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the water sustains me

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The irony of the whole situation is this: even securely adhered ducks lose their grip after a while, no matter how whimsical their umbrellas. Leonard hears the thud and then his roommate’s agonized scream and bolts into the bathroom without bothering to knock. Sheldon’s sprawled on the floor of the tub, his right wrist jutting out at an angle it really shouldn’t be. He’s curled into a ball and it takes Leonard twenty minutes to get him to his feet and into underwear and a robe. Sheldon averts his face the whole time, as though by not looking at Leonard he can make Leonard be unable to see him.

The diagnosis at the hospital is simple: a fracture of the right radius and ulna, to be healed with six weeks’ immobility in a cast. “But you can still shower if you wrap the cast in plastic,” the doctor recites as though he’s said it a dozen times already tonight.

 

It’s not a problem until the following night, except that Sheldon’s a little hazy on painkillers. Then Leonard hears his name being called from the bathroom and goes, more hesitantly this time, to see what Sheldon wants.

“I can’t trust the ducks,” Sheldon informs him. “I’ll have to have a bath instead. And...”

“And what?”

“I can’t do it alone. You’ll have to help me.”

Leonard doesn’t really get a chance to say no. Sheldon looks too vulnerable, looking down at the parading ducks as though they’re venomous and liable to bite, wrapped in his white terry-toweling robe with his initials monogrammed in blue. Howard gave them all monogrammed robes as gifts one Hanukkah; Sheldon’s was the only one that wasn’t completely useless silk. Leonard’s has been hanging at the back of his closet for months.

 

They eventually agree on Leonard using a sponge glove. Sheldon doesn’t like the loofah mitt but he also doesn’t want Leonard using a plain washcloth in case he drops it in the water and has to go fishing for it and touches somewhere he shouldn’t. Leonard privately thinks the concept of somewhere he shouldn’t touch is a little ridiculous considering he’s bathing his roommate.

The first bath is a riot of bubbles. Sheldon huddles in them like a fluffy white cloak, knees drawn up almost to his chest, broken arm in its cast and plastic resting on the edge of the tub. Leonard pushes the periodic table curtain all the way back and scrubs Sheldon’s back in circles, resigning himself to the fact that this isn’t as weird as he’d expected it would be. Sheldon sits there with his eyes shut, luxuriating in the attention. Leonard can feel the tension leaving his body, although he’s still making sure to keep a sizeable mound of bubbles in place to preserve his modesty.

Sheldon lets him wash his arms and the upper part of his chest, working around the cast in its plastic bag, and then stops him.

“I can do the rest myself,” he says, catching Leonard’s wrist just above the surface of the water.

“What about your hair?” Leonard points out.

Sheldon submits to having his hair washed, complains about getting shampoo in his eyes, and then turns his face up to the spray when Leonard grabs the detachable shower head and rinses the offending suds away. With his hair slick-wet against his head he looks like a selkie temporarily in human form. The notion is only intensified in Leonard’s mind when Sheldon opens his sea-blue eyes.

Funny, he’s never noticed his roommate’s eye color before. Nor found it quite so appealing. He must have been single for too long.

He finishes washing Sheldon’s hair in silence. The only thing that Sheldon says is a quiet, yet genuine, “Thank you, Leonard.” He takes that as his cue to leave, closing the door on the sound of a splash and Sheldon’s genteel cursing at the slipperiness of the soap.

 

The next day Sheldon attempts to bathe himself, gets frustrated, and calls Leonard into the bathroom. Leonard surprises himself with how quickly he responds, especially considering he’s in the middle of a new comic book.

He ends up scratching Sheldon’s back as well as washing it, finding the itchy spot that’s bothering Sheldon and attacking it with his fingernails. He leaves red lines on Sheldon’s back; Sheldon cranes around trying to see, his shoulder muscles flexing as he twists. Leonard has to swallow against a sudden strange dryness in his mouth, and he’s rougher and quicker than the night before, except when it comes to Sheldon’s broken arm. That, he treats with the utmost care, soaping right up to the edge of the taped-on plastic, and washing Sheldon’s fingers individually where they poke out of the cast.

Usually Sheldon’s fingers are covered with smudges of whiteboard marker where he’s slipped while writing, but Raj has been doing all his notations for him while his arm is broken, and so there’s not the usual rainbow of marker under his fingernails. Leonard tends to each one anyway, feeling absurdly protective. Sheldon winces a little as he does it.

“Do you need more painkillers?”

“Yes, please.” Sheldon looks down rather than at Leonard as he says it. Leonard gets him the painkillers and a mug of warm milk and brings them to him in the bath. It would probably be quite lovely and decadent for Sheldon if he weren’t in pain. Except for the part where he’s quite body-shy, even though Leonard’s seen everything there is to see. For that matter, he has those parts too, so what’s Sheldon’s problem?

 

As the first week progresses, Sheldon doesn’t get any more confident about standing up in the shower again, but he does relax into the fact that he needs assistance. He’s naturally bossy in the office, driving Raj crazy, but Raj privately admits to Leonard that it’s an improvement over screwing around on Facebook.

Leonard comes to find himself enjoying bath time. It could be because it’s one of the rare times when Sheldon shuts up and settles down apart from when he’s asleep. The only thing that’s really objectionable is that the sponge glove makes his hand go pruny fast, and it feels weird.

It’s a little awkward when Sheldon starts giving Leonard instructions, because the wording – remarks like, “Higher,” and, “Rub harder,” and then one noise he makes when Leonard hits a good spot that’s almost like a moan – turns the situation almost erotic. Most of the time Leonard manages to ignore it, but when he’s running his fingers through Sheldon’s hair one night and Sheldon – apparently unconsciously – murmurs his name, he has to jam the heel of his free hand down against his groin in an attempt to quell his surprised arousal.

He has trouble falling asleep that night. He has this mental image that just won’t go away of Sheldon turning his dripping face to him and kissing him, Sheldon’s wet lips sliding against his dry ones, and for some reason it’s making him ridiculously hard. Worse still is when his mind wanders to the notion of cleaning the parts of Sheldon that are usually hidden by bubbles. He can’t keep from thinking about soaping Sheldon’s thighs, moving his bare hands over wet skin, gliding under the water to—

A choked “No!” escapes his throat, but not before his fingers find their way to the button fly of his boxer shorts and set his cock free. He strokes himself hard and fast, hoping to make a quick end to it.

But coming isn’t the end of it; there are still five more weeks to go.

 

After the first week Leonard realizes that Sheldon’s starting to look like the evil universe version of himself, except he’s pretty sure evil Sheldon’s goatee would be neater. So he gets out the shaving cream and razor and, with a lot of trepidation, lathers Sheldon up.

Sheldon keeps lifting his right hand like he wants to do it himself, but the cast means he can’t get a good grip on the razor and he gives up, letting Leonard do it for him. Leonard goes slowly and carefully, hyper-aware of Sheldon’s every breath, every movement, especially the jump and flutter of his pulse in his throat.

He manages to get Sheldon’s face shaved clean without cutting him, and skims his fingertips over Sheldon’s skin just to make sure he hasn’t missed any spots. Sheldon turns his head into Leonard’s touch, just a little, like a cat deigning to accept a chin-rub. Then his eyes open and the moment passes; he brushes his own hand over his face and nods, and then gets up to start the bathwater running.

“I, uh. I got new bath stickers today. There weren’t any more ducks, so I had to get rainclouds.”

“That’s good, because I don’t trust the ducks anymore.” He keeps running the water into the tub.

“So you could try showering again.”

“Don’t be ridiculous, Leonard, the tub’s already half full.”

Leonard leaves the room for the few minutes it takes for Sheldon to finish filling the tub, and that’s when Penny knocks on the door.

“Hey, Leonard.” She looks bedraggled and in need of a hot bath herself. “Do you guys have any juice? My car broke down and it’s raining and I think I’m getting a cold.”

“Uh, sure.” He finds the carton of orange juice and hands it over, although Penny looks like she’s ready to settle in and tell him about her day. “You should get some rest.”

“I thought—”

“Leonard! I’m ready!” Sheldon calls from the bathroom.

Penny gives Leonard the mother of all weird looks. Leonard finds himself blushing. “He can’t wash his back since he broke his arm. I’m kind of helping.”

“You know what? I actually believe you.” She smiles, pecks his cheek, and takes herself and her juice back across the hall. Leonard can’t believe it, but he’s actually relieved to be alone with Sheldon.

 

His fingers massage shampoo into Sheldon’s hair. Sheldon tilts his head back, the line of his neck just begging to be kissed or bitten. Leonard’s giving up on rationalization of these random desires that keep springing to mind in favor of just keeping himself from enacting them.

There’s something about Sheldon’s innate vulnerability at bath time that makes him genuinely appealing. The way he relaxes under Leonard’s hands is... Leonard’s reasonably certain that nobody’s ever applied the appellation “sweet” to Sheldon, except for maybe his mother, but there’s something about the way he trusts Leonard that makes Leonard want to shed his own clothes and slip into the tub behind him, to pull the other man into his arms and—

“Leonard, you’re getting suds in my eyes. Pay attention.” Sheldon’s glaring at him, albeit with a squint.

Leonard gets the handheld shower attachment and rakes his fingers through Sheldon’s hair, chasing them with the water, and then picks up the soap and starts on Sheldon’s back, relishing the silky-fine texture of Sheldon’s pale skin under his fingertips without the stupid glove in the way. Sheldon opens his mouth and then closes it again. Between the raspberry scent of his shampoo and the lemon balm of the soap he smells like an exotic variety of tea, a hot drink to be enjoyed slowly.

He hurries the rest of the bath that night and escapes to his room as quickly as he can, palming his cock through his jeans before he’s even got the door closed behind him. The worst of it is he’s sure Sheldon doesn’t even realize what’s going on... and he can’t. Can’t tell him. Oh, God, that would be disaster. But if he can stick it out a while longer without voicing his desires... he’ll at least have the memories.

 

The rainclouds are rougher underfoot than the ducks were. Leonard washes the still sticky come from his stomach, then leans his forehead against the wall and imagines being in Sheldon’s place, so close to helpless, so needy, being touched so much, and comes again under the ceaseless beating shower spray.

 

Weeks three and four pass remarkably quickly; Sheldon’s made a new discovery to do with quarks, or at least he thinks it could lead to something new, and it’s all he talks about, splashing vociferously until Leonard has to grab his hand and set it firmly on the edge of the tub before he spurts bubbles everywhere.

God help him, he’s even more turned on by Sheldon when Sheldon’s like this than ever before. It’s something in the way Sheldon talks about science and physics and quarks as though he’s discussing a lover; his eyes even go half-lidded and his voice drops a little, like he’s engaging in some sort of secret discussion just for one person’s ears. Which it isn’t, not when he reiterates half the same talking points and then some at lunch in the cafeteria, but he doesn’t get the same look on his face then.

Right when Leonard’s sure he’s going absolutely mad, one Saturday night after he’s helped Sheldon through the ordeal of Laundry Night, he’s rubbing conditioner into Sheldon’s scalp and Sheldon’s not talking, just making the occasional murmuring noise. Right then is when he realizes that if this is madness, then it’s folie à deux; a madness shared by two. Because the water isn’t as deep as usual, and the bubbles have drifted a little, and he can see that Sheldon’s turned on.

Too. Turned on too.

He carefully runs one hand down Sheldon’s arm and watches Sheldon’s eyes open at this break in routine. Leonard quite deliberately drops his gaze back to the rift in the bubbles and has the gratifying experience of watching Sheldon blush.

“I—”

“Quiet,” Leonard says, pushing Sheldon’s sudsy hair back from his forehead. He takes off his glasses and puts them on the floor beside him and then leans in.

Sheldon’s lips are wet and taste a little of soap. He neither resists nor encourages Leonard’s kiss, and Leonard’s starting to wonder whether he’s misjudged the situation – and kissing one’s naked roommate in the bath is one hell of a situation to misjudge – when Sheldon sighs a little and his lips part slightly. Leonard takes it as a good sign and licks at Sheldon’s bottom lip, and then pulls back to rinse Sheldon’s hair, one hand combing through the wet strands, the other holding the shower attachment, and his mouth dipping in every so often to touch Sheldon’s. Sheldon receives each kiss with equanimity, even when Leonard starts using his tongue, pushing for more and more each time, until he drops the shower attachment and twines his fingers through Sheldon’s slick hair, holding him in a deeper kiss while lowering his now free hand into the water.

Sheldon’s equanimity vanishes entirely when Leonard’s hand closes around his cock. He makes a muffled sound into Leonard’s mouth and Leonard feels the upward twitch of his hips. He’s a little uncomfortable on his knees but right now he couldn’t care less. Sheldon’s cock is long and slim and Leonard can close his hand around it but needs to make longer strokes than he’s used to in order to cover the length of it.

He pulls his head back for a moment to see how Sheldon’s taking it. His eyes are closed, he’s clinging to the edges of the tub for dear life, and he keeps making rolling movements with his hips that match the slow strokes Leonard’s making. He hasn’t said anything since Leonard told him to be quiet. It’s a strange situation, a quiet Sheldon, and Leonard leans in again to kiss the side of his neck just to see what happens.

He wasn’t expecting the jerk and pulse of Sheldon’s cock in his hand, but then again, this isn’t exactly their standard bathing routine. He bites down a little in surprise and Sheldon gasps his name brokenly and Leonard drops his free hand to his own lap and takes care of himself in three harsh strokes, coming against the side of the tub. Their bathroom hygiene routine doesn’t have any rules for this but he’s reasonably sure neither of them much care at this point.

Sheldon’s mouth slips against his cheek and finds his mouth and when his tongue slides against Leonard’s, tentative but purposeful, Leonard just about comes again.

 

They manage to get Sheldon out of the tub before the water turns cold. Leonard dries him off, even though that task is one that Sheldon’s been managing alone even with his wrapped-up arm, just because now that he’s started touching Sheldon he’s having a little trouble stopping.

By the time Sheldon’s completely dry he’s hard again. Leonard strokes him with one fingertip and Sheldon closes his eyes and hisses a little.

“Sensitive?”

“Yes.” It’s the first thing he’s said since Leonard told him to be quiet. “Leonard, we need to talk about this.”

Leonard turns away to pull the plug and drain the tub because he’s scared to look Sheldon in the eye.

“Leonard.”

“What.”

“Help me button my pajamas.”

“You can button your own pajamas.”

“But I want you to do it.”

“What did your last slave die of?” Leonard snipes, but he does it, and he finds it’s not so hard to look Sheldon in the eye after all, because Sheldon’s not flipping out the way that he expected. In fact he looks quite calm and collected, which is totally unfair because Leonard feels anything but.

“I should probably shower,” he says, thinking of the sticky residue on his thighs.

Sheldon inclines his head. “Come to my room when you’re finished.”

Leonard’s too surprised by the invitation into Sheldon’s room to come up with a snappy answer, and Sheldon brushes by him and exits the bathroom while he’s still contemplating how to respond.

He showers as fast as he can despite his inclination to make it last, to avoid whatever conversation -- confrontation? Discussion? World war? -- is awaiting him in Sheldon’s bedroom. Part of him knows it’s pointless to avoid it though because Sheldon is nothing if not persistent.

Finally he has to leave the bathroom, and it’s only then that he realizes that all he has to wear is his robe. Because that won’t at all send mixed messages. He puts it on anyway, tying the belt tightly, and goes off to meet his fate.

 

Sheldon is sitting on the edge of the bed, back straight, staring off into space. The door is open but Leonard knocks anyway. Sheldon jumps and then turns to him with a tentative smile. At least it looks genuine, if shaky, not like his scary Joker face.

“You wanted to talk?” Leonard leans against the door frame.

Sheldon pats the mattress beside himself. “Come here.”

Leonard would like to think that he goes over against his better judgement, but really he’s more than a little pleased by this turn of events. At least Sheldon apparently doesn’t think he’s some sort of creepy pervert. He sits down and tugs his robe down so that he’s not flashing his roommate.

“Look at me.” Sheldon sounds impatient. “I’m not angry at you, Leonard. Stop acting like you’ve done something wrong.”

Leonard’s surprised enough to lift his head and meet Sheldon’s direct blue gaze.

“I wish you’d said something sooner. That’s all.”

And then the really weird thing happens, that makes Leonard wonder if Sheldon’s been replaced by a clone that hasn’t been told anything about how to act like Sheldon: Sheldon leans in and kisses him. This time it can’t be attributed to losing his head in the heat of the moment. His lips are smooth and just a little damp against Leonard’s, as if he’s been nervously licking them the whole time Leonard was in the shower.

The only thing he can think to say in response when Sheldon’s mouth finally parts from his is, “I didn’t know sooner.”

“You’re acting like the wall between our bedrooms is completely soundproof,” Sheldon reproves him. “You’ve stopped saying Penny’s name when you masturbate.”

“I haven’t been saying yours!”

“Yes, you have.” Sheldon gives him a downright satisfied slow smile. “I have recordings, if you’d like to hear them.”

“You taped me masturbating?”

“I had to be sure my ears weren’t deceiving me.” Sheldon reaches out and takes Leonard’s hands in his.

“But you’re -- you don’t--”

Sheldon shakes his head. “Don’t try to tell me how I do or don’t feel,” he murmurs, and then his mouth is on Leonard’s again and even though it’s a mouth that has only recently learned about kissing, Leonard still has to squeeze Sheldon’s hands tight to keep from just sliding right off the bed into a puddle on the floor, especially when Sheldon daringly sucks on the tip of his tongue.

“What exactly are you trying to say to me?” Leonard asks when their mouths are temporarily unoccupied.

The look that Sheldon gets on his face makes Leonard think again of Sheldon’s evil mirror universe twin, even sans goatee. “That I wish you’d made this move sooner.”

“I didn’t know sooner,” Leonard protests again.

Sheldon, for the first time, goes pink in the cheeks. “I did,” he says, ducking his head a little.

“You knew I was interested in you?”

“No, I knew I was interested in you.” He goes even pinker.

Leonard opens his mouth. He’s not quite sure what’s going to come out, but when it’s, “Awww, Shelly has a crush,” even he’s a little surprised. Sheldon looks furious for all of a second and then his mouth is against Leonard’s again, kissing him in what could almost be described as an annoyed fashion.

Leonard starts laughing mid-kiss because it’s so ridiculous and yet so right that this is where they’ve wound up after years of proving to each other that really, they’re the best fit for each other in every other way.

“I have to ask you two things,” Sheldon says, loftily ignoring his giggle fit.

“Sure, shoot.”

“Will you sleep in here tonight?”

“Good God, you’re being romantic as well as sexual? Where’s the real Sheldon, tied up in the closet?”

“Leonard.”

Leonard shuts up. He realizes he’s feeling vaguely hysterical; probably something to do with the very literal release after weeks of build-up. He manages to hold his tongue until Sheldon’s positioned them both in the bed to his liking (his robe falls mostly open in the process; damn Howard and his propensity for impracticality).

“Why now, after so long?”

Sheldon raises an eyebrow, leans over him, and snaps off the bedside lamp. “As I recall, you were the one who made the first move.”

“Am I supposed to believe that you weren’t encouraging me with all those little noises and stuff you were making?” Sheldon is silent, and Leonard knows he’s right. “You were!”

“You know I can’t lie. That’s not fair.”

“Look, Sheldon, I know you’re used to being right all the time, but I was really nervous about this. I’m just relieved that you’re not pissed off.”

Sheldon’s mouth finds the side of his neck and Leonard shivers.

“Sorry,” Sheldon murmurs, and his next kiss lands on Leonard’s lips.

“Don’t apologize... that was nice.”

“Oh?” Sheldon deliberately nuzzles his neck this time, and it stirs an unmissable reaction south of Leonard’s loosely tied robe belt, given that he’s pressed up quite tight against Sheldon’s side. Sheldon runs a hand down his back and cups his ass, pulling him closer still, and Leonard lets out a soft moan.

Of all the ways that this could have turned out, this was not even on his list.

Sheldon’s mouth is insistent on his neck, and Sheldon’s hands are wandering, and Leonard stops thinking for the time being.

 

Later, as they lie drowsing and sated, Leonard remembers something.

“You said you had two things to ask me. What was the other one?”

Sheldon shifts and Leonard feels him press his face against Leonard’s shoulder. “To keep bathing me after my arm’s better,” he mutters.

Leonard can’t help but laugh. “I think I can definitely manage that.”