What Happens When
It's two days before Penny's 34th birthday when she receives the invitation.
Shooting seemed to take forever, and she's longing for nothing more than a hot bath and a glass of wine (and, okay, maybe one of those small sample boxes of expensive chocolates she keeps getting as favors at parties) before rolling into bed and doing absolutely nothing for the next three days she's lucked into getting off.
She gathers her little bundle of mail that her personal assistant Marcy has set aside for her (her fan mail usually gets routed elsewhere at this point, unless she has some free time and specifically asks for some that she can respond to herself) lets her hair down and heads for the bathroom.
There's an uncorked bottle of merlot on the counter-Penny reminds herself that it's past due to give the girl a raise—and an empty glass. A couple of plush towels are waiting on the towel rack and Penny starts the water at hot before taking a quick detour to grab that box of chocolates and some raspberry-almond bubble bath lurking under her sink.
(And really it's not worth mentioning, especially not to herself, that the scent always makes her think of someone; it's one of those smells she became addicted to after having been gifted lavishly once-upon-a-time with various bath salts, oils and lotions. She only still buys a few in particular anymore, raspberry and orange and coconut, but they always make her remember…)
Penny steps out of her clothes and leaves them in a heap on the floor. She takes her cell out of her pocket and places it on the rim of the tub with her other items (in case she gets bored, she can always call someone) before turning off the water and slipping into the bath.
The water's hot, almost too hot. A light steam rises from the thick foam, and Penny has to hold her breath while her skin adjusts. Sweat breaks out on her face as she leans her head back against her bath pillow and pours a large glass of wine before taking a long, slow draw from it.
After a few minutes, she picks up the mail. Penny makes no secret about how much she's always loved birthday cards (which is really a kind way of putting it. Usually her friends are met with a throated growl something along the lines of "If you forget to send me a card, branded cows will feel sympathetic for you this year," about a month before her birthday and that's that.), so she's been enthusiastic for her mail every day this week.
Several of them are cards, that much is obvious, but as she flips through them she stills at one marginally wider and thicker than the others, on a much higher quality of paper. It's thick and creamy and has her name on the front in gold lettering. She slips her nail underneath the back flap and carefully opens it, pulling out what turns out not to be a card after all, but an invitation.
Feeling blank, she reads it twice before anything starts to sink in. On her third reading, she picks up her glass of wine and drains it, tossing everything onto the floor before picking up her cell.
It's been almost six months since she's seen him at the celebration dinner at Leonard's in June (nine long months before that, four before that, six again before that and on and on, not that she's counting.), but he's remained on her speed dial for over a decade and she calls him first. When his tinny voicemail picks up ("You have reached the voicemail of Dr. Sheldon Cooper. I am otherwise more importantly engaged. Please leave a message and if it is convenient, I will call you back when I can." Beep.) Penny hangs up in frustration and dials Leonard instead.
Alexis picks up, her voice warm. "Hey, Penny! What's up?"
"Hi, Lex. Listen, is Leonard around?"
"Yeah, sure. Just a sec."
Penny feels some relief at their easy back-and-forth. When Leonard first met Lexie, a few months after he and Penny broke up, Penny was worried that she would be in for another Priya-type situation; having to stay away from Leonard wasn't in her life plans, so her joy at meeting Lexie and learning that she was just as open-hearted and optimistic, just as good natured and warm and accepting as Leonard was made her happy. Not only was she in no danger of losing her friend, she managed to find a new one.
(And those moments, where she could have—maybe should have—felt pain, like when he proposed to Lexie, or watching Leonard promise to love another woman forever, or even, God, when he called her to delicately announce that Lexie was pregnant, these moments only brought her joy anymore because she didn't want anyone to wait for their happiness, and acknowledging that Leonard was one of the most important people in her life whom she wanted nothing but the best for was the best thing she could have done to finally let herself let him go…)
There's a whispered shuffle and then Leonard's voice comes over the line. "I sent a card, I swear. Lexie too. Two days ago. You should have gotten them already. Besides, it's not your birthday yet, so—"
Penny laughs and relaxes a little. "Seriously, no. I got something else today, an invitation."
"Oh!" Leonard's voice warms up. "Yeah, he asked me to promise not to tell anyone until they got invitations."
"So it's for real?"
"It's for real," he confirms.
"Are you going?"
"Lexie can't fly this month or next. The baby," he points out. "Not that Sheldon thinks that should stop me, but you know him."
"Not very well, anymore," Penny mutters, unsure how she can feel so delighted and irritated at the same time. "I mean, he never picks up when I call. I know you see him all the time, but he's always mysteriously gone from events when I'm going. I guess this is what he's been going for the past few years, but it kind of feels like he was deliberately shutting me out, so I'm not sure why he would bother to put me on the invitation list now."
"Yes, you do," Leonard says so kindly it gives Penny pause.
"…What do you mean?"
"You know what I mean, Penny." (Yes, yes she does, even though she's been trying for so long not to.) "But I've already talked about this at length with Sheldon. Don't make me explain this to you too. You're already so much smarter than he is with things like this."
"I-I have to go," Penny says, and her voice sounds suspiciously tight. "I'll talk to you later. Tell Lex we're still on for Friday."
They hang up, and Penny sits for a minute amidst her dissolving bubbles while she tries to collect her thoughts, tries to decipher just what Leonard knows, just what he was advising her to do. She's pretty sure that life if never as simple as that.
After a moment, she dials Amy, who picks up on the first ring. "Hey, Bestie!"
"I sent my card yesterday," Amy promises quickly. "It should arrive no later than your birthday."
"Thanks. But that's not why I'm calling…"
"I've also confirmed my travel arrangements in February, after the study I'm working on runs its course; I'm taking two weeks in a row off, during your shooting hiatus, so we'll be able to paint the town red."
Penny bites her lip. "I think the town is red enough, but I'm glad you're coming—"
"I will, of course, be staying in your guest room."
"All right, then. Listen, I'm in the middle of timing a group of ferrets to see how fast they can complete a series of leaps through hoops on fire and how much fear and adrenaline their brain secrete after the course is run, so can I call you back later?"
"Wait!" Penny rolls her eyes. "I actually called for a reason!"
"I got an invitation from Sheldon today—well, for Sheldon today—and I needed to talk to you about it."
"Oh, yes, I got that a few days ago," Amy says matter-of-factly. "I'm very proud of him."
"You got one too? Did you know it was coming? So, wait, are you going?" Penny asks in rapid succession, getting more confused by the second.
"Yes, I did. I only knew a few days prior to receiving the invitation, and Sheldon asked me not to advertise it until all of the invitations had been received, which I considered a reasonable request, although I did think about letting you in on it for the sake of a little sisterly gossip. But he specifically mentioned not telling you, and I found it more difficult to go back on my word than I thought it might be," Amy sighs.
"And, no, I unfortunately won't be attending. While Robert seems to be marginally comfortable with me maintaining a skype friendship with Sheldon, the idea of spending too much time in his presence, especially after achieving the goal for which he broke up with me, seems to bother him. I do find it satisfying in a strange way to be able to provoke a more potent sort of jealousy than Sheldon ever showed, not that I would ever do so on purpose," she confesses.
"No, I know you wouldn't," Penny mumbles, and then sits upright again as something occurs to her. "Wait a minute—you and Sheldon are skyping again? I thought it was just occasional emails."
"We've been in pretty regular contact for the past few months. We speak a few times a week. It's a welcome diversion when I have free time and when Robert is at the lab."
"…What do you guys talk about?"
"Oh, you know." Amy's voice becomes strangely vague and unhelpful. "His work, once he was fairly certain he was onto something. He has plans to resuscitate Fun With Flags. Other things. Like that."
"Mmm." Penny narrows her eyes, knowing that if Amy was sitting in front of her, she'd get the full story, and considering for a moment just booking a red-eye flight to New York to get the scoop in a few hours.
"But you should, by all means, go," Amy says, and there it is again, that something in her voice, something so much like Leonard's, an encouragement, a softness, that it makes Penny hesitate. Amy finishes, "I'm sure he'd love to have as many people there as possible."
"Oh, I plan to go," Penny confirms warily. "I wouldn't miss it. I guess I can't."
She hangs up with Amy and doesn't waste time getting out of the tub, wrapping herself in a towel heading to her couch where she drips everywhere as she considers. Promising herself that he's going to seriously hear it from her if he doesn't pick up this time, she dials Sheldon again.
On the fourth ring, just as she's about to start chewing on her pinky nail, Sheldon's voice comes live over the line. "Dr. Sheldon Cooper."
"I know. I have caller ID."
"Then why did you announce yourself?" Penny says, exasperated.
"That's how I answer the phone," he replies, sounding affronted, and Penny sucks in a frustrated breath at how easy and difficult it has always been
(will always be.)
"I got your invitation," she tells him abruptly, and can hear his sharp inhale.
"And are you coming?"
"Sheldon. You've won a Nobel Prize in Physics. Of course I'm coming, you lunatic! I'm so proud of you!" Penny says, failing to keep the shriek-y pitch out of her voice.
"Thank you. And you coming wasn't a forgone conclusion, you know. Leonard isn't. Neither are Amy or Howard or Bernadette. Only my mother and Raj will be able to attend," and it's to his credit that he manages to keep most of the pout out of his voice.
"Well, I'll be there. They can't exactly make me work when I have a friend about to accept a Nobel Prize for proving monopolies or whatever."
"Monopoles," he corrects wryly, "And I won for—if I try to explain this to you, are you going to try to understand it?"
"Right now? Not even a little bit," Penny says, unashamed. "Maybe at your awards ceremony."
"I would advise booking for several days, if you can manage the time off. There are several events that accompany the awards ceremony and banquets that it would be a shame to miss. Besides which, Norway is supposed to be beautiful in the winter," Sheldon adds, as if the fact that he's accepting a prize he's worked his whole life for isn't lure enough for her.
"I really am so happy for you," Penny says softly.
"Thank you. This will, of course, make winning the second prize much easier."
Penny's stomach drops slightly. "You're planning on winning a second Nobel?"
"Well, of course. Luckily, since I've already one the first, I will no longer need to put the majority of my focus upon it. I can instead expect that further hard work will award me another prize and splinter my attention to include other—interests—again," he finishes.
"Like what?" she asks hesitantly, feeling heat climb up her neck to her face. "I miss you, you know. Playing Halo, doing laundry on Saturday nights, hanging out… Everything. I wish I had known…" Penny stops, unsure what to say, how deep to go.
(How much a part of my life you were. How separate from the visions we could be, and how much I would miss you when you were gone. How much I loved that feeling, even when it hurt me, hurt you, how special it was, that connection I've never had with anyone else.)
Sheldon clears his throat. "The ceremony is on the tenth of December," he says, his voice lower and more intimate than she remembers it being anywhere other than in her head, and it unfurls something warm and glowing in her stomach. "Please plan to be here for at least a week and let me know of your travel plans. I'll send you an email with all of the information, hotels and times."
"Okay," she says faintly. "I'll. I'll look forward to it."
"Me too," Sheldon says and then hangs up, leaving Penny to sit in her living room, starting to shiver, and not even really noticing because she's trying to figure out his last remark.
Oslo is freezing this time of year, and Penny has dressed and packed accordingly. With the exception of a few formal dresses for some variety (just in case) and for the actual ceremony, most of her clothing is long-sleeved, many layered, and soft and warm. She changed on her layover in Paris, and sweltered through the rest of the plane ride, but is grateful as she disembarks to snow and a biting wind outside.
Raj meets her at the airport and she hugs him, punching him lightly in the arm. "And just where is everyone else?"
Ever the gentleman, he grabs one of her suitcases and leads the way. "Mrs. Cooper arrives tomorrow. Sheldon is at the hotel already. His schedule is pretty tight, but he refused to believe that I would remember to pick you up from the airport. He set alarms on my phone, in my email, and had the hotel call me at twenty-minute intervals for the hour before I was supposed to leave. That man is crazy."
Penny smiles, flattered. "Crazy works for him," she says, and Raj nods with a quick grin.
"I guess, or we probably wouldn't be here at all, right?"
They get into a cab and he leads her to a hotel in the middle of the city that impresses her terribly—Penny has been waiting for an excuse to come to Europe and although she has the money now to basically do what she wants when she wants, she's been surprised to find herself having to make time even to fly to Mexico for the weekend with Bernadette, or meet Amy in Las Vegas for a few days.
The hotel has high arches, beautifully scalloped edges here and there and turrets (actual turrets!) near the top. The inside consists of bright light that still somehow reminds her of candles, marble everywhere and crystal chandeliers.
Penny sees Raj yawning and waves him up to his room, promising that they'll hang out tomorrow, before heading to the front desk. The man who checks her in is named Carl and she's pleased when he tells her he loves her show—they started showing it in Europe over a year ago—and bashfully asks for her autograph, which she signs with a smile.
After chatting with him for a few minutes, Penny starts to feel exhaustion set in and excuses herself. She gets on the elevator, looking forward to slipping out of everything and sliding between hotel sheets, even if she'll be too jetlagged to actually sleep, when she spots him striding toward her purposefully, his long legs eating up the ground beneath him as he nears.
Penny shoots her arm out to stop the doors from closing on him, and he slips in. She tries to speak and finds her throat dry; swallows, tries again. "Hi."
Here she stops, dazzled by how dark his blue eyes are, how steady on her face. She notices the threading of gray at his temples, not there when she saw him early in the summer. But everything else about him is the same, the width of his shoulders, toned down by the way he rounds them slightly, his height, his long fingers, his smell. The only real other difference is… Something she can't put her finger on. A way of holding himself, with less tension, more… anticipation. He stands close to her, and Penny doesn't back away.
"Thank you for coming," he finally adds.
"I wouldn't have missed it."
"What room are you in?"
"Good," he says with satisfaction. "I asked that they placed you across from me. You're actually one room down, but I suppose at the last minute, this will suffice."
"It will? Suffice for what?"
Sheldon's head ducks so fast Penny doesn't have time to process what's happening, and then his mouth is on hers, his hands tangled in her hair. The kiss is shocking and desperate and greedy and gentle and before Penny has even managed to kiss him back fully, he's pulled away to peer down at her.
"Should I apologize for that? I was given to understanding that you aren't dating anyone of significance right now," he murmurs quietly, his fingers retaining their tension on the back of her head.
And she waits for it to happen, that magic thing between them, telling her what could happen, but there's just a silence and a lengthening of time until the elevator dings. Sheldon releases her and they step off together. She breathes in deep and finally says, "I'm not seeing anyone right now, but. But, Sheldon," before stopping, too overwhelmed to go on.
Sheldon leads her to room 1220 and Penny doesn't question following him into his room as he drags her suitcase behind him and the door closes with a gentle whoosh and click. Sheldon sets her suitcase to rest and loosens his tie—and for the first time, Penny notices that he isn't wearing his patent layers, and that he doesn't look at all uncomfortable in the more professional attire—and undoing his top buttons while looking at her in a way that makes her swallow hard.
After a moment of heavy silence, he speaks, his voice unwavering and fluid, and if she didn't know him so well
(after all this time and still, in so many ways that they've never discussed)
she might not recognize the slight tremble of insecurity that follows his words.
"So, you need to discuss the ramifications of kissing me although you're not seeing anyone at this time? I—I was under the impression that it would perhaps be welcome at this juncture."
Finally, Penny cracks, her confusion and irritation and longing making her sputter helplessly for a moment before she knots her hands at her sides. "And you don't think you might have wanted to give me a heads' up about all of this? I mean, it's obvious you talked to Leonard, and Amy—"
"And Raj and my mother," Sheldon supplies helpfully. "Although when talking to my mother I did leave out my rather potent sexual interest in you."
"Of course you did," Penny bites out, refusing to be deterred by what might be the most distracting statement she's ever heard in her life. "I have not seen you in six months. You were one of the most important people in my life and you practically disappeared from me! You never returned my calls, you try to avoid me whenever there's something going on with the group and for God's sake, Sheldon, you started talking to your ex-fiancée again before me! Whether or not I would welcome your advances, don't you think I deserve some—I don't know, dating? Courting? Anything?!"
"That's why I invited you here," Sheldon says awkwardly. "I've arranged several suitable outings that I believe you'll enjoy, along with a few that I'll enjoy that I believe you won't mind too much. It's why I asked you to extend your stay."
"And of course I talked to others," he says, more calmly now. "I would hardly endeavor to make any sort of overture like this without gaining some advice from people more well-versed in social skills than I am. I did consider asking you how I should proceed, but Leonard informed me that wouldn't be the wisest course of action."
Penny sniffs derisively. "A wiser course of action might have been letting me know you were thinking about me in the last oh, I don't know, three years."
Sheldon purses his lips and he stares at her until she feels tiny under his gaze. She recognizes him now enough to see how much he's changed—he seems so solid, so capable. So much more like a man than he did when they first met, and even when they stopped speaking, and she wonders if it was the award or just him, finally growing up.
"I was thinking about you, Penny. Therein lied the problem. I thought about you when I was at work. I thought about you when Leonard ate breakfast across from me with a sickening smile on his face after spending the night with you. I even thought about you sometimes when someone I loved was sleeping in my arms. I thought about you when handing you glasses, and playing games, and eating dinner and your thigh would brush mine, and being hugged by you and ring shopping for someone else and dozens of other times and that was the problem, Penny—I couldn't stop thinking about you whenever you were around and I couldn't focus on my life's ambition or my friendship with Leonard or how much I cared about Amy whenever it happened and so I had to stop seeing you," he ends on a half-shout, his Texan accent coming through thick and twang-y.
The air in the room stills as she absorbs his words and she realizes that tears are coursing down her cheeks. "I never—I thought so, but I could never be sure you saw… I mean, we didn't really…"
"I saw." Sheldon returns flatly. "I saw and I wanted and I put my ambition for this prize first because you would have engulfed every aspect of my life. Amy was already doing so. I put my work before everything because—"
"Because that's who you had to be," Penny finishes for him.
His breath is long on a sigh that sounds tired. "Yes. But now…"
"But now you're free to go after other things you want."
Sheldon looks at her; reaches up and undoes another button. She notices he's wearing a white T-shirt underneath his dress shirt and her heart skips strangely.
Penny holds her breath. "And what you want now is me."
"Yes. Although it is an unfinished statement, as I have wanted to pursue you for—"
"Sheldon," she interrupts wonderingly. "You seemed so—so uninterested. So unmovable. Like you never wanted to change."
"Everything changes, Penny. It's one of the few clear constants in science. But I can assure you I was not uninterested." His beautiful mouth quirks with amusement. "Immovable yes. Like in my favorite paradox."
"The unstoppable force paradox," he tells her seriously, as though she can focus on anything else right now. "Quite apt, if you think about it."
"What is it?"
"It's the question of what happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object."
"Well." Penny licks her lips and she shuffles forward. "Well, let's just find out."
She closes the space between them and smoothes her hands up his chest, cupping them over his shoulders. Sheldon's eyes dilate as he processes her words and suddenly he's there, everywhere, enveloping her. His mouth covers hers, their breath mingles as her jacket and layers of clothing start to fall away. The kiss makes her dizzy, so deep and rich, so potently what she always knew it would be that she sags against his body, grateful for his solidity and the arms that encircle her so she doesn't fall.
His hands are hot on her skin when he pulls off her shirt and when he fumbles with the clasp on her bra and hesitates nervously before cupping her breasts in his large hands she lets out a breath of laughter because it doesn't feel like a fumble, it feels like learning something that you've always suspected you would love if you could ever get around to trying it.
"Penny," he mumbles breathlessly after she moans into his mouth—his hands on her are truly delicious, she thinks—and starts returning the favor by removing his clothes.
"I want—I want to—"
"Thank God, because I've wanted to for years," she says, and finally admitting it out loud makes her feel free of something she never really knew she was carrying around.
Sheldon chuckles, a cross between his breathless, hiccupy laugh and a deeper, more knowing sound. His shirt and t-shirt hit the ground with a whisper and he kisses her intensely, hotly, as her hand tentatively comes to rest over his erection, the length of which is pushing against the front of his pants, tenting it almost obscenely. They both still for a moment and then Sheldon has pulled her to him, almost roughly, so tight she can barely breathe, and she can feel every inch of him from her shoulder to her knees.
"How long has it been for you since—"
"Three years," he returns grimly and Penny finds herself delighted and unbearably turned-on by the almost-growl in his voice as he scoots in an awkward hobble toward to bed, so as to not lose bodily contact with her. "It was not as easy to return to celibacy as it was to maintain it before I started having intercourse."
They half-fall onto the bed, and Sheldon takes the brunt of it with a small, "oof," making Penny giggle. She spreads her legs on top of him, easing down to rub her core against his as he bucks his hips desperately and finds her nipple with his mouth.
She arches into the sensation, fisting her hands tight in his hair, holding him against her. He uses his tongue and teeth and lips and her nipples pebble in his mouth almost painfully, one and then the other, he keeps switching off, his fingertips sliding up the crevice of her ass through her jeans, so she can't follow a train of thought.
After a moment he buries his face in her neck and good lord, even that's sexy, the feel of his heavy breathing against her skin as he tries to calm down for a moment. "Penny, when was your last STD screening?"
Penny doesn't pause in the ministrations of her hips, slowly grinding against his arousal, and though she feels like she should be offended or maybe turned off—and almost definitely would be with another guy; this discussion should have happened way sooner, but this is Sheldon, after all—she feels nothing but anticipation and a vague sense of nervousness.
"A little over two years ago," she says softly. She feels Sheldon tense for a moment underneath her, and continues, "But I haven't slept with anyone since before that."
Sheldon relaxes and there it is again, that gaze that pins her in place as he tries to work out the ramifications of what she's just admitted to. After a moment, she can practically see when he decides to figure it out later, and he grabs her hips in his hands, flips her onto her back and rolls on top of her.
"Jesus, Sheldon," she lets out in a gasp as he unzips her jeans and starts yanking them down with her panties, almost roughly, over her legs.
When she's fully naked beneath him, he stops to look at her for a moment. Penny feels pink with excitement, her whole body flushed in a way she's not sure it's ever been before, and the sheer satisfaction in his eyes as he looks at her makes her feel like she's glowing.
"You know," he says thoughtfully, working his belt open. "Mentioning Jesus at the Nobel awards ceremony for physics might get you kicked out."
Penny reaches out her hands to cover his. The zipper sliding open on his pants seems unbearable, but finally they're open, and his pants loosen enough that she can dip her hands inside while he works them off.
"Then you'd better not tell anyone. Because I think I'll be saying it a lot," she whispers, and then grins when Sheldon laughs, low in her ear. She wonders briefly that he had this in him, this Sheldon in this moment, and what it took to get him here before deciding it doesn't matter and that she just wants to enjoy it.
His eyes droop as she closes her fist around the length of him and squeezes. Pulling herself onto her knees, Penny leans forward, dips her head down and finally does something she only now realizes she's been fantasizing about for years—takes him in her mouth.
Sheldon sits back on his heels and his fingers gather in the comforter of the bed, great handfuls of it, as he groans. "Penny."
Penny takes him in further, working her tongue against the underside of his shaft, timing the motion with her hand at the base. Her head bobs and Sheldon thrusts lightly against her in uncertain little movements and after a few moments, she raises her head with a wicked little sparkle in her eye. "Like that?"
"You probably shouldn't continue," he warns her breathlessly, "As it has been several years for me and I have the strong suspicion that I may not be able to hold out under such ministrations. But yes. I did."
Penny stares at him, and without warning, a wave of unbelievable tenderness sweeps over her. He is the strangest, most frustrating man she's ever met, and though she has loved others—even other versions of him—she loves him so totally in this moment, she doesn't know what to do with it, how to show him; awkward, difficult Sheldon, naked and as open as a flower in front of her.
Penny scoots closer to him, wraps her arms around his neck and sits on her knees, trying to spill her secrets into the kiss she gives him. His arms are tight around her waist, like he knows what she's saying
(of course he does)
and the kiss is slow, and moist, and sweet and long. She pulls him back down on top of her and smiles as he produces a condom from the nightstand. After putting it on him (and even that's sexy, the sweep of his lashes on his cheeks as her hands roll the condom over the length of him), she finds herself at the precipice, with Sheldon poised between her legs.
Their eyes lock and then she feels the push of him inside of her. It's been so long, his intrusion would definitely hurt if she wasn't so damned wet, just from wanting him, just from kissing him and being kissed by him. But there's no pain, just the same delectable ache that she's had around him for years, only now it's concentrated at the point where their bodies meet. Sheldon glances down, sees them connected, and his shoulders tense; his eyes glint at her.
Experimentally, he thrusts lightly, shallowly, inside her. Penny finds herself whispering nonsensical words of encouragement, telling him yes, that feels good, go deeper, oh, please, Sheldon, and hearing his responses, half scientific, adjust your right leg outward; it'll cause more friction against your clitoris, and half almost caveman grunting, in time with his thrusts, Penny. Penny. Penny.
Her moans reach a crescendo as the friction works its magic, and Sheldon fills her so completely for a moment she can't remember what it's like to not be making love to him. After years of insight and secrets and wanting, he seems to instinctively know how to touch her to make her feel good, and vice versa.
When he bites the cords where her neck meets her shoulder, her body lights up like a Christmas tree and the combination of that, his out of control thrusts, and his pubic bone rubbing against her clitoris make her fall over the edge, shuddering against him, around him, gripping his ass tight with her fingers as she pulls him into her, harder, and harder, and harder.
She barely hears Sheldon's drawn-out groan, but she feels him stiffen over her, deep inside her, holding himself in place as he comes. It seems to take forever, these perfect shining, frozen moments of heat, and no time at all.
Sheldon rests heavily on her for a moment, catching his breath, before rolling to the side. He disposes of the condom, tying it off neatly, and then turns back to kiss her slowly, like a thank you or a promise, and she feels that glow again, the one she just fanned to a wildfire, start again low in her stomach.
He takes her hand and she gets up with him, doesn't say a word as he leads her to the shower and waits while he adjusts the temperature to his liking. The shower stall in the hotel is luxurious, filled with yet more marble, and two wide gold showerheads on opposite sides. As the steam begins rising out of the stall, he leads her inside and shuts the door behind them.
After that, it seems a series of blurry moments, whether because of the steam or Sheldon's scent enveloping her, or her sheer happiness, she can't tell.
Sheldon, carefully washing her with a washcloth, paying special attention to her buttocks and between her legs.
Allowing him to wash himself as per his specifications with a separate washcloth before taking it from him and having her turn; noticing that he's already half-hard again before she touches him.
Sheldon, on his knees before her, plying her open with his lips and tongue, licking into her, making her gasp and struggle to push against him or pull away because it feels too good.
Handing him the condom she filched from the nightstand before they came in, and the relief on his face.
Being pinned against the wall, her legs splayed wide, knees draped over his surprisingly strong forearms as he pounds into her, making her shriek and sob with pleasure, making her irrationally grateful that he brought a set of adhesive ducks from home.
She dreams of looking into a crystal ball where she sees… people shopping in a mall. For some reason, that doesn't feel right; she was expecting to see Sheldon there. She searches for him in the sphere, and though the scene changes from place to place, Sheldon is never there.
Finally, a skim of fingertips against the side of her hand. Penny looks up, and Sheldon is sitting beside her.
"I was looking for you," she says with exasperation.
"I was otherwise occupied," Sheldon says, and his eyebrows inch up. "And anyway, that never really works."
"It's been working for years," Penny argues.
"No it hasn't."
"Then why did I always know where you are?" she asks smugly.
"That's not a source of real-time events," he points out. "I was never in there."
"No, but I'm here now," he says, and Penny wakes up with a start.
Sheldon is looking at her calmly, waiting. Penny stretches, yawns, and leans over to give him a close-mouthed kiss—God knows what he would do if she tried to kiss him with morning breath; although, seriously, after last night, she can no longer assume he doesn't know how to adapt.
"I'm unsure of morning etiquette," Sheldon offers when she doesn't say anything. "Amy usually went home at night, and when she didn't, I would generally get up when my internal alarm went off. I wasn't sure if your eleven-o'clock rule still stood, or of how to proceed. We probably should have discussed that last night. I need to be ready for a morning conference in precisely 72 minutes."
"How long does it usually take you to get ready?" Penny asks.
"Since I won't be making my own breakfast this morning, and instead have ordered room service to be delivered in promptly 42 minutes, my morning routine will be accomplished in roughly 35 minutes total, including the time it takes to eat. English muffins and oatmeal. I set an order for you, as well, on the chance that things would advance the way I had anticipated. I ordered you eggs and bacon, with a side of oatmeal, since your regard for the proper balance of fiber in your diet has always been negligible."
"Thank you. I think." She pauses. "So, you have a few minutes before you need to start getting ready?"
"I believe I can spare… eleven minutes at this point."
"Good." Penny rolls over, mounts him, and roots around in the nightstand for another condom. Sheldon seems surprised for some reason, but willing, and they make love quickly, quietly.
Sheldon is covered with a fine layer of sweat when they finish, a flush of contentment on his face. He offers to share his shower again, but Penny waves him in on his own, knowing the temptation would be too fierce to not make love to him again.
She puts on one of the plush bathrobes and wanders around the room, texting Raj to plan her day. Sometime in the middle of the night, after one of many lovemaking sessions, Penny had agreed to pick up Mary and take care of any of the other minutiae that Sheldon (and occasionally Raj, as he would be attending most of the conferences) was unable to.
For some reason, she feels unsettled, and she can't figure it out; she isn't unhappy, in fact, she can't remember the last time she felt this happy. And it's the certain, sure kind of happiness that doesn't feel as though it can be leeched away from her, so she's floundering to figure out what's wrong when it hits her: she hasn't felt the magic since she's seen Sheldon again.
They haven't really talked about their relationship with the exception of his professing of intent the previous night. Penny sort of knows how it will go, she can see it; flying back to California with him, seeing him every night she's free, every night he is, and it still not being enough until she moves in with him.
She sees them finding a new place, all their own, a relaxing home away from prying eyes for Penny and a place where Sheldon feels comfortable, can be himself with his host of craziness, and Penny won't, for the most part, mind.
She knows they'll argue, and that when he'll make her feel stupid it will be unintentional, but that now he'll have the presence of mind (mostly) to apologize. She knows they won't be able to keep their hands off each other for months and probably years to come, because this has been stewing for so many years, and she's not remotely surprised that it's as good as it is, as exciting, and she knows it will stay that way.
She's not even worried about boring him, a fear that occasionally used to plague her thoughts when she was with Leonard, because Sheldon is Sheldon, and if he gets bored, he'll simply change the subject or tell her he wants to do something different and that will be that; he's the most remarkably steadfast man she's ever met, in that way.
What bothers her is the fact that, although she can see it, she can't see it. This knowledge of coming events comes from the quiet place inside her that has loved him for so long, but not from her inherent knowing of—of the future, of the present, of alternate worlds, whatever. She feels like she should be able to guarantee herself that, give both of them that gift.
Room service arrives and Penny sets it up. Sheldon steps out of the bathroom, steam billowing out behind him, one towel around his waist, another rubbing against his hair, and he looks at her almost shyly.
He makes short work of getting dressed, and joins her at the small table it he corner.
And suddenly, she hears her Nana's voice, clear as a bell, in her head. When in doubt, honey, just ask.
He glances up from buttering the English muffin. "Yes?"
"I haven't seen—I mean, I haven't been able to see anything since I got here. You know, like I—I can," she says lamely. "You know, like I have. About us."
"Well, I should hope not," Sheldon responds, unruffled, and starts to add a packet of brown sugar to his oatmeal.
"What do you mean?"
Sheldon stirs the oatmeal and looks at her seriously. "It's my understanding that these events never came to pass, at least in this reality. If you were having, for lack of a better word, visions about the two of us at this juncture, I would assume it was the route of events that where happening elsewhere. Not here."
She feels a sense of relief, a pinch of loss, to have it explained so easily. "So you think it won't ever happen again?"
"I can't assume that. I've never met anyone else with the evolutionary skill to perceive alternate realities before. But I would hope that if it did happen again, it wasn't about our future." He clears his throat awkwardly. "Which I perhaps should have mentioned that I have planning on having with you."
A gentle warmth spreads through Penny and she smiles at him. "I know. I'm planning on that, too."
"Does it bother you, not knowing what could be?" he asks.
Penny looks around the lush hotel suite, finally noticing the food beneath her (how did she not know she was starving?), and at the man across from her, so attentive and vaguely worried, who she knows so well and is still only just learning. She covers his hand with hers, loves the feel of his smooth long fingers under her palm, and he turns his hand over to clasp hers lightly.
"No," she says, honestly, her future spread out before her like a bright road map. "I'm just glad for everything that will be."