PAIRING: Sheldon/Penny, mentions of Leonard/Penny in the past
SUMMARY: She freezes in her tracks. She knows that voice as well as her own.
SPOILERS: General third season.
DISCLAIMER: The characters in this story do not belong to me and no copyright infringement is intended.
WORD COUNT: 2,100 for this part
WARNING (highlight to view spoiler): Character death—although it's not Penny or Sheldon.
THANKS: To untherapy for the plot bunny over at Paradox, ninamazing for epic fangirl love and juniperlane for morale boosting. And to Dylan Thomas for the title.
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5
Nicollet Mall is strangely deserted for just after midnight on a Friday night. The first real snow of the winter is falling in thick clumps from the sky.
Penny shivers as she walks the two blocks from The Local to the parking ramp. She shoves her hands into her coat pockets for warmth, wondering why she moved from Pasadena to Minneapolis, of all places. She forgot her gloves in the car. She's always forgetting her gloves. Her boots make a squeaky noise as she crunches through the newly fallen snow.
She's just crossed the street when she feels a hand grab the arm of her coat. A drunk from one of the bars or maybe a panhandler. She pulls away her arm and walks faster, glancing around to see if there's anyone else walking down Nicollet Mall. She digs in her left coat pocket for her cell phone, just in case.
"Penny," she hears a voice call out from behind her. "Penny, stop…"
She freezes in her tracks. She knows that voice as well as her own.
No. It can't be. It's not possible.
Penny doesn't believe in ghosts. Never has.
Not until tonight.
Her manager pulls her aside just as the dinner rush is heating up. "Phone for you, Penny," he says, looking aggrieved.
"Who is it?"
"It's that guy. The weird one who always comes here on Tuesdays."
She rolls her eyes. "I told him he couldn't call me here."
"He says it's an emergency."
"I'm sorry, Craig," she says over her shoulder, stalking to the office. She's seriously pissed. An emergency for Sheldon probably constitutes needing a ride to the comic book store or that Leonard ate his leftover pad thai.
She picks up the phone. "This had better be good, Sheldon..."
"Penny?" He sounds like he's calling from thousands of miles away.
She sighs loudly into the receiver for maximum effect. "What is it, Sheldon?"
"Penny, can you pick me up?"
"I'm at work, Sheldon. Call Leonard."
There's a long pause. "I'm at the hospital. In the emergency room."
Her heart starts thumping against her ribs. "Which hospital? Are you all right?"
"What happened? Are you all right?" But Sheldon has already hung up.
She drives like a bat out of hell to Huntington Hospital even though it's only a three-minute drive, straight up Pasadena Avenue.
It takes her forever to find a parking spot and she nearly plows right into an Escalade on the third floor of the garage. She wishes she'd sprung the six bucks for valet parking.
She rushes into the ER waiting room and spots Sheldon right away, sitting in a chair and talking to two police officers, who are asking him questions and scribbling in tiny notepads. She stands back, wondering what Sheldon did to need to talk to the police. At least he looks like he's all right. From where he's standing he seems to have bruises on his forehead, something of a shiner developing on his left eyelid and there's a bandage on his cheekbone.
What could Sheldon have possibly done to get himself injured and attract the attention of the police? The mind boggles.
After a few minutes, the police walk away. Sheldon spots her and stands up. She can't read the expression on his face, but then again, she usually can't.
She takes five steps closer. "Are you okay, sweetie?"
"Penny," he says, his voice hoarse.
"We were driving to the comic book store. A truck disregarded a red traffic light and collided with Leonard's car." His voice is strangely flat, even for Sheldon. He can't meet her eyes. "The driver was drunk."
She feels a strange tremor go through her body. "What about Leonard?"
Sheldon doesn't say anything.
She walks two more steps in, so that she's almost touching Sheldon. "What about Leonard."
"He…he…" His voice cracks. "I'm so sorry, Penny."
"What do you mean?" She can't breathe. Oh God, she'll never breathe again. She wants Sheldon to start making some damn sense.
His voice is so soft she can hardly hear him. "I tried to save him. I attempted cardiopulmonary resuscitation but it was unsuccessful."
It's only then that she notices that Sheldon's clothes are covered with bloodstains, splotches of reddish brown against his Green Lantern t-shirt.
She can't picture it. It's not possible. Leonard is gone.
"Oh, Sheldon." She gathers him close in her arms, but he stands rigidly, his arms at his sides.
This is not happening.
"I tried, Penny." His voice cracks again. "I tried."
By the time they get back to Sheldon and Leonard's apartment (oh my God, it's just Sheldon's apartment now), Howard and Raj are there, waiting outside the door with bags of Chinese food. She supposes this is the geek equivalent of bringing casseroles to the bereaved in their time of mourning.
As soon as they get inside, Raj throws his arms around her and hugs her. "I'm so, so sorry," he says.
"You spoke!" says Howard. "You spoke to Penny!"
"Whatever... I don't have time for social anxiety right now."
Sheldon walks right past them all like they don't exist, goes to the bathroom and shuts the door behind him.
"Is he okay?" Raj asks.
She shrugs and sits down on the couch. Maybe if she sits really, really still this will all go away. Maybe she'll wake up from this ridiculous nightmare.
Howard tries to give her a carton of kung pao chicken and she pushes it away. She does accept the white wine in a Princess Leia glass he offers and she's oddly touched that they thought to pick up some wine for her.
Raj begins unashamedly crying—loud, ragged wails. Howard pulls him close and they rock back and forth, sobbing together.
Penny can't cry. She can't feel anything. She feels like her entire brain was injected with Novocain.
She hears Sheldon come out of the bathroom and the sound of his bedroom door closing behind him.
"What do we do now?" asks Howard, wiping his face with the back of his hand.
"I don't know." Maybe if she drinks enough of this wine something constructive will come to her.
"Someone needs to call his parents," Raj says, sniffling.
"Oh, God," she breathes.
"I could do it," offers Howard. "Unless you want to, Penny."
She shakes her head. She can think of at least a million things she'd like to do more than tell Leonard's parents that their son is dead.
Raj says, "Do you think Sheldon would do it?"
"I don't think he could handle it," she says. "I mean, he was practically in the fetal position in the back of my car the whole way home."
Her spine stiffens when she hears Sheldon's bedroom door open and his footfalls on the floorboards. He's changed into a fresh clothes—a Spider Man shirt this time around. He sits down on the couch.
"I did it," he says.
"Did what, honey?" she says.
"I called his mother. I told her." He stares off into space.
"Oh, Sheldon," she says. "I'm so proud of you for doing that."
He nods as if she's speaking a foreign language and he only understands the gist of what she's saying.
"What do we do now?" asks Howard.
Sheldon shakes his head as if he's clearing the cobwebs collected there. He stands up and starts passing out Xbox controllers to all of them. "It's Halo Night," he says. "We play Halo."
"Do you think that's a good idea, dude?" Raj says.
Raj has a lovely speaking voice, she thinks. She wishes she could hear it more often.
"Leonard would want us to play," Sheldon says firmly.
So this is how we'll mourn, she thinks, picking up her controller. By killing each other in a fictional galaxy, millions of light years away.
She tries to find a comfortable position in bed—on her back, curled up like a shrimp, lying on her belly. She surrounds herself with her favorite stuffed animals. She turns the fan on and turns it off. She opens and shuts windows. Nothing works. Her lower back and legs ache as if they've absorbed the impact of a car accident.
Three months ago, she broke up with Leonard. It wasn't a dramatic thing like it usually is in her love life. No dishes were thrown. Instead, she sat him down on the couch one night and explained, as gently as she could, that she didn't think it was working out and could they please just try to be friends again?
She remembers the confused expression on his face, as if he couldn't believe that this was happening, that they were destined to be the great love of the century. And now she remembers, with shame, that he cried, big, fat tears running down his face. And how she held him close and told him she was so, so sorry.
She wishes she'd just stuck with it. Leonard was good to her. He didn't bring random women home from the club and fuck them in her bed. He never stole her ATM card and withdrew $700 to pay his outstanding gym membership fees. He never told her she looked fat in her jeans.
And if she'd just stuck with it for a few more months, Leonard would have died believing he was loved.
She's not sure if she believes in God. She grew up Catholic—Mass every Sunday rain or shine, Catholic school through eighth grade, Family Rosary Night. But she never felt any connection, any sign that God or Jesus or the Virgin Mary were anything more than nice stories meant to make rowdy children behave.
Tonight she wants to believe in God. She wants to believe that Heaven exists and Leonard is there, happy and secure at last.
She sits up in bed and wraps her arms around her knees. "Dear God," she whispers. "Please exist."
This is the first morning in a long time she's absolutely, positively not wanted to get out of bed. Ever.
But she knows she has to. There are probably a thousand practical details to deal with in the face of death and if she doesn't deal with them, who will?
She pads across the hall, still in her robe, hair uncombed, coffee cup in hand. She can't even begin to contemplate dealing with any of it without milk for her coffee.
Sheldon opens the door, fully dressed. She wonders if he even went to bed last night. The bandage has been removed from his face and in its place is an ugly-looking gash. His bruises have deepened in color, ugly purple and olive green against his pale skin.
"Good morning, Penny," he says like it’s just another morning in their lives. "I trust you have come for milk for your coffee?"
She grunts something in reply and pushes past him to get to the fridge.
Sheldon sits down at his desk and picks up the phone. She pours a dollop of milk into her coffee and stirs it with her index finger. For a long while, she stands in the kitchen area, watching Sheldon swing into action.
He calls Boston, New York, even Texas. She hears words like power of attorney, cremation, obituary and visitation. Sheldon speaks in crisp, authoritative tones to the coroner's office, a funeral home, a number of Caltech offices. He jots down notes on a yellow legal pad with a red Sharpie. He appears to send and receive a number of emails.
Her legs grow tired and she plops down on the couch, sipping her now-cool coffee, staring in disbelief at this Sheldon she's never seen before. He's so competent. True, she knows he couldn't have earned two doctorate degrees before he was old enough to drink by being a bumbling fool, but she has the bad habit of viewing him as something of a helpless child in the face of hard times.
He hangs up the phone.
"Are you all right, sweetie?" she asks. "Can I make you something to eat?"
"I had a bowl of 100% bran cereal for breakfast. It should keep me sufficiently satiated for at least two more hours. Besides, you don't cook."
He has a point, although she's fairly sure she can make scrambled eggs. "Do you want to talk about it?"
Sheldon stands up, something that apparently hurts him to do, although he tries to hide it. She remembers that his ribs are bruised and he's refused to take the Vicodin the ER doctor prescribed. "There isn't sufficient time to share our grief, Penny. Please get dressed. I have a full day of errands ahead of me and I need you to drive."
Penny swallows the last of her coffee, silently agreeing with Sheldon. There isn't enough time to mourn and perhaps that's for the best. Maybe keeping busy is the one thing that will keep them both from falling apart.
End of Part 1 of 3. Part 2 right here.
P.S. I really like Leonard as a character, so no "YAY, YOU KILLED LEONARD!" comments please. ;-)