"I'm cold, I want to turn the heat up two degrees!"

"You are not cold. It's 72 degrees, that is not cold. I'm not cold."

"Heat rises and you're over 6ft! It's colder down here."

"That's ridiculous, Leonard!"

"More ridiculous than you telling me that I'm not cold? You can't possibly be arrogant enough to believe you can me how I feel."

"I can tell you that you are not cold at 72 degrees."

"Why is this such a big deal! Why can't you just be the tiniest bit flexible..."

"You signed the roommate agreement!"

"To shut you up! I sign every stupid paper you put in front of my face so you'll shut up for a few minutes and then you're on to something else! Seven years of idiotic demand after idiotic demand..."

"My demands are idiotic? You're the one who insisted on putting petty banalities into the friendship rider..."

"Why the fuck did we need a friendship rider! That's not how friendship works. You can't just draw up a contract and say 'these are the parameters of a friendship'!"

"Perhaps you can't..."

"Living with you is worse than living with my parents. And my parents are horrible!"

"Based on your current volume and over-emotionality, I imagine you would have fit right in with my family."

"I don't know how someone as warm and loving as your mother could raise such a bull-headed, inflexible, inconsiderate, selfish, demanding. obnoxious, anal retentive..."

"How could a woman as remarkable as your mother raise a son who is so capricious, contrary, unreasonable, inconsistent, moody, irritating..."

"I'm irritating!"

"Yes."

"Sheldon Cooper is calling someone else irritating?"

"I just did."

"You literally have no self-awareness..."

"Let me add hyperbolic to my list."

"Let me add annoying asshole to mine."

Penny was banging on the door and yelling "Shuuuut up!" Again.

Leonard decided to spend the night at Koothrapalli's.

"May I refer you to the roommate agreement..."

"I don't always know 24 hours in advance that I'm going to be having sex! On those rare and happy occasions that a woman finds me attractive, I'm working around her time table not yours!"

"This isn't a hippy commune! It is not unreasonable to expect you to know someone for 24 hours before bringing them into our apartment for coitus."

"It is unreasonable! It's very unreasonable!"

"You didn't even know that woman! You could have woken up in the bathtub minus a kidney or worse. She could have been a rival scientist and stolen my laptop! Or a rival comic book collector! You've put all our possessions in danger."

"She did say something about wanting to kill a giant insect..."

"Now you're just being hurtful."

"If I were trying to be hurtful I'd say something like 'It's not my fault you're afraid to touch lady parts'. You want to die a virgin, fine, but don't put your crazy fears on me."

"Afraid? You think I'm afraid of vaginas? That's ridiculous."

"Is it? I've lived with you for seven years and..."

"And what?"

Leonard decided to leave before he completed the thought.

xxx

"I swear to God I'm going to kill you in your sleep!"

"Leonard! Not only is that rude but it is a flagrant violation of the roommate agreement..."

"Fuck the roommate agreement..."

"You don't..."

"You can't even say it! You can't even say fuck. What is wrong with you? No one is that repressed."

"Just because I don't dedicate my life to the relentless pursuit of sex doesn't mean there is something wrong with me..."

"No! The fact that you won't have sex with a woman when she comes into your bedroom and asks for it... That means something is really wrong with you!"

As soon as it was out of his mouth, he knew he couldn't live this way anymore. He couldn't be this person.

Sheldon's face was inscrutable. It wasn't until Leonard tried to apologize that the taller man turned on his heel and headed for his bedroom.

"Just run away, Sheldon!" why was he still talking? "Call your mommy and tell her I'm being mean again so she can give me another guilt trip."

Sheldon turned and furrowed his brow, "What are you talking about, Leonard?"

He could walk out the door, go to Koothrapalli's, calm down, apologize in the morning... or he could crush Sheldon like an actual praying mantis under his heel. Sheldon's enormous ego was balanced on a house of cards.

"Oh, Leonard, you know Shelly ain't no good at talkin' to people. Cain't you just apologize to Howard for him? Cain't you just eat at Big Boy on Tuesdays? Cain't you let him play Halo with you and your friends? Cain't you just let him think he's smarter than you? Cain't you..." Leonard hated the condescending tone coming from his own mouth. He sounded like a snob. Like a privileged brat who went to Ivy League schools and mocked people with southern accents who went to lesser and cheaper schools because they lived in aluminum houses...

"I have never asked my mother to speak on my behalf..."

"But you know damn well she will! When you go crying to her, she starts trying to protect her little Shelly from the big mean world when it refuses to kiss his neurotic ass."

Sheldon looked more quizzical than angry, "I hardly need my mother to protect me from you."

"Is that right, homo novus? You can fight your own battles? You can't even drive a fucking car..."

"My decision not to drive is based on..."

"Being too chickenshit to try anything that doesn't come easily. Driving, dating, making friends, giving speeches..."

"I suppose I could be more like you, Leonard. Of course, we'd have to buy a second couch for me to lie face down on and cry night after night."

If Sheldon could still form a decent insult, things hadn't gone too far.

"What's left to cry about when you peaked at fourteen and a half?"

"You're a... big jerk!"

Leonard opened the front door just as Penny was opening her own. He couldn't look her in the eyes, he dashed down the stairs towards the thoughtful musings of Raj. He would know what to say.

xxx

"You need to move out, dude."

It wasn't what Leonard wanted to hear, "Sheldon and I have had fights before."

"Sheldon is the most annoying man on the planet, if you didn't want to smother him while he slept I would be worried about you. But... you talked about his mother?"

Leonard hung his head. He adored Mrs. Cooper and felt guilty for betraying her trust. She had shown him more affection than his own mother.

"I know! I feel horrible."

"Mrs. Cooper?"

"I know."

"She's lovely."

"I feel bad enough as it is."

"She's been better to you than your own mother."

"Raj!"

"I'm just saying, Dude..."

xxx

Leonard lay on Raj's couch staring at the ceiling for hours before giving up on sleep and turning on his laptop. It was time to check out Craig's list. Maybe he could find a roommate that allowed whistling. He was surprised by the tears welling in his eyes as he clicked a link that said, "Roommate Wanted".

xxx

When Penny had broken up with him, after the bowling alley debacle, it had been the worst hour of Leonard's life. He'd sat on her couch, staring at his hands and trying not to cry or beg, while she assured him he was a great guy and so very, very special.

He should have never said he loved her, he should have never asked her to say it back. He should have just been grateful to be part of her life and kept his mouth shut. He always wanted too much. He needed too much.

Now Sheldon was staring at him in utter confusion and asking, "Why?"

"It's time, Sheldon. We've lived together too long. We've been having the same stupid fights for eight years."

"We have the same fights because you keep breaking the same rules."

"I don't want to wash my feet before I take a shower."

"Do you want athlete's foot?"

"I'm willing to take the risk."

"The perhaps you are right. Maybe you should move out."

Sheldon's face was haughty and his tone was cold but his eyes were suspiciously wet before he stormed out of the living room.

Being dumped by Penny was downgraded to the second worst experience of Leonard's life.

xxx

Penny did a load of laundry early Saturday evening so she'd have something to wear for her date Saturday night. She would have just bought a new outfit but, as usual, she was broke.

It was no surprise to see Sheldon doing laundry on a Saturday but he was there TWO HOURS early. She was immediately concerned.

He stared at his clothes while he explained his break from routine, "Leonard is signing the lease on his new apartment and will begin packing when he returns. I will need to be there so we can fairly divide the items we purchased together."

"What the frack? Leonard is moving out? Why? When? Why? What the frack?"

"As usual you are the epitome of eloquence. That was sarcasm."

Normally Sheldon looked proud at his sorry attempts at sarcasm but today his face held the same tense expression he'd worn when he walked into the laundry room.

She wanted to touch his arm but knew the contact would not be welcomed. Only Leonard was allowed to touch Sheldon and even that was only for brief moments.

She kept a polite distance and asked gently, "What happened, Sheldon? Why is Leonard moving out?"

Sheldon wouldn't look at her, he stayed focused on the important task of staring at the washer that was already full and running.

"Leonard declared we have lived together too long and he needs to move out. I concur. The saying 'Familiarity breeds contempt' has been demonstrated to have empirical validity."

"Okay, sweetie, I'm not sure what that means but I know that you and Leonard have been best friends forever..."

"Eight years is hardly forever," Sheldon snapped before swiftly leaving the laundry room. Penny watched him go in shock. She couldn't believe Leonard and Sheldon were breaking up. Even when she had been dating Leonard, she had assumed he would live with Sheldon forever. If she and Leonard had ever married and had children, her children would eat at the Cheesecake Factory every Tuesday and know the fiber content of their cereals. The boys across the hall were a package deal.

xxx

Sunday morning Penny intercepted a whistling Leonard on the stairs. He was carrying a box labeled "books".

"Getting ready for freedom?" she asked as they met on the landing.

Leonard smiled and put down his box, "In less than a week I'll be whistling in the shower with no fear of reprisal. I guess Sheldon told you I was moving."

"Yes, he was doing his laundry at 6:15 on a Saturday. Obviously something was very wrong."

She kept her tone light but she was a little hurt that Leonard hadn't said anything to her. They'd been friends for four years! They ate together at least three times a week. She had killed a silver fish for him just the other day. Who was going to kill the bugs in his new place?

"Yeah, we spent hours just sorting through the video games."

"So... where are you moving?"

"Just across town. Stuart found a really nice place and the rent is really reasonable."

"You're going to live with Stuart?"

"Yeah. He's been living at the store. He found a place with a huge master bedroom and a tiny second bedroom. Paying the same amount of rent I pay here, I'll be paying 65% of the rent there and Stuart will take the smaller room and pay the rest. Win-win."

"Except for Sheldon," Penny thought, "No win there for Sheldon."

"You should come over sometime," Leonard suggested cheerfully, "You know, any time you want to feel really uncomfortable."

"I wouldn't feel uncomfortable hanging out with you and Stuart!"

Leonard looked dubious.

"Okay, that would be a little weird. I'm not sure, but I think I've heard him whisper 'I love you' a few times when I've walked by."

Leonard laughed. There was an unfamiliar quality to his laugh that Penny couldn't quite put her finger on.

"He's had a run of bad luck lately but he's a really good guy. I think we're going to be good roommates."

"Speaking of roommates..."

"Penny, please don't," Leonard's tone was surprisingly firm and his expression stern.

"Don't what?"

"Don't try to make me feel bad about 'abandoning' Sheldon. Don't take his side like I owe it to him to live with him forever. Why do I always have to be the one to knuckle under and adjust my life around his craziness?"

"I'm not saying anything like that!"

Leonard slumped his shoulders and apologized, "It's just that everyone wants to know what's going to happen to Sheldon like he's a little kid or I'm responsible for him. I am not my roommate's keeper! It isn't selfish for me to want a change in my life. Someone else can chase him out of the ball pit or help him set up his loom or work out the exchange rate of dollars to Sheldacks..."

"I'm not arguing with you!" Penny cried, Leonard's anxiety seemed to seep into her skin as he spoke, "Move out! Do what you want! Be happy! Sheldon will survive!"

Leonard grabbed his box of books and stormed away while Penny watched, frozen in shock.

xxx

Later, Penny reviewed the conversation in her head. She couldn't think of anything she'd said that should have set Leonard off. She was so confused, she resorted to calling her "bestie", Amy Farrah Fowler.

"Leonard is projecting his feelings of guilt about abandoning Sheldon on to those around him," Amy offered with no hesitation.

"But Leonard isn't abandoning Sheldon."

"Of course he is."

xxx

Naturally, Leonard let Sheldon keep the couch. Leonard had bought the item, against his roommate's wishes, but Sheldon had come to develop an unhealthy attachment to his "spot". Leonard got some amazing deals on Craig's list and was able to furnish the new apartment himself. He knew Stuart was having enough trouble making ends meet. Stuart used to have some help at the comic book store and supplemented his income with his artwork. Thanks to the current economic crisis, he couldn't afford to maintain his staff and was doing everything at the store himself. He had no time left for his art work which reduced his income and broke his heart.

Leonard had always liked Stuart but he'd never really known the guy before. He was the polar opposite of Sheldon. He hated conflict even more that Leonard and was incredibly easy going and appreciative. Not wanting to make Stuart feel bad about his current financial situation, Leonard stocked them up on inexpensive food and they cooked every night. Some of the meals had been surprisingly tasty. Other days, they tossed the food and ate Ramen noodles. Leonard felt like an undergrad again.

He could hardly miss Sheldon when he saw the man every day at lunch but there was a definite something-is-missing sensation that followed Leonard through his day. He had opted out of his usual game play dates with the guys as he settled in to his new life but he would be hosting vintage video game night on Friday. He wasn't using the phrase "house-warming party" because he wanted Sheldon to attend, but they were inviting all their friends. To Leonard's relief, Wil Wheaton was out of town.

"Um, Leonard?", Stuart was walking out of the bathroom wearing a puzzled look.

"Yes, Stuart?"

Stuart winced uncomfortably, "Did you...? Am I not cleaning the bathroom well enough?"

Leonard felt his cheeks darken, "I didn't 'clean' the bathroom, I just scrubbed the shower... I'm sorry, I've lived with Sheldon too long."

Stuart shrugged, taking the explanation as easily as he took all of Leonard's idiosyncrasies. Owning a comic book apparently raised Stuart's tolerance for craziness. Even as Leonard had scrubbed out the shower, he'd known it was silly but he could practically see his dead skin cells on the floor. Sheldon had gotten into his brain and left his mark and Leonard could only hope the effects were reversible.

xxx

Penny wasn't sure how to dress for a house warming at Leonard and Stuart's new place. She was torn between a conservative skirt and an Orion slave girl costume she'd been given by Leonard when they were dating. She'd probably fit in better as an Orion slave girl...

Sheldon was already knocking on her door so she jumped into her least revealing outfit.

When she opened the door, Sheldon immediately commented on her attire.

"You seem remarkably well-covered tonight. Have you been taking fashion advice from Amy Farrah Fowler? If so, I applaud you."

"I just don't want to spend the evening having men pant while staring down my shirt," Penny snapped as she threw on her jacket.

"You never seemed to mind when Leonard, Rajesh and Howard panted at your decolletage."

"Sheldon?"

"Yes?"

"Shut up."

xxx

When Penny picks up Amy Farrah Fowler, she is again complimented on her outfit that 'almost entirely masks her femininity'. She's ready to start smacking genius heads together and she's not even at the party yet. It's going to be a long evening.

"Sheldon, do you feel jealous that Leonard appears to be adapting so well to living with Stuart?" Amy asked with characteristic bluntness, "From what I've heard, they are getting along remarkably well and Howard reports he has never seen Leonard so happy."

Sheldon tells Amy to shut up. Amy shoots Penny a knowing look in the rear-view mirror. Penny feels sorry for Sheldon, she's been on the receiving end of Amy's brand of comforting. She went through it when Leonard was dating Priya and again after Priya returned to India. Penny told Leonard she regretted breaking up with him. He told her she was a really special person and he valued her friendship. She'd spent quite a few nights crying on Amy's shoulder with electrodes strapped to her head.

xxx

About half an hour into the party, Penny decides she and Sheldon can take a cab home because there is no way she can do this sober. Zach is there because, apparently, he and Stuart are friends now. Zach, Stuart, Raj and Barry Kripke are having a heated Betty v. Veronica argument while they take turns playing Super Mario Bros. Captain Sweatpants tells Penny she looks pretty 'not all tarted up'. Leslie Winkle has hijacked Amy and Bernadette and Penny finds she has little to add to their 'I'm a successful scientist, leading in my field' conversation. It's only worse when Bernadette tries to be nice and points out how well Penny balances a tray full of desserts with 'one brawny hand'. Howard is helping Albino Bob and Lonely Larry figure out who has been trolling their "Green Lantern" fan forum and Sheldon and Leonard are in a corner, deep in conversation.

Penny drinks some boxed wine by holding her nose and shooting it like cough syrup. Once she has a little buzz going, she joins Leonard and Sheldon. They are standing very close and Sheldon is leaning down as Leonard looks up. If Penny didn't know better, she'd think Leonard was getting 'picked up' by Sheldon. She's concerned about walking into a personal conversation but when she approaches, she recognizes the lingo of World of Warcraft. She's oddly grateful when they open their conversation to her, even if Sheldon is as condescending about it as possible.

As she gets updates on Glen the battle ostrich and Leonard's newest strategy, Penny remembers the day she met these odd fellows. She'd assumed they were a couple from the way Sheldon hovered over the shorter man's shoulder. Maybe it was the box of Merlot but she was starting to wonder if her first instinct been right all along.

xxx

As she climbed into the cab next to Sheldon, Penny couldn't decide what she wanted to talk about first. She really wants to know Sheldon's 'deal' but she can't ignore what they just witnessed.

"Oh my freakin' god, Sheldon! Amy and Raj were making out!"

Sheldon leaned away from her, probably because she's screaming in his face, "Yes, Penny, I saw. We all saw."

"Are you mad? Amy liked you first and she's kind of your girlfriend..."

"Amy Farrah Fowler is a friend who happens to be a girl..."

"Yeah, yeah, yeah, she's not your girlfriend but she could be. She would be. Do you want a girlfriend, Sheldon?"

"I would respond with sarcasm but as you've imbibed a small vineyard tonight, I'll simply say, 'no'."

Penny leaned up and forward so her lips are nearly touching his, "Do you want me to be your girlfriend?"

Sheldon recoiled in horror and that's answer enough for Penny. Sheldon's deal is not girls.

"Do you want a boyfriend?"

Sheldon looked shocked, like the thought has never entered his enormous brain.

"Do you want Leonard to be your boyfriend?" She asked the last question quietly because she really wants Sheldon to be honest with her.

His eyes are cold and angry as he snaps, "I do not want or need a girlfriend or a boyfriend. Please respect that and end your drunken and futile line of questioning."

Penny let the issue drop, Sheldon's cheeks and ears are tinted with red but she's not sure if it's anger or embarrassment. She'll need to consult with a genius who isn't Sheldon or Leonard. Good thing she knows a million geniuses these days.

xxx

Amy Farrah Fowler is rapping on Penny's door at the crack of dawn (a.k.a 10:30am) in full bestie mode.

Penny staggered to the door, her head thumping from too much cheap wine.

"Why are you here? It's so early..."

"You sent me a text saying that you needed to speak to me. I rushed over as soon as I read it," Amy explained as she made herself comfortable on the couch, "What's going on, bestie? Does Leonard have a new girlfriend? I'll bet she wears pants suits and too much make-up."

"I appreciate the cattiness but no... Hey, why did you not get my text earlier? I sent it late last night."

Even as she asks the question, the memories come flooding back. Amy has a touch of pink in her cheeks.

"Amy Farrah Fowler! Did you spend the night with Raj?"

"Tell me what's troubling you, Penny. I'm all ears," Amy pretends not to hear the question.

"That's funny because you seemed to be all hands with Raj..."

"Can we speed this conversation along, Penny? I have lunch plans at noon," Amy's tone is firm but her cheeks are getting pinker by the moment.

"Amy and Raj! Ramy!"

Amy simply said, "No!" in the clear and firm bark of a dog trainer so Penny let the issue drop for the moment.

"So you and Sheldon... Did anything ever, you know, happen between you?"

"Do you mean sexual intercourse?"

"Or just kissing. Some people kiss and don't have sexual intercourse."

"I did kiss Sheldon while in a state of intoxication but we've agreed to never speak of it again or let it tarnish the intellectual purity of our friendship. Why do you ask? Are you considering Sheldon as a potential sex partner?" Amy's eyes widened with concern, "I would recommend you set your sights elsewhere."

"I knew it! He's gay. Sheldon has a thing for Leonard, doesn't he?"

Amy is shaking her head but Penny is sure she has it figured out. What other explanation could there be for Sheldon not wanting to be with Amy when they were clearly made for each other? In fact, Penny was beginning to think the two were literally made for one another in a lab as some type of super-secret experiment.

She's been watching to many late night X-Files reruns. The boys had gotten her into bad habits.

"Sheldon is not a homosexual."

"But he doesn't like girls..."

"Sheldon is asexual."

"No he isn't! He just acts that way because..."

"Penny," Amy interrupted, "Sheldon and I have discussed this issue at length. He's asexual. He's not attracted to men or women and feels no desire to copulate with another individual."

Penny's mind is well and truly blown. Amy refers her to the most recent academic papers on the subject but Penny's eyes instantly glaze over so they look up a support website. Penny finds all her questions have been answered ad naseum in the forums. There are people who don't want, need or like sex. She has enough trouble wrapping her brain around people who don't like chocolate or who don't drink because they 'don't like the taste'. How could someone not want sex?

When Amy leaves for her 'lunch date', she has clearly developed selective deafness to match Raj's selective mutism and is unable to hear Penny's questions regarding her plans.

Penny spent the rest of the afternoon watching soap operas and wondering what to do about Sheldon. On the screen, beautiful (and amazingly well-lit) lovers fought against the cruel world to save their love. Some fought against classism, some fought against former lovers, some are locked in distant cabins by crazed evil twins but they all know the key to happiness is finding and keeping 'the one'. Who is the 'one' for Sheldon? Could there possibly be someone out there willing to put up with Sheldon's idiosyncrasies with no hope of sex? Of course, there was.

She put on her shoes and headed out into the ugly world for the sake of true love. Sheldon didn't have any past lovers and his twin, Missy, was a really sweet girl, but Sheldon was in peril none the less.

xxx

When Leonard opens the door, Penny blushes at his near nudity, wondering what she's interrupted.

"I-I'm so-" she stammered, "Is this a bad time?" Maybe he's not nearly nude, per se, he's wearing a tee-shirt and jeans but no hoodie, no jacket and no socks.

Leonard shakes his head, making no attempt to hide his confusion, "I was just doing some reading, come in."

He looks relaxed as he flops down into the left side of his couch, moving aside an oversized book of art to make room for Penny.

Penny glanced at the book, it's hardly the type of thing she expects to see Leonard reading.

"I see Stuart's already rubbing off on you."

Leonard smiled, "I used to really enjoy abstract art. I used to spend hours at the museum when I'd get overwhelmed."

"You never told me about that."

Leonard looked uncomfortable, like he'd admitted to embarassing, "I haven't gone in years. I forgot how much I enjoyed it."

"Why did you stop going?" Penny asked.

Leonard shrugged, "It was something I started doing with my dad when I was little so I could learn about how different cultures utilized materials and how the social norms and mores were represented..."

Leonard fiddles with his hair as he trails off, staring off into space. Penny gives him time to resume speaking.

"I guess... I guess I wanted to be different when I moved to California."

Penny can relate to that. She'd wanted to leave old Penny in Omaha. It didn't work out.

"So Dr. Leonard Hofstadter, appreciater of art, has finally landed in LA?" she teased, poking him in the ribs. Leonard squirms away like a child, his glasses sliding down his nose.

"Now that I don't have Sheldon as my mother's proxy telling me I have more important things to do than stare at 'scribbles'..."

"More important things like playing Halo?"

Leonard laughs, "That wasn't the plan but, yeah. I gave up art for games. Eight years."

Leonard didn't look so much unhappy as simply thoughtful but Penny felt the urge to change the subject. She knew she couldn't help Leonard with his identity crisis, she was in the middle of her own. He needed to talk to someone like...who? Who did Leonard have that he could really talk to? Probably Stuart.

Too bad, Leonard, Penny mused, Sheldon needs you more than you need Stuart.

"Speaking of eight years," she can already see Leonard tensing up before she even says the name, "you must be missing Sheldon."

"How could I possibly miss Sheldon?" Leonard demanded. Penny hadn't even noticed his voice had been deeper earlier but she noticed it returning back to its usual wine. He was fidgetting with his thumb nail and so fully returned to the old Leonard, she half expected shoes to appear on his conspicuously bare feet. "How could I miss him when I work with him? When I drive him to work Tuesdays and Thursdays? I spent all of yesterday with him! When exactly would I miss him? During the hour I'm awake before I go to work and he's not yelling at me to stick to the schedule? When I'm showering without him running in to empty his pea sized bladder? When I'm sleeping and he's not screaming for me because he had another stupid nightmare? Do you know who comforts me when I have nightmares? No one. No one ever has, I learned to deal with them on my own when I was four."

"Leonard, that can't be true... I'm sorry, I just remembered who your mom is, but you can't put that on Sheldon! He grew up differently from you and he has different," Penny chose her word carefully, "he has different needs."

"He has insane needs! Endless, batcrap crazy and non-negotiable needs. For eight years, everyone asked how I could live with that nutjob and now everyone wants to know how I could leave him. You, Howard, Raj, Leslie, my mom, Albino Bob... Why can't someone else be his roommate/keeper/host for future organ transplants?" Leonard continued, angrily, "You can be his roommate. You could save on rent."

"Oh, I don't think that would work," Penny argued lamely.

"Why not? A bottle of wine, you might start to look at him differently."

Penny punched him in the leg hard enough to make him go fetal but she refused to let his little dig about Raj throw her off course.

"You didn't give him a chance. You should have warned him you were thinking of leaving, given him a chance to try and work things out with you. Maybe some kind of couples' counseling would have helped."

"We aren't a couple," Leonard snapped, jumping up from the couch, "We're roommates. Former roommates."

Penny followed Leonard as he nervously paced the room, "You're best friends."

"That's why I had to move out. We couldn't stay friends living together. I was starting to lose it. We've always bickered and snapped at each other but..." Leonard grabbed his hoodie hanging near the door and pulled in on, trying to disappear inside, "I don't know what changed. I feel mean. I don't want to be mean to Sheldon. I love Sheldon he's like... I don't even know what to compare him, too. He's nothing like my brother."

Leonard stopped pacing and sat back down on the couch. Penny wrapped her arms around him, pulling him close. She smiled at his stiff posture in her arms, even after all these years, after all they'd been through. There was something about his discomfort with the affection he so desperately sought that had always moved Penny.

She held him in silence for a few minutes before telling him about her conversation with Amy. Then she held him while he pretended not to cry.

xxx

Sheldon stared blankly at the white board. It was impossible to think in the echoing silence of his apartment. Leonard had become like white noise but a better white noise than what was produced by Sheldon's white noise machine. That white noise was useless.

He was almost grateful for the knock on his door. He found himself hoping Penny was about to bore him with some silly problem involving money or feelings. Her world was so simple.

Instead, he found Leonard standing at the door, staring at his shoes.

"Hello, Leonard. To what do I owe this unscheduled visit? You look distressed, would you like a hot beverage?"

Leonard chewed on his thumbnail, his brow creased in thought. Sheldon tried to guess what predictable and banal comment would come from his former roommate first.

"Are we a couple? Are we like... married?" Leonard asked.

That wasn't what Sheldon had been expecting. Not by a long shot.

xxx

Sheldon made them both a hot cup of tea while Leonard blathered on about Penny and artwork and his mother's inability to show affection.

"I mean, I know my mom is upset about her divorce but she refuses to acknowledge it and then I start to think maybe she really is just heartless..." Leonard continued to drone on about his feelings as Sheldon steeped their tea for five and a half minutes as recommended by the tea company responsible for their fragrant white chai. He wondered when Leonard would get to the point.

"If it were a question of gay sex, I could probably get behind that..." Leonard giggled sheepishly, "Sorry, poor choice of words."

Sheldon didn't get the humor of Leonard's words but it didn't seem relevant. What mattered was that Leonard was thinking about it. That was more than Sheldon had expected.

"I don't know if I can go without sex, without even the hope of having sex, for the rest of my life."

"There's masturbation, prostitutes, surprisingly life-like dolls, and women -one of whom lives across the hall- who are willing to engage in meaningless one-night-stands," Sheldon offered as he handed Leonard his tea before sitting next to him on the couch.

Leonard grimaced, apparently unhappy with Sheldon's suggestions. Of course, Leonard wanted to make love to a partner. Despite Beverly Hofstadter's best efforts, she had raised a son incapable of separating emotion from sex. Sheldon had partnered himself to someone with the sexual maturity of a fourteen-year-old girl.

"Perhaps you could re-ignite your long distance relationship with Priya," it pained Sheldon to even suggest it, but it was the most logical step, "That way you could have a sexually and emotionally satisfying relationship that would only occasionally disrupt your relationship with me."

"Wouldn't I just be cheating on you? And her?" Leonard asked, endearing in his simplicity. He could be such a child at times.

"Yes and yes but I don't expect sexual fidelity and none of your previous girlfriends have seemed to mind."

Leonard had the decency to look ashamed, "I don't think that's going to work any more."

"Although I have no particular urge to copulate with another person, I do have physical urges that need to be dealt with on occasion..."

Leonard snorted, "On occasion? If that's occasional, how would you define the word 'frequent'?"

Sheldon ignored the interruption, "I'm sure we can come to some kind of mutually satisfactory arrangement."

Leonard pulled his knees to his chest, "I don't think I could handle you lying there and thinking about the queen."

Sheldon felt the urge to explain the origin of that particular turn of phrase but fought against being side-tracked, "The sexual arousal of one person can trigger a like reaction in another. It's what the uninformed quaintly refer to as 'chemistry'. The research on pheromones is in its infancy but..."

"How do we know if we have... chemistry?" Leonard interrupted, his eyes wide behind his thick glasses.

"Leonard, we've shared an apartment for eight years and the wall between our bedrooms is very thin."

Leonard flushed deeply, "So you... Does that mean my arousal has... elicited a similar reaction in you?"

"Leonard, do I need to draw you a picture? Because I will. My white board is currently blank."

"Yeah," Leonard was nodding, "Let's graph this out. Let's make charts. Let's make this something I can wrap my brain around."

"I was being sarcastic, Leonard."

"I'm serious. I really need to intellectualize the hell out of this or I'm going to start freaking out," Leonard explained, rubbing his thumbnail until the surrounding skin was raw, "I need research, facts, statistics..."

Sheldon looked at his friend and former roommate. His features were so familiar and pleasing, Sheldon felt one of his rare urges for human contact.

"Leonard, may I touch your hair?"

"Um, sure?"

Leonard had answered a question with a question but Sheldon was in a good mood. He ran his hand through Leonard's soft curls, so much more appealing when not caked with hair gel.

"You like my hair?" Leonard asked, though the answer should have been obvious.

"Indeed, I always have," Sheldon responded. Perhaps if he and Leonard became intimate, he'd be able to rub his cheek against Leonard's hair. He missed his cats but not the asthma attacks.

"Can I kiss you?" Leonard asked. Sheldon was never good at reading facial expressions but he was pretty certain Leonard was intentionally making his face unreadable.

"I suppose. No tongue."

Leonard nodded before putting his hand on the back of Sheldon's neck and pulling him down, pressing their lips together. It wasn't unpleasant.

xxx

Leonard rested his head on Sheldon's shoulder. They hadn't exactly had sex but they'd both achieved orgasm and it had been a joint venture. Maybe it was sex. It was definitely intimacy. Sheldon had been Sheldon, which was a relief. Leonard hadn't needed to wonder if he was performing well, his partner was very vocal about what was enjoyable and what was annoying, uncomfortable or unnecessarily unhygienic.

He hadn't planned to jump into the physical part so quickly but the longer they talked and made lists, the more obvious it became that they needed to give 'it' a try before they could consider a long term relationship. Leonard wanted to be a creature of impulse and given to concupiscence but, deep down, he was a scientist.

He needed empirical evidence.

"What do you think, Sheldon?"

"It all seems so unnecessary and messy."

"I want a number."

"Once a week."

"I can work with that. I can't just leave Stuart high and dry. We signed a lease."

"I'll pay your part of the rent for the duration of the lease."

"That's rather generous of you. Am I really worth it?"

"It'll be cheaper than creating a cyborg companion to replace you. In fact, I'll still have plenty of money left over in my cyborg account. I'll have to repurpose those funds."

"When did you start planning to replace me with a cyborg?"

"Eight months after you moved in. A good roommate is difficult to find, once I had you broken in, I knew I wouldn't have the energy to repeat the process."

"Sheldon, if you're going to get all mushy and romantic every time we do this..."

"Do you want to lose your snuggling privileges this early in the game?"

Leonard kept his mouth shut and smiled at the ceiling while Sheldon rubbed his cheek against the top of Leonard's head. He didn't actually purr, but he thought about it.