Title: The Inadvertent Nuptial Catalyst
Fandom/Pairing: The Big Bang Theory; Sheldon/Penny
Spoilers: None, really, besides general events of the S3 premier.
Word Count: ~6,150
Summary: When Leonard proposes, Penny is forced to confront the feelings she's been denying. Feelings for an entirely different physicist with blue eyes and an inclination for being difficult.
Note: I apologize for the lack of line breaks in the earlier version; I have no idea why they didn't show up.
They're sitting in a crowded restaurant when it happens.
There is no warning. No sense of impending doom. Nothing to indicate the bombshell that's about to be dropped.
Out of the blue, there's a box with a diamond ring, and Leonard's saying the last words she wants to hear.
"Will you marry me?"
These four little words are supposed to be the words every girl dreams of hearing, words that lead to dramatic sighs and wistful smiles and visions of white dresses and happily-ever-afters.
They're not supposed to incur a sudden sense of panic that makes you want to hurl and bolt from the room as fast as you possibly can in 3-inch heels.
Penny doesn't exactly take it very well. She stares at the ring, back up at him, and then the ring again. She blinks. For a second, she thinks she might throw up, because she's so nervous, and she doesn't want to hurt him, and he's looking up at her with this pathetic little hopeful smile, and he's saying all the right things.
And all she can think is Good God, no.
She doesn't know what to say, what to do, where to look. She just sits there, blinking, feeling the panic building and building inside her, and suddenly, her mouth is moving and "I have to go to the bathroom," is popping out. His eyebrows pull together in a confused frown, and she's bounding out of her chair and heading for the ladies' room, clutching her purse for dear life.
When she reaches her destination, she leans her head back against the door, eyes shut.
Penny never thought it would happen, never thought he would actually take this step. Maybe she assumed he wouldn't be confident enough, or maybe he'd subconsciously pick up on the fact that she didn't want him to.
Because she couldn't say yes. She could never say yes.
She was going to break up with Leonard tonight. She was going to wait until the end of the date, though, because a) she didn't want to mess up their fancy meal by making the second half of the date horrible and awkward, b) she'd always found it tacky and mean to break up in a public place, and c) she was a yellow-bellied coward, and this way gave her more time to work up to it. So, she'd decided on the end of the night.
Now Penny just wishes she'd gone ahead and bit the bullet right off.
This just complicated everything.
Leonard? He's a…comfortable boyfriend.
He's comfortable, yes, that's the right word. He's sweet, he makes her laugh, the sex is decent, and Penny knows that he would never hurt her. This had been reason enough for her to justify staying in a relationship with him for as long as she had. But she could never, ever marry him.
There are so many reasons, the biggest one being that you shouldn't marry someone when you suspect you might have feelings for someone else.
This is why she was going to break up with him in the first place. And now he had to go and make it so much harder, so much worse on both of them.
It isn't his fault, she concedes. After all, how was he supposed to know? But that doesn't make this any easier. Uggh, it's just so frustrating! Penny balls her fists and stamps her foot in frustration. (It doesn't help.)
This is a situation known as a Freak Out, capital F, capital O, and it calls for some Grade A, down-home Nebraska cursing. She lets out a string of words that elicit a gasp somewhere at the far end of the line of stalls, and Penny realizes that she isn't alone.
Cringing, she smile sheepishly and apologizes to the air, a gesture met only with an elderly sounding "Harrumph."
Penny takes a deep breath. She can't stay in here forever. She stares at herself in the mirror, straightens her shoulders, and yanks the door open.
When she makes her way back to the table, he's still there. His head is down, dejected, and she'd almost rather his eyes were on her, accusing, angry. It'd be easier to say no.
But she has to do it.
And oh, please, God don't let him ask why.
Because "I think I might be in love with your roommate," would be horrible under any circumstances, but when the said roommate is Dr. Sheldon Lee Cooper, it would be downright cruel.
Mostly because he'd probably think it was a joke, and then she'd have to explain that no, no it wasn't. And in addition to being humiliated and sad, he'd be insulted and confused, because he wouldn't be able to grasp the concept that someone preferred Sheldon to him.
Because Sheldon is…misunderstood. He's underappreciated, even by his friends, because yes, he's hard to deal with and sometimes nearly impossible. But he doesn't do those things to be mean. He just does them because he's Sheldon.
(And somewhere in the back of her mind where she doesn't feel horribly guilty for thinking it, Penny is glad that Sheldon isn't loveable in an obvious way. Because he wouldn't be her Sheldon then, and more girls might notice him, and oh God, she just though of him as "her Sheldon," and this obsession might be getting more serious than she cares to acknowledge.)
After she sits back down, Leonard doesn't say anything. He just looks at her, kind of like a sad little puppy dog, twisting the box around and around in his fingers.
She shakes her head. A tiny gesture, but she can't seem to open her mouth, so this'll have to do.
He deflates right in front of her, and it hurts, it physically hurts, because maybe she isn't in love with him, but that doesn't mean she feels nothing for him. Plus, she feels a little – okay, a lot – guilty about the whole thing.
A few more awkward seconds pass.
There it is.
The silence seems to last half of forever. Penny takes a sip of her water. Then another.
"So, what does that mean for us?"
She presses her lips together, and this is hard, harder than she thought it was going to be. But there is no doubt in her mind that she's doing the right thing, so she presses on.
"I don't…I don't think we should be an 'us' anymore."
Oh, God. It was like kicking a sick puppy. She didn't think he could look any sadder.
"We can…still be friends!" she says, with a hopeful note in her voice, but then cringes. It was just an automatic reflex, and oh, but he looked so sad. "I mean, I'm sure it'll be, you know, awkward and stuff for a while. But we're part of the group, and it'll pass eventually, and…" Penny trails off, feeling foolish.
"Do you…want me to leave?" she asks, and after a minute of no response, she tries again.
"I'm just…gonna go."
He nods, not really focusing on her.
She gives him one last backward glance as she reaches the door, feeling the mixed, heavy pangs of guilt and sadness in her gut.
And underneath it all, there is a smidgeon of relief.
Penny kind of hates herself for that.
When Penny gets back to her apartment, she heads straight for the liquor cabinet.
Jack Daniels. She does one shot, then another, letting the liquid burn its way down her throat. Let it never be said that Penny couldn't hold her liquor. (Okay, so she's kind of a lightweight, at least compared to some of her friends back home. But at least she likes the good stuff.)
She clutches the shot glass with the outline of Nebraska engraved on it, other hand braced against the counter as she feels the warmth slowly spread through her limbs.
A picture of Leonard as she'd left him flashes through her mind.
Time for another shot.
Twenty or so minutes later, she's pretty drunk.
And when Penny gets drunk, Penny gets chatty. Unfortunately, she is in an empty apartment.
Not so unfortunately, she is quite sure there's a tall, ever-so-slightly endearing, somewhat wackadoodle-ish physicist just a hallway away.
"Sheldonnnn," she calls as she slams her own door shut behind her.
She bangs on their door. Three times. And says "Sheldon." after each one. Because it seems like the fun thing to do, and maybe it's a little annoying, and hee, she likes to annoy Sheldon. It's really kind of fun. Especially when he gets his heckles up and starts looking at her like…why is she still standing in the hallway?
Shrugging, she opens the door without waiting for an answer, and there he is. The room is dark, illuminated only by his laptop. It makes him look paler than usual, and by contrast the blues of his eyes appear even bluer, those eyes that make her stomach twist in ways she hasn't felt since she was fourteen.
This time, that stomach twist makes her feel a bit nauseous.
Or maybe it's the Jack Daniels.
Sheldon's mouth is moving – big surprise there – and she has to tune in to focus on what he's saying.
"What, can't I come over to see my buddy?" she slurs, and punches him playfully on the arm.
He looks offended and stands, backing to the other side of his desk chair, peering at her warily through narrowed eyelids.
"Penny, are you drunk?"
"Woo hoo, ladies and gentleman, look who's on a roll tonight!"
She flings an arm around for dramatic effect, forgetting to calculate her ability to balance in 3-inch heels while spinning in a state of inebriation.
Inebriation. Look at her with all her fancy drunk vocabulary, she thinks, disconnectedly as she flails her arms for balance, but it's no use and she's starting to fall…
But with quicker reflexes than Penny ever would have given him credit for, Sheldon is suddenly grabbing her and setting her back on her feet.
His arms remain on her shoulders, and his mouth is moving again (Seriously, does that man ever stop talking?), and the room stops spinning enough for Penny to realize that Sheldon is standing much closer to her than he usually does.
He starts to remove his hands, presumably because he thinks she's stable enough not to topple over again, but she moves her own up to press them back where they were.
His brow furrows, and that adorable crinkle appears, the one he gets when he doesn't understand something.
Then there's suddenly two of him, which makes it all the more impressive that she hits her target squarely when she rises on tiptoe, leans forward and plants one on him.
She feels him jerk away, standing up ramrod straight, and she reaches up to the back of his head, drunkenly filing away how soft his hair feels beneath her fingers, and pulls him back down.
She kisses his top lip, his bottom lip, angling her head to taste as much of him as possible. He's still not kissing her back, but when she murmurs "Sheldon," against his lips, she feels him shudder and curl his fingers into the fabric of her dress and the skin of her shoulders.
She's just about to tell him that it's okay for him to let go, okay for him to kiss her back, when her stomach suddenly gives a huge roll, and she knows she's going to be sick.
She tears her mouth away from his, covering it with her hand, and trips and stumbles her way to the bathroom.
Five minutes later, she emerges, stomach empty, mascara under her eyes, and high heels in hand.
Sheldon is still standing in the same place he had been when she left him, and he seems to be in some sort of daze.
She's suddenly too tired, too overwhelmed to deal with anything more tonight. She murmurs a soft "Good night," to him and heads back across the hall. She locks the door behind her, drops the heels in the middle of the living room, the little black dress at the edge of the doorway, and herself right into the center of the bed.
The next day, Penny has the hangover from hell.
She sleeps until almost one, and when she does get up, it's only to drag her sorry ass to the living room, where it's so bright, she has to squint against the glare. She closes the blinds and rummages sluggishly through her cabinets until she has an armful of junk food and aspirin, and makes her way over to the couch. The TV is too loud when she turns it on, and she cringes as she stretches out to reach the volume button because she lost her remote a month ago. (It never really occurred to her to mind before, because she watches most of her TV in the apartment across the hall.)
It takes five episodes of Gilmore Girls before she starts to feel less like a zombie and more like anything even remotely close to human. Thank God this is her day off. She couldn't afford to take any sick time. She even skips an audition, since there's no way she'd get the part looking like this, anyway.
Above all, she avoids thinking about anything that happened the night before.
And it works.
She watches some more TV and orders a pizza, shooting the delivery guy an evil look when his eyebrows rise a bit at her appearance. She'd have kept his tip, too, except she hated to do that, because she knew how it felt, and after all, she did bear a remarkable resemblance to the walking dead.
When a trio of knocks and hesitant "Penny"s interrupt her as she's polishing off her third slice, Penny's heart leaps into her throat.
She ignores him.
When he tries again five minutes later, she gives in.
He looms uncertainly at the threshold when she opens the door. He doesn't even comment on her appearance, although she can see that he wants to as he casts a glance at her hair, her clothing (or lack thereof; she's only wearing a bathrobe over her underwear), the dim mess in the background.
"Penny, I have a problem."
Please don't let this be about last night, please don't let this be about last night...
"Nothing is up, Penny. In fact, it seems quite the opposite is currently true; things are rather down. Leonard hasn't emerged from his room since I awoke this morning at 6:15. As he is my method of transportation to and from work, I remained in the apartment all day, taking advantage of the opportunity to analyze some fascinating recent research on String Theory, while I 'kept an eye' on Leonard. Note that this phrase is a common expression indicating close observation, and that they eye of which I speak is merely proverbial."
"Sheldon? The point?"
"I need you to come talk to Leonard. He didn't respond to my inquiries other than to emit a frightening sound that suspiciously resembled a growl. He hasn't even come out to use the restroom. To be frank, I'm highly concerned for his bowels; research has shown that regular-"
"Sheldon," she cuts him off, holding up a hand. "That's enough. And I really doubt Leonard would want to talk to me. I'm sure I'm the last person he wants to see right now."
He does that thing best described as a double-take, where his neck draws back and his head sinks down and he looks at her like she's just grown a second head.
"Leonard proposed last night," she hears the faint choking noise he emits at this, his eyes widening, and hastens to add: "And I said no. And then we broke up."
Sheldon doesn't say anything for a few moments. Then, "I would presume to say you are correct in your assumption that he would not desire your company at the moment."
"I suppose I can call Raj or Wolowitz."
"Sounds like a plan."
"All right, then." He hesitates. "Will you still be available for Halo night?"
Something in his expression breaks her heart a little.
"I don't know, sweetie. I'll try."
He nods. "Goodbye, Penny."
After he leaves, Penny polishes off another slice, along with half a pint of Ben & Jerry's. She does her best to keep her mind on anything other than real life. She pretends not to feel an instant of longing when she's flipping through the guide and sees an episode of X-Files just starting. Instead, she flips to a rerun of Who's the Boss she's seen a dozen times. (So sue her. She has a bit of a crush on the young Tony Danza.)
She jerks awake at 2 AM, curled up on the couch with a crook in her neck and no idea when she drifted off. She flips off the TV and heads to the bedroom. She'll confront reality in the morning.
Penny does some soul searching the next day. She comes to some conclusions.
Penny isn't stupid. Oh, she knows she's not a genius – if ever she'd been under any illusions, Sheldon himself would have been quick to set her in her place – but she's not an idiot. She knows it's going to take a while for things to get back into any realm that somewhat resembles normalcy.
And for that to happen, she's probably going to have to talk to Leonard, regardless of whether or not this thing with Sheldon actually goes anywhere. Which she already pretty much knew. But still.
Concerning the Sheldon situation, it's definitely possible that she'll never bring it up, and she's pretty positive that he never will. But she really does want this, and she's going to have to wait, and she just doesn't know how to handle everything.
Things are entirely too complicated, and she doesn't like it one bit.
Basically, she decides talking to Leonard is going to be necessary. The bad part is that
she doesn't know what it is she's going to say to him. It would be easier on them both if she got everything out in the open in one go. She doesn't want to make peace and then be all "Oh, by the way, Sheldon and I are dating now." But if nothing is going to happen there, there's really no reason to bring it up. One drunken kiss is really not worth mentioning; it would cause more harm than good.
But she will have to. Eventually.
Things aren't back to normal.
It's been almost three weeks, and Leonard still avoids her. He doesn't even give her the chance to decide whether or not she wants to avoid him (something that has always given her a kind of sense of where she stands emotionally, because it's all well and good to think "Oh, I'll be fine, I don't need to avoid him," but sometimes when it comes right down to it, you find yourself ducking into a maternity store when you get a glance of him at the mall – an action that caused some serious gossip and haunted her for the rest of her senior year).
Things are a little weird when she's alone with Sheldon, but she's pretty sure it's an awkwardness of her own making. He doesn't really seem to behave differently, at least not that she can determine.
This doesn't stop her from analyzing every single little action, tick, and statement.
(This is between the times when she spaces out and thinks about That Night. She wishes she were one of those people who remember absolutely every single detail from their drunk escapades with crystal clarity. Oh, she remembers kissing him. And his reaction. And vaguely, the feel of his lips under hers. But she wants to remember how his skin feels, how his heart beat, everything.)
Then one night, she catches him staring at her when they're alone watching Firefly on DVD.
Her toes curl inside her hot pink socks, and she doesn't know whether she should let him know that she realizes or not.
Finally, she turns her body under the pretense of getting repositioned, and his head whips back to the screen so fast she's sure he's injured himself.
The next time they're together, she's driving him to the comic book store.
When the car is off and safely parked, Sheldon gets stuck in his seat because the passenger side seatbelt has been finicky lately.
He's rambling on about death traps and check engine lights when she turns toward him.
"Here, let me get that."
"I am perfectly capable. Just have a modicum of patience." His lips are twisted in frustrated concentration.
"Sheldon, it's done this before, just let me help you."
"Penny, I have two PhDs and an IQ of 187. I am fairly certain I don't need any help from-" Click. The buckle loosens almost immediately under her fingers. Penny's hand brushes against Sheldon's front as she aids it in the retraction. His breath hitches, just a little bit. She pauses halfway through the action when she hears him, her hand against the center of his chest. She looks up at him and swears a bolt of lightning shoots directly from Sheldon's eyes to the pit of her stomach.
Hesitantly, he meets her gaze for a split second before he turns to stare straight ahead.
This is the moment Penny decides that they're going to have to confront this. Whatever this is.
"If you would, Penny, please allow me to exit. I asked you to drive me here for a reason."
"Oh. Yeah, sure." She leans back away, shaking her head because how can she be this attracted to him? It should really just not be possible. She's never been one of those girls who based their feelings on everything besides physical appearance. But that's how it was with Sheldon. She'd gotten used to having feelings for him, but for him as a person. There was no "Oh, God, Sheldon is soooo hot!" type jazz. It just kind of crept up on her, and now she can't even look at him without feeling that strange, hot jittery feeling everyone secretly loves.
She doesn't follow him into the store, just lounges in the comfortably warm interior of her car for the twenty minutes it takes him.
They don't exchange a word the entire ride back.
Penny thinks something along the lines of This is so high school (except that it's so much more).
Two nights later, Penny finds her opportunity. At 5:00 PM Friday evening, Leonard, Raj, and Howard leave, and they'll be gone the entire weekend.
At 6:00, Sheldon opens the door for the Chinese delivery man.
At 7:00, Penny assumes he's watching Star Wars, judging from the score she can faintly hear if she cracks her door open a bit.
9:00 is show time.
She takes one last glance in the mirror – she doesn't want to take a giant leap of faith with her possible future love life with uneven eyebrows or a giant ketchup stain on her shirt – before she takes those few short steps.
A strange sense of energy is reverberating through her blood, like she just downed three cups of coffee and a Mountain Dew.
She bursts in without so much as a knock, taking in his relaxed position on the couch with his laptop, the somewhat dim room only illuminated by one lamp in the corner. She plants herself directly across from him.
"We need to talk about what happened that night."
Standing, he places his laptop on the coffee table and shuts the lid.
"To what night might you be referring?" he asks, avoiding her eyes as he circles to her side of the table.
"Don't play dumb, Sheldon. You may not be the most intuitive person on the planet, but you know exactly what I'm talking about."
"Ah. Yes, well. I assume you want to discuss certain…events that transpired between us?"
"You got it. Sheldon…" Penny's gone through this so many times in her head, but now she isn't really sure where to begin.
But as she opens her mouth to try again, Sheldon speaks instead.
"Penny, you were thoroughly inebriated. You had little to no control of your actions. Had you not been under the dangerous influence of alcohol, I have no doubt you would have acted in the same fashion as you always do, a fashion which has never previously included physical advances of a biological nature directed at me." He meets her eyes when he answers, clearly having reasoned this out already (only a minute eye twitch gives away the fact that no, he's not really as robotic as he might want her to think).
Penny lets out a short breath. "I hate to break it to you, sweetie, but that wasn't just some random drunk thing. I'd wanted to do that for a long time."
His eyebrows shoot down and together as he stares at her. She watches as his brain processes the statement and its implications, then as he opens his mouth to say something. Twice. But nothing comes out.
(Some small part way down inside of her is doing a crazy victory dance because she's actually left Sheldon Cooper speechless.)
Finally, he stutters out, "But…but you were in a relationship with Leonard."
He appears to be pondering something for a while.
"Social convention would suggest that it is highly inappropriate to indulge in romantic acts with, or harbor a romantic inclination for anyone besides one's significant other."
"That's true. And I did wait until we were broken up. I would have waited a lot longer than I did, if I hadn't been stupid enough to get so drunk that night. I might never have even brought it up at all. But that doesn't change the fact that it happened like it did. Or that I wanted it."
She watches as he analyzes the statement, working through her logic.
Taking a deep breath, she asks it. The question of the night.
"So, what I've been meaning to ask you is…was the feeling mutual?" She tries to be as discreet yet clear as possible; she doesn't want to frighten him off, and she doesn't know what might work and what might not, and she really, really doesn't want to blow this opportunity.
He seems to have developed a sudden need for water, because he books it toward the kitchen, eye twitching away. He fills a glass with water and keeps his back to her when he answers.
"Social convention would also suggest that it is highly inappropriate to indulge in romantic acts with, or harbor a romantic inclination for the significant other of one's friend."
"Sheldon, honey, that's not an answer," she returns gently.
She can see his jaw clench as he wages some sort of inner battle. He turns back around to face her before he replies.
"I believe it's deemed unacceptable to enter into a relationship with the ex-partner of a friend."
"Not really. I mean, I wouldn't say 'unacceptable'; that's probably a bit too strong. You really just have to be careful. Where'd you get that idea, anyway?"
"You told me."
"Well, in a way. Now, granted, I don't always listen to you, especially when you go on about Sex and the City and other such nonsense for which I have no use. But I specifically remember one day approximately a year ago, you coming here upset – I could tell from your crying; I really am improving at picking up signals – because your old boyfriend had started dating a friend of yours. Even though a significant amount of time had passed since your separation, this caused you to have an acutely negative reaction. Given your profession, you do possess what is colloquially termed a 'flair for the dramatic,' but I believe the principle holds."
"…Oh." She vaguely remembers that day. She'd definitely been a bit dramatic then, plus still a little hung up on Chris.
"That was different. I mean, they just jumped into it without Jeannie asking me how I felt about the whole thing. Normally, I'd just be mad at her, but since I still had feelings for him, it made it worse. Plus, they didn't even tell me; I found out through a mutual friend, which really sucked."
"I don't understand how this is different."
"It just…is. Just trust me."
"Well. This discussion was merely hypothetical, regardless."
"Yeah, based on your evasion. Speaking of which, you never actually answered that question."
His mouth purses, and she can tell he was hoping she'd forgotten that. Maybe he figures that if he can evade her, he will avoid the whole situation. She'll stop pushing it, and these feelings will go away on their own. She doesn't know. She has never pretended to fully understand Sheldon, though she does better than most people.
Well, too bad, Dr. Cooper. You underestimate me if you think that's gonna work.
"Sheldon, come here."
He looks at her warily but obeys. He stops when he's about a foot away from her, not saying a word, but his expression says Are you happy now?.
She doesn't know what to do now. She just stands there, holding his gaze, as she tries like mad to come up with a way to get through to him.
His pupils have grown larger, which strikes Penny as odd, because it's not the sort of thing she would usually notice…and that's when the light bulb flashes on.
"Honey, your pupils are dilated. Your breathing rate has increased. Even I know what that means."
"Penny," he replies, trying with all his might to look superior, despite the squeaky quality of the word, "These conditions can be indicative of any number of circumstances. They do not result merely from stimuli of the sexual or emotional sort."
She lifts a palm to his chest, and he flinches a little. But he doesn't pull back. "Your heart is beating fast."
He opened his mouth to continue, but Penny held a finger up to his lips.
"For once in your life, Sheldon, shut up."
"I resent the implication that..." He trails off at her expression (the "unhappy schoolteacher" look, raised eyebrows and reprimanding eyes, perfected over the years). This is when it seems that it occurs to him that she's serious. He's not going to get anywhere by evading her verbally. At least that's how she interprets the sudden flash of something approaching panic in his eyes, and the fact that he backed away slightly, refusing to meet her gaze any more.
"Sheldon, look at me."
His gaze is anywhere but on her, before she finally catches his chin and pulls it down so that she can look into his eyes. They're moving, wide, unfocused, like he's some sort of wild prey and he doesn't know what to do, and he still hasn't looked directly at her.
"Sheldon." She says his name again.
And he shifts his eyes, and suddenly he's looking at her. Not just looking at her, but looking like that.
And Penny is speechless.
Because for the love of God, that's the Look she's been dreaming about for months. (Literally dreaming, because when you're conscious, you tend to feel guilty about fantasizing about your boyfriend's best friend.)
God, his eyes are so blue.
She really, really wants to lean up and in, but no. She can't. This will never work if she's the only one willing to take a leap and make the first move all the time. Instead, she reaches up and grasps his shoulders in a light grip, like you might a child when you want him to focus on you and you only.
"Listen, Sheldon. I'm not going to kiss you, and I'm not going to make you kiss me. I'm going to stand here. If you want to kiss me, do it. If you don't, just walk away."
He looks somewhat startled by her ultimatum, hesitating for a full ten seconds.
And then he starts inching toward her.
Ohmygodohmygod. He's actually doing it.
It shouldn't surprise her because Sheldon isn't one to back down from a challenge and she knows he wants it too, but she still kind of can't believe it, and then his lips touch hers.
And she kind of loses the ability to think full, rational thoughts.
Holy. Crap. On. A. Cracker.
Sheldon can kiss.
Okay, maybe he isn't the most suave or passionate kisser ever. But his lips are just the right place between soft and hard and they meld perfectly with hers, and his hands are so big and warm where they're resting at her waist.
His mouth is slow. Warm. Methodical to a point, but the movements are edged with something else. Something wild. Something she would not expect from Sheldon, and it excites her to think about it.
His thumbs are rotating in slow, light circles on the small strip of skin between her top and shorts, and it's such a simple motion, but wow. She makes a small sound in the back of her throat, leaning forward to cradle her body further into his lanky frame.
She never wants this to stop. Ever. She wants to go on kissing Sheldon for hours. His hands have moved up to frame her face and toy with her hair, and she slips her tongue between his lips.
She loves how he shudders at that, like he's a tightly coiled spring losing just a bit of control. He presses closer, and she's against the counter, and she doesn't remember the last time she was this into a make-out session. She lets her hands rove all over his body, content in the fact that he's not going to get scared off because he's loving this just as much as she is.
Eventually, he withdraws from the kiss slowly, and she has no idea how long it's been. Three minutes? Ten?
It doesn't even matter. Sheldon kissed her. Sheldon kissed her. Sheldon kissed her.
Those three words reverberate through her head with various emphases for the next few days.
It happens again on Saturday. And then again on Sunday morning.
Penny thinks she can get used to this.
They'd gotten to the point where Leonard merely avoided speaking to her, rather than being in the same room as her. He'd even gone so far as to ask her to pass the salt the last time they had take-out.
Progress is a good thing, she thinks.
And now she's going to have to undo all of it. It wouldn't do to go sneaking around behind Leonard's back. Sheldon would be in physical pain when around him, and she'd learned as a teenager that even the sneakiest of relationships get discovered eventually. Honesty in this situation is always the best route.
Unfortunately, that doesn't make it any easier.
Monday night rolls around, and she's standing with Sheldon in the open square between their respective apartments.
"Penny, do you think it might be necessary to define the specifics of our relationship before we confront Leonard?"
Penny glances at him with raised eyebrows. Sure, Sheldon loves to talk, but he's never been one to voluntarily discuss anything related to emotions. She'd wanted to have "The Talk" as well, but she didn't want to push him.
Maybe she underestimates him sometimes.
"Yeah, sure. Definitely. I mean, if you're ready."
"Why else would I have brought it up?"
"Okayyy. Here, let's sit down." She plops down on the top step, patting the empty place beside her. He lowers himself there as she continues, "Do you want to go first?" (Like she even needs to ask.)
"Yes. I have a question."
"I know that the changing point of our relationship was untraditional, to say the least. It fits the parameters of the situation you have repeatedly referred to as a 'rebound.' Here is my question, and I am willing to accept any answer as long as it's truthful. Is this merely a 'rebound' in which I am a handy prop?"
Oh my God. She suddenly wants to cry a little bit at the hesitance behind the words. That must have killed him to get out. She hastens to answer.
"Oh, no no no, sweetie. Oh, Sheldon."
She hadn't planned on saying this so soon, but well, why not? Putting things off never gets anywhere.
She places a hand on his knee, catches his gaze and holds it.
"Sheldon, I'm…kind of in love with you."
She'd be willing to bet that he's never heard those words in his life, directed at him, would bet that he doesn't even fully comprehend what they mean.
But he understands it enough, because his eyes widen, and the expression in them tells her everything she needs to know.
As they sit there in the stairwell, he reaches out awkwardly and pulls her small hand into his larger one. This simple action brings tears to her eyes, and she smiles.
She takes a deep breath, and they stand up together.
This won't be easy.
But it's going to be one heck of a journey.