Penny dropped her suitcase on the floor outside of 4A with a loud thump and pushed the door open with her free hand. Sprawled out on the couch, Leonard glanced up at her entrance, but the taller roommate on his computer did not seem to register her presence. What else was new?
“Hi, Penny!” Leonard called out enthusiastically, sitting up with a smile.
“Hey guys. I just wanted to drop off your gifts before I left. Merry Christmas!” Penny returned, holding out the brightly decorated boxes she cradled in her left arm. “Where are you putting your pres-… oh my god! What is that?!” she shrieked, almost spilling the packages.
The ugliest-looking tree she had ever seen was standing in the left corner of the geek-laden apartment. It wasn’t one of those nice Douglas firs or any other kind of normal Christmas tree that rational muggles use to decorate. No, this was… wait. Did she just say ‘muggle’? Oh, god, this vacation couldn’t have come sooner.
“It… it… it’s angry. The tree is staring at me! With a face!” Penny sputtered, taking a step back from the creepy spectacle.
“Oh! It’s ok, Penny! It’s alright! Just an ent tree…” Leonard replied, looking flustered and concerned at his neighbor’s reaction.
“I’m sorry, did you just say an ant tree?” Penny’s eyes narrowed. Ok, that…thing was clearly plastic. Had to be. Living trees didn’t have murderous eyes and frowns, right?
“Ent. One of the races from Middle Earth that possess tree-like characteristics, but does not fall under the kingdom Plantae,” Sheldon spoke up for the first time, never ceasing his steady typing.
“You know… Lord of the Rings?” Leonard added helpfully.
Penny shot them both a withering glare. “Why in the world do you have a giant, angry tree in your living room??”
“No, the question is, why do we have a poorly constructed representation of an ent in our living room?” Sheldon shot back. “The ent should be more troll-like as opposed to an extra for The Wizard of Oz.
“Ohhh…hey, it does look like those trees that threw apples at Dorothy,” Penny brightened, happy to catch a movie reference that she understood.
“You’re not helping,” Leonard muttered, then sighed. “Look, I wanted to decorate the apartment a little for the holidays, but Sheldon wouldn’t let me get a real tree. Then I tried to convince him to get a fake tree, but of course he wouldn’t go for that either. So, I… improvised. It was really cheap on eBay…”
“Gee, I wonder why,” Penny remarked.
“Due to the fact that it is a poorly constructed rep—“ Sheldon began.
“Sarcasm, Sheldon,” Leonard and Penny interrupted him. The taller physicist twitched, and finished his sentence out loud anyway.
“I see you decorated it with, um, things,” Penny continued, taking a closer step towards the stand-in Christmas tree.
“Yeah, hobbit ornaments. There’s some elves over here too, and we have Aragorn up here,” Leonard smiled.
“And Dumbledore?” Penny questioned, staring perplexed at the white-haired figure. Behind her, she heard two sharp intakes of breath.
“Gandalf. Gandalf, not Dumbledore,” Leonard responded quickly. Penny suspected that Sheldon’s answer would not have been as nice.
“Oh. Anyway, it looks good!” Penny lied. “I’m just going to put your presents underneath, ok? I gotta get going if I’m going to make my flight.”
“I’ll do it,” Leonard replied quickly, always anxious to help his beautiful neighbor. “If you need to leave…”
“No, no. Won’t take a second,” Penny answered, amused. She squatted down under the plastic branches to stack the three boxes among the other gifts. Glancing at the name tags, she saw that a few were addressed from Mrs. Cooper; even Leonard had received a gift from his roommate’s mother.
Smiling to herself, Penny hesitated under the tree for a moment, pretending to arrange the presents better. “Oh, Leonard… have you seen my coffee mug? I can’t find it anywhere…” she spoke nonchalantly.
“A pink mug in our apartment? Yeah, we found it,” Leonard replied dryly, wandering to the kitchen to retrieve the cup. Penny took advantage of Leonard’s absence to dig a small object out of her jacket pocket, which she carefully fastened around one of the tree branches. There. Perfect.
“Here you go,” Leonard announced, holding out the coffee mug. “Oh, and your present is…”
“Got it!” Penny replied quickly, grabbing the red-and-white stripped package whose name tag said ‘Penny’ in Leonard’s handwriting. “See? ‘To Penny from Leonard and Sheldon’. Thanks for the present, guys. I’ll see you later!”
Watching as the girl made a fast retreat to the door, Leonard nodded and waved. “Sure, see you…. Huh. She left in a hurry….” he remarked.
“She specifically stated that she was in danger of missing her flight. Given her disregards for the speed limit, however, she should make the airport in time,” Sheldon replied.
“Hmm…,” Leonard shrugged, turning back to look at the makeshift tree. “Hey, Sheldon…. thanks for putting up with the tree. You only have to deal with it for one more day, all right?”
Sheldon made a noise in his throat and began to shut down his computer. “Honestly, Leonard… you and your sentimental celebrations of arbitrary events…”
“Hey, now. We compromised! I did not go overboard or push you through any holiday activities that marred your childhood,” Leonard began sarcastically. “…and I was able to have somewhat of a normal Christmas, as normal as it gets around you anyway. But… you know… it’s nice. I like our tree. I mean, ent. It’s who we are…”
“If you mean that so-called ent parallels your image as a logic-minded scientist, then yes, you are correct.” Sheldon closed his laptop and turned in his chair to face his roommate. Leonard was staring at him with the too-familiar expression of disbelief and exasperation.
“No, I mean… we’ve lived together for a while now, and we should have our own traditions. I can’t believe we’ve never done this before. We’ve had a tree before, but we never had a specific theme. The holidays don’t have to be horrible reminders of our childhood… I had a good time setting this up with you this year. So when I look back, I’ll remember the time my best friend and I had an awesome ent for Christmas instead of unpleasant things. But the fact that you don’t… aww, forget it… Good night, Sheldon,” Leonard muttered. Just because he enjoyed doing nerdy activities with Leonard didn’t mean Sheldon enjoyed having emotive discussions about it.
“I can’t forget, I have an eidetic memory, Leonard!” Sheldon called out to the shorter man’s retreating back. His eyes narrowed in thought, processing Leonard’s words as he made his way to his own bedroom.
The next day…
Knock knock knock. “Leonard.”
Knock knock knock. “Leonard.”
Knock knock knock. “Leonard, wake up.”
With a groan, Leonard rolled over, blindly reaching for his glasses. He heard the soft click of the door opening and turned towards it in surprise. Sheldon was relatively comfortable being in his bedroom by now, but he usually always waited until he had some invitation from Leonard to enter.
“Nnrgh… ah… good morning, Sheldon,” Leonard mumbled, clearing his throat and stifling a yawn. The other man hesitated in the doorway for a second before approaching Leonard’s beside.
“I made you hot chocolate,” he announced, holding out a steaming cup that Leonard had not previously noticed.
“What? That’s…” Leonard trailed off, uncertain. Sheldon had never done this before, and any time he deviated from his usual routine made Leonard wary. Sitting up in bed, he reached for the mug, taking it carefully from his friend’s hands. “Thank you… that’s really…” He took a sip to buy him time to develop the right words.
“Merry Christmas, Leonard. I woke you up early so we could open our presents before breakfast.” Sheldon’s eyes stared down at the blue covers, flickering to Leonard’s face for a moment to take in his roommate’s expression.
“Oh…. Really? You’ve never woken me up early before to… wait,” Leonard breathed, realization dawning on him. Could it be? Sheldon glanced at him again, and Leonard’s face broke out in a smile. This was Sheldon trying…
“Yeah, ok!” Leonard agreed happily, kicking the covers to one side. Sliding his feet into his slippers, he took another sip of cocoa, watching his roommate shuffle out of the room. Leonard of all people knew how hard it was for Sheldon to change, even for a holiday routine, and this seemingly small modification of their day touched him deeply. Sheldon’s silent acknowledgment of Leonard’s words was sweeter than any cocoa.
Fifteen minutes later, Leonard reached for the last present underneath the ent tree, still beaming cheerfully. Torn wrapping paper was strewn haphazardly around the two scientists sitting on the floor, much to Sheldon’s displeasure. Leonard didn’t care; he hadn’t had this much fun on Christmas morning since… well, ever.
“This one’s for both of us,” Leonard read the label curiously. “From Penny… that’s odd… we already opened the presents from her.”
The small rectangle box resembled a gift-card holder, and was extremely light to hold. Holding it out towards his roommate, Leonard watched Sheldon tear into the wrapping. Removing the lid, Sheldon’s expression became strained, a clear sign he was confused.
“What is it?” Leonard asked, leaning over to peer into the box. Sheldon’s eyes were no longer fixated on the package, but searching among the branches above their heads. Nestled inside the box was a scrap of paper with two words written in Penny’s messy handwriting.
“’Look up’?” Leonard read out loud. “What is that supposed to mean?” Just then, Sheldon drew his breath in sharply. Following his friend’s gaze, Leonard spotted the sprig of foliage with its red berries dangling from a branch. Mistletoe.
“For… both of us? What is she saying?” Confused, Leonard glanced at Sheldon. It was Sheldon’s turn to look disbelieving. “Surely you are aware of the germ-spreading rituals involved when two people happen to simultaneously stand under the poisonous plant?” Sheldon scoffed. Leonard rolled his eyes.
After a moment of silence in which Sheldon dismissed the mistletoe from thought and began to pile all the wrapping paper together, Leonard sighed. “You know… I never had any luck with mistletoe. I could never hang it high enough, so all I ever attracted were little kids who thought I was one of them.”
“My classmates in Sunday school would put mistletoe on a stick in order to catch two people standing near each other to make them kiss. Everyone always ran away from me,” Sheldon replied.
No bitterness or hurt was in his friend’s voice, but Leonard frowned. “Aww… that’s so sad…”
“Why? I had no desire to kiss them. If they had not run away first, I would have,” Sheldon replied matter-of-factly.
“Would you run away from me?” Leonard couldn’t help asking.
Sheldon let out a breathless chuckle and eyed the shorter scientist. “What reason would you have for engaging in such action? Surely you would not allow a social invention as trivial as the tradition of mistletoe to persuade you to execute an intimate act with another male?”
“You didn’t answer my question, Sheldon,” Leonard pressed on, ignoring the other’s rambling reply.
“Neither did you,” Sheldon counteracted stubbornly. The two stared at one another in silence before Leonard sighed, giving in first, as always.
“No, Sheldon,” he replied carefully, watching his friend’s face to see if he understood what he was saying. “I would not kiss another guy just because there was mistletoe above us. I would use it as an excuse, however, if my best friend was putting a lot of effort into being nice and gave me one of my best holiday memories yet.”
They were sitting near each other, but Leonard moved slowly as not to startle his roommate, taking a few short steps on his knees to bring himself closer. Sheldon looked like he had been told the cafeteria was serving his favorite lime Jell-o in a can instead of a bowl. Leonard would have laughed if his throat wasn’t so tight.
Sheldon stiffened as Leonard drew close, watching with huge eyes as his roommate tilted his head and continued to invade his personal space. Leonard’s hands gripped his shoulders, and he could feel the nervous trembling of each digit digging into his plaid pajama shirt.
Pressing his lips against Sheldon’s cheek, Leonard could almost hear the wheels in his friend’s head grind to a halt. Of course Sheldon would not have considered this possibility. No, Sheldon had been convinced that Leonard would follow social convention when it came to mistletoe, and this unexpected result was now making him reevaluate the situation.
“Leonard…?” Sheldon’s voice was soft, the tiniest fraction of uncertainty coursing through that single word. Leonard liked this new voice; it was endearing, and filled him with a degree of possessiveness he had never experienced, but yet it was… alarming to hear such an emotion in Sheldon’s voice. He didn’t want Sheldon to be afraid or tentative; Sheldon knew everything, even when he didn’t. Moving up a few inches, Leonard pressed another kiss to his friend’s temple.
“Leonard…” Sheldon repeated, his voice stronger. He had assumed Leonard would take inappropriate measures disproportionate to the amount of time elapsed after his little confession; after all, he was always messing up his attempts at attracting a female partner. What he had not taken into consideration was the familiarity in which Leonard approached him, i.e., Leonard certainly knew better than to kiss him on the lips right before they were about to consume food.
“There. That wasn’t so bad, hmm?” Leonard questioned, swallowing nervously. He didn’t know what he would do if Sheldon berated him or… worse.
Reaching out to remove the mistletoe from the branch overhead, Sheldon did not meet his roommate’s eyes for a moment. “You are going to have to clarify matters after breakfast, Leonard.” It didn’t take an exceptionally high IQ to figure out that changes in the roommates’ agreement were looming.
“Oh, and next year,” Sheldon added firmly, “we are getting a wroshyr tree.”
Breaking into a smile, Leonard felt his fluttering heartbeat slow. Next year. At least Sheldon wasn’t throwing him out. Everything they’d had that morning was the start of new traditions, a new routine, and a different sense of ‘us’ Leonard had ever dreamed of.
Giving into his impulses again, Leonard gave Sheldon another peck on the cheek as he stood to go make breakfast.
“Yeah. Yeah, I think that’ll work out great.”