THE NOCTURNAL CONFRONTATION GAMBIT
Penny froze guiltily in the beam of Sheldon's flashlight, the carton of milk still in her hand. Sheldon marched up to the refrigerator, plucked the milk from her grasp and set it firmly back inside, then turned on her and said, "You have just increased the temperature in our refrigerator by a full two degrees, adding wanton spoilage to your act of thievery. I have to say, Penny, I am shocked."
"Oh, come on, Sheldon, do you really think the power's going to come on soon enough to save those groceries? Besides, Leonard told me I could borrow your milk whenever I needed some."
"You can hardly borrow an item you intend to consume," pointed out Sheldon, "and furthermore, I don't believe even Leonard's generosity extends to letting you sneak into our apartment in the middle of the night."
Penny sighed. "Look, all I want is one cup. One. Just so I can have some cereal and go back to sleep. Is that really such a big deal?" She moved forward, but Sheldon slid his long body between her and the refrigerator and splayed out his limbs, starfish-like, to block her path.
"We are dealing with a matter of principle, Penny."
"I'll buy you a whole new carton as soon as the stores open," she pleaded, prying ineffectively at his fingers. "A nice fresh one with no bacteria, all your own. Come—on—!"
But though she gritted her teeth and pulled with all her might, Penny couldn't make him let go—a determined Sheldon was a lot stronger than she'd thought. So she started trying to dart around him, first on one side and then on the other, hands snatching blindly for the carton that was now well hidden behind his back.
"Penny, this is absurd," said Sheldon's voice above her—very close above her, in fact; his breath stirred the top of her hair as he spoke. And slowly Penny became aware that she had an arm on either side of him and her body pressed right up against his, pinning him back against the refrigerator shelves while the cold air swirled around them. She looked up into Sheldon's face, nearly invisible in the darkness, and though his jaw still hinted at stubbornness his eyes looked suddenly uncertain and almost… vulnerable.
"Give me the milk, Sheldon," she said.
"Or what?" His voice sounded oddly soft and rough at the same time. "Do you really think you have any power to threaten—oh."
"Yeah," said Penny, curling her fingers around the backs of his shoulders and dragging herself up his body, her bare feet stepping onto his slippers. She looked him straight in the face and added with soft menace, "Or I'll kiss you. A big, sloppy, wet, bacteria-filled, right on the mouth—"
She stopped then, because Sheldon wasn't reacting, like, at all. Wasn't freaking out and pushing her away, wasn't frantically trying to close the refrigerator door before the eggs and the yogurt and the orange juice got spoiled, wasn't protesting in horror at the liberties she'd threatened to take with his body. He was just standing there with his arms and legs spread wide, staring unblinkingly into her eyes, and she could feel her own ribcage vibrate with the hummingbird speed of his heartbeat, his shallow breathing.
"Uh… Sheldon, honey?"
Still he didn't respond, and Penny's resolve wavered as she realized she'd sent him into shock. She slid down him and stepped back, off his feet—
Sheldon's free arm swept around her, the barrel of the flashlight pressing into her spine. He whirled her out of the way, slammed the refrigerator door with a super-heroic flourish and proclaimed, "Victory!"
Penny's blood rose, seething, as she realized she'd been played. Probably Sheldon thought it was some kind of stupid staring contest and all he had to do was outlast her to win; he'd never really believed she'd follow through on her threat at all.
Well, more fool him then. Because if she'd felt bad about traumatizing him before, she sure as hell didn't now. She twisted around in the circle of his arm, grabbed his head between both her hands, yanked it down and planted one on him.
She'd caught his mouth half-open in surprise, and Penny ruthlessly took advantage of that, sticking her tongue between his lips as far as it would go and wiggling it around in a way that wasn't even pretending to be sexy, just pure spite. Bacteria! Germs! Take that, Sheldon Cooper!
Then she shoved him away, and Sheldon coughed, spluttered, and slid wheezing to the floor. Penny stepped triumphantly over his splayed-out legs, opened the refrigerator, grabbed the milk and marched out with it.
She was munching contentedly at a bowl of Frosted Flakes, the sweetness of which had already wiped the taste of Sheldon from her mouth, when she heard a subdued but unmistakable knock at her door.
"Penny. Penny. Pen—"
"What is it, Sheldon?"
She didn't say anything else, just arched her brows at him and waited. His gaze stuttered over hers, flicked to one side, bounced off the carpet and finally came to rest in the air somewhere above her head.
"That," he said, "was completely disgusting and lived up to every low expectation I have ever had of what it would be like to be kissed."
"Good," said Penny, and tried to shut the door. Only she couldn't, because Sheldon's foot was in the way.
"I haven't got to my question yet," said Sheldon, peering through the gap in the door.
"Sheldon, my cereal's getting soggy."
"Oh, then I won't keep you. I merely hoped to inquire whether you had any idea why, even taking into full account the utter loathsomeness of the experience you just forced upon me, I should want you to do it again."
Penny blinked. Then she stepped back slowly, and let Sheldon in.
"Do you want some cereal?" she asked.
"Sit down. I'll get you a bowl."
The power came back on at 3 a.m., by which time the milk was in Penny's fridge, the cereal box back in the cupboard, and Penny was on the couch with Sheldon, teaching him why most people actually liked being kissed.
And when Leonard got up the next morning, he found a fresh carton of lactose-free milk in the refrigerator, a sleepy but uncommonly smug-looking roommate, and a garbage can full of spoiled eggs.