A/N - Hi! I should first warn you that this is not exactly fluffy and it's quite long. It took forever to write and I'm actually really proud of it, so I hope you will like it, too. Thanks for reading! Feedback of all kinds is always welcome and appreciated. And thanks to my beta Samantha, who loves Wil Wheaton.
As she and Leonard climbed the last step between the stairs and their respective apartments, Penny stopped short, as though an invisible force was blocking her from walking any further. She didn't want to go back inside. She didn't want to resume life as normal, because it was never going to be normal again. But if she had to stand next to Leonard for another agonizing second, she might scream. Loudly. To delay the inevitable, she took a tissue out of her purse and blew her nose for the millionth time that day. Leonard gave her a sympathetic look. That guy, he was full of sympathy.
"Do you want me to come in with you?" Leonard asked as Penny searched through her cluttered purse for her keys.
Penny managed to stop herself from exclaiming, "Oh, god, no!" Instead she put all her effort into smiling and saying, "Oh, Leonard, thank you, but I really need some time alone. You understand, don't you?"
"Of course. Take a bath. Go to bed early. Do what you need to do." It was all the things an understanding boyfriend would say, but his face told a different story. He looked disappointed. Crushed, almost. Like they hadn't just spent almost an entire week together. At first Penny had been grateful that Leonard wanted to accompany her to Nebraska, but he never left her side. Even if she just wanted a second to breathe, or a few minutes alone with her brother and sister to grieve, he was always there. And as much as she appreciated how much he cared about her, Penny could not bear to look in Leonard's sad eyes anymore. It was too much. And she was already overwhelmed.
He thought he knew what she was going through. He tried to console her; tried to explain how everything was going to be okay, that losing a parent wasn't going to be the worst thing that ever happened to her. And she tried to believe him. She really sincerely tried. But it wasn't working, and now all she wanted was to be left alone. To cry. To drink. To sob. To be without Leonard, who would never, ever understand.
"Okay. I'll do that. See you tomorrow," she said. He leaned in for a kiss. Even that annoyed her. Did they always need to do this? Couldn't he just walk away without a kiss for once? What were they, 12? She kissed him on the cheek and then turned around to unlock her door. Suddenly his clammy hand was on her back and he said, "I love you, Penny. You're going to be okay."
Instead of prying his hand off her and replying with some snide remark she'd regret later, Penny somehow managed to get out some semblance of "Love you, too" before unlocking the door and disappearing behind it. She did love Leonard. It took her long enough to come to that conclusion, but she did love the guy. Unfortunately the last few days had left her wondering if just love was enough. Shouldn't they at least have something in common? A shared interest besides sex, food and Quentin Tarantino movies?
Once inside, Penny headed straight to her bedroom and sank into the bed she knew so well. And only then did the tears she'd been storing for days finally come, threatening to never stop. Her mother...Penny was never going to be able to talk to her mother again. She was gone, and she was never coming back.
Penny's mother Linda tried as hard as she could not to let Penny or her siblings know about the cancer-she didn't want to worry them; they all had such busy lives and didn't need to worry about her. But once it got out of hand and the prognosis was dim, Penny's father insisted Linda tell the kids. A month ago, Penny got the phone call with the bad news. Breast cancer, it was real, it was taking over her body, and she would not get better. Penny obviously wanted to rush back to Nebraska to be by her side, but her mother assured her everything was okay and she was going to beat it. But she hadn't. And now her mother was gone, and Penny was completely devastated.
Penny hadn't seen Linda much since moving to California, but she talked to her almost every day. Linda would tell Penny about all the stupid things her idiot brother was up to, and all the adorable and not so adorable things Karen's (Penny's sister) three out of control children were getting into now. Penny didn't-couldn't-comprehend how she was never going to talk to her mother on the phone again. Linda would never ask how "that nice boy Leonard" was doing, or if Penny had any auditions coming up (Linda was convinced that Penny was going to be a huge star someday, despite all evidence to the contrary), or what ridiculous pick-up lines the patrons of the Cheesecake Factory were inflicting upon her on any given day. Penny was never going to talk to her mother again. How could she possibly ever begin to deal with that?
After Penny exhausted herself from sobbing into her pillow, she peeled herself out of bed and moved to the kitchen. She sighed when she realized there were only three bottles of wine in the refrigerator. That was not going to be enough for what she had planned. Penny didn't have to be at work for another three days, and she was going to spend that time drinking, eating, and crying. And, she guessed, at some point, she'd have to somehow go to the store and buy more food and wine.
Leonard was wrong-Penny wasn't going to be okay. She may never be okay again. Although she and her mother were very different people who took very different paths in their lives, Penny loved and respected and needed her. And now she was gone, and so was a huge part of Penny.
Sighing, Penny opened her first bottle of wine. She got out a family photo album and started going through the pages, one by one. She laughed and cried and sobbed and eventually fell asleep, empty wine bottle on the floor, album thrown across the room.
Leonard sat in his usual spot, uneasily watching Doctor Who with the rest of the guys. He couldn't take his mind off Penny. She was just across the hallway, but she might as well be stuck back in Nebraska. Leonard texted her every couple of hours and the only response he got back was hours ago and it said, "Pls don't come over, want 2 B alone, forever." He honestly thought that was a little dramatic, but then again, he'd never lost a parent. And he tried to put himself in her shoes, but he knew it just wasn't the same. His parents and Penny's parents were basically the antithesis of each other. While he was sure he'd mourn them just like anyone would, he didn't know if there'd be such a profound sense of loss the way Penny felt about her mother.
While the evening's fanboy discussion was hotly debated (it seemed to be centered on the mating rituals of the Cardassians. Or was it the Kardashians? Leonard couldn't focus long enough to find out and/or care.), all Leonard could think about was…why didn't Penny need him? He felt like he needed her all the time, even without having been through a tragedy like she did. He wondered, not for the first time, if it hurt more that she didn't need him, or that she didn't want him? Was there really a difference? Leonard sighed again.
"What's the deal, Leonard? This is like the ninth time you've sighed in an hour. Now it's just getting weird-slash-annoying," Howard said, so helpful as always.
"Nothing...it's just that Penny is still so sad and I don't know what to do or say to make her feel better. I am the worst boyfriend ever."
Sheldon, who until that moment had been sitting at his desk silently while having an intense discussion about thermodynamics on Reddit, suddenly sprang to attention.
"Penny is upset?"
"Of course she is, Sheldon," Raj said. "Her mother just died. Wouldn't you be upset-" Raj stopped abruptly after receiving an angry glare from Howard.
Sheldon ignored this tasteless remark from Raj and instead rose quickly from his computer. "I must go offer her a warm beverage."
"I don't think that's such a good idea...she might go all Nebraska on you," Howard said, cringing. But Sheldon wasn't listening; he was already closing the door behind him.
"I wish I could see what kind of medieval torture devices she's going to use on the poor guy, if she even lets him in."
Leonard looked deep in thought. "No, I think this will be good. Penny and Sheldon have always shared some kind of weird bond. If she won't talk to me, I hope she'll confide in him. After all, he knows what she's going through..."
"In theory, at least," Raj said. They all knew that even though Sheldon lost his father and could relate to the death of a parent better than anyone else in the room, he and Penny had very different coping mechanisms. Still, it was at least worth a try.
Penny was sitting on the floor, staring into the abyss. At some point during the day, she actually meant to get up and take a shower and maybe put on clean clothes or something, but instead she was still wearing the same clothes as yesterday, which were now stained with wine and strawberry ice cream. Her hair was a mess, her eyes were red, she could hardly move, and she didn't care. Was this how normal people dealt with losing a parent? Because she certainly didn't feel normal. In 40 hours or so, she'd have to get dressed and go to work and act like she wasn't completely devastated. Maybe she should quit. Maybe she should move somewhere else and get a new start. It would destroy Leonard and she'd miss him like crazy, but maybe that was what she needed. It wasn't like her career was thriving in L.A., anyway. What was the point?
As Penny pondered where in the world she'd move to, she couldn't shake off the feeling that Leonard wasn't the person she'd miss the most. And before she got too deep into that line of thinking-
Knock knock knock...PENNY...knock knock knock...PENNY...knock knock knock...PENNY!
She had to give the boy some credit. He was the only one with balls enough to bother her at a time like this. If it had been Leonard knocking on her door, she would have completely ignored him. But she didn't feel like ignoring Sheldon. And she was worried that if she spent too long trying to figure out why, she'd go down a path she wasn't prepared to walk.
Penny struggled to get herself off the floor. The whole knocking routine started again and she did a combination chuckle-eye roll. She finally managed to fling open the door, and there he was, looking as Sheldon-y as ever.
"Sheldon, what are you doing here? Didn't Leonard tell you I want to be alone for a few days?"
Sheldon ignored her, heading straight to her kitchen to go through her cupboards. Penny signed. "The tea is on top of the refrigerator." Penny knew she could protest all she wanted, but Sheldon was going to make her that warm beverage whether she wanted it or not.
No words were spoken until Sheldon was finished making the tea. He brought her a cup and sat down next to her, even though they both knew he found the couch unbearably uncomfortable.
The tea was warm and soothing and Penny instantly felt a little bit better. She noticed Sheldon looking at her with a mixture of concern and pity. She knew she looked like total shit. At the same time, she didn't even have enough energy to apologize for it. And for some reason, she felt like Sheldon would understand, even without explanation.
"Penny, Leonard has been groaning and moaning for the past two days about how sad you are. I must ask you a question—wouldn't you find Leonard's presence comforting at a time like this? I was given to understand that a relationship paradigm is important when dealing with things of this nature."
Penny nodded tiredly. "I guess that's the standard, right? But I didn't find Leonard's presence 'comforting' when we were in Nebraska and for some reason, I have no urge to see him even now. I just…want to be alone."
Sheldon looked perplexed. "Oh, well, I suppose I can come back later when you're feeling more sociable. I just thought a warm beverage would be soothing in your time of need."
Thankfully, he didn't move from his spot on the couch. Penny was glad. Just having Sheldon next to her made her feel better than she had in days.
"Oh, no, sweetie, you're fine. I'm...I'm glad you're here. I'm not sure what it is about Leonard…it's like he's trying too hard. And I can't deal with that right now, I just can't. It makes me want to scream."
"Yes, Leonard does possess that trait," Sheldon said. "Especially when it comes to the females in his life. I don't get it myself; I've always subscribed to the notion that when someone needs attention and affection, they'll ask for it."
"That explains your relationship with Amy," Penny said.
"It does, doesn't it? Also, she has requested you contact her at your earliest convenience. Apparently she's been trying to communicate with you unsuccessfully, and she is worried about you."
"Oh. Yeah." Penny said. She just didn't have the energy to talk to Amy, or Leonard, or anyone else for that matter. They all wanted so much from her. They wanted her to be okay. They all wanted her to get better. They all wanted her to stop crying. Well, she wasn't ready. And she didn't know when she would be ready, if ever. It had only been six days since her mother died and Penny didn't know if anything would ever be the same. Things were different now. She changed. And maybe not in a good way.
Penny and Sheldon drank their tea silently. It was nice to sit with someone and not have to talk. But regardless, Penny felt like she'd already taken up too much of Sheldon's valuable time. He was always in such a hurry; she didn't want to slow him down, no matter how comforting his presence was.
"Sheldon…you don't have to sit here with me. I know you probably have more important things to attend to."
"This is the only thing I have to attend to at the moment, Penny. I've done my work for the day and Rajesh and Howard were about to watch Babylon 5. Well, you know how I feel about Babylon 5."
"Okay…well, good. Thank you."
"Would you like some more tea?" Sheldon asked, noticing her cup was almost empty.
While Sheldon was in the kitchen, Penny picked up the photo album and looked through a few more pictures. She flipped to a page of her mom holding a smaller Penny's hand proudly after she'd won the Miss Corncob pageant at age four. Her mom looked so proud. After never quite measuring up as a pageant contestant herself, Linda lived vicariously through her daughter. And although this drove Penny crazy when she was a rebellious teenager, she wouldn't be the same without her mother's support and encouragement through her pageant years. And then, for the millionth time that week, Penny started to cry again. She knew Sheldon wouldn't know what to do with her; she was so embarrassed. It was like she had zero control over her emotions.
Penny lost herself in the tears and didn't even know if Sheldon was still in her apartment. But eventually, she felt a jolt of warmth radiate through her body. She opened her eyes to see Sheldon, of all people, was holding her hand. The gesture was so…genuine that she didn't know how to respond to it.
As her tears subsided, she looked up to see Sheldon gazing at her, worry and concern plain in his eyes and on his face. She'd never seen him like this before. And for some reason, it made everything just a little bit better.
"I'm so sorry, sweetie. I know you probably think this is ridiculous, me breaking down like this. You can go if you want to, I'll understand. It's not your thing."
Sheldon actually almost looked hurt by this comment. "This is the third time you've told me to leave, Penny. Tell me-do you actually want me to leave or are you worried about my reaction to your anguish?"
Penny sniffed. "I'm not used to this, Sheldon...I'm not used to you seeing me so vulnerable. I don't know if I want you to see it, honestly."
"Don't be silly, Penny. Although I do find the way females grieve to be almost frivolous and confusing, I understand that hormones dictate their reactions and emotions. I wrote a paper on it after witnessing the way my mother dealt with the situation. I actually find it fascinating."
If she didn't know any better, Penny would have thought Sheldon was insulting her. Instead she chose to love the way he looked at the world and cared about things she couldn't comprehend. It was funny; when she first met the guy, she had no idea how she'd ever grow to love or tolerate him. Now she couldn't imagine not having him in her life. At some point over the past couple of years—she didn't know when, exactly—he had become her best friend. She appreciated all his quirks instead of tolerated them. Just as he saw through the blonde hair and the great rack to the person Penny was always trying to be. They had this friendship thing down pretty well by now.
Penny scooted a bit closer to him and put her head on his shoulder. She expected some kind of reprimand, but to her surprise, he allowed it.
"Sheldon…does it ever get easier?"
Penny expected a flippant reply or sarcastic remark, but apparently on this particular evening, Sheldon was feeling generous.
"I'm not sure I can answer your question adequately, Penny. You and your mother were much closer than my father and I; at least I assume you were. My father and I had a complicated relationship and I did not grieve in the same way you are grieving now. But my sister had a much different bond with my father and she reacted much like you. Missy had a mourning period that lasted far longer than anyone could have anticipated. But I'm sure she'd tell you that it does get easier, although you never truly get over it completely."
Penny squeezed his hand. "But what about you, sweetie? Do you ever miss your dad?"
Sheldon was quiet for a moment. Penny studied his face while he was deep in thought.
"Yes, I do. But I don't have a rational explanation for such feelings. He was never very proud of my scientific accomplishments, yet I always wish I could tell him whenever I make another important achievement."
"That must be frustrating," Penny said softly. She always knew Sheldon had a rough childhood, but never having the approval of his father must have been awful.
"Well, yes. But I've done some reading and also formulated my own thoughts on the subject. Some say that losing a parent is a rite of passage. It's something almost everybody goes through at some point in their life. Although I don't usually find myself comparing my emotions to others', I do find solace in the fact that my feelings and inadequacies about my father are not uncommon. I've read many books on the subject and have gained somewhat of an introspective peacefulness about it."
Penny sighed deeply. "She's been gone less than a week and every single thing reminds me of her. I just don't know how I'm going to recover from this. I don't know how I'm going to get up every day and not collapse from the pain. I can't imagine ever listening to Billy Joel again. She loved him. I think she loved him more than she loved my dad."
"Willie Nelson for my mama," Sheldon said, nodding. Penny nodded, too, instantly understanding what he meant.
"My dad loves Willie, too. It must be a small town thing."
"Yes, that's probably true." Sheldon paused, looking thoughtful again. "You know, Penny, as much as I like to poke jest at your Nebraska upbringing, it was not much unlike my own. I've often found that I can relate to your hoedown stories about rodeos and corn cobs more than I can relate to Leonard's childhood with his brilliant mother, Howard's stereotypical Jewish household and Raj's wealthy life in India."
Penny smiled. Now he was starting to get it. "Right? I've always felt a little connection with you that way. Isn't it funny, the things we have in common?"
Sheldon glanced at her for a moment. It was an intense look that penetrated her soul. Okay, that was dramatic, but she could have sworn he was almost looking at her in a different light. Like maybe something was clicking for him that hadn't before. Or maybe she was just sick from grief and interpreting it all wrong. Anything was possible. She decided to press her luck and say something that had been on her mind for quite some time.
"Don't you think it's interesting that we both have such commitment problems with our relationships? We don't want to live with them, we both have problems expressing our emotions, and we're both, I don't know, kind of weird about that stuff. Sometimes I wonder if maybe Amy and Leonard have more in common with each other than with us. Maybe we should switch and that would solve all our problems."
She didn't really mean to say that. Did she really actually say that?
Sheldon took a long sip of tea and looked thoughtful. Penny had no idea what he was going to say next. She never did. That was part of the thrill of being friends with Sheldon Cooper.
"I will admit to wondering the same thing myself. If the conditions were different; if Leonard hadn't thrown himself at you so embarrassingly that first day we met you in the hall, if I had been in a different place in my social development, as I am now with Amy, maybe things would have turned out that way. But this is not our reality. And I think you will agree that we are not entirely unhappy with the status quo."
"Oh. Oh, of course, I love Leonard. And you...like Amy a lot. Yes. Of course."
They shared an interesting look that went on a little too long to make any kind of sense. Penny finally had to break his stare. She cleared her throat and said, "Ahem. Well, if you want to stay a bit longer, I have some Next Generation DVDs Leonard left over here a while ago. We can watch them. I would appreciate the company."
"Those are my TNG DVDs! Leonard said he lost them. Well, isn't that just like him!"
Penny retrieved the DVDs and handed them to Sheldon, who rifled through them to find his favorite episode. She went to the kitchen to steal a quick sip of wine from the bottle. Sheldon was so insistent with the tea; she didn't want to disappoint him.
They both sat back down on her sofa, and Penny was overcome with yet another wave of gratefulness to her friend Sheldon. He didn't have to do this. He could be at home watching Babylon 5 and mocking the boys for watching the show yet again. Or he could be with Amy, his girlfriend, doing...whatever it was they did together. But instead he was here with her, giving her comfort, and she would never know how to thank him properly.
"Yes, Penny?" He said, not taking his eyes off the TV.
"Thank you," she said softly. He didn't reply. Instead, she felt the comforting warmth of his hand on hers, and that was all the answer she needed.
After the third episode of Babylon 5 in a row, Howard and Raj said their good-byes and left to go home to their wives and their dogs. Leonard glanced at Penny's door when they left. It was almost midnight and Sheldon hadn't returned yet. Leonard wasn't sure whether he should be happy that Sheldon was giving her comfort, or jealous that Sheldon was able to give her comfort. It was killing him that he wasn't able to give Penny what she needed, and yet Sheldon was somehow figuring it out.
Ugh. He always did this to himself. He always made situations worse than they were. Sheldon and Penny were friends. Sheldon had been through the death of a parent before. He was giving her comfort, and there was nothing to worry about.
Sighing, Leonard shuffled toward his bedroom. The last thing he wanted to do was sleep, but it was better than the alternative. Sheldon would be home soon-he had to be.
Sheldon was only sort of paying attention to his favorite episode of TNG. It wasn't because he'd seen it 182 times-he still got the same amount of enjoyment out of it. No, he was distracted. Penny was more emotional than he'd ever seen her, and it was catching him off guard. Her hand was so warm, and she looked so vulnerable under all the ruined make-up and dirty blonde hair. He felt an urge to protect her that he didn't understand. He never felt like this with Amy. And it wasn't the same kind of protection he wanted to give his mom when she was grieving over his father, either. It was a completely foreign feeling altogether.
Beside him, Penny continued drifting off to sleep while jolting herself awake.
"Penny, you can go to bed, you know. I'll stay here if you want me to, but you need rest. You look like you haven't had a decent REM cycle in weeks."
Penny sniffed. "It's been a while since I've gotten a full night's sleep. But I don't...I want to watch this episode with you. Really. It's important to you."
Well, it wasn't that important to him, but it seemed like she wanted it to be, so he just gripped her hand a little tighter. They watched the show together quietly for almost the whole hour. And then Penny had a meltdown. Wesley was having a particularly poignant moment with his mother Beverly, and this apparently triggered something in Penny neither of them were expecting.
Sheldon felt Penny's meltdown happen in stages. First of all, her hand went slack under his. Then she curled into a ball. Then she started crying. Then she started sobbing. And after a minute or two, she was an inconsolable wall of pain.
"Penny? Penny, come on, talk to me...I can't help you if you won't talk to me."
Penny somehow managed to squeak out, "Wesley...his mother...she loves him, and she's always going to be there for him, and I'll never have my mother again! She died! My mother died!"
Sheldon couldn't argue with that fact. He thought back to when he had to take care of his mother when she was grieving. Sometimes when she broke down, what she needed was a push in the right direction. "Tough love," she'd call it. It always seemed to reboot her emotions. Maybe that was what Penny needed.
"Okay, Penny, come on, get up."
"Where am I going?" She managed to say through the sobs.
"You're going to take a shower and then get in bed. You need to sleep."
"But I can't-"
"No, you will not argue with me. Get in that shower right now, young lady."
Penny just looked confused now, but at least she stopped sobbing. Sheldon helped her off the couch and escorted her to the bathroom. He turned the shower on and turned away while she undressed. Well, mostly turned away. The hero always peeks.
Before she got in the warm water, she whispered, "You aren't going to leave, are you?"
"Of course not!" He said, almost hurt that she would think such a thing. While she showered, he went into her bedroom and found a tank top and boxers for her to sleep in. Then he tidied her room because he couldn't stand it for one more second.
Almost 20 minutes later, Penny came in her room, towel wrapped around her, looking a little bit more refreshed.
"Here, put these on," Sheldon instructed, handing her the clothes. She didn't protest or even glance to see if they matched. He again turned his head while she shed her towel and put the clothes on. He tried not to peak this time but it was almost an inhuman task. Sheldon may not have been interested in sexual intimacy the way most human beings were, but he was not immune to Penny's classic beauty...and her glistening wet body.
He peeled back her comforter and said, "Now come on, get in bed. That's right. You're doing great." He helped her get comfortable, much like he did during the lack of adhesive ducks crisis. This whole evening was starting to resemble that famed night in which he took her to the hospital.
Before Penny could ask, he sat next to her on the bed. And he did what they both knew he was going to do eventually, whether she had to beg him or not-he sang Soft Kitty to her.
"Soft kitty, warm kitty, little ball of fur...happy kitty, sleepy kitty, purr, purr, purr."
"I'm not sick," she whispered, looking completely delighted and yet devastated at the same time.
"Bereavement is a type of sick," he whispered back.
"Sheldon...can you please stay here tonight? I know all the reasons why you'd say no, but can you please do this for me? Just for tonight?"
Sheldon pondered all the reasons for a moment. He preferred his own bed, first of all. He didn't bring his phone and Amy was waiting for him to text her good night. Leonard was also expecting him to come back soon. And he'd never slept in bed with a girl who wasn't family in his whole life, although Amy spent most of her time trying to figure out a way to get him to do just that. But none of those reasons seemed to matter. All he wanted to do was help Penny feel better. She needed him, and he wanted to be there for her. It wasn't often that Penny looked so vulnerable; she tried so hard to maintain her strength and her cool. To even ask him to do this for her, she was risking so much. Not to mention all the times she had been there for him in the past. It was his turn.
Still, he tried in vain to do the right thing. "Are you sure? Don't you want Leonard to spend the night with you?"
"No...I want you to spend the night with me," she said simply.
Sheldon nodded and went to the other side of the bed. He needed to brush his teeth, take his clothes off, do his nightly routine to his satisfaction...but suddenly he was just too tired to do any of that. So instead he took off his socks and shoes and got in bed with Penny.
It was the least he could do.
To say Penny was shocked was an understatement. She never expected Sheldon to agree to stay. And part of her didn't even know why she wanted him to.
"Thank you, Sheldon. This means so much to me."
"I understand, Penny. My mother and sister would have frequent sleepovers in the wake of my father's death. Although I can't claim to completely understand, I emphasize with the need for such comfort."
Penny scooted a bit closer to him, and they managed to arrange themselves so that their backs were touching. The warmth of his surprisingly strong back made Penny rethink a lot of things about her life in a very short time. Maybe...she was a little bit in love with him. Maybe it had been there all this time. Obviously she was loved Leonard and sometimes she could actually even picture a future with him-a life. But she was starting to realize that throughout her friendship with Sheldon, there were all these little moments they shared that were starting to paint a picture for her that she hadn't seen before. The black suit, the look in his eyes when he praised her acting in the play a few months ago, all the Soft Kittys, all their little conversations in the laundry room, when he let her cut his hair, and every other piece of the puzzle she could possibly contemplate. Maybe he was the guy after all.
For one crazy second, she thought about it. She thought about snuggling closer to him, of shocking him, of kissing him. But of course she instantly dismissed the thought. It wasn't right. It wasn't right to be the one who got to kiss him when Amy never had the chance. And she and Amy were still BFF, even if Penny never knew what to do with that title. And Penny could never do that to Leonard. He loved her and would do anything in the world for her. Not to mention it would shock the hell out of Sheldon. Although Penny was no stranger to having the occasional dream about corrupting Sheldon and his virginal ways much to her dismay, she didn't think he was quite ready for her to make that dream come true. So instead, she closed her eyes and let herself fall asleep, which was so much easier knowing Sheldon was next to her. It was probably never going to be okay, she was probably never going to be "fine," but at least for one night, she could pretend.
Before she drifted off to sleep completely, she said, "Sheldon...you know I love you, right?"
"Yes, Penny. And I believe I shared with you those same exact words just a few weeks ago, yes?"
Penny thought of that strange night when she walked in on him and his dominoes. "Well, yes, but you were, uh, kind of having a Shel-gasm at the time, so I didn't know if you meant it or not."
"Of course I did. I never say anything I don't mean."
Penny wanted to say about a million other things at that moment, but instead she brushed her fingers against his. He returned the gesture. She shivered, and then went to sleep with a strange and confused smile.
The two of them fell asleep together peacefully. Soon the sun would rise and paint a new picture for the day, but the night before would not be forgotten. Penny would slowly move past her anguish and despair and find comfort in Leonard's never-ending devotion to making her happy. Sheldon and Amy would continue their relationship the way it always made sense for them; moving slowly and breaking barriers and constantly battling, but doing it anyway because it was what they thought they wanted. And sometimes, when no one else was looking, Sheldon and Penny would share a glance. And a feeling. And an experience, and a connection that was perhaps better left unspoken. Maybe that was enough...for now.