Rating: PG-13, for language
Length: ~2700 words
Disclaimer: I own nothing.
In Her Mind
Penny must be an emotional masochist because even when she admits she deserves a nice guy, her nice guy is still a complete fucking asshole.
At least when she got home late to Kurt after being on her feet all day because a schedule mix-up made her a slave to calorie-laden food and ungrateful, ten-percent-tops tipping customers way longer than she had the patience for, he'd hold her and kiss her and tell her he loved her. He'd never say, "Penny, you were supposed to be home two hours and thirty-six minutes ago. We are now two hours and thirty-six minutes behind on" whatever ridiculous night it is, she doesn't even care.
And maybe Kurt was a lying, cheating bastard who didn't mean any of it, but, damn, they could have a conversation that didn't end with her wanting to punch him in the throat.
She did other things to his throat. She did other things with her throat, usually after he said he loved her. So they never really talked, and that's why there was never any punching, and it wasn't healthy at all, but it's not her fault she knows what to do with bodies and beds and beer. In a way, she misses that.
It's not that the sex is bad; it's really, really good. Even in the beginning it wasn't awful so much as awkward, and they got past the whole "proper way to proceed" thing a long time ago. She's never had to go and schedule her sex life before though, never had to work it in between physics equations and sci-fi reruns she knows he’s already seen a thousand and one times.
Oh, she can be spontaneous if she wants to. He's not completely immune to her charms, locked up in that head of his, especially now that he's clear on what she wants. But he freaks the fuck out when his routine's broken, and it only took one near-breakdown because he brushes his teeth at eight-thirty, and it's eight-fifty-two now, Penny to make her feel like a total tool.
She can't be coy either, can't say, "Meet me in my room," with a wink because he'll just ask her, "Why?" How someone so smart can be so utterly clueless, she’ll never, ever know.
And, oh my God, they still have separate rooms. Sharing space with action figures she can't open and scientific doohickeys she can't name isn't really at the top of her to-do list, but neither is being her grandparents when she can still round down to twenty.
At least she's sort of allowed in his room now, but she has to, has to, knock. He returns the favor though, and she loves her name in his voice, so she doesn’t really mind.
She doesn't even mind that he breaks his side of the bargain constantly, not that she'll let him know she knows. Her room is supposed to be her space, the only place in the apartment allowed to exist in "pure entropy", but when her celebrity gossip magazines end up magically alphabetized on the floor, it's not like he's a subtle cleaning ninja.
Maybe it's only weird because it's Leonard's old room.
They weren't dating when they moved in together. He triple-knocked on her door way too early one morning and said, "Leonard has decided to further his relationship with his girlfriend." After a cup of coffee or twenty and some carefully worded questions, she figured out just what he was getting at. He claimed he couldn't afford the rent on his own, but when he started pulling out diagram after diagram and bank statements and signed affidavits, she knew that he was trying too hard, and she could tell when he was lying.
Her own lease didn't end until the next month, but she was living across the hall as soon as Leonard's last plastic-wrapped comic book was out the door. She claimed it was because their place was bigger, because there was something to having a roommate who kept the place spotless, but she could tell when she was lying, too.
So they never really dated. They always kind of were.
And if he never says he cares, and if he’s a total pain, he lets her live her life without question. He never nags her for being behind on the rent for the third month in a row, just quietly pulls money, literally, out of the Green Lantern’s ass like some kind of bizarre magician. He never doubts she’ll pay him back, and she never gives him reason to.
And if he doesn’t support her, he’s never put down her acting dreams either, never told her to give it up for something boring and stable. He’s never told her a girl from Nebraska doesn’t belong in California, come back where you belong, Penny, like her mother.
Before she knows it, she is going back, and they’re doing the whole meet-the-parents thing. Except it’s Christmas, so actually the whole family is there. Of course the house is a disaster, and she has to tell him, no, he can’t go touching everything. No, he can’t put things “where they belong” because, yes, they belong on the floor. Tripping hazards or not.
He doesn’t like the dog, so naturally it adores him, follows him everywhere and slobbers on his carefully set out wardrobe for the day. When he frantically shakes her awake, she strongly suggests he find something else to wear, and he gives her that look. And, okay, even half-asleep she should really know better.
So they’re down in the laundry room, her dumping detergent in the washer, him looming in a way that would be way more effective were he not currently wearing her fluffy teal bathrobe, when of course her mom walks in. They’re too busy bickering over the soap to notice because, seriously, she doesn’t care if it’s “an assault on the senses”, she’s not going out before the sun’s bothered to get up so his clothes can smell like soft linen.
Both their eyes snap up when her mom makes an odd choking noise, and it’s probably a laugh, but she’s too busy being horrified to tell for sure. She stalks out and purposely avoids everyone until dinner, especially him.
At dinner, everything goes to hell. Her youngest niece touches his plate because she’s maybe two and doesn’t know any better, and he proceeds to flip out because it’s not like he does either. Her sister shoots her the dirtiest looks, like she’s the one who has to deal with this kind of thing all the goddamn time, and she’s a little afraid her dad’s going to shoot him in his sleep to protect his little girl from someone who is clearly insane.
Her sister, of course, is the first to point a gun. Only her family would think paintball welts, candy canes, and tinsel all belong together. He wipes the paint from his visor and reiterates the rules as if they play by them here, and while he’s talking she shoots him again. It’s all out anarchy, but he’s a tactical genius who always gets his way. Their team listens to his orders like a pack of well trained hunting dogs, and they don’t just win; they conquer.
It’s the quickest way to her family’s heart. Accepting him won’t happen in a day, but at dinner the next night, they seat the children as far away from him as possible. They’re trying to get him, and that’s all she’s ever done, and that’s all she can ever ask.
Next stop is Texas, and it’s weird how not nervous she is. But she’s already met his mother and his twin, and they welcome her with open arms. Out of the corner of her eye, she sees them exchange incredulous looks every now and then. They have to think she’s crazy to be so fully involved with him, and she can’t even deny it.
Still, they get along fantastically. She’s been here less than an hour, and she already wants to come back.
His other sister shows up a bit later, and she’s got someone of her own to introduce. A nice, generic looking guy that she would’ve been jealous of before she lost her mind.
The air grows thick with near tangible tension when whatever-his-name-is goes to sit in a chair. She’s confused by the sudden ice, but she glances over and, oh, those little facial tics let her know it is absolutely the wrong chair. Words fly out of her mouth politely but firmly telling him to move before she even knows what she’s saying. He’s clearly confused, but he does.
Nothing else happens.
Everyone lets out a collective breath, and when the incredulous looks fly this time, she can’t help but feeling smug.
On the plane ride home, she realizes she’s going home, and maybe freaks out a little. He lectures her on how aerophobia—and he breaks down the word for her first—is a completely justifiable fear, considering that any number of things gone wrong could send them plummeting down in a fiery ball of certain death. She snaps at him to stop it.
It makes her uncomfortable how soothing his drone is.
They get back to Pasadena, and it’s like they never left. He meticulously cleans all the dust that settled in their absence, not that she can see any, and the boys are over not three hours later for Halo Night because they have separation anxiety or something.
Leonard brings his girlfriend, which he doesn’t always, and they still look so in love that she’d gag if she weren’t so thrilled to see him happy. Six is two more than Halo Night has room for though, and after a couple rounds of kicking Team Howard and Raj’s ass, she tells Leonard to stop making googly eyes and start shooting things and hands him the controller.
She heads to the kitchen for more snacks, and his girlfriend’s sitting there, so they chat. She’s nice enough, but always seems to be distancing herself for whatever reason. She knows the girl isn’t shy, so it’s probably some irrational fear of sort-of-exes, and that’s so ridiculous she has to laugh. She wasn’t falling all over herself to get him before, and she certainly isn’t going to start now.
The conversation dies a natural death, and they both sit and watch the boys in silence. She’s thinking how ridiculously fond she is of all of them when a squabble over “nonstandard protocol providing an unfair advantage” breaks out, and she knows who started it, and she inexplicably feels even fonder. It only lasts a second before the other girl starts grumbling, something about how she’s not sure why anyone would put up with that, and it’s clearly directed at her.
That’s all it takes for the fondness to morph into something fiercely protective. She likes to think before she speaks, but it seems like whenever he’s involved instinct goes and takes over. She can only be thankful she wasn’t too blunt because this girl makes Leonard happy, this girl makes Leonard happy, and that’s what’s important here. She can’t mess that up.
The girl is relentless though, can’t resist saying a person would have to be crazy to want to spend forever with someone who thinks he’s too good for the world. This time, she’s sure she is the sane one, and she’s about to snap that you just have to get to know him when she stops because she knows what this is all about.
He never accepted her. She’s the fifth friend, the one that didn’t pass the test. That’s why Leonard doesn’t bring her around much, and that’s why she’s always felt so distant.
The girl knows it, and she’s jealous.
She knows what it’s like to be rejected, so she shakes her head and gains her composure. Then, with a surprisingly warm laugh, she tells her no, sweetie, he just can’t handle a wider social circle right now. The girl gives her a wide-eyed, confused look like she has no idea what the hell she’s going on about, but is a little worried for her personal safety anyway. Like that’s surprising in this apartment.
The boys are utterly oblivious to anything not on the screen, and the rest of the night goes without incident.
Most of their days go without incident. His routine is hers now, or at least what she lives around, and she’s okay with this. Not even resigned to it; she really is okay. It lends a certain sense of stability.
It makes it so much worse when things go wrong.
She doesn’t know what’s wrong. Suddenly she’s the one coming home chipper, having landed some minor advertisement role or a particularly generous tip, and he’s spaced out. Or, okay, writing furiously in the air, but he doesn’t look up when she walks in, and he’s completely silent during dinner. He might not be one for small talk, but he’s never been completely silent, and she’s worried.
It continues like this for several days. Sometimes he looks like he’s about to say something, but always reconsiders. There’s only so much she can take, and finally, she demands to know if something happened. Of course he says, nothing; no significant changes have occurred, he is not ill, work is satisfactory.
She tries again; what’s bothering him? What is he thinking about?
This gives him pause. For a long moment, he thinks, calculates. But she knows this time he’s putting thoughts into words for her, not ignoring her, and that’s enough to get her to relax.
He’s puzzled, he says, by certain elements of relationships, specifically romantic ones.
So much for relaxed. She blinks and tenses up, and doesn’t know what they haven’t done unless it’s breaking up.
When he specifies it’s about status changes in relationships, it’s worse than the most awful stage fright she’s ever had.
What he doesn’t get, he continues, oblivious to her discomfort as ever-- and she should really stop taking comfort in such weird things—is why they’re necessary at all. In the headlines of her gossip magazines, which he’s totally just admitted to going in her room, it seems like every relationship mentioned inevitably has a falling out, usually within a short time of it being validated to begin with.
And yet, he says, there are certain legal benefits to having the necessary paperwork, so surely it’s something to consider. Other couples, the ones who aren’t reported on so frequently, seem to prosper, or at least not meet such quick, violent ends. He concludes it must be in the timing, but that’s all he’s figured out. Further reports are conflicting, and he doesn’t trust the social sciences anyway.
To conclude, he says, he’s at an impasse. He doesn’t know if or how to proceed, and while he wasn’t going to ask her due to the delicate timing issue, he must concede to her expertise on social matters.
She’s blinking like crazy and absolutely cannot speak and really needs to stop jumping to conclusions, but only after she jumps to this one: “Sheldon, you idiot. Of course I’ll marry you.”
Penny’s in the acting business, so she knows happily ever after is nothing but a lie, told to sell tickets and fill seats. She still thinks she has it pretty damn good.
They might have separate rooms, but they don’t have separate lives. They’ve got loving families and friends. She’s even trying to convince him that her new status puts her in a new circle, meaning he’s got a new friend opening now, and has she got just the candidate for him.
He’s not entirely sold on the idea yet, she doesn’t think, but he did start calling Leonard’s girlfriend for rides to the comic book store. He never does say anything with words.
He still doesn’t say he loves her, not like Kurt and all the others. It’s the first time she hasn’t needed assurance.
And so they’ve never been easy, and she knows they never will be. They’ll always fit together like pieces from two completely different puzzles, but they’ve got superglue and science, and they can make anything stick.
She doesn’t even care if it makes any sense.