Title:"The Peace Lily Soliloquy"
Author:DesertDragon
Rating/Category: G/gen
Spoilers: Set 10 to 12 months after the present. Slight liberties have been taken with characters canon backgrounds (according to Wiki.)
Disclaimer: I do not own, no infringement intended.
Word Count: 3306
Summary: Sheldon struggles with his inability to console a friend. [one-shot]

*

Knock. Knock. Knock.

"Penny."

Knock. Knock. Knock.

"Penny."

Knock. Knock. Knock.

"Penny!"

Where was she? Sheldon kept knocking. Her apartment was not that big. He had seen her car parked outside before he came in. She had previously agreed to pick him up from the airport when he arrived back from the conference. He must have left a dozen voice mails, without a response. He'd had to take a cab from the airport. He despised that.

He pounded on her door three more times to emphasize his irritatence, picked up his suitcase and satchel and proceeded to enter his own apartment, casting a dirty look over his shoulder as he did so.

Boy, she had a lot of nerve abandoning him like that. He estimated the high probability that she was off co-habituating with one of her ridiculous boyfriends. 'Shacked-up' he believed was the slang.

He found apartment 4A quiet, as he expected, with Leonard still in New Jersey visiting his folks.

He stood for a moment in the middle of the living room and let the silence still his thoughts on Penny. He took in a deep breath. It was not fair to jump to conclusions until he faced her and properly evaluated the circumstances. It was possible that she had a good reason for disregarding her commitment to him. Several years ago, when he barely knew Penny, he would have never given her the benefit of the doubt as he was attempting to at this moment. He would never admit to it, not even to himself, but he had come to trust and depend on her… and she didn't even seem to mind. Sometimes, he felt closer to her than to Leonard. Sometimes.

Therefore, he decided to withhold any disappointment towards her until he heard her explanation…

Then, as he strode toward the hallway, he spotted something that stopped him cold.

His new Japanese peace lily was sitting in the window. It was not supposed to be in the window. Nor was it supposed to be in direct sunlight. Was she trying to kill it?! Criminy, he had given her precise instructions.

He dropped his bags and rushed over to the plant, moving it to a safe spot on the bookcase, murmuring to it as he fussed.

He delicately touched the soil with a long finger and found it retaining a very miniscule measure of dampness. It clearly had been neglected in the water department as well.

"Don't worry, my little Spathiphyllum Cochlearispathum. We won't ask that incompetent female to babysit ever again." Sheldon turned a wrathful glare in the general direction of Penny's apartment, forgetting his patience entirely, vowing to lie in wait and unleash his vengeance.

*

The Burbank Airport was relatively quiet at one in the morning and Penny was grateful. A long layover on her trip from Nebraska was only one superficial reason for her exhaustion…

... being summoned unexpectedly for the funeral of one's father could take a lot out of a girl.

In fact, she was feeling more than queasy from motion sickness, and an abundance of crying, so she made for the first bathroom she saw, went into the stall and slammed the door. She wasn't sure how long she sat there, lid down, head in her hands, when, from deep within her pocket, there came a tentative little chime.

She dug out her pink Razr, the small screen notifying her of fourteen new messages. She flipped it open. They were all from Sheldon. Half of them texts. Half of them voice mails.

She sighed, feeling guilty on top of everything else, remembering her promise to pick him up earlier this afternoon at this very airport. She glanced at several of the texts.

//Penny. This is Sheldon. I have arrived.//

//Penny. This is Sheldon. We were to rendezvous in the common area at noon precisely. You are not here.//

//Penny. Sheldon again. A small Italian woman just tried to steal my satchel. She said that men shouldn't carry a purse... Where ARE you?//

//Penny. Sheldon. My mother be damned, this is a strike.//

She could practically hear the nervous pitch of his voice, whining slightly, and possibly an ornery stomp of his foot. She smiled faintly. He had become somewhat codependent on her over the past year, but she found, as time went by, she didn't mind all that much.

Most of the time, anyway. She felt bad about not being here for him today, but it couldn't be helped. And as Leonard was always quick to point out; he was never going to learn if his friends kept spoiling him and giving in to him all the time. It was probably good for him to practice some independence now and again... like taking a cab.

She gave a thin shudder. She'd worry over the backlash of that later.

She stepped out of the stall to wash her hands, glanced in the mirror and forgot all about Sheldon.

She barely recognized the pale blonde girl, wrapped up in her father's red plaid shirt, blinking back at her.

Was that her? She looked like a ghost. She had certainly floated numbly through the last few days that had been crowded with family and the service. Now all that was left was this girl staring back at her, her hands clutched in an old shirt.

The world wavered slightly beneath her feet. What was supposed to happen now? All she wanted to do was crawl into her apartment and her bed and hide for a long while until she figured it out.

*

Thursday and Friday disappeared along with most of Saturday, and still no sign of Penny. Howard and Raj had stopped by to see if he wanted to participate in paintball and he had refused. He preferred to sit at his desk all day and occupy himself with work, masking the little voice in his complicated subconscious that was curious, confused (and perhaps a bit worried) about Penny. Any unknown sound in the hall aroused him to the front door only to find… nothing.

At the same time, he allowed the frustration and disappointment toward her for her callous actions to continue to grow and fester; he could not help it. These thoughts had to be allowed their due course or he wouldn't be able to get anything else accomplished.

At 8:15pm on the dot, he and his laundry basket made their way down to the basement for Laundry Night, casting another cool stare toward apartment 4B as he went. Then, on the way back up, something peculiar happened.

Walking ahead of him, on the stairs leading up, was a pizza delivery guy from Giacamo's. Nothing odd in and of itself. But the guy was stopping on his floor.

This wasn't Thursday night. Thursday night was pizza night. And he hadn't ordered a pizza.

He stood there, baffled, the basket full of fresh laundry clutched to his stomach, as he watched the Giacamo Pizza guy knock on Penny's door.

*

Until the pizza guy knocked on her door, Penny didn't realize how much she was missing human contact. She was not cut out to be a solitary person. Not to mention the fact that she had no eatable food in her apartment. She took a glance through the peephole, saw only a Giacamo baseball cap and opened the door.

"Medium pizza with mushroom and bell pepper. $13.25," the kid said.

She handed him fifteen and told him to keep it, but before she could move back into her apartment with her feast, she caught the sight of something very tall and very angry standing in the now-empty hall.

Sheldon.

His arms were crossed over his black Tron t-shirt and he was staring her down with those half-lidded deep-set eyes of his, his laundry basket at his feet. She braced herself.

The barrage began in a deadly calm tone and, possibly overlooked by him, was armed with a wounding sting. It was almost as if her father was standing there, lecturing her all over again.

"I don't think I have to state how very disappointing your behavior is. Abandoning someone who was depending on you. Cavorting with whichever no-neck muscle-head that has currently captured your fancy – nice flannel shirt by the way, is that his?" Sheldon advanced on her, backing her into her apartment, his deep voice beginning to crack and peek in exasperation. "To add insult to injury, you completely disregard my special care instructions that I provided you for my delicate Spathiphyllum Cochlearispathum- "

Her voice broke. "Uh, your…?"

" – Japanese Peace Lily. You very nearly killed it with your negligent and utter incompetence. How bright to you have to be to adhere to one, tiny simple request?"

Penny felt herself going queasy again, her heart plummeting into her empty stomach. Her emotions were already operating at their rawest form, and she had no armor to go toe-to-toe with Sheldon right now. Her hopes of having someone to talk with for a while this evening were disappearing fast as his anger increased, so she figured an apology was the quickest way to end this attack and she could go back to grieving in peace, before she burst into tears in front of him.

"Sheldon, I am so - "

"Sorry?" he finished for her in a mocking tone. "Tell me. I'm curious. How does someone so disrespectful and impertinent have so many friends?" As he spit it out, she thought she could catch the smallest note of jealously on the tail end of it.

She was now at a complete and utter loss, and a fresh wave of tears sputtered forth. It was then, and only then, that she had managed to startle him into silence. His face fell.

She could not emit any other response other than an apologetic and slightly defensive, "My dad died." And she shut the door on him.

*

Sheldon was not aware of how long he stood there, dumbstruck, staring at Penny's door. It was not often that he felt this way, and a part of him was struggling with it.

The other part of him realized the drastic error he had made in his calculations - of the situation and his friendship with Penny. Now he would spend the rest of the evening tearing apart his original hypothesis and start from scratch until the results were precise and correct.

He turned and made his way back into his apartment and closed the door. He sat in his spot on the couch and numbly stared at the peace lily on the coffee table, replaying the scene in the hall.

She had stood there before him, her hair in disarray, her skin unusually pale and blotchy, not saying anything, not fighting back with him, as per their usual contention . She had been a quiet, submissive mess wrapped up in a man's red and black flannel button down shirt. Indeed, not herself at all. How could he have not seen it with his mighty powers of observation? His Spidey sense had been on the fritz and now he was left with this extremely unlikable feeling rolling around in his abdomen. Could this be guilt?

'My dad died,' she had said, and his face wrinkled in memory.

He had lost his father when he was twenty years old. Did that qualify him with enough emotional expertise to access the situation properly?

At the time, he had been completely absorbed in finishing his dissertation and was several weeks away from his second doctorate. Nothing could penetrate his world or waver his focus from that special point in space. Not even the phone call that came from his mother bringing the news.

Your father's had himself a heart attack, she'd said. He's gone, she'd said. Shut up in his own, impenetrable world, he hadn't the tools to cope with her words then. Nor had he really revisited it often since. Until now.

He could only remember instances of extreme emotional turmoil that threatened his work and caused physical pain that he could not fathom or explain. He had refused to give it a name less he fail in his dissertation, which he barely completed. After his difficult, but much earned success, he did indeed acknowledged it... then he put it away, locked safely in the expanse of his large brain, with a singular lessoned learned: this is what emotional relationships and attachment can do to you.

Which brought him back to Penny. Penny, despite living 1206 miles away from her relatives, was considerably close to her large family. No one had obviously been here for her earlier this week when she had received that phone call, but he could easily estimate that she had reacted fully, and unlike him, to the tragic news.

Another uncomfortable tugging sensation turned over in the core of him. Empathy, possibly. But could he use it wisely enough to console her?

His face contorted with frustration at himself. This postulation was doubtful given the atrocious why in which he had just behaved toward her. He went down the list of what he had just blamed her for:

-disappointment
-irresponsibility
-disrespect
-incompetence

- and compared that theoretically to the list of reasons why he found his relationship with her satisfactory:

-trustworthy
-dependable
-comfortable
-charming (at times)
-accepting
-warm

There appeared to many different contradictions and inconsistencies that he stumbled upon. The only thing he could ultimately surmise at this point without further practice was this:

He was inadequately equipped to deal with consolation in any form. But despite this sudo-new hypothesis, he had to amend his earlier behavior.

*

Knock. Knock. Knock.

"Penny."

Knock. Knock. Knock.

"Penny."

Knock. Knock. Knock.

"Penny."

This continued on softly, from the other side of her door, for some time. The defeated sound of his voice drew her off the couch. She laid her palm against his consistent knocking, but she could not bring herself to open it for him. She leaned against it, listening to him for what seemed like hours.

She could not let him in and risk her heart being dragged through another declaration of judgement and disappointment. Not even by Sheldon.

Especially not by Sheldon.

The last conversation she'd had with her father went much the same way. The man had never supported her choices; the move to Los Angeles, the pursuit of an acting career. She suspected he thought she was stupid for trying. Sheldon had never voiced such opinions, true. He cared for himself above all else. But that didn't mean he wouldn't belittle her aspirations given the chance, however unintentionally.

Oh, stop feeling sorry for yourself, girl. You don't need acceptance from Dr. Sheldon Cooper, the thoughts in her head berated.

She found her voice and backed away from the door.

"Go away, Sheldon."

*

His posture straightened at the sound of her voice and halted his fist in mid-air. He waited, but she didn't speak again. His jaw clenched in determination. He would not be dismissed that easily.

He strode back into his apartment and grabbed her emergency key from the basket by the door.

*

When Penny heard the key rattling around in the lock, she thought, "Dammit," but was too exhausted to kick him back out.

He pushed the door wide open, his stubborn gaze finding her on the couch curled up with a blanket. She watched as his moxie slowly dissipated, leaving a shy awkwardness in its wake. He reached back without much grace and closed it behind him, suddenly not being able to meet her eyes in the dim living room.

He moved carefully over to the couch, looking everywhere but her.

It was a long moment before he could find his voice, and she let him take his time. By the look on his face and the slump of his shoulders alone - an honest, sad expression she saw on him very rarely - she had already forgiven him even before he opened his mouth.

"Penny. Please accepted my sincerest apologies for my earlier behavior. I had drawn several fallacious conclusions for which I had no factual grounds for other than my own assumptions. They were emotional reactions, which you know I am not prone to often -"

She hid a tired smiled at this admission. Despite the fact that he thought of himself as cynically removed from most subject matter, she had witnessed first hand his many bouts with melodrama. But she didn't dare interrupt him.

" - and I am very sorry for anything that I may have wrongfully accused you of, and ..." He hesitated; not knowing what to do with his hands, they twitched at his sides. "I offer you my deepest condolences for your loss."

After a long pause, she realized he was finished.

"Accepted," she replied softly. "And thank you, Sheldon. That means a lot."

He finally met her eyes and held them for a long moment. For the briefest of seconds she saw something in them she'd never seen before: understanding.

*

He moved his eyes to her face carefully and studied her. She was telling the truth. He was surprised by his own relief, but remained cautious, especially when she drew her slippered feet away from one end of the couch as an invitation for him to sit down.

He did, gingerly, and he noticed that she sat up from her reclined position to be closer to him. He tried to clear his throat non-chalantly.

"I don't find you incompetent," he reiterated. "And I have always found you very dependable; I did not mean to imply otherwise."

She seemed to hesitate while biting her lower lip, but he caught a faint in her tired eyes. "Thank you... And I hope your peace lily is alright."

"It's in good health," he replied, passably. "They are really quite resilient house plants. Did you know, Spathiphyllum cleans indoor air of many environmental contaminants. It also acts to relieve stress. My mom got it for me."

He glanced at her to see if she was receptive to this knowledge and found her staring off into space, eyelids heavy. He had no idea on how to offer her more comfort, so as a distraction for her grief, he continued on, listing all the information he knew about the Japanese peace lily.

She began to drift off, leaning into him sleepily as she did so. Having no other resources, he kept talking. He lifted one arm so she would have more room, but when she settled against him he was shocked to find that she was quietly crying in her sleep; he could feel it against his body.

Careful not to disturb her, he had no clue what to do with his raised arm. Should he bring it down around her she might wake up. It was a conundrum.

He eventually decided on resting his hand against her back. It felt awkward. But as soon as he did so, he felt the sobbing stop and her body completely relax.

Did he do that? Was that actually comforting for her? He sat there quietly with her for a long time, staring at her colorful albeit cluttered living room until he finally agreed with that hypothesis. He was always surprising himself.

"Huh."

*

The next morning, Penny awoke on the couch alone, her blanket and her father's flannel shirt still wrapped around her. But no Sheldon.

She wandered into the kitchen toward the dubious box containing the uneaten pizza, when something on the counter caught her eye. It was a lovely green plant with one solitary white bloom-age.

Sheldon's peace lily.

There was a meticulously hand-printed card attached to it. It read:

"To aid you in a comforting, stress-free environment."

For the first time in days, Penny smiled.

*