PAIRING: Sheldon/Penny, mentions of Leonard/Penny in the past
SUMMARY: Maybe she's dreaming, after all.
SPOILERS: General third season.
DISCLAIMER: The characters in this story do not belong to me and no copyright infringement is intended.
WORD COUNT: 2,000 for this part.
NOTE: This story is still a work in progress. I may end up revising this part at some point, or not at all. Unbetaed for now, so feel free to point out my typos.
THANKS: To everyone for your amazing comments and encouragement. And big thanks to juniperlane for listening to me whine and to ninamazing for being an excellent sounding board.
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5
She doesn't know how she got here, in Sheldon's bedroom, on his bed, and how she ended up kissing him and he ended up kissing her back. Everything is hazy even though she's not really drunk. Maybe she's dreaming, after all.
She doesn't stop and he doesn't stop her, either, and she just can't believe that instead of pulling away from her and making an "eww, girl cooties" face, Sheldon's hands are at the back of her head, pressing her face closer to him and he's groaning like a man in the desert who has found water at last.
And she's trying to be gentle, to not bump the yellowing bruises on his face or the scab from his cut, but it's hard to remember to be careful when he sucks on her lower lip and kisses her closed eyelids and the hollow of her throat—and can this really be Sheldon?
They fall to the mattress and she's on top of him. She doesn't want to hurt him but she's pressed up against his body, his bruised ribs underneath the white button-down shirt and tie, and he's hard against her thigh. Sheldon's hard, she thinks. He's a human being, a man, and I gave him a hard-on. This fact makes her want to laugh and cry at the same time.
All she wants to do if forget, to drown in him, just to forget for a while that everything has gone straight to hell. His hand slips under her shirt and over her bra and she shivers at his touch. He's not rough and grabby like so many other guys are. He touches her easily, methodically, as if he wants to map and catalogue every inch of her. He's no longer awkward, superior Sheldon. He's just a man now, in bed with a woman, driven by instinct.
She unknots his tie, unbuttons his shirt and they somehow wrestle it off, along with his undershirt. The bruises on his chest and his left arm stand out in sharp relief in the dim light from the lamp. She touches them softly, one by one. He must have been in terrible pain the first few days but he didn't ever let on, which must be a first for him, the hypochondriac of the century. As far as she knows, the bottle of painkillers in the bathroom cabinet has never even been opened.
She pulls her tank top over her head and unhooks the front clasp of her bra. She brushes her body against his chest. For the first time she feels the sensation of his skin touching hers. He's so warm. She rests her head for a moment on his chest, listening to the skittering of his heartbeat, and she imagines what it would like to feel him deep inside her, for them to move together. She's so wet, she wants him so much, and she is utterly unable to believe that Sheldon can do this to her.
He tastes like orange soda and he tastes just like she'd always imagined him to taste, except she never imagined it, because who'd think that she'd ever be kissing Sheldon or that Leonard would be dead in a car accident, his ashes in a box currently sitting on Sheldon's desk in the living room?
That's when everything turns wrong, ugly and dark. Because Leonard is dead and Sheldon's bruised and broken and this is so, so bad. Like going to hell bad, if she believed in hell, which she doesn't, really. Panic rises up her spine and spreads through her chest and arms.
She can't do this. She can't do this to Sheldon. He's not some disposable fuck-toy, not just another one of her thirty-six hour flings. This is Sheldon and she's not going to hurt him like that. She can't. They're both too broken to make anything good of this situation.
"Sheldon, stop," she says, lifting her head. "We can't do this," she says, not quite able to meet his eyes.
"Penny," he says and she's surprised at how much he sounds like a man, not a boy.
She sits up, brushes her hair out of her face. "I'm sorry, Sheldon, but we can't." And her face actually hurts from trying to hold back the tears. "I don't want to hurt you."
"I'm not in any physical pain."
"That's not what I meant." God, he can be so clueless. She finds her tank top on the floor and puts it on. She stands up, feeling like she can't quite catch her breath. She needs to get the fuck out of this room before she really messes things up.
He sits up, wincing a little. Not in any physical pain, her ass. "Don't go, Penny," he says, eyes pleading. She's never seen him look like this, so nakedly vulnerable. So needy for human contact. But she can't give it to him. Not now, as much as her body and her rebellious hormones would like to. She has nothing to give.
"I'm sorry," she mumbles and practically runs out of the room.
Before she leaves the apartment, she steals two of Sheldon's Vicodin from the bathroom.
She gets in the shower and turns the water up as hot as she can stand it. Penny lets the water wash over her, hoping it will somehow wash away her shame. Her legs are shaking and her heart is beating a thousand beats per minute.
Under the spray, she finally lets herself cry, her forehead against the white tine in the shower stall. For Leonard, for Sheldon, for herself.
And if he triple-knocks on her door, she doesn't hear it.
The Vicodin takes her down into a thick, dreamless sleep, the first real sleep she's had in days.
She wakes in the early afternoon, sunshine spilling in through her windows.
Her eyes open and she feels a sickening wave roll through her stomach. Leonard is dead. She almost slept with Sheldon last night and ended up running away. Everything has gone terribly, terribly wrong and there's no fixing it.
Usually she can charm her way out of most bad situations, but there’s no smiling and flirting out of this one.
Maybe coffee will help. She gets out of bed and stumbles into the living room. Right away, she notices a neatly folded piece of yellow paper lying on the floor near the door.
She opens it, her fingers shaking. The note is written in Sheldon's curiously graceful handwriting.
I can't be here right now. At this particular moment, I need some time to properly process everything that has happened.
I will return.
Penny finds herself running across the hall and knocking on the door. Maybe he hasn't left yet. Maybe he'll still be there and they can somehow talk about everything, properly grieve together.
There's no answer.
She tries not to worry at first.
She's sure that he went home to Texas, to return to his mother's love and pie for a few days. She'd do the same if she were Sheldon.
Three days later, she wakes with a blurry margarita hangover on the couch to hear some sort of obnoxious banging. She opens her eyes and groans. What was she thinking, ordering a fourth margarita last night with the girls? But drinking helps, sometimes. It softens the edges of remembering Leonard.
The banging noises seem to be coming from across the hall. She finds her robe under a pile of magazines and pulls it on. Her heart is beating wildly. Is he finally home?
The door to 4A is open but when she peeks her head in, she spots three men, packing and hauling cardboard boxes. They're wearing t-shirts that say "Ace Moving Company." Sheldon is nowhere in sight.
"What are you doing?" she asks.
"Who are you?" says one of the movers. He drops one of the boxes on the floor with a crash and she cringes. Sheldon would pitch a fit if he saw this.
"I'm the neighbor. And friends with the guys...the guy who lives here. Is he here? Sheldon Cooper?"
The moving man shrugs. "That's the name on the order but he's not here. We're moving all this stuff to storage."
She thanks them and slinks back across the hall. She feels like she might throw up.
Raj calls her an hour later. Raj has never called her before, but then again, until a few days ago he was unable to speak to her at all.
"Leave of absence," he says, his voice sounding breathy and excited.
She puts down the bottle of pink nail polish she's using to paint her toenails. Pedicure as therapy. "What?"
"I just heard from Gablehauser. Sheldon took a leave of absence."
"Please stop saying 'what,'" Raj says and he sort of sounds like Sheldon then. "I'm just telling you what I know."
"Did he say when Sheldon will be back?"
"No, Gabelehauser just said that Sheldon would be gone for a while for personal reasons."
"God," she exhales. "Do you think he's okay?"
"I don't know," Raj says and he sounds as sad as she feels. "I don't know."
She thinks about apartment 4A, which felt more like home than her own apartment for so many years, full of life and bickering and bad Chinese food and movie marathons. And how it's now empty and echoing. There's already a For Rent sign in front of the building and someone will probably snap it up soon, despite the perpetually broken elevator and neglectful landlords. She can't believe how much she hates that thought.
After a week of hearing nothing from Sheldon, she gives in and digs up the phone number Leonard once wrote down, in case of emergency.
She figures this is pretty close to an emergency. She just might lose her mind if she doesn't know if he's all right.
There's an answer on the second ring. "Hello?"
"Is this Mrs. Cooper? This is Penny, Sheldon's neighbor from across the hall? We met that time you came out here to see Sheldon?" she hears herself babble.
"Oh, honey, hi! I'm so sorry about Leonard. It's so sad. My whole prayer group got together the other night to pray for his soul."
"That was really nice of you," she says. She takes a deep breath. "Say, have you heard from Sheldon lately?"
"I sure have," Mrs. Cooper says, sounding weary. "He called me a few days ago and said he was going to take some time off, maybe travel some. That he needed to do some thinking."
Penny sighs. So he really is gone. "I'm worried about him."
"I am, too. But you have to understand—when my boy is hurting, and he's hurting real bad right now, he's like a little wounded animal. He needs to go find a hidey-hole in the woods until he heals. He's been like that since he was a boy."
I caused some of that hurt, Penny thinks. It's not a pretty thought.
"If you talk to him, will you tell him that we miss him?" She bites her lip for a second. "And that we all love him?"
"I surely will," his mother says.
Penny has no idea what kind of love it is, but she loves Sheldon. She really does. It's weird to hear those words in her head. For so long, she couldn't stand him. He was a thorn in her side. After a while, she felt a sort of amused affection for Sheldon and his many odd quirks. And then, in the weirdest kind of way, he became one of her best friends. He stayed up all night to help her make Penny Blossoms. He drove her to the hospital and sang "Soft Kitty" to her and even made her pancakes the next morning. He tried to teach her physics.
And now? She doesn't know how to classify her love for Sheldon. But when she thinks about how it felt to kiss him, goose bumps rise on her arms.
A month later she receives a battered-looking padded envelope in the mail, postmarked Kathmandu.
When she opens it, she finds a white Tibetan prayer flag. There's no note.
It kind of smells like chai from Starbucks and yet, she swears it smells like Sheldon, too.
She unfurls the white cotton cloth, traces the intricate black lettering and designs with her fingertip. She imagines Sheldon on a Himalayan mountaintop. Maybe he scattered Leonard's ashes there under the blue sky.
And even though Sheldon doesn't believe in God, Penny wonders if he prayed for Leonard.
End of part 3 of 4.