The show must go on. Drabbles 9-14.

Will confrontations or friendship carry the day?


Do not listen to my song
Don't remember it, don't sing along
Let's pretend it's a work of art
Let's pretend it's not my heart


A Swiftly Tilting Heart


9, 10, 11.

After half an hour's searching, Leonard tracked down Sheldon and cornered him in the laundry room. His roommate was perched atop a washing machine, sitting on a bath towel to protect him from the machine's questionable surface particles. Before he could be asked, Sheldon announced that the all the machines were full and he was claiming this one for himself next, so Leonard would best come back later.

"I'm not coming back later. I did all my laundry two days ago."

"Well," said Sheldon, "I suppose you're here to make pointless chit-chat? You know I dislike chit-chat."

Leonard had pictured this scene progressing a hundred, even thousand different ways. Or at least a realistic half-dozen. Some of those ways involved shouting and hurt feelings. Others involved awkward silences and evasive attempts at broaching the unwelcome topic. But now that he was standing before his roommate and friend, Leonard felt all those paths shrivel up and sink into the ground, until the only way ahead was forward. Sheldon Cooper responded best to direct inquiry, with no detours, and at this moment Leonard himself felt like he could do with a good air-clearing.

"Sheldon," he began, "I wanna to talk to you about Penny."

"What about Penny?" The skinny physicist sounded as unflappable and distant as he usually did. His roommate didn't know what that meant, or if it meant anything at all.

"I got a strange email from Missy, saying that you had some kind of 'encounter' with Penny. What's going on?"

Sheldon huffed; the laundry machine underneath him rattled with its weighted spin. "This has gotten blown to ridiculous proportions, Leonard. You needn't be concerned."

The other man shook his head. "I know, just, tell me please. It'll make me feel better."

"If you insist," said Sheldon with a roll of his eyes. "The facts are these: Penny came over to the apartment yesterday around lunch time, while I was watching The Matrix. Yes, the first. The movie prompted some discussion from her about first kiss scenarios, and she interrogated me until I admitted that I personally had not enjoyed my first experience with this social more. In a fit of pique—and what she no doubt believed to be charity, however deluded—Penny kissed me."

"Charity?" Leonard squeaked. The washing machine's rattle couldn't hide that.

"It appears she thought she was doing me a favor," Sheldon reported.

"A favor," Leonard repeated. He sounded out each syllable, delicately. "So, you didn't initiate the contact?" Sheldon gave him a look. "Right, of course."

He squared his shoulders and took a deep breath. "Okay," he said. "I don't know what this means, but I believe you."

His friend's next reply was almost timid, if such a thing were possible, and it nearly made Leonard feel sorry for him. "Thank you," said Sheldon, looking at the floor of the laundry room. Only someone as astounding as Penny could make Sheldon uncomfortable to the point of timidity. It wasn't really his fault, at all.

"There's just one thing," added Leonard. "I know it's unnecessary, and crazy, but I just want to put it out there."

"What now?" And there went Timid Sheldon, out to pasture. Perpetually Annoyed Sheldon had regained the helm.

"Don't get involved with Penny. Aah! I can see it on your face, I know I don't have to ask because you have no intentions, I know it's ridiculous! But I have to ask anyway. ...Don't take this away from me, buddy. Please, don't take the chance away."

Ankles crossed and swinging gently against the washer, Sheldon nodded a small nod. One of the dryers across the room chimed that its load was complete.

"Thanks, man. I know it's not going to be a problem. You know me, though, always a worrier."



What came, as always, was a complaint. "Your point is made, and now you're disrupting laundry night just to dawdle."

"Right. See you upstairs." Leonard smiled at his friend, and left the door open behind him.


Sheldon walked to Penny's door, stood in front of it, and utterly failed to knock on its surface. He walked back to his own door, turned around, and looked again at its taunting counterpart. He hadn't anticipated that the door would be a problem in his plans to rehash events with his neighbor. Every time he tried to approach the thing it seemed to glare blankly at him until he scuttled backward to the safer territory of their doormat.

"Penny. Penny. Penny," he whispered, with his chin down and his eyes on the target. His left fist twitched and wobbled, so he tapped it against his thigh in triple-beat time to get the compulsion out. It had been seventeen hours since Leonard had asked him... had asked him... a ridiculous little thing. Something so unnecessary that Sheldon's head hurt for having to waste his highly-valued brain space listening to the insignificant request.

The most galling memory from that awkward encounter in the laundry room was that Leonard didn't even ask if it was a fair request. Leonard assumed. He'd been right in his assumptions, of course, and Sheldon was proud that he'd trained his roommate to be so well-acclimated to his personality. They were friends, and friends sometimes assumed things about each other; he'd read that in several books and had seen it play out in graphic novel story lines. So Leonard was not to blame for assuming that Sheldon was innocent and that the entire kiss was a fluke. Their pretty neighbor was emotionally unpredictable and physically assertive; they both knew that.

But even so. Even so, shouldn't Leonard have been curious? Shouldn't he have required specific details in the recounting of the event to verify his assumptions of Sheldon's victim-hood on this issue? How could he trust so easily? Didn't he realize how simple it would be for someone to take advantage of that trust?

Sheldon Cooper squared his shoulders, lifted his chin, and marched toward Penny's door. Leonard was lucky to have a friend like him, because he'd get this sorted out right now and they'd all go back to normal. What Leonard would've done with an inferior friend, a friend who could consider that ridiculous little thing to be a problem, Sheldon didn't want to think about.


When Penny opened the door to her apartment, she swung it wide and leaned against the door frame with arms and ankles crossed. Sheldon had delved into some minor research about body language since Penny moved in (she said so many illogical things he was driven to outlandish methods to interpret her), and from her current pose Sheldon estimated that she was feeling defensive. He wasn't sure what she had to be defensive over, since this whole mess was her fault, but he decided not to comment on it.

"Penny, hello. You haven't been by in the last two days, even though we specifically requested you for Halo Night after Wolowitz excused himself with diarrhea-related health problems."

"Well, I've been, you know..." She waved one hand in slow circles, looking at the ceiling.

"No, I don't know."


Shifting his weight from one foot to the other, Sheldon gathered his thoughts before speaking again. He was finding this conversation an unhappily difficult one, and his original talking points seemed less feasible the longer he stood in front of Penny.

"If you're feeling discomforted about Our Kiss," he began, but Penny interrupted him.

"Our Kiss?" she repeated, as if she could hear the capitalizations that Sheldon could've sworn were only audible in his head.

"Yes. If that has caused you discomfort that inhibits you from presenting yourself on one of our prearranged event nights or in any way causes difficulty in your friendship with Leonard, I want you to know that even if you surprised me, you needn't be concerned."

There. He'd said it. He'd even used the phrase that seemed to pacify Leonard.

"My friendship with Leonard?" Penny repeated, almost like she was confused, but what exactly had been confusing about his statement? Sometimes he worried about this girl.

"Yes. The two of you are close. He wants to date you someday. This can't be news for you."

His neighbor dropped her hands from the corners of her folded arms straight to her hips, and she stood up tall in the doorway. "Shouldn't you be worried how it affects my friendship with you?"

"I'm not overly concerned on the matter."

"Why not?" Penny demanded. Honestly, he reflected, she was being more than a little rude today.

"Well, you made your motivations quite clear, in the beginning," replied Sheldon. "So no matter how long it lasted, I must conclude that it was your intention to..."

Penny's irritated expression melted like rainwater, and she reached out to touch his arm, a light contact that made him pause mid-statement. Sheldon's razor memory recalled that this was a classic gesture of sympathy, and didn't care for being the object of her pity.

"I know I got carried away," she said in a gentler voice. "I'm sorry, sweetie, that must have been awkward for you."

"Yes, it was. But I," Sheldon stopped, his mouth hanging open like a flytrap. He was acutely aware of the pressure from her fingers touching his upper arm, and his attention flitted from her eyes to where loose hairs from her ponytail were tucked behind her ear. She waited patiently for him to finish his thought, and the physicist worked his jaw several times to bring the statement forward.

He'd intended to say I forgive you. It wasn't a pass he gave freely to just anyone, and in fact he was quite capable of holding a grudge for years, as even Wil Wheaton knew. But when people apologized to him Sheldon usually did what his parents taught him, and delivered the appropriate words to end the conversation as rapidly as possible. Standing in the door frame before him, Penny waited.

I forgive you. As hard as he pressed, the words refused to leave his throat. Was this a grudge? Was he angry? Despite the aggravation of the last three days, anger wasn't his dominant emotion right now, Sheldon was certain. So what caused this reluctance? Didn't he want this apology? Everyone knew she owed it to him.

"I fo..." Again he tried to say it, but it was no use. After a heroic effort he managed to gulp out: "I understand why you did it, and I thank you for the sentiment. It was, um, generous, I suppose."

Across the threshold, Penny pulled her eyebrows together. "You're welcome," she replied with equal caution.

"So you'll come to eat with us," Sheldon concluded.

"I'll what?"

"Tonight is Mexican. Raj is making tacos and we're watching the director's cut of Donnie Darko."

Penny lifted her chin. "Do you use generic taco mix?"

"We have habanero, chili powder and pico de gallo without cilantro."

"Okay, I'll come. I have a soft spot for a young and gawky Gyllenhaal."


After their tête-à-tête in the hallway, things returned to what constituted normality for Sheldon and Penny. She ate with them once or twice a week and joined in game nights, for which she was had displayed a natural talent. Sometimes he rode to the grocery store with her, or they went as a group to the Cheesecake Factory, and that was the extent of their encounters. Sheldon and Leonard did their work at the university; Howard and Raj hung around the apartment on weekends. Life was neat and predictable.

All of this regurgitating normalcy allowed Sheldon to carefully isolate, box, wrap, and shelve any lingering discomfort on the issue of kissing. Stored with careful precision so far back in his mind it was almost in the next dimension, all thoughts of funny little details—like Penny's fingers smoothing the hair on his neck—faded from his his daily process. Unlike his friends, who suffered from an inability to separate Gushy Personal Feelings from The Work At Hand, Sheldon had little trouble compartmentalizing. If there's a problem, fix it. If there's a question, answer it. If there's a mystery, solve it. Anything else was a waste of his highly-educated time.

For a whole two weeks, this was Dr. Cooper's life. Two precious, blessedly consistent weeks that came to a dizzying implosion one Sunday when Penny passed him on the stairs, snatched up his hand, pulled him after her to the floor above their own, and kissed the reason right out of his breath.



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