Actions

Work Header

The Purloined Letter Technique

Work Text:

“Sheldon?” Leonard asked.  His roommate was putting on his jacket and arranging his messenger bag across his shoulder.  “Where are you going?”  He didn’t remember agreeing to take Sheldon anywhere that night—although that didn’t always mean that Sheldon wasn’t under the impression that he was going to do just that.

 

“We’re going to the Cheesecake Factory for a barbeque bacon cheeseburger, followed by Sherlock Holmes at the Digiplex, and then possibly skee ball at the arcade by the Galleria.  We’re ‘winging it’ on that part,” Sheldon said, with the pleased expression he wore when he had just successfully—in his mind, at least—negotiated some social minefield. 

 

“We are?” Leonard asked, racking his brain for when he had even heard about this plan, much less agreed to it.  “It’s not Cheesecake Factory night,” he pointed out.  “It’s pizza night.”

 

“Some compromise is necessary in a social relationship,” Sheldon said.  “I would have thought that you’d know that, Leonard.”

 

Leonard tried to decide whether he was too tired to get up and take Sheldon to the Cheesecake Factory and the movies, or if he was too tired to argue with Sheldon about going to the Cheesecake Factory and the movies.  He was really too tired for either, but he was going to have to pick one or the other.  And the argument option was likely to end up with him taking Sheldon to the Cheesecake Factory and the movies, so he said, “All right, let me find my shoes.”

 

Sheldon looked confused.  He opened his mouth to speak, but stopped when someone knocked at the door.  Expecting Penny or Raj and Howard, Leonard took advantage of Sheldon’s distraction to start looking for his shoes. 

 

When he emerged from his bedroom with them, there was a strange man in the living room.  Other than Sheldon.  He looked…normal.  Ish.  Average height, brown hair, wearing khakis and an oxford shirt. 

 

“Leonard,” Sheldon said.  “On the evening of 22 October, 2007, at 9:42 PM, you informed me that if I ever went on a date, you would give us some privacy.”

 

“Uh-huh?” Leonard said, not really paying attention.

 

“So why have you invited yourself along on my date with Daniel?”

 

Leonard’s jaw dropped.  The new guy—Daniel, he guessed, said, “What?”

 

Sheldon recounted the conversation that they had had just before Daniel knocked on the door.

 

“Ah.  I see the problem,” Daniel said.  “You failed to specify that it was a date.”  He looked at Leonard.  “It’s a date.”  Glancing back and forth between him and Sheldon, Daniel added, “Problem solved?”

 

Still trying to process this new information, Leonard dropped his shoes and made his way over to the couch.  “Uh, yeah.  Problem solved.  A date?”  It wasn’t that Sheldon was going out with a man that he was having trouble with; it was the idea of Sheldon going out with anyone.  Or, more to the point, anyone going out with Sheldon.

 

“A social outing engaged in pursuant to a potentially romantic relationship,” Daniel explained. 

 

“Right,” Leonard said.  “You’re going on a date.  With Sheldon.”  It was possible there was something here he still wasn’t quite understanding. 

 

“Yes,” said Daniel, with a sidelong glance at Sheldon.  Leonard easily read his expression as saying is he always this dense?  Sheldon, naturally, didn’t notice it at all. 

 

“Sheldon Cooper,” Leonard said.  “Theoretical physicist, most irritating man alive, that Sheldon?”

 

Daniel glanced at Sheldon again, as if looking for some kind of help. Since it was Sheldon, he didn’t get it. “Sheldon Cooper, yes. He’s a physicist. I don’t know about most irritating man alive. I haven’t met every man alive. Have you?”

 

“No,” Leonard admitted.

 

“Then on what basis do you--”

 

Sheldon leaned over and stage-whispered in Daniel’s ear, “Hyperbole.”

 

“Oh!  Of course.  Hyperbole.”  Daniel clapped his hands together.  “Well.  Now that we have that straightened out, shall we go?”

 

“Yes.  This conversation has already delayed our departure by two and a half minutes.  Oh, and Leonard?”

 

“Yeah?” Leonard asked weakly.

 

“Depending on the success of our date, we may wish for additional privacy at the conclusion of the evening.”

 

“Uh-huh,” Leonard said.  “No problem.  You kids have fun.”

 

Knowing that Sheldon had bat-like hearing, Leonard waited five minutes, to give them plenty of time to be out of the building, before calling the rest of their friends to report on this development.

 

#

 

“This is wrong,” Raj said.  “Sick and wrong.”

 

“What would be wrong would be not to document the courtship behavior of the Sheldon species,” Howard countered.  “We have no idea if this opportunity will come again in our lifetimes.”

 

Eleven o’clock was approaching, and the three of them were huddled around a laptop in Leonard’s bedroom, watching the webcam feed of the living room that they had just finished setting up.  It was hidden in plain sight—the Purloined Letter technique—because it was the integrated webcam on Leonard’s other laptop.  It sat where it always sat, facing the couch, with the cover open.  Sheldon would never notice. 

 

“He did say he wanted privacy,” Leonard said, starting to have second thoughts. 

 

“Does he give you privacy when you have somebody over?” Howard asked.

 

“Sometimes,” Leonard said.  “If he doesn’t need something from the kitchen or want to watch something on TV, or get lonely, or overhear one of us say something that he thinks is wrong—okay, no, he doesn’t, but he doesn’t sit in his room spying on us with a webcam, either.”

 

“How do you know he doesn’t?” Howard countered. 

 

He had a point.  “Look, if they don’t go to the arcade, they’re going to be back in a few minutes.  If anybody has to go to the bathroom, better do it now.”

 

A few minutes later—mere seconds after Raj came back from the bathroom—Sheldon and Daniel came in the front door.  “I’m just saying,” Daniel said, “in mid-Victorian England, the idea of a two men in a romantic relationship was so unthinkable that no one would have found anything remotely suspect in two grown men with professional careers living together for an indefinite period, absent any obvious economic motivation to do so.” 

 

“There really isn’t any other explanation for why Holmes would endure the company of an obviously inferior mind such as Watson’s,” Sheldon argued, moving out of the webcam’s frame and into the kitchen. 

 

“I don’t know,” said Daniel.  “Why do you keep Leonard around?”

 

“Are you suggesting that I should make Leonard move out?” Sheldon asked, coming back into the frame with two mugs.  “You’re in my spot.”

 

“Sorry,” Daniel said, moving from Sheldon’s spot to the armchair.  “No, I’m not saying that at all.  Just that under the paradigm you’re proposing, the only reason for keeping him around--”

 

“Now you’re in Leonard’s spot,” Sheldon said. 

 

Daniel moved to the middle couch cushion.  “—would be that you’re attracted to him.  If you aren’t, there must be something we’re missing.”

 

Leonard reached out and killed the audio feed.  “Even if the webcam is OK, putting the audio transmitter in the lamp was going too far,” he told the others. 

 

“You just don’t want to hear Sheldon say he’s attracted to you,” Howard said, reaching out to turn it back on.

 

“Would you?” Leonard asked.

 

“No, but it’s not me he’s talking about,” Howard pointed out.

 

Howard succeeded in getting the audio back up.  Sheldon and Daniel had stopped talking now, though, and were sitting on the couch holding hands. 

 

“We don’t know that he was going to say that,” Leonard protested.  “He was probably going to say that he’s not.”

 

“Just keep telling yourself that,” Raj suggested. 

 

“This hot chocolate is really good,” Daniel said. 

 

“I know,” Sheldon answered. “I made it.”  

 

They finished their cocoa, still holding hands.  Finally, Daniel set down his mug and said, “Well, I think we have enough information to make a preliminary assessment as to the success of this venture.”

 

“Yes,” Sheldon agreed. 

 

“Let’s write up our findings separately and meet again to compare our tentative conclusions,” Daniel proposed.  “Ten o’clock in the cafeteria?”

 

“Your cafeteria or my cafeteria?”

 

“I teach in the Kuhn building at nine,” said Daniel.  “I don’t know if I could make it to your cafeteria by ten.”

 

“Then let’s meet at my cafeteria at ten minutes after ten.”

 

“But then I’d have to walk twice as far.”

 

“But it wouldn’t be my cafeteria,” Sheldon said.

 

“They have the same things.”

 

“Your cafeteria doesn’t have my table.”

 

Your cafeteria doesn’t have my table,” Daniel countered.  “I don’t think we should make the a priori assumption that your table is better than my table.”

 

They spent several more minutes discussing the relative merits of their respective cafeteria tables. 

 

“You were right,” Howard muttered to Raj.  “This is sick and wrong.” 

 

“Then the only reasonable solution is to meet at a third cafeteria that is approximately equidistant from both yours and mine,” Daniel said. 

 

“I would rather meet at your cafeteria than some strange cafeteria where neither of us knows where the good table is.”

 

“Then it’s settled,” Daniel said.  “My cafeteria at ten.  See you then.”

 

The three of them were still staring at the laptop screen as Daniel left the apartment.  “Did he just win an argument with Sheldon?” Raj asked. 

 

“I think he did,” Leonard said.  “Sheldon must really like him.”  He wondered why that left him feeling strangely unsettled.

 

#

 

Yawning, Leonard made his way out to the kitchen and poured himself a cup of coffee.  The rest of the guys had had to stay hidden in his room last night until they were sure Sheldon was asleep, and he hadn’t gotten much sleep as a result.  “Hey,” he said to Sheldon, who was fixing himself a bowl of cereal.  “How’d it go last night?”  Not that he really had to ask, but he’d ask if he hadn’t been spying, so he had to ask, right?

 

“It was among the least faithful cinematic adaptations of Conan Doyle’s work that I’ve ever seen,” Sheldon said.  “You were right not to go.”

 

“I wasn’t invited,” Leonard reminded him.  “I meant the date part.  You seeing him again?”

 

“Insofar as he has not gained the gift of invisibility, and I continue to have the power of sight, it’s likely that I will see him again, yes.”

 

“I meant are you going out on another date?”

 

“That has yet to be determined,” Sheldon said.  “But I intend to propose that we do so, yes.”

 

“That’s great,” Leonard said.  “I’m really happy for you.”

 

Sheldon sniffed.  “I don’t see why.  You should be happy for Daniel; he’s the one who’s being asked on another date.”

 

“I meant…never mind.  I’m glad you found somebody you like.”

 

Sheldon looked at him over the rim of his cereal bowl.  “Why?”

 

“I have no idea,” Leonard groaned.  It wasn’t looking like Sheldon in a relationship was going to be any less annoying than Sheldon not in a relationship.  “Look, as soon as I hit the shower, we’ll go to work, okay?”

 

Over the next few days, Sheldon didn’t volunteer any additional information about his relationship and Leonard, not being a masochist, didn’t ask. But when they met at their usual table for lunch on Tuesday, Daniel was there. Sheldon sat in his usual spot, and directed Daniel to sit across from him.

 

“Why can’t I sit there?” Daniel asked, pointing to the seat next to Sheldon.

 

“That’s Leonard’s spot.”

 

“Oh.”  Daniel sat down.

 

“Now he’s in my spot,” Howard pointed out.

 

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Sheldon said.  “You don’t have a spot.  Sit on the end.  No, the other end.”  Once they were all seated to Sheldon’s satisfaction, he announced, “We’ll be making some changes to the lunchtime protocol.  On Tuesdays, Daniel will be eating with us.  On Thursdays, I will be eating in the cafeteria in the--”  Sheldon’s eyelid twitched  “—social sciences building.  The rest of you are not invited.”

 

Daniel explained, “We considered combining both of our social groups on Tuesdays and Thursdays, but we decided it would be logistically impractical.  Instead, I will join your group on Tuesdays and Sheldon will join my group on Thursdays.” 

 

“What about Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays?” Leonard asked, even though he probably didn’t want to know. 

 

“On those days we will eat lunch with our separate groups as we always have,” Daniel explained. 

 

“In addition,” Sheldon said, “Daniel will be joining us on Wednesdays for Halo night and the comic book store, and I will—regretfully—miss ‘anything can happen Thursday’ in order to play Dungeons and Dragons with Daniel’s social circle.”

 

“A group with four people—or five—isn’t a circle,” Daniel said.  “It’s a square.  Or a pentagon.”

 

“With Daniel’s social pentagon,” Sheldon corrected himself without argument.

 

“Thank you,” said Daniel.

 

“Leonard, we’ll go over the related clauses in the roommate agreement at our next roommate meeting.”

 

“Of course we will,” Leonard muttered. 

 

“Pardon me?” Sheldon asked.

 

“Are you going to introduce Daniel to everybody?” Leonard said instead of repeating himself, thinking that the other two might need a reminder that they were not supposed to know who Daniel was. 

 

“Unnecessary,” Sheldon said.  “We’ve already exchanged dossiers briefing one another on the salient characteristics of our respective friends.” 

 

“So when do we get the dossier about Daniel?” Leonard asked.

 

“Oh!  ‘My bad,’ as they say.” Sheldon picked up his phone.  After a few keystrokes, the rest of their phones buzzed.   

 

Leonard glanced at his.  Sure enough, it told him that he had a new email from Dr. Sheldon Cooper, with a 215 MB attachment.  He hoped it wasn’t a text file.

 

After a few moments, Howard said to Daniel, “So you’re a, uh….”

 

“Linguist,” Daniel said. 

 

Leonard didn’t think that was what Howard had been asking at all, but didn’t comment.  “How did you guys meet?”

 

“If you would read the dossier,” Sheldon said, “it would eliminate the need for these elementary questions.”

 

Daniel shook his head.  “Phatic discourse,” he explained.  “Conversation for the sake of establishing or cementing social bonds rather than conveying information.  We met at the Artificial Intelligence Brown Bag Luncheon last month.” 

 

“Oh,” Leonard said.  “That’s…nice.  Really nice.” 

 

“Daniel was the only person among those present who shared my consternation that the lunch was not in fact served in brown bags.” 

 

“Little white boxes,” Daniel explained.  “From the deli on Euclid Street.  There was nothing wrong with them,” he added, “but it should have been called a ‘little white boxes’ luncheon.”

 

“I considered this commonality of opinion a sufficient basis for further conversation, and then learned that Daniel has some interesting ideas about sub-symbolic natural language processing,” Sheldon added.

 

“Isn’t that a contradiction in terms?” Leonard asked. 

 

“You would think so!” Sheldon said.  He and Daniel took turns explaining why it wasn’t. 

 

Precisely 30 minutes after their lunch started, Sheldon and Daniel stood up, shook hands, and parted.  The rest of them stayed where they were, slightly gobsmacked. 

 

“It really is another member of his species,” Howard said. 

 

“Like looking in a quantum mirror,” Raj agreed. 

 

“Only without the risk of entropic cascade failure,” Leonard said.  “I hope, anyway.” 

 

“Are we going to talk about the fact that he’s suddenly gay?” Raj wondered. 

 

They all considered that for a moment.  “It doesn’t really seem relevant,” Howard said. 

 

“Do you think they’re too alike?” Leonard wondered.  “I mean, what happens when two flavors of crazy collide?”

 

“Are they different flavors?” Raj asked.  “Maybe they’re the same flavor.”

 

“They’re not, like, chocolate and strawberry,” Leonard said.  “Maybe… Rocky Road and Mississippi Mud.  Same base, different mix-ins.  I mean, nobody could be exactly the same kind of crazy as Sheldon.”

 

“Only somebody who is as crazy as Sheldon could possibly put up with him,” Raj said. 

 

We all put up with him,” Leonard pointed out.  Hell, he lived with Sheldon.  And he wasn’t crazy.  Except when Sheldon drove him crazy. 

 

“But we aren’t having sex with him,” Howard said. 

 

Leonard winced.  “Do you think they are?  I mean, all we saw them do was hold hands….”

 

“Let’s see what the dossier says,” Raj suggested. 

 

Leonard was about to protest that the dossier wouldn’t say anything about that, but then he remembered it was Sheldon they were talking about.  It might. 

 

#

 

On Wednesday, they were getting set up for Halo night—made slightly awkward by the addition of Daniel—and waiting for Howard and Raj to arrive when Penny came into the apartment. 

 

“Hi Leonard, Hi Sheldon!” she said breezily.  “I wanted to see if I could borrow a cup of milk.”

 

Leonard knew she didn’t need milk; having been alerted that Sheldon’s boyfriend was coming over, she just wanted to gawk, but he said, “Sure,” and headed for the refrigerator.

 

“No,” Sheldon said.  “It’s my milk, and you can’t have any.  You certainly can’t borrow any; I wouldn’t want it back after you were through with it.”

 

“Milk being a fungible good, she probably intends to replace it with a like quantity of different milk, rather than returning the same milk that she took from your carton,” Daniel suggested. 

 

“She still can’t have any,” Sheldon said.  “We go grocery shopping on Thursdays.  If you take my milk, there won’t be enough left for my cereal in the morning.”

 

“You could stay over at my apartment,” Daniel suggested slowly.  “I have milk.  If this person’s need for milk is truly urgent, that would be a way of solving both problems.”

 

“You can borrow some of my soy milk,” Leonard said quickly.  “How’s that?”

 

“That would be great,” Penny said, accepting the carton from him.  She stood, hip-shot, in front of the couch.  “Sheldon, aren’t you going to introduce me to your friend?”

 

“I can email you the dossier,” Sheldon said, reaching for his phone. “Oh,” he realized, stuffing it back into his pocket. “More phatic discourse. Daniel, this is Penny, the woman across the hall with whom Leonard is infatuated. She frequently enters our apartment without knocking. Penny, this is Daniel, my boyfriend.”

 

Penny already knew, but had the same poleaxed look that everyone else so far had displayed when confronted with the reality.  “Nice to meet you,” she said. 

 

“Nice to meet you,” Daniel echoed.  “What’s your field?”

 

“My field?” Penny asked.

 

“Penny is a waitress at the Cheesecake Factory,” Sheldon explained.  “We began going to the Cheesecake Factory as part of Leonard’s pursuit of a sexual relationship with her, but the restaurant has proven to provide a satisfactory eating experience and has entered our regular rotation.”

 

“Oh,” Daniel said.  “I’m a linguist.” 

 

Penny blinked several times.  “I’m sorry.  I have to ask.  Do you and Sheldon…?”

 

“I don’t think you do have to ask,” Daniel noted.  “Since you haven’t.” 

 

“Are you actually…you know…I mean, when you say he’s your boyfriend, do you…”

 

“Do we what, Penny?” Sheldon asked.  “Play cribbage?  No.  Go to the movies?  Yes.  Assemble 1:20 scale model –”

 

“Judging by the pattern of circumlocution, I think she’s attempting to inquire about our sexual practices,” Daniel suggested.  “Were you?”

 

“It’s really none of our business,” Leonard said, before Penny could answer. 

 

“Oh,” Sheldon said, now understanding.  “No.  Coitus is undignified and unhygienic.”

 

“And you’re okay with that?” Penny asked Daniel.

 

“With coitus being undignified and unhygienic?” Daniel asked, sounding like he thought it was a stupid question.  “No.  That’s why I don’t engage in it.”

 

“So when you say you’re boyfriends, you really mean—what?”

 

Sheldon just stared at her.  Daniel explained, “A primary romantic partner who is male is usually referred to as a ‘boyfriend,’ regardless of age.”

 

“Right,” Penny said.  “I know that.  I mean, what do you do?”

 

“We eat lunch on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and on Wednesdays we go to the comic book store, eat dinner, and play Halo.  On Thursdays we eat dinner and play Dungeons and Dragons with Daniel’s social pentagon,” Sheldon explained.  “On the weekends we engage in a variety of activities.  For example, this weekend we’re building a working scale model of a medieval trebuchet.” 

 

“But how is that different from what you do with Leonard?  Or Howard and Raj?  They’re not your boyfriends.  Right?” she asked, apparently beginning to wonder if maybe Sheldon thought they were.

“Of course they aren’t my boyfriends. Leonard is my roommate, and Howard and Raj are my friends. And, as you’ve recently given me to understand, so are you,” Sheldon added helpfully.  

 

“There’s an ineffable quality,” Daniel added, “that distinguishes the romantic relationship from the so-called Platonic.  This ineffable quality is often conflated with carnal desire, but the two are not coterminous.” 

 

“Okay,” Penny said.  “Well.  I think you guys are perfect for each other.”

 

“Thank you,” Daniel said. 

 

“So good luck.  I’m just going to take this,” she waggled the carton of milk, “and go back to my apartment.” 

 

“Please do,” Sheldon said. 

 

Passing Leonard on the way out, Penny said, “Whackadoo.”

 

#

 

Over the next few weeks, they all got used to seeing Daniel on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and to hardly seeing Sheldon at all on Thursdays.  It was kind of a nice break—particularly the part where they could try new things without throwing Sheldon into a tailspin.  Not that they did try new things particularly often, but they could.   They weren’t forced to witness any embarrassing displays of affection beyond occasional hand-holding; it was pretty easy to forget entirely that Daniel was supposedly Sheldon’s boyfriend.

 

And the quantum mirror effect turned out to somehow reduce Sheldon’s…Sheldon-ness, rather than increasing it.  He and Daniel explained social rituals and conventions to each other—not always correctly, sure, but at least that meant the rest of them didn’t have to try—and having Daniel immediately get some of Sheldon’s crazier rules and rituals meant that Sheldon didn’t seem to mind as much when the rest of them didn’t get them at all.

 

One Tuesday, Daniel trudged up to their table empty-handed and slumped into his chair across from Sheldon, putting his head in his hands.  Sheldon didn’t say anything.  Raj started to ask what was wrong, but the rest of them hushed him, Howard saying, “Let’s see if he ever asks.”

 

Sheldon didn’t ask, but finally Daniel said, “Sheldon, the most terrible thing has happened.”

 

Sheldon glanced down at his tray in alarm.  “What?  Don’t tell me that the chicken in my chicken Caesar salad is actually human flesh.”

 

“No,” said Daniel.  “Second most terrible thing.  They’re re-doing the lobby and common areas in my apartment building.”

 

“Oh, no,” Sheldon said. 

 

“I saw the new carpet on the loading dock behind the building when I was taking out my trash.  It’s green.” 

 

“There must be something we can do,” Sheldon said.  “Have you sent the building management company a strongly-worded email of complaint?”

 

Daniel nodded, taking out his phone and passing it to Sheldon.  “Look what they wrote back.”

 

Sheldon pulled up the email and read, “‘We’re sure that this temporary inconvenience will be well worth it when our tenants experience the improved and updated lobby’?  Well, that’s just inhuman.”

 

“I know I’m going to regret asking this,” Leonard said, “but what’s wrong with the lobby of your building being re-done?  I wouldn’t mind if they put new carpet in our building.”

 

Sheldon and Daniel both stared at him.  “Bite your tongue!” Sheldon said.  “Altering any detail of the lobby or hallways would mean that I would have to devote precious mental energy and attention to processing the changes.  The cost to science would be immeasurable.  Not to mention the effects that the carpet adhesive may have on your future fertility.  I’ve been attending every tenants’ meeting for the last seven years just to prevent our building management from making any unnecessary and ill-conceived changes.”

 

“I should have gone to ours,” Daniel said sadly.  “But they’re on Tuesdays.  I go grocery shopping on Tuesdays.”

 

“Yes, you should have,” Sheldon said primly.  “You could always order your groceries online once a month to make time for the meetings.”

 

“It’s too late now.  What are we going to do?”

 

Sheldon thought for a moment.  “You’ll have to move,” he decided.

 

“I don’t want to move.”

 

“Well, you have to.  Now that you’ve allowed your building management to do this, who knows what’s next?”

 

“The whole problem is that with the lobby and common areas renovated, it’s like my apartment has been moved to a new building.  But at least that way, my apartment itself remains the same.  If I move, both the common areas and my apartment will be different.”

 

“That’s the price you have to pay for not establishing a firm position with your building management when you moved in,” Sheldon said.  “Like I did.”

 

“Wait,” said Daniel.  “I’m having an idea.”

 

Sheldon waited. 

 

“I could move into your apartment.”

 

“Don’t be silly.  Leonard and I live in my apartment.  We certainly aren’t going to move.”

 

“Sorry, I failed to specify,” Daniel said.  “I could move in with you.”

 

“Oh!”  Sheldon frowned.  “Where would you sleep?”

 

“In your room, like when I stay over.”

 

Howard caught Leonard’s eye and mouthed, “He stays over?”

 

Leonard nodded.

 

Why?” Howard mouthed.

 

Leonard shrugged.

 

“I don’t think that would work,” Sheldon said.  “I have our apartment set up for a maximum permanent occupancy of two people.  Over time, the strain on the kitchen and bathroom facilities would become intolerable.”

 

Daniel thought.  “Leonard could move out.”

 

“Hey!” Leonard said. 

 

“But then where would Leonard live?” Sheldon asked. 

 

“He could move into my old apartment,” Daniel suggested.  “Since he likes buildings where the lobby and common areas are in a constant state of flux.”

 

Sheldon considered.  “The elevator does work in your building.  Leonard would enjoy that.  And unless I’m mistaken, your building allows cats.  Leonard has always wanted a cat.”

 

“There we go, then.  Problem solved?”

 

“Excuse me,” Leonard said.

 

Sheldon glanced at him.  “Have you been eating dairy again?  But Daniel, your apartment is located on the opposite side of campus from ours.  If Leonard moved there, he would have to drive past campus to pick me up and take me to work.  Considering the haphazardness of his morning routine, not to mention his bowel schedule, delays would be inevitable.”

 

“I take the bus to work,” Daniel said. 

 

“You know I can’t take the bus,” Sheldon said. 

 

“Let me think.  All right, Leonard could take the bus to work from my old apartment, his new apartment, and we could take his car.”

 

Sheldon shook his head.  “Neither of us drives.”

 

“Hm.”  Sheldon and Daniel sat and considered for a few minutes. 

 

“Here’s an idea,” Sheldon said.  “Leonard could move into the apartment across the hall, and Penny could move to your old apartment.  She drives.” 

 

“Sheldon,” Leonard said. 

 

“What?”

 

“Think about what you just said,” Leonard advised.

 

Sheldon thought.  “Oh.  I see—your apartment is located more than fifteen minutes further from the Cheesecake Factory than ours is, Daniel.  Penny would never make it to her shifts on time, she would lose her job and be forced into a life of poverty and crime.  We can’t let that happen.”

 

“That was so not where I was going with that,” Leonard said.

 

Daniel took some packets of paper out of his knapsack and riffled through them.  “Ah!  Just as I thought.  Look—Raj lives closer to the Cheesecake Factory than either your apartment or mine.  If I move into your apartment, Leonard can move into Penny’s apartment, Penny can move to Raj’s apartment, and Raj can move to my apartment.  Raj’s driving distance works out exactly the same as from his old place.”

 

Sheldon started drawing a map on the back of Daniel’s packets.  “I think we’re on the right track.  But look, now Raj lives twice as far from Howard as he used to.  Since Raj and Howard are involved in a pseudo-marriage, we can’t move them further apart.”

 

“Hey!” Howard said.  “We’re not involved in any pseudo-marriage.”

 

“Both of us love the ladies,” Raj added. 

 

Sheldon and Daniel ignored them.  “Hang on.  Where does Howard live?” 

 

“Here,” Sheldon said, pointing to a spot on the map.

 

“And where’s the Cheesecake Factory?”

 

Sheldon pointed again.

 

“I’ve got it,” Daniel announced, fingers flying as he marked up the map.  “I move to your apartment.  Leonard moves to Penny’s apartment.  Penny moves to Mrs. Wolowitz’s house.  Howard moves to Raj’s apartment, and Raj moves to my apartment.”

 

Sheldon studied the map, then nodded slowly.  “That works.”

 Leonard, Howard, and Raj played a quick round of Rock-Paper-Scissors-Lizard-Spock. Leonard lost. “Sheldon,” he said with a sigh.

 

“What?” he asked.  “Leonard, I know that this new arrangement puts you further away from Penny than before, but let’s be honest with ourselves; that relationship wasn’t going anywhere.”

 

“That’s not the problem,” Leonard said.  “You can’t just move everybody around to suit yourself.”

 

“I know,” Sheldon said.  “We’ve carefully considered everyone’s needs in developing this new arrangement.  Weren’t you listening?  Penny is close to the Cheesecake Factory, Howard is close to Raj, Raj  is close to Howard--”

 

“Sheldon,” Leonard interrupted.  “I know.  That was…thoughtful.  Creepy, but thoughtful.  But you don’t get to decide where everybody lives.  Penny isn’t going to want to move just so that I can live across the hall from you.  And she’s really not going to move in with Mrs. Wolowitz.”

 

“I’m not moving, dude,” Raj added.  “I like my apartment.”

 

“I wouldn’t mind moving to Raj’s apartment,” Howard said, “but my mother would never go for it.  Even without the Penny living there part, which is, frankly, crazy.”

 

“It’s not crazy,” Sheldon said, his feelings clearly hurt.  “It’s completely logical.  Mrs. Wolowitz loves cheesecake, and Penny gets a discount.”

 

Daniel nodded eagerly.  “It is.”

 

“Okay,” Leonard sighed.  “Let me see if I can explain this in a way that you guys can understand.”

 

“Doubtful,” Daniel sniffed, “but you’re welcome to try.”

 

“Daniel.  You want to move because they’re changing your apartment building.”

 

“I don’t want to move,” Daniel said.  “I have to.”

 

“Okay.  But the point is, they’re changing your building and you don’t like it, right?”

 

“A gross oversimplification, but I’ll accept it,” Daniel allowed.

 

“So what makes you guys think that everybody else we know is going to agree to move to a new apartment just to revolve around your nexus of crazy?”

 

Daniel and Sheldon both looked confused.  “But Leonard, nobody has to move to a new place,” Sheldon said.  “We’re just re-distributing the available living space within our social circle.  Hexagon,” he corrected himself. 

 Daniel was right; he wasn’t going to be able to explain it in a way they could understand. “It’s not going to happen,” he said. “Just trust me on that.”

 

“I do trust you, Leonard,” Sheldon said, confused. 

 

“Good.  So, if you want me to move out so Daniel can move in, let me know in time for me to find a new place.”  He didn’t want to move out, but it was Sheldon’s name on the lease.  He’d always figured that their time as roommates would end when one of them wanted to move in with somebody; he just hadn’t figured it would be Sheldon shacking up.   “But you don’t get to pick where I move.”

 

“Why not?” Sheldon asked. 

 

“You just…don’t.  That’s not how it works.” 

 

“Well, it should.  We’ve come up with a perfectly logical plan here,” Sheldon argued. 

 

“I know you think it should work that way, but it doesn’t,” Leonard said. 

 

Sheldon sighed, shaking his head in that more-in-pity-than-in-anger way of his.  “Very well.  I’ll let you know what we decide.”

 

#

 

Somewhat to Leonard’s surprise, Sheldon didn’t try to get Penny on board with his apartment-swapping plan.  He also didn’t say anything more about Leonard moving out, so Leonard decided that he and Daniel must have come up with some saner plan, like maybe Daniel staying in his old apartment and learning to live with the green carpet in the lobby. 

 

But on Saturday, Leonard came home with Thai food and the Watchmen DVD, only to find Sheldon not waiting in his spot on the couch. 

 

“Sheldon?” he called.  He and Sheldon had been out with Penny and Daniel, respectively, but had agreed to meet back at the apartment to watch a movie.  Penny had bowed out; Leonard wasn’t sure whether they were expecting Daniel or not. 

 

“I’m in my room,” Sheldon said. 

 

Oh.  “Are you and Daniel, uh, having private time?”

 

“No.”

 

“Then are you going to come out and watch the movie?”

 

“No.  Watch it without me.”

 

Something was seriously wrong.  Leonard dropped the DVD and the food on the coffee table, and hurried back to Sheldon’s room.  “Sheldon?  Buddy?  What’s wrong?” 

 

Sheldon was curled up on his side on the bed, the way he only did when he was upset.  How tightly he was curled up was a good indicator of just how upset he was; at the moment, Sheldon looked like a pillbug.  “Daniel and I broke up,” he said. 

 

“You did?  How come?”  Since Sheldon hadn’t reminded him of the “people don’t come in my room,” rule, Leonard came in and sat on the edge of the bed. 

 

“He wanted me to make you move out so that he could move in.”

 

“Okay,” Leonard said.

 

“I said no.”

 

“It was kind of sudden,” Leonard said.  “You guys had only been going out, what a few weeks?  That’s pretty early to talk about moving in.”

 

“That wasn’t the problem.  He asked if I valued my friendship with you more than my relationship with him.  I said maybe.  He concluded that was unacceptable.”

 

Now Leonard really didn’t know what to say.  Definitely not anything on the theme of there being plenty of other fish in the sea.   Finally, he decided on, “Well, that’s his loss.”

 

“I know,” Sheldon said mournfully.  “He’s never going to find another one like me, is he?”

 

“Definitely not,” Leonard said. 

 

“I’m sad,” Sheldon said abruptly. 

 

“That’s kinda how it works,” Leonard said.  He was pretty sure Daniel was the first person Sheldon had ever dated, which meant this was also Sheldon’s first breakup.  “When you break up with somebody, even if it was the right thing to do, you still feel sad about it.”

 

“Logically,” Sheldon said into his pillow, “I should have picked Daniel.”

 

Sheldon clearly didn’t mean for that to be insulting, so Leonard said, “How come?”

 

“As my boyfriend, Daniel could reasonably be expected to continue living in the apartment for the rest of our lives, barring any disruptions in the relationship trajectory,” Sheldon said.  “On the other hand, if some woman ever deigns to procreate with you, you would have to move out.”

 

“Well,” Leonard said, acutely uncomfortable.

 

“No, you would,” Sheldon said.  “Your bedroom isn’t big enough to accommodate two adult humans and an infant.  And the baby couldn’t sleep in my room.  People can’t be in my room.  There’s no way around it.  You and the mother of your spawn would have to go.”

 

“I’m sure we would,” Leonard said, unsure whether to be disturbed or touched that Sheldon had even considered the matter.  “But look, even if I do move out someday, we’ll still be friends.”

 

Sheldon lifted his head to peer at Leonard over his shoulder.  “We would?”

 

“Of course we would.”

 

“But you wouldn’t live here,” Sheldon said.  “How can we be friends if you don’t live here?”

 

“We’d still work in the same place,” Leonard said.  “We could eat lunch together.”

 

“What about Halo night?  And vintage video game night?  And role-playing-game night?”

 

“We’d probably have to pick one.  My future wife and children probably wouldn’t like it if I went out with you every night.”

 

“I don’t know if I could sustain a friendship only seeing you once a week,” Sheldon worried.

 

“Plus lunch five times a week,” Leonard reminded him.  “And—okay, we’ll have you over for Sunday dinner every week,” he added. 

 

Sheldon sniffed.  “You will?”

 

Realizing that Sheldon was going to hold him to this, Leonard added, “Barring family emergencies and the occasional conference trip, yes.  At least 48 Sundays a year.”

 

“What if your wife and progeny don’t like me?”

 

“I wouldn’t marry someone who didn’t like you,” Leonard said, realizing to his dismay that it was true.  “And the kids will love you.  You’ll be their wacky Uncle Sheldon.” 

 

“Wacky Uncle Sheldon.”  Sheldon didn’t sound upset about it, more like he was tasting it.

 

“Yeah,” Leonard said.  “You know, kids like a lot of things that you like.  You can come along when we take them to the zoo to look at monkeys, or to the train museum, or….”  He wasn’t sure what else Sheldon liked that kids liked.

 

“Can we walk through the giant heart at the Please Touch museum?”  Sheldon asked.

 

“Sure.”

 

Sheldon uncurled, turning over onto his back.  “I feel a little better,” he announced. 

 

“Good.”

 

“Just a little,” Sheldon added. 

 

Leonard found himself reaching out and squeezing Sheldon’s hand.  “Better enough to watch the Watchmen DVD?”

 

Sheldon squeezed back, then nodded slowly.  “Yes.  I think so.”