It Will All Be Worth It

It was date night and Sheldon had yet to return any of Amy's texts regarding this week's plans. Amy had assumed that Sheldon was ignoring her suggestions of waltzing because he didn't want to say no, but if she went in person and begged, maybe this time, he'd relent. She wore his favorite top to entice him. He'd stare at the pattern all night, but she could lie to herself and say he was looking at her bosom. It made her feel desirable. She wondered if it would affect his dancing ability.

Before she could knock on the door, Leonard opened it and froze in surprise. The guys were with him, jackets on, looking ready to go out. Amy's heart faltered, wondering if Sheldon had forgotten their date, or if maybe he was blowing her off again for comic books or video games.

"Sheldon! Your girlfriend is here!" Leonard yelled over his shoulder. It was at that moment that Amy realized Sheldon wasn't behind Howard and Raj ready to follow them out the door. He wasn't even in the living room. Was he sick?

"I hope you're prepared to have your ear talked off about Stephen Hawking," Leonard said to Amy. The other guys snickered loudly. Amy associated those kinds of snickers with cruel jokes played on her by homecoming queens and cheerleaders. She didn't like that the guys were laughing like that. She didn't know who Stephen Hawking was, but if Sheldon was going to talk her ear off about him, then she would be a dutiful girlfriend and be excited about it.

"Thanks for the heads up," she said curtly.

"We're headed out for Chinese food. Do you two want to come?" Leonard offered.

"No, thank you," Amy said, coming into the apartment. "The rules of date night preclude group outings."

"I think Sheldon is on a date with the shower tonight. He's been in there over an hour," Howard laughed. He and Raj snickered again, then they exchanged a look with Leonard and all three started giggling loudly.

Angry at being excluded from their joke, Amy stomped past them to the bathroom. She was glad the door was open, because it saved her the awkward knock and through-the-door conversation. Sheldon stood at the sink, washing his hands, wearing only his tight corduroys and a white undershirt. He looked upset.

"I'm certain Stephen Hawking will be impressed with your regular level of hygiene," Amy said. Hopefully Leonard hadn't set her up for a hissy fit with the hint.

"I'm sure," Sheldon answered, using Leonard's coarse loofah to scrub his skin. His lip curled in a wince, but he kept scrubbing fiercely. "I sprained my wrist trying to stuff Mrs. Wollowitz into a dress, and I can't get her oils off my skin."

Something was definitely wrong. Amy pulled Sheldon's hand out from under the running water and nearly screamed as the scalding liquid burned her skin. Recovering quickly, she examined Sheldon's hands, and was frustrated to see the skin rubbed raw.

"At the rate you're going, you won't have any skin left," Amy criticized, turning off the water and wrestling the loofah from Sheldon's hand. Closing the toilet seat lid, and patting the top, she said: "Sit down."

"I'm not clean yet," Sheldon protested. He wasn't even looking at her. His eyes were downcast, moving back and forth, scanning that layer of spacetime where the solutions to stressful problems were found.

"Sit," Amy ordered. This time, Sheldon obeyed. Opening the medicine cabinet, Amy found a tube of Neosporin and dabbed it over the spots on Sheldon's skin that had been scrubbed to the point of bleeding.

"Why were you helping Mrs. Wollowitz into a dress?" Amy asked. She found some gauze and wrapped Sheldon's hands loosely.

"To get a meeting with Stephen Hawking," Sheldon answered automatically. She could tell he'd been repeating that mantra over and over to get himself through the experience. The way his eyes settled down and to the right, he was probably repeating it now.

"It will all be worth it when I meet Stephen Hawking," he said. Suddenly he started squirming like a hundred slimy worms had fallen into his lap. "I have to take a shower."

"How many showers have you taken today?" Amy asked.

"Fourteen."

"You've had enough," Amy said firmly.

"I'm itchy and sticky," Sheldon complained. Finally he looked at her, his sweet, blue eyes begging her to understand his pain.

"You're just nervous about meeting Stephen Hawking," she said, brushing a hand through his still-wet hair. He flinched and jerked away from her.

"No, I'm not clean. Mrs. Wollowitz hugged me!" he whined, cringing and scratching his chest, bunching his white shirt in his hands so that the fabric pulled tight across his nipples. Amy could understand, though. She didn't have the same aversion to hugs that he did, but even she didn't relish the thought of hugging Mrs. Wollowitz. Sheldon jumped to his feet, pulling the shower curtain aside. The tub was still damp from his last shower.

"I'm taking a shower," Sheldon said firmly.

"Sheldon, I just bandaged your hands," Amy protested.

"And you will again after I shower. Five minutes," he begged, already pulling his shirt off.

Amy gasped. His skin was covered in red and purple bumps. Grabbing him by the belt, Amy pulled Sheldon under the light to get a closer look at the rash.

"Is this from being hugged?" she asked worriedly. A part of her wondered if he had a similar reaction when she forced him into long periods of cuddling.

"No. That's from yesterday," Sheldon mumbled, ducking his head. His chin quivered and he wrapped his arms protectively around his torso, as if he could hide the rash. "Howard made me wear a costume to work."

"What kind of costume?" Amy asked warily. Sheldon's breathing became labored, and he turned his head from her. Amy crossed her arms. "Do I have to check Howard's facebook page? You know how I hate doing that."

"I wish you wouldn't," Sheldon said quietly, staring at the floor, still offering no explanation.

Amy turned Sheldon toward the mirror and lifted his chin forcefully. "Look at yourself. You can't shower this off."

Sheldon fingered the sores on his skin, staring at the reflection of his torso, unable to meet his own eye. "I'll meet Stephen Hawking tomorrow. It will all be worth it."

Closing her eyes and balling her hands into fists, Amy seethed silently and counted to ten. She needed more information so that she could properly direct her anger. More than that, she wanted her boyfriend to be okay. Returning to the medicine cabinet, Amy found a tube of Cortisone cream and she gently smoothed the ointment over Sheldon's skin. He squirmed when she hit ticklish spots, but lifted his arms so she could get to everything. She wondered if the rash extended below the belt, but she wasn't going to ask him to remove his pants. He'd been through too much in the last two days.

"Do you need Benadryl?" she asked. Wiping her hands with a towel, she examined Sheldon critically and decided to leave her boyfriend shirtless until the ointment dried.

"I don't want to be sleepy tomorrow. I'm meeting Stephen Hawking," he said, staring at himself thoughtfully, finally starting to look calm.

"I know," Amy said, smiling and trying to catch his eye. "Come on, let's order dinner and you can tell me all about him."

Sheldon cracked his first smile. He took her hand, letting her lead him out of the bathroom. She walked with him down the hall, and he rattled on excitedly about this renowned physicist, who was apparently one of the only people alive today who was as smart as him. That was high praise coming from Sheldon. She interrupted Sheldon's lecture on Hawking's more brilliant astrophysical theories with a few suggestions for food, but Sheldon didn't seem to want anything. So Amy just leaned against the counter, menus in hand, and listened to Sheldon talk her ear off about Stephen Hawking. Sometimes he'd get so excited that all his skin flushed. She was glad he was happy.

At one point, he got so excited that he knocked over a basket of napkins. She wasn't sure if the flying basket startled him or if he'd agitated the cuts on his knuckles, but he got suddenly quiet and cradled his hands against his chest. Trembling, he squatted down and picked up the fallen basket, and then he discarded the napkins that had landed on the floor. He kept staring at the basket, as though he'd broken his mother's prize lamp and was awaiting a beating.

When he looked at Amy, his face twitched. Then he took the menus from her, set them in the menu drawer, and pulled a pack of hotdogs from the refrigerator.

"I'll just make us something," he said, setting the hotdogs and a box of pasta next to the stove. Finding a pot, he set water to boil, then for a full two minutes, he stared at the water as it heated. He said a few more things about Stephen Hawking, but his smiles were more reserved than before.

The food he made was unimpressive—spaghetti with sliced hotdogs. He credited his mother with the recipe, and they ate on the couch, him in his spot, her sitting opposite him. He didn't eat so much as pick at his food and move it around the bowl.

"I didn't want to jeopardize my chances of meeting Stephen Hawking, but I think tomorrow, I should tell Howard he was being mean," Sheldon said thoughtfully, looking into his bowl as if it were a Magic 8-Ball and it would offer confirmation on his suggested path.

"I think he knows," Amy said matter-of-factly. She was livid and planning to give Howard a piece of her mind whether Sheldon said anything or not. Then she'd tell Bernadette and get Howard punished some more. "I think all of the guys know. That's why they were all laughing at you. They're probably out laughing right now."

"Oh, I see," Sheldon said softly, his chin quivering again. He set his bowl aside and hugged his knees to his chest. "Tomorrow, Stephen Hawking will tell me that my new theory is brilliant. They'll see. Joke's on them."

"Sheldon, you've scrubbed your skin raw and you're covered in a heat rash. You're curled in your favorite seat eating comfort food. One does not have to subscribe to the soft sciences to know you're in pain," Amy said irately. She was definitely angry at Howard, but she was also a little mad at Sheldon for letting himself be walked all over. "If you liked hugs at all, I'd be giving you one."

"I like your hugs," Sheldon said hoarsely, shame warring with vulnerability as he forced himself to stay open to her. "You're my friend. You wouldn't hurt me on purpose."

He lifted his eyes just high enough for her to see the glisten of his unshed tears. Setting aside her own bowl, Amy opened her arms to him.

"I'll get lotion on your blouse," he said, crossing his arms tightly and turning away.

"I don't mind," Amy said, tugging his elbow. She'd cuddled against him before, but he'd never come to her before now. Hesitantly, Sheldon nestled into her arms, laying his head on her shoulder. When he closed his eyes, a few tears rolled down his cheek and splashed on her blouse. Amy nearly cried for him. She wrapped him in a blanket and hugged him hard. She hated that something so precious to him as meeting Stephen Hawking had been tainted by the pain of humiliation. She hated that his so-called friends were the source of his pain. She hoped this Stephen Hawking was everything Sheldon had imagined him to be. To her, nothing was worth this.