Sheldon, Amy had learned, was a product of his upbringing. Despite Sheldon's vast intelligence and general lack of interest in common social structures, he adhered strongly to the customs ingrained in him as a child—wanting a hot beverage when upset or needing a certain song when he was sick. He still repeated the nursery rhymes he'd learned as a child and avidly quoted the wisdom of his mother and mee-maw. When he pointed out arcane Texan rituals to ridicule them, there was a part of him that still wanted to see the ritual play out as he described it, because change confused and upset him.
When Sheldon left Amy alone in bed, even if he was just getting up to go to the bathroom, he always tucked her in snugly. He said it was so she would know he hadn't been raptured, although since Sheldon didn't subscribe to the Christian faith so rapture was unlikely. When Amy awoke with her arms arranged by her sides and the blankets tucked tightly around her, it always surprised her. Although she knew she was a heavy sleeper, she didn't normally consider herself either malleable or still. Even when she kicked or woke up screaming from nightmares, Sheldon didn't make a fuss. If anything, he became even more adamant and diligent in his boyfriend duties.
A nightmare awoke Amy and she kicked at the sheets, tangling them between her legs. She was tucked in alone and covered with sweat. It started out as a sex dream and then got weird, and she was sad that Sheldon wasn't there to put his arm around her. Wiping the moisture from her cheeks, Amy sat up and tried to smooth out the sheets. If Sheldon came back and found them tangled, he'd be even more upset.
"Bad dream?" Sheldon's voice sounded like a croak. He stood silhouetted in the doorway to her bedroom, his head cocked to one side. "I heard and I couldn't…"
Amy's insides started somersaulting. He sounded worse than she felt. Switching on the light on her nightstand, she saw her boyfriend's face, shadowed and flush. His eyelids sagged and his chest heaved slightly with every breath.
"Did you sleep at all?" Amy asked. Sheldon usually looked like this after a Halo night, or if he stayed up more than three hours past bedtime.
Shaking his head, Sheldon shuffled into the room. He sat on the bed, but sprang up again immediately like he'd been stung by it. On its own, that was also not an unusual move, because he was still adapting to her bed and her sheets. It was the combination of symptoms that worried her.
"Lie down for a little bit. I promise not to spoon you," Amy encouraged, pulling back the covers and patting the mattress. Sheldon moved stiffly, sitting on the bed, nearly jumping out again.
"My tummy hurts," he said miserably, lying down. There was something different about the way he said it as compared to his normal complaints—like he didn't think she could help and just wanted her to know.
"Do you think it's something you ate?" Amy asked sympathetically, rubbing his stomach because that always soothed him. Sheldon flinched at her touch, rolled to the edge of the bed, and threw up over the side. The smell and sound triggered Amy's own vomit reflex and it was all she could do to control her nausea.
"I warned you. Now you have to clean it up," Sheldon said flatly, pulling the covers up to his chin. He was shivering.
"It doesn't work that way. You chuck it, you clean it," Amy replied, tentatively touching his face, checking for fever. Sheldon flinched again, his breath hitching at the contact, and he pressed his eyes shut. His hands worried over the blanket like he was trying to hold back more vomit. "Oh, you're burning up."
"My skin is hypersensitive. Just lying here is hard, but I'm too tired to stand anymore," Sheldon moaned.
"Did you take anything for the fever?" Amy asked, finding her robe, switching to caretaker mode. This was not a simple boo-boo.
"Couldn't keep it down," Sheldon said.
"Let's try a cold shower, then," Amy suggested, coming around the bed. He had a trash can there; he'd thrown up in the trash can. Even sick, he was prepared to be tidy, but that also meant he'd been feeling sick for awhile. "Sheldon, when did you start feeling sick?"
"Two thirteen p.m. My lips tingled a little. I assumed it was psychosomatic because I was nervous about coming here tonight," Sheldon said. He opened his mouth to say more, but then his eye twitched and he huddled under the blanket again.
"Do you want me to take you home?" Amy asked sympathetically. She wanted desperately to touch him and console him, but she didn't want him to vomit again.
Sheldon ducked his head guiltily and rubbed his nose. It was as clear a yes as he was willing to give, but he still shook his head contritely. "At this hour, we may as well wait until morning."
"Let's get you that cold shower," Amy said, wrestling the bedspread from his hands. The movement turned out to be too much for Sheldon's fragile stomach, and he heaved again.
"I want a doctor," he said weakly, his arms hovering over the rim of the trash can like he was too afraid to lean on it.
Amy sat primly on the edge of the bed, buttoning her blouse and holding the phone to her ear. The decision to take Sheldon to the hospital came with the added conundrum of getting him there since she didn't drive and the buses didn't start running for another hour. Leonard wasn't answering and it took three voicemails and twenty consecutive text messages before Penny picked up. She'd hoped for a little more sympathy from her best friend in her time of need.
"No, I completely support bringing Leonard along," Amy said conciliatorily, sighing at the delay this conversation was causing. "There's not much left in Sheldon's stomach, but I don't want it on those cute new mary janes."
"How did you know I was wearing those?" Penny asked, her smile apparent in the way her voice brightened.
"Why would you not? They're adorable."
"Leonard!" Penny's voice became muffled as she entered Leonard's apartment to retrieve him. Sheldon would appreciate Leonard's presence, even if reluctantly offered. Amy passed the time picking out a sweater. She didn't like going out in public under-dressed, and she certainly wasn't going to the hospital in her pajamas.
"Amy, we've hit a snag. Whatever Sheldon has—I think Leonard has it too," Penny said. There were a few more muffled swears and pleas for Leonard to come around. "Do you think Bernadette can come get you? We can't really lay them both down in the back seat of my car."
Snag was right. By the time Bernadette drove here, the buses would probably be running again. It was bad form to take a vomiting man on the bus, though, and they weren't quite at ambulance level. Signing off with Penny, Amy went to the bathroom to check on Sheldon. The cold shower was still running, and Sheldon was huddled on the floor of the bathtub, naked, wet, and shivering. Turning off the water, Amy wrapped a towel around him and rubbed his back, which immediately caused him to dry heave.
"Leonard's sick too," Amy said, finding her ear thermometer and making a quick check of his temperature. It seemed they'd brought it down to a hundred. "Don't worry, babe. I'll take care of you."
Sheldon gave her a look. "Babe?"
"Just trying something," she said lightly, patting his face dry with the edge of the towel. "I'm kinda freaked out."
He put his hand over hers, giving it a light squeeze, but his body started shaking like it physically hurt to hold onto her. Giving his knuckles a kiss, Amy pulled her hand away and dialed Bernadette, surprised when she got an answer after one ring.
"No time for chit chat. Sheldon's sick and we need a ride to the hospital," Amy said abruptly.
"Sorry, my whole lab is in quarantine," Bernadette replied. "Some intern found a broken Petri dish in the contagious disease refrigerator. We all got inoculated and now we're just waiting to see if anyone gets a fever."
So…not the stomach flu. Amy gulped. "Sheldon has a fever. Leonard too. Were they in your lab after it happened?"
"No," Bernadette said, her sweet, innocent voice tinged with concern. "Howard was there earlier, but he left before the quarantine went into effect."
"Before the dish broke?" Amy checked.
"I haven't talked to him. He could be infected!"
"And then contaminated the others in the cafeteria at lunch. Then Sheldon took the bus here after work."
"I need to call the CDC," Bernadette said urgently. "Can you check on my Howie?"
"Sure," Amy said numbly. Most of Bernadette's work on pharmaceuticals was classified. Sheldon could have been infected with the latest underdeveloped bio-terror weapon! Calling Penny on speed dial, Amy said urgently, "Bestie, we're about to see how many bodies we can stack in the back seat of your car."
Quarantine was an interesting place. It was so quiet and restful, aside from the occasional intrusive physical exams. Amy had caught up on her reading and now she was thinking about what she'd read.
"So we just sit here?" Penny complained, dropping her phone into her lap. Amy had offered Penny some literature, but she'd turned it down and played Angry Birds until her phone battery died.
"There are only so many rounds of Poker we can play before gambling with medical supplies ceases to be amusing," Amy pointed out. "There's still strip poker."
Penny groaned in frustration and rolled her eyes. "A world of no."
Bernadette entered the quarantine room wearing a hazmat suit and Penny jumped eagerly to her feet. Normally when a doctor entered with a hazmat suit, everyone cringed and avoided eye contact, but it was always easy to spot Bernadette since she was so tiny. She and the others in her lab had been released from quarantine yesterday.
"Howie's finally breathing on his own again," she reported. As one of the first infected and last found, Howard had been hit worst by the virus. "I don't know what I'd do if I couldn't hear his suave, sexy voice again."
"Why isn't Raj sick?" Penny asked.
"Apparently his Indian blood has afforded him a natural immunity," Bernadette shrugged.
"I suppose growing up on the disease-ridden streets of New Delhi has its advantages," Amy commented.
"The streets?" Penny repeated sarcastically. "His parents are so loaded, they probably don't even walk on the streets."
"I should have told you not to go to the hospital," Bernadette said apologetically. "The CDC is still finding new carriers. We're lucky they haven't quarantined the whole city."
"My boyfriend was knocking on death's door. Containment wasn't really my first concern," Amy said sharply. She felt like such a hypocrite. As a biologist and a scientist, she should have known better, but like Bernadette, she just wanted her boyfriend to be okay. Screw the world.
"Speaking of your boyfriend, I've been meaning to ask you this," Penny said. "You two are sleeping together, but you're not 'sleeping together.'"
"That's right," Amy replied, her jaw tensing. Penny's question felt more invasive than that scope the doctor had shoved down her throat yesterday.
Penny stuttered a few incredulous sounds before finally forming the word: "Why?"
"That's the arrangement," Amy shrugged, shuffling the stack of journals she'd been reading, feeling a little embarrassed.
"That's a sucky arrangement," Penny said.
"Yeah," Bernadette agreed. "How long are you two planning to stay abstinent?"
"Indefinitely," Amy mumbled, feeling her cheeks go red. She'd been waiting for the right moment to boast about Sheldon's length or the screaming orgasms he gave her with that sex toy, but she suddenly didn't want to. It wasn't that she was embarrassed by the way he met her physical needs; it was just private. Sheldon's manly shows of affection were not a trophy for her to display. Getting defensive, she set her jaw and glared at Penny. "He's a romantic asexual, and he loves me."
Penny's brow furrowed, and she gave Amy a questioning stare. Amy wasn't sure if it was the words or the concept that confused her.
"But you're not asexual… are you?" Bernadette asked, biting her lip awkwardly.
"No," Amy said quickly, though it was a bit of a gray area with her. She wasn't overtly sexual, wanting to jump everything that moved like Penny did; but she wasn't completely immune to physical desire either. Ninety-nine days out of a hundred, she didn't care at all about sex. In fact, she avoided most physical contact.
A smile tugged the corners of her lips as she thought of all the ways Sheldon helped her when the desire did arise. "He's not inattentive. He's just… creative."
"Dare I ask how?" Penny said. She was so pushy and narrow-minded about relationships—first sex, then love. The only problem with her paradigm was that she'd fallen in love with Leonard before having sex with him and it had scared her into breaking things off.
"He loves me," was all Amy could say. "And if I ever asked, he would make sure we had the best sex possible. But I love him too much to ask that of him."
Sheldon didn't look peaceful when he slept; he looked sick and half dead. Amy sat by his bed, trying to get some work done on her laptop, but she kept staring at her boyfriend and the computer kept going to sleep. Sheldon and Leonard had been deemed non-contagious that morning, but they were both still ill. The hospital was so overrun from the contagion that there was talk of moving Howard into the room as well, since the three always requested to see each other when awake. They'd been playing the same game of Mystic Warlords of Ka'a for days, never making it more than twice around the table before one or the other drifted off.
"You're awake," Amy said, smiling when she saw Sheldon's eyes open. He took one deep breath, then closed his eyes again. "No, don't go back to sleep. You have to go to the bathroom and try to eat something."
"My eyelids are tingling," he said, squirming uncomfortably. This virus made it so difficult for him to be comfortable in his own skin, let alone tucked under blankets and wearing a hospital gown.
"I'd kiss them, but I don't want you throwing up on me," Amy teased. She was glad they had learned how to be nonphysical in their affection, because it helped her feel less helpless. She was surprised when Sheldon tilted his face toward her, raised his head off the pillow and closed his eyes, waiting expectantly. "Okay, if you insist."
Leaning over him carefully, she kissed his eyelids. She felt his body convulse at the contact, but he hooked his hands over hers, holding her firmly in place, so she didn't back off until his head dropped back to the pillow.
"I feel better now," he murmured, panting lightly from exertion. He kept her hand pressed to his heart without shaking, so she knew he was feeling a little better. "Did you get sick?"
Amy was touched by his concern. She'd missed him so much! "No. I got inoculated before any serious symptoms kicked in."
"He's fine. Howard's going to be fine too," Amy assured. "Half the university just got out of quarantine this morning and the CDC is still tracking the spread from everyone on the bus."
The tension melted from Sheldon's face and his eyes fell open, resting on her. He intertwined their fingers, combing his fingers through hers, moving more slowly than he normally did. "Did you sleep okay without me?"
He worried about her night terrors. Sometimes he tried to talk to her about them, quoting psychology literature. They were just dreams, and her brain was fond of going to unpleasant places in the night. Although recently, her only nightmare was that Sheldon would die, and she didn't want to bring that up now. "I had a quarantine party with Penny. We made cake."
"You didn't kiss her again, did you?" Sheldon asked, his hand freezing. "You know how jealous I get."
Amy puckered her lips and blew him a teasing kiss. "Use 'em or lose 'em."
"You didn't, did you?" Sheldon asked again, more worried than ever.
"No, Sheldon," Amy assured. He was getting better at recognizing nonverbal cues from her, but she feared he'd never catch on to sarcasm. Popping open a jell-o cup, she beckoned him to sit and take in some nourishment. It was better to start with the jell-o than the soup, even though it had been days since he'd thrown up. She fed him the first bite, and his face scrunched, like he was trying not to gag. "You love green jell-o. What's wrong?"
"It tastes bad with toothpaste," he said, coughing and covering his mouth with the back of his hand. The hypersensitivity made it as difficult for him to eat as sleep, and he'd complained about feeling the food going all the way down to his stomach. If his eyelids were tingling, there was a good chance his tongue was too.
"Well if you'd gone to the bathroom, you could have rinsed your mouth out. I can only do so much," Amy chided, holding out another bite. At least it wasn't his stomach rejecting the food.
"Thank you for brushing my teeth," Sheldon said demurely, folding his hands in his lap and letting her feed him.
"You're welcome," she said. "You're my fella. I know what's important to you."
"Babe," he prompted.
Amy's lips parted in surprise, but she repeated faithfully, "Babe."
Amy stirred, stretched, and tried to settle back to sleep on Sheldon's couch. She didn't like to crowd Sheldon on the bed while he was sick, and he slept better when she wasn't there. Feeling a blanket over her chilly feet, Amy relaxed happily. After being a full-time caretaker for Sheldon and Leonard over the past few weeks, it was nice to be cared for. Amy had assumed it was Penny caring for her, but when she felt a hand caress her face, she knew it was Sheldon. She knew his hands (and Penny's) by heart.
"Is it morning?" she asked tiredly, rubbing her eyes, summoning her strength in case Sheldon needed her help.
"No. I just woke up and missed you," Sheldon said sweetly. He sat on the floor between the coffee table and the couch, gazing at her adoringly, making her feel appreciated and loved. Even in her half-dressed, mussed-up state, he made her feel beautiful with his gaze.
"You should be in bed," she chided, pulling the blanket over her chest, wishing she were in her pajamas so she wouldn't feel so underdressed without her bra on. She'd been so busy looking after Sheldon that she hadn't had time to do laundry so she was free-boobing it in one of his favorite Flash shirts. She'd never worn one of his shirts before and didn't know how he'd react.
"I've been sleeping for almost a month now," he whined, tilting his head and petting her hair. "So much has happened that I haven't been able to tell you about."
The physical contact made her ache for him. Closing her eyes, she concentrated on the feel of his fingers combing through her hair. The ways he chose to touch her were far more precious than any touch she'd ever asked for.
"We've been in quarantine. Not much has happened," she pointed out.
"A lot happened in my head. Do you think I just zone out while lying there?"
"The first week, pretty much exclusively."
That snide remark shut him down and Amy winced apologetically. "Sorry I got sick in your bed," he said contritely, still petting her hair like he was afraid she'd vanish. Then he wedged onto the couch and opened his arms. "Put your arms around me."
Nearly overwhelmed by need, Amy hugged him, pressing her face close to his neck, inhaling his scent. It was the first time in a long time that she'd been able to touch him without him flinching or crying out in pain. The nightmare and the fear that she would lose him started to melt and she held him dearly. As the stress and tension left her body, tears fell down her cheeks. She tried to wipe them away before Sheldon felt them, but he was holding her too tightly. Then he shifted his hold and scooped one arm under her legs.
"Sheldon?" she cried, startled when she realized he was trying to lift her.
"I can do this," he said stubbornly. Amy was not so sure, but she held onto him, trying to get comfortable as he lifted her off the couch. It was surprising, but she felt safe in his arms, even if it did take him a minute to get steady on his feet. Right after a life threatening illness was not the best time to attempt new feats of strength, but it felt like she'd been transported into a romance novel. He carried her to the bedroom and set her on the bed. The covers were already pulled back, like he'd been planning this. He laid her down, pulled the covers over her, kissed her cheek, and then crawled in on his side.
"Are you going to watch me sleep now?" Amy asked, admiring her love. Now that she was lying on a real pillow, it was difficult to keep her eyes open.
"Mmmhmm," Sheldon hummed lazily, scooting next to her so his head shared her pillow, his hand resting on her stomach. Amy had done this to him a thousand times, and she never realized how intrusive it could feel…but it was also nice. He was studying her face, like he'd forgotten what she looked like. Taking his hand, she pulled it over her heart, because that was what he always did. Only now that their positions were reversed, his arm was hooked under her boob. She flexed her chest just to feel her breast against his arm.
"You've missed me too," he chuckled, extending a finger to tickle her chin. "You're already playing with me."
He gave her breast a squeeze and her eyes shot open in surprise. Sheldon had never done that before. She waited to see if he'd do it again, but when he snuggled against her and closed his eyes, she realized he'd only done it to emphasize his point. Second base didn't mean the same thing to him.
"I missed you so much. I was afraid I'd lose you," she confessed, scooting toward the center of the bed, pulling his arms around her again. He rested his head on her shoulder, melting into the embrace. Whether anything interesting had happened or not, she wanted to hear his voice. "So what all has been going on in your head that you wanted to tell me?"
"I won the Nobel Prize," he answered. "And then I bought us a private island."
"But you hate beaches," she chuckled, tickling her fingers through his hair. Amy hoped he didn't mind her wearing his shirt to sleep in.
"I like privacy," he said, pushing up her t-shirt and rubbing her stomach. "Without having the worry of social mores, you were able to wear bathing suits that accentuated your cleavage while still supplying the necessary support to prevent long-term damage from sagging."
His fingers danced under the shirt, brushing the underside of her breast, and then he hugged her. Snaking his arm under the shirt until his hand came out the neck, he stroked his fingers along her neck and collarbone. She wondered if the sagging comment was because he'd never felt her up braless before. It was strange and unnatural, but she had no inclination to fight it. He was used to holding her hand every night, and sleeping alone the past month was bound to make him unnaturally affectionate.
"We married, but only for tax reasons," he continued dreamily. "Our commitment to each other is already well-established in written contract. You wanted me to wear a ring, but I don't like things on my hands, so we were discussing codpieces."
"Did I have a ring?" Amy asked hopefully, stroking his arm through her shirt. She still couldn't believe he'd put his hand up her shirt!
"Mmmhmm," Sheldon hummed contentedly, like he was hopped up on painkillers. "It was emerald and diamond."
"Emerald?" Amy asked.
"Diamond was too plain. There was no color," he explained, propping himself on one elbow and pushing his hand far enough out of the shirt so he could turn her chin, directing her eyes toward his. "The green says our love is always growing. Always changing."
"That's so romantic," Amy squealed, melting into his hands. She couldn't help herself any longer. Wriggling to untangle herself from his embrace, she stripped off the t-shirt and climbed on top of Sheldon, kissing him hard on the mouth. Sheldon's arms locked around her, holding her fiercely, humming lightly against her lips, but keeping his mouth closed. His leg wrapped around her hips, crushing her body to his, but he wasn't grinding so much as nuzzling her sweetly.
Amy ran her hand up Sheldon's torso, finding the one sweet spot that she could still access and stroking his skin until his grip relaxed. "You're everything I've ever wanted," she told him.
Sheldon hummed again, tilting his chin up and kissing her sweetly. "Your shirt is off," he observed.
"Your breasts are squishier than I thought."
Amy pressed chest to chest and shimmied against him teasingly.
"Why do you wear undergarments that misrepresent the shape and consistency of your bosom?" he asked, poking at one breast from the top.
"Because it looks better in a bathing suit," she crooned. Sheldon squeezed her breast again and frowned. This was not how she'd pictured second base. "I can put my bra back on."
"No need," Sheldon said academically. "Our love cannot continue to grow if we hide behind social mores."
This was how they wound up naked without having sex. It was a conundrum. Lying on top of him, Amy snaked a hand under his shirt, rubbing his belly. When she slid her thigh between his legs, he giggled and squirmed. He didn't usually do that.
"I miss how you tease me. You think I don't notice when you do it or you think I don't care. But I would be sad if you stopped," he smiled, arching against her. This time he did grind a little.
"All you have to do is ask," she said, moving her thigh subtly to match his rhythm.
"That's not as fun. I like to know what you'll on your own," he said, watching her intently.
"I could take you now."
"But I'm hungry and I don't think I could concentrate," he said.
"I don't want you to concentrate," she hummed, caressing his temple in a way that made him shudder. She kissed him softly on the cheek and then left a trail of kisses down his neck. "You can say no," she reminded him, surprised he'd let her go that far.
"Why would I do that?" he asked, rolling his hips against her thigh.
"Unambiguous verbal confirmation," Amy reminded him sternly. Ever since the beginning, she needed clear assurance that he wasn't kowtowing to sexual favors for the benefit of her company.
Sheldon cradled her face, his eyes dark with lust. "I love you."
That wasn't enough and he knew it. Amy stopped moving her thigh.
"I would like a hand-job please," Sheldon said thickly. "Otherwise, I'm going to masturbate in the shower while thinking of your squishy breasts."
"You can touch them, you know," Amy offered, laughing at him. It had been a long time since she'd offered, but since he'd made the first overture, she figured she'd remind him that his touch was not unwelcome.
"I want to hold you; not your breasts. You are the one I missed," he said, kissing her again, the sexually charged embrace melting into a tender hug. The heat of sexual need subsiding, Amy held her boyfriend. If she was lucky, they'd be able to reclaim the last hour of night for sleep. Sheldon's breathing slowed, and then he started twitching, forcing himself to stay awake.
"Go to sleep, Sheldon," Amy said soothingly, shifting to her side of the bed.
"But I offered—"
"I'll take a rain check," Amy assured. "I want to sleep too."
Sheldon rolled onto his side, spooning her. "I love you."
"I love you too."
"Babe," he prompted.
Amy turned to consider him. "You really like that?"
"Just don't say it in front of the guys," Sheldon said sleepily.
"Promise. I love you, babe."