“What does it look like?” Sheldon echoes his words a second time and glances around the room.
Penny’s door slams audibly, across the hall, and the room falls back into another awkward silence.
“Is it?” Leonard finally finds his voice, although it cracks on his first try. “Is it what it looks like?”
“Why is no one answering me? What does it look like? I am missing a very integral part of this conversation because there is clearly something going on and none of you will—”
“Shut. Up. Sheldon.” Howard grounds out from next to the door. He says nothing else, but the look he directs at Raj more than reiterates Leonard’s question.
Raj turns his head down and pulls the blanket closer around his body, socked foot stubbing the ground around the edge of the living room carpet. He nods.
“Jesus,” Leonard yelps. Bolts upwards and starts pacing around in his wrinkled clothes beside the couch.
Sheldon looks back and forth between the trio and huffs. He pulls his phone out and begins tapping the touch screen aggressively. “Disheveled clothes--” he mumbles to himself.
Raj looks like he wants to crawl into a hole and die.
“How did this even happen?” Leonard asks.
Raj shrugs and curls his face further down against his chest and out of eyeshot.
“Oh, so now you can’t talk to us either?” Howard snaps out.
Raj glances up long enough give a sad, uneasy frown.
“--exiting a bedroom--”
“I mean, we had a deal. If either of us were ever close to sealing the deal then we’d call the other one over and try to turn it into a… party.”
Raj makes a choked sound and finally brings himself to speak up. “Yeah, when should I check my phone for the missed calls from you? Before or after you got engaged to Bernadette?”
“--looks of crippling regret--”
Howard gapes and scrunches his mouth into a hard line.
“What happened between Penny and I is none of your business.”
“None of my business, are you kidding me? She’s my ex-girlfriend,” Leonard all but shrieks back at Raj.
“Whoa, whoa, whoa. It’s one thing to be mad at not getting a heads up about this, but seriously, Leonard? You can’t pick and choose who Penny’s involved with. Whether it’s Raj or me or Raj and me—”
Both Raj and Leonard make disgusted noises.
“—or Sheldon, for Christ’s sake.”
Sheldon’s attention leaves his phone for long enough to give a quick and confused deer-in-the-headlights look around the room.
Howard takes a deep breath and sternly angles his arms down at either side as if declaring the discussion over already. “I mean… we barely even blinked an eye at the idea of us dating the same girl. This doesn’t seem very fair to Penny.”
Leonard’s face darkens as he turns his attention from Raj to Howard. “Fair to Penny? Do you even remember Stephanie’s last name?”
Howard’s face pinches up for a second and he looks like he’s trying his hardest to recall it. “Nnnnn—well, no. But I know Bernadette’s.”
He grins smugly at the entire room for long enough that Leonard looks annoyed enough to try and challenge him. “Oh, really?”
“Of course, I do. She’s my fiancée. It’s—uh, it’s—now that I’m under pressure to remember it of course it doesn’t come immediately to mi—Rostenkowski. Bernadette Rostenkowski. And Leslie Winkle still sexts me every few months because she thinks I should’ve ruined things with Bernadette awhile ago by now. I kind of agree with her, but that’s a whole other topic. So can you quit it with your macho bullshit double standards?”
“You are clearly dealing with your own I Miss Penny issues and taking it out on the both of them and it has nothing to do with you. Bernadette has been saying this for months and I thought she was exaggerating for the sake of effectual story-telling. Boy, was I wrong.”
“I’m leaving,” Leonard says, angrily reaching for his messenger bag and walking straight for the front door, head down.
“--awkward,” Sheldon concludes and pauses as his phone loads the search results. He stops paying attention for long enough to register this new development. “Wait, I thought you were moving back in.”
Leonard doesn’t turn back around, but he stops short of the doorway. “I don’t know, Sheldon. I just can’t be here right now.”
“Well, does right now mean just for the next hour or two? Or do you mean the next few days? Weeks? I need to come up with a schedule and—”
Leonard cuts him off with a groan of frustration. “I don’t know, Sheldon. I haven’t thought that far in advance.”
“If you’re not going to be back soon, I need to start looking for alternative options.” Sheldon attempts and fails to discretely give a look back towards where Raj is standing.
Leonard lets out another groan. He shuffles half-heartedly across the room towards the refrigerator. He leans down, looks around and grabs the milk from its designated place, sniffs it, looks at the carton, and puts it back. “I’m off to go get some milk, Sheldon.”
Howard moves his hands to his hips and rolls his eyes. “You’re lactose intolerant.”
Leonard gives a mock-innocent look and blinks. “Sheldon needs new milk, I’m just running an errand. Or do you have something else to say?”
Howard barely stifles a harsh laugh. “No, I’m all done.”
Sheldon looks pleased and pulls an impressed look, turning to Raj. “Looks like you have some competition after all.”
He makes a noise as he realizes he abandoned his phone and pulls it back up: “Did you mean: walk of shame?”
Leonard falters for a moment on his way out the door and rolls his neck, continuing out the door and down the stairs.
“I don’t know, did I?” Sheldon asks the resumed angry silence of the room. He squints down as Urban Dictionary loads the full definition. “Oh, they had sex. That’s fairly anti-climactic.”
Raj pulls the covers over his head and lets out a loud growl.
Raj calls Penny four times before she finally answers and cuts her off before she’s even gotten out a hello. “Don’t say anything because I don’t think this is going to work if I acknowledge that you’re actually listening or there. It’s just like I’m leaving a message. So I’m going to start talking after the beep. Beeeeep. I’m so sorry about last night and this morning. I honestly don’t remember what happened and I’m not really happy about that because not only are you nice and pretty and deserve better than that but I don’t like having missing gaps of time because it kind of reminds me of Memento or Flowers for Algernon and those are both really sad movies. Well, Flowers for Algernon was a book. Or actually was it a short story? I don't remember, but you probably catch my drift. I’m going to leave you alone forever now and I would totally understand if you never want to talk to me again because you’ve already had to deal with me never talking to you ever, so—that’s it. Bye.”
Raj hesitates for a second, unsure if he should just hang up the phone or wait to hear if Penny hangs up first. While he’s still deciding, he hears a soft sniff and it’s odd that he can almost see her roll her eyes and smile through the phone. “It’s okay, Raj. We’re okay. Thanks.” She pauses and he thinks she’s pulled the phone from her ear to disconnect, but instead there’s a short breath of laughter and more invisible but audible smiling. “It was nice talking to you.”
“I’m going to go talk to Priya about our living arrangements,” Raj says, trying to pull his jacket’s wrinkles straight with his right hand.
“All right, but if you think I’m cleaning up Leonard’s bedroom after your debauchery, you’re sorely mistaken.”
“I’ll be back as soon as I’m finished talking to her, okay?” Raj says gently and Sheldon gives a short nod, dropping the argument.
As soon as Raj shuts the door behind him, Sheldon swerves around, fights his instinctive pull towards the hallway for all of ten seconds before heading in the direction of the spare bedroom.
He opens the door quietly and immediately doubles back towards the kitchen, pulls a pair of rubber gloves from a cabinet and turns back around sharply.
“Forgive me father, for they have sinned…” he mumbles to himself as he crosses the threshold.
Raj pulls into the parking lot fifteen minutes later and leaves the car in neutral. Leonard’s car is in his its normal spot. He’s not sure if that means he’s here or he’s just left his car here, but he doesn’t want to risk another blow-up by going up unsuspectingly.
He turns off his engine, puts his hazards on since he’s double parked, and moves over to Leonard’s car slowly.
He’s seen enough episodes of Alias and Law & Order: SVU with Sydney and Olivia kicking ass and chasing after suspects to know the drill. He lays the back of his palm on the hood of Leonard’s car and pulls it back instantly. It’s still hot.
He reaches for his cell phone and scrolls through for Priya’s number.
Leonard bursts into Raj and Priya’s apartment noisily. He hadn’t expected the door to be unlocked, so when the knob turns all the way around, he goes with it.
Priya is sitting on the couch, arms folded and face pinched up angrily at the interruption. She pauses what looks like a James Bond movie on the TV. Leonard thinks he recognizes Daniel Craig.
“I want to move to India with you.”
Raj has to try the land line because Priya’s phone seems to be going to voicemail. She picks up on the third ring.
Leonard pauses while explaining his sudden outburst when the phone rings.
Priya answers it quietly, still staring at where Leonard’s stopped in front of the door, her mouth gaping.
Leonard blanches, moving closer to where Priya face has switched from shocked to reserved. “I want to be with you, I don’t care where—” he continues, weakly.
“I’ll let him know. Goodbye, Rajesh.” Priya hangs up and drops the phone to the counter beside her. “My brother wanted to let you know he’s sorry about what happened with Penny and even though it’s none of your business who they both sleep with, like Howard said, it was a bad way to find out.”
Leonard stares back, cringing somewhat.
“He doesn’t speak for Penny, but hopefully you can find it in you to move past this and be friends with them both again.”
Leonard still stares, physically curling to the side, similar to the way his anger this morning had altered Raj’s posture. If he weren’t so dumbfounded at what to say, he might’ve noted the irony.
“This isn’t what it looks like,” Leonard mumbles, awkwardly.
Priya slams the door behind her, having effectively pushed and shoved Leonard from the apartment.
Leonard slumps down against the brick wall opposite the door, grumbling to himself at the stupidity of his actions both just now and earlier that day.
There’s silence on the other side of the door, Priya either having gone into Raj’s bedroom or standing around wordlessly.
Leonard realizes this is his rock bottom. Rejected by two beautiful, intelligent women in the span of an hour is a new low even for him. It is approaching Howard levels of fail, actually.
The more he thinks about this morning, however, the less it was a rejection so much as… something that happened that has nothing to do with him. He’s barely spoken to Penny recently, at least not without Priya there or on his mind or waiting for him to text her when he’s able.
Just like that, he’s over it all. The drama, the will they-won’t they, the everything – when he first wanted to date Penny, his whole pitch was that he wasn’t the kind of guy she was used to going after.
He sure as hell got that wrong, in a long list of things, he realizes. He was exactly that guy. In fact, he was more that guy than Zack ever was and he’s momentarily overwhelmed at that thought and what it means about himself as a human being and then he feels bad at having considered Zack a bad guy at all, based pretty much entirely on his intelligence.
Clearly how smart you are has no bearing on how big of an asshole you are. Or, maybe it makes you more of one; he’s certainly entertained more radical concepts during his years living with Sheldon Cooper. Hell, if today's taught him anything it's that Sheldon’s probably entertained similar thoughts about him in return.
He takes a deep breath and laughs. Either he was trying to be the jerks that he saw Penny date in the past so she’d stay with him or he’s an even bigger jerk for thinking that Penny likes being treated that way at all by him or anyone else. Probably a little of both, he supposes.
His phone vibrates in his pocket and he pulls it out with one hand, lazily laying it on his knee and sliding the touch-lock with the same arm. An hour and a half is a little long for a trip to the market. - SC, the screen reads and Leonard lets out another short bark of exhausted laughter.
He takes a breath and clears his throat. “Hey, Priya! Do you have any spare milk I can borrow?” he shouts, somewhat hysterically, at the closed door.
There are suddenly footsteps on the other of side the wall.
For a second Leonard’s stirred into seriousness at the prospect of having to actually speak with her again and feels even worse about the way he’s treated her, in addition to his stewing thoughts on the toxic relationship his allegedly “epic” crush on Penny has become.
The silence is deafening as he sits, defeated, waiting for the death blow. The sound as the deadbolt turns sharply into place echoes down the narrow hallway and Leonard lets out another pathetic sigh.
The grocery store burned down. No milk. Leonard types quickly. He thinks on it for a few seconds before putting his phone down. Tell Penny I’m sorry I’ve been such a bad friend, these past four years.
He hits send and already feels ten times better.
Sheldon knocks on Penny’s door roughly ten minutes after receiving Leonard’s auspiciously morose text.
“Leonard says, I’m sorry I’ve been such a bad friend, these past four years. Message delivered.”
“Wait, what?” she asks, before Sheldon can return to his apartment.
“I’m not your service provider, Penny. Leonard asked me to deliver a message, I did. No resending because there was an error in encoding is offered.”
“When did he say that?”
“He sent this text message at 10:47AM.”
“Oh, okay.” Penny looks down at the ground and frowns.
“Ah, I almost forgot. You left these in our living room.” He reaches a hand into his pocket and lays his palm flat between them with a set of small earrings resting atop.
“Thanks,” she says, blushing slightly. “I take off my jewelry when I drink.”
“And apparently that’s not the only thing.”
“Hey, don’t judge me. I heard Leonard being an ass to Raj this morning and, God help me I never thought I’d say this, but Howard was right. It’s none of your—”
Sheldon holds a hand up, interrupting. “Of course it’s not. I was merely making an observation,” he says frankly. “I’m not sure why that’d be anyone’s business besides your own. Perhaps Raj, indirectly, I’m not really sure how that would work.”
“Leonard hates me, doesn’t he?” Penny changes the subject suddenly enough that Sheldon looks surprised. She cringes.
“This morning, I heard him talking to you guys and he was so mad.”
Sheldon pauses, shaking his head back in forth in disbelief. It’s a simple look, but it reminds Penny that he’s just as human as the rest of them, something she always forgets. “Who cares?”
Penny stares at him. “What do you mean?”
“Who cares if Leonard hates you? Leonard has hated me for over a decade. There are far worse things in life.”
Penny smiles at the seriousness of his expression. “This is probably the part of the conversation where I'd defend Leonard and tell you that I care, but honestly? I don’t anymore. You’re right.”
“I usually am.”
“It’s ironic though, I was just saying that I felt like an idiot for letting him go last night. It’s almost like I had to acknowledge that I even wanted him back just so I could get over him. Which, I don’t know if I’m there yet, but hearing that mess this morning certainly helped.”
“Yes, that was a confusing and unmitigated disaster.”
“But he said sorry? I guess that’s something.”
“Perhaps it is.”
“Well, thanks; for the earrings and the message delivery and the pep talk.” Penny smiles up at him, bouncing a little as she leans against her door.
“Yeah, you got through that pretty well and I don’t think you even meant to give one.”
“I most assuredly did not.” Sheldon pulls a face.
“Anyway, you go back to your whiteboards and monkey jokes.”
“Elephant facts. It was a fact about elephants.”
Sheldon turns to leave as she shakes her head at his eternal stubbornness.
“I’m just glad you didn’t get mad like the others. You mad is one of the most annoying things I’ve encountered in my life and I used to help tend and clean a working farm.”
“Mad? What reason on earth would I have to be mad over whom you choose to sleep with?”
Penny smiles across the distance between their apartments as he pulls his door open and turns back one last time.
“I’m just shocked it wasn’t me!” He grins, wanly.
Penny blinks, dumbstruck and seemingly horrified. Sheldon's door shuts noisily behind him.
“So, then Howard decided he was just insecure about his role in his relationship because he feels inadequate compared to Bernadette physically, academically, and now financially as well.”
“I’m not surprised,” Amy says from within the monitor of Sheldon’s laptop. “For someone that petite and awkward-looking, he’s always seemed overly sure of himself. It was bound to fester into an all-out complex at some point.”
“Indeed,” Sheldon says.
“So, how did Penny take Leonard’s apology? Surely she’s come around to find their relationship as unhealthy as we all view it.”
“She seemed pretty fed up, so I’d give that a tentative yes. She clearly was having a dark night, but it’s a shame things spiraled out of control so severely as a result. The human condition: can’t live with it, would rather avoid it altogether.”
Amy nods in agreement.
“I’m actually surprised she ended up in bed with Raj and not me. If my inhibitions had been equally lowered, things would’ve gone differently.” Sheldon considers his words. “Worse, perhaps.”
“Or, transitively, you could’ve ended up in bed with Raj.”
“Possible, but highly unlikely,” Sheldon says, causing Amy to frown in question. “I’ve seen him clip his toenails in a planetarium. Even if I were intoxicated, I believe I would know better than to tread in those deep, horrifying waters.”
Sheldon’s face stills as he looks away from the camera, thinking over the conversation with Penny they were originally discussing.
“Is something bothering you?”
He looks up, surprised at the question.
“Your facial expression signifies pain or disturbance.” She explains, “I took a class on criminal profiling for fun last fall.”
“Well, it was odd. Penny seemed put off by my suggesting that I was a more likely bedfellow than Raj.”
“And you’re offended by her assumption about your prowess.”
Sheldon smiles, blandly. “Hardly. I’m not immune to a certain dissonance at the idea of us being—” he makes a face “—intimate. I just don’t understand her look of dismay. Trying to suggest that my observation was at all incorrect would be just plain wrong.”
“When I first met her, she was eyeing me up like a rib eye on Good Friday.”
“I don’t understand what you’re trying to imply with that simile.”
“I’m not implying anything. I’ve done the math. Given that she was clearly interested in me at one time and add to that her vulnerable emotional state, statistically speaking, Penny should’ve ended up in my bed last night.”
“You’ve only known her five years. Give it a few more and you’ll have more data to postulate from. Although we’re talking about Penny, she’s hardly what anyone would consider a predictable subject to base theories upon.”
“Very true,” Sheldon agrees. He checks his watch and smiles up at the screen. “Five o’clock. Goodbye.”
“Goodbye,” Amy answers as he exits the chat dialogue and closes his laptop.
He turns around the room, still in shambles, no longer confident that Raj, Penny, or even Leonard will do their part in the clean-up. He walks around and collects the candles and the flowers, clearing the coffee table so that he can wipe down the surface.
He pauses before he reaches down for the bottle of wine, taking a long look at it. He reads the label, the little blurb about the winery on the back, the ingredients. He’s still caught up in the conversation he’d had with Amy earlier and Penny before that to register that he’s sniffing the leftover contents or taking a sip before he’s already tipped the bottle backwards.
Just as he feels some of the liquid drip through his clenched lips, the door to the apartment opens. He leans the bottle back upright and spits the wine back through the neck.
“That tastes disgusting. Why would you ever drink any of that – let alone an entire bottle and a half?”
Penny chuckles and rests a hand on the doorknob. “God, we leave you alone for half a day and you’ve taken to drinking. There’s more to you than meets the eye, Sheldon.”
“I was-–” he starts, suddenly realizing that he doesn’t know why he took a sip of that himself. He clearly has no explanation that Penny would buy as legitimate. “I don’t really know why I just did that.”
“I came over to ask if you wanted to order Chinese, but now I’m wondering if you’d rather go out for a beer and a steak.”
“Neither of those sound appealing to me,” Sheldon answers, seriously.
“Says the guy who just finished off a bottle of wine,” Penny points out.
“I hardly drink. I only sipped at that and couldn't even manage to swallow it successfully. And it was strictly done out of curiosity.”
Penny’s expression is unreadable, but her tone is less joking when she answers. “Curiosity at what?”
“I don’t know.” Sheldon smiles, insincerely. “Perhaps at how this wine tastes?”
“It’s delicious,” she says plainly.
“Maybe last night it was. Now it tastes like spoiled cranberries.”
Penny rolls her eyes and shuts the door, walking farther into the apartment. “So, Chinese food? Are you in?”
“I guess that would be acceptable. Where is everyone else?”
“Looks like they ditched us,” she says. “For the night, at least.”
“Do you want to order the usual or shall I?”
“I can. They’ll know it’s you otherwise and they hate you.”
Sheldon gives her an unimpressed look at that. When she reaches over for their land line, he glances at her from where he's standing just to the right of the side chair she's made herself comfortable in, an odd expression overtaking his features.
“You aren’t going to order from your apartment and come over when it’s ready? That’s what you normally do.”
“I don’t want to leave you alone, right now. You seem like you're having a really rough night,” she says overly dramatic, putting a hand on his wrist for as long as she can before he shakes it off and heads towards the kitchen.
“Even I can tell that’s sarcasm,” he says critically from his place at the sink, while he rinses out the leftover wine. “You’re getting worse at these so-called jokes of yours.”
“This isn’t a joke Sheldon, you have a history.” Penny grins from her place on the chair, pulling her feet over the shoulder and watching as Sheldon places the wine bottle in the recycling bin inside a cabinet beneath the sink. “I’m just concerned for your safety, here. You make some really upsetting, unexpected life decisions when you drink.”
He turns around swiftly and shuts the cabinet loudly behind him with his left foot. She can see the gleam in his eyes from all the way across the room and narrows her eyes as he crosses his arms and pointedly clears his throat. “Don’t we all?”