Actions

Work Header

Through Quartz, Sand, and Cellulose

Work Text:

"Sheldon, what's this?" Penny made him wince, but she didn't see as much, when she touched an index finger to the screen of his laptop, pointing out a small icon in one of the hundred or so subfolders within My Documents. They were all labeled meticulously, but this was the only one of dozens that had such a legible title. Most had big clunky scientific words and theories that were two or three lines when highlighted. This was not like the others. "Letter to James hyphen October…" She turned around and finished reading, curious, "Two thousand and six."

"That is personal." Sheldon had already begun walking swiftly from his place at the bookshelf, where he had been reorganizing things so that he could properly fit two new book purchases into his alphabetized library.

Was it some religious psalm from his mother? A love note, perhaps? Hmm, neither seemed likely. She didn't even know he knew what that meant. "I didn't realize you knew what personal meant." She shrugged as he snatched away his computer.

"Of course I know what 'personal' means, Penny. Do I appear infantile, to you?"

"Sometimes." She walked back over, in step with him, next to where he sat down on the couch, closing the laptop's lid.

With him avoiding her gaze and pretending to be cleaning the mess she'd made of the coffee table (she had been crunching the leftover funky looking and burnt potato chips into her napkin), they sat in a heavy silence.

Okay, he wasn't pretending. She had made a pretty big mess.

She didn't really feel all that bad about it, though. She knew he would never admit to it, but she was sure he liked it when she made things a little too cluttered for him. It gave him something to do with himself (sometimes in the dead of night, thanks to a mistrusted spare key, she thought back to, bitterly.) Or talk about incessantly. Or write those two novel-length essays about, a little while back.

"Well," he started at last, regaining his voice. "That's entirely untrue, but I will choose to ignore your comments instead of dignify them with a rejoinder." He shook his head while running a cupped hand along the surface of the table to get any remaining crumbs and other debris into the bowl held in the other hand, underneath the edge. "Also, I thought it was considered non-courteous to speak ill of the dead or things related to them." He added stonily, "Consider yourself reproached."

Even though he said that last bit in the same way he said the first sentence (the way he says everything), there was an odd lack of Sheldon in those words. Like he was doing an excellent Sheldon impression, but something was off.

"He's dead? James?" She really wasn't sure why he'd be writing to a dead person. Maybe it was one of those weird science/nerdy things he sometimes did (or oftentimes did); she was finding that no amount of experience with these guys gave her any intuition about that stuff.

Even as a fan of horoscopes and ghost stories, that seemed a bit too Quija board for her taste. She waited while he breathed a sigh and hesitated to speak.

"James Cooper was my father and yes, he is no longer living." Sheldon rose immediately after saying so, taking the bowl and pile of napkins and soda cans he'd gathered inside with him.

Well, crap. She was speechless. She felt like the bully she knew he'd been victimized by so much in elementary school.

Or the one from middle school—or high school—or college. What she'd just pried, unfairly, out of him pretty much proved the pathetic, gut-turning point that he'd never outrun them.

Eugh, after meeting this guy she found herself hating her brain a lot of the time.

"I—I'm sorry, sweetie," she responded finally, lamely. "I didn't know. I should've known."

"It's more troubling to me that you were rifling through my private files. A large amount of those documents are password protected, for good reason."

He was washing the bowl, now, back turned away from her.

"I told you this when I came in. I was searching for that old email I hadn't finished writing to Kurt. I had you guys spell check it. You remember. After the second time we split and I was going to ask for my stereo back."

He craned back for a moment, his expression remained blank. He shrugged.

Definitely not normal Sheldon behavior: he forgot nothing (or turned down a chance to argue his point against hers, for that matter.)

She had to get this through to him; she wouldn't be his bully, this time. Not anymore.

She'd show him that she had a reason for doing it (she did) and wasn't setting him up to get hurt, like normal people – she could explain. She had to send that letter to Kurt—her stereo was stuck on the same channel and now had begun making her discs skip. This wasn't some prank or grand scheme to tease him over. This wasn't laundry night.

"C'mon, trying to keep you and Leonard from getting pantsed, again! It would be evidence I could use in court. We had a whole question and answer session, you drafted three protocols—," ("Prototypes, Penny. Proto. Types." Ugh, he was trying really hard to make her feel less guilty about being mean) she held both hands up, halting the digression, giving up. "You know it's really, really not that important right now."

"An ample vocabulary is always important," he responded gravely.

Placing the sparkling clean dish into the washing machine rack, he set about drying his hands methodically with a clean towel. She took another quick reprieve from her guilt to roll her eyes at everything to do with him.

"Sheldon, I'm sorry." She squeaked out, through gritted teeth. She should let it go, after all. "It wasn't done on purpose and clearly, I shouldn't have asked."

"You shouldn't have searched."

Hmmph. She exhaled a long breath. "'Letter' is a pretty generic word, Sheldon. I didn't think it would come up with anything incriminating, or whatever."

"Incriminating? Penny, Penny, Penny. This is precisely why a vocabulary is so important. That document is hardly 'incriminating.'" He scrunched up his face along with the word he was stressed. "It was supposed to be a way to deal with my father getting sick. Though, it's nothing more than a standard, non-optional, pseudo-scientific exercise in grief. Hokum, really. It was written mostly for my mother's benefit."

"Get sick? I thought he passed away," she asked in a smaller voice. She felt as though she were walking on tiptoes, even though she was still sitting down.

"He had a lung condition, but yes as I said before, he did die. I wrote it before the fact." He began straightening the already neatened kitchen. She watched as he moved things from their places, slightly, just to return them back to where they were.

It was making Penny want to hug him, hold his arms still from the nervous movements, and most of all cry because God knew he probably never would. All she could do was twiddle her thumbs and nibble on her lower lip. How trite.

"What did it say?" Did she just blurt that out? Idiot.

It had been bouncing around her head for the last few moments of ear buzzing silence. She covered her mouth in shock when it actually made its way out of her mouth.

She couldn't help herself. To imagine Sheldon composing a 'personal' letter to his dying father was nearly impossible.

Penny assumed he'd not heard her, because he didn't even look up from his continued movements.

She was going to repeat her question (she'd already said it, so what the hell), but he slowly met her eyes. He couldn't lie, but he clearly didn't want to give up the truth. He seemed unsure of what to do or say; he hadn't been in this situation before and had no clue of the social protocol. She was as sure of it as she was of her proper word usage.

"It said what you'd expect it to say," he said with an air of finality. Conversation: over.

She decided not to point out that with him she'd expect it to be covered in weird love algorithms with 'Live Long and Prosper' scrawled somewhere above the signature.

Although, she felt like she should cut him a little slack. He was clearly closer to his family than it might have otherwise seemed.

He was controlled pretty resolutely by a simple conversation with his mother or twin sister, so who knows how he felt about his father? It wasn't her business.

"It's not my business. I'm sorry." She gave a closed-mouthed grin, trying to reassure him that she was asking mostly out of curiosity and concern. Not a bully. Not his, anyway.

He clearly wasn't used to opening up much, but he thanked her like a good Southern boy should. Maybe that was what kept her thinking about it the rest of the evening.

They somehow ended up watching Finding Nemo on HBO. Or Encore, or whatever other fancy movie channel it was that she didn't get and stole a spot on the guys couch to watch stuff on (for free!)

Leonard was out with Leslie, back to trying to convincing her to look past the importance of black holes. Howard and Raj were joined at the hip, somewhere, seeing back-to-back movies at a non-Sheldon approved theater. She'd asked if that was done on purpose and they'd simply shrugged.

Things weren't that bad, when they had quiet nights like that one. When he wasn't so unpleasant and the movie was as cute as ever.

She loved Dori. He hated her, but of course he did, so she didn't squabble over it.

He enjoyed Nemo. She didn't hide the giggles that were elicited over that fact.

He scoffed at her amusement. "Why is that shocking? The intelligent hypothesizing on how to properly use that pebble was really something for a mildly handicapped fish of his young age. More intelligent than most in his phylum, I'd imagine. He certainly has my respect."

Sheldon was actually entertained by it, from his reactions to her favorite scenes and lines.

She found, that every few seconds, before those punch lines or act breaks she loved most, she could peek as far as her peripheral vision and watch him. His cheeks puffed up a little more than normal and she listened intently for quiet rumbles of laughter every so often.

Why did this feel like sixth grade? She finally noticed she was so far to the edge of the cushion she could've been sitting on the floor if she stretched her legs out front a small distance. What the hell was she doing?

It continued like this until Sheldon sat up a lot straighter in his seat, toward the end of the movie, and his eyes raced. Marlon and Nemo hugged, she cried a little, the credits rolled.

He rubbed his hands around on the khaki covering his big bony kneecaps, clearly about to burst with a comment. She continued watching as the songs and songwriters flicked upwards, vertically, white against the blue-green cartooned seascape background.

She ignored his fidgeting because if she didn't then her cover of not noticing him during the movie would be blown. Right? The logic wasn't even making sense to her anymore.

She bobbed up and down to the music, instead of thinking about it too much.

She loved Bobby Darin's stuff. Especially after seeing Kevin Spacey play the hell out of him in that bio-flick. Bada-bum-dah-dah, bada-bum-dah-dah, happy we'll be, her mind stopped there as she finally snuck a tiny side glance over at Sheldon. Who was now staring directly at her? Whoops.

She yelped a little bit and turned towards him, taking a deep breath as she smiled lightly and returned her gaze to his eye line.

"My father used to take me fishing," he said flatly. No pretense or ease in; pure Sheldon.

It was as if she could actually hear the tick, tick, and proverbial boom of her brain exploding and splattering against every surface in the apartment.

Oh, the mess he'd get to clean. He'd write essay upon essay about it.

"Aww." Her instincts kicked out. Wow, living the stereotype there, ovaries.

Thankfully he took that as a sign of encouragement, somehow, and continued speaking as various sea creatures swam or floated under water in front of them.

"He told me to take my time with life, but to live for what you're passionate about. During a few of those numerous outings, that is. He caught the fish while I would read Isaac Asimov short stories. Or whichever physics compendium I had out from the university where I was then taking accelerated classes' library, during the week. I transferred out to teach, after that summer. We never went out again, once I'd left."

He spoke of this with the slightest bit of fondness and a hardly noticeable air of since-buried contempt. He hadn't enjoyed it, as it might've seemed to others who didn't know him as well as she did, but he clearly treasured the memory just the same.

She knew she had to do something, then. He had brought this back up, which was... she didn't even know what that was, but it was something, alright. She was sure of it.

"So, you wrote your letter about that?" She wondered timidly.

"No, no. That wasn't as pleasant an experience as it sounds. I wrote that letter because, as I said, my mother and sister were upset with me for not being home for …the end of things. I was focused on my work and my lesson plans. Gauge bosons and supernovas, it was hard to tear myself away, as you can imagine." She nodded, strained but polite. "Well, I wrote it, but he died, before I even booked my flight. So…" He trailed off, shrugging again, as the screen blinked to black.

When she'd finally realized that gaping at the poor guy was probably not helping him, she tried to articulate anything at all. She failed.

She was supposed to be the one good at communicating. She continued to take deep, serious breaths, and yet still just stared at him. Sheldon continued, speaking new words and sentences, but she couldn't even get her brain to catch up to them.

She thought about what she'd do and had an incredible time trying to hold back tears. Acting lessons really did pay off. She was sure that crying would be more of a punishment than a comfort and she didn't want to burden him anymore than he already was.

She opted for more staring.

She would've… Maybe she'd… No. There was no way she could even comprehend how that would affect her life. He had been twenty-four. She didn't want to comprehend it.

She thought back to a silly comment her mother had made at the last friend of a friend's funeral she'd been in town for, before moving out west. They spoke all about not wanting any of the ceremonial pomp and circumstance they'd just dealt with, a short while before.

The concept of having to consider her wishes for short-term planning didn't even seem feasible. Oh, Sheldon.

It was that same day, back maybe a fistful of years ago, when her mother told her how to deal with this very situation with Sheldon, without even knowing it.

She'd been sitting in the front seat of her dad's pick-up, driving back from the cemetery, when her mom explained what she'd prefer. Her warm, round-faced, loud-as-all-hell mom, in her nicest dark grey blazer and black broomstick skirt, driving down some dusty once-paved road – told her she wanted to be burned up and poured into a glass bottle.

Dropped into the Gulf, for one last swim along the coast, she'd said.

Something struck her in the way his drawl came back a little bit when he spoke about his family, back South. It brought her to that memory of dirt clouds pillowing behind them, lit up by the hazy sun that'd been plummeting quickly below the thick corn fields.

She could remember exactly how it'd looked in the crooked side-view mirror that propped up her bare feet. With her thick, black pumps strewn on the dusty truck floor and her legs halfway out the window, they talked for the entire trip home about living life as loud and vibrant as possible, while you still could. They'd laughed about how well-behaved women never made history.

She'd decided to move to West Coast in those moments (although they certainly didn't talk about it then), to live her life on her own terms.

Just as her mother had known, then; she knew what to do, now.

"Wait, right here!" She bolted up and ran from the room.

She had left her door unlocked (safety hazard that Sheldon found it, be damned, since they were on the fourth floor, for fuck's sake), so all she had to do was burst in and rifle through her things to find the wine bottle she had thought of a moment ago. Scrubbing it furiously in her tiny sink, she scraped the label off with her fingernails and then found, again, the cork she'd yanked out in order to empty and clean out the inside.

She crossed back over the small hallway, catching her breath for a few seconds before opening the door. She walked in and smiled with the bottle behind her back, taking her seat beside him. He hadn't moved at all besides sitting back a bit in his spot, mind clearly racing at her sudden disappearance.

She instantly felt kind of bad for just up and leaving like that, but she'd make it up to him. That's what her hand was placing an empty wine bottle in his hand for.

He stared at the glass before making a soft "Oh" noise and thanking her.

He placed it on the coffee table next to his laptop, centered between his right knee and her left. They sat for a moment, just observing the way it was framed in the middle of their legs, before Penny realized that this was kind of a strange reaction.

She laughed when it finally occurred to her.

"Sheldon, you don't think I'm just giving you an empty glass bottle, right?"

"Oh, um, of course not." He coughed, awkwardly into his closed fist. Clearing his throat? Yeah right.

He conceded a bit at her look and slumped forward, elbows on knees, in confusion. "Why is it, may I ask, that you are presenting me with an empty glass bottle, then?"

"Well, Sheldon, this is for the letter you wrote. We can print it out, or you can, so I don't even have to read it, put it in here and let it drift out from the beach. I think that someday it could end up in the Gulf, back with your dad." She smiled warmly. "If you want to, that is. What do you say? Roll it up and send it out to sea. It'd live real message in a bottle situation, y'know?"

He looked like he was going to outright oppose her idea. The usual skepticism stole itself across his features, eyebrows narrowed and the ridge of his nose pinched up in consideration.

"Actually based on tidal patterns that probably wouldn't be very—" She tilted her head down, feeling overtly rejected. It was her turn to be embarrassed, now. He cleared his throat, this time she didn't mind it so much. "…Okay."

"Really?"

"While I find the gesture rather superficial in and of itself, I can understand your sentiments. Considering our level of friendship and the intimacy of the memories I revealed, earlier, along with your kindness in listening to them even though they have no bearing on you whatsoever, I will—as I believe they say—humor you." She very nearly hugged him.

They set about printing it out and realized after a minute and a half that Penny attempting to keep up a conversation about ships-in-bottles and the origin of cork was impossible while squinting through her fingers at strained intervals.

Again, seeming like an emotionally matured slightly-off Sheldon doppelganger, he told her that she could stop covering her eyes. He said they were both adults (she felt a weird inclination to object, but duh, yeah they're both adults), so she caught a glimpse and couldn't help but rub an arm gently over his back.

Enough to get it out of her system, not enough to make him do anything else but stiffen up his posture a bit more than normal. She puts those acting lessons to task for a few minutes, pretending to just be standing there, thinking about nothing in specific.

He was then back to rambling about cork's use in woodwind instruments not noticing Penny's reaction at all. When he became completely distracted by figuring out where the USB cable had disappeared to (not in its designated location; clearly Leonard's doing) and which to choose from the seemingly endless printer options in the drop down menu being scrolled through, Penny saw her opening.

When he was sufficiently over-involved in these no-real-involvement necessary tasks, she excused herself to pee.

She didn't pee. Instead, she bit her bottom lip nearly clean off and scraped her teeth against the insides of her cheeks to keep from screaming out from the worst bout of empathy she's ever felt. She held the sides of her head, roughly, and tried to get herself to pull it together.

All it'd said, she could still visualize it perfectly on a nearly all white background, in her mind, was 'Dear Dad, I love and admire you. I'm sorry about your clavicle, ulna, and left lateral hallux. Your son, Sheldon.'

She feels like she needs to scream out in sadness until her throat burns. It makes her think of her tiny cousins crying at her uncle's funeral in Oklahoma, last spring. This was somehow even sadder than she'd thought it'd be. How was that even possible? For all of Sheldon's innocence, nothing has hit her as strongly about it than this.

It was what she found so annoying about him, normally, but oh god was it not right now. It was the furthest possible point away from his normal annoyingly and arrogantly insincere ways.

That letter was probably written exactly on point with whatever the hospice counselor or family therapist (or whoeverthefuck it'd been) had asked of him.

Tell your father what you think of him. It was clearly as literal an interpretation as one could take. Of course, it was. This was Sheldon.

Sheldon who was so deeply moved by a daddy fish and a baby fish getting split up and reunited, that he chose to reveal something that'd been bottled up for nearly two years. To her, of all people.

Sheldon who, somewhere, deep down in his gut, felt what he'd wrote—it'd been done for his mother. She was sure that Mary Cooper would know if he'd been bluffing, so she knew he really meant it. She felt like she'd seen his soul, only tangible and real and alive, right in front of her face.

She found she couldn't stand up straight, so leaning against the closed toilet seat she tried to regain some composure. She turned the faucet's knob all the way to left and held half her palm underneath, waiting until the water was as icy as it'd get. She splashed it on her face and slapped her hands softly against her cheeks, willing herself to be strong. Like the level twenty-seven necromancer she secretly still was (well, only bad days).

When she came back out, Sheldon had finally gotten things printed out and was situating an assortment of things in a hideous red and white striped, canvas tote. It was as if he looked up 'beach bag' in the dictionary and bought whatever looked closest.

He looked up and had an odd expression on, before he started explaining his actions. He did this rather than ask what she thought he clearly wanted to. She was glad he didn't. She was a little shocked to hell he didn't, actually. "I figured we'd be going to the beach, so we should bring our beach things."

It was simple and logical, yet bizarre as heck. It was 8:03PM, so she wasn't sure what the Banana Boat forty-five SPF was for, but whatever. No more bullying.

She looked at the rolled up paper on his desk, as immaculately twisted up as a diploma. She wondered if there was some scientific formula for doing it so precisely, but remembered what she'd be asking about and bit her tongue, again.

She rushed back over to her apartment to grab the keys to her VW, her own blanket (because sharing blankets doesn't seem like a very Sheldon thing to do. Fancy new emotions, or not), and what was left of a six-pack of diet Barq's.

And just like that they were driving to a beach she knew stayed open forever and never had cops around (she knew this originally for bonfires and late night drinking, but it'd work) in Santa Monica.

Sheldon slept when the radio tuned out any car games he had in mind; she hummed along and drank a lot of root beer.

This was living life, she realized and felt oddly grateful for her slumbering neighbor.

Sometimes when she was working a double shift and the soles of her shoes felt like they were going to wear off right under her feet and she got turned down for roles as a dead party girl on yet another procedural crime show, she'd wonder why she was living out here, what she was doing, and who she was kidding.

For the first time in a while, she felt like she was keeping those grandiose promises she'd made with her mother on that dirt road, all those years ago. If someone had asked her, it wouldn't have been described as a long drive but maybe that was just because her mind liked to wander.

Sheldon finally woke at the sound of Penny's door snapping shut.

She popped the trunk and walked around the back, pulling out the bottle she'd tucked securely in her blanket and inside his beach towel and held the rolled up paper (which had made the trip along with them, safely, in the front of the car.)

She sat on the worn cloth interior of the trunk's flat bottom and smiled at the barely visible waves crashing onshore.

She folded the two backseats forward, spreading out her blanket so that she could scoot back and fit comfortably within the trunk's area, its door still jutting up a few feet into the dark night sky. This was why she moved to the West Coast.

Sheldon had finally joined her and was having a much more difficult time navigating the seating arrangements. As per usual. Eventually, mimicking her, he managed to get in far enough to have his legs hang, one propped up slightly and the other was near the center, where the trunk locked.

He was just barely hunched over, although it didn't look overly uncomfortable. More cozy than awkward.

He was still wiping at his eyes, slightly drowsy. She grinned and without a word she handed the corked bottle and the rolled up scroll of paper. He nodded his head, not saying anything back.

This felt like a situation where words would just get in the way.

They knew what was going to happen and it was shockingly not that difficult to communicate with him non-verbally. He was a quick learner and all.

His long, thin fingers worked at pulling out the cork for a few seconds until a soft thwump resounded from where the bottle sat on his lap. It sounded eerily natural against the distant crashing of waves out in front of them.

She was wearing flip-flops, but Sheldon, of course, had kept his (were those for bowling? Didn't he suck at bowling?) shoes on. She slipped her sandals off and placed them just below where the trunk had been backed up against the curb.

She was equally surprised and glad when Sheldon unlaced his own shoes and slowly rolled down his socks, carefully folding each sock and re-tying both pairs of laces in neat bow-ties, he mirrored her placement.

He rolled his khakis up just enough for her to see some of his pale, pale calves and wispy light brown leg hair.

She wondered if young Sheldon ever built sandcastles or drip castles, whether he had been buried up to his neck in sand, or jumped the waves. He grew up close enough to where she had for her to be sure he had the opportunity. He'd been closer to beaches and water than her, even. She wondered if he ever wanted to.

It was sad, sometimes, thinking about living life in such a distanced way. It felt so intrinsically amazing to kick sand into the suction of a big foamy wave, or to sit and feel like the water was trying to pull you in, make you its own (a mermaid, she'd always secretly dreamed.) She felt sad if he'd never felt those bursts of emotion, especially so close to the water, since it was so much a part of who she was that to imagine living without those releases seems depressing and gloomy.

He took a deep breath and slid the paper into the long, elbow-to-hand length glass before quickly corking it up. He gave a discriminating look over the neck where it had been plugged in slightly and seemed to come to the most basic solution that there could be, to make sure it'd stay in.

He gave it a swift couple of knocks with the heel of his hand.

It was strange, then, to see Sheldon Cooper—Man of Science—using the oldest (okay, probably not oldest, since bottles and corks took a while to figure out, as he'd described in depth earlier, but whatever, you can get the picture) kind of reasoning that there was. Visceral, instinctive, and human.

Sure, it'd been typed up on a computer, but when you really got down to it there was a bottle a cork, some paper and the Pacific. This was so pure and authentic that there were no notes to take, no hypotheses to come to, she smiled at how good this could be for him.

It was, like, probably her best idea in years and that was saying something. She'd recently come up with that really awesome coconut milk and pineapple slices drink that doubled her tips most of the time, so yeah. It could be pretty big news. They grabbed their respective blankets and set out (he left the sunscreen in the bag, good for him.)

She must've secretly expected him to recoil in fear of sand, or something, because when he walked right up onto the beach with her she nearly let out a gasp. She instead, soldiered forward, feeling shorter than ever as she had to walk twice as fast in the heavy sand to keep up with him.

They walked together, her fuzzy purple and pink polka-dotted blanket wrapped around her, making her look like one of those Russian nesting dolls her grandparents tried to force her to play with when she was younger. He had a dark green and brown thermal throw with plaid orange stripes in weird places neatly folded over once and placed half over each shoulder, like a really crazy looking serape. They crossed the beach, squinting as their eyes continually adjusted to the darkness, until they were at the water's edge.

They both stood there, Sheldon to the left and Penny still to the right with the bottle held firmly in his right hand – between them still. He seemed unsure of how to proceed. They hadn't said anything since they first got in the car, so instead he seemed to just stare out at the ocean in hopes he'd be able to come up with an answer on his own. Not wanting to break the unspoken vows of silence.

She was staring at him pretty overtly, but he didn't seem to feel her gaze at all. It was kind of nice. Most of the guys (or girls, even) she knew were worrying twenty-four hours a day if they were getting the constant attention they craved, or whether she showed any signs of affection towards them at all. It was nice to see someone think for themselves, for once.

Finally, after closing his eyes for a few moments and enjoying the gentle mist that was being pushed around by the brisk wind, which whipped every moment of so down the coast, he slowly craned his neck to meet her still unwavering stare.

She felt a few tears sting her eyes and dribble down towards the corners of her mouth. She tried to act like maybe it was from the water or something, but he had two PhD's and clearly knew better. So she just let herself tear up a little, so what, this was emotional.

He nodded, even though she didn't do or say anything in particular and continued nodding as he turned back to the water.

He wasn't much of an athlete (um, duh), but he rolled his shoulder a little bit, maybe out of instinct, maybe because he had actually paid attention those two times she forced him to watch Friday Night Lights with her ("But it's about football and they have those dreadful accents!" He'd groaned in anger. Okay, so maybe she had to give him that), because he was going through all the normal guy movements for 'getting ready to pitch something damn near as far as fucking possible' and it was sort of freaking her out.

He gave her one more quick glance (tears fucking pouring, now. So long, mascara), before taking another final breath and heaving it with all his might into the black. They both tried to watch for impact, but neither saw anything, heard anything. It disappeared as if it never stopped soaring above the waves.

She felt like an idiot because the grin she felt take over her face probably made her look like a four year-old. There was a wash of goofy laughter that overtook her, stopping her previous, quiet crying for a few moments. She was so happy for him. He looked back over at her, eyes more expressive and grateful than she'd ever seen. On anyone, really.

And she'd thought he was intense when they were screaming at one another, toe to toe, but this was totally different. It made her start crying again, for no apparent reason other than he was happy and she was happy. What started as more tears slowly dripping and blurring her vision, turned into sobs of relief and glee.

Even though this was his moment, some part of her felt deeply connected, responsible, and utterly sympathetic. It was too much and the more she tried to get herself to stop, to spare him the awkwardness and keep this about him, she really couldn't fucking stop.

Suddenly, though, he was scooping her up and hugging her as tightly as he could. It felt a little bizarre at first, for him to lift her up, making her feel like a rag doll.

And sure, she'd been lifted off the ground plenty, but this was Sheldon therefore making it totally, completely, four hundred and fifty percent unexpected.

Before she knew what was happening she was hitching her legs around the back of his thighs and they were gripping onto one another so tightly that she thought they'd their clothing apart, for one crazy second. She had his shirts balled up, near his shoulder blades, in her fists, and was screaming sobs and weeping against the crook of his neck.

After a moment or so she managed to get herself a little more under control and slowly relaxed in his grip, he was probably starting to struggle in keeping her up, so she let herself slip down and gave him a soft, warmer hug than before.

She pulled back to see his face also stained with tears and was about to lose it again, when he leaned down and kissed her gently.

To say she hadn't been expecting a hug was one thing, but this? This was something entirely different.

Entirely, entirely, entirely (there would never be enough 'entirely's to describe it) different. She would've flinched in disbelief if she weren't already so frozen in shock with the very same.

They were suddenly tumbling to the sand, she wasn't sure if he had fallen backwards or if she'd pushed him, but there they were. There was some tiny voice in the back of her head nagging her about grief and taking advantage, but Sheldon was a grown man and he didn't care that there was sand all over his hair and neck, so she considered all bets off.

She tossed her blanket a bit to his right and they both shimmied over so that they wouldn't get completely covered by the cold sand.

She moved up his body, toes dangling somewhere near where his khakis were cuffed, so that she could deepen the gentle kiss he had started with. Opening her mouth slowly, she waiting until he responded doing the same and continued angling her mouth a million different ways, their noses knocking against one another again and again. Eventually she ended up slipping her tongue in, tentatively, hoping that it wouldn't spook him.

He reacted in just the opposite way, immediately responding feverishly, making her quickly have to come to a decision on continued deep, frantic kissing or air. Taking a few breaths, she snaked her arms up behind his head, feeling little streaks of sand filter out, sliding downward, tickling past her fingers and away from his head.

They continued this for as long as it took for her to notice that other parts of Sheldon wanted to come out to play, too. Whether he was aware, or not, she let her body sense that his hands were on either shoulder blade and there was no other explanation in her mind for what was poking at the soft skin of her stomach, through his slacks.

She cupped at him for a few moments, taking a hand from behind his head to do so, before she took his continued kissing and rubbing as whatever counted as an okay in his book, undoing the button and fly between her fingers in one motion. She suddenly felt his left hand slowly, delicately, make its way around her body to do the same to hers. She slipped a hand in through the opening she'd made and felt him twitch (both of him, actually.)

He suddenly was pulling away from her face to look up at her, eyes wide and dilated, with the appearance of being caught doing something wrong, as though he was going to have to figure out a way to explain what was going on.

Like she'd accidentally stumbled across his dick (oh my god, he was literally always this kind of ridiculous, she'd realized), so to prevent whatever he was planning on, she began pumping up and down at random times, trying to find a comfortable pace for him. Apparently the act of just catching him fully into her grasp was enough because he was already screaming out in release. She wasn't sure how to take that, but decided it as a compliment.

While he was completely inexperienced (which is what she suspected, at least), he somehow had that same expression of 'oh, fuck I'm sorry' that every guy who shot off too early ever has. She didn't even let him get a word out before she began kissing him deeply again and renewed her movements, while he still had one hand flattened and still against the unzipped zipper of her shorts. The other remained on the small of her back, his right ring finger and pinkie barely disappearing under the denim of her jeans.

Up and ready to go again in barely another minute, he was nothing if not resilient. She'd learned that the hard way, long before tonight. Their kissing was getting sloppier and his hand was starting to itch with what looked like an instinctive attempt at finding something he probably couldn't give an answer to if pressed for it.

She rocked her hips slightly from left to right, still no words necessary. Would they ever be necessary, after this? When he then began blindly feeling around, pushing aside her cotton boy briefs, he was accidentally poking her in sensitive areas. She bucked a little on instinct.

Taking this as an okay (which it wasn't, explicitly, but she would've given one if she'd known that's what he'd been waiting for) he made a successful educated guess and slid two long fingers up and, if they weren't still half clothed, what would've been out of sight.

Her head lolled backwards, counter-clockwise, as if she'd fallen asleep leaning backwards in her chair (which she did a lot, unfortunately), her mouth finally come full circle to land near his jugular. Her hair exploded across the entire left side of his face and neck, along with dozens of capillaries on his neckline as she began nibbling and suckling at every expanse of skin she could find there.

Almost forgetting that she was still holding onto him with her hand, she began rocking her hand up and down in time with his pumping (aaaaand now with a third finger!), she could absolutely not handle this. Simulation: over.

She pulled her hair back with the hand not gripped tightly around him, between their bodies. His face was blotched red, more colored than she'd ever, ever seen it, and his eyes were twitching almost perfectly in time with the pounding of blood from his heart to his veins which headed directly toward where she squeezed, in question.

Taking a deep breath, he looked upwards, past her head for a second. Then, using where his other fingers had hooked themselves atop her jeans (hand half on the top of her ass, half on the small of her back making her sweatshirt and tank top ride up) to leverage her unzipped shorts downwards, he pulled them off towards her knees.

She helped him shake down his slacks and underwear, leaving them both with clothing bunched around their knees, hands still intimately pressed into and onto one another. She went about situating herself above him in a way that she hoped would allow him to last a bit longer. She didn't really mind (its human nature, god, why be embarrassed?), but she wanted it to be good and paced out as best they could, for his own sake.

Taking him in slowly, they stared mirrored faces of shock and determination back at each other, fighting their urges to give in and react until she had him sheathed as far as he could go. Making a rhythm, as they had before, they began bumping up against each other, her thighs coming down just below his pelvic bones.

There was no controlling his extremities for an okay at this point, it seemed, as they snaked up her mostly bare legs to her hips where he gripped a hold – tight and possessive.

Her vision began fuzzing slightly as they both watched his right hand disappear beneath her shirt together. He seemed to have no say in the matter? I didn't make a difference to her because he soon was kneading and pinching at her roughly, taking a break only to slip behind her back to work out her bra's clasp.

His other hand stayed firmly on her left side pinching the skin just above her hip bone; it would probably hurt if it didn't get completely overshadowed by the glorious friction happening a few inches over, in the center.

She wondered if he knew anatomy well enough to know how to grip her in just the right way that he only needed one hand and to keep her perfectly straight above him (fulcrum? Lever? Whateverthefuck) as he rose slightly, grinding up into her every so often. Maybe she was giving him more credit than he actually deserved, but god damn, did she think he deserved it.

He was compartmentalizing right before her eyes, she could see him slow his mind down to control the way his body was moving beneath her. It was making her react like a nutcase. All she could manage to do was occasionally stiffen her spine in effect and croak out some mouthed expletives or squeaky moans before staring downward, open jawed, at each of his torturously slow gyrations.

Tension building more and more, there was a need from both of them now to speed up the process a bit more. He was still clearly fighting himself over reacting as strongly as he wanted to (it was a relatively foreign look for her to see on his face), trying to prolong her enjoyment whilst on top of him.

She decided she could have a little of her own fun. So, while he got to flex his mental muscles, she did a little bit of that inside herself, too.

Just as she'd hoped he was clearly unsuspecting and made a loud laugh-like squeak of a sound at her squeezing, this time without the use of her hand.

They began quickening the pace, both openly trying to outdo the other, now.

She was quickly losing the fight as he lowered his right hand to her other hip, angling her diagonally downwards more, left hip popped up a few inches above the right. He turned, ever so slightly beneath her, to the right and began grinding upwards with much more intensity than before. She was still trying to do something that could set her on even half way equal ground, but all she could do was moan in the same low, frequent rhythm like she had a really pesky, breathy and loud case of the hiccups.

The waves crashed in the distance.

Her brain officially packing up its bags, she settled for kissing every inch of him she could find. After he was sufficiently nipped and licked at, she returned to his mouth. He sped up his movements even faster. Now just crying out into his enclosed mouth every time he rocked up into her she was quickly too far gone to stop herself and warn him before she was climaxing and biting at his tongue (was that blood? Oops?)

She looked at him beneath her and took a second to realize that he was clearly still hard inside her; she dazedly attempted to roll them over, herself, but her inability to do so did catch his attention enough to have him take over and complete the action.

As her eyes were struggled to stay open for long, they reversed positions and he began moving inside her, once more. Slowly starting up, he took his time getting closer to the pace he'd just stopped at. She felt so exhausted there was nothing she could do besides grab at his lower back and ass trying to get across that she didn't care how rough he was. He continued his timid progression of movement, unaware.

"It's okay," she croaked, the first thing spoken in what had to be forty minutes? Twenty? An hour? He had a wrist watch, she knew, but she so didn't care to find it right now.

And with that he began at his own, much quicker rhythm, he began making incoherent, fragmented sounds as she had moments ago and Penny relished in how good it felt to just lie there and let him go nuts. She wondered if one of their fights could've eventually ended this way. Her mind wandered off making her wonder if maybe, really, all of their fights could end this way, if they weren't stopped by some arbitrary force.

If she weren't still in the process of coming down, she'd swear she was right there with him a second time when he finally spent himself inside. Collapsing, gracefully, to her left (always to her left).

They sat there for a while. He coiled himself up on his side, nearly in the fetal position, and held onto her side. He was only gripping at her side, but his gangly limbs and torso loomed over her. She'd forgotten that her actual blanket was lying beneath them, in the sand. He was so damn tall.

She eventually sat up and looked around at the thin layer of sand that had covered her sweaty and sticky skin.

Grinning again, forgetting than she'd been sobbing so heart-wrenchingly only a short time ago, she raised herself from where they'd been drifting closer and closer to sleep. She stripped off her shirt and peeled her already unclasped bra off.

Sheldon just stared up at her.

Damn. She wished she had brought a camera (not to the beach because, y'know, that'll fuck a camera up), because the look on his face.

If she saw that more often she wouldn't feel so gross after a pint of Ben and Jerry's, or when her roots looked especially nasty in the days before a new round of highlights. God. She glanced back over her shoulder, invitingly.

She wandered off into the dark water. It was cold, but she didn't mind. It felt good against her scorched flesh.

Rinsing off as best she could, she watched as Sheldon struggled with the concept of getting to follow a very naked Penny into water against his issues with public nudity, salt water, the dark, and probably a million other things. Best of all, she loved watching him trying to prevent himself from neatly folding all of his clothing before joining her not ten feet away.

He folded his superhero shirt, but that's it.

It was strangely hot to see him leave the second shirt and his slacks in disarray. Like yeah, she'd fucked him up that bad. She felt an evil grin creep onto her features.

After a little while, they both felt cleaned off enough (even though neither said so) and it appeared, to her, that Sheldon could no longer sanely continue the mental trade off of occasionally making out, naked, with her in the cold, dark, sea water versus whatever he was looking around wildly amongst the freezing waves for.

It was adorable because she's pretty sure if she hadn't made to move back ashore, he would've stayed out there until he went crazy (or, crazier, if you will.)

They put back on underwear only, at first, and by the time they got back to the car they were mostly dry. The wind felt warmer now.

They put their things back on and aired the sand from their blankets. Driving home, Sheldon fell asleep again.

She had a hard time waking him up (because she wanted to let him sleep, not because he was particularly difficult to rouse), when they finally arrived back at the apartments.

They eventually went upstairs and she didn't know what to say to him. Again, she felt deeply annoyed with herself. She was supposed to be good at this stuff. He was making her act as crazy and clueless as him.

Although she couldn't really think that, could she? He was clearly not as crazy and clueless as she'd assumed. Maybe with some things, still, but definitely (definitely) not with others. Not any longer.

She reached up on her tiptoes and gave him a deep, languid kiss. It made a loud smack when she finally pulled apart, he had that same shocked look splayed across his tense features. Some part of her wanted to see how long it would take to wear away that look, but another part had an answer to that already.

"I didn't know your father, Sheldon, but I can tell you that if he knew you well enough, which I suspect he probably did, he already knew the things you said in your letter. You may not be the easiest to get through to, sometimes, sweetie, but believe me on this one. Some things don't need to even be spoken for you to know, deep down. I know your mother feels that way and I'm sure he did, too (she didn't know why, but she was sure of this. Deep, pit of her stomach sure). You did great, really, really great," she pecked his mouth with a softer, more innocent kiss.

"Thank you," was the first thing he'd said (gruff and meaning it in a seemingly infinite amount of ways) since he fell asleep the first trip in the car.

It was also the last thing they ever spoke about what'd just happened for nearly a decade.

- - -

Sometimes, Penny would have to focus really, really hard and genuinely try and decide whether or not that night actually happened. She always came up with some inane flicker of a memory to convince herself that it did, in fact, happen. The red splotches that had covered his neck and face, the way they'd bobbed atop the waves with too much water and too little clothing to get a good grasp at one another, or the tang, bitter taste of his blood, sweat, and tears.

At first it was hard to let it go. Mind numbingly, tongue-bitingly hard, but eventually the pain dulled. Both too scared by how powerful an experience it'd been, they put off talking about it until they both felt they'd stopped needing to.

After that, it seemed to be just one of her more vivid dirty dreams. Her only vivid dirty dream, anymore, actually. Sure, she had others, usually variations – location, position, time of day – but they all included a Sheldon.

But that wasn't the point, they couldn't do that to Leonard (their always loyal friend!) and neither one had anything remotely in common (so what would they even do together? Besides the obvious.)

It wouldn't work. He was way too smart, she was too much trouble. They hadn't even discussed it, is how much they knew it wouldn't work.

So, after a month they fell into the old rhythm again, after a year they only had problems when they were really close to one another or if she wore the sweatshirt she'd worn then or if he used that blanket.

Neither one ever went to the beach again for years. Sheldon for another six beyond that.

She cried extra hard at the end of Finding Nemo.

It had become nothing more than the surefire imagery that could get her over the brink when whichever of her latest boyfriends was not meeting her standards in bed (which was more often than she'd like. Like most of the time, more often), or the dream she hit the buzzer four times in a row for, to try and grasp at, before throwing on her work clothes, twenty minutes behind schedule.

And in the end, nothing really changes. That's what tricks her in those moments of frightened forgetfulness, how things remain almost exactly as though it didn't actually happen.

Well, except she finds herself quicker to defending Sheldon when he's called asexual, or unfeeling, or the lost Cylon sextuplet (whatever that means). She's always been a softie, so no one notices. They had other, bigger things to worry about.

Leonard had knocked up Leslie Winkle 'by accident' a few years back. They had twins, two girls (Leia and Ami, yeah, really) who had tight, black ringlet curls and were exactly the loving, functional, beautiful little girls Leonard needed to leave Leslie later on, vowing to raise them himself. He was a frighteningly perfect father. It would never have occurred to her until after he had kids, but it was there, etched across his beaming face, as plain as day each time those two won a science contest or a lacrosse match (or, punched Sheldon in the nuts that one time) and he doted on them like nothing she'd ever seen. It's what got them early admission to the most prestigious private schools in Manhattan and had Penny squealing whenever they visited ("Aunt Penny and Uncle Shelly! Why won't you go boogie boarding with us?"), buying them everything they kind of liked when they wandered along Rodeo (like Leonard would be able to dress them.) He and Leslie were separated for four years before they reconciled and Leslie has been relatively nicer ever since, as she knows Leonard is just as well on his own without her, she admits that she likes him for more than a husband that Christmas (even Sheldon has cooled to her, since then. Well, for the most part.)

Three years after the Hoftstader twins were born, Raj made a weird pass at Howard one night (Fourth of July and he still claims he was simply drunk enough to think Howard was a small Dorothy Hamill-looking woman), before moving back to India where he met a nice Bengali school teacher who was deaf (it worked just as perfectly as you'd imagine). They adopted a little boy (who would grow to hit on Penny every time they web chatted, so talking wasn't the issue it still was for his father) who loved animals and cooked phenomenally well for someone his age.

Howard, spurred maybe by Raj's drunken kiss, went out and found some girl who was just as gross and vile as he was (she was sweet most of the time, sure, but sometimes she even made Penny blush and that was saying something.) They married on an authentic Star Trek set (authentic but refurbished with new props, wall paint, and a chuppah, which were all not a part of the original set, especially the chuppah. This distinction was made loudly by, of course, Sheldon, groomsmen number three.) They exchanged vows in a different language for each line of the Seven Blessings the last in Klingon, obviously. They had six (of course) totally normal, sweet, non-sex obsessed children – two girls, four boys, all Jewish.

Penny took three more years to quit her job at the Cheesecake Factory. She had previously began classes for her Associate's degree and by graduation, she had only enough acting gigs to consider herself nothing more than a ten year veteran in the industry with only the bit part she had in a Lifetime original movie worth putting on her resume. So she quit acting professionally.

She started teaching her very own acting classes, instead.

She began with the basic step by step emotional cycle, how to represent grief, love, and passion onscreen – her classes grew in size and eventually she hired a few friends to help on weekends. Eventually she expanded and rented out a studio, where she taught some theatre, as well.

She found she felt much more at home when she began running the corporate side of things, later on, that she felt childish having grasped onto acting for as long as she had. But it had led her to this, so she couldn't complain.

She had plenty of friends who were doing much less with their lives at thirty (well, besides some of the more gifted physicists, she knew, obviously), so she gladly accepted the steady work and stayed in her apartment for as long as she humanly could before it was more of a hassle than she could handle. She couldn't had to store half her Playbill collection at Sheldon's and even then, her scripts were always overwhelming every surface in a way that made even her unable to withstand the clutter any longer.

Sheldon was the last one left out of the quartet she'd met so long ago that she saw on a regular basis.

Still across the hall from her old place, still did his laundry at 8:15PM on Saturday nights, still liked superheroes and science.

It was funny, she thought, in those moments where she'd focused all her brain on making sure that truly remembered that night at the beach (on the beach, her eyebrows wagged, instinctively at the thought), knowing for sure it's not a dream or a fantasy (she can't be sure which it'd be at this point. Some mixture of the two, she guessed) to think that they were still, ten years later, pretending it didn't happen.

Everyone else married or moved away, all with kids. It wouldn't matter, it shouldn't matter, but they'd gone so long without mentioning it that it'd be like pulling a string on your favorite sweater. How could she risk it? The way Sheldon hoarded clothing, she was sure he didn't want to, either.

She was sure that their routine (the playful bickering, the Chinese food Fridays, the Wednesday Halo X nights) would be killed. It's why they didn't talk about it then; it's why they both wanted never to talk about it.

A full two years after their unspoken tryst, Sheldon was named the second youngest Nobel Laureate in area of Physics in history (some idiot got it once when he was twenty-five, but that was like in 1915. Shit's way different, now) at thirty.

They'd all gone to the conference in Sweden and she'd even kissed him (it was hard not to since the guy just won a fucking Nobel Prize), but it'd been so different than their other kisses from that night so long ago (not a dream, not a fantasy.) They were older, calmer, now. It made her hot and shot a shiver down her spine, but it wasn't frantic, wasn't desperate in the way she always was before. It made her kind of sad, because maybe they'd lost whatever spark had been shared for that warm summer evening, waited too long.

Maybe they were really destined to remain separate from one another, because a polite, mostly closed-mouth kiss isn't the same as fucking someone sideways on a public beach. Not even close.

So, she kind of gave up on things after that. It was okay because she had this other Sheldon, the one she'd grown to know better than she knew… well, kind of better than she knew anyone. It freaked her out, sometimes, but she took what she could get. Taking a silly risk over some one time fling was not an option, not if it'd endanger what they'd come to share.

She still found him in her mind at night or with her when she peaked, but that was it. That's how things stayed.

Until her mother died on a Thursday morning, ten years later.

She had moved (at Sheldon's insistence that it'd he'd be fine, since she was still within walking distance. She'd almost begged him to come with her, but felt like that might be crossing a line. Some thankless voice seemed to egg her on, then, after her near invitation, entering the words, "Not yet," into a steady mantra in her brain. She didn't know why, but it made the hair on her neck stand up when she thought it, always in relation to her gangly, obnoxious best friend), to an airy loft on the East side of the neighborhood. She and Sheldon had spoken once a day, online or on the phone.

He was, now, a traveling lectern gripper, string theory consultant (or whatever), and became a nerdy household name up and down the West Coast.

His routines stayed as much a part of him as ever, though.

If it was 4:15PM on a Tuesday, Thursday, or Sunday (also, when either of them felt like talking to one another, making plans for the weekend, or whatever. But those three days? Those were the set in stone, burned into their flesh, signed thrice on the second lines – their rules), God help whoever got between the two of them and their weekly updates. She'd heard less of him when they'd been living across the hall from one another, actually.

So, of course it happened on one of those days, how could it not have? When he called that Thursday, she hadn't even told anyone, yet.

She hadn't showed up for work, which was unusual only in that they messaged her to make sure that she was okay.

She kind of ran shit, so they didn't give her a hard time about it. Once she'd brushed off the office (she couldn't deal with that right now), she eventually came to notice that she missed a call and had a message blinking for her to listen to, she must've not noticed it during a particularly deep zone out of sobbing and subsequent puking.

She dragged her phone across the tiled floor slowly hitting the voicemail button and pushing her thumb roughly on the speakerphone button. She couldn't even find it in her to lift the phone to her shoulder.

"Hello, Penny. This is Sheldon Cooper. I was calling for our daily update, you may be temporarily preoccupied, when you're free again to talk please call me back as soon as you can. I will try you again in a minute or so. Thanks, this is Sheldon Cooper."

She started crying again, softly.

She realized these tears were for a different reason than those shed because of the 3:19AM phone call she'd gotten from her heartbroken sister speaking, hoarsely, for her dad and her family (making it occur to her that she couldn't even visualize the last thing she'd said to her mother whenever they'd spoken last. Which is what started the original bout of getting sick.) This wasn't really why she'd started welling up a second time, though.

She sat here on the cold floor of her big giant apartment, the one she'd imagined when her and her mom had sped down that road talking about behaving badly and kicking boys' asses. Her mother had known she'd succeeded in her life the way they'd dreamt about. She'd loved her, told her so, and worshipped her for it. It wasn't that she hadn't expected this to happen, some day, but it wasn't what she'd planned. There was still so much she had to say, to ask. It was her mother. Who'd had heart attack at fucking sixty-three.

As depressing as these mental digressions were, she sat there crying now, however, over the fact that she'd been sitting in a ball on her cold marble floor for twelve hours and the first person to call her (besides the text from work) was Sheldon. Not even with concern, or propriety, just because he wanted to know how the day had gone. Oh, her Sheldon.

Sure, people liked her, loved her, trusted her, depended on her, looked up to her, respected her, but no one did all of that like Sheldon did. That multi-tasking idiot had landed a Nobel Prize and (maybe that night on the beach, but definitely at some point over the last ten years) the love of his best friend before he broke thirty-five. Jackass.

It made her feel stupid and foolish about wasting so much time being his just his biggest fan and only confidante, when he made her feel so complete with nothing more than a echoed, plain, no more than six sentence long voicemail.

So she cried, and cried until, as he'd warned, two minutes later her phone buzzed around the tiles like a cockroach, brightening the otherwise lightless room.

She hit the answer button and speaker phone with her finger and waited until Sheldon said something.

"Hello, Penny?" his voice rung out, reverberating hollowly to itself through the acoustics of her oversized bathroom. "I'm echoing, Penny. Penny? Hello, Penny?"

"Sheldon," she tried, but it came out more like Sheaw-da-ah-ah-en. The sobbing resumed as soon as she'd heard the squeak of her own voice. "I—can't—I—Sheeell."

"I don't know what is wrong, but I'm heading towards you, now. I'll be quick, I'll tell Jeff (his driver) to run lights. Should I run lights? I don't like to run lights, but if it is an emergency situation I will. Should I phone an ambulance?"

"No! No-hoo-hwo," she held her hands up, as though Sheldon was already in the room with her. Frantically waving them back and forth, she was trying to get across that it was not that kind of emergency, to his invisible presence.

"Not that kind of emergency, okay. You're just very upset? I'll be running lights, so it shouldn't take long. Thirteen minutes, if the dry run a few years ago is any indicator. With traffic patterns, however, that may be slightly off. We should really practice such drills more frequently for more accurate conjecture, I suppose, for future reference. Also, you can continue to cry, if you'd like. I will stay on the line, regardless," she erupted into another round of sobs at that (who the fuck says stuff like that? How can she be expected to keep it together when people say stuff like that?)

He listened to her quietly sob herself sick again, making random observations to his driver about how slow they were driving ("I said running lights, Jeff! That means DEFCON 1!" he shouted with consternation) and having a jumbled conversation with Penny that mostly consisted of "there, there" and things like that.

She realized that talking to him was probably keeping her upset, but she didn't care, it felt so good to just hear another person's voice (especially his), the pain was okay for the time being. It was just a dull ache compared to what'd she'd been dealing with throughout the morning.

In the almost four years from when he won the Prize and now, Sheldon had switched out from layering his comic book t-shirts with thermals to something that he felt captured the maturity and distinguished side of his academic success.

He now owned quite an assortment of professional-looking blazers. Like so many things about him, she dug the concept, but was tickled in horrified amusement at the follow-through.

Under each blazer were still his quirky geometric patterned, logoed t-shirts.

Besides putting on a little weight, as most guys really just couldn't avoid with age, he looked almost identical to how he'd always looked. For his height, the 150-160 pounds he fluctuated between looked good on him (yeah, they talked often enough for her to know his weight and how it was affected by which region he was in. Salty versus sweet, Mexican versus Chinese, his digestion was a very precise science, like most things, to him.) The blazers suited his slightly aged appearance, making him border on appearing quirky and hip (if you squinted really hard, like constantly, because it was all he wore.)

Sometimes he'd even layer underneath the blazer and t-shirt (making her slightly nostalgic in a creepy, pathetic way. Those thermals had been tragic), if it was a place where the temperature dropped below 70 degrees at any point.

She'd wager that a lot of the shirts he had when she'd first met him were still in his closet. He kept immaculate care of them ("they're collectibles in their own right, Penny!") and he had enough, now, that he could choose from a decent selection enough to not wear out what he didn't want to.

His look was goofy, off-putting, and entirely Sheldon. It fit shockingly well and she couldn't really remember when he'd switched, because it felt like such a natural progression.

He showed up on her stoop, wearing a shirt that had two kung-fu styled black silhouettes depicting hands, both displaying the Vulcan salute, imprinted over a gold background. His blazer was a simple, gray quarter inch pin-stripe on deep black cotton.

Pounding on the door and buzzing the intercom repeatedly. He was then fumbling around with pockets, looking for his spare, even though he knew it was in the bowl by his own door, eight blocks away.

She was still on the phone and hadn't stopped crying, just barely managing to tell him to check the garden.

"A Hide-a-Key rock, Penny? You are an intelligent, accomplished woman, who still uses a Hide-a-Key rock?" he got a bunch of blubbering and snot sniffing in response. Sliding the side of the fake rock, he pulled out the small key, opening her apartment immediately afterwards.

"I'm sorry," she groaned out as he found her finally turning his phone off and ending the call connected to hers.

"Don't be, I'll find or create you a more secure hiding place later on. Let's table that for now, though. What's wrong?" he kneeled down in the door jamb, unsure of what to do.

While they'd been close for years, Sheldon hadn't magically become capable of computing emotions well. He was just as awkward and difficult about things as ever. More willing to understand and help, maybe, but without any guidance from her he looked… well, he looked about as lost as he did right now.

"My," she hiccupped, "mom had," she hiccupped, again, wet and loud this time, "a—a—," this was her first time speaking it aloud and he could tell where this was going already, as he instantly forgot his boundaries and moved to pull her towards himself. Sliding off the jacket (so she wouldn't feel guilty about getting gross stuff all over him, she knew without him even saying so. Just like she's sure he knew she'd feel guilty without her saying so), he cradled her against his side.

She was clutching him so tightly that it was more as though he was just allowing his side to be used as a body pillow. Or just as a body or whatever you're supposed to be grabbing and clutching onto like this. Body, body pillow, whatever, she dug her nails into his ribs.

It made her think about mothers, for some pointless, abstract reason and she erupted in another fit of distress. Blurting out, "She had a heart attack, this morning," just before losing all comprehension for words.

"Oh, Penny. Penny, Penny. Oh, Joyce, oh no. I'm so very, profusely sorry. I—can't, I'm so sorry," he looked like he was strangely fighting against getting too upset, himself. She pulled him closer. "How are Jessica and your father? And the boys? And the all the people at your ranch?" he realized he was asking way too much of her at the moment and told her to forget his inquires; they'd worry about it later.

Right now, she needed to just cry until she couldn't anymore.

That's what his mother had told him and Missy, he informed. Although Sheldon had only cried that one time (so not a dream, so definitely not just a fantasy) and not for too long a period, he was sure that his mother could be trusted with this bit of information.

So they sat, both covered in Penny's mucus and tears. He rocked her until she passed out.

She didn't wake up until she almost got sick from not eating anything for hours. It was dim in her bedroom, the clock on the wall read 4:02AM.

Sheldon was spooned against her lower half. She wasn't even aware he could sleep in beds beside his own (or chairs or cars or in the booth they had in a banquet hall, at a really boring speech Leonard gave at his MacArthur Grant acceptance), but there he was sound asleep.

She rubbed her eyes and tried not to think about why things were the way they were and instead looked at the little table he'd set up at some point in the night.

A small metal thermos labeled diet ginger ale, one labeled soup – chicken and stars (her favorite), another labeled B&J – vanilla (of course), three paper bowls, a paper plate, some crackers, utensils, a bouquet of calla lilies (also, her favorite), and four big boxes of tissues.

Furthest to the right, on her desk where she had her computer resting, hibernating and forgotten, an empty glass bottle stood with a cork lightly poked into the top. She read the post-it note placed on the side of the glinting bottle:

When you're ready for this, wake me up and let me know. In an hour, a day, a few years – I'm not going anywhere. –Sheldon Cooper

She would've scratched her head at his need to end things with his full name, always, if her brain would ever get around to processing it.

All she could get around was the 'When you're ready' part.

After ten years, and a whole lot of stupid bullshit she was more than ready for this (more now, than ever.)

She chugged her ginger ale, had some crackers with her soup, and spoonfuls of the ice cream for an early morning dessert. She snuck back into her bathroom (now spotless and clean, unsurprisingly) and brushed her teeth a few times.

Walking back to where they'd slept together through the night, she woke him up from his place, eternally to the left of her (heart, mind, and body) with an open mouthed kiss and a nimble hand snaking its way into his jeans.

"Sheldon, I think we should talk about that time we screwed ourselves happy on the beach, ten years ago, and didn't talk about it until now. Remember that at all?" Of course he remembered, he never forgot anything.

They talked about it, but, yet again, didn't find words necessary.

- - -

They had two children (James and Joyce, yes those were their parents names, yes they both very much enjoyed Finnegan's Wake, and yes she very much believes in kismet. No, he still doesn't, but loves her with every molecule of his being, his words, just the same.)

Sheldon took James on many fishing trips (James always caught the fish and Sheldon read him the same Isaac Asimov novels he'd owned when he was young, or the latest of his numerous dissertations), Penny drove down every barely paved road she could still find (got six flat tires throughout her life, because of this) with Joyce telling her about Laurel Thatcher and all the places her daughter had a hard time believing she'd gotten her father to travel.

Both took their time to enjoy the little things, lived life and made history, in their own ways, but together.