"Sheldon, I have a matter we must discuss urgently."
"Alright, what is it?"
"I wish to terminate our relationship contract."
"Oh… May I inquire as to the reasoning behind this decision?"
"You may. My brother has produced offspring with his wife. My mother has henceforth abandoned her efforts to acclimate me to romance. In fact, she urged me to return to my prior relationship status."
"I see, and it was your mother's influence that prompted our foray into the boyfriend/girlfriend paradigm."
"Yes. I propose we abandon the experiment and attempt to 'remain friends' by continuing communication that eventually occurs at increasing intervals until we break off contact altogether. It seems to be the accepted method of a 'break up'. You understand?"
"It says nothing of your fitness as a mate. Our time was most enjoyable. You are the closest relationship I have had with a non-familial male. Merely, this is a solution to our ongoing struggle to balance physical needs with our desire for solitude. While we are compatible in many ways, I feel I am not alone in observing the forced nature with which we approached the issue."
"No… no I suppose you are correct."
"Good. I will contact you within the week. I trust you can handle the contractual formalities?"
"Yes, I shall enact the Amicable Divergence clause."
"Then it's settled. Goodbye, Sheldon Cooper."
"…Goodbye, Amy Farrah Fowler."
"Hey guys, do you have any… Sweetie? What's wrong?"
Penny stopped in the doorway of 4A, her worried gaze trained on the lone figure within. The lights were off, but she could see the unmistakable outline of Sheldon sitting in his spot. He was immobile, head tipped back so he was staring at the ceiling. He wasn't doing anything, appearing deep in thought. She was wondering if he'd even heard her when he suddenly spoke.
"By all empirical evidence, nothing should be wrong." He answered, voice flat. Penny stepped hesitantly closer, perching herself precariously on the other side of the couch.
"But you look so… sad?" She said timidly. Sheldon lifted his head, turning to look at her.
"Do I?" He replied in surprise. "I was attempting to place my emotional state, but I'm never quite sure." He stared off into space again. Penny reached her hand out to offer comfort, but retracted it quickly.
"What happened?" She asked instead.
"Many things have happened in the course of my day." Sheldon said mechanically. "I believe you are referring to the most momentous of these which have the highest likelihood of altering my emotional state." He paused. Penny shifted closer. When he spoke, it was as flat as before. "Amy Farrah Fowler has dissolved our relationship." She gasped.
"Amy broke up with you?" She repeated incredulously.
"That was her terminology, yes."
"Did she say why?"
"It was no longer necessary." She kept her gaze trained on him and Sheldon obediently relayed their prior conversation, word for word. By the end, Penny was shaking angrily.
"So, so she just threw you away when she was done with you!" She cried, indignant on his behalf. "That's, that's horrible, that's, that low down little—"
"I understand her reasoning and I would appreciate if you'd refrain from insulting her." She quieted at this unusual display of loyalty. Sheldon averted his gaze from her. "Despite being at first reluctant to give in to her demands of intimacy, as I grew fond of Amy I found myself relaxing into the new routine. While I wouldn't classify our romantic relations as pleasant, it was the closest I have come to the definition. The prospect of restructuring my life around her departure is daunting." He turned to her. "I don't know how you do it." Penny smiled softly at him.
"It gets easier with practice." He sighed at this sad assurance. Interest peaked, and feeling strangely drawn to this maudlin side of Sheldon, Penny moved closer on the couch as she said, "So… You miss her?" He frowned.
"I am still uncertain. I suppose… I can safely posit that I will 'miss' the role she played in my life."
"Like, as a girlfriend?" Penny clarified. "You'll miss being in a relationship?" Sheldon uncharacteristically said nothing, he simply shrugged in response. She drew a deep breath. "Wow… Sheldon, that's a big step for you. I mean, from all that 'homo novice' talk about being alone with science for the rest of your life."
"Science is still my greatest endeavor." Sheldon was quick to reply. "In your naive and childish terms, Science is my partner, my soulmate, my one true love. However, I have been forced to make concessions to my life plan. Even the Homo Novus must succumb to that most base evolutionary drive: to reproduce. Otherwise the next step for humanity is halted. Until human cloning is perfected, I have determined I must seek some other way of continuing my genetic line. A plan B if you will. As you have pointed out once before, my mother would never allow me to produce children out of wedlock. So, my options are limited. Then there is the inevitable issue of compatibility, something few humans have been able to attain with me, let alone women. I thought Amy, being similar to me in personality and behavioral manner, would be my best chance at success. Clearly this is a hypothesis in need of revision. Plus, there is a time constraint to consider. Societal norms dictate a period of, at the very least, six months between meeting and marrying a female, and each woman comes with her own preference as to the length of the courtship phase. At this point in time, I balk at the idea of entering another emotional entanglement for such a distant and unreliable outcome." He glanced at her, then decided to dumb it down further. "I have neither the time nor the strength to start another relationship. It's far easier to invest my intellect in fixing the cloning process than in understanding romance."
"Sheldon…" Penny whispered, overwhelmed. Full of sympathy for this great lonely genius, she forgot herself and rested her hand on his arm. Sheldon glanced down at the physical contact but did not shake her off. He met her eyes, the connection intense. She bit her lip. "Sheldon, that's not true." She told him sincerely. His eyebrows rose skeptically.
"No!" She answered vehemently. "Y-you'll find someone, of course you will. You just… you know, you go about it the wrong way. Love isn't a science, it doesn't have cause and effect and variables and whatever. It just happens. And you, you have to let it happen." Sheldon shook his head slowly.
"I do not believe I am capable of what you suggest," He replied, "But for the sake of humanity, I shall try." Penny smiled at him, giving his arm the faintest of rubs. They sat in silence together for a moment until he said, "It's bedtime, get out." Exasperated, she checked her watch. She blinked.
"Sweetie," Penny said softly, "It's been past your bedtime for the last 20 minutes." She glanced at him, astonished that he would deviate from his routine simply to talk to her. Sheldon twitched at this fact, but when he responded he sounded unfazed.
"Nevertheless, it is still time for you to leave. In fact, this merely reinforces the point. Goodbye." Grinning, Penny stood to leave. She made it to the door and looked back over her shoulder. Sheldon was still on the couch, staring morosely into nothingness. She licked her lips, a wave of affection overtaking her.
"Good night, honey." She murmured to him. He made no sign that he heard her. Sighing, she stepped out into the hall and closed the door gently behind her on the broken and beautiful mind.
"Leonard! There you are."
"Oh hi Penny, going to work?"
"Yeah, um, hey, did you talk to Sheldon this morning?"
"You mean about the Amy thing? Yeah, he told me. It's too bad, but, you know… It's not exactly unexpected."
"Yeah, yeah, I guess… So, how's he doing?"
"What do you mean?"
"Well, is he sad at all?"
"Penny, this is Sheldon we're talking about. I'm sure he's fine. And, even if he wasn't, how would we pitiful humans be able to tell?"
"I guess you're right. Um, it's Halo night, right?"
"So… maybe I'll come over later and play a couple rounds."
"Gotta burn off the tension of serving annoying customers all day?"
"Ha, yeah, something like that…"
"Hello Penny." Sheldon greeted her cordially. She looked over her shoulder from the mailboxes. She smiled at him, tossing her hair as she turned.
"Hey sweetie, how are you doing?" She asked as he moved to collect his mail.
"I am doing well, thank you. While I noticed some discomfort the week following Amy's and my divergence, I seem to have adjusted with surprising speed. I believe the transition is eased by my undertaking a new phase in my research. You see, we are investigating how the formulas for the original five superstring models may be expanded to reveal the membranes described in M-theory. It's fascinating, you see…" Penny tuned him out after that, beginning to sift through her own mail as he spoke. Her eyes narrowed on one, and she tore it open and scanned the contents quickly. Her mood darkened, but Sheldon droned on obliviously. "It proves to cement the existence of the 11th dimensions, a heady task indeed. That is, if we are successful, but then, with me on the team, the 'if' seems unnecessary." He gave that short breathy laugh of his, glancing at her for approval of his genius. He paused, finally noticing her foul demeanor. "Penny, is everything alright? Oh, you don't subscribe to the 2D plane view of strings, do you? Because the science clearly suggests that these strings are more like tubes than threads, and the 11th dimension is crucial to—"
"Sheldon, shut up," Penny snapped irritably, "What would I know about strings or threads or whatever you're talking about." He bowed his head and fidgeted a little. Feeling regretful for unfairly chastising him, she took a deep breath to calm down. "Anyway, it's nothing, don't worry about it." She started up the stairs and Sheldon followed her a step behind.
"I believe," He said slowly and unsurely, "That you are lying to cover your true feelings. Am I correct?" Penny blinked in surprise.
"Yeah, actually." Sheldon pumped his fist excitedly.
"Yes! I'm getting better at this." She smiled at his enthusiasm and decided to relent.
"If you really want to know, I got a letter from my grandma." He frowned, trying to understand her emotional response.
"And this upset you?" She shrugged, feeling shy for no good reason.
"My grandma isn't like your Meemaw, sweetie. She's not supportive of me. I mean, I guess I don't really have much to be proud of. Like, with my dad, it's about being unemployed and always dating losers. But with grandma, it's that I don't have a husband or grandchildren for her to dote on. When we talk, she's always dropping these not-so-subtle digs about becoming an old maid with a dried up, hollowed out… er…" Penny blushed. "You don't really want to hear about my family drama. I'll stop." They reached the landing of the fourth floor. She took a hesitant backwards step towards her door, but Sheldon seemed not to notice they'd stopped walking.
"I don't see why your grandmother would seek to belittle you." He said, sounding vaguely puzzled. "By many standards of success, you are faring adequately. You are still alive, you manage to provide food and shelter for yourself, and you are not incarcerated or otherwise on the outskirts of society." Penny shook her head in exasperation.
"At this point in my life I was hoping for more than still alive and not in jail. I'm not getting any younger, you know I'm almost…" She leaned closer, as if sharing a secret. He matched her movements. "Thirty!" She hissed, her face contorting in anguish. Sheldon shook his head, annoyed.
"We are all moving through the fourth dimension, Penny," He admonished her in his lecturing tone, "it's nothing to be surprised of."
"Well, it's like you said," She replied, lifting a hand to point at him, "'societal norms', I think it was. I gotta have a kid by 35 or face social hell. But that's life: you conform and then you die, with some stuff in-between. It's rough, but there's no other way." She sighed. "Is it me, or did that get super depressing?"
"You did get a touch cynical by the end." Sheldon agreed.
"Sorry, it's grandma, she just gets in my head." She smiled tightly up at him, swatting his arm lightly with her mail. "I'll see ya later Sheldon, there's a bottle of wine with my name on it."
"I doubt that, but I am going to assume it is an illogical colloquialism." He said. She nodded pointedly and headed for her door. "Oh Penny!" He called. She turned, eyes wide with curiosity. He fidgeted but raised his head confidently. "I would be remiss if I didn't tell you that you should feel no rush to fulfill your family's demands. You have a booming social life which will inevitably provide you with a suitable suitor. You have a job which is relatively stable when compared to the state of the economy. You have a professional goal which you are taking steps to reach. You have four friends, myself included, who hold you in high esteem. Anyone who attempts to ostracize you is clearly small minded and profoundly unhappy." Penny blinked rapidly, hand over her heart. She stepped nearer to him, overcome with emotion.
"Honey, that was so sweet of you! I don't know what to say." Sheldon looked back at her neutrally.
"I was merely stating fact." He said. She grinned.
"Well thank you all the same. And Sheldon," She said, her tone turning teasing, "You could do to state those facts more often."
"I'll endeavor to then." He answered, a rare pleased smile lighting his face. "As for that unfortunate possible outcome of isolation, I posit a solution: perhaps we might be unconventional recluses together?" She tilted her head, considering this unusual offer, even if it was as lighthearted as Sheldon was capable of.
"That actually doesn't sound so bad." She replied, bouncing lightly on her toes. "I'll be that old lonely waitress that everyone tips well because she's such a downer."
"And I, the beautiful mind alone with his books and models." He added, latching onto the joke. She laughed happily at this pretend future. What had started out as a last resort, a cautionary tale, was sounding more and more charming.
"Pity party of two. Come on, why don't you come in, I've got some ice cream we can share." His eyes lit up at the prospect and he was already following her to 4B when he began his usual quiz.
"With banana slices?"
"What about chocolate sauce?"
"And an assortment of nuts to—"
"Just get in here."
"Hey Sheldon… Raj and Howard and I have something we want to talk to you about."
"You'll have to be quick, I'm supposed to meet Penny in exactly eight minutes. She has convinced me to accompany her to her improv class at the community center. Some blather about it helping me deal with the unexpected and conform to societal niceties. I remain dubious, but perhaps a professional instructor will prove more informative than Penny."
"That's kinda what we wanted to talk about."
"Improvisation? Why would—"
"No, not improv! Penny!"
"Howard, I'll handle this. Look Sheldon… you've been spending a lot of time with our neighbor lately, and…"
"You're over there almost five times a week, that's definitely weird. So… in light of this… we've been wondering… and trust us, we'd rather not have our suspicions at all, but…"
"Leonard, you keep hesitating, it is becoming very frustrating. Now, I have somewhere to be, will you please say whatever you wish to say?"
"Fine. Sheldon, what are your… intentions towards Penny?"
"Intentions? I have no intentions, not that I was aware of. I have no long-term plan. I'm merely spending time with a self-classified friend who has expressed an increased desire for my companionship. It is not strange, I've always thought of myself as an expert conversationalist with much to offer my peers."
"Yeah, but no one else thinks so!"
"Raj, that is unfounded."
"Really? Sheldon, has Penny ever spent this much time with you?"
"You mean in this concentration? No, she hasn't. I suppose you do have a point there, Wolowitz."
"Sheldon, all we're saying is that something's changed between you two, as evidenced by the way you're always together. As your friends, we want to know if you plan on… shifting the paradigm."
"As I said, I… I have no such plan. But… perhaps I should ruminate on this development. Leonard, would you please tell Penny that I am unable to accompany her this evening?"
"Um, sure, but shouldn't you tell her yourself?"
"No, no I must think. I will see Penny once I have reached a conclusion on how to proceed. Good night gentlemen."
"Dudes, I think we made a mistake."
Knock, knock, knock. "Sheldon." Knock, knock, knock. "Sheldon!" Knock, knock, knock. "SHELDON!" The door was wrenched open.
"Dear lord woman, you sound like a bobcat found it's way into a hog callin' contest!" He snapped at her in an unusually thick Texan accent. Penny cocked her hip and tilted her head as she glared up at him.
"Wanna see me in a hog tying contest?" She retorted, pushing past him and stalking into his living room. Sheldon shut the door and followed her sullenly. She cast off her jacket, dropped her purse, and rounded on him. "What's up with you? I haven't seen you in days, you haven't responded to my texts or my calls or anything, and you missed laundry night! You're either avoiding me or you're dying, now which is it?" She paused, finally taking a long look at him. His hair was disheveled and there were heavy bags under his eyes. He wasn't wearing an undershirt, very unusual, so his forearms were bare. She thought she might even detect a hint of stubble. "Oh God, you're not really dying are you?"
"No." He told her firmly, striding to his whiteboard and erasing the jumble of symbols there. Penny moved after him.
"Then you are avoiding me?" She asked, quickly becoming more disheartened. "I don't get it. What did I do?"
"Nothing." He replied without looking at her, intent on eliminating everything from his board. "You have done nothing to upset me and I am not avoiding you. I am merely… busy." She raised a brow.
"Busy? That's what you're going with?" Sheldon huffed in frustration, dropping the eraser and turning to face her.
"I am pondering a delicate issue." He explained stiffly. "It has consumed all my thoughts and still it leaves me stymied." His brow was furrowed in both concentration and anger. Penny, thoroughly intrigued, stepped nearer, leaning her shoulder on his now sterile whiteboard. His eyes tracked her every movement.
"A problem has you stumped?" She asked for confirmation's sake. He nodded jerkily. She hummed, impressed. "Wow. It must be a real conundrum." She smiled, proud to have gotten the word right. Sheldon hardly noticed. His hand shot to his head where it ran over his brutally short hair in agitation.
"There's the rub! By all appearances it is a simple question, yet there are too many variables! So many factors, so many moving parts! I cannot reach an answer with all these darned unknowns!" He looked about ready to kick something, so she reached out and grabbed his arm. His eyes shot to her, wild and distressed. When she spoke she was as calming as possible.
"Why don't you just try and find out each of the 'unknowns'. Break it up into small pieces, get it? That's what I do if I'm overloaded." His head shook, but his gaze was fixed on her like a laser beam.
"To proceed on any variable at this point would be foolhardy and potentially disastrous." He said, voice considerably steadier. "The entire endeavor would be over before it truly began."
"And this is really important?" She asked, resigned to the answer. Sheldon blinked at her.
"It is of the utmost importance." He replied, sounding surprised at the answer himself. Penny sighed, releasing his arm. Her gaze lowered to the emblem on his t-shirt, one she didn't recognize.
"Fine. I guess I should let you work. It's probably going to mean space ships and alien stuff, which is cool. It's a bummer though, I've been having a really good time with you these past couple of weeks."
"You have?" He asked curiously. Penny looked up.
"Of course." She answered earnestly. "I mean, at first it was mostly about making sure you were okay with the break up and then trying not to be lonely. But, along the way, I started to really like having you around. You know, when you're on your best behavior." Sheldon tried to smile then, and while it still looked strange and unnatural, she was glad to see he was getting the hang of it. She grinned at him but it faded quickly. "It's a shame you're so busy. I'll miss you." He looked down. Hesitantly, his hand shifted to touch hers. Penny was startled and almost pulled away. Sheldon grasped her hand more boldly then, decisively intertwining their fingers. She stared up at him with wide eyes. He cleared his throat.
"Penny, I believe you have provided me a base from which to renew my hypothesizing with a fresh outlook. I do not think I will be so busy after all." She flexed her fingers in his grip.
"You mean… I helped?" She asked tentatively and, much to her confusion, rather breathlessly as well.
"Yes," He told her simply, "You helped." Penny beamed at him, hopping on her toes and swinging their arms a little. A moment passed of them standing together, their eyes holding each other's gaze comfortably. Sheldon broke the silence. "Do you have that bottle of hand sanitizer I gave you?"
"Oh, yeah." She hurriedly released his hand and scampered to her bag. Once she had the tiny thing of hand sanitizer, she returned to him, holding it out with a flourish. He accepted it and slathered it on his hand.
"I must say," He commented as he concentrated on rubbing it in, "I do appreciate your taking my advice on having some form of anti-bacterial on your person. It makes excursions with you far more bearable."
"Think of it like chocolate, sweetie." She said with a self-satisfied smirk. Sheldon glanced up in shock. Slowly, his cheeks pulled into a proud and admiring smile. Penny shrugged, feigning modesty. "What can I say? I get you." She told him.
"You do." He stated warmly, the smile never dimming. Feeling a buzzing in her abdomen that she attributed to awkwardness, Penny dropped her gaze and strode across the room.
"So when will I see you next?" She asked over her shoulder.
"How about tonight?" He answered quickly. She spun around. Sheldon was at his whiteboard, holding a marker poised over its surface. "We can do dinner."
"Okay, I'll get the Indian food, you bring the movie." He nodded and she moved back to the door. "See you then!" She called happily. Pulling it open, Penny paused. She turned to get one last look. Sheldon was staring at the empty board in deep contemplation. Slowly he reached out and, instead of the mess of incomprehensible symbols he'd written earlier, now he wrote one simple line:
S + P =
Penny's lips parted as she soundlessly gasped. She quickly yet quietly shut the door behind her. She slumped against its frame, breathing heavily. No, it couldn't mean… It must be some physics thing she knew nothing about. Surely he couldn't… It was just a coincidence that she'd been wondering the exact same thing.
Putting her unease to rest, she shuffled swiftly across the hall to barricade herself in with some good TV an a tall shot of whiskey for a couple hours. Had she stayed to observe merely a couple minutes longer, after careful consideration, she would have seen Sheldon add one more letter.
S + P = ?
"Leonard, help me!"
"What! What is it? Is it reavers, oh God, please don't let it be reavers!"
"What, no! What is wrong with you?"
"Oh, uh, that's a subject for another time. So Penny, um, what's wrong with you?"
"I think I'm dating Sheldon!"
"Ah… and why would you think that?"
"I'm with him all the time now, we have fun, we eat dinner, we watch movies and stuff, and… it's weird!"
"Hm… I suppose that is a problem then."
"Well, no. I mean, not really…"
"Oh-kay then. I guess the real question is, do you want to date Sheldon?"
"I… I don't know! He's not someone I would ever go for, but… he's interesting and he can be sweet and sometimes he's even funny and he's so passionate about the things that he likes and I want… why are we even talking about this? This is ridiculous, I-I should go. See ya, Leonard!"
"Bye Penny, thanks for stopping by… I could be sweet… sweeter than him."
"Do you have a favorite venereal disease?" Penny's head shot up, fixing Sheldon with a deer-in-headlights stare. It was pizza night at her place, just the two of them. They sat across from each other at her tiny table, their legs brushing occasionally. They'd mostly been eating in comfortable silence until Sheldon's odd inquiry. She swallowed the nearly solid bite with difficulty.
"Excuse me?!" She squawked once her throat was clear. Sheldon rolled his eyes.
"Do you have a favorite venereal disease?" He repeated slowly. "I'm curious. Mine is syphilis. I'm fascinated by its paleopathology, not to mention its unique progression. At first its just a harmless little lesion, then a rash, nothing too serious. It lies dormant for several years and then BAM!" He smacked the table, making Penny and their plates jump. "Straight to the central nervous and cardiovascular systems. Very sneaky, that one." There was a moment where they just stared at each other.
"Is this your way of asking if I have an STD?" She asked incredulously. His head tilted innocently.
"No, but now that you mention it, I'm curious about that too." She tipped her head back and groaned.
"No Sheldon," She bit out, "I do not have an STD! I haven't even had sex in, like…" Penny blushed as quick arithmetic told her it was around the time she'd started hanging out exclusively with Sheldon. "Oh forget it." She said, waving it away. "I wanted to talk to you about something, and now that I think about it, this is as appropriate a time as any." He leaned forward in his seat at the prospect.
"What is it?" He asked eagerly. He knew she had learned not to bother him with trivial small talk, despite it being the social convention. Whatever this was had to be worth his interest. Penny bit her lip and averted her gaze. Losing her appetite, she stood and carried the remains of her dinner to the kitchenette. Standing over the sink, she addressed the faucet, knowing that she would lose her courage if she saw him.
"What am I to you?" She asked, with a modicum of boldness.
"What do you mean?" Sheldon replied, and she heard him stand. He moved behind her, leaving a modest distance between them. Penny took a deep breath and turned, meeting his vaguely concerned expression.
"If you had to define our…" She stumbled over the phrasing for a moment. "For lack of a better word, 'relationship', what would I be to you. Or, like, an SAT question, Penny is to Sheldon as blank is to blank."
"Actually, that wouldn't fit the format at all. The question usually goes something like A is to B as C is to blank. It's alright though, I suppose you had little use for SAT prep."
"Stop it." She ordered, pointing harshly at him. "I'm asking you a serious question here, don't insult me." Sheldon shook his head.
"Might I ask you to provide your own view of your place in my life?" He countered. "It's hardly fair to spring this question on me without a reference point." Penny grabbed a fistful of her hair.
"That's the thing! I have no idea where I fit! Most days you're like my best friend, but I'm not yours. Sometimes we bicker like you're my brother. I'm your Mommy a lot of the time, coddling you or scolding you, it doesn't matter. But sometimes… sometimes it's like…" She trailed off, still unable to voice her secret suspicions. Sheldon stepped closer, his eyes boring into hers.
"Sometimes…?" He prompted. Penny gazed up at him, and something in his expression gave her the push she needed.
"Sometimes you're my lover." She said softly. "A boyfriend without sex. I didn't think it was possible, but it sure feels that way. I don't get it and I guess I was hoping you could explain it to me." Sheldon bowed his head, watching his feet as he moved even nearer. When they were less than a foot apart, he stopped. He cleared his throat.
"Penny…" He began, raising his head only to the point where he was looking around her neck rather than her face. He wet his lips. "Many weeks ago, on the night that Amy terminated our relationship… you said a great many things that I have tried to take to heart. The most prominent being that when it comes to…" He stopped, suddenly meeting her eyes. She took a deep breath, getting an inkling of where he was going with this. Sheldon swallowed, his adam's apple bobbing. He opened his mouth, starting and stopping several times. He paused and tried again to speak. "You said I should just let things happen." He told her determinedly. "While it goes against my very nature, I have tried. For you." Penny smiled, feeling her eyes mist over. "I have found that your advice was sound. I feel things that I'd only approximated before, and apparently, you have too. I ask that you give me a little more time. My understanding is that, with a matter like this, one should not begin lightly, especially not with a treasured friend. Please, give me time." After a moment, she nodded shakily.
"Of course, honey." She assured him softly. "You take all the time you need. You're right; you and I, we should be sure. I don't want to lose you, what we have now."
"Nor I." He added. Penny smiled.
"So I guess we're going somewhere." She said. Sheldon took a moment to process this.
"In the metaphorical sense of going down a romantic path over time, yes." His abnormal dorkiness made her grin widen. He noticed, becoming vaguely suspicious. "What?"
"You like me." She teased in a sing-song grade-school tone. He scowled at her playful needling. "You do," She continued, "Sheldon likes me."
"Please Penny, you are acting like a child." He turned, returning to the table. She followed.
"Sheldon and me, sitting in a tree!" She sang coyly. Sheldon turned his head to look back at her, and despite his frown and chiding tone, there was a glint in his eye that spoke of his true feelings.
"You are impossible."
"You're probably all wondering why I've gathered you here today."
"Sheldon, it's lunchtime. We always gather here at lunch."
"Nonetheless, I have something I must share with you. You three are the closest friends I have and this is something that will affect all of you. I ask that you hear me out before posing any questions or raising objections."
"Dude, you're scaring me."
"Don't worry Raj, I'm sure it's gonna be something weird and trivial and Sheldon-y."
"Penny and I are romantically involved."
"…Then again, I could be wrong."
"You're really dating Penny?"
"Yes, Leonard. Well… yes and no. The definition of our entanglement is presently nebulous."
"But you're sleeping together, right?"
"Oh Howard, don't be so crude. No, we aren't physically intimate."
"But you're in love with her?"
"…That too has yet to be determined."
"Sheldon, you have to give us something to work with here. If you aren't having sex and you don't know if you love her, how can you be 'romantically involved'?"
"Because Leonard, I want to be. I want to love her, I want to be intimate with her, and I want the sophomoric title of boyfriend and all that it entails. How much I am capable of is still uncertain, but I know that I want to find out with her."
"…No wonder Penny changed her relationship status to 'It's complicated.'"
Penny combed her fingers through her hair, looking out over the park. Sheldon sat beside her, meticulously repacking the remains of their picnic. She had to smile when she saw him draw a disinfectant wipe.
He'd surprised her. He'd shown up at her door with a picturesque basket full of plastic wrapped food and asked her to accompany him on a picnic, right that minute. Penny had stood gaping at him. She'd just gotten out of the shower and was in her ratty bathrobe. She was absolutely unpresentable and unprepared for being asked out… or whatever it was. But something made her say yes in an instant.
She'd watched him set up the blanket, Sheldon not letting her sit down until every speck of dirt was brushed off the sides, wondering what had made her disregard every bit of pride she'd once had. She'd concluded that it had something to do with the different way he was acting. He seemed almost nervous. Though he hadn't said it, she had suspected this was not going to be their usual outing.
"This was great, Sheldon." She told him with a grin. "Really very sweet of you."
"Thank you." He answered simply, sitting down once the picnic was squared away. He stared out over the park, watching the nearby playground teeming with children. Penny followed his lead and stayed quiet. They sat there like that for a while, warmed by the sun and cooled by the breeze. "Penny," Sheldon said suddenly, "I have a proposal." She tensed immediately, her mind taking that word and running away with it. No, surely not. Then again, this was Sheldon, and he was the most unpredictable person she'd ever met.
"Uh, sweetie," She hesitated, "mind clarifying that?" He shot a look at her that said she was exceptionally dim.
"Not a proposal of marriage." He said in a similar tone. Sheldon looked away then, apparently overcome with shyness. It was an odd look on him. Penny was about to ask him about it, when he spoke again. "I assumed a first step towards intimacy would be to kiss." He sneaked a glance at her again. "On the mouth." He added, as if she had needed clarification.
"Oh." Penny said numbly, aware that her eyes were unusually wide. Her mind had ground to a halt. She was… scared. It was so weird; what he was asking, she'd done it plenty of times before. She'd even done it with him, to freak him out, to tease. But never like this, never when it meant so much, never when the request showed such personal growth and a depth of feeling.
"I had hoped you would be amenable," Sheldon interrupted her thoughts, "but if not—"
"No!" She yelped. "No, no, I'm very amenable! I want to, I do! I… I just hadn't thought you'd want to." He nodded in understanding. Penny paused as a terrible thing occurred to her. "You don't have to, you know. I would still hang out with you and like you just the same. You don't have to change for me, not that much anyway." Sheldon licked his lips, and the movement reminded her about what they were discussing. A sudden wave of desire hit her and took her by surprise. Until that moment she hadn't really realized just how much she did want Sheldon. Another wave followed that, this one of more terror. Sheldon had no idea what he was getting into. He hated personal contact.
"I am aware that a romantic relationship requires physical intimacy." He droned dispassionately, which did nothing to quell her fear. "While I have never sought out that aspect, and I admit I have been adverse to it in the past, I find myself curious. I think it could be enjoyable with you. Certainly your vast expertise in the field—"
"Insulting." She warned him.
"My apologies." Sheldon replied, contrite. They'd gotten better at that, preventing bad situations by listening to each other. He continued resolutely. "I merely meant to explain that…" He sighed quietly, folding his hands. "I too want to explore romance with you, and all that it entails." That sunk in during a beat of silence. Penny thoroughly wiped her hand on a napkin, then moved it to caress his cheek.
"Ok honey." She told him, petting his face tenderly. Sheldon smiled slightly, that sincere tiny curving of lips. He leaned into the touch and made a soft hum. His eyes fell shut, like a cat soaking up sunlight.
"Penny." He murmured, then sat up with a jolt. Startled, she withdrew her hand.
"What? What?" She asked frantically, worried that he'd changed his mind already. Without answering Sheldon moved to the picnic basket and rooted within.
"In order to produce the most pleasurable and hygienic experience possible," He explained, finally pulling out two mini bottles of mouthwash, "I brought these." Penny stifled a giggle. His eyebrows furrowed in concern. "I had considered you would be offended. Are you offended?" She took one of the proffered bottles with a smirk.
"I probably should be, but funnily enough I'm not." Sheldon produced a cup from the basket as well. They took a gulp of the searing drink and swilled before taking turns to spit. Penny smacked her lips in satisfaction. A buzz of anticipation was forming in her gut. They were gonna do this. Sheldon was setting aside the spit cup and the mouthwash and turning to her and they were really gonna do this! He looked her in the eye, his seriousness shooting right through her. He licked his lips and left them barely parted. She held her breath.
"So how do we proceed?" He asked, breaking the tension. Penny giggled again, breathy and relieved. She couldn't do this without Sheldon being Sheldon-y. She shifted so she faced him head on.
"Well," Penny began, cradling his head in her palms, "I'm going to hold you and lead you like this, okay?" He nodded, movement restricted by her hands. "I'll lean in," She told him before doing so, "like this." Up close, with less than five inches between their faces, he seemed even more nervous. Her fingertip brushed soothing circles on his skin. "You're going to let your mouth open, just a little, like you're about to speak." Sheldon wet his lips and complied. It looked kind of funny, too wide, so her thumb went to his lower lip. She brushed it up a couple times until he took the hint. It was surreal to see him so obedient, and it heightened her excitement. "Then," She said, her voice starting to shake, "I'm going to take your lip between mine…"
"Which one?" Sheldon asked in a whisper. He had clearly lost his unaffected air. She swallowed thickly as her gaze roamed over his mouth.
"Bottom." She breathed, caught on the red moist fullness of it. A strangled groan escaped her throat, and she was tired of waiting. Penny surged forward and, impossibly, Sheldon met her in a kiss.
The mechanics came naturally to her as Penny sucked and licked her way around Sheldon's mouth. It was the emotions that surprised her. It was unlike anything she'd ever felt before. Sheldon was pliant against her ministrations, allowing her this luxury. It was a privilege, a gift, something she'd never thought he'd offer or that she was free to take. It was almost forbidden fruit, but he'd gone above and beyond to lower the branch. She did her best to kiss him the way she figured he'd like. She used minimal tongue, no teeth, and didn't pry father than his lips. She telegraphed every touch so as not to startle him. When he still didn't return her fervor after a good few minutes, she snapped out of her lustful daze, the fear returning to take its place.
Penny broke the kiss and leaned back, keeping her hands on his face. She assessed him carefully. Sheldon had a glazed sheen to his eyes as he stared into space. His mouth was hanging open and he seemed to barely be breathing.
"Honey?" She prompted. When he didn't answer right away she was convinced she had broken him. He finally spoke up, tentative and dream-like.
"May I try that?" Sheldon asked. She smiled, emboldened.
"Sheldon, sweetie, kissing is supposed to be a mutual thing. You can do whatever you want." He appeared to take that to heart, as he raised a hand and rested it on her shoulder. He moved closer but agonizingly slowly. Penny waited, striving for a veneer of patience. He had to do this. Sheldon's mouth grazed her own and she inhaled sharply. He copied her prior actions exactly, exerting just the same pressure as he captured her bottom lip firmly between his own. She let out her breath in a content sigh. Sheldon explored the contour of her mouth with care, and as his tongue ventured to hers Penny could feel his nearly inaudible moan traveling between them.
Never in her life had she been so moved by a kiss, when the only points of contact were a hand on her shoulder, her fingers on his face, and the fusion of their mouths. Hell, they were still sitting with their bodies a foot apart, but it was still the most sensuous thing she'd ever known. His inexperience was obvious in his stilted movements, but it was exhilarating to know that everything she taught him was new. He was also quite attentive; he tackled kissing with the same perfectionism he applied to his work. It showed. Soon she felt that telltale burning in her skin, that ache bellow her belly, and she was the one moaning in pleasure. Forgoing her hands' place on his face, she wrapped her arms around his neck as she returned the kiss with gusto. Penny had only begun to caress his tongue with hers when Sheldon retreated. He didn't get far, only succeeding in parting their mouths. She felt him pant against her cheek.
"I think that should be all for today." He announced breathlessly.
"What's wrong, honey?" Penny asked, masking her disappointment for his sake. He didn't reply for some time. She loosened her hold on him so her arms hung limply over his shoulders. This way she could see his face, enough to make out his flushed cheeks, swollen lips, and blown pupils.
"I…" He faltered, seemingly lost. "I had not anticipated how great the effect would be." Penny smirked.
"Yeah, I am pretty great at that." She said smugly. He shook his head slightly in response.
"I meant that the feeling is extreme, quantitatively." Sheldon explained haltingly. "Even the sum of my previous dating experience is a mere fraction of what I am experiencing now. It is a positive feeling, I believe. I… I did not know physical contact could be like that." Penny considered the confused genius in her embrace. He had been essentially asexual all his life, and while she had assumed that to be his choice, perhaps that wasn't the whole story. She thought of the women who had taken what they wanted from Sheldon, like Amy and Mrs. Hofstadter. Then she thought of most of her sexual partners.
"You're right, it isn't always good." She admitted without meeting his eyes. "A lot of things have to go right. Most of it depends on who you're with." Penny looked up to see him observing her intently. She soldiered on, feeling an unexpected weight to her words. "They have to know you, and care about you. Enough to give you the chance to do what you want, or at least not just impose their wants on you without thinking. A good partner will kiss you the way you like it." She reached over and pecked him lightly on the lips for emphasis, a teasing touch that he leaned into before she drew back. Sheldon watched her like a hawk for a moment before his entire demeanor softened.
"I'm glad to have you as a partner." He told her with his small yet genuine smile. Penny couldn't answer that with words, so she pulled him down to the blanket. Sheldon obligingly lay on his back and she rested her head on his chest. For the next 20 minutes they lay together and stared up at the clouds. She would find shapes they made, while he named their formations. And when Sheldon jumped and shrieked because an ant had crawled onto his hand, Penny laughed and laughed, and her mocking remarks had less bite than they should have.
"Hey sweetie, could you… Mrs. Cooper, what are you doing here?"
"Oh hello, Penny. Darlin' you look so cute, come gimme a hug! And call me Mary, please."
"Sure. Leonard, what's going on?"
"Uh, it's kinda hard to explain."
"Did something happen? Oh my God, is Sheldon alright?"
"Naw, my baby's fine, and I don't want to hear the Lord's name in vain from here on out."
"Right, sorry Mary. Then, what are you doing here?"
"Well, when Shelly was about 16, he introduced me to this other teacher at that fancy foreign college ah his. Me and this guy got on, so we stayed in touch. Just a couple days ago he called me out of the blue. Said he was on the committee for that Nobel Prize Shelly's so set on."
"Oh my God!"
"Sorry! But… does this mean what I think it means?"
"Not exactly, Penny."
"Seems they were considering my boy, but some group ah kids cured some kinda disease, so they're gettin' it instead. An' accordin' ta Leonard here, that's where things get weird."
"Do you remember when Bernadette accidentally spilled some acid-mixture into her petri dish of flesh-eating bacteria?"
"I think so, but what does that… No. No way. Oh, you've got to be kidding me!"
"How's he taking it?"
"Shelly ain't left his room since I got here an' told him the news."
"Oh my God, I've got to see him!"
"Sweet girl, even if she cusses ta' high Heaven. Don't see why she thinks he'll let her in though, nobody gets in Shelly's room without permission."
"Trust me, Mary… He'll let her in."
"Really? You mean… Well hot damn and praise the Lord! I knew my little boy would get it eventually!"
Penny rushed to the door, coming to an abrupt stop in front of Sheldon's inner sanctum. She hesitated, wondering if she should knock and give him the chance to refuse or just barge in. She compromised, knocking on the doorframe as she slowly turned the knob and peered inside. The room looked unchanged from the last couple of times she'd been in there: same sheets, same books, same clutter of sci-fi paraphernalia. The man in question was sitting on his bed, idly flipping through a comic book as if he hadn't a care in the world.
"Sheldon?" Penny asked tentatively. He glanced up. A small smile graced his face, pleasantly surprised.
"Penny, please come in." He said honestly. She plodded softly and uncertainly into the room. She hadn't been expecting this strangely happy attitude. She wondered if losing this chance had dislodged something in the big brain of his. She bit her lip as she settled hesitantly on the edge of his bed. Sheldon seemed unfazed by her presence in his room, never mind his bed. "To what do I owe the pleasure?" He inquired politely, meticulously setting aside his comic to give her his full attention.
"Your mom and Leonard told me what happened." She said, carefully scrutinizing his reaction. Sheldon nodded at the reminder.
"Yes, it is a shame." He said, with only a hint of disappointment. "Our revision of the initial formulas was a substantial achievement, one which I suspected would earn me such attention. Still, it seems I have come just short of my white whale. The nomination makes a nice feather for my cap though. Of course, the candidates are not supposed to know when they are being considered for a Nobel Prize, so I am lucky that my mother is the social butterfly she is. It is nice to know my work was not for naught."
"But…" Penny shook her head, "You worked so hard! Not that I have anything against Bernadette, it just doesn't seem fair that they'll get the Prize for an accident."
"Science, much like life, is not fair." He replied matter-of-factly. "Many great discoveries throughout history have come about through inadvertent observations unrelated to the scientist's goal. Nobel laureate Alexander Fleming discovered the antibiotic properties of penicillin while observing fungi. An accident? It was surely serendipitous. Or take another laureate Marie Curie. She was studying uranium when she discovered radium. Was this an accident, or simply a testament to her observational skills?"
"Hey, don't bag on Madam Curie," Penny scolded him, "She's, like, the only female scientist I know."
"I will have to introduce you to Lisa Randall then." He decided, that tiny smile still flitting about his features. She frowned.
"You're really okay with this? I don't get it." Sheldon sighed, leaning back against the headboard. He stared into her eyes as he spoke.
"You are right, it is surprising. I was surprised when the devastation I expected to wash over me never came. A year ago, no, a couple months ago, I would have given up, sure that I had peaked and my dreams had still not come to fruition. But now, I feel content. There will be other achievements, and the Nobel Prize is awarded annually. It is not so urgent. In light of these new and unexpected feelings, I was left pondering what had changed. I could come to only one conclusion: you." Penny gasped, eyes wide and mouth gaping despite herself. Sheldon watched her intently as she tried to compose herself.
"Me?" She repeated hoarsely.
"Yes, you. More specifically, the change in our relationship, undefined as it may be. My life is no longer the singularly driven, rigidly routined facsimile it once was. You have continually forced me to expand my horizons. You inspire me. You have given me something other than my work to look forward to… To love." Penny smiled softly at this, and she gently laid her hand on his where it sat on the bedspread.
"You too." She whispered before clearing her throat. "I love you too." She said more strongly. Saying the words had beaver come so easily before. Penny giggled in breathy disbelief. "It's weird… I never got school, but you've taught me so much. Not about physics and math and science. You showed me how to be proud of myself, how to look beyond appearances, and how to love someone without it all being about sex. I… I'm really glad I got to fall in love with you."
"As am I." He replied solemnly. His hand turned over to grasp hers, and his thumb caressed her skin with a tenderness she was only beginning to see. Something occurred to her, snapping her out of her romantic haze.
"Wait, if you're okay with losing the Nobel Prize, then why did your mom say you hadn't left your room?"
"Simple: I am avoiding my mother." Penny threw her head back and laughed. Sheldon watched her face and let out a matching breathy chuckle of his own. She quieted with a smile.
"You know, moonpie—"
"No." He objected to the nickname out of habit, while she ignored him.
"It's really good to know you want me for more than my ovaries." She teased, hitting him lightly on the chest. He flinched a little, but not as much as he would have a year ago.
"Oh, I want those as well." He told her earnestly. "Our children shall rule the world." Penny pursed her lips to hold in an even bigger goofy grin. She had no doubt about that. "But until then, I look forward to the steps in between." He said with sweet sincerity. Penny sighed as her heart filled with love for her adorable genius.
"Me too, honey."
Hope you enjoyed this story, and I really hope the dialogue only parts made sense. I've had this in the works for probably a year. I haven't really watched The Big Bang Theory regularly since Amy came in, I just never took to her. That said, please tell me if I've gone against something in canon. I see this as taking place in some not too distant future.
It's been a while since I posted anything. College has been rough. That said, I have a lot of projects which I've been finishing up over this break. Don't give up on me yet guys!
EDIT: Oops, I forgot to mark this as complete. I guess calling it a one-shot wasn't enough to keep people from being confused. Clearly it's been WAY too long since I posted anything here. Sorry!