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Water and Air

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It was 9:37 when Leonard received the call.

He had already been at the university for two hours, setting up the lab lasers for his latest experiment. Sheldon, having stubbornly refused to alter his morning routine, had been forced to find alternate transportation to work once again.

Once inside the lab, Leonard had lost all track of time, and wasted no thoughts about his roommate. He would undoubtedly be informed of Sheldon’s success and/or failures at securing a ride at lunch.

Just when he had finished setting up the parameters of the experiment, his phone began to vibrate in his coat pocket, the Star Wars ringtone shattering the silence. The number displayed on his phone was not recognized, although it bore the local area code.

“Hello?” Leonard answered the call, struggling to pull off his glove with his teeth.

“Dr. Leonard Hofstadter? This is Amy Pate from Huntington Memorial Hospital… I’m afraid there’s been an accident…”

That had been an hour ago.

An hour of sitting in those hard plastic chairs that all hospitals seem to purchase. An hour of staring at the wall and hearing the constant ‘ding!’ of the elevator doors every five minutes as nurses and visitors bustled to different floors. An hour of wondering how bad Sheldon was hurt, because none of the staff could tell him anything; an hour of wondering just how this could have happened.

Leonard didn’t have to wonder too much about that last part. He wished he could have though; wished he could forget the arguments and actions that had led up to this point. For all his rantings about people and statements about enjoying his solitude, Sheldon’s attitude towards Leonard’s dating habits had begun to border on resentment over the past few weeks.

At first, Leonard contributed his roommate’s behavior as being upset over the disruption of their well-grounded routine. Instead of HALO night with the guys, he would take Penny to the movies. Paintball on Saturday was scrapped in favor of attending Penny’s play, which he barely escaped with his all of his hearing. But Sheldon would hear none of his reasoning, because Sheldon did not understand that sometimes you have to do things for other people because you loved them. In his mind, Penny was a less than desirable obtrusion into their schedule, and therefore, happiness.

It had gotten so bad that Sheldon was barely speaking to him. So when Leonard had informed him that he would be going into work early in order to use the lasers, Sheldon had merely sniffed disdainfully and stated that he would find significantly better transportation.

Of course, today had to be the day that there would be a major accident involving the otherwise safe bus routes. Today had to be the day that a eighteen-wheeler truck would decide to turn right on red, completely ignoring the incoming bus. The first major bus accident in Pasadena in the past ten years, and Sheldon Cooper just had to be on it.

Wolowitz and Koothrappali had tried to make small talk once they arrived at the hospital, but eventually Wolowitz became distracted with chasing the nurses while Koothrappali ventured down to the cafeteria to get something to eat, leaving Leonard sitting there by himself, staring blankly at the cream-colored walls.

“Dr. Hofstadter?” a voice suddenly spoke up, startling the scientist out of his thoughts. “Are you Mr. Cooper’s regular physician?”

Leonard glanced up at the tired-looking doctor. The sudden influx of emergency-room patients from the accident had to be taking their toll on the staff. But there was no blood on her scrubs, so that had to be a good sign, right?

“Not that kind of doctor…” He motioned towards his CalTech employee badge that was still clipped to his belt. “How is he?”

“Mr. Cooper’s got a fractured leg and suffered several deep abrasions to the chest and rib area. We had to give him painkillers and the medicine might make him a little loopy,” the doctor continued, “It should wear off soon, though. We‘d like to keep him under observation for a few days, however.”

“May I see him?” Leonard questioned, and the doctor nods, making a mark on her clipboard.

“Go right ahead. He’s in room 312. There’s a call button on the right side of the bed if he needs anything from the nurses’ station.”

Relieved that he could finally leave the monotonous waiting room, Leonard started off down the hall, managing to find the right pathway after two tries. The door to Sheldon’s room was slightly ajar, and Leonard hesitated outside briefly. It felt like such an invasion of privacy not to knock, but he had no wish to wake his friend from much-needed rest. A careful peek into the room revealed that Sheldon was very much awake. Alert was another matter.

“Hey buddy…how are you feeling?” Leonard asked, immediately making his way over to the bed. Sheldon’s right leg was tightly bound in a cast, but thankfully Leonard couldn’t see the gashes and bruises on his side through the flimsy blue hospital gown. It was frightening, seeing his best friend meekly lying there, wires and tubes attached all over.

Sheldon’s gaze was glassy as he stared up at his friend.

“Like the symmetry that allowed our universe to stay together after the Big Bang,” he replied, speech slurred. “Broken.”

“I know what you meant…,” Leonard couldn’t stop his words, so used to being talked down to. But now wasn’t the time. “I’m sorry…”

Either not hearing or simply ignoring Leonard’s apology, Sheldon suddenly struggled to sit up. The heart monitor‘s beeping went into overdrive, making it hard for Leonard to hear Sheldon‘s next words.

“Out of the approximately two million patients that contract viruses while in the hospital, five percent of them die from the infections. Don’t let them introduce pathogens in here, Leonard,” Sheldon pleads. It’s heartbreaking to see him like this; although his concerns were truly Sheldonesque, his desperate pleading and the resulting tears were obviously drug-induced.

“Shhhh…I won’t, I promise,” Leonard soothed. It’s fairly easy to gently guide the taller physicist back down. Once reclined, Sheldon watched his friend with haunted orbs, pale digits grasping at stiff fabric as Leonard pulls the covers back over his body.

“Sing ‘Soft Kitty’…” The request was a faint one, but Leonard felt obliged to honor it after all that had happened to Sheldon in such a short few hours of the day. After locating a chair and dragging it closer to the gurney, he glanced at the door to make sure no one was eavesdropping on the conversation. Clearing his throat, he began to sing the two verses, trying to make his voice as comforting as he possibly could. A pleased expression crossed Sheldon’s face, lips quirking to a small smile. Another obvious byproduct of the drugs; to see such open affection was strange but not totally unwelcome.

“Leonard?” Sheldon spoke up once the last purr, purr, purr had faded. “In any given situation, if you had to choose between Penny and me, based on our relationship to you and your level of friendship with each and nothing else, who would you pick?” Surprised, Leonard shot his friend an incredulous look.

“I can’t choose between my girlfriend and my best friend…It’s like asking someone to choose between water and oxygen; you need both to survive, for very different reasons,” Leonard explained. He glanced down to see Sheldon’s reaction, and was startled to see Sheldon’s eyes closed, his chest steadily rising and falling as sleep overcame him.

“You’re water, by the way,” Leonard whispered. “Too little of you, I crave more. Too much of you, and someone could drown in your idiosyncrasies. You can be a lot of fun, but you could also suck someone down to their death. You wouldn’t mean to, though…it’s just your nature. You’re a….necessity.”

Shifting back in his chair, Leonard sighed to himself, resolving himself for a long day ahead.