Rating: G

Characters: P/S friendship

Spoilers: Season 2 finale

Summary: [Theme: Homecoming] The hour is late and Dr. Sheldon Cooper cannot sleep.


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I pull up to the front of your driveway / With magic soakin' my spine

Before you jump / Tell me what you find when you read my mind

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Breathe That Fire Again

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Their bundles have turned into piles; heaps of equipment, data, computers, clothes bags and bedding create little mountains in their living room. It's nearly three in the morning. There is a consensus to deal with the canvas landscape tomorrow, as even Sheldon agrees that their energy expenditure would be best utilized in the daylight, after considerable sleep has restore their vigor.

A thousand excuses drift through the apartment as they disassemble without calling parents or lovers or friends. It's too late to say hello to their neighbor. It's too dark to eat non-dairy macaroni or look at email. It's too early to think about everything they've missed.

Leonard, drunk, stumbles into his room and collapses on his familiar mattress with its old, affectionate loneliness. He can stand to have a little time alone. Three margaritas and two shots of obnoxiously priced airport liquor made the last connecting flight a soft haze of sound by color, and he can't wait to hear the noise of birds on the morning wire.

Howard and Rajesh throw their gloves and shoes at Sheldon when he mentions they might go home to their own beds. There's more than enough bed bags and coats to make the faux-wood floor a tolerable sleeping place for Howard, and Rajesh commandeers the couch with glee. He's sure that he can lose every game of rock-paper-scissors-lizard-spock for the rest of eternity and still sleep happily, knowing that tonight his wishes were answered.

Sheldon flies like an arrow into his room, where he resumes a pattern he hasn't indulged in for months. He brushes his teeth in the shower; he changes into his pajamas; he prays briefly out of obligation to his mother rather than faith; and at last he slides into the clean, dry sheets of last spring. For an hour he lays in that place, until the clock reads 4:17 A.M. and Sheldon Cooper, man of science, rises from his bed with a purpose.

He stalks across the minefield of metal, canvas, Masters-in-Engineering, and vinyl. After two stumbles he makes it, and as the iron curtain settles behind him he crosses the Rhine to lands at her door.

"Penny," he announces, and knocks. It's 4:19 A.M. "Penny, Penny."

There's sluggish movement from the other side; the general has risen and at this hour she'll take the form of a bear. As it's a lot earlier than ten on a Saturday, Sheldon knows he'll be lucky to survive her wrath uninjured. He's calculated the risk and judged the odds to be acceptable.

The door swings wide, and his friend's disheveled head flops out like a broken doll. Her face screws up as she blinks against the florescent lights of the hallway, and says, "Holy crap, Sheldon, do you know what time it is?"

"It's four twenty two," he replies, "and I needed to tell you about what I found."

He thrusts out his closed fist, straight toward the spot in the air below her face, but Penny is blinking hard now and pushes the hand aside as unhesitatingly as she might push aside window drapes. "Oh my god, you're actually here," she murmurs, and throws two sleepy arms around him. "You guys are back. All safe and intact."

"Yes, we're perfectly fine," Sheldon says. As soon as she lets go he grabs her hand and shoves something small and rough into it.

"Is this a present?"

The light of the hallway is so bright against Penny's hair, it hurts his eyes. Sheldon sees in the glare of whiteness a vista that stretches forever, and wonders if he'll always think about the winter when he looks at her.

"You're not obligated to give me one in return. This is called a homecoming gift; it's a memento that people give to their friends or family when they return from a trip. Here," he takes her hand, turns the stone inside it until the smooth, glassy side is reflecting upward. "This way is the best. It's a remnant shard from an enormous rock plate diminished by meteor impact."

"Sheldon," Penny says. Her gaze rises from the stone inside her hands, still inside of his. Her fingers are warm from the contact, and the drowsiness is slipping away.

"Thank you."