Amy loved her new social life. She loved having friends—having a boyfriend. Sometimes she'd finger through the pages of the Relationship Agreement at night, musing over the various passages that seemed to capture Sheldon's true voice rather than his attempt at formalized lawyer-speech. She searched for loopholes that would allow her to touch him more, and when she couldn't find them, she touched the pages. They had modified some parts, catering to her need for physical affection. What she lacked was not physical intimacy, but rather affirmation. Despite everything, there were some nights that depression loomed and she felt like an intruder in Sheldon's social group—like they would go on just fine without her.
There was a neurobiology conference in Montreal two weeks from now. When Amy had first heard about it, she envisioned inviting Sheldon, skipping every talk but her own, and having a torrid love affair in the hotel room. Then reality set in. They'd probably attend all the talks and spend their evenings discussing topics of science. If Sheldon didn't insist on a separate room, he'd likely insist on a second bed. Amy often wondered if she'd be less prone to night terrors if she were permitted to sleep next to Sheldon… or if maybe he'd be better at soothing her. Amy decided not to invite him to the conference. In fact, she hadn't even told him she was leaving. He preferred Skype and texting and she had in her head a perverse experiment to see if he even noticed her physical absence.
Amy hated being alone and depressed, but Sheldon was supposed to be on Skype within the hour, and she'd feel better once she heard his voice. To pass the time, she opened a web browser and perused the posted conference schedule, making a list of the talks she wanted to see and the posters she wanted to visit. When she was in grad school, she thought conferences were amazing social events. Now when she went, she noticed that all the people her age clung to the same people they'd known since grad school, and she was left sitting alone. Amy picked up her phone. She could call Sheldon early. But no. He had his routines and she had a specific place in his life. Breaking his routines made him cranky. Less than an hour. She could wait.
Sheldon wasn't surprised when Amy missed their Skype date. Ever since she'd been promoted to Bernadette's maid of honor, Amy's social schedule had been erratic. His jealousy flared, but he'd once tried tagging along shopping for centerpieces for the wedding and after that decided there were certain things the women were better off doing without him. He sent her a text, though, asking if they could meet for lunch the next day. Watching Amy work was one of the few times he ever found biology captivating. He loved seeing her in latex gloves, carefully slicing mice brains. He loved the slight crinkle around her eyes when she looked into the microscope and the deft way her fingers handled the focus. The other day, he'd caught her reading a Superman comic. Though he knew she'd probably never love the stories the way he did, he appreciated that she took the time to show interest in his passions. He had vowed to find a hobby of hers and reciprocate the show of affection, but he utterly refused to play the harp.
It didn't surprise Sheldon that Amy didn't answer his text before bedtime. There was probably an impromptu girls' night to blame. Amy wasn't as attractive when she was hung over, but considering how smoking hot she was normally, she could still turn heads. Jealousy stirred again. Amy was prone to kissing when she was drunk, and Sheldon didn't like the thought of her kissing other people. He wondered if she'd ever kiss him while she was sober. He wondered if he would like it. It fascinated him, the way her lips felt against his. The last time it happened, he didn't know if he stayed locked in the kiss because he was stunned or what, but she'd broken the kiss to go vomit, and he still wasn't repulsed by her.
It took Sheldon forever to fall asleep, because he kept thinking about drunk Amy kissing strangers, so when morning came and he hadn't received a text from her, he didn't wait for lunch. As soon as he and Leonard arrived at work, Sheldon marched straight to her lab to give her a piece of his mind. Only she wasn't there.
"Naturally she's late if she's hung over," he muttered to himself. He left a note on her desk and went back to his office. He texted again, called, and left Skype open on his computer in case she signed on. It amazed him that he'd lived twenty-nine years without knowing her name, and now he couldn't seem to get through the morning without hearing her voice.
When lunchtime came with still no word for Amy, Sheldon started to worry. Had he offended her with his persistent messaging? He thought about going to her lab again, but if she was avoiding him, it would be a waste of effort to cross campus, so he went to the cafeteria with his pre-packed lunch, and sent Amy a text, hoping she would meet him there.
Bernadette was at the table with the guys, and Leonard waved and pulled up a chair for Sheldon.
"Thought you were eating with Amy," Leonard commented.
Sheldon shrugged. Amy was her own person. If she chose not to eat with him, that was her prerogative. Her flawed and hurtful prerogative. "I supposed she's still recovering from last night," he murmured quietly, staring at the Tupperware box housing his peanut butter sandwich, and thinking how hungry he was absolutely not.
"Oh, did you two get up to something kinky last night?" Howard ribbed. Raj whispered something in Howard's ear and the two snickered.
Too tired to be offended, Sheldon just shrugged again. "She didn't call. I figured she was with the girls."
"She wasn't with me," Bernadette spoke up, exchanging a disturbing grin with Howard.
Sheldon sat up straight, alarmed. "Penny?"
"She was doing that zombie movie," Leonard shrugged.
No girls' night? No drunken kisses? No call? "I suck at this boyfriend thing," Sheldon carped, standing abruptly and stalking out of the cafeteria.
After he confirmed that Amy was not on campus, Sheldon braved the bus and went to her apartment. He was trying to remain calm, but he couldn't shake the image of Ricky the monkey standing over her munching on chunks of her face and smoking a cigarette. Ricky had gone back to the lab months ago, but that didn't mean Amy hadn't taken in another boarder. She had a huge heart like that.
Knock, knock, knock. "Amy."
Knock, knock, knock. "Amy."
Knock, knock, knock. "Amy."
No answer. Sheldon tried calling again. He could hear her phone ringing through the door. Fumbling through his messenger bag, Sheldon pulled out his keys. Amy had given him a key awhile ago—a gold one with the three holes in it. His hands were shaking so badly, he could barely get the key in the lock, and when he did, he was greeted only by silence… and an uncharacteristic mess.
"Amy?" he choked, worried about worse things than monkeys. Her desk chair was tipped over, papers spilled on the floor. Her computer was open, but the screen was black and the standby light on. There was laundry on the floor, some organized into piles, some piles kicked over. The phone lay on the couch, a blinking red light indicating that it needed to be charged. Sheldon reached for it, then retracted his hand. This could be a crime scene.
"Amy!" Sheldon shouted, running to check her bedroom. The covers were pulled sideways off the bed, and he saw Amy's legs on the opposite side.
"Amy? Amy, can you breathe," Sheldon said, falling on his knees next to his girlfriend, touching her shoulder. She lay on her side, eyes wide open and vacant, hands wrapped around what looked like a box of stationary. It appeared she'd pulled it from a larger box of keepsakes kept under the bed.
Brushing her hair aside, Sheldon felt Amy's pulse. Her heart rate and breathing seemed steady enough. "Amy, please look at me."
Amy rolled onto her back, halfway into his lap. He shifted slightly, trying to make the position more comfortable, glad she wasn't physically broken. Her chin quivered, and it looked like she was about to speak, then she pressed a piece of paper into his hand. Sheldon skimmed the paper, not seeing the relevance. It was a newsletter for a neurobiology conference in Montreal happening next week. Featured guests, science organizing committee.
"I don't understand," Sheldon said patiently. Amy pointed to the lower right corner of the page—an obituary for a dead geneticist. "Did you know him?"
Amy nodded imperceptibly, her face scrunching as she struggled not to cry. Tears fell anyway, and she rolled onto her side again, her back to him, clutching the little box to her chest. Frustrated, Sheldon pulled out his phone and googled the dead geneticist. Their Relationship Agreement had a clause for grief, because Sheldon anticipated being similarly devastated when Stephen Hawking finally passed away, but Sheldon realized he didn't know the heroes in Amy's life. He didn't understand why a respected neurobiologist like Amy would give a lick about an old geneticist.
"Former advisor?" Sheldon guessed.
Amy's shoulders quaked. "High school. Summer research."
Sometimes, it amazed Sheldon that Amy had attended high school. Attended was a bit of a stretch, considering that after the first year, she'd taken almost every class for college credit. Sheldon envied her for being able to do those summer research programs—it diversified her research experience and allowed her to travel significantly before committing to a graduate program.
Her voice, gravelly though it was with sadness, was a welcome relief. Sheldon checked the printout again. This must have happened before six last night—before their Skype date. Had she been lying on the floor all night?
"Come on," Sheldon said, tugging her shoulders gently. "Let's sit on the bed."
Amy shrugged him off. She shrugged him off! This was very bad. Amy never shirked his touch. Pressing his lips together, Sheldon tried again, more insistently. Maybe she was dizzy from lack of food and water. It took a few minutes to get her off the floor, and as soon as he sat her on the bed, she just laid her head on one of the pillows and sobbed softly. There wasn't much Sheldon could do, so he left her there and went to make tea.
Amy was upset and needed a hug, and since Penny was busy being a zombie for minimum wage, Sheldon called in Bernadette. Being a biologist, Bernadette might know a little more about the dead geneticist. All Sheldon had learned from the internet was that the man was well-renowned for his work with gene therapy, regularly took on interns, and was being buried in east Texas on Wednesday. It struck Sheldon as ironic that Amy had spent a summer internship so close to his childhood home.
By the time Bernadette arrived, Sheldon had coaxed Amy out of her room and gotten her to the couch to eat some chicken soup. It didn't seem like enough. She didn't want to be touched; she'd barely look at him. Then Bernadette came and the two hugged for three minutes straight. Good. Now that Amy was being cared for, he could focus on other things.
"May I see?" Bernadette was asking, gently tugging the box Amy had had cradled to her chest for the last half hour. Sheldon peeked too, curious about the keepsake. Amy loosened her grip enough for them to see the box, but she wouldn't let either one hold it. Inside was mounted a film of an electrophoresis gel—DNA testing. It was old, not digital, probably something she'd done during the internship.
"Who are these people?" Bernadette asked.
"There are two?" Sheldon asked. "How can you tell?"
Bernadette pointed to the strands, explaining quickly, but Sheldon couldn't see what she was talking about. He did notice some patterns to it—certain sequences between the two that seemed to resonate. "They're related. Probably parent child," Bernadette commented.
The blood drained from Sheldon's face. "Amy? He's your father?"
Amy shook her head. Then she nodded. Then she closed her little box, cradled it to her chest, and curled against the arm of the couch. Her eyes were open and no tears fell, and she wouldn't say anything.
Sheldon and Bernadette kicked into high gear, calling in the troops. Sheldon called Leonard, Bernadette called Howard. They had just finished packing a bag for Amy when Penny showed up, still in full zombie makeup. Penny had her arms around Amy, calling her sweetie, begging Amy to come out of that catatonic state and say something.
"Don't worry, sweetie. Your friends are here. We'll take care of you," Penny cooed, her fake blood make-up smearing on Amy's forehead as she nuzzled.
Amy showed Penny the film, her hands shaking. "I didn't mean to."
Both Sheldon and Penny tried to get her to elaborate, but that was all she'd say.
"You have to go," Bernadette interrupted apologetically, bringing Amy's packed bag into the room. "Howie says the last flight out tonight leaves LAX in less than three hours."
"I'll drive," Penny volunteered, not letting go of Amy as she stood.
"The guys will be waiting outside with all the tickets and everything. I'll clean up here. Lock up... make sure everything is turned off before I go," Bernadette said, trailing off. For a moment, Bernadette looked as helpless as Sheldon felt. Then Bernadette hugged Amy. There seemed to be a lot of hugging going on. Sheldon didn't know if it was helping at all.
Leonard, Howard, and Raj were standing outside the apartment when Penny's car came around the corner. They double-parked, even though it was illegal. Sheldon made a comment, but Penny turned a zombie glower on him, and he backed down. He would have nightmares enough as it was, thinking what might have happened if he'd waited too much longer to find Amy.
Sliding out of the back seat to talk to his friends, Sheldon was surprised when Amy followed him of her own volition. She leaned against the car door, looking uncertainly, like she wanted more hugs but didn't know how to ask. Taking a risk, Sheldon reached back and took her hand, but she pulled away, pretending to fix one of the buttons on her blouse.
"We have your tickets and meal vouchers for the flight," Howard explained, handing a folder to Sheldon with all the necessary printouts. "You mentioned it was a relative, so I got the bereavement fare. I couldn't get seats together this late in the game, but the rep said just talk to your flight attendant and they'll make it happen."
"You're coming?" Amy asked quietly.
"Of course I am," Sheldon said, twitching when he felt her arm link with his and her head on his shoulder. For the first time, he felt like he was helping.
Howard took the folder with the plane tickets and slipped it into a bag that Raj was holding open for him. "Raj made you two some sandwiches in case the plane food is worse than advertised. We also packed your laptop and a few Spiderman comics that seemed relevant… you know, similar social situations."
Raj whispered something in Howard's ear and Howard rolled his eyes. "Raj also packed a Cosmo for Amy. You know not all girls read that." Raj whispered again, but Sheldon simply said thank you and shouldered the bag. Both Howard and Raj gave Amy a hug before they left. The car only fit four and Leonard was coming along.
Before, it had been hard to concentrate because Amy wouldn't touch him. Now, it was hard to concentrate because she wouldn't let go. They weren't cuddled. Each kept to their own side of the car, seatbelts fastened, joint hands resting on the empty seat between them.
"Your black suit is packed into your regular emergency bag, so you should have everything you need. I contacted your mother; she'll meet you two at the airport in Texas," Leonard was saying. They'd taken care of everything. Sheldon knew they would. All he'd given Leonard was the name of the scientist and the date of the memorial service, and everything else had fallen into place—things not mentioned in the Friendship Rider to the Roommate Agreement. Leonard even gave him a few hundred dollars to cover the trip expenses… but then he said the money was from Sheldon's Green Lantern stash. It was still thoughtful.
"Are you hungry? Do you want a sandwich?" Sheldon asked Amy. With everything else taken care of, he could focus on her.
Amy looked at him, her eyes distant, but not as vacant as before. She shook her head, then looked out the window again, watching the traffic. They were hitting the 110 at the absolute worst time of day, and Penny was a terrifying, but effective driver. Sheldon wondered if the zombie makeup made the other cars afraid of her. The way she wove between them made him nauseous. He checked his backpack, seeing if Leonard had thought to put any anti-nausea medication in there. He only let go of Amy's hand for a second to check the bag, but when he reached for it again, her hand wasn't there.
Pressing his lips together, Sheldon studied the little box Amy clung to. Sheldon didn't really have anything of his father's that he treasured, and he didn't understand. He'd certainly been inexplicably inconsolable when his own father had died, but the memory was so distant now that he couldn't remember what had helped him get through it. He'd had his family. Vaguely, he wondered if anyone had told Amy's mother about the death. Why was Amy left to find out via obituary in a science newsletter?
"Will you be able to let this go when we get to airport security?" Sheldon asked, tugging at the box. Emotions rippled across Amy's face and she swallowed hard, her eyes watering. "Should I call your mother?"
"She doesn't know," Amy murmured, shaking a little.
"All the more reason to call her."
"She doesn't know that I know," Amy said, her eyes wide with hurt and confusion. "I was never supposed to find out."
"But you did," Sheldon said, trying to thread his fingers under hers and take the box from her. He still didn't understand what she was trying to say. "Tell me."
"He was an anonymous sperm donor. I didn't suspect. I was practicing my electrophoresis techniques and…" Amy's body pitched forward. Ducking her head to her knees, she sobbed softly, and Sheldon stared, dumbstruck and helpless. Penny reached between the seats, patting Amy on the back of the head as she continued to criticize other drivers and weave through the traffic.
"There should be tissues in the backpack," Leonard said helpfully. His foot had been hitting the ghost brake since they'd taken off, but rather than criticize Penny's driving, he'd been helpfully suggesting courses of navigation and checking the rearview for her since she had no passenger side mirror on her car.
"We're almost there, sweetie," Penny assured, tangling her fingers in Amy's hair.
"I can do it," Sheldon insisted, pushing Penny's hand aside and petting the back of Amy's head as soothingly as he could manage. He was the boyfriend. This was his job.
Sheldon's mother greeted them both with hugs and fresh, glazed donuts. She seemed to know exactly what to do, what questions to ask, and what protocols to follow. Amy responded almost instantly, not volunteering words, but at least lifting her head. Amy could never manage more than a few sentences at a time, and Sheldon could not understand why she thought he'd send her through the airport alone in this condition. Did she not believe he cared for her? Did she not know?
Their flight had been delayed and they arrived just after 11pm Texas time. The memorial service wasn't until tomorrow afternoon, so they had time to rest. Sheldon had managed to get Amy to eat a half a sandwich on the plane, and she nibbled on a donut during the car ride home. As soon as they'd entered the house, she'd begged for sleep, and he'd showed her to his old room. Within seconds, Amy had fallen asleep on top of the covers, fully clothed.
"Shelly, did you two want some cider?" Sheldon's mother asked, coming around the corner. Sheldon stood at the door to his old room, staring at the woman sleeping in his bed, bewildered as much by the sense of utter helplessness as by the desire to sit next to her and hold her until she stopped hurting.
"I'd like some, please," Sheldon answered, not moving from the doorway. When his mother peeked in and saw Amy resting, she smiled endearingly, went into the room, and put a blanket over Amy. Sheldon kicked himself. I should have thought of that.
"Come on, baby. Let's you and me have a chat," his mother said, hooking his elbow and dragging him to the dining table.
The hot apple cider was refreshing and comforting.
"Leonard tells me you're calling Amy your girlfriend now," his mother opened.
"Yes, ma'am," Sheldon said cautiously. He hadn't updated his mother on the status of his relationship with Amy, because he didn't want to hear her inevitable tirade on abstinence.
"Hmm," was all his mother said.
"I had a wager with your father. It seems I just lost it."
The mention of his father stung, but Sheldon covered the emotion by drinking more cider and burning the tip of his tongue.
"Have you two been making with the hanky-panky?"
"No, ma'am," Sheldon answered. The 'ma'am' came out automatically—a residual habit from his upbringing. "Our relationship is based on intellectual compatibility, not physical intimacy."
"So she's just a friend."
"No. I don't mind if my friends date other people. I do mind if she does."
Sheldon's mother pressed her lips together and sighed, like she always did when she didn't understand his behavior. "Shelly, I know you like to collect those little action figures, and you keep them in the box and never play with them. But you can't do that to a woman."
"Are you encouraging me to engage in intercourse?"
"Don't twist my words, baby. There's plenty of time for sex once you're married. But you can't marry a girl you're afraid to touch."
"I touch her," Sheldon said defensively. "I held her hand almost the entire way here."
"Is that all you're willing to offer, Shelly?" his mother challenged. "If she weren't grieving, would you have given her that much?"
Sheldon lay awake on the couch, flipping channels, trying to find reruns of Star Trek or Battlestar, but his mother's satellite was finicky. He'd finally called Leonard on Skype, and they'd set up a laptop so that he could watch Firefly with them. It was a weird view, like Mystery Science Theater, because he could see the backs of everyone's heads. Everyone was there—even Penny and Bernadette. For the first five minutes, they'd hounded him about Amy, but he didn't have any answers. Finally, they'd heeded his wishes and just let him watch TV.
"Sheldon?" Amy shuffled into the room, hair askew, blanket wrapped around her shoulders.
Sheldon sat up so quickly, he nearly dropped the laptop. All he had to do was open his arms, and Amy sank on the couch next to him, cuddling. Smoothing her hair, he wrapped his arms around her, contemplating his mother's words. Maybe if he hadn't been so stingy with touch, she'd have been more willing to accept his comfort earlier. He pressed his lips to the top of her head, kissing apologetically, and before he knew it, her lips were locked to his. Her shaking hands bracing his jaw, she crushed their lips together so hard Sheldon thought his face would bruise. He felt her hot tears streaming down her cheek then transferring to his face and rolling off his chin. Prying her hands from his face, Sheldon broke the kiss.
"Not now. Not like this," Sheldon begged. "You've kissed me when you're drunk, and now when you're grieving. Would you ever kiss me sober?"
Amy sniffled, and pulled away from him, leaning on the back of the couch. "I didn't think you'd be open to it."
"I wasn't before," Sheldon confessed. "But it seems, whenever you're emotionally charged, it is something you want. I'm curious to know if you are simply responding to the extreme emotional stimulus, or if the latent desire is always there."
Amy shrugged. "So I should propose an experiment?"
"When you're feeling more emotionally stable," Sheldon agreed.
Nodding, Amy reached out, lacing her fingers with his. "Until then?"
"Oh, for God's sake. Kiss him!"
Sheldon jumped again at the sound of Penny's voice coming over Skype. His face flushed, seeing the whole group there, crowded around the webcam, watching his and Amy's inadvertent public display of affection. Thankfully, Amy did not take Penny's advice. Pulling Sheldon's arm happily across her shoulders, she nestled against him and waved to everyone on the screen and they waved back, talking over each other, offering words of comfort.
"Hello, all my friends," Amy said contentedly. "Thank you for being here for me."