Disclaimer: Credit for the prompt goes to babebubeboink99/1critic. Credit for the characters goes elsewhere. There is also a quote from 'The Wizard of Oz.'
Author's Notes: Thanks to everyone who put up with my whining during the dry spell. Double thanks to all the Twitter people who commented on the first two parts. You kept me going. This is completely unbeta'd by anyone except me and apparently lack of use has led my ability to spell to atrophy.
He wakes up with a small jerk. He blinks up at the ceiling for a moment before pushing up into a sitting position. Glancing around, he surveys his surroundings.
"Oh dear. She is not going to find this acceptable."
Penny hummed to herself as she danced around the boys' kitchen. She was sure there was some designated breakfast for today, but she felt like cheesy cheesy omelets, so omelets it was! There was a slight creak as she heard his door swing open and Penny sighed a little. Here came the complaints.
"Good morning, Sheldon."
She was taken aback as a smile spread across his face. He started to cross over to her when Leonard exited the bedroom, scratching his head. Sheldon froze, his expression twisting in disgust as Leonard kissed her good morning. Sheldon pivoted on his heel and crossed over to his desk, his movements jerky. Penny tilted her head in confusion. Where was the 'respecting breakfast routines' freakout? Tentatively she asked,
"Sheldon, I don't s'ppose you want any eggs, do you?"
Sheldon was sorting through the papers on his desk, absently replying, "Eggs would be acceptable. The usual scrambled with cheese, please. Although, perhaps a little light on the paprika, my stomach is a bit upset."
Penny stared at him. What were the odds she was making the eggs on the correct day? Wasn't today cereal day or something? A sidelong glance at Leonard had him also staring dumbfounded at his roommate. Leonard checked his watch, looked back up at Sheldon, and then met her gaze. He shrugged. The silence finally caught Sheldon's attention and he looked at them.
"May I ask why you are regarding me with such intensity?"
The words were right, but something was still off. It looked like Sheldon, spoke like Sheldon, but... She kept watching as Sheldon took a step back from the desk and turned to look at the rest of the apartment. He almost seemed to be searching for something before he caught sight of his whiteboard next to the window. Leonard replied,
"It's nice to see you compromising on the breakfast issue. I know how you like your routine and it's great to see you making an effort to appreciate something Penny's made."
Penny liked Leonard's supporting her, but wished he didn't sound so damn smug, like he'd won some great battle. Sheldon lifted the whiteboard off the easel and tilted it to the light for a better look.
"Don't be silly, Leonard, Penny makes excellent eggs. Her pancakes, on the other hand, are not suitable for human consumption."
His tone was absent again and he clearly wasn't paying attention. And what the hell? Her pancakes were fabulous!
"Sheldon! I don't get how you can say that about my pancakes. They are quite yummy and when have you ever eaten them anyway? Isn't there like some kind of science rule about trying things before, like, saying if it's true or not?"
Crap. She just knew she was about to get a very long lecture about the scientific method. She busied herself with saving her omelet, but after a minute, Sheldon had yet to speak. When she peeked up again, Sheldon was just staring at her.
"Are you quite certain you've never tried to foist your pancakes on me?"
"Um, yeah. The only thing I ever tried to make for you breakfast-wise was french toast and you were a giant pain in the ass because it was oatmeal day."
"Oh. I see."
He put the whiteboard back on the easel, his face still turned away.
"I'm going to be in my room. Kindly let me know when the eggs are ready."
Penny scraped the spatula along the edges of her now very brown omelet as she thought about what just happened. Leonard was muttering about the possibility of Sheldon being sick and contingency plans, but she tuned him out. That had been very weird. Very, very weird. She didn't like it. At ALL.
He does what he should have done in the first place and locates his social interaction journal. In this room, the current one was always in the nightstand next to his bed. He slides open the drawer and pulls out the book. Closing the drawer, he flips to the latest entry, November 7, 2009. He skims the entry and then goes further back, trying to glean relevant data to his current predicament. After a while, he snaps the notebook closed and lets it fall onto the bed. This is a colossal disaster. He groans. She is going to kill him.
Sheldon's odd behavior continued and Penny wasn't entirely sure what to do about it. On the one hand, there was a lot more quiet time as Sheldon was either working or preoccupied with some science problem thingy. On the other hand, there was a lot more quiet time. It just wasn't natural. In the three years she'd known Sheldon, he was never simply quiet. He was sulking, trying to blow up your brain with his mind, or hanging your date night underwear from a telephone wire; he wasn't quiet. It didn't even seem like he was mad or anything. He was perfectly civil and normal when she spoke to him or asked him a question. On Halo night, he seemed to forget about the game entirely and when she reminded him, he said, "Oh, that's right" and proceeded to play like crap. It was like he'd completely forgot how to play and everyone knew that Sheldon Cooper never forgets anything.
Leonard was treating this like some kind of mini-vacay and it was starting to piss her off. There was clearly something really wrong with Sheldon and Leonard just kept trying to see how much he could get away with. Maybe it was a brain tumor or something. Come to think of it, she didn't think Sheldon had one 'medical emergency' in the last month. Maybe he did need a CAT scan or MRI or whatever. She started debating whether this was worth calling Leonard's ex-girlfriend over. Penny wasn't sure she could make any other doctor understand that normal behavior just wasn't normal for Sheldon. Her thoughts were interrupted by a distinctive knocking. She crossed quickly to the door, waited for the last knock, and then yanked open the door.
"Hey, sweetie, what's up?"
He looked very tired to her and she gripped the door a little tighter.
"Good evening, Penny. May I come in, please?"
She silently stepped back, opening the door wider, and he entered. In her little living room area, he paused for a moment. She thought he was trying to decide where to sit again, but he'd given up his designated chair for the couch after they made Penny Blossoms together. She closed the door as he sighed, rubbing his eyes before sitting on the couch. It wasn't even really sitting. He kinda slumped down, his long legs sprawling before him, and she had to blink because for a moment, he looked like any of her ex-boyfriends after a hard day. Just not normal. She crossed over to sit down next to him and he didn't move away, letting her knee touch his. He looked at her and his expression was just so sad.
"Sheldon, what's wrong? You're just not being yourself lately."
He made a little huffing sound, almost like a snort if Sheldon was capable of making such a sound, and looked away.
"I'm sorry for imposing, Penny. It was just a difficult day at work and I felt the need to separate myself from Leonard & his increasingly infantile behavior. The man really believes I don't notice that he's moving things around the apartment. However, his attempts to elicit a reaction from me are doomed to failure as I simply have bigger concerns at the moment."
She reached out to him, her instinct to comfort him, but her hand froze in midair. He'd never welcomed her attempts to cheer him up before. Sheldon glanced at her hand and then at her, just looking so desolate, she couldn't help it. She rested her hand on his bicep.
"Please talk to me, sweetie. I'm worried about you."
Sheldon sighed again, leaning his head against the back of the couch. He shifted a little, pressing closer to her, as he said,
"I've been attempting to rectify an erroneous situation, but I have reached the conclusion that I lack the tools necessary to complete this task. There is nothing remaining for me to try and I am going to have to resign myself to things as they now stand. This is causing me a great deal of distress."
Her thumb rubbed against his arm (when did he get muscles?) as she tried to translate the Sheldon-speak. He turned his head towards her and she suddenly noticed his eyes were very blue. When did that happen?
"Is there anything I can do? I mean, obviously, I can't help you fix the error thingy, but is there anything I can do to make you feel better?"
Something flashed in his eyes and his gaze dropped to her lips for a fraction of a second. If he'd been a normal guy, she would've thought he was, y'know, interested, in like the oldest cure-all in the world, but this was Sheldon and even craziness doesn't change behavior that much. Still, she let her hand fall away and continued,
"Like sing 'Soft Kitty'?"
A corner of his mouth quirked up before he seemed to pull himself together, all those long limbs gathering inward until he was Sheldon again, the real Sheldon, not this bizarre guy-like Sheldon. He glanced at his watch before saying in an even tone,
"Actually, do you think we might watch a movie? I would even consent to allowing you to pick the film since I am imposing on you this evening. I only ask that you consider my preferences while selecting it."
She studied him carefully. Okay, maybe he looked like Sheldon, but he still wasn't acting like him. Better to keep an eye on him.
"Sure thing, sweetie. And I even bought my own copy of the new Star Trek movie! We can watch that!"
"The new Star Trek movie? That would be...number eleven, the Future Begins. Yes, that would be acceptable."
She stared at him for another moment and then shook her head. She wasn't going there. Penny went into her bedroom to grab the DVD from where she'd dumped it...somewhere. After a bit of hunting, she found the DVD under a pile of old magazine. She snagged it and re-entered the living room to find Sheldon in her kitchen. There were two bowls on the counter of microwave popcorn and the area around the sofa looked suspiciously cleaner. Well, at least that was like usual. She popped the DVD into her player while he brought over the bowls along with a bottle of water for her and a can of Diet Coke for himself. She pressed play and then grabbed a handful of popcorn. It was perfect, just the right amount of butter and salt. She looked at him out of the corner of her eye, but he was focused on the screen. Maybe she was the crazy one. Maybe she was just reading too much into the weirdness.
They were thirty minutes into the movie when Leonard knocked once and then walked in.
"Hey guys, sorry to interrupt, but Penny, I just wanted to remind you we have to leave in like thirty minutes. Usually you've already picked out my clothes by now, so I figured you got caught up with stuff..."
Penny cursed to herself. She had totally forgotten about the comedy show they'd planned to go to. There was a small click to her right as Sheldon hit pause and then set the remote down. He was uncharacteristically silent, his hands folded in his lap. Leonard shifted his weight by the door, both of them watching her, waiting for her to make a decision. She'd been having a nice time with Sheldon, unexpectedly comfortable with him while just hanging out. However, she felt like she'd been consumed with Sheldon lately. He seemed alright now, maybe it would be okay to take a small break from him. She'd be able to view him with fresh eyes tomorrow.
"Sheldon, sweetie, I'm sorry. I completely forgot about my date with Leonard. You don't mind, do you? We can finish the movie soon, I promise."
She swore he flinched a little, but then his face hardened, his tone icy cold.
"If I must be penalized for your lack of preparation and your inability to remember a simple engagement, so be it. I believe our Blu Ray edition of this movie to be of much superior quality anyway."
He rose from the couch in one smooth move and stalked out, the door closing behind him with a loud thud. Penny sighed, rubbing her forehead. That was more like it. Leonard was staring after his roommate, a look of confusion on his face.
"What is it?"
Leonard turned back to her, now looking a little uneasy.
"Sheldon ordered the special edition DVD boxed set with the NCC-1701 model. It was back-ordered. We haven't seen the Blu Ray version yet."
He avoids them for the rest of the weekend, sneaking out from the apartment when they're not looking. He no longer cares if it is a deviation from his normal behavior, he flatly refuses to watch them together any longer. Of course, that doesn't mean he stops thinking about it, his brain cataloging everything else he can expect to happen. By the time Monday rolls around, he is quite surly. He and Leonard ride to work in near silence as he curtly rebuffs all Leonard's attempts to initiate conversation. He expects Penny will be lying in wait for him when he gets home and he simply doesn't care.
By 11:30am, Raj has gone to the bathroom twice and hid in Howard's lab once. He still doesn't care. He just stares at the whiteboards around the office and curses himself for his stupidity. Naturally it is very clear to him now, but he doesn't understand why he didn't see it earlier. Perhaps he should have a CAT scan. It certainly would make Penny happy after all the extraordinarily unsubtle hints she's been dropping.
Tossing the marker back on the desk, he leans against his desk, crossing his arms against his chest. Frankly, it doesn't matter what he does at this point. He is, to put it in the vernacular, screwed. Raj finally comes back from the bathroom, peering around the doorjamb. He snarls a comment about Raj's bladder that he expects will sending the other man running again. Instead, Raj enters the office and cautiously says the last thing he ever expected.
"Sheldon? Peter and Emma wanted me to say hello."
Penny was planning her next strategy of attack when Sheldon walks into her apartment. No knocks, no "Pennys," just walks right in. He closes the door behind him, turning the lock and sliding on the chain, before turning to face her.
"I never do understand why you don't lock this door. This isn't Nebraska, it's California, where all sorts of people are walking around."
She gapes at him from the couch and then shoots back,
"I guess you have a point about the lock since a crazy person just walked in."
He smirks at her and he suddenly seems a bajillion times happier. He crosses over to the TV, clicks it off, and sits next to her.
"Penny, I have a story to tell you."
She crosses her arms and says sarcastically, "Oh goody."
"Let's say, hypothetically speaking, there is a man in the future, more specifically twenty-two years, four months and eighteen days from now. He is a brilliant scientist, well-respected in his field, and, thanks to the machinations of his clever wife, now in the possession of government clearance. Let's say the man was recruited to work in a team trying to achieve human teleportation. Let's say the team had some major breakthroughs, leading to many replicable tests with animal subjects. They believed they'd finally succeeded. Let's say the hero of our tale volunteered to participate as a human subject in what was considered a low-risk experiment-"
"What? That's stupid. He was married, right? I hope his wife kicked his ass."
Sheldon pauses a moment and then says dryly,
"That would be at the top of her to-do list if she ever saw the wisdom in organizing her tasks in such a manner. Anyway, this man volunteered and the experiment went a little, shall we say, awry."
She huffs and snuggles deeper into the couch.
"Serves him right. Being selfish like that. His wife is probably better off without him!"
Sheldon shakes his head and gamely presses on.
"The experiment was designed to transport the man from one teleportation pad to another, both located in the same room. However, instead of only traveling through space, the man traveled through time. The possibility of this was never really considered as clearly animals do not possess the appropriate sentience to distinguish their location with relevance to the space-time continuum. One must hypothesize that some sort of switching of consciousness occurs as the animal experiments never resulted in death. If that had been the case, the human trials would never have commenced. Therefore, the body must materialize in its intended destination, but it possesses a different 'self.' There are a number of ethical concerns with this, obviously-"
Penny growls in frustration.
"Sheldon, is there a point to this story or can I get on with my day?"
He rolls his eyes and she finds she has missed the rude gesture.
"To put it even more plainly, I participated in an experiment in the future and Future Me ended up in Past Me's body."
Oh God, she thinks. He's really lost it. Shock must be clear on her face because he says,
"Honestly, Penny, do you really think it's so far out of the realm of possibility for me to discover a method of time travel? I know you've noticed the discrepancies in my behavior despite my best efforts to act otherwise. Do you know how long it's been since I played that version of Halo or, really, any game using only hand-held controllers?"
He really did suck that night. Badly. And no, it wasn't really too far-fetched. It would be just like Sheldon to get caught up in some weird Quantum Leap thing.
"If you're really from the future, why are you telling me this? Doesn't it violate some time traveler's law? Like causes one of those, whaddya call it, paradoxes?"
He shifts closer and she finds it is getting a bit hard to breathe. It is suddenly very warm in her apartment.
"No, I am not violating a time traveler's law, which, at the point, doesn't even exist yet, technically speaking. It doesn't matter because the team in the future found a way to switch Future Me and Past Me back into our proper bodies. They got a message to me this afternoon and, judging by that, you won't remember any of this because Past Me will return to the exact moment he left. Besides, we're already a paradox."
She blinks for a fraction of a second and he is kissing her. There is another half second as she realizes this is Sheldon and he is kissing her and it's nice before the heat sweeps her away. Penny has kissed a lot of guys in her past. Kisses, to her, were a quick, easy way to tell if the chemistry was there. She'd never been kissed like this before. Every tilt of her head, every flick of her tongue, he anticipates, he knows what she needs. His hand slips under her shirt to that one spot below her right breast that makes her quiver and he drags his knuckles deliberately over it. He clearly knows her body and because of this, more than anything else, is why she believes him.
Tearing herself away, she practically leaps off the sofa to wobble into her kitchenette.
"Why did you do that?"
Her voice is breathy and she can feel the tangles in her hair as they brush against her face. He stands and she pointedly keeps her gaze on his face. There is a confidence there that he's never had before.
"I miss my wife. It is also extraordinarily frustrating to see you and reconcile that with the fact that you are not her. Yet. In addition, after watching Leonard hang all over you (very uncomfortable to live through twice), it was very difficult to restrain myself."
"I don't...I don't understand. Are you telling me we're married?!?"
"In approximately three years and four months, you are going to realize that I'm in love with you, that my life, my routines, my world, everything revolves around you. When you leave, I fall apart. Three months later, you will realize you love me too."
His gaze raises to the ceiling, remembering.
"Everything happens rather quickly after that."
There is a smug smile on his face and she stares at him, dumbfounded. She wants to dismiss it as crazy, wants to be worried about his sanity, but she can't. If she really believes he's from the future, she has to take the rest as well. Suddenly, he kisses her again, fiercely, his right hand cupping her head perfectly, his left arm pulling her into his body. Her fingers curl around his wrist and she is breathless, feeling very much like she's only holding on for the ride.
When he finally pulls away, he drops his head onto her shoulder and she doesn't have the heart to push him away. His voice is muffled as he says,
"I needed to do it. Just in case. If something goes wrong again, I needed to kiss you one more time."
Her heart thumps and she is still really confused, but there is something sweeter mixed in with the confusion. Her fingers coax his chin up and when he raises his face, she gently kisses him this time and knows she's a little in love with him already.
There was a moment of disorientation and he found himself no longer kissing Penny. He blinked a few times to clear his vision and then he realized he was surrounded by the team, all watching him intently. There, off to the side, was her. Her hair had more gray strands, there were new lines on her face, but the expression of worry was the same. He smiled,
"'It wasn't a dream--it was a place. And you---and you---and you---and you were there.'"
He took the few steps off the pad and then stumbled back again when she hurdled herself at him. He didn't let go though, as she was sobbing and threatening to kill him at the same time, and he buried his face in her hair, immensely grateful to be back where he belonged. The team gave them a few minutes before descending and the barrage of tests began.
Raj, Howard, and Leonard looked exhausted and he discovered that it had been 102 days since the initial experiment. The three other men and his past self had worked nearly non-stop to undo what had been done. He took a minute to digest this, that he had traveled back in time, only to lose over three months of his life.
After eight hours, he put his foot down. Sheldon was going home and damn anyone who tried to stop him. He rampaged through the compound until he found Penny and then simply barreled through all remaining protests, Penny still tucked against his side. When they were finally being taken home, Sheldon pestered Penny with questions about Peter and Emma, trying to catch up on what he'd missed in the lives of his children. She was practically in his lap, disregarding all basic safety protocols, but he didn't care, simply enjoying the feel of her against him. He was home.
Penny hums to herself as she dances around the boys' kitchen. She is sure there was some designated breakfast for today, but she feels like cheesy cheesy omelets, so omelets it is! There is a slight creak as she hears his door swing open and Penny sighs a little. Here come the complaints.
"Good morning, Sheldon."
She is distracted from her omelet as he looks around the apartment, a look of confusion on his face. After a moment, he shakes his head and mutters, "I had the strangest dream."
He faces her and his gaze drops to the pan where her omelet is merrily sizzling away.
"You are making eggs. On a cereal day."
She replies firmly,
"That's right. Do you want some?"
Leonard exits the bedroom, scratching his head, and Sheldon is oddly silent as Leonard kisses her good morning. Their gazes meet (his eyes were very blue. when did that happen?) and Penny suddenly feels a wave of deja vu. The quiet is starting to unnerve her so she slides her omelet onto a plate. Grabbing a fork, she cuts a small piece, and then holds out the fork to Sheldon.
"Come on, Moonpie, try a bite. My eggs are excellent."
She doesn't really expect him to take the bite. Neither does Leonard, who is already moving forward, when Sheldon crosses over to the counter. His fingers curl around her wrist, lifting it a bit, as he leans down to eat the eggs. She is suddenly breathless as she watches his mouth close around the fork and then pull away. He straightens, his fingers falling away, and she can almost remember...
Leonard jockeys for attention, jostling her elbow, and she loses the thought. Sheldon clears his throat.
"The eggs were quite good, but as it is cereal day, that is what I shall be having. Thank you."
She starts eating the omelet at the counter while Sheldon squeezes past to grab the Big Bran. He makes his bowl of cereal and then disappears into his room. Penny scrapes her fork along the edges of her omelet to pick up some of the melted cheese, tuning out Leonard's babbling about the upcoming day, as she thinks about what just happened. That had been weird. Very, very weird, and, if she's honest with herself, very, very interesting...