Title: Moments

Disclaimer: I do not own TBBT or its characters and I make no profit from this. It's just for fun.

Spoilers: None.

Pairing: Sheldon/Penny

Summary: Small moments don't seem to mean much, until Penny realizes, when viewed altogether, they point toward an inevitable conclusion. They don't only mean everything – they comprise a lifetime.

Author's note: I truly had no intention of writing another BBT story but this came to me and I decided to share it. Thanks to everyone who read and reviewed my last BBT story because it gave me the confidence to post this one. I hope those who read this enjoy it as much I enjoyed writing it.

XXXXXX

It starts slowly, and without any warning (as these things often do). She's in Leonard and Sheldon's kitchen one morning, scouring their refrigerator for something to eat, because she has nothing remotely edible in her apartment, and she's starving.

It's not that she forgot to go shopping, it's that after paying all the bills this month, she has, literally, $2.27 left over to last her three days until her next paycheck.

So she kind of has to go to her neighbors' to get food. Either that or steal from work. It's embarrassing, but she'll never admit it, and she knows they'll never turn her away (well, Sheldon might try, but he'd be overruled by Leonard if it came to that).

Besides, as usually happens when she's in this situation, she avoids suspicion by planning to cook breakfast for the two of them. Then she has a legitimate reason to help herself, as well, because it'd be rude to refuse a plate to the person who went to the trouble of cooking for you, right?

It's worked for nearly two years, in any event.

As she's debating whether to make scrambled eggs and bacon, or French toast (or maybe both…she's really hungry this morning), Sheldon shuffles into the kitchen.

They've been in this exact situation before. Generally, he lectures her on "breaking into" their apartment (no matter how many times she reminds him that Leonard gave her a key, that clarification is usually lost on Sheldon – or maybe he just doesn't care, which is all the more likely).

Instead of launching into a speech about how she is (in his eyes) a scant two escalating crimes away from appearing on America's Most Wanted, he merely stands behind her, surveying the contents of the fridge over her shoulder.

Then – the unthinkable – he places a hand on her shoulder to balance himself as he leans slightly around her to grab the milk. As if that weren't odd enough, he then repeats the motion in order to grab a box of cereal from the top of the fridge, before moving away to get a bowl from the cabinet.

She's sure that she hasn't breathed during the entire 10 second ordeal, and lets the fridge door shut as she turns to face him.

He mixes cereal and milk in perfect proportions while she watches him in silent contemplation. What had just happened? To the average person, it would seem minor, a completely normal event that wasn't worth contemplating, never mind commenting on.

But Sheldon's not normal, and she won't simply forget it.

"What was that?" She asks, more sharply than she intends, as he grabs a spoon from the drawer.

"To what are you referring?" He asks, without looking at her.

She's momentarily distracted. "Why are you getting cereal when you know I'm here to cook breakfast?" She accuses.

"Penny," he gives a sigh one could only attribute to the long-suffering. "Whenever you cook for us, there is a 90% probability you will burn whatever you attempt to make. Since you've long refused my help in preparing edible food, I am forced to resort to other measures." He holds up the bowl of cereal as explanation, and goes to sit on the couch.

She shakes her head, reminding herself that his liking, or not liking, the food she makes is not the issue she's questioning. "I mean two minutes ago, when you reached to get the milk and cereal. You touched me! What was that about?"

He drops his spoon into the bowl and glances over at her, a look of complete confusion on his face. "I don't know what you're talking about. I don't remember any such event."

Either he's suffering from short-term amnesia, he's been possessed, or she's overreacting to something that's completely meaningless. She decides on the last explanation, simply because she can't imagine Sheldon Cooper allowing himself to succumb to amnesia or possession – either by aliens or demons. They'd be in his body for 10 seconds before fleeing in terror at his normal thought processes.

"Alright…" she says suspiciously, deciding to let it go.

The incident has so distracted her that she is about to leave, her hand on the doorknob, when Sheldon stops her. "Aren't you going to eat breakfast?"

"I…" she stops, embarrassed, and tries to cover. "You're already eating something so there's no need for me to cook."

Sheldon takes a moment to respond. "Leonard hasn't eaten yet and I think I heard him rising. For God knows what reason, he apparently loves your French toast, dreadful as it is. I'm sure he'd be disappointed if I told him you were here and didn't make it."

She bites her lip before giving in and returning to the kitchen, pulling out the ingredients. It's not a lie, but he's certainly worked hard to come up with that explanation, and for him...that's close enough to a lie to give her pause. She won't question it because she's grateful, and he for once is being tactful. He's normally never this way, but she swears sometimes… when it comes to her…

She meets his eyes a few minutes later as she's cracking eggs, and smiles, her way of thanking him. His smile back to her is so brief she could almost convince herself she's imagined it, if she wants to.

She doesn't want to.

XXXXXX

She's able to completely forget that morning for about two weeks, which is when something else happens out of the ordinary.

She's at work, and it's the night that the guys come in for their usual dinner (though half the time she's convinced they only come to make her night all the more miserable – Sheldon, especially).

He sends his meal back three times with separate complaints, and she's about to hand their table off to another co-worker in fury, but he accepts the fourth plate she brings him with complete courtesy, and she refrains for only one reason: she needs this job.

Unfortunately, Derek, her boss, has noticed Sheldon's obvious unhappiness and pulls her aside after he finally receives a satisfactory order. He berates her for a solid five minutes about the way she treats customers, and how they're always right, and how incredibly close she is to losing her job for failing to provide the superior service that Derek apparently believes the Cheesecake Factory is famous for. They're in an alcove, but not entirely hidden from all the customers, as she can see still see the guys' table, and most certainly everyone within 30 feet can hear Derek humiliating her.

Normally, she would argue, or yell back that he's obviously pissed she turned him down for a date two weeks ago, but she's completely blind-sided and near tears by the time he's done with her. And did she mention she needs this job?

When she returns to the guys' table, they all avoid her eyes uncomfortably, obviously having seen (and heard) her boss's scathing remarks. All except Sheldon, that is, who meets her eyes unflinchingly and then deliberately thanks her for her service that evening.

His remark is what pushes her over the edge and she quickly goes off to refill their sodas before any of them notices the tears in her eyes. It doesn't help that it's Sheldon that got her in trouble in the first place – but the fact that he's being so nice to her all of a sudden means she can't even get mad at him for his earlier actions (no matter how much she wants to).

When she comes back to the table, Sheldon is missing. As she gives them their drinks, she asks where he's gone, and Leonard looks away guiltily. Raj, as usual, mutely stares at her.

Howard is the one who speaks up. "He went to talk to your boss," he points across the room where Sheldon is, indeed, speaking to her boss.

She's sure, at that moment, that her position here is going to be terminated and she may as well give up right now. She sits down in Sheldon's vacant seat and stares miserably at Leonard.

"Why didn't you stop him?" She asks, but it's without any passion at all. She's accepted her fate.

"You know how Sheldon is," Leonard glances nervously at Raj and Howard. "He wanted to…set some things straight."

She sighs helplessly, eating some of Sheldon's fries and sipping the soda she just brought for him. He'd no doubt refuse to touch the rest of his meal if he knew how she contaminated his food, but she thinks he owes her. She's already spinning images of the future where she has no income. The little income she did have from this job barely covered living expenses, so what's she going to do without it? Where else can she possibly work?

She's deep in a well of self-pity when Sheldon returns. He watches her eating his food, but refrains from commenting on it. "Penny, there's no need to thank me."

"For getting me fired? Gee, thanks, Sheldon," she stands up so he can sit down again, but she takes his soda with her and morosely sips it. He's cost her a job – the least he can do is give her his $2 soda.

"What are you talking about?" Sheldon asks, as he sits across from Leonard, his gaze never leaving hers. "I merely had a chat with your boss about your worth to this establishment."

"Huh?" She asks, quite ineloquently.

"Okay, perhaps not your 'worth' because any 15-year-old high school drop-out could perform the job that you do," Sheldon clarifies.

She's seriously considering pouring the rest of his drink over his head when he starts talking again.

"Fortunately, Derek completely agreed with me – about your value, that is – when I gave him a list of the 6 health code violations I see at this establishment in the dining area alone. Leonard, why do we still eat here?"

Penny stares at him in confusion as she tries to process what he's saying. Did he just tell her he saved her job by threatening to report the restaurant for violations?

He reaches out and takes his drink from her. "You're welcome, Penny."

That, she realizes, is exactly what he's done. She smiles broadly. "Sheldon, your meal is on the house. I'm sure Derek will approve." She glances over to her boss who has been glaring at her but abruptly leaves when she looks his way.

Raj grudgingly hands Sheldon a $20 bill, and Leonard shakes his head in reluctant admiration. "I truly thought you had no way of getting a free dinner from Penny tonight. I underestimated you."

"As usual," Sheldon smirks. "As usual." He sips his drink and pockets the money and, though she knows she should, Penny doesn't even care in the slightest that they bet on her.

XXXXXX

It's barely a week later when Penny enters their apartment after a ridiculously long week. She's worked 10 hours of overtime in the past 2 days and all she wants to do is relax. Why she chooses their apartment to relax in is something she doesn't care to think about with too much depth.

In her hands she has two romantic comedies she's been wanting to see for awhile. And when she crosses the threshold of their apartment, she catches Leonard putting Star Trek (the 2009 movie version) into the DVD player.

"Honestly, Leonard, we've seen that at least two dozen times," she groans, falling onto the sofa. She can quote the dialogue by now – of every single character.

"But it's awesome!" He protests, as Sheldon walks over with popcorn and takes his seat on the couch.

"Penny, are you trying to say that the newest theatrical version of Star Trek – though wrought with its fair share of problematic plot twists – is not worth watching?"

She sighs at Sheldon's words. She knows nothing she could say would detract from their enjoyment of the film, or convince them not to watch it. She tries anyway. "I'm merely saying that you've all seen this movie enough that it's imprinted on your brains!" She waves her movies at them. "Why not try something new?"

Sheldon nearly chokes on his popcorn while he laughs. "Penny, please," he scoffs, "we are interested in real movies, not the latest Jennifer Aniston or Katherine Heigl excuse for a 'movie' that is merely a fluffy romance with absolutely no plot development."

"Hey," Raj counters, liberally sipping from his third beer of the evening. "I really enjoyed 27 Dresses."

The four of them stare at him, but he's distinctly unapologetic. Sheldon is the first to break the silence. "That is why you are never allowed to pick what we watch on movie night. If so, I'm sure I'd be subjected to the horrors of What Happens in Vegas sooner rather than later." He shudders, as if for effect, but Penny can't help laughing at the horror written all over his face.

"Come on, Sheldon," she cajoles, "leave your comfort zone of deep space to experience the terrestrial pleasures of No Reservations."

He's more than horrified, as she shoves one of the movies she brought at him, but she doesn't care, because his reaction is too hilarious. "Penny, I would rather jump off our roof than watch that excuse for a – a – movie!" He says the word as if the film doesn't have enough merit to qualify as a 'movie' in Sheldon Cooper's mind. And it probably doesn't.

"Fine," she concedes dramatically, though she knew the moment she decided to cross the hall that she'd have no choice about her evening's entertainment. It had something to do with space about 97% of the time. "I'll watch Star Trek, yet again."

A half hour later she's trying to keep her eyes open, but she's nowhere near unhappy. What she is, though, is exhausted. She's leaning more and more to her left, until finally she gives in and rests her head on Sheldon's shoulder. For the first 60 seconds she holds her breath, anticipating him sharply admonishing her, or perhaps shoving her away.

However, he seems far too wrapped up in Kirk's latest predicament to even acknowledge that she's touching him. And that's when she lets herself fall asleep.

Roughly two hours later she wakes up to find Sheldon draping a blanket over her on the couch. The others are gone. Leonard has presumably gone to bed and the others must have gone home. She stares up at him, confused.

"I thought you'd be comfortable staying here," Sheldon says, shifting from one foot to the other. It seems he expects her to jump up or maybe start yelling at him for some reason. Instead, she only pulls the blanket further up and, for some reason, reaches out to take hold of his hand.

He says nothing, merely watches as she grasps his hand for a minute. She doesn't let go until he pulls away.

"Thanks, Sheldon," she whispers.

"Good night, Penny," he says succinctly, and he's about to leave when she reaches out again to stop him. Her fingers barely brush his arm, but he pauses and turns back to her, questioning.

She doesn't say anything though, and, as she guessed he would, he feels compelled to fill the silence.

"Leonard wanted to watch War of the Worlds – the 1953 adaptation," he tells her, "but I knew you would hate it. I told them we had to watch Star Trek instead."

"For me," she whispers, and it's not a question.

"You claim not to enjoy it every time we watch it," he tells her. "But I see the way you smile through the whole movie. You love it. That's why I considered it an acceptable choice for movie night, and one which would make everyone happy."

She blinks at his thoughtfulness and thinks about how remarkable it is that he can still surprise her after all this time. And she feels incredibly grateful to him, probably much more than she should for a simple movie choice, but it really had made her feel better after a terrible week – even if she did fall asleep a half hour into it.

Maybe, she thinks, it's his consideration alone, and not the movie itself, that makes her feel better. She doesn't spend much more time thinking about it, because she falls asleep almost immediately after he returns to his own room (clutching the blanket he gave her and wondering if it's her imagination that it smells like him).

XXXXXX

It takes at least another month until she puts it together, because at first she doesn't know quite what to make of it all (she has an incredible knack for explaining things away).

For example, the minor touches (like that morning she'd made breakfast for them) could have merely been accidental.

The time he fought with her boss might have been more about his bet with Raj than any concern for her continued job security.

And when he convinced the others to do things that would make her happy, such as watching the 2009 Star Trek movie over some 50's sci-fi flick, it could have been more about Sheldon's preferences than her own. It would be like him to try and insist he did it for her when he really just wanted to cover up the fact that he wanted to watch it (or more likely, that he wanted to keep the others from watching a movie they'd prefer more than his preference).

But as the weeks pass, and instances like the aforementioned three keep occurring, Penny begins to really question what's going on.

The only conclusion she comes to floors her so much that she initially disregards it for its sheer improbability. Because her initial conclusion is that Sheldon might feel some sort of…affection for her.

It's completely absurd, and so laughable that she goes back and recalculates all the evidence which had caused her to draw that conclusion.

She even draws up a list for God's sake! And, as it turns out, that's her ultimate undoing – seeing as she'd drawn the list on Leonard's whiteboard in Leonard and Sheldon's apartment. In her defense, though, Sheldon and Leonard had been away at some conference (the name of which she didn't remember on purpose because it was so convoluted and she didn't know what 75% of the words meant, anyway).

How was she to guess that they'd be back by 11 o'clock? That they would walk in right after she'd written, on the board (under her evidence): "Possible conclusions: 1) Sheldon is playing the prank of the century on me 2) Sheldon's body has been possessed by aliens 3) Sheldon is in love with me."

When she turns around and sees the four of them watching her with intense fascination, she lunges to grab the eraser and get rid of all the evidence – only in her haste she drops it and ends up on the floor trying to retrieve it, and by the time she stands up again, they've read everything.

It would do no good to erase it, by that point. Except maybe to try and salvage her pride. But she's pretty sure, at that point, that it had been lost long ago. Probably long before the guys came home, at least (which led her to wonder, a short time later, why Howard and Raj were there, anyways, but it was a question she was never able to answer because she'd fled the apartment without a single word as a result of her abject humiliation).

She spends 17 minutes, exactly, wallowing on her couch and thinking of all the ways she's ruined everything. Not only with Sheldon, but all of them. Because now they probably think she's in love with him. They'll never act the same around her again.

When Sheldon knocks on her door, she considers not answering. No, she isn't brave (not about things like this), and she's never claimed to be.

Still, after 5 sets of his knocking, she can't take any more and answers with the utmost reluctance. "What do you want?" She asks, irritated.

Truly, she doesn't know what she expected. Maybe an apology from him for unknowingly playing with her emotions. Or an admonition (on Leonard's behalf) about erasing the formulas he'd had on his whiteboard (as if she cared about the effect of gravity on the planets). Or maybe a question, asked in complete obliviousness, about why she'd rushed out of their apartment without any explanation whatsoever.

Whatever she'd expected, it hadn't been for him to stare at her intently when she answered the door, before sweeping forward and pulling her into a kiss that literally took her breath away – so much, in fact, that she ends up pushing him away solely so she can breathe again.

"Sheldon – what?" She sort of gasps, meeting his eyes and wondering what the hell is going on.

"Penny," he answers, and she hates the way he sounds completely normal, despite the breath-taking kiss they'd just shared. "I saw your attempt at problem-solving on Leonard's white-board – and I must say even your incoherent thoughts were an improvement over his worthless calculations on inter-planetary gravity – but still, I feel compelled to inform you that your hypotheses were not entirely incorrect. Or rather, your last hypothesis was not incorrect."

Penny stares up at him, holding her hand to his chest to keep their distance while she processes what he's telling her. "Sheldon, my last hypothesis was that…you are in love with me."

He doesn't even blink. "Did I not just say that your last hypothesis was not incorrect?"

She wants to cry, because that's the kind of emotional being she is – unlike him. Unlike Sheldon. Her Sheldon.

Her Sheldon. She wants to say that she never thought of him that way, except that once she admits it, she realizes she has pretty much always thought of him that way.

"Shel –" She starts to say, but he cuts her off by kissing her again, and God help her, she kisses him back. She can't help it. Because that conclusion she'd drawn about him perhaps being in love with her? She hadn't put the reason why she even contemplated that scenario – which is that she is in love with him.

No, she couldn't say how or why, but if she had to guess, she'd probably name off a bunch of moments, those brief snippets in time that, individually, amounted to not much, but when viewed together, gave her the picture of a man who clearly cared for her. A great deal.

She might have even drawn the conclusion that he loved her, and that was before he'd pretty much admitted that to her after kissing her senseless in the doorway to her apartment.

"Penny," he says, when the break apart again. "I have to conclude by your enthusiastic reaction that you have feelings for me which match those I have for you?"

She laughs, yet again, and wonders when her life had taken such a sharp left turn – but doesn't care in the least. "Sheldon, do you love me?"

"I thought that's what we already established," he says, confused. "Was I unclear in the way I informed you of my –" He doesn't get to finish because she kisses him before he can say more.

She finally lets him say it, without interrupting him, several hours later. And to hear that he loves her, in his own voice, his own words…it's as wonderful as she always imagined.

And even when they've spent a lifetime with each other, and she's heard it probably thousands of times, she never gets tired of hearing it – or of saying it to him. (And that, she realizes many years later, is what lets her know she made the right choice).

XXXXXX

The end. I can no longer say I may not continue with BBT stories because this one came to me out of nowhere. Who knows what will happen in the future.

I love all readers and reviewers, you have no idea how much.