I do not own characters etc I just like to play with them sometimes. No copywrite infringment intended yadah

With thanks to confidentlyparanoid for her Beta reading skills and continuing to lend her time to humour my ramblings.


The Necktie Cognizance

"See it?"

Penny didn't need to follow Sheldon's pointing finger to know what he was referring to; a tie on Leonard's door knob had been hung again. "Of course I see it, Sheldon."

He pulled back his arm. "So, forgive me for being obtuse, but I'm assuming that, given our previous discussion about semantics, the tie still implies Leonard has 'hooked-up' with a partner?"

Penny almost choked on Sheldon's frankness over human intimacy. "Of course it does!" Before she had time to hear another cringe-making sound from behind the tie like before, Penny spun round and moved sharply into the living space of Leonard and Sheldon's apartment.

"Does the colour convey any other message?" Sheldon followed her into his living room.

"What?" Penny exclaimed, worried about what sort of messages Sheldon could possibly mean.

Surprised by her tone as he was, Sheldon continued with his hypothesis without showing it.

"Well," Sheldon rolled the top of his corduroy pants to sit easily into his well-moulded space on the couch. "Previously I noted Leonard had favoured the red tie to announce he had company, whereas in this instance he has clearly used the dark blue tie featuring the Superman logo Raj gave him two Christmases ago. Does the colour denote he is having relations with a new person? Does one assign colours to partners?"

"No, sweetie, no" Penny breathed with some relief. "I'm guessing that that one was the first one to… hand."

Sheldon nodded. "That makes sense, as I certainly saw Leonard with Leslie Winkle enter the building as I was observing the Jupiter moons for my astronomy blog." Sheldon again pointed, this time to the double window where the telescope had been moved to dominate the frame, poised up into the milky-blue of early evening sky. "I'd thought perhaps he had picked up some other unfortunate woman on his way here in some sad desperation."

"Astronomy? I thought you weren't into horoscopes?"

That dry, exasperated look Penny couldn't stand fell easily across Sheldon's face.

"Astronomy," an eyebrow raised, "is the study of the natures of celestial bodies and their physical and chemical properties. 'Astrology'-" he accompanied the spite in this word with incensed air quotes. "- is the hocus-pocus mythology that distant, irrelevant cosmic signs somehow affect human events in complete disregard of the laws of causality. Once again, Penny, thank you for proving the ardent failure of the education system."

Penny strained to bite her tongue but managed to keep her temper in check, composing herself by brushing a thoughtful palm across her cheek. Calm was the antidote to Taurus behaviour after all. "But didn't you see who Leonard had with him when they came in?" she backtracked.

"Of course not. I'd gone to my room to fetch a scale-rule to jot my observations. All I saw was an excited blur shoot past my door into his room like the first atoms in E. Lawrence's Cyclotron. In a particle accelerator," Sheldon added by way of clarification when he caught her look, for once correctly assessing the picture on the blonde's face as 'confusion' (for which he congratulated himself).

But Penny's frown was unmoving. He tried again.

"Like the one in Switzerland you got all worked up about," Sheldon expanded, deliberately slower as if the phonetics would help her. "Though personally I don't see what all the fuss was about, the level of the enthusiasm excited isn't well deserved, so far the findings are miniscule to none. It's nothing I hadn't predicted myself when I replicated my own with a cardboard tube and half a pack of Skittles in my laboratory when I was seven."

"You had a laboratory?"

"Well, a potting-shed."

After a moment when her mind had finally caught up with Sheldon's, his blank face looking steadily back at hers waiting for her next comment, Penny inhaled through clenched teeth. "Well, as usual Sheldon, this visit has been endurable at best." She clapped her thighs with her hands as she rose from the couch arm. "We must do this again sometime."

She had just wrung her hand around the cool door knob when Sheldon suddenly – to his surprise as much as hers – said: "Leonard certainly seems to have a lot of women round, doesn't he?"

Penny couldn't even begin to imagine what sort of conversation he had just opened up, but she could imagine the coffeepot, probably still steaming, she was just about to pour when Sheldon's persistent knocking interrupted her. She could vividly imagine the When Harry Met Sally DVD whirling in her DVD player, the menu patiently looped on her TV screen waiting for someone to select PLAY MOVIE.

Goodbye cosy evening, Penny thought as she let go of the door handle. She sank back down onto the faux leather arm rest admitting defeat.

"I didn't think it was that many?" she said forcing the light air of interest in her voice that assured her she was going to be a great actress one day.

But Sheldon was shaking his head. "Comparing the tally of visitors I receive to an estimation of his I have reached through my off-hand observations based on calculations of averages per month times the number of months we have lived together, I can say with some certainty his number exceeds mine."

The attempt to comprehend his math screwed up her face. "I think I followed that," she lied, remembering similar times in her eleventh grade math class squinting at Mrs Adams' symbol-riddled blackboard. She snapped back to the present when Sheldon's face came looming through the mists of time, his own expression vague as he tried to decipher hers. He looked like someone trying to read a foreign language for the first time.

"Out of interest," Penny asked tenderly. "How many…'visitors' has Leonard had?"

Sheldon mused for a second, rolling the query around his mind like a magic eight ball whether it was right for him to tell her. Finally he shook his head, "I don't think it is my place to say, other than those which you already know; Winkle, you yourself, of course, that blockbuster clerk…"

"Anya?" Penny said in surprise, picturing the girl with the loose chocolate brunette bob and thick rimmed glasses like Leonard's. "When was that?"

"He didn't tell you?"

Penny shook her head.

Damn it! Sheldon mentally scolded himself for breaking the moral code. Well it was too late now, he may as well go on.

"Yes, well, that was before you moved in across the hall. There were a few more as well before then, not many, but enough that you don't need the arms of Shiva to count them."

"And…Sheldon…?" Penny slid coolly down the couch arm onto the soft, plump cushions nearer to him.

Sheldon's ears astutely pricked up when she put too much emphasis on the end of his name; he sensed an undertone of danger in the upward inflection, though he couldn't fathom what it could be.

Very slightly he tilted his head nearer to his shoulder awaiting her question, apparently unaware of her thought. "Yes Penny?"

But Penny decided it was best not to ask how many 'visitors' he'd received himself. Sheldon, intentional or otherwise, was something of a question mark, and she didn't want to ruin the mystery. Which was just as well, for Sheldon had no intention of omitting such classified information to her of all people anyway.

"Oh nothing," she shook her head and went back to examining her manicured finger nails. "I think I know anyway."

Just then the apartment door flew open and with undeserved confidence a man – body squeezed into tight black pants and a restricting fitted crimson shirt, looking like a rejected extra from Night Fever – tore into the living room.

Wolowitz rubbed his hands together gleefully. "Sheldon, Penny," he greeted her in a seedy leering tone. "Time to break out the chips and onion dip, it's time to take command over my favourite British woman!"

"Excuse me?" said Penny, though coming to regret her encouragement.

"Lara Croft, of course," was Howard's muffled reply from the inside of the kitchen cupboard he was rustling about in. "Leonard bought the new game yesterday and how could I say no to the best breasts Europe has to offer? When I look deep into that heaving pixelated chest I just want to cry and sing the English national anthem!"

"England has no national anthem," Sheldon corrected, ignoring Howard's overall connotation, "they adhere to the British national anthem,"

"The point still stands," Howard persisted, wandering into the living area with bowls of snacks. "God bless England and their bountiful CGI British babes!"

"Sorry to interrupt the sleaze-fest Howard, but I think Leonard is a little busy…" Penny tried to signal to the bedrooms with a wiggle of her eye brows.

"I don't quite follow," he said uncertainly.

Her eyes rolled. For a bunch of brainiacs they sure were dumb.

Sheldon explained the tie on Leonard's door again, complete with an account of how he found it and how his tie/colour conjecture had returned a negative result.

"Woah, woah - Leonard's getting laid?" A gleam lit Howard's eyes like the shimmer from his over-sized belt buckle.

"Yes,' said Penny. "He's with Leslie Winkle."

"Although I suspect by now they've moved onto the embracing ritual of post-relations, it has been about fifteen minutes after all." Sheldon followed this with a short soundless snort like a snuffling pig, which Penny assumed was Sheldon's attempt at a laugh.

"Hofstadter, getting his freak on. That time of year again huh?" Howard grabbed a handful of corn snacks and poured them into his mouth unattractively. "Why am I always out of lab when Leslie's looking for male company? Doesn't she know this doctor's always prepared to make a house call?"

"Maybe she times it?" Penny muttered.

"Don't worry Penny," he assured her with an overly-confidant tone. "There will always be a seat for you on Train Wolowitz. I can show you why the ladies call me 'the locomotive'."

But he was surprised that in return for his compliment, Penny merely glared at him. "I've told you about saying those things to me, and please God no."

Howard grimaced repentantly and looked about him for a distraction. "Ah, the telescope!" he cried out with relief. "I guess as I'm here and you're one man down I could stay and help you with your Astronomy blog, Sheldon. I hear the Galilean moons are particularly bright tonight, like the pale beauty of our fair Penny."

Before Sheldon (or Penny for that matter) could raise a finger of objection, he was unexpectedly saved the trouble by Howard's cell phone bursting into life. Rummaging about his person Howard traced the sound and pulled the device free from a skin-tight trouser pocket.

"Hey Raj!" Howard cupped the speaker and unnecessarily mouthed 'It's Raj' phonetically to Sheldon.

"No, no I'm just at Leonard's – FYI Tomb Raider's cancelled. Me too, but he's got a girl over… I know! That's what I said!" he gestured at the cell to the other two and sniggered. "No it's just Sheldon and me here, obviously – oh, and Penny." Then his brow knotted.

Howard pulled the phone from his ear to inspect the cell. Seeming to find no fault he ventured the cell phone back to his ear. "Hello? Rajesh?... Don't go mute now, she can't see you!"

After trying to coax him out of his speechlessness a little longer Howard finally gave in.

"I'm sorry, he's gone from silence to spontaneous whimpering. I'm going to have to go," he apologised. "I'll call Leonard to reschedule for another time later."

With a helpless shrug Howard Wolowitz quickstepped out of the apartment, and as he trundled down the staircase he could still be heard trying to cajole his silent caller into recognisable speech.

The door quietly clicked shut behind him, and the sound of his quickly deadening steps was the only noise to pierce the newfound silence between the blonde and the genius.

"Why is he so sleazy?" said Penny finally, more to her lap than to Dr Cooper.

"Again, he just doesn't know how to interact with people," Sheldon supposed, missing the irony. "While Koothrappali lapses into pathologic silence around women, Wolowitz over-compensates with the pretence of ease and prowess of an alpha male."

"I just thought he'd learned to flirt badly from watching old James Bond movies," Penny smiled.

A thought crossed Sheldon's mind when Penny lit the apartment with her conventionally attractive smile, a faint ghost of a memory so fleeting he barely caught it. He saw himself when he was twelve.

For many months Sheldon had been following the reports on the news about the on-coming solar eclipse. And though he'd seen all the pictures, made an adequate viewing-box, new all the facts, distances and figures, though he had prepared so thoroughly and scientifically as was humanly possible, nothing had prepared him for what he saw.

When the stars aligned in front of him, the dark moon caught in the halo of the dazzling white sun, he experienced a wonder unknown to him before, as if the universe had unveiled itself just for him. A quiet darkness fell around him as he observed this contrast of luminosity and shadow - somehow this solar brilliancy had drowned away every sound in Texas with a deafening stillness. The extraordinary force resonated in him and hushed the planet.

He remembered being suddenly overwhelmed as he chanced an unprotected gaze upwards. The enormity of just how large the universe really was compared with him, on this rock, circling one star in just one galaxy of trillions, had dawned on him. The unknown vastness was incalculable, no, unimaginable. What he experienced for no conceivable reason to him was the weight and the untold immensity of the cosmos.

That was what he saw when Penny had smiled then, the moon adorned with the aura of the sun. But the image flashed by so fleetingly it didn't even register with the mechanical workings of his mind.

***

Twenty minutes had elapsed since Wolowitz had left to console Raj. Since then Penny had made a fresh coffee for herself and a hot cocoa for Sheldon in his Batman mug. She'd brought the drinks back to the couch where she was now regaling a slightly bemused Sheldon with her bad date experiences – Penny cross-legged on the cushions and Sheldon perched delicately in his usual spot. They had both quite forgotten about Leonard and Leslie altogether.

"… and then Doug left with the waitress," Penny finished another tale and sipped her coffee to moisten her dry throat.

"Amazing," Sheldon concluded.

"I know, right? What a jerk."

"No, not what you were blathering about," Sheldon said caustically. "What's amazing is that no matter how many body language signals I give- the short replies, the minimal eye contact – and no matter how many times, you still fail to pick up the basic implication that I am in no way finding any thing you say engaging," Sheldon finished plaintively and sipped to at his cocoa.

Penny grinned humorlessly. "Captain Tact strikes again," she said, to which he lowered the mug from his lips. "What do you want to talk about then?"

Sheldon leant back for a moment, cupping the mug in his hands considering conversational notions. He decided to offer:

"Did you know that the modern coffee drink was first produced and popularised by Arabic nations in the twelfth century? In fact it was so popular that in some of those said cultures coffee was offered at feet of brides on their wedding day."

Penny peered into her cup of deep dark brown and tried to imagine being offered a latte as a wedding gift.

"Their word for coffee was 'quahwa' meaning 'to prevent sleep,'" he added.

"Nope," she conceded. "I definitely did not know that. But I do know that coffee has less caffeine in it than tea does."

"Ah, not so," Sheldon became quite animated, inspired by the chance to brandish his knowledge once more. "It is a common misconception that tea has more caffeine than coffee. It's based on the findings that pound for pound tea leaves do contain more, but in the context of a liquid beverage, the flexible measure of a 'cup' of coffee has three times more caffeine than a 'cup' of tea. Whereas hot cocoa– " at this point he raised his own mug, "- has only ten milligrams in a six-ounce drink, compared with coffee's one hundred to one hundred and fifty milligrams, making it the most ideal choice of bedtime companion. Plus it's yummier."

"Fascinating," Penny mused.

"Isn't it?"

"No, what you find fascinating is fascinating." Penny finished off the last of her one hundred milligrams.

She held out the empty cup, contemplating its ceramic gleam carefully as she considered something else in her head, a quiet niggling which until now she had resisted. "Sheldon, can I ask you something?"

That hint of danger flared again, like a stab to his stomach. His will to correct her 'can' for 'may' was overpowered by deep foreboding. "Yes?" he said.

Penny licked her lips. Without daring to tear her eyes from the cup she approached her question awkwardly. "If it's not too personal, of course, you know it probably is, but, you know, can I ask, if you… Why don't you ever seem to - you know - want…to date people?"

Nope, he definitely was not expecting that.

"It's not something I ever consider," Sheldon's open but automated response came without a moment's hesitation. "I have sufficient relationships with others, Leonard for example. He and I share many common interests and while we both know I have a greater IQ and capacity for knowledge than he, I still associate with him both at work and socially."

Associated? Could he really be that alienated, that detached from even his best friends that he sees contact with other people as interaction with associates?

"Really?" Penny found it incredible. "You don't… not even with women?"

Sheldon rolled up his spine so stiffly his body became an automaton. "I don't know to what precisely you're insinuating, but observing Leonard, Wolowitz and Koothrappali clambering over themselves to climb inside any passing hot girl's pants like a hungry puppy at a dog-chow banquet, I find their behaviour – how can I put this – pitiful? Yes, that will do nicely."

Thinking that that was the end of it he too finished his drink, steadily collected the empty coffee cup from the mystified woman beside him and took them, chinking in his hands, to the kitchen sink dotted with takeout cartons from earlier that evening.

Unfortunately, the conversation wasn't over.

Penny traipsed after him when she had recovered enough motive skills. "But you can't possibly loathe human beings that much? What about Leonard? What about me? Aren't you and I friends?"

"Of course we're friends, Penny," he sighed. "I just don't entertain thoughts of having more friends or anything else in the same way other people waste their time with."

"But…"

"Good lord Penny!" By now he had backed himself so far into the basin he was practically sat in it trying to escape her unforgiving advance. "Must you pursue this conversation further? I don't try to evoke conversations with you about the rate in which you go through men."

Penny stared open-mouthed back at him, struck dumb with disbelief. A tiny little thought poked itself in Sheldon's mind alerting him he may have overstepped some preset social mark, but he was adamant this was the way to distract her from pursuing the topic.

"What?" her voice rasped dryly.

"Of course you do. How many men have you had to your apartment in that short space of time; tall, muscle-clad chunks of meat with IQs to match, parading them in front of Leonard? It's an irrefutable merry-go-round over there."

"Hey!" Penny huffed. "No more than any other woman out there, at least I wantto interact with another human being outside of a chat room! At least I want to talk to other people like a normal person! What about Leslie Winkle?" Her arm shot out with an accusatory finger pointed squarely at Leonard's room. She was practically hissing at Sheldon now. "She clearly uses men just to satisfy her selfish needs every once in a while and you don't hold it against her!?"

"That's because she doesn't berate me for not going out of my way to indulge in a part of the human experience that continually bewilders me," he replied, teetering on the brink of emotions Penny was clearly enslaved by.

"You think it's beneath you, don't you?" she said hotly, eyes burning with accusation into his.

How could he reply in a manner to pacify her? He rattled around many responses before opting for a solution in the 'high-road' category.

"Evidently you've become hysterical," he said, fingers working themselves in his clenched fists. "I'm going to my bedroom; as usual do not follow me. When you've stopped being prey to your amygdala you are free to shut the door behind you."

Sheldon spun on his heel and hotly stormed, though trying hard to stay rational, towards his bedroom. In his stride he was preparing himself to slam the bedroom door shut when a delicate voice compromised him.

"Wait, Sheldon." Penny softened and dropped her arms. "Don't go. Sorry." She sighed exhaustedly. Maybe he was a robot after all, there was no point trying to force the human out of him. "I'm just being… you know. I'm sorry Sheldon."

Silence.

Then, slowly, Sheldon poked his head around the door frame. "Are you menstruating again?" Sheldon asked plainly. "I don't have it marked on the calendar –"

"No, for God's sake Sheldon, no," she rubbed her forehead in frustration but found she was almost laughing. "No, I'm just … over reacting, I guess. Sometimes you're a little bit frustrating. Completely by accident, it's not your fault," she added quickly in case he suddenly had feelings after all and became offended.

He seemed fine though. Sheldon re-entered the living room, bowing his head and nodding. "That's understandable," he granted. "You just have to understand, I simply don't desire the need for companionship in the same way others do. The obligation to 'date' people – it isn't for me."

Sheldon's near-monotone delivery was sound, and Penny would have finally given in and believed his aversion for human relationships were it not for one tiny give away at the end of his sentence: the flicker of his gaze locked onto hers for just one fragment of a second too long.

Penny smiled sweetly at him again, and hugging her elbows and folded neatly onto the couch. "Ok, sweetie. I believe you."

Sheldon nodded a thank you. With his usual awkward walk he moved back towards her.

"Uh, Penny?"

"Yeah?"

"That's where I sit."

"Oh, sorry."

Penny scooted over allowing Sheldon to sidle into his well-worn space.

"Hey," he began and pulled his laptop across the coffee table closer to him. "I've just built a tennis court in Second-Life that could do with some wearing in, would you like to join?"

"I think I have a better idea," Penny said, which he highly doubted but he let her continue anyway. "I was going to hang out at mine and watch some goofy movies all night if you want to hang out with me? I'm starting with When Harry Met Sally."

"Ah, the rom-com genre. Not an area I am very familiar with myself. Is it true they always end in a self-satisfied, smug fashion? The one she branded a conceited, abhorrent egomaniac turns out in fact to be the man of her dreams then before you could say 'Colin Firth' – boom! Fuzzy, warm, far-fetched conclusion and the house lights are up?"

Penny tried to recall one film that hadn't made her hope that Hugh Grant was just around the corner. "And how real are any of the Superman movies?" she retorted.

"At least Superman adheres to logic already specified in pre-existing works. It doesn't suddenly come to an abrupt conclusion just because the movie would suck if it didn't."

Penny's mouth worked for a reply, but he had a point. Instead she stood and stretched upwards loosening her limbs.

Sheldon too raised himself to his feet, unfurling each vertebra to reveal his lanky height.

He glanced at the boisterous tie still dangling from the doorknob. "Well I suppose as Leonard still hasn't returned from the bed that time forgot and Wolowitz has disappeared to harass unsuspecting women online, my evening has been rendered free."

Penny took this as a yes and bounced to the door. "Just give me five minutes to straighten up the apartment. I know the mess drives you mad (and I don't want you whining all the way through the movie)."

As she pulled the door open Sheldon piped up again.

"Penny?"

Tersely she turned around, but she simmered down when she saw that Sheldon hadn't moved at all. "Yes?" she said gently.

His fingers worked in the palms of his tensed up hands again. "Isn't the romantic comedy genre also synonymous with a first date?"

The silence was finally pricked by her friendly smile. "Maybe," she supposed. "But in this case I would say it's not. It's just two people, watching the same thing, in the same place, wasting away the same time."

Sheldon took one step forward as if to follow her, but then he hesitated and moved back.

"I also have raspberry ripple ice cream…"

"Oh, four scoops, in a semi-cooled bowl."

With a smile she agreed, asked again for him to wait five minutes, and left.

Sheldon looked at the door blindly and gazed beyond the wooden obstruction. For the first time since he was twelve, Sheldon Cooper slumped into a couch. The tension in his body that helped maintain his perfected poise relaxed and he allowed his spine to casually roll forward.

"Hey there, Sheldon."

He quickly recovered his practiced posture and looked around to see Leonard, hair tousled in a swirling chaos, had finally emerged from his room. Wrapped in his robe Leonard padded across to the kitchen in his socks and fought past the takeout containers to grab a glass of water.

"What are you doing out here?" Sheldon said in surprise, to which Leonard waved the glass at him as an explanation. Leonard was supposed to be in his room.

"I thought I heard voices," he said wistfully as the glass filled. "Did Howard come over? I forgot to call and tell him to take a rain check on Tomb Raider because… you know…" Leonard grinned inanely barely able to suppress a sheepish giggle.

"Yes, Howard did visit briefly," Sheldon confirmed moving his arms behind him authoritatively. "But he quickly left when he saw the tie, as did Penny."

With a chink and a splash Leonard managed to recapture the tumbler that fell from his grasp.

"Penny!" he spun round and drew his robe tighter around him as if she were still in the room. "Oh no," he moaned. "What, was she-was she looking for me?"

"No I brought her over here myself, I needed her opinion on something." Sheldon rose and in his C-3PO steps he advanced across the living room to Leonard's side. He silently fished his Batman mug from the debris of the sink. "Now if you don't mind," he said with all the air of a man about to undergo something tremendous. "I'm going to spend the evening with Penny as two friends should: watching dire movies then analysing their faults and inaccuracies at the end."

"You?" Leonard repeated dubiously. "You're going to spend the evening with Penny, by choice?"

"Choice? You suddenly became unavailable for our pre-planned may I stress, bi-weekly astronomy night, and she has raspberry ripple ice cream; there was no choice."

Leonard's sceptical expression screwed tighter. "But…seriously?"

Sheldon met his friend's cynical eye sincerely, then burst into a grin. "Yep," he beamed with some triumph, and, with what Leonard fancied as a small skip, Sheldon strode across the living room and out into the hallway.

With the last moment of Leonard's astonished face as the door drew closed still emblazoned across his eyes Sheldon stood momentarily dazed in the hallway.

He stared intently at the leering door opposite silently challenging him.

The door stared back.

When according to his watch he felt satisfied five minutes had indeed elapsed, Sheldon lightly passed across the great yawn of hallway and squared up to the door. With the smallest of twitches he raised his fist to the level of his eye and knocked three times in rapid succession.

Before he could say 'Penny', the door opened.

End.