Author's Note: Hey all! Two things: I am rapidly discovering I am an absolute Sheldon/Penny fanatic and I'm hoping this turns out well. Enjoi!


The Naked Trust Reciprocation

The weeks had dragged on since he'd driven to the hospital. She often got caught up in the story itself, forgetting for long moments, days even, why she kept getting drawn into the car ride before he'd tried too hard, smiled too freakishly, and tried to console her. She tried to focus on her drug-induced pleas for him to sing her "Soft Kitty" and the fact he had forced her to endure more pain than she'd planned while he adjusted the mirrors and drove somewhere between five and fifteen miles an hour. And then the niggling thought finally surfaced in full realization.

He'd peeked at her. And she'd been naked. He hadn't said it was an accident or blamed her. He'd simply said he'd peeked, as all the great heroes did. But, in typical Sheldon fashion, he felt he'd gotten away with it because he was special, different.

And he was. But still, she tossed and turned in her bed, she hadn't properly addressed the issue. She'd simply swallowed and shook her head, too absorbed in her pain to rebuke him. And now, breaking her own rule, she threw the sheets off and marched across the hall, knocking three times and mockingly calling, "Sheldon!" Another three knocks. "Sheldon!" And, the third time she knocked, she practically screamed his name: "SHELDON LEE COOPER!"

He opened the door as the last syllable fell from her lips and rubbed an eye, looking murderous, confused, annoyed, and curious all at once. "If my sleep cycle is being disrupted for another round of 'Soft Kitty,' I'll banish you from this apartment for a month, Penny."

"Don't flatter yourself, Smell-don." She planted her hands on her hips and found herself sticking one hip out, delighting in the way his sleepy eyes drifted over her figure, trying to understand her posturing.

"Well?" He exploded a moment later, waking up a little more.

She chewed her tongue for an agonizing ten seconds and then cleared her throat. "Maybe it was the pain and the fact you were alternating between annoying and sweet, but I just realized some pertinent information a moment ago. Do you have any guesses?"

His razor-sharp wit was in full force despite the fact she'd awakened him unceremoniously and unnecessarily. "Did you realize you were in dire need of tutoring to fully grasp the physical world around you?"

Somehow, the question was sincere. Penny ignored the subtle jab at her intelligence by this reasoning. "No, Sheldon."

"Well, maybe--"

"I'll just tell you." She smiled sweetly and raked her eyes over him, almost giggling when he tensed very abruptly and recognized, through some deeply buried instinct, that she was checking him out. "You peeked."

"I'd hardly say I've peaked, Penny—just because I haven't won the Nobel Prize yet--"

"No, I mean you saw my tattoo and grabbed a handful of my chest." She folded her arms, pushing her breasts together, waiting for Sheldon to notice. He was holding his breath, knowing he was in trouble if she'd woken him up to mention this. His eyes fell to her ample cleavage and he stared for a long moment before tearing his eyes away, blushing.

"I apologize. It appears I've destroyed some of the inexplicable trust you've placed in me."

"Oh, but it's easily salvageable." She leered now, fixing him with another hungry look.

He paled, feeling weak, tired, dizzy. "Is there? I'm not familiar with the forgiveness process when the situation revolves around one person looking at another person naked against his or her wishes."

"Well, in court, it's a little different. In the real world, it's as easy as...." She sought a word he'd like. "Reciprocity."

He twitched, then jerked a little, and then twitched again, grasping the door jamb with a look of abject terror. "You're telling me you won't forgive me until you've seen me naked?"

"It's only fair. An obligatory reciprocation." She was proud to see the light of understanding in his eyes; she was speaking his language. The manipulation and plotting seemed to elevate her to his level, as well.

"But Penny!"

"Goodnight, Sheldon. I'll let you mull it over." She winked and flounced over to her apartment before closing and securing the door. She waited a moment, her ear pressed against the space next to her deadbolt, and heard Sheldon squeak before darting inside. She could picture him opening his laptop and intently researching all alternate and still appropriate social conventions. She was confident he'd find nothing satisfactory.


Sheldon hadn't slept well the last three nights—Leonard could tell as much. The way he first pulled a packet of oatmeal from the cupboard, stared at it, returned it to its place, and sluggishly pulled a loaf of bread from a different cupboard, shaking his head briskly was a none-too-subtle clue. And Penny—he hardly sat still when she was around. The squirming was enough to alert him something was up.

Sheldon fell asleep on his keyboard around noon on a rainy Saturday morning and Penny, letting herself in, got a very malicious look on her smirking face as she tip-toed over to him and crouched, putting her chin on his shoulder very gently. Sheldon, Leonard noticed, didn't seem to notice for all his sleeplessness.

She leaned into his ear. "I am become death, Sheldon."

He jerked away from her, squeaking. Leonard flinched when he tried to bat her away, saw her laughing face, let his gaze fall to her tank top and, inevitably, her breasts, and tipped himself right out of his chair, cursing his eyesight through it all. Penny laughed, sashaying away from the wearied figure on the ground next to his chair and sat in his spot on the couch. Rather than saying anything, Sheldon melted against the floor and tensed his jaw. His eyes almost watered. Leonard panicked, thinking he might start to cry, but instead Sheldon rolled to his feet.

"Leonard, kindly call off your yapping terrier for five minutes!"

Penny dug herself into his cushion. "Bark bark, Sheldon!"

Leonard's head snapped back and forth like he was watching a very involved tennis match. "What is wrong with you two?" He demanded when they both stuck their chins up at one another and stared without another word.

Sheldon should have known better. He should have known Penny didn't fight fair, that she actually sort of enjoyed playing dirty. Still, he didn't expect her to fold her arms primly and address Leonard as if he had some sort of power to persuade Sheldon to acquiesce to her ludicrous demands.

"Sheldon saw me naked after the whole falling in the shower ordeal." Penny squinted at Sheldon with an eerie smile on her face. "I've decided the only way he can make it up to me so I'll leave him alone is a little tit for tat."

"It's a figurative expression, Penny!" Sheldon shrieked, balling his hands into fists.

"Just like you told me a metaphorical story about Lot and the other heroes? About how they weren't supposed to look either because it never ends well? Did you really think you were the exception, Sheldon?" She almost tricked herself into being really angry about. In reality, she was only a little peeved and wouldn't actually let him follow through on it, provided he wasn't too whiny or conniving trying to convince her to change her mind.

He twitched wildly, his face full of spasms. He clutched the hems of his sleeves as if he thought she'd run over and try to tear his clothes from his thin frame. For a split second, Penny actually felt bad for him. He was quaking, looking at her with as much pleading in his eyes as he could muster, and yet she couldn't find humility. He wasn't sorry he'd done it. He was simply sorry he'd spilled the beans and alerted her in the first place. If it hadn't been for his big mouth, he would have the image burned into his eyelids for his private curiosity and no horrific ultimatum.

"I haven't even put a time limit on it." She explained to Leonard, never taking her eyes off Sheldon's. "When he gets sick of me treating him like this, he'll break down."

With one final twitch, Sheldon yanked his coat from the back of the armchair and pulled it on, groping for his keys as he passed by the door. Leonard spun, practically chasing him out the door. "Where are you going?"

Pausing at the top of the stairs, his roommate struck a meaningful pose. "The only place where things make sense anymore."

"Late night research?" Leonard asked weakly, just wanting to know where he'd have to go at midnight when Sheldon's sleep schedule overrode his desire to hide.

"No, stupid, the comic book store." And with that, Sheldon swept himself down the stairs.


Penny awoke with a gasp at 3:44 AM, rubbing her forehead, confused why she had suddenly sat up and almost screamed. Then, in the silence, she heard a soft trio of knocks on her bedroom door.

"Penny?" She waited for the two other repetitions, but there was nothing. Standing, she opened the door, glaring, and saw Sheldon, unkempt and jittery, rubbing his hand over the back of his neck, chewing his lip and tongue.

"You're abusing your spare-key privilege, Sheldon."

He pulled on the collar of his jacket and cleared his throat. "Can we attempt to reach a compromise, Penny? One wherein both of us are appeased?"

"Hmm, I'm not necessarily sure I can lessen my demands." She blinked slowly at him.

"I'm willing to make a great deal of other concessions if you retract this particular demand." He hugged his clothes tighter to his body and blushed yet again. "A great deal."

"Name the conditions." Penny insisted, folding her arms with a lift of her eyebrow.

Clearing his throat again, Sheldon looked around her bedroom quietly before muttering, "I don't know. It depends on would consider a sufficient replacement."

Penny knew exactly what she wanted. "Don't bitch at me about being in your spot." His right eye fluttered in anticipated annoyance. "I'd like to cook a meal for you boys once in a while and not have you throw it out just because it's oatmeal day or Thai night." He gritted his teeth, the cords of his jaw standing out. "If I accidentally bump into you, it'd really help my ego if you didn't immediately wash your hands, take a shower, or whip out a bottle of Purell."


She shushed him loudly and tightened her arms. "And you're taking me out to dinner, Sheldon. Because you owe me."

"I beg your pardon!" His pride could no longer take it. "I put myself in a very uncomfortable position for you already, Penny! I drove a car, visited the swirling cesspool of germs and bacteria better known as the hospital emergency room, and sung 'Soft Kitty' to you!"

"And I rubbed VapoRub on your chest once!" She exploded. "The whole taking care of each other when the other is sick thing is flat even. I went through hell appeasing you when you were sick and you made everything a big fat deal when you help me." She cleared her throat, calming down. "No, this is about the fact I trusted you to help me and you took the opportunity to ogle me!" After a momentary pause, she added, "I didn't think you were capable of ogling, to be honest."

"I hardly ogled you." He complained.

She held up one finger about an inch from his face. "You grabbed my boob." Another finger popped up, nearly stabbing his eye. "You saw my tattoo." Inexplicably a third finger popped up. She said nothing.

"Yes?" He waited patiently, trying not to cringe.

She nearly bubbled over with tiredness and irritation. "And you were a big fat poopie-head all night, Sheldon!"

He blanched, rubbing the back of his neck, and quietly nodded, shuffling his feet. He continued to nod and then muttered something and rubbed a hand over his shortly cropped hair. Penny waited, expecting him to say something to her, or have something witty to toss in her face. But nothing. He looked up at her, melting her heart with the guilt in his eyes.

"I apologize, Penny."

She tried to look anywhere but his face. She looked around his head, found herself staring at his ears, his jaw, his chin. She looked at his rumpled clothes and saw him fiddling with his watch and her eyes following the slim lines of his arms up to his absurdly long neck and found him staring intently at her, though the second she locked gazes with him, his eyes fell away much like they had the first time she'd met him. Her heart started to pound and she stomped her bare foot on the ground, clenching her hands into fists, tightening her lips, looking skyward.

"Well, shit."

"Pardon?" Sheldon collected his hands behind his back and straightened up, bouncing up to the balls of his feet curiously.

Frustrated beyond belief, she stamped her foot again. "I hate you sometimes, Sheldon. I really do."

His eyebrows knitted together. "I don't understand. What is the social protocol that led you to feel this way?"

Sighing, she ignored his question. "Why did you apologize?"

The question made him look desperately around her apartment to distract himself. It was, as usual, in a state of utter chaos. He focused on the magazines spread over her coffee table, couch, and floor. It worked for a while, but Penny appeared to have all the patience she needed to get her answer.

Sheldon sighed. "I suppose," he began, looking at her drowsy eyes, "because I've become increasingly aware how much you accommodate me and my needs. And, I might add, you very rarely torment me or ask the unreasonable of me, no matter how myopic my complaints may be."

She looked at him with glimmering eyes, a slight smile on her lips. She folded her arms, leaning against the door jamb, knowing he wasn't done.

Sheldon swallowed. "So...I'm sorry. I'm sorry because I a little lost without you here and I don't really want to upset you unnecessarily."

She smiled gently, looking down at her bare feet and his left pant leg, which was cuffed from curling up on the couch trying to tire himself out to sleep for the evening. His failure just made it all the sweeter that he'd come to her door at this ungodly hour to compromise with her and soothe his worried mind. The guilt and the apprehension had combined, putting Penny at a decided advantage. Making up her mind, she cleared her throat a little and clapped her hands, rubbing her palms together.

"Sheldon, sweetie...did Leonard go grocery shopping and pick up mouthwash?"

Wondering if she were trying to change the subject or simply unresponsive to his attempts to gain forgiveness, he frowned lightly and brought his hands up to the middle of his chest, wringing them together. "Yes, last night he picked up all the required materials from the list on the fridge, as he always does."

She nodded, smiling, and touched her index finger to her lips, looking to one side, and laughed to herself gently before standing up on the balls of her feet and steadying herself by gripping his shoulders. He opened his mouth to ask her just what her previous question had to do with anything when she made a soft shushing noise and shook her head. He didn't close his mouth, but the words expired in his throat.

She shot him one last smile before shutting her drowsy eyes and pressing a soft, slightly open-mouthed kiss against his parted lips. He kept his eyes open, staring over her jaunty ponytail into the train-wreck that was her apartment, but after the first few seconds passed and his heart had started to pound, he found he could hardly keep them open.

He lost count, not because the kiss lasted too terribly long, but because the moment he closed his eyes he lost all understanding of time, his surroundings, and the significance one might tie to those sorts of measurements.

Not intending for the moment to turn into such a poignant display of affection, Penny waited for her feet to remind her she'd spent all day standing on them before releasing Sheldon's shoulders and sinking to the flats of her feet. Opening her eyes after a moment, she realized he'd bent down and followed her, his eyes pinched shut, lips still crushed to hers.

She made a conscious effort to end the kiss then, if only because she thought he might overreact when all was said and done. Breaking apart at last, she put her hand in the middle of his chest and patted it warmly, smiling once again, her face tingling from the proximity. He had, of course, smelled clean, neat, and Sheldon-like. The taste was Crest toothpaste and Listerine.

It wasn't until she giggled lightly and shut her bedroom door she realized her heart was pounding, her palms were sweating, and her chest was heaving. She lifted a hand to run over her pallid face when she realized she hadn't heard Sheldon budge from his position at her door. Her stomach turned over a little and she sighed, wondering what she might say to him, or if she should say something at all. After a few moments with her standing at the door, her ear a millimeter away, she heard Sheldon exhale loudly and, after another long few moments, he shuffled to the door, exited, and securely locked the door behind himself.

She let out her own held breath, the one she hadn't known she'd been holding, and climbed back into bed, sighing and staring up at the ceiling. Uh oh.


"Has Sheldon ever been kissed?" Penny asked as Leonard unpacked the many Thai food items he had picked up for their usual Wednesday-night supper. He promptly dropped his own container of noodles and managed to close the lid before the noodles slipped off and touched any inch of their floor. He looked up as Raj and Howard both froze, staring at her.

It was Raj who laughed first, but the others followed shortly. They looked at one another and refueled their mirth several times over until Leonard noticed Penny had started to eat and didn't look amused. Hitting Howard in the chest and shooting Raj a serious look, he cleared his throat and took his usual seat.

"No, Penny. Sheldon...has not kissed or been kissed by anyone other than his precious Meemaw."

Howard stifled a new giggle just barely.

She chewed her tongue a moment as containers opened and Sheldon's empty spot seemed to mock her. He'd breezed through the room not ten minutes before with a worried look on his face, explaining hurriedly he'd be right back and he had to run to the corner store for the mustard he needed to make tonight sufficient. It was the first time Penny had known him to offer to get his own condiments. The night before nagged at her mind, but she refused to believe her little "positive reinforcement" had anything to do with his journey to the corner market.

But when guilt or uncertainty weighed on her mind, as it had when Sheldon had leant her money, she could hardly contain herself. She put her fork into her container of Thai food and lifted her hands, forming a tent with her fingers, pressing her index fingers against her lips. She waited for total silence, not realizing this meant everyone had mouths full of spicy noodles.

"I kissed him last night."

Around his noodles, Leonard choked and coughed out, "On the mouth?"

Howard sniggered. "What was that like? Did he warp the two of you to some romantic alternate dimension where he knew not to gargle hand sanitizer afterward?"

She opened her mouth to retort when the door swung inward and Sheldon, shrugging off his jacket, consulted his watch with one arm, furiously trying to shake off his coat with the other. "Good Lord, is that the time?"

"Yes, Sheldon, you're actually late for dinner tonight." Leonard replied and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, ignoring his roommate's disgusted look. "How was your day?"

Giving him a wearied look, Sheldon took his food from Penny's waiting hands. "It was going rather swimmingly until this banal chitchat."

"Sorry to ruin everything." Leonard sulked, shooting Penny a disbelieving look. She took up the challenge, remembering Sheldon's promise from the night before and cleared her throat, looking pointedly at the boys' kitchen.

"Tomorrow," she announced, "I'm going to make lasagna for everyone. Raj, Howard, you're invited of course."

They rotated, looking at Sheldon, waiting for his complaints. He did stare at Penny hatefully for a moment, but said nothing. She hated to admit it, but he did keep covenants well. She swallowed, willing her excitement to die away, but her body was buzzing. He lunged across her a moment later and burgled the remote control from Raj, turning the channel to a "Star Trek" rerun. She surprised them all by calmly cooing she'd seen this episode—she liked it. They looked at Sheldon expectantly and he took a large bite of his dinner and mentioned a "Battlestar Galactica" marathon on another channel, if there were objections.

Leonard made a small noise, not quite sure what to make of these subtle yet profound differences in Sheldon's behavior. Lifting her eyebrows, Penny dug around in her dinner container and offered no preference. They settled on "Star Trek" and were able to do so in relative amiability until Penny noticed none of the boys were watching the show so much as staring at her and Sheldon. She squirmed at first, wondering what it was now, and then glanced at Sheldon to see if he'd noticed. As usual, he was oblivious, though he did seem a tiny bit flustered. As he put his remaining portion of food on the table, he took a hold of a discarded pillow from the chair Leonard had sat in and hugged it to his chest, squinting at the television as if he couldn't quite see it.

She looked down and saw nothing out of the ordinary on her end. A modest skirt baring very little leg, a fairly conservative shirt, and no embarrassing stains. Perplexed, she looked at Howard first, frowning, and then questioningly at Sheldon, who scrunched his nose and folded in half over the pillow, rubbing his face with his hands.

"Sheldon?" Leonard asked tentatively.

"Lasagna sounds wonderful." He spat, still folded over his knees.

Howard laughed uncomfortably. "Yes, we know. We're all excited."

Guilt stabbed at Penny as they quietly finished dinner and brought out controllers to some new game Howard had suggested they play. Sheldon, working at his computer, declined the invitation to have the first go and started to type furiously on his computer, lost in thought, occasionally rising to add something to his whiteboard.

She sucked at the new game. She gave up taking her turn after the first few rounds and worked her way over to Sheldon's whiteboard, where he'd labeled some of the equations and was staring between the two at a blank space, trying to reconcile the two and find some sort of compromise. She lifted her hand and pointed to a triangle shape.

"I think this might be it."

He cast her a weary smile. "Wouldn't that be just wonderful?" The smile fell.

She rolled her eyes. "I'm going to install a tiny speaker behind your ear that will emit a high-pitched whistle when someone makes a joke, uses sarcasm or irony, or expects you to laugh. It'll help a lot. Christmas is coming up."

"I don't see the point trying to top last year's Saturnalia, to be frank." He drew a square root sign and stared at it a moment, grudgingly admitting the delta sign from the left-hand equation had to be transferred into the final equation, despite there being no way for Penny to have possibly known this.

"It's not about improvement," she informed him. "It's about togetherness, commercialism, and letting everyone who matters to you that you care."

"How poetic." He paused, tapping his finger against his chin. "Why are you not engaging in the new video game craze with Wolowitz and Leonard?"

She fixed the floor with a pout. "I'm bad at it. I can't get a handle of the controls and I think I've gotten too used to working with the computer keyboard on 'Age of Conan.'"

"You probably just need to enter into the settings grid and alternate between inverted and regular to see which is your preference. Most of the controls are adaptable to your specific method of play—it could be analogous to 'Halo 3' if you find the right combination." He peeked at her expression through the corner of his eye and fought a smile. "They'd never know what hit them."

"I'll only go along with this crazy plot if you come help me destroy them for killing me a collective thirty-seven times before letting me 'take a break.'" She fluttered her eyelashes at him. "Best evil duo ever?"

He snorted and gestured at the board weakly. "I have a lot yet to do, Penny. Another time."

Sighing, she let her hopes fade away. "I should be used to that answer by now."

Casting her a startled look, he frowned lightly. "What do you mean?"

She smiled at the way his voice had pitched all over the place, sounding sort of panicked or pre-pubescent somehow, and shrugged, not really wanting to answer as she replied, "I'm always asking you for favors—I very rarely have the opportunity to return the favor, y'know?"

"The sentiment isn't lost." He cleared his throat. "As soon as I find a healthy ovum, I'll be indebted to you all over again."

"Will I get another hug?" she teased without thinking.

She watched a faint pink blush spread across his cheeks as he scribbled down a few numbers, constants, and derivatives. Knowing the boys weren't paying attention at all, shouting at one another as they ambushed Raj hiding in some abandoned warehouse with zombies flanking his every side, Penny pushed Sheldon's hand away from the whiteboard and stepped between him and it, fixing him with an expectant stare. When he held still, breathing forgotten, for almost twenty seconds, she shook her head and sighed, pulling him just a little and standing against on the balls of her feet. This time, aware of her surroundings, she kissed him just barely on the corner on the mouth, just a peck.

"I don't understand." Sheldon murmured as he capped his marker and frowned at his fingertips, Penny still standing between him and what was now mostly a meaningless mass of numbers and symbols. His head swam. "There is no correlation between our last encounter and this one. You're confusing me and I can't get any work done, Penny."

She sighed as he grumped over to his desk to find something to wipe her from his mind and followed, kneeling next to his chair as he sat and typed into the Google search engine, "proper social protocol" and paused, looking for the best words to describe his situation.

"Look, I'm sorry, Sheldon. You know I don't mean to ruin your work, right?"

"You're hardly ruining it," he defended. "I'm more than capable of pushing aside your physical expressions for science."

She blushed, knowing this was his way of telling her he knew she was flirting, except she knew Sheldon Cooper, PhD. had no idea when someone was making the moves on him. He could call it such in so many words, but there was an impossible bridge to cross getting him to understand the implications and the meaning of social interactions at once. He never seemed to recognize the cause for distress and the fact someone was distressed until it was explained to him. He couldn't lie, keep secrets, or abstain from speaking his mind. And she, in her stubborn way, refused to let him get away with all the other stuff that seemed to step beyond ignorance and into insensitivity.

Very suddenly Penny realized she really admired him, even though she wanted to wring his neck. At the same moment she realized he had neither retreated to his room nor washed off the place she'd kissed him. She had a thousand questions on her tongue, but she held them in, knowing any second now Leonard would beg her to rejoin the crew. A calm settled over her; she knew when she asked Sheldon would help her set up her controls and give her some integral piece of information. He delighted in ruining the others' days.

"Why are you picking on me, Penny?" Sheldon asked very quietly.

"Oh, Sweetie, I'm not picking on you," she reached and hesitated before gritting her teeth and rubbing a small circle on his back. "Besides, I thought I was hardly a distraction."

He turned his head sharply and fixed her with a tired but still irritated stare before responding with, "You know how Leonard responds to your teasing and physical expression—do you expect me to be the same? I am trying to make the entire incident in your apartment resolve so you are satisfied and still regard me as a friend. He's trying to get in your pants. It's not fair you treat us the same!"

"I-I'm not treating you the same!" she protested hotly, trying to ignore her initial stutter. "You're much more complicated than Leonard, trust me."

"I would say so," Sheldon muttered, looking mildly pleased with himself.

Penny went on to add, "I actually think if I tried to feel you up and kiss you it might do more bad than good."

Sheldon stopped browsing through Google's recommendations surrounding his query on "proper social protocol in male and female friendship dynamics" and stared witlessly at the screen, trying to imagine Penny wanting something from him and using her body to turn his own against him. He imagined, as much as he hated it, it would work. When they'd first met her, he'd outed both himself and Leonard as people willing to consider donating sperm. She knew he wasn't completely untouched by his libido, however little of it there was. Her own sexual frustrations were much easier to identify—every once in a while they would quest together on 'Age of Conan' and she would eventually leave him again, the morning after some new meathead trotting from her apartment triumphantly.

She stared over his shoulder at the preview of a website his cursor was hanging over.

"Hm, by that blogger's logic, I'll have slept with all four of you by February." Penny closed an eye and looked at the ceiling thoughtfully. "How long do you think it'll take me to psychologically mend after the Wolowitz experience?"

"Penny, stop."

She giggled. "Oh, lighten up, Sheldon. I know the mere thought of being naked and sweaty with someone probably makes you itch to take a shower, am I right?" There was a pause. "Or is it a cold shower?"

"Strike one, Penny."

"Oh no you don't!" she crooned deviously. "This is, whether you believe it or not, for your own good, Sheldon. I'm taking you out of your comfort zone, inch by inch."

"I'm perfectly happy where I am, thank you." He glanced at her, daring her to disagree. He shouldn't have.

"You're happy like the Flash is slow," she laughed.

His temper flared. "The only reason I've been at all unsatisfied this past week has been because of you! First you tell me I have to strip naked to appease you, and now it's not enough I'm allowing you to dictate entire portions of my routine for an indeterminate amount of time—no, you have to behave as if I'm one of the slavering idiots who spends his days treating you like a piece of meat. I have half a mind to say you don't mind being treated as such sometimes, Penny!" He stood and she shrank away from him, hating that Leonard had paused the game to watch the scene unfold. The others were, undoubtedly, staring, too. "I don't merit the comparison to any of them—you act as if I should be embarrassed I'm not pawing at what you're always putting on display. Well, I'm sorry, but you deserve better, so I apologize for not being one of them."

There was a lengthy pause and Sheldon's red face paled, his lips turned a strange shade of blue and he whispered a hoarse plea for his own dismissal and retreated to his bedroom, snapping the door shut.

Turning, her eyes glittering wetly, Penny laughed a forced, fake sound. "Well, I think I'll turn in early, boys. I'm a little...tired."

"Yeah, g'night, Penny," Leonard replied awkwardly, watching her turn cautiously and exit, closing the door softly behind her. A minute or so passed and Raj cleared his throat, lowering his gaze as Sheldon, shrugging his coat on, grabbed his keys from the bowl and left in a huff, not bothering to say a word to his dumbfounded friends.