Oh dear God, I am so nervous about this fic. Here's the warnings-Depression, attempted suicide, self harm. It's incredibly angsty. To Jislane-I know for a fact this wouldn't be up here without you, so thank you. If you want a song, I'd really suggest My Skin by Natalie Merchant, I listened to it pretty much on repeat while writing. Okay, so, here we go…
He was leaving. Three words. Twelve letters. Okay, no that was wrong. Nineteen letters; because to add to that awful sentence was another one. This one only had two words. Only seven letters.
He was leaving… with her.
With her best friend. Her beautiful bestie. His beautiful girl. And her entire heartache. She swallowed and glanced around at the others in the room, all eating Chinese food. The news had been broken a couple of weeks ago. This was his last night. His knee brushed gently against her feet, she had curled them up under her. He never would of allowed this kind of contact with anyone else, years ago he probably would of screamed if it had happened. She wondered if it meant something that even though they were leaving, tonight as a matter of fact, she still sat on the middle cushion. The cushion between Sheldon and Amy. Amy didn't even try to sit there anymore, Sheldon would fix her with one of his glares, mutter something about Penny, and Amy would obediently shuffle over to create room for Penny. So that she could sit next to Sheldon.
The evening passed slowly, no one really did anything out of the ordinary, Raj refused to talk, Howard was still as creepy as ever, Bernadette was as lovely and patient with Howard as she had always been, Leonard managed to diffuse any awkward moments created by Sheldon's complete lack of social skills with cute jokes or funny sarcasm, Amy was as wonderfully strange as always and Sheldon was still Sheldon.
But Penny felt like she was drowning. Because they were going to be gone for six whole months. Maybe more if they decided to travel for longer. At first she couldn't believe it. Sheldon, germaphobe, routine maniac, control freak, was happy to go all over the world with no control over the hygiene of the places he was going, on how the food would be made, or the freaking temperature. And he was happy about it. Like actually smiling happy. As if this was something he really did want to do.
Which was why she had made no move to stop him. Because for maybe the first time, Sheldon seemed truly happy about something. And how could she take that away?
The gang all left at once, Bernadette had even managed to force Sheldon into giving her a hug, whilst Raj and Howard settled for lame 'manly' handshakes. Amy seemed a little giddy about all the attention, and even got misty eyed when Bernadette made her tearful goodbye. Then finally it was just Penny. She had a really early shift tomorrow so she wouldn't be able to wait up and see the two of them off as Leonard was doing. She awkwardly smoothed down her top looking between Amy and Sheldon who both were watching her, their gaze making her feel tense and incredibly nauseous.
"Oh my God, I can't take this, come here you," she exploded suddenly, pulling Amy towards her with more force than was necessary. She wrapped her arms tightly around the brunette, stroking her hair with her hands, and planting a gentle kiss on Amy's forehead. When she pulled away Amy's eyes were shining with tears and Penny smiled gently.
"Do not let him drive you insane okay? You know you are just as in charge of this trip as he is." Amy nodded, seemingly unable to talk- probably for the first time in a long time. "You are a beautiful confident woman Ames, and I'm gonna miss you so much," Penny said, her voice cracking as the two women began to hug again.
Fifteen minutes later Penny had finally said her goodbye. She had released Amy from her grasp, and the poor woman had gone sprinting off to the bathroom, wet sobs tearing from her throat.
"You," Penny said, pointing directly at Sheldon who stared at her blankly. "Outside, with me,"
After a few beats of more blank staring Sheldon said "Penny, whilst you are in a state of emotional distress, I do not feel comfortable allowing myself to be in such a close proximity to you whilst you seem-"
"I was not asking Moonpie," Penny replied, narrowing her eyes at him as she swung the door open and gestured out with her hand. She briefly heard him grumble about MeeMaw and Moonpie, and violation of rules as she followed him out into the hall, grinning weakly at Leonard over her shoulder.
Sheldon turned at her door to face her, shifting awkwardly from foot to foot as she sorted out her mascara. After she was done, she ignored the pain in her chest, how her head was screaming 'kiss him' and instead looked at him sternly with a hint of a smile on her lips.
"Now you listen to me. You are not to torment or bully Amy in anyway okay? She's agreed to go on this trip with you but if you so much as make her think about crying, I will go so Nebraska on your ass you won't be able to sit down for at least three months, got it?"
Sheldon nodded, his eyes wide and Penny softened at the innocence in his face. She carefully, and slowly, to give him time to adjust, stepped into his personal and wrapped her arms around his stomach, burying her face in his Flash t-shirt. The tears welled up quickly, and she didn't even blink as one dripped down her cheek and soaked into his shirt. Her entire life, him, was being ripped away from her. He was choosing to leave.
"I'm going to miss you so much," she whispered quietly against his chest. Anyone else wouldn't of heard it, but it was Sheldon, so of course he had. His arms tightened around her and she heard him swallow thickly, his arms twitching slightly as his heartbeat sped up.
"It is highly likely, due to the amount of time we spend in each other's company at the present time, that I shall indeed… miss you too,"
She felt as he slowly pressed his cheek against the top of her head and she knew then what it was like to be heartbroken. She pulled away and looked into his eyes, trying desperately to determine the look that he was giving her, and the way his arms had locked around her, holding her near to him.
The words had slipped past her lips without her brains consent but it was like once she had started she had absolutely no way of stopping.
"Sheldon please, don't leave me," she whispered quietly, more tears falling down her face as her hands fisted into balls in his t-shirt. She had to say it, because she knew what it was like to regret, to not leap onto a chance, a moment, and grasp it with both hands. His eyes took on a wild look, and she wondered briefly how badly she would react when he rejected her. Because she knew it would happen. She just needed to feel it and hear it for it all to become real.
Leonard frowned at the door as the knocks got louder. It was late and he wasn't expecting anyone, it could be Penny, but he very highly doubted it. As he swung the door open he felt his entire face go slack and his jaw dropped as he stared at the person in front of him.
It had been two years.
Their letters had slowly stopped and the skype calls became shorter until they stopped happening all together. No one knew why. Raj, Howard and himself had valiantly tried to keep in contact, desperately ringing their cell phones and leaving messages about news of Caltech and their own lives. And received nothing in return. Even Amy detached herself from their lives, slowly distancing herself from the 'gang'. The effect their intentional absences had had on the groups lives, everyone trying to piece together why the two of them had decided that not only would they stay out of Pasadena for a lot longer than they had originally suggested, but also why they had decided to cut out their old friends, had been disastrous. And Penny, poor beautiful Penny… No, Leonard shook his head. He couldn't allow himself to think of her now, it was no time for tears. Two years of Leonard's life without either of them, and here she stood, nonchalantly staring back at him.
"Good evening Leonard," Amy chirruped, her hair was the same length, maybe slightly lighter? Her skin was more tan than he remembered, and her clothes were slightly more fitting than he ever remembered them being. But her eyes were what shocked him the most, her eyes sparkled in a way they had never done before, they shone with what could only be described as pure undiluted happiness, and it was all Leonard could do at the sight of her-stare.
"Amy? That can't be you," Leonard stuttered out, two years of nothing and now she was here, and a part of him felt like he was dying in all of it.
"Good Lord Leonard, why did you decline from informing us that your eyesight has deteriorated this poorly?"
Leonard woke with a groan, lifting his head up from the arm of the couch and running a hand over the back of his neck. A dream, it had all been a dream, that was all.
"There's some aspirin on the table for you,"
Leonard whipped his head around, wincing slightly at the pull in his muscles, his eyes finding Sheldon's immediately.
"What are you doing here?" Leonard practically growled.
"Now Leonard," Sheldon said frowning slightly "Even I am aware that is not proper protocol to greet a friend after such a long period of time,"
Leonard stood up abruptly from the sofa, his eyes hard and his jaw clenched. His fingers tightened into fists as he tried to figure out where in Sheldon's face it would hurt the most after a strong impact blow.
"We're leaving now Leonard. Amy is desperate to go to the Cheesecake Factor in hope of seeing Penny. She is not at home, please accompany us, we have much to discuss,"
Leonard glanced briefly over at the door where Amy was slinging her handbag up her shoulder, her arm reaching for the door. For a moment, Leonard was frozen, his mind too full and shocked to do anything but stare into empty space and wonder how the Hell it had come to this. When he came to, he realised Sheldon had left the apartment, and Leonard stormed after him, finding him out in the hall. He caught his arm, preparing to swing the taller man around so he could firmly deck him one. But Sheldon stood still, so did Amy and Leonard followed their line of vision to see Penny stood next to her apartment, her arm linked through Raj's, who was stood staring at Sheldon and Amy with a look of such strong anger and dislike that Leonard was sure Sheldon must be having a hard time keeping eye contact. Leonard dropped his hand from Sheldon's arm, his eyes cast to the ground. He felt that familiar lump in his throat and the tightening in his chest at the sight of who was once the most beautiful, vibrant woman he had ever known.
Amy stared at Penny. There was nothing else she could do. Her eyes filled with sudden tears at the sight of her, her hair had grown out all the way down to her waist, but it wasn't glossy or shiny or curly or straight, it was just dead. Dead and blonde. Her face was gaunt, and the girl who had been full of curves in all the right places, was now too skinny, her work uniform hanging off her. She stared between Amy and Sheldon, and though Amy knew this would be hard, and that their friends may have changed, she had never ever, expected this.
"Penny?" She asked quietly, a tear dribbling down her cheek and Amy batted it away in frustration as her former best friend stared at her with blank eyes.
"Raj," Penny whispered quietly, and the Indian man took a step closer to her, his arm still locked through hers and his eyes burned with worry.
"I'm here Penny," he replied to her softly, his voice soothing and Amy watched the interaction in shock. Raj was no longer a mute. Not only did it now seem he was able to speak to Penny, but he also seemed comfortable in engaging in physical interaction with her, with no unusual side effects. If anything, their linked arms seemed almost familiar to the pair of them, as if they had done it a hundred times over.
Amy lifted a hand and pushed a stray lock of hair away from her face, her eyes widening as Penny's face contorted into pain.
"No," she whimpered, leaning back against Raj. Penny's eyes flickered between Amy and Sheldon, and Amy didn't realise that someone's eyes could hold so much… agony. "You two, the ring, oh my God…"
Amy glanced down at the glittering diamond on her left finger, and glanced up at Sheldon, whose face was cold and distant as he watched Penny begin to cry.
"No, please, no," Penny began to sob, her body closing in on itself, as her arm pushed Raj away before beginning to wrap around her stomach, as if it was all she could do to hold herself up.
"Leonard," Raj said sharply, and Amy watched in mute horror as Leonard moved quickly from Sheldon's side to Penny's, unhooking her arms from around her middle and wrapping them around his neck as his hands cupped her face, murmuring soft soothing sounds to her as Raj opened her apartment and gently began to manoeuvre the two of them into Penny's apartment, as Penny's cries got louder and her entire being just seemed to shrink. She finally screamed, a guttural piercing sound, followed by loud hysterical sobs and Raj shut the door behind the pair of them. His eyes hard and so full of anger, but yet shadowed with unshed tears. He looked strong, a rock in a storm that had happened over and over again.
"Go back to Leonard's apartment, the pair of you. If you want answers, wait. If you want to know what's going on, wait. If you want to try and be part of our lives again, wait. But do not think for one second, that I will let either of you anywhere near Penny without myself, Leonard or Howard present. You have no idea what you've done," he said sharply, turning back into the room with the crying and closing the door behind him.
Amy looked up at Sheldon who was still watching Penny's apartment as if by staring he could figure it out.
"We have no choice Sheldon. We have to wait."
Nobody ever thought there would come a day, in the whole existence of the universe, where a person like Howard, would punch a person like Sheldon. After it had happened, Howard cursed a lot. Hopping from foot to foot, muttering threats while clutching his sore hand. Bernadette had wrapped ice in tea towel and calmed her now husband, down whilst glaring between Amy and Sheldon.
Leonard was sat in his spot, nervously biting his thumbnail as he watched Sheldon stand awkwardly in the corner, near the kitchen. Leonard had made sure that he had very obviously sat down in what used to be Sheldon's pot, glaring at him obviously as if daring him to say anything.
Raj slowly opened the door to the apartment and moved into the room, his eyes seeking out Leonard.
He ran a hand through his dark hair and blinked sleepily. "She's asleep now, or at least she's pretending to be,"
"You got everything out of there?" Leonard asked and Raj nodded tiredly slumping down onto the middle seat in the couch, lifting a small grey bag to show him before dropping it behind the couch.
"Me and Bernadette will go round later," Howard broke in "Do you think it might have to be a stay overnight, like before?"
Leonard shrugged, "Depends how she reacts when she's got used to the idea of them being back,"
Amy coughed slightly nervously, shrinking a little into herself as all eyes turned on her.
"I understand you are angry, but I would very much appreciate it if I could be informed of what is going here and why Penny is…" Amy trailed off, unable to find the words.
"You broke her,"
Raj said sharply, his eyes now trained on Sheldon, who very daringly raised one eyebrow at Raj's accusation.
"And how pray, did I manage that?"
"Oh cut the crap Sheldon," Howard cut in her, pulling Bernadette closer to him as he too glared angrily at the tall genius.
"She was in love with you." Leonard said shortly, "For all the years since she had met you. She was so in love with you, and you left. No wait, not only did you leave you cut her out. I mean, the way you 'deleted' us three from your life was pretty harsh but what you did to Penny? Didn't you say- I do not wish to include you as a presence in my life for now, or the foreseeable future? So don't stand there and pretend like you have no idea,"
"She is that way because of a broken heart?" Amy questioned, glancing at Leonard, who shook his head and went to the fridge.
"No, she's like that because she has major depression. Caused by a broken heart. It was like the minute Sheldon said goodbye, all her insecurities and doubts just welled up inside her, crushing her with no way out."
"It wasn't a quick process. Her sadness dripped into her life without her noticing, at least, not noticing until it had consumed her fully and smothered her with darkness." Bernadette chipped in, her eyes trained on Howard.
"It started a couple of months after you left, when she first met-"
"No Leonard!" Raj cut in, staring at his friend. "They have no right to know that stuff!"
"Raj, they're back! They're stood right there, what happens if they say something and it sets her off because they didn't know,"
"Fine, fine," Raj said shrugging his shoulders, raising his hands to try and pacify his friend "On your own head be it dude,"
"It first started when she met Nick. About three months after you left, he was nice and tall and good for her. She missed you, both of you, a lot and Nick managed to kind of dull the pain down for her. But then things just seemed to fall apart,"
"At first it was eating, she just stopped. Started getting skinnier, and skinnier until we finally realised that maybe she did need help." Leonard paused, running a hand over his forehead. "She just said she felt like losing weight, that it would help her get parts, and that it was stupid of us to worry."
"But then that day," Leonard trailed off and Bernadette smiled reassuringly at him, his eyes however, filled with tears.
"We came home one day, for Halo night, Penny's door was open and Nick was there. Calling her fat and stupid and worthless, over and over, telling her how no one would want her. She was too ugly for anyone else to like. She should be grateful he was paying her any attention at all, when Penny looked up and saw us, instead of kicking his ass out of the door like she damn well should of done, she shut the door on us." Bernadette finished, ignoring the tears on her cheeks as her small body began to shake angrily.
"After the eating it was the talking, she just stopped. We hardly saw her anyways, Nick dictated so much of her life, but when we did manage to briefly see her. She just didn't talk, she refused."
"Someone tells you to shut up enough times, because what you think is worthless, you start to believe it," Raj cut in darkly. "We didn't do anything, we didn't know what there was for us to do. Penny didn't want our help, she refused it and in our group, Penny was the brave one. But when it turned physical, that was when we had enough. He broke three ribs, almost punctured her lung, mashed her face up,"
Raj looked up at Sheldon and practically snarled "Nick gets out of jail in three months."
"She tried to ring you," Bernadette said softly to Amy. "But you wouldn't take her calls and when she finally got through to you-"
"You basically told her to piss off," Howard finished for her.
"That's when she started cutting. All down her arms, scars that she once told me were just her 'thoughts'. And then on the anniversary of you guys leaving, because Penny knew the date off by heart, Raj…" Leonard broke off glancing to Raj.
"I walked in on her trying to kill herself."
"It's what I regret the most,"
All head shot towards the apartment door, where Penny was stood. She had slipped inside without anyone noticing, too engrossed in the story of her decline to notice when she herself had appeared. Raj began to stand out of his seat but Penny smiled softly at him and shook her head slightly, he lowered himself to sit back down, his eyes fixed on the blonde.
"That he had to see that," she continued, walking over to Bernadette and Howard, glancing between them and smiling reassuringly at both of them.
"It seems like it was a very good thing that he did," Sheldon said firmly, ignoring the hateful looks he received from all sides. "I would have been very displeased to find you had died Penny,"
She looked blankly at him. Her eyes taking in his face, lines in his face that he been put there over time, his hair slightly longer and his skin a little less baby like.
"Funny," she replied quietly, "It was the thing that would have pleased me the most,"
Amy gasped at her words but Penny ignored her, instead twisting her fingers together. Her hair fell in front of one side of her face and Penny made no move to push it away, instead letting it hang there, as if it was her own personal shield from the outside world.
"Why are you back?" She asked quietly, the words so soft everyone almost missed it. Except Sheldon. Sheldon heard her loud and clear.
"We had intended to return right from the beginning. After we settled some, business," Sheldon glanced at Amy who shot her eyes down to the ground "We decided to return. It seems that we did both miss all-"
"Do not say that." Penny said suddenly, her eyes full of tears again. "Don't you dare say that,"
It was then that Amy realised that even if Penny fought this, even if Raj forgave them, even if Leonard was able to stop what had now become his innate need to protect Penny died away, even if Howard and Bernadette could ever look at them kindly again, even if Sheldon was finally, after so long able to say-
No matter how many variables. And now matter how many scenarios. They had left. Left her to destruction at the hands of another, and because of that, things would never be the same.
Penny stood up suddenly and looked to Raj, stretching out her hand towards him. Everyone could see the difference in her, her posture was stiff instead of drooping and her eyes held a hardened look that Amy had only ever seen directed to Leslie Winkle or Barry Kripke.
"Give me my stuff."
"No," Raj replied firmly, his voice and tones and manners suggested that he had been through this with her before.
"Rajesh, give me my stuff!"
"RAJ! I can't do this! Just when I was finally getting better, I can't. Please I'll be careful, please just give me,"
A sob burst from Penny's lips and she ran to the door, not bothering to close it as she made her way into her apartment.
"Stuff?" Amy asked quietly and Raj gestured to behind the couch.
"Knifes and scissors and razors,"
Sheldon's arm was raised briefly, and it caught him by surprise how it was still automatic to him to complete a routine, even if he hadn't started it in years. He stared at Penny's door and decided, with a slight thumping to his heart to just go in, he very highly doubted she would let him in if he knocked. When he found Penny on the couch, with blood slowly oozing from her skin and a kind of dazed look on his face, he wondered if he could run. But then even if he had really wanted to, he knew he still wouldn't. Because this was Penny, and even if she hated him, even if he had destroyed her, even if he had missed her so much that it felt like he wasn't really breathing, she was still Penny and he was still Sheldon. And they still slotted together, and he would still always take care of her when she was sick.
And bleeding from a self inflicted injury, was very much a kind of sick.
"Does it scare you?" Her voice was hoarse and thick, and Sheldon could tell she'd been crying. But he still shook his head, even though he was extremely terrified.
He turned and walked out the door, back into his apartment. He located the first aid kit, which Leonard hadn't moved in his absence and continued back across the hall. He ignored the stares and Raj's demand of knowledge.
"This will hurt," he said blankly, settling himself beside her and gently cupping the soft under skin of her arm, outstretching it towards him, so that it lay in his lap. The blood wasn't trickling or gushing, like many people assumed happened during self harm. That was only for very major and life threatening wounds. No, the blood formed a kind of puddle on her skin, thicker in some places than other. He gently mopped away all the blood, applying antiseptic to her wounds immediately and trying not to wince when the blood again flooded the tears in her skin, refusing to lie unseen.
"You're like Raj," she said quietly "So afraid to hurt me, when I don't really think it would make much difference,"
"He is in pain," Sheldon replied carefully, his eyes not leaving her cuts.
"I know. They are all. It's selfish, this thing. Doesn't let me stop no matter how many people I hurt,"
"Raj was under the impression that he removed anything that would allow you to cause this kind of harm to yourself?"
Penny laughed, a humourless, awful noise so different to what he remembered "Never underestimate a desperate cutter Sheldon, we'll use anything,"
"You used to take pride in your appearance,"
Penny smiled, kind of fondly, a vague impression of how she used to look at him when he was being clueless. In its own way, he found the look incredibly endearing. But this time her eyes were tainted with pain and resignation as well, a look he can't say he found at all attractive. "Sheldon, there's nothing to take pride in, my appearance was nothing to ever be happy about,"
A beat of silence.
"You have let a man, who is probably so insecure within himself, taint your own thoughts and feelings into lies,"
"I want you to go," Penny said quietly.
"I'm not leaving until they're all clean,"
And so he stayed. They didn't talk anymore, and Penny's eyes shined with fresh tears. But it wasn't the sort of crying Sheldon was used to. It wasn't hysterical or loud or gasping or sniffling, it was just a silent ache. The quiet tears of someone who had lost something very important and didn't know how to get it back. Someone who had lost faith in the entire world around them.
"How did they meet?" Amy asked quietly and Bernadette glanced at her, placing her coffee mug on the table.
"He was a customer. Sweet smiles and subtle compliments, she fell for it quicker than any of us could blink," she explained sadly and Howard squeezed her shoulder affectionately.
"He hurt her," Amy said quietly, as if she was processing the words, not quite able to believe that this was something that had happened.
Bernadette laughed without humour, her high voice breaking loudly through the air.
"I don't know what the Hell you and Sheldon were doing. But whilst you went off, we were here, watching as that man took Penny's entire world and destroyed it. We watched him break and rip and pull and hit and punch her until, she was just a shell. What you see now, that's all that's left,"
"We should be going," Howard said quietly after the pause from Bernadette speech began to become uncomfortable.
Bernadette nodded and the two of them left quickly and without anymore dramatics, the two of the twining their fingers together.
"Wait," Amy cried, rushing out into the hall to catch them before they left. "Raj?"
"What about him?" Howard asked.
"He talks now?"
"He witnessed Penny trying to kill herself, if that doesn't shock someone into speaking I don't know what will."
Amy sighed and nodded shuffling awkwardly back into the apartment. Leonard had gone to bed awhile ago, and he had forced Raj out of the door as well. She sat on the couch, her hands clasped, staring at the black television screen. About ten minutes later Sheldon walked in, her hand filled with bloody tissues and a tub of antiseptic.
"She didn't…"Amy gasped at the sight, her eyes filling up with even more tears, Sheldon just nodded and proceeded to get rid of all evidence.
"Did I really?" Sheldon's voice broke through the silence and it was innocent and sad and guilty and it made Amy's heart burst. "Did I really break her? "
"We, Sheldon," Amy corrected, "And I think the answer is yes. We did. You need to tell them,"
"They will never forgive me,"
"You have to at least try. They deserve some sort of explanation,"
"Maybe we should leave again? Our presence here is not wanted,"
"By the boys, no it probably isn't. But Penny let you clean her up, Penny let you into her apartment, Penny spoke to you. So, how badly do you think she'd cope if you were to leave her again?"
The room fell quiet and the only source of light was the moon outside and the shining diamond on Amy's finger.
I miss you.
I want you.
I need you.
Please, don't ever leave me. I'll fall apart without you.
I know I'm nothing special, nothing you- a genius- would ever want. But I kinda need you to hold me, 'cos the world's falling down around me and I'm scared.
I'm hurting inside and this is how I show you. Inside, I think I want to die. Don't feel bad for me though, because if I do die, just know I am so glad to finally be able to leave.
Please help me, it hurts.
"I'm not marrying her,"
"I'm not marrying Amy. She's marrying a man we met on our travels, he's called Mitchell."
"You're not, you and her aren't?"
"No. It never would of worked out."
"Because of you."
The bowl of cereal smashed to the floor.
Sheldon had taken to sleeping over at Penny's. He'd complain in the morning, about the ache in his back or the crick in his neck, but the next night he'd be right back over there. It had been three months and a slow acceptance that Amy and Sheldon were back for good, was running through the group.
Raj was the least accepting, his friendship with Penny was based on protectiveness, and as he saw Sheldon to be the cause of that pain, his hostility hadn't really died down yet. Sheldon and Amy still hadn't explained why they had left, there never seemed to be a right time, and Sheldon's energy was now focused entirely on building up Penny's self esteem in a way that subtle enough for her never to suspect he was doing it.
Small compliments, kind words, gentle actions. Those were what she needed and it was what he provided. No one had ever seen him as patient as he was with Penny during those days.
The times were she wouldn't eat or speak. The times were she'd cry. The times were it was difficult to look in her eyes simply because of the pain that they held. Those times were hard, but he still stayed, because leaving was and never would be an option again.
If he wasn't so concentrated on Penny, he would have spent his time beating himself up about not being able to protect her. He was sure that he would have been able to spot the signs of an abuser long before Penny and Nick had ever become serious.
He was sure he could of saved her. If he'd only stayed. But if was a dangerous word. So Sheldon stayed away from it, keeping his thoughts constantly tracking Penny's behaviours and progress determined to find within this empty shell, the woman he had once wanted.
It was three months on before she finally managed to ask him the question. She was fiddling with the ends of her hair, she hadn't had a lot taken off, but she'd had it re-coloured and layered, and everyone had been complimentary and she herself thought it looked quite nice, but she was so unsure of herself that she still felt that she should just pull it up into a ponytail so no-one would know it had been changed.
Raj and Sheldon were on civil terms, but avoided each other if they could. But with most of the gang, Amy and Sheldon had blended back in and even she had managed to slot herself back into the place she used to hold. Almost, not exactly, but almost.
"Why did you leave?"
It rang through the air and Penny felt like she had screamed it and painted it on the wall, and scratched it into the fall and hung it up on paintings. It was a question that needed an answer, and it had to be an answer she could accept, and maybe even understand, or she would get nowhere.
"Because I thought I was going to die,"
Sheldon sits them all down and explains about brain tumours and an operation and rehabilitation in France, and how Amy had been there to help him, and how he thought he might die. Penny sat silently on the couch as his soft voice lilts through the air and Bernadette, Howard and Raj all ask questions while Leonard just sits there silently, because despite everything a small part of him still considers Sheldon to be his best friend and the thought of him actually dying, is probably as bad as the thought of her dying. Sheldon had created videos, one for each person he loved, to be watched after he had died. Penny wanted to find her video and burn it. Destroy it. Obliterate it. Get rid of anything that suggested Sheldon dying.
In Penny's mind, her life had felt as though it had turned into a soap opera. With awful things happening to her and her loved ones simply for other people's entertainment. She wondered if this was God's will, if he had wanted it to happen this way. Just to see how much she could take. She'd had so many things thrown at her, each leaving a small crack. What she was terrified of, what smashing completely. Every action has a consequence, and it seemed like in a way, Sheldon's action had ruined her life. But he had only done it to try and save her. To keep her from harm.
Sheldon left because he didn't want his friends to watch him die. So instead he had gone, without telling them, without saying a proper last farewell, and prepared himself for the fact that his life might end. In a way, it was exactly like Sheldon to do something so awful, so wrong, so hurtful, to try and protect the ones he'd cared about. He wanted Amy to come because of her knowledge of the brain, and because he felt like she was the only he could trust to not smother him with attention.
That piece of information hurt her a lot more than it should of done.
About two hours later everyone had every answer to every question they needed. Leonard had gone to his room earlier, Sheldon's new revelation had made him angrier, but he had tiredly promised to try and talk it through with him tomorrow.
When Penny left to go back to her apartment, Sheldon followed. It seemed natural and normal and Penny wondered if they would ever be able to stop the innate pull they felt for each other. Amy had left a while ago, she was meeting her new fiancée at the airport and wanted Penny to meet him tomorrow. It was difficult for Penny to say yes, it might going on, for dinner in public with people looking at her, and judging her. The only plus was that Sheldon would be coming along to.
Sheldon shut her apartment door behind her and Penny watched him for a second as he straightened up and twitched a little at the pile of dishes in her sink. Before she knew what she was doing she had walked calmly over to him and yanked his head down, carding her fingers through his hair, the pads of her fingertips softly skimming his skull.
"Just shh, Sheldon,"
She didn't know how long they stayed like that, Sheldon crouched in a uncomfortable position as Penny reassured herself that the 'thing' that had been living and festering inside one of the most beautiful brain she had ever known was gone.
"They removed the tumour Penny,"
"I know, I just needed to check-"
"I dreamt of you,"
"When they put me under. I saw you, smiling and laughing and encouraging me to survive,"
They were kissing within instants. Penny's mind quickly led to images of painful clutches and smacks if she didn't perform 'good' enough, but Sheldon was there, gently sucking against her lips, his hand drawing soothing patterns against the small of her back as she clutched at him as if he was her life support.
He slowly walked them through her apartment, still kissing her as if understanding that if he broke that connection she could run, but while she was mesmerised by his lips and the primal noises he made when she responded to his attentions.
"Wait, Sheldon," she pulled away when she felt her legs hit her bed. "I'm not, I'm not good at this…"
She trailed off, hoping desperately he would understand her meaning. She looked down at his pale chest, trying to remember when and how, it had come off. His long fingers hooked underneath her chin and tilted her head up towards him.
"You must stop saying such ridiculous things," he murmured quietly and lowered her back onto the bed. When Sheldon undressed her and twined his fingers through hers to stop her from covering her body up, Penny felt scared, but then she saw how he looked at her and felt his response to her nakedness, and felt an almost instinctual urge to smirk. Instead, she smiled.
When Sheldon kissed down her neck, finding a spot just under her collarbone that made her actually whimper, Penny felt scared, because it shouldn't be about her pleasure, she knew that now. But then Sheldon did it again, and again, stopping and paying attention to the parts of her body that were most responsive and when she saw that happy proud look in his eyes when he finally got her to moan out loud, she decided that maybe it was okay.
When Sheldon finally, after what had felt like eternity, pushed up into her, Penny felt terrified. Because that action meant pain, but instead Sheldon stilled inside of her, and Penny frowned. She could tell he wanted to move, he was almost shaking form the effort of keeping still but he leaned down and kissed her again, nuzzling his chest whilst his fingers found that spot that-oh. Because Penny hadn't been touched there in a long long time.
When Sheldon made Penny come, she decided that just for tonight. She would let go of the rules.
The child runs between the adults legs, his curly brown hair falling into his blue eyes. Penny smiled softly at the child as Sheldon swept him up into his arms, without even flinching as the child's muddy hands pawed at his neck. It had taken time but he'd finally reached a stage where muck and mess, weren't so scary to him anymore. Penny tilted her head up to the sun as her hand rested on her swollen stomach, her summer dress had no sleeves and in the right light, the long white scars on her arms and wrists could be seen. But they were fading. She didn't need them anymore as proof of what she had been through.
Sheldon carried that burden for her now. Taking the sadness that she couldn't inside and tucking it into his heart, sharing her pain with her and sometimes for her.
"Alfie's thought of a name for the baby," Sheldon said as he walked towards her and Penny smiled.
"And what's that sweetie? She asked her child, who wriggled in his father's arms to face his mother. Penny remembered the panicked fear she had felt when she had found out she was pregnant with him. Depression was genetic, and she would never wish on her child the disease she had had to fight. She would rather die. But Sheldon's face when he had found out that she was carrying a part of him inside her had been so beautiful and the actual thought of getting rid of her baby was too much to bear. So instead they talked it through a developed a plan in case any of their children did ever come up against the horror of depression.
And Alfie was worth it. He was such a beautiful child, with a brain that could rival his fathers and a wiseness beyond his years.
"Ari, because it's pretty. And she will be too cos you are," Alfie said confidently and Penny felt a smile breaking across her lips.
"Ari?" She asked Sheldon, who watched her thoughtfully before nodding.
"That would be acceptable,"
"Little baby Ari." Penny rubbed her stomach lovingly, hoping her child could feel her emotions to know how loved she was.
Penny was no longer waiting for death. She was finally alive, breathing and feeling her emotions, rather than drowning in them.
She was finally, in her own way, free.