Author's Note: This is a (really belated) birthday present for one of my best friends. I find it rather fitting. Happy birthday, Mina. /heart
(Special shout-out to YlvaBorealis for providing valuable feedback and inspiration, and my brother for one of the gift ideas.)
Leonard marveled at the scrap of paper he held clutched in his hands. A particular set of bolded numbers he had honed in on stared back at him. The rest of the page was blurred into irrelevance, the information on it paling against the treasure he had found.
The numbers had caught his attention as he fished in the garbage to rescue the spoon he had dumped in by accident. Time had stopped in that moment, the utensil lay ignored in favor of retrieving the paper, Leonard not quite believing the knowledge he was about to possess.
It was Sheldon's birthday.
He stood there, clutching the paper tightly until he registered the sudden absence of running shower water. Having forgotten that Sheldon was awake, Leonard jerked himself from his reverie. He shoved the DMV notice back into the trash, snatching the spoon on his way out as an afterthought.
It was almost too good to be true. Leonard wound his fingers through sleep-mussed curls, slowly exhaling to gather his composure.
Almost seven months of living and working together and Leonard finally knew Sheldon's birthday.
With Sheldon bizarrely adamant about refusing to divulge the frivolous date (as he called it), Leonard had found himself at a loss. He now had the means to celebrate special occasions and people in his life to use them on. Finding the perfect gift for someone thrilled him in a way he never could have imagined growing up. He thrived on the delight of brightening someone's day, of providing that moment of pure joy. And Sheldon was denying him.
Thinking that he at least had Christmas, Leonard found the perfect gift early on. That was a mistake. He should have known the exchange wouldn't bode well when Sheldon refused to decorate for the holiday, but that didn't prepare him for the crushing defeat that awaited him when Sheldon flat-out refused to open the small package Leonard had presented to him during Christmas Eve.
He kept it for himself instead, decorating the small tree Sheldon permitted him to keep in his bedroom with the atom ornament intended for his roommate. It was a small trinket, but one Leonard hoped might have bridged the gap between Sheldon's distaste for the holiday and his love of science.
Leonard sighed to himself. It was just his luck that the friend he now considered his best hated presents.
By the time he was joined for breakfast, Leonard sat inconspicuously sipping on some orange juice, determined for Sheldon to benefit from Leonard's discovery. He barely heard Sheldon's babble as he moved around to fix a glass for himself.
How hard could it be? Sheldon Cooper was the epitome of an open book when it came to gift ideas. Living with him provided Leonard with exactly the right insider knowledge on the things Sheldon already owned or expressed interest in acquiring. Combined with the power of the internet, and an entire world of potential presents was at Leonard's fingertips.
The more complex task was figuring out a tangible item to sneak into Sheldon's possession without arousing his suspicion. Maybe if he-
"Hello? Are you even listening to me?" Sheldon asked, waving a hand in front of Leonard's face.
"What? Oh, yeah, I know, right-Tesla, incredibly tragic-"
Sheldon narrowed his eyes, seemingly unsure as to whether or not Leonard had in fact been paying attention. Then, nodding in agreement, he continued, "You know, the worst of it-"
Having heard this particular rant before, Leonard checked out. He had more important things to contemplate than the unfortunate life of a brilliant scientist. Like how to discreetly improve the life of the one he lived with.
He stumbled on the shirt in a thrift shop. It was yellow, depicting a colorful, geometric graphic, an optical illusion that compelled Leonard to pull it off the rack. If it hadn't still born its previous retail location's tag, he wouldn't have given it a second thought. He was sure Sheldon would appreciate owning it.
And Sheldon's birthday was three weeks away.
It was perfect.
"Hey," Leonard greeted Sheldon cheerily, stepping into the apartment and dropping his keys into their bowl. "Check out what I found."
Sheldon swiveled in his chair to watch Leonard as he set his bag down, fishing out the garment. Shaking it out, he held it up and peered over the collar, grinning widely.
Sheldon blinked at him, then shifted his gaze down.
"Well? What do you think?"
Another moment passed. Sheldon cocked his head sideways. "Color me surprised, Leonard," he finally said. "I fully expected your taste in clothing to inform a harsher critique from me, but you've proven my assumption wrong."
Leonard beamed. "So you like it?"
"It's a quality shirt," Sheldon returned with a genuine smile.
"Would you like to have it?"
Sheldon twisted around from having moved his focus back to his laptop, brow raised. "The shirt?"
"Yeah," Leonard shifted uncomfortably under his scrutiny. "If you like it so much, I don't mind giving it to you. I think it might be a little too big for me anyway."
Sheldon gave a breathy chuckle. "Leonard, please. My t-shirt rotation is already at max capacity with no prospects for an opening on the horizon."
Leonard's arms dropped in defeat. How could he have forgotten to consider the rotation? With a hopeful shrug, he tried again. "You could keep it as a back-up?"
"My back-up positions are also filled."
Of course Sheldon had back-up t-shirts.
Leonard sighed and crumpled the fabric into a ball. "I guess I'll keep it then."
"Mhm." Sheldon had already resumed his furious typing.
With slumped shoulders and a dejected shuffle, Leonard made his way to his room, tossing the failed present into a dresser drawer before tossing himself across his bed.
So much for trying to do something nice. At least he got a cool shirt out of it.
"Hey, you guys wanna go paintballing Saturday?"
"Is that even a question?" Howard looked up with an almost predatory grin.
Leonard set his tray down next to him with an excited grin of his own. "You game, Raj?"
Raj nodded enthusiastically around a mouthful of turkey burger. He swallowed as Sheldon arrived with his own lunch and slid into his seat.
Leonard glanced across the table. "Sheldon, we're doing paintball on Saturday. Care to join us this time?"
The look Sheldon pinned him with made Leonard's face fall instantly. But he forced a pleasant smile before trying again, determined for this to be the occasion he succeeded in convincing Sheldon to join them for something social, something Leonard was positive he would ultimately enjoy.
"Come on. Look, I know you don't like spending a lot of time outside-"
Sheldon rolled his eyes over his soda bottle.
"-or getting dirty, or being around people more than necessary, but I'll pay for y-"
"Let me stop you right there, Leonard." Sheldon set down his bottle, brow furrowing. After a moment of silent contemplation, he said, "I'll go."
Leonard's face lit up again. "Really? You'll come with? Wait a minute." His gaze narrowed. "What's the catch?"
"No catch. But we can't go before one in the afternoon. My morning time slots have already been allocated to reorganizing my closet space."
Well that wasn't surprising. Leonard doubted he would ever get used to how rigid a schedule Sheldon kept.
What was surprising was Sheldon's follow-through when Saturday finally rolled around. Leonard had half expected him to change his mind and excuse himself from the match, but when the time came, he emerged from his room already decked out and a look of determination etched across his face.
"I didn't know you owned paintball gear," Leonard said with a note of wonder.
Sheldon smirked. "I'm always prepared, Leonard." Without another word, he marched out of the apartment, leaving Leonard to hurriedly grab his wallet and keys and follow him down to the car.
Three hours later, as the four of them trudged up to 4A, dirty and sweaty and exhausted, Leonard glanced over to Sheldon walking beside him. He was covered head to foot in mud and paint. His hair was mussed, lacking its usual structure and order. A sheen of perspiration still covered his triumphant face.
Leonard could still hear the echo of Sheldon's shout: "This is for Halo night last week, you butterfingered scoundrel!"
It hadn't exactly been part of Leonard's plan. But then again, Sheldon asking about the next time they could do paint battle was reward enough.
Even if Leonard had to come home with a bright splotch of friendly fire emblazoned on his back.
Leonard opened the oven door and inhaled deeply.
Not too shabby. His mouth watered when the aroma struck him full force, the cooked peaches and cinnamon rooting a sense of comfort deep within his bones.
He grabbed the oven mitts and carefully extracted the dessert. As he set it on the stove top to cool, he heard the door to Sheldon's bedroom open. Leonard began plating their meals, the scent of cobbler mingling with the fried chicken, mashed potatoes, and green beans he had managed to time perfectly for the moment Sheldon joined him.
Turning around, Leonard found Sheldon standing still, arms at his sides as he observed the state of the kitchen.
"You made dinner?"
Leonard set the two loaded plates on the island. "Yup! What do you think? Your mom taught me some stuff last week and I thought I'd test it out."
"But it's burger night," Sheldon said. His head cocked sideways, but any semblance of conviction was lost when his nostrils flared and a soft sigh escaped him. He pulled out a stool and sat hunched over the steaming food.
"I know," Leonard replied, his optimism faltering momentarily. "But Raj is having dinner at Howard's place. Thought maybe we could have something home-cooked for a change."
Taking another healthy whiff, Sheldon wet his lips and peered up. "Well?" he prompted after a few beats of silence. "Aren't you going to sit down?"
Leonard's smile brightened. "Yeah, yeah. Hang on," he said, hastily moving to grab utensils, a can of soda, and a glass, the latter of which he filled with milk for Sheldon.
They ate in silence for a time, Leonard stealing occasional glances across the island. Sheldon was shoveling food in his mouth at a steady rate, seeming to enjoy everything. Relief and pride swelled in Leonard.
With a final bite scraped from the plate, Sheldon set down his fork, humming in satisfied approval. Leonard preened at the gesture and stood to clean up, coming back with the cobbler, a fresh plate, and a spatula. The dessert was golden and still warm. He placed it on a trivet between them. "Dig in," he said.
"Oooh, yum..." Sheldon reached for the spatula wearing the same delighted expression Leonard had only seen reserved for Mary's cooking.
He watched contentedly from his seat. After a full minute of stuffing his face as though he hadn't just eaten enough for two already, Sheldon glanced over at Leonard. "Aren't you going to have any?" he asked around a peach slice.
"Can't," Leonard replied simply. "Butter and milk."
"Mm, of course..." Sheldon paused his chewing. He looked almost disappointed. But just as Leonard was about to ask if something was wrong, Sheldon spoke quietly. "Thank you for the consideration."
And as he resumed his treat, Leonard was left wondering why it felt like it wasn't his lactose intolerance Sheldon was referring to.
Leonard and Sheldon stepped inside the comic shop. The latter immediately bounded to a display showcasing a variety of Batman products while the former followed, a hint of a smile playing at lips as he listened to his friend's excited chatter.
"Hey, guys," Stuart called out, one arm raised in greeting from behind the counter.
Leonard shifted the bag slung over his shoulder, the loping grin on his face widening when Sheldon offered a quick, "Hello!"
Stuart gestured toward the display. "I see you've discovered the Dark Knight merch they just released. Pretty cool stuff, huh?"
"This extends far beyond the parameters of what is most often considered 'cool'," Sheldon said, not unkindly. "Though I disagree that The Dark Knight promises to be one of the greatest superhero movie sequels in recent cinematic history, even I can't deny that these new figures are magical." His eyes sparkled as they turned back to examine a rare Alfred statuette.
Shooting a glance in Leonard's direction and catching the quick raise of his eyebrows, Stuart gave a pained smile. "Well, let me know if there's anything I can help you with."
Sheldon seemed to ignore him. Instead, he stepped sideways to examine the limited edition Batmobile.
Leonard offered Stuart an apologetic shrug.
They perused the section for a while before moving to rifle through the comics. There wasn't much by way of classics to fill the gaps of their extensive collections, but Sheldon gathered up the handful of issues newly released that week and brought them up to the counter to avoid extensive fingerprint damage, then followed his feet right back to the Batman end-cap.
"Leonard," he whined, glancing between the figures. "Which one should I get?"
Leonard, who had hung back by the register, swallowed the smile that threatened to form and followed after Sheldon. "Whichever one you want, buddy," he shrugged.
Sheldon glared down at Leonard. "Helpful."
Leonard shrugged again, maintaining his air of nonchalance. "Well, taking into consideration factors of popularity, level of apparent store stock, inclination and ability regarding monetary spending, and personal preference, which model calls to you the most?"
Sheldon knit his brow thoughtfully, silently debating with himself in acknowledgment of Leonard's proposed decision-making process. After a minute, he reached confidently for the box containing the Batmobile. Leonard glanced up at him, lips pursed in mock seriousness.
"Are you sure?"
Nodding, Sheldon tucked the box neatly under his arm. "Positive. Let's go."
They headed toward the register. But just as Sheldon opened his mouth to declare himself ready to pay, Stuart ducked down below the counter, coming up a moment later wearing a cheap party hat emblazoned with the word Congratulations! and blowing hard on a noisemaker. Sheldon yelped and jumped back, almost dropping his new toy and clutching at his chest.
"Good lord, Stuart, what are y-"
"You're our fifty-thousandth customer! Congratulations!" Stuart declared, his tone amused at best.
Sheldon gaped. "I am?"
"Yup. And that means all your merchandise here today is yours, free of charge."
"Even the Batmobile?" Sheldon asked incredulously.
"Yes, even the Batmobile." Stuart waved the party favor with muted enthusiasm.
Sheldon's face broke into a large, radiant smile. He spun around to face Leonard. "Did you hear that, Leonard? I won!"
Leonard couldn't help but return the infectious beam. "Congrats, buddy."
Sheldon hurriedly tucked his comics into their designated folder inside his messenger bag. "What are the odds that of all the days to come into the comic book shop, out of all the customers who come through, on a day that I decide to make a significant purchase-"
He continued babbling about the incredible odds as he made his way toward the exit. Leonard flicked his tongue to wet his lips, then zeroed in on Stuart, leaning close as he fumbled for his wallet. "How much?"
Stuart pointed to the register's display that read '$73.29'.
Leonard quickly fanned the bills he had and slid eighty dollars onto the counter. "Keep the change," he murmured. "Thanks again for all your help, Stuart."
"No problem, Leonard. You're a good friend," Stuart said quietly, sweeping the money out of sight.
Leonard chuckled dryly to himself, shoving his wallet into his back pocket. "Yeah, just the best," he murmured. Exactly what he wanted.
Leonard turned to see Sheldon stopped just short of the door, eyeing the pair of them quizzically.
"Coming, buddy," Leonard said, and, with a quick wave to Stuart, followed him out.
Something was different.
Something was... out of place.
It took him all of seven seconds to pinpoint the source of his perturbation. A mason jar he had never seen before rested innocently on the corner of his nightstand. Upon closer inspection, Sheldon noted its contents-quarters. He tilted his head slightly, eyebrow raised in curiosity. Most of them appeared shiny and clean, others likely incapable of such at this point in their travels, but they were all quarters and they filled the jar to the brim.
He picked it up to get a better look. There was no note, no explanation for its presence. It was a simple, clear, unadorned glass jar.
With no new information to take in, the air of mystery began to vanish. In its place crept a growing vexation. Someone had entered his bedroom. Uninvited and unannounced, someone had explicitly stepped inside the confines of Sheldon's personal space to leave this jar of coins. And Sheldon knew exactly who it was.
He found Leonard exactly where he'd left him, hunched over his desk where he'd planted himself upon returning home from work.
"Leonard, did you leave this jar of quarters in my room?" Sheldon held out the offending object accusingly.
Leonard swiveled around and peered up at Sheldon from over the rim of his glasses. "Why would I do that? You hate other people going into your room."
Sheldon's eyes narrowed. "Then which miscreant friend of ours decided it was acceptable to bypass apartment regulation?"
"I never said I didn't," Leonard countered, tipping his chin up and grinning smugly. "I considered asking Penny to do it for me but I figured your head might explode if you found out." He turned back to his laptop, adding, "It's for the few extra loads of laundry you said you have to do before the conference next week."
Sheldon opened his mouth to say something. Then closed it, saying nothing at all when the instinctual responses he had conflicted with one another. He turned to leave with a sudden and urgent need to be alone, the jar clutched tightly in his fist, but before he took two steps back into the hallway, he looked back, calling a short, "Thank you."
Leonard craned his neck to stare at Sheldon in surprise, but before he could find the words to reply, the door to Sheldon's bedroom signaled his final retreat.
A couple of days later, the latch of the washing machine echoed around the otherwise empty laundry room. Sheldon exchanged his now empty basket for the jar of coins on the table, screwing his face in the effort to get it open and, with a few coins in hand, began to orient them heads up.
It wasn't until Sheldon was fitting the third quarter into its slot that he noticed. He slid the remaining few across his palm to confirm, going so far as to take out the ones he'd already inserted into the machine. Blinking rapidly, heart rate pounding faster than it had any right to, he picked up the jar and gave the coins inside a good, hard look.
All of them. Every single one.
The moment Leonard stepped out of the hallway, hair still tousled and robe loosely tied around his waist, Sheldon left his perch at the kitchen island and met him with a plain white envelope bearing Leonard's name.
Leonard stared at it, internally groaning. The last thing he wanted to deal with on his birthday was another series of revisions and additions to their Roommate Agreement. But his arm betrayed him by reaching up to take the offered papers anyway.
Except it wasn't the Agreement. It was much too thin, and less flexible in its bend. He glanced curiously up at Sheldon before folding up the metal tabs and sliding out...
"A birthday card?"
Leonard couldn't help but chuckle. "Yeah, obviously..." He stared at the front, an amusing piece of fanart depicting Spock setting a birthday cake in front of Kirk. Then he opened the large card to read the contents out loud.
Wishing you a happy birthday-
-surely the best of times.
He was speechless for a moment, unable to look up from Sheldon's neat handwriting. From the corner of his eye he could see Sheldon step away. He was grateful. The last thing he wanted just then was for Sheldon to make fun of him for the moisture gathering in his eyes.
Leonard blinked, looking up and around. His mouth dropped open.
Sheldon was holding up a small cake. Two candles burned in the center of it, their flames dancing as he set it down on the island.
"But-" Leonard cleared his throat in an effort to find his voice. "I-I shouldn't eat that..."
"Well, I certainly can't eat it all myself," Sheldon said. "Besides, I made it using a lactose-free recipe. You can eat to your little heart's content."
"You-you made it? For me?"
Sheldon quirked an eyebrow. "Did I not make that clear?"
He stepped closer, giving a short, breathless laugh. "You made me a birthday cake..." Maybe if he said it out loud, it would feel less like a dream. "Am I allowed to blow out the candles, too?"
"That is the standard protocol," Sheldon replied. "Don't forget to make a wish."
"Pinch me," Leonard murmured under his breath.
Leonard positioned himself in front of his birthday cake. The room was quiet as he considered his greatest desire. Then, wetting his mouth, Leonard sucked in a deep breath and let loose over the candles.
They had no chance. Leonard beamed and turned to face Sheldon. "There, let's see that one co-"
He quieted. Sheldon was standing in front of him again, much closer than usual, so much so that Leonard had to crane his neck up to meet his gaze.
"Happy birthday, Leonard."
Sheldon's mouth was surprisingly warm and plush, molding easily over Leonard's. His chirp of surprise died in his throat. He found himself pressing closer to wrap his arms around Sheldon's neck, robe suddenly much too warm, hyper-aware of the heat radiating from every point that their bodies connected. Sheldon smelled faintly of sleep and tasted like toothpaste and it was better than every kiss of Leonard's life combined.
They finally pulled apart. For once, Leonard allowed himself to stare openly at the perfect bow of Sheldon's lips. "How did you know?" he asked softly.
"Leonard," Sheldon deadpanned. "I have two PhDs and an IQ that surpasses the boundaries of standard charts. Combined with your lack of subtly regarding the recipients of your affections, the disguising of your birthday gifts to me was ultimately pointless."
Eyes widening, Leonard flicked them up to search Sheldon's. "How long have you known?"
"Long enough to consider and finalize an amendment to our Agreement."
Leonard's heart flew into his throat. "What?" he managed to choke, dropping his arms.
Sheldon glanced toward the ground. "I've drawn up a clause for our mutual benefit. We can, of course, modify any section you find disagreeable, but I've done my best to factor in what I've observed over the years to be your requirements, expectations, and aspirations regarding romantic and sexual relationships."
Leonard made an unintelligible noise.
"Too much?" For once in his life, Sheldon looked unsure of himself.
"Just right," Leonard breathed, and stood on the tips of his toes to seal their lips together.