Penny awoke before her alarm, and it was one of those moments of perfect clarity. Her inner turmoil seemed to have eased overnight, and she felt relaxed in a way she hadn't since the start of Apocalypse Week. It might be the seventh day, but it was not the end of the world. Tomorrow would be another day, and she would still feel the same way she felt now. Sheldon going back to sitting in his spot, retiring the jeans and the jacket, and putting away his guns would not impact very much.
She knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the only thing she had left to do was tell him, ask him to think on it whether he thought there was anything there. Penny was going to confront her demons, because that was how she did things. Pining wasn't an option. That way only lead to misery, and she had enough of that in her life.
Part of her was sure that he wouldn't have anything to say that would give her any kind of hope. He wouldn't outright laugh at her, but he would be confused and maybe a little horrified that she would momentarily shake up his structured and rigid notion of his lack of sexuality.
So she would tell him.
Penny thought there was a kind of simple beauty in the idea of knowing for sure, of knowing that he knew, so she could take the required healing period and move on.
Only, she was going to give herself one last day and allow the week to play out. She thought it might mean more if any declarations of love came when he couldn't attribute them to heightened emotions during a game.
Maybe she'd give herself a month so he would know that for sure, but then if she started thinking that way, she'd give herself two, three, six, a year, and before she knew it, they would be five years in the future, she would be engaged to someone else, Sheldon would be holding his Nobel Prize (and she'd have at least a Saturn or a SAGA award – hey, it was her fantasy of the future, she could have what she wanted)(except Sheldon it seemed) and she would be staring at him across a room and realize how much time she had wasted putting off something that was painful, but could be the most rewarding thing to ever happen to her. And this was the Penny-who-won-a-SAGA talking.
That would be the worst thing that could happen: nothing, because she was too afraid, and Sheldon was too Sheldon.
And suddenly Penny was glad that Sheldon was the way he was, because of everyone she knew, he wouldn't be awkward around her if she blurted out that she loved him and wanted to take him to bed. After the initial refusal, Sheldon would just carry on as normal with her.
It took a lot of the stress off.
Penny was almost jovial as she crossed the hallway and entered the apartment. She had to pause and almost double-take, because as joyful as she felt, it couldn't compare to what Leonard was currently doing. She considered announcing her presence, but, well, it was just far too funny. The door hardly made any noise, but Leonard was also wearing headphones, so he didn't hear her arrival. He continued to fawn over his sproutless tomato plant as she stood there, pondering the merits of clearing her throat versus taking out her camera phone.
"Who is a good little fruit?" Leonard asked, pouring a bit of his coffee into his tomato plant that was still currently more of a pot of dirt. "You're not a veggie, oh no. Solanum lycopersicum of the family Solanaceae in the Order of Solanales which is nothing like the Order of the Phoenix. Asterids, Eudicots, Angiosperms are the lords of the manor, all in the Kingdom Plantae, so give me your lycopene so I can make ketchup." He took a sip of his coffee before giving more to the tomato plant. "Oh hey Penny."
"Were you just... rapping to your plant?"
"Well, yeah," Leonard said, sheepishly adjusting his glasses. "You told me to take good care of her, so I've been sleeping with her and reading to her, but that doesn't seem to work so I thought maybe some music."
"And the coffee?" she asked, mostly able to keep her laughter minimized to a grin.
"Well, I bought this book on the proper care of plants, and it says coffee grinds are a good soil fertilizer, so I thought if that was good for her, imagine what fresh coffee would be like."
Hadn't she read somewhere that coffee stunted growth or something? In humans. Who knew about plants. Penny continued smiling. "Fantastic job, Leonard. That is exactly the proper treatment of plants to keep them growing. I can't wait to taste your tomatoes."
"Thanks Penny!" Leonard said, but his arm tightened protectively around the plant, as though he would not allow Penny to pluck any tomatoes from his baby in the near future.
Apparently Sheldon wasn't the only one around here who was deaf to sarcasm.
"The San Andreas Fault has sufficiently stored elastic strain energy for the next big earthquake. While impossible to predict the exact time, there will be warning signs. Once the fault has locked, continued relative motion between the plates leads to increasing stress and therefore, stored strain energy in the volume around the fault surface. This continues until the stress has risen sufficiently to break through the asperity, abruptly allowing sliding over the locked segment of the fault, releasing the stored energy. The energy released as a combination of radiated elastic strain seismic waves and frictional heating of the fault surface."
"We've learned all this," Howard pointed out. "Multiple times."
"Yes, but not all of us have the advantage of being born and raised on one of the world's most volatile continental transform faults. As transplants to this area, we did not spend our formative years learning the most strategic places to brace oneself during an earthquake."
"In an inside load-bearing doorway away from windows, glass, or heavy light fixtures."
"Beside or under heavy furniture that won't fall over and will give you a nice little air pocket if the walls collapse on you," Leonard joined in.
"Away from bookcases because bookcases are stupid dangerous-yo!" Raj looked at the four of them. "What? It is a concern in my life, look at this room! They say to crouch beside couches so the hypotenuse created by falling items will protect you, but the only falling items around are those bigass bookcases, and they'd fall right on you! It's something I remember, ok? And for someone as concerned with safety as Sheldon, you'd think he would have taken that into account."
"I did take that into account," Sheldon said pointedly. "I would never deliberately use the couch as shelter when the interior-facing side of the kitchen island is three feet in front of me, the work-area desk is two feet to the right of that in a clockwise rotation, that corner is load-bearing, as is the one in my bedroom in front of my desk, and my bed itself is centered far enough away from hazards to be an excellent place to rest while any seismic waves occur. As an added bonus, free massage as opposed to compromising the anterior longitudinal ligament or vertebral column from continuous tremors."
Free massage. Seriously? Could he get any more adorable?
Maybe that was how she should play it! Next earthquake, just crawl into bed with him citing safety protocol and then really rock his world.
"Back on task," Sheldon said, picking up one of his whiteboard markers like a pointer. "There are many...oh." He looked at the four of them. They looked back.
Penny mentally dared him to continue with his script, rehashing everything they had just talked about, and maybe he really was some kind of superior being, because he seemed to hear the dare, straightening his posture as he started his spiel on safe places to cower during an earthquake. She only half listened, in case there was something she didn't already know, because while aliens and zombies and worst-case-scenarios were possible, an earthquake in SoCal was inevitable.
It was the true Apocalypse for them.
"...and don't forget the aftershocks. One of the most common mistakes is the erroneous belief that the event is over when it has, in fact, merely started," Sheldon finished, pointedly, licking his lips and thoughtlessly twirling the marker around his fingers.
And suddenly, Penny was equating the whole conversation with sex.
"I always remember the aftershocks," Penny answered, almost breathless. "Earthquakes are pretty much the same as a female orgasm during really good sex."
"I'm never going to forget now," Howard declared.
Sheldon paused at this, eyebrows raised comically. He looked at her, he looked at the boys eying her with varying degrees of reverence, shrugged slightly. "Whatever works," he decided finally.
Whatever works, Penny heard the words, her entire body flushing with the implication of what that meant between them. For him to bring it up in another conversation about her sex life, well...
"Yeees, whatever works" Penny said meaningfully, remembering the last time he had said that and putting emphasis on it with the hopes he recognised it too. "Maybe thinking of what works doesn't work the way you meant it. Maybe thinking of that works really well for... seismic activity."
Sheldon returned her gaze evenly, no hints of confusion on his expression to tell her that he didn't understand what she was referring to, but also no signs of distaste, repulsion or denial or anything that indicated he understood. She tried raising her eyebrows meaningfully, but all that did was make him frown slightly in return.
Considering the fact she just tried to seduce him in front of his friends using vague inferences from a conversation they had ages ago, it was about what she could have expected.
"What are you talking about?" Leonard asked. "Did I miss something? That didn't make any sense, even for you. Penny?" When she didn't answer, he tried again. "Sheldon?"
Sheldon's shoulders heaved with an exasperated sigh. "I don't know, Leonard. I gave up understanding the complexities of the female mind when it comes to sexual intercourse a long time ago."
"SEX? I THOUGHT WE WERE TALKING ABOUT EARTHQUAKES?"
Leonard's shriek was enough to set the San Andreas Fault off prematurely.
"Then yes, Leonard. It seems you did miss something."
And Penny realized, so did she. A whole lot of somethings, because that short conversation told her more about Sheldon than she had previously known, or guessed, about his deal. One: he got the innuendo. Considering he rarely got sarcasm, that was a big deal. Considering she had been talking about the big-o and he followed her train of thought when she applied it to the 'whatever works' conversation, it was a huge deal. Secondly, the part where he said 'I gave up understanding' told her that at one point, he did try to understand it.
At one point he did try to understand it. Her mind was practically fizzling, and she was about three seconds from blurting out all her secrets in a bid to make him hers, her his, them mutually each other's. All of the above. Whatever.
"Penny pointed out that she remembers about aftershocks because it's a lot like orgasms," Raj explained.
"Yes, I got that part," Leonard said impatiently. "Then what happened?"
Raj shrugged. "Then Sheldon said if we want to equate earthquakes with sex, he didn't care, so long as it worked."
"I got that part too."
"Then what's the problem, dude? Sheldon just gave us free reign to think about sex and earthquakes. Howard's been sitting there buffering with that vacant expression for about three minutes. You want meaning?"
Leonard squinted in confusion.
Penny watched Sheldon as his head snapped towards Raj. "I did not give you permission to shirk your responsibility in understanding earthquakes by thinking of coitus. Penny pointed out a mnemonic device that she claims works for her, and I agreed with the veracity of paralleling earthquakes with the female orgasm as she described it. As it is very doubtful the three of you have experience with the female orgasm, it is time to return to the matter at hand."
Note to self: Matter at hand. Penny scribbled.
"I could please a woman!" Howard exclaimed, coming out of his fantasy-world once his virility was insulted.
"I could too."
"Same, no need to insult us, man."
"As if you could do any better, Sheldon. What do you even know about pleasuring a woman?"
"I was referring to the gender of your reproductive organs." Sheldon responded, rapidly losing patience with the turn of this conversation.
"I have you know I could get it."
Penny refrained from pointing out that Sheldon could probably get it, without the aid of a vibrator, and it would give new meaning to the term tremors. Probably. If not, she'd draw him a map and give detailed instructions. Then he'd get it.
That was a fantastic idea, Penny thought, unable to keep from smirking. To cover the fact she was pretty much thinking of ways to seduce Mr. Unseduceable, she finally spoke up. "Guys, come on. There's fifty-one other weeks of the year to talk about sex and you guys can make up for lost time tomorrow. Today is the last day of Apocalypse Week. Show a little respect."
It was kind of fun, Penny reflected, to be playing a live game. Sheldon had it all set up with his Microsoft Tablet in his hand, obviously having walked these same streets and plotted out actions, counter-actions, moves and potential deaths. She had no idea how long it had taken him, and she wondered if he had consulted the programmed version of Pasadena from the driving simulation or if he had actually walked the streets.
"A fissure opens in the sidewalk in front of you," his voice read out, cold and impersonal. "It is 3 meters in diameter, extending across the two lanes of traffic and is caused by a weakening in the walls of an old sewer line. There is a shelf on the opposite sidewalk, approximately 2 feet wide. What do you do?"
"Is there really an old sewer line beneath the street here?"
Sheldon frowned at her. "You will not address the Game Master with non-game related questions."
"I wasn't, I was addressing my friend Sheldon. Have you seen him? He's about your height, weight, and structure, and he's got the same really great hands. He just acts a little less like a cyborg. Sometimes." Wow, she was really laying it on thick with the flirting today. Maybe subconsciously she was trying to prepare him for what came next, after Apocalypse Week was done. "I just wanted to know what level of reality this game is, like if an earthquake ever happened if I should know to watch this part of the street."
Sheldon gave her a cold look for interrupting his game and breaking down the fourth wall. "The point of Apocalypse Week is preparation. Where would the point of this exercise be if it wasn't based in reality?"
"Fine, good to know," she said with a wink. "I expect that you think I'm going to walk along that ledge over there, but while I want to get to safety, I have absolutely no need to put my life in more danger than it is. So we're going to go back to the last intersection and I'll go a roundabout way to work."
"A tremor hits," he read in his robotic voice as she neared the corner again. "One of little significance, but a car loses control and runs through the light, heading straight towa—ack!" he squawked as one of her hands curled around his wrist and she pulled him into a sprint and to what she assumed was safety further down the sidewalk.
"Penny! This is a delicate and expensive computing device," he exclaimed, and for one stupefying moment she thought he was talking about himself, the way Game Master was all robotic and stuff, and then she remembered the very sci-fi-like tablet he had in his hands, like something right out of Stargate Atlantis – and oh man, why did she know all these references? His fingers had a deathgrip on the pieces of metal and microchips as he stared at her balefully. "I am a non-entity in this game. Please desist from treating me as a part of it. While it is commendable that you would take into consideration my whereabouts under normal circumstances, it is not necessary."
"Sheldon," Penny sighed in exasperation. Ok, she could see his point, but it still went against her instincts to ignore his presence, to ignore the fact that if he was next to her; she would never not try to save him, even if it meant putting herself in danger. That was just the way she was.
"There is an ominous crumbling sound as the building overhead starts collapsing," Sheldon droned.
She took a step forward, crossing the street on the "walk" sign just as it started to change into walk with caution sign. "I'm heading over into that park, Sheldon," she told him with clear intent. "I'm going to avoid trees, and streets, and buildings for as long as possible, and cut through about 2 blocks of your Danger! Danger! routine."
Sheldon paused behind her, staring at his computer.
"What's the matter," she asked in exasperation, turning towards him and crossing her arms over her chest.
"The park doesn't exist."
Penny pointed. With emphasis. There was clearly a park across the street.
"It is not in the simulation."
"Sheldon!" Penny snapped, finger still pointing. "There is a park there. It exists. This isn't some kind of existential thing, we're standing in front of it so obviously the computer is wrong. Everyone knows that a park is the place to go during an earthquake because of the safety. If this is supposed to be play-as-if-real, do you really think I would avoid it and keep walking on the sidewalk like I had a deathwish or something?"
"No," he conceded, but still looked confused.
Penny huffed, and crossed the second street of the intersection, aware of him trailing behind her, albeit slowly as he tried to figure out what was wrong with his computer program, fingers dancing over the screen.
She turned to give him a fond smile with a slight edge of smugness for beating his game, only to find him paused in the middle of the street with an extreme frown on his face. She was about to make some joke about the game not computing for the Game Master, when her brain registered two things. One, he was still in the middle of the street, and two, the car.
Penny didn't even think, she just stepped forward, grabbed a handful of his cotton shirt, and yanked.
Sheldon flailed, tripping over his planted feet as she dragged him forward with a force that had him propelling toward her, stumbling over the curb, and almost falling to the sidewalk. Instead, he ended up half-draped on her as he tried to regain balance, a honking noise and the squeal of breaks echoing in their ears at the near-miss.
Sheldon inhaled shakily, eyes fluttering wildly and darting back and forth between the street and her. He was still leaning heavily on her, and her arm curved automatically around him as her rational thought snapped back into place. She'd always been good at reacting first and doing what needed to be done and saving the knee-quaking freak-outs for later, if at all.
Her hands were trembling slightly, the finest quiver in her muscles, but Sheldon's whole body was vibrating, and it prompted Penny back into taking charge, planting her hand against him to steady him. She reached for the tablet in his numb fingers before he dropped it, thinking he was about to faint.
That goddamn fucking tablet. This was all its fault, with its stupid program and Sheldon's stupid technology dependency. It was so tempting to just smash the thing on the ground in a fit of frustration, to blame his near-accident entirely on the machine and not on the man. "Sheldon, are you alright? Sheldon?" she placed her hands on his cheeks, peering into his face. When his eyes contracted and adjusted to her nearness, she allowed her hands to drop to his shoulders, feeling the solidity beneath her palms. Penny needed, in that moment to feel that he was real, and the sensation of hard bone and flesh under her fingers reassured her that everything was ok. "Sheldon?"
Sheldon seemed to draw himself back together, his skin still pale and eyes still looking a bit shocked. He swallowed once, shook his head, and opened his mouth. When no words emerged, he tried again. "You saved me, Penny."
"Don't worry about it Sheldon," Penny responded, patting his arm casually despite the fact her heart was still beating rapidly in her chest from fright. "So long as I'm next to you, I'll always pull you out of the way of crazy drivers or I'll get hit with you."
"I told you not to pay any attention to me."
"Yeah, well Sheldon," she said a little crossly, holding back a lecture that was on the tip of her tongue. "That was the game, this was reality. Sometimes I wonder if you can tell the difference."
While slightly uncalled for, as Sheldon was the closest to earth as anyone she had ever met, it seemed to do the trick. His eyes blazed at the insult, his back came up, and he faced his accuser dead-on. It took the emphasis off her, at least, Penny thought.
"As a physicist, I am firmly grounded in reality. Personally, I believe you are the one who has her head in the clouds with your chosen profession."
"Do you?" Penny asked shrilly. It was Omaha on, if he was going to insult her acting career and general sensibleness. "I wasn't the one standing in the middle of the street on a Don't Walk sign, looking for a park on a computer simulation when it was right in front of you in reality! Too bad your simulation didn't tell you a car was approaching, because maybe then you would have moved out of the way yourself."
There was a reason she was upset, and she wondered if his universal understanding of everything meant he knew it was out of fear. She was so confused, there were a myriad of emotions flitting through her head and she wasn't sure which one to focus on. There was relief he was fine, that he hadn't been hit by a car. She was also grateful that she hadn't injured herself trying to save him, but that was secondary, maybe even tertiary to the fear of losing him.
So she tightened her grasp around his arms, barely resisting the urge to shake him. "Think about it, Sheldon! Yesterday you taught us all the dangers of relying on technology, and today relying on technology almost got you killed. I don't think I need to point out the irony or the hypocrisy in that fact."
Because her hands her still grasping his arms, she did feel the slight tremor in his frame at her words. It made her face soften and her grasp relax. "I'm sorry," she said soothingly, brushing her hands down his arms. "I don't mean to yell at you. You just gave me a start, that's all."
"Fear is considered to be a basic survival mechanism in response to specific stimuli, in this case danger. Physical reactions include rapid heart rate, increased blood pressure, tightening of muscles and sharpened senses. The sympathetic nervous system goes into hyperarousal where the natural reaction is fight or flight."
"What is your point, Sheldon?" Penny snapped. The way her emotions were yo-yoing, she was pretty sure she got his point. She was coming down off an adrenalin high, and about to crash.
He simply shook his head and stepped away from her. "If we do not move now, the circular route you have chosen will leave you more than 16.490 minutes late for work."
"Sonofa..." Penny muttered, digging for her cell phone in her purse as she turned on her heel and stomped down the street. Of course he was right, she was already two minutes late and she still had to cut back the two blocks she had detoured to avoid the sink hole in the middle of the street.
"Penny, you have not completed the simulation..."
"Oh, we're done," she told him with absolute certainty. Of course Sheldon was able to keep up with her, even when she was walking with as much speed as possible without breaking into a jog. His legs were much longer than hers were. She wasn't sure if she appreciated that right now or not. Part of her wanted to hover around him to make sure he was ok and didn't get himself into danger again and part of her wanted to get as far away from him as possible before she really lost it and started yelling, and shaking, and potentially even crying from the scare and the second-long certainty that he was going to die in front of her eyes. "Leonard," she said into her phone once someone answered on the other end. "Come pick up your roommate. I don't think he can be trusted alone right now."
"Did you break him?" Leonard asked, only partially jokingly.
"He broke himself," she retorted, hanging up.
Penny didn't start shaking until fifteen minutes into her shift – judged by when she started working, not when she should have started working. Sheldon was safely in Leonard's car and on his way home to repeat the exercise with the boys returning from their own places of work, her anger and adrenalin crashed, and she was left standing in the middle of the dining room with her legs unable to support her weight and the tray full of glasses tinkling in her hands.
Her fingers curled tightly around the tray and she forced the thought from her mind, strong-arming it into a corner of her mind where she didn't have to face it now, or potentially ever. It was harder to control the physical, but she managed that too, continuing her shift with the same determination that moved her from Nebraska to Los Angeles and had her stay for half a decade.
She did her best not to think of Sheldon again until he showed up a few hours later, fingers tightly curled around the strap of his messenger bag, and a worried expression on his face. She saw him from across the room, even before one of her coworkers came to find her.
"Sheldon, what are you doing here?" Penny asked, bundling up her apron in exasperation. Mostly she just wanted to hide the dubious brown stain spread across the front, an accumulation of spilled coffee and barbeque sauce, because if he was looking for service, he would make her change into a fresh one, and she might kind of love him, but that didn't mean she didn't think him annoying.
"May I speak with you?" he asked.
"You certainly may," Penny responded with a raised eyebrow.
"In private," he asked, clearly worried about something.
She sighed and motioned for someone to take over her tables before directing him towards the empty party dining room.
"Please have a seat," he nodded towards a chair, and it struck her as a bit of absurdity for him to be saying that to her inside the walls of The Cheesecake Factory while she was at work.
He waited until she was seated, hands not quite fluttering in distress, but he was holding them with a certain tenseness that bespoke of halted movement.
"Sheldon?" she prompted, doing a little resisting herself and not reaching out to touch his arm. It wouldn't help either of them in the long run for her to startle him while he was wound so tightly.
He finally broke. "I am worried about it, Penny!"
"About what, sweetie?"
"You said earlier today not to worry about the fact I was almost hit by that car because so long as I have you at my side you will always pull me out of the way, but it is a cause for concern. You will not always be there. Over the last week I have noticed a disturbing trend. You have a tendency towards impulsiveness and heroics, but not for the sake of being heroic. You genuinely put your life on the line for other people, and I find that an admirable trait if it was coupled with prudence. Or, at least I thought I did. If you had stopped a moment to think, I would not be alive right now."
She barely refrained from pointing out if he had stopped to think for a moment, none of this would have happened in the first place. "Sheldon, my break is going to be over in about twelve minutes. If you have a point, you should get to it soon."
"My point is that as the day progressed and I tested each Howard, Raj and Leonard, it became painfully obvious that none of them would have been able to do for me what you did. You are the only person I know more inclined towards action and aggression than freezing or fleeing, and I have been considering the benefits of a mutually beneficial protectorship."
Penny frowned at him in confusion. "You want us to take care of each other?"
"In a manner of speaking - I want you by my side, Penny. I cannot think of anyone more suited to adapting to my schedule and all it entails; someone who will also push me out of the way of a moving bus instead of in front of it."
She laughed, despite the way her stomach was clenching. Clearly he wasn't saying what she thought he was saying, because in a way it seemed almost too easy, and she hadn't been that lucky in a long while. "Sheldon, I can't go around being your bodyguard for the rest of your life."
"You misunderstand me. I have no need for a bodyguard."
"Then what do you have a need for?" her heart was pounding at the question, full of hopes and fears.
Penny's body reacted viscerally to the word, but she ruthlessly shoved that reaction aside. You. He said it so frankly that the word circled around her head, almost taunting her with the belief it wasn't real. Her first inclination was to say 'I'm sorry, WHAT?' but she managed to reel the words back in on time. Sheldon seemed to actually be saying what she thought he was, and no matter how much she wanted to hear it, part of her thought she had to be mistaken.
Penny swallowed. "Sweetie," she reached across the table, fingers sliding across his bare forearm.
Sheldon flinched, arm jerking back in an involuntary reaction before he forced himself to stay still, her hand still half-resting on his skin.
Penny slid her hand forward again, carefully, watching for an indication that he was going to bolt. Sheldon clenched his jaw briefly, and then relaxed. She could see the effort it took, and she tried smiling encouragingly at him, wondering if he could feel the way her pulse was pounding through her fingers. It was still a bit of a risk if she was misunderstanding him, but that big gaping fissure in the sidewalk didn't look nearly as wide as it had five minutes ago. Taking a running jump didn't seem an impossible leap of faith anymore.
"Sheldon, I've been thinking about this too. Do you want to try dating? See about that cat in the box?"
"Oh." The word was said with half surprise, half disappointment, and Penny recoiled, drawing away from him and getting to her feet.
"No, of course not," she filled in for him. "What was I thinking?" Foolish. She was so foolish to just blurt out the question like that. "Would you like something?" she asked, now that she was on her feet, the weight of self-recrimination making her want to move away from him as quickly as possible, to fill her brain with some activity that wasn't the fact she had just asked him out and he had looked at her like she had betrayed all his beliefs. "A diet coke? I'll get you a diet coke."
She got two steps away from him before turning back, surprised to find him on his feet behind her. "You should know that I meant it. If at any point in your life you decide... well, I meant it." There were tears gathering in her eyes, another reaction she pushed away, ignored and hid by turning away from him.
"Penny," he said in that surprisingly compassionate tone he was capable of. His hand closed around her shoulder, and Penny went still, nerves taut as he drew her back to face him.
His mouth pressed against hers, chaste lips closed. Her heart was beating so quickly, but her head was finally silent, enjoying the feel of the moment rather than the implications. She parted her lips slightly against his to feel his fuller bottom lip slide between hers. It was so soft, and perfect, and everything (and yet nothing still – there was still so much there could be). Penny's mind rebooted, understanding what this meant, and she ran her tongue along his lip, not to gain entry or to deepen the kiss, but as her own little demonstration of acceptance, before drawing away from him.
"So... yes?" she asked, taking in the slight flush of his cheeks, and the way he wasn't quite able to meet her eyes, gaze centered solely on her mouth. Penny wanted to know what his hair would look like mussed by her fingers, how his face would look like in true arousal.
Sheldon licked his bottom lip, tracing the line of her tongue, and Penny wanted to know what that tasted like too. "Yes."
The worst part of the day wasn't the fact she had to work after almost getting hit by a car, it was the fact she had to go back on shift after Sheldon agreed to date her and had kissed her, and her world was all sunshine and rainbows and bright neon colours in happiness. She thought maybe he was right about her head being in the clouds, because she felt like she was floating, and it was difficult not to break into random, insatiably happy giggles whenever someone did so much as look at her.
By the time she was done work, she managed to moderate that down into a beaming smile. She rushed home and up the stairs, throwing open the door to 4A and startling everyone.
"Good, you're home. We just ordered pizza," Leonard told her, plant in his lap. "I don't know if Sheldon told you, but the last night of Apocalypse Week is just to relax and unwind and talk about everything that happened."
"That sounds great."
"I didn't order olives on yours," Leonard promised her.
"That's good," Penny responded absently with a grin and clear intent as she looked at Sheldon. "Olives are for martinis, not pizzas."
"That's what Sheldon said. It was weird."
"Mmmhmm, I bet. Sheldon, can I talk to you for a minute out here?" She crooked her finger at him, doing her best not to look too come-hither.
"Very well," he sighed, putting down the television remote and following her out the door. Penny closed it behind them and then reached for him, twining her arms around his neck and going on tip-toe to press her mouth against his, another sweet and innocent kiss that did very little to tame her hormones, but did unimaginable things to her heart.
How ridiculous was that? She was standing in the hallway on her return, kissing Sheldon. When she had left that morning, she had been sure it would never happen.
He looked vaguely surprised by this turn of events, so she brushed her lips against his again.
"I'm going to go change," she told him, arms still entwined behind his head. "Good?"
He nodded, a stunned expression still on his face. "Yes."
Penny giggled as she stepped away from him and crossed the hallway to her apartment, pausing in the doorway to blow him a kiss.
Pizza was less of a painful ordeal than she thought it would be. She was able to keep her goofy face more or less under control, which was a major accomplishment given the circumstances.
"This was a good one, guys," Raj pointed out, cheese stringing from his mouth. "Less death all around. Adding Penny was a fantastic idea because she's actually conditioned to do half this shit, and I feel like the next time I'm walking down a street and see some drunk lurching towards me and my heart skips a beat because I worry the zombie apocalypse is starting, it won't be nearly as frightening."
"Penny won't be standing next to you," Howard pointed out. "She can't always be there. You'll probably be one of the first to die for not running away from the first zombie."
Penny shared a secret smile with Sheldon, who was chewing his pizza and may or may not have been reciprocating.
"Yeah, that's true. I always consider it, but what if it's just someone with a limp or some kind of deformity and I rush across the street to get away from them. Isn't that offensive? I feel like that's offensive."
"And that is why you'll be one of the first to die," Leonard pointed out. "That's fine, buddy, I do the same. We'll be zombies together."
"Terrifying," Howard deadpanned. "Our major advantage is the fact we hardly go outside. Considering how social Penny is, she'd probably be the first to die."
"If anyone tried to bite me, I would bite them back. With a bat."
"Terrifying," Raj agreed. "I can't believe the week went by so quickly. It seems like only yesterday Sheldon was making us do sprints on the Caltech track."
"It was only yesterday," Leonard pointed out.
"I mean the first time! When we all got chafing and you sprained your ankle."
Howard chuckled. "Those were good times."
Everyone looked at him with various degrees of disbelief, considering he had just spent seven days complaining about it.
"Everything goes back to normal tomorrow," Howard said with a regrettable sigh. "Sheldon will be Sheldon again. Penny will go back to barely talking to most of us. Raj will run out of anti-mutism pills. Leonard will... Leonard."
"And you'll just be a skeeze I want to punch in the face," Penny finished.
"And you will always be insanely hot and worth all the pain, especially now that I know what you can do with your fists."
"I could start now," Penny threatened, half-lunging across the table at him.
"Eek!" Both Howard and Raj recoiled.
"Too soon!" Raj exclaimed. "You're still terrifying. But seriously, guys. I'm going to miss this."
"Me too," Leonard mourned.
They all looked so dejected by the idea of it being over, that Penny wanted to remind them of all the times they resisted the activities and whined. Only, she had something a little more fun up her sleeve.
"It won't all go back to normal," Penny told them, breaking the reflective silence that enveloped the group. She reached over, placing her hand over Sheldon's forearm, fingers sliding over the material of his shirt so she wouldn't startle him entirely. "Sheldon and I are dating now."
The three of them burst out laughing, with varying exclamations of "you're shitting me!" "ahaha good one!"
Very deliberately, Penny trailed her fingers down Sheldon's arm, beyond his sleeve and over skin until her fingers rested over his. She looked at him to find him frowning at his friends, and she tapped his middle finger with her own. He turned to look at her, barely veiled fury softening as his eyes met hers. He turned his hand over, grasping her fingers in his, and to Penny it didn't matter that their friends thought they were joking, because Sheldon was sincere and that was the important thing.
"Wait," Howard was the first to notice, his eyes narrowing on the two of them. "You're serious?"
"That's not possible," Leonard pointed out, still chortling.
"On the contrary, Apocalypse Week is about stepping outside of comfort zones and exploring the possibilities of what other people believe to be improbable. I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge my altered perception towards the role Penny plays in my life, especially given the basic tenets of Apocalypse Week." Sheldon paused, looking down at their joined hands. "You would all be wise to take note. I am very serious."
It was impossible for Penny not to smile at that. "We're very serious," she promised, tightening her grasp on Sheldon. "Very serious."
"Ahahahaha," Raj continued. "All your faces. Very serious. This is good. Very good. The best, even. All the awards! It took you two long enough! I've never seen a blinder pair of fools in all my life. And you guys, sitting there all shocked as if your world was turned upside-down. Where were you six days ago when Sheldon had Penny pressed against that bookcase? Or five when Penny told the police he was her boyfriend and he didn't say anything? Or how about two years ago when Penny moved in and Sheldon started giving her sex eyes and changing his schedule to accommodate her and Penny started to come over just to poke him and pull his pigtails to get a reaction? Why is this so shocking to everybody? I can't even right now, you might be blinder than they are. Am I the only one who has been waiting for this to happen for years? Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go to a bookstore and pick up some nice girl while I can still form coherent sentences around her. Good day!"
With that, Raj got to his feet and executed the perfect storm-out.
"What the frack just happened?" Howard wondered.
A/N: Yeah, I think I might have ruined the chapter guys. Sheldon said something profound and meaningful, and then Tumblr!Raj just came pouring out of me. I can't decide if it is awesome or terrible, but I am going with awesome.
Thank you to everyone who helped and supported me over the last year and a half as I wrote this. Without you, this story probably would have fizzled off chapters ago. I appreciate every single note of encouragement, review, and PM hand-holding that occurred and I feel like I have made some lasting friends in the process.
A special thanks to my friends dictionary and Wikipedia. I started this story knowing very little about most of the topics discussed and ended it still knowing very little, but with the ability to make pretty clever jokes about it.
As always, please review.