Penny sighed. It had been a long day, though it had certainly had its moments. Sometimes she wondered what her life would have been like if
she had never met Sheldon, Leonard, Raj and Howard. Despite her occasional frustration with them, they had easily become her closest friends and she missed hanging out with them all on a regular basis. Tonight had been bittersweet because, as fun as it had been to stick up for her friends and feed needed and once again feel like part of the gang, it had only served as a further reminder that the dynamic had changed completely with the continued presence of Priya in their lives and that things would never be quite the same in their little group. She missed them all, even Howard. She drained the last of her large glass of wine at this last depressing realisation. Just as she was contemplating pouring herself another glass, even though it was late and she had a relatively early shift tomorrow, there came a knock at her apartment door.
*knock knock knock* "Penny"
*knock knock knock* "Penny"
*knock knock knock* "Penny"
Penny felt a warm surge of affection at the familiar habit of her friend as she went to answer the door.

"Hi Sheldon" she said, her tone more upbeat than she actually felt.
Sheldon had that slightly uncomfortable manner that he normally adopted when he wasn't quite sure how to approach a certain topic or request.

"What's up?" she queried, trying to keep her tone friendly and encouraging. She had a lot more patience with Sheldon and his quirks now that she didn't see him as often, but she was finding more and more that she really missed the days when Dr wack-a-doodle drove her mad, which only served to confuse her further.

Sheldon cleared his throat and took a step forward.

"May I come in?" he asked her politely, shifting slightly and looking even more uncomfortable.

"Sure" she replied with a smile, and stepped aside for him to enter, then headed to the kitchen for the previously considered wine refill.

"Penny" Sheldon began, watching her closely as she took a sip from her glass.
"I know it's late. But you showed great courage and bravery tonight and I wanted you to receive the appropriate recognition" he paused, licking his lips nervously "and to know that it meant a lot to me. So thank you" he finished quietly, the words still slightly strange to him as they weren't frequently utilised in his usual vocabulary.
Penny put down her wine glass and gave him a warm smile.

"Aw, you're welcome sweetie. Anytime"

Sheldon tentatively smiled back at her and she once again felt the warm feeling inside her at receiving a genuine smile from him— it was rare but that seemed to make it all the more sweet.

"I wasn't exactly sure of the correct way to demonstrate my gratitude, but then I remembered your fondness for physical intimacy, so here" he took a step towards her and reached out his arms, pulling her body against his tall frame awkwardly.

It took Penny only a moment to get past her shock and wrap her arms around his waist, enjoying the rare moment of physical closeness between the two of them. Sheldon felt unusually relaxed in her arms, the fabric of his robot evolution t-shirt soft, and the familiar clean scent of soap and fabric softener gently enveloping her. It calmed her and made her almost forget her Priya troubles. Strangely, he seemed as reluctant as she did to let her go and she wondered, not for the first time, why she was the one he was so often willing to bend his rules for. The thought had always made her feel special. But this time she also found herself wondering how much further he would bend his rules for her. As if reading her thoughts, he slowly pulled away from her, still smiling his awkward but sweet smile and taking a small step back.

"You're a good friend Penny" he said, his intensely blue eyes looking into hers.

Penny was touched. In all the years she had known Sheldon, he had never said anything as outright about their friendship as this, even though he had showed it on occasion in his own ways.

"Thanks Sheldon" she replied, horrified to find her throat tight with emotion and her eyes stinging with the threat of tears.

"What's wrong Penny?" Sheldon questioned, sounding genuinely concerned, and she was once again surprised as she had been hoping that his lack of experience in social situations would mean that he didn't pick up on her sudden bout of emotion.

"Did I do something to upset you?" he asked, clearly alarmed at the thought.

"No sweetie" she assured him with a sniff, gently patting his arm. "I just miss you guys, that's all. Especially you".

As she admitted this last part her eyes dropped from his, the tears stinging her eyes painfully as she fought to suppress them. Going against every instinct he had, Sheldon pulled her into another hug, forcing himself to be of more comfort to her by patting her back slightly, like he had seen in some movies.

"I miss you too Penny" he confessed quietly into her ear.

Finally they both pulled away from the embrace and Sheldon, reassured that Penny looked at least slightly comforted, decided to leave whilst he was ahead of the social interaction game. He paused at the doorway, looking over at Penny who gave him a small sad smile.

"Penny, may I propose that we have I-talian spaghetti together tomorrow night? It is after all anything can happen Thursday"

Her smile broadened, reaching her eyes this time.

"It's a date"

I've decided to leave this as a one shot. But I'm incorporating a lot of my ideas for it into my other fic 'The Confusing Dream Conundrum' so keep your eyes on that one!