SPOILERS: Small ones for 3.19: The Wheaton Recurrence
WORD COUNT: 1,600 for this part
DISCLAIMER: The characters in this story do not belong to me and no copyright infringement is intended.
FOR: juniperlane, who always aids and abets. Thanks for the accidental beta. ♥
NOTE: Somehow this story has gone from three parts to five. Insanity, thy name is WIP.
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3
It's late at night, too late since Penny has to be on the Bones set at seven in the morning to reprise her plucky cop role. But something has been gnawing at her, especially in the wake of the whole house-buying debate.
Sheldon is lying next to her, already mummified in his bedding. She knows he's not yet asleep, though. His breathing is too irregular.
"Sheldon?" she asks in the dark.
"I'm sleeping, Penny."
"No, you're not."
"I was almost asleep."
"Well, now you're almost awake," she says, rolling onto her side to face him. "Can I ask you a question?"
He sighs. "What is it?"
"Do you love me?"
Penny is aware that this is dangerous territory she's treading. A late-night conversation about love is what finally finished Leonard and her off. But still. She's feeling a little needy tonight. Blame PMS. Or the tandoori chicken that's not settling in her stomach quite right.
She hears the covers rustle, as if Sheldon is de-cocooning. "What kind of question is that?"
"It's a pretty simple question. Do you love me?"
"Did I not tell you I loved you on March twelfth of last year?"
Penny rolls her eyes even though it's dark and there's no way Sheldon can possibly see her. "Yeah, you told me you loved me. But you haven't said it since then."
He snaps on the bedside lamp and she blinks at the unexpected light.
Sheldon sits up. "Penny, would I continue to put up with you if I no longer loved you?"
"I don't know. I do drive you around a lot," she says, shrugging. This was a really, really bad idea.
"I could still get rides from Leonard if I needed them."
"You're such a romantic."
Sheldon looks down at his hands, resting on the comforter. "I love you," he says. "It's not something that's easy for me to say."
"I know, I know," she says, half-smiling. "But I would appreciate hearing it once in a while."
"I'll set weekly reminders in iCal."
"Oh my god," she says, mock-punching him in the arm. "You wouldn't, would you?"
"That was an attempt at a joke."
"Don't even try," she says, tucking the blankets around her. "It never really works out for you."
Sheldon turns the light off and she feels him settle back into bed.
"Do you love me?" he asks.
"What do you think?" she says. "Would I still put up with you if I didn't love you anymore?"
"No, no you wouldn't."
"Then you have your answer," she says and rolls onto her stomach.
Once the Lifetime check has cleared, Penny buys a new car—a shiny black Volkswagen Jetta.
Sheldon asks if he can come with her to the dealership. She's not really sure it's such a great idea. There's an outside chance he'll say or do something to piss off the salesman and get them thrown out on their asses.
"You have to promise me you'll be on your best behavior," she warns him on the way.
"When am I not?" he says with a straight face. Oh, Sheldon. Such a lack of self-awareness.
But he surprises her. While Sheldon likes to think he knows everything about cars, even though he doesn't drive, he stands aside and lets her handle her business. She straightens her spine and turns on the charm with the salesman, charm mixed with a healthy dollop of "don't even try to fuck me over because I've got your number, buddy."
In the end, she talks the guy down to a reasonable price and gets him to throw in a GPS navigation system and upgraded stereo for free. And Sheldon didn't get them permanently banned from the lot. All in all, a good day.
A few days later, she trades in her old car and picks up the new one. This is her first new car ever. The Check Engine light is off. There aren't any cracks in the windshield. All mirrors are present and accounted for. This is probably the most exciting thing that's ever happened to her. More exciting than meeting David Boreanaz, even, and she was desperately in love with Angel all through middle school.
She picks up Sheldon at Caltech. While she's waiting for him to come outside, she closes her eyes and savors the new car smell.
Penny hears the car door open. "What are you doing?" Sheldon asks.
"I'm smelling my new car."
He wrinkles his nose. "It smells like plastic injection molding, vinyl and synthetic upholstery."
"I know," she says dreamily. "Isn't it great?"
Sunday morning and she's only half-awake, dreaming of blueberry pancakes with butter and real maple syrup. If only she had a magical fairy to do her bidding. Maybe Sheldon will be in the mood to go out for breakfast, even though he doesn't trust eggs of unknown provenance.
"Penny, are you awake?"
Her eyes flutter open and she blearily glances at the alarm clock. "It's only 9:43," she says thickly. "What do you think?"
"If you're currently responding to the sound of my voice, then I'm relatively certain you're awake."
She sits up so she can better glare at him. Sheldon is still in his pajamas, his hair rumpled in the way she likes it. "What do you want, Sheldon? If it's sex, you're going to have to make me some coffee. A lot of coffee."
He sits down on the edge of the bed. "While sex would be a pleasant way to spend the morning, I have a surprise." She's finally trained Sheldon so that he doesn't refer to sex as "coitus" anymore.
"I don't even want to know what would count as a surprise for you," she groans.
"I apologize for precipitously waking you. If I promise to make you a pot of coffee and an English muffin, will you get up and get dressed?"
"What's the surprise?"
Sheldon purses his lips. "You know that if I told you it wouldn't be a surprise."
"Fine, fine," she says, stretching. "But that coffee had better be strong."
They get in the car, the brand-new car that still smells brand new and a little like the smoothie from Jamba Juice she spilled on the passenger seat the day before. She tried to get it out of the upholstery, but it stained. Sheldon looks at the seat like a dog took a crap all over it. "There's a stain on my seat," he says.
"It's not your seat. It's my seat, bought with my own money, and you just happen to sit there sometimes," she points out.
"Your brand new car. How could you?"
She shrugs. "It happened. Let's do our best to move on from the tragedy. Where are we going, anyhow?"
He gets in the car and slams the door. "Drive to Caltech."
"Caltech on a Sunday? You've already shown me the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, remember?"
"We're not going to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Just drive to Caltech."
"Okay, but we're going to Peet's first," she says.
"You just had a cup of coffee. Two cups. Are you aware that caffeine's a drug?"
"That's why I need more," Penny says through clenched teeth.
Penny gets her mocha, extra espresso shot, and they drive to Caltech without further incident.
"Are we going to your office?" she asks. At least it shouldn't be hard to find parking on a Sunday.
"No," he says. "Take a right at the next intersection."
Sheldon guides her about six blocks from the campus. The car turns onto a leafy block of small houses.
Something suspicious flares in her. "Are you going to tell me where we're going?"
"Third house on the right," he simply says.
She looks ahead and spots a FOR SALE sign at the house in question, a small Spanish-style bungalow.
She's going to fucking kill Sheldon. Kill him dead.
"This would be an excellent place to park," Sheldon says, pointing at a spot.
"I have half a mind to just drive your butt home," she says, but she parks all the same. She turns to him. "Did we not say we weren't going to talk about houses?"
He pretends to be surprised. "I said I'd table the discussion but we didn't set a definite date to resume our talks."
She wants to bang her head on the steering wheel. "You can't just let go of anything, can you?"
"No, I can't."
"You're a real piece of work, Sheldon."
He touches her cheek so briefly that for a second she's sure she just imagined it. "Could you make an attempt to give it a fair hearing? I've been assiduously searching and I believe I've found the perfect house—the only house in the Greater Pasadena area that would satisfy the both of us."
She takes a last swallow of the sweet coffee. "Fine," she says. "But we're not committing to anything, okay? And if I find out that you already bought the house or something equally cockamamie, you're going to be a hurting unit for days to come."
"Trust me," Sheldon says, a strange smile on his face.
"Last time I did that, I ended up in Muncie, Indiana for four days at a comic book convention with you. You might think that Muncie is a good place for a romantic getaway, but I don't."
"Your definition of 'romantic' is incredibly limited, Penny."
"Fine," she says, flicking hair out of her eyes. "Let's go look at this house. But we're only looking, got it?"
"Trust me," he says again.
Now she's really scared.