Title: Chilly Kitty
By: TriplePirouette aka 3Pirouette
Spoilers: Up to and including 2.23 The Monopolar Expedition
Category: post- ep, UST, fluff...
Disclaimer: All recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The plot is all mine. No copyright infringement is intended.
Summary: Sheldon doesn't like change, even if it might get him the Nobel Prize. Post-Ep for The Monopolar Expedition S/P FLUFF!
Author's Notes: This came to me on the car ride to work before the finale... and then I watched the finale... I like this better :) Thanks tons to gladdecease for the beta and awesome suggestions!
Distribution: my site, ff. net, and my LJ, anywhere else, please ask first :)
Feedback PLEASE at: I love anything constructive! Blatant flames, however, will be disregarded and used to roast s'mores....
The first night, Sheldon decided that it was his seriously disturbed internal clock that wouldn't let him sleep and that the tiny ache in his chest was simply acid reflux from the re-hydrated Thai that his digestive system wasn't used to yet.
He stared at the padded ceiling of the polar outpost and started to mentally count off the decimal places of pi to the sound of Howard's snoring.
By the end of the first week Sheldon admitted to himself, and to no one else, that it was all of the changes that were keeping him awake at night. He didn't like change. However, the possibility of proving, actually proving, string theory far outweighed his discomfort.
He snuggled into his poor excuse for a bed and pulled the blankets up to his chin. He counted all of the universes that were possible, and tried to come up with a formula for how many of them would have a "Sheldon" in the arctic at this precise moment before he finally drifted off to sleep.
By the end of the first weekend his experiment was up and running and he sat up the whole first night, watching as the results from the instruments outside rolled in and were recorded automatically. They were just baseline control numbers- he wouldn't have any real results yet, but it was as good an excuse as any for not sleeping. He knew now that he was homesick.
When he'd gone to Germany as a child and visiting professor he'd been horribly homesick, but two days into his stay there his Mee Maw's letters had begun arriving. She'd written him the day that he'd left, and every day until he came back. He read each letter before he went to bed, then gently placed the folded paper under his pillow and fell asleep knowing that somewhere someone was waiting for him, and that he'd be able to return to his normal routine soon enough.
His Mee Maw couldn't write him anymore. He thought about trying to talk to her like his Mother did, but he wasn't religious and too practical to actually believe that she'd hear him in any kind of afterlife, so he didn't. Instead, he checked his e-mail every day, and his Facebook, and Twittered his daily tasks before he started his work every morning, but in the face of true isolation he was homesick and longed for the simple human interactions that had annoyed and baffled him for so long. He rationally knew that in just under three months he'd return to his former routine and life and he'd readjust easily.
He checked his e-mail, and his Facebook, and his MySpace in the dead of the polar night on the unreliable connection, even though it wasn't his normal time to do so. No new e-mails. No new messages on Facebook and only the random goings on of people he barely knew on his News Feed. His MySpace was quiet and the only Twitterings were innocuous questions from other scientists he barely knew. There was nothing even close to the comforting camaraderie of his Mee Maw to be found anywhere in cyberspace.
He felt a hollow rumbling in the pit of his stomach, and wondered if it was emotion or the re-hydrated meatloaf they'd had. He stayed up all night, one hand on his stomach and his other fisted at his mouth, watching the data points chart themselves on the computer and wondering about his emotional state.
By the end of the second week, Leonard had surreptitiously drugged Sheldon so he would get some sleep. Though he ranted and railed against his three friends, Sheldon was secretly thankful. He still couldn't get a full night's sleep, and couldn't figure out why. He'd accepted his homesick state, and hoped it would go away. It hadn't. He checked his e-mail and various social networking sites almost religiously, not sure what he was looking for. Even when his data showed promising results he was only outwardly happy.
Sheldon wondered if he was starting to show signs of depression, or of seasonal depressive symptoms being faced with winter when it should be summer, or even of cabin fever. But more likely he diagnosed himself as simply over tired, not wanting to think that he could be afflicted with anything that could jeopardize his research.
After Raj and Howard had gone to sleep, he asked Leonard for another sleeping pill. Leonard looked him up and down, furrowed his brow, but didn't ask any questions and pulled out the bottle, handing him one.
Sheldon nodded, took the pill, and went off to bed. He counted the number of Thai meals he'd had in their apartment, and tried to recall the fuzzier memories of before he and Leonard knew Penny.
The next morning, Leonard mentioned to Sheldon that Penny had asked how he was doing and was wondering why Sheldon was the only one she hadn't heard from. Leonard thought maybe Sheldon would feel better if he e-mailed his friends at home. Sheldon didn't say anything to Leonard, but he thought maybe that's what he'd been looking for every time he connected to the internet. As he ate his high-calorie breakfast bar Sheldon wondered why he expected correspondence that he hadn't initiated.
He asked Leonard to tell Penny he was fine, then wrote his mother an e-mail.
Two days later when the internet connection stabilized after a particularly bad storm, he received his mother's reply quoting Bible passages about strength and fortitude, and she told him she was proud of him. It made him smile, but didn't quite fill the hole in the pit of his stomach or warm his heart like he thought it would.
Two hours later, Raj, Howard, and Leonard were huddled around Leonard's computer, laughing at a video. When he leaned over to watch, Leonard told him that Penny sent it to all of them with a note to stay away from the Polar Bears. It was a mildly amusing video of Polar Bears slipping off of glaciers into the water put to cartoon sound effects. He pretended not to notice that the hole in his stomach had opened wider again.
He went to bed wondering why he actually wanted Penny to send him internet diatribe despite the fact that he'd forbid it. He pondered the thought all night, staring into the ceiling and trying to ignore that slightly moldy smell that he found had snuck permanently into his nose from the padded walls, but had no answer when his alarm clock told him it was morning.
He morosely wondered if the padded walls actually served two purposes.
By the end of the third week Sheldon was awake more than he slept as promising results rolled in through the instruments and were recorded on his computer almost around the clock. Leonard drugged him again when the circles under Sheldon's eyes threatened to take over his whole face. He was too engrossed in the science to sleep, and too homesick to relax.
At the beginning of the fourth week the supply plane had a nondescript brown box along with their normal set of supplies. Sheldon looked at the pre-printed labels and smiled a bit, then frowned. "Leonard, I think this is for you."
"What is it?"
"It's from Penny."
Sheldon meticulously packed away the new supplies as Leonard opened his box, Raj and Howard looking over his shoulders. "Actually, Buddy, it's for you."
Sheldon spun around, dropping the package of freeze dried soup he was holding and strode over to them. He held out his hands and took the open package from Leonard. Inside was a page with flowery handwriting sitting on top of a square box.
I haven't heard from you, but Leonard says you're working very hard. I'm not surprised. I know this isn't exactly a...legal...copy, but I figured since you hadn't been able to see it yet (unless the penguins built a movie theatre out of an igloo) because it came out after you left, maybe you could take a break and enjoy yourself a little. Please e-mail me and let me know how you're doing, even if it's only to tell me that I got a strike for this.
"Well, what is it?" Howard asked. He'd been looking over Sheldon's shoulder, exuberant at the idea of something from the 'outside world' as he put it. Raj was just as curious, and Leonard was simply staring.
Sheldon opened what turned out to be a shoe-box, and inside layers of cotton batting (he guessed she meant to keep it warm) found a DVD case with an inserted computer print out copy of the new Star Trek movie poster. The man around him gasped as he held it up. Sheldon hurried over to the nearly ancient DVD player hooked up to the television.
The quality was poor, the sound scratchy, and Sheldon told the person who was talking on the DVD behind whoever was illegally filming to 'please refrain from talking' more than once. For the rest of the day, he had a spring to his step that he hadn't felt since the first few days they were there.
Sheldon counted Penny Blossoms to get to sleep that night, and only remembered reaching 45.
By the end of the fourth week his results have leveled out and he has prepared to implement the second phase of the research. He's watched Star Trek ten times and e-mailed Penny five times.
He's still homesick, and now that he knows Penny will write back to every e-mail he writes he sends one daily.
He thanked her for the DVD. She apologized for the quality and asked if she could borrow his original series DVDs to see if she'd like them since she liked the movie.
He let her borrow them, but only if she'd tell him immediately what she thought. She replied with a five page e-mail apologizing if she ever made fun of him for being a Trekkie (she had, several times) and asked if he'd help her understand more of the science when he came home.
He said yes and pointed out some of his favorite Star Trek websites. In a post script he mentioned that it was very hard to find ways to entertain himself, so her ban on forwarding e-mail banality was lifted if she found anything she thought he'd like. She replied with the website address for her lolcatz and he spent an entire night trying to understand why poor grammar, punctuation, and spelling along with small fuzzy animals made people laugh.
He will never admit that he laughed at the one about string theory.
In the fourth e-mail he told her the anecdote about how Leonard had to drug him to get him to sleep. He thought she might find the story funny, but he must have written it poorly or misunderstood why it should be funny. She wrote him back worried and upset, ranting over and over in poorly constructed sentences that seemed more emotionally fueled than logically thought out that he should talk to Leonard if he wasn't doing well.
Sheldon wasn't doing well, but he wouldn't admit that to anyone. He was getting by with a sleeping pill every few days, and he would not abandon his work: that was not an option.
He spent his entire fifth e-mail trying to explain that while he wasn't actually sleeping, he thought it was an amusing anecdote and he'd hoped it would make her laugh. Her response was a video attachment with the subject line 'OPEN ALONE AND WITH HEADPHONES ON MOONPIE'. He pursed his lips but followed the directions, guarding his computer for three hours while it downloaded the attachment over the unreliable connection, then saved it and password protected the file. He waited until the rest of the group had gone to bed before opening it, headphones firmly in his ears.
The file opened and Penny's smiling face filled his computer screen. She waved and he had to grab the arm of the chair to keep from waving back. "Hi Sheldon!" her cheerful voice bounced in his ears. "It must be awful up there without phones except that satellite one for emergencies, and Leonard said you can't Skype because the internet's unreliable and the bandwidth sucks, so I hope this gets through ok."
She shrugged and smiled a bit, and he noticed the Blue Penny Blossom in her hair that matched the screened swirls on her black tank top. It's the first Penny Bloom he made: he can tell by the extraneous glob of hot glue on two consecutive petals. He thought she would have thrown it out, or even sold it, but she kept it. The thought makes him smile, and knowing he's alone he doesn't hold back.
Her voice grew softer, "I've been worried about you, Sheldon. I know how you don't like things to change, and you got home sick sleeping at my place for just one night, so I imagine that you're only doing the best you can up there. Leonard and Howard and Raj say you're acting your usual self- but when I asked them about you sleeping they kind of skirted around that." She takes a deep breath and closes her eyes, mumbling to herself something that sounded like 'I can't believe I'm doing this,' before she smiled and continued. "So this is a one time only offer, Moonpie. You show this to anyone and you're dead. I will wreak havoc on your comic books, your collectibles... You name it, it will no longer be mint condition, got it?"
"Got it," Sheldon mumbled, transfixed.
Penny smiled. "Ok. So, get into bed, snuggle up. Close your eyes. Do... whatever you do. Ready?" She paused for a few seconds, but he didn't move. He can always replay it and follow her instructions later. His jaw dropped when she started to sing. "Soft kitty, warm kitty, little ball of fur... happy kitty, sleepy kitty, purr, purr, purr." She looked right at the camera and in the sweetest voice ever, just sang Soft Kitty to him. "Homesick is a kind of sick, right? So.. Um... I hope that helped in some way. Stay warm. I can't wait until you get back."
The screen went black. Sheldon's jaw hung open.
At the end of week twelve, they were all packed for the next morning's plane. Sheldon lay in the cot-like bed thinking that in about a day he'd be sleeping in his own hypo-allergenic bed, with his normal sheets, in his Sunday Pajamas with Penny right across the hall.
He still didn't understand the fluttering in his stomach every time he thought of Penny, but figured it must be the thought of going home, and associating her with home, that made him feel so happy. They'd e-mailed every day. Sometimes twice.
To Leonard, Howard, and Raj it seemed like Sheldon had become a new man overnight for no apparent reason. All of a sudden he was sleeping. They attributed it to his becoming comfortable with the routine, to his promising results, to the approaching halfway point of the trip... but they didn't truly know why he was suddenly sleeping better and more relaxed when he wasn't focused on his research.
Sheldon reached over to the cloth pocket on his bed and pulled out his iPod. It usually only held classical music and audio books, but it now contained one video. He put in the ear buds and set it to repeat the only video in a playlist. Every night he watched it the first time it cycled through, then closed his eyes and fall asleep to the audio by the third or fourth repetition.
Penny's smile filled the screen and her happy tone rang in his ears. "Hi Sheldon!" He couldn't wait until he heard her voice for real.
In Pasadena, Penny was waiting for him, and he'd be able to return to his normal routine soon enough.