Six days later, Penny was starting to get used to the solitude of her own apartment. She had carefully avoided going out at any time when she knew that she'd likely run in to any of the guys and had mostly been successful, except for one time when she'd passed Raj and Howard in the hallway. Howard had been his usual self, which she took as a good sign, but he hadn't asked her to join them, so she assumed that the men had closed ranks with Leonard, so to speak.

In the meantime she had gotten not comfortable, exactly, but at least a bit more peaceful. The anxiety had lessened and the voice in her heart that said she'd done the right thing reporting Kurt to the police had prevailed. It was about more than just Leonard; even if they couldn't prosecute Kurt, at least now someone knew what was lurking under his good looks and everybody's-dream-catch attitude. It felt like she'd won some kind of personal battle – like now Kurt finally knew that she knew his dirty little secrets and he knew he'd never be able to fool or manipulate her again. And that felt kind of good.

She was ruminating on this when the phone rang. Looking down at the call display, her heart leapt. It was the Physics Department at CalTech. "Hello?" she breathed, answering quickly.

"Uh – hey, Penny," Leonard's voice replied, sounding artificially casual. She smiled – he was trying as hard as she wanted to.

"Hey, Leonard," she replied. "How's it going?"

"Uh – it's okay," he said. There was a second of silence, and then she heard him draw a deep breath. "Actually, it's not okay," he continued. "I, uh, we drove to work today and we parked in the parkade, but now Sheldon's been invited to join a conference presentation and he's going to be here all night. Howard and Raj have already gone home and I'm here by myself, and, uh - " He stopped abruptly. Penny could imagine him flushing.

"Want me to swing by?" she suggested lightly. "You can show me your lab and then we could grab dinner."

"That would be great," he replied, breathing a sigh of relief. "Thanks Penny. Thanks for being so understanding."

"No problem," she replied. She was smiling so widely it felt like her cheeks were going to burst. "I'll see you soon."

xxx

The first thing she noticed when she found his office was how much better he looked. The bruise was still there, of course, but the purple was fading into a yellowish colour, and the circles under his eyes were lighter. When he saw her and smiled, he didn't wince in pain and she noticed that his range of motion had improved. "You're looking good," she exclaimed.

"Yeah," he replied. "I'm feeling better. Thanks for coming. I was – I got scared," he ducked his head as he admitted the feeling, but Penny was pleased to see that when she approached him, he didn't stiffen at all.

"It's understandable," she replied. "Here's what I think we should do: let's walk to your car, then you drive me to mine, and I'll follow you to the restaurant. Deal?"

"Deal." He smiled again, relieved, and took her hand as they walked out of the office. "Listen, Penny," he said as they wandered down the hallway, taking their time. "I really appreciate you giving me some time. I know it was a lot to ask."

"No – it was good. I didn't fully think through what I was doing when I went to the police station, and having a bit of space helped me figure things out, too." Leonard looked at her, encouragingly, but didn't interrupt. After a moment, she met his eyes, then glanced away and said, "It wasn't just for you. It was for me, too. It was for me to show Kurt that, I don't know, that I knew what he'd done and that I saw through him now. Does that make sense?"

"Yeah. It makes a lot of sense." Leonard reached for her hand and gave it a squeeze. "I should have been braver," he said, letting her hand go so he could reach for the door to the stairwell. "I should have told the truth in the first place. I just didn't want you to feel bad."

"You don't have to worry about me, Leonard." They walked slowly down the stairwell, Leonard gripping the guard rail and easing himself down each step. Penny kept a watchful eye on him but resisted the urge to try and help. Luckily it was only one flight down. This time, Penny held the door open for Leonard. He hesitated.

"Want me to go first?" Penny asked gently.

"No, don't be ridiculous," Leonard replied, blushing. He took a deep breath and stepped into the parkade. The moment that Penny stepped through the door, though, his hand found hers and he held on tight.

"What do you feel like eating tonight?" she asked, trying to distract him. Leonard's breathing was a little shallow and his hand had gotten colder in her grasp.

"I – I don't know," he replied, eyes darting around the parkade. "How about Thai?"

"Thai's good. There's Suriya, that's close."

"No – Saladong Song. That way I can pick up something for Sheldon."

Penny smiled. "You're always thinking about everybody else, Leonard," she said admiringly as they approached his car. "That blows me away."

"What blows me away is that you had the guts to come down here," a new voice said, and they both whirled around. Next to her, Leonard's face drained of all colour and he started to shake as Kurt stepped out from around a pillar to confront them.

"Kurt!" She shouted. "What are you doing here? Get lost." She moved to step forward and confront him but to her surprise, Leonard shoved her backwards, putting his body in between her and Kurt. Penny looked at him in surprise, but Leonard didn't meet her gaze. He was staring ahead but he wasn't looking at Kurt's angry, twisted face. He was staring down at Kurt's hands. Penny followed the gaze and saw the glint of metal. "Jesus," she breathed.

Kurt waved the gun, laughing, as he stocked nearer to them. Leonard stepped back, pushing Penny backward as he did so. "Where you gonna run to, little faggot?" Kurt taunted. He grinned over Leonard's shoulder at Penny. "You know, Penny, I never expected your pet geek to have so much fight in him. I figured I'd stick him once, he'd bleed for a while until some security guard came along to call 911, and he'd learn his lesson. But you know what he did? That little motherfucker kicked me, right in the gut." Kurt scowled at them. "That really pissed me off," he informed them.

"Kurt, come off it. You've just had too much to drink," Penny countered. She tried to smile at him. "Honey, please, this is ridiculous. Just put down the gun, and we'll talk, okay?"

"Talk about what, Penny? About how you were holding Dr. Nintendo's hand just a second ago? Talk about why you're hanging out at work with him? Huh? You wanna tell me how he's 'just a friend' and 'nothing happened' and I've got nothing to worry about?"

"You don't own her," Leonard said quietly. "You're not even with her." His voice was shaky, but Penny caught an edge of anger in his tone.

"Shut up, faggot!" Kurt screamed, raising the gun and pointing it at Leonard's chest. "Shut the fuck up!" He took a step closer, the gun lowering a fraction as he moved.

A loud beep interrupted them as Leonard hit the unlock button on his car door. Kurt swung the gun back up, but faster than she thought possible, Leonard grabbed the door handle and swung it open so that it stood as a barrier between them, at the same time pushing Penny down to the ground and toward the front of the car. She scrambled on hands and knees around the car, cowering between the bumper and the cement wall of the parkade, as a shot rang out. Leonard was right beside her.

"Now what?" she whispered. He stared at her, eyes wide, face white.

"I don't know!" he exclaimed frantically. Another shot rang out and they instinctively threw their arms around each other. Penny tucked her head against Leonard's chest, listening to his heart pound and wondering dimly if hers was beating as fast. They had to go – they had to run – but Leonard couldn't run – and she didn't know what side Kurt was on, whether he come up beside the car door or come up on the passenger side. Time seemed to drag out, but she knew it couldn't have been that long, or Kurt would have killed them by now, which meant that any minute –

"Drop the weapon and get down on the ground," a new voice rang out. Both Penny and Leonard jumped. Penny started to get up to see what was going on, but Leonard's hand closed around her arm like a vice. He shook his head mutely, holding her in place.

"Please don't go," he whispered, his voice laced with fear.

"Leonard, we have to find out what's happening." There were loud footsteps and shouting that seemed to come from all directions, authoritative voices mixing with Kurt's outraged screams, and then the sound of sirens and a car engine coming at them. Penny pulled out of Leonard's grip, ignoring the frightened expression on his face, and peeked around the passenger side.

Kurt was on the ground, his hands cuffed behind his back, with a security guard's knee embedded in his back and the man's gun firmly pointed at his head. There were other guards, also with guns, positioned around them. A cop car had just pulled up and Officer Brookmayer was stepping out of it. "Leonard, it's the police!" Penny exclaimed. "Officer Brookmayer!" she called. The officer looked up, acknowledged her, and then gestured for her to stay back and wait as he knelt down to read Kurt his rights. "It's going to be okay, now," she continued, turning back to Leonard. "Leonard?"

Leonard didn't answer – he had his eyes pressed shut and he was shaking hard, his arms wrapped tightly around his knees. "Honey, are you okay?" she knelt down and touched his arm; he flinched but didn't open his eyes. "Leonard, honey, look at me."

Just then the sound of footsteps caught her attention and she looked up to see Sheldon standing above them. "Leonard," Sheldon said, "Get up off the concrete. It's cold and dirty."

"Sheldon?" Leonard's voice was completely confused, but at least the incongruity had shaken him out of his funk. He looked up at his friend, who stared back impassively. For a moment they just looked at each other and then Sheldon rolled his eyes and offered Leonard a hand.

"Get up," he reiterated. Leonard took Sheldon's hand. Sheldon glanced at Penny who nodded and put her hands on Leonard's back, helping propel him up to his feet so that the strain on Leonard's ribs was minimized.

"Sheldon, what are you doing here?" Leonard asked once he was standing. He turned around to reach for Penny, but she waved him off, coming to her feet beside him, pleased that instead of flinching away from her, Leonard was back to leaning into her, his hand unconsciously reaching for hers.

"Well, I came to check on you, of course," Sheldon replied. "And I promised Howard that I would retrieve his cameras after our mission was successful."

"What cameras? What are you talking about?"

Sheldon smiled his beatifically down at them. "It was quite brilliant, if I do say so myself. You see, when Howard, Raj, and I arrived at the 'scene of the crime' looking for evidence last week, we quickly realized that there was very little we could do to prove that Kurt had assaulted you. However, statistically speaking, violent offenders tend to reoffend. Add that to the fact that jealous ex-lovers generally continue to be jealous and factor in the disturbingly unintelligent tendency of many criminals to return to the place where they first offended, and we concluded there was a high probability that Kurt would confront you again. It was just a matter of time. So Howard liberated some cameras from the engineering department and we wired them into my smart phone."

"Howard was supposed to stop you," Leonard groaned.

"Good thing he didn't," Sheldon countered. "If he hadn't written the face recognition algorithm, I would have never gotten the automated message from the cameras alerting us to Kurt's presence in the parkade, which resulted in my calling campus security."

"Oh my god," Penny exclaimed. "You were using Leonard as bait to catch Kurt?"

"Of course not," Sheldon countered. "The face recognition software was programmed to recognize Kurt, not Leonard. We just assumed that if we could be alerted to every time Kurt was loitering in the parkade, sooner or later we'd catch him doing something suspicious."

"Like carrying a gun," Leonard supplied.

"Exactly." Sheldon held up his cell phone, showing them the picture of Kurt as he entered the parkade, gun in his left hand. "It was sufficient cause for my call to campus security, which is why they were able to react so quickly."

"So we were just lucky," Penny concluded. "If we'd come down a little earlier, Kurt might have had time to – you know – before the police arrived."

"I don't believe in luck, Penny," Sheldon replied. He was about to say more when Officer Brookmayer approached and interrupted the conversation.

"Dr. Cooper," the officer began. "I'm given to understand that these are your surveillance cameras?" He pointed to one that was positioned over the stairwell door.

"Well, actually, they technically belong to the Engineering Department, but - "

"Just say 'yes officer' so I don't have to arrest you for theft," Officer Brookmayer interrupted.

"But I didn't steal them – Howard Wolowitz stole them!"

"Sheldon, just go with the nice officer and answer his questions," Leonard directed.

Sheldon opened his mouth to protest, but Penny cut him off. "Go!" she commanded. Sheldon shot her a look, and then meekly left with the policeman. Penny kept her evil-eye stare up for the inevitable moment when Sheldon turned back to look at them, but it melted away when she looked over at Leonard and saw his goofy smile.

"Well," she said, suddenly feeling self-conscious. "I guess that's over, huh?"

"Yeah," Leonard replied thoughtfully. Suddenly his goofy smile transformed into one of absolute joy. "it is over, isn't it?" He took Penny's hand in his. "This whole week I feel like I've been looking behind my shoulder, waiting for him to appear again. I kept having dreams about it."

"Oh, Leonard," Penny squeezed his hand. "That's terrible. But Kurt's not going to hurt you anymore."

"No, you don't understand - " Leonard looked at her seriously. "I wasn't dreaming about me – I was dreaming about you. I kept dreaming that he'd hurt you. I'd have this dream that I'd be in my apartment lying down and I'd hear you screaming, and I'd try to run but I couldn't move fast enough." He shuddered.

"You were worried for me?" Penny replied, shocked.

"Of course! Penny, look at what Kurt did to me, just because I'm friends with you," he gestured at his face. "All I could think about is what he would do to *you* if he found out we were still hanging out. I thought he might really lose it on you."

"Is that why you wanted space?"

Leonard shrugged. "It's why I didn't want to talk to the police," he admitted. "I don't know why I wanted space. I just – there was so much to sort out, you know?"

Penny nodded. "I know." She turned his hand over in her own, mindlessly tracing her thumb across his palm. "So – is it all sorted?"

Leonard shrugged, considering the question. "Almost," he replied eventually. "There's just one more thing."

"What's tha-" Penny's eyes opened in surprise as Leonard leaned in, covering her mouth with his in a sweet, lingering kiss. "Oh," she breathed when he released her. He blushed. She blushed.

"Let's go home," he suggested. "If we hurry, we might have an hour to ourselves before Officer Brookmayer releases Sheldon from jail again."

Penny laughed. "I'll drive!" she replied, grabbing the keys.

*the end*