until late this evening."

Penny rolled her eyes, "Maybe we'll get really lucky and Leonard will hook up with someone and he won't come home until tomorrow."

Sheldon was moving towards the door, "I believe the locksmith is here."

She nodded and began to clean up the remains of their dinner. "If you'll keep him company I'll keep packing. Also, it might be a good idea for you to keep Dr. Gablehauser informed of what's going on. Since you can't actually help the locksmith why don't you email your boss. Leonard will probably end up staying with Raj or Howard. Also ask him if he wants you at work tomorrow or if you should still stay home a couple days like he said."

The blue eyed physicist nodded, "If you'll lend me your extension cord I'll bring my laptop into the hallway."

Penny watched him for a moment as he proceeded to do just that and smiled to herself. She could hear him explaining to the locksmith what was going on before he settled himself on the steps to type his email. The locksmith sounded a little dazed but willing so she wouldn't have to go out and facilitate matters. Back to packing it was then.

Author's Note: So I started this a couple years ago after the 100 Ways To Kill a Doctor challenge and figured it didn't have to be a huge long thing, just a 'fix it' fic. Hope you all enjoy.