Leonard found them the next morning, still in the living room. Sheldon was in the chair, curled up in a ball, book lying forgotten on the floor. Penny was curled up on the sofa, snuggie dragging on the floor, her arms wrapped around a pillow. He debated waking them, but, seeing the box of tissues, decided against it. Moving cautiously, Leonard crept into the kitchen for coffee. He picked up the pot and decided to head for the bathroom for water. His hip brushed against the fridge, though, and a magnet clattered to the tiled floor. He cursed mentally as Sheldon shot up, shouting, "Danger, Danger."
Penny startled awake too, raising her head to blink blearily at the room. Sheldon was frozen on the chair as she maneuvered into a sitting position. Leonard stood very still as Penny glanced at him and then met Sheldon's gaze. They looked at each other for a long moment and Leonard felt like he was witnessing something momentous. Then Penny looked down and said, "I'm just going to use your bathroom real quick."
She pushed the snuggie off and darted right, around the coffee table, and down the hall before Leonard had time to exhale. He expected Sheldon to make some kind of comment or start folding the blanket. Instead, Sheldon quickly rose to his feet and went to the key bowl. He fished around for a second and then disappeared into the hallway. He came back a minute later with an envelope. Leonard realized that Sheldon had taken Penny's emergency key and said, "Sheldon, what are you-"
Sheldon shot him a look that quite clearly said "Be quiet now, you lesser mortal," and moved back to the coffee table. He leaned over, scooped up Penny's cell, and carried both items over to his desk. Leonard watched as he opened a drawer, dropped the items in, and as Penny exited the bathroom, he took quick steps over to the couch for the snuggie. Sheldon moved over to the chair as he folded the snuggie with quick efficient movements, carefully not looking at Penny.
He had no clue what was going on, but Leonard continued to try to make sense of it all. "Penny, do you want to stay until the coffee is ready?"
Normally, Penny was barely verbal in the morning, almost hostile if awakened too early, but she was oddly docile as she answered him. "No, thanks, Leonard. I'm just going to go home and get ready for my shift."
Sheldon busied himself putting away the snuggie and Penny glanced at his back, then reached out quickly to snag the pillow off the couch. Leonard only had time to recognize the Darth Vader pillowcase before she was out the door. When it clicked behind her, Sheldon turned back around. He looked at the door for a long moment. The silence was killing him and Leonard said weakly, "She took your pillow."
There was no response from Sheldon and Leonard started to get worried. Something was seriously wrong. They'd known that something was up with Penny, but they'd dismissed it as girl troubles. She surely would've come to them if she needed help with anything serious. After all, she asked them to get her television back from Kurt the first time they met. However, Leonard began to reconsider his opinion. Sheldon walked back over to his desk and pulled out the envelope. He sliced it open with a letter opener and Leonard thought briefly about objecting. Deciding that caution was the greater part of valor, he began to make the coffee, trusting that Sheldon would clarify when he was ready.
By the time the coffee was done, Sheldon was done reading the multi-page letter he'd pulled out of the envelope and had moved on to perusing Penny's cell phone. Leonard attempted to decipher Sheldon's facial expression, but, aside from the clenched jaw, Sheldon looked as stoic as ever. "Uh, Sheldon, do you want to clue me in? What's going on with Penny?"
"I believe I am going to need the account number for her cell phone. You will also need to give me a ride to CalTech. I need to see if I can locate Charlie Epps."
"The mathematician? Are you collaborating with him again? And what does that have to do with Penny?"
Leonard was starting to get frustrated. Finally, Sheldon put down the cell phone and turned to face Leonard. "Penny has gotten herself into a situation, from which she will not be able to extricate herself. Therefore, for the sake of our equilibrium, I am going to solve her problem. Eat your breakfast now. We'll need to hurry if we are going to make it back in time to drive her to work."
Proving he was serious, Sheldon moved over to the kitchen and took down Big Bran. Leonard watched his roommate's efficient movements before following suit. Maybe if he just went along with it, Sheldon would clue him in eventually. Regardless, if Penny was in trouble, Leonard would do whatever it took to help.
Penny stared forlornly at the pillow on her bed. It looked very out of place with her girly crap, a geeky pillow if there was ever one. She wasn't entirely sure why she'd stolen it. She only knew that she had slept really well last night, the first good sleep in a while. She'd known she was safe with Sheldon watching over her. Who'd thought that Sir Whack-a-Doodle would be her knight in shining armor?
Still, in the morning light, things hadn't looked so wonderful. Honestly, what could Sheldon really do? Okay, maybe he knew people, but honestly, what would the FBI care about one sorta-harmless-really-persistant-stalker-type. They would just tell him to make her file a police report. Besides, David had to get the hint eventually, right? She just had to ride it out, keep being careful. Obviously, she would have to stop falling asleep on the boys' couch. She couldn't keep disrupting their lives with her problems.
Running her fingers over the pillowcase, tracing Darth Vader's helmet, she glanced at the clock. 11:30. Time to head for work. Penny went into the bathroom to check her hair, smoothing out the wrinkles in her uniform, before grabbing her pocketbook and keys. She just realized she couldn't find her cell phone when Sheldon began knocking on the door.
Waiting for him to finish, she felt oddly shy. It'd been so easy to lean on him in the darkness of the night, but it was Sheldon on the other side of the door. Weird, eccentric, dorky, quirky, anal Sheldon.
After the final knock, she opened the door. Pasting on a smile, she said, "Hey, sweetie, what's up?"
Sheldon held out her phone. "I had to borrow your phone in order to contact your service provider and have David's number blocked. I also spoke to my colleague and I believed the FBI paid a visit to David's residence. Nevertheless, until we are certain that he understood the gravity of the situation, we'll escort you to work. Leonard is waiting downstairs with the car. We should leave now if you don't wish to be late."
Penny looked at the phone, her vision going blurry with tears. She sniffed as she reached out to take it.
"You're not going to weep again, are you?" Sheldon sounded positively alarmed. "I've just explained that the David situation has been rectified. You no longer have any cause to be experiencing emotional upheaval."
No reason to be upset. Because Sheldon had fixed everything. Penny turned away to swipe at her eyes. Slipping her phone into her purse, she faced Sheldon again, smiling for real this time.
"Okay, Moonpie, let's get going. We're burning daylight."
"I've asked you repeatedly to cease calling me that." His tone was annoyed, but Penny fancied he looked a little relieved.
She locked the door and then they went down the stairs, bickering like they used to. It felt wonderful, so blessedly normal. It was like everything was back to the way it was. They exited the building and walked out into the noon sunlight. She squinted and wished for the thousandth time she remembered to wear sunglasses. Penny heard the voice before her eyes adjusted.
"Penny, Penny, what's going on, Penny?"
She blinked once and her vision cleared, leaving her staring at David. Tall, lanky, thick glasses, wearing the same damn Star Trek t-shirt, and a slight nasal whine to his voice, he was standing in front of her. Where he should really not be.
"David, what are you doing here?"
She heard Sheldon huff behind her. Clearly David had not gotten the memo that nobody deviated from Sheldon's plans. 'Handling Penny's stalker problem' had been crossed off his to-do list, and yet here was David, still needing handling.
"Penny, some FBI guy came to my house, said they'd received a complaint. They said they strongly recommended I stayed away from you, can you believe that? I tried to explain that we were friends, but they just wouldn't listen."
From behind David, Leonard got out of his car, peering at the group with a furrowed brow. Any moment, he would walk over here and get into it with David. Penny suddenly remembered Sheldon and Leonard standing, pantless, in their apartment after she sent them off to confront Kurt for her. The boys always had her back.
"David, I did complain and if you don't leave me alone, I'll file a restraining order. You need to stop."
Her voice shook just a little and it seemed oddly surreal to be doing this surrounded by sunbeams. She watched as David's face crumpled. He started to shake his head, his hands wringing together.
"Penny, you don't mean that. We're friends. You talk to me, ask me questions and stuff. You like me."
His voice was pleading. Penny had the strong desire to run back into her apartment, draw the curtains,, and hide beneath the covers with her new pillow. She took one step backwards and felt Sheldon shift behind her. She craned her neck so that she could see his face. He raised his eyebrows at her. His expression seemed to say, "What are you waiting for? We're behind schedule!" Looking back at David, she saw Leonard standing stiffly by his car. She wondered why he hadn't come over and then realized Sheldon must've warned him off somehow. They trusted her to handle it. Taking a deep breath, she said, with a confidence she didn't feel,
"Look, I'm sorry, but we're not friends. You don't know me and I don't know you. You were a customer and I was just doing my job. That's all it was. You need to leave me alone. Please."
David's face twisted with anger and his fists balled. He took an aggressive step forward and she couldn't help but take another step back into Sheldon.
"You were only nice to me for money, weren't you? Stuck-up bitches like you think they're too good for me, but wave a little cash around and look at you sit up and beg. You're nothing but a whore!"
He continued to spew vitriol at her, echoing every thought she had in the darkness, every reason she tried to convince herself to just hope this would go away. She felt her breath began to hitch as there was a clenching in her chest. She was going to lose it, just fall to pieces on this impossibly bright sidewalk. Her fault, it was all her fault. She was so stupid. It was like her mama always used to say, "Be glad you got those looks of yours, baby girl, you'll need 'em." That's all she was good for, her looks and her sex appeal. Maybe if she'd just slept with David, it would be over by now. Guys she slept with never stayed around long after.
A shadow fell across her face and she realized Sheldon was now standing in front of her. Penny curled her fingers to keep from reaching out for him. She stared at the strap of his messenger bag as it cut across the green of his shirt. He was speaking now, cutting David off.
"I really must insist that you allow us to pass. We are behind schedule and that is not acceptable to me."
"Who the hell are you? Do you think you're Penny's boyfriend? She'll never feel about you the way she feels about me. Penny, Penny, tell him."
There was a scrape of shoe on pavement as David tried to step around Sheldon. Sheldon's body stiffened and he shifted, continuing to block Penny. There was a small jerk of his shoulder and then Penny could hear Leonard's voice.
"Sheldon, Penny, we need to go. She's going to be late."
Leonard appeared next to her, concerned. She looked at him and he frowned at whatever he saw on her face. There were no tears and she didn't even feel like crying. Penny was numb and it felt like all of this was happening to someone else. Leonard wrapped an arm around her shoulder and tried to tug her away, but she lunged forward and grabbed for the bottom of Sheldon's shirt. He stumbled a bit at the motion, but she didn't care. She didn't want to leave Sheldon, he would keep her safe. Sheldon always fixed her problems, whether it was finding an enchanted sword or lending her money. She could always lean on Sheldon. But...something shifted inside her and Penny realized something.
David was shrieking at both boys now. "She's not yours! She's mine! She likes me!"
Forcing herself to let Sheldon go, Penny moved next to Sheldon. David's attention immediately switched to her and he fell silent.
"I do not like you. I will never like you. I do not belong to you. I don't belong to anyone, I belong to myself! I am going to the police station, I am getting a restraining order, and if you contact me again, come anywhere near me again, I will call the police AND the FBI. This ends now."
She started walking past him, one foot in front of the other, eyes fixated on Leonard's car. Suddenly, David's hand reached out to grab her and she wasn't able to avoid it. His grip was tight on her left arm and she winced. The boys were there, surrounding her, and she knew they were a heartbeat away from jumping in. She had to handle this. She needed to.
"Let. Me. Go."
"Penny, you just need to listen, if you just listen, you'll understand..."
David's eyes were wild and his fingers dug in deeper. He wasn't going to listen and Penny wasn't just scared anymore. She was angry. Using his grip as a counter balance, she hauled way back and then delivered a powerful right hook, right to his nose. There was a crunching sound and he let her go, as he stumbled backwards, his hands flying to his face. Penny tilted forward and Sheldon was there, long fingers around her elbow, keeping her upright. Rivulets of blood trickled down David's face and he looked at her, horrified.
She met his stare and said coolly, "Leonard, can you give me a lift to the police station, please?"
Leonard nodded and replied, "Of course. I would be more than happy to do so."
Sheldon's fingers trailed down to her hand and lifted it for inspection. He held it as they walked over to the car, muttering about bruising on her knuckles and instructing Leonard to stop at a drug store before the station. He completely ignored David, focusing entirely on her. They climbed into the car and drove off, leaving him standing bleeding on the sidewalk. Penny was a little surprised when Sheldon sent Leonard into the drug store, choosing to remain in the car with her. He normally liked to procure the first aid supplies himself. Still, she took advantage of Leonard's absence.
"Sheldon, I wanted to apologize."
She interrupted his lecture on various blood infections and he fell silent. After a beat, he twisted around in the seat to face her.
"You are going to have to be more specific. What exactly are you referring to? For example, your incessant desire to call me 'moonpie,' even though that is a nickname designated solely for my Meemaw-"
"No. I wanted to apologize for always dumping my problems on you. You always fix things for me, no matter what it is. And I appreciate it, I'm grateful, more than you know, but I'm sorry for putting you in that position."
Expressions flickered across Sheldon's face too quickly for her to decipher. He cleared his throat and then replied dryly, "Penny, I think it's quite clear by now that no one can make me do anything I choose not to pursue. With the possible exception of my mother. Still, my behavior with regards to you is not motivated by any maternal impetus. It is simply...necessary."
Sheldon turned back around and Penny found herself staring at the radio.
"Necessary, Sheldon? You don't think I can handle myself? That I need someone to take care of me?"
He scoffed and the sound was oddly reassuring.
"I am well aware that you can navigate your way through normal problematic situations without assistance. You certainly show no compunction about putting any of us in our place should we step out of line. However, like your current dilemma, I see no reason not to render aid when it is needed. The sooner the dilemma is resolved, the sooner you return to your normal frame of mind, a much preferable state."
It always took Penny's brain a few seconds to translate Sheldon-speak into normal language. If I help you, then you're not upset anymore and I don't like it when you're upset. The last 24 hours had been a roller coaster for her and she knew the police station would be even more difficult, telling complete strangers her situation. However, right here, right now, with Sheldon, she was at a high point. Unbuckling her seat belt, she scooted up and leaned forward between the seats. He tilted his head, looking at her out of the corner of his eye.
"Thank you, Sheldon."
He swallowed, his mouth working a bit, and the silence stretched between them, heavy with some indefinable emotion. He shifted again, facing her more fully.
A motion outside of the car distracted him and she followed his gaze to see Leonard coming out of the store. He looked at her, his normal expression in place, and she knew the moment was lost. Returning to her seat, she put her seat belt on as Leonard got into the car, chattering about what he'd bought. A minute later, they pulled into traffic. Penny gazed out the window, watching people as they made their way through the California sunshine. She was dreading what was coming, but she was smiling.
"Penny, you need to call your boss and let him know you've been detained."
Her smile turned into a grin and she answered, "Whatever you say, Moonpie."
Penny reached for her phone and Sheldon spluttered in the front seat. When she got off the phone, she'd tell him he was behaving illogically and that show should entertain her until they reached their destination. She sighed happily. It was, when you got down to it, a beautiful day.