Originally written on 9/24/2009 and posted at Paradox, the Sheldon/Penny LiveJournal Community.
1. The two years she's known Sheldon, Penny has never found any excuse to touch him. Well, that isn't true. Of course she's hit him and patted him mockingly and all, but when it comes to this, she's at a complete loss. Until now she supposes that she has never been sure he really was human.
Oh, sure, on one level she's known, if only because of his frequent references to bowel movements and what have you—but here he is, as curled up as his lanky body is able to give the impression of, a furry and, frankly, surprising beard grown in on his chin, and she automatically sits on his bed as if he were any other person and she moves to lay a hand on his shoulder, or his side, or somewhere, except then she remembers, oh right, this body here may be displaying human emotions of sadness and betrayal and humiliation, but if she touches him he might shut down or something, and even though on that one level she knows he's human, she can't figure out a way to initiate contact that won't make things awkward for the both of them.
Glad that he is unable to see her confusion over the whole thing, she does the easy thing and lets her hand drop.
2. The day he arrives back from Texas he still has that furry and, frankly, still surprising beard grown in on his chin. They are all in the hallway. Leonard is looking impatient as he approaches her. Howard is looking as if he's coming up with a cowboy come-on line. Raj is looking at Penny and gesturing at Sheldon in a, 'look! We got him again!' sort of way. And Sheldon is looking more closed off than ever, as if he'd agreed to come back but doesn't quite know how to act now that he's again with the same group of people that screwed with his experiment.
While the boys were in Texas, Penny had felt lonely, living once more across the hall from an empty apartment, and as she smiles and gives everyone a hug (for Howard it was more of a shoulders-pat; she doesn't need to give him any excuses) she marvels at the fact that these boys, all of them, had somehow managed to bury themselves into her heart.
But when she reaches Sheldon, she hesitates. She attributes her sudden awkwardness to what she thought about a few days ago in his room, and even as this happens, she has a sudden weird urge to reach up and touch his beard. Fortunately, she doesn't, that would be really odd and he already looks uncomfortable at her approach, so she settles waving both of her arms really awkwardly (Wow, Penny, she thinks, Where the hell did that come from?) and tells him that she's glad she's home.
Then she feels Leonard's hand at her elbow and allows him to pull her back into her apartment.
3. Penny is naturally a touchy person, handing out hugs and kisses and pats left and right. And these boys are usually so closed off from the real, living, breathing world around them that she sometimes feels it's a position of honor to be the one link between them and, well, the everyman or everywoman.
For Raj, it is usually the everywoman, or for that case the anywoman, so sometimes she likes to talk to (or at, however you want to look at it) and hug him, hoping that perhaps any little bit she does will help him overcome his pathology. It helps that he, when not drunk and obnoxious, is probably the most genuinely sweet and normal guy of the four, and the one most comfortable with being just friends with her. And even though she's dating Leonard and she's relatively happy with him (because he's treating her well and the sex is not great, but all right, and better than when they started), she can't help but feel a little uncomfortable at the fact that when she met Leonard he was the Number One Sweet Guy, and now he's been demoted to... well, not Number One.
She wonders if it's because they're dating, or if it's because she's just noticing, but Leonard has a jealous streak that reminds her way too much of Kurt, so whenever she goes to hug or give another guy a friendly peck on the cheek, he gets possessive and sulky like she's about to cheat on him. Excuse her, but he knows how she is, he knew when they started to date because they've been hanging out for two years, and he should also know that she's been cheated on enough to not do it to others. And even after she says this to him, his face still darkens when she gets within a foot of another guy. Even Raj.
And it's different with Sheldon than with Raj. Secretly, sometimes even hiding it from herself and certainly from Leonard, she's been starting to wonder what it would be like to hug him on a regular basis, to wrap her arms around his shoulders and pin him there and not let go, even smiling to herself at the thought of the awkward look on his face.
"Is there a reason you're smiling?" Sheldon asks, looking sideways at her from over his Chinese carton.
He's suspicious. He has always been suspicious, and even more so lately. But Penny doesn't remove the serene smile from her face, and for a moment she almost leans the few inches to her left in order to encircle him in her arms and squeeze.
But Leonard is on her other side, already looking wary, and she knows that if she does do so he'll get jealous and that's gotten very tiring to deal with.
Even though there is no reason for him to get jealous.
(Even though, with Sheldon, there might be.)
4. At some point she becomes Sheldon's best friend.
She doesn't know if she would have noticed by herself, because she still rolls her eyes at every third thing he says and he still makes off-color comparisons between her and chimpanzees, but, yeah.
For someone with as much experience with relationships as her, she's surprised that she hadn't seen it coming. He's slowly distanced himself from the other three boys, something that breaks her heart a little, but they all still hang out every night. But his triple-knock hammers against her door much more often.
And, for someone with as much experience with relationships as her, she's pretty embarrassed that he's the one who ends up pointing it out. It's a Saturday night, and she opens the door to him. He just soundlessly holds up a brand-new DVD of the Star Trek movie. She hems and haws for a moment, because she is about to go over to a girlfriend's house and get smashed, but before she's able to get out a definitive "no" he jumps ahead with a, "Penny." His voice is patient, but also full of warning, and it makes her stop and study him. He is still holding up the DVD, looking down at her with his eyebrows high, and she could tell that he has prepared for this. "You are a walking spoiler, and you have already perhaps ruined this movie for me due to the fact that you have no discernable filter of what spews out of your mouth—"
"Oh, you're one to talk—"
He speaks over her. "But as my best friend it is your duty to attempt to redeem yourself by cancelling any worthless plans you may have and which, in any case, you will later come to regret and watch. this. with. me."
Penny's pretty sure Sheldon managed three good insults in there, but despite the fact that his voice is matter-of-fact as always and his expression is inviting argument, she is able to see his hopefulness in the set of his mouth. And in the fact that he is still holding the DVD up in front of his chest at her eye level, waiting for her response. And, yeah, he just called her his best friend—a long cry from the man who hadn't even known that they were friends in the first place.
So she rolls her eyes, tells him he better have cookie dough ice cream, and carefully edges around him. She considers ramming him with her shoulder, to let him know that she's annoyed by him interfering with her plans, but—
—yeah, okay, at some point maybe he's become her best friend, too.
5. Penny realizes that something's wrong when she starts to wait for her boyfriend to leave the building before she heads over to his apartment.
Sheldon usually complains when she lets herself in, but she always ignores him or brushes him off with a, "yadda, yadda, yadda, so, you hear that there's some talk of Firefly coming back?" For someone who accuses her of having the attention span of a gnat, it's sure easy to get him off-track.
In this instance, he's sitting on the couch, his spine straight and hands resting on his knees, fingers wrapped around the remote, and she plops heavily next to him in a way that makes the couch wiggle a bit. He gives her an irritated look. She gives one back, just to spite him.
"Star Wars?" Penny asks, after a bit, looking at the television screen. He nods, but doesn't respond. There's a shit load of snow everywhere, so she can tell that it's the fifth one (and, yes, it scares her a bit that she can tell, but not nearly as much as it would have a year ago). She sits a little straighter. "Oh, yay, I didn't miss the kissing scene!"
She can hear the eye roll. "It detracts from the storyline."
"Please. It adds to the story line. Now shut up," she orders, waving a hand at him as he opens his mouth.
They watch in silence for a while, and she smiles to herself as the scene between Han and Leia start. This is seriously probably like the date movie for nerds, she reflects, as onscreen Leia makes very lame "my hands are dirty" excuses. This causes her to glance to her left. Sheldon's hands are still on his thighs, in the same exact position they were in when she barged into the middle of the movie, and she absently reflects that they are probably very clean, and soft except for the callous on his right middle finger from pencils and dry-erase markers, a thought which for some reason brings to mind her taking that hand and bringing it up to her lips, curling his thumb and first finger against his palm so she can kiss the callous, then his hand, then his wrist, then his shoulder, then his neck, then his...
Penny's hand is halfway in the air, ready to start the same exact thing she was doing in her mind, but she panics and retracts it. The sudden movement makes him frown down at her, suspicious, he's always been suspicious, which doesn't help matters much, because it is dark and his eyes are blue and—
"Penny! —And Sheldon." Leonard is in the doorway, and his voice falls a little flat when he sees them. Together, in the dark, and looking at each other (although him in a faintly disapproving way), as Han and Leia make out onscreen.
"Sir! Sir! I've isolated the reverse powerflux coupling!" comes C3PO's annoying voice from the TV. Penny finally jumps (delayed reaction, much? she asks herself), and then leaps up, saying something about leaving her curling iron on top of a load of hand cloths. Then she skedaddles the hell out of there.
Once she's safely in her apartment she realizes that, crap, this wasn't the freaking plan.
0. It's been two weeks since she and Leonard have not been together. It was a long and exhausting talk and they agreed that, yeah, they love each other as people but, yeah, they don't really work like at all and just today they talked again and they agreed that, yeah, they're both kind of happier now. It's amicable enough to make her suspicious and worried, but hey, she's not about to question it yet.
Now that's not to say that things are normal.
She's avoiding Sheldon. She's avoiding Sheldon. And she thinks he's noticing and she avoids him some more because she feels guilty and confused as freaking hell and she's sure that he won't bring anything up because he probably doesn't know how to but of course, she should have known that he's gonna surprise her, which he does.
Knock knock knock. "Penny." Knock knock knock. "Penny." Knock knock knock. "Penny."
She opens the door and smiles like she hasn't been avoiding him.
"I know that you're not busy," he greets, instead of anything, you know, normal like 'Hello,' but what the hell. "So you have time to inform me what I did that has caused this frankly unnerving break in my weekly routine. I was forced to team with Koothrappali on Wednesday, and it was the most, well—" His voice falters, as if this is truly painful for him to recount. "—My name might as well have been George McClellan."
Penny doesn't ask who that is, because what's the point, but she sighs and steps aside. He doesn't seem to understand, so she says, "Come in, Sheldon."
He does, standing rather awkwardly by the door.
"Sweetie," she starts. "It's not anything you've done."
"Oh. So it's something you've done."
She shrugs. "Yeah. I guess."
"Well, I believe the way they say it is—cry me a river, build a bridge, and get over it, because two of my weeks have been irrevocably ruined."
She rolls her eyes. "And you're not even a little interested in what it is?"
"Not unless it can fix those two weeks." His reply is snappy.
"Oh, get over yourself, Sheldon! Geez, will you stop being so freaking arrogant, it's confusing the hell out of me!"
Now Sheldon's the one that looks confused. He frowns, "Have I been acting any differently?"
"Then there is no way I can be confusing you."
"Are you completely stupid?!" she rails, advancing on him, probably a little scarily because he takes an wary step backwards to the door, drawing his arms up to his chest and angling himself away. "God, you act like—ughhhh!" Penny turns back around, pacing in the other direction. She hears a tiny breath of relief behind her that calms her down a little. She faces him again, wondering when she's going to start getting dizzy.
Penny likes to connect with people, which is why she goes out of her way to touch them, hug them, so in a vain effort to get Sheldon to understand where her thoughts were going she reaches out and grabs his forearm and—
She doesn't know why it surprises her. It's warm, which is noteworthy for some reason, but what was she expecting? Metal? Ice? They both stare down at her hand for a long second, before she releases it with a nervous, awkward, and totally fifteen-year-old-girl giggle. "Oh—well, that's, um, sorry!" She backs away a little. "I don't know why—"
He's staring at her in a way that makes her feel she should be committed, so she shuts up (probably the wisest thing she's done these past two weeks) and stares back. He wasn't recoiling, or sanitizing his arm, just looking at her like she's insane for her reaction to her own... action.
She is insane.
"Son of a bitch," Penny finally exclaims, decides, then marches back up to him (he takes another wary step backwards), pulls his head down, reaches hers up, and they meet somewhere in the middle.