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Long Time Waiting

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Sheldon broke the silence halfway between the apartment and the university. He was lucky - any earlier and Penny probably would have punched him again. But the near-collision with the Prius had worked wonders to wake her up.

Penny pulled the chain away from her neck and held up the ring, like she'd never seen it before. "This? It's my purity ring. My mom and I picked it out when I was like, eleven or something."

In the passenger seat, Sheldon looked equal parts confused and terrified. She eased off the accelerator, letting the car ahead pull away to a safer distance. The terror dropped off of his face until all that remained was pure confusion.

He raised one finger and said, "As hard as it is to believe, I'm perplexed."

"No shit. You look like someone moved the Big Bran next to the Sugar Jacks."

He twitched a little at the idea but shook it off quickly enough. "I find it fascinating that you're still wearing it, years after you presumably broke the promise."

"Yeah, well, maybe I didn't."

As Penny braked for the turn, Sheldon did something he'd never done before: he didn't brace himself against the door. Instead, he swayed sideways as the car careened into the parking lot closest to his building on campus. She threw the gearshift into park and he stayed where he was, plastered against the passenger side window.

When he caught his breath, he adjusted his bag on his lap. "But a purity ring typically codifies an agreement to abstain from sexual behavior until marriage. Since you're not married, why are you still wearing it?"

"I'm not talking about this with you, Sheldon. Get out so I can go home and back to bed, or I'll come over there and kick you out."

He got out.

---

"No, Mom, I'm not coming home for the wedding.... Because this is her third!" Penny threw the washcloth in the sink, wincing when it knocked over the dirty glasses already there. "I'm not blowing a whole paycheck to get home when she's just going to be divorced again in six months. Or in prison."

"Penny," her mother sighed. "I just don't understand why you still have such ridiculous ideas about marriage. It's not all roses and romance, sweetie. It's hard work and sometimes you can't-"

"This one time, can we just not?"

It was pretty easy to get off the phone after that. Penny played with the cordless for a long time, trying to decide whether she should call back to apologize right away or wait until they'd both calmed down. She was six digits in when Leonard knocked on her door.

By the time he left, she'd forgotten why she needed to apologize in the first place.

---

Leonard was sweaty and panting, a dead bulk across her comforter. Penny slipped back into her tank-top. He barely protested as pushed and prodded him until they were both under the blankets. She curled against his side, her head on his shoulder. Her ring was a cool weight between her breasts.

"How come you're wearing this thing all the time now?"

He wrapped the chain around his index finger. It tugged against her skin and pulled at hairs caught in it at the nape of her neck. Penny sat up, undoing the clasp to try to untangle the metal and hair.

"I already told you why, Leonard. If you have a problem with it..."

"No!" He sat up so fast the bed jiggled and the headboard smacked against the wall. "Penny, that's not what I-"

She wasn't interested in having this conversation again. It had been infuriating enough the first time, when he laughed until the look on her face finally sank in. And every time after that when he tried to cajole her into changing her mind, the same as every other guy she'd ever known.

His voice was thin and whiny through the bathroom door as he tried to coax her out. She sat on the edge of the tub and stared down at her hand until he gave up and went home. The ring barely made it to the first knuckle of her little finger.

---

"Missy got hers when we were twelve."

Apparently Sheldon's new conversational tactics were taking a turn for the weird and uncomfortable. Even more than normal, that was. Penny scowled at him as she chucked the box of tampons in the cart.

He stared back for a beat before he worked out what her reaction meant. "Oh, no, not her period," he assured her. "I meant her purity ring."

Penny made a humming noise instead of responding and started pushing the cart down the aisle again.

"She wouldn't tell me when she got her period."

That was hardly a surprise. "Why don't you go on ahead and check out the eggs while I finish up here," she prompted. "You don't want to be late for your weird Earth Junior reruns."

Sheldon took off so fast he looked like the red and yellow guy on his t-shirt. Penny could practically see the little dust trails kicking up in his wake.

"It's Earth 2, not Earth Junior," he shouted from the end of the row.

"Whatever."

---

Sheldon clutched his sweaty virgin cuba libre like it was the only thing standing between him and certain death. On the stool next to him, Howard threw back another drink of his daiquiri and winked at a passing tourist, who pulled her purse closer against her side and hurried away. Raj snickered into his chocolatini until Leonard elbowed him in the ribs.

"I told you they hadn't reopened Star Trek: The Experience yet," Sheldon reminded them, yet again. He kept scanning the room like he was waiting for something to attack.

"Fine, you were right. We've all admitted you were right. Let it go already," Howard grumbled.

Leonard snorted. "Yeah, that's likely."

When Penny got back to the bar, Sheldon was still giving him the evil eye.

"So what's next, guys? I don't suppose I could talk anyone into actually going into one of the casinos?"

"I'm game."

"Anyone but Howard?"

Leonard brushed his hand down her arm. "I thought we could, you know." He raised his eyebrows and glanced up at the ceiling. "Stay in."

Penny turned her back on Howard's leer and pulled Leonard a few feet away. "Sweetie, I didn't stare at the back of Sheldon's head for four hours just to spend the whole weekend in some crappy hotel room."

"It's actually a pretty nice-"

She laughed and pressed a kiss against his cheek. His smile dipped, just a little, when she squeezed his hand and said, "I know what you wanted for this weekend but I still haven't changed my mind."

He opened his mouth to protest but was cut off when Raj bumped into his back, spilling chocolatini all over the floor.

"Sheldon wants to go on the monorail," he slurred. "We're gonna try to ditch him at the Fremont Street Exper-"

"Come on, let's go," Penny called over her shoulder as she sailed toward the hotel lobby.

---

There was a disappointing lack of empty cans, paper cups, plastic bottles, or even cigarette packs all along the sidewalks down the Strip. Penny scuffed the toe of her shoe against the concrete and hitched up the strap of her purse. Sheldon was walking between her and the street, with his hands clutching a bucket full of quarters the same way he'd clung to his drink earlier in the evening.

"See, I told you it would be fun."

"I don't know about 'fun' but it was certainly productive. I won't need to make change for the laundry for at least three months."

They were quiet for a while, until Penny grabbed his sleeve and pulled him to a halt in front of the Bellagio fountains. She sat back on the nearest bench to watch the show while Sheldon twitched and hunched over his bucket and glared at anyone who got within ten feet.

Penny eased off her shoes and pressed her bare feet against the concrete still radiating warmth from the sun. "Do you want to watch the next show?"

"Don't you need to meet up with Leonard?"

She watched a group of frat boys stumble past; all five of them were wearing Acapulco shirts and green Las Vegas visors. When their whoops faded into the distance, she shrugged.

Sheldon cocked his head to one side, forgetting for the moment to guard his quarters like an enraged hen on its nest. "Are you and he nearing your inevitable ugly end?"

"I don't know," she muttered. Her ring and chain dragged at her neck like it was hundreds of times heavier that it actually was. "He just- I think he wants more than I do."

"Hardly surprising. He's unable to reconcile your sexually-charged behavior and demeanor with your promised abstinence."

"Abstinence plus. Everything but, basically," she corrected before his words sank in. "Wait, he told you that?"

He scoffed. "And potentially damage his reputation with Wolowitz and Koothrappali? Please. No, I'm merely drawing on my experience growing up in a ludicrously backward and religious neighborhood. Yours isn't the first purity ring I've seen, even if you don't count Missy's."

Penny slipped her shoes back on. "You know, sometimes I forget that you're the closest thing I know to a good ol' boy like back home."

"There's no need to be insulting," Sheldon complained as the music swelled from the nearby speakers.

An hour later they were boarding the monorail to take them back to their hotel. Sheldon made a startled noise and plunged a hand into Penny's purse, which he'd fashioned into a sling over his chest. It made him look like the proud dad of a bouncing bucket of Circus Circus winnings but he swore up and down it was better for his sciatica.

"It's for you," he said, handing her the phone.

"Gee, really?"

A blurry photo of Leonard grinned up at her from the display. She sat for a minute with her hand over the call button, then tucked it back in the purse.

"It's none of my business, and I hope you don't take this to mean I actually care about your relationship with Leonard-"

"Maybe you should just keep it to yourself, then."

"No, I don't think that's the best course of action," Sheldon said. The coins at his chest clinked against each other as they swayed with the motion of the monorail car. "As I was saying, I don't actually care about your relationship with Leonard, but if you feel that he's trying to pressure you into something..."

His fingers were cold against hers when she squeezed his hand. "That's really creepy and kind of sweet of you, Sheldon, but no one's doing any pressuring. It's not like I haven't been here before. We'll work it out, or we won't."

"Those are the two possible outcomes," he agreed.

---

The next morning, while she waited for the boys to stumble down to the restaurant for the breakfast buffet, Penny pulled her phone from her pocket.

sry for the other day mom <3<3<3 tell sissy i wouldn't miss it for the world