A/N: I feel obligated to disclose that this is my first attempt at a Big Bang fic. And that this thing is gonna get ugly before it gets pretty. Lastly, I do not own any characters or story lines featured in The Big Bang Theory. I'm sick enough to make up my own, thank you.
You've been warned on all accounts! Enjoy.
This world is dangerous.
All the careful calculations in every step he took, every eidetic memory he harbored, and every routine behavior he ever partook in that once comforted him meant shit now. He couldn't pretend that he wasn't a changed man.
Or maybe this was who he had always been? His father's son.
His education, his noted reputation as a child prodigy, his advanced work in the field of physics…what was the point? What weight did his accomplishments acquire if at the end of the day, he was no longer in control of himself?
He clenched and unclenched his fists as the pounding on the metal door rattled his nerves.
"Sheldon, goddamnit, let's go!"
He glanced at the metal door and then he looked longingly away. He didn't want to be here. But, as he tried to explain to her before, some bonds are impossible to dissolve. His past had absorbed him. Now it was beckoning him, and he was doomed to follow.
Sixteen years earlier.
Seventeen year-old Sheldon Cooper's blue eyes were pointed up, waiting for an indication that it was safe to move. He grunted quietly to himself as the pilot barely had time to bring the aircraft to rest before Sheldon's fellow passengers were unbuckling their seat belts and rising from their seats. He fought the urge to scream in the midst of chaos. Rules and procedures are set in place for a reason, after all. It would be what these cretins deserve if the plane suddenly jolted forward and they all fell on top of each other, broken and bloody limbs beneath him as he sat safe in his seat. Before his fantasy could go further, the small orange light that gave permission to move around the cabin lit up directly above him. His brow was suddenly sweaty, and he dabbed at it with the sleeve of his jacket as he waited for the plane to fully vacate before getting up and grabbing his overhead carry-on. His knees screamed in protest after the long transatlantic flight he had endured in that seat. He broke into a brisk walk down the runway that connected to the plane to the landing gate at the Scholes International Airport in Galveston, Texas.
He was home for the holidays. The piercing whistle of his dear mother Mary Cooper made Sheldon flinch and turn his face slowly to the left. It was the same cacophonous whistle his mother had reserved for his twin sister Missy's soccer games after she scored a goal, or when his older brother George Jr. wandered off on his own at the mall and Mary put two fingers at the corners of her lips and blew. It was for attention, and Sheldon detested it. He lowered his head and walked toward his mother as she began to flail her arms and when he finally got close enough, he heard her crow in happiness.
"My baby is finally home!" She gathered him in a full-blown bear hug as she mumbled a 'thanks' to Jesus. Though Sheldon was still a teenager, he was easily a head taller than his petite mother. He nearly folded in half as she lovingly squeezed his gangly frame in her arms.
"Hi, Mother," Sheldon murmured, his face smashed into Mary's shoulder. He winced until she released him, and he fought the urge to run to the nearest bathroom and wash his face. Sheldon was going through some new phase in his life where his previous dislike for touching others had magnified tenfold, and he always made it a point to carry sanitizing tools on him, such as alcohol-based hand soap, or disinfectant wipes. He was sure his mother wouldn't be pleased to see him react so rashly to her touch, so he resisted for now. "I have everything I need in this carry-on bag, so it is not necessary to stand around and wait any longer. I wish to go home so I can wash up."
"Well, alright then," Mary started, her forehead creasing in confusion. "But sugar, what about clothes? All of your belongings?" She searched her son's face for answers.
"Mother," Sheldon began as he held open the airport door for her to walk through while they walked outside to her parked car. "As I informed you on the phone only 8 days ago, I am not coming home for the entire Christmas break. I will only be here for this weekend. I have too much work to do back at the University…"
"Work? You're seventeen! What kind of business couldn't wait until January?"
Sheldon's eyebrow perched as his mother led the way through the maze of parked cars to find the station wagon. Was his mother really interested in his scientific trials? And how could he, for the lack of a better term, water it down into an explanation she would be able to comprehend? "Well currently, my team and I are attempting to unify quantum mechanics and general relativity into a…"
"Shelly," Mary cut him off as they approached the car. She climbed into the car and leaned over the passenger side to unlock his side while he made a face. Of course she wasn't truly interested. He really had struggled with underlying sarcasm and the double-meaning of conversation between groups and felt it would be a life-long fight to master. Well, his energy was needed elsewhere, anyway. He was, after all, still riding the high of completing his doctorate and did not want to allow the name Dr. Sheldon Cooper to be associated with anything but the unlocked secrets of the universe. He snapped out of his reverie when Mary shifted the old wagon into reverse and slammed on the brakes just as a couple tried to pass behind her. "Well, go!" she urged them loudly as she waited for them to continue walking before completing her reverse and shifted back into drive. "Anyway, you're breaking my heart, Sheldon. I really was looking forward to having you home for the whole month. We all were."
"Your heart is fine, Mother," Sheldon retorted as he watched the familiar businesses and neighborhoods zoom by on either side of the car while his mother drove well over the speed limit. "But mine is racing. Will you slow down, please?" He gripped his knees with both hands until he felt the vehicle slow and risked a look at his mother's forlorn face. His love for her surged as a rare wave of guilt overcame him. "I'm sorry, but my team is counting on me and I can't waste time here when I'm needed back in Germany."
"Wasting time, huh?" Mary asked. It was so hard for her not to take things personally, so Sheldon tried to change the subject.
"Who's at home? Is Meemaw there yet?"
"Yes," Mary answered, her lips pursed. She signaled with her blinker and took a wide turn onto a dirt road that led to Sheldon's childhood home. He relaxed slightly, knowing that the only woman in his life that understood him was only a few miles away. He might not see Meemaw very often, but she actually appreciated the life Sheldon led and never made him feel guilty in between visits to Texas. Who knew a small-town Texas gal like Meemaw whose education topped off in the 8th grade would understand how important Sheldon was to the future of physics? "Missy is away at cheerleader camp for the weekend, which is a shame because she will have missed you by the time she gets back. George Jr. is home, too. He's real excited to see you."
And just like that, Sheldon tensed again. He hadn't seen his brother in almost 6 years, since he first left for college. George Jr., or Junior as he is known around these parts, left home at the ripe age of 16 and had been in and out of juvenile detention up until he turned 19, when he did a six month bid for a DUI charge. Mary Cooper had been adamant after his release that her oldest boy come home and get sober, and to her surprise as well as everyone else's, he complied willingly. Now at the cusp of turning 22, Junior was clean and the apple of Mary's eye.
Sheldon may not come home often, but color him skeptical. George Cooper, Jr. would always be a nuisance who took after their deceased father in terms of causing their mother to cry herself to sleep every night and dry up all her financial savings every time he had the urge to go on a binge. Even at a young age, Sheldon carefully regarded his brother as undesirable company.
Just like his mother promised, Meemaw was there and waiting with open arms to wrap up her favorite grandchild on the front porch. After exchanging some niceties that Sheldon felt would suffice his grandmother and mother for now, he excused himself to the back of the house where he could store his carry-on bag and beeline to the bathroom to wash off. After removing his light jacket (something he should have peeled off the moment the plane landed, because mid-December or not, he was still back in Texas and it was 80 degrees outside) and grimacing at the sweat that coated his body, he walked to the bathroom and attempted to turn the knob.
"Drat," he breathed. The door was locked.
"Hold your horses, Shelly," the gruff voice from within the locked bathroom commanded. Immediately, a sinking feeling caused Sheldon's insides to turn into mush. He wasn't in the least scared of his older brother, but he wasn't sure he was ready for an awkward reunion just yet. His cropped hair was matted to his forehead, and his breath was slightly sour. He ached for a bath and his toothbrush. The round eyes on his face burned with lack of sleep and he felt, for all intent purposes, 'cranky'.
The door swung open and standing before him was a full grown man with matching blue orbs and round face under bellied by a full beard. "Sheldon." The man grinned and extended his massive, tattoo-covered arm toward his little brother.
"Junior," Sheldon gasped. He was shocked at the sight of the thickness of his brother, the stocky frame that actually made him look healthy. When he didn't take Junior's hand, the older brother pulled back and crossed both of his thick upper limbs across his chest, a grin still on his face.
"Still don't like people to touch you, huh?" The you sounded like 'yuh' as Junior's southern Texas accent poured out with ease. Sheldon's accent was still prominent when he took on a certain excited or angry tone, but for the most part, when in the presence of his colleagues, he had tried to suppress it. Before he could say anything else, Sheldon's biological urges overcame his shock at the sight of his brother.
"No, I don't, but Junior? Would it be acceptable to finish this conversation later as I have been holding the contents in my bladder for quite some time, and quite frankly, I smell foul."
"No argument there, little brother," Junior chuckled and stepped out into the hallway, out of Sheldon's path. "It's good to see you though, Shelly. Come see me when you're done." And with that, he turned on his heels and headed down the carpeted hallway to the front of the house, Sheldon's apprehensive eyes on his back for a moment before he shut the door and relieved himself.
"Alright, sweetie," Penny chirped as she parked her car and glanced over at her sullen passenger. "We're home." She hesitated for a biting or sarcastic remark along the lines of 'no need for the running commentary, Penny,' to escape Sheldon's lips, but all was silent. He gripped his iPhone in his hands, running his fingers over the screen longingly, as if the inanimate object were a dear friend. "You okay?"
"Of course I am, Penny," he replied. His shiny eyes finally looked up and he studied her for a moment. After dropping Leonard off at the airport, he had been unusually quiet. His voice was slightly hoarse after the break from speaking he so rarely took.
"Okay," Penny said slowly, unsure of what Sheldon was feeling. Was he about to cry? And why wasn't he making a move to get out of the car? "You know, Sheldon. Leonard will only be gone for the summer. Time will fly by so fast, you won't even miss him."
"Penny," Sheldon said.
"Stephen Hawking quit and deleted our Words With Friends game."
Penny summoned every ounce of patience and even a little bit of her sub par acting skills to keep a straight face. There it is.
"Sheldon," she said softly. "We just dropped Leonard off at the airport where he will be joining Mr. Hawking—"
"Dr. Hawking," Penny continued with a frown. "On an expedition to the middle of the sea. He won't even have time to play games with you out in the middle of nowhere."
"While your reasoning is sound, Penny, I can't help but feel melancholy. Leonard has truly ruined what was supposed to be a comfortable summer." He finally unbuckled his seat belt and sighed deeply before opening the door and exiting the car. Leonard suggested plenty of self-soothing methods to try while she babysat Sheldon for the couple of months that he would be gone, but Penny didn't know she would have to try them out so soon after he left. While counting down backward from ten, she climbed out of the car and slammed her door, following her tall, lanky man-child of a friend up the four flights of stairs to their respective apartments.
"I'll be right next door if you need me, Sheldon." She inserted her key into her lock and turned her body halfway to watch him do the same. "We still ordering pizza tonight?"
"Of course. It's pizza night." Sheldon's big blue eyes blinked impatiently at his blonde neighbor like she had asked if water was wet.
"Can't wait," she muttered before slipping inside her living room and closing the door behind her. She threw her keys in the small glass bowl near her couch and collapsed onto the cushions before pawing for the remote on the coffee table. The skin on her neck was slightly damp, the heat in Pasadena furiously rising every day. The car ride was barely tolerable with Sheldon's sulking, add to that the Freon in her air conditioning was running low. Luckily, her passenger hadn't complained about that, since he was too busy being devastated about something much more pressing, like the demise of he and Hawking's virtual camaraderie.
Yanking her hair up in a messy bun and fanning the slope of her neck as she tried to cool down, Penny relaxed as she let her thoughts roam to Leonard. She was going to miss her boyfriend, but was also secretly relieved for the space. Not that she didn't love him, but Penny still had some major commitment issues that girls her age in a healthy relationship should really have grown out of by now. She figured she could take this time apart to focus on what she really wanted and under no pressure of her boyfriend's puppy dog eyes or his insistent hounding that they constantly define their relationship. It was almost like she was taking a cruise herself, in the form of a break from her relationship. Not that she would act like a single woman, but she would take advantage of her freedom by doing things she liked.
Though taking care of Sheldon (in the form of driving him everywhere and overall making sure he didn't harm himself or others) wasn't exactly her idea of a vacation excursion, she didn't mind keeping him in the routine of her everyday life. He was one of her best friends, even when he drove her up the wall. She had always felt a little more protective of Sheldon than any of her other brainy friends, because he had always seemed the most naïve and almost childish. Besides his obvious quirks though, over the past few years he had matured a lot. Both emotionally and physically. The physically was not lost on Penny.
She giggled to herself at the thought of Sheldon's filled out arms and thicker body, then flipped the channels to distract herself for a few hours before dinner.
Sixteen years earlier.
"Junior, I assure you I am in no mood to accompany you to a party." Sheldon's stick-thin arms reached around his back and he clasped his hands together at the base of his spine, standing erect. "And even if I was in any kind of sociable mood, a 'kick-back' in a barn forty-five minutes away is hardly the atmosphere that I long to mingle in." He hated to do it, but he air-quoted 'kick-back'. He watched as George Jr. let out a long sigh and sat down on the couch. Their mother and grandmother had long since gone to bed and Sheldon was roused from sleep almost as soon as he rested his head on the pillow.
"Shelly," Junior began, leaning forward with his elbows on his knees. "This is actually kind of a business trip, rather than a party."
"What?" Sheldon's face screwed up in a mix between bewilderment and exasperation. "What kind of business does one attend to at eleven o'clock at night?" The look on Junior's face gave Sheldon all the information he needed to know. "You've been acquiring drugs for years, Junior. I'm sure you can make do on your own. Goodnight." His tone was cold as he spun around to leave when he heard his brother call out to him.
"No, you numbnuts," Junior hissed, rising from the couch. He followed Sheldon halfway down the hall before snapping his fingers to get his attention. When Sheldon turned, his brother was pointing frantically towards the kitchen, obviously wanting to continue their conversation out of earshot from the bedrooms where his mother and grandmother slept. Sighing heavily, Sheldon turned around and followed Junior back to the front of the house, slumping in a chair at the dining table across from him. He studied his brother with a watchful eye. He still hadn't come to terms with how ripped George Jr. had become over the last six years. Sheldon had to wonder if it was a mix of weight-lifting and steroids, or just the steroids alone. His brother was always a corner-cutter. "And I'm only speaking to you about this because you're the smartest person I know, and you're an adult now."
"I'm seventeen, Junior," Sheldon replied in a disapproving tone. "While in the state of Texas I am of age to file for legal emancipation from my biological parents or be tried as an adult in a court of law, I'm not old enough to buy you booze. And I'm not smart," he added. "I'm a genius."
"Listen, Shel," Junior said through gritted teeth. "I'm not talking about buying drugs, or booze, or whatever activity you think I might partake in." His twangy voice was slightly above a whisper and he clasped his meaty hands together on top of the table. "I would like you to accompany me to an event."
"An event." Sheldon repeated in a voice thick with sleep, uninterested. "No thank you. Goodnight." He was about to rise from the table when Junior continued in a rushed voice.
"I'm fighting, Sheldon, and I want you to be there to watch me."
"Junior," Sheldon groaned. "Are you saying you want me to go watch you box another man in a barn?"
"These fights, Sheldon, they pay good money." Junior's blue eyes that were perfect reflections of his little brother's gleamed with excitement. "That's what I do for an income now, you know. Not a lot of places in town are hiring an ex-con with drug charges and petty theft on their records." The excitement faltered for a moment as he stared up at Sheldon.
"That's not really anything I'm interested in seeing, Junior." Sheldon watched his brother's face fall and suddenly was taken back to a decade ago, when they were just kids and Junior used to clamor for their father's attention with no results. The same look of defeat was there, even in the 21 year-old man that sat before him. "And what do you mean you do it for income?" He humored Junior, watching his eyebrows perk up.
"Well, to survive, I need an income. So I've become sort of an amateur boxer. Sometimes I participate in some mixed martial arts here and there, and I have a lot of people come bet on me. And I want you to see it."
"Junior, I can assure you that my stomach is queasy just thinking about it. That's barbaric, you know. Is that why you've bulked up to the size of a small van?"
Junior let out a sharp bark of laughter, surprising Sheldon. He couldn't help it as even his lips turned up in a small smile. "Yeah, I train daily to maintain my strength. But there's something else I'd need for you to go for, too."
"Well now that you've ruined any chances of me getting a proper amount of sleep tonight, continue," Sheldon said, his hand lazily waving the air between them as he sat back down at the table. "What would you need me there for?"
"You ever hear of spot-fixing?" Junior asked carefully.
Sheldon might not be savvy on illegal activities that happen in a barn on the edge of town in the middle of the night, but just from Junior's tone, he had a pretty good idea. "So you think you're making an income when what you're really doing is throwing fights and shaving points to rip off gangsters." He leaned back in his chair, throwing an arm over the back of it as he stared his older brother down.
Junior blinked back surprise for a few seconds before clearing his throat. "I don't deal with gangsters," he protested, leaning back in his own chair, mirroring Sheldon perfectly. "Just some dumb-ass preppy kids that bet their mom and dad's money during summer and winter breaks when they come home from the Ivy Leagues to visit." He licked his lips and looked over his shoulder quickly to make sure they were still alone before he continued. "And I feel like if you come with me, you could use that big ol' brain of yours to help me scout out the suckers. Come on, Sheldon. I'll split all the winnings down the middle with you." When Sheldon didn't answer, he added, "It'll be a great way for us to bond again, you know? I missed you Shelly. I want you to see what I've been up to. I miss my brother."
"I appreciate the sentiment, Junior," Sheldon said, his face blank. "But I won't be joining you. Please don't come wake me up again. Enjoy your roll in the manure tonight." He stood up from the table for the last time before turning his back on the brightly lit kitchen. His brother's voice followed him and made him stop in his tracks again.
"Everyone always says I'm like our old man," he scoffed. "Just 'cause I have his name and I took a liking to illegal substances just like he did. But you're more like George Cooper than I could ever be. You're cold as ice."
The tips of Sheldon's ears burned. How he wished he was back in Germany in his tidy, bleach-smelling room with an immaculately clean desk and made up cot that was suited for his size. He would be up right now, no doubt breaking for lunch with his colleagues as they discussed their calculations over a plate of vegetables and meats cooked to his preference. He would give anything to be there instead of here, toe to toe with a man with whom he shared his blood, guilting him into spending time with his him and his hooligan protégé. Clenching his fists together, he turned around and slowly re-entered the kitchen where George Jr. stared up at him expectantly.
Sheldon removed his jacket and eased into his spot, the sole comfort allotted to him today. His apartment was now empty and lacking a certain frazzled sense of disorder that followed his roommate Leonard wherever he seemed to go, yet Sheldon continued to feel glum. He pulled his iPhone out of the front pocket of his khakis and stared at the dark screen. Could Leonard have told Dr. Hawking to cease their game? Why would he do that? Sheldon tried to be reasonable. He breathed a soft laugh, his shoulders shaking. Try. Sheldon Cooper didn't have to try to do anything. The moment of sadness passed, and he was over it. He placed his cell phone on the coffee table in front of him and grabbed the remote, switching on the television to kill some time before his scheduled Skype time with Amy Farrah Fowler, preceded by the arrival of pizza brought by his friends.
Melancholy arrived again. Not only was Leonard offered the chance of a lifetime to visit the North Sea in the name of physics, Sheldon's girlfriend Amy had left the day before to the United Kingdom to partake in lecturing Advanced Neurobiology at Cambridge University for the entire summer. Big things were happening for everybody but Sheldon, while he was scheduled for a whole lot of nothing-new for the next insufferable couple of months.
If Penny had been invited by Joss Whedon himself to start filming on location for The Avengers 2, Sheldon would've considered suicide. Stewing in his own pity, he soon lost track of time before the door to his apartment swung open and in walked bottle-blonde Penny like she owned the place.
"Sup?" she greeted him tersely before slouching on the other end of the couch. "Raj and Howard gonna bring the pizza?"
Sheldon studied her horrid posture, legs bent and knees together as her slippered feet rested on the coffee table. She was dressed in a pair of inappropriately high denim shorts with a bright yellow halter top that left little to the imagination. "Yes, Penny. Raj and Howard will be arriving with the pizza soon. Please, make yourself at home." He tore his eyes away from her and back on the TV before reaching for the remote again to change the channel. His brows furrowed in confusion when he saw that the channels were already changing on their own, then looked back at Penny with annoyed huff as he saw her thumbing the buttons on the remote herself. She looked at him with an innocent pout.
"You said 'make yourself at home'."
"Honestly, Penny," Sheldon began, but was interrupted by the buzzing of his phone. The small cellular vibrated and rotated on the table top as he grabbed it and put it to his ear, not bothering to check the caller I.D. "Hello?"
"Shelly! It's me, Junior."
Indeed it was. Sheldon inwardly cringed at the sound of the voice he hadn't heard in years. "What do you want, George Jr.?" He felt no need to waste time with social salutations when he knew his brother wasn't calling to have a friendly chat. "Well? Spit it out." He tensed as he saw Penny out of the corner of his eye look towards him, garnering unwanted attention. He rose from his spot and stalked down the hall to his bedroom.
"Sheldon Lee. That's no way to greet your big brother, especially one that's gone out of his way to come visit you in sunny California."
Sheldon closed his eyes tightly and slumped against his closed bedroom door. Then, he silently prayed to a God he didn't believe in to make him disappear.