"Now a promise made is a debt unpaid, and the trail has it's own stern code. In the days to come, though my lips were dumb, in my heart how I cursed that load."
R. Service (The Cremation of Sam McGee)
He lay on the bed, staring unseeing at the space in front of him. In the months that had passed since his return, he had done exactly this, a hundred times. One hundred and thirty two to be exact. His perfect memory allowing him instant playback; every scene like it had happened yesterday.
The confession from Rajesh and Howard.
The confrontation with Leonard in front of Penny.
The bitter collapse of three months work, the smear to his reputation, the humiliation of recalling emails and recanting claims that he, Sheldon Lee Cooper, had proven String Theory.
The lessons had been hard ones, bitter ones. The Arctic had not been done with him yet.
Lesson four: Never stop being alert to your surroundings.
He should have paid attention. Instead of sitting in his room avoiding the conflict, hypothesizing about his future with the girl next door, he should have been watching. He would have seen the way the Arctic isolation was adversely effecting his friends. Unlike him, they were not reveling in the time to think. What had been setting him free had been driving them mad.
Perhaps he would have noticed the multitude of open cans that he could now remember seeing in the fridge. Perhaps he would have paused to consider why the others were eating so many canned peaches, when they continued to complain about never wanting to see peaches again. The glances should have warned him; the whispers, both frustrated and angry, should have alerted him but he had ignored them all, grown complacent, believing they would never do anything to compromise the science. He had focused on the dangers of the cold outside, and not the damage the people inside could do to him.
His closest friends.
Lesson five: Don't trust your friends.
They had plotted to kill him. Tampered with research, nearly ruined his career, certainly ruined his credibility. All of his hopes and dreams for the future were put on hold or flushed like human feces down the drain because of them. Even now, they brushed it off.
They didn't know what they had cost him.
By now, he would have had the Nobel. He would have been the one taking Penny out to dinner. His only consolation was that he had not divulged his plans to them. They would never know how much damage they had caused him.
His best friend.
His best friend who fabricated experimental results and jeopardized everything and then walked away with the girl.
He had been gratified that she had proven him right, even if he could do nothing about it. She had chosen him over Leonard, in that she made Leonard apologize, explain his loathsome actions then she had come into his room to comfort him as best she could. He wondered what would have happened if, in that moment, curled on his bed, with her telling him the story of her high-school years, he had confessed all? His plans for them. His feelings. The thought was always futile and fleeting. He did not want her pity. He would not do it any differently, that part he would never have done differently. He would go to Penny when he had success in his hands, and not before. The Nobel Prize must be his priority
It occurred to him that by the time that happened, she may no longer be there, across the hall, or even in California, but he did not dwell on it. He couldn't. His career lay in ruins at his feet; the only thing that could keep him going, past the whispers, the sneers, and the self doubt, which had never been there before, was the thought that if he won the Nobel Prize, he could try for Penny. It was only this that kept him getting out of bed those first few mornings after. It was only this that had sent him back to work, more determined, more wary, than ever before.
Winning the Nobel had become a stepping stone.
Win the Nobel, pass go, try for the ultimate life prize.
And if he won it for proving String Theory, so much the better.