And this, dear readers, is the end. This is the last chapter I will ever post on this story. It makes me a little sad. But onwards!
Also, I just realized that although this is under Sheldon/Leonard, its got quite a lot of Howard/Raj. I apologize if that's annoying!
In the three and a half years Howard had been dating Raj, he'd realized two things. He would never love anyone the way he loved his boyfriend, and he wanted to spend the rest of his life with him. There was just one tiny problem- gay marriage was still illegal in Pasadena. When he'd come to the conclusion he wanted to marry Raj and realized he couldn't, he grew moody, snapping at people for no reason and spending a lot of time by himself. Raj knew something was up, but try as he might, he couldn't get the tiny man to spill the beans. Surprisingly, it was Penny who ended up dragging the truth out of him.
'Alright,' the woman snapped as she stepped up to the park bench Howard was sitting on, crossing her arms and glaring at him. 'I just spent two hours looking for your sorry ass when I could have been back at my apartment with Paul, so either you tell me what's wrong or I'll be very, very annoyed.'
'Nothing's wrong,' Howard replied in a neutral tone, having said the exact same thing many many times before.
'You're sitting in the park alone and probably have been for hours,' Penny growled. 'You're in a thin turtle neck and shirt, and its absolutely freezing out here. You're either upset or crazy, so what's it going to be, Wolowitz?'
Howard glared up at her, but he wasn't really angry. Just tired. So, so tired of how angry he got every day over the injustice of it all. His glare faded and he sighed, glancing away. 'Fine, whatever, you caught me. Can I be alone now?'
'Howard,' her voice softened as she sat on the bench next to him. For a moment she marveled at how much closer they had grown over the three and a bit years he and Raj had been together. Because she hadn't been afraid of him trying to get into her pants, she'd ended up hanging out with him and Raj more. She found she was genuinely concerned for him. 'Sweetie, Raj is beside himself with worry. What's got you so down?'
'You really want to know?' Howard asked, glancing at her. Penny smiled and nodded. He considered just spinning some sort of lie but he needed to get this off his chest. He was sick of feeling depressed all the time when he should be happy. 'I want to have a normal life. I want to get married, you know? But I can't,' he let out a sigh, glanced up at the sky that was rapidly darkening. 'Gay marriage is illegal here.'
'Oh, sweetie,' Penny reached out and placed a hand on his arm, rubbing in a way she hoped was soothing. 'I understand why you've been so moody now. It's so unfair for you.'
Howard grunted, neither replying or pulling away. He could always get married to Raj in a country where it was legal but why should he? He shouldn't have to leave just because he was with a guy. He'd always wanted his wedding to be here, in Pasadena, where his mother was, where his friends were. Why couldn't he have this one thing?
Penny frowned slightly, squeezing his arm to get his attention. 'Howard, look. Gay marriage is illegal here, yes, but with the way the world's going at the moment, it won't be for too much longer. You've only been with Raj for three and a bit years, you can wait a couple more, can't you?'
'I guess,' the man continued to watch the sky, ignoring the cold seeping into his bones. 'But I want our relationship to have a more serious label, you know what I mean? Plenty of people have called Raj their boyfriend,' he paused, added, 'despite his mutism.' There was a flicker of a smile. 'But I want to be able to call him my husband.'
'Well, how about fiancé?' Penny smiled at him. 'Its not illegal to get engaged, you know. Why don't you propose now, and you guys can get married as soon as its legal?'
'And what if it takes to long?' Howard was beginning to like the idea of getting engaged now, but for some reason he wanted to push it away. It was like when you're upset and people cheer you up. For some reason you just didn't want to feel happy, and wanted to mope around. Howard felt like that now. He grasped at straws. 'I can't wait forever, you know.'
'Well, then you move to plan B,' Penny grinned at him. 'Just go to another country. I know its unfair and getting married here is ideal, but would you rather be angry at the government and not be married, or just deal with it, go to another country and be married?'
Howard let out a long breath. Despite himself, he felt hope starting to grow inside him. Maybe this would work. At any rate, he'd already decided what to do. 'You're right,' the hope filled him up, firing up the energetic side of him that had laid dormant for weeks. He stood from the bench, shook off the cold. 'I'll do that. I'm going to go buy an engagement ring.'
'Good for you, Howard,' Penny stood with him, pleased with herself. 'Now come on, lets get out of this cold. I'll drive you home, seeing as you walked here.'
'No, no,' Howard was almost jumping with the sudden rush of energy now, and he walked quickly towards where Penny's car was parked. 'I want to buy it now.'
'Really?' Penny blinked, following him. 'But, Howard, rings cost a lot of money, and this is all rather sudden, don't you think?'
They reached the car and Howard turned to her as she unlocked it. 'I love him,' he stared at her, willing her to understand. 'There's no one else I want to be with. I already know this is what I want. Why should I wait?'
'Well, alright...' Penny glanced away, a little put off by the intensity in his eyes. 'But what about money?'
'I lived with my mother for thirty one years, Penny,' Howard's lips twitched into a small grin as he slid into the passengers seat. The blonde woman climbed in on her side and started the car. 'I never had to pay rent, or anything like that. I've got plenty in my savings account, certainly enough for a ring.'
'Okay, okay,' Penny gave in, smiling. She pulled out onto the road. 'Where do you want to go?'
'Take a right at the end of this street,' Howard directed. 'I know the perfect place.'
'Where the hell have you been?' Raj snapped as Howard opened the door to their apartment. The Indian man was sitting on the couch, and had been waiting for some time now. He paused the movie he had been watching in order to glare at his boyfriend without any distractions. 'Do you have any idea what time it is?'
'I'm sorry,' Howard moved over and sat next to him. He was wearing considerably looser pants than usual, and thus his hand was in his pocket without any trouble, his fingers running over the velvet of the little box inside. 'It took me a while to get what I wanted.'
'What you wanted?' Raj sniffed, taking a good look at Howard. He found it strange that the man was so upbeat. It had been a while since he'd seen him smile without Raj having to really work at cheering him up. But Raj was still too pissed off to let this go. 'You want to know what I want, Howard? A boyfriend who actually tells me what's up, and doesn't ditch me for hours at a time without any warning.'
'I'm sorry,' Howard repeated, his free hand reaching out to grip Raj's. The Indian man glared but didn't pull away. 'Look, I know I've been a dick lately and I feel really bad about it. I got you something.'
Raj stared at him warily, his eyes narrowing. 'I've said this before, buying me something pretty won't make our problems go away.'
'I think this might be the exception,' Howard pulled the box out of his pocket, placed it into Raj's hand. 'Open it.'
Raj's eyes were wide, and he slowly opened the box. A gold ring sat inside, unadorned with gems but beautiful in any case. He stared at it for several moments in silence, then looked up at Howard, who was watching him. 'Howard...' he started softly. 'Is this...?'
'An engagement ring?' the smaller man smiled. 'Yes, it is. And if I get my way, it'll become a wedding ring. Raj, will you marry me?'
Raj ran a shaking finger over the cool metal of the ring. He'd hardly expected weeks of Howard pushing him away and snapping at him to end in a proposal. He leaned over and pressed a kiss to Howard's lips, before pulling away. 'Of course I will. I love you.'
He held out the ring for Howard to put it on his finger, but the man grinned and shook his head. 'Look on the inside of it.' Confused, Raj glanced at the inside of the ring and saw tiny writing engraved there. My love, my heart, my soul.
'It's beautiful,' Raj knew he sounded girly, but right then he didn't care. He could hardly believe this was happening. But as Howard slid the ring onto his finger and found that it fit perfectly, he knew that this was real. And it was the happiest moment of his life so far.
'Congratulations,' Leonard held the phone to his ear, stretched out on his and Sheldon's bed, tracing little patterns on Sheldon's side idly. 'I can't believe after two weeks of moping he just suddenly pops the question.'
'I know, right?' Raj's voice sounded in his ear, happy and content. 'But it gets me thinking. Penny's been married for around four months now, Howard and I are now engaged, when are you and Sheldon going to tie the knot?'
Leonard laughed, shaking his head even though he knew his friend wouldn't be able to see it. 'Are you kidding me? Can you imagine Sheldon married?'
'To you, I can,' Raj snickered quietly. 'Have you had any thoughts at all for the future concerning you two?'
'Not really,' Leonard rolled onto his back, staring up at the ceiling. He could hear Sheldon moving around in the kitchen. 'But I always kind of knew if we got engaged, it would be me who asked, and,' he paused, grinning, 'that I would use the one ring we found at the garage sale to do it.'
'Really?' Raj asked. 'You'd use that?'
'Of course,' Leonard smiled. 'It fits the appearance of a standard wedding ring, and it's a prop from a movie he loves. Why wouldn't I use it?'
'Good point,' Raj laughed. Leonard heard Howard's voice in the background. After a moment, Raj spoke up again. 'Sorry, dude, gotta go. Howard and I are meeting Bernadette for coffee. See you later.'
'Okay, have fun,' Leonard waited until he heard beeping before ending the call and setting the phone on the bedside table. After a few moments of relaxing, he finally dragged himself up and pulled on his robe and glasses as he walked into the kitchen. Sheldon was standing at the island, pouring a bowl of cereal. Leonard stood on tip-toe and kissed his cheek before grabbing a bottle of water from the fridge. 'Good morning.'
'Good morning,' Sheldon replied, setting the box of cereal back on top of the fridge and grabbing the milk. 'Who was on the phone?'
'Raj,' Leonard started preparing his own bowl, grinning at Sheldon. 'Guess what he told me.'
'Any number of things, I expect,' Sheldon shrugged, taking his bowl over to the couch and sitting down.
Leonard rolled his eyes, but it didn't deter him. He followed and sat beside Sheldon with his own cereal. 'Howard proposed to him last night, so they're officially engaged.'
'Really?' Sheldon paused, about to turn on the TV to watch Doctor Who. He glanced over at Leonard. 'I suppose social protocol dictates that I congratulate them at some point.'
'Yes,' Leonard grinned into his bowl.
Penny tapped her fingers on the white sink impatiently, her perfectly manicured fingernails making a clicking sound everytime they made contact. She was jittery, unable to focus on anything, but when she glanced down at her hand and the rings caught her eyes, she couldn't help but smile. She was married.
She had never thought she would be the type to be tied down. Maybe when she was thirty, certainly not in her twenties. But she loved Paul with every part of her soul, and after three years of dating she wanted to be with him in every way. He was the one. She knew it everytime they kissed, everytime he smiled at her. She didn't mind that her clubbing days were over- she'd had enough partying to last a lifetime. And hopefully, they would be able to start a family. Some might say they were rushing into things but she didn't think so.
She looked away from her rings to the tiny little strip that lay on the bench. Her breath caught in her throat and she picked it up to look even closer. The strip was white, except for two pink horizontal lines. She scrambled for the instructions that had come with the pregnancy test to make sure. 'Two lines means...'
She dropped the instructions along with the white strip and ran out of her bathroom, snatching up her phone and pressing speed dial. After a few rings there was a click and the familiar voice she loved. 'Penny? Is everything alright?'
'We did it!' she screeched, jumping up and down. She began to cry, laughing at the same time, causing little hiccups. 'I'm pregnant!'
'That's great!' he sounded excited, and she heard rustling in the background. 'Should I come home?'
'No, you have work,' she smiled through her tears. 'But bring something special home for dinner, okay?'
'Will do. I love you.'
'I love you too,' she put down the phone, still filled with an amazing amount of energy. Grinning, she hurried over to Leonard and Sheldon's apartment and threw open the door. They were sitting on the couch, rather closely, watching some kind of anime. They both looked up when she entered, and she flung herself into Leonard's arms, who looked rather surprised as he patted her back.
'Penny? What's wrong?'
She pulled back and hugged Sheldon, and he looked incredibly uncomfortable. Even after all this time, he still couldn't handle much physical contact from anyone other than his family and Leonard.
Penny sat on the couch between them, wiping at her wet face even as she fought off giggles. 'I'm pregnant!' she announced happily.
'Congratulations,' Sheldon replied. 'Does your husband know yet?
'Yep, I called him just before,' her smile faded and she looked sad. 'Only, this means we're going to have to move out and live somewhere suitable for children.'
Leonard reached out and took her hand. He was a little overwhelmed by it all. If someone had told him four years ago that Raj and Howard were engaged, that he and Sheldon were together and that Penny was married and pregnant, he wouldn't have believed them. But here they were, and as Penny leaned into his embrace and Sheldon hesitantly patted her shoulder, Leonard found that he couldn't be happier. 'You and Paul can come and visit us as much as you want, you know,' he told her. 'And the baby, when it comes.'
'I know,' she smiled at him, resting her head on his shoulder. 'Maybe I'll invite all four of you guys over every now and again, and it'll be just like old times.'
'What will you be serving?' Sheldon queried, looking worried.
'I don't know, Sheldon,' Penny let out a laugh, the man's quirks pulling her out of her melancholy mood. She found it a little funny she had gone from excited to sad in a few moments. Maybe the pregnancy hormones were already kicking in. 'It won't be for a while.'
'But why not?'
'All in good time, Sheldon,' Penny shook her head, grinning. 'All in good time.'
They were sitting on the edge of their bed in the room that had previously been Sheldon's but was now their's, early in the evening. Leonard had his head resting on Sheldon's shoulder, their breathing in sync, with his eyes tightly closed. Sheldon, after years of being emotionally bonded with the short man in his arms, knew Leonard was feeling sad, and was doing everything he could think of to cheer the man up. Which, of course, consisted of rubbing his back soothingly and murmuring, 'there, there.'
Penny had officially moved into her new house that day, and it was on the other side of town, meaning it would be hard to find time to visit. Her old apartment was far from empty however, it still held many boxes that needed to be moved. It would be a while until it would be rented out again. Leonard knew it was silly to feel so sad, it wasn't as if he was still in love with the woman. He was happy with Sheldon and always would be. But he couldn't help but think of all the things he'd been through with her, and because of her, and it made him ache. It was a little like when he graduated from high school, and his very few friends went their separate ways.
'Sheldon?' he asked after a few moments, his voice muffled because his mouth was pressed against the taller man's shoulder.
'Do you think we'd be together if it weren't for her?'
Sheldon didn't have to ask who he meant. He hummed low in his throat as he thought, rubbing Leonard's back rhythmically. The smaller man's hands were clutched in his shirt, twisting the fabric, and it was a little cute. Sheldon still hated the word cute, but sometimes it was the only word that did Leonard justice when he was in these moods. 'Maybe. It was Howard and Rajesh getting together that caused the start of our relationship, but Penny did help it along.'
Leonard nuzzled Sheldon's neck, trying to disperse the weird mood he was stuck in. 'I can't imagine life without her.'
'You don't have to, she's not dead,' Sheldon scolded gently, resisting the urge to roll his eyes. Fed up, he gripped Leonard's chin and lifted it. 'Good lord, you're being silly.' there was a pause where Leonard's eyes widened and he frowned, insulted, but Sheldon kissed him before he could protest.
When they broke apart, the sadness had vanished, and Leonard grinned up at him. 'I love you.'
The last boxes had finally been taken away, and as the four men stared at the empty apartment across from them, they thought back to the day they had first met the bright young woman who had, until recently, lived there. They were going to miss the times spent with her in that apartment, times spent with just the five of them.
'Oh, guys!' Penny appeared at the top of the stairs and they all glanced at her slightly rounded stomach automatically. 'I forgot something.'
She reached out and hugged all four of them tightly as they said their goodbyes, and they all found it weird when her belly pressed against them. She kissed their cheeks, lingering ever so slightly on Leonard's. 'I'll miss you,' she told him, smiling.
She started down the stairs again, but stopped and looked back over her shoulder at the four boys who were watching her.
And there we go, its finally finished. It makes me a little sad... I hope you guys enjoyed reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it.
Sorry about the ending, I had no idea what to write.
Look out for the one-shot I'm writing right now.
Please review and tell me what you thought. Thank you everyone who has been with me from the start, and those who joined us along the way.
I'll miss you guys!