A/N: These are short ficlets from the LJ-posting of this story. There I replied to most of the comments with bits of fic. It was pointed out that I ought to share them here as well. So, here they are and even in chronological order.

In another universe, Penny did not request Sheldon to come. A man she had never met came instead and wowed the students with showy experiments. A year later, Penny met Matthew, a crane-like man who studied water and knew Cecily from college. He was a bit imperious, but passionate about that which he loved. Over time, Penny was able to count herself as belonging to that small set. A year after meeting him, he asked her to marry him and she said yes. They honeymooned in Florida where Penny caught Wolowitz snapping a picture of her on the beach.

Sheldon got the photo in his email before Penny had been able to catch Howard and destroy it. She looked happy, which he supposed was good. He saved the photo and returned to his work. A year and a half later, he met Madeleine at a conference. Her insights were amazing and fit alongside his own research remarkably well. They decided to collaborate on a paper. When coincidence left him without a roommate and her without a room, she moved in and just never left. One day he realized he loved her and a month later, over dinner, he pointed out the benefits of marriage versus the status quo. She had said it was the least romantic proposal she'd ever heard, but agreed to marry him, and he was happy.

xxx

"So where did she go?" Wolowitz asked.

"I don't know. She didn't say."

"Did P--"

"Ah," Leonard said, raising a finger. "Don't you dare say it." He glanced toward Sheldon. "No mentioning of the P word."

"Why is he taking it so hard?"

"Who knows. I have ceased trying to understand him. Just, don't say her name. Please."

"No problemo."

Just then Raj walked through the door, carrying a bag of Chinese take-out. "So where's Penny and who's the MILF across the hall?"

Leonard groaned.

Howard clicked his tongue. "He said it."

Raj pulled back his arms. "What?"

Sheldon had gone rigid at the mention of Penny's name and now he turned, a smile worth nightmares on his face.

Leonard buried his face in his hands. "Here we go again."

Xxx

"For the last time, Sheldon, I am not flying back to Pasadena for Rock Band."

"But it's Rock Band. You're our drummer. We can't play without a drummer."

"Then I suggest you find someone else to take my place. Good bye, Sheldon."

Sheldon looked at the phone. "He isn't coming."

"Told you so," Leonard said.

"But--"

"Leslie can play," Leonard said.

Sheldon frowned and went to his room without replying. (He had accepted the 'If you can't say something nice' rule early in Leonard's new relationship with Leslie. In exchange, he got assurances that she would not harm or touch any of his personal items.) He could hear Leonard call Leslie in the other room, inviting her to their night. Sheldon wished life didn't have to keep changing.

Xxx

Nate isn't afraid of the dark. Really. He is too old for silly fears like that. No eight year old boy is afraid of the dark. That'd be like being eight and still wearing diapers-- ridiculous and babyish.

Yet, he is still very happy when his present from Sheldon is a glowing gold fish. A pet and a night light. Of course, Sheldon ignores the light factor and talks instead about why the fish glows. He understands in ways Nate's mom doesn't, though Nate will never say as much to his mother.

In the following months, Sheldon teaches him about glow-sticks and how chemicals can react to release light. He learns to create his own lights for when he stays over with friends. Mixing together chemicals is a lot cooler than trying to sneakily plug in an night light.

Later, when he is older, Nate will look back on the months following his eighth birthday as the origin of his interest in chemistry. He'll tell Sheldon that he only has himself to blame and then play along when Sheldon talks about building a time machine.

He doesn't have a word for what Sheldon is to him. Sheldon is friend, father, and mentor all rolled into one and that is good enough for Nate.

xxx

Penny smiled at the man across the table from her. He was sweet, charming, and was a lawyer. He was a good man, considerate, and so utterly boring.

"That's wonderful, Nick," she said, trying to be interested. Cecily, the orchestra teacher at the school and Penny's closest work friend, had set this date up, saying that Penny needed to get back out in the field.

"It's not like I'm not trying," Penny had argued and then listed the dates she'd had since moving. Cecily had been distinctly unimpressed.

"Just meet Nick," she'd said. "You'll love him."

So Penny had agreed to meet Nick, but instead of loving him, she was trying to figure out how quickly she could leave without being rude. Their entrees had yet to arrive though, so she was stuck for a while longer.

"Cecily told me you teach?"

Penny forced herself to look up from her salad and smile. "Yep. I teach science to 7th graders."

"What are you teaching them right now?" he asked.

Penny saw her cue. She shrugged. "Oh, nothing much, just--" And then launched into the most drawn out, convoluted explanation of density and mass that she could. She pulled in anecdotes her professors had used or that she recalled from Sheldon and Leonard, even if the stories didn't fit, she brought in experiments she did with her students. She waited until his eyes glazed over. When the food came, he ate as swiftly as she and they agreed that dessert would be better 'some other time' aka never.

Cecily confronted her the next day, batting her arm with a rolled up score. "What is wrong with you?" she demanded. "You totally scared Nick away."

Penny shrugged. "I guess I just want someone more interesting."

"He is a lawyer. He was in the Peace Corp. He's total eye candy. What do you want?"

"Someone less ordinary, I guess," she said. "Unique. Intelligent. Someone who doesn't pretend, ever." As she described what she wanted, Penny wondered when exactly her taste in men had changed.

Cecily patted her shoulder. "Good luck with that, Pen."

"Thanks."

xxx

Nate supposed his choice of childhood hero was a bit odd. Most boys grew up idolizing sports stars or superheroes, but then again, most boys did not have a grown man explode an egg for them on purpose. Adults weren't supposed to do stuff like that.

Even better, Sheldon always knew why something was or had happened. No matter what Nate threw at him, he had an answer. At first, Nate didn't understand, but then Sheldon would explain again. This time they might drop shoes out of the window, fly a kite, or figure out how tall all the buildings were around them using shadows.

Best of all, though, Sheldon didn't treat him like a little kid.

How cool was that?

Xxx

When he saw Penny again, Sheldon forgot how to move. He tried to breathe, but said her name instead. She turned. She was there. After years of searching and not searching, of moving on and not forgetting, she was standing in front of him and smiling nervously.

"Hello, Sheldon. Long time no see." The words were inadequate and he wanted to call her out on them, but he can't. She was his first real female friend and his first without, at least, a master's degree. He had learned jokes for her. She had left and did not exist anymore.

The principal said something and left. Neither Sheldon nor Penny moved and finally he remembered how to speak. "So," he said, "you teach science?"

Her face crumpled. "Sheldon, I--" No, he did not want her explanations yet, all her 'good' reasons for her sudden absence. He did not want to open the box after all these years and find the cat dead. Not now, not ever. He looked away.

"Where should I set up?" he asked, interrupting her.

She sighed. "This way."

Xxx

"And this," Sheldon said, waving his hand toward a young boy, "is Nate. Nate could be an influential scientist in the future, only he has yet to realize that chemistry is little more than cooking with odder-sounding ingredients."

Nate rolled his eyes at Penny. "Chemistry is still far better and cooler than physics, which is really just fancy math."

"Fancy math!?" Sheldon straightened to his full height and began lecturing in a way Penny remembered well from when they'd been neighbors. She withdrew with Gin over to the bar by the kitchen.

"Does he get like that often?" Penny asked.

"Only when Nate winds him up." Gin offered Penny a soda, which she accepted. "So you're the former neighbor."

"Yeah." Penny cooled her hands against her can of Sprite. Gin sat down in the bar chair beside her.

"I still remember when he and I first met. Boy stared right through me and I told me I couldn't live here because you did. Only time I ever heard your name except in whispers between the other three."

Penny stared down at her knuckles and her thumbs crossing and uncrossing against the can.

"He missed you," Gin said. "Never you doubt that."

"I know. I won't."

xxx

"We can't agree on a movie," Penny said, stabbing at her salad.

Cecily shrugged. "Well, from what you've told me, you don't really have much in common."

"But we should be able to agree on at least a movie, right?" Penny asked.

"No, actually, disagreeing over movies is pretty common. Jared hates my movies."

"But he's a movie critic for the paper," Penny said. "He hates all movies."

"Not true. Maybe you should start picking movies you both dislike." Cecily finished her sandwich.

"And what would that accomplish exactly?"

"Well, it would give you something to agree on."

Xxx

Leslie fell asleep after the doctor finished speaking with them. The curls of hair around her face were damp and her face seemed pale. Leonard traced the lines on her palm, wondering why it had taken so long for them to get their act together. He turned her hand over and ran his thumb over her wedding ring, remembering how she had asked him because she didn't want to wait for him to man up enough to do so. He kissed the back of her knuckles and laid her hand down on her stomach.

Outside the room, Penny and Sheldon were gone. He supposed they had been shooed off to a waiting room. Leonard walked around the maternity ward until he found the NICU. Inside one of the protected cribs laid his son. Leonard watched his little boy sleep, his legs and arms twitching occasionally with infant dreams.

"Joshua," he whispered, "get strong. Your mom and I have been waiting so long for you." He stayed there until a nurse found him and said that Leslie was awake again and asking for him. He nodded and followed her, looking back once at his still-slumbering son. Leonard hoped that, this time, everything went right.

Xxx

"So how's the Missus?" Howard asked.

"Leslie is doing fine. The second thing she asked when she woke up from her nap after giving birth to Joshua was for her laptop."

"What was the first thing she asked?"

"About Joshua, of course. She wanted to see him."

"Cute. Did you get the pictures I sent you?"

Leonard groaned. "Yes, Howard, I did. So did Leslie, by the way."

"Did you see the girl in the barely-there suit?"

"Aren't they all wearing barely-there suits?"

"Oh, right, I forgot. I am surrounded by hot women!"

"Howard."

"Fine, fine. You're married. I respect that. So, has anything else happen recently in the ol' city?"

"No, wait, actually, you'll never believe this."

"What?"

"Sheldon is dating Penny."

"Repeat that."

"Sheldon is dating Penny."

"Our Sheldon? Tall, skinny, fussy about everything in the universe?"

"Yes."

"And Penny as in the girl who disappeared one weekend, never to be seen again."

"The very same," Leonard confirmed. "I couldn't believe my eyes. They were holding hands."

"Oh God. Leonard, do you know what this means?!"

"No...."

"Hell has officially frozen over! Now, if you'll excuse me, I have some lovely ladies I need to be calling. I have been waiting for this day. Bye and congrats on the baby." He hung up.

Leonard looked at his phone, shook his head, and returned to Leslie's room.

Xxx

She's the girl you can't get with the glib line. She doesn't join in the beach volleyball or tanning parties that the other women have along the beach. Yet, she's there everyday, reading beneath her umbrella and oblivious to the world around her.

She makes you think of old romances, epics, the women beyond touch. She is short, but her legs are slim in a way that makes them seem long and sexy. Her hair isn't blond, but she always pulls it up loosely in a big ivory clip that screams both of elegance and the bed. Her suit is one piece, dark brown, and she always wears a blue wrap tied around her waist. You have memorized her every angle and plane. The tiny curve of her lips when her book pleases her and the frown that kills you when the book does not.

You want to talk to her, but you can't. You can't ruin this. She's perfect.

Leonard calls. Penny's back and dating Sheldon. Hell is officially freezing over. You're about to ask for details, when you see her arrive. Instead, you say something about women and sex and hang up. Sheldon has bagged Penny. You can say hello.

"Uh, hi, I'm--"

"Oh, you're the photography guy. I see you here all the time. My name is Libby." She holds out her hand.

"Enchante." You bend over her hand, meaning to kiss it, but thinking of Sheldon and Penny makes you remember something she said to you a long ago and at the last moment you look up and wink. You feel like an idiot, but she laughs and pulls her hand away.

"Charmed," she replies. You smile, nervous and not wanting to push. With other women you'd have used a dozen lines by now, but you can't think of a single one worthy of her.

"I should probably--" you step back and make a vague gesture. "I mean, you're reading and all."

"Wait," she says. "You didn't tell me your name."

"Howard."

"Well, I guess I'll see you around, Howard. Why don't you show me your photographs sometime?"

"What? Yeah. Sure. Of course. Tomorrow." You wave and walk away before she change her mind. As you are walking, however, you realize-- You don't have a single non-hot chick photo you can show her.

You rush back to your apartment for your camera. Your lazy day has suddenly become very busy.

xxx

"A double date," Penny announced, striding into the band room. Cecily looked up from the tuba she was cleaning.

"What?"

"It's perfect," said Penny. "You'll get to talk with Sheldon and I'll finally get revenge for all those blind dates you've forced on me over the years."

Cecily sat aside her rag. "Oh, come on," she said. "Name one bad date I set you up with."

"Nick."

"Was perfect. Try again."

"Rowan."

Cecily winced. "How was I to know he'd gone crazy in grad school?"

Penny shrugged and sat down in one of the student chairs, clearly enjoying reminding Cecily of her previous failures. "Akira," she said.

"I still don't believe he had ties to the Japanese mafia," Cecily said. "He seemed like a nice, young businessman."

Penny leaned back, ready to deal out her Ace. "Then what about Kay?" she asked.

Cecily hid behind the tuba. "I'd forgotten Kay," she said.

"Yes, Kay. The 'very caring' man who realized halfway through dinner that he still loved his ex and left before dessert, sticking me with the bill."

"I paid you back for that meal," Cecily said. "And I sent Kay packing."

Penny was not impressed. "You still set me up with your ex."

"Fine, so a double date. Why?"

Now, Penny groaned. "Sheldon's latest roommate is this guy who wants to be a lawyer. He failed his bar exam, however, and is really depressed about it. He won't leave the sofa and keeps moaning about his life is over."

Cecily glared. "And that is my date?"

"I just need you to cheer him up," Penny said. "He is driving Sheldon insane who is, in turn, tormenting me. We'll go as a group; I'm not throwing you to him alone."

Cecily reached for her rag with a sigh. "Fine. We're even after this, though."

"Of course," Penny said, agreeing. "For Kay, at least."

xxx

"You know," Penny said as she watched Leonard and Sheldon plan the most efficient route for her to get to work from Sheldon's apartment each morning. "You could just move in with me. My place is closer to your school than your place is to mine, after all."

Sheldon frowned. "But I like my apartment. Besides, yours is tiny. Here we can even have our own rooms."

Penny smiled and rested her chin on her hand. She was still incredibly sexy and Sheldon wondered how he had failed to notice that before. "But do you want separate rooms?" she asked.

"Oh," said Sheldon. "Good point." He looked down at the map. "Leonard, I don't believe we need this anymore."

"We don't?" Leonard asked.

"No, Penny just made a very compelling argument."

Penny rose from her seat and kissed him lightly, teasingly on the lips.

Leonard shook his head. "I'm never going to get used to this."

Xxx

"Sheldon, we can't fit everything into my apartment."

Sheldon looked up from his bubbled lined boxes, each carefully and painstakingly packed. "But--"

Penny knelt down beside him. "We can find room for a lot, but not everything. Sweetie, part of moving in together was that we agreed to create a life together."

"What about your toy collections?" Sheldon asked.

Penny shrugged. "I'll give most of them to my nieces, I suppose. Don't you know someone who might appreciate some of these items. You could even teach him about them."

"You're right. Will half fit in your apartment?" he asked, surveying his shelves and boxes.

Penny nodded. "Half is fine."

"All right. Excuse me, I need to find my inventory. I can give rest to Nate and Joshua." Little Joshua was Leonard's son and only three months old.

Penny smiled and stood up. "Well, let me know if I can help," she said.

Xxx

Wes looked at the man fidgeting in the front of the classroom. He recognized him from the lecture that had taken place at the school several months ago, he was that scientist dude. (Wes had told all his friends that his physics teacher was forcing him to attend in order to pass the class, but really he just wanted to see what the big deal was. A few girls, okay, a girl had gotten really excited and he'd been curious. That was all).

"Are you here to see Ms. West?" Wes asked, he tossed a basketball from hand to hand. He was helping out with the basketball team summer camp again and had come to start planning with the coaches.

"If you must know," the man, Dr. Cooper, said, "yes, I am."

"Why? Are you going to do another lecture?" Wes couldn't imagine holding one so close to the end of the school year.

"No." Before Dr. Cooper could say anything more, the classroom door opened.

"Oh, Sheldon, sorry about that," Ms. West said, as she quickly crossed the room, not even looking in Wes' direction. "There was a faculty meeting and this sixth grade Spanish teacher would not shut up." She kissed him.

Wes' mouth dropped open. Ms. West had always been in his top three list of hot teachers. He'd expected her to date the kind of guy who rode a motorcycle or day-traded stocks, not this lanky, nerdy scientist.

Dr. Cooper pulled back from Ms. West. "Uh, Penny," he said and he pointed toward Wes. Penny glanced toward him and immediately jumped back from Dr. Cooper, her face was a little pink.

"Wes, what are you doing here?" she asked.

"Just came to say 'hi,'" Wes said. "I'll, uh, leave you alone now."

Wes left the classroom quickly before Ms. West could say anything. As he walked down to the gym, he thought again about Ms. West and Dr. Cooper. How was it possible, he wondered, when he couldn't even-- No. He was not thinking about her again. Wes pressed his forehead against his ball and groaned, but the thought still came. If Ms. West could date someone like Dr. Cooper, then why couldn't he date Addie? He started to jog, eager for something to take his mind off of her. She'd never say 'yes.' Not to him. Not in a billion years.

Xxx

Addie looked blankly at the rose on her homeroom desk. Every year, around Valentine's Day, the pep squad sold roses. Most were sent with a small card revealing who'd sent it, but, for an extra fee, the sender could choose anonymity. On the small card tied to her rose was only her name and 'Happy Valentine's Day.' She'd never been sent a rose before. She began to smile.

In history class, Wes Kilpatrick slid into the seat next to hers. Addie had known Wes since sixth grade and she could not remember a time when he was not devoted to tormenting her.

"Nice rose," he said. Addie was impressed. No comments about how he couldn't believe someone would send her a valentine? No rude hypotheses about why?

"Thanks," she said.

"You know who sent it?" he asked.

She shook her head. "Secret admirer."

"He's probably just scared of you."

"I'm scary?" Addie asked. This conversation was actually almost pleasant. Normal, at least.

Wes flashed her a grin. "Terrifying."

"Why?" Addie couldn't imagine how anyone would find her scary.

Wes gave her a strange look that she couldn't decipher. He shrugged. "Because you're you."

The bell rang to start class before she could respond.

xxx

Nate liked Penny. He really did. She was pretty, good with pranks, and made Sheldon happier. She was cool, but that didn't mean he had quite forgiven her yet for making Sheldon move out.

"You could live here," he said as they were both waiting for Sheldon to return from work. Penny sat in Sheldon's spot on the sofa and Nate sat at the kitchen counter with his laptop and his back to her. He heard her sigh.

Nate had met Penny months ago while writing a lab report for an experiment he and Sheldon had done earlier in the week creating copper penny shells. He hated writing the reports, but Sheldon would not talk to him until he finished.

Penny had let herself into the apartment using a spare key. "Oh, hi, sorry," she'd said. "I didn't think anyone was here."

"I'm hiding from my mom," he'd explained. "Seriously, a guy gets a little hydrochloric acid on the dining table and she completely freaks out."

Penny'd let out a half-chuckle. "Imagine that. You must be Nate."

"Sheldon told you about me?" He'd looked up from his work and saw just how pretty she was.

"He did." She'd smiled and Nate had realized right then just how Sheldon must have fallen for her. "He said you have a fine scientific mind."

Thrilled, he had changed the subject. He hadn't wanted to sound like a little kid, not after Sheldon had made him sound so important. "So you teach 7th grade?"

"I do."

"Do you teach Natalie?" He'd asked. Sheldon had not stopping mentioning the girl since his first meeting with her and, frankly, Nate was getting annoyed and curious.

"I do."

"Can I meet her?"

"Maybe."

Yet, good first impression and his like for Penny aside, Nate could not bring himself to turn around. He was worried Sheldon would go with Penny and disappear, leaving him behind. He sniffed; he had not realized he was getting so upset.

"Alhambra is only a fifteen minute or so drive in light traffic," Penny said.

"Sheldon can't drive."

"I can." She laid her hand on his shoulder. "And, in a few years, so will you."

Nate met her gaze, his eyes watery, but not yet pouring over. "You mean it," he half-said, half-asked.

"Yes. You know as well as I that Sheldon is too much for just one person to take care of."

Nate tried to laugh and rubbed his nose. He was so embarrassed that he had nearly cried, but he was glad that Penny was ignoring it for him. "He is a handful," he said.

"Exactly. Now why don't you come over to the couch and explain to me what you're playing?"

"Okay."

xxx

"Sheldon, you can dance," Penny said, pleased as Sheldon guided her around the dance floor. Missy, Sheldon's sister, had just gotten married. Penny still remembered the phone call they had received shortly after Sheldon RSVP'd.

"Correction," Sheldon said, "I can waltz. My tutor, well, it is a long story."

"You can tell me later," Penny said. "I'm glad you invited me." To Penny, wedding dates were always a bit more magical than regular ones.

"Don't be silly," Sheldon chided. "Who else would I have asked?" The music ended and Sheldon pulled her closer for a kiss. "You are the only one," he said, as he pulled away, his voice fierce and low.

From Sheldon, that was a declaration. She examined him as they walked to the side of the dance floor where tables waited. He was nothing she had ever envisioned, and yet--

"I love you," she said, without thinking and yet meaning each word. Sheldon froze, and then turned back to her, his features still.

"What?" he asked.

She stepped toward him. "I love you, Dr. Sheldon Cooper." There it was again, that look in his eyes of complete disbelieving awe. Then, without warning, he pulled her in, hugging her tightly, as if he never wanted to let her go.

"Marry me," he said.

She pulled back, stunned and utterly overjoyed. He looked a little surprised as well, as he if hadn't meant to ask just yet or known that he wanted to. "Okay," she said, nodding, the happiness inside her bubbling over in light laughter.

"Really?" he asked. Had he honestly thought she would say no?

"Of course," she said, and he kissed her.

Xxx

In the hallway outside of her reception hall, Missy hit Sheldon over the head repeatedly with her bouquet. "You do not propose to a girl at your sister's wedding!"

Penny winced in sympathy with each whack. "Missy, your flowers--"

Missy looked at the ruined mass of blossoms and tossed the mess to Penny. "Congratulations. You have caught the bouquet. Are you sure about this?" She jerked her thumb toward Sheldon.

Penny gave Sheldon a considering look up and down. He shifted nervously, as if he did not realize she was teasing him. Penny nodded. "Completely," she said.

Missy shook her head. "You got lucky, Shelly. Think you can manage to keep from monopolizing my day any more?"

"No problem," Penny said. Missy took a deep, calming breath and returned to her reception.

Penny stepped toward Sheldon and brushed a petal from his shoulder and some pollen from his face. "Our timing probably could have been a bit better," she said.

"I do not understand why she is so upset."

"She's the bride. She wants to be the center of attention."

"You won't be like that, will you?" Sheldon asked and for a second Penny froze. The reality of what she has agreed to hit her suddenly. She was going to be a bride and she was going to marry Sheldon Cooper. She would become Penny Cooper. For half a second she wanted to run. She tightened her grip on the flowers and looked up at Sheldon's face. There was still a smear of yellow by his temple.

She remembered then that she wasn't going to be alone for the whole marriage deal and she smiled. "Nah," she said. "I'll probably be worse."

Sheldon's expression made her chuckle. She tugged on his sleeve and waved the ruined bouquet toward the restrooms. "Come on," she said. "Let's get you cleaned up."

xxx

"Sheldon's what?!" Leonard winced and pulled the phone from his ear. He waited until Raj quieted on the other end.

"Married," Leonard said. "Sheldon is getting married."

"To Penny." Raj was clearly still in the same stage of denial that Leonard had only recently, reluctantly stepped from. "Cute, across-the-hall Penny."

"Yes."

"You're serious."

"Yes."

"Dude, that's, wow." Raj paused. "Hey, wait, then who wins our bet? Did anyone pick normal, human reproduction?"

"No. We never put it on the grid; it was just too unlikely."

"So what do we do with the money?" Raj asked.

"I guess we give it to Sheldon. It can be our wedding present."

"You're sure this isn't a trick."

"It isn't," Leonard said. He had seen them together too many times for him to doubt. "He gave up half of his comic books and memorabilia for her."

"Wow. He's really getting married."

"Yeah."

Xxx

Nate started babysitting for Joshua when he was 16 and Joshua was two. Leonard said it was revenge. He paid well though, so Nate didn't mind. Too much, at least.

Sometimes Leslie, or Dr. Winkle, but not Mrs. Hofstadter as he had had the misfortune to learn for himself one rainy afternoon, would linger, repeating instructions and refuting arguments she'd heard Sheldon make. Nate had fun winding both her and Sheldon up once he realized just how deeply they disagreed on everything, save Leonard.

When Joshua was five and being particularly annoying one afternoon, Nate remembered something from his own childhood and smiled. He clicked off the television and knelt down beside the child.

"Hey," he said, "Wanna see something cool?" He took Joshua's hand and led him into the kitchen. He found eggs lined up in the door of the refrigerator. He placed one inside the microwave and set the timer. "Watch carefully," he said as he lifted Joshua up so that he could press the start button.

Joshua watched, his eyes wide. After the egg exploded, he scrambled out of Nate's arms and ran to the refrigerator. "Again," he demanded.

Nate chuckled. "Not a scientist at all, are you?" he asked, and he took out another egg.

The exploding eggs and, later, sparking cds kept Joshua enchanted for the rest of evening. Leonard and Leslie, however, were less amused.

xxx

(note: Nate/Natalie)

Somewhere, somewhen, a boy is tapping the side of a test tube, watching the liquids inside swirl like a whirlpool. He is somewhere between eight and sixteen. His hair is dark.

Outside his room his mother is worried. She calls his name. She chatters. He sets the tube down in a rack and closes his eyes. The world is still spinning and he still feels too young and too old. In truth he is fourteen and he has just fallen in love.

x

Kissing her is like explosions. He had wanted to hate her for being so smart, for stealing some of his mentor's attention away. Instead, he had been snared as well. Her hair is soft and slips through his fingers like black snakes. He tells her this and she hits him playfully. She is no Medusa, no gorgon. He knows. He was just saying-- and then her lips silence his with the sweetest of interruptions.

x

She tells him her name is not her true name. She was born someone else, but her parents took that from her. Sometimes when they are not talking or discussing (he can almost understand her; he just has to work harder, study longer), he'll guess names gathered from books and the internet. She believes she will recognize her true name when she hears it. That is one of the only irrational beliefs that she holds. Later, he learns Korean for her. If he cannot return her name, at least he can help restore her tongue.

x

They will date on and off for years until one day they'll finally stop and be forever apart or forever together. He isn't sure which he wants; he changes his mind every week, every hour. Is it love or just comfort? One day she will stretch out beside him, damp and spent, and say, "We should talk," and they will. Then she will either get up and shower or kiss him and stay.

That will happen someday, but for now he is still tripping his tongue over her language, still guessing her name, still kissing her for the first time, still listening to his mother ask when he is going to leave his room while he sits in the dark waiting for his world to stop spinning around.