Author's Notes: You must have have read 'Optimal' to fully 'get' this story. Also, at my fic LJ (ladylioness), there are actual links to real photographs embedded in the story. I know someone who is wintering in Antarctica so I linked to his photos in the appropriate places. Thanks to awmperry for beta-ing.

Dear Penny,

We have arrived safely in Antarctica. It took an excessive amount of time to get here. I most certainly do not enjoy flying, and after I explained all the reasons why flying is so horrible, the others agreed that it was certainly something they would not do again. We are finally settled in and we will begin our experimentation tomorrow. It was prudent foresight on my part to institute freezer drills, as it is quite cold down here. Please remember to pick up our mail.

Sincerely,

Dr. Sheldon Cooper

Hey Sheldon,

Hi! I'm so glad you got there ok. I know it must've seemed like it took forever, what with all the plane changes. Be nice to the guys, ok? You're going to be together for a long, long time. Work is going fine. We debuted a new cheesecake, creamy turtle. It's pretty good, although caramel isn't really my thing. Tips have been ok, and you were right (of course), it has been pretty busy since the schools let out. They hired a couple of seasonal people, but I'm still getting decent hours. Um, what else...Had a few auditions, nothing really panned out, tho. I have a meeting with this guy for this thing in the Valley, so hopefully that will work out. Ah, finally beat the 'Blood and Sweat' quest. I kept wanting to go over and ask you for help, but, y'know, you weren't there. Also, the 'check engine' light is back on again, and every time I see it, I think of you.

Miss you,

Penny

P.S. Did you see a penguin yet?

Dear Penny,

You must endeavor to keep your vehicle in good working condition. If the engine fails, you could be left stranded in any number of undesirable locations. Depending on your positioning when the engine goes, you could also obstruct traffic, creating numerous dangers for yourself and other motorists. Pro-active behavior in this matter may prevent future problems, thereby lessening the financial drain. Do not delay in contacting your mechanic.

Also, I must request that you be clearer in your emails. I fail to comprehend the meaning behind 'this guy for this thing.' Further clarity can also be achieved by running your emails through Word's grammar check before clicking on send.

Did you remember to get our mail?

Sincerely,

Dr. Sheldon Cooper

Sheldon,

'this guy for this thing' = a director for a play. Yes, I got your damn mail.

Penny

Penny,

It's Leonard. Will you please write to Sheldon and tell him you got your car fixed? You don't have to actually do it if money is tight, but we would all appreciate it if you would just, uh, lie. He seems to be fixated on it and he keeps quoting injury statistics. Did you know that car accidents are the number one cause of death and injury for Americans between the ages of 5 and 27? If Sheldon doesn't stop quoting this stuff, Howard is going to run him over with a snowmobile.

Hope things are going well for you. Aside from Sheldon, we're all enjoying ourselves. It is very cold here. Raj says it's the closest thing he'll ever get to the void of space. He says hi. He's been taking a lot of pictures lately and some of them... Hang on...Raj said that Sheldon told him to take this picture and send it to you. Here's a link to the picture.

Write back and let me know how you're doing. We miss you. ;)

Leonard

Sheldon,

Thanks for the penguin picture. It meant a lot that you asked Raj to take it for me. I can't believe you were that close! It looks soo cute, like a fuzzy toy. You just want to pick it up and squeeze!

By the way, I made an appointment to get my car fixed on my next day off. So by Saturday, the light should be off. Haven't gone out much lately, so my expenses were pretty low this month. I should be able to swing the repairs without any problems.

Also, the meeting with the director went pretty well. He wants to do a female version of Neil Simon's 'Odd Couple.' He thinks I'd make a good Felix Ungar. I still have to audition, tho, but here's hoping!

How's your experiment going? Are you getting the results you wanted? Tell Raj to send me more pictures. I want to see what you guys are up to!

Miss you,

Penny

PS. Yes, I am still getting your mail, and, yes, I am rubber-banding each day together & keeping them in chronological order.

Dear Penny,

The penguin in the photograph, Aptenodytes forsteri or the Emperor Penguin, only appeared fuzzy due to its thick layer of insulating feathers. It can grow up to 4 feet tall and weigh 70-90 pounds. I would not recommend you 'pick it up and squeeze' at all.

It is odd that the director wants you for the character of 'Felix Ungar.' I believe that 'Oscar Madison' would be a better match. Isn't the popular aphorism 'do what you know'?

We are glad you got your car fixed. Leonard was particularly relieved to hear it. My polar experiment is proceeding nicely. I am quite satisfied with the results thus far. I am still doing research regarding the other experiment. I may be sending you a questionnaire soon.

Thank you for getting our mail. Please continue to do so.

Sincerely,

Dr. Sheldon Cooper

Post Script: Raj is telling me to say 'Thank you.' I am not sure what he is referring to, but he assures me you will understand. He also requested I send you this link. I am standing at the base of the hill. Leonard is wearing a red parka with a gray backpack and is positioned halfway down. Howard is in the foreground, wearing brown, and Raj, of course, is taking the picture.

Hey Sheldon,

That saying is for writers. It's 'Write what you know.' Besides, I have spent plenty of time observing a lovable neat freak, so I think I'll be just fine. That was my subtle way of telling you I got the part!!!! We're rehearsing for the rest of June & July, and then the play itself is the third week in August. It's too bad you guys aren't going to be back yet. My family might come over to see me!

I think I'm going out dancing tonight. My friend Tricia (you know her, she works at the Cheesecake Factory), she knows this slamming club. I've been kinda bumming around since you guys left and it'll be good to get the blood moving! Tell Leonard not to worry, I'm not planning on drinking much. Club drinks are expensive and my car repairs cost A LOT.

You can send me whatever you want, sweetie. I promise I'll try to do everything, but I'm telling you right now, there's no WAY I'm going to fed-ex or ups or polar express any blood or DNA down there. You'll have to cope.

How's Howard? Leonard mentioned him a little, but I haven't heard anything else. Did some native woman beat him bloody with an ice clump?

Still getting the mail.

Miss you,

Penny

Dear Penny,

There is no native subculture here. You may be thinking of societal subcultures who in habit the North Pole region, collectively referred to as 'Eskimos.' Therefore, Howard is still alive. We would have informed you otherwise. He is in good health, except for suffering some second degree frostbite. He was pursuing one of the few female researchers and, in a misguided attempt to impress her, underestimated his ability to tolerate the cold. Leonard said to remind you that the filter is still set up, so if Howard has sent you any emails, they have been directed to the spam folder.

If you need additional funds, I have moved a small stash of money to a hollowed out copy of my doctoral dissertation. It is on the bookcase closest to the window in the living room, third shelf from the bottom. Take what you need, I have no use for it here.

Leonard says congratulations on your play and he's sorry he won't be there to see you in your first non-singing role. I concur.

I am finalizing the questionnaire now, and will attach it to my next communication. I have been thinking about our experiment a great deal.

I appreciate your continuing efforts regarding the mail.

Sincerely,

Dr. Sheldon Cooper

SHELDON COOPER!

Missy emailed me and said they haven't heard from you since you first got there. You keep that butt in front of the computer until you write to your mother!

I'm not taking your money. Don't worry, you won't come home to find me in a refrigerator carton.

WRITE YOUR MOTHER!

Penny

Missy,

I have written Mom a suitably long email detailing my current research and assured her I am in good health. Furthermore, I am not sure why you are in contact with Penny, but please refrain from giving her a reason to chastise me as if I was an adolescent. It is most discomforting.

Please answer the attached questionnaire and return it as soon as possible. It's research.

Sheldon

Penny-girl,

Any idea why Shelly basically told me to stop tattling to you and then sent me a questionnaire, asking all about how I view him and what I think his views about women are? There's also a little section asking me to rate his compatibility with different women, and, whaddya know, you're on the list.

Something you want to share with the class?

Missy

Missy,

No.

Penny

Dear Penny,

Please be advised that I wrote to my mother.

It is preferable that you remain financially solvent. Please ensure that you continue to do so. It is very different here, weather conditions aside, and I find myself thinking of more familiar environs. Naturally, your living situation across the hall is part of that. It would be different to return home and not see you.

I am attaching the questionnaire as previously mentioned. Please endeavor to answer it completely and not leave it half blank as you did the last one.

Are you still getting the mail? You didn't mention it in your last email.

Sheldon Cooper

Sheldon,

Yes, sweetie, I got the mail. I always get the mail.

I've attached the questionnaire. It was, um, quite detailed and very thought provoking. I did leave some questions blank because if you want the answers to those, you'll just have to ask me in person. However, I did my best to answer the essay questions. I have to say, I did not know that 'like tends to like' started with Plato. I do think I made a good case for 'opposites attract.' Did you know there's a public library like three blocks from here? The reference librarians were very helpful.

I know what you mean about being homesick. I mean, yeah, I'm still here, but it's not the same without you guys. Even though I've been going dancing and we saw Harry Potter, I'm still a little lonely. I ordered Thai food the other day, and it just didn't taste the same.

The play's going well. Just four weeks until showtime and five weeks until you guys come home. I can't wait!

Miss you,

Penny

Hey Penny,

It's Leonard. Sheldon said I should write you, something about uncertainty about your social network and poor taste in food? I didn't quite understand it, but then when do I ever understand Sheldon? Ha ha.

Things are going really well here, despite the below zero temperatures. Sheldon has been so busy, it's almost like a vacation for the rest of us. He's nearly done with his experiment, but he's got something hush-hush on the side too. Whatever it is, it's weird, even for him. He actually interviewed Howard and Raj regarding their 'social views of the world.' I asked him why he didn't want to me to participate, and he said something about having a front row seat. Still, whatever it is, it's keeping him pretty well-occupied. Fun!

I'm glad things are going well with your play. I really wish I could see you acting like a female Sheldon. Is anyone going to be taping it?

Raj says thanks for the recipe for the homemade skin creme. It's really helped the chapping. Also, Howard says hello. He also says some other things that I won't pass along. Just be glad his emails go into the spam folder. Raj posted more pictures in the album, but here's one of the camp. It only looks bare because it's on the coast. Trust me, there's ice and snow EVERYWHERE. I think we're all looking forward to coming back to California.

Have some Thai food for us and we'll be back before you know it!

Leonard

PS. Can you just check the TIVO and make sure that 'True Blood' has been taping? Thanks.

Dear Penny,

Thank you for the questionnaire. It was most informative. I have a follow-up question. Much of my research seems to indicate that it is inappropriate for a friend to engage in a social relationship with another friend's ex-girlfriend. This appears troubling, especially considering the fact that Leonard is also my roommate. I would hate to disrupt the status quo unnecessarily. In addition, the research suggests that the friend in question be informed before the new relationship progresses. I am unable to extrapolate how this affects our experiment. Please advise.

Sheldon Cooper

Hey Sheldon,

While I agree with the research in principle, I don't think that, given your particular environment, you should mention anything to Leonard yet. It wouldn't be fair to tell him when he has no viable means of escape without also suffering frostbite. Besides, I think you should tell me the results first. If the results are satisfactory, we can always tell him together. Do you know, yet, if the results are...optimal?

Still picking up the mail and I also picked up all of your pulled comics. I am NOT bagging them for you. You're just going to have to do it when you get back. Can't wait for that.

Miss you a lot,

Penny

PS. Tell Leonard 'True Blood' is taping just fine.

Hey Sheldon,

Um, it's been a week or so, and I haven't heard from you yet. Just wondering what was going on. Leonard's still emailing me so I know you didn't, like, get eaten by a polar bear. I didn't mean to push or anything, you can totally take all the time you need. Just...write back, ok?

Penny

Dear Penny,

The Polar Bear, or Ursus maritimus, is indigenous to the North Pole region. Furthermore, while polar bears are extraordinary predators, they rarely attack humans unless severely provoked. They are more likely to eat our garbage.

We are coming home early. Will you pick us up at the airport? Our new itinerary is attached. Thank you.

Please continue to get the mail until then.

Sheldon

Leonard,

What the hell is going on? Sheldon just asked me to pick up you guys up at the airport in five days?!?

Penny

Penny,

It's Leonard. I don't have the faintest idea what happened. Howard and I were engaging in a spirited debate over, uh, meteors, while Raj was uploading the latest batch of photos to his album. Sheldon comes stalking out of his room, carrying your latest emails (he was printing them out for some reason). He looks at me like he's going to say something, and then practically shoves Raj away from the computer. He sits there, staring at the screen, for a couple of minutes and then announces he has completed the analysis of the data from his experiments. Next thing we know he's making travel arrangements. Raj said this was the picture that was up when Sheldon entered the room, but we still haven't a clue what's going through his head. Not that we ever do.

So, yeah, vacation's over. We're hoping we can find someone with Valium before the first flight takes off. We'll figure out some way to slip it into his Coke. But, hey, on the bright side, we'll be home to see your play. Yay!

See you in a couple of days.

Leonard

Sheldon,

I will definitely pick you up. Just give me a call when you've arrived.

Your mail and I are very excited.

Penny

She waits in the cell phone lot for their call. When it comes, she pulls up, they toss their luggage in the trunk and climb in. He sits up front, as always, and checks the dashboard. The 'check engine' light is off and he inwardly smiles to himself. The others pile into the back, grateful for even that small distance. He is unusually quiet, and she chatters to the others, asking questions, listening to the stories. His hands are folded in his lap and she sees him looking at her out of the corner of his eye. She would reach out and touch him, but the others would see and she's also a little afraid.

They drop off Raj first, then Howard. It's only Leonard left in the back seat and his head is nodding down. She falls silent and sneaks looks back at him. Their gazes catch at a red light and he opens his mouth to say something, but the light turns green and Leonard makes a little snorting sound. When they arrive home, she helps them carry their luggage up the stairs and she lets him go up first. It's been a long three months. Leonard opens the door and wearily heads for his bedroom, a muttered thank you his only goodbye.

Alone in the living room, they stand there looking at each other, surrounded by the debris from his summer. The apartment smells slightly stale, despite her visits to open a window once a week as instructed. Sometimes she'd also curl up on his bed and make believe, but she doesn't tell him that. He goes over to the door and opens it. She is disappointed, but resigned. She walks out, and he follows her. She stops and looks up at him. He merely raises an eyebrow and pulls his apartment door shut. Unlocking her own apartment, she goes in and he is still following her.

The door clicks behind him. Her apartment is clean, cleaner than he's ever seen her keep it, and he knows that she missed him. She watches him as he takes a step towards her, and then one back. His face twists in frustration and that muscle jumps on his cheek. He knows what he wants, what he needs, but he doesn't know how to ask, doesn't know if he should. He makes an aborted gesture and she tilts her head, still looking at him. A small smile tilts the corner of her mouth upwards and he is reminded of that sunrise, the light shining over the frozen water. Then she is gone. He sighs. It's been a long three months.

He waits, listens, and when she finally shuts the water off, he meets her in the doorway. His hand cups the back of her head, fingers entwining with her hair, the other hand on her hip, and he is kissing her. He has bent down too far and she forces him up a little, her hands wrapping at the nape of his neck. The sensation sends tingles down his spine and he is trying to remember what he studied, but he is having trouble compartmentalizing. He remembers the next step, his tongue tracing the seal of her lips. She gasps, surprised, and he really kisses her, tasting the mint of her toothpaste.

It becomes a blur of taste and touch, and somehow they end up on the couch. He is thinking how warm she feels, like a hot fire, chasing the last three months of cold from his body. She kisses her way down his neck, breathing in his scent, and it finally sinks in that he's home, this is real, and it's happening. She is getting carried away, makes a move to straddle him, needing to get closer, and suddenly- he pulls away.

Her breath pants out and she freezes, not sure what just happened. He is standing now, looking down at her, his eyes dark, his own breath ragged, but he is frustrated again. She knows what it means now, and she sighs, trying to calm herself down. Slipping her shoes off, she curls up on the couch and reaches for the remote. She'd been watching Star Trek: The Original Series, because it reminds her of him. She turns it on now and smiles up at him before looking back at the screen. He looks at the space next to her, looks at the chair where he always sits, and looks back at her. She is pretending to watch the opening credits, pretending not to see him, pretending not to care where he sits. When he slowly lowers himself onto the couch and she grins, she's not pretending.