Sheldon had assumed that once he opened the door to cuddling with Amy that he'd be doing it every night, like Leonard and Penny had. Although his instincts told him to place regulations on duration and frequency, his mother's words kept echoing in his mind. He couldn't keep Amy in a box and he couldn't dictate her level of need. On his mother's suggestion, he'd told Amy that he'd hold her 'whenever she needed him.' The offer had frightened him, and he had expected Amy to fall into his arms and cling to him for the rest of his natural life, but she'd simply said thank you and continued eating her bowl of cereal. Only once during the memorial service did she take his hand. That evening, she'd gone to her room to be alone, but when Sheldon heard her crying, he could not stop himself from going in there to hold her. After she cried herself to sleep on his shoulder, he tucked her in, and the next morning, they didn't mention it at all.
In the months that followed, it hadn't gotten much more complicated than that. For the most part, they were back to their usual routine of Skype calls, shared meals, and game nights. Witty remarks, insightful jokes, and intellectual conversations were the norm. Sheldon figured she'd forgot about the kissing experiment that they'd agreed to. Maybe she'd realized that she had no desire to kiss him sober, but he'd never confess to being disappointed by that.
Sheldon always had at least an hour's warning before committing to a night of cuddling, and Amy didn't mind if he brought something to read. Sometimes she read too, and they both sat on the couch, nestled in each other's arms, catching up on their journals, competing to find the most obtuse new theory in their respective fields. When they first came back from Texas, they'd cuddle every few days. Now, they only snuggled every other week or so. Even though the frequency decreased with time, her touch was starting to feel natural, and Sheldon missed the connection.
Friday night, Sheldon and Amy usually Skyped, so Amy was surprised when Sheldon showed up at her door after work.
"I brought supper," he grinned, holding up a bag of chicken.
"I wasn't expecting you. I only have one Yoo-hoo left," Amy said, motioning him to enter and going to the kitchen to get plates.
"I'll just have water," Sheldon volunteered nobly. He sat on the couch, arranging the box of chicken so that the edges were parallel with the edge of the coffee table, then he carefully laid out napkins, plastic knives, and dipping sauce. Sheldon loved having fried chicken, and now that Amy had been to Texas with him, she understood why.
"I have a riddle for you," Amy said, setting the plates on the table and returning to the kitchen to get their drinks. "An action potential takes thetakes the train to work. What is the name of the train station where it gets off for work?"
Amy loved that Sheldon's passing knowledge of her field was sufficient that she could share neurobiology jokes with him. Sheldon kept his lips together when he smiled, his body wriggling in that excited way he had of approaching a brain teaser. This one wasn't that difficult, but Sheldon liked trains, so when Amy had heard the joke, she knew she had to repeat it for him.
"The Axon Terminal," Sheldon answered correctly, making that amusing half-hiccup, half-laugh that Amy couldn't get enough of. Amy shared the laugh, sitting on the couch next to him, and handing him a cup of water.
Then it happened. Sheldon turned his body slightly, folding one leg on the couch, resting his arm along the back. It was a subtle indication that he was ready to hold her, but why? She'd made no request.
"Is everything all right?" Amy asked, cocking her head.
Sheldon looked at her, then his eyes widened as he realized what he was doing. "Fine," he said, sitting straight, and closing his posture. Suddenly, he became extremely concerned with distributing the chicken. Amy scooted a little closer to him. He'd never independently indicated a need for physical intimacy before.
Dinner conversation fell naturally to aborigine attire—there had been a PBS special the other day. From there, it wandered over comparative clothing habits of non-western cultures, and then to what, if anything, alien visitors might wear. They agreed humans were more likely to adapt to nudity to accommodate alien visitors than the other way around. Sheldon was careful to keep his posture closed. Amy could tell and it irked her. But he could be stubborn, and she decided not to force the issue. If she denied him, he'd probably break down eventually, but in the mean time, she'd only be denying herself, and that seemed even sillier. At the end of the night, she squeezed his hand and offered a grateful smile for his company. The relief with which he returned the gesture told her that was all he'd needed.
Sheldon's skin itched. Literally. All over. When he crossed his arms, the gentle pressure against his skin relieved the twitchiness. It was Halo night. Leonard was out buying supper. Sheldon had scheduled a twenty minute Skype session with Amy, then they'd eat, then they'd game until the wee hours of the morning. Sheldon wasn't sure he could work the game controls if he were this itchy, though.
Despite the fidgeting and tingling, there was nothing in Sheldon's medicine cabinet that seemed to have the slightest effect, so he sat squirming in his chair, and contacted Amy. Seeing her made the itching worse, even spreading it as low as the groin area. If it weren't for his upbringing, Sheldon would have started cursing hormones, pheromones, and any other 'mones that were bringing this on. His lips buzzed at the memory of their kiss—the way she'd tried to devour him in a fit of grief.
"I'd like to propose a kissing experiment," Sheldon blurted out suddenly.
Amy stopped mid-sentence, staring at him. Sheldon wished he could read facial expressions better, but the clear lack of enthusiasm she displayed told him he'd overstepped or miss-stepped. If he were the type to jump to conclusions, he'd have surmised that she had no desire to kiss him sober.
Amy looked down, away from the webcam, and her features twitched slightly, like they had at the memorial service when she was trying not to cry. "We agreed to wait until I was more emotionally stable."
"We have waited," Sheldon pointed out. It had been months. "You don't seem emotionally charged."
"No… But I don't feel that I've recovered," Amy confessed, glancing up apologetically.
"Amy, you lost a father. Granted, he was an absentee sperm donor whose existence you discovered by accident, but he's still a man you revered for both his contributions to science and to your existence. A loss like that is not something you recover from," Sheldon explained.
"Then our experiment can never happen under ideal conditions," Amy sighed.
"The only experiments that occur under ideal conditions are thought experiments," Sheldon pointed out patronizingly. "As a neurobiologist, you should know that. Consider Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader—"
"Sheldon, I don't want to consider fictional parent-child relationships. Not everyone's grief can be bowed to fit a two-hour movie plot," Amy snapped.
Sheldon was surprised by the reprimand, and he frowned thoughtfully. The only other experience he had was his own. "I lost my father. I never considered our relationship to be good. We weren't close. He was not a man of science and he barely finished high school. I will never miss being forced to watch football every weekend or listening to his long, loud fights with my mother. But I will never forget that he is the one who taught me about football, chicken friend meats, shooting raccoons, and a myriad of other life skills that Texans consider basic. He was there at the dining table, helping me sort through college brochures, and when I left home, he gave me an unreasonably long good-bye hug. I know because my mother had to tell him to let go of me…"
Sheldon trailed off and swallowed the lump of grief that had been rising in his throat. It had been a long time since he let himself think about his father, and it was the first time he realized with absolute clarity that he missed the man. Picking up his phone, Sheldon dialed his mother, hoping he could catch her before she went off to her Wednesday evening church service
"Who are you calling?" Amy asked.
"Why don't you just keep talking to me?"
"You didn't know my dad."
"Your mother is too far away to comfort you, Sheldon. I'm your girlfriend and I'm right here."
Sheldon considered her thoughtfully, his thoughts turning circles as the phone kept ringing.
"Would you like to come over here?" Amy asked.
"It's Halo night," Sheldon answered mechanically.
"Would you like me to come over there?" Amy asked, her face stern, her brow raised.
The voicemail picked up on the other end of the phone and Sheldon listened to his mother's recorded message, the wheels in his head turning, the red tape barring schedule changes and aberrant behavior stretching and twisting until it snapped. It was Leonard who finally broke the trance, entering loudly with Raj and Howard at his heels. The smell of food made Sheldon nauseous and the thought of Halo only a cold comfort. "I would like to see you."
Amy and Sheldon were normally so private when it came to physical contact that things turned immediately weird when she arrived. The guys were nerding out in Halo mode and Sheldon had been quietly poking at his food. They retreated to the kitchen first, but Sheldon refused to talk about anything besides the slight bitterness of the broccoli in his Chinese food, so Amy pulled him back to the bedroom.
Sheldon's bedroom felt a lot like the comic book store, only cleaner. The only place to sit was the bed, and they were both so uncomfortable at the prospect of violating this space that they sat stiffly side-by-side, not looking at each other.
"I came here to comfort you, but it seems I'm not helping," Amy said, reaching into Sheldon's lap and placing her hand over his. He had both his hands clasped into a tight, impenetrable fist, but he opened them and let her hand slip between.
"My father wanted me to go to UT Austin so I'd be closer to home," Sheldon said quietly. "I didn't get to see him much after I went to college. Just Christmas."
Amy scooted closer and put her arm around Sheldon's shoulder. He leaned sideways, resting his cheek against the top of her head. The past few months, she'd always taken comfort from him, but she'd never given it. It felt peaceful and safe—safe enough to say things she'd kept bottled in because she figured he was only holding her out of social obligation.
"Will it always hurt?" she asked. She remembered Dr. Schweizer looking over her shoulder at the electrophoresis gel confirming their familial relation, telling her 'good work,' and asking her whose DNA she'd used for the test. It would have been so easy to tell him then and there that they were related, but she'd been scared and she'd lied. He died never knowing who she was.
"It doesn't always hurt. It's just a part of who you are," Sheldon said, squeezing her hard and exhaling loudly.
"Are you feeling better?" Amy asked. Sheldon nodded. "Then go back to your friends. If you miss Halo night, you'll be cranky all week."
Sheldon chuckled softly and hugged her again, but he'd taken the comfort he needed. It was weird to think he could still be so broken and vulnerable over the death of his father, considering the years he had had to recover. But then, if he was right, a part of her would always be broken for Dr. Schweizer, and she'd been putting off the kissing experiment for nothing.
It had been awhile since they'd cuddled, and it was the first time that Sheldon knew he wanted to for no other reason than to feel Amy in his arms. They'd spent an hour holding each other, reading journal articles. Then they got up for a bathroom break and a snack. Now they were watching Discovery channel, arms entwined, more amused by the misaligned rhythm of their breathing than the TV. The programming wasn't anything original or exciting—just another adventure through Alaska. Sheldon didn't understand why people found perilous journeys through cold places so exciting. If there were monsters, wizards, or a quest to destroy a ring, he might have understood.
Resting his chin on the top of Amy's head, Sheldon hugged his girlfriend, and smelled her hair. There was something about the vanilla shampoo that made him feel safe and whole. He'd even taken to putting a few drops of vanilla in his milk at night because it reminded him of her.
"Returning to this kissing experiment you proposed," Amy said, broaching the subject from last week as though they'd never dropped it. "Did you have parameters in mind?"
Sheldon smiled, muting the TV. He'd been doing extensive reading on the internet. He'd even tried reading a few articles in that Cosmopolitan magazine that Raj had left, but was too scandalized to continue. There was a whiteboard in his closet distilling the information he'd obtained into a helpful chart, but the available information had been surprisingly uninformative.
"I have some literature, but we may need to consult an expert," Sheldon said. Amy twisted in his arms, looking up at him.
"Penny," they both said together.
Amy sat up, but Sheldon kept his arms around her and pulled her back into the cuddle.
"We can see her now," Amy said.
"Text her," Sheldon suggested. "I believe if we approached her as a couple, she'd get nervous and give the same advice found in trashy magazines."
"Good point," Amy said, twisting to get her phone and send the text. Every time she moved, Sheldon felt fire pooling in his belly. Worried that their intimate moment would become wet and messy, he weaseled off the couch and went to retrieve his whiteboard.
"With the research I've done thus far, I was able to construct this chart of techniques," Sheldon explained, setting the board on his tripod and using a blue marker to fill in the parts of the grid that had rubbed away. "We'll simply have to try them and record our physiological responses to determine our preferences."
"The ear?" Amy asked as she perused the list.
"Yes," Sheldon said, tugging his earlobe agitatedly. "The article was surprisingly nonspecific as to the proper technique. If it's anything like a wet willy, I can't imagine liking it."
"Hmm." Amy pulled a stool from the kitchen island and patted the seat. When Sheldon sat, she circled behind him, like a barber sizing him up for a haircut. Then she leaned over and brushed her lips against his earlobe.
It was a curious sensation, that sent a tickle down his neck and over his cheek. He squirmed when she opened her mouth, sucking his earlobe between her lips. He felt the light brush of her teeth against his skin and then her tongue massaging the lobe. Quickly, Sheldon gripped the seat of the stool. His legs quivered, and if he hadn't been sitting, he was sure his knees would have buckled. An unmanly, breathy whimper escaped his lips and he closed his eyes, concentrating on the feel of her mouth, warm, wet, and somehow clean. When she pulled back, the cool air against his skin made him shiver. His chest quaked in disappointment; he wanted more. The waves of lust faded when he heard the pop of a marker cap.
"Describe your response," Amy said, marker poised over the appropriate part of the grid.
"Positive. It's nothing like a wet willy," Sheldon said, surprised by how raspy his voice sounded. "The sensation extends well past the earlobe and I'm left with a residual, yet urgent desire to feel more."
"Elaborate," Amy said, capping the pen and coming closer, tilting his head in her hands and examining the ear clinically. Her touch set him on fire.
"Here," Sheldon said, tracing a line over his jaw to his chin. Then he touched his neck, brushing his fingers over the pulse point. "And here. It itches and tingles, and my base animal instinct informs me that a kiss will provide relief."
Amy hummed thoughtfully, then very meticulously kissed a line from the base of his neck, across his jaw, to his chin. It seemed less electrifying than the first kiss, but still a welcome relief on his skin. When she finished, she stopped and examined him again. Sheldon was panting, his eyes dark with lust and intrigue.
"Your turn in the chair," he said, hopping up and surrendering the seat to her. The desire to reciprocate nearly overwhelmed his careful approach to the experiment. When he drew the first breathy sigh from Amy, he lost all sense of control. Amy's phone chirped when Penny returned the text, but they ignored it. The kissing experiment was progressing well enough on its own.