Sheldon was nervous. He was beyond nervous. His stomach was twisted in knots; he'd sweated through his t-shirt. He'd been on the toilet so long that his legs were half-asleep. Despite being too nervous to eat, he was sure he was about to throw up.
"Relax," Amy coached, offering him a cup of tea and sitting next to him on the couch. The things he agreed to do for her always surprised him. His face flushed whenever she looked at him. She wasn't trying to seduce him—they'd talked about this extensively and had elaborate discussions about what was to happen this evening. She kept reminding him 'It's a kiss, not a blow job.' He was still nervous. They had agreed to start at 7:30pm and finish no later than 8:15pm so they could begin their regular bi-monthly session of mutual masturbation.
It's a kiss, he kept reminding himself. He kissed her every day; he pressed his lips to hers and he treasured those moments when the world seemed to melt away. It was like she read his mind—it was how he'd imagined the Vulcan mating ritual of pon farr. A lot of how he touched Amy was extrapolated from his knowledge of pon farr, though he hadn't performed a ritual killing to win her.
"Sheldon? You're not drinking your tea," Amy said, tilting her head in concern. She'd changed into lingerie—a rainbow striped silk and velvet number he'd picked out for her because he liked the color and feel. It didn't flatter her eyes but it made her breasts look perky like the ones in anime cartoons. It was not helping with his nervousness.
"I'm not thirsty," Sheldon croaked, even though his mouth was parched. If he drank, he'd have to pee again. Amy was being considerate, not touching him before the appointed time. Checking his watch, he realized he only had a few minutes left. Setting his tea cup on the coffee table, Sheldon clasped his hands into a fist and pressed them into his lap, forcing himself to stop fidgeting. "I would like to express my doubts with regard to our planned activities this evening."
"We've discussed your doubts at length," Amy said pointedly. They'd spent over a month planning tonight and they had documented their discussions and reviewed pros and cons at length. "Is there something you'd like to add?"
"No," Sheldon mumbled, shifting uncomfortably. If he used the word 'objection' instead of 'doubt,' he would win this argument, but they had agreed not to manipulate each other's emotional responses. "I'm just… not feeling my best."
"That's because you're nervous," Amy observed. She was very astute at reading his emotions, and she often caught them faster than he did, though this nervousness was hard to miss. "I love you. Whatever we do or don't do tonight, remember that."
Sheldon nodded and fidgeted some more.
"We are both currently free of disease and cold sores," Amy pointed out. "We both have an aversion to the exchange of excessive saliva. We'll both have peppermint tea on our breaths… or you would if you drank it."
Sheldon squirmed some more, looking at the tea cup. He did love peppermint tea. Checking his watch again, he inhaled sharply and cringed. "It's 7:30."
Amy didn't move. Was he supposed to kiss her? Suddenly, Sheldon couldn't remember the protocol they'd set in place. His eyes widened as Amy sipped her tea coyly.
"I can see you're not ready to begin. We have time. Drink your tea," she said encouragingly, nodding to his cup.
Sheldon blinked, stunned. He'd been expecting lust-fueled tonsil hockey at 7:30pm. What he had was his girlfriend, sitting on the far side of the couch, perfectly unconcerned about the snail's pace he needed to take. A small piece of nervousness subsided and Sheldon took a sip of his tea.
Closing his eyes, he groaned and dropped his head back against the couch. The articles he'd read about technique and the long discussion he'd had with Amy about duration and extent began to fade. They would begin when he was ready to begin. Which would be never, but he was slightly less nervous about that now.
Turning sideways on the couch, Sheldon opened his position making a space for Amy to sit beside him if she wanted. She scooted over, kissed his cheek, and cuddled against him, draping her legs over his lap. It was a little more physical contact than he wanted, but not something he was unaccustomed to on sex nights. Placing his hand on her back, the traced the border of the fabric where the silk met the velvet and then where the velvet met her skin.
"Are you ready, babe?" Amy asked.
The endearment sent a shiver of pleasure through him. Sheldon shook his head.
"Are you ever going to be?"
Sheldon shook his head again abashedly. Amy took away his tea cup and set it on the table, then snaked her arms around his neck.
"I'll start. You'll see that there is nothing to be nervous about," she whispered in his ear. She pressed her lips to his neck—their normal, close-mouthed kisses. It was a small relief. Then she moved to his earlobe, sucking it into her mouth and rubbing her tongue against the shell.
Sheldon squeaked in surprise and jumped onto the arm of the couch, dumping Amy off his lap. Amy yelped, half-hitting the couch cushion before sliding onto the floor and banging her head on the coffee table.
"Sorry," Sheldon cried, kneeling next to her quickly, checking for blood or contusions.
"I'm okay," Amy said, rubbing the side of her head.
"I didn't mean to," Sheldon said urgently, pulling her hand aside, wincing when he saw her wince. "Do you need ice?"
"No," Amy chuckled, standing up and pulling him to his feet as well. "I wouldn't mind if you kissed it better."
Pulling Amy into a hug, Sheldon rocked foot-to-foot, glad he hadn't damaged her, but a little frustrated that she was well enough to keep going. He was very adept at comforting her, though, so there was the relief of familiar ground. Pressing a tender kiss to the bump on her head, he whispered: "I love you."
"Kiss me," Amy replied, tilting her face up, cupping the back of his head, and pulling him into a hard kiss. Sheldon's eyes went wide, but he complied, his lips finding hers easily. They didn't even bump noses anymore. He felt her lips part and pulled back.
"Um," he stammered. He couldn't think of an excuse.
"You agreed to try this."
Amy ran her hands under his shirt, caressing his belly, making sweeping circles around his navel with the flat of her hand. He curved his back automatically, letting her pull his shirt over his head, and then he felt cold. Amy tickled his chest hairs, then looped her arms around his neck again, gazing at him like they were slow dancing. Relaxing into the dance, Sheldon leaned his forehead against hers.
It's just a kiss.
Her hand caressed his temple and he shuddered, his eyes closing involuntarily. There was something gentle and safe about that touch. He let his guard down, and that was precisely when she chose to strike. His lips couldn't have been parted for more than half a second, and suddenly hers were on them, her tongue poking between them. Sheldon clamped his mouth shut, pulling away again, but Amy kept his forehead touching hers.
"Open your mouth," Amy ordered breathily, dragging him back to the couch by the waistband of his pants. Sheldon didn't sit. His knees locked, his body hunched, he complied with her order and opened his mouth, just a centimeter. He felt her humid breath against his tongue as her lips closed around his. With his eyes squeezed shut, he tried to adapt to the new sensation. Her lips were softer when parted—able to slide between his without being smashed against their teeth. That could be nice. But everything was moist and he could smell as well as taste the peppermint tea.
As soon as her tongue was inside, Sheldon whimpered and pulled away, standing straight, and tilting his face to the ceiling so she couldn't reach. She didn't seem to care. Suddenly her open-mouthed kisses were all over him. She left a trail of moisture across his chest, which only made the air seem chillier. Her hands pressed into his pants, dipping into his underwear.
"Go with it," she whispered softly, her soft hands wrapping around his length and stroking with practiced gentleness. Standing on tiptoe, she kissed his chin since she couldn't reach his mouth.
"Babe…" she sang, trying to get him to look at her again. The word sent another shiver of pleasure through him, and his body started responding to her hand in his pants. She wasn't supposed to start that until 8:30!
"Stop!" Sheldon cried, pushing her off. "Stop, stop."
Amy pouted, dipping her fingers into the cup of her lingerie bra. She'd informed him once that this was supposed to be sexy. "Too fast?" she asked.
"I don't want to kiss you," Sheldon said.
"You agreed to try it."
"I changed my mind. I don't—I don't—I—"
"Fine," Amy said easily, sitting comfortably on the couch, picking up her tea again like nothing had changed.
Everything had changed. She had a wild sexual animal inside of her and he couldn't satisfy it. It was wrong for him to keep her from Stuart. Despite his lack of experience, Stuart would have sexually satisfied her… and he would have been faithful.
"I want to go home," Sheldon said quietly, crossing his arms to cover his nipples.
"We agreed to split time equally between our beds," Amy said flatly. Plus, all her sex toys were here. He owed her an orgasm tonight. Owed her? "Do you want to talk to me?"
"No, I have to think," Sheldon said. They would talk extensively about this. She wouldn't shame him, but he'd feel ashamed anyway, failing in this most basic expression of physical intimacy.
"Then sit down and think."
Sheldon obeyed. His mind was whirring so fast, it was difficult to think about anything. Kissing was too much to process. He opted to ponder trains for awhile. Trains. Anteaters. The appearance of Q in the various Star Trek series. It was impossible to keep his head clear.
"You smell like sex," Sheldon said, his body twitching. He'd come to know the scent well. It was impossible to scrub off or cover with lotion. Even when he used gloves, it found a way to get on his skin and linger.
"You kinda got me revved up and left me high and dry," Amy replied. "Or wet, as it were."
"Sorry." He worried about misleading her. He didn't like being a tease. His desire to go home faced off with the social protocol he and Amy had put in place, and protocol won. Heading to the kitchen, he dampened a washcloth and wiped her saliva from his chest. Then he scrubbed a little harder.
"Shall we continue with our normal activities?" Amy asked, standing from the couch.
Sheldon shook his head. It was 8:30, but she'd offered him an out, so he took it.
"I'm going to pleasure myself before bed," Amy informed him. "Join me when you are finished thinking. Don't stay up too late. You have that proposal to finish in the morning."
"You'll want a snack," Sheldon said quietly, looking at his hands, feeling ashamed. "You always want a snack."
"You could make me one," Amy said coyly, taking the washcloth from him and gazing sweetly into his eyes. "Sheldon, if you would rather I stay out here and talk to you…"
Sheldon twisted out of her hands. "I want to go home." He could tell he was becoming a man, because he felt guilty for being selfish, but he did not want to get into Amy's bed and smell sex all night. It would only make him feel more inadequate. Amy kissed his cheek and he cringed, squeezing his eyes shut so tightly that tears fell out.
"All right. I'll take you home," Amy said soothingly, brushing the tears from his cheek. "I just need to change."
"No, you stay here," Sheldon said, grabbing his shirt, ready to run like a bat out of hell now that he'd been given leave. "I want to sleep alone tonight."
He ran out the door before she could grab a robe, but she chased him wearing nothing but her rainbow striped lingerie. "Sheldon, wait! Wait, please!"
It physically hurt to hear her beg, knowing that he had hurt her. He'd neglected her. He'd failed her. When she grabbed his elbow, he stopped.
"What is it?" he demanded harshly. It was the only way he could keep from cowering like a bullied child. Maybe that was why his father was so angry all the time.
"Please don't be mad about the kissing thing. I'm sorry I pushed so hard," she gushed, clinging to him and pressing into his personal space. Now she was apologizing for having needs? His manhood was shriveling to a husk.
"Sleep well," she continued, petting his hand. "I'll see you tomorrow at lunch."
Sheldon nodded and bid her goodnight. The missing 'I love you' in her goodbye stung worst of all.
The roof of the physics building was a quiet place. Quieter than quarantine. There were a few stones marking a paved path around the perimeter, and a lot of loose rocks. Sheldon didn't like to get too close to the edge, because when he looked over the quad, he could see all the people walking around like this was a normal day, and it frustrated him. Every time the wind blew, his face stung where he'd rubbed his skin raw trying to scrape off the feel of Amy's tongue. He was lucky he had a hoodie in his office or he'd have gone hypothermic before the sun rose.
He'd forgotten what it was like to be alone. Even in quarantine, he'd had to share a room with Leonard. He'd forgotten what it was like to have his breath be the only sound—to have his thoughts on a matter be sufficient. He'd searched the internet for answers, but his phone and his tablet had run out of charge hours ago, and he wasn't ready to go back inside yet. Breakfast had consisted or Red Vines from the top drawer in his desk. Lunch… maybe he'd go off campus. Business in the cafeteria still hadn't bounced back since the CDC had lifted quarantine, but it was still crowded.
Sheldon jumped at the sound of Raj's voice, accidentally kicking one of the loose stones against the ledge of the roof. They found me.
"Hello," he replied, not turning around.
"Can I sit down?" Raj asked.
"If you must." Inside, a part of him broke as he yielded to Raj's company. He needed to get that private island sooner rather than later.
"You're girlfriend is worried sick. You should text her," Raj suggested. He wasn't yelling or berating—just mentioning a tidbit that Sheldon might care to know. Sheldon hadn't meant to worry Amy; he simply wanted to be alone and he'd told her as much last night.
"My phone died," Sheldon said blankly.
"Fine. I'll text her."
Sheldon felt a ripple of fear twist his empty stomach and he turned pleadingly to Raj. "Don't tell her I'm here. I mean, you can tell her I'm okay, but don't tell her I'm up here. Then she'll come looking and I came here to be alone. Of course, since you're here, it seems I failed in that regard as well."
Raj shrugged and sent the text. "Did you sleep up here?"
This was starting to feel like an interrogation. "Don't be ridiculous. I slept in our office."
"You weren't there this morning," Raj said. "We had a proposal deadline. I came in early and you weren't there."
Sheldon shuddered, feeling his heart twist into a knot like it was wringing out tears, but he managed not to let them fall. "I forgot," he whispered in disbelief. Even after Amy had been reminded him, he'd become so preoccupied with his failing manhood in their relationship that the proposal had slipped his mind.
"I submitted it two minutes before the deadline," Raj continued. "Do you know how hard it is to finish a proposal without Red Vines?"
Sheldon rubbed his chin, wincing at the sting on his raw skin. Red Vines were integral to successful proposal writing. He had documented evidence! That was three years of funding for publications, international travel, and a postdoc he'd just blown… because of a woman!
"Is that the final proposal?" Sheldon asked, pointing to the papers in Raj's hand.
"No, this is a preprint posted by Matthews et al. on the listserv this morning," Raj said, handing over the paper. Matthews was a hack. Sheldon had warned Raj about reading that man's papers.
"At first, I thought they'd scooped us," Raj said, pointing to the abstract. "Then I realized their methodologies were so flawed, we could probably shoot holes in their entire theory by publishing a letter with our preliminary results. And I think we should before people start believing him."
Sheldon skimmed the abstract. On the surface, it did appear that his work had been stolen. Then he got to the last sentence. "You're pulling my leg. This wasn't really published was it?" Sheldon asked, turning the pages. His eyes bugged out when he recognized the first figure. "I refereed this paper, and rejected it."
"Looks like they got another referee," Raj shrugged. "So… Since the proposal is done, do you want to write a rebuttal letter?"
Sheldon sighed. If he had an extension cord long enough, he could bring his laptop up here.
"You're at work, dude. If you're not going to think about science, then go home," Raj said sternly.
"I can't go home," Sheldon said softly, crumpling the paper in his hands, beginning to feel overwhelmed again. "I can't go anywhere to be alone. Everywhere I go, there's someone there—Amy, Leonard… I don't even have my own office. You're there."
Raj bobbed his head understandingly. "You need a man cave."
"A man cave?"
"Every man needs a man cave," Raj said. "Even Batman."
Sheldon sighed wistfully, thinking of how his bedroom was once a refuge filled with comic books and legos. "I used to have a Batcave. Then I started letting my girlfriend spend the night."
That was the first compromise—inviting Amy into his bedroom. It had seemed like such a good idea at the time. He liked having her there most nights. Then she started tweaking things—she reversed the order of the alarm clock and the box of tissues. She moved his disposable reading gloves off the night stand, even though she said she didn't have a problem with him reading comic books in bed. She let him have his oatmeal Wednesdays, but sometimes she ate cereal instead.
"I heard Dr. Rosenburg is leaving to take a full time research position at MIT," Raj spoke up. "If we move quickly, I could take over her office and we wouldn't have to share anymore."
Sheldon cocked his head, nodding thoughtfully. "It's a start."
Sheldon and Raj missed the new office by twenty minutes. Another research scientist had gotten there faster. Raj led Sheldon back to their shared office, baiting him with promise of a chocolate chip muffin and a coke from the vending machine. Raj was an expert in the art of dining, and even the cheap vending machine food looked refreshingly delectable. That might have been the hunger talking. Usually when they were working together, Raj wasn't nearly this accommodating.
"She wants to put her tongue in my mouth," Sheldon confessed abruptly.
"Amy," Sheldon clarified, finding the chargers for his phone and tablet and plugging them in.
"She has decided that we should try French kissing."
"I thought you were already at third base," Raj said.
"Third, yes. Not second or first," Sheldon said.
"I know baseball is an American pastime, but even I know you're going around backwards," Raj said, kicking his feet up on his desk and picking up a stack of papers. "Why haven't you Frenched her?"
"Because it would require having her tongue in my mouth," Sheldon explained irritably. He sighed, becoming introspective again. If Raj had insisted on talking to Sheldon about a girl while they were supposed to be working, Sheldon would have smacked him upside the head. But then, Raj had watched Sex in the City, Bridget Jones, and every Sandra Bullock movie ever made. Perhaps his friend could offer advice not found on the internet.
Sheldon shifted uncomfortably in his chair, folding and unfolding his hands on the desk. "Given how hard up you've been of late, I think I know how you'll answer this, but… if a girl you trust asks you to perform a sexual act you're uncomfortable with, would you do it?"
Raj put his feet down and folded his hands on the desk, matching Sheldon's posture. He was quiet for a long time, but his facial expression was inscrutable.
"As men, evolution has afforded us two primary decision makers in this regard: a brain and a penis," Raj opened, using his lecture tone. He got quiet again, his eyes darting around the room. Then he picked up a red marker and went to the whiteboard, crudely diagramming his bimodal analysis. "The penis tells us to have sex and believes any sex is good sex. The brain, though it has many useful higher functions, is most useful for that little voice that tells you when you're in danger and should run for your life. It is responsible for pre-wedding jitters and has saved many a man from terminal monogamy."
"The amygdala," Sheldon said, nodding. He was familiar with the fight or flight instinct.
"It's not as primitive as the amygdala but it's close," Raj nodded. "Now if the thought of French kissing your girlfriend doesn't give you a hard-on, then your penis has chosen to abstain from voting on the matter. All you have left is your brain telling you there's danger. Which is what it's saying, right?"
"But there's not really danger. I trust Amy implicitly," Sheldon said, perplexed by his own reactions. "When I ask her to stop, she stops. It's a kiss—"
"Now you're rationalizing," Raj interrupted.
"Well if there's a rational reason not to kiss her, I've been hard pressed to come up with one, and believe me, I've tried," Sheldon said. And that was the problem. Sheldon adhered to logic and there was no logical reason not to kiss Amy.
"There was a girl in India named Chunni Nath," Raj said, capping his marker. "I've known her since before I could speak. When we were kids, we talked all the time, until she turned thirteen and her breasts grew." Raj paused, staring had at the marker in his hands. "Even then, I could still manage a few words here and there because I could look at her face and see my childhood friend. She's one of the only women besides my mother and sisters that I can talk to while sober.
"Is there a point to this?" Sheldon asked, staring at the whiteboard again, trying to glean the relevance.
"I trusted her," Raj said. Then he paused for a long time. "We attended the same undergraduate university and studied astrophysics together. We used to hook up at conferences. It was amazing sex for many reasons, one of them being I could talk her.
"Then one time, she asked me to do something. My penis said, "Yes, the sex is worth it!" and my brain said "No."" Raj paused, taking a heavy breath, tapping the marker against his open palm. Sheldon wasn't good at reading Raj, but he recognized nervousness. Raj looked up, his eyes locking on Sheldon's. "That time, the sex was not worth it. Our friendship has been ruined ever since. And now, no woman in the world will hear my voice unless I'm drunk off my ass or loaded on experimental pharmaceuticals. Now I don't know why heavy petting is okay but a French kiss makes you nervous, but dude, if you don't listen to that voice in your head saying 'no,' then no one else will either."
Sheldon studied Raj's face, and he felt something unusual—empathy. Sure Sheldon's penis did not opine as strongly as other men's, but it still had strange opinions about things… like silk and velvet rainbow panties. Sheldon could tell Raj had just shared something very private and painful, and he knew they would never speak of this in front of the others. It was not the answer Sheldon had expected, but he was glad to hear it. He'd become afraid to trust his instincts in relationship matters, and he was glad to find someone telling him to trust himself.
The silence broke as Sheldon's freshly charged phone started beeping, catching him up on all the texts and voicemails that had come since the battery had died. He felt smothered and daunted by the list, and he silenced the phone so that he could keep doing science with Raj, because that was what he needed right now.
"Sheldon?" Raj said.
"Call your girlfriend."
Sheldon took a deep breath, and focused on listening to that voice in his head he'd neglected for too long. "I'm not ready to discuss the status of our relationship."
"Then call her as a friend," Raj said pointedly. "You're still her friend, right?"
"Of course," Sheldon said. Raj nodded toward the phone and Sheldon picked it up reluctantly. He was doing it again—obeying blindly because he thought Raj knew better in matters of relationships. Calling Amy as a friend made sense, though. He knew he wanted to continue being her friend and twenty-seven text messages in the last two hours was worrying behavior for a friend.
"Sheldon?" Amy cried, answering on the first ring. Her voice was loud and strained.
"Hello," Sheldon said pleasantly, like he would open any other friendly conversation.
"Oh my God, I was so worried when you didn't come see me at lunch and then Leonard said you didn't go home last night and I thought you'd been kidnapped by Russian scientists who wouldn't know to ransom you for your brains. I'm sorry. I'm so sorry," Amy said, the words spewing forth rapidly. Then there was a gush of apologies that followed, which eventually reduced to blubbering, begging, and supersonic raves.
"Please stop apologizing," Sheldon said, thoroughly confused. When he'd left last night, she seemed fine. Maybe something horrific had happened, like her lab burning down.
"I'm sorry," Amy said again. "I knew you weren't okay last night. I could tell by looking at you. I never should have let you go off by yourself."
He rode the bus by himself all the time. Raj wasn't kidding when he said Amy was worried sick.
"Amy, I'm okay," he assured. He could hear her blowing her nose. "Are you crying?"
"Yes. I'm a basket case. I thought you'd left me and you'd never come back." The words trailed off into a high-pitched whine, and Sheldon held the phone to his shoulder until he couldn't hear it anymore. He'd never heard her cry like that before, and it disturbed him. When he listened again, she was going on about him leaving. Then she said: "I—I'd understand if you never wanted to see me again."
"You're my best friend. Why wouldn't I see you again?" Sheldon asked.
"I don't know," Amy blubbered. This was too much to handle over the phone. Making a gesture to Raj, Sheldon grabbed the last bit of his chocolate chip muffin and headed across campus to Amy's lab.
"Amy, you're leaping to conclusions before you have all the facts," Sheldon said, interrupting a gushing stream of fears.
"I'm not making leaps. I've examined—I've ruined—" Amy went hypersonic again and Sheldon pressed the phone to his shoulder. People walking past were staring at him.
"Not ruined," Sheldon assured. "I don't want your tongue in my mouth is all."
She broke into another stream of apologies, but as soon as he opened her lab door, she went mute and stared at him.
"Hello," Sheldon said, trying to start the conversation again. Her face scrunched and tears rolled down her red cheeks. "You've seen me again, and you're still crying."
He offered her a tissue from his pocket, but she didn't take it. She just sat on her lab stool fiddling with the cover on her phone.
"You're still angry with me," Sheldon guessed.
"I was never angry with you."
Wasn't she? For the way he'd aborted their plans last night? For the way he'd aroused her and didn't follow through? "I'm sorry, then I don't understand this expression at all."
"I want to run into your arms, but I'm afraid if I touch you, you'll run away again," she said quickly, bursting into tears as soon as the words left her mouth. Sheldon rushed to her, pulling her into a hug and dabbing her face with a tissue, though they fell so fast it was like throwing water on a wildfire. She was afraid he'd leave; he understood that because he'd clung to her once before while expressing the same fear.
"This won't make me run," Sheldon assured. "I could do this even before I was your boyfriend."
As she cried on his shoulder, he stroked her hair. He knew just how to do it now; and he knew where to put his hand on her waist so he wouldn't tickle her inadvertently. He'd spent a lot of time learning to comfort her and be her friend, and he'd hate to have that effort wasted.
"Calm down," he said, shushing her when half his tissues were used up. "We both have a lot of work to finish today."
"Work? Aren't we going to talk about this?" Amy asked, not lifting her head from his shoulder.
"I don't want to discuss our relationship right now," Sheldon said firmly. "I'm here strictly as your friend."
"You're breaking up with me?" she asked, tears welling in her eyes again.
"No," Sheldon assured. "No, I still love you very much. I'm simply operating in Safe Mode until I have a better understanding of how to proceed. We need to establish boundaries in our relationship. Most importantly, I need a man cave."