Work Header

i was a kaleidoscope

Work Text:

While most of the building’s tenants are decking the halls and celebrating Christmas Eve with friends, family and other loved ones, Sheldon Cooper is in the midst of his laundry night ritual. For Sheldon, laundry night is so ingrained into his lifestyle that not even a zombie apocalypse could distract him from sorting his clothes for the wash, let alone Christmas.

The laundry facility is usually empty at this hour, giving Sheldon the opportunity to sort his laundry in peace with maximum availability of the best machines. It also gives him time to property sort his clothing into the appropriate loads: whites, darks, items requiring delicate care (mostly screen-printed t-shirts), and miscellaneous colors. As he’s wrapping up sorting, he’s surprised by Penny rushing into the laundry room to check a dryer that had just beeped moments before.

“Good evening, Penny,” Sheldon greets her cheerfully. He sticks the quarters into his first machine to start the load.  “I’m surprised to see you down here tonight.”

Penny opens the door to her dryer and begins to fill up her empty basket with warm clothes. She doesn’t look at Sheldon while she hastily throws them into the basket. “One of the waitresses called out sick and I took the extra shift to have some spending money for my ski trip this weekend. I planned on doing my laundry earlier but had to wait until I got home a little while ago.”

Sheldon nods and starts his second load in the washing machines. He throws his whites into the first, then his pants into the second, but he frowns when he gets to the load with the screen-print tees and undershirts.

“This just will not do,” he says under his breath, barely loud enough for Penny to hear. She’s just about ready to head back upstairs, her filled laundry basket balanced on her hip, when she turns around and sees Sheldon frowning while he shakes his bottle of detergent.

“Everything okay?” she asks, placing her laundry basket on the table.

“No,” he snips. “I have four loads of laundry to wash and only enough soap to wash two loads. I’ve already sorted the clothes into their respective piles, started the wash cycles and should be adding the soap by this point.”  Sheldon hesitates for a moment as he walks back over to the table and places the empty bottle back down.  “May I borrow your soap to finish my last load?”

Penny shakes her head. “Sorry, sweetie. This load just used the last of my detergent. I’m gonna buy some more the next time I’m at the store.”

Sheldon checks his watch and sees that it’s only 8:22 p.m. There’s still hope. “Could you possibly drive me to the grocery store?”  

“No can do.” Penny can sense already that Sheldon’s getting frustrated as the washing machine continues to fill up with water. “Sorry Scrooge,  all of the businesses have closed up early for this little thing called ‘Christmas Eve.’”

“What do you propose that I do?”

Penny shrugs and points over to the soap dispenser on the wall.  “Use that soap, dummy.”

“You want me to use soap from that vending machine ?” Sheldon questions. He slowly approaches the dispenser and gives it a once-over. On the surface, it appears to be the average, run-of-the-mill laundry aid with two options: detergent and dryer sheets. But something about it just doesn’t feel right. “Penny, are you aware of how long I have lived in this building? If you do the math, that is more than 486 laundry nights. During this time, I have never seen anyone  buy soap from that dispenser. Furthermore, are you suggesting that I should trust the cleaning power of a generic, non-brand name powder  laundry detergent?”

Penny grabs her laundry basket from the table and begins her ascent up to her apartment. “As much as I’d love to hear your rant on powder versus liquid laundry detergent, I need to pack for my ski weekend retreat with Bernadette and Amy. Good luck with your laundry crisis, Sheldon.”

Before Sheldon can say another word, the laundry room door shuts and he finds himself running out of options. He grabs a quarter from his pocket and places it into the dispenser. “What could possibly go wrong?” he asks as he turns the knob and grabs the packet of soap for his wash.


Penny is returning from the fourth floor trash chute when she sees Sheldon frantically climbing the last flight of stairs.

“Oh good you’re still here,” Sheldon says. He walks quickly behind Penny into her apartment and heads directly for the middle of her living room. He holds up a black t-shirt in front of his body.   “Let’s play a quick game. Do you know what this is?”

Penny looks at him blankly as she closes the door behind her. “... a shirt.”

“Try again.”

“A black  shirt?”

“Yes... and no,” Sheldon says.  “This shirt  symbolizes your horrible advice and the result of my current predicament.”

Penny pauses for a moment, her face scrunching up in confusion.  “I’m sorry, I’m really not understanding why you are so upset about a black t-shirt.”

“You see, this shirt represents what is left of my laundry. I followed your recommendation of using the generic soap for the wash and then put all twelve of  my shirts into the dryer. When the drying cycle was complete this one black t-shirt was the only item in the dryer.”

Penny stops packing her clothes and looks up at Sheldon with disbelief. “And you’re certain that no one removed your shirts from the dryer by mistake?”

“Penny, the sign in the laundry room clearly states that clothes should always be monitored at all times when washing and drying. Ergo, I never leave the room while I do laundry,” Sheldon explains. He’s now pacing a bit behind the couch, which drives Penny crazy because she needs to finish getting ready for her trip and doesn’t have time to listen to Sheldon rant again about his laundry woes.  “I usually bring a book with me to read while I wait. The humming of the machines makes for excellent background noise. Which leads me to ask the obvious question - how do 12 shirts go missing from the dryer?”

Penny thinks about the question for a couple of seconds before she shares her answer: underpants gnomes.

“First of all Penny, there are no such thing as underpants gnomes. They were a clever creation from ‘South Park’ creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker,” he says as though Penny’s never watched an episode of South Park. “Secondly, if underpants gnomes did happen to exist, wouldn’t they be more interested in underpants than my collection of comic book shirts?”

Penny shrugs. Sheldon does have a point, as crazy as this situation is.

“I’m not sure where you’re going with this, e xactly...” her voice trails off as she grabs her suitcase and puts it by the front door. “But have you even tried the shirt on to see if it was yours? Maybe that shirt belonged to the guy who used the machine before you and you got your machines wrong.”

“I do not use the same machines when I dry my laundry, so it is logical to conclude that my shirts could be missing because I opened the wrong unit,” he says as he shakes out the shirt before holding it up to his body. “Though this shirt does appear to be my size...”

Sheldon tosses the shirt on to the coffee table and removes both his undershirt and comic shirt in one sweep over his head. Penny stares at him for a moment as he folds his shirts neatly and places them on to her coffee table before grabbing the the black shirt. Just as quickly as he removed his shirts, the black shirt is over his head and his arms through the sleeves.

It’s a perfect fit.

“Well this is most peculiar,” Sheldon says as he looks down at his shirt. “I didn’t think it would actually  fit.”

When Sheldon looks at Penny for approval, her eyes instead get wide and she’s pointing at him. “That’s not the only freaky thing,” she says. He looks down at the cotton fibers and notices that they’re starting to turn bright red and a Flash logo appears on his chest.

“Oh sweet baby Jesus,” Sheldon exclaims as he stares. “The shirt changed into one of my missing shirts!”

As he stares down at the shirt, he feels himself beginning to panic and watches in horror as the shirt morphs into a blue shirt with a Superman logo. “What is going on?”

Penny gets up from her couch and walks over to inspect Sheldon’s shirt, which has changed from Superman to Green Lantern, and then again to Flash before she’s done giving him a once over.

“I am not quite sure,” she says as she looks closer at the shirt. “With the way your shirt is changing colors, it’s reminding me of a kaleidoscope toy I had when I was a kid.”

Sheldon feels the blood drain from his face. “I beg your pardon? I’m not following...”

Penny blinks as she watches the shirt change from Flash to Tron almost instantly, then takes a few steps back towards her couch so she can sit down and get a better look. Sheldon does his best to not move around as Penny thinks about the problem.

“The shirt changes colors when he feels a different type of emotion, but what’s causing this?” she asks herself. She squints her eyes to focus on the design of Sheldon’s shirt for a few moments and then it dawns on her. “He’s not a kaleidoscope.... he’s turned into mood ring.”

Sheldon’s shirt design switches from Tron to orange Flash when Penny asks him which shirts he remembers throwing into the dryer. He explains that due to his near photographic memory he can clearly recount each one and starts to go through the list.

Neither are surprised when Sheldon’s shirt changes to the one he’s referencing.

“How is this even possible?” Penny asks. “Are you wearing one of those fancy shirts from Think Geek dot com or something?”

Sheldon shakes his head and he begins to fiddle with the hem of the shirt. He feels the cotton fibers grow tighter around his body, almost as though it’s literally shrinking to fit tightly against his skin. He tries to tug at one of his sleeves, but the shirt isn’t budging.

“Penny. I think I am experiencing a slight problem,” Sheldon says as his eyes widen surprise. He tugs again on the hem of his shirt and it switches back to orange Flash.  “If I did not know better, I’d hypothesize that the shirt is actually getting smaller .”

Penny recognizes Sheldon’s panic and immediately springs into action. “Hang tight,” she says,  running into the kitchen to find something, anything, that will help free Sheldon from the constrains of his t-shirt.  

“What the hell do you use to cut a sentient shirt off a body?” she mutters under her breath. She opens a kitchen drawer and rummages through its contents - pulling out a bread knife. She holds it out in front of her so Sheldon can see. “Will this work?”

“You are not using that on me!” Sheldon exclaims. “What else do you have in there?”

“Let me look,” Penny shrugs and continues to dig around through a few more drawers. After recommending a potato peeler, a can opener, and a butter knife, Sheldon finally agrees to a pair of scissors found in the back of Penny’s junk drawer.

She holds the scissors in her hands and quickly runs back to Sheldon in the living room.

“DO NOT RUN WITH SCISSORS!” Sheldon shouts, his shirt switching to red Flash.

Penny ignores his request.  “Stand still,” she orders to Sheldon as she waves the scissors menacingly. “I’ll cut you out.”

Sheldon cries out in pain when the scissors cut the shirt fabric, causing Penny step back and make sure he is okay.  “What’s wrong?” she asks as she notices Sheldon lightly rubbing his shoulder where Penny had tried to cut the sleeve of his shirt.

“It felt like you were trying to cut me instead of the shirt,” he explains. “I’m not sure what’s going on, but it feels almost like the shirt has melded to my skin.”

Penny’s impatient as she watches Sheldon poke, pull and prod at the shirt. As if on cue, the shirt changes from orange Flash to Tron and finally settles on one of his Green Lantern t-shirts.  

“We’ve gotta do something to get that stupid thing off you before it eats your body.  What if it eats me alive too, then the building and all of Los Angeles?  If all of the actors are gone, who will star as me in the Hollywood blockbuster The Giant Shirt Blob That Ate Los Angeles?” she asks, the scissors flailing around in her hands as she gestures wildly. “I don’t want Kirsten Dunst to play me.”

Sheldon looks at her blankly and points to himself. “Please, Penny, focus on the issue here instead of your grand delusions of your acting career.”

“Got any brilliant ideas?”

“We know this shirt reacts to my emotions. It may be best to try to overload the shirt with emotions so it malfunctions. Maybe then it will release me from its evil influence,” Sheldon explains as Penny nods in understanding. “The more I resist or switch emotions, the stronger the shirt becomes. It’s up to you make this happen. Find some way to break the bond between the shirt and me.”

Penny wracks her brain for a few seconds as she thinks of a way to save Sheldon from the shirt. She knows that it feeds upon emotions, but to overload the shirt with emotions would be for Sheldon to experience too many at once. “But how to do it?” she thinks to herself as she looks around her apartment for inspiration. Her glance settles upon the Fourth Series of Doctor Who when it becomes clear: she needs to be like Donna and kiss the Doctor. She had just finished the Agatha Christie episode two nights before and the Doctor was poisoned. Only Donna’s Big Shock would help save the Doctor and it was time for Penny to save her Doctor.

“I have an idea!” Penny exclaims as she grabs Sheldon by the face with both of her hands and pulls him in for a kiss. His eyes remain open in surprise as Penny presses her lips to his mouth. As his mind tries to process the rush of emotions he’s feeling (surprise, confusion, intrigue, arousal..)  he watches the shirt change color. The shirts flash rapidly in rotation before his eyes. Red. Blue. Yellow. Green. Blue. Red. Orange.

It all fades to black.

When Sheldon opens his eyes he finds himself laying on his bed surrounded by shirts, pants and other necessities. He blinks a few times as things start to come back into focus:  his laptop is sitting on his chest with his clothing laid on the bed in the midst of being catalogued for his vacation. He looks over to his floor and he sees a bucket of laundry ready for washing with the bottle of laundry soap on top, waiting for his Saturday night ritual to begin.

He gets up from his bed and immediately shakes the bottle of soap,  finding it to be nearly empty with barely enough soap left for two loads. He then checks the calendar on his dresser and realizes that it’s December 23rd.  

It was all just a dream - more of a nightmare, actually.

Sheldon makes a mental note to purchase detergent before he does his laundry tomorrow night, then resumes packing for his trip home to Texas for the holidays. He’s looking forward to seeing MeeMaw - she always knows what to do to chase a nightmare away.