-1Spoilers: Nothing too overt, but Season 1 and Season 2 episodes: The Panty Piñata Polarization, The Work Song Nanocluster, The Barbarian Sublimation, and The Cushion Saturation.
Author's Notes: This came from the LJ community sheldon_penny's adopt-a-bunny thread. It was 'Raj finds out he can speak to Penny. And realizes it is because she is in love with Sheldon,' suggested by redgrunt84. Funnily enough, redgrunt's 'An Unlikely Pairing' was one the fics that renisanz rec'd, which led me to reading every fanfiction in the archives, which then led to me hunched over my keyboard at 1:30am. Thanks goes out to damalur, mist72 and renisanz for beta-ing for the crazy lady.
The first time it happened, it was on a Wednesday, Raj had been in the middle of a heated debate with Howard, arguing over the necessary planetary conditions needed to create an alien with green pigmentation to its skin. Leonard had just gotten back from the Souplantation and was passing out the orders. Penny walked in and Raj glanced up, said, 'Hey, Penny,' and then went back to explaining why Howard had less intelligence than an Ebola-infected chimpanzee. He didn't realize at first what had happened, assuming that Howard's dropped jaw was due to awe at his intellectual prowess. When Penny replied, 'Uh, hi Raj,' it suddenly sank in and he let out a mortified meep before elapsing into silence for the rest of the night.
The second time, it was Tuesday and they were at the Cheesecake Factory. Penny waited on them as usual. They were recognizable by sight now and Raj was pretty sure their pictures were now part of the mandatory Cheesecake training for all new hostesses. After Sheldon made the first new one cry, they didn't even have to wait anymore. They took one look at Sheldon and ushered him quickly to their table, which was always ready at precisely 6:15pm. Since the first time they ate there, where his mutism caused him to go hungry, they'd worked out a system. He'd tell Howard what he wanted before Penny got there and Howard would order for him.
However, that day, he'd arrived three minutes passed their usual meet-up time, and Penny was already at the table. Raj threw himself into his chair, hoping to avoid a strike from Sheldon, and quickly snapped open the menu, hiding behind it. Penny said, 'Raj?' Howard was starting to lean towards him when Raj said, 'The Thai Chicken Pasta, please.' Howard jerked back upright and Raj froze in the act of handing the menu to Penny. What the hell was going on? Luckily, Sheldon began to lecture him on the importance of punctuality and Raj was allowed to quietly wallow in confusion.
The third time, it was Saturday and they were under siege during paintball. As usual, Penny was relatively unscathed, being a lot more nimble than the rest of them. Crouched low, firing through the gaps in the wooden slats, they tried to prevent their enemies from advancing any closer. Spotting an imminent threat, Raj cried, 'Penny, bogie on your twenty.' 'Got him!' Caught up in the heat of battle, it wasn't until they were all slaughtered and on the way back to the car before anybody realized what had happened. Howard said, 'Raj, if you've become an alcoholic, just tell us.'
Oddly, it was Sheldon who had the best theory. 'It seems Raj has simply ceased to see Penny as a viable candidate for reproduction.' Gesturing with his gun to indicate Penny's current paintball attire, he continued, 'She's certainly not exhibiting any feminine traits that Western culture would deem attractive at the moment. I believe Raj has reclassified Penny as part of his male social structure. Therefore, the conditions of his mutism no longer apply to her.'
Penny look torn, unsure if she should be offended or not. Seeing her expression, Leonard explained, 'Sheldon thinks Raj now sees you as one of the guys.' Penny looked at Raj and all he could do was shrug. Penny stomped back to the car, picking a fight with Sheldon about the feasibility of a Dr. Horrible sequel. Raj simply brooded. He supposed it was a viable theory, as evidenced by demonstrated behavior, but he wasn't quite sure it was correct. He was relatively sure he didn't see Penny as anything but a smoking hot chick. So he did what any astronomer did when confronted with a heavenly body he didn't understand; he studied her.
In astronomy, when you are trying to find something you can't see, you must observe what you can. Raj theorized that if he could figure out what had redirected Penny's orbit in the solar system of his life, he would be able to understand why he could suddenly talk to her.
On Monday, Penny sat in Sheldon's spot on purpose, he could tell from the little smirk on her face. When Sheldon glared at her to move, she didn't slide over very far and he seemed perfectly comfortable with his allotted space. Later in the evening, her cell phone rang on the kitchen counter where she left it. Her hand fell on Sheldon's knee as she pushed herself up. Sheldon didn't seem to notice the casual touch, continuing to talk to Leonard about the terry cloth density of their bathroom towels.
On Thursday, Howard was showing them something on his laptop, set up on Leonard's work station. The others crowded around behind him. Sheldon ended up behind Penny, his head bent over her shoulder as he looked at the screen. She tilted her head back to say something and he answered, not pulling back at all, tendrils of her hair grazing his neck. Howard flung an arm out, gesturing wildly, and Penny took a step back to avoid contact. Sheldon moved with her, keeping the distance between their bodies exactly the same.
On Friday, they went to see the new Wolverine movie and he swore he saw Sheldon hand Penny a red vine. Then later, Penny picked up the Chinese food, and when she got back to the apartment, Sheldon didn't even rattle off his usual 'did you' questions. He didn't have to. Penny knew exactly what Sheldon wanted and Sheldon trusted she would get it right. Raj wondered if it was due to the waitressing thing, Penny's memory for food? Sheldon's Tuesday BBQ burger always met his exacting specifications and it was only if Penny did not provide his food that the complaints started.
In addition to the recent data, there were also past results to consider. Sheldon inadvertently caused Penny to become hooked on Age of Conan, and ever since then, Penny started gravitating towards Sheldon for her computer needs. There had been a few occasions he'd entered the apartment to find Penny on Sheldon's laptop. Sheldon would be bent over her pink one, lecturing her about the evils of Windows and if she would only allow him to switch her over to Linux, she would find her machine much more reliable. Penny would be humming to herself as she tuned him out. Sheldon allowed her access to their wi-fi network, a network that was guarded with a 64 digit encryption code and could only be accessed by a device with an assigned static IP address.
Their fights were legendary. Their building continued to gossip about the Laundry Incident. They still had small skirmishes, battles of will over small things that the rest of the group considered inconsequential. Penny was the only person aside from his family that could get him to back down. She had this way of looking at him that made him reconsider whatever train of thought was speeding through his mind. They were equally matched when it came to strength of will.
Yet they had their quiet moments. He remembered finding them working together on those plastic flower hair things. It seemed more likely these days to find them alone together. She drove him to the comic book store when Leonard worked late. They watched Jeopardy and Penny giggled at the frustrated noises Sheldon made at the pop culture questions. Sheldon even let Penny in his bedroom, as much as anyone let Penny do anything. The only time Raj ever received permission was during those horrifying times when Sheldon was sick. Penny just strolled in whenever she wanted, without fear of reprisal.
Penny never got strikes after the first aborted attempt, had never needed to sit through Sheldon's class. Hell, Sheldon was prepared to keep Penny as a part of his social network and cut him, Raj, loose. He'd always wondered about that, if Penny had really scored higher or if there were intangibles at work.
Conjecture & Theory
Raj realized that the data was pointing to one specific conclusion. There was a hidden body affecting Penny's orbit, and it was Sheldon. He didn't believe it at first. The idea that a proclaimed 'whack-a-doodle' like Sheldon had such an impact on Penny's life, it seemed positively fallacious. However, after re-examining his findings, he could find nothing else to account for the shift in radial velocity. Raj knew that it was that displacement in Penny's orbit that shifted her into the 'unavailable' category. Sheldon was his friend, albeit a very weird and high maintenance one. He would never poach on a friend's turf. Sheldon and Penny were into each other, and ergo, Penny was off limits. Hence his newfound ability to talk to her.
He considered for a moment the possibility that they were secretly dating, like Johnny and Rimi in Johnny Gaddar. However, Penny still dated strange men on occasion, and Raj knew his friends well enough to know they would be faithful, unlike the couple in the movie. Were they ignoring the depth of their gravitational attraction or simply unaware of it? Perhaps they were afraid of jeopardizing their friendship or hurting Leonard due to any lingering feelings he might have. Maybe they figured they were doomed for failure, so why try?
They were likely possibilities, but Raj kept coming back to the idea that they simply didn't realize what was going on. Sheldon simply didn't possess the necessary emotional experience needed to decode the situation, and Penny was in denial. Raj wondered what it would take to nudge them out of their current equilibrium.
Having formulated his theory, Raj decided to test it. He knew the specific set of circumstances he wanted and on the next comic book day, he got them. Penny was idly flipping through the Buffy Season Eight: The Wolves at the Gate graphic novel. Sheldon was behind her, to the left, perusing the new releases wall. Leonard was up front, looking at the new Transformers action figures. Howard was still outside, having spotted a particularly attractive meter maid. Raj edged closer to Penny and said, 'So, Penny...'
Penny looked up, her eyes wide. 'I can't tell you, sweetie, how weird it is for me to hear you speak without slurring every other word.'
Raj chuckled. 'Well, I wanted to take the opportunity to apologize again for my behavior during the People reception. I know I behaved abominably and very improperly. I shouldn't have taken advantage of your friendship with drunken advances.'
Out of the corner of his eye, Raj noticed Sheldon's body twitched ever so subtly. Penny was smiling warmly at him and she patted his arm. 'It's okay, Raj. I forgave you the first time. I appreciate you apologizing again, though.'
'Well, I still feel bad. It was very ungentlemanly. Perhaps I can treat you to some Thai or pizza one of these days, my way of making it up to you.' Raj tried to smile winningly.
Penny shifted her weight a little, her body angling just a bit to the left, and before she could answer, Sheldon was behind her, lecturing her about leaving smudges on glossy covers. He nipped the graphic novel out of her hands and went over to the counter to pay, exclaiming that it would be irresponsible for them to leave it for some other less discerning consumer. Penny instantly switched her attention to him, trailing him over to the counter, protesting that it was impossible to damage a book by holding it for five minutes.
Raj was left standing alone. Howard joined him and glumly asked, 'Is it really possible to get a ticket for harassing a meter maid with the worst pick-up lines ever?' Raj shook his head, and grinned a little to himself. 'What? What are you grinning about? I suppose it is another piece of proof of the depths I'll go to for the future Mrs. Wolowitz.'
Raj looked at Howard and replied, 'The Doppler shifts were measurable, after all.'
Howard rolled his eyes and started to yammer on again about the supposed sexual preferences of the current future Mrs. Wolowitz. Raj, now well versed in the art of letting Howard talk while thinking about something else, watched Sheldon hand Penny the brown paper bag containing her graphic novel. She took it without a blink, still bickering with him, now about the importance of saving Joss Whedon's work for future generations, advocating the position that Mr. Whedon would rather see his creations being used and enjoyed than sealed away. They walked away from the counter together, Sheldon gesturing and Penny with a wrinkled nose, and Raj thought he was going to enjoy being able to talk to Penny after all.