SUMMARY: She has so much to say, so much to ask him that the words feel lodged in her throat.
RATING: NC-17 (eventually)
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 is what you might call the alternate ending to Though They Sink Through the Sea. This story probably won't make any sense without reading it first. And yes, I've lost my damn mind and will be posting this as a WIP. But you know I'm good for it, right?
THANKS: to allthingsholy, juniperlane and montycrowley, you spunky things. To all of you for the amazing comments. They really have inspired me. And to Dylan Thomas for the title once more.
And death shall have no dominion.
Dead men 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.
They don't talk much in the car from downtown Minneapolis to her apartment in St. Paul. She points out the few landmarks that are visible from 94 East—the Mississippi River, the University of Minnesota.
She has so much to say, so much to ask him that the words feel lodged in her throat.
She sneaks a few looks at him, although she can't see much in the dark car. Sheldon looks pretty much the same to her as far as she can tell. And it surprises her how much she feels when she does glance over at him, how many memories are bound up in his face, his eyes. She wonders if she's changed all that much. If she seems different to him.
They trudge up the stairs to her apartment on the third floor, Sheldon dragging a small suitcase. She opens the door. "Here we are!" she says and her voice sounds falsely cheerful to her.
He glances around. "It's considerably neater than your old apartment." He sets the suitcase down.
"I have a lot less stuff," she says. She now has a sofa and a coffee table, a few lamps. There's still nothing on the walls, and she really needs to get an armchair, a bookcase and some area rugs. But it still feels cozy, lit only by her Christmas tree in the corner of the room. "And I'm hardly ever home to mess it up."
She wonders what they do next. Here he is, in the flesh, standing in the middle of her living room and she has no idea what to do with him.
"Can I get you anything?" she asks. "Diet Coke? Some really awful wine? Water?"
"Water would be acceptable," he says, sounding like a stranger. This is so, so weird and awkward.
She fills up a glass from the filter pitcher in the fridge and brings it out to him. "I suppose you'll need to find the optimal place to sit."
Amusement flickers across his face. He takes off the parka and she takes it from him to hang in the closet. "I'm sure that any place will be just fine," he says.
"Are you sure you're feeling all right, Sheldon?" A lame attempt at a joke.
"I'm feeling just fine. Thank you for asking."
"But you always need to find the optimal spot."
He shrugs. "I'm attempting to set a new paradigm for living. To be less rigid."
"Really?" She'll believe that one when she sees it.
He sits down at the end of the couch. "This spot will do nicely." He stretches and yawns.
"Are you tired?" This is too bizarre for words. Will he sleep on the couch? Should she ask him to sleep with her? Does she even want him to sleep with her? Her head is buzzing with too many emotions for her brain to process.
"A bit. I was in transit most of the day from Houston. I couldn't find a direct flight for a reasonable amount of money."
"I'm going to take a shower," she blurts out. "I sweat a lot in my costumes under those hot stage lights and I feel totally gross. Can you make yourself comfortable?"
"I'm quite comfortable as it is."
They sound like distant relatives, making polite conversation about the weather and the Cornhuskers game, she thinks. She hands Sheldon the TV remote and flees to the bathroom.
She brings her phone in with her. As soon as she turns on the shower, she calls Raj.
"Where are you?" Raj asks. "And why are you talking so quietly? What's that weird noise in the background?"
"I'm in the bathroom with the shower on," she whispers. "I don't want him to hear me. Oh God, Raj, he's here."
"Sheldon? So he found you tonight? Good."
"You knew he was coming here?" she says, wanting to yell but managing to keep her voice down.
"Yeah," Raj says. "I'm sorry for not telling you."
"I'm going to kill you when you get here on Monday."
"What could I do, Penny? I don't betray your confidences, why would I betray his?"
"How long did you know?" Would it be more painful to beat Raj to death or to strangle him?
"I don't know, maybe two weeks?"
"Jesus. You totally knew when we IMed that night, didn't you? When you asked me what I'd do if he came back. You were asking for him, weren't you?"
"Raj, tell me the truth."
"It's going to so painful when I get your hands on you, Raj…"
"It's just so…so sudden. I don't know what to do. I'm not prepared for this!" Her hands are shaking.
"It'll be fine. Penny, he was so happy to hear you didn't have a boyfriend."
"He did not say that. Shut up."
"Well, he didn't say it in so many words, but I could tell he was relieved."
"Would I lie to you?"
She laughs. "Apparently the answer to that is a big, fat 'yes.'"
Penny takes a long, long shower. Some of it is probably procrastination but she also has to shave her legs, something she hasn't done in more than a month. There's been no need lately. There hasn't been any kind of man in her life since moving out here and her costumes for the play are long skirts, so why bother shaving in the depths of Minnesota winter?
She washes her hair twice and conditions it. She scrubs her face with exfoliating cream. By the time she's done she's bright red and she steams like a Chinese dumpling. She's put off the inevitable long enough and the hot water is starting to run out. She shuts off the shower and towels off, puts on her fluffy pink bathrobe.
Out in the living room, she finds Sheldon slumped over on the couch, fast asleep. His face looks so relaxed as he sleeps, she thinks.
Gently, she removes his shoes and sets them by the couch. She manages to get him into a horizontal position, with his head away from the door and resting on one of her throw pillows. His eyes flutter open. "I'm sorry for falling asleep on you, Penny," he mumbles.
She covers him with a blanket. "You said no apologies," she whispers. She kisses him on the forehead. His eyes close but he seems to be smiling, just a little.
When she wakes the next morning, much earlier than usual on a morning after a show, something feels different, odd. She can't quite place her finger on it as she stretches under the covers until she remembers. Sheldon is here. In her living room.
She sits up in bed, wondering if it was all a strange dream. But she knows it wasn't. Sheldon is here, unless he felt the need to bolt again and hole up in Paraguay or something.
Penny brushes her teeth and attempts to run a brush through her tangled morning hair. She throws a robe on over her tank top and pajama bottoms and walks out into the living room.
Sheldon is standing at the living room windows, watching the snow falling. Her breath catches in her throat. He's wearing his blue and green plaid bathrobe, and it reminds her of the old days. Sheldon and his Pajamas of the Day. Bickering with him mornings after spending the night with Leonard. He must have taken a shower not too long before because his hair looks damp and is sticking up a bit.
"Good morning," she says.
He turns around, looking a little startled to see her. "Good morning, Penny." He has a mug of coffee in his hand. "Would you like some coffee? I took the liberty of making some."
"Since when do you drink coffee?" Sheldon plus coffee equals terrifying in her books.
"I learned to tolerate small amounts of coffee when I was in Italy. I discovered that espresso after dinner is a non-optional social convention."
Something flares through her and it takes her a second to realize that it's jealousy. She wonders who taught Sheldon to drink espresso after dinner. "I can get the coffee myself," she says and pads off to the kitchen, chewing over the fact that she's actually jealous of some person in Italy who may or may not exist and may or may not have taught Sheldon to handle his caffeine.
He's still at the window when she returns to the living room. She wants to touch him but is afraid she might scare him off, like a deer in the woods. True, they hugged and kissed last night on Nicollet Mall, but it was an emotional moment, a reunion. It was all very innocent and sweet.
Now, she'd like to commit First Degree Touching with Intent. Not innocent and sweet at all. She blames it on the bathrobe.
She's never felt like this, so tongue-tied and completely dorky around a guy. Talking to guys is one of her few talents. She can flirt with any man, any time, if she feels like it. And she never used to feel uncomfortable around Sheldon. He was just Sheldon, her strange friend across the hall, later her boyfriend's roommate. Definitely nothing to get worked up about.
But she had to go and ruin things by kissing him that terrible night. Now she can't quite see Sheldon in the same way as before. She kissed him. His tongue was in her mouth, his lips at her neck. She felt him harden against her thigh.
She takes a swallow of coffee, sets the mug down on the glass coffee table where it makes a loud clink noise. She walks up to him and reaches for his hand, gives it a little squeeze. He squeezes back.
"I missed you," she finally says, looking up at him.
He doesn't take his eyes off the snowflakes drifting down to the ground. "I missed you, too. Considerably."
"I thought you didn't need human contact," she says, striving for a joke.
He looks down at her, his eyes wide and blue. "If I learned one thing while I was away, it's that I need human contact."
"That's a good lesson to learn." She smiles.
"I learned a number of things during my travels."
She wants to know where he went, what he did, what he saw, everything he learned. But she hopes he'll tell her in his own time.
"Sheldon," she says, her voice sounding shaky to her own ears. "I'd really like to kiss you. Would that be okay?"
He smiles, possibly the first genuine, full-blown smile she's ever seen from him. It doesn't look creepy at all, unlike most of the other times she's ever seen him try to smile. "It would be more than acceptable."
Sheldon meets her halfway, his lips finding hers. Their noses collide for a second and she chokes back a giggle. His mouth is warm and tastes like coffee. His fingers twine around the back of her neck.
They pull apart, both of them breathing hard. "Oh," Penny exhales.
"Well, that answers one of the questions that has been plaguing me," he says. There are bright pink patches on his cheeks.
Her fingers brush against the stubble on his cheek, trace the thin white scar on his cheekbone from the accident. "What are the others?"
"In due time, Penny. In due time."
She rolls her eyes. "Come on," she says, turning on her heel.
"Where are we going?"
She looks over her shoulder at him. "Back to bed."
"But we're awake now," he says and then something seems to dawn on his face. "Oh, I see…"
"It's about time," she says.