Sheldon has never understood the attraction of kissing before, thinking it merely a horribly unhygienic action. Now, as an active participant, he is prepared to alter his stance in the light of new data. Somewhere along the way, this has become something he wants to do, not something being done to him. He regretfully concludes that while his brain might be more highly evolved, the rest of him is extremely human, and that his attempts at a denial of emotion have been a sad failure. Still, this is a glorious defeat.

Penny had expected Sheldon to be stiff and nervous. She's forgotten his curiosity, and the fact that he's never particularly shy or self-conscious. He's a little clumsy, but she can feel him thinking about this, a certain determination. And then he makes a happy little noise of discovery, and tilts his head slightly, and suddenly, she's no longer the aggressor here.

When they pull back, both breathless and a little startled, he blinks at her.

"I never wanted to kiss anybody before."

He looks so innocently pleased with himself that Penny almost wants to cry.

"You did very well for your first time."

"Naturally." And he gives her a hopeful look out of the corner of his eye. "But I expect I can improve, with practise?"

Penny thinks about all that intelligence and obsessive attention to detail. Licks her lips.

"Yeah." She croaks. "I expect you will."

"...I'll draw up a schedule."

And that is pure Sheldon. She laughs. At him, at herself, at second chances, at a world that is no longer the tired treadmill it was.

"I don't know about that, sweetie. I guess...we'll take it one day at a time." Sees his mouth open, and hurries on, "You'll still have your routine, but we can discuss stuff as and when it happens, yeah? Like you were able to cope tonight with all the weirdness without freaking out."

"This will be an interesting experiment..." She tries to step back, suddenly hurt, but he's not letting her go. "We are the experiment. The definition being – a course of action undertaken to test a hypothesis, a supposition, made as the starting point for further investigation."

"Kinda like a journey? Or a quest?" Penny considers it, still tense. "So, what, I'm like the prize at the end of it?"

"No, you are my companion on the voyage of discovery."

She likes that better than being a trophy. And she's fairly sure that Sheldon has put a capital 'C' on 'Companion', given his fascination with timey-wimey aliens. Grins up at him.

"I'm your Rose?"

Sheldon looks thoughtful, and then smiles.

"More like my Tardis. Unpredictable, and prone to taking me to somewhere I wasn't expecting to go. But...perhaps it is where I need to be."

Penny has been told a lot of things by guys. They've complimented her hair, her smile, leered at her chest and ass, told her she's great in bed.

Being compared to some bust-up old fictional spaceship? Somehow, that wins, hands down.

00000000

Penelope hugs Penny hard, and then turns and hugs Sheldon, too. And Sheldon, bless him, twitches, then very cautiously hugs her back. Sheldor gives Penny an equally brief and awkward embrace. Then he holds out a hand to Sheldon.

"I must thank you for your ability to provide an answer to our dilemma." He says, a little stiffly. "I am not accustomed to being... at a disadvantage."

With quiet ceremony, Sheldon shakes the hand of the one man he could ever consider a true equal.

"If our positions were reversed, I am not sure that I would find myself at all capable in your world." He feels able to admit that much. "And...I must thank you, too, for your...insights."

Sheldor leans forward, lowers his voice.

"You may find the endeavour occasionally baffling, but I assure you that the rewards far outweigh any frustrations."

"I think they're talking about us." Penelope says, looks up at Sheldor though her lashes. "You're no picnic, either, sweetie." She turns to Penny, "He'll be all kinds of stubborn and annoying, and you may want to hit him over the head a few times, but he'll be so worth it."

"Yeah, I think he will." Penny flicks a quick smile up at Sheldon, watches him flush. "I know this has been all been really weird, and a complete pain in the ass for you, but I'm not sorry the accident brought you guys here."

"Me, neither." Penelope gives her a last hard hug. "Remember, stick to the steak, honey."

"I will. Um, fly safely."

Penelope gives her a last misty grin, and scrambles up to begin her pre-flight checks. Sheldor catches the pair of brass flying-goggles she tosses down to him, snaps them on.

"It might be a good idea for you to retreat to a safe distance. The downdraft will be considerable." Clears his throat. "It has been an... interesting and occasionally enjoyable experience. Despite the circumstances that caused it." Raises his hand in salute. "May your lives be lengthy, and full of success."

Penny pats Tranquillity's warm scales one last time, stares into that golden eye.

"Goodbye. And...thank you." She whispers, and she's never sure if that lowered eyelid is a wink, or not.

From the shelter of the roadway, they look back and up.

Sheldor is tracing in the air, the precision of a top-flight surgeon, a world-class conductor. Reprogramming reality, a mathemagician.

There's the moment when you wait for the storm you know is coming. The way the air changes, the smell of it. The cloud is tiny, at first. A haze, a smudge, a wisp. But it blooms out of nowhere, sprawling across the sky, fast and eerie. Sheldor moves to hoist himself up onto the crouching dragon, settles himself behind Penelope, as above them, the billows begin to darken. The ozone smell grows stronger, and strange lightnings flare deep within the turmoil.

Sheldon's lips are moving soundlessly. Penny wonders if he's praying, but realises that he's reciting numbers. (Actually, the digits of pi.) Screw this, she's scared. Reaches out and pulls his arms round herself, and after one rigid second, he lets her.

Above them, the sky rips open. A vast, yawning gateway, the edges boil, churning clouds filled with colours that have no name, streaming away in banners of light, falling upwards towards...another world. A glimpse of a vast, trackless plain, forest-mantled mountains, and a savage spire of stone above a jumble of roofs and chimneys.

Tranquillity lifts her head, and her nostrils flare. She smells home. Her wings unfurl, and she roars, a great, primal bellow. A gathering of tension, all breath and muscle, and then with a powerful thrust of her hind legs, those great wings sweep down, and she launches into the air. She lurches a little, and Penny, heart in her mouth, clutches Sheldon's shirt even as his arms tighten. But then she steadies, and something that big shouldn't be so graceful. Powerful downbeats, and the wing is holding, she's gaining height and speed, rising up over the highway.

Those watching the sky suddenly find their vision filled with dragon. Vehicles veer across lanes, skid to a halt, slither, shunt. Shattered glass, crumpled metal, blare of horns and alarms, screams and yells.

For one instant, the great serpentine form hangs there, a dark silhouette against the light. And then the clouds roll in behind her, folding in on themselves and burning away, to leave nothing but a green afterimage, and then a hazy morning sky.

Penny realises that her cheeks are wet.

"You think they'll get home alright?"

"Penny, he's a version of me, and she is a version of you." Sheldon's chin lifts, his own eyes bright. "And I think that together, those two can accomplish anything that they wish to."

The world is colourless, the drab grey of pre-dawn, and just a little chilly. Penny shivers suddenly, gives a jaw-cracking yawn that sets Sheldon off, too.

"The artificial energy imparted by the sucrose and theobromine is starting to wear off."

"I need a really big cup of coffee." Her face twists. "Shoot. I haven't done my groceries this week."

"I have." Sheldon gives a resigned sigh. "And I bought extra milk with your predations in mind."

Penny shakes her head and laughs at him, tilts her head at the sound of distant sirens.

"C'mon, honey. I think we should get back to the car before this place gets overrun with cops and monster hunters."

She turns to walk back along the pathway. He isn't a fan of unnecessary touching, but suddenly, now, it has become the most necessary thing in the world. If Sheldor can reach across dimensions, then he can reach across six inches. Butterfly light, his fingers brush hers.

It isn't perhaps so very much. But she smiles up at him as if he's given her the greatest prize in the world, and he smiles tremulously back, reassured by the warmth of her palm and the way her fingers fit so perfectly, twining gently with his own, to form a tiny cage of flesh and bone, holding the beginnings of something fragile and marvellous within it.

00000000

Penny reckons that the tip in reality will have every loose nut in the greater LA area rolling towards the park, and judging by the traffic, she's right. They pass one idiot who has been pulled over with what looks like a full-size harpoon gun lashed to the top of his truck.

She puts the radio on, more to keep her awake than out of a need for music, and they listen to the early news, with the superior glow of those with inside knowledge. Sheldon expresses amused condescension at the wildly inaccurate scientific explanations. 'Alien Space Bat sighted over the Devil's Gate Dam' makes them both laugh out loud. Penny smirks.

"This is L.A, sweetie. Betcha by this time next week, they'll be selling 'dragon dogs' at the Rosebowl. Hot sauce, hot mustard, and extra peppers." (She's right.)

She glances sideways at her... new boyfriend? Sheldon is never going to lounge, but he seems more relaxed than she has ever seen him, and although he's clearly exhausted, he doesn't look tense. With his heavy eyes and shadowed jaw, he looks like a man this morning. She knows now, however neurotic he gets, there's an actual guy under all that weirdness, (and if her eyes stray up to his lips or down to his fingers, that's okay, she's allowed to have bad thoughts, now.) The fact she's actually having bad thoughts about Sheldon...would seem ridiculous, except for the memory of his mouth on hers, and the way he reached out to hold her hand.

Normally, new guy would mean back to his place, or her place, and maybe call in sick to work. She still thinks she might take a personal day, but what she really wants is sleep, and coffee, and maybe a bath. And she thinks that that is the way to do this. She wants to get this right. Sheldon isn't in this just for the sex (though she's suddenly and happily sure that he won't be adverse to it) - and he's not the kind of guy you can 'pump and dump', and then expect him to head off and find someone else to jump into bed with. He's been dragged into having feelings for her (she daren't quite use the 'l' word, yet, even in the privacy of her head) almost against his will, and she doesn't want to scare him back into his shell, he might never come out again. He might not want to be human, and she might not be what he ever expected, or what some dumbass computer dating service spit out for him, but he is human, and somehow, she seems to be what he wants, in spite of himself. She'll need all her wits about her to deal with him, and she's never going to be able to take his reactions for granted.

She'll never be able to fake tears with him – he won't let her get away with that crap. He'll never do anything for her just because he wants in her pants, but he'll drop his work without a second thought if he's needed. He expects her to do more and be more, and not just be. Stifles a grin - she'll be the one changing the tyres and fixing the plumbing, and he'll be the one cleaning the bathroom and baking. But hey, he makes awesome zucchini bread, and maybe it's time she dredged up a little of that farm-girl practicality she's been downplaying for far too long.

It's not a question of changing him. (Well, maybe that plaid suit needs to go...) More... teaching him to act like people sometimes. Get him to tone down the crazy a little sometimes, so everyone can appreciate the mind and the man behind it. So transparently honest, you couldn't trust him with a secret, but you would trust him with your life. Or your heart.

Sheldon is listening to the radio with half his attention. The rest of his mind is still processing the aftershocks. He knows that he has allowed things to slide, living inside his world of order and intellect, and ignoring events around him. Every group has a scapegoat, and he had found himself elected to the position through his inattention. Well, Sheldon Cooper is done with being everybody's fool. Things will be changing. He is under no illusions that a lot of these changes will be scary and a little painful. But he has confidence in his ability to cope, now that he is aware of the pattern. And not all change is bad. Remembers the feel of Penny in his arms, and reflexively licks his lips. Some changes in his life promise to be very enjoyable. He has a girlfriend. And while it is true that she is a girl who is also his friend, in this case, there is also the true emotional freight of the word. A regular companion with whom one shares a romantic and... sexual (his cheeks heat) relationship. Oddly, though, he thinks it is the former rather than the latter that scares him more. The mechanics are straightforward, and he is fairly aware that his body is very normal, despite his best efforts to ignore it as more than a machine for transporting his mind. And Penny will teach him what to do, he is willing to submit to her expertise. The messy business of emotions, though... he huffs softly.

"This is all going to be so terribly strange to me."

"Me, too." Penny's voice is small. "You... aren't like any other guy I've dated."

"I should hope not." Fidgets. "So this will all be new to you as well?"

"Yeah." And just like that, the weight of all the past rolls away. Her smile is bright, delighted. "Yeah, it will be, won't it? Cool."

He doesn't completely understand, but Penny is smiling at him, that wide, sweet, happy smile he thought had been lost.

It seems that kissing her seems to improve her mood. (And his.) Sheldon finds himself not caring particularly if it is a release of endorphins, or a function of catecholamine neurotransmitters – for once he is simply content to feel, and to hope, and to smile excitedly back.

00000000

Leonard trudges up the stairs. Cleared of deliberate sabotage, and without any other evidence against them, they have been released without charge. There is still the uncomfortable suspicion that Caltech and the JPL might have further questions, but the twin threat of prison or the psych ward has lifted. The rather perfunctory dismissal (it couldn't be termed an apology) from the FBI has done little to mitigate the misery of the night, though.

"No evidence of explosives, I guess we'll leave the power company to figure this one out. As for the rest of it... " Jones had put the statement down, picked up the corner of the evidence bag, full of soggy scraps of pasteboard.

Leonard had held his breath. Those playing cards will have been discovered to be loaded with weird explosive microcircuitry, or soaked in some esoteric form of LSD. They are Sheldon's playing cards, after all, and that's the way things usually work out. (Sheldon should be the one doing something ridiculous, and hauled in by the authorities, Sheldon should be the one in the paper gown, and complaining that his mother had had him tested already. It's somehow funny when these things happen to Sheldon.)

Instead, the large, scary and decidedly unbeautiful FBI agent had given him a very tired look, and said,

"Off the record here, okay. Magic playing-cards? A sword-wielding warrior-wizard? A leather-clad barbarian princess astride a dragon? Guys, you maybe need to ease off the caffeine and get out more. Your buddy Dr Cooper might have all sorts of peculiarities, but he's the one who is out someplace with a rather attractive young woman. Now, that sounds a lot more normal to me than hanging about in a lab late at night and playing some strange card game."

Sheer incredulity had added an octave to Leonard's voice.

"They went out looking for the dragon."

"Yeah, you said. I don't care what you want to call it, he's a grown man, and whatever he's doing has nothing to do with this investigation. Lights in the sky and spooky monsters are a whole different department." (Page had kicked him under the table, then, but Jones had kept his face straight.) "Go home, Dr Hofstadter. Get some sleep. Lay off the allergy medication. We have no further questions at this time."

They had had to call a cab. Which smelt exactly like an LA cab at the end of a long night, and was driven by a man who had obviously learnt to drive in another country. Or maybe on another planet. Leonard doesn't think anything could surprise him, now. Even the Cossack death-metal balalaika music. Howard has gone home to face his mother. Raj has gone home to face Priya. Leonard has been informed icily that she'll be talking to him later. Now, he just wants his bed. He staggers wearily in through the apartment door. And there is Sheldon, as if nothing had ever happened. Well, he hopes that that is his room-mate. Unshaven, with rumpled hair and still in a dark sweater and pants...

"Sheldon?" He asks, cautiously.

"Sshhh." Sheldon gestures, finger to his lips. "You'll wake Penny."

There is a sleepy grumble, and Penny sits up on the couch, wiping at her eyes.

"...'fffee?" She slurs.

Sheldon tuts, and begins to fuss with the coffee-pot. Leonard looks warily around.

"Our... guests went home, then? Along with...it?"

"Sheldor, Penelope and Tranquillity have all returned to their world of origin, yes. The early morning news referred to it as an 'atmospheric disturbance', of course, but I doubt that there are many people capable of understanding the complex mechanics of enabling a transdimensional interface through thaumatic phase-space manipulation."

"Uh?"

"Sheldor magicked a big hole in the sky." Penny accepts the mug of coffee Sheldon pours her.

Leonard gives a sigh of relief. Everything can go back to normal, now. The crazy people and their monster have gone, the JPL is Howard's problem, Priya will forgive him when he explains that Penny called him up to deal with Sheldon, and Penny always forgives him. And if Priya doesn't forgive him, then maybe...

He slides his eyes sideways. Penny has changed her make-up or something – the smudged eyes and bedhead look quite alluring today. And surely he deserves some sympathy after the horrible, traumatic night he's had. He edges a bit closer as he fills his own mug and tries to convey a wounded, sensitive air.

"Leonard, do you have indigestion?" Sheldon asks. Leonard glares.

"I spent the night being interrogated by the FBI, actually." Turns puppy eyes towards Penny. "I was questioned for hours. There were needles. And really bad coffee."

"That's nice, sweetie." Penny says absently, frowning at her phone. "Sheldon, why have I got a text from Amy, congratulating me and informing me that as her 'bestie', I am required to 'dish the dirt' later?"

"Oh, I responded to a text enquiring as to my whereabouts by informing her that I had been up all night with you, and that we redefined the parameters of our relationship."

Leonard gives a smothered snort. Sheldon blinks at him. Penny sighs.

"He's implying that that sounds like we had sex, honey."

"Oh. Really, Leonard, we haven't progressed that far into our courtship yet." Sheldon says, reprovingly.

Leonard's brain goes blank.

"You...she...yet...what?"

"Sheldon and I have decided to try dating." Penny explains kindly.

"Dating? But...you... he doesn't...what the hell, Sheldon, you've never even wanted a 'deal'."

"That is true. But I have discovered that I have one, regardless, and that my 'deal' is Penny." He smiles at Penny, a goofy little smile.

Leonard waits for the 'bazinga'. He keeps waiting.

Instead, Penny puts her mug down carefully on the counter, reaches up on tiptoe. There is a quite noticeable absence of recoiling, spluttering or blank confusion from the tall man. His arms hover, and then fold awkwardly round her.

Penny is kissing Sheldon. Sheldon is kissing Penny. Sheldon is kissing...

Someone in this scenario surely has to be drunk. And since Penny and Sheldon appear to have forgotten that he even exists, Leonard decides that it really might as well be him.

His phone rings.

"Hello, Dr Gablehouser...no, there are no charges at this time, just an unfortunate accident...no, he wasn't involved at all, actually...no, he is still alive...he's kissing his new girlfriend in the kitchen at the moment...no, I'm not on any medication, I just wish I was...no, he didn't build her, she's real...no, she's not on any medication, either...no, though he probably should be... right now, sir?...well, I was just going to go and hide under my bedclothes, since I'm fairly sure that the world is in the process of ending. Have a nice day..."

00000000

As for what happened to Penelope's war-axe...

The demonforged blade smashes down with an unstoppable fury, and the hapless prey screeches, vital fluids spilling from a shattered body.

The assembled crowd trembles in fear, awe (and quite a lot of lust.) They had thought that the pretty blonde in the pink t-shirt was just a supportive girlfriend. Right up until she started destroying the opposition. She looks up questioningly at her companion. The tall man with the terrifying smile gives a slow, calm nod.

She gives a feral smirk, presses the button, though the flamethrower is overkill by this point, really. The 'Kripke Krippler' expires, a mess of charred and melted junk, and 'Tranquillity II' circles gleefully.

Sheldon is intending the victory kiss to be a modest peck. Penny has other ideas.

She wins. He lets her.

00000000

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A/N - So... this was meant to be a 2,000 word one-shot. Yeah, that went well...

I know many people wanted me to feed Leonard to the dragon. But I felt that would be cruel – I'm rather fond of Tranquillity. Her feline alter ego is presently sleeping on my bed. She has never assaulted a hotdog cart, but watching her chow down on a mouse is an experience.

The angry Elven platypus was Trbl's suggestion. RuneScape was never like this...

The 'nine pictures that open a gateway' were pinched from Arturo Pérez-Reverte 'The Dumas Club', but Jack Parsons was real, and did indeed attempt the Babalon Working in 1946. A founder member of the JPL, and a follower of Aleister Crowley, he would chant a hymn to the Great God Pan before each test launch. Sheldon is by no means the weirdest person Caltech has ever dealt with.

No Tropes were Harmed in the Writing of this Fic.