Title: The Burrowing Wood Tick Analogy

Rating: PG-13

Disclaimer: I do not work for or have any affiliation with the network, the producers, the writers, etc. I make no monetary gains from this.

Synopsis for The Vestigial Organ Recall: Sheldon gets appendictis and Penny is the only one around to help him. The thread that holds Penny and Leonard's relationship together starts to stretch.

Synopsis for The Aesop Continnum: Sheldon returns from the hospital and his family comes to visit. The thread that holds Penny and Leonard's relationship together snaps. Penny and Sheldon start growning closer.

Chapter One

November 30th

Penny bounded down the stairs and skipped over to her mailbox excitedly. She nearly careened in Sheldon who was also at the mailboxes gathering his and Leonard's mail.

"Hi Sheldon!" Penny beamed a smile at him that set his heart pounding in his chest. It was becoming a regular occurrence whenever he was around her and he didn't know quite what to do.

"Hello Penny." Sheldon took a step back from her boundless enthusiasm if only to regain his equilibrium. She was practically jumping up and down as she opened her mailbox and removed her overflowing mail.

She flipped through the assorted bills and magazines and pulled out a rectangular envelope, and did in fact start jumping up and down. "Yay!" Penny grabbed Sheldon in a hug and spun him around as she jumped up and down. "YAY!"

Sheldon tried to quash down the feelings he was having as they were making him flustered. He quickly extricated himself from Penny's grasp. "To what do we owe this latest bout of public displays of affection? Have the good people of the Publisher's Clearing House awarded you some sort of monetary prize?" He looked at her askance. "That was sarcasm."

Penny, unaware of Sheldon's inner turmoil, thought that Sheldon was trying to drag down her good mood. She decided that nothing he said would make that happen. "Sweetie, sarcasm aside, it may be a monetary prize, or rather a monetary gift. It's the birthday present from my parents!" She held up the long envelope in front of his face.

Sheldon turned to Penny as they started to climb the stairs, falling into the natural rhythm that had developed over the last three years. "You can't know what is inside Penny. It could be any number of things. A cheery note perhaps, or tickets to a play."

Penny held up the envelope to her forehead. "The Great Penski says it's a nice big check made out to me!"

Sheldon raised his eyebrows. "Do I need to state the obvious Penny? There is only one way to find out."

Penny jammed the rest her mail under her arm as she tore open the envelope. Her face fell. "What the hell?"

Sheldon paused in mid-step due to the change in her demeanor. "What's wrong Penny?"

Penny shook her head in disbelief. "Well, you were half right Sheldon."

"How so? I usually am always right." He continued his climb up the stairs.

Penny pulled out the contents on the envelope and waived them in Sheldon's face. "They're tickets all right. Only its plane tickets home to Nebraska, and oh wait, here's the cheery note, 'See you at Christmas honey!'"

Sheldon looked at Penny for a long moment. "You could cash the tickets in."

Penny looked at him as though he started speaking in tongues. "Are you insane? I can't do that!"

"Why ever not? You hoped for a cash gift, and did not receive said gift. Since you have obviously received something that you do not want, you should exchange it for something you do want…money." Sheldon grinned to himself at the logic of it all.

Penny put the tickets back in the envelope. "It doesn't work that way Sheldon."

Sheldon gave her a puzzled look. "As far as I am aware, that's exactly how it works."

"These are from my parents, Sheldon." Penny tried to make him see the sense of it. "I can't do that. It's not like it's a sweater." She looked down at her feet and said quietly. "I have to go home."

"Well, then that's settled."

"Hardly." Penny said as they stepped onto the landing for the fourth floor.

"Am I to take from your response that this is not the last of your complaints regarding the issue?" Sheldon did his best to make it seem as though he hoped it was.

Penny raised her eyebrows and pursed her lips together. "Ya think?"

Sheldon gave Penny a mock smile as he unlocked his door. "Oh goody!"

Penny couldn't help her own fake smile. "Sarcasm? Twice in less than five minutes? Now that's a terrific birthday present. And, it didn't even need to be wrapped."

Sheldon was suddenly overtly nervous and started fiddling with the mail in his own hands. He didn't mean to make her more upset than she already was. He was like a blind man walking towards a minefield when it came to dealing with the opposite sex. "You'll still come over later for your birthday dinner?" He said hopefully.

"Yeah, sure Sheldon," Penny turned back to him as she stood by her apartment door. "Nothing says happy 24th birthday like some take-out Thai food."

Sheldon smiled a real smile at her as he completely missed her use of sarcasm. "I'm glad Penny."

Penny's heart melted at the real smile, so she returned her own.

Two Hours Later

Penny sat on the couch nestled between Sheldon and Leonard with a brightly wrapped box in her hands.

"It's from all of us." Leonard said.

Howard interjected. "Yeah, we all chipped in."

Raj excitedly nodded his head.

"Yes, I think you'll find it to be the perfect gift." Sheldon said confidently.

Penny quickly removed the wrapping paper and found herself the proud owner of a new laptop. She smiled tentatively as the boys. "You shouldn't have. I don't know what to say."

"I believe the common response in situations like this, is thank you." stated Sheldon.

Penny sighed inwardly. "Thank you?"

Leonard quickly explained. "Well Penny, even with all the upgrades we done over the past couple of years on your current laptop…as well as cleaning up all the spills on your keyboard…"

"…and the fact that since you dumped Leonard, you've been playing a great deal of Age of Conan, which keeps crashing your old one." Howard waggled his eyebrows at her.

Penny looked at Raj who only held up his hands and shrugged his shoulders.

Sheldon decided that the others were not explaining things correctly. "Yes well, all of that aside Penny, it was time for you to move forward with your computing needs. I have already configured everything to run optimally.

Penny looked at all four of the boys. They were all so sweet in their geeky ways. It actually touched her heart that they had included her as one of their own. With true affection for all of them Penny said softly. "Thank you guys." She wiped away the beginnings of a tear from her eye. She took a deep breath in. "So, who wants to play?"

Leonard looked over to Howard and his eyebrows furrowed together. "Um, Penny?"

Penny looked up at Leonard because of the way he said her name. "What is it?"

"Well, here's the thing." Leonard's next words tumbled out at nearly the speed of light. "I, um, have a date with Stephanie tonight. I'm really sorry. I'm such a lousy friend. Please don't be mad at me."

Penny blinked a couple of time to process what she had just heard. It was okay. Leonard was moving on. She was the one who had broken it off between the two of them, and hadn't she been the one who pointed out that him and Stephanie had never resolved their relationship?

Howard interrupted her thoughts. "He's not the only one. Bernadette and I have reached a point in our relationship." He stopped and tried to be gentlemanly, but ultimately his inner horn dog won out. "I know it's your birthday, but I have a chance to get lucky tonight!"

Penny chuckled. "It's alright! Go, have fun! Hoist a drink in my honor tonight." She paused to correct herself. "Leonard can hoist a drink in my honor. Howard, I don't need you to hoist anything in my honor tonight!"

Howard smirked saucily at her as he headed towards the door. "Are you sure? I would be more than glad to…"

"Go Howard!" Penny pointed to the door.

"I should be going too." Leonard said as he stood up from the couch.

Penny stood up and gave him a hug. "Have fun tonight Leonard." She gave him another quick hug and a peck on the cheek. "And, thank you."

She plopped back down on the couch next to Sheldon and glanced over at Raj who was checking the time on his watch. "Not you too?"

He looked up at her and was helpless. He didn't want to do it, but he walked over to Sheldon and whispered in his ear.

"Oh dear Lord!" Sheldon exclaimed.

Raj looked at Sheldon and bit down on his lower lip nervously.

Penny looked at Raj and then back at Sheldon. "What?"

"Well Penny, apparently Monday nights are when Raj and my sister trade innocuous IMs with each other." Sheldon said as though he had bit down on a sour lemon.

Penny beamed at Raj. "Good for you honey! How's it going?"

Raj broke into a huge grin and gave her the two thumbs up.

"Then, what are you waiting for tiger? Go get her…or text her, you know!" Penny giggled.

"Oh dear Lord!" Sheldon repeated as Raj tore out the door.

Penny's heart thumped out a double beat as she sat on the couch next to Sheldon. "I guess it's just the two of us." She knew what her heart racing meant, but she didn't know how to proceed. She knew that they had grown closer in the past month, but Sheldon was still Sheldon. He wasn't like a regular guy. Or was he? She looked up at him through her eyelashes. "Whatever shall we do?"

Sheldon spread his hands out before him at the table. "Well, I for one am going to clean up this mess, since everyone else left without picking up a single carton."

I guess he's still just Sheldon

Penny sighed.

"Oh wait, did you mean could we do something together?"

There was hope for him yet she thought. "Uh-huh" Penny nodded her head.

He grinned down at her. "We could test your new laptop."

Penny frowned slightly.

He was getting better at reading her expressions. "No? He could play Halo or Wii."

Penny's eyebrows shot up. "Could we play Rock Band?"

Sheldon pursed his lips. "Only if you don't sing."

"Hey!" she lightly smacked him in the arm. "I'm getting better all the time!" Penny stood and picked up a couple of the containers of Thai food and walked towards the kitchen.

Sheldon said softly to himself. "Yes, yes you are."