A/N - Hi, friends. This has been in my head ever since the finale and I finally had to get it out. I'm not sure how many chapters there will be or how often I'll be updating, but it's going to happen and I hope you will dig it. As always I appreciate all feedback, good and bad, and I would like to thank my faithful beta Samantha. Thank you so much for reading, and rock on.
It's a blistering hot day in August and all they want to do is sit inside with the air conditioner on and ignore everything else going on in the world. They are, as usual, marathoning Doctor Who on the TV for background noise, but they're not paying attention to it. And anyway, Penny spent most of the summer getting an education on the show. At first she resisted, but Sheldon was patient and persistent. He wanted her to appreciate it as much as he did. And eventually, she couldn't get enough. It was just one of the many things they're sharing during the summer Leonard is far, far away.
Penny is flipping through Cosmo, glancing at the sex tips and soaking up the juicy gossip about Kim, Kanye and North West (really, who names their kid after a direction?) and drinking some wine. Sheldon is reading the new Walking Dead comic book. Sheldon's in his spot, Penny is curled up next to him in her "spot" that she has claimed over the years, even though Amy sits there now more often than not. Her head is resting on his shoulder. They are perfectly content; they don't even realize that just a few months ago, they would have considered this all very weird. But since Leonard was gone and she only heard from him maybe once a week, and since Amy had gotten involved in a new project at work (not related in any way with monkeys) and Sheldon barely saw her anymore, the two of them have been spending an awful lot of time together. At first Penny was annoyed with Sheldon's constant neediness, but after a while, she found herself enjoying taking care of him, just like Leonard asked. Sheldon was always so appreciative of everything she did for him. Not that he always thanked her out loud-he rarely did. But she saw it in his eyes. In the way he seemed to get so much joy out of teaching her new thingsand the sense of accomplishment she felt when she understood and saw that he was clearly proud of her. Even if he never said the words, "Thank you, Penny." And lately his (constant) questions are starting to get a little more personal than she expects from him. But that's a story for another time.
"Okay, switch," Penny says when she's done reading Cosmo. Sheldon rolls his eyes.
"Must I read this dreck that you insist on forcing upon me? I can already feel my brain cells dying and I haven't even started to read it yet. Like that romance novel you made me read last week, and both the first and second Miss Congeniality movies you made me watch."
"Come on, you know the deal. I read all that Stephen Hawking stuff, and learned all about the Higgs Boson and what you're doing with it, and I've watched so much Doctor Who and all the Star Wars movies in Blu-ray, and I feel like you can learn a lot from this magazine! And come on, you know Sandra Bullock is hot."
Sheldon just shakes his head, not wanting to dignify that with an answer.
"And, like, if Amy asks you to paint her toenails, after reading this Cosmo you'll totally know what color is in fashion."
Sheldon stares at her, his face recoiling in horror. She can't help it-she giggles. The thought of Sheldon painting Amy's toenails is basically the most ridiculous thing she can ever picture, which just makes her giggle more. Soon she's having a complete giggle fit, and Sheldon even cracks a smile at her humorous display. He begrudgingly takes the magazine from her and starts reading. Penny is happy; now she finally gets to read the issue of the Walking Dead he's been trying so hard to hide from her ever since she took him to the comic book store a week ago. It's just another thing they share now.
Penny tries to concentrate on the comic book, but not for the first time, she glances at his profile. Lately she's been wondering what would happen if she maybe nipped his ear a little bit. Or stole a tiny kiss on the lips when he was least expecting it. The most disconcerting feeling, though, was how badly she wanted to slip her hand in his and just sit there like an old married couple, enjoying each other's company and the solitude of just being together. And then she'd shake it off, because she loves Leonard and Sheldon is just his weird roommate that she's had to spend a lot of time with over the summer. Once Leonard gets back in a week or so, things will get back to normal. They justhave to.
Sheldon is trying to read Cosmo even though it's almost like the greatest torture he's ever known; but she asked and he wants to please her. He doesn't even know why he wants to please her, he just does. Maybe because she smells so lovely this particular evening. Even though he's always known that Penny has a pleasant scent, lately it's been lingering even when she's not there. He's not familiar with this feeling and doesn't really know what to do with it. So as usual, he ignores the whole thing.
Eventually the comic book and the Cosmo fall to the floor and Sheldon and Penny fall asleep to the comforting sound of the air conditioner. Her head is still on his shoulder, his arm is draped across her lap, and that's when the door opens and Leonard and Amy come strolling in, ready to reveal their surprise, the secret they've keep between the two of them for a few days now. Leonard hopes Penny will be happy to see him-they've had some friction ever since she happened to glance at his Facebook wall and see post after post from some Layla chick he was on the boat with-but he believes they can get past that. They're soul mates. They can get past anything, right?
Instead he sees his girlfriend basically on top of his roommate. For a moment, he and Amy look at each other and he knows her first instinct is jealousy, too. They can't help it; they're human beings, after all. But he knows Penny just kind of falls wherever she lands when she's tired, and Sheldon's probably been working a lot of late hours lately, and he understands. Or at least tries to. Amy seems to have been able to figure out the reasoning as well, because she clears her throat and says loudly, "Look who I found!"
Sheldon and Penny snap to attention. Penny wipes the sleep drool off her face. Once she is able to focus, she sees her long missing boyfriend standing in front of her. And finally, she shrieks and jumps up and into his arms. They share a long, weird, tension-filled kiss. Amy looks proud of herself. Penny pastes on a smile and says, "What a nice surprise! I wasn't expecting you for another week!"
Leonard wants to stop talking and sweep her up and take her across the hall and into the bed, but he figures an explanation would be nice, too. Sometimes he still had to remind himself their relationship was based on more than a physical connection. It was, right? "We finished our work early, and I wanted to surprise you. So I emailed Amy a few days ago and she agreed that it would be fun to show up unannounced."
"Of course! Oh, I want to hear all about your trip. Why don't you unpack and stuff and I'll freshen up and you can come over and tell me all about it?"
"Sounds amazing," Leonard says, and kisses her again. Penny tries as hard as she can to match the passion in his kiss, but it's completely obvious to everyone in the room, even Sheldon, that something is different and may always be different. Penny hopes that after a day or two, everything will go back to normal. Because she's not the kind of girl who can just go through the motions.
Sheldon watches as Penny and Leonard unhook themselves from each other. Leonard wheels his suitcase into his room. Amy and Penny giggle about something, probably some inane girl stuff he has no inclination to care about. As Penny opens the door to leave, her eyes meet Sheldon's. He doesn't know a lot about sarcasm or feelings or emotions, that much is true, but he knows Penny. He knows there's an interesting kind of wistfulness in her eyes. And as the door closes, he knows the nature of his relationship with Penny will be different now. After all the time he spent with her this summer, teaching her about the things he loved and wanted her to love, too (like Doctor Who), laughing with her, and talking for hours about their similar childhood in small towns while eating countless pizzas and the occasional special dinner of spaghetti with hotdogs, it was going to be rather inconvenient to get re-accustomed to life with Leonard.
Yeah, that's what was bothering him. That was all. Not that he already missed Penny's scent. Not that Amy's hand that was now grasping his felt all wrong. Not that all he wanted to do was go back to sleep with Penny's head on his shoulder. No, it was just the inconvenience of it all.
Before Penny went to bed, she sent Sheldon a text. I'm going to quiz you on that Cosmo tomorrow. Don't think I'm letting you off the hook.
Sheldon sent back with the speed of light, I wouldn't dream of it.
And when day turns to night and night turns into sleep, both of them have an aching yet hopeful feeling that nothing has ended, exactly. No, it has actually just begun.