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Motion - chapter 3

Title: Motion - chapter 3
Fandom: Big Bang Theory
Pairing: Sheldon/Penny
Author: Lizwontcry
Spoilers: Current season.
Rating/Warnings: Teen, some language and such but nothing too mature...yet.
Disclaimer: I got nothin'.
Summary: Leonard asks Penny to take care of Sheldon for the summer while he's gone, and after spending so much time together, Sheldon and Penny's friendship is tested, questioned, and strengthened. But something surprising is happening and they can't ignore it forever.



A/N - I suck. You know I suck, I know I suck, everyone knows I suck. I shall offer no excuses or apologies and just say I hope that you will forgive me and accept this chapter as a peace offering. It shouldn't take as long to update next time. Really! I am serious.

A big thanks as usual to Anna, who is very passionate about Doctor Who and gave me a lot of useful information for this chapter. Thank you.

As always, feedback is welcome and encouraged. Thank you very much for your patience. You're all the wind beneath my wings.


*****


A week or two later

It was getting easier to wake up before Sheldon came knocking at her door every morning. Maybe it was because Penny had something to look forward to-in just a week, shooting for the pilot was going to start. Perhaps it was too optimistic of her, but Penny had a good feeling about this opportunity. It was a unique show, and it was fun, and a lot of people believed in it, so maybe this could be her big break after all.

On this particular cloudy summer morning, Penny woke up before her alarm. She took a shower, made some coffee, and poured out some cereal to eat while she checked her email. Sometimes Leonard was able to get a signal and send her a few paragraphs of what he'd been up to on the boat and how much he missed her. Those emails were nice...a little something to help her get through the day. No email this morning, though. Oh, well. Maybe tomorrow.

Penny sent Leonard her daily email of "Love you, miss you, kisses and hugs, etc." and then checked her Facebook. Maybe he left her a little something there. Nope, no Leonard, just a wall post from Amy about their upcoming girls night and few invites to play Candy Crush or whatever the heck it was. Penny absentmindedly clicked on Leonard's name to see his wall. It looked the same as always, except a new post from some random chick she'd never seen or heard about. Well, that was interesting.

Leonard - it was great hanging out with you on the ship today! So glad Stephen introduced us. It's always great to meet another physics geek who also loves Buffy and Firefly. I hope we can chat when you get back to California. We'll have that coffee you promised. ;)

Who the hell was this "Mandy Martin" and what the hell did she want with Leonard? Penny clicked on her name and proceeded to look at dozens of pictures of this chick on the beach, this chick in a bikini, this chick drinking margaritas with other tall, thin, tan girls, and then one tiny picture of her in a lab coat, looking studious and holding a beaker. Penny instantly knew what this chick was about, and didn't like it all.

Fuming, Penny turned off the computer and stomped to her bedroom to get dressed. Okay, so he was meeting girls on the boat. That was fine. It was more than fine; it was great. Leonard deserved to make new friends, people he could get along with and talk to while gone for so long. And obviously Penny wasn't the jealous type. What did she need to be jealous of, anyway? Leonard was hopeless at flirting. Plus, Penny was confident in their love for each other. That hadn't come naturally to her, either. She had to work hard on becoming so secure in the relationship, but she made it. So it was rather unsettling that this one Facebook incident was bothering her so much. A million questions floated in and out of her head...where did they meet? Where did she get a signal to get on Facebook? Was she staying on the boat with him or did the boat dock for a while? And if it did, why didn't he find a way to call Penny? This whole thing was putting her in a horrible mood. All she wanted to do was talk to Leonard, but of course that wasn't an option. She found her phone buried underneath her discarded clothes from the night before and texted him anyway.

Hey babe...call me when u get a chance. Need to talk to u!

Penny glanced at the digital clock next to her bed. Six minutes until Sheldon was due to show up. For some reason, this made her feel better. It was funny how lately thinking about Leonard made her feel anxious, but being with Sheldon seemed to calm her down. That hadn't always been the case, obviously; she and Sheldon had to come a long way to get where they were now. She really didn't get him at all when they first met and would have preferred Leonard come with a non-whackadoodle roommate. But over the years she grew to quite enjoy their friendship and was grateful to be able to rely on it now that Leonard was gone. Ever since Leonard made his announcement, Penny had been dreading the summer. But now she was looking forward to what kind of surprises it would bring.

*****


Sheldon knocked, Penny answered. This was the routine, and Sheldon needed (and enjoyed) routines. Usually he'd make a light-hearted attempt to make her laugh and she'd either glare at him or chuckle as intended. But this morning, something about Penny's face told him that his usual humor would not be welcome. Maybe she had a bad night. Maybe she ate something too sugary for breakfast-he noticed that when she ate a particular kind of cereal, or when she skipped breakfast altogether, it put her in a grumpy sort of mood.

But on this day, he couldn't read her mood, so he decided to just leave her alone with her thoughts. Although Old Sheldon would want to get to the bottom of it, New Sheldon, the one who had spent the last couple weeks learning the ins and outs of Penny's mood cycles (although he was confused as to how Leonard was able to keep up with them so accurately for so many years), knew that if Penny wanted to talk, she would talk. And eventually she did.

"Am I picking you up tonight?" She finally said, breaking the tense silence between them.

"Um, yes, if that's quite all right with you. Raj normally picks me up on Thursdays but today—"

"Good. We'll take you to the comic book store and then we'll take me to the liquor store. We'll go home, order pizza, you can read your book while I drink a glass or two...oh, hell, a bottle or two—no, definitely two—of wine. It'll be great."

Sheldon didn't actually have much objection to Penny's plan; it sounded quite efficient, actually. However, he was still concerned about her liquor intake.

"Penny, not that I don't like this plan of yours, but over the years since we've known each other, I've developed a hypothesis that you tend to drink more alcohol when you're angry about something. I find that when I'm perturbed, I like to watch a comforting episode of Doctor Who, or write a letter to a company that I am unhappy with, perhaps."

Penny snorted. "I don't think Doctor Who is a match for the kind of anger I have inside me right now."

They had reached the university now and that was probably Sheldon's cue to depart the car, and the conversation. But he was worried about his friend, and he wanted her to know that.

"I don't know why you're angry; although obviously I'm sure it has something to do with Leonard. But Penny, frequent and long-term use of alcohol can lead to some serious and unwanted side effects. I would like to show you other ways of alleviating your stress in frustrating situations. Perhaps the ways that I am accustomed to aren't suitable for your needs, but maybe we can find something else that will be." He was already thinking of what episode to show her, even if she hadn't agreed yet. "Vincent and the Doctor" would be perfect for the point he wanted to make.

They had gotten to the university at this point, and Penny found a parking spot and turned off the car. She looked at him with genuine affection in her eyes and said, "Sweetie, thank you so much for caring. I'd really like to watch Doctor Who with you tonight, if that's what you think will help. I've never seen it before. Maybe I'll like it."

It was not often Sheldon found himself confused, but the way Penny was looking at him made him feel something he wasn't quite sure how to name. This was happening more often than he'd prefer lately.

"Well, good. I'll see you later, then."

"I'm looking forward to it," Penny said, smiling. Then she scooted closer to him and did something that shocked both of them—she kissed him on the cheek.

"Sorry. Couldn't help myself. See you later!" She said cheerfully. Sheldon managed to nod. He then sort of stumbled from the car. He stood on the sidewalk and watched as she drove away, wondering what the evening had in store for the both of them.

*****


As Penny drove away, she thought about how sweet Sheldon was being lately. Leonard had put her in charge of him while he was gone, but maybe it was the other way around. Or maybe, most likely, they were taking care of each other.

After daydreaming about that for way too long, Penny came back to reality. She was still pissed at her stupid boyfriend and she also had to work at the Cheesecake Factory before she could have TV time with Sheldon. For the next six hours, she got lost in her usual world of spilling soup on herself, three attempted ass grabs from her lovely patrons (she was an expert at seeing this move coming and avoiding it by now), as many cheesecakes as one building could hold, and so it goes. She was way too busy to think about Sheldon and their planned evening together, but every so often she'd have a moment to breathe, and she'd think about how much he cared about her well-being, and it would make her smile. Then she'd think about Leonard and the mysterious company he was keeping on the boat and that would piss her off again. So many conflicting feelings...welcome to Penny's world.

An hour before she was scheduled to go home, Penny was starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel. She was in one of her happier moods of the day when her manager called her into his office.

"Sure, Roger," she muttered, following him to the dark, intimidating office. This was never good. Unless he was going to offer her a raise, of course. But she hadn't gotten a raise in more than a year and wasn't really expecting one any time soon.

Roger, a middle-aged man with a trying-too-hard ponytail and tired brown eyes, sat down at his desk. Penny chose to keep standing. His office was full of motivational posters and Employees of the Month pictures, and you could just tell he was proud of every single one of them. Roger was one of those people who seemed born to be a manager at the Cheesecake Factory.

"Penny, do you like your job?"

"Of course I do," she said automatically, silently hating herself for this obvious lie. Nobody liked working at the Cheesecake Factory; they only did it while they tried to find somewhere else to work. Everyone knew this. Even Roger knew this. But Penny knew she was in for one of his infamous "pep talks."

"I'm concerned that you're not showing enough enthusiasm out there on the floor. If it's not too much of an imposition, I'd really love it if you could take a little more pride in your work."

Was this dude serious? She brought turkey wraps to tourists. Cheesecakes to horny old men. Barbecue cheeseburgers to her friends. Over the years she'd endured countless come ons, phone numbers on napkins, jealous waitresses, sticky shoes and that awful uniform for barely minimum wage, and he wanted her to be happy about it? Penny's brain burned with rage, but what could she do? She didn't want to burn this bridge, and her acting career, although improving rapidly, wasn't quite taking off yet.

"Of course, Roger. I'm curious, did I get any complaints?"

Roger cleared his throat-he did that with an alarming frequency-and said, "No, Penny, but you haven't gotten any compliments, either. So put on a smile and deliver those cheesecakes like your job depends on it."

Penny had watched every episode of the original CSI (at least until Grissom left, it just wasn't the same after that) and knew how to hide a dead body. This gave her comfort as she forced the fakest smile and said, "I'll do my very best. This job is really important to me." I wish I could cut your ponytail off in the middle of the night.

He turned away, not even caring enough to dismiss Penny. She spent the next hour smiling like an idiot and fuming inside. Only a bottle of wine could cure the anger building up in her soul...maybe she could sneak a few drinks before she went across the hall. But she promised Sheldon she'd give his stress-relieving technique a try instead. Ugh, dinner and a TV show with Moonpie better be worth it, she thought. If not, she was going back to her place and getting black-out drunk. Which should have been alarming, actually, but she was too pissed off-at Roger, at Leonard, at the world in general-to recognize that fact.

*****


"Okay, so let me get this straight-this cute-slash-nerdy dude goes back in time with his also time-traveling lady friend and they meet people and have adventures and stuff?"

"Yes, Penny. That is the most basic way anyone has ever described Doctor Who, but that is essentially what it is about." Sheldon didn't have the patience to explain all the nooks and crannies of one of his favorite TV shows. He just wanted Penny to see this episode. For some reason, it was important to him.

Penny made herself a cup of tea in the kitchen and sat down on the couch next to him, sighing. She'd explained what a terrible day she'd had and how much she hated Leonard and her "ridiculous snake of a boss" and how much she wanted to drink something to alleviate her stress. Sheldon was all up to date now.

"Are you ready to watch this now?" Sheldon asked somewhat impatiently.

"I guess. Oh, wait." Penny got up and turned off all the lights. "A little mood lighting," she said before sitting back down. Sheldon wasn't particularly a fan of watching TV in the dark, but he was learning to pick his battles.

Sheldon expected a lot of questions and sighing and just general noise from Penny while they watched the show, but she was curled up next to him, silent and fascinated. Since he'd already seen the episode 63 times, he was more focused on Penny than the Doctor. She didn't realize it (or maybe she did), but she was inching closer and closer to him until she was nearly in his lap. Her movements and the warmth radiating from her body gave Sheldon some interesting feelings he wasn't sure what to do with, and not for the first time. And again not for the first time, Sheldon had to wonder why being this close to Amy never made him feel the same way. Of course he understood basic biology and body chemistry and knew the implications; he just didn't quite understand what it all meant. Maybe he wasn't meant to.

When it was over, Penny didn't say anything for a while. The next episode started playing and she seemed fascinated by that one, too. Finally she grabbed the remote from the table and muted it.

"So okay, the doctor guy and the redhead chick go back in time because there's a problem with that one painting by the dude who cut his ear off-yes, Sheldon, I know his name was Vincent Van Gogh, I'm just simplifying things-and what, they show him that he really was valued and appreciated as an artist, just not in his own time?"

Sheldon was impressed. "Yes, that's correct. And when-"

Penny interrupted. "And since Van Gogh met Amy and fell in love with her and he realized maybe everything is not so bad and life doesn't always have to be one tragic event after the other, the weird alien guy in the painting disappeared when they got back to the present. Wow, that is a strange sentence."

"It's obviously much more than that, but yes, you have the basic gist of the episode." He wanted to tell her all the reasons why he wanted her to watch it, but he didn't know if Penny was even interested in why. She seemed to just want to digest the basics of everything. That was one thing that frustrated Sheldon about Penny-she was capable of going deeper, but she just didn't want to. She had so much potential and sometimes it made him angry when all she talked about was shoes or reality shows.

Penny reached for his hand and he almost jumped off the couch. She was always trying to touch him in some way. It wasn't altogether unpleasant but a little warning would have been nice.

"Sweetie, why don't you tell me what this episode means to you and why you wanted me to see it. I mean, I have an idea, but I want to hear it in your words."

It was such a simple thing to say, but it meant something to Sheldon. Once again, the way she was looking at him; the way she wanted him to tell her why, how she was genuinely interested in what he had to say. This did not happen very often, with anyone, really. Obviously Amy was always fascinated by what he had to say but she never looked at him the way Penny was now. Even if Sheldon didn't know much about the subject, he recognized something in her eyes that Amy lacked. It was something slightly…sexual, maybe. Lustful? Carnal? He wasn't well enough versed in this world to know. Penny was, though. She may not know much about physics, but she knew plenty about biology.

Sheldon took a deep breath and exhaled. Penny never looked away. "Vincent Van Gogh only sold one painting when he was alive. That is the first thing you should know about him. He was also quite mentally ill, and probably an alcoholic. He is believed to have committed suicide. And yet he is one of the most famous artists of all time. That 'weird alien guy' in the painting represented everything that was wrong with his life. It represented his struggles of balancing creativity with the voices inside his head. And when Amy and the Doctor came along, they showed him that he was more than just a guy with a problem; more than an alcoholic, more than an artist, even. He was a human being."

"I get that, but when they left him back in his time, Amy was so sure that Van Gogh was going to live longer and produce more paintings and have more of a legacy, but when they got back, nothing was different. The alien was gone and he made that painting for Amy, but other than that, nothing changed. So what was the point?"

"The alien being gone is the whole point. Just knowing that his paintings made a difference to people and that he was appreciated after his death made his inner demons, like the one in the painting, disappear. Of course his mental illness wasn't cured, but the voices inside his head that told him he was useless were silenced."

Penny thought about this. And looked confused. "Sheldon, I swear that I'm trying to figure out how this relates to me and my situation, but it's not working. A little help here, please?"

He squeezed her hand, which he was still holding. "Okay, Penny, don't hurt me, this is just something I have observed over the years-you seem to resort to alcohol quite frequently when you are stressed. And the cause of your stress always seems to be related to how you are not seen in the light you want to be seen in. Men see your outward appearance and treat you in a certain way. I am aware that Leonard sees past that now. However, based on his first impression, he was enamored with you from the first moment he laid eyes on you, which I am guessing is something that, while you've never been comfortable with, you're quite used to it at this point."

Penny nodded but stayed quiet. He could see the beginnings of tears in her eyes. But she deserved to hear the rest.

"I just want you to know there are some people who respect you for who you are and not who you look like. Granted, it took me a few years to see it, but I believe you are a remarkable actress, a brilliant performer, and more than that, you are an amazing friend."

Penny was smiling, if not a bit sadly. "An amazing friend? Did Amy tell you to say that? We're besties, you know."

"I have in fact witnessed your friendship with Amy develop and I know it means a lot to her. She's never had a friend like you before and it's made her into a much more self-confident woman. But I was not referring to her. Penny, I know I can be a bit obnoxious and annoying, but you see right through that. Remember when I wasn't feeling like myself because my regular barber was in the hospital and my hair was getting too long to properly function? You disregarded the fact that I was not acting rational and you just wanted me to feel better. Your concern about me; the way you offered to cut my hair was something I won't forget. Not that I forget anything, but you know what I mean."

"Sheldon. Stand up."

"Why? I'm perfectly comfortable-"

Penny rolled her tear-stained eyes. "Stand up!"

Sheldon obeyed. Penny jumped up and gave him a hug. And for the first time, Sheldon let himself enjoy it. He clung to her as hard as she clung to him. It was not over quickly. It was lingering and it was long and it was full of unresolved tension that the two of them had been ignoring for quite some time now. But even Sheldon knew that there was nothing either of them could do about it; or honestly, if he wantedvto do anything about it. When did these things get so confusing?

"Honey, your friendship means so much to me, too. You just put a lot of things in perspective for me, thank you." She kissed him on the cheek and he knew he was probably turning bright red. How embarrassing.

They both sat back down to watch the next episode. As a final touch, Penny said, "If I was the redhead chick, I totally would have stayed with Van Gogh and had a million ginger babies. That dude was hot. I love me a bad boy." When Sheldon stared at her blankly, she just laughed. He would never get tired of her laugh.

*****


Penny left Sheldon's an hour or so later. She immediately went to her kitchen and got out the bottle of wine she'd been thinking about all day. And then put it back into the refrigerator without thinking about it too much. Maybe she wouldn't always be able to put it back, but Sheldon's amazing words were still fresh in her mind. Nobody had ever said anything like that to her before. And the fact that he took the time to tell her and not get impatient when she didn't understand...he was so cute.

As she got ready for bed, Penny thought about that day they met in the hall almost seven years ago. What if Leonard hadn't fallen in love at first sight and hadn't been so persistent ever since? What if Penny went with her instinct that day when she saw two nerdy guys and she went for the tall one instead? What would be different, and what would be the same?

It was going to be a long summer, and Penny didn't know if she wished it was short so she could be with Leonard again as soon as possible, or if it could be long, so she could spend more time with Sheldon. This was going to be a problem, wasn't it? She was in trouble now. And the worst thing about it was, she was looking forward to it.