**Hi! First of all, I want to say thanks for stopping by. This story kind of happened to me while I was blocking on another tale. To avoid any similar drama, I decided I would finish this in its entirety before posting, so it's already completed. I'll put it out in batches, about once a week, until it's done. Let me know what you like, what you hate, what you think in any capacity. As always, your responses are my manna.
I do not own The Big Bang Theory, nor do I have any claim on its characters. This is just a love song for a series I adore.**
This must have been the longest Friday of the year. Penny contemplated the date, wondering if daylight savings time had ever literally lengthened the amount of time in an hour. Her calves and the arches of her feet, not to mention her upper arms, had passed through soreness into a kind of sluggish ache. She parked her heap of a car at the end of the row and trudged wearily to the door of her apartment complex. She almost didn't notice the human bundle propped up against the dark wall of the lobby, but when she did her eyes rounded and she shrieked. Dr. Sheldon Cooper, sitting with his back against the wall, knees loose. Sheldon, a shocking bloom of bruises over his left eye socket and the bridge of his nose. Sheldon, with blood clotted heavily around his nostrils and lips. Her fatigue vanished, replaced with a sick rush of adrenalin through her sympathetic nervous system. "Oh my God, sweetie! Oh baby, what happened?!"
He stirred, peering at her through his good eye. The other one was too swollen to open. "Penny?" he coughed. She suppressed an overwhelming need to hyperventilate, instead crouching down and hooking her hands under his armpits. He gave a half-hearted jerk of protest at her touch before rallying himself. He got his feet under him slowly and used his legs to push, but she took a lot of his weight as she eased him up the wall. He took a moment to catch his breath. "I seem to have run afoul of the local ruffians," he answered her finally, his voice sardonic even in extremity.
"Can you make it up the stairs if I help you? Or is Leonard home? I can run and get him, but…" she cracked her fingers nervously, "… I hate to leave you here even for a second. Fuck!"
"I find your unnecessary use of profanity strangely apropos tonight," he commented drily, in-between gasps. "It restores a sense of normalcy. With your assistance I would like to attempt the stairs." He tried to push off of the wall but stumbled. She caught him by the arm, and he resigned himself to leaning against the undoubtedly microbe-infested sleeve of her wrinkled Cheesecake Factory jumper. Despite the fact that she gave him ample breathing room in-between flights, after two stories he was flagging badly. Squaring her sturdy shoulders, she braced her arms around his narrow waist and half-dragged, half-hauled him the rest of the way to his apartment door. He patted his pockets feebly and grimaced. "I'm afraid I have been divested of my keys," he said stiffly.
"Shit!" Penny cursed, carefully removing her arms from him. "I'll get mine." He placed his palms gingerly against the (filthy) wall and leaned, watching her fidget nervously. "Penny," he sighed reproachfully, and she snapped back into focus, scurrying toward her own domicile. He noticed that she did not close the door behind her, and that she kept shooting him glances through the frame as she rummaged through a cluttered drawer. Checking to make sure he didn't run away? As if he could.
At last she held up the key like a prize. She moved swiftly back to him. "Penny," he scolded. "You did not re-lock your apartment." She stifled an absurd burp of laughter, but retraced her steps and secured her door. She wouldn't fight with him tonight. Quickly she returned, side-stepped him and opened his lock. Then she looped her arm around him again and helped him to his customary spot on the couch. He leaned his head back against the leather, contemplating the myriad twinges and aches that currently disrupted his cognitive processes. He heard water running in the kitchen, cabinets opening and shutting. Penny had returned with an armful of his emergency medical supplies. A bowl of warm water. Peroxide. A kit containing sutures of which he seriously doubted she could make use. "I believe it is customary at this juncture to ask if the wounded party would like an ambulance, or perhaps some sort of law enforcement to be involved," he observed tiredly.
"I know you hate hospitals," she responded softly. "Although I think we should call the police."
"How uncharacteristically observant of you. I am compelled to tell you that an influx of inquisitive strangers, in my present state, would likely result in a fit of hysterics, or what my mother would call the 'screaming meemies'."
"Would you recognize the people who did this to you?"
"I have an eidetic memory, Penny. Though I doubt they will return to be identified. As it has been 3.45 hours since their successful robbery of my person, I imagine they are well away."
She pulled in a slow sip of air, picturing him alone in this state for that amount of time. "The police can wait until tomorrow. We'll save your clothes in a plastic baggy."
"Another useful thought." His face was so frighteningly blank. She went to the fridge for a bottle of water, pressing it into his hands. He stared at it thoughtfully. "A remedy for shock. I'm shocked you know that." He issued a breathy laugh at himself, but it carried an undertone of panic.
"Drink your water, sweetie." He sipped it obediently, surprised to find it calming. His eyes shifted to the motion of her hands as she unpacked butterfly bandages and cotton balls onto the coffee table. "I cannot recall when I last sanitized that table," he said absently.
"Don't worry. I'm going to pour a shit-ton of peroxide all over everything, so you're safe." She proceeded to do just that, soaking a double layer of gauze in disinfectant. She reached for his face. He flinched back. "Sweetheart. I'm not going to hurt you," she said patiently.
"You've hit me before," he responded calmly. Her mouth dropped open. "….What?" she managed weakly. He averted his eyes.
"Penny, I'm afraid my limited ability to interpret physical cues is severely compromised this evening. And my face and arms are quite painful."
"Sheldon, when have I ever hit you?"
"You frequently do so. When you feel angry or insulted, you often punch my bicep or slap my hand."
Her face scrunched up. "God, Sheldon!"
"I harbor no ill-will towards you, Penny," he offered, belatedly sensing her distress. "As you can see by tonight's events, I am quite used to being the object of physical aggression. I conjecture that this is an unfortunate side-effect of my genius, since the paradigm evolved in my youth and worsened as my mental abilities fully manifested. You, at least, have never drawn blood."
Her lips pressed together grimly. She wanted to explain to him that her (light!) punches and smacks were perfectly normal and acceptable, and that he should know better than to believe she would hurt him intentionally. She wanted to excuse herself, even get angry. But instead she forced herself to think. How else would a boy - a man - with suspiciously autistic tendencies, who grew up bullied and isolated from his peers under the care of a father she highly suspected was an abusive alcoholic, interpret her actions? Especially since she had a tendency to vent her frustration and anger with what she previously would have called "love taps." Her eyes stung. Shit. "I'm sorry, Sheldon," she said instead. "I didn't mean to do that. I won't ever do it again."
"Considering the contexts under which they arose, I believe your actions to be reflexive. It is foolhardy to speak in absolutes when you presumably do not have complete control over your responses to negative emotional stimuli." She sorted through this, and understood that he thought she couldn't help herself. This irritated but also shamed her, as she realized her "responses" had become a nasty habit.
"Well then," she said, thinking quickly, "if I mess up and accidentally… lash out, I'll fix it." He raised an eyebrow at her. "I could sing you Soft Kitty. Or I could kiss it better. I could take a strike, and say I'm sorry." She was running out of potential fixes. "You could hit me back. Or I could… tie my hands! Everyone would see. That way I would be way more embarrassed than you."
"Tie your hands?" he squeaked, shocked. "Hit you back? Good Lord, Penny. I could never." She wrung her hands. "Well, what do you suggest, then?" she pleaded.
He squirmed, clearly uncomfortable. "It is unnecessary. As I have said, I harbor you no ill-will."
"It's completely necessary! I can't believe I hurt you. I feel terrible!"
"I… it was not my intention to upset you. I merely wanted to explain my reaction, so you would not be offended by my aversion to contact." She struggled to smooth her facial expression before she looked at him again.
"I'm not offended. But I need to make things right between us. Tell me what to do."
He sighed, meeting her eyes reluctantly. "Of the options… I suppose 'kissing it better' would make the most sense, given that it is mildly embarrassing for the kisser but implies an intent of comfort and affection. However, it would not work. You know my feelings on unnecessary germ exchange." They both sat in silence for a moment, pondering. "Maybe I have an idea about that," Penny ventured slowly. "Could we try it?"
He let his head thump back against the couch. "if I say yes, can we terminate this nightmarish conversation and let me sleep?" He caught her quick nod out of the corner of his eye, and splayed his hands palm up on his knees in a gesture of surrender. "Fine. Proceed."
"Um. Okay. Well, where did I… hit you, the first time?" She didn't ask him if he remembered. She knew he did. One hand lifted from his knee and gingerly touched the outside of the arm nearest her. "I'll be right back," she whispered.
He lifted his head to watch her, curious in spite of himself. When she came back she was holding a roll of paper towels. She tore one off and placed it against his arm, over his sleeve. Then, before he could jerk away, she leaned in and pressed a kiss against the paper. "I'm sorry," she murmured, and he felt the warmth of her words through the protective layers she had placed over his skin. His breath caught in his throat. He looked away from her again.
"You've hit me there a total of fourteen times during the course of our association," he stated, a little hoarsely. Slowly she pressed her mouth against the paper towel again. "Sorry," she whispered. Another kiss. "Sorry." Another. "So sorry." He could almost hear her counting them out in her head. It occurred to him that he would not have to count. The realization that she would expend herself to do so for the sole purpose of soothing him struck him quite hard, filling his chest with a sharp, bittersweet emotion he couldn't define. She got to fourteen and stopped, waiting. He lifted a shaking left hand and touched the back of his right. "You slapped me here, three times." She took the 'contaminated' paper towel and set it carefully on the coffee table, far from the medical supplies, instinctively realizing that tidiness would move him. She tore off a new sheet, folded it in two, and wrapped it around his hand before lifting it to her lips. She kissed him and a tear fell from her cheek onto the paper. She froze, waiting for the flinch. It didn't come. "Sheldon," she began faintly.
He gently took his hand out of hers and placed it on his knee, paper towel intact. "I don't want to talk about this anymore," he said foggily. "I would prefer to take a shower and put on my Friday pajamas. Thank you for assisting me with the stairs." Jerkily, and acutely feeling the twinges in his hips and ribs, he stood and moved towards the bathroom. She recognized dismissal when she saw it, and left without a sound.
He had a little trouble removing his pants and shirt, and a lot of trouble unlacing his shoes. He had to perch on the toilet seat, panting through the pain, before he could lean down far enough to yank the laces. With a final effort he kicked off his socks and stood to twist the handle on the shower all the way to hot. For the first time in his adult life he left his clothes on the tile where they lay.
He stepped into the scalding shower and let the water burn savagely over his wounds. He extended a hand through the curtain to pluck a clean washcloth from the shelf and applied antibacterial gel. He scrubbed his skin until half-clotted cuts broke and bled anew. He shampooed and washed his hair over and over until his hair squeaked brittlely against his fingers. As he waited the recommended 120 seconds for his conditioner to "set," he could not stop a wash of emotion from coursing through him. He shut off the water and stepped out of the shower. He dried himself with a clean towel. He urinated, but could not evacuate his bowels. His carefully controlled existence was broken like a concrete dam after a catastrophic flood.
He sat on the mattress in his bedroom and painstakingly put on his pajamas. He did up the buttons one by one. He retrieved long grilling tongs from the kitchen and used them to pick up his soiled clothing from the bathroom floor. He placed the items in two large Ziploc bags and sealed them in. He limped out to the living room and called the police. He used the remaining ten minutes prior to their arrival to clean and bandage his face in the still-steamy bathroom mirror. Leonard arrived home at 10:24 PM. When Leonard saw him finishing his statement to two uniformed detectives, he shouted in surprise and dismay. Sheldon made sure the detectives knew the proper protocol for pursuing violent crimes, handed them the baggies containing his clothing and shoes (evidence), then thanked them for their time when they rose to leave. He did not shake their hands. Leonard came to him, speaking rapidly and emotionally, but Sheldon was not able to focus fully on what the other man was saying.
"Why are you… and they… never called me, why didn't… Good God!" Leonard expostulated.
"There, there," said Sheldon absently.
"Look like… who could have… fucking huge black eye and… catch them yet?!"
"I should call the bank," Sheldon interjected.
"The bank!?" Leonard cried. Sheldon gave him a patronizing look.
"Of course, Leonard. Those blackguards have my wallet. I will need to report my bank card stolen if I am to recover any lost funds." Sheldon tapped the armrest of his sofa pensively. "I shall need to replace my permit and university ID as well. Bother." Leonard made a noise similar to the sound of a man being strangled, if the noise of a man being strangled was something Star Wars: A New Hope portrayed accurately. "I'll call the bank," said Leonard finally, clearing his throat.
"Thank you, that is very thoughtful. I am quite tired."
"Oh, Sheldon." Leonard moved towards him, extending his arms. Sheldon shrank back against the couch. "Nnnnn!" he whimpered. Leonard dropped his arms and lowered his head.
"Okay, Sheldon. All right." He crossed the room and pulled his cell phone out of his pocket. He glanced back at the couch, where his battered roommate was still gripping the leather couch in speechless panic. "If you need me, I'm here, you know?"
At last Leonard went to his own bedroom, and Sheldon was able to bury his face in his hands.
Penny shucked her uniform and threw it angrily against the wall. Her shoes followed with two satisfying thumps. Her shower was furious, fast, and hot. She left her wet hair tangled and unbrushed, threw on a thin robe, and strode to the refrigerator, yanking out a bottle of twist-top wine. She swigged from the bottle and choked immediately, gasping and coughing, and all at once she was crying. Ugly, snot-nosed, blotchy eyed crying that sent her wobbling for the couch and the nearest Kleenex box. She blew her nose noisily and folded her arms against her chest to keep out a sudden chill.
She turned on Sheldon's extra DVD copy of Star Trek: TOS. His non-extra copy was still in cellophane, lovingly encased in a glass-covered shelf in his room. She sniffled and laid her head down on a couch pillow. She tried not to think of blood. She dozed, and twitched fitfully in her dreams.
Knock, knock, knock.
Knock, knock, knock.
KNOCK, KNOCK, KNOCK.
She was up and moving before she was fully awake. "Sheldon?" she said, quickly swiping at her eyes to dislodge any crusted tears.
"How did you know it was me?" he demanded furiously as she opened the door. "I could be a robber! I could be a rapist, or an axe murderer!" The tops of his ears were burning red. She searched her shell-shocked mind for an answer he would accept.
"I… recognized the frequency of your voice?" she responded hesitantly. He glared at her, and huffed. She tried to meet his eyes. She tried to read the situation fairly.
"You pushed me here!" he barked suddenly, slapping his chest with the flat of his right palm. "You called me a jerk and you pushed me!" She let her mouth open and close, completely bewildered. Incensed, he reached toward her with his other hand, and she realized with a start that he was shoving a roll of paper towels into her arms. Comprehension dawned. She grabbed handful of pajama sleeve and tugged him into her living room. She ripped off a paper towel and smoothed it over his heart. She pressed her lips, then her cheek against the paper, and his arms fell limply to his side. "I'm sorry I hurt you," she said into his chest. "I'm sorry." She felt his breath hitch.
"Everything hurts, Penny," he said into her hair. It was a little boy's voice, full of tears. "I'm sorry," she repeated, shifting so that her lips touched the paper towel again.
"I was so scared," he whispered. She tentatively raised her fingers to brush the buttons of his collar. "It's okay," she said, her voice muffled against him. His nose nuzzled against the top of her head.
"I don't want to be alone," he said, very faintly. She felt her heart constrict. She reached down into herself, fighting to bring up the right response. She leaned her whole body against him, separated only by clothing and cellulose. "Not while I'm around," she said at last.
His arms came up around her then, clutching her to him so hard the air was pushed from her lungs. He wept into her half-dried hair like a child. She skated her hands gently up his bruised body until she held him whole. When she felt his legs giving out she helped him to the couch. She put a pillow on her thighs and pulled him down until his head rested in her lap. She turned the DVD back on and ran her fingers through his hair, up and down his neck, across his shoulders. He wrapped his thin arms around her knees and lower back and gripped her like a lifeline, his hold relentless even in sleep.