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Into the West

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The only reason he doesn’t flee the room when Priya announces her impending departure back to India is because if this is the moment when Leonard’s going to leave him, he wants to hear it from Leonard himself.

It isn’t, though, and Sheldon feels like the first time he ever went to the beach, a family trip to see an ageing great-aunt and great-uncle, and discovered that swimming in the ocean wasn’t at all like swimming in the local carefully patrolled and chlorinated and cleaned and wave-free pool. Tumbled around like a wildly rolling die, he’d been washed up with a mouthful of sand and water and spluttered until Missy unceremoniously dragged him out of the shallows.

(They were five. She still mocks him.)

He’s washed up now, and he can only draw his next breath, his heartbeat in his ears the waves crashing to shore, when Leonard says no. No, he’s not going with Priya. No, he’s staying here.

Sheldon breathes again, but it doesn’t come as easily as he’d expected.

He hates buses. They’re the only way to go somewhere the others won’t immediately find him. Therefore, he’s stuck with buses. He has to look the timetable up. He’s about to automatically erase his browser history (he needs neither bookmarks nor a page history; he remembers them all), but then leaves it. If Leonard’s bright enough, he’ll puzzle it out.

(He has never really doubted Leonard’s intelligence, not even on those mornings when Leonard is a shambling shape in a robe whose only intelligible communication is, “Coffee?”)

Then Sheldon puts on his bus pants and leaves the apartment.

Santa Monica Pier is a hive of activity in the warmer months, which is more or less all of them, but today is just cloudy enough to lessen the flow of tourists and locals; the crowd is muted to a dull roar, and the sea drowns that out the further away he gets.

He feels a little silly, a little melodramatic, but as soon as he sits down and leans on the railing and fixes his eyes on the horizon, all of that fades away and is replaced by a peacefulness he’s not used to. His mind is always switched on, always thinking about multiple things at once, but right now the way the water splashes against the pilings some feet below his dangling legs and the way it looks like it stretches on forever (even if he knows the horizon isn’t the end) is all that occupies his mind.

The peace doesn’t last, of course. All too soon his mind is assailed by all the things he needs to reconcile with one another.

Priya is going; Leonard is staying.

Amy is still his friend, but now she’s Raj’s lover.

Howard and Bernadette are getting married, not that it particularly affects him, but it’s something he has to take into account, he supposes.

Penny is... he doesn’t know.

(Penny is a mystery he has known for a long time and is still solving.)

Priya is leaving. He feels relieved because she has caused a good deal of disharmony amongst their group of friends. Leonard spent less time at home because of her. Penny spent less time at home with them because of her. Priya leaving is a good thing.

Leonard is staying and that’s a good thing and he isn’t sure if he can’t or won’t articulate all the reasons why.

Amy and Raj he has trouble processing. Clearly his initial impressions of Amy were not as immutable as he’d thought. She had been so very clear about not wanting any physical contact, as had he, and now it seems they’re on different pages about that.

(Maybe it’s the same page and they’re just not in the same story.)

Howard and Bernadette are happy and that’s a good thing because Howard’s a lot more interesting when he’s not sulking, and Bernadette is a good friend for Penny.

Even after half an hour of thinking, Penny is still a mystery and his thoughts -- his feelings -- about her even more so.

Leonard finds him and Sheldon is quite unsurprised. He lets Leonard’s concern for him roll over him like the tide, and it’s not a tumbling, sand-spitting wave, but a gentle swell of worry.

It is not entirely unpleasant to open up to emotions once in a while.

They talk for a while. Leonard is all constant restless movement, even if he doesn’t realise it; his fingers drum on the railings, his feet tap on the pier, and even his hair is resistant to the notion of staying still. Unexpectedly, Sheldon finds himself wanting to touch it, to see if it is as soft as it looks (as soft as Penny’s?), but he resists the urge.

The feeling of Leonard’s fingers entwining with his is enough. For now. It’s enough for now, this rare physical acknowledgement that he needs Leonard in his life. Leonard looks puzzled by it, but then for all his intelligence Leonard often looks puzzled by things. He didn’t look puzzled when Priya announced her departure, though. He just looked resigned and a little like something in him had broken.

As they walk back down the pier, hands linked, Sheldon’s not quite sure whether Leonard’s silently comforting him, or the other way around.

(Maybe it’s both.)