The Paternal Catalyst
Rating: PG
Word Count: Over 44,000 in all
Disclaimer: I own nothing you recognize except California. That I rule.
Spoilers: Up to the Maternal Congruence
Summary: Because of Penny's father, Penny finds herself hiding in the laundry room while Sheldon constructs a dating formula and Leonard performs human experiments.

Author's Note: In this fic, Bernadette and Howard are broken up. I originally had a subplot that revolved around their break-up and make-up. However, I couldn't really work it in without disrupting the flow. I MAY write it as a companion piece but as of now, consider this fic AU in that respect.

(This fic was beta'd by the charming talkingmetaphor without whom I would still have the shoddy grammar that comes from writing while an insomniac)

The Paternal Catalyst



The sun wasn't up yet.

But even the moonlight hurt.

I was somehow aware of this even before I opened my eyes. As soon as I felt myself ease into the world of the awake, a thousand large hammers beat away at my skull. From behind the safety of my eyelids, the world was a fuzzy grey-blue that commanded me to wake up. But doing so would only be a crap-load of pain for me, the rational part of my brain said. So I nuzzled instead into my pillow, trying to fall back asleep. My senses seemed to be extra tender, though. There was a ticking from somewhere nearby, and the air had the stale chill of a too-high air-conditioner. This bothered me way more than I knew it should.

My legs were bare and cold as they lay against each other. There was warmth I could sense just beyond my spot and I blindly scooted toward it. But I moved too fast and had to freeze while the nausea went away. Once I was sure I wouldn't barf in my bed I continued my mission, though at a much, much slower pace this time.

The heat was natural and almost searing, but at the same time soothing. I pressed my body against it, wanting to sap all the warmth into me, and wrapped my leg over it to further my goal along. My face pressed into the warmth, I tried to force myself to sleep.

Yet something was wrong, very wrong and also frighteningly familiar. It took a few moments for my beer-addled brain to piece together what had happened. I had gone home with a stranger. Again. The warmth was from a body. Crap, crap, crap-crap-crap.

It's usually joked on in movies and a lot of my friends are okay with it, but one-night stands were never my thing. I always felt just a little dirty after them, a bit whorish. I was a romantic, okay. I liked to be connected with someone while I was sober before sleeping with them. However, my drunk-self sometimes decided it had been far too long since I got any which led to picking up some random guy, or my friend's boyfriend. I felt really bad about that, sleeping with my friend's boyfriend that is. I don't even remember it, not to mention the fact that it was his fault: he was sober. (Rebound sex also operated by these rules).

But my luck was actually good this time. The morning after usually has some awkward moments where each person pretends to want to get together again, then the person who doesn't live there has to go on his or her walk of shame. Drunk-Penny made a point never to bring anybody home, but go to his place. I think this was so I didn't have to worry about him showing up again, or finding a polite way to kick him out.

I was in a stranger's bed, yes, but I could get out of there better than I could other places. I could slip out, still in the night, and walk home, get a cab or something. I would never have to see him again.

I had to go slow, so as not to throw up. I slowly opened my eyes, doing all I could not to shut them against the light of the moon mixed with that of the street lights below. Eventually they adjusted and I could just make out vague shapes and shadows. I could see a bookcase and a dresser; it was vaguely familiar. Not familiar enough to be my bedroom, I decided after a momentary panic. Familiar as in something I'd seen before, though not often. Did I go home with a previous one-night stand?

Focus Penny, focus. I tried to sit up, a large effort on my part, I forced myself not to call out in pain. Ugh. Hangovers suck. Why do I keep doing this to myself? I slowly disentangled myself from my bedmate. It would be better not to know who I'd slept with, thus avoiding eye contact with him and worrying about what he thought, but I truly was curious as to who I'd slept with. So I looked down at his face.

In the dark I could just see him lying straight on his back, his head tilted toward me and his mouth slightly open. The calm, placid face of a dreamer. The shadows gave me just enough to make out the dark hollows of his eyes, the tip of his nose and the general idea of where is mouth was. In the light he looked ghastly, like a zombie or something. The familiarity didn't end at his room, for his face tickled my memory as well. I cautiously leaned forward, widening my eyes to let more light in.

The man snorted slightly, wrinkled his face up in annoyance and turned his head away from me, still asleep.

I just laid there, my body still half against him as I tried to understand what my eyes were telling me. But the rational part of me knew it couldn't be true. This was a mistake, it had to be. I wanted to laugh. I must've been a trick of the light. Still, as loud as I dared, I whispered, 'Sheldon?'

'Mmf?' was his only response, and even that was slurred by sleep. The face could have been a mistake but the voice, the voice that was slightly petulant and even while unconscious somehow managed to convey arrogance, was undeniably Sheldon's. Not to mention, if I could go by what my legs were feeling, he wasn't wearing any pants.

I froze as my mind tried to figure out the possible path I took to wind up having sex with Sheldon, even then, there was no path that would make him willing to participate. I had to be dreaming. There was no way this was reality. I could have tested that theory by waking him up and asking him. Instead I decided to take the coward's way out because in the end, did I really want to know?

Slowly, both so as not to make myself sick and to keep from waking him, I slid backwards away from him and towards the edge, where I successfully escaped. I stood there next to the bed for some time, just looking at him. He slept, looking as I've always seen him asleep (once, when I was playing Conan), and you wouldn't otherwise know what I'd done to him. There was a surprising amount of guilt and even though it would have been him taking advantage of my lowered resistance, I felt like I'd somehow wronged him.

I needed to get out of there.

The problem was that my clothes were nowhere to be found. I was in a bra and underwear, a bit more revealing than I wanted. Sure I was only going to be dashing across the hall but what if someone saw me? I could barely see in the light, barely move without my head swimming, but the dress I remembered wearing wasn't there. Sheldon kept his room obsessively clean so I think that even in pitch black darkness I would have noticed a speck out of place.

Something else Then it occurred to me: i. If I couldn't find my clothes, where were my keys? How would I get into my apartment? I was going to have to look for it all elsewhere in Sheldon and Leonard's place, blissfully outside this room.

God, does he have to have the AC kicked at arctic temperatures?

Spying his closet door, I tiptoed toward it and slowly slid it open. I snagged the first shirt I saw, cringing when the hanger clanked against its neighbor. But one quick glance over at the doctor told me he was out. After I slid the shirt on over my head, I took on the greater task of opening his door without waking him.

I managed somehow. Maybe it had to do with all that practice sneaking into my boyfriend's dorm back in Nebraska. His roommate, Dan… or Dave… or something, hated me. If he ever found me over, he'd rap on the door repeatedly until I left. I think it was because my friend Vicki had broken up with him a while agoat the time., it probably didn't help that Because I had told her to. He was a jerk anyway.

I checked the bathroom first since it was closest. Failing, I moved to the living room and kitchen but still, no go. Where the hell are my clothes? Surely I hadn't come here wearing what I have. Then again I didn't remember much of the night so who knows? But the good news was my clothes were not in their apartment so I wouldn't have to come back and ask for them later. The bad news was I had no way to getof getting into my apartment.

I got desperate and started looking underneath furniture. In a normal person's house, this wouldn't be all that odd but Sheldon perfected the 'Every thing in it's place and a place for every thing' idea.

I was kneeling on the floor, bent to look under the sofa when I heard my name. 'Penny?'

I was on my feet so fast I nearly fainted from the movement. Thankfully it wasn't Sheldon but Leonard.