TITLE: Baby Steps
DISCLAIMER: I own nothing at all.
A/N: I wrote this for the 2011 Saturnalia exchange. The prompt was: Baby-fic! It can be Penny and Sheldon's or someone else child that Penny and Sheldon have to take care of. Bonus points if Mee-maw makes an appearance! I finally decided to put it up here, too.
Penny had dreamed about this moment many, many times. None of these dreams had looked like this. She is dreaming and she is floating. She sees Sheldon and wants to ask him something. No words come out of her mouth. She is still dreaming, isn't she? Penny floats and when her eyes close, she thinks she can hear Sheldon screaming her name. Knock, knock, knock Penny. Hey, sweetie, she thinks. Before she drifts off. To the dream of Sheldon counting down numbers. Maybe it's Pi. She never knew it that well. She would never know them as well as Sheldon. Her heartbeat. Her blood pressure. Numbers. If there is any way out of this dream it's a code. So many numbers and she can't decipher them. Penny floats away, drifts off, knowing if there is anyone who knows how to crack this code it's Sheldon. He knows all the numbers.
There are many reasons why Sheldon finds out last. Amy and Bernadette are with her when she throws up in the morning and they jokingly ask her if she's pregnant. The laughter dies when Penny starts crying. No words are needed. Amy insists on a pregnancy test. And when the tenth is still as positive as the first one, Penny finally accepts it.
Second, Leonard is the person who knows Sheldon best. For all the moments that Penny likes to make fun of Sheldon, when she drags him out of his social shell she is not sure how to broach this particular subject. She is not as logical as he is. This is a purely emotional matter and Penny doesn't know how he might deal with it. If he can. She needs Leonard's help. She needs someone besides Amy. Her bestie, who doesn't know how much she's been cheated. Because she doesn't know that her kinda-sorta boyfriend is the father of Penny's child. All the brunette sees in Penny is a heroine that Penny herself has never found in the mirror. Bernadette is a tiny mess of pity and soothing words that don't help. Leonard will know.
Third, Sheldon isn't the only one who can't keep a secret. Penny can tell from the look on Howard's face that he knows about her pregnancy when she sees him that same night. An angry glare at Bernadette who just shrugs apologetically proves it. Not her fault. Raj seems to know naturally. His eyes grow big. Drops of caramel chocolate. Sometimes Penny is certain that he has so much wisdom – then he speaks and she wonders how she could have been so wrong.
"Why – how Sheldon?" Leonard blurts eventually when they're sans Sheldon, who is out with Amy. She wants to tell him how she never meant it to happen. Penny wants to assure him that alcohol was involved. All of this would be a lie so she shrugs.
"Will you ever tell me... about how it happened? And everything?" Penny sees how Leonard's eyes are colored in a sad green; once again he doesn't understand why someone else got the girl. She no longer sees Howard and Raj sitting there, watching them. This is about them. About the history they share that will now forever be the past.
"I will. I promise." He thanks her silently and leaves before she can. This is a door that will never open again. As Penny thinks of Sheldon and of the way they will be tied together from now on, she feels no sadness.
Penny waits for the next Anything Can Happen Thursday. The guys leave them alone, but Sheldon doesn't even notice. Them leaving him for the social accomplishments he never thrived for is a welcome situation for him. As she watches him at his desk working on something she would never quite comprehend, she ponders how a baby could ever fit into his scheme. Into his schedule. Then she wonders if she could fit there as well.
Penny tries to picture him with an infant. A blurry image. She can't; at least not rightfully. So she sits in her spot next to his and waits. There is no TV on. The only noises are the gentle humming from the laptop and the sound of Sheldon breathing. She can almost hear him think. A part of her wishes she would understand more of his world after all. At the very least it would give her an idea how to tell him.
"Sheldon, I need to tell you something." Penny may not know his world, but she knows her own. There's no use in postponing it further.
"You know I don't care for gossip." Sheldon reminds her without even turning around. Penny twists her hands. Slowly, she scoots over until she's in his spot. It really is the perfect spot. They have that in common, she thinks. As if he can feel her presence there, as if he just feels it, Sheldon whirls himself around. He only looks at her and doesn't say anything, which she knows can't be a good sign. He's never speechless like this and she's in his spot after all. Penny doesn't know what her face is showing. She knows Sheldon is not good at reading facial expressions. But he doesn't ask her this time. Are you sad? Should I make tea? He just waits. Maybe he thinks he can make her leave his spot by staring her down.
"Do you remember that day you asked me to drive you to that comic convention?"
"As I've repeatedly informed you, I have an eidetic memory, which renders the question redundant." His voice is unsure. There is a little quiver that makes her stomach churn. Right there where their offspring is growing. She has to swallow.
"Hm, then you remember what happened afterwards as well? What we did?" Penny doesn't want to spell it out. It's a moment she wanted to forget. That was never meant to be spoken of again. A dark spot in their friendship.
"Of course." He whispers and his face starts twitching. Penny feels the strange need to console him, but she doesn't. Not before she has said it clear and out loud. To make it real.
"I took ten pregnancy tests." Penny blurts out. Sheldon looks at her. His face is still twitching occasionally. Otherwise there is no change in his stance.
"I am certain we used a prophylactic." Sheldon's voice sounds clinical, sounds as if he's trying to distance himself from the act. Somehow it makes Penny remember his shaky efforts to get the condom over his erected penis. Until she - ever the pro, teaching him finally - gently took it from him and helped. A memory of the searing kiss that followed afterwards as he entered her finds her. She blushes.
"You of all people should know they're not 100%." It was Sheldon who told her that condoms only ever worked 97% of the time. That with her promiscuous behavior she was bound to end up pregnant one day or another. Ironic that he is the one who succeeded. Dr. Sheldon Cooper knocked her up. She doesn't tell him that though; almost sure he would not be able to understand the irony and instead blame her for all of this. In her mind she blames herself enough already. She doesn't need Sheldon do to the same, too.
"That was 3 months and 16 days ago – am I to believe you have not engaged in coitus since then?"
"Are you out of your mind? Do you really think I would even consider telling you this if I wasn't 100% sure that you were the father? The only possibility?" Penny is furious and for a moment she thinks she sees pain on Sheldon's face. Then confusion. He hurt her first, she justifies her behavior.
"Very well then. Let it never be said that Sheldon Lee Cooper is not an honorable gentleman. We will get married as soon as possible. I will arrange everything." Sheldon turns to his computer again, typing quickly. Occasionally, he checks papers that are next to him on the desk. He is mumbling something. Calculating from what Penny can understand. Not that she understands much. Least of all his calm demeanor.
"I'm not going to marry you." She finally squeaks out when the first wave of shock has subsided, when the Bazinga just doesn't come out of his mouth.
"Penny, no offspring of mine will be a bastard." Sheldon speaks to his computer screen.
"Well, my offspring won't have a father that calls them a bastard! And not in a million years will I ever marry you! Look at me, Sheldon!" Sheldon hates fights and he hates screaming, so he obeys. Penny is certain that this is the only reason why he does it.
"There is no argument here, Penny. My mother will not allow a bastard."
"I don't care! And why aren't you freaking out?" she dimly realizes that she's freaking out herself. Sheldon is too calm. Apart from his twitching earlier, he is calm now. Way too calm. He's been too calm ever since they've had sex. The germ phobic is the calm one! Sheldon keeps quiet and Penny needs a moment to realize that he is almost shy, looking away.
"Sheldon?" Her voice is softer now, because she feels for him in a way. Also he is the father of her unborn child. A thought she can't fathom yet. One she is not sure she will ever be able to understand without a sense of bewilderment.
"I'm waiting for you to tell me this one of your jokes."
"Oh honey, I wish it was." She takes a step closer, but seeing the craziness appear on Sheldon's face now, she stops midway.
"The correct grammatical term is 'I wish it were'."
That's how it all starts.
There is one time when Leonard can't convince himself that Sheldon, Penny and a baby can work. Penny may not run off to vomit all day, but she has these moments where she starts crying for no reason. Sheldon reminds Leonard, as well as Penny, that this happens because of hormones. Sheldon doesn't comfort her in those moments.
"I'm not responsible for her hormone level, Leonard." Sheldon tells him one day when Penny storms out crying.
"You just called her fat. You knocked her up. You're responsible for everything."
"I merely mentioned that she started showing."
So it's Leonard who follows Penny to her apartment. She is furiously rummaging through her fridge when he enters without knocking.
"Penny?" Leonard asks carefully.
"I want alcohol!" She cries, turning around to him. For a moment Leonard is sure she is going to throw herself at him, but she doesn't.
"Do you really want to-"
"Geez, Leonard, are you crazy? I just – I don't know how to deal with Sheldon!" She slumps down on the couch, burying her face in a pillow and crying silently. Tentatively, Leonard joins her.
"Mini-Sheldon doesn't agree with anything his father wants us to eat."
"He? It's a boy?"
"Is that all you heard? And no, we don't know yet. It feels like Sheldon himself has implanted himself in my stomach. So I think it might be a he. All I want is ice-cream. Sheldon won't let me have any. I'm this close to going back home and have my parents scream at me. I want ice-cream, Leonard." Her voice is childish. Her whole behavior is childish, Leonard thinks, but he can be the friend here.
"How about I'll buy some for you? Sheldon doesn't need to know."
"You'd do that for me?" Penny asks. Her nose is red, her eyes are puffy and her hair is a big bunch of blond mess. Leonard sighs mentally, thinking how he'd do anything for this woman.
"I don't know how it's going to work once the baby is here." Penny sounds so doubtful and so depressed that Leonard starts craving alcohol as well.
There are two moments that change Leonard's mind.
"The fetus needs the most efficient environment and as we all know that is my spot. As devastating as it is to see Penny with her increased weight dent it." Sheldon explains one night when all of them are sitting in the apartment.
"Thank you, honey." Penny touches Sheldon's knee in a fleeting motion, ignoring his remark. In turn, Sheldon doesn't flinch away from her touch. Leonard can only watch. The way they work around each other by now. They look like they have worked out a routine. Sheldon is far less distanced towards Penny.
Moments like these have Leonard watch Amy, who deals with everything rather well. She deals with it much better than he does and unlike Leonard, she's really been cheated.
"Aren't you the least bit angry with Sheldon? Or Penny?" Leonard asks her when he helps her clean up.
"I was at first, naturally. But my feelings towards Sheldon are still very much rooted in intellect. When he told me I felt somewhat relieved."
"Sheldon is way too high maintenance for me. All those agreements," Leonard nods thinking not only of the Roommate Agreement, but also of Sheldon's newest document called First Child and Parenting Agreement he helped Penny decipher – and raise objections.
"Penny knows how to handle him for some reason. Maybe she should write a manual." Amy points to the weird couple with her eyes and Leonard follows her look. What he sees there amazes him; Sheldon has his hand on Penny's back. Leading her along to take her temperature, to weigh her and do whatever else he feels he needs to be doing as the father to be.
For the first time Leonard thinks it might work after all.
Eight days before she is due, Penny walks into Leonard's apartment.
"I'm going cra-zy." Penny complains, letting herself down on her own former couch. Sheldon was already compromising, in his own words, by letting Leonard move out and Penny move in. There was just no way he was giving up his couch – and his spot.
"I'm not moving back in with him. This is paradise." Penny laughs softly.
"No, I'm stuck with him. Soon there'll be two of him."
"I'm always next door, you know. To provide you with ice-cream or to listen." They smile at each other.
"You can listen now." Leonard looks at her questioningly.
"I promised you I would tell you how all of this happened." Penny points to her hugely swollen belly.
"You really don't have to." At this point, Leonard is not sure he really wants to know. It's always better to continue seeing Sheldon as the Homo Novus he claimed to be before all of this happened.
"I want to. Up to this day I don't really know…, you know? He never even flinched. I tried to console him, because all he wanted was that one special comic book. That's the whole reason why I had to drive him to this stupid convention. Remember that day?" Leonard nods. He was out of town himself. Otherwise it would have been him and Sheldon at the convention. The realization that he is to blame for the pregnancy dawns on him.
"But I had to work and we left late. You can imagine how much he complained on the way." Penny chuckles, but she is completely lost in her memories. Leonard watches her and feels his heart break into tiny pieces. Whether she realizes it herself, but she's in love. In love with Sheldon.
"When we got there the comic books were sold out. He blamed me of course. When my car broke down on the way back, he kept reminding me how often he'd mentioned the 'check engine' light. We had to wait for hours at a nearby restaurant that Sheldon hated."
"All the while he kept harassing me until I threatened to get drunk. He shut up, imagine that! They fixed the car rather quickly and Sheldon kept his promise the rest of the drive home. He was quiet. Then he told me how sad he was. That face," Penny takes a short break and absent-mindedly strokes her belly.
"So I tried to console him, even offered to make him tea. He said no. I went in for a hug. He felt so... human and I kissed his cheek. Did you ever notice how soft Sheldon's skin is?" Leonard expects this to be a rhetorical question, but Penny waits for an answer. He shakes his head no and wishes there was alcohol here, right now.
"His lips looked so-"
"Ok, I think I get the picture!" Penny actually blushes.
"I guess I just thought you were both drunk. Or drugged."
"No, we weren't."
"It only happened this once?"
"Gee, Leonard. But yeah, it did. Sheldon promised to consummate the relationship once I accept his proposal though."
"Have you already?"
"No. I don't want to get married just because I'm pregnant. I want him to ask me, because…" and that's when she starts crying. Leonard doesn't know how to console her this time. Ice-cream would never do it and he is not the man she wants to make it all better.
"Wait here a moment." Leonard tells her, touching her shoulder. She's babbling and wailing. Quickly, Leonard enters his old apartment. Sheldon is at his desk, analyzing websites on everything baby when Leonard hits him on the head. Hard, he hopes.
"Ow! That was uncalled for Leonard."
"No, it wasn't. Penny is over there crying, because of you."
"I didn't do anything wrong. I checked my journal."
"You're an idiot, Sheldon."
"I resent that tone, Leonard."
"I really don't care."
He drags Sheldon by the arm and Sheldon softens once he sees Penny. He walks over to the couch and offers her a hand. She takes it and he heaves her up. Before Penny can react, Sheldon engulfs her in his arms. It's awkward, because he still isn't comfortable with these things, but he is trying. Leonard feels like an intruder. Just as he wants to give them some time alone together he hears a very silent, but very convincing 'I'm sorry' in Sheldon's voice.
Penny mostly sits on the couch ordering Sheldon around and calling him her favorite nickname. After a pep talk from his mother, Sheldon is the perfect gentleman. Not once questioning what Penny asks him to do. They're like the twilight zone.
"Could you please refrain from calling me that name." He tries to be as polite as possible.
"Consider it preparation, moonpie." Penny just grins and eats a few Cheetos. Sheldon is no longer allowed to forbid her.
But Sheldon is still Sheldon. For every night Penny creeps into his bed, she gets a strike. Every morning she gets the breakfast schedule wrong, she gets another one. At the end of the week Penny has so many strikes that Sheldon urges her to finally take the course.
"I can't take the course pregnant."
"You can take it online."
"It makes me nauseous to use the computer."
"You mean nauseated. And you ordered shoes off the internet last night!"
"That was different. It didn't take long."
Some things, Leonard thinks wistfully, never change.
"Oh oh." Both men look at her.
"My water just broke."
That's how it really starts.
Sheldon tries to be brave for Penny, but the fact remains that he simply hates hospitals. Leonard feels somewhat proud of his best friend, seeing how he holds Penny's hand continuously telling her his famous 'there, there'. The feeling lasts until Sheldon tells the nurses to not ever touch him again after one brushes his arm. He excuses himself for a quick round of cleaning up.
The waiting is strenous. In the morning, Bernadette and Amy come to visit. Howard and Raj join them soon after. Leonard stays the whole time; whether he does it for Penny or Sheldon is unclear even to himself. After almost 11 hours, Sheldon tweets the joyous news of his daughter's birth. Nameless for the time-being. Leonard, relived, hugs everyone in the waiting room.
"She needs a name." Sheldon tells Penny after the baby has been cleaned. She is the ugliest thing he has ever seen. Yet he falls in love with her right away. He doesn't see any resemblance to himself or Penny. But seeing the look on Penny's face, he understands for once that he has to keep this fact to himself.
"Hmmm." Penny is tired and Sheldon, out of some weird impulse, tucks a strand of hair behind her ear.
"I propose a strong name like-"
"Katharine." Penny interjects.
"Katharine The Great of course."
"Why would we name our daughter after a Russian Empress with a questionable romantic past?"
"What? No, silly. Katharine, the Great. Katharine Hepburn."
"Who?" Penny laughs.
"Just go tell them."
Leonard can't help but pat Sheldon's back when he finally leaves the hospital room. He makes Leonard follow him to fill out the birth certificate, asking who Katharine Hepburn is. When they return to Penny's room, they're pushed aside. Leonard feels Sheldon tense up next to him. He puts a hand on his best friend's back, who startles and runs into Penny's room. Leonard sees a small pink bundle, but his attention is focused on Penny. And all the doctors working on her.
"What happened? What's wrong with her?" Sheldon asks, demanding answers. Eventually all Leonard can hear is the voice of Sheldon mumbling nonsense to no one in particular. He thinks he hears numbers.
This, he thinks glumly, is how it all ends.
One step forwards and a million back. The Sheldon that comes home from the hospital is not a new one; it's a very old one. The Sheldon he met so many years ago. All he does is mope around the apartment and it's Leonard who has to remind him to take care of Katie.
"I need to find a way, Leonard." Sheldon tells him day after day with blue rings under his eyes. This is worse than any work related problem Sheldon has ever encountered, because he has not the slightest idea how to fix this. How to fix Penny and get his life back. All those numbers, all this emptiness can't help him.
"Why don't you sing Soft Kitty to Katie?" Leonard suggests. The girl has been crying all night. Sheldon looks at his daughter. Her face is squished and red and she wriggles in his arms.
"She's not sick."
"Well, she misses her mother. I'd say that's some kind of sick."
Sheldon continues to stare at his daughter and just when Leonard is about to start singing himself, Sheldon softly sings next to her tiny ear. A moment later the infant calms visibly. Rocking her gently in a way Leonard has never seen Sheldon do, the girl falls asleep. Seeing the unlikely pairing of father and daughter, Leonard starts to believe in miracles.
Time passes too fast and too slow at the same time. Sheldon, as always, has a schedule. Visiting Penny, feeding Katie and never once missing his scheduled bowel movement. Most of the time when Leonard checks in, he finds Sheldon in front of his board with Katie somehow in his arms. It's so unnaturally natural that it scares him. He calls Mrs. Cooper to come as quickly as possible. They need all the help they can get. Sheldon tells him what 'nonsense' this is. Eventually, when they watch Katie sleeping peacefully in her crib Sheldon actually apologizes.
Sheldon is meticulously noting every one of Katie's movements. He wants Penny to read it when she wakes up again. The doctor says she should have woken up already. One night, Leonard finds Sheldon praying at Penny's hospital bed. Then he sings Soft Kitty to her.
"Because this time you really are sick."
Leonard quietly leaves.
Everyone has their own story when one day later, Penny wakes up. Their own little miracle. Penny doesn't care; all she wants is to hold her daughter. Sheldon is next to Penny's hospital bed, his hand on their daughter, giving Penny a commentary on her development. His hand wanders and finds its destiny on Penny's shoulder. When she looks up at him, there is something new in Sheldon's eyes. It's so intimate and unknown to Leonard that he decides to no longer watch and analyze.
"I hope we can take you home soon. I really need to get to know the woman who made my moonpie settle down." Sheldon's Meemaw is as demanding as her grandson. Only that her expressions are even scarier. Mrs. Cooper thought it would do her son good to have his Meemaw around, so she brought her along. There are two women calling Sheldon moonpie and the world seems just the tiniest bit better.
"Just you wait until that little one starts talking." Meemaw tells them all.
"Oh, I can't wait." Penny exclaims, stroking Katie's soft blond hair.
"Shelly has not yet shown us the wedding pictures." Meemaw looks around to see who she can blame.
Penny and Leonard share a look, then she stares at Sheldon who just shrugs.
"I told you so." He finally whispers to Penny when his Meemaw is grilling their friends about the pictures.
"If I wasn't holding your daughter, I'd so hit you."
"Were. If you weren't holding my daughter."
Somehow, Penny manages to hit Sheldon after all. Even with Katie there, still unaware of their crazy parents.
Nothing will ever really change. No matter what.
"I do not care for this kind of cake." Katie Cooper pushes the plate with the muddy chocolate cake away.
"Why not?" The saleswoman asks.
"For one," the little girl starts, cleaning her fingers with a wet wipe. The eyebrows over her big blue eyes go up and she swishes her dark blond hair behind her head just like her mother has taught her.
"It's too messy." She points her finger at the brown mess on the plate. The saleswoman only stares.
"And also this chocolate is too rich. People will be too full to dance. They need to dance." Katie nods to herself, obviously pleased. She goes to the counter to look at the various cakes there.
"She is very particular." Penny tells the saleswoman, but she has to keep herself from grinning. Sometimes Katie enjoys annoying grownups with her behavior. She calls it 'playing Daddy', imitating Sheldon.
"I can see that."
"We decided to let her pick the cake."
"A wonderful idea." The saleswoman says, but it's obvious she doesn't mean it. She watches Katie analyze the cakes.
"Mom, I want this one." Katie points to a lemon cake.
"Can we please try this one?" The saleswoman nods and prepares a plate.
"Be nice." Penny whispers into her daughter's ear who just nods, watching the cake being cut closely.
"Thank you." Katie politely says. She sits down at the table and takes a bite.
"We have a winner!" She exclaims happily. Her big grin reveals her first tooth gap. Even the saleswoman is pleased. Penny arranges everything before she and Katie leave. The little girl takes her mother's hand and smiles up at her.
"It is a great cake."
"Let's just hope your dad approves of it, too."
"He always kinda lets me have what I want." Katie tells her mother secretively. Penny pretends not to know, but again it is hard not to smile and reveal herself.
"Huh, does he? I hope you're right."
"Mom, I'm always right." Katie remarks and sounds just like her father. The man Penny would finally marry in a few short months. Even if she can't quite believe it herself. Katie slips away from Penny.
"Dad!" The girl throws herself at Sheldon who catches her awkwardly. Five years have prepared him for impromptu displays of affection. From both Katie and Penny. Still, he always looks kind of lost and awkward.
"I picked the cake! A lemon cake!" Katie hangs from his neck and Sheldon tries to hold her up.
"Very well." Sheldon stares at Penny, begging her to help him.
"Katie, come on, let your father breathe." Katie reluctantly lets go.
"I made the saleswoman uncomfortable." She tells her father proudly.
"I talked to her as if I was you." Sheldon looks at Penny, who silently tells him 'she's your daughter'.
"It's 'were', Katie. If I were you." The girl rolls her eyes. 'That's your daughter', Sheldon lets Penny know. She just grins and takes Sheldon's hand. He squeezes back.
Who would have thought.