"I have called the police, and they will soon arrive at this location," a totally unexpected voice said. "If you wish to avoid the cold, unforgiving shackles of the law, I would suggest you desist in your attempted assault and flee."
Both the mugger and the blonde he'd been attacking looked up. Two frightened geeks were huddled together on the street, peering into the alleyway. A third young man stood silhouetted on the sidewalk, holding up a brightly lit cellphone as if to prove he had, indeed, dialled 9-1-1.
"Your unlucky day, jerkwad," the blonde added, and slammed her fist into the mugger's nose.
Beleagered and now bloodied, her attacker yelped a few choice insults and fled back into the dark.
Immediately, the tall man returned to phone to his ear.
"The assailant appears to have fled. No, I don't know if the victim's all right; I am only approaching her just now."
"I'm basically okay!" she called out, working at keeping herself upright.
Solicitously, her rescuer offered her a hand. She took it, looked up, and started to thank him.
"Sheldon?" she squeaked.
"I can't believe it's you! Thank god we stopped to help out, right?" Howard chattered. Sheldon stood mute, processing the scene.
"It was, uh, my idea to walk down this way."
Raj, rendered wordless in the presence of their old neighbour, nonetheless communicated by making a noise like an air castle explosively deflating.
"Okay, I only suggested it because my car's parked down the street, but still."
She snickered. She looked exhausted, and messy. As much as it pained him not to offer her the means to clean up, he suspected the police would want to see her black eye and lacerated cheek for themselves, so his packet of emergency wet wipes stayed in his bag. She had, however, emerged rather rapidly from the alleyway, carrying with her an enormous purse and a fashionably electric blue suitcase. The latter now provided her with a seat, while the three males stood in an awkward semi-circle about her.
"Ow!" Howard glared at his expressively geticulating companion. "Okay, okay. And, it was Sheldon who spotted the trouble. But it's my cellphone! His is broken."
"It's not broken, it's faulty," he was forced to correct. "I bought it last week, and the programming was obviously set up for an entirely different style of phone. I had to take it back to the store to be fixed, and while they did offer a 'loaner phone' to suffice for the interval, it can barely hold a charge for more than six hours. Hence the necessity of my borrowing Howard's phone."
He was uncomfortably aware that at least three pairs of eyes were staring at him. Fortunately, that was the moment when the police cruiser arrived, and he was able to distract them with prospect of filing statements.
Penny was still sitting on a suitcase, though. Exhausted and messy and beautiful. He wondered if she'd taken the train.
Predictably enough, they wound up back in Sheldon's apartment with pizza after they'd finished at the police station. Ever since Leonard had moved out, Sheldon had decreed that New Comic Book day should be Pizza Day, as that could be eaten and cleared away quickly, leaving a maximum portion of the evening free for reading. With Penny visiting, however, their new comics seemed doomed to languish another night in clear plastic wrappers. Even Sheldon admitted her return was of more immediate interest.
"So what happened, anyway? Last we heard, you were planning on spending another two years in Vancouver. You didn't get cut from the show, did you?"
Penny rolled her eyes.
"Sorry, Howard; I signed a contract swearing not to tell anyone what's going to happen on the show before it gets to air."
"Aw, come on. This is us. We won't tell anyone, right Raj?" The happily silent man nodded agreement, and Sheldon quickly muttered his capitulation. Him, she watched a little longer, but he never looked up from his food.
Two out of three geeks pouted longingly at her.
"Okay. But, if I hear even one rumour about what I tell you..." All three winced. "Lauralee's going to be fired for concealing Mark. But I am not fired: they're doing a side-story shot here in L.A. It'll be spliced in, and there'll be guest spots, and some of the rest of the cast will join in here every once in a while. They're planning on a long story arc, but nobody knows how long, so I could be here years."
"You'll be moving back for a time, then," Sheldon said levelly. Her breath caught.
"That's the plan!" Carefully, she kept Sheldon in the corner of her eye. She had a feeling that if she looked at him directly he'd... Well, she wasn't sure what, but she was pretty sure she wanted him exactly where he was, not haring off to do something weird. Then she spoiled the moment anyway, by yawning. "Sorry guys. Guess I'm more tired than I thought."
"You can take my room for the night."
She gaped at their host.
"Whoa. Are you feeling okay, buddy?"
From Howard's reaction, that had surprised the guys as much as her. It was oddly comforting.
"It's the logical suggestion," he defended, looking about as stiff as a man could. "Leonard's old room is no longer set up as a bedroom, and we will require the use of the couch for at least another two point six hours. You'll have to bathe first, of course."
Penny rolled here eyes.
"Trust me, that will be a pleasure."
She bounced up and made for the washroom, a little surprised that she wasn't followed by a finicky scientist or two. There was a set of spare towels already hanging, conveniently monogrammed with guest, as if there could be any doubt. She rummaged around under the sink long enough to find an abandoned bottle of shampoo, figuring Sheldon wouldn't want her using his, and within a mintue had the water adjusted to a reasonable level.
It wasn't until she got out again that she realized she hadn't brought in any clean clothes.
Raj squeaked. His friends turned to him, but he couldn't speak. Penny had been gone long enough that it took them a while to figure out what he meant, and by that time all they saw was a flash of disappearing electric blue.
"Aw, did we miss a towel-clad Queen Penelope?" Howard asked in disappointment.
"No." Raj turned to Sheldon, terrified of his probable reaction, but sure he didn't dare stay silent. "Dude, I think she was wearing your bathrobe."
Penny squirmed. She was warm, she was comfy, her eyes were firmly closed, and she was uncomfortably aware that someone was watching her.
She squeezed her eyes tighter. It was his room, but maybe he'd get scared and go away.
That didn't sound like going away.
She rolled over, yawned, and shot him an innocent, just-woken blink.
"Sheldon? What is it, sweetie?"
He stood awkwardly beside the bed. Before she'd moved to Pasadena, she'd never known anyone who could look like that without several years of acting class, and really, really working on how. On him, though, it was natural. And kind of adorable.
"My pajamas are folded under my pillow."
Of course they were.
She had obviously been away too long, because instead of grousing that he could have chosen another pair, she reached under the pillow and pulled them out for him. His hands twitched when she brushed against them, his head bent and his eyes averted.
"Thank you," he said carefully.
"You're welcome, Sheldon. I guess the guys are gone, and you're getting ready for bed too, huh?"
"That is correct," he acknowledged, but didn't move.
"Um... Do you want your bed back, then? I can switch to the couch."
"No. You're already settled; at this juncture it makes more sense for me to take the couch and leave you where you are."
He glanced at her from beneath his eyelashes.
"Yes, Sheldon?" She was starting to wonder if he was ever going to get to the point.
"I'm glad you're back."
"Awww." She knelt up in bed, dodged his instinctive flail, and kissed him on the cheek. "I'm glad I'm back, too."
His pyjamas dropped to the ground between them. His eyes widened, he flushed, and she had just enough time to think, crap, did I just break...
Then he kissed her back.
The quickest, shortest, most unexpected kiss of her life, and she was still frozen in shock when he scooped up the pile of cotton at his feet and scurried out the bedroom door.
"Goodnight, Penny," he called over his shoulder.
She blinked, and slowly laid back down. She didn't sleep much more for a while, but she smiled long into the night.