Author's Note: Just to be ABSOLUTELY clear...this is an experiment of mine. It's a dark!fic. There will probably be a distinct lack of sit-com moments. This makes this fic "AU" in a lot of ways. It's set a few years in the future and it's my attempt to change things up tone-wise. If you're not a fan of the genre, I won't be long as you don't leave me a review stating as such : )

If you like, definitely drop me a review and I'll pick up where I left off. There's a lot more to be written, but this is my first attempt at S/P angst. So! Here. We. GO.

Penny followed pure instinct when she let herself into the boys' apartment and ran toward their bathroom, shedding her clothes with lightning speed. After a moment of unabashed panic, she threw the lot of her clothes, shoes included, out the window and watched them flutter down toward the dumpster a few windows over. They missed, and her dress had gotten snagged on some twisted piece of wire dangling on the telephone wire just below the third floor windows.

"I liked those shoes," she lamented aloud, but snapped the window shut and threw the curtain across, thinking for a moment that it was silly she had leaned out the window, naked and trembling.

Turning, she pulled the periodic table shower curtain open, hating the grating noise of the rings against the metal shower rod. Bending, she twirled the knobs of the water, making sure it was good and hot before she jiggled and played with the ring beneath the tub spigot, forcing the water to hurtle up into the shower head instead. Standing back to survey her work, she slipped her hand back and felt for the doorknob, relaxing as she found the lock and punched it forcefully.

Waiting just long enough to be sure the water was hot—she watched the mirror over the sink quickly fog up—she hopped in and hissed as the water bit into her skin, leaving angry red marks as she fumbled with the knobs and turned down the heat to an almost tolerable level. She soon seized the bar of soap she could only guess was Sheldon's and started scrubbing, shaking her head at herself.

I'm being ridiculous. This is so stupid—do I really feel unclean?

She poured twice as much shampoo as was necessary onto her head, then squeezed the Star Wars bottle once more, emptying it. Leonard was going to give her such a confused look when he noticed, if he noticed. As intelligent and endearing as the poor dear was, he was oblivious. She wondered who would notice first—the man whose schedule she was undoubtedly disturbing by her actions tonight, or Leonard, who would be more thrilled at her presence than unnerved by her wobbly knees and watery eyes.

If Andika hadn't left me at the club, I wouldn't have gone out to call a cab. I would have had a ride home. Normally there are so many people waiting outside. There's a line to get in. I practically had to flash the bouncer tonight. But when I went out at midnight, no one was there. Not even the bouncer.

The water turned cold after she rinsed the shampoo from her hair. Spreading in a negligible amount of conditioner, she stood with her back under the freezing cold spray and widened her eyes at the shadow on the other side of the curtain. She drew back, pressing her back against the tile wall and reached, drawing the curtain back a few inches, relaxing when she noticed it was simply Leonard's robe draped over the hook on the back of the bathroom door.

You are pathetic. This is absolutely not the first time some over-eager douche bag followed you out of a club and pestered you. So it might be the first time you refused to play the game and he didn't leave you alone. So what?

Another round with Sheldon's bar of Dial soap and then she rested her cheek against the cool tile of the wall facing away from the shower curtain. A tiny rivulet of blood raced down the tile where it joined in with the spray from the shower head and turned pink, disappearing as it raced over her feet and toward the drain.

I bet I could do the scene from Psycho from memory right now. Janet Leigh was brilliant, of course, but I know what she was feeling. I know the total draw of a hot shower. It feels like forgiveness from sins, like washing all my mistakes and ugliness away.

Her hand lifted and her palm pressed against the tiles, fingers still trembling.

I'm just like Janie Kearney. She went to that kegger in December wearing the shortest skirt I've ever seen, and a halter top that definitely didn't cover as much of her C cup bosom as it should have. Once inside, the predators lowered their masks over their faces. I watched her dancing, laughing, having the time of her life. And I left early with two friends, Kendra and Paula. The next morning we all heard what happened to Janie, who'd woken up on the floor of the frat house wearing a torn skirt and Darren Haggerty's jacket.

No one wanted to bring it up, so no one did. But Janie squirmed in rooms full of people, knowing everyone was thinking about what had happened to her. And then one day, in English, she stood up and screamed she was sorry. She should have known better, dressing like that. I noticed she'd been wearing cardigans, sweaters, mom-pants, and boat shoes recently. I wanted to tell her no one thought she'd deserved it, that she'd asked for it, but the wild look in her eyes said she wasn't buying it. The silence had stretched on so long she couldn't be persuaded to reinterpret our furtive stares and whispers.

A heavy knock jolted her from the memory and she was both glad and startled, terrified. Biting her swollen lip, she screwed her eyes shut and didn't answer. "Hello? Who's in here?" Leonard's voice was trying to be big and intimidating, but all it sounded to her was squeaky.

Sheldon's lilting voice interrupted Leonard's next barrage of knocking. "Obviously Penny is using our shower. The door was locked when we arrived and nothing appears to be missing. Only Penny has a spare key, a privilege she frequently uses for evil." Sheldon's voice suddenly got louder, though no more intimidating. "Penny, is your shower in a state of disrepair again, or do you simply enjoy being a nuisance?"

Oh, Sheldon, I'm sorry I'm such a nuisance. If I weren't so sure I wanted to see you tonight, I wouldn't have even come over.

Frowning at the door, Sheldon looked at Leonard, who muttered something about getting the baseball bat he kept in his room. Protesting meekly at first, Sheldon waited by the door, smelling Leonard's shampoo and hearing nothing else. Perhaps she'd left the shower on to be a bother and nothing more? He walked away from the door, intending to go knock on her apartment door to check for her, but before he got to the end of the hallway, he heard the lock click. Spinning, he saw no one standing behind the frosted glass.

The skin on the back of his neck crawled a little as he carefully made his way back to the door. Leonard was shouting from his room about calling the police. Shushing him loudly, Sheldon swallowed and opened the door a crack, peering in. The mirror was still fogged gently, but there was no steam pouring from behind the curtain, where the vague color and shape of a woman was visible. He looked at the floor and saw a footprint made of a mixture of water and blood. The crawling sensation came back as he noted the size of the footprint and estimated the size of the woman who had undoubtedly left it there.

"Penny?" he intoned hopefully, breathlessly, white knuckled on the edge of the door. No reply, just a slight gasp within the shower, one that sounded shaky and confused.

"Sheldon, what the hell?" Leonard rushed forward, looking panicked. "Don't go in there! Is it Penny?"

"Close the door, please," Penny whispered in a hoarse voice from beneath the icy spray of the shower.

Sheldon obeyed and locked the door, walking over to the shower curtain, which he yanked back as if expecting a human-sized spider to be waiting, fangs glistening. Penny was the only thing on the other side. She was huddled against the tile wall near the spigot, skin pink from the hot water turned cold, her arms collected to her sides, palms pressed against the tile, her near hip touching the wall, hiding most of her from his confused gaze.

"Penny?" This time the question did not seek to ascertain her identity, to confirm or deny is was his blonde neighbor from across the hall.

This was a mistake. I should have told him I wanted Leonard here. I can only imagine what Sheldon will say when I tell him what happened.

Sheldon turned off the water, gripped her upper arm, and gently tugged her away from the wall. She resisted a moment, hissing as he touched a bruise, and he relaxed his grip, gently guiding her over the edge of the tub to the bath mat. Turning, he fetched her a towel, his own, and wrapped it around her snugly, lifting her arms and tucking the outer layer inside the inner layer to tie it in a sort of knot.

"Sit," he instructed without sounding too bossy, and so Penny sat on the edge of the tub, nearer the toilet, and Sheldon opened the medicine cabinet behind the mirror above the sink and extracted his first aid kid. Propping it on the corner of the sink, he started picking through the bandages, iodine, ointment, and gauze before finding latex gloves. Sighing, Sheldon snapped the gloves over his wrists and took up the necessary tools before turning to face Penny, who was wincing, slouched on the edge of the tub, her fingers laced, squeezing tightly.

Sheldon squatted in front of her and gently guided her legs apart, prodding a bite mark on her thigh. "Bite on this," he murmured, handing up a wad of cotton, which she took and bit on while he dabbed at her wound with alcohol before bandaging. Her skinned knee was next. Her palms needed only one more rinse in soap and water, so he skipped them, but did gingerly prod the fingermarks on her wrists, forearms, and upper arms. Without batting an eye he wiped blood from her neck, her lip, and a small cut just above her eye. Holding his breath, he attached two suture bandages to the cut above her eye to hold it shut, minimizing the chances of scarring.

"I'm going to have to ask for you to move your towel." Groping into the kit with the tips of bloodied gloves, he cleared his throat. "Your side had a nasty scrape on it. I need to take a look at it."

"Wrong kind of doctor," she murmured, sounding hoarse again.

Tugging the towel away, Sheldon gritted his teeth. "I spent a lot of time in hospitals, Penny. I can treat minor cuts and abrasions. If you weren't in shock, I think you'd be able to do so as well."

"In shock?"

Glancing up at her, Sheldon reached and checked the suture bandages on her face. "Yes. Made no better by the cold shower, by the way."

"You haven't asked why."

"Your middle finger on your right hand is broken and you tore a knuckle on your left," Sheldon responded easily, wiping an alcohol swab over her ribs, ignoring her yelp. "I'll venture a guess and say your opponent looks worse."

Waiting for a few moments of silence, Penny swallowed and bit her lip again. "Hardly."

Finishing with her ribs, Sheldon shut her towel, tucked her arms over it, and sat back on his heels, stripping the gloves off and balling them up in his fist. "I'm going to go get you something to wear and call the police. Would you prefer to wait in here or in my room?"

"People can't be in your bedroom."

"I have a crisis contingency plan. Please, don't argue with me. What would you prefer?" He held his hand out expectantly, expression flat. She took it, but didn't make any move to stand, simply gripping his long fingers, pinching her eyes shut.

Sheldon jumped at the knock on the door. "What the heck is going on in there?"

"Wait in here." He stepped around the bloody footprint on the floor. "I'll be right back."

Nodding, she slipped back into the shower, drew the curtain, and sat in the corner under the dripping spigot and held out her arms and legs, observing his tidy, meticulous work. Every little cut was stinging, but it was as if her body were simply alerting her that things were about to get much, much better.

Sheldon exited, pulling the door shut behind him, and stood protectively in front of it. "Leonard, please."

"Is it Penny?"

"Yes," he moved away from the door, watching Leonard carefully. "Do not enter, Leonard. Trust me."

"What were you doing?" Leonard followed him instead, casting one last stare over his shoulder longingly, wanting to comfort Penny without knowing anything about her situation.

Sheldon ducked into the hallway with a small sigh and plucked Penny's spare key from the bowl by the door. "I suggest you give her some space—perhaps try to get some sleep? I'm sure she'll fill you in as soon as she's willing."

Leonard wanted to say that proposition was preposterous, undesirable, something to that effect, but Sheldon had already disappeared. So, sighing, he went to the bathroom door, leaned against it, and listened to Penny's even breathing for a moment before reluctantly going to his room to settle down and let Sheldon handle whatever crisis she was having.

Sheldon returned with almost half her wardrobe clutched to his chest, including panties, bras, and socks. He bumped the bathroom door with his elbow and Penny opened the door, staring as he dropped the lot of her clothes onto a small table beside the tub and clutched for socks and panties that went tumbling to the wet ground.

"I know how picky you are, so I brought some options," he explained and her face momentarily warmed before she selected the panties on top of the pile, the bra on top of the pile, a t-shirt for the Cornhuskers, and the first pair of sweatpants she could find. Dropping the towel, her back to him, she made quick work of getting dressed before cautiously walking toward him, chewing on her tongue.

"You're cold; I'll get a sweatshirt for you. Go sit in the living room—help yourself to anything to eat or drink." His eye twitched. "Please leave me a little milk for the morning."

"I'm not hungry," she replied softly, hoping it soothed him, but he didn't look any calmer as she poked her head from the bathroom and silently padded to the living room. Sinking into the middle cushion of the couch, she shivered and hugged her elbows. Sheldon returned with a zip-up sweatshirt, something his sister had gotten him for his birthday one year. He'd never worn it.

Plucking his phone from the coffee table, he made a motion to indicate he'd be right back, and ducked into his bedroom, dialing the Pasadena police department. They had a numerical menu with a robotic voice, and after listening to all the options, decided it was best to ask for emergency services and explain it to the operator. Gritting his teeth, he punched the first option and closed his door all but a crack, peering out to see if he could tell if Penny had moved. The sounds of their television made him relax a little and he shut the door all the way, hearing Leonard moving around in his own room.

"911, what is your emergency?"

"Sheldon Cooper here; I apologize for the misuse of this emergency hotline, but I'm quite unfamiliar with the protocol one ought to follow in this social situation." He cleared his throat and lowered the volume of his voice considerably. "My neighbor was in my shower when I arrived home tonight from a symposium on the effect of supergravity on the theory and fabric of black holes. I noticed a great deal of bodily harm done to her and observed a bite mark on her right thigh. I believe she's been assaulted and should make a statement to the authorities."

The woman who'd answered the call sighed gently. "Was she raped?"

Sheldon sputtered a moment, wanting to ask for a little warning before such delicate topics were mentioned, but no words came out. Instead he thought of Penny, his heart hammering madly in his chest at the possibility she hadn't gotten away in time at all, but had simply been forced to succumb as nature's instinct to survive overwhelmed her natural tendency to fight back.

"I'm not entirely sure," he replied at long last. "She did just take a very long, very hot shower, though. I would venture a guess that sending a team to recover evidence of that nature would be useless either way."

"Your address please."

He recited it as he had a thousand times before for takeout purposes, even though he warned them it would be carry-out and not delivery.

"Apartment 4A," he added helpfully. "She lives in 4B but will be awaiting the officers' arrival in my apartment."

"Where did the attack take place?"

Sheldon frowned. "I don't know. As I said before, I returned home from a symposium and she was using our shower. I don't know—unless!" He rotated slightly and looked toward her apartment in alarm. "No, I don't think so. I think she went somewhere tonight. I could...ask?"

"It's just helpful if you were to know now. We could send someone to the scene of the attack and begin piecing together alternate evidence paths. Does she recognize her attacker?"

Rolling his eyes despite the fact he was growing increasingly nervous, uncomfortable, and angry throughout this entire conversation, Sheldon heaved a groan of irritation. "I told you, I arrived home to find her using my bathroom. Other than dressing her wounds and finding her fresh clothes to wear, I haven't spoken to her, seen her, anything."

"For all intents and purposes, she should be considered on suicide watch until the officers arrive. Do not let her out of your sight except to use the restroom, and insist she leave the door unlocked when she does. The officers should arrive in about an hour—have a good night, Sir."

Sheldon looked at the disconnected call in his hands and wanted to dial again, ask for the same operator, ask her what else he could do for Penny. She seemed to know what he ought to be doing. Instead, he pocketed his phone and grabbed a stack of thin blankets from his closet, walking silently into the living room where Penny, swamped in the enormity of his sweatshirt, had tucked her legs inside the fabric and zipped it around herself. She glanced over at him, eyes flat. She knew something was up.

"I have alerted the police and they are on their way to take a statement," he announced softly, grasping his fingers behind his back, wincing at her look of dismay. "Penny, I urge you to press charges and if you know who did this to you, to cooperate fully."

Nodding, she pulled the hood up and slumped her head over her knees, wishing she'd shrink small enough she could simply fall between the cracks in the cushions and live in the simple, predictable world of Sheldon's couch. Wishing did very little, scrunching up smaller did very little, and she could feel Sheldon standing ramrod straight only ten feet away, much like the time she'd curled up and started bawling outside her apartment after that six month dry spell.

Oh to be upset over something like that again! Wouldn't that be great?

"This is an excellent episode of 'Star Trek.' Would you mind if I joined you on the couch?"

She peered up through the sweatshirt and felt the tears coming. "Oh my God, Sheldon...don't...don't do that, okay? I'm sorry. I'm really sorry—I should have just gone into my apartment and dealt with it..."

"It certainly would have been easier for me," Sheldon replied earnestly, but inhaled sharply, his eyes falling on his shoes. "But I'm glad you didn't. I'm given to understand even strong, capable women like you are going to need help occasionally. I'm honored to be twice called upon. I only wish you didn't have to be hurt again."

Wiping the tears from her cheeks, Penny sniffed and indicated his usual spot. "Then sit. Don't ask permission in your apartment. Do what you want. It feels weird otherwise."

"Penny, no offense, but there is no way for me to behave normally right now." He lowered himself delicately into his spot nonetheless. "Everything is abnormal in every way. Not only am I tempted to engage in some sort of physical violence the thing that did this harm to you, but I am up far past my intended bedtime for the evening. This is all without thinking of the cleaning I'll have to do before I go to bed; I won't rest easy thinking of a bloody footprint on my floor."

Penny considered an apology, but realized he wasn't irritated with her, or the disruption, or anything. He was just as scared as she was, in his own way. Uncurling a little, she looked at him, lips parting to tell him it would be all right, and he seemed to feel it coming because his eyes fell to slits as he glanced over at her and leaned, taking up one of the blankets he'd seized, extending it to her. He was, once again, performing spectacularly under pressure.

The sound of the refrigerator kicking on startled her and she tried to laugh at herself, but a strangled sound came out instead and she sunk defeatedly into the cushion, taking the blanket from him as she curled it around herself. She looked accusingly at the hallway next, almost believing Leonard would appear, rubbing his eyes, feigning some cause for his arrival, and ask what was going on.

"Leonard went to bed," Sheldon offered quietly. "I'm sure he's not asleep yet. Would you like me to get him?"

Dropping her head onto his shoulder, she made a muffled noise and let her knees rest lightly against his thigh, holding her muscles tightly bound in case she had pushed too hard.


"No, I don't want to see him right now." Biting her lip, she squeezed her legs tighter together and felt Sheldon take a deep, steadying breath. A shiver raced through her without a real cause and she rolled her eyes at herself, reaching in deep to find that confident woman who'd always stuck her chin up and "walked it off," just like father would have urged her. Another shiver.

"Are you cold?"

"I was a little, but this should be fine," she answered in a soft voice. "Just tell me if you're too uncomfortable."

Sheldon's chin tipped up just a little. "I assume you're gaining some sort of comfort from my proximity?"

Threading her arm between his and his body, her fingers clamped down on his wrist and she tried to smile at him, to stroke his ego a little—tell him he was the best. She wanted to tell him he was her super hero tonight. Instead, she struggled to keep the wobble from her voice as she breathlessly replied, "I feel safe, Sheldon. So...yes."

After a few long beats, he gently tore his arm from her grip and, after a moment of frantic, awkward movements, his cheeks turning dark red as he adjusted his posture, he finally draped his arm over Penny's shoulders and let the weight of it drag her down until her head was pressed against his ribs and her entire body was squeezed up against his side. Unaware, he held his breath, waiting for her verdict, palm floating half an inch above her waist. She listened a moment, to the sounds of his heart faintly beating on the other side of his chest and felt a squirmy, awkward something work its way up her spine.


He exhaled loudly and let his palm collapse against her waist, puffing his cheeks out. "I'm always honest with you, Penny?"

"Too honest sometimes," she deadpanned, not willing to look up into his face yet.

Ignoring her slight jab at him, Sheldon picked up the remote with his free hand and adjusted the volume. "I find nothing about your body repulsive. I'm not uncomfortable. This is not typical for me, but it's not unpleasant. Rest assured I'll say something the moment I'm no longer willing to participate."

A surge of warmth flooded her and she squeezed his ribs just a moment before Sheldon turned the volume back up the two notches he'd taken it down and cleared his throat importantly. A slight readjustment of his legs and Penny settled, her eyelids feeling heavy. The rhythm of Sheldon's breathing in perfect harmony with his heartbeat and the cadence of Captain Kirk's lilting monologue.

Leonard, who could stand it no longer, stormed from his room to the living room only to slow his steps until he was hardly moving, grimacing at the image of Penny, her hair dripping wet, huddled and pressed to Sheldon's side while the poor man's Superman shirt slowly soaked up the residual water. Penny's shoulders shook and he leaned away from her to hand her a box of tissues, which she took and started to dab at her face with. Sheldon kept his eyes locked on the television, his hands trembling ever so slightly as he reached to fuss with the blanket draped over her or to fetch more tissues.

Collapsing into the armchair, Leonard sighed. "What's going on? Are you all right, Penny?"

At the sound of him dropping into the chair, Penny had gotten sort of stiff, Sheldon noticed, as if she were trying to convince herself it wasn't really there, just a trick of the imagination, and then Leonard spoke and she let out a helpless little squeak and scrabbled away from Leonard by burying herself behind Sheldon's ribcage, her hands fisting in his shirt.

After a moment, and it really did only last a few seconds she insisted to herself, she withdrew and caught her breath, holding out her hand to stop the barrage Sheldon had started to hurl at Leonard, and to hush Leonard from saying a word about her swollen lips, eye, or cheek.

"I don't want to talk about it, please go away."

"Can I"

She shook her head and shrunk away as Sheldon's huge hand pressed across the entire expanse of her back and pushed her into his side again. She inhaled—Dial soap, detergent, dry erase markers, and an unexpected whiff of what she liked to imagine was a sunny afternoon in Texas. Penny closed her eyes, relaxing with every step she heard Leonard take as he disappeared back into his room. Several minutes passed with no sounds other than the television's ramblings. She felt Sheldon gingerly tap her on the arm, just below a bruise and above a cut he'd bandaged diligently.

"Penny? I know you probably want to punch me in the throat, but I think it's best if you don't fall asleep until after you make your statement. I don't see why this is different than any other morning—I'm sure Leonard wouldn't mind if you had some of his coffee."

Rubbing the sleep from her eyes, she yawned. "Coffee is probably a good idea." Her voice got very small. "I can't thank you enough."

Even though it embarrassed him tremendously, he nodded and quietly replied, "You're welcome." Standing cautiously, sliding a pillow over to hold up Penny's weight while he was gone, he made his way over to the kitchen, clenching and unclenching his hands as he went, finally relaxing as the methodical steps of starting the coffee pot distracted him. He took what was left of the milk from the fridge and left it out, next to the bowl of sugar he reserved for cereal and oatmeal, and found a stirring spoon, mug, and stack of napkins for inevitable spills.

The coffee finished percolating; she still dabbed at her face occasionally, so rather than asking her how much milk, or how much sugar, he compared the marks he'd made in grease pencil to the side of the container and added a few spoonfuls of sugar, stirring quickly and wiping up the mug and counter with a napkin, then dirty sponge. It appeared to be the same color as her usual mixtures, and so he carried it, with an additional napkin, to the coffee table and nudged her softly with an elbow; perking slightly, she took a few big gulps of the beverage before pushing it away with a grimace.

"Not to your liking?" he asked expectantly.

"No, it's perfect—the hot just hurts my lip a little."

Sheldon nodded, understanding well enough, and she reached, squeezing his hand as soon as she found it. After a pause, he squeezed back and offered her the barest of smiles, one that simply said he wasn't angry, or petulant, or anything of the sort. Just disquieted, and he was fairly sure there were only a few select people in the world who were equipped to be at ease in this exact setting.

"Penny, did this happen at your apartment?" Sheldon finally asked, unable to help himself. "Because, forgive me, but I must know as I was in there unescorted not that long ago..."

"No, I went out with the girls to this club we always go to just past the dry cleaners. They left me there—even Andika split before I could figure out where I was getting a ride. I had enough for a cab, I thought, but I went outside and there was...nobody." Her throat started to close so she cut to the chase. "It happened there."

Sheldon scrambled for something, anything, and looked up helplessly as the show went on a commercial break just as he wanted to find something 'Star Trek' related to help him naturally steer this conversation away from the dark and unpleasant. Then, unable to find the proper thing to say, he licked his lips and softly said, "If you want me to leave the room when the officers get here, I would do so."

"No, that's okay. I think it'll help to see a familiar face." She felt herself turning sort of pink, not sure where the words had come from and why she had sounded so certain. And, though she anticipated embarrassment and shame, she knew she would feel nothing but alienated if he weren't beside her.

"Are you prepared to make a statement?"

She glanced up at his impassive face and was glad to see he didn't appear too shaken at the moment. "Prepared?"

"Do you know what you're going to say?"

She took up the coffee mug again and felt her hands start to shake. "I suppose I do. I know what happened, I mean. I can just tell them that, can't I?"

Nodding, Sheldon glanced down at her wide green eyes and focused on the swelling around her right eye, his cheek twitching. "Details are of the utmost importance, of course. For instance, your attacker was left-handed."

She reached up and touched her cheek and eye with tender fingers, wincing at the shooting pains racing up her hand to her wrist. "I don't know, Sheldon..."

"I don't have any suitable splint-making supplies in my first-aid kit right now. I suppose if I were to eat a popsicle I could fashion one from the stick." He looked at the kitchen wistfully and shook his head. "No, unsanitary. Penny," his attention refocused yet again, "where are your clothes?"

"I threw them out the window."

Nodding, Sheldon tightened his grip on the remote control. "Why?"

"Because they were filthy," Penny replied tightly. "With blood and whatever the fuck was in the alley, and him." Anger overcame her desire to start crying this time and she embraced the adrenaline rush that accompanied an honest-to-goodness rage. "And I liked those shoes."

"Penny, I need to get up."

She leaned away, not wanting to be needy despite the fact she didn't want him to leave. Sheldon took the opening she gave him and stood up, pacing over to his computer, his legs feeling a little weak, like they were bending too much. He felt like a cartoon of himself as he folded his arms and scrunched his face, gazing at the bathroom door thoughtfully, hatefully.


"I'll be right back. Wait here," he took his keys, a paper bag, and a flashlight, gritting his teeth against her wide-eyed look of dismay.

Penny huddled in the middle of the couch, not wanting to collapse into his spot while he was gone. She finished the cup of coffee he'd made for her and stood up to make another. By the end of her third cup, she'd switched over to Adult Swim and was trying to concentrate on the late-night line-up. The sound of a key in the door quickly alerted her he had returned, so she waited with bated breath for him to slip inside. She proceeded to have a mild heart attack when his arm snaked in first, clutching a paper bag. Relaxing, she watched him tuck the bag under his desk and put the flashlight away.

"It's supposed to rain tonight," he explained softly and she realized he'd gone into the alley beside the building to gather her discarded clothes. "Are you caffeinated?"

She stared at the bag. "Yeah. Alert."

"Good. You may want to get anything you'll need from your apartment. I would suggest socks first as I don't have any to offer and you don't seem to be any warmer."

She patted the couch. "I promise I'm not cold. I just want to be cozy. Sit?"

He gave her the same look he'd given her when she'd begged him to sing 'Soft Kitty' to her, like he wanted nothing more than to be given a free pass to go to sleep and ignore the situation. Still, he imagined if she did tell him she would go to her own apartment and deal with it all herself, he wouldn't have slept well. So, he conceded, he might as well stay up and make sure she didn't succumb to the shame bubbling just beneath the surface and skitter away. He could see her mistaking strength, integrity, and healing with shoving the whole ordeal under the rug.

Sitting lightly beside her, he relaxed significantly when she tossed the blanket over his lap, too. Penny paused for just a moment, not certain just what was running through her mind. A singular thought finally floated above the cacophony filling the space between her ears and she listened. Inhaling sharply, she twisted her hips, curled with her back facing the television, and snaked her arms around Sheldon's ribs. As crazy as it sounded, she really did feel safe in that instant, and feeling him as a tangible, firm body beneath her battered form cemented it.

"I find nothing about your body repulsive."

Sheldon didn't waste words. He didn't say what he didn't mean. He had gone to some length to remind her of this tonight. So, taking his silence to be uneasy acquiescence, she bit back her tears and slid her face into the spot between his neck and his shoulder.

"There, there," he soothed in the same lilting, robotic voice he always used. "We'll get this all sorted out."

"Right now, you're my 0, 0, 0, 0, Sheldon."

Several long beats of silence followed her declaration and she felt him swallow, her face still pressed against his neck. His hand came back up to rest on her back and he hesitated just a moment longer, face twitching. Penny released a soft sigh and Sheldon gently enveloped her in a bony hug full of angles that shouldn't have been as comforting and warm as it was. Penny laughed humorlessly and Sheldon shushed her quietly, bewildered at the myriad of conflicting emotions she was showing him.

She drew away after a few more seconds and curled back against his side, arms back at her own sides, and he checked the time. Another episode of 'Star Trek' had begun on the other channel, but he didn't change it, preferring not to stir from his spot nestled carefully against her huddled figure. Ten minutes passed before a heavy knock sounded on the apartment door, causing Penny's head to whip around, wild-eyed, but Sheldon had leapt up at the sound and smoothed his hands over the thighs of his pants, relief flooding through his veins. He checked the peephole and threw open the door with an expectant, impatient expression at the ready.

"Mr. Cooper--"

"Dr. Cooper," he corrected and stepped back, letting them in. "She's sitting on the couch there."

"Miss?" The female officer called, putting her hands on her hips. "I'm Detective June Hutchinson. Can you tell me what happened tonight?"

Sheldon collapsed back into his seat beside Penny, his body feeling fatigued at last. He gazed lustfully at her half-drunk fourth cup of coffee, but didn't move as Penny watched the two detectives make themselves comfortable in the apartment. The male turned off the television manually and sat down in the armchair closest to Sheldon, looking curiously at his Superman t-shirt and plaid pants combination.

Lifting an eyebrow at the detective, Sheldon pointedly redirected his gaze to Penny, who had lowered her face and started looking interestedly at her fingers as she wrung her hands and took deep breaths to steady herself. Sheldon opened his mouth to beg off the offer he'd made to her, to ask if he could excuse himself at the sudden bile that had risen in the back of his throat, but she gripped his hand for a moment, stealing the last of his strength, and started to speak.


"I think Blondie over there is the only bite I'm gonna get tonight!" Penny practically screamed over the music into Andika's ear. "Where did Denise and Isabel go?"

"Bathroom—I'll go get them!" Andika twirled Penny once, finished her drink, and danced her way over to the bathroom, all giggles and hair-tossing. Penny shook her head, sneaking a glance at her shoes to make sure they were still as gorgeous and sparkly as before. They were.

The blonde woman to whom Penny had been referring came traipsing over, and after a very stern but polite dismissal, Penny was left to her own devices at the bar. Ten minutes stretched on and the bartender, a cute but idiotic guy with braces, gave her a free drink. She didn't finish it before half an hour had stretched by and she texted Andika, then Isabel, then Denise. No answer.

"God, do I smell like feet or something?" Penny growled and looked up at the goosebumps that had started to crawl across her shoulder. She spun and spotted a man, perhaps thirty, dark hair and darker eyes, grinning at her from beside her at the bar, his finger extended like the muzzle of a gun.

"Were you just touching me?" Penny demanded. "What the hell? What is your problem?"

The man just grinned at her and then shrugged. "A pretty thing like you alone here? I'm sure it's not because you smell like feet."

Rolling her eyes, Penny dumped the rest of her drink on his shoes and snatched her purse from the bar-top. Grumbling to herself about lousy friends, lecherous men, and clubs like this in the sketchy parts of town, she erupted onto the street and froze, her eyes wide. No one was outside. Not a soul—not even a car on the street moved. The bouncer had gone inside and there was no line—even the velvet rope was gone. Finally a taxi started to move up the street and Penny threw her arm out, but the light on top went out and she dropped her arm, defeated.

"Damnit, damnit, damnit!" She pulled her phone from her purse furiously and started skimming through her contacts.

"Need a ride?"

She spun, glaring at the dark-haired man from the bar, this time with a less friendly look on his face. "No, asshole. Just step off."

Her first mistake was turning her back on him while she dialed the cab. Her second was hanging up and putting her phone away when she realized he hadn't started walking away. She turned to give him a piece of her mind, her temper short from not enough alcohol and too much mistreatment. She turned, he punched her.

Very suddenly this was not just an annoying barfly—this was a predator and Penny was not prey. She lifted her foot and brought the sharp point of her heel down into his instep and he hopped away for a moment, howling. Penny considered his size, her experience growing up with older brothers and fending off idiots in Omaha bars. She ran, but her shoes were hardly conducive for running. She made it to the side of the building when he tackled her.

She threw all sorts of tricks at him. Her elbow crashed into the place where his neck and shoulder joined, she kneed him in the groin, stomped once more on his already tender foot. She bit, clawed, slapped, punched, screamed. She screamed so loud she felt something tear in her throat and then he forced his belt in her mouth and she bit down on it out of reflex, her eyes widening as he forced a knee between her legs and bent, biting playfully at her thigh. She squeezed his head, no shame now, and he growled, clamping his teeth down tight enough to break the skin. She whimpered, but the sound was gone—her throat was sore. She relaxed when he threw her from the wall onto her hands and knees again. Gripping her wrists, he pressed her front down into the alley and started to work the skirt up over her hips.

Penny gritted her teeth, heard him panting, and waited what seemed like forever for it to happen. Instead her dress fell over her again, shielding her, and the man groaned, hopping up, hands still on her wrists, pinning her. Headlights washed over them and he ran, cursing and holding his pants up as he dodged cats and garbage cans. Penny scrabbled to her feet and sprinted to the edge of the alley, waving desperately at the cab that had stumbled upon her.

She slipped inside and slammed the door, forcing the lock down. "I need to go. Now."

"You okay?" the driver pressed cautiously.

"Just drive!" Penny snapped. The driver just nodded and made his way toward her apartment building, taking direction when she finally recited the address. She didn't quite have enough to pay for the fare, but he took what she had and insisted she didn't need to come back out with more money. She thanked him profusely and let herself into the building, hurrying upstairs to the boys' apartment. Something sticky was on the back of her dress and she wanted to throw up. So she let herself in and sprinted straight to the shower, threw her clothes out the window, and got in.


"Dr. Cooper, this evidence in a criminal investigation—you aren't allowed to go gather it on behalf of the police department." The male officer, Sheldon didn't know his name as he hadn't introduced himself like the female officer had, folded his arms, giving a lecture. They both regarded the paper bag he'd brought to the coffee table like it was an impetuous child.

Sheldon blinked coolly. "It's going to rain soon."

Detective Hutchinson looked at her notepad. "We don't need a rape-kit, Penny. It would be helpful if you'd come with us to the station, though. The bite-mark on your leg...we should make a cast of it. Also, I'd like you to see some possible suspects—we've got a serial rapist in that area and if you can pick him out of a photo lineup, that would be excellent."

Penny cast Sheldon a startled look. "Oh...tonight..."

"You should go tonight, Penny." Sheldon sank into his seat and watched her massaging the injury beneath the blanket, face splotchy from crying. "We can get it all over with tonight." He looked at the ceiling of the apartment and gritted his teeth before adding, "I'll go with you."

"Sheldon, you don't have to--"

"Let's go. C'mon." He stood and extended his hand to her. "Let's go, Penny. Please."

The detectives traded a look Penny couldn't identify and she waited while Sheldon fetched a pair of flip-flops from her apartment and locked up behind her. While they waited in the hallway, Penny still swamped in Sheldon's sweatshirt, Penny noticed Detective Hutchinson staring at her.

"You're lucky you have such a supportive boyfriend. I have to tell you, most don't take an attack like this with this much understanding."

Penny just nodded and attempted a smile. "He is pretty incredible, isn't he?"


Leonard had just poured himself a cup of coffee, stalling as long as he could, and released a sigh as the door rattled and unlocked. Sheldon was talking to her in an unusually soft tone and she shook her head, whispering a response, and rubbed her elbow. Leonard tilted his head and held out his mug, hopefully looking at the untouched beverage as a sort of peace offering.

"We've been awake all night, Leonard; I hardly think caffeine will be helpful," Sheldon practically snapped, and then he pointed to the door. "You're going to be late to work. Tell Dr. Gablehauser I'm not going to be in today."

"Look, I know something terrible must have happened, but I don't appreciate being treated like a bad guy here," Leonard took a long draw on his coffee mug and waited.

Blinking pointedly at Leonard, Sheldon held an arm out, guided Penny to the couch, and lowered her into it. He seized their food and brought it over, glaring at Leonard. "Eat something." At her confused look, he took the lid off one of the soup containers. "Minestrone." She stared again, and he opened the other three containers. "Chicken dumpling, potato bacon, and squash. Pick one and eat."

"I'm not hungry—"

"Then I'm a hobbit in disguise because we just entered a fantasy world." He shoved a spoon into her hand and stepped back shakily, watching as she grumpily took the potato soup container and curled up in the center of the couch. "Thank you. You'll sleep better."

He started toward the kitchen to speak to Leonard in private and Penny spun quickly enough she nearly dumped the hot soup all over Sheldon's cushion and her lap. She gave him a suspicious stare riddled with embarrassment, caught with her hand in the cookie jar. He wagered a guess she was afraid he was going to excuse himself to bed and leave her there, on his couch, with four containers of soup and an affronted Leonard.

"I'm not going anywhere. I just need to speak to Leonard for a minute. Eat." His tone was stern but not unkind, and Leonard choked a little on his coffee. This was new. Not good, new. Not necessarily bad, different. And he really didn't like it. She was supposed to lay her head on his shoulder and cry into an empty container of orange juice that had stopped being a screwdriver and started being vodka over an hour ago. He was supposed to be the most well-adjusted of his friends—the one Penny went to when she didn't want silence, a lecture, or a terrible joke at her expense. Instead she stared over the side of the couch at Sheldon like she would shiver herself to pieces if Sheldon didn't come sit beside her.

Pathetic, Penny, she growled to herself. You're going to have to go back to your apartment on your own. Everyone was telling you how lucky you were he didn't get any farther, that 'no penetration took place.' You should be fine. Just eat the soup and tell him you're tired. Go back to your apartment and sleep.

Nodding, she sunk back into the seat and began to shovel the soup into her mouth. She swallowed, hardly tasting, and wished dearly she could scrape the bottom of the container with her spoon and leave Sheldon in peace. She'd already asked so much of him, and when she was too shy to ask, he offered and she knew that wasn't normal of him. He had exceptions to his rules, especially for so-called 'damsels in distress.' So, twice now she'd made him the hero.

Sheldon closed his bedroom door and stared at Leonard with less fire than before. "She was assaulted last night. The attack was sexual in nature."

Leonard choked on his coffee for a moment and hurried to swallow, hiding his cough just long enough for Sheldon to draw himself up to his full height and shake the last ounce of fatigue from his posture and his face. " God, Sheldon! She was raped last night?"

Squirming, Sheldon shook his head slowly. "According to the law, she was not. Rape under California law is forced penetration under a variety of circumstances. Her assailant was scared off before..."

Leonard shook his head, feeling sick. "So...she's okay, then?"

"I'd hardly say she's okay, Leonard. It's psychologically a very difficult thing to overcome, regardless of California law. The man who attacked Penny raped six other women in the Pasadena area in the last three months. She's going to have to testify and...Leonard, she's weak right now and she's embarrassed. Don't ask her what's wrong, don't offer those ridiculous favors you do in hopes of getting her to fall in love with you, or whatever it is you think you're doing."

Leonard glared up at Sheldon and put his mug on the table beside Sheldon's bed. "Why you?"

Sheldon looked up as he bent to pick up Leonard's mug from his table. "I assume you mean to ask why she wanted my help on the matter and not yours?"

"Well, yeah!" His voice cracked a little. "No offense, but you're not the most emotionally supportive guy in the world."

Finding no complaint with the accusation, Sheldon took a step back, clutching Leonard's mug, and licked his lips carefully. "I am Penny's friend. I don't propose to know what about me she found suitable, but I know I have been doing my best to properly care for her and, according to the Women's Resource Center of Pasadena, I've been doing quite well."

Leonard's forehead wrinkled. "There's a...protocol?"

Sheldon got the look on his face he got when he was comfortable talking about a topic—usually because he'd done significant research on the matter. "SAPS. Shelter, Action, Protection, Support."

Forcing a smile, Leonard nodded. "Good. It's good she's got a friend like you, Sheldon. Is there anything I can do?"

"Go to work and give her time. I'm not entirely sure why, but she has neglected my offers to have her speak to you so far." Sheldon played with the handle on the coffee mug. "Treat her no differently than normal. Keep Wolowitz away from her. Sound good?"

A stab of jealousy surprised Leonard, but he quickly tried to drown it, knowing now was not the time to play petty games with his roommate over what Penny should be doing in this situation. With a deep breath, he could reasonably find he was not equipped to put himself in her shoes and find appropriate actions. If she wanted to go into their silverware drawer and bend every fork into a right angle, that was fine. That was normal. Sheldon wouldn't even pitch a fit, simply sigh and start searching for an acceptable replacement on the internet.

His face finally relaxing a little, Leonard let his shoulders fall so they were no longer bunched at his ears. "Sure. I can do that."

"Good. Now go before you're late to work. And don't forget to tell Gablehauser--"

"Yeah, yeah. Just...take good care of her, Sheldon, okay?" A flash of real concern went across Leonard's face and Sheldon felt that same snappy attitude rise in the back of his throat. The one that made him treat the man as if he had already written Penny off and couldn't begin to imagine her needs at the moment. He had a moment to consider that if she had gone to Leonard, she would be here, on their couch, tired and shaky, with Leonard silently holding her to his side, trying to look stoic.

"She's going to need some time before physical contact is going to be comfortable for her again. Just give her time and do what you can to make her transitions smoother."

"I feel like it would be prudent to observe her actions earlier tonight didn't indicate she was terrified of physical contact." He replied to the psychologist watching Penny through two-way glass as she let her eyes drag over the nine faces on the sheet of paper on which her attacker lay hidden like a wolf in sheep's clothing.

The woman smiled and turned to face Sheldon while he continued to watch her with his arms folded irritably over his chest. "She may need comfort, yes, but as far as intimacy goes, it'd be best not to push her now. Talk to her, let her know you're patient."

Sheldon cleared his throat. "I see. Well, rest assured there will be no pushing involved."

Sheldon sighed through his nose and walked from his room. They walked, Sheldon in the lead, back into the kitchen and Leonard swung his bag onto his shoulder, steeling himself for the new image of Penny that would inevitably greet him, but when he looked over to the couch, she was asleep, curled tightly on her side, snoring softly in Sheldon's spot.

"It's as if she can't help but worm her way into every facet of my life," Sheldon grumbled, looking at her pointedly, but then he yawned and took a spoon from the drawer next to the sink and plopped down next to her, in the center cushion. Leonard smiled tightly, looked once more at Penny's scrunched frame, and let himself from the apartment, not sure what to think anymore.