Author's Notes: For renisanz because she is teh awesome and artiste extraordinaire.
It started innocently enough. Casual conversations when she told him the specials. Overly large tips with his phone number scrawled on the check. It progressed to notes left on her windshield and surprise drop-bys when she was getting off shift. Finally, it was deliveries to her apartment and rambling messages on her voicemail. She'd always thought you had to be famous before the crazies came out of the woodwork.
She didn't tell the boys what was happening. What could they possibly do? Besides, maybe, a small part of her wondered, they'd be on his side. So she took what steps she could. Changed her shifts and told management not to give her schedule out. Made sure she always walked to the parking lot with someone, parked as close to the building as she could, got a ride whenever possible. Let all of his calls go right to voicemail and deleted them without listening. She couldn't stop the deliveries, though. Everything went right into the trash, but she started making excuses to spend more time with the boys, prolonging the evenings until she fell asleep on their couch.
It was the fifth time she'd done so when she startled awake. The room was dim, the only light coming from the street lights outside the window and the lamp Sheldon was reading by. She blinked blearily at him. This was definitely a deviation from the norm. Her voice hoarse from sleep, she murmured,
He looked at her, his expression same as always. Inserting a bookmark in his book, he snapped it closed, then laid it on the coffee table. He laced his fingers together, regarded her for another moment, and then said,
"What's going on, Penny?"
She pushed herself to a sitting position, pushing her hair out of her face. The snuggie she'd given Leonard was tucked around her and she pulled it tighter.
"I don't know what you're talking about."
He raised an eyebrow, reminding her of Zachary Quinto as Spock.
"Really? Let's review the evidence. Exhibit One: Your cell phone."
He gestured to the pink device lying forgotten next to his book. It was on and she could already see that she had missed texts & calls. She looked away, not seeing the way Sheldon's lips tightened for a moment.
"A cell phone is certainly a necessary tool for an aspiring actor. It's how you receive notification of auditions and call-backs. However, for the last two weeks, you've shown an increasing reluctance to answer your phone or check your messages."
"I always check the missed calls."
It was a weak defense and they both knew it. She brought her legs up, resting her chin on her knees, still refusing to look at Sheldon. He waited for a moment and, concluding she wasn't going to say anything else, continued,
"Exhibit Two: Your schedule. You've been working irregular shifts and primarily during the day, even though you prefer the night shifts for better tips. Indeed, you only seem to work on Tuesday nights when we come in and you then create pretexts for us to stay until you get off."
She shrugged, her voice muffled by the blanket.
"I like hanging out with you guys."
"That has been abundantly clear. You've spent almost every night you haven't been working engaged in social activities. In fact, you've become such a familiar presence, Raj almost spoke to you tonight."
She looked at him then, giving him a defiant glare.
"What, you don't want me around anymore? I always abide by your precious schedule, I don't sit on your zero zero zero cushion, I pay for my own damn food. What do you want from me, Sheldon?"
He allowed her to finish, meeting her gaze steadily. A beat after she spat his name, he said,
"If I may continue?"
She huffed angrily and he took that as assent.
"Exhibit Three: Your mail. Since your change to day shifts, we often arrive home before you. I have noticed an increase in deliveries, both packages and flowers. From my observations, the act of sending flowers is one of courtship. However, you have failed to mention any new male beau nor do you seem to be dating anymore, unless you have engaged in a secret relationship with Raj, Howard, or Leonard?"
He waited expectantly and she rolled her eyes.
"God, no. I'm not in a secret relationship with them. I'm not in a relationship with anyone, okay?"
She sounded like the normal Penny, but she huddled deeper into the couch. Faking a yawn, she looked away, getting ready to make an excuse and go back to her apartment, but Sheldon wasn't done yet.
"Exhibit Four: Your behavior. You have been deviating from your behavioral patterns. You don't appear to be sleeping well. Sleep location aside, Leonard and I have both noted you appear to be suffering from distressing dreams. As previously noted, you haven't been dating and you don't appear to be seeing your other circle of friends. You startle easily, jump at loud noises, and have, as you stated, become very cooperative.
"So would you like to tell me now what is causing this aberration in your life or should I draw my own conclusions?"
He sounded so reasonable, so damn logical. It all seemed so silly when he said it, like she was being this huge drama queen. Jerkily pushing the blanket off, she rose to her feet, banging her shins on the coffee table. Hissing, she gingerly made her way into the darkness of the living room.
"It's nothing, Sheldon. I'm sorry to have been such a bother and I promise to un-abberate my behavior."
She headed for the door, grateful for the concealing shadows, when he spoke again.
"That's not a word, you know."
She bit her lip. She couldn't do anything right, could she? Swallowing back tears, she replied,
"Fine, I'm sorry for that too."
His voice was a lot closer when he answered her.
"I would prefer you cease apologizing and instead tell me who is scaring you."
She spun around. He was standing in front of the lamp, a halo of light surrounding him, but, far from heavenly, he looked so solid. If it had been anyone else, she would have thrown herself in his arms. But it was Sheldon, socially inept Sheldon who had put all the pieces together. Taking the few steps to Leonard's desk chair, she lowered herself down. Her voice was trembling.
"His name is David. He came into the restaurant a few weeks ago. The first time, he was wearing a Star Trek t-shirt and I asked him how he liked the movie. I was just trying to be friendly, get a better tip. And, y'know, it worked. He came back and he asked to sit at one of my tables, and I'd be happy to see him because he was always a good tipper. But..."
She trailed off. The apartment was full of night-time stillness, unbroken only by the tears she could no longer hold back. There was the brush of clothing and Sheldon moved away from the light. She cried harder because she thought he was leaving, disgusted by how she'd led David on. A box of Kleenex appeared in front of her and she gasped, scooting back from the sudden movement. Something clattered on the desk behind her and there was a sharp exhale. Sheldon put the box next to her, retreating a few steps. She reached for a tissue, saying,
There was more rustling and she thought he was pacing. She squinted into the darkness, wishing she could see his face, but not willing to get any closer to the light. His voice came from the vicinity of the TV.
"Have you contacted the police?"
She shook her head and then rubbed her eyes when she realized he couldn't see her. So stupid.
"It's not like he's been violent or anything. Just...persistent."
She heard Sheldon muttering to himself as he started pacing again. Here it came, the lecture about all the things she'd done wrong, the ways she could have prevented this.
"Penny, why didn't you tell us? Granted, none of us are particularly physically intimidating and, while I don't have government clearance, I know people. In fact, I know a math professor over at CalSci, his brother is a FBI agent. We've collaborated on occasion. I am sure I could call upon him for assistance."
It wasn't what she expected, but exactly what she wanted to hear. She sobbed, so relieved not to be facing this alone anymore.
"For heaven's sake, Penny, you'll make yourself sick."
She was past the point of stopping, though, and then there was a gentle hand under her arm, urging her up. Her fists clenched around the lapels of his robe and she stepped into him. He stiffened a bit and she heard him eep, but he wrapped an arm around her waist.
"I thought you'd think I led him on or something. That I was overly flirtatious or that it was what I deserved for being nice for more money."
She wasn't sure he could hear her, her voice was ragged, but he rested his chin on her head for a moment, almost hugging her again. It was another gift, even more precious now. It lasted only for a moment, and then he was walking backwards, leading her over to the couch. He settled her down and began to squeeze past her, but she grabbed his sleeve.
He looked down at her, but he was back lit again and she couldn't make out his expression. After a moment, he said,
"I have no plans to vacate the apartment at this time of night. I merely intend on relocating the tissues and obtaining a glass of water. You'll need to hydrate."
She couldn't help but smile. Only Sheldon. She released him. Listening to the sounds of him moving around the apartment, she curled up on the middle couch cushion, wrapping the snuggie around herself. He brought the tissues first and a small wastebasket, situating it close by. She reached for one and blew her nose. It was tempting to leave the used tissue on the table, but Sheldon had been so great tonight. She threw it out.
A cabinet opened, clicked closed. Water was running and she heard the clink of the cup hitting the faucet. Sheldon brought her the glass, sliding a coaster down first. Then he disappeared again. She was finished crying now, her breath still a little uneven, but for the first time in weeks, she felt like everything would be okay. She sipped the water, her throat a little scratchy. When Sheldon reappeared, he held out a pillow clad in a Darth Vader pillowcase. She looked at him quizzically.
"I thought perhaps a proper pillow would make your sleep a little less restless."
She took the pillow and hugged it to her. Sometimes, she thought to herself, sometimes it was almost possible to see Sheldon as a man like her daddy. Protective, dependable, lov-
"Don't forget, Penny, you need to be situated with your feet towards the door."
Anal. She smiled to herself and then yawned. With the release of tension from finally sharing her secret, she was suddenly exhausted. Swinging her feet up, she stretched out on the couch, tucking the pillow under her head on the zero zero zero cushion. Sheldon looked down at her, then hesitantly settled the snuggie more firmly around her. Tilting her head up, she said,
He straightened very quickly and she missed the warmth of his hands.
"Will you stay with me? Until I fall asleep, I mean? I know I've disrupted your sleep rhythms enough already tonight, but-"
Sheldon settled back into the armchair, picking his book back up. She smiled at him and she swore he smiled back. Then she closed her eyes, knowing she was safe with Sheldon watching over her, and slept.