Sheldon never cries. It’s a point of honor with him, or perhaps a point of robot etiquette that didn’t get covered by Asimov’s three laws. Maybe he’d just rust, who knows?
So when Leonard’s headed to bed after finally breaking it to Penny that he wants to go away on a boat for three months (and she is surprisingly less heartbroken than he’d expected; maybe she’s sort of inured to it after the Arctic thing, not to mention his frequent four-day con weekends), and he hears a soft sob from behind Sheldon’s closed bedroom door, he doesn’t know what to make of it.
He hesitates a moment too long and Sheldon says, “I know you’re out there, Leonard. You might as well come in.”
Something is definitely wrong if Sheldon’s inviting him into his bedroom.
Leonard pushes the door open cautiously, aware that Sheldon has several Nerf weapons that he might deploy if he changes his mind about admitting Leonard into his sanctuary. Sheldon’s on the bed, lying there in what Leonard has come to recognize as his I’m-sad-but-probably-won’t-tell-you-why position: on his side, not quite fetal, but as close to it as anyone over six foot tall can ever manage.
“Hey,” Leonard ventures. “What’s wrong?”
Sheldon peers up at him; the room is dim, lit only by the bedside lamp. “You’re going away,” he says simply.
“Well, yeah, I told you that a couple of days ago. I told you before I told anyone else,” Leonard adds, just in case this has something to do with the fact that now Penny knows—
—which means, given that he’s been out of her presence for more than two minutes, Amy and Bernadette also know, and by extension Howard, and if Howard therefore Raj, and from there along the Stuart axis it’s entirely possible Wil Wheaton will end up tweeting about it—
—it’s not something he can undo any more.
“I’m aware. You were going to ask Penny tonight about it,” Sheldon says, and Leonard catches the subtle stress on ask, and figures it out.
“You know I don’t have to ask you permission if I want to go away for research, Sheldon. This is part of my work, and the roommate agreement says that our work as scientists making advances in our respective fields is paramount.”
“You asked Penny’s permission.”
“Penny’s my girlfriend.”
“Do I not occupy a similar place of affection in your emotional hierarchy of such things?”
Leonard represses the urge to sigh and realizes that he’s just managed to make an even more irritated sound in the process when Sheldon gives him a wounded look. He sits down on the edge of the bed. “Sheldon, you know I love you, but I’m in love with Penny, and it’s different.”
“You’ve explained as much before. What I don’t understand is why the level of affection you feel for me isn’t enough to solicit my opinion on whether or not you think I think you should attempt this frankly mad endeavor.”
“You do know that calling it ‘frankly mad’ tells me everything I need to know about what you think, right?”
Sheldon sighs and clicks his tongue. “Leonard. Do you know how many people die on ships every year?”
“I know how many people died on a ship in 1912...”
He’s tired. He’s tired and he doesn’t think he should have to go over this yet again. This is why he’s told Sheldon virtually every life decision that he’s made in the last ten years before he breathes a word of it to anyone else, because Sheldon will—well. Sheldon will inevitably tell him how some part of his plan is irretrievably flawed, but that’s a standard Sheldonian reaction that Leonard takes for granted.
What he doesn’t take for granted is almost silent tears.
Leonard pushes and wriggles and curls until he’s lying more or less as the little spoon to Sheldon’s big spoon.
“Leonard, I’m not sure I’m comfortable with this—”
“Then move your head so it’s actually on the pillow.” Leonard waits until Sheldon has made half a dozen minute adjustments to his position, all miraculously without correcting Leonard on his assumption that he meant physical comfort, and turns his head enough so that he can see Sheldon. “You know most people who die on ships are retirees on cruises?”
“I think the North Sea’s far more dangerous than circumnavigating Hawaii.”
“Look, they’re going to put a whole lot of carefully calibrated scientific equipment on this ship and expect that not to fall overboard; I’m pretty sure that they’ll take equivalent safety precautions with the people who have to operate that equipment.”
“Did you know there was a whole Danish coastal city that got lost to storm tides in 1362? Heaven only knows how much worse it could get these days, considering climate change.” Sheldon’s arm creeps around his waist.
Leonard tries to deflect this line of thinking with a comment about Atlantis. Sheldon rebuts it with one about Cthulhu.
“Also South Pacific. Let’s face it, I’d be in more danger if I were going to Australia.”
Sheldon keeps throwing questions and concerns at him, sounding sleepier and sleepier with each one. Leonard answers them all as best as he can, managing to keep his tone low and soothing even when Sheldon circles—somewhat desperately—back to sea monsters.
By the time he’s convinced Sheldon that he isn’t going to be seduced by a selkie and throw himself into the sea, never to return home to his dear love (and, presumably, Penny), Sheldon’s breathing has eased into the slow rhythm of sleep. His hand twitches occasionally where it rests against Leonard’s stomach.
Leonard can feel sleep coming for him as well, despite still being fully dressed and bereft of blankets. Sheldon has a way of wearing him out like that. He puts his hand over Sheldon’s to calm those last anxious frenetic movements.
“I’m going to miss you too, you know,” he murmurs, and turns out the light.