So this show is breaking my heart lately and I decided it was time to vent. Fair warning: I kind of really hate Leonard right now. I don't do intentional character-bashing, but I don't know what other people read in my work, so Leonard-lovers, please tread carefully.

This is a oneshot, but it's a little wandering, so there's potential for continuing it. Thoughts?

Disclaimer: Not even a little.


The Tabular Analysis

Penny waves goodbye to Amy and Bernadette as she leaves the coffeeshop, crosses the street, and walks into a Gap, because she can't afford anything better. Anyway, she likes some of their stuff, so.

She buys the shortest skirt she can find, waits for the sullen, dark-haired sales clerk to ring it up ("I have the same skirt. Not that you care."), and races home. She passes and startles Sheldon on the steps, carrying a bag from the comic book store, and barrels into her apartment, to her room, to her shower. Washes off the sweat and scent of alcohol, brushes her teeth twice, dresses, plasters on make-up, does her hair, sprays on some Burberry Brit (Sheldon bought it for her birthday.) (Well. he took her to buy it for herself) and then she sinks onto the bed, cradling her head in her hands.

Too much skin. Too much foundation. Too much effort. She's not modest, and she loves looking pretty—she just…

Well.

She didn't think it would ever be all she loved.

She sighs, but she looks fantastic anyway, so she might as well get Leonard to take her out to a club or something. Ha. Right.

She walks into 4A without knocking, as is her custom, and Sheldon doesn't move from his spot but to raise an eyebrow at her, as is his custom.

"Who's there?"

"Spare me," she says. "Where's Leonard?"

"Leonard has elected to use his 'Anything Can Happen Thursday' to go to a bar with Koothrappali and Wolowitz." His eyes are back on his comic.

"A bar? Really?"

"I didn't say 'bazinga,' did I?"

A bar. Leonard at a bar. Without her. Penny hates how insecure this makes her feel. She used to be the one out al night while he sat at home.

She drops beside Sheldon, and her stupid short skirt hikes higher. She tugs it down, but of course Sheldon didn't notice. She could strip down to nothing and plonk herself in his lap, and he would only reach for the hand sanitizer.

"Sheldon," she says suddenly, ignoring his exasperated sigh, "Do you think I'm pretty?"

"Going by standard Western conventions, I suppose you're quite attractive." Still not looking at her.

"But do you, like, you, yourself think I'm hot?"

"Penny, please let me read in peace."

"Just answer me."

He finally lowers the comic—Thor, she sees, and grins—and looks at her. Looks straight in her eyes and says, flat as always, "No."

"Not even in this skirt?"

Back to the comic, not a glance at her skirt. "No."

It's weird that that makes her smile. Penny loves being told she's pretty—and as a striving actress, she needs to be. But she also knows that many of the people she's friends with now don't see much past her appearance. She knows that's what drew Leonard and Raj and Howard to her in the first place. Yes, Howard moved on and grew up and is usually the first one to laugh at her jokes, and Raj is sweet and shy and always smiles at her when she says something he finds charming, \ even if he can't reply, but she knows what she brings to the table. Even Amy and Bernadette see her as the pretty, popular girl.

She sighs again. Maybe she's PMS-ing.

Sheldon shifts beside her, and she knows it's a not-so-subtle nudge for her to be quiet, because Sheldon doesn't move when he's entranced by his work or his comics or his Flash-anything-at-all. She likes watching him then; she likes seeing that enormous, amazing brain so focused on one thing and one thing alone. She forgets how smart Leonard is sometimes, but he's a lot quieter about his genius. Sheldon announces his two doctorates at least once a day, and she still forgets, forgets that he – knows – everything.

Penny tugs at her lower lip. "I have to write an essay. Can I do it here?"

"If you promise to stop talking," he says tiredly. So dramatic.

Penny leaves, changes quickly but leaves the make-up, grabs her laptop, and returns. She plunks herself onto the couch so hard it bounces a little, and Sheldon gives a long-suffering sigh.

But he lets her stay.

Really, the essay is nearly finished. It's another history paper—this time World History, the fall of the League of Nations. It had been open topic, and she had picked the first one that came to her. Maybe she could've asked Amy, but Penny hadn't really wanted to talk to anyone about school anymore.

And actually—she never told Sheldon. Not really.

"I'm back at school. Well, taking courses."

He flips a page. "Leonard told me."

"Yup," she says, popping the p. "I like it."

"Good for you, Penny," and just as she's starting to get irked by his lack of attention, he lifts his gaze and locks on hers and offers her the smallest half-smile, proud and sincere. Then he returns to his book.

She hesitates. "Do you… could you read my essay?"

He lowers his comic and studies her for so long that she squirms.

"What?" she snaps, defensive.

"Leonard informed me you don't take well to criticism."

She sees red. She stares at the room, and the room is red. She counts to ten and waits for it to pass, but it doesn't.

"He said that. He said I don't…. respond well to criticism." The words don't come out right. She wants to question Sheldon calmly, not spit acid at him.

He looks alarmed now, comic book forgotten on his lap. "Penny, are you all right?"

"Yes. No. Don't make me tea."

Sheldon's brow furrows. "Cocoa?"

"No. Noth—give me a beer. No, Peppermint Schn—no, nothing. Nothing." She doesn't need to get wasted right now. She takes a breath.

She needs to finish this essay.

"A hot beverage is non—"

"Dammit, Sheldon!" Penny slams a fist onto the couch cushion between them, and Sheldon jumps a little in surprise. "Can't you just be a normal person for once? Comfort me properly."

"There, there," he says automatically. He reaches out, a little late, to pat the back of her hand.

Penny glares at me. "Ask me what's wrong."

He clears his throat. "What…" She nods a little, encouraging. "What troubles you, Penny?"

"I'm pretty," she snarls, and Sheldon looks confused. She can't really blame him. "I'm pretty but I'm not smart and I have no job and my essay sucks and my life sucks and my boyfriend is out being me and I sit at home and I suck."

A pause. Sheldon looks distinctly uncomfortable. Penny flops back into the couch, closing her eyes. Worst person to have a meltdown in front of.

"This isn't your home."

She opens her eyes. "What?"

He's set the comic aside and is reaching for her laptop. "You said you 'sit at home,' but you're sitting with me. May I?" He doesn't wait for a response. He just starts reading.

Penny lets him. She's tired. Sheldon exhausts her. Not really in a bad way, not always. Not even usually. He's just too hard to keep up with sometimes, and—he makes her feel like just lying down near him. Not with a book or the TV or her phone or anything, just with him. She just wants to be in his presence and feel safe, even though she's really the one who needs to keep him safe, and she does. But she likes being around someone who knows everything, and she likes knowing that he would give that everything to her whenever she needs it. It comforts her, knowing that if she runs into trouble, she can call Sheldon, and something in him will always make him help her. He may be annoying, but there's a reason he has the friends he does.

"Why am I your friend, Sheldon?"

"Proximity," he says shortly, eyes never leaving the screen. He presses a key, inserts a comma.

"Really?"

His jaw twitches. "And you sing me 'Soft Kitty' when I'm sick."

"But I'm not smart."

He snorts. "Then why is Leonard my best friend?"

She laughs, because Leonard is smart. "So how stupid does that make me?"

"Stupider than me and Stephen Hawking," Sheldon says, but Penny can't be offended, because Sheldon isn't trying to be rude. Just honest. She likes honest.

"Is your Meemaw smart?"

"Not particularly."

So there's something else Sheldon values. Something maybe more than intelligence.

"Tell me about your Meemaw, Moonpie."

He gives her a withering look. "Your punctuation is atrocious," he snipes, and returns to the essay. After a moment, he says, "She makes cookies for me. Just me. Not my brother or sister."

Penny smiles. Sheldon is such a child. He's cute when he's like this.

"She does laundry with me and uses the appropriate amount of detergent. She watches all the lectures I send her." He looks down briefly, at his long fingers. "She doesn't get angry with me."

Her breath catches, and his expression closes. He falls silent, focuses on the screen and turns into a statue before her.

"Sounds like she loves you a lot," Penny says, trying not to choke up. Sheldon's face shattered her heart. She sometimes forgets he's a real boy. She sometimes forgets how hurtful she can be.

"Yes," he says. All his attention is on her essay, and she rests her cheek on the back of the sofa, watching him. That enormous, amazing brain is all hers right now.

"I love you, too, sweetie."

Sheldon doesn't pause or falter in his typing, but he does glance at her. He doesn't respond, but that's okay.

She knows now what she brings to the table.

Her phone buzzes with a text. Leonard. Raj wanted to hang out, just the guys. I thought I could skip out early, but….

She sends him a smiley-face and that's it.

"Penny?"

"Yeah?"

"This essay is awful."

Her eyes narrow in challenge. "What's wrong with it?"

He beckons her close so he can lecture her on every last detail, the macro and micro. He spends five minutes on her lack of commas, and another ten on her citation formatting. He lectures her until her stomach rumbles, and he orders them pizza and then he lectures her more, and they sit together until midnight and he's exhausted, but Leonard isn't back and he let he stay and that's something. That's sweet. That's a little annoying. It's so very Sheldon.

She sends Leonard another text at midnight: good nite, party animal, and she's not even mad. Sheldon watches her with tired eyes, so she gets up to leave, bidding him a good night.

"Penny?"

"Yeah?"

He gestures to the laptop under her arm. "Are you angry?"

"No, sweetie." She can't be, when she does as she asks, and especially not when she knows he loves nights alone.

He nods.

"Sleep well."

So soft she's not sure if she heard right, as she closes the door: "Thank you."

She could ask him to repeat himself but doesn't. Penny lets the door fall shut behind her and smiles.