Title:The Break In
Summary: Penny returns home one night to find her apartment not as she left it. With Leonard out of town, she must rely on Sheldon for assistance. Set after the guys return from the arctic.
Disclaimer: I don't own these characters, they belong to Chuck Lorre and Bill Prady
Notes: I love feedback, good or bad. I would like to say thank you for all the support and kind words I received after my first story.
They marched up the stairs side by side not speaking. Sheldon had made it clear at the mailboxes that this was to be his week of solitude and Penny obliged. They reached the second flood before she caved.
"Howard and Raj aren't even coming over?" Penny looked over to Sheldon, whose eyes were wide and fixated on her. He shook his head. "Why not?" Her voice chirped through the staircase causing Sheldon to twitch his eye slightly. Penny wouldn't have noticed if she didn't know to look for it.
"Wolowitz and Koothrappali would like some time apart from me. I believe that is also why Leonard opted to visit his family. Leonard chose to obfuscate. Now Penny, while I am certain that you missed our regular interactions while I was away, I will have to ask you to give me my solitude for the week. No popping in, no stealing milk, no Age of Conan. This is my week to recalibrate and spend some time out of the company of others. No socializing and no work. Pure peace and quiet. While psychology is hokum, the Myers-Briggs theory of introversion does seem to suit me. Goodbye, Penny." Sheldon turned to his apartment door which they had reached during his long monologue unlocked it and slipped inside before Penny had a chance to react.
She sighed and walked over to her own door. As she reached for her keys she began to feel the hairs on the back of her neck stand up and looked closer at her own apartment door. It was broken and ajar. She reached out and knocked it open just a little, peering through the crack. It was a mess, which was nothing new, but it wasn't her mess. There were things out of place, there were things that were no longer there. Penny felt sick and turned quickly away from the sight of it. She was pounding on the door for 4A without even thinking. Sheldon opened the door a crack and peered down at her. She looked up at him, his figure blurry as tears began to fill her eyes.
"Someone's broken into my apartment." Her voice cracked slightly as the tears flowed in earnest. Sheldon moved out of his own apartment and into the threshold of 4B.
"Are you certain?" He surveyed her place. Clothes strewn about, dishes piled up by the sink but took note of the missing television, the DVDs scattered on the floor and the broken lock on her door. He turned to find Penny right behind him. He placed his hands on her shoulders, turned her around and guided her back into his apartment and locked the door.
"We have no idea if the intruder is still present in your apartment." He reached for the phone and began to dial. "It's best to wait here until the police can check." Penny absorbed his words and the weight of them knocked her down onto the couch. She sobbed loudly and Sheldon took a moment away from his focus on the phone to take note that she was in his spot. He moved to the couch, sat in the empty space next to her and gently patted her back. They stayed like that until the police arrived and not once did he say anything about her choice to occupy his spot.
The police found no one inside of Penny's apartment and while she was giving a statement the building manager showed up. Penny realized while Frank was talking to her about securing the apartment for the night and installing a new, stronger door the next morning that Sheldon must have called him too. She also was very aware that she couldn't sleep in her own place. She was surprised to see Sheldon carrying her pillow from her apartment across the hall. After an hour of answering questions and making phone calls she was done and wasn't sure what to do next. Frank guided her through getting what she was going to need for the night as well as a change of clothes for the morning then boarded up her apartment. She walked across the hall and knocked again. She heard Sheldon unlock the door before letting her in. She hadn't had to ask, he had already invited her over when he took her pillow. She dropped her things and reached up to him. Her small arms wrapped around him in a strong hug and she could feel his hands moving cautiously to her back. She broke away before he got too uncomfortable and looked up at him.
"Thank you," escaped her lips so softly that she barely heard it. Sheldon nodded and made his way over to his spot on the couch.
"I'm sorry I ruined the first day of your week of solitude." Tears once again formed in her eyes and the rolled down her cheeks smoothly. This wasn't sobbing like before but a quiet release of stress and exhaustion.
"Don't be ridiculous, Penny. This is no more your fault than it is mine. I could have just as easily been the victim and you would have extended assistance to me. Besides, it's a social convention to support friends during a crisis." Sheldon looked down at Penny, taking in her tears and searched his brain for a way to make her feel better.
"You'll hardly be an inconvenience, Penny. With Leonard out of town, I have an extra bed. Plus you're familiar with my schedule and know not to reorder the cereal."
"You want me to sleep in Leonard's bed?" Penny spoke more strongly then than at any point before.
"Well, yes. It is the unoccupied bed."
"Sheldon," Penny whined slightly while saying his name. It was normal and made her smile. "I can't sleep in Leonard's bed. That'd be weird."
"Why on earth would that be weird? It's not like Leonard will be in there with you. I've already placed your pillow in there."
Penny looked at him for a moment and began to think about why she was fighting. Sheldon had a point, logically. Surprise, surprise. It was an empty bed and it's just a place to sleep. Yet, somehow it didn't feel right, it felt too personal to sleep in Leonard's bed when they still had so much hanging between them. "It's just kind of intimate to be in his bed, Sheldon. And you can't tell him I said that. I'll just sleep on the couch." She examined Sheldon. She was looking for signs of further questioning, looking for signs that he'd object to keeping a secret for her, looking for something else too. But he simply nodded, got up and returned a few moments later with her pillow and several blankets. He left her to make up a bed, and she remembers to place her head away from the door. Part of her wanted to escape into Leonard's room, farther away from the door, where she could feel safe. Part of her wanted to escape into Sheldon's room too. She assumed that was fear talking. She didn't like feeling alone. But she stayed on the couch too uncomfortable and unsure to move to either room. She tossed and turned, with every single sound causing her to jump. She lay in the dark thinking and fretting. She worried that she'd never fall asleep again.
When Penny opened her eyes the next morning the living room was bright. She could feel Sheldon nearby and opened her eyes. Next to her in the armchair sat Sheldon, with a bowl of cereal watching Dr. Who, muted with closed captioning.
Penny had a new door and a new key. Sheldon had helped her clean and reorganize her apartment. She mourned the loss of her television, the only real thing of value that was missing since her laptop stayed camouflaged under a pile of dirty laundry. Her apartment looked fresh and new when it was finally suppertime. They sat on the couch at Sheldon's side by side and Penny sighed as Sheldon flipped to the Discovery channel. She was going to miss having television. They didn't talk much and Penny went back to her own place once dinner was over. She sat, alone, in her apartment and felt surrounded on all sides. Someone had been here. She didn't know who it was or why they chose her fourth floor apartment rather than someone else's on a more accessible floor. She didn't know how strong the new door was or if someone would ever try to do it again. The day Penny moved in she met Leonard and Sheldon and just knowing the guys across the hall made her feel safe and welcome in the building. She didn't feel safe anymore. She looked down at her watch and it read 8:22. Penny couldn't sit in her apartment alone anymore. It was the first time she'd really been alone since the night before and it made her skin crawl. She pulled the sheets off of her bed and headed down to the laundry room.
"Hello Penny," Sheldon's cheery voice greeted her and she walked over to a washing machine. She dumped the bedding inside, turned it on and hopped up onto it to sit, facing Sheldon as he carefully separated his clothes and measured out his detergent. "I didn't expect to see you again today."
"I needed to wash my sheets. I just need them to be clean." Penny blurted it out without really thinking. Sheldon was eyeing her and she tried to meet his gaze and look strong. She saw him mouth "fascinating" but quickly looked away.
"Penny, I'm beginning to wonder if you have considered the emotional trauma of being robbed. While I don't think highly of any of the soft sciences, I know from my own experiences that when someone enters my personal spaces without my knowledge or permission, I feel a loss of control."
"Sheldon, I'm fine. I'm still a little freaked but it's nothing, really." She hopped off of the washing machine and found herself looking up to meet his eyes again. "Oh, I almost forgot," she said, slipping her hand into her pocket. "Here's my new spare key, for, you know, emergencies or for when I lock myself out." She reached out to him, offering up the shiny piece of silver. He took it and slid it into his own pocket. She smiled at him, too brightly, and she could see in his eyes that he was confused and deep in thought. She took that moment to bound out of the laundry room and made her way back upstairs.
When she returned an hour later to move her sheets into the dryer, Sheldon was sitting reading a book. She realized that he hadn't heard her slip into the room and she stood in the doorway just watching him. He sat upright, straight as an arrow with his feet both firmly planted on the ground. He held the book up right in front of his face and his right index finger deftly turned the page every few minutes. It took Penny a second to realize that the brown leather book he was holding wasn't a science text, a comic book or something from the Sci-Fi section at Borders. It was old and well-read. Penny wasn't sure if she should enter the room and make her presence known or creep away and leave her sheets wet in the machine. She opted to creep away and then doubled back walking as noisily as she could. When she re-entered the room, Sheldon was standing up, fidgeting with his plastic folding thing. She flashed him a smile and transferred her laundry over. Penny wasn't sure what to say. She was filled with curiosity but didn't want to pry. She also didn't want to leave. The hour she had spent back in her apartment was full of pacing and every inch of her body was tense with anxiety. She watched Sheldon as he pulled T-shirts from the dryer and began to fold them. Sheldon had been so good to her yesterday and hadn't complained once about having his plans ruined. She couldn't impose again. She had to get back on the horse.
"You know, Penny, I was thinking of playing some Conan once my laundry is completed. There is a quest I'd like to attempt. Would you like to join me?"
An hour of Conan was an hour away from her apartment so Penny nodded at Sheldon and stayed with him until they had both finished their laundry. She popped into her own apartment quickly to grab her laptop and then went with Sheldon into his place feeling some of her anxiety melt away. They quested for far longer than an hour.
Penny was in that in between of sleep and awake. She felt warm and safe. She didn't even remember going to bed. She was sure that whatever had plagued her the day before was gone since she had slept so peacefully. She didn't even want to open her eyes. She rolled over and felt her arm fall off the edge. That wasn't right. She opened her eyes and leaned up. She was on Sheldon's couch, covered in a blanket with a pillow under her head. Sheldon was in the kitchen pouring a bowl of cereal. He nodded at her. She was at a loss for words. She started to stretch but felt tightness in her back and winced.
"Penny, I am going to have to insist that you spend tonight in your own bed. Our couch doesn't provide near enough lumbar support." Penny shot Sheldon a look, but softened when she read the concern in his eyes.
"I promise Sheldon. I won't be imposing any more. Besides, I have to work a double to make up for the shift I had to miss yesterday." Penny stood up and folded the blanket that had been covering her. At first she had assumed that Sheldon had raided Leonard's things but looking at the Star Wars pillow case she knew that Sheldon had spared some of his own things for her comfort. She turned around again and smiled at him before picking up her laptop and keys and going home.
Knock, knock, knock.
Knock, knock, knock.
Knock, knock, knock.
Penny opened the door, still dressed in her uniform. She knew it would be Sheldon on the other side, but she didn't expect to see him lugging gear of some sort. He pushed his way into her apartment and put the two large bags down before speaking.
"Good, you're home." He nodded at her.
"Yes, I am. What is all that Sheldon?" Penny pointed at the gear and noticed among the things the Star Wars pillow from the morning.
"It occurs to me Penny that you haven't slept at home since the robbery and as I mentioned earlier I understand how you may feel a loss of control and secur-"
"Sheldon," Penny's voice was strong and clear. "I told you, I'm fine."
"Your actions do not back up that statement. While I am certain that you enjoy spending time with me, you've spent far more time with me these past few days than your average."
"You calculate the average time I spend with you?" Sheldon looked at her as she spoke, his face full of annoyance.
"I calculate it for everyone in my social circle. It's a quantifiable manner in which to gauge the strength of a friendship. Leonard, obviously, has the highest average. When I remove the extenuating circumstances of the summer you beat Wolowitz and Koothrappali. This, however, was not my point. You need to sleep in your own apartment because the other options are far less appealing to me."
"Other options?" Penny was tired but glad to have company. She was keeping the conversation going because she didn't want to be alone.
"Yes. If you can't sleep in your own apartment, either you continue to sleep on the couch, which is unacceptable since it doesn't provide lumbar support, you sleep alone in Leonard's bed which will only work until he returns or if he takes the couch upon his return, you sleep in Leonard's bed with Leonard, which seems to be a very unhealthy reason to start a relationship or you move away, which seems the most likely option. You can't move away."
"You don't want me to move away…" Penny's voice trailed off as she took in the fear in Sheldon's eyes. She had felt afraid now since the break in and was glad to see that he was scared to. She didn't feel so crazy knowing that he was troubled.
"My plan is simple. I borrowed an air mattress from Wolowitz. It also provides poor lumbar support but will do for a night. I'll sleep on the air mattress on the floor of the living room while you sleep in your bed." Sheldon bent down and removed the air mattress from the large bag. He plugged it in and let it fill with air.
Penny wanted to object. She wanted to tell him that she was fine and that he should leave. She wanted to be stronger, but she wasn't. Sheldon was being strong. He was straying from his routine to help her out. He let her lean upon him, sit in his spot, cry on him, hug him and take up all of his spare time. He made calls to her insurance agent, dealt with Frank, informed Leonard of the situation by phone and had made sure that her shift had been covered. Sheldon was now going to sleep somewhere that wasn't his bed, wasn't even a real bed at all, just so that she could take more time to deal. She was lost looking at him as he pushed her coffee table out of the way and reached for the sheets to make up the bed.
"Okay. Goodnight, Sheldon." Penny checked the door to make sure it was locked and walked into her bedroom.
Penny could hear rustling outside of her door. She opened her eyes and the reality of her current situation flashed back into her mind. It's wasn't a creepy robber outside, just Sheldon. She rolled over and closed her eyes again. She could feel a gnawing within her and she sighed deeply, tearing the covers off. She opened her bedroom door a crack and could see a light on in her living room. She quietly stepped out into her small hallway and Sheldon came into view, sitting in the armchair, the place he had dubbed his spot reading the old book she had seen the day before. This time, she kept going and moved into his view. She wasn't entirely sure if Sheldon knew she was there when she sat down on the air mattress, but he deftly placed a bookmark and put the book down.
"Whatcha reading?" She found her voice came out just a little higher than normal. Penny wasn't sure of why.
"Are you having difficulty sleeping? Penny, it is imperative that you sleep in your own bed. This is not the time to chat."
"I was doing okay. I must have heard you out here. Otherwise I'm fine. I think I'll be okay on my own."
"Oh, good. That was the desired outcome of this activity. If you are in fact alright, I will return to my own bed for the rest of the night." He stood up and looked down at the mattress that was blocking his path to the door. Before he could navigate around it, Penny reached out and took hold of his arm, pulling him down back into his seat.
"You dodged my question."
"The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle." Sheldon looked away from her for a moment and quietly added, "Sherlock Holmes."
"I knew that Sheldon." Penny smiled wryly.
"My father used to read it to me as a bedtime story when I was young. It was his favorite novel. This is his copy."
"That's sweet." Penny stretched her legs out on the mattress and rested her head against the arm of the chair. Her head brushed up against Sheldon's knee. She expected him to pull away or stand up, but he didn't move. "Read it to me." Penny looked up and her eyes met his. She expected an objection, a fight, but he opened the book up to where he left off and began to read. She listened as the words flowed from his mouth, expressive and warm. Penny didn't know the plot and she didn't care. Sheldon's story made perfect sense because he infused it with himself and she was surprised because there were parts of him she didn't know existed. Her breathing slowed and her eyes closed but she hung onto his voice for as long as she could.
The next morning Penny woke up alone on the air mattress. It took her a moment to regain her bearings. She wandered around her apartment making sure she was alone and felt a small pit of regret in her stomach when she realized it was true.
He must have been waiting for her to come home from work because exactly ten minutes after she stepped into her apartment his knock filled her ears. She took her time reaching the door because she wanted to give him time to play out his ritual. She opened the door and Sheldon stood in front of her, like always, clad in a superhero t-shirt. She hadn't give him credit, these past few days he had more than earned the right to wear it since he'd been so heroic with her. The thought brought a smile to her face and the warmth of his gaze filled her. He nodded at her and stepped into her apartment without a word. He looked down at the clean space where the mattress had been and the neat piles of bags and equipment that he'd brought over the day before. He raised an eyebrow and Penny smirked that she had been able to surprise him.
"Sheldon, I just want to say thank you for everything you've done for me this week." Penny sighed and gestured for him to sit on the couch. He looked at his armchair wistfully but complied. She sat next to him.
"Penny, my understanding of friendship suggests that being supportive when a friend is distressed is a normal social more."
"Well, yes it is," she said. "But Sheldon, when I told my girlfriends they didn't lend me their couch or offer to come and clean my place. You're not just a friend to me, Sheldon. You're like my best friend." Penny watched Sheldon, waiting for some sort of reaction, but his face remained calm. "So you know, thank you."
He didn't move. She studied his face and his posture waiting for a reaction that she was certain would follow. He slowly shifted his body so that he was facing her. She watched as he took a deep breath.
"Penny, this is awkward, but I must inform you that Leonard is the person I consider my best friend." Sheldon twisted his face in an effort to look sympathetic.
"You can have more than one best friend." Penny let out the slightest laugh as she spoke.
"No, Penny. By its very definition best refers to one that surpasses others. I can say that you are my second best friend or my best female friend or-"
"I'll take it." Penny beamed and Sheldon returned her smile, a rare slight that Penny planned to keep stored in her memory. She slowly inched forward and placed a soft kiss on his cheek. She when pulled away from him his smile was still firmly in place, he didn't grouse about the contact or freak out or misinterpret her gesture. "Here," Penny said, breaking the silence, "I'll help you move all this stuff back to your place. And then I'm starving. Do you want something to eat?"
Sheldon nodded. "Thai food." Sheldon was never one to suggest so his statement was clearly an order. Penny smiled and grabbed one of the bags on her floor. Sheldon took the other and they lugged them across the hall and into Leonard's room for safekeeping. Sheldon moved into his bedroom and quickly returned with a wallet.
"Let's go, Sheldon. I'm starving!" Penny had already moved to the door and she turned to find Sheldon. She saw him approaching her, his hand absently on his face for a brief moment where Penny had kissed him. Penny bit her bottom lip, feeling that same tightness in her stomach. She stood in the doorway and blocked his exit. He stared down at her, his blue eyes flashing with annoyance. Penny reached up to him, getting on her tip toes to get closer to his eye level and leaned in. She closed her eyes and brushed her lips against his. It was soft and quick. Penny stepped back quickly. Sheldon didn't move and struggled to react. He looked down at Penny, his face blushing faintly. His eyes were wide and their shine shook her to her very soul. She heard him inhale deeply and she steeled herself for whatever response he'd give.
"Penny," he said tenderly, "Leonard is my best friend."
Penny exhaled a breath she hadn't know she'd been holding and nodded slowly. "It can just be a thank you." She stared into his eyes waiting for him to let her off the hook, hoping that the normally socially incompetent Sheldon Cooper would get this right too after getting so many things right these past few days.
"You're welcome." Sheldon reached out and wrapped his arms around her. This hug wasn't the messy and insecure hug from Christmas but instead a hug full of kindness and love. Penny felt safe in the warmth of his embrace. She had things to figure out when Leonard got back but she had to admit, while she was tight in Sheldon's arms, that she didn't like Leonard's odds.
"And thank you in advance for buying dinner, Penny." Penny pulled away and saw the shit-eating grin on Sheldon's face. She scrunched up her face in annoyance but she knew she was beat.