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Draw a line in the sand

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2011

Sheldon Cooper spent most of his life avoiding sunlight. Unfortunately, growing up in East Texas made that a near impossibility. Between the blistering heat, his weekly requirement to help Meemaw tend her garden and a father who insisted Sheldon "git his nose outta them books and take in some fresh air like a normal kid" every Sunday, Sheldon spent most of his formative years with some degree of sunburn on his nose and a lifelong tendency to wear more than one shirt indoors and out. Things didn't improve much as he approached adulthood. He found himself working in California (The sunshine state- oh, the irony) but a theoretical physicist's work doesn't require him to be outside much unless it's nighttime. Also, finding friends whose interest were aligned with his (video games, comic books, board games) made avoiding the blazing sun in California much easier than it had been in Texas.

Oddly enough, once Sheldon moved to New York, he found himself missing the sun. Once daylight savings time ended, darkness fell at 4:00 then 3:30 as winter progressed; the temperatures plummeted and Sheldon, who had spent most of his life trying to stay indoors, began to feel trapped in his apartment. He ventured out to his rooftop to take in a view the exact opposite of the one he had in Pasadena. Here, the glow from Times Square was always visible; the noise from the never-ending sirens lulled him to sleep. Here, there were no experiments to bounce lasers off the moon and no threats of dirty socks. Sheldon lived on the top floor of a building with a working elevator. He still took the stairs out of habit.

Sheldon strolled to the edge of the roof- the street below was its usual boil of people, rushing home in the purple light of a fall sunset. He was fond of his new apartment along with the private roof access that was his alone. It was in an incredibly walkable location with an endless variety of stores and restaurants. Why he could eat a different cuisine every night for a year! Not that he would engage in such culinary madness but it was nice to have options. As much as he had adapted to his new city these past months, it still didn't feel like home. He had all his comic books, video games, action figures and t-shirts and yet he couldn't find reasons to stay at home like he did in Pasadena. Night after night he walked the streets until exhaustion turned him homeward. Sheldon had always found a reason to stay home and now he always found a reason to be out. It was a puzzle even he could not solve.

His fingers drummed on the cement wall. The breeze had picked up, causing his eyes to narrow against it. The sky was now turning midnight blue along the edges. Sheldon knew the stars would be out soon but the ever-present lights of the city masked their faint shine. A flash of white caught the corner of his eye.

"Sock!" he gasped but peered closer. Once his eyes adjusted to the gloom, Sheldon realized it was a potted white Gerbera daisy- no doubt left from the previous tenant. He picked up the clay pot gingerly. The daisy's leaves had curled against the cold. It petals were bruised on the edges and its head was just beginning to dip. Still, its center was bright yellow; its stem strong and resistant. It reminded him.

"Come on," Sheldon tucked the plant under his arm. "Let's get you inside.

Xxxx

2016

Sheldon stands up so quickly, the water sloshes from the glasses.

"I'm leaving." He announces, pulling several bills from his wallet. He begins to walk out when Penny grabs his hand. For the briefest moment, Sheldon's fingers tighten around hers before falling slack again. Sheldon looks down to find her clear green eyes boring into his.

"Sit down, Sheldon." She orders. When he doesn't move, she gives his hand an impatient tug back toward his seat. "Sit down and eat your dinner." Penny commands, her voice a little more threatening. Sheldon moves to resume his seat and Penny hides her surprise by popping a scallop into her mouth.

"You're far too old to be storming out of restaurants." Penny informs him once he sits again and picks up his fork. "And I am too tired to chase after you." Sheldon's mouth is slightly agape but he twirls his pasta into a neat spiral before placing it in his mouth.

Penny wipes her mouth delicately. Triumph dances in her belly. Perhaps Sheldon has changed- he certainly would have never sat back down five years ago!

"So, tell me, what brings you to New York?" Penny's voice is light; she leans forward on her elbows and rests her chin on her hands. It has been so long since she has seen Sheldon eat. She had forgotten how precise he is- never dripping, spilling or missing his mouth. It is an almost surgical act in its precision. Sheldon finishes chewing and lays his fork on the table.

"That's right," he says almost to himself. "How would you know?"

"What?" Penny is smiling but she can feel the corners of her mouth twitch downward. There is so much neither one of them knows about each other now. How did they go from knowing eating schedules and menstrual cycles to having to catch each other up? She shakes her head in dismay. "What don't I know, Sheldon?"

Sheldon gestures toward the city with his elegant hand. "I live here, Penny. I've been living here for five years now."

XXXX

2011

It took Sheldon a week to bring the daisy back to its former glory. He researched all its light and nutritional needs, documented when and where the sunlight fell in his apartment and the duration of its stay and concluded the kitchen window was the daisy's optimal habitat.

Except he didn't stop there- a Gerbera daisy is a relatively easy plant to maintain. Sheldon specialized in theoretical physics, highly advanced video games and possessed an immeasurable IQ. The plants he surrounded himself with had to exhibit the same unique qualities albeit in an herbaceous manner. He moved from daisies to camellias, conquered gardenias and had a plethora of miniature white roses in a cold frame on the roof. Currently he was doing battle with a Calamondin orange infested with spider mites and a Cymbidium orchid that just didn't seem to like him.

His laptop signaled that Amy was on for their weekly chat.

"Good evening, Amy." Sheldon didn't turn from his orange plant.

"Good evening, Sheldon. Are you outdoors?"

"Don't be ridiculous- it's November." Sheldon continued spraying the orange plant with insecticidal soap ( his own personal concoction and highly effective)

"You seem to be surrounded by an abundance of flora and fauna." Amy observed.

"Fauna refers to the animals of the region and this apartment has been rendered thoroughly inhospitable to any fauna that may choose to reside here." Sheldon put down his spray bottle and faced his computer.

"Are all those plants in your apartment? You seem to have some type of bush growing next to you."

Sheldon turned to his right and smiled affectionately at the gardenia plant there, "Yes. Gladys seems to have really taken to the fertilizer I have created just for her."

Amy lowered her glasses on her nose, "Gladys? Sheldon, have you not developed a new social circle in six months?"

"Of course I have!" Sheldon was clearly insulted. "Can't you see?" He gestured to the plants around him; Amy rolled her eyes.

"Sheldon, you assured me you were doing your level best to interact with your colleagues. That you wouldn't isolate yourself or resort to cats again."

"Do you see a cat anywhere?" Sheldon snapped.

"No." Amy admitted. "This is much worse."

"Merely a hobby now that the weather has turned completely disagreeable." Sheldon assured her. "Now, how is your research going."

"Smashing." Amy replied. "Howard has become my latest test subject. I am studying the effects of emasculation on the brain. Clearly, Bernadette runs the show."

"I'm not surprised." Sheldon said idly while plucking dead leaves off the Cineraria on the coffee table.

"I just wish I could say all marriages are as heavenly a match as theirs." Amy broke into his pruning. Sheldon paused with a leaf pinched between his thumb and forefinger.

"Amy," His voice had a warning note in it.

"I'm making a general observation, Sheldon; don't get your panties in a twist."

Sheldon cleared his throat. She must have been with Penny last night- such expressions only crept into her speech pattern after a night with the waitress and alcohol. "I see you went drinking last night."

Amy nodded, "I discovered a delightful concoction known as The Alabama Slammer. Bestie needed a friendly ear…"

"The stars at night are big and bright.." Sheldon suddenly burst into song. Amy pulled back from the screen.

"Honestly Sheldon, how long am I going to have to avoid mentioning Pen…"

"Deep in the heart of Texas." He caterwauled. Amy sighed.

"Very well." She said. "I will refrain from any further mention of a certain mutual acquaintance. I believe I will sign off now Sheldon- it's still the work day here due to the time difference."

"Very well, Amy. It's always pleasant to chat with you." Sheldon gave a small smile but his eyes were on some wilting flowers on his gardenia.

"One more thing, Sheldon."

He turned back to his laptop. Amy took a deep breath.

"Promise me by our next chat, you will have had lunch with another person and engaged in conversation."

"Very well." He sighed and began to close the laptop.

"Sheldon!"

"Yes, Amy." He lifted the lid.

"Stop growing the flowers that were in Penny's wedding bouquet. It's morbid and right out of a Tennesse Williams play. One would think you belonged with the liberal arts faculty. Good night."

She closed the window. Sheldon swatted at a spider mite on his hand.

XXXX

2016

"Every Monday at 2:10 there is a physics seminar at which I frequently lecture and then there are the colloquia…"

Penny places her wine glass down on the table. A slow smile crosses her face. This is the Sheldon she remembers- waxing on and on about physics mumbo-jumbo without any regard for the interest level of the person he is talking to. She tilts her head; she always listened when Sheldon spoke, maybe not with her full attention or interest but often, when she was alone, she'd go over his endless dialogue in her head and look up words or ideas he mentioned. Of course, she never told him that. She never told him a lot of things. Now look at him- so different from when they first sat down and even from when she made him return to the table. His hands wave, creating pictures clear only to him and a smile quirks about his lips. He is enjoying himself; she is enjoying herself and it makes her heart hurt.

"I think I should leave." Penny cuts him off in the middle of a description of argon rays and signals for the check.

"Leave?" Sheldon squeaks. "Leave!"

"Yes, honey. This has been lovely but I do have a show tomorrow and…"

"Penny," Sheldon's index and middle finger make the slightest reach toward her. "We haven't seen each other in years. Social convention dictates that we reminisce some more."

"Sheldon, where is that going to lead us?" Penny pulls on her sweater. "Eventually, we'll run out of conversation because the only thing left to talk about will be exactly what neither of us wants to talk about."

Sheldon takes the check from the waiter and waves off Penny's offer to pay her share. He places the bills in the leather folder in order of denomination then centers the folder in the middle of the table. He looks right at her-his eyes blazing a blue that not even the best sapphire could match. She closes her eyes against them.

"Sheldon…"

"I don't want you to leave."

XXXX

2011

Leaving California turned out to be easier than he imagined. Unlike the time when he researched Bozeman, his requirements this time were far easier to fill. Public transportation, Ivy League school for employment purposes and a city cosmopolitan enough for him to be completely self-sufficient. No matter how many times he ran the algorithms and adjusted the variables, New York City kept appearing at the top of the list. As his apartment began to fill with the detritus that inevitably come with weddings, Sheldon began making his plans. Leonard was so busy (Self-involved, Sheldon thought bitterly) that he either never noticed or forgot to ask why Sheldon mailed off packages several times a week. Sheldon managed all his other arrangements online from finding his apartment down to his interview at Columbia. By the time the wedding day dawned, his flight was booked to leave two hours after the ceremony and his resignation was sitting on Dr. Gabelhauser's desk.

Leonard and Penny's wedding day could have been used for a postcard shot or an enticement brochure for California. Even the beach cooperated with a moderate tide, golden sunset and frothy waves. Seagulls dipped and swooped and the breeze was offshore so Penny's curls danced around her shoulders. She gripped her full wedding bouquet tightly as Wolowitz(newly ordained via Internet) spoke the words that would bind her to Leonard. Sheldon considered the contrast of Penny's flowers to everything else. The ceremony and its locale were certainly informal, Penny was in a white slip dress, Leonard in a white shirt and khakis. They weren't even wearing shoes, for heaven's sake! But there was Penny holding an enormous bouquet of daisies, artfully arranged by a florist with all the spaces filled in by small white tea roses and festooned by iridescent white ribbons. Like so many things these past five years, it just didn't make sense. Still, she was beaming that same smile at Leonard that she had when they met. Predictably (Sheldon counted off the seconds in his head -always 6), Penny turned to look over her shoulder to smile at him. He gave her his usual curt nod then sighed as more sand made its way into his shoes. The six-second turn and smile was part of the reason he was leaving. If her marriage with Leonard was to have any chance, Sheldon had to remove himself from the equation. Like the Pauli exclusion principle where no two identical fermions can occupy the same quantum state, no two physicists can occupy the same state as Penny. It was a simple as that and five years' worth of relationship advice in Penny's Cosmo magazines.

Sheldon turned away as Wolowitz directed the newlyweds to kiss. The taxi was waiting patiently in the beach parking lot. He picked up his messenger bag from the pile of shoes and purses from the other guests. A daisy from Penny's bouquet lay on the sand. Sheldon picked it up and tucked it into his pocket without a single break in his stride.

XXXX

2016

Penny drops heavily into the chair across from Sheldon. The silverware from their untouched meal rattles against the plates.

"You don't want me to leave?" She looks down her nose at him before turning away to let a soft laugh escape her.

"I'm sensing some degree of disbelief from you." Sheldon folds his hands in front of him. "and I can't imagine why. Did I not come to your play? Seek you out? Invite you to dinner?"

Penny blinks rapidly and gazes at the ceiling. She should have just left- she had been standing, sweater on, purse in hand and they would have avoided all this unpleasantness because she knows just where the conversation is going.

Despite every warning bell in her head, she still gives utterance to these words.

"I could have said the same thing to you."

Sheldon's ears , at least, have the decency to redden even as he sits there with his head tilted and his eyes blinking with blue innocence.

"I don't follow." He frowns.

"Goodbye, Sheldon." Penny gets to her feet and this time she is going to walk out that door.

"Penny," Sheldon lunges, actually lunges, and snags the strap of her purse. Penny keeps her back to him; the sound of him clearing his throat reaches her ears. "I have a proposition." Penny will bet a million dollars he is biting his lower lip right now. She shrugs gently, indicating he should continue.

"We won't revisit the past. What's done is done. Your play runs for another…" He waits for her to fill in the information.

"Three weeks."

The tension on her shoulder strap disappears and Sheldon comes to stand in front of her.

"I'd like us to have breakfast together tomorrow," He says simply before his mouth twists into the closest he ever gets to a smile. "Or brunch if you still prefer not to be active until eleven. I have nothing until two"

Penny meets his eyes. She is overcome with desire mixed with the irritation pulsing in her veins. She wants to see him again, wants to see what Sheldon has become now that he is free of the trappings of Leonard, Raj and Howard. More importantly, she wants him to see what she has become as well.

"Are you asking me out?" She leans toward him. With the look on Sheldon's face as he stares at her, all they need is a whiteboard covered in quantum mechanics and a spoof of the Bourne-Oppenheimer approximation between them and it's their first meeting all over again.

His voice even has the same tone in it and he edges closer into her orbit, "Yeah."