It's a well known fact that Sheldon Cooper doesn't pray. A principle of his, in fact. He reasons that there is no evidence in favor of any sort of deity or higher power, and even if there were, it would be absurd to imagine that this god would take a personal interest in human affairs. He has explained this concept to his mother many a time; she only ever shakes her head, cups his cheek, and tells him that she's praying for him.
When Sheldon gets that call—
"Excuse me, sir, you are listed as an emergency contact for Penny—"
"Penny? Where is she? What has happened?"
"There's been an accident, sir."
—he doesn't hesitate to drive to the hospital and fix himself at her bedside. When they say she might not wake, he closes his eyes and grips her hand.
And, principles be damned, he prays.
He prays often, even though most of the literature he keeps tucked away claims it's unscientific. Sheldon is an independent thinker, and he's also an eleven-year-old boy who chooses to believe what his mother tells him.
Mostly, he prays about his father: for his health, for his temperament. He prays that someday, he'll get to see that look of pride he's always imagined on his father's face.
Meemaw says that a prayer is like a little package, wrapped up and sends to heaven. He wraps up all of his complicated thoughts and feelings, all of his theories and dreams, and sends them up to heaven. Sometimes he even hears back.
Within the year, he dismisses it all. If there was a god, one that could hear the prayers of the people, his father wouldn't have died. At the very least, he would have had the good grace to forgive his son for his brilliance first.
Whenever he's tempted to pray from that point on, he stops himself and loses himself in a book. Any book is fine, so long as it is more equation than description. Sheldon loves the feeling of losing those emotional connections and becoming pure numbers, a simple machine.
It's a simple machine, but he admires it so. Sheldon grips the calculator in his hands, enjoying the cold feeling against his skin. Sometimes he uses it when he doesn't need to, if just to savor the way it works through so efficiently.
These are the days when he wishes he wasn't cursed with emotions. He hates sitting through another fight, feeling the angry words vibrate through the floorboards. If only he could eradicate the silly things that keep him from being like the calculator. Pure, clean, brilliant white despite the fact he carries it with him everywhere.
No matter how much he scrubs at his skin, he can't rub off the memories. Sheldon can't clean off the feeling of never being adequate in his father's eyes, of disapproving stares and "hmphs" and, once, of a bottle narrowly missing his pale neck as he scurried away.
If only he didn't have emotions, he wouldn't love his father through all of that. Love was the worst of them all—it hurt so much more than hate.
What hurts the most is that irredeemable bubble of hope. He remembers it well.
The first day of college, he walks in, all eleven years of him, full of the same kind of hope. Shedon is finally away from his family and the classmates who mocked him constantly. University—the very thought gives him shivers of the best kind.
It is not only the academic stimulation he looks forward to, but the meeting of similar minds. He does not pretend that there will be students of his IQ, per se, but they will at least be more advanced than the East Texas simpletons from his home.
He even treasures the idea of finding a Platonic soulmate. Sheldon has often dreamed of this, finding a Sam to his Frodo, a Kirk to his Spock. The anticipation is almost painful.
Sheldon arrives at the classroom half an hour before the beginning of class, and spends half of that time finding the perfect seat. The seats surrounding him begin to fill up as time passes, but the two on either side of him stay empty until nearly the last second.
"Hello," he says pleasantly, to the scruffy man on his right.
The man gives him a quick lookover and sighs. "What are you, some freaky genius? You don't belong here, kid."
Sheldon used to wonder if he'll ever belong anywhere. Always last picked, "sticking out like a sore thumb" (as his mother would say), nose glued to a book full of equations that others could only shake their heads at. He has no peers.
Slowly, he had found home, piece by piece, but he hadn't quite found his heart until this moment.
Penny wraps her arms around him and whispers a congratulations. Her scent is intoxicating, to say the least: vanilla and green apple. Sheldon can't make himself keep believing that it's mere physiology attracting him to her. That theory is insufficient.
Physiology does not begin to explain why she would make impassioned speeches about him, nor why he would feel so inspired by her words. Physiology could not possibly explain his rush of unpleasant emotions whenever she declined an offer to stay longer or had a negative experience.
The conclusion is obvious, then. It must be love.
Love. What an absurd syllable for an absurd feeling. He ponders it again, marveling at how it can still catch him by surprise after fifteen years of marriage.
It is early morning, and the sunlight is just barely peeking through the window. Penny is next to him, arms draped over his chest like extra sheets. Her toes bob out from underneath the blanket; he sighs, but does not risk waking her to cover them. She sighs gently in her sleep and shifts closer. Tenderly, he slips his arm back around her sleeping body.
Sheldon supposes that this is what one would call an ordinary pleasure, but to him it has never ceased to be extraordinary. Marriage is much more his pace than the whirlwind torture of courtship, as enjoyable as theirs had been. Here was the time for routine, for peace, and for simple joys.
He sniffs. Perhaps the long-term relationship is forcing him to wax philosophical. That is unacceptable. Still, maybe he was only feeling sentimental because it was their wedding anniversary, although his "blushing bride" (he had never quite understood that term) was still in Stage 2 sleep.
Sheldon allows his own eyes to drift closed, although he retains his full clarity of thought and alertness. He had never been one to enjoy change in any form, but the past fifteen (or 17.6, if one desired to include the courtship period) years had been both transformative and enjoyable.
Change, he grants silently, is not entirely negative after all.
Change is, to put it in a manner simply juvenile, the worst.
Every week for at least eight months, Sheldon has worn his favorite shirt. It is the first item of clothing that he was allowed to buy for himself (Meemaw gave him the money), and he has treasured it accordingly. It is a plain enough item: a white shirt emblazoned with the Superman insignia. His mother had never bought superhero clothing for him, so this is more than simply a first sign of independence. It is a marker of coming into himself.
Eventually, as frequently worn clothes are wont to do, it obtains a small hole. He is almost shocked. Time, activity, and his mother's fierce scrubbing only worries the hole until there is nearly more hole than shirt.
His mother approaches him on Favorite Shirt Day. "Shelly," she says, in that tone that both irritates and terrifies him. "It's time for that shirt to go."
Thursdays are not the same.
After a couple of weeks of "moping" (her term), his mother finally relents and purchases a new shirt. This article is almost exactly the same as the previous shirt, but it is one size longer and colored black.
He hates it.
"Did you hate him?"
His mother asks the question gently, but Sheldon hears the barely disguised lecture getting ready to pounce. It's okay, though, because he does not need to lie. "No," he says, with absolute honesty.
There were people he hated: the kind of people who made fun of superheroes or disdained science or (most of all) teased and chased him down the road. This comprises most of the people he has met, so it would not be inaccurate to say that he hates a lot of people. Still, his father was never one of them.
The man had at times infuriated and terrified him, but beneath that Sheldon had always kept a certain sense that his father was human, even if he was loathe to claim a relation to the drunk who threw empty beer bottles at his mother's head. No, he did not hate his father (although if he had, he could not comprehend why that would have changed at the man's death).
His mother nods seriously and looks at him with an unreadable expression. Not for the first time, he wishes that he were more adept in the art of nonverbal communication. He merely blinks in reply.
"You're telling the truth," she observes after a minute.
His voice cracks when he replies, "I always do."
Sheldon almost always tells the truth. He can't really afford not to—he gives it away too easily, and constructing the kind of lie necessary to keep a secret covered up is simply too dangerous. So when Penny's father asks him rather harshly what his intentions are, he is obligated to tell him the truth.
"I intend to cosplay with her every year at Comic-Con and to listen to her even when I don't care. I plan to win the Nobel prize within two years and to thank her for her help—not with the actual work, of course, but with 'keeping me sane', as they say. I will continue our tradition of taking care of each other when we're sick so long as she always sings me 'Soft Kitty', I'll marry her, and I'll never allow her to operate a motor vehicle or any heavy machinery when she is inebriated."
Remembering his Texas manners, Sheldon hastily adds, "Sir."
The other man takes a second to absorb this.
"Marriage was in there somewhere, right?"
He inclines his head.
"Well…okay, then." Her father considers this. "Penny married. I was starting to think I'd never see the day. Of course, you didn't say that she'd agreed yet."
"Oh, she will," Sheldon laughs.
The man raises his eyebrows.
Sheldon changes the subject.
It's a well known fact that Sheldon Cooper doesn't pray, but Penny is an exception as she is to his every rule. She gets better (so does he), but he can never erase from his memory the visual of her body limp on that hospital bed.
She's changed him, and he isn't blind enough to let that past him, but he finds himself surprisingly adaptable. Perhaps change is not always negative—but he certainly won't deviate from his routine any time soon.
So he thinks, but it's less than a year later when they're back at the hospital, this time for a very different reason. He is a wreck up until and through the moment that he holds that human infant in his arms.
"This is home," Sheldon says quietly, and Penny just smiles.
His principles may have changed, too. Quietly, silently, to some indistinct idea of deity up above, he prays.
End Notes: I chose this title because music that is dissonant is full of sounds that "don't belong". This, however, drives the music forward to a satisfying conclusion in many pieces. Please read the companion piece.
Sheldon/Spiritual Journey is my other OTP, just so you know.