Prologue – setting the stage

Sheldon was in Hell. After the disastrous betrayal by his friends during last summer's Artic Expedition, he had been relegated to the 2nd String of the Physics Department. Every thing he did required the prior approval of the Department Chair, Dr. Eric Gabelhauser.

Every article, every expenditure, every request for time on the Cray, everything, even office supplies, required his boss's prior approval. He was being forced out and it hurt.

He had lost his credibility as a physicist and the respect of his peers. Sheldon Lee Cooper, PhD, was resigning and returning to Texas. There was an Associate Professor position open at a local community college and he'd applied and been accepted and would begin teaching summer courses in June.

He would use the summer to lick his wounds and recover his dignity. He was at the bottom of the ladder again but he would find a way to climb back up and win that damnably elusive Nobel Prize.

He had a gross thought involving the medal and Gabelhauser's rectum and felt ashamed but then tittered a laugh. The only way a hack administrator like Eric Gabelhauser could possess a Nobel Prize was if they awarded one for 'Nit Picking' or he bought someone else's on Ebay.

He printed out his letter of resignation, signed it, folded it and put it in an envelope and dropped it into the department mail drop. It was done. His stomach growled and he glanced at his watch. Drat! He was hungry but wouldn't impose his company on his former friends and colleagues.

Satisfied that the die had been cast and that his Rubicon had been transited, Sheldon locked his office and walked down to the bus stop. He was going home. The true measure of his depression was that he hadn't once given a thought to taking the spare set of bungee cords from his storage closet.


"Where's Dr. Dumbass been hiding, Hofstadter? I haven't heard his wheeze or seen him mantising around in like…a month or two, not that I miss him or anything."

"He's been keeping to himself, Leslie. He must be on to something big, huge even, since he's either here at CalTech or home, sleeping. You need to cut him some slack, Leslie. We all do after his research paper on monopoles was so badly received." He looked around the table at his two friends and fixed them with a glare.

"Well, he presented a conclusion based upon either accidental or deliberate misrepresentation of data. I'd say he got what he deserved. He finally fell off that pedestal he raised in his own honor. It's very satisfying somehow. Almost like…an orgasm."

Leonard looked at the other two scientists at the table and started to say something.

"Leslie, it wasn't his fault. He based…"

"What Leonard is trying to say is that he misinterpreted his findings. He was going nuts up there; we all were. Something needed to be done about it since he forbid us building a crossbow." Howard stabbed his Cobb salad with his fork.

Leslie Winkle was no stranger to academic politics. She'd gotten as far as she had because she understood the Law of Backstabbing but this…this went beyond politics. For the first time in her life she felt…pity for someone. It was a strange feeling, almost like premenstrual cramps but higher up near her cardiac region.

"You three did something up there, didn't you? Something that gave Cooper data that was totally unsupportable and that couldn't be duplicated. You – you guys stabbed your friend in the back! I guess I'm not the only one around here who hates Dr. Dumbass but even I wouldn't go as far as you three did."

Leonard watched Leslie stalk across the cafeteria and out the door. He didn't know what had gone down between Sheldon and Winkle but it had left the two of them with nothing but animus for one another. It was almost as if she were a spurned lover. And even she thought what they'd done, without knowing specifics, was wrong.

"Guys, we've got to come clean about what happened last summer. It's not right. Even Leslie 'I hate Sheldon Cooper' Winkle thinks so."

Howard looked up from his burger and snickered. "If we hadn't done what we did, we'd have all been in prison awaiting execution. It was your idea, remember? All Raj and I did was go along for the ride. If you have a guilty conscience, deal with it."

"No, Howard, we wronged Sheldon, and it our responsibility to make it right. He is our friend, even if we wanted to slay him and leave him on the ice for the polar bears to devour."

Apartment Building

Sheldon picked up his carry-on bag and left his apartment for the last time. Penny was trudging up the stairs after another day of work at the Cheesecake Factory and smiled when she saw him.

"Oh my, Sheldon! Look at you! I love that black pin-striped suit on you. It makes you look so distinguished." Actually she loved Sheldon in anything. It didn't matter. The girl was in l-o-v-e …lurve.

"Penny, I left several large cardboard boxes in your living room. They are clearly marked and there is a list of contents on a laminated piece of paper taped to each. Use the contents to further your career, pay bills, whatever you want. I need to go. My cab is waiting."

"Go? Where are you going? Some sciency convention?"

"Yes, Queen Penelope. Some sciency thing. Take care, my queen." He looked all twitchy like he wanted to say more but abruptly turned and grabbed his bag and practically ran down the stairs. He had wanted to avoid seeing Penny and the awkwardness of saying goodbye to the one person he'd miss leaving behind in Pasadena.

Okay, there was another but that ship had long ago left the dock and sunk in deep waters of the Mariana Trench.

Leonard, Raj and Howard had bar-hopped most of the night and so Leonard had no idea that the apartment was void of anything that belonged to Sheldon. He was too drunk to notice when he got in and too hung over the next morning to worry about it.

He knocked on Sheldon's door and then went to make coffee and scrounge something for breakfast. He called out Sheldon's name and chuckled. Lately Sheldon had been harder to rouse than normal.

"Sheldon?" He knocked and waited and then knocked again. No answer. He braced himself for the shrieks of outrage but they were going to be late if he didn't get a move on. He opened the door and found an empty room with just a bed and a mattress and an empty chest of drawers. Everything else was gone.

He hadn't been at his lab more than a few minutes before a graduate assistant came in and told him that Dr. Gabelhauser wanted to see him in his office immediately. Leonard nodded and grabbed his white lab coat and made his way to his boss's office. The lab coat was his uniform telling everyone that Leonard Hofstadter was a scientist.

He walked in to the anteroom and was surprised to see Leslie Winkle, Howard and Raj waiting to see Dr. Gabelhauser.

"Anyone know why we were all summoned?" He could understand the 3 men but not Leslie being called in. Maybe something bad had happened to Sheldon?

No one knew. Leonard was distracted from their situation because of Sheldon's abrupt and unannounced departure.

"Sheldon is gone. His room is empty. All his comics, action figures and clothes are gone. He didn't leave a note or anything. Anyone know what's up with that?" He squinted at them, sure at least one of them would know something.

"What do you mean, 'Sheldon is gone'? He was here yesterday and…" Just then Gablehauser opened the door and frowned. "Get in here, all of you." He didn't look happy at all and Leonard felt a loosening in his bowels that he couldn't blame on his lactose intolerance.

He was suddenly very afraid.

The department chairman stared at the four and then held up a letter on ornate stationery. He looked at it as if refreshing his mind as to the contents and then he dropped his bombshell.

"This is a letter I received from the Max Planck Society of Institutes asking that I grant a sabbatical to Dr. Cooper so that he could guest lecture. Apparently Dr. Cooper had turned them down twice before, both times since returning from his ill-fated Artic expedition."

His voice got very cold. "The Institutes have generated 32 Nobel prize winners. This institution has only generated 3. I had hoped that Dr. Cooper's work would have been validated during his expedition but we all know how that ended, don't we? I wonder if Dr. Cooper knows just why his data was flawed? Apparently not, since he never breathed a word to anyone, simply crawling back into his shell, all confidence gone."

"You didn't? Tell me you didn't mess with his data. Tell me you didn't sabotage his results just to get out of an uncomfortable situation. Tell me, damn you!" Ah, the utility of the Law of Backstabbing.

Leslie Winkle's face was contorted into a rage and the three scientists shrank back from her. Leonard was sure his sphincter had failed momentarily when she focused that rage on him.

'Interesting reaction,' thought Dr. Gabelhauser. 'Apparently the old tales are true. Winkle and Cooper? Incredible!'

"Dr. Winkle, you are not without blame for Cooper's situation. Or perhaps I should refer to him by your pet name, Dr. Dumbass?"

He held up another folded letter and snapped it open with a flick of his wrist. He'd tried to enable young Cooper to regain his self confidence by making him submit every article, every request for mainframe time, every administrative detail to his office hoping when the requests were automatically approved without question that he'd regain what he lost but that had obviously failed gloriously.

"I have here Dr. Cooper's letter of resignation. It was effective yesterday. His office is empty and I daresay one could eat off the floor. He is nothing if not predictable. You have all had a hand in this," he said, shaking the letter at them, "and now you will fix it."

"He has accrued nearly four months of vacation and another 2 of sick leave. That's how long you four have to find him and convince him to return. If you fail, you're all fired and I guarantee that any requests for recommendation will be denied and any responses regarding your performance from prospective employers will be less than stellar. Get out of my office and don't show your faces again except to resign or escort Cooper back here."

The four shocked scientists turned but he had one more thing to say.

"Don't think appealing to the faculty board will do you any good. I spent nearly all night going over the details and suspicions regarding the Artic expedition with them and I have their full backing."

Leslie Winkle was torn between loving and hating Sheldon Cooper. It was still his name on her lips when she pleasured herself and she still found herself aching when she saw him on campus. It had been nearly eight years and still…it hurt. Every time it hurt, she resolved to hurt him but even she wouldn't go so far as to sabotage his work.

Leslie looked at the three geeks and ground out through clenched teeth, "Hoffstadter's apartment, tonight, 7 o'clock. We're going to figure out how to salvage our careers out of the clusterfuck you've created."

Leonard left work at noon after searching through Sheldon's office. He had vacuumed his desk drawers and he'd even degaussed his hard drive leaving no clues as to his activities in the past weeks or his ultimate destination upon leaving.

The same was true of their apartment. There wasn't one thing that might even suggest that Leonard had had a roommate. Everything was clean and immaculately reorganized to eliminate any Sheldon 'residue'.

Penny burst into the apartment and he turned smiling but the smile dropped to the floor when he saw the look on her face. Within a second, his body followed his smile. A right hook had caught him low on the jaw and practically lifted him off his feet.

"He's gone and it's all because of you and your petty insecurities and jealousy! He's gone, Leonard. And he lied to me! He's never lied to me – ever. He's gone and it's all your fault – yours and those freaks he thought were his friends. I hate you, Leonard, I really, really hate you all for what you did!"

"Penny, you don't understa – "

"I'm not stupid, Leonard. You think I can't read? He left his journal in a box. I don't think he even knew it was in between his comic books. You should read it, Leonard, read what you did to that sweet, trusting man…"

Her face clouded up and she started to cry and it wasn't a normal 'cry' for Penny. No. This was the cry of a woman in agony because of a broken heart.

Across town in an upscale condominium, Leslie Winkle was going through the same emotional upheavals as Penny except that hers were tempered by 8 years of denial. Damn it, Moon Pie, damn it to hell!

In another apartment, Dr. Rajeesh Koothrappalli, astrophysicist was Skyping with his parents telling them that he might be coming home to Delhi and that they should begin looking for a nice Indian girl for him. When asked about 'why', he told them the truth, not able to lie to his mummy.

His father's scowl and his mother's words closed the door on any homecoming for him. He'd been cast out, disowned and unnamed. He was on his own for the first time in his life. Damn Sheldon Cooper!

Wallowitz looked at the clock and shoved another fork full of brisket and broasted potatoes into his face and weighed his options. They were few and none of them were particularly palatable. Going with his mother to Israel was probably not going to happen since he was a coward and service in the IDF was not something he thought he could stomach…and then there was the whole Mars Rover thingy… Damn Sheldon Cooper!

A/N: Shall I continue?