Work Header

The Spectral Amalgamation

Work Text:

Penny trudged up the stairs to her apartment. She'd had a long day at work, and all she wanted to do was put her feet up and relax with a glass or two of wine. She tossed her purse onto her kitchen counter and pulled out a bottle of her favorite vintage. That was when she saw it: a glimmering, transparent shape hovering in her living room. The wine bottle slipped through her fingers and shattered on the floor as she screamed.

Seconds later, her fiance and his closest friend tumbled through her front door.

"What's wrong? Are you hurt?" they cried. Mutely, she pointed to the ghostly apparition. Leonard scrunched his face, frowning in confusion. Sheldon turned very pale for a moment, and then his face cleared.

"Very good, Leonard. That is quite the convincing optical illusion. How ever did you get the hologram to be so three-dimensional…" He reached out to swipe a hand through the image.

"Sheldon, no!" Penny yelled, but he was already stumbling back with a yelp of pain. He cradled his hand close to his chest, and she could see it was covered with crystals of ice. Quickly, she picked her way through the shards of glass and grabbed a clean kitchen towel, which she wrapped around his arm. He was shivering and his teeth were chattering, although whether that was from the cold or from shock, she couldn't tell. By the time Sheldon calmed down, Leonard had already called Howard and Raj, asking them to swing by Caltech and bring every piece of portable monitoring equipment they could get their hands on. Penny retreated to the apartment next door and started looking online for an some sort of psychic or medium who dealt with ghosts.

Hours later, the guys came in, talking about the strange phenomenon in Penny's apartment. Since they were all scientists, none of them believed it could actually be a ghost. Whatever it was, it eluded all their attempts to quantify it.

"I don't care what you think. I found a psychic who can come by tomorrow and cleanse my apartment. I'm not going back there until it's gone," Penny insisted.

Her statement was received with slightly patronizing attitudes from the guys. Leonard was actually the most dismissive of what he called her "superstitions", while Sheldon was uncharacteristically silent.

Once Howard and Raj left, Sheldon busied himself in the kitchen making chamomile tea. He offered some to Penny as well, and this was one of those rare times she was happy to accept.

"Do you think it's real?" she asked him in a low voice, casting a wary glance at Leonard, who was sitting at his desk in the living room.

"Unless you are positing that we are all under some mass delusion, then yes, I think what we saw was real. Do I think it is the spirit of a departed person lingering around your apartment for unknown reasons? Of course not, but I promise you, we will get to the bottom of this mystery."

"Not if my psychic sends its see-through ass back to where it belongs first," she said, but now she was smiling, feeling oddly reassured.

The next evening, the medium showed up at Penny's place. He looked even younger than she was, and the Birkenstocks he wore on his feet and the string of wooden beads around his neck did little to inspire confidence. Both Leonard and Sheldon came over as well: Leonard to lend moral support, and Sheldon because he said he could use a good laugh.

The psychic, whose name was Marco, immediately said he sensed a strong presence in the room. Sheldon snorted derisively. Then Marco stared straight at him. "You attempted to initiate contact with it," he said. He pointed at Sheldon's left hand, which Sheldon reluctantly opened to reveal a reddened mark.

Marco shook his head and rummaged through the bag he had brought with him. He pulled out a large, clear globe about the size of a cantaloupe.

"Really, a crystal ball?" Leonard mocked.

"Penny told me that both of you are scientists," Marco answered calmly. "Surely you know better than most people that there are many things we have yet to understand about the universe. This crystal ball is nothing more than a tool that I use to help me interact with the unknown." He reached out a hand, palm up, to Penny. "May I?" She nodded and placed her hand in his. Then he held his other hand out to Sheldon expectantly.

"Absolutely not," Sheldon said instantly.

Marco frowned for a moment. "I suppose you can just place your fingertips directly on the orb. I don't see that it would do any harm."

Grumbling, Sheldon consented.

"What about me?" Leonard asked. Marco eyed him a moment and shook his head. "I'm getting some sort of energy dampening effect from you. Let me try to contact the spirit with the two who are more receptive first."

Leonard looked even more skeptical, and Penny shrugged. She and Sheldon put their fingertips to the crystal ball which Marco held in his cupped hands.

"It's not the spirit of a departed," he said after a moment. "There's a weird sympathetic vibe with both of you. It's almost like-" He didn't get to finish his sentence. The spectre suddenly zipped toward the trio and vanished into the sphere. Penny and Sheldon were thrown backward, and the crystal ball cracked apart. Marco shrieked. He jumped up and hastily shoved the two halves of the broken sphere in his bag. Leonard rushed to Penny's side.

"What did you do?" he demanded. "Help her!"

"Uh, sorry, this is way out of my league. Tell you what: no charge for today," the psychic gasped as he ran out of the apartment.

In a moment, Penny sat up and rubbed her head ruefully. "If that charlatan gave me a concussion, I'm going to sue," she grumbled.

Leonard sighed in relief as Sheldon also stirred. He sat up and winced as he felt the back of his head. "That's gonna hurt like hell when I brush my hair."

Penny froze. "What did you say?"

"I said it's-" he broke off. "I don't own a hairbrush. I also don't swear." Feeling frantic, he looked around. "What happened to the psychic?"

"Ran out of here like the building was on fire. His crystal ball cracked right down the middle."

"I told you this was a waste of time," Penny grumbled.

"Hey, at least I don't see a ghost in here anymore," Sheldon snapped.

"Only because it looked like it used the crystal ball to go into the two of you," Leonard said. Now he also looked unsettled.

Penny looked frightened, but her chin rose as she asserted, "I'm sure there's a rational explanation for these abnormalities in our behavior."

"Why are you talking like that? You sound like Sheldon," Leonard cried.

Penny's eyes met Sheldon's. Both of them were scared. "This was a dreadful lapse in judgment," she said.

He reached over and pulled her into a hug. "We'll figure this out, I promise." Leonard gaped at Sheldon, while Penny barely tolerated the embrace for the few seconds Sheldon was speaking. She pulled away with a frown. "Is this how you feel when someone hugs you? Because you're way too close, and gross… your hands were just touching the floor."

Sheldon stared at her, bemused. "This is really freaky. I need a drink," he sighed. He got up and went directly to the cabinet where she kept her wine.

"Hey, put that down!" Penny cried as he uncorked it and drank straight from the bottle. "You can't hold your liquor."

He raised a sardonic eyebrow at her. "Or maybe you can't. Only one way to find out."

Leonard was looking back and forth between the two of them, wide-eyed. "What is happening? Why do you sound like Sheldon?" he asked Penny. "And you sound like her!" he cried, pointing accusingly at Sheldon.

"You'd better talk a little nicer to me if you want me to be nice to you later on," Sheldon said to Leonard. There was an oddly knowing smirk on his face.

Leonard paled. "Did he just…? I think he just hit on me."

"You're imagining things," Penny replied airily. "I'm just going to make sure he gets to bed." She pried the wine bottle out of his hands and pushed him toward the door. "Alone. You are sleeping alone in your own bed," she added in an undertone to him.

Leonard shook his head disbelievingly. "This is too weird. I don't care if it takes a full cleansing with the ritual slaughter of a goat, it has to stop." He hurried back to his apartment and grabbed his laptop. He needed to find the best psychic in the area, and fast.

The next day, Leonard called off work for all three of them. Penny argued with him; she wanted to go into work... at Caltech, while Sheldon wanted to go out for a mani-pedi and a massage. That was when Amy showed up. Leonard had texted her about the situation, and as a neurobiologist, she was fascinated.

"Hey, Ames!" Sheldon cried with a big smile as she entered. "Thank God you're here. I'm so bored. Let's go shopping."

"Excuse me, are you saying that Halo is boring?" Penny said with a frown, clutching the remote as she paused the game.

"Hey, it's always fun to see you get your ass handed to you, but this plastic is burning a hole in my pocket," Sheldon smirked, brandishing the wallet which he pulled from his back pocket.

Amy stared for a moment before grinning back at him. "When in Rome…" she said gleefully.

After a pause, Leonard shook his head. "You're both adults; you can do what you want. Just be back before the psychic gets here." He turned around to see that Penny had abandoned Halo and was now scribbling away on Sheldon's whiteboard. He groaned. The psychic he had called was supposed to come later that evening, and he couldn't wait.

Hours later, Sheldon and Amy returned to the apartment, both laden down with shopping bags. Amy was wearing a flattering ruffled pink top with boot-cut jeans and a pair of floral ballet flats. Her hair curled softly around her face, and her fingernails and toenails were painted the same shade of pink as her blouse.

"Oh, hey Penny! Hi Leonard!" Amy chirped, seeing the two of them sitting on the leather couch. Penny did not look happy.

"We had so much fun at the mall," Sheldon confided.

"This is the best date we've ever had," Amy gushed.

"What about the first time he kissed you?" Leonard asked, wrinkling up his nose in confusion.

"I guess it's tough to decide, but he's never been this much fun before," Amy answered. "I mean, I got to do what I wanted for the whole day. And, you know... I love him but honestly, he's not that great of a kisser," she added confidentially.

"I'm standing right here," Sheldon said, rolling his eyes.

"That psychic Leonard called has been waiting in your apartment for the past ten minutes," Penny said severely. "Being late is excessively rude. Come on, Sheldon, let's get this over with before you start hitting on Leonard again."

"Wait, what?" Amy cried. Confused, she looked back and forth between Leonard, Penny and Sheldon. "Okay, I'm coming with you. I think I've got to see this psychic for myself."

Sonja was a middle-aged woman who preferred to call herself a spiritual advisor. Penny was relieved to see that she wore a conservative button-down shirt over dark jeans instead of flowing scarves and gaudy jewelry. Her professional appearance instantly put Penny more at ease. Sonja peered at the group. "And what have you two gotten yourselves into?" she asked with a sharp look at Sheldon and Penny. "Your auras have somehow combined: some of him in you, some of you in her. It looks like a jigsaw puzzle." She shook her head. "Let's get a closer look. You said you'd already consulted another spiritualist?"
"Yup. It's his fault we're like this," Sheldon answered as the woman gestured for them to seat themselves around the living room. "We asked him to get rid of the ghost, and instead, his crystal ball did something to us."

Sonja produced a candle, lit it, and asked them to join hands. Penny balked a little at this, but by this point, she was desperate enough to try anything.
Sonja closed her eyes and concentrated. "I see you are divided between conflicting desires. Sheldon and Penny, you have allowed others to tell you who you are, denying your true natures. This caused a rift in your auras, which grew stronger the more you tried to suppress it. Eventually, there was a complete break. The stronger parts of your psyches pulled away. They could no longer exist in harmony with the people you had chosen to be. There is nothing wrong with trying to please others, but you can't do it at the expense of yourselves."

"What nonsense! I don't believe any of this. Sheldon, let's go," Amy snapped.

Sheldon looked at her, took a deep breath, and said, "No. She's right, and I've sensed it for years."

Sonja looked at Amy and Leonard. "I need the two of you to give me time alone with Penny and Sheldon. If you don't, I can't help them."

Pouting, Amy rose. Leonard followed slowly. As he walked toward the door, he looked back unhappily at his fiancée. "Penny changed because she loves me."

Sonja shook her head. "That is not for you to determine. Only she can judge that."

Once they had left, she looked sadly at Penny and Sheldon. "I'm afraid I have some bad news. There is nothing I can do to return your auras to their previous state."

"What? But you just said…" Sheldon began.

Sonja held up her hand. "I said there is nothing I can do. You were very close before this happened. Were the two of you ever lovers?"

"No, of course not," Penny snapped. Her eyes widened with shock. "You can't be suggesting…"

"In order to reclaim those displaced parts of yourselves, you need to be able to open yourselves to each other fully, with no reservations… complete transparency in a moment of absolute unity. That doesn't necessarily mean the physical act of love, but that kind of intimacy often paves the way for the soul to follow." She sighed and stood up. "I understand this isn't what you wanted to hear, but whatever you decide, you must do so quickly. Your auras are becoming more enmeshed. Soon it will not be possible to separate the new from the old."

Penny jumped up. "This is… this is horse manure!" she shouted. "I don't have to listen to this nonsense."

Pushing past Sheldon, she ran out of the apartment. He looked at Sonja and back to the open door through which Penny had fled.

"Go after her," Sonja said gently. "She needs you."

Sheldon found Penny up on the roof, sitting in a long-abandoned lawn chair. He was rather surprised she had fled here, but he supposed she felt she couldn't return to the apartment across the hall. She looked up at his approach and hastily wiped her cheeks with the back of her hands. He crouched down beside her chair. "You're not usually one for tears," he said gently.

"Neither are you," she replied. After a long pause, she asked, "Do you believe her?"

"The psychic? What she said made sense. We could find another one if you like, or I could get more equipment and run more tests." They both knew, however, that if there was a rational explanation, Sheldon would have found it long before this point.

"And if she's right? What if we really are running out of time?" she asked.

He was silent for a moment, and then he said the last thing she expected. "I'm sorry."

She raised an eyebrow at him quizzically. "Sorry for what?"

He sighed and settled into a more comfortable position, sitting cross-legged on the roof. "You got the raw end of this deal. I've gotten to experience what it's like to be free of my phobias and to live in the moment. Having a part of you inside me has allowed me to shed my inhibitions, to stop being afraid. In return, you got all my fears, my intolerance, and my arrogance. That's a really sucky combination."

Penny smiled. "I know you don't forget anything, but apparently, you need reminding. I liked who you were when we met eight years ago... or at least, you became one of my closest friends. You shaped who I became. You helped me learn to be kinder and more accepting of people who are different… and I'm speaking for both of us. Having you in my head, I've gotten to know you in a way that no one else will ever know. I understand all the things that make you, you. All your quirks and foibles, your insecurities and your brilliance… now they're a part of me too. I can't reject any part of who you are because that would mean I'd be rejecting myself. I love you, the good parts and the bad, and the only thing I regret is that Penny-I mean me-tried to get you to change."

Impulsively, Sheldon leaned over and hugged her. "I'm sorry for all the times I've been difficult. I love you too."

Penny smiled and then carefully extracted herself from his embrace.

He continued, "I've made up my mind. The choice is yours. If you think you can live like this, then I guess I can too. That's what we risk if we don't take Sonja's advice."

"I don't like taking risks," Penny said. "And I definitely don't want to have sex with you."

"Me either." Sheldon chuckled. "Sucks to be Leonard, though. His girlfriend doesn't want him to touch her, and his roommate suddenly thinks he's cute."

She glanced over at him. "You like Leonard?"

"No, but you do, and right now, I can barely distinguish between my thoughts and your feelings. Amy didn't even care who I was as long as I kept paying attention to her."

"She said she liked you better this way. Were you offended by that?"

He shrugged. "No. She's been trying to change me for years, and if that psychic was right, I've changed a lot more that I realized."

"Would you go back, if you could?" she asked.

"You mean the way I used to be? Yes… I care about Amy very much, although not enough to risk some sort of mental breakdown in order to be the kind of boyfriend she wants."

Penny sniffed and wiped at her face again. "And if I don't want to… do that… with you?"

He reached out and squeezed her hand briefly. "Then we won't. I meant it; it's your decision."

Penny sat silent for a while. Finally, she said, "That's why I have to do this... for you… for both of us. But we don't cheat. We have to talk to them ahead of time and try to get them to understand."

Sheldon knew she was referring to Leonard and Amy. "Can't we just tell them afterward?" he whined.

"No," Penny said firmly. "They deserve the truth, at least. Maybe if we explain to them that it's more like therapy or some bizarre type of treatment, they'll understand."

Sheldon huffed derisively. "I said it's your decision, but I'll bet there's nothing you can do that'll make them understand."

He was right. The two of them walked back downstairs, where Amy and Leonard were waiting for them in apartment 4A. Their significant others were already tense and feeling hostile. Although Sheldon tried to explain it as tactfully as possible, there was no way to whitewash their decision. The four of them argued for over an hour. Eventually, Amy stormed off, while Leonard ordered them both out of his apartment. Penny and Sheldon left without further protest. Back in Penny's apartment, they faced each other miserably.

"Maybe we should just get this over with," Penny said.

Sheldon nodded and headed into her kitchen. He found another bottle of wine in her pantry, poured one glass for himself, and handed her the bottle. "I never imagined my first time would be like this," he said softly.

She laughed humorlessly. "I'm nervous enough that it might as well be my first time too." She drained the rest of the bottle as quickly as she could. Sheldon held out his hand to her, and reluctantly she took it and followed him back to the bedroom.

"Condom?" he asked quietly.

"In the drawer of my nightstand."

He put one foil-wrapped packet on top of the nightstand within easy reach. "Lights on or off?"

"Off. Definitely off," she said quickly.

He switched off the bedroom lights, although there was still some dim illumination coming in from the living area through the French doors. They looked at each other for a moment, and then Sheldon drew close, brushed the hair back from her face and kissed her. His mouth was puckered up tightly, and the hands that he rested on her shoulders were trembling, but she suspected it wasn't from fear. She used to be a "big old five" when it came to initiating sex. She knew that he was struggling with that same feeling, and that it was within her power to help him accept that. All she had to do was to put aside her own reservations and do what she knew she was good at. So she wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him, open-mouthed, sucking in his lower lip just slightly. He moaned and pulled her closer.

There was a split-second moment of disorientation, where it seemed to Penny that she could sense his emotions as well as her own. She chalked it up to nerves and kept going. Soon they were making out, and Penny pulled up his shirts and raked her nails lightly down his chest. She was finally starting to feel some desire for him too. It was odd to find out by her own physical reaction that Sheldon really did have a deal, even if it was heavily repressed. By the time they were pulling off each other's clothes, one piece at a time, she wanted him desperately. The stronger her desire grew, the more it seemed she was experiencing his emotions as well as her own. She tried to embrace that sensation, hoping it was a good sign. There was a brief moment of fumbling with the condom, and then he was slowly pushing inside her. As she tilted her hips to take him in deeper, in her mind she felt some barrier dissolve away. Suddenly, she felt she was both of them at once. Her hands were splayed along her back, but they were also braced against the mattress on either side of her head. Her muscles flexed as she drove rhythmically into her own body. All of his memories were hers, too. She remembered how she was both terrified and relieved when her (his) father sent her away to boarding school. He knew the name of the first horse she ever rode, and what her batting average was in varsity softball. Her eyes flew open: she understood quantum physics.

Above her, Sheldon gasped, "Are you-"

"Yeah," she managed to say as she let herself drift. They were one, melded together in a way that made sex almost seem superfluous, and they never wanted it to end. That was the exact moment that it did: a powerful rush of ecstasy, followed by delirious waves of pleasure that seemed to go on forever. Blackness followed.

When Penny opened her eyes, she felt very small and alone. Sheldon had collapsed on top of her, but he was no longer a part of her. She sensed the vibration of his heart beating against her chest, but they were worlds apart. Her eyes burned as tears welled up and ran down the sides of her face. He stirred, rolled off of her and lay on his back near her but no longer touching.

"I don't suppose that experience was typical," he said quietly.

She wiped the tears off her face. This was what they had both wanted, after all. It was just that neither of them had any idea what they were getting themselves in for. "No, I've never experienced anything like that. I don't even have words to describe it."

He was silent for a moment, and then he said fervently, "Shit." He didn't have to say anything more; she understood exactly what he meant. Nothing would ever be the same for either of them again.

For the next few weeks, Sheldon was miserable. Leonard wasn't talking to him, and neither were Raj or Howard. He humbly took the bus to work each day, accepting it as his just dues. He'd betrayed both his girlfriend and his best friend, even though he'd felt he had no other recourse. One evening, he ran into Penny at the mailboxes. It was the first time he'd seen her since the incident (as he thought of it). She told him Leonard had just agreed to have dinner with her.

"Do you want to get back together with him?" he asked.

She bit her lip and shrugged. "He's treated me better than any of my other boyfriends, and we've been together a long time."

His expression darkened. "Promise me you won't compromise yourself to be with him."

"I won't. We're starting over in our relationship… and I quit my job. That was a big compromise. I never should've taken that job just to prove I was good enough for him… for all of you."

"You have nothing to prove to me," he said. "Do you remember when I asked you not to give up on your dreams? I think you need to decide what your dreams are, what you want out of life. If being with Leonard is all you want out of life, then I will support you in your decision."

Her smile faded. "That's what you told me before."

He nodded. "At the time, I was having difficulty separating your thoughts and feelings from my own. Even though we no longer share that bond, I can no longer think of you as a discrete individual. In some way, you will always be a part of me."

"Sheldon…" She reached for him, and then drew her hand back. "It's not fair to Leonard or Amy, is it?"

"Amy has refused all my attempts to apologize… and I have tried to do so. Thanks to you, I have enough self-awareness to know that trying to force her to talk to me will only exacerbate the situation." He took a deep breath. "I forwarded my résumé to a colleague who works at MIT. I'm considering taking a sabbatical from Caltech."

"You're leaving?" she cried.

"I think it's for the best, especially if you are trying to mend your relationship with Leonard."

Penny looked away, blinking away tears. He was right; she just didn't want to admit it.

Three years later, Sheldon returned to California. After escaping from the constant drama of his friends' lives, he had given up on many of his pastimes to pursue the Nobel Prize, and he had succeeded.

Penny met him at the airport. She squealed when she saw him and gave him a quick hug. "I saw you get your medal on TV. You didn't even look nervous when you gave your acceptance speech. I'm so proud of you!"

She tossed his luggage into the back of a shiny red convertible.

"I see you have also experienced success in your chosen career as well. Congratulations," he said.

"I couldn't have done it without you and Leonard and Stuart. Because of your connections with Wil Wheaton, I was eventually able to get my first big break."

"How is Leonard?" he asked cautiously.

She shook her head. "As much as I wanted the divorce to be amicable, we don't talk much anymore. I miss him, of course, but I just couldn't stand his jealousy and cheating. Did you know he even cheated on me before we got engaged?"

"No, but somehow I'm not surprised."

She drove him to a high rise. "Don't be mad, but I want you to stay at my place. There's plenty of room."

He eyed her apprehensively. "What are your intentions?"

She laughed at that. "To keep my best friend around for as long as he'll let me." He was certain he meant more to her than a best friend, but he believed that Penny had a hard time defining what he meant to her. After all these years apart, he still struggled with the same difficulty every day.

Over the past three years, as his work had provided a huge breakthrough in the understanding of dark matter, Penny had been busy making advances in her acting career. She wasn't a star yet, but she now had dozens of television and movie roles to her credit. Judging from the huge condo she now owned, acting had also been lucrative for her. The living area was all one big open space, decorated in white and chrome with brightly colored accents scattered around.

"My tastes matured a little," she said with a deprecating laugh as she noticed him looking around. "I kind of like the clean, streamlined look now."

He frowned thoughtfully. "Penny, do you still suffer some aftereffects of our experience?"

"I wouldn't say I 'suffer'. I'm just a little different now. It's okay. All our friends just thought I finally grew up… you know, started acting more like an adult. Besides, it's only a matter of time before someone wants to do a magazine article on my personal style." She walked toward him. "I don't mind, really," she said quietly.

He looked away, suddenly unable to meet her eyes. For three years, he had been running from the memory of the intimacy they shared. To have her standing before him now was overwhelming. "Where will I be staying?" he asked.

She showed him to a room which was decorated similarly to the rest of the house, but then she pulled back the puffy white comforter on the bed with a grin. There were Star Wars sheets on the bed. "I had to special order them," she explained. "And the thread count's awful. I hope they don't give you a rash or something."

"It's perfect," he said. She looked at him, and her eyes softened. As if she understood what he was thinking, she murmured that she would give him time to unpack and then walked out and closed the door behind her.

He sank down on the bed, overcome with fatigue and emotions he didn't want to feel.

For two days, they danced around each other. They exchanged emotionally fraught glances over takeout and watched sci-fi in the evening, each hyper-aware of the space separating them. Sheldon broke first. One night over dinner, he asked, "Did I ever tell you I had a girlfriend at MIT?"

She looked startled. "No, I had no idea. I guess there really is a lot I've missed."

"Her name was Jill. She was extremely intelligent and had several advanced degrees. We dated for several months."

"What happened?" Penny asked softly.

"I enjoyed her company very much. I wanted to be a normal boyfriend to her, but I couldn't. She wasn't you," he added, looking directly at her.

"What are you saying?" she asked in a low voice.

"At MIT, I found new friends and made significant discoveries to the world of physics. I even attained my lifelong dream of winning the Nobel Prize. Yet there is a part of my life that is incomplete and will always remain so… without you."

Penny inhaled quickly, a sharp gasp. "I knew marrying Leonard was a mistake. I just felt so guilty about what happened between us that I was trying too hard to make it up to him. I tried to love him, but my feelings for him could never measure up to what I had with you. I think he knew it, too, and that was the real reason we didn't last."

"And why you've never had a serious boyfriend since?"

"Yup. I think I was just waiting… for you to come back to me."

He took her hand and pulled her to her feet. Brushing a stray lock of hair tenderly back from her face, he said, "I've loved you for the past three years, and I've spent all that time trying to deny it. You said you wanted to keep me around for as long as I would let you. What if I never wanted to leave you again?"

Her smile widened into a grin. "I'd say it took you long enough to figure it out."

She took him by the hand and led him back to her bedroom, and it was in her arms that all his rough edges were smoothed, all his broken places were made whole, and he knew he was finally home.