Okay, this is completely unrelated to 'The Dactylic Hexameter' in every possible way. I started writing this many months ago and felt a sudden need to finish it today. So, I did. If you're looking for fluff or anything that might ever actually happen on the show, I would turn back now. Seriously dramatic crack!fic ahead.
F = GMm/R2
Penny glanced in the rearview mirror at the small child in the car seat behind her. Abigail, age two, reached her arms forward, demanding a bottle. "We'll be home in a few minutes, sweetie."
"Juice!" the small child repeated pointedly.
Penny turned left onto a residential street. She drove past three blocks worth of houses that all looked identical save the slightly different Sport Utility Vehicle in the driveway. She finally pulled into the driveway in front of their home, a relatively modest-looking house for how much it had cost. She leaned over and grabbed the paper bag full of groceries before climbing out and retrieving her daughter with one arm from the back seat of her new Range Rover.
"Come on," she cooed to the young girl. "Let's see what your brilliant daddy has been working on while we were gone."
"Yeah, that too," Penny chuckled, opening the door and stepping into the foyer of the house. She stooped down, setting Abby on the floor. She immediately took off, screaming across the hardwood floor toward the kitchen. It was obviously time to ask dad for juice. Penny heard him greet their only child happily, engaging her in easy conversation. She leaned one hand against the wall as she slipped her sandals off of her feet before continuing into the sunny kitchen, where the rest of her family happily sat at the kitchen island. Abby had a box of juice and a stack of Oreos in front of her.
"She has you wrapped around her little finger," Penny noted serenely, dropping a kiss onto his mouth. He smiled up at her from his stool.
"Kind of like her mother," he answered, shrugging.
Penny went about the business of putting the groceries away in their designated spots. "So, what amazing things did you do today?"
"I'm on the cusp of a breakthrough with the supercooled lithium," he responded with a grin.
"Oh my God!" Penny bounded around the island, throwing her arms around him. "That's awesome! Does this mean there is actually verification of-"
"No," he replied quickly with a shake of his head. "But it's inching closer and closer."
"You're amazing," she murmured in his ear. "I married the smartest man on the planet."
"Hardly," he said, his face pinking up.
"We should celebrate," Penny decided firmly with a nod. "Let's call the guys. We can all go out for dinner."
"That's a good idea," he conceded with a small grin.
The phone on the wall rang loudly. He made a move to answer it. He always answered the phone. "Let the machine get it," she said quickly, leaning in to kiss him on the cheek. "It's probably a telemarketer anyway."
"Okay." He turned his head and fully engaged her in slow, sweet kisses.
"-please leave a message after the beep!"
"Hello, this message is for Dr. Leonard Hofstader." They both froze instantly. There was no way. It wasn't possible. He hadn't contacted them in years. "I need to speak to you at your earliest convenience. This is not a request." There was silence. Penny was in too much shock to pick up the phone and actually speak. For a moment she thought he had hung up. "Dr. Sheldon Cooper," he finished hurriedly.
The sound of the dial tone hung loudly in the quiet kitchen.
gra-vi-ty: (n) Solemnity or dignity of manner.
"He asked me to marry him," she said lightly, watching his face carefully. When it didn't change, Penny cleared her throat. "Did you hear me?"
"Yes," he answered evenly, not looking up from the newest issue of 'The Flash'. "Did you expect me to have some sort of reaction to that?"
Sheldon studied his comic book and then turned a page. "Did you say yes?"
"Not yet," she answered hesitantly. The look on Leonard's face when she'd asked him for time to think about it had been heartbreaking, but she really did need it. Needed the time and space to make one of her pro/con lists, needed the reassurance of the people she loved that she could make the decision, needed the strength to make the right decision, whatever that ended up being.
Sheldon finally tore his eyes away from 'The Flash' and looked at her under furrowed brows. "What are you waiting for?"
"So you think it's the right choice?" Penny asked, quicker than she should have.
"That," he responded as his eyes went back down to his comic book, "has little or nothing to do with this, Penny." He was staring resolutely at the book, but Penny had spent enough time watching him over the years that she knew he wasn't actually reading anymore. "I think it would be a colossal mistake on both your parts, but I doubt you see it that way." Penny felt tears prick at the corners of her eyes. Could he never take a day off from being a major jerk? "Your opinion in this is the only one that matters, Penny. If you think Leonard has the ability to make you happy for your foreseeable future, then consenting seems the logical choice."
Penny felt her lower lip start to quiver and bit down on it hard enough to taste blood. "Why don't you think I should marry Leonard?"
She watched him blink slowly once, twice, three times before shutting the book and placing it in his lap. "I don't think you deserve him," he answered finally in a low voice. Penny sputtered in shock, but Sheldon was already on his feet. "I believe I will finish reading in my room. You can see yourself out."
You shoulda seen yourself lyin' there all broken. Whoa, gravity it got you good.
She stepped into the Beverly Wilshire and pulled her sunglasses off. The nerves in her stomach were making her visibly shake, and she silently wished she'd taken a pull from her hidden bottle of vodka before she'd even gotten into her car. Her expensive sandals made a gentle clicking noise against the marble floor as she walked toward the meeting spot.
He was already seated at the bar, a glass of clear liquid in front of him. He looked as unnatural as ever, a peacock in a sea of ducks. Penny thought seriously about turning and running while she still could. Instead, she screwed her courage to its sticking place and moved forward. He was deeply focused on something that was lying on the bar in front of him.
At the sound of his name, he turned and looked at her, a slightly startled expression on his face. His eyes scanned down her form quickly and Penny felt goose bumps spring up all over her body instantly. When his gaze met hers again, his expression was one of cool disinterest.
"Penelope," he finally answered with a curt nod. "I wasn't expecting you to join us. Where's Leonard?"
Penny's breath hitched involuntarily. There was an edge to his voice that made her uneasy. "He's…not coming."
He swiveled toward her in his chair and regarded her carefully. "Why not?" he asked. "He answered my e-mail, didn't he?"
"No," she responded as she climbed into the chair next to him as daintily as possible. "I answered your e-mail." A young guy who looked like he'd stepped out of a Gap ad came over to take her order. "Grey Goose martini, dirty." She continued on. "He hasn't known about any of this other than the phone call last week."
"Oh," Sheldon answered simply, turning to face forward again.
Penny looked at his profile, fully taking him in. He had aged slightly since the last time she'd seen him. She thought there was a good chance she could walk past him on the street and not recognize him. He'd allowed his hair to grow slightly longer, and his entire jaw was covered by a neatly trimmed beard. He was graying at the temples and had one streak of gray by the left corner of his mouth. But his eyes…..His eyes were the same. Perhaps slightly darker, but still as clear as ever, and now adorned with the smallest hint of crow's feet at the corners. Penny noted at some point he'd grown into a slightly more adult wardrobe. He wore a 'Superman' t-shirt under a white button-down shirt with his regulation khakis, and over the button-down, a tweed sport jacket with patches on the elbows. Only Sheldon would wear nineteen layers in California in August. Despite this, Penny still had a flashback to the English professor she'd had for the month of college she'd actually attended. She'd wanted to sleep with him in the worst way, and instantly felt bad for all the grad students who'd undoubtedly been re-buffed by the man sitting next to her.
Sheldon reared his head back. "Why didn't you just say it was you in the first place?" he asked, frowning.
Penny swallowed over the dry lump in her throat and silently cursed the bartender for not delivering her drink in a more timely manner. "I….I wanted to see you," she answered simply, not able to look at him. "And I didn't think you'd meet me." Sheldon simply nodded. Whether it was in understanding or in verification of her fear, Penny wasn't sure. The bartender brought over her martini, and Sheldon motioned to the bartender for another of whatever it was he was drinking. The logical part of her brain told her he couldn't be drinking anything harder than club soda at two o'clock in the afternoon on a Thursday, but the logical part of her brain had been wrong plenty of times over the last seven years. She took a long sip and pulled the plastic sword out of the glass, snagging an olive between her teeth. "So, what do you want with my husband?"
He visibly flinched, swallowing down the last of his own drink. The ice cubes clinked against the inside of the glass when he set it back down on the high-gloss surface of the bar. "His current research is my idea." Penny stared at him in disbelief. That's what this was about? Taking ownership of something they'd both worked on so tirelessly? She watched him continue to read from the thin stack of papers he had in front of him. This was Sheldon Cooper, of course that's what it had all been about.
Penny took another sip of her drink just as Sheldon's second (third?)arrived. "You've known for over a year what he's been working on. Why all of a sudden is it an issue?"
"It's my hypothesis he's working off of," the tall man answered. He sniffed his drink before taking a sip. Penny felt irritation seeping into her, feeding off of her. How was it he could look so different and still act like a six year old? "I intend to make it known should he try to present any of this as his own."
She frowned at him. "He's never once tried to claim anything that belonged to you and you know it." Jesus, it really was like talking to a small child. "Seriously, what is this about Cooper?" He took another long sip and faced her, his eyes not quite locking with hers like she expected them to. So, he wasn't drinking club soda after all.
"Your show is fairly derivative," he said in lieu of explanation. Penny sighed, running a hand through her perfectly curled hair. "I've noticed a lot of the characters wear lab coats though, so it probably seems highly authentic to all of you."
She swallowed the last of her martini, the vodka evening her out. "Leonard says it seems very realistic," she shot back as she bit into her second olive. She chewed on it loudly, just to annoy the man to her left.
"Leonard's sleeping with you regularly," Sheldon replied flatly. "Of course he does." Penny's olive stuck in her throat and she glanced at him out of the corner of her eye. He was watching her more closely than felt normal after such a personal statement, but Sheldon had never understood social protocol. "You look very thin in person."
"Thank you," she answered, giving a tight smile.
"Was that a compliment?" he asked with raised eyebrows.
She sighed again. "It would be coming from most people." She absent-mindedly scratched at that spot under her left ear that always itched when she was nervous. She uncrossed and then re-crossed her legs in the other direction, making facing him slightly more natural. Sheldon subtly motioned for the bartender to bring her another cocktail, and against her better judgment, she let him. She couldn't sit here in a hotel bar and get drunk with Sheldon Cooper in the middle of the week.
"You've grown progressively thinner and blonder and tanner and angrier-looking over the years," he continued, glancing back at his stack of papers.
"You've always been quite the sweet talker."
His mouth got small and he shook his head. "I can understand the weight thing and the hair thing, as I'm given to understand it happens to all actresses once they achieve any level of fame." Then, he turned to look toward her. "But, you really always look either sad or angry anytime you pop up on a talk show or interview." He stared down at his drink, watching the ice cubes chase each other around the high-ball glass as he rotated it slowly. "That I don't understand, Penny. You have everything you wanted. Shouldn't you be happy?"
Her second martini had been placed in front of her, but Penny Hofstader knew she wouldn't be drinking a single swallow of it. "You watch me in interviews?" Her voice had a distinct air of hope to it, but Penny didn't care. He waved her off with one hand.
"My roommate seems to have something of an infatuation with you," he replied simply.
"I can sign something for you," Penny supplied, brightening.
"What would be the purpose of that?" he asked. She sighed and watched his eyes return to what he had been reading. It appeared to be a small stack of notebook paper, covered in scribbles.
"What is that, anyway?" the actress asked, leaning closer to him. He didn't pull it away from her, but he also didn't offer it up.
"It isn't important," he deflected smoothly. Then he turned his gaze on her, and Penny felt something in her chest catch. "And you didn't answer my question." Penny turned away from him and faced forward, not understanding the wetness she felt in her eyes. Her eyes held on the martini that sat on its monogrammed napkin, staring intensely at the way the bottom rim dampened the paper beneath it.
"I know", she finally agreed.
I think I'll try defying gravity. And you can't pull me down.
The air seemed fresher than normal this morning. Usually the task that lay ahead of her made Penny want to roll over and throw a pillow over her head. However, for some reason the second the alarm went off today, she was up and out of bed. Waves of energy rolled off of her as she did a few simple stretches in their driveway before trotting down to the street and heading west, away from the sun. Three miles, four times a week was the schedule her personal trainer had set for her last month. They'd worked over the winter on her muscle mass, building her up to the point that she'd accidentally hurt Leonard during an impromptu wrestling match on Christmas morning. After that episode, Penny had decided she was as strong as she needed to be. So, she and Erik had moved on to endurance.
Which, unfortunately for Penny, meant running.
It wasn't that she was lazy. In fact, over the last few years, she'd become someone who hardly ever slowed down. When she thought back to years when she could sit for an entire day on her small green couch in 4B and play video games, it seemed like a different person's memory. No, it was more the opposite actually. Running was too boring for her. Everyday, she ran the same route, turning at the same corner, waving at the same fellow joggers, listening to the same exercise play list on her iPod. Like everything else in her life, Penny was realizing she was in a rut with it.
She turned right, jogging up Sylvan Street. Like every Friday, she passed Mrs. Rosenbaum, who was out watering her pristine yellow roses. The desperate housewife waved amiably at Penny, who responded in kind before picking up her pace. She was already at the halfway point and still felt she had plenty of aggression to work through this morning. Maybe today would be one of the rare days she'd go into the gym after she got back and do some of her kick-boxing. Penny didn't have to wonder where the bad energy was coming from, she had known the second her eyes popped open a half-hour earlier.
He had somehow managed to be exactly the same and be a totally different person at the same time. Gone were the flailing arms, the register-cracking whine of his voice, seemingly even the need to control his surroundings. Still in place was his single-mindedness, his finicky nature , and generally demeaning attitude toward all other humans. In truth, it was just enough of original recipe Sheldon that Penny felt she could still reach him in some way. She of course had been wrong though. Whatever walls she'd painstakingly knocked down throughout the course of their friendship had been built back up in the years of her absence in his life, possibly to the point of no entry. It shouldn't really surprise her though. Before the day prior, Penny hadn't set eyes on Dr. Sheldon Cooper for almost seven years. If she'd been asked a week ago if she ever would again, she would have laughed.
And yet, she had seen him. And it had been neither the overly-dramatic reunion full of affection nor the overly-dramatic reunion full of hatred, both of which she'd pictured in her head for years. It was the level of conversation you might have with an neighbor you used to know once a million years before you had your current life, which is basically what it was. He had asked after her sister, whom he had met once, but didn't breathe a word about Abby, of which Penny was sure he knew. He managed polite disinterest when she talked about the season premiere she was set to start filming in a week's time.
It had been unsettling, but it was done now. They had parted with her word that Leonard would not be claiming credit for his work, as if the idea would have ever occurred to Leonard in the first place. Sheldon had even allowed Penny to hug him, her arms wrapping around his lean neck and pulling him down to her gently. He hadn't responded, which hadn't surprise Penny in the least. But when she'd given him a squeeze, she'd heard a shuddering exhale escape him, as if he'd been holding it since she'd entered the bar. She had walked away from him, berating herself for the impulse to glance back at him. Penny knew if she'd looked, he would have already moved on to other things, giving no second thought to her anyway. The crack that thought still managed to leave in her heart was troubling, but not altogether surprising.
Completing her loop on clockwork like normal, Penny slowed to a fast walk for the last half block, cooling down. She had rehearsal in three hours, which gave her plenty of time to get cleaned up and get Abby fed before reporting to set. She would have time to get in some kick-boxing after all.
Because the dream she'd had last night about long fingers and cerulean blue eyes wasn't a coincidence, and Penny had experienced it enough times to know for sure by now.
Set me free, leave me be. I don't want to fall another moment into your gravity.
She was awoken by the sound of the door shutting firmly and sat up with a start. Leonard smiled at her apologetically. Penny rubbed her eyes and squinted at him as he dropped down on the opposite end of the couch. Her head still hurt from crying and she knew her face was still a blotchy mess.
"I didn't mean to wake you," he said softly, not meeting her eye line. She shook her head slightly, knowing he most likely couldn't see her in his peripheral vision. They sat in uncomfortable silence. Penny felt her foot falling asleep, but didn't dare move from her spot.
When she couldn't take it any longer, she stepped out onto the ledge. "So, what happened?" Leonard shrugged half-heartedly, his face blank. Penny silently weighed her options. He was giving her an out here, as he clearly didn't want to talk about whatever had just happened across the hall. But something inside of her lurched, and she knew that she had to know for herself and not just as a supportive girlfriend. "Leonard, talk to me."
He laid his head back against he cushion of the couch and exhaled before turning his body toward her so their knees almost touched. He looked like he was in physical pain. "He still thinks we shouldn't be getting married, and he says that he can't possibly take part in something so pedestrian and obviously doomed to fail."
Penny rolled her eyes so hard it made her head hurt momentarily. "Come on! What is his deal?" She rose and immediately wished she hadn't. Her foot, now completely asleep, sent sparks of pain through her body. "Seriously, I don't…..I don't get it." She hobbled over to her fridge and pulled out a Diet Coke. "I've been his friend as long as I've been your friend. Why all of a sudden is he acting like I'm the stable girl who's unfit to marry the prince?" She tossed him a can and annoyed herself at how excited she became when he caught it. "He's being so….." She sniffed and sat back down on the couch. "…disappointing."
Leonard narrowed his eyes at her in confusion for a moment before sliding down next to her and putting a comforting arm on her back. "You know Sheldon," he said blandly.
Penny looked at her fiancé. "He's one of my best friends." Leonard swallowed hard and looked down at his shoes. "I don't understand how he could not want me to be happy." She took inventory of his facial expression and was confused. He was wearing 'guilty'.
"Penny," he started, still not able to look her in the face. "I need to tell you….." Penny reached out and turned his head toward her. Without hesitation, he leaned forward and kissed her quickly.
After a moment, Penny wiped away a tear that had rolled down her cheek. "It doesn't matter," she said confidently. "We're getting married, and if he is so against it, he doesn't have to come." She laid her head on Leonard's shoulder. "What were you going to tell me?" Leonard stayed perfectly still, still enough that Penny sat up to look at him more closely. He was clearly thinking of something, almost to the point of possibly not hearing her. He came back to himself quickly and smiled at her.
"It wasn't important."
Gravity, stay the hell away from me. And gravity has taken better men than me.
"I'm sorry, are you who I think you are?" Penny put a hand up to act as a visor and smiled up at the man standing to her right.
"I don't know," she chuckled good-naturedly. "Who do you think I am?"
"You're the girl from 'Boomerang', aren't you?"
Penny exhaled, still smiling. "Yes, I am." She glanced over at Abby, who was happily playing in the sandbox not ten feet from her.
"Wow, I thought so. Could you sign this for me?" He produced a copy of Maxim, which boasted a picture of her on the cover wearing very little. It had only been released two days earlier, set to coincide with the season premiere of her cable drama.
"Wow, you picked that up fast," she noted as she accepted the magazine and pen from the college-aged man.
"You're hot," he answered in way of explanation.
"Thanks," Penny deflected expertly as she handed back his magazine. "Are you going to watch tonight?"
"Yeah," he responded quickly. "We're having a premiere party."
"That's sounds like fun," she replied, her eyes trailing back over to her daughter.
"Do you want to come?" Penny could tell he hadn't really meant to say it out loud. It seemed to be one of those things your brain didn't okay your mouth to say ahead of time. She smiled apologetically. "It's just that…..well, if you showed up, I would be considered a God. And there's this girl….she idolizes you and it would be so cool if you could say I knew you." He was talking a mile a minute now, trying to get it all out before she shut him down. She actually did feel sort of bad for him, trying to get a girl to notice him.
And then she remembered what he was probably going to go home and do with the magazine she'd just signed.
"Oh, that's very sweet of you to invite me," she smiled. "But I usually watch the show with my cast mates and stuff, so…." She shrugged and winced and made any number of cute facial tics that had grown to be her character's calling card after two seasons.
"Right, well….thanks." He beat a hasty retreat, giving her only one backwards glance. Suddenly, Abby was in front of her, the young girl's face red from exertion and shuddering with huge, wracking sobs.
"Oh, what happened?" Penny cooed in her mom voice. Abby threw herself into Penny's waiting arms and continued to cry with abandon. Penny breathed with her child for several minutes, throwing an understanding smile to the other kids in the sandbox who now looked on confusedly. "Better?" she asked, smoothing her daughter's hair away from her face. Abby nodded, wiping her nose on her arm before trotting off towards her playground buddies.
"Unsanitary," a voice murmured from behind her and Penny stopped. With wide eyes, she turned toward the sound of his voice, sure she was hallucinating. But, there he stood.
In a park.
"What are you doing here?" she asked, her voice completely incredulous.
Sheldon shrugged. "I was in the neighborhood."
She turned around on the hard bench to look at him more fully. "You were in the neighborhood of a park in Burbank?" She squinted up into the harsh sunlight, only making out his silhouette. He moved quickly, placing himself gently on the bench to the left of her. Penny felt her pulse jump at the sudden closeness. He didn't look at her, choosing instead to stare at the horde of children playing in front of them.
"Sheldon," she tried again. "How did you find me?" He stayed still, save the slight tell-tale twitch in his cheek that always happened when he was apprehensive or angry. "Sheldon?"
"Is she yours?" he asked softly, gesturing across the manicured lawn to where Abby now played happily once again.
"No," Penny retorted with a roll of her eyes. "Mine's in the shop. That's a loaner. Sheldon…." She sighed and turned ninety degrees on the rubber-coated bench to face him.
"She looks just like Leonard." There was a despondency in his unwavering gaze that made Penny's heart twist. Leonard, the eternal optimist, had named him godfather of Abigail when she'd been born, hoping it might bring him back to them. And now, two years later, Sheldon was seeing the girl for the first time.
"Yeah," Penny answered, glancing over to where the toddler dug in the sandbox.
"I needed to…." She whipped her head back toward him. He coughed and shook his head subtly before staring at the ground by his feet. When his eyes met hers a moment later, Penny felt all the air leave her lungs. "I just needed….." His voice broke. She silently took his hand and laced their fingers together, and he didn't flinch away. They sat together, neither one speaking. There was nothing between them that was left to say. Or at least nothing either of them would say, and wasn't that the same thing?
I'm a victim of gravity. Everything keeps fallin' down on me.
"Sonofabitch!" Penny let the knife clatter to the cutting board and brought her index finger to her mouth, laying her tongue against the fresh cut for a moment. She put enough pressure on it that she could feel it throb. She fortunately hadn't bled on the tomatoes she had been dicing. Spinning in her large kitchen, Penny flipped the faucet on and let the water run cold before putting her hand under the stream.
"Are you okay?" Penny nodded miserably, not turning to acknowledge him. "I don't know where you keep your band-aids."
Penny rotated back to face the man standing on the other side of her island. "I think we're out right now anyway. Abby fell down a couple days ago and pitched a fit when I made her put on the last 'Hulk' because we were out of 'Sesame Street'."
"Hey, that could be traumatic for a young kid like her," Howard countered, shrugging. "She's in her formative years right now." Penny smiled sarcastically at her friend.
"Yeah, 'Hulk'?" Raj asked in mock horror. "How could you, Penny?" He took another long drink from his beer bottle and raised one eyebrow at her challengingly.
"I know, I'm a terrible mother." Penny distractedly replied, putting her finger back in her mouth. "I hope you guys like your tacos with extra plasma." Raj gave her an over-exaggerated smile.
"So, that scene last week where you and that Spencer guy were getting it on…" Howard went on. "You seemed pretty naked."
"I was wearing as many clothes as I could," she defended, frowning. Raj frowned at Howard too, who merely shrugged apologetically at the other man.
"I think what Howard was trying to say was you look very nice without your clothes on, Penny." Raj threw another glare at Howard for good measure.
"Aw, thanks Raj."
It was amazing how much better he'd been around her in the last couple years. Penny thought it had a lot to do with Abby. Raj was absolutely in love with the little girl, and the feeling was obviously mutual. Whenever he and Howard came over, the toddler was generally attached to his hip. Tonight was one of the few nights out of the year that she couldn't be torn away, however. The two year-old was currently camped out in front of the extensive pile of gifts under the Christmas tree in the living room.
"Anytime," the Indian man answered, letting his smile dip toward 'creepy' for the tiniest moment before returning to a warm grin.
"Amazing what a little liquor can do for a guy, isn't it?" Penny cracked. Howard laughed at Raj's expense momentarily before it turned to a cough. Penny knew enough about their relationship to understand where their lines were. Sometimes better than Howard, apparently. "Hey, you know what's weird? Sheldon drinks now, too."
The silence that stretched out in the space after she spoke was the longest Penny thought she'd ever heard in that house.
"How do you know that?"
Penny spun on the spot, facing her husband who had just entered from the living room with their daughter balanced on his hip. He looked surprised to say the least and possibly, Penny noted, a little hurt. She moved toward the counter and ripped off a piece of paper towel to wrap around her still-bleeding digit. "Huh?" she stalled.
Leonard shot her a confused look. "I said how you do know that?"
Penny channeled her acting experience into her response, keeping her face as neutral as she possibly could. "Oh, I….uh, I ran into him a while back." She crinkled up her nose. "Didn't I tell you?"
"Oh, boy," Howard intoned from the other side of the room.
"Shut up, Howard," Leonard barked and Penny jumped slightly. She'd never heard that tone in his voice before. He leaned down and deposited their daughter, who promptly ran to Rajesh and attached herself to his leg. When he stood back up, his focus was on Penny again. "You…you didn't tell me you'd seen Sheldon, no."
"Oh," Penny answered lightly. "I thought I had." She felt a huge weight drop into her stomach. She never lied to Leonard, at least not about important things. The expression her husband currently wore told Penny that this, for whatever reason, was one of the important things.
Leonard advanced on her, still looking wounded. "So, where did you run into him? You guys don't exactly travel in the same circles."
"For starters, you have circles to travel in, whereas he does not." Raj had handed his beer over to Howard in favor of holding the young girl who stared up at him adoringly. Leonard crossed his arms over his chest and narrowed his eyes, clearly perplexed by something. Penny bit her lip and started busying herself with getting the last minute dinner prep done. She felt him rather than actually saw him approach.
"Penny," he said in a low quiet voice. She looked up at him to find his face full of concern and anxiety. "Did he…say something to you?" Penny drew back to study his face. The way he had said it made her uneasy. It was as if he was expecting a specific…something to have been said. She felt herself shake her head slightly.
"No," she stated firmly. "We just caught up…or something." She sighed so deeply she felt it in her toes. "He's still Sheldon."
"Oh," Leonard said, the tension leaving his shoulders. "Right, okay." He squeezed her shoulder affectionately. "I'm gonna go find you a band-aid." He left the kitchen quickly.
"Supper's ready," Penny stated flatly, looking over at Howard.
"If it helps at all," Howard replied after a moment. "I knew Sheldon drank now."
Penny let her eyes widen at this. "How did you know?"
"We still see him all the time, Penny." Raj was speaking to her as if she was a child now.
"You do?" she asked, startled.
Howard answered slowly. "Yeah. Leonard's the one who left Cal Tech, Penny."
She furrowed her brow at this. "Guys, why did he do that anyway?" The two men exchanged a look that Penny knew was significant, but couldn't really explain why. Suddenly, she felt as if she wasn't the only one in her marriage that was lying. She plastered her fake actress smile on and started serving platefuls of Mexican food, which everyone ate with false excitement.
Halfway through her first taco, Penny met Leonard's gaze. He was smiling widely at her, almost simpering. Penny knew that what he wanted more than anything for Christmas was her to tell him she was pregnant again, the way she had three Christmases ago. She had been faking headaches and cramps for three months now, circumventing almost every attempt on his part. She wouldn't point this out to him, though. It didn't fit into their polite marriage. She also would not tell him that she had 'accidentally' run into Sheldon seven times in the last few months. She definitely wasn't going to tell him that she was going to her doctor on Monday and going back on birth control.
It didn't seem very polite.
Out of control and completely into you.
Why put the blame on me when I can put the blame on gravity?
They were at the Four Seasons again. Always the Four Seasons. Penny knew it was risky, since it was a magnet for others in the industry. But she also knew that it was the random people popping up to talk to her that kept her from doing something with the man next to her. A meeting in a lesser-known hotel and Penny was sure they would have already done something worth regretting. It wasn't as if they talked about that kind of thing. On the contrary, their conversations stayed on the topics of her show, his ongoing feud with his roommate over which night should be Sushi Night, and Howard and Raj. Every once in a while though, he would turn his eyes on her and Penny felt the heat rush through her entire body. Whether or not he was aware he was doing it, Penny wasn't sure.
"They are very subtle," Sheldon agreed in a low voice as he nodded. "But it seems to work for them."
"Wow," Penny breathed. "I guess I was always just left wondering. Sometimes it seems like they are, and then sometimes…"
"-Howard tries to cop a feel from the waitress at Applebee's?" Sheldon filled in.
"Yeah," she answered, grinning at him. "Oh, hey. Before I forget, we are having a party at our house next month."
Instantly, all of the easy comfortable friendship they'd been sharing vanished. He physically moved away from hers so quickly that an onlooker might think she'd tried to burn him. He stared down at the bar blankly for a full minute. "You are inviting me to your anniversary party?" His voice is just above a whisper now.
Penny felt like throwing up. What had she been thinking? She knew there were certain places they didn't go with this relationship, and she'd just done several at once. No talking about her marriage, no interaction with Leonard, no introducing him to her friends. They had never actually talked about it, but after knowing him for so long, Penny knew where Sheldon's lines were. She put one hand over his and, to Sheldon's credit, he only flinched slightly. She leaned in, close enough to smell his hair. She let her vodka-scented breath dance on his cheek for a moment. Sheldon closed his eyes, wincing. "I'm sorry," she finally said. He opened his eyes and turned them toward her. She leaned in further, pressing her forehead against his temple. "I shouldn't have…"
He gently pulled away for a moment to fully face her again, still close to her. Penny studied him, taking in his sad eyes, the permanent lines on his forehead, the down-turned corners of his mouth. "Why are you doing this?" he asked, pain in his voice. Penny shook her head, not tearing her gaze away from his eyes.
"I don't know." Penny couldn't be sure if she'd actually just spoken out loud. She couldn't hear anything but the pounding of her heart against her ribcage. Her impulse was wrong. It was wrong and-
He pressed his lips to hers quickly, not allowing himself to linger at all before pulling away again. Penny squeezed her eyes shut as tightly as she could, trying to stop the tears before they started. She brought her hands up to cover her face.
"If you and Leoanrd are having some kind of fight, I think it is hardly reason for you to continue to pursue-"
She dropped her hands and turned toward him in the next instant and stared at him silently for several moments. "Are you fucking kidding me?" she hissed. Sheldon's eyes darted around the nearly empty bar nervously. Penny couldn't care less. "You're the one who just kissed me there, science guy." Sheldon rolled his eyes and looked away, still focused on the people around them. "You seek me out, you text me to come meet you in a hotel in the middle of the day an hour's drive from either of our houses, and then you kiss me and I'm the bad guy here?" She watched his Adam's apple bob as he swallowed. "Are you really going to try and tell me this wasn't your intention from the beginning?" She took a deep breath. "I'm not sure why you bothered, because we apparently were never friends anyway." She shook her head and finally let her tears fall. "Really classy, Sheldon."
He brought his elbows up to the bar and rested his forehead on the palm of his hand "That isn't what this is," he insisted hoarsely.
"Then what is it? You completely disappeared from my life," she said softly.
"You're the one who moved away," he shot back. "If you were so overcome by the termination of our friendship, it's a wonder I haven't heard a word from you since the day you threw me out of your apartment. I know enough about technology to know that telephones work from both directions, Penny." She reached forward blindly and grasped her glass, taking a generous amount in her mouth and swallowing. She'd gotten good enough at this that it never burned anymore. "After Leonard banished me from your nuptials, he and I made a deal. I would promise never to see you again, and he would never touch the research we'd embarked on together."
Penny's head was spinning wildly. She now regretted how good she'd really gotten at drinking at a professional level over the years. There were so many questions pounding in her head, all trying to get out of her mouth at the same time. The first attempt at voicing one came out as an unintelligible whimper. She cleared her throat and tried again. "You weren't kicked out of the wedding, you left." She drained her glass of vodka and cranberry juice. "And what do I actually have to do with any of this, anyway? Isn't this all about credit for a Nobel prize?"
Sheldon laughed in a way that clearly wasn't a laugh at all. "In seven years of marriage, has he still never told you?" Penny felt a trickle of dread run down her spine.
"Told me what?" she asked hesitantly.
There was sadness was in his eyes, a sadness she had only seen one time before. "It really is time you started talking to the man you decided to spend the rest of your life with." He motioned to the bartender, who walked over. "She'll have another," he stated flatly as he drew several dollar bills from his wallet and laid them on the bar.
Then he stood and walked away from her.
Gravitation cannot be held responsible for people falling in love. - Albert Einstein
Knock, knock, knock.
Knock, knock, knock.
Knock, knock, knock.
She waited until the last set was complete before she opened the door to him, grinning. The look on his face made her smile melt away. He looked as if someone had just died.
"Oh my god," she intoned, stepping aside to let him in. "What happened? Is everyone okay? Is it Leonard?" Penny noted that he winced visibly at the mention of his roommate's name.
"Nothing horrible has happened," he answered carefully, lowering himself onto the end of the couch. "Well, nothing related to Leonard, at least not as of now."
"Then what's with the face?" Penny asked, doing a passable recreation of his current facial expression.
"I was wondering if you had a minute." He was holding a sheaf of notebook paper in his visibly shaking hands. "There is something of possibly great importance that I wish to discuss with you."
"Sure, sweetie." Penny landed on the couch next to him and placed her hand on his thigh for a moment to gain leverage in settling herself. The small action caused him to leap off the couch quickly. He stood awkwardly at the door again, shifting his weight from foot to foot. "Are you okay, Sheldon?"
"I'm afraid I'm not," he answered in a strangled tone. "You see, I've been working on what is supposed to be my toast, as the 'Best Man'," he started, bring his hands up for air quotes. "But for some reason, my focus keeps getting muddied." He brought the notebook pages up to his eye line and scanned the top one quickly. His right eye gave a tiny twitch.
Penny climbed off the couch and approached her friend. "Sheldon, if it's about speaking in public, you've got nothing to worry about." She placed a hand on each of his shoulders, and to his credit, he didn't shake them off.
"Yes, thank you for that," he deadpanned. When his eyes met hers, it was with reserve. "In my work the past few weeks, I may have come upon new information that I think you need to be aware of." Penny smiled supportively and licked her lips. When his eyes darted down to take this action in, Penny felt her stomach flip over.
"Sheldon?" She moved imperceptibly closer to him and felt him stiffen under her hands. "Sheldon?"
"I was just going to raise the option of you not entering into matrimony with Leonard," he said in a rushed tone.
Penny's eyebrows hit her hairline. Her mouth filled with the bitter taste of adrenaline. "Why not?"
The door flew open and Sheldon backed away from her. Leonard stared at both of them questioningly for a moment. "Hey, guys," he said slowly.
"Hi," Penny replied brightly as she crossed her arms awkwardly over her chest.
"What is up?" Sheldon asked lightly.
Leonard 's expression changed to confusion for a moment. "Not much, just doing a last minute shopping thing," he answered, pointing to a small bag he was holding. "What….what were you guys doing?"
"I was just pumping Sheldon up for his awesome speech tomorrow night," Penny jumped in quickly. Both men shot her a strange look . "It's gonna be awesome!" she finished lamely, punching her fist into the air.
"Okay," Leonard said in the awkward silence that followed Penny's odd outburst. "Well, my mother is meeting me at the caterer's to go over the final menu plan and make sure Aunt Sally has a gluten-free meal." He stepped forward and kissed Penny. She impassively stood there, letting him. He turned to Sheldon then. "I'll see you later, buddy." Sheldon gave a non-committal nod towards his best friend.
The door shut behind him and the room was silent. Penny chanced a look over at the tall man, who still stood by the door, his arms moving restlessly. He was decidedly stone-faced now in the wake of Leonard's arrival.
Penny took a deep breath that caught in her throat. "Were you about to say something, Sheldon?" He wouldn't meet her eyes as he fidgeted with the hem of his shirt. "Sheldon?" She moved over to him and gently put a finger under his chin, raising his face. She felt the crackle of electricity race between them and before she could talk herself out of it, she strained upward and kissed him softly. He responded quickly, dropping his notebook and bringing his hands up to cup her face as he stooped toward her. Her entire spine tingled and she felt the weight that had been in her heart suddenly dissolve, so be left with a terrifying sensation closing her throat. When she finally pulled away, it was with a shuddering breath and a hand against the pounding in her chest.
His eyes were distant now, guarded. "No."
Penny blinked several times in rapid succession and met his gaze incredulously. "What?"
He was looking resolutely down at the floor now, focusing on the notebook pages that lay forgotten on the floor. "My conviction that you are making a mistake was , in fact, a fallacy on my part." He crouched down, retrieving the paper. "I apologize."
"Whoa, whoa," Penny said. She brought her hands up and laid the palms flat against his chest again. He backed farther away from her. She tried not to show how hurt she was by the movement, not that Sheldon would notice anyway. "Sheldon, what the hell is going on here?"
"You kissed me," he answered, just above a whisper.
"I remember that part, yeah." Annoyance was edging into her voice. How was he this obtuse this often? "Do you remember the part where you kissed me back?"
He shook his head, looking like a dog trying to get water out of it's ears. "That was only to be polite," he finally answered weakly.
Penny's eyes narrowed. "Yeah, you're known for your manners." Sheldon glared at her. "Tell me," she whispered gently.
He swallowed and looked down at his fidgeting hands. "I am unable to do that, Penny."
She felt her heart crack open the tiniest bit and chewed her lower lip. "Why?"
When his eyes met hers, there was a despondency there she had never seen in him. He had the expression of someone being led away to imminent death. "It isn't something I'm able to tell you. It's something you unfortunately already have to know."
Penny narrowed her eyes at the tall man. "What, are you giving me riddles now, Sheldon?"
He flinched before regaining his composure. "Forgive me, but I believe I will be unable to attend your upcoming nuptials."
The world had stopped moving, of this Penny was sure.
"Are you kidding me?" Penny asked in a raspy whisper. "You're joking now, right?" He wouldn't meet her eye. "Sheldon, you have to be there. I can't do this without you."
He folded his papers into a neat square and placed them carefully into his pocket. "Then it looks like you won't be doing it at all, Penny."
He turned and left as abruptly as he'd come.
Tail in hand, dizzy and clearly unable to just let this go. I am surrendering to the gravity.
-A Perfect Circle
"This sushi is amazing!"
Penny turned to grin at her co-star Amanda, who has just ambled toward her and thrown an arm over the blonde's shoulder.
"Good," Penny answered blithely as she took a sip from her champagne flute.
"The chef running the quesadilla station was flirting with me earlier, too." Amanda waggled her eyebrows before throwing back the last of her drink.
Penny chuckled. "So, what does that mean?"
"It means," the redhead answered with a smile, "that I've eaten my body weight in tortillas tonight." Penny grinned. "Hey, so this is supposed to be your party ya' know. What's up with you?"
"Me?" the blonde asked, startled out of her own head. "Nothing, I'm having fun. Are you having fun?"
Amanda opened her mouth in silence before closing it again. "What's wrong?" she finally asked in a serious tone.
"Nothing," Penny reiterated lightly. "My mind is just somewhere else is all."
"Somewhere other than your anniversary party?" came a voice from behind her. Penny winced slightly before turning to find Leonard beaming at them. "I've been looking for you for half an hour." He kissed her and slid an arm around her waist. "What have you ladies been talking about?" Penny quickly took a drink of champagne as she glanced away.
"I'm going home with the quesadilla guy," Amanda supplied with a smile.
"It's nice to have goals," Leonard answered with a shrug.
Penny's eyes found Raj and Howard. They were in a corner, quietly talking. She watched Raj reach up and adjust Howard's atrocious green collar, his fingers lingering. Howard inclined his head slightly toward the taller man and smiled sweetly at him before taking Raj's hand in his own and dropping a quick kiss to the Indian man's knuckles.
Penny let out a breath she hadn't realized she was holding. Maybe now, the secrets could stop and everyone could…
'In seven years of marriage, has he still never told you?'
"Leonard," she said suddenly, effectively cutting off the conversation he'd been in the middle of. When he turned questioning eyes toward her, she smiled reassuringly at him. "Can we step outside for a second? There's something I need to talk to you about."
Leonard smiled. "Anything for my bride," he answered.
"Oh gag," Amanda piped up. "Could you guys be more nauseatingly in love?"
Penny took her husband's clammy hand in her own and led him through the party, keeping her head down to avoid conversation. They passed Raj and Howard, who each shot her a questioning look. She smiled grimly at them before pulling Leonard outside through the patio door.
"Hey," Leonard said in a low voice as he wrapped his arms around her and leaned in to kiss her neck. Penny used all of her self control by not pushing him away violently. She knew how screwed up it was to feel like she was cheating on Sheldon, but that didn't stop her instincts from pulling away from her husband's grasp and putting space between them. Leonard's smile faltered. "What's up?"
"I need to ask you something, and I need for you to tell me the truth," Penny stated plainly. Leonard's eyebrows shot up in surprise.
"When have I ever lied to you, Penny?"
"Why aren't you and Sheldon friends anymore?"
She hadn't meant to just blurt it out like that, having planned on taking her time with this. But, there it was, hanging in the air between them now.
"What?" Leonard asked, clearly shocked at where this was going. "You pulled me away from our anniversary party to ask me why I'm not friends with Sheldon anymore?"
"Yes," Penny answered, biting her lip.
Leonard blinked and brought his hand up to run through his hair. "I don't know, Penny. I think a better question is why were we friends to begin with?" When Penny didn't smile at this, Leonard crossed his arms over his chest. "Where is this coming from?"
Penny took a deep breath. "I've been seeing Sheldon."
She let the horror of the moment wash over Leonard, not rushing in anyway to clear up implications she was laying down. His pallor seemed to turn green, then gray. He bent at his waist, putting his hands on his knees.
"Oh God," Leonard muttered. He straightened back up and advanced on her in a way that made Penny take a step back. He stopped in his tracks. "What does that mean? What? Are you…sleeping with him?" His voice cracked.
"No," Penny shook her head. Leonard exhaled a deep breath. "We're not….we're….not." She watched him pace the perfectly manicured lawn. "We've been spending time together for a few months now, just as friends." She brought her arms up in a defensive stance. "I've asked him why the two of you aren't friends anymore, and-"
"And what?" Leonard broke in. "What did he tell you?" He moved quickly toward her again. "What lie has he told you about why our friendship disintegrated?"
Penny reached out and physically stopped Leonard from moving any more. "Leonard." He looked at her. "He said something, and I need to know if it's the truth, okay?" Leonard's eyes darkened. "He said that you…you told him you wouldn't use his research if he promised to never see me again." Her husband glanced away, an animal caught in a trap. "Is that true?"
Leonard sighed and broke free of her grasp. "He was making you sad all the time, Penny." The blonde felt her throat close up and swallowed. "I wasn't going to let him ruin our wedding and the rest of our life together just because he was bat shit crazy." He kicked an imaginary rock.
Penny felt her resolve double and crossed her arms over her chest. "Leonard, we have been married for long enough that you own me the truth." He looked up at her, surprise on his face. "Why did you kick him out of our wedding?"
Leonard didn't move, didn't breath for close to a minute. Penny was starting to wonder if he'd gone into some sort of shock when he put his head down. When he spoke, his voice was quiet, defeated.
"He came to me and told me he thought he was in love with you."
Penny closed her eyes, suddenly wishing she'd had the sense to not pick at this scab on their relationship. There was no going back from his. Things would never be the same now, of this Penny was sure. The seemingly perfect life she'd spent to much time and energy was crumbling underneath her faster than she could comprehend.
She saw the puzzle sliding into place before her brain could even catch up with what was happening.
He had stayed away from her because he loved her. Because he was sure she didn't love him. Couldn't love him. How many nights had she laid awake, arguing with herself. Giving herself a mental tongue-lashing for ever thinking something so idiotic, so impossible. Because no matter how she felt or thought she felt about him, there was no way he could ever feel that same thing for her.
"You're taking his work and using it as your own," she finally said.
Leonard scoffed loudly at this. "So, not only did he steal my wife, but now he wants all the credit for our collaboration?"
"He didn't steal me," Penny answered. "I'm right here."
Leonard chuckled, bitterness in his voice. "You haven't been right here for months, Penny." He sighed. "Not since you started seeing him again. God, it's just like it used to be. Penny and Sheldon off doing their own secret thing together and Leonard gets ignored."
"Poor baby," Penny bit out. "Excuse me if I don't give you a lot of sympathy for being caught in a huge lie. You didn't even give me the opportunity to…." Penny trailed off, unable to finish the sentence.
"To what?" Leonard asked with derision. "To marry him instead?" Penny's eyes met his and she simply shook her head again.
The need to see Sheldon for herself was suddenly overwhelming her and she swayed on her feet slightly. She knew nothing would be right until she could confront him about everything that had ever almost happened, confirm what Leonard was telling her.
"I know you want to go," Leonard said in an angry tone. She looked up at him, resolve in her eyes. "So go."
Penny stepped forward and kissed him gently on the cheek. "You're my husband, and I love you." She took a deep breath. "But I have to know."
"He's just going to break your heart," Leonard announced. "And I won't be there for you when it happens this time."
Penny paused. "This time?"
Leonard swallowed. "You think I didn't realize you were in love with him back then? That one look from him and you wouldn't have dropped me like a sack of wet rocks? Believe it or not Penny, I was doing it for you. I know you better than you think I do. You would have seen him as a fun challenge for you, would have taken him on as a project, to fix him." He paused to take a breath. "In the process, you would have broken him though. You know you would have. There's no way the two of your could be together without hurting each other." He was gutting her like a deer on purpose. It didn't stop the painful clenching in her stomach. "You'll never be important enough to him, Penny." She shook her head. "Ignoring us is the most mature thing I've ever seen him do, but it was as much self-preservation for him as it was for me. He knew he couldn't really love you in a way that mattered."
"Then I guess the joke's on me."
With that, she turned and started to run.
Someone I didn't know I needed. It's like gravity, and it's stronger than me. I need you here.
She reached the landing, out of breath, and knocked three times on the door. There was a small amount of noise on the other side, and then the door was opening and he was standing there staring at her. It was then that Penny realized she was crazy, maybe had been since the moment she met her geniuses. Shock was clear on his face.
"The elevator's fixed," she said, hooking a thumb over her shoulder toward it.
"It was repaired last year," he answered. "Penny-"
"Who is it?" a voice called from within the apartment. Penny didn't have to think very long or hard about where she recognized the voice from, because a moment later, he was in the doorway, behind Sheldon.
"Woxanne!" he sneered. His tongue came out to lick his lips slowly and Penny's stomach lurched.
"Hi," she replied dryly, grimacing at Kripke. "Can you give us a minute?"
"You hud huh, Coopuh." He grinned at Penny. Sheldon glared at the shorter man until he finally relented, slipping back into the apartment. Penny waited only a fraction of a second before pulling him out into the hallway.
He stood, tall and foreboding before her. "Hi," she said weakly.
"Hi," he echoed, clasping his hands behind his back. "What brings you here in your evening wear?"
Penny looked down at herself, her pristine white cocktail dress now wrinkled and slightly dirty. "Today is my anniversary."
"I am aware," Sheldon answered flatly. "It is usually customary that people don't leave their own parties." He paused, and when she didn't respond, he sighed. "Goodnight, Penny."
"You don't even want to know why I'm here?" she asked.
"I asked, and you deflected the question." Sheldon took a step forward. "I assumed that meant you didn't want to discuss it."
"Leonard told me why you weren't at my wedding," Penny answered, watching him closely. His face twitched slightly.
"And what did he tell you was the reasoning?" Sheldon asked lightly.
She waited until she was sure he was looking at her, and then she stepped toward him. "That you loved me." Shock colored the physicist's face and she saw the tic under his eye act up for a moment.
"Really," he finally said airily.
"Yes," Penny replied as she advanced on him. "Anything to say to that?"
He looked at her evenly. "No."
Penny paused. "No?"
Sheldon looked at the floor. "You shouldn't have come here, Penny."
She closed the gap between them and placed her hands against his chest. "Look at me." He finally did and she smiled softly. "Do you love me, Sheldon?"
He paused. "You're my constant."
It was so bare, so honest.
He paused. "That's a reference to-"
"I know," Penny grinned at him, stroking her hands across his t-shirt. She drew him down and kissed his mouth as gently as she knew how, not wanting to spook him. He pulled away after a moment.
"You're married," he said as he backed away. "That's your life. Leonard is the life you've chosen."
"If Leonard had given you the choice," Penny asked in a shaky voice. "A choice between the research information and me, what would you have chosen?"
Sheldon frowned, looking down at his ink-stained hands. "Penny, I am a man of science, not a man of faith." He took a deep breath. "It's been a point of contention between my mother and I for many years. I need to be able to see something to believe in it, and…." He flinched. "…and after everything that has happened, I still don't actually know that you care for me at all." His voice cracked and he cleared his throat. "Science is a much safer bet."
Penny nodded, feeling her heart break. She was torn between wanting to run away as fast as she could and wanting to stand here and argue with him about whether or not she was worth it.
"Wait here," Sheldon said quietly before disappearing into his apartment. Penny paced the hallway, anxiety eating at her insides in a way she hadn't felt since she was a teenager. He returned a moment later, holding the sheaf of paper she'd seen him carrying with him on their meetings. "Here," he finally said, handing it to her.
"What is…?" She took the papers and let her eyes wash over the first few lines.
"It's my 'Best Man' speech, or at least the beginning of it." He studiously avoided her gaze. "As you read, you'll notice my focus veers into a ….different direction." Penny touched his forearm. "It was in writing this that I realized…"
"Sheldon," Penny whimpered as she continued to read.
"I have a favor to ask of you now, Penny."
She looked up at him, her eyes having trouble focusing on his frame. "Anything."
Sheldon took a breath. "Stay away from me."
Penny froze, sure she'd heard him wrong. "What?" she whispered.
"I said I want you to stay away from me," he replied evenly. "You're married, and I need you to go now."
She'd thought she felt her heart breaking before, but it was nothing compared to the sudden constriction she now felt in her chest. This had to be one of his classic pranks, right? Any moment now he was going to give her that little sneer that let her know he was kidding and then he would kiss her and-
"Penny, you make me feel off-balance, unweighted." He struggled with his words. "And I hate it. I can't…when you're around me, it tricks me into thinking my work isn't important. And it is." He sighed. "I'm not the person you need or deserve. Why did you have to come?"
"Because I love you," she heard herself say. But it didn't sound like her at all.
It wasn't possible that this was how the whole thing was going to end, Penny wouldn't let it end this way. He loved her, she knew he did. She could deal with his neuroses, but she couldn't work her way out of the rejection he was giving her.
"Sheldon," she said quietly.
"I hope you have a pleasant life Penny. You know how to see yourself out." And with that, he entered his apartment and shut the door with a click.
Penny's legs gave out under her and she collapsed into a heap on the floor, her hair falling out of it's intricate style.
This was what the end felt like.
gra-vi-ty: (n) The mutual attraction between any two bodies in the universe.
"Which drawer for silverware, mom?"
Penny tucked an errant strand of hair behind her ear and glanced over at her daughter. "Whichever one you want, babe." She watched Abby carefully open the box and begin placing forks into their compartments before bending back over her own box of books. She'd gotten the place for a reasonable price, and Penny wondered if it had always been that reasonable or if she just had a different idea of money now. Not that it would have mattered anyway. There wasn't anywhere else she would want to be.
"Can we order pizza tonight?" Abby asked from the kitchenette.
"Mmm," Penny shook her head as she placed a copy of 'Pride and Prejudice' on the bookshelf. "Dad, chinese."
"Oh, right," Abby answered brightly. "What time is it?"
Penny checked her watch. "Ten to six. You better get your shoes on. He'll be here any minute." She turned to watch her ten-year old bound down the small hallway to her new bedroom.
The divorce had been final two months, the separation lasting over seven years. Leonard had moved to an apartment in Burbank almost immediately, still close enough to see his daughter on a regular basis. The two girls had decided that they didn't want or need the space their house had. After talking it over with her ex-husband, Penny started looking for places. Almost as a joke, Penny had checked this building for a listing. When she'd seen one, she somehow known it was right. She'd told Leonard right away, and he'd smiled to himself and muttered something about her being an eternal optimist.
That was good enough for her at least.
It was then that she heard footsteps on the staircase. Someone was coming upstairs. Penny resisited the urge to vomit and continued her work.
"- that in any universe that episodes one through three stand up to the original trilogy, than you are-" His voice stopped dead.
Stealing herself, Penny glanced up, locking eyes with him. Howard and Raj stood behind him, beaming at her. She advanced toward the open doorway.
"Hi," she said breathlessly.
"Hi," he answered, still clearly in shock.
"Hi," Raj greeted.
"Hi," Howard echoed.
"Hi," Penny finished, still watching Sheldon.
"Hi," Sheldon repeated, his eyes washing over her. "You…live here?"
"Just moving in," Penny answered with a nod. "Sorry, but you look so familiar." She squinted at him.
"He just won a Nobel prize," Raj spoke up. "Maybe that's it."
"That must be it," Penny responded indulgently. Sheldon's eyes darkened.
There was a crackle of electricity in the air between them, and Penny savored it.
"Dad just called, he's downstairs," Abby announced, stepping up next to her mother. All eyes fell on the young girl. She noticed Raj and Howard. "Hi," she said, rushing forward to hug them. When she came to Sheldon, she stopped and looked at him somewhat warily.
"Abby, this is my friend Sheldon." Penny's voice cracked and she swallowed. She watched as her daughter extended her hand to the tall man. "Sheldon, this is my daughter Abby."
"Nice to meet you," she said politely. He took her hand in his own much larger one and shook.
"Yes," he said softly.
Abby turned back to her mother and reached up to kiss her cheek. Penny grinned widely. "Love you, kid."
"Love you too, mom," Abby said before trotting down the stairs.
"Penny is it?" Howard intoned, pushing Sheldon toward her slightly. "We have Thai food and are about to start a 'Lost' marathon. Would you care to join us?"
She turned her eyes toward Sheldon, who looked so overcome with…something he could barely focus on the conversation. When his eyes finally met hers, she raised her eyebrows. "You're of course welcome to," he added in a slightly choked tone.
"I'd love to," Penny announced with a smile. She pulled the door to 3A shut and walked by his side up the stairs. "I really like this building, but I'm worried the jerk above me is going to be noisy."
Sheldon turned to look at her incredulously. She winked and saw him try to conceal a smirk.
This was what the beginning felt like.