A/N: Hello everyone! There's more in the A/N at the end, I just wanted to apologize for not getting this up on Tuesday, I put up a quick note on my tumblr about the delay. The wifi at my house went out and we tried everything to get it back up, I ended up having to go into the office for work because of it, but it came back late Wednesday, a bit spotty and we apparently have to get a new modem or something, but it's holding up so far :/ Managed to get this chapter good to go for today though :)

~8~

The Monopolar Expedition

Claire pouted a bit as she looked between the armchair and the coffee table in Sheldon's apartment, Sheldon sitting at his desk on his laptop while Leonard worked off to the side on his whiteboard, jotting down some equations and working on them. She had her own laptop open on her lap, her glasses perched on top of her head. She'd been sitting on hers and Penny's couch for a while, working on a paper, with her legs crossed, when Penny had left for her shift at the Cheesecake Factory. She hadn't felt like sitting home alone and gone to join Sheldon and Leonard. Her legs were cramping now and she really wanted to stretch them out but she knew how Sheldon felt about feet on his coffee table.

…maybe she should research some recliners for his apartment?

He might be more open to one if she found one identical to the armchair and did copious amounts of research and checks about them, comparisons between regular arm chairs and recliners…hmm…something to consider.

"Oh, boy," Sheldon murmured under his breath.

Claire looked over to see he'd turned in his chair to review Leonard's work.

"What?" Leonard sighed.

Sheldon shook his head though, "I can't comment without violating our agreement that I don't criticize your work."

"If you want, I can send you my rough draft of my paper comparing the War of the Roses to 'A Song of Ice and Fire' to critique," Claire offered instead, absently opening up her emails to get ready to forward the draft to him.

But Sheldon scoffed, "You know I hate reading the rough drafts. Too much changes by the end."

"But the rough draft is the one more open to critique," she pointed out.

"It's ok, Claire," Leonard cut in, knowing she'd likely offered her own work as a way to get Sheldon off of his, "If you weren't going to criticize my work, what was 'oh, boy?'" he asked Sheldon.

"Great restraint on my part," Sheldon answered.

"There's nothing wrong with the science here."

"Perhaps you mean a different thing than I do when you say 'science.'"

"Science is a very broad term, Shelly, you know that," Claire called out, starting to go through her emails now that it was open, sorting through the junk mail and so on.

Leonard merely turned to his work and made a change, "Ok, how's that?"

Sheldon let out a breathy laugh, "You actually had it right in the first place. Once again, you've fallen for one of my classic pranks. Bazinga!" he grinned.

"Now, Shelly, that wasn't very nice," Claire spoke, though Leonard could hear a distracted quality to it as she was reading through an email with a furrowed brow, "If someone did the same to your work, you wouldn't like it very much, would you?"

Sheldon considered it, "My work is never wrong so it would be impossible for someone to do the same."

"Exactly my point," Claire continued, and Leonard was quite impressed with how she was keeping up an argument with Sheldon even while she was in the middle of something else, "There was nothing wrong with Leonard's work but you tried to make him think there was."

Sheldon blinked, caught by that, "You're right," he admitted, turning to Leonard, "My apologies, Leonard. Perhaps we should make an addendum that pranks related to ongoing work be off the tables?"

Leonard nearly gaped at that, "I find that very agreeable," he told Sheldon, relieved that was one less thing he had to worry about Sheldon targeting whenever he got in the mood to prank.

Sheldon nodded and turned back to his work, when an email notification popped up from someone he could not ignore. He opened it, quickly reading through it, and frowned, "Well, now here's a peculiar email."

"What's peculiar about it?" Claire asked, replying to an email of her own.

"The president of the university wants me to meet him at his office tomorrow morning at 8 a.m."

Claire paused, turning to face him, "The president of the university?"

Sheldon sighed, "Claire, you're far too brilliant for Penny to rub off on you, please don't let her."

"What?" Leonard asked, completely confused as to how that had anything to do with Claire's question.

But Claire only shook her head, getting it. He'd remarked that Penny often sounded like a parrot when she repeated his own statements back to him as questions, "I was just surprised, Shelly. Didn't think I'd heard you right."

He frowned, "Has your hearing been giving you trouble? I can help you research the Otolaryngologists in the area…"

"I was distracted," she reassured him, nodding to her computer, "Wasn't paying as much attention as I should have been, thought I heard you wrong."

"Oh."

"Why does the president need to see you?" Leonard asked, getting back on track…though it was a little sweet how Sheldon had offered to help Claire find a good doctor.

"It doesn't say," Sheldon looked back at the email, reading it again to be sure, "It must be an emergency. Everyone at the university knows I eat breakfast at 8 and move my bowels at 8:20."

"Yes, how did we live before Twitter?" Leonard muttered, really wishing Sheldon had never discovered Twitter, he posted things he was sure no one ever wanted to know about, Claire included, "I guess you'll find out what it is in the morning."

"That's 14 hours away. For the next 840 minutes, I'm effectively one of Heisenberg's particles, I know where I am or I know how fast I'm going, but I can't know both. Yet how am I supposed to carry on with this huge annoying thing hovering over my head?"

"Yeah, I know the feeling," Leonard muttered, turning back to his work.

"Well, at least 8 hours of that will be sleeping and morning preparations," Claire pointed out, closing her laptop with a small smile, "So it's more 6 hours."

"True," Sheldon considered it.

"If you don't have work to do, we could watch the first three Indiana Jones films?" Claire offered, "Exactly 6 hours."

Sheldon blinked, "That's perfect! Indiana Jones always takes my mind off my worries."

"I'll make the popcorn!" Claire cheered, getting up to do just that while Sheldon moved to set up the DVD player.

She had to bite her lip to keep from letting slip something on her mind. It hadn't been her distraction that had her asking Sheldon about the university president…it had been the coincidental nature of it. Because SHE had just gotten an email from the president too, in regards to a letter of recommendation Sheldon had asked her to write for him a few months ago, thanking her for her contribution. And then, moments later, Sheldon received an email from the same man asking to see him?

It was TOO coincidental to not be related, and she really hoped it ended up being what she thought it was. Sheldon would be over the moon about it!

~8~

Claire paused as she came up the stairs of the apartment building after her class that morning. She only had one scheduled for 8am and was looking forward to taking a nap after, like she always did after waking up at the god forsaken hour of 5:30 in the morning for it. But she'd checked her messages after class let out and it was Sheldon requesting a Council Meeting.

It must be something serious, he only requested that when there was a dilemma of epic proportions that not even his science and logic and giant brain could help him solve.

It meant that he would request the presence of those he esteemed most to help him sort through his problem. Over the years though, that Council had shrunk more and more and now there was just her left. Originally it had included his sister, brother, father, mother, and Meemaw too, if just because of the familial obligation he'd felt to include them. Once they 'proved themselves incompetent' he'd begun cutting down the list. He'd also had other very well known scientists on the Council, but none of them returned his letters so he'd cut them off. She was honestly a little surprised that he hadn't added Leonard on at least, but it was his choice who to include.

"Um, hi?" she called when she neared the fourth floor to see Howard, Leonard, and Raj gathered in the stairwell, talking.

"Get him to say yes!" Howard all but shouted at her.

"What?" she shook her head.

"Howard, that's not fair," Leonard gave him a look, before turning to Claire, "Please get him to say yes."

"Yes to what?" Claire asked.

Before any of them could answer, Sheldon stepped out of the apartment, having heard their shouts, to see Claire in the stairwell, "Ah, Claire, right on time," he checked his watch, having timed how long it typically took her to return to the apartment after each class, with some reasonable leeway for if the transit system was late. He needed to know, if she was later than that it could mean something had happened and she needed help, "If you would," he stepped to the side and gestured to his apartment.

Claire nodded, giving the guys one more odd look, before heading up the last of the stairs to enter the apartment. She set her bag down beside the couch and sat on the middle seat instead of the armrest. During Council Meetings, Sheldon preferred to be face-to-face than to have her on the side of him. He'd wanted a round table, like King Arthur, but there hadn't ever been enough people on the council to form one once he'd thought to set it up like that.

"How'd your meeting with the President go?" she asked.

"It didn't," Sheldon told her, "I went to his house to speak to him personally."

Claire frowned, "When did this happen?"

"Approximately 1:30 in the morning," he explained, "I took two buses. I returned at two in the morning."

"Shelly, you shouldn't have been wandering about that late," she spoke, pulling out her phone to check if she'd had any missed calls or messages from him about that, "You shoulda told me, I'd have gone with you and…"

"You were sleeping," he stated simply, "I didn't want to disturb you."

It was different when it came to disturbing Leonard in the middle of the night. Leonard didn't have any adverse reactions when he woke later for the day and seemed to have ease falling back asleep quickly. Claire, when she was abruptly woken by anything not her alarm, had a higher probability of developing a migraine later in the day. He hated when she went through them and made every effort not to wake her if he could help it.

"Anyway," he continued, moving to sit in his spot, "President Seibert didn't respond to my email, his phone number was unlisted, I didn't have any other option."

"Something tells me that it didn't go over well…"

"His family told me the time repeatedly and his wife set her dogs loose on me, but it was an overall productive visit. Though it has led to a conundrum I'm now facing."

"Which is why you called the Council," she nodded, caught up now, "What's the conundrum?"

Though she had a fairly good idea what it might be.

"You, of course, recall the grant proposal I submitted to the National Science Foundation to detect slow-moving monopoles at the magnetic North Pole…"

"Of course," she agreed, "I submitted the requested recommendation to the Foundation."

He'd asked her to write a brief paper about why he and his research deserved the grant. She didn't think it was necessary for it, but Sheldon always did have a way of going above and beyond expectations. Whether it made a difference, she couldn't be sure, but she was getting the sneaking suspicion that he'd gotten the grant.

"Well, a space opened up at the last minute on the NSF expedition to the Arctic Circle."

"And they're giving you the space?" Claire beamed as he nodded, "Shelly, that's wonderful!"

"Yes, President Seibert was quite enthusiastic about the offer."

"Let me guess, you're not sure if you should accept it after all?" Claire supplied, seeing Sheldon struggle to actually admit to his dilemma, he didn't like to have a problem he couldn't solve on his own. He hated even more having to say it out loud. Well, that at least explained the lack of Leonard on the Council. He was a good man, but she knew he found Sheldon's habits odd and irritating at times, he would have likely complained to Raj and Howard who would have ribbed Sheldon for it. The less people knew that he sometimes struggled to solve certain problems, the better.

She had suspected this might be coming though. It had struck her just before she'd fallen asleep with the guess that that was what the President had wanted to speak to him about. Part of her thought he'd made that grant proposal because he hadn't actually thought they'd give it to him, or that, by the time it might be offered, he'd have more time to come up with a way to not actually have to go to the magnetic North Pole himself. Sheldon was a delicate man, as much as he preferred to be left alone, he hated to actually BE alone, and being isolated would be even worse. When he'd been younger, he'd once confessed to her that one of his biggest fears was that he would live his life as a neutrino, destined to be alone forever. For such a young boy to be as gifted as he was, it was a lonely life of not having people relate to him or understand him. She always tried her best to do that though, because no one deserved to be a neutrino. She'd pinky promised him that day that, for the rest of their lives, they'd be quarks instead, always bonded together, he would never be alone so long as she could help it. So him going off on his own for months on end would be really hard on him.

That and the cold was a big factor to make him hesitant in anything.

Sheldon nodded, "On the one hand, I'm a theoretical physicist, a career I chose in no small part because it's indoors, but if I'm able to detect slow-moving magnetic monopoles there, I will be the scientist to confirm string theory."

Claire chuckled, "People would definitely write books about you," she agreed, knowing it was one of his biggest dreams to immortalized for his contributions to science.

"Third-graders will create macaroni-art dioramas depicting scenes from my life," Sheldon smiled, imagining it, "On the other hand," he continued, growing serious once more, "I'm not good with cold, as you well know."

Claire nodded at that, there were more times than she could count where she and Sheldon had to leave a movie or some other event because he'd gotten a headache from drinking something cold too fast. She never complained though, he'd had to leave a fair number of things when her migraines got too bad, too.

"Leonard was of no help," Sheldon sighed, turning to her, "What are your thoughts?"

Claire was silent for a long while, weighing what she wanted to say, knowing Sheldon would appreciate an answer that had been thought out than one that was just said to placate him. He preferred it even, willing to wait as long as needed for someone to give him a firm and sure answer than a questionable one.

"It's the scientific opportunity of a lifetime," she began, "Being in the North Pole would be uncomfortable and challenging, but without that, would any discovery made there be worth it?" she looked at him, "'Our species can only survive if we have obstacles to overcome.'"

Sheldon blinked at her use of a famous Star Trek quote, nodding along with her logic, with how much that show in particular could guide him now as it always had in the past. Did Kirk ever pass up an opportunity because a planet was too cold? Did Spock ever turn his back on learning something because he was alone? Did the Enterprise ever shy away from an adventure because it was somewhere they had never gone before?

No.

"And," Claire added, a small smile on her face, "If you don't go, that space, those resources, that opportunity, is just going to go to someone else. Who deserves it more?"

"You bring up excellent points," he nodded, "Alright. I'll do it. I'll go."

"That's great, Shelly."

Sheldon turned to her, frowning, "Why don't you sound happy about it?"

"I am happy for you," she insisted, but the suspicious frown on his face told her he had actually picked up on something in her voice, words, or expression that was coming across as not being as happy as she should be, "I'm just gonna miss you, is all," she explained, "Feels like I just got here and now you're leaving."

"It would just be for three months," he began, before his eyes widened, "You could come with me!"

Claire chuckled at the offer, "I don't think I'd be much help on an expedition to the magnetic North Pole in search of slow moving monopoles. Not really my area of expertise. Now, if you wanted me to recite some Shakespeare while standing in the Globe Theater, I'm your girl."

Sheldon swallowed at her remark, knowing it was a logical conclusion, but still feeling a tug in his gut at what she'd brought up, being apart for three months? They had been separated for so long, and then reunited, and now he was leaving. He would miss her, he knew he would, he always missed her when she wasn't there. But she did want him to go, he knew that, she wouldn't have argued he should do it if she didn't think it would be something that would benefit him.

That was why he'd asked her for the Council Meeting, it was why she was the only one left on the Council and why he hadn't added anyone new. Leonard and the others were probably too keen for him to go, and not for anything to do with is research. Penny, his Meemaw, and his mother would all argue he should stay, because it would be hard to go to the North Pole for so long, with no consideration to his work.

Claire though…she was the only one he trusted to say something that would ultimately be the best for HIM, for everything important to him. Whether she agreed with it or not, whether she liked it or not, whether she wanted him to do it or not, she would put it all aside to focus on what would benefit HIM in the long run. He'd never really had anyone do that for him before, even his mother and meemaw would sometimes try to hold him back.

"I'm sorry I can't go with you," Claire offered as he fell silent. She wouldn't be useful there and if she messed up his experiment, she'd never forgive herself.

"You shouldn't be," he said simply, turning to her, "You're always with me no matter where I go."

Claire smiled at that, knowing this was one of the rare times where he was not talking physically but dipping into his emotions, "You're always with me too, Shelly."

"It does bring up a good point though," Sheldon remarked, "I shouldn't go alone," he nodded to himself, "What if something happened? What if I fall and can't get up? Someone else should go with me."

"Does the grant allow for additional researchers?" Claire asked.

He nodded, considering it, "It was originally set up for a team of four. I'm one, so that leaves three…"

Claire's eyes widened as he got up and headed for the door, before rushing after him, just knowing where his mind had gone and NOT about to miss this. She could guess why the guys had all but begged her to get Sheldon to agree to this expedition, Sheldon wouldn't be around for 3 months if he did. But that wasn't why she had ultimately vouched for the trip, that was because Sheldon would regret it forever if he didn't go, always wondering if he might have found something there, and then he'd be devastated if someone else did make a discovery.

Now though…if Sheldon was doing what she thought, the guys might get what they wanted and then some.

She as not about to miss this.

"Good news, gentlemen," Sheldon called as he approached the three, still in the stairwell, "I have tentatively accepted…" he waited till their exuberant cheers subsided to continue, "…the invitation to join the Arctic Expedition."

"It's not gonna be the same without you," Leonard offered.

"Godspeed," Howard nodded, as even Raj gave him a salute.

"Thank you, but your sentiments may be premature."

Claire had to bite her lip at how Raj's face fell as though expecting something he was NOT going to like. Well, she doubted any of those three would like what was about to happen.

"I would like to propose that the three of you accompany me," Sheldon said.

Howard's jaw dropped, "To the North Pole?"

"No, to Narnia," Claire came to stand beside him, crossing her arms and giving them a bit of a smirk. They wanted her to manipulate Sheldon? Karma, "Of course to the North Pole."

Leonard nodded as Raj whispered something to him, speaking his question, "Is this just so we won't touch your stuff while you're away?"

"I'll admit that was a concern," Sheldon began, "But the fact is, I'll need a support team. And the three of you are my first choice."

"…really?" Howard asked, not looking like he believed it at all.

"Well, my first choice was Claire, but, as she pointed out, there are others who might be more qualified. The thought of interviewing them gave me a stomach ache," the guys did not look impressed with his admission, "Now, I know I'm proposing an enormous undertaking, so why don't you take a few moments to discuss it?"

"We're not really gonna go to the North Pole with him, are we?" Howard began before Sheldon had even taken one step back to the apartment.

"I'm still within earshot!" Sheldon called back to them, reaching the door and holding it open for Claire to enter first, "You may want to wait for my door to close."

Claire chuckled as he shut the door, able to hear Howard re-ask the question before their voices grew muffled, "I think you made an excellent choice, Shelly," she told him, "Not only are they all qualified in different areas, but it's nice to want to share this opportunity with your friends."

That and, if Leonard hadn't killed Sheldon by now, there was a high chance he wouldn't three months from now. She couldn't be sure a team unfamiliar with Sheldon's quirks would make it so long.

He nodded, "I hadn't thought of it like that," he replied, making her chuckle, of course the way he'd said it to the guys would be exactly what he had thought.

"Hold on," Claire called as Sheldon turned to open the door again, "May want to give them a minute or two."

He frowned, "But it's the opportunity of a lifetime. Why would they need to consider it?"

"Didn't you?" she pointed out with a quirk of her eyebrow.

He nodded, "Very well," he immediately lifted his wrist to time it.

Claire shook her head and moved over to the couch to pick up her bag, checking inside to make sure she had everything, and turned to wait for the minute to count down.

As soon as it had, Sheldon turned to step out of the apartment and move to the top of the stairwell, "Well, gentlemen, have you reached a decision?"

"I'm in," Leonard called, Raj raising his hand and nodded, his mutism kicking in when he saw Claire just behind Sheldon.

"Oh, damn it," Howard sighed, "Peer pressure. Fine."

Sheldon grinned, "Excellent. And just an FYI, as I am the expedition's team leader, protocol dictates that be phrased 'fine, sir.' But don't worry, there will be a briefing."

Claire just reached out to pat his shoulder before heading to her apartment for that nap.

~8~

"When were you gonna tell me the guys are going to the North Pole?" Penny all but demanded of Claire when she stepped into the apartment. Her mouth, which had been open, about to say something more, snapped shut when she saw the state Claire was in.

It was a role reversal for sure. Usually it was HER curled up on the couch, wrapped in a bathrobe, looking miserable, yet there Claire was, looking tired to boot. She knew Claire usually tried to get a nap in after her early class, but it looked like she hadn't managed it.

Claire glanced up from where she was curled on her side facing the door, that was not the first thing she thought she'd hear when Penny arrived, usually it was complaining about customers or funny stories of things that happened on her shift, "Huh?" was her brilliant response.

Penny sighed and turned to flop onto the couch beside Claire, "Sheldon stopped me in the hall to ask to use the freezer at work to 'train' or something. He told me he and the others are going to the North Pole. I just assumed you knew already."

"I did," Claire agreed with a sigh. She'd been waiting for Penny to get home to tell her, one did not simply put that in a text while another was at work, but it appeared Sheldon had beaten her to it.

"Why didn't you tell me?"

"Um, couple reasons," Claire answered, picking at the hem of her robe's sleeve, "First being, you weren't here. Second being if I texted you, you'd have had to waste your break calling me about it and you gotta eat, sugar. And third being there wasn't anything set in stone last I heard about it, Leonard might have failed his physical or decided not to go…" it was all very quick, she had come to learn, the guys getting cleared for the expedition, as soon as they agreed they'd had to hightail it to the University for paperwork and waivers and physicals. It appeared they'd all passed, surprising.

"I guess that makes sense," Penny muttered, "WHY are they going to the North Pole? Why three months?"

"It was a grant Shelly applied for a couple months ago, a 3-month spot opened up and he had to jump on it or it would be passed on. It sort of complicated everyone's plans and they're in a mad scramble to prepare for it," she hesitated to add more, "I'm not sure you'd care about the whole scientific reason behind it being the North Pole, so let's just say Shelly's going there to look for a clue that would help him improve science and it might only be found at the North Pole, if it exists."

Penny nodded, "Got it," she crossed her arms again, "Why does Leonard have to go though?"

"Shelly offered, Leonard accepted," she shrugged, still fiddling with her sleeve, "He's a qualified scientist and a good fit for the expedition."

"But three months?"

Claire was quiet, not sure if she should say what she wanted to say. She and Penny had gotten to a tentative truce about not bringing up the other's feelings for the guys, and she knew if she mentioned Leonard then it would give Penny a free pass to bring up Sheldon and she wasn't sure she could talk about Sheldon like that right now without crying. Still, there was something in Penny's tone that told her the girl really needed to talk about it, so she bit the bullet and said, "I'm starting to think this has less to do with the expedition and more to do with Leonard being gone for three months."

Penny looked away, "So what if it is?"

Claire gave her a soft smile, "I think Leonard has more to worry about than you do, Pen," she pointed out.

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"He's going to be trapped in a little bunker with Sheldon, Raj, and Howard…whereas you will be free to go anywhere and meet anyone in the same time."

"I don't think I want to meet anyone else," Penny admitted.

Claire's eyes widened, "Are you saying…"

Penny sighed, "Yes, I'm admitting to everything," she gave in, the entire debacle with Stuart had gotten through to her, "I want to date Leonard again and I was going to tell him because then we'd have the summer but now he's going away and…"

Claire could only laugh lightly, after all her needling, she'd FINALLY gotten Penny to admit to her feelings for Leonard in a clear, decisive way, no games, no substitutions, no jealousy…and it was ironic and a little disheartening that Leonard was going to be leaving right when Penny had finally owned up to herself.

"So tell him," she urged, "Let him know what'll be waiting for him when he gets back."

"But what if something changes?" Penny looked at her, genuinely worried, "What if he goes away and he forgets about me or comes back and he doesn't want to give ME a second chance?" she shook her head, "I just…maybe I should wait till he comes back and THEN tell him?"

Claire could only keep silent, really trying not to poke at this. It had taken forever to get Penny to this place, she didn't want to push too much and have Penny refuse to tell Leonard even when he got back. But she got the feeling there was more to it than just Leonard changing. She just didn't want to say anything, not now.

"I guess time will tell," was all she could say.

Penny let out a long breath and looked at Claire, studying her really, her focus on her sleeve, how she was picking at the frayed ends of her robe, how her face had scrunched a little, like when something was upsetting you but you were trying not to let on, "What about you?" she asked, making sure her voice was gentle this time and not accusing like last time, "Sheldon will be gone for a while too."

Claire sniffled a little and covered her face with the sleeve of her bathrobe at the words. Knowing Sheldon was going, hearing him prepare for it, it was different than having someone else flat out say it. If it was just Sheldon or his team, it could change, stop, reverse, but for someone 'outside' the circle to know about it...it was going to happen, wasn't it? It really was.

"Sometimes, Pen," she began, "Sometimes I really hate being Sheldon's best friend."

"Oh, sweetie, you don't mean that," Penny said gently.

"No, I don't," she sniffed in agreement, "It's just…there's a time or two, once in a blue moon, probably a lot less frequently than you or Leonard think, where being his friend is hard," Penny reached out to take her hand as Claire's voice cracked on the last word, "I coulda told him not to go, if I said I didn't think he should, he'da come up with a thousand reasons not to."

"So why didn't you?"

"Because you're right, I love him. I love Shelly as more than a friend. And isn't that what love is? Putting someone else first? Doing what's best for them?" she shook her head, scrubbing at her face, "Him going is what is best for him, his career, and everything that he cares about."

"It's not, not completely," Penny murmured, "He cares about you, and him leaving isn't best for you."

"I don't matter Pen, not like that, not to him."

Penny could only pull Claire into her arms and hug her tightly. Because as much as her own experiments aimed to prove otherwise, with how weird Sheldon was, there was no saying what the man actually felt unless he articulated it himself. Sheldon cared about Claire, more than anyone else, Penny knew that for a fact, but was that enough? Was that it? Was there any true love-love there? Did Sheldon even know what love-love felt like?

Claire felt it for him, but did Sheldon feel it for her?

She wanted to try one final experiment, tell him that Claire didn't want him to go and see what he would do. But she wouldn't, because like Claire said, right now, in this situation, it wasn't about being selfish, like she wanted to be with Leonard, it was doing what was best for the person you loved. And in this case, that meant supporting them and letting them go.

~8~

"I think it's really sweet, Pen," Claire commented as she went with Penny across the hall to the guys' apartment two days later, Penny with a bundle of fabric in her arms, both of them having composed themselves to face the guys, who had been scarce while they prepared for their expedition, "It's really thoughtful and practical too. And when Leonard's all bundled up in it, he'll be thinking if you," she nudged Penny in the side.

"Shhh," Penny hissed back at her as they approached the door, about to open it when they heard the sound of someone shouting within.

"…doesn't tell me anything!" a woman's voice was yelling, "He lives a secret life because he's ashamed!"

Claire frowned and opened the door, peering in to see it was Howard on the phone. She nodded back to Penny that it was safe, entering the room and calling out, "Hey Leonard," she greeted, "Penny wants to talk to you a sec…"

Leonard looked up from where he seemed to be grimacing into a cup of something and leapt at the chance to get away from said cup, "Of course," he nodded, hurrying past her and into the hall only to see Penny standing there with a bundle in her arms, "What's up?"

"Well, I got you a little going away present," Penny told him, handing him the fabric.

"Oh, a blanket," he smiled.

"Oh, no, no, no, not just a blanket," she reached out to tug part of it, revealing that it was more a blanket with sleeves sewn into it, "See, it has sleeves. Yeah! So, you can, you know, be all snoodled up while you do your science stuff."

"Oh, wow, cool!"

"Better than the thermals Claire got Sheldon, right?" Penny laughed.

Apparently Claire had known this trip might be a possibility and had done a little research into what Sheldon might need in the North Pole. She had settled with thermals to keep him warm, and Penny had thought it was a good idea but what about when they were inside their hut thing and didn't need to really wear the thermals or if they got tired of them or if they were just sleeping? They couldn't wear thermals all the time right? So she'd gone more for a blanket to cuddle up under and saw the one with sleeves and, with all their science, they might need their arms more and this happened.

"Way better," Leonard beamed at her.

And it was that smile that did her in, Penny couldn't help but lean forward to hug him, "Oh, I'm gonna miss you," she told him, and didn't let go. She knew this was going on longer than normal for friends but…the guys were going to be leaving tomorrow! She didn't know if they'd be going super early while she was sleeping or later in the day while she was at work and …this might be the last hug she got from him for three months. She had to make it count. It was only when she felt Leonard steadily begin to tense in her embrace, maybe growing uncomfortable with the prolonged contact, that she finally stepped back, "See you later," she whispered, heading back into her apartment quickly.

"Bye," Leonard replied, waiting till her door was shut before he headed back into the apartment to the middle of both Raj's mother on webcam and Howard's mother on the phone shouting at each other.

"I told you, no!" Mrs. Koothrappali exclaimed, "Why don't you believe me?"

"Cause it doesn't make sense to me!" Mrs. Wolowitz huffed, "How can it be that in the entire country of India, there isn't one Outback Steakhouse?!"

Leonard shook his head at that, moving over to where Claire appeared to have given Sheldon his set of thermals and was in the middle of listing all the research she'd done and why this pair was the best one for this trip, "Hey," he interrupted lightly, "Um…Penny gave me her gift," he told her, frowning, "I think I might have upset her? Somehow? She ran off pretty quick."

"I'll go check on her," Claire agreed, giving Sheldon a smile before she hurried out of the apartment and back to her own, entering to see Penny on the couch, curled up under a blanket, "You ok, sugar?"

Penny could only shake her head.

Claire moved over to sit beside her, "Did you at least tell him…"

"Just that I was going to miss him," Penny sighed, "I chickened out," more like talked herself out of it. She'd flip-flopped more than Claire did about her dinner order on whether to tell Leonard she wanted to go on that second date or not, had decided to go for it, and then bailed at the last minute, "I just…I didn't want it to come across like a promise. I don't want to hurt him like I did Stuart."

Claire sighed, but nodded, understanding. Penny was afraid if she told Leonard that she wanted to go on that second date, that Leonard would focus on that during the entire three months and expect it when he came back. Penny was terrified that she would maybe meet a guy during that time and not want to date Leonard when he returned and it would just hurt him even more.

In this case…having finally heard out Penny's arguments to tell him or not, she could agree it was best to wait. No one knew what could happen in three days let alone three months, and this time apart might give Penny the perspective and distance she needed to sort herself out and really figure out what she wanted from Leonard and how she felt about a long term, likely slow moving, relationship, which was new territory for her. This would give her time without games, without other partners, with no back and forth, just time to think.

She could only hope it worked out for the best for everyone.

~8~

"Shhh!" Claire hissed as she rushed to the front door the next morning when someone knocked, "Shh, shh, shh!" she pulled it open to see Leonard standing there, "Am I late?" she asked, checking her Mickey Mouse watch to make sure she wasn't late. She'd offered to drive the guys in Leonard's car to the drop off point where their NSF controlled transport to the North Pole would be stationed. But they weren't due to leave for another 15 minutes according to her watch.

"No, no, you're fine," he assured her, "I just…"

"What's going on?" Penny called, entering the room, yawning, having been woken by the knocking, "What time is it?"

"7," Claire told her.

"I'm sorry, it's early," Leonard spoke, more to Penny than Claire, likely recalling Penny's rule about punching anyone in the throat that woke her before 11am, "But we're leaving soon, and I needed to talk to you."

"I'll just…" Claire nodded over to her breakfast sitting on the counter and stepped away, moving to clean up her cereal to give them some privacy.

"Everything ok?" Penny turned to Leonard.

Instead he said, "What did you mean when you said you're going to miss me?"

"Um, I don't know?" Penny frowned, a little confused, "You'll be gone and...I'll notice."

"Ok, well, um, what about this?" he held up the bundled sleeve-blanket in his arms, "What does this mean?"

"Wine, credit card, and late night television are a bad combination?" Penny offered, "Claire was getting Sheldon something and I thought you deserved something too?"

"Alright, fine," Leonard sighed, "What about that really long hug? What did that mean?"

"That wasn't a long hug," Penny defended, lying through her teeth.

"It was at least five Mississippis. A standard hug is two Mississippis tops."

"Leonard, I don't know what to tell you. It was just a hug."

Leonard nodded slowly, "Glad we cleared that up."

"Yeah."

"I guess I'll see you."

"Ok, have a safe trip."

"Thank you," Leonard gave her another long look, before he turned to head back to his apartment to put the blanket in his suitcase, "Bye."

"Ok, bye," she called, before closing the door, leaning against it and whispering to herself, "It means I wish you weren't going."

"Oh, sugar," Claire called, setting the bowl in the drying rack to hurry over to Penny's side, "Come here," she pulled her in for a tight hug and received one in return, "I know exactly how you feel," she murmured, just because she'd encouraged Sheldon to go didn't mean she actually WANTED him to go any more than Penny did Leonard.

Penny just hugged her tighter, understanding that Claire really did understand. As much as she was going to miss Leonard, she didn't doubt Claire would miss Sheldon twice as much having known him so much longer. And as much as she was shocked about Leonard going away, Claire just reminded her that he was going to be away with Sheldon and the others. Which meant Sheldon was going to be away from Claire too. At least neither of them would be going through this alone.

Penny couldn't help the small smile that grew across her face at that reminder. The last time Sheldon had taken a trip without Claire, when he and the guys had taken a train to some symposium, from what Leonard had said, it was clear the man missed his best friend. According to Leonard, Sheldon had mentioned Claire at least 5 times in the first five minutes of their trip, and then continued to bring up little things throughout the rest of it. How Claire would pick the correct side of a train to enjoy the view, how Claire knew not to sit over the wheelbase, how Claire brought up the theory to him once that a great way for some future thing to hide terminators was to have them take the place of actors who played terminators…whatever the hell those were, how he was disappointed trains kept adding in bars because neither he nor Claire drank, how Claire would have reminded him about his flashdrive if only he'd been less proud and sure of himself and let her look over his packing list beforehand. While Leonard had said it was more because Sheldon would have preferred Claire there than Wolowitz and was trying to make a point of how she'd be a better travelling companion, Penny felt it was something more than that. She'd had her own experience with Sheldon separated from Claire to go on, after all.

She wondered exactly how many times Sheldon would bring up Claire over the course of 3 months.

To be continued...in...The Dilatory Realization!

A/N: And since I can't say with 100 percent certainty the date that this series will be continued in the next story (only that it WILL be continued), I feel I should put this sneak peek I posted on my tumblr a while ago here:

"He didn't stop talking about Claire the entire three months! I swear, Penny, the three of us know more about her than we EVER wanted to know." - Leonard

Again, I can't say the exact date this series will be resumed with season 4, I can only promise it will resume. I have a couple more episodes of my DW Angel story to post and then I'll officially be caught up with the unfinished stories from earlier. I'm going to give it about 2-3 more weeks for the poll about what stories people are most excited for, and then probably announce what I'll continue with around the time I get to Angel's Christmas Episode ;) So, for now, this story is finished :)

So a number of other things to follow...

Family update:

Thank you all so much for your support and understanding about the last chapter and the situation with my family. I honestly can't say the state things are in right now with them. My family...and I don't know if this happens with other families, it probably does, but my family has this thing they do where they'll say or do something that makes me feel like poo, and then like 3 days later act like it never happened. I feel like I'm the only one in the family who would actually prefer to talk something out instead of brush it under the rug, because how else do you try and keep it from happening again? But when that happens and I try to talk about it once they've calmed down their response is usually why am I still upset about it? Why am I making a big deal about it? Or they take back part of it and expect everything to be hunky dory again :/

I've proposed that if anyone upsets or angers anyone in the family, that we wait 24 hours before we say anything about it. Because you can take back what you said, but you can't take back how it made the other person feel, you know? :/ Clearly my family has a habit of overreacting in bad ways :/ Which is actually why I think I've developed a habit of overthinking literally everything I do or say before I do or say it. I go back and forth for hours before deciding on one route, but at least it means I've thought about it and the consequences :/

My mom has retracted the order to get out of the house by the end of the month, my dad claims he was being silent because 'he didn't want to get caught up in anything,' my brother and sister? They would text things in our family's group chat, memes or funny things, and they didn't just make a new chat without me in it, so they went right to acting like nothing happened and that they didn't turn on me over a restaurant :/ My brother even stopped over the house two days ago to ask me to help him look for computer wires and my sister texted to ask if I could pick up paper towels when I went to the grocery store next :/

So yeah, they do the thing where they just act like nothing happened and go on with their business. Neither side has apologized or spoken of the incident (on their end at least, I tried to speak to my mom about it, it didn't get far), which doesn't surprise me, no one in my family ever talks it out. And when I try to, I'm the one 'constantly bringing up the past' and 'go complain to your therapist then' so there's a slim to none chance it'll ever be discussed or resolved.

Considering how it could go, I'm ok settling for limbo where no one says anything right now. I haven't been feeling well since this happened, not much of an appetite and some bad stomach aches with little sleep to make it all the better :/ So not rehashing something bound to upset everyone all over again is going to have to be how it is for now :/

But still, thank you all for your support and your kind words and encouragement. Words can't express how much you all mean to me, you really helped me get through the last few days and made them bearable. You gave me something else, something positive, to focus on and I really just...I can't thank you enough :')

I'm currently working on moving out of the house, looking around for places. Believe me, I would have been out years ago but about 50k worth of wages went into the blackhole that was my family and feeling obligated to help them during difficult financial times. My savings right now are small and with everything happening in the world, I feel I have to be careful what I put that money towards and how much I can survive off of from my paycheck. But I am looking and I am eager to get out and on my own. I'll be sure to keep you all updated how that search goes ;)

Now, for the last chapter, the A/N that never happened lol:

I feel like Penny got to know Claire better than before through this past story, she sort of knew how Claire would react to her trying for a second date with Stuart and kept it on the down-low as long as she could. But I really liked exploring that little fight they had. They're becoming good friends, but they are also at two different places in terms of emotional growth too. Claire grew up with Sheldon, so she sort of had to develop that empathy and that kindness and patience that people find when building a longterm relationship, she knows about compromise and sacrifice, she's in a more stable place to meet someone and stick with someone for a long time. Penny has more had strings of relationships, short-term, so she's not as prepared or willing to say she's ready for longterm. She sees things in the here and now, while Claire looks towards the future.

In that regard, Claire can see how some actions taken now can leave lasting impacts down the road. And she's developed a friendship with Leonard along the way, she's not as comfortable with short-term as Penny is, so she tries to guide Penny towards that. Penny, when it comes to Stuart, isn't really looking for longterm the way she might with Leonard, and they clash. They're good friends now, but there are always lines to cross or words you say in anger that can hurt someone else. Friendships have their hard spots, but I wanted someone for Penny who would be longterm without the romantic relationship aspect of it. Like Penny realized, she'd never really had a friend who stuck around even when she was being a B to them or 'being too much' and Claire isn't about to walk away because something is hard. She's best friends with Sheldon lol :)

I wanted the last chapter to sort of be a way to look at how Claire and Penny are different, but helping each other grow. Claire would never have admitted her feelings without Penny needling her and making her aware of them, and Penny would never have realized how she handles relationships could hurt Leonard till Claire brings it up :)

As for this chapter:

We finally got to both Claire and Penny admitting their feelings for their guys :D I feel like it also sort of shows that still-there difference between how they handle it with the guys leaving. I feel like Sheldon's family made a lot of sacrifices and adjustments to how they did things because of Sheldon and his mind/how he is. Claire sort of got roped into that, it's shaped how she is as a person. That teacher quality she has, from having to translate Sheldon to others and others to Sheldon. The patience and empathy, from having to deal with how Sheldon can be. But also her profound sense of selflessness too. She doesn't often think of herself, more worried about helping Leonard or getting through to Penny or being there for Sheldon. This is just one example of it.

Claire doesn't want Sheldon to go, but she's so used to putting other people first that she encourages him to do it, because it's what's best for him and his career. It probably is difficult to be his best friend, we see Leonard struggle with friendship with him. Claire makes it look easy, because she's had so many years with him, but it IS hard for her sometimes too. Not when she's under the weather or has a headache and he's irritating her, but when there's something she personally does not want him to do, but has to set aside what she wants for his betterment.

That's not to say Sheldon wouldn't do the same for her. Claire and how she handles Sheldon is much more obvious than how Sheldon is with Claire at times. It's much more blatant the things she does and is willing to do to help him onwards. But Sheldon also has that care for Claire too, he wants what's best for her, he's just a little more stoic in how it comes across or there are situations he's prepared for that haven't come up yet. He wants any potential date to be the best person for her, so he has to approve first. He wants her to never be in pain, so he takes measures to help mitigate her headaches. He puts her opinion above others, and listens to her when she imparts lessons or chastises him about something. He would argue with anyone else, but he takes her words to heart.

And if Claire said not to go, because she didn't want him to, because it would really hurt her to have him leave, he would decline that grant in a heartbeat, without a second thought.

It's just that sometimes he has a hard time grasping when another person needs him to put them first. He knows she'd be sad he's leaving, but he doesn't know the extent of it, or he'd give up the grant. He's also set in his ways and Claire has gone along with his ways for so long, he may not even realize there are somethings she would like to do differently, which he would change for her, but she doesn't verbalize it so he doesn't know. She's said in the past that it's easier for her to go along with his schedules and decisions, because she's so indecisive, so he doesn't always notice. We'll see more of this as the story goes though, him becoming more aware of Claire and her opinions outside his own ;) And, as Sheldon's own friendship with Penny grows stronger, he may come to notice that the friend-feelings he has for Penny don't quite match up to the 'friends'-feelings he has for Claire ;)

For Penny, she's sort of in the place where she's not happy Leonard's going, but she's also not as good as Claire is about covering it up. It's clear enough that Leonard picks up on it, her reluctance for him to go, but in the end she's mature enough to let him go. She agrees with Claire, if she cares about Leonard she should do what's best for him and this could be a major milestone in his career, and if not, it's something he wants to do for his career. She's a little more selfish than Claire, she has to work through the thoughts and feelings to get to the point of understanding why he wants to leave and being somewhat ok with him going. But I also like that Penny and Claire can talk about it too, grow from each other.

Here we get to see Claire being vulnerable and having her own opinion about Sheldon going, her own reluctance. On the outside, she's the supportive best friend who always has his back. On the inside, she's sad he's leaving, she's going to miss him, she loves him and wants him safe always, but can't say it because she loves him. Penny gets to see a side of Claire that not even Sheldon gets to see here, and I thought it would be a nice bonding moment. For so long Claire has been Penny's support when things didn't happen how Penny wanted, and now Penny got to step up and be that person to Claire :)

For the next story:

I think a main part of this story was the growing foundations of relationships, not just between Claire and Sheldon, but Claire and the others too. She's going to be around for the long haul so I wanted to really take time to have her build up that foundation with Penny and Leonard, and even groundwork/empathy for Raj and Howard. Leonard and Penny especially in terms of expanding her friendships with them. But in this story we had Claire realize and accept her love for Sheldon. He's a bit trickier, I think. For all his smarts, he can be a bit...dilatory...slow...when it comes to...realizing...certain things ;) ;)

Final notes:

And, just to end...I really have to say thank you guys SO much! Really, I give each and every reader/reviewer/favoriter/follower/ko-fi giver/anythinger a virtual hug because you guys are amazing :) I write for all of you guys and I'm just so touched that you all liked the story and am truly thankful that you're enjoying Claire :) I'll do my very best to keep it up in the future, because you guys most definitely deserve it. I love you all :')

Some notes on reviews...(from chapter 21)...

I don't want to give away exactly the moment that Sheldon realizes his feelings for Claire, but I can say the title of the next story is a big hint ;) ;)

Oh I agonized over whether to have Claire there or not, but I figured she'd see through Penny's plan and try to hinder it every chance she could so Penny wouldn't get far, and also she's more on top of where her keys are so she'd have had the emergency set for Sheldon's apartment so he wouldn't have ended up spending the night :( I can say Penny won't pressure Claire, she'd more use it to try and give Claire proof that Sheldon is a 'real boy' with 'real feelings' for her lol ;) A lot of Penny's emotional growth will be spurred on by knowing Claire so the more she knows her, the more she's going to be aware of how relationships can be very different and very complicated for individuals and she's going to realize she needs to handle this blooming one differently than she would her own, which she'll also realize means handling a relationship with Leonard differently than she would other guys :) Claire didn't so much come to Penny's rescue as be a shoulder for her when the pieces fell apart on their own, I like that they both learn from each other where boundaries are and how to be supportive without being pushy (which they're both working on) :)

Claire when she finds out what the guys did may just give Penny's junior rodeo mode a run for its money lol ;) It'll be another side to her none of them have seen yet :) As for Sheldon, we'll have to see if she gets to him in time };) I really enjoyed Forever too! :D I thought it had an interesting premise, I hope you'll enjoy the story when it comes around ;)

Aww, thank you so much! I'm really glad you're enjoying the story so far :) That was something I really wanted to dive into with Sheldon, exploring possible reasons behind the things he does, get into his head to see how things affect him. The actors did a great job sort of making him annoying but lovable, I wanted to try my hand at exploring his quirks and giving more plausible background to it, to show how he can be handled with someone familiar with him. In a way, his family was sort of 'obligated' to cater to him and they had that responsibility to try and chastise him and reprimand him as he grew, like any parent raising a child, to show them how to function in the world. With Claire, she didn't have that obligation or responsibility, she was just his friend, it wasn't on HER to take care of him, so she chose to do it. So she handles him differently than his family would and she's someone he trusts implicitly to not take advantage or lead him astray. I felt like with the guys and even Penny at first he sort of held back or didn't trust they were being honest or clear with him, he kept them at arms distance. Having Claire there is a comfort, he can let his 'shields' down just the tiniest bit because she has his back :)

Some notes on reviews...(from chapter 22)...

I have to start by saying I'm so blown away by your support, really, to everyone who left a review from the last chapter, I cried reading your messages, they really hit me in the heart. You all made me feel less alone, less guilty, and less questioning of my morals and mental state. Having your family all react that way over something you see as doing the right thing, legally doing the right thing, it made me question if I was wrong, if I made a mistake, if I should have just kept quiet, if I was just crazy for trying to keep people safe the way I did.

You guys, I found peace in your responses. Your support reaffirmed in me that the voice in my head that tells me what's right and wrong is still leading me on the right path. You have no idea how much it means to me, how much it affected me, to hear you all and your belief in what I did being right. I don't feel as ashamed, I don't feel as conflicted, and I don't feel as guilty. I feel reassured and confident I made the right choice. And I just want to thank all of you, from the bottom of my heart. Your offers to talk, the ears to listen, the virtual shoulders to lean on, your thoughts and prayers and hugs, I honestly cannot put words to what it meant to me to see :')

I want to respond to each and every one of you, but honestly, I'm so overwhelmed by you all that I hope you can forgive if this is the only response, my thanks to you all. I'm actually crying a little now even as I write this and I'm sure I'd end up a big blubbering mess with puffy eyes if I try to go through each individually. I'll try to touch on anything that wasn't said above or answer any questions about the chapter that might have been mixed into a comment on what happened. But I really, I just want you all to know how deeply I took every single review to heart, and that I love every single one of you, all my readers, thank you all so much :')

Please, all of you, stay safe too, be careful, and I wish all of you every bit of health I can.

Some smaller comments on reviews...

Bernadette, I think, will appreciate Claire's attempts to try and kind of make Howard a little less creepy lol. Claire is a little more wired to develop long term relationships with people, so she's going to be very frank with Howard about some mistakes she thinks he's making or has made with Bernadette and really try and help them work out issues. I think Bernadette will appreciate that there's someone in her corner being a tiny bit more active in trying to get through to Howard. Penny was a bit more 'he's a creep' and writing Howard off for a while, where Claire will at least try to talk to him and make him aware of things :)

I would reach out to other family members if the situation reached a point where I desperately need to get out and get out now. I say that point only because my nearest family member already has 2 other people renting space in her house (one of whom is my uncle, so already has family there), and my other family members are in south Jersey and in other states, which puts a bit of a problem on getting to work each day :( But the nearest family member is also my godmother and we have a fairly good relationship and I think she would make it work if I really need to get out fast, I just try to avoid it because she's already got two other people living with her and I feel like I'd think I was a burden to her adding another person. Right now the game plan is to save every last cent I can and look up as many affordable houses as I can find within distance of my job that won't reduce me to eating cereal and ramen to survive lol. But I am definitely aiming to get out and get out soon ;)

Claire and Penny pushing each other and both stepping over a line was something I felt was right to happen. They're both girls, but Penny hasn't really had a true gal pal who wants to help her better herself and keep her from making mistakes and Claire's only real gal pal was Missy and Sheldon sort of monopolized a lot of the time she would have spent with her. So they're both learning as they go :) Protective Claire may come out to play in a big way at the start of the next story ;) ;)

My family found out I sent the report because I made the mistake of using the nearest computer I could get to to file the report. I was upset and thinking more about how I had to do it right that second because it was another second longer to get it in, than thinking about which computer I was using to do it. It was our family's office computer. I didn't know at the time that my dad had been looking at houses to show my mom later that day (they've been itching to move for a few years now but haven't found the right house) but he didn't leave the tabs or window open. So when my mom went to look she went to the history tab thinking the last few would be the houses, and saw the report site. She put two and two together and confronted me. I can't lie to save my life apparently :/ And it all blew up from there :( It's funny in a sad way, that parents raise their kids to be honest and follow the law, that if you see something say something, then use it against you when you can't lie and condemn you for following the law and saying something :( I applaud you on your own report, though, especially for that to happen in a pharmacy :/ I'm working on a new home base, just have to find one I can afford in a good distance of my work. I want to be out before my parents eventually find a new house so that I can see how they handle actually being alone without me around, as evil as that may sound. Just have to find the one ;)

Thank you for the repetition :) That's something I don't understand about the resistance happening everywhere. I mean, especially in America you hear the older generations taking about the wars and how there was rationing and sacrifice and everyone pulled together to support the troops and beat the enemy. And then you get today, and people demanding haircuts and refusing to 'sacrifice their rights' over being told to wear a mask, and not even trying to support the troops in the hospitals :/ Idk, maybe I'm still set in Olivia and Steve's story, and all they represented, but it's just like...when did people lose that sense of responsibility and humanity? When did dying your hair become more important than saving lives? :/ But thank you for your repetition, I hope you are doing well and staying safe.

I agree very much, life comes before worldly comforts in my book too. I really think if the country had shut down, completely, each state, for a month and everyone really stayed home and kept to themselves, the numbers and the curve would be so much lower and we'd be in a better place to reopen by now. My dad, when it all started, would call it a 'pay me now or pay me later' mentality, pay for it now (at the time) and take a hit if it means you'll be in a stronger position later, or refuse and deny it and end up paying for it later in a much larger way :( I sometimes used to joke, though it's less of a joke now apparently, that my parents raised me too well. Because I care. I don't just care about my family, but about other people, about other states, other countries. I'm one person, I can't do much but I can wear a mask and prevent myself or others getting sick by doing so. And please, don't apologize, I love any length review, short or novel length ;)

I will definitely be fighting on, thank you :) My therapist says much the same, that a lot of my issues and struggles may get better when I'm finally on my own, in my own space, with my own rules and setups. I have my fingers crossed she's right and I think she is, because when I reflect on where certain reactions and thoughts come from, a lot is feeling like I don't rank as important enough within my family. A small example is when my father turns the thermostat up too high and I feel like I can't breathe at that temperature. It's not something I look at and go 'Oh, it's on this setting, time to not breathe' it's more a physical reaction to the temperature that alert me it's too high. And when I ask, repeatedly, to please not turn it up that high, because I can't breathe right, he keeps doing it. He says it's because he's cold, but he also walks around in a t-shirt in the middle of winter, so I tell him to put a sweater on, or a robe, or a blanket (I even got him a heated blanket) and instead of using any of them, he turns the temperature up. So it feels like me being able to breathe doesn't matter to him, when he has options but refuses to use them :/ In my own space, I can set the temperature how I want and be comfortable and be important in my own space. It's a nice dream I hope will become reality soon :)

I can say we will see Sheldon and Claire invoke the graveyard pact at least once, at the very least ;) I can't say who or how many episodes it may cover, but at least one time in the series we'll see them invoke it ;)

The new ways the virus spreads, or the ways we've come to learn about after thinking one way about it, are things I'm honestly not sure my family even knows. My family isn't big on watching the news, but since it's all started I've watched the briefings for my state religiously and usually for an hour before or after it will cycle through any updates about the virus. So I feel like I'm more aware of how it can transmit than they are, and my mom works in a hospital so I worry even more for her :/ I tried to explain that you can't wear a mask to eat, and so when you talk or cough (if food goes down the wrong way) it can be spread, the circulated air can spread it, the people coming in and out to take out their food can spread it if they aren't wearing a decent mask. Deaf ears :/

I've heard about other countries, especially Brazil yes :( I'm so sorry you're in such a hotspot right now :( It's the people that break the rules and don't care about others that really makes you question faith in humanity, but I try to do my best to be a good person and watch out for others, hopefully more and more people will begin to take it seriously and follow the rules and we can all recover from this. I'm glad to hear your parents have come around, I try little by little with my parents. My mom tends to vote whichever way my father believes is best, but I've at least gotten her to a point where she's reading up on things with her own eyes and forming her own opinions. My dad is a bit stuck in his ways and has an excuse for every point I bring up about things, but there are some areas he can't ignore and I think he might be starting to come around to looking more at the bigger picture. Thank you for your support :)

Don't apologize for ranting, I did my fair share last time lol :) It's so alarming when there are older people involved and others don't care enough to just wear the mask for ten minutes, like you said. My mentality has always been, an older person could get sick if I don't do my part. They may not be my grandparent, but they are someone's grandparent (or parent) and I would never want to be responsible for them suffering this virus the same way I wouldn't want someone else to give it to my family either :( I'm not sure where you may be located, in NJ our state set up an anonymous page to report violations. You can put your contact info in if you want to, or you can only put in the report, perhaps there's something like that where you are? But thank you for your support, I've been using my writing to try and get to a better place too, though all the support from everyone worked ten times better lol ;)

I did get the PM, thank you! I was actually surprised to see I'd gotten a few after the last chapter. I'm so behind on responding to PMs though, but I'm going to try to at least get to the ones from last chapter this weekend, thank you :)

I'm definitely seeing the best and worst in humanity coming out too :( Hopefully the best will beat out the worst sooner than later. I'm working on moving out as soon as I can, just have to find something affordable and close to work that I'd be ok living in for a few more years. I don't want to make a mistake and pick the first thing that comes up out of desperation and end up sort of having to go crawling back to my family :/ So I'm trying to be careful and practical, working on saving up every penny I can and hopefully I can be out soon :) It boggles my mind too, and it makes me wonder if families like mine are really a normal thing or if the Brady Bunch just ruined the idea of what a family should be for me lol. Probably a little of both, but thank you :)

I'm so happy my stories were able to inspire you! :D I wish you the absolute best with your work! :) Lol, no offense taken, half the time I'm left genuinely wondering if it's just me or if they really are as crazy as they seem sometimes. There have been times I've tried to suggest our entire family get tested for bipolar disorder or something along those lines because the way the switch flips with them is just ridiculous at times. If anything, it has been an exercise in patience and compassion, so I'll at least be happy I've improved in those areas, can never have enough of that ;) I really think a lot of the family issues will improve, at least a little, once all kids are out of the house and on our own, which is mostly just me left. My parents will sort of be forced to realize the bond they have with their kids and my siblings will, hopefully, start seeing me as the adult I am and not, like, the 'failure' or whatever it is that they see me as because they've moved out and I haven't :/ Once we're all independent and handling our own lives, I think they'll realize I actually have a realistic grasp on life and can manage on my own. I plan to not have as much contact with them for at least the first few months, just to let them realize I really can manage on my own, so maybe they might realize that how they treat me and things they've said about me aren't true and they need to rethink how they see me. And no worries, really no offense at all ;) I plan to keep writing as long as the stories and inspirations keep coming, so I've got quite a few years left to go ;)

I'm glad you're excited for Angel! We should be getting to her this coming Tuesday ;)

Definitely working on getting out to my own place, yup. The friends I have would offer their couches to me in a heartbeat, which is something I am deeply appreciative of, the only thing that kept me from asking around to get out of the house was that my friends are my college roommates, who all live in south Jersey, and I'm up north, so the commute to and from work would be a killer :( But just the knowledge that if I need it, they'd be there means everything to me :')