Paradoxical Sleep

Chapter the First: In Which Words Prove Their Magic

Penny took a deep breath. She was supposed to close her eyes, but she glanced around instead. Google had suggested that she place "items of importance" in her meditation area to help her "focus her mystical energies", so here she was in the middle of the floor of her apartment, couch pushed aside, with various knick-knacks strewn around her: a four-leaf clover she'd found years ago, a few "magic" candles from a thrift store, her grandmother's sapphire ring, and an autographed poster of Orlando Bloom. "If that won't help me focus my energies, I don't know what will," she said aloud, smiling a little.

Right. The chant. She glanced at the scrap paper where she'd scribbled the words again. It was so easy to memorize lines, this chant should be nothing. Well, it would have been, if only they'd had the decency to write it in English. Ugh. It wasn't even a pretty language, like Italian or French. To be honest, she wasn't sure what language it was at all, but the words did sound mystical enough.

Taking another breath and closing her eyes, she began. "Aum Aem Hreem Kleem—"

Knock knock knock. "Penny?"

Knock knock knock. "Penny?"

Knock knock knock. "Penny?"

Stumbling to her feet, she opened the door. There stood Sheldon Cooper (, PhD, a voice in her head that sounded suspiciously like his reminded her), as she knew he would be. Between his left index and middle fingers, he was gripping a mass of hot pink fabric, an expression of obvious aversion painted on his face.

"You left this at our apartment," he said, holding the jacket out to her. She took it from him, smiling.

"I wondered where I'd put that! Thanks, sweetie." Carefully, so as to avoid tripping on the candles, she took the jacket to the couch and tossed it onto the middle cushion. She expected for Sheldon to be gone when she turned around, but instead he was staring down at her meditation area like it was a pit of demons.

"What is this, Penny?"

"It's my meditation area. I was doing this happiness chant thing." She paused, and grinned. Oh, what the heck. "You want to join in?"

His expression grew even more disdainful at this remark, but he closed the door behind him as she took her place in the center of her meditation area once more. She shut her eyes and began chanting under her breath. "Penny, I hardly condone this sort of activity. While meditation has been proven to activate the parasympathetic nervous system and restore order to the body, I have never encountered a single study that would suggest chanting as an acceptable substitute to working for one's happiness. Additionally, these candles smell."

Without taking a break from her chanting, Penny leaned forward and blew the candles out. "Sheldon," she replied. "This is just one of those for fun kind of things, you know? Fun. Like what normal people have."

"Excuse me, but I resent your implication." He puffed up angrily. "I am perfectly aware of what fun is. Battlestar Galactica marathons are fun. Chanting for happiness is not. I also think you are under-representing your sense of seriousness about this. You have rearranged your living space for this 'meditation'." He gestured to illustrate this point.

"Sheldon, sweetie," she said, trying to keep her voice level. "How do we know something doesn't work unless we try it?"

"Exactly, but as I said, there have been no experiments that were able to substantiate your claims," he protested.

"We can do an experiment. Right now. For the sake of science!" She raised her eyebrows at him hopefully.

He grimaced. "You would be a horrible scientist." Still, he gingerly stepped around the candles and into the center of the meditation area, which was getting to be quite warm. It was a good thing she blew out those candles.

"All right, now, hold my hands."

"Have you washed them?" Sheldon asked squeamishly.

"Yes, I have," Penny said, beginning to feel irritated.

He crossed his arms, looking so much like a petulant child that she almost giggled. "I don't believe you."

She sighed. "All right, hand me my purse."

Sheldon reached behind him and produced the requested item. She pulled the cap off her little Bath and Body Works soap, poured an overgenerous amount on her hands, and scrubbed. "There, okay?"

He was silent, but when she took his hands he didn't resist. Penny was somehow surprised at how warm they felt—sure, she knew consciously that Sheldon was no robot, despite some of the guys' theories, but holding his hand was actually kind of pleasant. Huh.

"Aum Aem Hreem Kleem Chamundaya Yech..."

Sheldon Cooper, PhD, did not believe in magic, yet here he found himself, holding hands with his female neighbor, sitting on her undoubtedly germ-ridden floor, humming along to her "happiness chant". Something about the experience rather reminded him of his childhood, when his mother would forcibly hold his hands and pray, but Penny's voice was soothing and sweet. He could almost imagine that she was singing "Soft Kitty" instead of chanting, and though that would be ridiculous, seeing as he was in excellent health, it was a comforting thought nonetheless.

He seemed to fall into a trance, and it was only when Penny's voice grew scratchy, long after he had memorized the words to the chant, that he glanced over at the clock. "Good Lord!" he exclaimed, rushing to the door.

In reply, his companion only yawned. "Night, Sheldon."

Sheldon paused and turned. She looked so vulnerable now, not at all like her usual fierce and competitive self. "Good night, Penny."

He completed his nighttime ritual as usual, though considerably later, and retired to bed, thinking all the while about how he could possibly catch up on those forty-three minutes of sleep that he had lost. He then realized that in contemplating this, he had lost even more time, and had to recalculate how many minutes he had lost in total. He was wavering between sixty and sixty-one when he finally drifted off.

Sheldon rarely had disruptive dreams, unless his conscience was troubled. As it happened, his conscience was completely untroubled that night, and yet his dream was far from ordinary. It began wonderfully: he had taken the place of Spock, during his early Starfleet career as a science officer. Obviously, this meant being aboard the Enterprise while it was under the command of Captain Pike, an intriguing situation that had rarely appeared in his dreams.

He 'awoke' within the dream and exited his quarters, knowing instinctively that he was needed elsewhere. Continuing down the hall, he encountered no life-forms, and, following his instincts, entered a turbolift.

Something was wrong, he realized as soon as he entered the turbolift. The inside was not at all what it should be; instead, it resembled an old-fashioned elevator. He pressed the only button there was, and the elevator groaned upwards. After exactly forty-three seconds it stopped, doors creaking apart to reveal a large, circular ballroom. It seemed to have been doused in gold, for all the ornate hangings and trims; it was filled with dancing couples in exorbitant finery. Sheldon walked into the room, inhibitions high. He did not care for dancing, even in his dreams.

He wondered—ah, yes. A quick glance at himself confirmed that his Starfleet uniform had been transformed into a tuxedo. He sighed audibly, or at least it would have been audible, had not the orchestral music been over-loud. Another odd thing grabbed his attention: the whirling couples all appeared to be faceless. Sheldon cocked an eyebrow at this. His dreams were always exact in their details, if not realistic in their content. The excellent computer that was his mind would stand for no less, so why did the members of this scene lack faces?

The next few moments were a little fuzzy, but somehow he ended up with a woman in his arms. Glancing around, he realized that she did have a face, but for some reason, when he tried to look at it directly, it faded and his eyes were forced to redirect themselves. He avoided this inconvenience by keeping his eyes over her head, which was the more natural position. After a few minutes of this torture, the faceless woman let him go, and he discovered himself in the arms of...Leslie Winkle?

She didn't seem to recognize him, but he quickly availed himself of her, dashing to the next single woman and taking her up. Sheldon was now in the center of the floor, and the mess of people around was dizzying. He suddenly remembered that he never danced, but evidently this was not an issue with the dream-logic in place. Expecting another faceless, he looked down at his dancing partner.

It was Penny. She smiled at him for a moment, until recognition darkened her bright eyes. "Sheldon? What are you doing here?"

"Trust me, I know as little as you," he replied stiffly, then thought to add: "In this situation, that is."

He couldn't help but notice that she looked unusually beautiful. Penny was an attractive woman, he'd always known that, but the shade of her dress complemented her eyes, hair, and skin tone, enhancing her beauty. Her hair was also pulled up, exposing a lovely neck. She was obviously the belle of the ball, although in a crowd of women with faces impossible to really see, he supposed she had to be.

"This is a dream, isn't it?" Her eyes were clouded.

Sheldon started slightly. Such self-awareness of others in his dream was unusual. Carefully, he nodded. They were still dancing, he noted, and it seemed to take no effort. Penny's expression was difficult to read as she looked at him.

"Why would I dream about dancing with you?" she mused as he found himself dipping her. Though they were moving, they seemed to stay in the center of the dance floor; it was possible that the dream actually changed the room to fit them.

He frowned at her. "Penny, this is my dream, although I suppose I could ask that same question."

"I think I'd know if it was your dream," she scoffed. "Besides, why would you dream about something like this?"

"Why would you?" Sheldon said.

"I watched a Fred Astaire movie last night," Penny mumbled in reply, reddening a little.

"I never watch movies about dance, but I have been led to believe that those are the 'classics'. Congratulations, Penny. You are finally showing appreciation for culture." He gave her a genuine smile; she spun back into his arms.

"You know, for somebody who doesn't dance, you sure are burning up this floor."

"It's only a dream," he said simply.

Her eyes darkened again. No more words were exchanged between them, but they whirled on as the string quartet played, dancing until the break of dawn.

End Notes: I am not endorsing the chant that Penny (and I) found on Google, and I am aware that we both misused it! If you don't understand the meaning of the title of this piece, "paradoxical sleep" is a synonym for REM sleep, the sleep cycle during which we dream. "Paradox" is also the community and alternate ship name for Penny/Sheldon. I anticipate that this story will have six chapters.