PAIRING: Sheldon/Penny, mentions of Leonard/Penny in the past
SUMMARY: He always liked her best in bright, fresh colors.
SPOILERS: General third season.
DISCLAIMER: The characters in this story do not belong to me and no copyright infringement is intended.
WORD COUNT: 2,600 for this part.
THANKS: To everyone for your comments and encouragement. P.S. The tie!porn is for juniperlane.
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5
She stands in front of her open closet, completely unsure of what to wear. What do you wear to the memorial service of one of your best friends/ex-boyfriends? She's pretty certain Miss Manners hasn't covered this in her column.
Not black, she thinks. Leonard would hate for her to wear black to his memorial. He always liked her best in bright, fresh colors.
The pink strapless dress is too slutty. The flowered one makes her look like one of the ladies from the Maternity of Mary Mothers' Club. Finally she uncovers a pale blue sundress that covers her knees and isn't too low cut, but doesn't make her look like a soccer mom, either. She remembers how she wore it on one of her first real dates with Leonard, when they drove to Santa Barbara and ate lunch outside at a little Italian place. The sun was bright that afternoon and Leonard sunburned his nose and later she rubbed aloe vera on it and kissed him during the slow parts of The Two Towers.
She covers the circles under her eyes with generous amounts of concealer and finds her sunglasses under the sofa.
She stares at herself in the bathroom mirror, fussing with her hair. She takes a deep breath.
You can do this, she tells herself. You can go to Leonard's funeral. You can get through this.
Across the hall, she finds Sheldon in his new gray suit. Yesterday, Penny helped him pick it out at the Macy's at Paseo Colorado after she convinced him that the plaid sports jacket needed to be permanently retired. Now he looks too grown up to her. She wishes he could be himself and wear a superhero t-shirt.
He fiddles with a burgundy silk tie, also new.
"Do you need help?" she asks.
He grimaces. "I'll get it. Eventually."
"Let me help," she says. "My dad used to let me tie his tie."
Sheldon relents with a small sigh. She has to stand on tiptoe to reach him. She knots the slippery fabric. Sheldon smells good, like Ivory soap and shaving cream.
"Thank you," he says, after she adjusts the knot.
And she doesn't really know why, but she blushes.
This isn't the good kind of funeral. Not that there are any good funerals, she thinks, mentally correcting the word funeral with memorial service since everyone has been using the latter, but it's not the kind where the deceased has lived a long, full life and has passed on peacefully, surrounded by his many descendents. This is the memorial of a man who didn't even reach thirty, who hadn't yet received tenure or published the book he was working on, who never married or had children. The kind of memorial where the weeping is epidemic, where people cling to each other like life rafts and sob before the service has even started.
It's an obscenely bright and sunny day, real sunglasses weather. Much too beautiful for this sort of thing. The chairs are set up on the Beckman Mall at Caltech, as if for a graduation ceremony. It seems that half the campus is here, plus a decent showing from the Cheesecake Factory and some of her actor friends, thanks to the powers of Facebook. Leonard's family is sitting across the aisle, all dressed in black. His mother stares straight ahead as if she's riding to work on the subway.
She'd gone over to greet Mrs. Hofstadter, who pretended not to remember her. "Oh yes," she finally said. "Leonard's little girlfriend." And then she hugged Sheldon for a good five minutes.
Leonard's father was friendlier, small like his son was, with a frizz of dark curls surrounding the bald spot on the back of his head. He'd profusely thanked Penny and Sheldon for all they'd done in the absence of Leonard's family.
Sheldon sits next to her, sitting up so straight that Penny's sure his spine isn't touching the back of the folding chair. She swears she can hear his heart beating. When she glances over at him she can tell his jaw is clenched.
A string quartet, Leonard's regular group minus Leonard and plus a last-minute cello substitute named Hwang, begins playing something pretty. Leonard tried to teach her about classical music but she always laughed and told him that it made her sleepy.
Leonard's uncle, who is a minister of some sort, is conducting the service. At the planning meeting the afternoon before, a bleak affair held at a Denny's near LAX, Sheldon had made it perfectly clear to the uncle that there was to be no mention of God or Heaven (or, spare us all, angels) since Leonard was an atheist and Sheldon didn't want any hypocrisy at this event. The uncle had merely shrugged sadly and asked the waitress for a refill of his coffee. In the end, he was cool with it, though.
There's a small table up front near the podium, covered with a white cloth, and Penny tries not to look at it because there's a plain brass box on the table and inside the box are Leonard's ashes.
She hopes it didn't hurt when he burned.
Dr. Gabelhauser gets up and talks about how Leonard was a productive member of the scientific community and a valuable member of the Caltech team and Penny has to make an effort to shut her ears because she knows that Leonard didn't like Gablehauser much and the feeling was pretty much mutual. She pokes Sheldon in the arm when she hears him mutter insults under his breath.
Leslie plays a solo on her violin and while Penny doesn't really like Leslie, she has to admit that Leslie is really good. And it might be the light, or the angle of where she's sitting, but Penny could swear that Leslie has tears in her eyes.
Leonard's brother, Michael, is tall and skinny, almost more of a Cooper than a Hofstadter. He tells a funny story about how he and Leonard almost blew up the garage one summer after Leonard got a chemistry set for his birthday. No wonder Leonard and Sheldon were best friends, she thinks. Everyone laughs during Michael's story, except their father, who cries. Penny's heart lurches for him.
She wonders when she'll ever be able to cry for Leonard. And if there's something seriously wrong with her because she can't.
At the Denny's meeting, Leonard's uncle had asked her if she'd like to get up and say anything and she'd shook her head and said no. That she didn't think she'd be able to keep it together in front of all those people.
What she didn't tell them at Denny's is all she wants to say about Leonard and to Leonard is how sorry she is that she couldn't love him the way he wanted to be loved. And how do you say that in front of all of his family and friends?
But now she regrets saying no while Howard tells tales of Klingon camp, paintball tournaments, all-night Deep Space Nine marathons, and how Leonard was always there as a friend for him no matter what. He talks about Leonard's generosity and how he let Howard sleep on his couch for two weeks straight after his mother threw him out for piercing his ear.
She thinks about how much Leonard's friends loved him and the tears almost come. She blots at her eyes with a tissue just in case.
And now Sheldon stands up. She squeezes his arm before he walks up to the podium. He looks very tall in his new suit and very stern, like a school principal about to dress down the entire student body about smoking in the bathrooms.
He clears his throat. "Those of you who know me, which I believe is the vast majority of the congregants today, know that I do not excel in speaking of my personal feelings. However, you who do know me know that Leonard was my best friend. And that his passing is almost the most tragic occurrence I can contemplate.
"In lieu of a speech where I attempt to illustrate my personal sentiment for Leonard, I will read a poem by Dylan Thomas. I would prefer to allow Mr. Thomas to speak for me on this occasion."
Sheldon's voice has started out shaky, but it has gained strength as he speaks. He shuts his eyes for a brief moment and then opens them. Penny holds her breath as he begins to recite a poem from memory.
"And death shall have no dominion.
Dead mean naked they shall be one
With the man in the wind and the west moon;
When their bones are picked clean and the clean bones gone,
They shall have stars at elbow and foot;
Though they go mad they shall be sane,
Though they sink through the sea they shall rise again;
Though lovers be lost love shall not;
And death shall have no dominion.
And death shall have no dominion.
Under the windings of the sea
They lying long shall not die windily;
Twisting on racks when sinews give way,
Strapped to a wheel, yet they shall not break;
Faith in their hands shall snap in two,
And the unicorn evils run them through;
Split all ends up they shan't crack;
And death shall have no dominion.
And death shall have no dominion.
No more may gulls cry at their ears
Or waves break loud on the seashores;
Where blew a flower may a flower no more
Lift its head to the blows of the rain;
Through they be mad and dead as nails,
Heads of the characters hammer through daisies;
Break in the sun till the sun breaks down,
And death shall have no dominion."
Sheldon sits back down next to her and she squeezes his arm again, smiling at him. She's so damn proud of him, how he's managed take charge of everything, how he's kept going and going without stopping over the last four days, how he's somehow created something beautiful out of tragedy.
Now the tears are falling, just a few. She pinches the bridge of her nose to stop them.
The minister says a few more words, something about acceptance, and faith, and friendship. It all washes over her as she pictures Leonard's face and how he would smile crookedly at her.
It's over now and everyone stands up.
Leonard won't be back, she thinks as she hugs Howard. She can't believe how much that thought still surprises her.
Back in Nebraska, after a funeral and the gravesite service, everyone goes back to the church and gathers in the basement for a lunch. It's usually potluck, everyone in town contributing a dish—tuna noodle casserole with Ritz crackers on top, green Jell-O mold, Brown n' Serve rolls.
A California geek funeral means a party, sort of. People come over to Sheldon's apartment (she still has a hard time referring to it as Sheldon's apartment, even in her head). Earlier in the day, Howard and Raj went to Trader Joe's and picked up a bunch of different crunchy snacks and dips and breads and lots of bottles of Two Buck Chuck and weird flavors of soda like blood orange and tamarind. Pizza and Thai food are delivered. There's even a non-dairy cheesecake. All the food that Leonard loved.
And it's a pretty excellent party when all is said and done, the kind of party Leonard would have liked to have held himself. Once the relatives and Caltech higher-ups have said their goodbyes, it does start feeling like a real party after the iPod is turned up and half the wine is gone. The physicist types tell stories that completely go over her head about Leonard and various experiments gone wrong. Her friends hug Penny and keep her wineglass full. Raj has had a glass or two himself and appears to be chatting up her friend Kelsey. There's still crying but a lot more laughing and she's glad for it. She's glad that people are remembering Leonard with fond laughter. She's even glad that a few are playing Dance Dance Revolution.
Throughout the ebb and flow of the afternoon and evening, she keeps her eye on Sheldon. They don't really talk, but she catches his eye and smiles at him from across the room. He seems to be all right. He looks pale (but then again, when doesn't he?) but he's talking to people instead of hiding in his room, as she half-feared he would.
At one point, Leslie corners Penny near the bathroom and drunkenly cries on her shoulder, blubbering something about how Leonard was so great and why didn't she see it until he was dead? Penny pats her on the back until Leslie runs off to puke in the bathroom. When Leslie gets out, Penny leads her to Leonard's room and lays Leslie down on his bed, telling her to sleep it off.
Somewhere around nine, Penny feels overwhelmed by the body heat in the apartment, the four glasses of wine she's drunk, the energy of three dozen people in mourning. She goes to her apartment and shuts the door behind her, sits on the couch for a bit, trying to catch her breath. She puts her head between her legs to get the blood flowing.
She changes out of the blue dress and into a pair of shorts and a tank top and splashes cold water on her face in her bathroom. She almost feels normal again.
When she goes back across the hall, people are starting to leave. The wine is mostly gone, the food table an absolute wreck. The apartment smells like guacamole and egg rolls.
Leslie staggers out with Kate, her roommate, who seems sober, thank God. "Make her drink lots of water," orders Penny, who has lots of experience with hangovers and knows Leslie probably doesn't.
Raj and Howard are the last to leave. They even clean up the kitchen a little, although it's definitely not going to be up to Sheldon's standards. Oh well, it's a nice gesture.
"Are you going to be all right?" Raj asks. He still seems able to talk to her and Penny's glad.
She shrugs. She can't even remember what all right feels like anymore.
They offer to stay the night to keep an eye on Sheldon, who seems to have disappeared, but she shoos them out and tells them to get some rest.
She shuts the door and takes a deep breath. Time to find Sheldon.
She knocks on his bedroom door, which is closed, but there's no answer.
"Sheldon," she calls out. "It's me. Can I come in?"
She hears something muffled in response and figures it's close enough to "yes" and opens the door.
He's sitting at the edge of his bed, staring down at his hands, which rest on his knees. He's still wearing the white button-down shirt and the tie, but the jacket is off.
She stands in the doorway. "Hey there," she says.
Sheldon looks up and even in the dim lamplight she can see that tears are rolling down his face. She's not sure she's ever seen him cry before.
In an instant, she's all the way across the room and by his side on the bed. He doesn't tell her that she can't be in his room or sit on his bed. He doesn't push her away when she reaches for him and begins kissing away the tears on his bruised cheeks, salty and warm.
She pulls him close and he doesn't push her away, doesn't stiffen like he has the few times she's hugged him before.
To her surprise, she finds herself kissing him on his closed lips and (this is the strangest part of all) he opens his mouth to her. And oh, God, their tongues meet and this is so, so wrong but it feels so good and right and to her surprise she doesn't stop and he doesn't stop her, either.
End of part 2 of 4