The Attractive Enchantress Extension

By: TriplePirouette

Spoilers: Up to and including "The Dead Hooker Juxtaposition"

Category: post-ep, Angst

Rating: PG/ K+

Word Count: 3,275

Disclaimer: They're not mine. All characters belong to their respective creators.

Summary: Post- Episode for 'The Dead Hooker Juxtaposition' "If it was true, if Sheldon told her that he tolerated her for Leonard's sake and that Leonard, Raj and Howard only paid any attention to her in hopes of someday achieving "coitus" (because that was the exact word he would use), then she didn't know what she would do. It would have to stop. All of it."

Distribution: my site, , and my LJ, anywhere else, please ask first :)

Author's Notes: Inspired by the "girl fight" in TDHJ and a line in my fic "My Dearest Moonpie" where Penny feels she's acting like a bully. Hopefully there's a little character evolution/insight in this. I was impatient and wanted to post this ASAP (I wrote it this morning) so any and all mistakes/typos are mine.

Feedback PLEASE: I love anything constructive! Blatant flames, however, will be disregarded and used to roast s'mores....


*~*~*

Penny knew that the only person that would tell her the truth would be Sheldon, but she wasn't quite sure that she wanted to know it. She wasn't sure that she wanted to live in this limbo of doubt, either. She stood just inside her apartment, hand on the doorknob, ready to walk across the hall as soon as she got the courage. She wasn't proud of the lengths she'd gone to in the last few days, wasn't proud of her behavior towards the guys or towards Alicia, and just wanted to forget it all. But Alicia's words kept floating through her mind at the most inconvenient moments.

How's it any different from what you do?

She was serving a Barbecue Bacon Cheeseburger at the Cheesecake Factory and she almost dropped the burger and fries all over a poor teenage boy.

How's it any different from what you do?

She cut her finger on the plastic guard of her new printer when she was setting it up herself, it really was much easier than she had thought. And maybe that was just a little karma, she admitted.

How's it any different from what you do?

She'd turned on her television to watch the latest episode of her soap, but all she could see were a defeated and pants-less Sheldon and Leonard returning to their apartment the very day she'd met them.

Alicia's words were ringing through her head day and night. Funny thing was, she had very nearly called the guys her friends, Howard included, when she'd been talking to Alicia. It had been her slip with the Star Trek reference that made her reevaluate her word choice, afraid that they were having more of an influence on her than she'd like.

But really, what could be bad about the influence of these kind-hearted, smart, hard-working men?

Despite the few punches that Alicia had gotten in, Penny had eventually gotten the upper hand and if she'd had a rope, would have had Alicia hog tied by the time Leonard and Raj had broken them up.

They were her friends she'd realized as she was rolling around on the lobby floor, ready to claw the other woman's eyes out at even the prospect of her hurting them; friends she really cared about. Otherwise she wouldn't care about how they spent their time with Alicia and would have simply asked Sheldon to set up her printer or attempted it earlier herself. She'd slowly admitted to her self over the last few days, however, that it never really was about the printer. It had been about them. About her friends.

Penny knew a lot of people, had a lot of people she called friends, but she spent more time with the guys than all of them combined, thought about things in terms of the guys in more ways than she wanted to admit, and had no other friends that she felt could even touch the guys in intelligence.

What scared her the most about what Alicia said was that she was afraid it was true.

Even if it wasn't her intention to use them, what kind of girl asks men she's just met to confront her ex-boyfriend? Who needs a PhD to set up a plug-and-play printer? Who asks world renowned intellectuals to glue glitter and rhinestones on fake flowers all night? It all seemed ridiculous now, especially when she couldn't think of a single way in which she'd ever helped them as much as they'd helped her.

Her hand slipped over the doorknob, not quite turning it, not quite letting it sit. She knew Sheldon was next door. Of all of them, he'd tell her the truth. He wouldn't sugarcoat his answer to her question because he couldn't. It wouldn't be a matter of her feelings or if it was socially acceptable. He would lay it out for her, plain and simple.

She'd thought of him, of this whole situation, when she was simply trying to put away her winter flannel sheets. She'd folded them as small as she could (albeit a little sloppily) and they still wouldn't fit into the plastic case they'd come in for storage. While she was huffing and puffing and trying to force them into their little cube she'd thought of going over to ask the guys for help. Leonard would surely help her fold them nicely and Sheldon would have the answer as to why the proper molecular alignment was required to get the sheets to fit into the small zippered case or why repeated washing rendered the sheets actually too large to fit back in there. She had smiled, thinking it might actually be nice to know the answer and see the boys in a more normal situation after the last few days.

How's it any different from what you do?

And the words had popped up again. Her heart sank. It would be one more time that she'd be knocking and asking for help, taking advantage of their minds and their willingness to help a pretty girl. She had dropped her sheets and marched to the front door... but hadn't gotten any farther.

If it was true, if Sheldon told her that he tolerated her for Leonard's sake and that Leonard, Raj and Howard only paid any attention to her in hopes of someday achieving "coitus" (because that was the exact word he would use), then she didn't know what she would do. It would have to stop. All of it.

She took her hand off the knob. Maybe she'd simply move back to Omaha. The apartment was really straining her finances, anyway. She wasn't any closer to being rich and famous than she'd been in Nebraska, either. Alicia was proof that you could be successful here in a short period of time, and Penny wasn't. Maybe she just wasn't cut out for this- any of it. At least moving would hurt the guys less than simply ignoring them.

That was it, she had to know. Penny took a deep breath, swung open her door, marched across the hall, and banged on the door three determined times. "Sheldon?"

He opened the door a second later, a pleasant, expectant look on his face. "Hello, Penny." All of her determination drained from her body, and suddenly she was very, very afraid of what he might say. But she was here now, and she didn't want to turn back and have Alicia's words run through her head one more time. Sheldon looked concerned at her change in demeanor and opened the door wider, "Would you like to come in? Is something wrong?"

Penny walked in and looked around the apartment in a slow circle, taking in all of the things she'd taken for granted. "Sheldon, I need to ask you a question, and I need you to tell me the truth."

Sheldon crossed over to his spot on the couch, sitting on the edge of his cushion as he lifted the remote to shut off the television and looked up at her. "As you know I'm quite incapable of telling a convincing lie, so you can be assured that I will tell you the truth. What is it?" He carefully replaced the remote on the table and clasped his hands in front of him.

She took a deep breath, facing Sheldon as plain and as open as she had ever been. "Am I taking advantage of you guys?" She could feel her heart stop beating in the seconds after she asked.

Sheldon, for his part, looked at her, his head slowly tipping to the side, his eyebrows coming together as he thought. "I'm sorry, Penny, I don't believe I understand the question. As far as I know you have not achieved coitus with Howard, Leonard, or Raj, and I know we have not. Related, I would hope you would remember if you had achieved that level of intimacy with one of us. Is that not the accepted definition of 'taking advantage' in popular culture? I don't believe it fits this situation."

Penny laughed a bit sadly and walked over to sit next to Sheldon, facing him just a bit. "Well, yes and no, sweetie." He just stared at her, waiting for her explanation. "It is the accepted definition for the phrase, but that's not the way I was using it. I want to know..." Penny took another deep breath, "I want to know if I'm using you guys. If you think- if I use my looks to get you guys to do things for me."

Sheldon shook his head and replied quickly. "Penny, that's absurd."

"No, Sheldon! I want you to really think about this. I don't think it is." She looked sad and defeated, turning to face straight forward so she wouldn't have to look at him.

"What brought on this line of thinking? Has Howard become too bold again?" Sheldon turned to look at her despite the fact that she refused to look at him. He was growing more and more concerned at her defeated attitude which was completely out of her normal character.

"No. It was Alicia. I-" Penny almost thought about not saying anything- but didn't think she could keep it in anymore. She looked at the blank screen of the television and spoke quietly, "She was consciously taking advantage of Leonard, Raj, and Howard- she knew that if she flirted with them they'd help her. I asked her to just... lay off a little you know? I didn't want to see you guys get hurt."

When she paused for a breath Sheldon interrupted with a flexed hand. "While admirable, that's really unnecessary. I was taking no part in it, so unless she begins stomping around her apartment like an elephant, I for one would not be bothered. Howard is incredibly resilient when it comes to rejection by women, as is Raj to a lesser extent. I would have to suffer through a few days of Leonard trying to buy a cat, but that would pass quickly, as well. Any real psychological or physical pain is quite unlikely." He smiled a bit as she turned her head, looking at him with sad eyes, hoping that this put her fears to rest. He could see that it hadn't.

"Well, I guess. But she asked me how her taking advantage of their kindness is any different from what I do to you guys on a daily basis." Penny hung her head, whispering. "And I don't know that it is any different."

Sheldon sat up straighter. "Oh, well is that all?" Penny turned, surprised at the light quality of his voice. "Penny, we may be a bit socially inept as a group, but do you really think that any of us would allow someone to disrupt our lives to that extent just for the possibility of coitus?"

Penny bit her lip, unconvinced. "But you guys always do so much for me and I don't do anything for you."

Sheldon smirked, "You think setting up a printer or a small home business is hard work? Have you seen the lengths we'll go through to have fun? We hooked up a remote control car to a satellite and the internet, for goodness sakes, and we didn't even break a sweat."

"But you guys are always doing things for me!" She turned back to him, frustration boiling up from her stomach and pushing out through her lungs in a searing rush of words. "You carry things, and try to get TVs, and assemble things, and clean my apartment even though I get mad, and you let me try mixing drinks, and you let me steal your WiFi, and you invite me over for dinner all the time, and you made all those Penny Blossoms, and you lend me money, and-"

Sheldon held up a hand, shaking his head. "Penny, we could have said no to any one of those things. In no way did you overly coerce us into complying. Would we invite you over for dinner if we didn't enjoy your company?" She shrugged, not too sure of herself. Sheldon pursed his lips and tried a different tactic. "At first, Leonard's motives were purely to impress you, and thus mine were to help him impress you as I served in the role of 'good friend.' However I would hope you'd see that we're quite past that. And I resent the implication that this relationship is completely one-sided; you do plenty of things for us. You kill our spiders, even when they're small. You have driven me to work and various other places on more than one occasion. You get my order right for various take out at a much higher percentage than Howard or Raj, though you're still under Leonard in that respect. You provide insight into current popular culture that we are often blind to, as well as insight into the female psyche that we lack. You had the idea to try to throw Leonard a surprise birthday party, then the patience to take me shopping." Sheldon tilted his head a bit, looking down at his hands instead of her as he said the next part. "Do you not remember that when I was ready to eliminate one of my circle of friends to accommodate Kripke, it was Raj that did not make the cut, not you?"

"So, you really don't think that I'm taking advantage of you guys?" Penny asked, her face pushed up nervously, hands clasped tightly in her lap.

"Well, purely by definition, you do take advantage," Sheldon said plainly, looking at her as though he was about to impart the secrets of the universe, "but in a good way. Like I take advantage of the Open Grid Science Computer at work. You use us as a resource for things that you need or cannot do on your own, just as we 'take advantage' of you for the same reasons. As I understand it, that's how friendship works: sometimes one friend does more things, sometimes the other has more experience to do things better, but the law of large numbers, if it were truly applicable here, would show that it will always average out to a fair fifty-fifty split."

Penny started to smile a bit. "You really don't think that what we're doing is... bad? I'm not using you guys?"

Sheldon smirked his trademark smile and leaned back into the couch. "No, Penny. Not in the least. Once the haze of lust and infatuation pass and the novelty of newness wears off Alicia, you'll see that I'm right. As always."

A slow, genuine smile started to form on Penny's face, lifting up the atmosphere of the room with the corners of her mouth. "Thank you, Sheldon. That really made me feel better. I could just hug you right now." She shrugged, the knot in her stomach loosening as she began to feel better about the entire situation.

Sheldon looked at her hard for a moment, making her worry that perhaps he had just been lying to her, then cleared his throat. "Would that make you feel better?"

"Huh?"

He licked his lips nervously. "If you hugged me. Would it make you feel better? I'm not opposed to the action in theory and hugging can reduce blood pressure, is a sign of support and comfort, and can produce oxytocin which has been shown to increase trust and reduce fear- all of which I believe would be helpful to you right now. So would that make you feel better? If you hugged me?"

Penny thought for a moment, biting her lip at the tingle that flew up her spine. She shifted forward on her seat. "Only if you hug back."

Sheldon nodded. "That is acceptable."

They stared at one another for a moment, Penny shifting closer first. Sheldon's arms reached out uncertainly, long and gangly and she was sure they'd barely touch her like the last time. She shifted forward gently, not wanting to scare him, and was surprised to feel his fingers spread wide on her back, his palms pressing against her spine just a second before she felt his forearms, and then his biceps across the tops of her arms. It wasn't cautious, it wasn't unsure: he was tightly hugging her.

She reached her arms around him, pulling him closer to her. After the last two days this was what she needed. His words had lifted the pall off of her heart, but this simple human action reassured her in ways she wasn't prepared for. Penny buried her head softly in the crook underneath Sheldon's chin. He stiffened at the first tickle of her hair, but did not move otherwise until he felt her breath hitch and a tiny droplet of moisture roll down his collarbone.

"Penny, are you crying?" She nodded into his chest. Sheldon tensed, licking his lips compulsively. "Is... something wrong?" She sniffled, which sent a germophobic chill down his spine, but she also shook her head 'no.' He felt another wet droplet soak into his shirt. "Are these... good tears? I don't know what those are, but my Mother always used to cry them when she was watching her soap operas." Penny nodded vigorously, her breath hitching again. "Ok," he gulped, unmoving, and still unsure of what to do, "Is there... anything I can do?"

Penny took a deep breath, causing them both to move in tandem. Sheldon felt her words in his chest and the air wisp across his adam's apple. "Can we stay like this? Just a little longer? I know you're probably freaking out-"

"I am not 'freaking out.' Well, I am, but that's more from your sudden onslaught of tears. Our position has nothing to do with it." To show that he was serious, Sheldon consciously gave her a small squeeze. "We can stay like this until you are ready to move."

Penny leaned more firmly into his embrace. If she hadn't been convinced before, this was more than enough evidence to completely shatter any doubts. "Thank you, Sheldon," she whispered, feeling the most cared for and content she'd felt since moving away from Nebraska.

"You're welcome, Penny." His hands began to move gently up and down her back in small asymptotic curves in time with her slowing breathing. "There, there."