Leonard told Penny about his kiss out at sea. Penny turned the car around and wouldn't speak to him on the way home.
When they parted on the landing of the fourth floor, she gave him his ring back.
Amy popped up on Sheldon's Skype. "Hello."
"Hello," Sheldon greeted. "Listen. I've been thinking how difficult relationships can be. And I think-"
"I've been thinking about them too, Sheldon," Amy interrupted him. He nodded for her to go on. "Being your girlfriend is so...challenging. Emotionally, physically. I've been incredibly patient for years. This isn't easy to say because...I love you, but...I need some time to take a step back and reevaluate our situation."
"Oh." It was all his enormous brain could come up with at the moment.
"I hope you understand."
Sheldon struggled for a moment, then settled on, "Okay." He didn't fully understand, but he would. He was a genius. And if he couldn't figure it out, he could ask his friends.
Sheldon closed his laptop and looked around, lost for a moment. His eyes alighted on his statuette of Gollum. He turned the figure to face him.
"Well, Gollum," he said, pulling a box out of his desk drawer. "You're an expert on rings. What do I do with this one?"
Time passed. Life went on, mostly the way it had, but with a couple of differences. Almost like it was before, but too emotionally charged to be normal.
Leonard tried to apologize, to reassure her. Eventually Penny apologized as well, but admitted she'd never be able to trust him.
In true Sheldon fashion, he waits for Amy to make her decision. If she was waiting for him to go after her, he wasn't aware and the thought didn't cross his mind. He would give her all the time she needed.
She seemed to need all the time in the world, because she Skype called him again after a month and decided to end their relationship. He didn't ask her reasons, figuring them to be her own. It was the first time he didn't ask something. It was the first time he didn't need to know something.
With Penny's and Leonard's relationship also fizzling out, he thought it was poetic, in its own depressing way.
Penny kept her distance at first. Things were easier to get over that way. She focused on her career, keeping her bills paid, padding her savings account. She had enough vacation time accrued by now to be worth using. She could use a trip for herself.
Leonard mourned his lost relationship for a while, but when Alex learned he was single she proved to be a sufficient distraction.
Amy used up all of her considerable accrued vacation time and traveled to Italy, where she had a short-lived affair with a local wine maker. She came home tanned and confident.
Sheldon went on as he always had: Work, video games, movies, comic books, trains.
A year passed.
They got over themselves and their respective heartbreaks, and rediscovered they all still liked each other, and remembered that they were friends before.
It took Leonard moving in with Alex for Penny and Sheldon to realize just how long they'd both been single.
When Leonard carried the last box downstairs, Penny and Sheldon stood on the fourth floor landing and looked at each other. Almost simultaneously, they realized they were free.
At the same time.
And had been for a while now.
Sheldon smiled, remembering a similar time years ago now. As he did then, he gestured for her to precede him.
"Would you like to have dinner?" she asked, a lift at the corner of her lips. She wasn't wasting any more time.
Sheldon quirked a corner of his mouth in return. "Only if we have spaghetti with little hot dogs cut up in it at my apartment." Then he fully smirked and said, "And you wear the white dress."
Penny grinned. "Someday I will, but not tonight. I've got something else in mind for tonight."
Sheldon cooked and set a romantic table (properly Googled beforehand so he got it right) and then dressed in his best charcoal suit. He chose a black tie this time, instead of white.
When Penny knocked on his door precisely at 7pm he almost jumped. He didn't expect her to be on time. She must be as anxious as he.
It had certainly been long enough.
She took his breath away. Her dress was almost indecently short and the most perfect shade of cerulean he'd ever seen in cloth. The sleeves rested on her upper arms and accentuated her sweetheart neckline. Her golden hair, still growing from when she cut it off, was curled and framed her face. Long legs made longer by sky-high stilletos.
"You look exquisite." He didn't realize he'd spoken aloud until he saw her faint blush.
"Thank you. You're not so bad yourself." She felt a little foolish saying it that way but she didn't have his eloquent words, and if she were being honest with herself she didn't think he needed them from her.
As though confirming her thoughts, he ducked his head and smiled. Then he held his hand out and directed her to the small table set between the living area and kitchen island.
While they ate, they talked, the ambient music just low enough to fill the empty spaces. It felt, at once, like every other spaghetti dinner they'd shared and like a whole new world.
It wasn't inaccurate.
Once the meal was finished Sheldon changed the music and turned it up. It was the original version of The Wedding of River Song. He never did get around to having her listen to it.
Her small "Oh!" of recognition made him smile as he held his hand out to her again.
"Dance with me, Penny."
How could she refuse?
"It took us a few years, didn't it?" she asked, head resting on his shoulder.
He rested his chin on her hair as he lead them slowly across the living room. "It did. But we got here eventually."
"Someday always comes, eventually."
The original version is more intense than the string quartet version Sheldon arranged and the dance reflected that. Sheldon had cleared the living room of furniture, and so had room to maneuver her around and around the room, their gazes never wavering.
The song ended and they were both breathing heavily, hearts racing. Neither could tell who moved first. Lips met, hands explored, and bodies were crushed together. They wasted no time in discovering everything hitherto denied them by circumstance.
Six months later saw the return of the white single strap dress.
Of course, he didn't get to see it until she came down the aisle.
A/N: Special thanks to wolfofsheep for beta-reading and to Lee Kadivar for reviewing the original and reminding me I never wrote the follow-up I always meant to write. ;)