One would assume that a successful hotel chain well established in the niche of secondary housing for travelers would recognize the need for functioning alarm clocks. For the two physicists in room 412, however, this proved to be a false assumption. Sheldon had discovered the clock’s defect when he attempted to set the alarm for the next morning, failing to switch the digital numbers for anything past 2:37 a.m.
“Don’t you dare leave that alarm on,” Leonard had threatened his friend the night before.
Thankfully for Sheldon, he had his cell phone’s alarm programmed for his usual 6:15 a.m. wake up routine. And his laptop. And his watch. And his partner’s laptop too, but frankly that was Leonard’s fault for taking so long in the bathroom. Sheldon’s circadian rhythm (or internal body clock as the folksy liked to say) was also precisely programmed after nearly thirty years of anal-retentive behavior.
So in spite of the taller scientist’s worries, he awoke the next morning exactly on time. Pushing the covers off his side of the bed, Sheldon quickly disabled the chorus of buzzing before turning to address his bedmate, intent on dragging the other man up. Leonard had lectured him on the definition of the word vacation before they had left, but Sheldon stood firm in his argument that their traveling was not a vacation at all due to the fact that they were presenting a paper at a conference for work, not pleasure, regardless if they had a day free to themselves beforehand.
Waking Leonard was going to prove difficult, Sheldon realized, if Leonard wasn’t even in bed.
Quickly noticing the light radiating from the direction of the bathroom, Sheldon made his way around the corner. Leonard’s bladder usually didn’t require emptying at this hour, and his roommate knew better than to leave the door open while he did his business…
“Leonard?” Sheldon called out, rapping his knuckles on the doorframe, repeating his inquiry two more times.
“It’s ok, Sheldon, you can come in,” Leonard replied, smiling at Sheldon’s downwards gaze. Even after they had become romantically and sexually involved, Sheldon still held his polite aversion to seeing naked body parts.
“I’m surprised you’re up, after that lecture you gave me on sleeping in and relaxing… if you had no intentions of following it yourself, why did you make the futile efforts of trying to convince me to do so?”
Instead of replying, Leonard turned to face Sheldon fully, silently holding up a single article of clothing. Sheldon recognized it instantly.
Blue swimming trunks.
Leonard’s insistence. One horrible shopping trip.
He hadn’t packed them.
Taking a step backwards, Sheldon’s wide eyes darted around the room, noticing too late the two beach towels stacked neatly on the counter, the pool shoes on the floor, and Leonard’s own swimming gear.
“I bought these for you… you’re going to use them,” Leonard stated firmly.
“I told you… I don’t swim! I’ve learned the basic maneuvers, but that’s only for emergencies. I shouldn’t have to swim for another ten or twelve years if global warming continues at its current rate. I considered a five percent error margin, Leonard, so my plan says nothing about swimming today!”
“Shelly…” Leonard began, but for some reason the nickname seemed to upset his friend even more. “Baby, c’mon. Calm down and listen to me…”
“No!” Sheldon protested, then spun on his heels. “And I’m not a child nor an infant!”
With a sigh, Leonard followed the taller man out of the bathroom. Throwing himself on top of the covers, Sheldon curled up in a defensive position, not looking up even as he felt the bed dip beside him.
Laying a hand on Sheldon’s shoulder, Leonard began to rub soothing circles in the man’s back. “There won’t be anyone else but us at the pool if we go now… if we wait around until later, it’s going to get crowded. It’ll be just me and you… and you know I won’t try to pull anything. I don’t even want to swim per se; we’ll just sit around in the water, ok?”
“If that is the parameter of your proposal, may I suggest sitting in the bath tub as an alternative?” Sheldon muttered into his pillow.
Leonard allowed himself a brief chuckle. “We wouldn’t both fit, and you know it.”
“I don’t understand why you want this so badly,” Sheldon announced, rolling over slightly in order to stare up at Leonard.
“Do you remember our boyfriend contract? Remember the provision that states that we will have to engage in various, unspecified activities for bonding purposes? Well, this is one of those activities.”
“I signed that under the assumption that dating involved situations of common interests to both partners,” Sheldon shot back.
“Sometimes it doesn’t. Um, take the train history museum we went to last month. I really don’t give a crap about trains other than if it’s going to get me to my destination safely. But I went for you. You had a great time, and you gave me a headache, but it was worth it because you were so happy…”
Sheldon chewed that over for a minute. “Fine, we can go to the chess tournament. Don’t see why you would want to, you should realize from experience that only amateur players enter.”
“No, no, Sheldon. It’s not that…it’s… I want you to trust me. I want you to feel that… you can come to me with your fears and I’ll help you deal with them…” Leonard bit his lip, trying to come up with another way to put his words so that Sheldon could understand his meaning better.
“So this is a test?” Sheldon asked. Leonard blinked down at him. “An experiment designed to test the strength of our relationship and your merit as my life partner,” Sheldon elaborated when Leonard simply stared at him in confusion.
“I suppose you could look at it like that…Let’s drop that last part, though, huh?” Leonard replied, raising a brow. If he hadn’t already proved his ability to handle Sheldon, then he was Clark Kent.
“No, that part is entirely relevant to the matter. Fine, I’ll allow you to direct me to the pool. Do you at least have the decency to allow me to change clothes in peace?” Sheldon huffed in resentment.
“Like I haven’t seen you naked before?” Leonard smirked then shook his head at the resulting glare. “Ok, ok… I’ll be waiting in the hallway. Don’t try to lock yourself in here, I’ve got my card key with me.”
Stopping off by the bathroom to grab the towels, Leonard shuffled out of the room, letting the door swing shut with a click. It was awkward, standing in the hallway in his swim trunks, clutching his possessions to his chest, but thankfully there was no traffic to gawk at him.
It seemed to take Sheldon forever to emerge from the room, and once his friend was in sight, Leonard was sure to check that Sheldon had on all of his swimming gear. Although the shopping trip had only required two items (swim trunks and pool shoes) it had been a hellish experience, right up there with listening to his mother discuss his emotional problems with thoughtful strangers. Even after he took Sheldon to look at superhero beach towels, his friend had remained angry at his deception. Leonard had had to endure two days of the silent treatment as a result. The quiet was a welcome relief; the lack of cuddling wasn’t.
“You look nice,” Leonard offered, but Sheldon merely sniffed in disdain. “Hey, it could be worse. I could have bought you a Speedo!”
“No one looks good in a Speedo. That’s scientific fact,” Sheldon replied.
With a smile, Leonard laced Sheldon’s fingers with his own, pulling the taller man down the hall and into the elevator. As the elevator door closed with a ding, Leonard gave the clammy hand in his a squeeze, wondering if he had the strength to pull his plan off. Nothing was ever easy with Sheldon, but he owed it to the man he loved to try.
Just as Leonard had predicted, the indoor pool area was deserted as the two boys crossed the glass-walled enclosure. Claiming the plastic chair nearest to the door, Leonard dropped the beach towels down, carefully placing his key card on top. His glasses remained on his nose; Leonard knew he’d end up falling off the deep end if he tried wandering around the natatorium without clear vision. Besides, it would make Sheldon feel safer.
Safe wasn’t exactly on Sheldon’s mind as he started down at the calm water with piercing eyes. “Maybe we should measure our progress in small increments,” Sheldon remarked, twitching at the prospect of entering the chemical-infested water.
“Simply coming to the pool does not qualify as progress, buddy. You have to get in the water.” Leonard held out his hand, which Sheldon ignored. Shrugging, Leonard made his way to the concrete steps, letting the warm water lap at his ankles. Two more steps, and Leonard sat down on the wide ledge. The water already reached his armpits, but Leonard didn’t seem fazed.
“Water’s warm,” Leonard called out without glancing backwards.
“It’s a heated pool, Leonard. The hotel staff couldn’t call it a heated pool if the temperature of the water wasn’t adequate,” Sheldon’s voice floated above him. Leonard jerked his head up in surprise. Taking it as a good sign that Sheldon was already so close to the edge, Leonard nodded towards the other side of the steps. Silently and slowly, Sheldon took his place on the other side of the handrail.
Content to sit in silence, Leonard kicked his legs, letting his limbs thrash sluggishly through the water.
A few minutes passed this way, until Leonard finally grew bored, toes digging into the concrete as he launched himself further into the pool. Without the aid of the steps, the five foot water level covered Leonard’s nose and mouth, forcing the physicist to hold his head up in order to breathe. If Raj or Howard had been there, they would have laughed, but Sheldon derived no apparent amusement from the spectacle. Leonard didn’t worry too much about this; no doubt Sheldon would rib him about his unfortunate disadvantage in future arguments.
Not daring to stray too far from his friend, Leonard dogpaddled back and forth, being extra careful not to splash water on his lens or anywhere near Sheldon. The other scientist was just waiting for an excuse to escape, and Leonard was determined not to give him one.
“C’mon, just pretend you’re in zero-gravity!” Leonard coaxed, gliding up towards the steps. Sheldon frowned at the comparison. “You can not feel weightlessness, but I can certainly feel the chlorine- contaminated water.”
Raising a brow, Leonard propelled his body forwards, hands reaching out to grasp the edge of the third step and the railing, drawing his knees up to his chest as he drew closer. In one fluid movement, Leonard wrapped his legs around Sheldon’s waist, positioning himself in his friend’s lap. Quite pleased with himself, Leonard grinned at Sheldon’s surprised expression. His grip on the railing loosened, and both hands came to rest on Sheldon’s bare shoulders. Leaning forwards, Leonard wetly nuzzled Sheldon’s cheek before bestowing a line of kisses down his throat. Sheldon’s hands quivered but did not loosen their grip on the concrete edge.
“You do realize that this is a public place?” Sheldon hinted. Not that Leonard was heavy, but Sheldon had never had anyone sit in his lap before. Strangely, Leonard was the perfect size for this position. It was very interesting how his relationship with his friend was playing out; Sheldon briefly considered calculating the odds that he would find someone with so many similar interests, a reasonable IQ, a pliant disposition and a compatible size.
Straightening to look at Sheldon in the eye, Leonard tilted his head, letting his hands drop away. Letting his legs anchor himself to Sheldon, Leonard moved his arms back and forth in the water, creating a ripple effect that rocked against the two beings. Sheldon’s frown deepened as the water cascaded across his shoulders.
“You know… the water’s not going to be anywhere near the top of your head if you walked over there.” Leonard jerked a thumb over his shoulder. “What do you say? Just walking.”
“Would that get you off of me?” Sheldon replied, squirming as Leonard pressed yet another kiss to his temple before rising away. For all their shared common interests, they did not have a similar tolerance for affection.
A few tentative steps away from the railing, Sheldon decided he had ventured in far enough. Keeping a wary eye on his friend as Leonard swam in circles around him, Sheldon stood rigidly, turning to keep Leonard in his field of vision.
“That’s good! Now… bend your knees a little. Your shoulders will be warmer underwater,” Leonard wheedled, intent on pushing Sheldon as far as he could.
“Bend your knees,” Sheldon repeated derisively. “I’ve heard that one before.” The unexpected statement brought a surprised laugh out of Leonard, shaking his head slightly. He immediately wished he hadn’t done so as water filled his nose.
“Ahaha… I don’t remember you complaining though,” Leonard replied warmly, smiling at the memory.
“Due to the fact that you were overheating my neurons and stimulating my…” Sheldon trailed off, tensing as Leonard’s arms suddenly wrapped around his frame from behind. Pressing his chest against Sheldon’s back, Leonard could both feel and hear his friend’s breath grow harsher. “My…my… what are you doing, Leonard?!”
“It’s just me…,” Leonard soothed. The combination of Sheldon sinking slightly in the water and Leonard rising to his tippy-toes lessened the height difference between the two, allowing Leonard to rest his head on Sheldon’s shoulder. Playtime was over; Leonard knew he had to get Sheldon talking soon, or risk scaring his friend from the pool forever.
“Talk to me, Sheldon. Why’d you get upset when I called you Shelly? You’ve never given any indication that you don’t like that nickname before…”
“I don’t have an issue with the nickname; I just have bad memories associated with it in relation to swimming. When I was eight, Mother insisted that I “hang out” with the local kids once school was let out, in spite of formal protests by both myself and my sister. I was starting my research on sub-atomic particles at the time, but she didn’t care.” Sheldon crinkled his nose at the memory. Leonard made a sympathetic noise in his throat, silently encouraging Sheldon to continue.
“Missy and I went to the lake where her friends were playing, if you can call swinging from trees like their primate ancestors (what an insult to monkeys…) and throwing mud at each other ‘playing’.”
Leonard did call that playing, but didn’t say so.
“For once, my so-called classmates did not appear intimidated by my superior knowledge and even invited me to swim with them. I refused at first, but they were insistent. Bah! I should have seen it was a trap,” Sheldon muttered bitterly.
“What happened?” Leonard asked softly, although he could guess at the logical progression of events.
“No sooner than when I had taken two steps towards the lake did they grab my arms and throw me in. The biggest child, Carson…(rather insipid kid, didn’t know the difference between protons and electrons by the third grade, can you imagine?) held my head under the water. I… tried to get away, but they blocked off my escape…All of them, taunting me, saying I had a weird name, a girl’s nickname, and that I was too strange…” Sheldon trailed off, shuddering in Leonard’s arms. “These kids with puny minds didn’t know the average time humans can hold their breath underwater, and submerged me too long…”
Sheldon could feel the desperation creeping inside him, the burning sensation of his lungs screaming for air, panic beginning to sharpen his senses. “I realized that thrashing and moving would only hasten my unconsciousness, but I couldn’t prevent it…Finally, the breathing reflex was triggered, and I swallowed water.” Leonard’s grip tightened, almost painfully.
“My sister dragged me out and performed CPR,” Sheldon finished.
“Thank god…” Leonard breathed, hand stroking over his friend’s abdomen. “I’m so sorry… kids can be so cruel,” he whispered. Sheldon let out a breathless, humorless chuckle. “As if your childhood wasn’t filled with similar experiences…”
“Humiliation, yes… near-death experiences brought on by other children, no,” Leonard replied, pressing his lips against Sheldon’s shoulder. He still hadn’t relaxed his grip, illogically fearful that if he let go, Sheldon wouldn’t be there.
“What’s this Carson kid doing now?” Leonard asked after a few minutes of silence. Sheldon turned his head in a rare moment of forgetfulness, his attempts to stare at his friend resulting only in a vision of thick wavy hair.
“Leonard… Missy already beat him up,” came Sheldon’s reply, correctly guessing the reason behind his friend’s inquiry. “Even if you did happen to meet him, he is more than likely able to beat you to a pulp.”
“Thanks for the confidence,” Leonard muttered. “Doesn’t mean I wouldn’t try.”
“Why? It’s in the past,” Sheldon asked. The hand on his stomach stilled its movements, and Sheldon found himself being gently turned around. Facing Leonard, Sheldon could only stare back into serious, thick-lensed eyes.
“I don’t like you being hurt. Past or present. That’s why I tell you to be careful in the labs now. Not that I think you are careless, because I know you aren’t, but because your health is important to me. I want you around as long as possible.”
Sheldon opened his mouth to reply, but a sudden movement in the corner of his eye caused the man to pause. Leonard turned too, watching the stream of laughing kids and adults enter the building, toting float toys and beach balls. Relief flooded Sheldon’s face as his friend nodded towards the steps. Needing no other encouragement, Sheldon fled the pool, eagerly pressing his Flash beach towel to his face. As he dried off, Sheldon turned to observe Leonard’s escape from the water.
“Hey ya’ll, I found the radio!” one of the guests called out, flipping a dial to presumably his favorite station, the music blaring mid-song.
You need to understand
There's nothing strange about this
You need to know your friends
You need to know that
I'll be waving my hand watching you drown
Watching you scream
Quiet or loud
And maybe you should sleep
And maybe you just need, a friend
As clumsy as you've been
There's no one laughing
You will be safe in here
You will be safe in here
Try to shrug it off, shrug it off, shrug it off
It's only skin now
You need to understand
There's nothing fake about this
You need to let me in
I'm watching you
And I'll be waving my hand watching you drown
Watching you scream
No one’s around
Catching Sheldon’s eyes, Leonard smiled then grinned widely, letting the chorus wash through his mind. There was no protest from Sheldon as Leonard reached their chairs and laced their fingers again. It proved a little difficult for Leonard to dry off with only one hand, but it was worth it. It was all worth it.
You will be safe in oh oh,
You will be safe in here