A/N: Another one. I don't know why my writing mojo finds TBBT so inspiring, but I'll take it.
Title: The Non Sequitur Interaction
Spoilers: None in particular.
Disclaimer: Sheldon and Penny do not belong to me, and I am not making any money by borrowing them. Promise.
Summary: Sheldon does the dishes, Penny observes, and several comments are made that make a lot of sense, but only to Penny.
The Non Sequitur Interaction
Sheldon Cooper, Ph.D., was doing her dishes. Even though he did this a lot, Penny still found it funny, and liked to sit at her kitchen counter and watch him do it. This morning, while she watched, she was eating yogurt and idly contemplating the bright blue plastic drying rack beside the sink. She was pretty sure it hadn't been there last week. She was completely sure that she had in no way been involved in its purchase or its appearance in her kitchen.
There were no less than seventeen things in her apartment that Sheldon had given her. Penny knew; she had counted. Sometimes, when Sheldon spent the night at Caltech staring at his white board the way she imagined Michelangelo had stared at the block of marble that would become David or when he was away at a conference or when he simply stayed in his own room thinking about whatever it was Sheldon thought about, Penny visited the things he had given her. She especially liked to run her fingers over the deadbolt he'd installed for her a few weeks after she and Leonard had broken up, when she'd been having nightmares while sleeping alone and had thought she was hiding it well. She also found his backup pajamas comforting, and would have crawled into them to sleep on particularly lonely nights if not for the fact that she thought Sheldon's ensuing meltdown about shared clothing items and the havoc wreaked on his laundry schedule would probably give her a migraine.
"I like blue," Penny announced conversationally. If Sheldon connected this comment to the new drying rack, or to his backup pajamas, or if he simply assumed Penny's lesser mind occasionally fired off random comments that had nothing to do with anything, he didn't say.
"Having a positive or negative opinion of a color is irrational, Penny. Color is nothing more than the distribution of light energy versus wavelength interacting with the spectral sensitivities of the eye's light receptors. You saying you like blue would be like me saying I like FM radio station 97.1 because the wavelength reverberates pleasantly in my auditory canal."
Sheldon cleaned another dish. Penny ate some more yogurt, and did not provide further explanation of her irrational color-related opinions.
Sheldon never seemed interested in the origins of her (admittedly frequent) non sequiturs. Penny imagined that some people would probably be offended by this lack of curiosity, but she knew him well enough to be flattered by it.
Sheldon was curious about everything. His giant super-brain was endlessly hungry for more information to work into its evil genius schemes or its plot to take over the world or whatever it was giant super-brains did all day. If Sheldon did not express curiosity, did not give in to his insatiable need to catalogue and understand, it was because he had accepted that something was beyond his understanding, not that it was unworthy of study. Sheldon knew the migratory habits of pill-bugs, for God's sake, and Sheldon liked her a whole hell of a lot more than he liked pill-bugs, she was sure.
Sheldon didn't question her because he knew he would never get answers to his questions that he could use to finally have a neat definition of her that he could file away in between "Pennsylvania" and "peon" in his enormous mental library. Penny liked defying definition, and she was pretty sure that most of the reason Sheldon bought her drying racks and permitted himself to be driven places in her deathtrap of a car and sometimes kissed the hair at her temple when he thought she was asleep was because he liked it, too.
"What's the definition of 'peon?'" Penny asked.
"A person of low social status, especially one who does menial or unskilled labor," Sheldon replied promptly. Again, he did not look up from his task, so he did see her smile secretly into her yogurt container.
Penny remembered the last time he had defined a word for her, and smiled again. That time, she hadn't asked for the definition; he had burst into her apartment three days, seventeen hours, and twenty-two agonizing minutes after she had kissed him next to the mailboxes and shouted it at her. After cycling through every possible definition of "friend," he had announced that kissing was not included in any of them, and that if she insisted upon reconfiguring their relationship paradigm, he was going to have to insist she submit a written proposal.
No written proposal had been forthcoming, but there had been a lot more kissing. Eventually, he had even stopped dropping hints about the Application for Change in Interpersonal Relationship Status that kept appearing on her coffee table no matter how many copies she threw in the garbage. A few months after that, the Application itself even stopped appearing, and Penny considered the matter settled.
The last time Leonard's mother had visited, Penny had knocked back a few bracing Jim-and-Diet-Cokes and spent an evening trying to get Beverly Hofstadter to a) believe that Sheldon Cooper was in a sexual relationship and b) tell her why he seemed to have the emotional development of a pre-pubescent Dungeons and Dragons aficionado. Beverly had looked baffled when she heard about the kissing, clinically detached when she heard about the stuff that had followed the kissing, and utterly enraptured when she heard about the Application.
After spending a few minutes waxing poetic about the efficiency of a relationship system based on contractual obligations and application-contingent levels of status, she explained to Penny that Sheldon's interactions with other human beings during the crucial periods of his interpersonal development had been defined by the rigid, objective caste system of academia. When Penny sobered up, she realized that what Beverly had been saying was that when Sheldon should have been learning that girls don't really have cooties, he was learning that no one living knew more about string theory than he did. When he should have been playing Seven Minutes in Heaven and getting drunk off of someone's older brother's disgusting beer at a Sweet Sixteen party, he was a visiting professor at the Heidelberg Institute. When he should have been losing his virginity in the back of his father's borrowed car, he had been completing his second doctoral dissertation. Upon realizing all of this, Penny cried for two hours, and when Sheldon got home from work she dragged him into her apartment and kissed him until he stopped asking her why.
"I'd like to go to Germany someday," Penny announced as Sheldon finished the plates and moved on to bowls. She had not said "I'd like you to take me to Germany someday," but he still paused for an infinitesimal moment, one long-fingered hand reaching for the dish soap, as though he knew that's what she had really meant.
"I'm presenting a paper at a symposium in Hamburg in July," he said evenly. "You would no doubt find the entire event boring." Now Penny paused, her spoon halfway to her mouth, and stared at the back of his head. He finally turned around and met her gaze, and there was a slight impatience in the furrow of his brows that Penny was pretty sure was Sheldon-ese for "If I were capable of feeling insecurity, this would be an insecure moment, so would you please say something?"
"I always get terrible shifts at the Cheesecake Factory during the summer," she finally managed to force past the constriction in her throat. "They hire too many college girls for seasonal help. Sometimes, I don't think they'd even notice if I didn't show up for a few days." His left eyebrow rose almost imperceptibly. "A week or two," she amended, and the eyebrow lowered again. Sheldon turned away from her, and with his eyes off her she found she could breathe again.
Sheldon had many ways of looking at her. To most people. she imagined most of those looks seemed pretty much the same, but that was because they weren't paying close enough attention.
When he looked at her out of the corner of his eye, like he did when she said something about astrology or every time American Idol came on, it meant that he was questioning her sanity, or possibly whether or not the two of them really were of the same species.
When he glanced up skittishly from beneath his eyelashes, unable to look at her for more than a few seconds at a time, the way he did when she caught him staring at her mouth or when she wore the faded cutoffs that were just a little bit too tight, it meant that he was mentally calculating how long it would take him to get her onto the nearest semi-private flat surface.
When he pouted at her, it meant his ego was bruised, and when he watched her with his head tilted to the left, it meant he found her fascinating. When he blinked repeated at her, it meant he was completely befuddled, and when he rolled his eyes at her, it meant he was sorry.
And when he looked at her like he just had, all solemn, unwavering eyes and the barest hint of a frown in the turn of his mouth and the crease of his brow, it meant he was feeling for her what she felt for him. She couldn't blame him for not being able to say it; the only time she even came close herself was when she whispered the words to him in the dark, long after his breathing had gone deep and even with sleep.
It made her nervous, sometimes, when he looked at her that way: like she was something hot and bright for him to warm his hands over. She couldn't decide if that look was worshipping, grateful, or condescending, and she was pretty sure she didn't want it to be any of those.
"Have you ever been to a bonfire, Sheldon?" she asked as she swung her bare feet to and fro beneath the stool. The look he gave her over the rim of the plate he was drying was part way between "of course not, you idiot" and "you're smarter than that, Penny." The fact that it was closer to the latter than the former actually made Penny's heartbeat falter, just a little.
"Right," she said, digging the last bit of strawberry out of the bottom of her yogurt carton. "What was I thinking?"
"I'm sure I don't know, Penny," he answered calmly. The tendons in his forearms flexed as he scrubbed at some infinitesimal speck of food. In the face of such blatant flirting, Penny had no choice but to slide off the stool, around the counter, and under his arm into the too-small space between his body and the counter in one fluid movement.
"What I am I thinking now?" she asked. Those long, sinewy limbs, which should have been terribly awkward but were somehow elegant, carefully placed the now-pristine dish in the drying rack before settling on the swell of her hips.
"I would posit that it has very little to do with bonfires, Germany, peons, or the color blue," he said without even a hint of wryness in his voice. One corner of his mouth tipped up, however, and Penny felt an almost irresistible urge to kiss that tiny, smiling area of his face, feel it quirk up again beneath her lips and tongue.
She gave into it. He let her.
No matter how many times that happened, it surprised her.