Sheldon’s been in the bathroom far longer than his usual showering time, which is weird enough, but what’s worse is that it’s night-time, and he doesn’t shower at night. Showering is part of his morning routine to help him wake up and be as presentable as possible for work.
Leonard leans his head right against the door and can hear the water still running, but none of Sheldon’s usual shower noises (usually singing, sometimes talking through an equation, and occasionally a blend of the two). He’s about to give up and go to bed without brushing his teeth when he does hear something.
It’s a sob. Low, but unmistakable.
There’s no answer.
Thinking unspeakable things about razor blades and red-tinted water, Leonard doesn’t call again, instead just turning the handle and pushing the door open.
A rubber duck flies at his head and Sheldon shrieks, “Get out!” at an unearthly pitch. The water is running in the shower but Sheldon’s standing in front of the mirror, looking at himself through the steam, and at first Leonard can’t wrap his head around what he’s looking at.
Or rather, what he’s not looking at.
The first absurd thought that crosses his mind is that Sheldon really is a robot because that’s the only way the smooth absence of anything between his legs makes any sense. But then the steam shifts and Leonard realizes that Sheldon has – he has—
“Shut up, Leonard. Just shut up and get out.” Sheldon’s fists clench at his sides and that’s when Leonard sees the blood trickling down Sheldon’s thigh. There’s no razor blade in evidence though and Leonard comes to the reluctant conclusion that it’s natural blood.
Or at least it’s as natural as menstrual blood coming out of someone he up until forty-five seconds ago thought was male-bodied can be, anyway.
“Sheldon, you’re bleeding.”
Sheldon’s hand comes up and scrabbles on the counter and Leonard dodges the bar of soap that Sheldon flings next. Sheldon’s eyes are shut and he’s throwing backward so it’s not difficult. Sheldon’s chest is heaving and his shoulders are shaking and for a guilty second Leonard does want to leave, wants to get out and leave him alone, because he’s having difficulty processing this.
Instead, he lifts Sheldon’s towel from the warming rail and drapes it around Sheldon’s shoulders, going up on tiptoe to wrap his arm around Sheldon briefly before fetching his own towel and wrapping it around Sheldon’s waist, doing all the tucking at Sheldon’s hip so that his hands don’t get anywhere near Sheldon’s genitals. It’s not that he’s disgusted or anything – he earned his red wings with Priya not that long ago, actually – but Sheldon so clearly is that he doesn’t want to exacerbate the situation.
The whole time Sheldon keeps pushing at him with his left hand, ineffectual little fluttering shoves. His right hand is locked in place over his groin, hovering an inch away from his skin. He only moves it when Leonard is putting the second towel in place. Then his hands clasp together in front of him; with the way the top towel is draped around him he looks like a penitent monk.
As soon as he’s all wrapped up, Sheldon shuffles over to the toilet and sits down on the closed lid, head hanging. Leonard shuts off the water in the shower, pulls a swatch of toilet paper off the roll, and wipes up the dime-sized splotches of blood between the bathtub and the sink, pitching the paper into the bin. He then opens Sheldon’s side of the cupboard under the sink, steels himself, and starts digging. Sheldon’s negatory sound from behind him doesn’t stop him. Finally he finds the pads buried at the back and sets the packet on the counter. He dampens a washcloth and steps toward his roommate.
“I can do it myself.” Sheldon’s voice is hoarse.
“I don’t particularly need to be embarrassed any further. I’m not Carrie White, but that doesn’t mean I won’t set you on fire.” The threat is too mildly spoken to be particularly malignant, but Leonard drops the cloth in Sheldon’s lap and leaves the room.
Chocolate. Hot chocolate. With mini marshmallows. It’ll soothe Sheldon – heaven knows the chocolate helps Penny at this time of the month – and it’ll help clear his own head, maybe.
Sheldon comes out to the kitchen without Leonard needing to go and retrieve him from his bedroom. He’s in his pajamas and wrapped in his robe and walking normally, although one hand is pressed against his lower belly.
“Penny has Midol,” Leonard ventures tentatively.
“I have ibuprofen. You know I’m not good with caffeine.”
Leonard refrains from mentioning the caffeine content of either tea or hot chocolate and instead holds Sheldon’s mug out to him. Sheldon accepts it and crosses the room to his spot on the couch. He stops when he gets there.
“I grabbed it from Penny’s place.”
Sheldon picks the hot water bottle in its fluffy red cover up and holds it close against himself. “What did you tell her you needed it for?”
“She wasn’t home; I just snagged it out of her bathroom.”
“What if she notices it’s missing?”
“Like she would notice if it’s missing in that mess of an apartment of hers.” Leonard feels faintly guilty saying it but Sheldon gives him a somewhat feline smile and snuggles back into his spot.
Leonard gives his hot chocolate one more stir and joins Sheldon on the couch. “So... uh. Can I ask—”
“No.” Sheldon touches his hand. “Let me tell, and if I don’t explain whatever you were going to ask, assume I’m not comfortable discussing it. Please?”
“Sure.” Leonard turns his hand over and catches Sheldon’s, intending to squeeze lightly and then let go. Sheldon returns his grip rather more tightly than he’d expected, though, and Leonard lets him hang on.
So many people talk about Momma’s boys and Daddy’s little girls. Other people talk about how fathers want boys and mothers want girls. Junior was definitely our father’s son, and Missy was Mom’s daughter. I was... somewhere in between. I wasn’t out-and-out masculine like Junior, but I wasn’t at all frilly like Missy. Not even in the beginning; they could tell us apart best because she had hair but I didn’t.
Mom loved having twin girls. She even named us similarly – Melissa and Michelle. Missy and Shelly. Lissy and Mischy. Endless permutations. Junior was Junior from day one; I’m still not sure if he realizes his name is actually George.
I knew there was something different about me before I even started school, and you know that was early. I wasn’t exactly a tomboy, but next to Missy I might as well have been. Out of all the things to bully me about, though, the one thing I never got picked on for was my clothes. Too many of the other little girls wore overalls, although theirs were usually pink or purple. I liked bolder colors – blue, orange, green. It was easier to pick on me for my brains and the way I didn’t fight back.
Junior taught me to fight, taught Missy to fight. She took to it better than I did, and more often than not would come to my defense if someone attacked me. But because I was a girl, the fights were usually of words rather than of fists, and words are harder to defend against.
I got into science early. I started with biology and psychology, but something about the things I was learning made me steer away from it. I think I was learning things that, at age five, I didn’t want to know about myself. So I veered into physics, and the thing about physics – the thing about physics is that the unknown variables there aren’t likely to make you wonder what it’s like to pee standing up, or if asexual reproduction makes more sense than sexual reproduction just because there aren’t so many bits involved.
Missy hit puberty early – eleven – and for a while there I thought I would as well, but I got to thirteen without anything changing. I was lucky in that respect. I realized that if I did go through puberty it was going to be as the wrong sex, the wrong gender, and I’d have the wrong secondary sexual characteristics.
So I went back to the biology lab, and I found someone who was experimenting with hormone replacement therapy, and I offered to be a test subject.
My parents didn’t know. My parents couldn’t know. I couldn’t do it without permission. That was where my ability to forge signatures came in. Some scientists would have insisted on an in-person meeting but because I was studying interstate, we somehow came to an agreement that I could take the hormones and we’d have the in-person meeting “later”.
I caught it just in time. I know that sounds like catching a cold before it starts with enough vitamin C and hot honey tea. That doesn’t make it sound significant enough. The fact that my voice broke and went down instead of staying the way that it was... I would have endured a hundred thousand bouts of tonsillitis to get it that way if that was what it had taken, but it happened all by itself.
My breasts grew a little, but not so that I ever needed a bra.
At this point Sheldon lets go of Leonard’s hand and unties his robe, parting it at the neck, splitting it open down to the waist. He unbuttons his pajama shirt. His thin chest is familiar; Leonard has mapped it out a dozen times, fingers slick with Vicks. But when Sheldon points out the four tiny scars, hairline silver slivers pale against pale, Leonard realizes he’s never noticed them before.
“Keyhole surgery in Germany,” Sheldon says, rebuttoning his shirt and shrugging one shoulder. “They didn’t care how old I was or that I was only an A cup. They were... compassionate.” He says it as though it’s a foreign concept.
Leonard folds his fingers around Sheldon’s again. “Was Germany the end of it?” He knows he’s not supposed to ask questions and that Sheldon is telling the story his own way; knows, too, that Germany had to be an end, or else Sheldon wouldn’t have been mourning his body in the bathroom.
“Germany was...” Sheldon pauses and sucks one of his marshmallows out of his mug of hot chocolate. Half-melted, it leaves a trail of white sugar along his lower lip.
Germany was the end of what I could realistically do as far as surgery went, but it was only the beginning of what I had to do as far as my family were concerned.
I came back to Texas not all that much different than when I left, thanks to the hormones and the surgery, but Missy noticed straight away.
“Mischy, what’s going on?” She ruffled my hair, which was no more than a couple of inches long. “What did they do to you over there?”
“I—” I could see my mother and Meemaw waiting at the far end of the concourse and I knew I didn’t have time to explain. “I’ll tell you later.”
“Shelly, for God’s sake—”
I didn’t let her finish. I walked past her down the concourse to the rest of my waiting family – Junior was lurking in the back with the luggage trolley – and although I was ready for comments on my appearance, nobody else made any. It was only Missy who could tell that there was anything to the way I looked beyond being a late bloomer. Missy, because she was my twin. Missy, because she was my sister, but I wasn’t hers, not any more.
She got the truth out of me eventually. She said she was going to tell Mom. I told her I was going to tell Mom, I just had to figure out how.
I never did have to figure out how. Our household was polite but us girls didn’t stand much on ceremony when it came to the bathroom. Mom busted in one morning hollering that she needed to pee, right when I was shaving what little facial hair had come in, hoping that would make it grow back thicker. She even made it across the room and sat down before she saw the razor in my hand and the soap on my face. I guess it was probably the best place to make the realization, all things considered.
“What did she say?” Leonard can’t help but ask, despite the edict against asking questions. The way Sheldon’s hand has gone tighter on his means he needs to know. Mary has always loved Sheldon, to the best of his knowledge; Missy certainly never seemed to have any problem with him. He hasn’t met Meemaw or Junior yet but Sheldon’s never mentioned any family troubles with them beyond the usual little spats.
“She said—” Sheldon’s shoulders are shaking a little, but there are no tears on his face. “She said, ‘Shelly, if you’re tryin’ to tell me somethin’, can it wait ‘til after I’ve done my necessary?’” And she waved at the door, so I waited in the hall, face still half soaped. It was a mercy that Junior never got up before ten in the morning.” The shoulder-tremble turns into a light laugh.
“She was okay with it?”
“She was shocked. She alternated between yelling at me and hugging me for the next month. Sometimes both at once. Then I don’t know what Missy said to her but she settled down and started calling me Sheldon and her son. She still slips up and calls me Shelly sometimes but that’s not awful... I can live with that.”
“What about Junior?”
“He called me a pansy a few dozen times and then hauled stakes and moved interstate for work.”
“Where’s he work?” Leonard asks, half expecting Sheldon to name MIT or somewhere, despite the fact that he knows Junior isn’t exactly gifted with his brother’s mental acuity.
“Vegas. He’s mostly a blackjack dealer but he occasionally officiates at weddings.”
Leonard can’t repress a snort. “Like... Elvis weddings?”
Sheldon shakes his head. “Cowboy.”
That does it for Leonard; he out and out laughs and so does Sheldon, a real laugh instead of the chuffing noise he usually makes. His laugh is higher than his speaking voice; perhaps that’s partly why he so rarely does it.
“Your mother must hate that you both moved away.”
“She copes. Missy was always her little girl, and now I guess Missy’s her only little girl. They live close enough to spend time together but not so close that they bug each other all the time.” Sheldon almost shrugs and ducks his head a little. “It doesn’t bother me.”
“You know, semester break is coming up at work... we could go visit them,” Leonard suggests tentatively.
“Mom and Missy?”
“I didn’t mean Junior.”
“That would be nice.” Nice is probably an understatement given the smile that breaks across Sheldon’s face, but Leonard will take what he can get.
He’s about to ask another question, formulating it carefully in his head, but Sheldon gets up and sweeps their empty cups together, trotting them over to the sink to wash diligently.
“Time to hit the hay,” he says, and Leonard chooses not to push it, getting up to go to bed himself. “Thank you for the cocoa. And for not hating me.”
Leonard makes a disparaging noise with his lips and tongue. “Why would I hate you? I’m not planning to do anything with you.”
Sheldon makes a strangled noise and the next thing Leonard knows he’s engulfed in a hug. It’s all angles, but it’s a genuine hug.
“That means a lot,” he says against the top of Leonard’s head.
Leonard’s curiosity is compelling him to ask why, but he knows better than that. “No problem.”
“You’re going to bed now?” Sheldon releases him.
“In a minute. Gotta brush my teeth.”
Sheldon clicks his tongue. “Oh, of course. I need to use the bathroom first, if you don’t mind?”
“Go right ahead,” Leonard says.
As soon as the bathroom door closes, Leonard dives for his computer. He has so many questions that he can’t ask Sheldon and isn’t even sure he knows how to ask.
Forty-five seconds on Google looking at the sheer volume of page hits, he decides to sleep on it. He could stay up late to read about surgery and hormones and passing and fetishization of trans people. Or he could go to bed, knock goodnight to Sheldon on the wall, and not let this turn into a huge big deal. Because Sheldon is Sheldon and he isn’t going to change overnight.
There will be time enough and more to educate himself, but there’s one thing he knows as if by instinct: there’s no reason to treat Sheldon any differently than he ever has.
So Leonard brushes his teeth, and goes to bed, and taps out “goodnight” in Morse code against the wall, and then lies there trying not to worry about whether he’s going to have some weird delayed negative reaction.
He falls asleep before he can.