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Draw a line in the sand

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2014

"You didn't!"

"I did"

"You didn't!"

"I did. I left Leonard" Penny nodded emphatically at Amy and gestured at the suitcase and carryon at her feet.

"Well, blow me down." Amy stated, clicking her laptop closed. "It's International Talk-Like-a–Pirate Day." Amy explained to Penny's baffled expression. "I have an app which informs of the various festivals, actual and fabricated, associated with each day of the calendar year. Am I to assume, based on your baggage that you 'need a place to crash', as they say."

Penny nodded.

"Well, we are best friends and I believe providing shelter is definitely in the job description." Amy patted the seat next to her on the couch

"I have more news." Penny said, once she had joined Amy.

"Anchors away, my friend."

"Please stop that." Penny's tone was blunt. "I went to New York," Amy began to cough violently and rose from the sofa to get a glass of water;

"You went to New York?" Amy choked out as she poured water into a tumbler. "Is that what caused the rift with Leonard?"

"Among other things," Penny raised an eyebrow. "He always seemed nervous that I'd actually be successful. Like, he could be the only one with any achievements in our marriage. We just always seemed to want different things. We weren't a team anymore. We were always going in opposite directions" Penny stared at her sneaker for a moment before she continued her story. "I saw that director and…' She paused dramatically. "I got the part! They're shooting the pilot and the first two episodes in New York but then it will come back here if it gets picked up."

Amy began coughing once again, "You didn't!"

"I did"

"You didn't!"

"Amy!" Penny snapped. "Please!"

"Well, shiver me timbers! Who would have thought." Amy finished her water and placed the glass down emphatically. She stared at the empty glass for a moment, "You know, Bestie, Columbia University is in New York."

Penny looked at her blankly, "And?

Amy shrugged. "Just thought I'd share some facts about the Big Apple. Points of interest." She waggled her eyebrows at Penny who frowned in confusion

"Amy, the only thing I want to see in New York is Saks.

"You say that now." Amy retorted. "Anyway, congratulations, Bestie! As they say, when one door closes, another one opens despite the fact that that statement is fallacious upon further examination."

Amy looked over at the blond sitting on her couch. Penny's face had crumpled at Amy's words and her shoulders shook gently as she cried. Amy began to make tea. She added a generous amount of honey to Penny's cup then carried the two mugs over to the coffee table.

"God, I miss him." Penny wiped her nose on her sleeve as Amy offered the box of Kleenex too late.

"That much is clear." Amy sipped from her mug.

Penny took the mug of tea from her friend, "Amy, I meant…"

Amy nudged Penny's knee with her own, "Bestie, I know exactly who you meant."

XXXX

2015

For the first time in his life, Sheldon Cooper became aware of "entertainment news". It didn't take him long to find news about Penny's series; finding out information about her was a different story. She was one of those rare celebrities who managed to avoid the spotlight and this intrigued him. He always assumed that if Penny ever did "make it", she would be plastered on every magazine much like those horrid Kardashian women she used to make him watch. Yet, here he was, Googling away and most of what he found was print interviews that were regurgitations of her life in Nebraska and years as a waitress. There was a lack of information on her personal life - some sites still listed her as married

Sheldon leaned back in his chair. His fingers tapped lightly on the keys but no characters appeared on the screen.

"I could do it, you know." He tipped his head toward the gardenia. "Just a few simple key strokes and I could find out when Penny had her last cavity filled." He chewed on his lip. That would be wrong. Crossing boundaries.

"Penny never cared about my boundaries." Sheldon huffed to himself as he studied a picture of her at some award show. "Coming into my room at all hours and stealing milk from the refrigerator."

He tried to imagine if he did find her contact information (Who was he kidding? When he found it.), what that first conversation would be like. His stomach immediately clenched, not so much at Penny's imagined reaction but at his. No matter how he tried, the first thing Sheldon visualized saying to her was some version of, "How could you?"

He took one last look at the photo of Penny in a gown made of shimmering gold fabric before closing it. He powered down his computer and drummed his fingers on the lid.

Not time yet.

XXXX

2011

Penny adjusted her headset.

"Ready." She called over her shoulder.

Sheldon's sigh of annoyance sounded in her earpiece. "Penny, what is the point of wearing a headset if you do not use it?"

"Sheldon, you're like two feet away from me. I could spit and hit you."

"An action from which I do hope you refrain."

Penny made a hawking noise in her throat; Sheldon leapt from his spot, clutching his laptop to his chest.

"Gotcha!" Penny laughed then made a big show of swallowing what was in her mouth. Sheldon turned green. "C'mon, let's play." She patted his empty sofa cushion.

Sheldon settled himself down once more, casting a few wary glances her way. Penny ignored him, adjusted her headset and brought Queen Penelope to life on her screen. They had decided on this activity to fill the void Leonard left by playing cello with Leslie Winkle and other physics staff at a department head cocktail party. Penny refused to watch Star Wars one more time and Sheldon produced a document (which Penny did not remember signing but obviously had) barring the viewing of any program on MTV, Lifetime or the Oxygen Network. Finally, after much negotiation resulting in multiple rides to the comic book store and a weekly refrigerator cleaning, they agreed on Age of Conan and prepared to play. They quested in companionable silence, murmuring suggestions to each other, pairing up in battles to defeat other online gamers who wandered into view.

"Oh crap!" Penny sighed. Sheldon tapped furiously on his keyboard and escaped to safety in the Black Castle.

"I thought you were behind me." Sheldon said.

"Clearly, I'm not." Penny gestured to her screen as Queen Penelope drew out her bronze dagger. Sheldon leaned in and pointed to the background.

"There's a dragon coming."

Penny's fingers flew as she beheaded one mythical creature after another. Eventually, they began ganging up on her and, despite Sheldon's directives, she was losing ground.

"Sonofabitch!' She exclaimed after suffering a particularly nasty burn from the lurking dragon.

"Behind you! Behind you!" Sheldon cried; she turned just in time to stab a hydra to death.

"Sheldon," Penny's voice was filled with panic. "You gotta help me. Come out of the castle."

"Penny, that would be foolhardy- risking both of us."

"Well, you can't just leave me here!" Penny turned toward him. Their noses bumped.

Penny's tongue darted out to moisten her lower lip. Sheldon stayed frozen; his eyes barely blinking.

"Queen Penelope is AFK" She whispered into her headset and touched a key to pause the game. Her eyes remained locked with Sheldon's.

"Penny." His voice was low, uncertain and full of …desire?

"You have little flecks of green in your eyes." Penny angled her head slightly; Sheldon moved in closer.

They sat there for a moment. Penny dropped her eyes to Sheldon's hand which was draped across her jean-clad thigh. She looked up again and her breath caught in her throat. Sheldon's eyes had darkened; his lower lip was a deep pink from his teeth chewing on it. Her heart was pounding in her ears. This was Sheldon, after all but, if she was honest, she's always felt that pull toward him.

Tonight, however, was the first time he pulled back.

Her hand reached up and Penny watched her index finger trace the line of his jaw. Felt the muscle twitch under it. Sheldon reached up and grabbed her hand, pressing her palm to his face. He hadn't moved any closer and they hadn't changed their positions.

Penny's eyes widened as she realized she wanted this. Wanted him and not in a passing fancy kind of way. After all, why was she here playing video games instead of at a cocktail party with her boyfriend? Why was Sheldon the one she confided in, argued with, willingly spent her free time with? She got from Leonard what she couldn't get from Sheldon.

Until now.

Sheldon's breath brushed against her lips and Penny caught the scent of cinnamon. She nodded slightly and his other hand wove through her hair with startling speed.

The lock turned and Leonard entered 4A. Penny was pushed back into her seat. Sheldon hit his keyboard with exaggerated movements but she noticed his screen was still dark.

"Hey guys, what's going on?" Leonard wrestled his cello through the doorway.

"Sheldon's in the Black Castle," Penny leapt up. "Did you have a good time? I'm really tired. Is anyone else tired? No? Then, I'll say good night." Penny brushed Leonard's lips with hers and ran across the hall. Before she closed her door, Penny heard Leonard's scolding tone as he asked Sheldon what had happened. She shot the deadbolt and slid down to the floor, resting her head on her knees.

This was crazy. Leonard was her boyfriend. Sheldon was her friend. There was no way he could possibly be more to her than that. For God's sakes, she couldn't even touch his onion rings without inciting a full blown temper tantrum. Still, she had not mistaken the vibe from Sheldon nor her reaction to it. Penny rose to her feet, shaking off the haze of hormones mixed with almost being caught. Caught doing what? Nothing., she nodded firmly. She and Leonard were in a good place. They were happy. Tonight was just one of those blips on the radar. Both she and Sheldon had just succumbed to some type of online game enthrallment. Penny climbed into her bed. She turned toward the second pillow, trying to imagine Sheldon there and failing miserably.

Blip on the radar, she thought again even though she could still feel the press of Sheldon's fingers on the inside of her wrist as she fell asleep.

A week later, when Leonard presented her with a diamond ring centered on her waffle, Sheldon flung his dishes in the sink.

XXXX

2016

Sheldon holds open the door and Penny steps ahead of him into the bright summer sunshine. The streets of the city are full of people and Penny and Sheldon soon blend in with them. Penny scurries alongside Sheldon, taking two steps to each one of his, until he shortens his stride to match hers.

"I can't believe you are walking." Penny finally says.

"Why?" Sheldon glances down at her.

"Umm..because you never walked in Pasadena. Anywhere."

Sheldon smiles briefly, "Well, I am a New Yorker now." His blue eyes are wide for emphasis.

Penny hesitates for a moment, "Sheldon Cooper, did you just make a joke?"

"Once again, I will remind you that playfulness is my most endearing attribute, Penny."

She laughs this time and Sheldon seems pleased but her laughter doesn't last long. Describing himself as a "New Yorker" only reminds her that this city is home to her for only three more weeks.

"Do you remember the last time we walked together?" Sheldon barely grazes her shoulder with his finger to bring her back to the present.

Penny looks up at him. She sees the changes time has brought to him. His hair has a few silver threads; when he does smile, his eyes have crinkles at the corners. They are slight, barely noticeable changes yet it gives her a sense of comfort, like slipping into her Cornhusker sweatshirt on chilly nights.

"I'm sorry, but I don't remember, sweetie." Penny's hand bumps against Sheldon's but he only slips his own hands into his pockets.

"I suppose it doesn't matter," Sheldon concedes. "I do tend to remember many things others find insignificant."

They could easily slip into another argument here but Penny tries a different approach.

"Sheldon, where are we going?"

He stops in front of a gray cobblestone building, "I live here. I'd like to show you inside."

Penny looks at the door to their left then back up at the man gesturing toward it. Sheldon is waiting patiently for her answer and she realizes that all of them- Raj, Howard, Leonard, herself- have been wrong by categorizing Sheldon as an impatient man. He is a man of infinite patience- unraveling the mysteries of the universe and the ones of his own heart.

"Why are you looking at me like that?' Sheldon's brows have drawn together.

Penny doesn't answer him. She realizes, standing outside his door, that this is a seminal moment. Once she enters this building with him, the relationship they had will be gone. She bites her lower lip. What they have now isn't much of anything but is she ready for that to change?.

"Penny? Are you coming?" Sheldon unlocks the door.

She can feel herself beginning to shake her head "no" even as her feet inch forward. She kept him in the background of her life because she knew what a force he would be if she ever did allow him to take his rightful place.

"Sheldon," She blurts. "I live in California."

He lets the door close. Wry amusement is in his deep blue eyes. Blue like the sky reflected in the pool in her backyard. Blue like her favorite blanket that she wraps herself in after a long day shooting. Blue like the satchel where she keeps all her scripts. Blue fills her vision as Sheldon invades her personal space in a way he has only done once before.

"You live in New York." Her voice is weak; she places a palm in the center of the Green Lantern logo on his chest. His heartbeat thuds beneath it.

"I once lived in California." Sheldon's voice rumbles beneath her palm. "You once lived in New York." His chin is resting on top of her head. She realizes they must make a strange picture- he's not embracing her; she still has her hand on his chest while he rests his chin on her head.

"Sheldon, people are looking at us."

"Penny, this is New York City. I can assure you we are not nor will we ever be the oddest sight on these streets."

She laughs in spite of herself, "So now what, Dr. Cooper?"

Sheldon gestures to the door again; Penny takes a step back.

"Sheldon, I'm only here for three weeks. That's just twenty–one days. We haven't seen each other in five years and, well, it hasn't really been that great seeing each other again, has it?"

Sheldon tugs at the strap of his messenger bag. He suddenly becomes very engrossed in his shoes.

"Sheldon." Penny waves her hand in front of him.

"Did you know," He looks up suddenly. "That most flowers have reached full maturity by the twenty-first day. Their life cycle is almost over yet people keep buying them, growing them, caring for them. "

Penny just stares at him. This is why it would never work- apples and oranges to the very end.

"What is that supposed to mean?" Penny throws her hands up helplessly.

"They don't give up, Penny. That's what it means." Sheldon turns from her. He opens the door to his building and goes inside. Penny catches the door before it fully closes.