Penny sat at her computer, distracted for the moment by the way the light made tiny rainbows spark from her new ring. She was Mrs. Cooper now, and she still wasn't quite used to it. The wedding had been exactly as she wanted, small, intimate, and drama-free. Part of this was due to the fact that Penny may have accidentally-but-really-quite-on-purpose let her new mother-in-law believe that the officiant was a southern Baptist minister. It kept the peace, and by telling Mary that Sheldon thought the man was a justice of the peace (which he actually was), both were happy and none the wiser. Penny couldn't muster up the energy to feel guilty about the deception, although she supposed she'd have to tell Sheldon... eventually.
She was currently indulging her newest addiction: shopping online for baby things, which now seemed more fun than shopping for shoes. Sheldon liked to poke fun at her habit, saying that their baby would have more clothes than he or she could ever possibly wear, but he always grinned as he said it and didn't once complain about the cost.
A knock on the door had Penny jumping to her feet... or at least, getting up as quickly as her bulky stomach would allow. She loved it when packages were delivered; it was almost like Christmas. She opened the door with her gaze fixed to the side of the hallway where the packages were usually left. Instead, she saw a pair of orthotic shoes. Her gaze swept up past wool tights, a knee-length skirt and several layers of cardigans to a long frowning face wearing thick glasses.
"A... Amy," Penny stammered.
"Penny," Amy rejoined seriously.
"Um... what are you doing here? I haven't seen you in months. I thought... I mean..."
"I see the rumors are true," Amy scowled, avoiding Penny's question. A fleeting pained expression crossed her face as she looked at Penny's stomach. Penny automatically put a hand over her stomach protectively.
"What do you want, Amy?" Penny asked, sounding more sure of herself.
"I needed to see for myself," Amy said. "I heard people talk, but I just couldn't believe that my Sheldon could be so led astray by your feminine wiles. I thought for sure he'd have tired of you by now and would be ready to come to his senses. You can't possibly understand his work or truly appreciate his mind. He must be desperate for real intellectual conversation by now."
Penny looked at her former friend and felt a twinge of pity. All Amy had ever really wanted was to be loved. It was too bad that she didn't realize that a combination of rudeness and neediness would only drive people away. "We're married, Amy," she said quietly, holding up her left hand and displaying her diamond wedding band. "If you've been listening to gossip like you say, you must have heard."
Amy scowled again, even more fiercely. "This is all your fault, you know. If you had just been more supportive of Leonard, he never would have acted out against Sheldon. He was sloppy in getting his revenge, of course, and prison is as much as he deserves. But because of that stupid trial, my own research came under review. Everyone knew I took my monkeys home with me, and they all made such a big deal over the fact that I once threw my own feces back at them... Well, the long and the short of it is that I've been forced to make a strategic relocation to Saudi Arabia. At least my sponsor Prince Faisal understands that sometimes ethics just get in the way of results," Amy added haughtily.
"Look, Amy, you can't blame me for your problems. I tried to talk you out of getting involved with Leonard, but you wouldn't listen. I may not have known that it was a bad idea to bring your monkeys home with you, but I imagine you did. And trying to force Sheldon into a physical relationship he didn't want and insulting everyone who tried to be your friend got you where you are now. Didn't you ever wonder if the reason you never had a single friend before you met Sheldon was at least partly your fault?"
If you think that, you're truly as dumb as your fake hair color implies. And now you're pregnant. How pathetic," Amy sneered. "Apparently, you realized the only possible way someone as ignorant as you could continue to hold Sheldon's interest is if you were carrying his offspring. You know, now that he's obviously gotten over some of his less endearing traits, I could get him back any time I wanted."
"What?" Penny stammered, too shocked to think of anything else to say.
"That's right. At least being with Leonard taught me some moves. Sheldon might even like the new and improved me even better. At least I don't look like a beached whale," Amy taunted, running her hands over curves concealed by layers of wool.
Penny refused to let it show that particular barb had hit a little too close to home. Although she knew that Sheldon's love for her had nothing to do with her looks, she still felt unsecure about her rapidly expanding figure.
"Why are you here, Amy?" she asked sternly.
"I just thought you might want to know that I'm perfectly fine without you and Bernie and Sheldon. I don't need you at all. Everything in my life is great. But I knew you must miss me, so I might email you... you know, if I don't have anything better to do," Amy said condescendingly, flipping the ragged ends of her long hair over her shoulder. Penny gaped at her. Of all the strange things that Amy said to her today, this was by far the most bizarre. In a flash of insight, she realized that Amy was wretchedly lonely. Her own rudeness and manipulations had alienated her from everyone she had once considered a friend, and her own lack of ethics was now forcing her to leave the country. Penny felt a twinge of pity for her, but she knew better than to let someone so toxic back into her life.
"You came here to insult me to my face and tell me you could steal my husband away from me anytime, and then you want to keep in touch? No, that's not the way friendship works, Amy."
Penny saw Amy's eyes flick upward, then felt a large hand settle protectively on her shoulder.
"Are you all right?" Sheldon said in a low voice.
Penny placed her hand on top of his and squeezed it gratefully. He must have just gotten home from work and come in the back entrance. "I'm fine," she said, smiling at him. She could tell he wasn't convinced by the way his countenance darkened as he turned to Amy.
"You are not welcome here, Dr. Fowler," he said formally. "Perhaps you forgot that I have a keen sense hearing like a Vulcan. As I came in, I was a clandestine witness to your ridiculous claims and your malicious slander of Penny's character. I must make one thing perfectly clear. When you and I were dating, hours of time together and shared intellectual interests did create a bond between us. There was even a time when I believed you would be a permanent part of my future, but that idea was based on a flawed impression of my own character. You and Leonard had convinced me that I would be lucky to find someone who would so much as tolerate me. The two of you had unintentionally-or perhaps intentionally-collaborated for years to degrade my confidence and shackle my spirit until I no longer liked or trusted myself. " His Texan twang deepened as he got more worked up. "In short, Amy, being with you was hell on earth and nothin' would ever induce me to go back to you. You have exactly sixty seconds to git outta' here before I call the cops."
Amy's mouth trembled, then she straightened up and made a convincing attempt at a sneer. "I think you've gotten what you deserve," she spat out before she beat a hasty retreat. Sheldon turned his attention back to Penny, although he kept watch on Amy out of the corner of his eye to make sure she was truly gone. He wrapped his arms around his wife, and as she returned his embrace, she could feel that he was shaking.
"Are you all right?" she asked gently, echoing his earlier question.
"Yes... no. I have something to tell you." He took her by the hand and led her inside, seating her on his favorite (but no longer exclusive) spot on the couch. By this, Penny knew that something serious was going on.
"Have you ever considered that we might both benefit from a fresh start?" he asked. "We could go someplace that there aren't memories of our past around every corner."
She frowned in confusion. "Just tell me what's on your mind, Moonpie."
Sheldon had long since adjusted his mental stance on that nickname. Now, the only people who could call him Moonpie were his Meemaw and Penny. "I've been discussing my latest research project with a group of physicists in Europe. They have asked me to head up a new division at CERN."
Penny gasped. Her hand flew up to her mouth, and then in an instant, she had pounced on her husband, almost knocking him over in her enthusiasm. "I can't believe it! Oh my god, honey, I'm so excited for you!"
He extracted himself from her embrace with difficulty. "I don't believe that you have yet fully grasped the implications of this opportunity. CERN is located in Switzerland. If I accepted this offer, we would have to move."
Penny looked unperturbed. "I know."
"We would be thousands of miles away from our friends."
She raised an eyebrow at this. "I know."
"We would be moving to a foreign country, most likely in the last trimester of your pregnancy. Our child would be born on foreign soil."
"But you'll be right there with me, and he'll still be American, right?" Penny asked.
"Yes, our child would retain American citizenship... wait, Penny, did you use the masculine pronoun as an antecedent of indeterminate gender or in the literal sense?"
She laughed and shook her head at him. "My ultrasound got rescheduled, so I decided to surprise you. We're having a boy."
Sheldon looked stunned for a moment. For some months now, he had imagined their baby as a little girl, with blonde ringlets and sparkling hazel eyes like her mother. While the idea of having a son would have thrilled most men, to him it just brought back unhappy memories of his own father.
Penny seemed to guess his thoughts from his expression. "Hey, you are nothing like your dad. This little guy has no idea how lucky he is to have you as his father."
Sheldon let out the breath that he hadn't realized he was holding. Penny always knew just what to say. Even though all his selfish, arrogant tendencies were still a part of him, he felt like her faith in him helped him to live up to her expectations.
He was still concerned that her reaction was impulsive and that she hadn't fully thought out her decision. "As much as I appreciate your initial enthusiasm over my potential career change, have you considered how this will impact your own career? I must admit that I considered turning this opportunity down without mentioning it to you."
Penny's jaw dropped. "And I would have been furious with you if you had," she said. "No, you're going to CERN, mister, and your super-genius research is going to win you that Nobel Prize that I know you still want as badly as ever. I know it will be hard being away from our friends and family, but that's what plane tickets are for, right? And as for my career, I can continue to build Penny Blossoms in Switzerland. It might even turn out to be a really good thing to make connections to other jewelers and crafters throughout Europe. And I can still act over in Europe, too, and if the directors of According to Claire want me back, they'll just fly me over. Jet lag will be a bitch, but I think we can manage, don't you?" She put her arms around her husband (she still wasn't quite used to calling him that) and hugged him as close as her expanding figure would allow. "Don't make me beg," she said mock-sternly, looking up at him.
"Very well. I will accept the position first thing tomorrow morning," he said slowly. He looked at her for a moment with a bemused expression on his face.
"What?" she asked.
"I was just thinking that every time I think that my life can't possibly improve, it does, and it's all because of you," he said seriously. "You are the best thing that has ever happened to me, and also the second best, and the third best..."
Penny stopped his litany with a kiss. "Come on, let's go celebrate the next chapter of our lives," she said as she led him to the bedroom.
Sheldon and Penny spent the next seven years of their lives living in Switzerland. Their three children all grew up fluent in English, French and German, and two of them were every bit as brilliant as their father. Their middle child, Lisette, was not gifted academically but showed great promise as a dancer, and Sheldon found that his love for his children had nothing to do with their intellect. After a couple of years, Sheldon was able to use his influence to get Cara a position on his team, and so Raj and Cara joined them in Switzerland. Raj continued to have a distinguished career in astronomy. Cara eventually took over Sheldon's position as head researcher. That was after he finally won his Nobel Prize and decided to move his family back to the states.
He and Penny was thrilled to reconnect with Howard and Bernadette. Howard had made a fortune inventing an engine component which enabled the private aerospace industry to flourish. Much to everyone's surprise, he decided to retire (since he could now afford it) and stay home to raise his two children. Bernie continued to work full-time because she loved her job, but fortunately, the question of who earned more money was no longer a source of stress in her marriage. Sheldon continued to remain at the top of his field, pursuing the mysteries of the universe, and (of course) a second Nobel. None of them ever heard from Leonard or Amy again, nor did they want to. And as for Penny, she enjoyed moderate success in both her jewelry business and her acting career. At one time, all she wanted was to become famous. Now, she was both happy and fulfilled, which she realized is something much better.