Author's Note: Big bag of fail. 1) I haven't updated in forever. 2) This is (barring tragedy) the final chapter. 3) This is a hella short chapter.

Big bag of fail.

Good news: I will be uploading a one-shot soon after this, so check that out. Then, I hope to get cuh-rack-a-lackin' on the sequel to "The Naked Truth Reciprocation." Barring plot bunny interference, of course.

******

Sheldon looked up at his mother with a strange mixture of defiance and apology, still holding a bag of frozen peas to his eye. She put her hands on her hips, wanting to launch into a tirade at him―a groom wasn't allowed to have a black eye on his wedding day, damnit―but she could only smile gently and let her tense shoulders collapse into a slouch.

"Oh, Shelly, honey...what did you do?"

He lowered the bag, glowering through his swollen eyelid, and dabbed away a spot of blood starting to trickle from the corner of his mouth. "One of Penny's meathead friends came uninvited and started to tell Penny what a terrible mistake she was making. I was next door to her hotel room and heard shouting, so I knocked to ask if everything was all right and he answered the door. Punched me right in the head."

"Sheldon..."

He lifted the bag back over his eye and hunched a little lower in his seat. "Penny punched him back, but he didn't appear very concerned he may be striking a woman pregnant with my child, so I..."

"Honey, you broke his nose."

"Yes, well, I've always had respectable upper body strength."

Mary Cooper sat next to him on the arm of the chair he grouchily occupied. "So he insulted your woman and your pride at the same time. And you thought he might hurt her and the baby?"

Sheldon began to knead his temples with the tips of four very long fingers. "I'm given to understand my reaction, however rash, is not uncommon. Normally I wouldn't react so violently, but I couldn't take the chance of him harming Penny in her state."

His mother clucked her tongue and gently touched the matching slap mark on his other cheek, the mark he wasn't that concerned about. "This looks more like her work."

"Pregnant or not, she can take care of herself, it would seem." He slapped his mother's hand away, short-tempered. "And I broke wedding tradition and saw the bride on the day of the wedding. She's furious."

Pawing through her purse urgently, Mary checked her delicate watch and cleared her throat. "Put the vegetables down, Shelly. I'm gonna do up your face so she doesn't punch you again the minute she's down the aisle, capiche?"

"Do up my―what are you saying?" Sheldon squirmed and then yelped as she threw the peas to the coffee table, seized his face in her hand, and brandished a sponge with liquid foundation like a sword. "Mom, no!"

"If you have a big fat black eye in your wedding photo, so help me God, Sheldon, I will fix a chastity belt on you for as long as you shall live..."

"You're not allowed to impose sexual punishments on me," he snarled back, but didn't try to wiggle away. She dabbed concealer and foundation under his eye, across his eyelid, and over the bruise on his cheek. The red mark on his other cheek appeared to be fading on its own, so she left it.

"Lip looks all right. Feel okay?"

"It wasn't my lip. I bit my tongue when he hit me," he mumbled in return. "Did you give her barrette?"

"Of course I did," she sounded almost offended he didn't have total confidence in her. "She doesn't think she'll be able to wear the shoes she picked out, anyway. I guess her feet are swelling up mighty bad."

"She's three months pregnant," Sheldon replied as if the phrase were self-explanatory. "Yet another reason you won't be imposing any chastity laws on our wedding night."

"With the mood she's in today, Sheldon--"

He shook his head, reaching up to straighten his tie and check once more that the Batman symbol at the very bottom was hidden by his suit coat. "Her hormonal levels have finally risen to a degree where her usual fatigue and nausea have been replaced by high energy and an inexcusable libido."

Mary got a far off look on her face. "Three months...I suppose that could be...oh, yeah..."

"Where is everyone?"

"Waiting next door at the church."

Sheldon stood and smoothed his jacket with wide hands. "My punctuality is a point of pride, Mom."

"And Bob over there might have your head--"

"Ira," Sheldon corrected quietly, "understands the situation. Nevertheless, the ceremony shouldn't run late because one of Penny's ex-boyfriends thought now was a prudent time to entertain delusional rants."

"You didn't write your own vows, did you, sweetheart?" Mary asked in a curiously flat voice.

He rolled his eyes. "How cute―no."

"Penny doesn't do corny. I like that."

"Oh, she enjoys it immensely, just not on an important day. She understands image much better than I do, and apparently timelessness is inextricably linked to tradition and elegance. Her falling to a crying, emotional mess wouldn't look good in future years." He swallowed. "She doubted my ability to wax poetic, as well."

His mother's face softened. "I'm sure she'd appreciate it if you waxed on and on about her symmetry and biologically sound figure."

"Exactly. This wedding, as Penny has explained it to me, is more for family than for us." He straightened his tie fanatically. "For all intents and purposes, Penny and I have entered into a binding contract―an extension of our relationship."

"It'll feel different after the ceremony. Trust me."

He simply nodded in reply. When things were finally settled and he could safely take his spot at the altar beside his groomsmen, he started to relax, and then grow nervous in a new way. Leonard assured him more than once that the bruise and swelling weren't terribly noticeable, but he still fretted. He could smell the telltale scent of Howard's cologne from where he stood, but it didn't bother him as much as the pungent lavender sprigs sprinkled all over the church. He felt, as he always had in churches, like the weight of the world was slowly settling on him.

"Stop slouching," Leonard hissed and Sheldon pulled his shoulders back, standing proud. He waited patiently, trying not to look too bored, and found snapshots forming where normally he'd attentively record his every reaction.

Penny entered in a glorious crescendo of music, feet sliding as her audience stood. Her father handed her to Sheldon, who could only blink at her at first, unable to smile, even as she put a hand protectively on her belly for a moment as she handed her flowers away to one of her bridesmaids. Someone cried loudly―Sheldon suspected Raj.

He spoke in assured, soft tones. She did the same and they both seemed so oblivious, certain, ready. Andika, trembling in the long line of bridesmaids, bowed her head and cried in earnest when Sheldon looked around curiously at all the faces watching Penny slide a wedding band he didn't particularly care for onto his finger.

Kissing her in front of their families posed a serious risk for Sheldon's sanity. He'd agonized with anyone who cared to listen about duration, intensity, and other meaningless variables. Penny had urged him to practice, but he quickly discovered she was coercing intimacy from him. While that was fine, he didn't appreciate her deception, despite her laughing it off.

Luckily there was no veil. He had her hands in his, which felt a bit too polite considering the bump in her gown, but he kept his fingers tangled in hers, leaned down, and closed his eyes, kissing her. And she sighed like he'd stolen her very breath from her and he blushed, knowing the closet romantic in him wanted to make this moment for them.

But it wasn't, as much as they daydreamed as children it might be. Penny had whispered these things to him late in the night after coming back from volunteer hours at a women's shelter in the area.

"These things aren't for us. We just smile and nod through the day, make sure it's an appropriate expression, something to remember fondly―an ideal we couldn't have elsewhere. It's peace of mind, for my dad, for your mom, for everyone. And then, we drive off into the sunset together and, if I'm not a whale by then, we have our moment. Like that first night at my parents' farm."

Sheldon, who told everyone the exact minutia of his schedule down to his bowel movements, appreciated this private sector of his life. That when he wrapped his arms around Penny and whispered he loved her and she played her fingers over the button on his khakis that he never had to breathe a word of it. That he could look at her over the top of his computer monitor and see a faint dusting of him over every particle of her being. She never whispered about crouching on the roof under an umbrella watching the lightning storms in the distance, or how hard she'd cried when the very fame monster that had lifted her onto the shoulders of giants had dragged her name through the mud and made her relive her ordeal.

Sheldon relaxed and released her from the kiss. "I love you."

"Love you back," she replied dutifully and the next time Sheldon took a moment to step away from himself and remember any significant detail, he was pressing his nose into her neck and swaying with his barefoot bride in a reception hall that stank of lavender and vodka toasts for a couple who had absconded from their own wedding into a private sphere.

************

Sheldon received the call while Penny wailed from the bathroom that she wanted to go to the beach so badly and hated everything about her bathing suits, both bikini styled and maternity styled. She wanted to go in her sweats. Sheldon softly urged her to give up the whole notion, which earned him a goggle-eyed stare of dismay.

So he answered his phone, eager for the chance to duck away from her indecision. It didn't matter she had a strict "No-Business-Calls-While-Honeymooning" policy. He had never turned down an offer from work, unless it was beneath him.

"Dr. Cooper?"

"Speaking," he answered curtly.

"Since you're away on your honeymoon, the committee called me to have me track you down..."

"Committee?"

"You were nominated for the Nobel Prize in physics."

Sheldon squinted at the wall. "A cruel prank, indeed. They don't release the names of nominees, not for many, many years after the prize year."

"Well, the reason I can tell you is you've won the prize this year."

Sheldon expected he'd be in his office, still working tirelessly on some other theory or theorem, but here he was, wearing Batman swim trunks, on a beach in Mexico. He felt mildly ashamed, as a scientist. As a man, however, he could take a deep breath and realize he now had: reached every goal he set for himself career-wise just short of unequivocally proving String Theory, married a beautiful woman who loved him because of and despite his quirks, and was about to have a baby with said woman.

"Oh my," he managed to reply at last.

"Congratulations. I figured you'd want to know right away. The award won't be presented to you, and you won't be able to tell anyone outside of your immediate family until December, but..."

"Thank you," Sheldon murmured, and hung up guiltily as Penny, wearing one of his shirts over her bikini grumpily, put her hands on her hips and stood menacingly in the bathroom doorway.

"One of you little eye-tie grad students need help with an Oppenheimer something or other?"

She knew it was something big when he simply smiled at her, rather than criticizing her humble understanding of whoever this Oppenheimer guy was. Sliding his phone into his pocket, he scurried over to her and wrapped a tight hug around her shoulders, grinning like a fool for what felt like the thousandth time in the past few days. Since he'd met Penny, he had to admit he'd both frowned and laughed more. She made him feel more, period.

"You get that computer time you wanted?" she asked, venturing a guess into his chest.

He shook his head, pulling her away and holding her at arm's length, that peculiar squeak coming into his voice as he trembled and carefully explained to her what the president of the university had just told him. Penny didn't disappoint him; the moment the news left his lips, she was kissing them, and then she was dancing around in circles, wagging her fingers in the air. She feigned jealousy that it all seemed to be going so well for him, but could only laugh when he leveled her with an unimpressed glower, as if reminding her of all her blessings.

Hours later, when they had yet to break in their personal slice of the beachfront, Penny watched him making phone calls to his family, looking tired but immensely pleased. A touch of worry would creep into his face now and then, when his mother or sister was going on and on about something he couldn't interest himself in for more than a few seconds. He finally got to talk to his grandmother, and Penny watched the worry completely take over for almost a minute before he hung up and, trembling, ran his fingers over his mouth.

"Sheldon?"

"I'm not...sure what I'll do now. I mean, my entire life I've desired this accomplishment."

Penny scrabbled wildly with several ideas bouncing around her head. "Well," she dragged the word out slowly, unsurely. "Didn't that Smoot guy win the Nobel Prize? You could do what he does; present at symposiums and give lectures."

"I much prefer the research," he grumbled, rubbing the back of his neck.

"Okay, well, you're a Nobel winner, Sheldon. You can pretty much do whatever you want, right?"

"Nobel Laureate," he corrected half-heartedly. "Did you bring any bottled water?"

"For the hundredth time, you can buy bottled water here in Mexico―most of it was probably bottled in the United States, anyway."

Sheldon relaxed at the slight edge in her voice. Lately he'd been giving up on their mild tiffs only a fraction of the way in. It was his way of making sure they hadn't changed too terribly much. He didn't mind her steadily increasing patience, nor did she mind his. But he did get a sick, cheap sort of thrill when he'd once again try to talk her into buying menstrual supplies in bulk, or propose adopting a second set of measuring cups and utensils from their kitchen into urine cups and enemas. Besides, he lied to himself, it's only practical to have two sets now that Penny is my wife and I have a vested interest in her health.

That thought alone startled him. I have now become two things I never expected or particularly wanted for myself until I met Penny and started that glacial change. If change is possible in human beings, and I know it is, now, then it must happen so slowly. It must happen slowly so the changes stay―it's just an adjustment of a lifetime routine. Something much bigger than my simple routine, which is only designed for the attainment of the Nobel prize, my health, and optimal efficiency.

I am now a husband. I am, or at the very least am about to be, a father. Glacially, without any hint to me that things were shifting, I arrive here.

"My husband, the Nobel Laureate," Penny teased softly. "Do I get to go to that fancy ball like in A Beautiful Mind and be part of your speech and everything?"

Sheldon nodded vacantly. "Provided the doctor says it's all right for you to fly so late in your pregnancy, I'd like you to be there. I don't know how much time I'll devote to thanking my family; the speech should really encompass a great deal."

"Sweetie, you really ought to have someone help you with it. I know you're brilliant and everything, but sounding humble, grateful, and eloquent all at once is a chore for anybody." She smoothed a hand over his bare back and tried to tug him back into the pillows without startling him. "Then again," she added as an afterthought, "with you winning and all, maybe you'll be able to devote more of your time to these pesky social conventions I keep telling you about?"

Sheldon smiled at her very carefully over his shoulder. "I understand. It's my major accomplishment and my head can't get too big. Knock me a down a few, then. I feel like I'm on top of the world."

"You were once," Penny sighed softly and rubbed a hand over her belly thoughtlessly. "Isn't it better here?"

Finally easing back into the bed, he turned on his side and gathered her loosely in his arms, sighing into her hair as she snuggled in as deeply as she could to his neck.

"Penny, we have to start planning our Comic-Con costumes for next year."

"Sheldon, you have to finish painting the nursery and putting up the curtains before I'll even consider looking at fabric swatches."

Sheldon's nose wrinkled. "Fine."

"I love you."

"I love you, too."

*************

In early December, before he had to make his appearance in Sweden to accept his award, Cal-Tech threw him a departmental party, which then went campus-wide. Everyone mingled freely in the largest space available in the main building on the campus. Sheldon, still sort of in limbo, shook his head and shrugged, one hand on a glass of champagne, the other either holding onto Penny's fingers or her purse.

When Leonard arrived, flanked by a beautiful blonde and her older sister, he had to flag Howard down to be admitted to the party, since he no longer had credentials there. Still, after a few minutes of very polite argument, he slipped into the main dining hall and saw the spreads of people everywhere, all celebrating Sheldon's accomplishment. In a picture of grace, beauty, and pride, Penny was in the center of the room wearing a dusky, muted red dress that sank all the way to the floor but didn't trip up her satin heels. Her hair was shorter now, just a little longer than her chin, and half pinned back, the rest falling in loose, comfortable waves. He could imagine the smell of vanilla floating behind her as she breezed through the room.

But she twirled, belly on display, with none other than Dr. Cooper, who was laughing into his shoes whenever possible, too pleased to do much more than nod at offers for more champagne, dance with his new bride, and think about what he wanted to research next.

Penny spotted him first and pulled Sheldon in for a hug to end the dance, kissing his cheek and leaving a bright red lipstick mark. She pulled her husband, a frozen smile on his boyish face, over to the doorway where Leonard and his two female companions waited.

"Leonard!"

He stepped forward, all smiles, and hugged Penny gingerly, blushing when she seized his wrist and made him feel where Baby Cooper was tap-dancing against the side of her rounded tummy. Sheldon, face flushed from the champagne and glory, bent and hugged Leonard next, bashfully sputtering that he hadn't realized how much Leonard's presence would be missed.

"I assumed with Penny moving in I'd be quite busy, but I do pine for the days of Battlestar Galactica on DVD and movie-marathons."

Leonard's smile was too big for simple happiness. Penny watched, waiting for him to finally tip and spill the beans. Never one to disappoint, Leonard finally shuffled a little and then drew himself up to his full height.

"I got a research grant for some work in Austria. I need five others for the summer, and then I'll have the university at my disposal. If you, Koothrapalli, and Wolowitz want to be three of my five this summer, that can be arranged. It's dark matter detection and light fractures when approaching an event horizon, so it might not be your cup of tea, Sheldon, but--"

"I'd love to, Leonard. By summer I should be able to travel. Penny may be able to make a trip, too, and bring..." He tossed a glance at Penny.

"I love to travel. It'll be up to the Whack-a-Doodle here if the baby gets to ride on an airplane to visit Daddy." Penny smiled, lifting her eyebrows. "That's great, Leonard. Who are your friends, though?"

"Oh, this is Isla and Linnea." Leonard introduced carefully, drawing the shorter of the two sisters forward with a delicate touch. "Isla, Linnea, this is Dr. and Mrs. Cooper―Sheldon and Penny."

Their Austrian accents had Penny's cheeks twitching up earnest delight as they crept forward and shook her hand, hugged her, bashfully asked to touch her belly, and then turned their attention to Sheldon, upon whom they heaped as many compliments as they could, leaving him blushing terribly and Penny grinning like a mad fool. After finishing his next glass of champagne, Sheldon sat beside Penny at the nearest table.

"Do you think Leonard's here because he had something to do with you winning?" Penny asked shyly. "I can't help but think even if nothing had happened to make him move to New Jersey to teach he wouldn't have made time to fly out here and celebrate your Nobel Prize."

Sheldon shrugged, because he honestly couldn't remember agreeing to future obligations in the event that they did not live together. They may have had a roommate agreement, but no stand-alone friendship contract. Nothing that said once their time living together had ended they would no longer speak to one another.

Intensely grateful for the fact Leonard was trying, in whatever way he was, Sheldon looked up and beamed at his friend as he approached their table, hands in pocket. "Leonard, thank you for coming," he said in that soft way of his, the one that said he had caught on to the potential solemnity in the moment and decided to milk it.

Leonard smiled back, looking relaxed, happy somehow. "You're welcome, buddy. Wouldn't miss it for the world."

So pleased with how the past year had played out for him, Sheldon didn't bother to say a word about the nonsensical phrase Leonard had just uttered. Grinning like a fool at nothing in particular, Sheldon accepted another glass of champagne from a passing waitress and sighed into it, realizing Penny was watching him carefully.

"I'm tipsy," he announced then, deciding to get the elephant out of the room, and Penny burst into giggles as she leaned to kiss his cheek. "It's not something to reward, Penny!"

She swiped her thumb over his cheek, helplessly admiring everything about him in that instant, and shrugged helplessly, feeling the ever-present hormone surge that made her eyes prickle almost a dozen times a day, it seemed. "I know, but not everyone is trying to modify others' behavior so it suits them. I just remembered I loved you."

Sheldon hesitated, then ducked his face. "Oh."

Sensing where his mind had gone, she kissed his cheek again. "I love you."

"You don't mind coupling a physical reminder with a verbal one?"

"Way ahead of you; I promise."

Sheldon relaxed a little, but then tightened again and affixed her with a suspicious stare. "Are you playing a joke on me?"

She rolled her eyes. "No, Sweetie. Why would I? It's not like you get them most of the time," she grumbled privately to herself.

Choosing to ignore her yet again, letting her little growls at him slide, he slid a little closer, tilting his head, his speech just a little too Texan for his usual self. "Because I can't help but think this is all some elaborate rug about to be yanked out from under my feet. Penny, on top of everything else..."

She was simultaneously pitying him, loving him, wanting him, and weary of him she almost wilted. Instead, tilting her head and pushing her lips out a little to show her sadness, she shook her head. "Sheldon, honey...no. I love you. I'm absolutely not lying about that. As for the rest of it..."

His eyes widened for a moment, but he surprised her again and let out a little breath, frowning. "Well, I suppose if I had to choose one..."

Not the Nobel (though she suspected he hadn't thought the Nobel could be faked to this degree). He was most concerned with losing her. She let the hormones and the melting start in, not bothering to tell Sheldon the problem, simply sobbing silently into his neck. He held her, rocking a little, looking baffled.

Penny had done this once before, to her father. She had clung to him and hugged so tight he'd begged her to stop. She'd been waiting for the school bus when she realized it was his birthday and he was turning 45. With her rudimentary math skills, she soon realized he was well over middle-aged and that he was now more than half as old as he'd probably ever be. The thought strangled her, constricted her, and when she climbed on his lap and cried, she wasn't even able to tell him what was wrong she was so overcome with sadness at the thought of him passing on.

Now, at her husband's celebratory banquet for the highest possible achievement in physics, she clung to Sheldon and couldn't even begin to tell him what was just so good about everything.