Originally written on 11/17/2009 and posted at Paradox, the Sheldon/Penny LiveJournal Community.
This fic is my reaction to The Adhesive Duck Deficiency, aka, the episode that made my brain completely and utterly fail.
When one is deprived of one of their five senses, it appears that their remaining senses are augmented in terms of perception. Of course it isn't that their senses become stronger at the disappearance of one of their fellows, just that the person is forced to pay more attention to the implication of what they are perceiving.
There is also the shock of novelty. (He supposes that is why most remember the first time they had sexual intercourse, not that he has experience in that particular field.) Sheldon does know this feeling well: the moment he first sat in his spot; seeing his thesis published in a scientific journal for the first time, the first time he saw—
And then there is her.
Penny in the bathtub is brand new ground for him. Of course it isn't as if he hasn't seen most of the skin of a female form before, having been subjected numerous times to poolside parties while he was still living in Texas. And it isn't as if Penny herself doesn't walk around in tiny shorts and tops with thin shoulder straps. Considering the fact that she managed to take the shower curtain with her on her way down so only her upper chest is visible, she is actually much more covered up than when he normally sees her.
But there is something about being in her bathroom, in an inherently private place, interrupting her previously inherently private moment, that gets to him. When she parades around in clothes that mold to her body it is easy to ignore, because he's used to it. It's easy to ignore the female form when one knows what exactly to ignore. But somehow that shapeless blue shower curtain is a flashing indicator that Penny is indeed very naked.
At the same moment he takes in her bare smooth shoulders, her messy half-damp hair, her face completely devoid of makeup with the eyebrows turned upwards in what he assumes is fear or worry or pain or embarrassment, and he looks at her, and his mind says, "oh," and then it says, "oh, no," and then he can't do much more than say, "Hello."
Discounting that moment in which he had lost control of his own self and hugged her for the most superior of presents, helping Penny out of the bathtub is perhaps the closest he has been to her. He can smell the soap she uses. Cinnamon, which reminds him of December, and he realizes it is most likely something he gave her. This strikes him.
He yabbers on about ducks whilst gripping her elbow and hand to help her stand without slipping once more. He is leaning close towards her and besides the cinnamon she smells very clean and bare, and as she speaks he is able to smell mint on her breath and the combination is...
She finally steadies herself and finishes his frankly pointless monologue on adhesive ducks, which even he doesn't know why he started. She is standing on her own and he makes sure to straighten, now a safe distance away so he can't smell her unless he inhales sharply, which would be almost as stupid as chattering about whimsical ducks.
As Sheldon likes to think of himself as more aware than most, he usually never needs to resort to the sense of touch in order to verify what he is seeing or hearing. Even as a child he didn't go through that frankly unhygienic phase of putting everything within reach into his oral cavity; at that stage in his life, he was already smarter than most of the hobos that were accepted into college as undergraduates. And even at this age he recognizes that most of his colleagues (who more or less almost approach his intelligence level) feel a driving need to attach another human being to their mouths.
This doesn't mean that he completely ignores his tactile senses. Of course not. He forces the world around him to adhere to his preferences in those areas as much as he does with sight and sound. In addition to keeping his work and living spaces aesthetically pleasing through organization and disallowance of the ear-splitting noise generated by a stream of forced air, he makes sure his food is prepared just right and that his spot remains undisturbed. He compartmentalizes those senses just as he does everything else, placing them into part of his easily accessible routine of which aberrations were uncommon. Only rarely does he feel the need as others do for contact with another, but due to the previously mentioned uber-awareness of his own person he is usually able to direct those energies into something more productive.
Touching Penny's bare skin when he is helping her with her shirt is almost startling. He cannot see her—obviously, as his eyes are closed—so every time the back of his fingers brush against her shoulder it sends a jump to his nerve endings. He catalogues the feeling of her skin—very smooth and even, the bone just under the flesh. Almost, just almost, he considers running his hand from the base of her neck down to her upper arm, just to note the change in texture. But he is nothing if not focused, so he looks for her arm and the right sleeve of her shirt simultaneously, an admittedly not well thought-out move on his part. He isn't very familiar with Penny's specific anatomic ratios, or those of any human being besides himself for that matter. He is clumsy and moves his hand three inches further to the left than necessary and—oh.
Logically, there is nothing remarkable about breasts. Logically, he should apologize and should have let go upon realizing his mistake. It seems however than when one has a breast under their fingers all logic and control flies out the proverbial window. It was such a foreign feeling, and, and so—
When Sheldon resumes his assistance, taking her shirt off from around her neck in order to slide it up her bad arm, he takes great care to touch only the fabric.
And he peeks a little, just to be sure.
It seems that the painkillers cause the register of Penny's voice to rise in frequency. Sheldon can't quite bring himself to care as he did before. He mostly focuses on what she says, most of which is more ridiculous than normal, and even more ridiculous are some of his reactions. He doesn't understand the source of the majority of them, but either way his responses are limited to short answers and tight smiles.
After tucking her into her covers he is quite ready to escape to the comforting and familiar solitude of his apartment. When she asks about Soft Kitty, however, he knows that will be impossible. He gives a token objection but the meekness of her voice wins him over in a very alarming instant.
Sheldon sits and sings, feeling much like the robot Penny just said he isn't.
Of course not even this goes as smoothly as would have been convenient.
When she starts singing for the life of him he can't figure out what happened to her voice that it is now so pleasant. In fact, he can't figure out much at all, and stares at her feeling like an idiot. He doesn't hear exactly what she's saying, just focuses on the melody and the happy, sort of loopy look on her face as she reprises his song. Her voice is high-pitched and a little breathy and it works; he's not sure how because his mother would always sing it in a quiet, controlled mezzo-soprano, but it definitely works.
Finally, after her third prompt, he blends his voice with hers. It's not an unfamiliar harmony, except when they sang work songs it was in unison and she punctuated each of her notes with a forceful period. Now her words pick up where the last one left off, and their lines don't match but they mix well, somehow, and something is churning in his stomach, and it's different when she sings the song without being obviously weary and frustrated, and he thinks—
It isn't until much, much later that he discovers her flavor (of her skin, her mouth, her...) is like mint and cinnamon and clean, and the combination is...