The Decoupling Activation

(What if in "The Decoupling Fluctuation" Penny DID break up with Leonard? Will she regret it especially when she finds out Alex Jensen has seized the opportunity to go all out for the man she is desperately attracted to? Leonard/Penny. Leonard/Alex. Note: This story assumes parts of "The Higgs Boson Observation" have already taken place; Alex has been hired, has flirted with Leonard and met Penny and mistook her for Leonard's graduate assistant. Also I am assuming that Alex has sent the text message to Leonard he reads from her in "The 43 Peculiarity" and that THAT flirtation took place as well.)

(Parting Ways)

Leonard Hofstadter stumbled in the door of his apartment; walking as though he had trudged miles instead of simply across the hall. Out of sheer force of habit he tossed his keys into the bowl before staggering to the couch and collapsing on it. He stared at the TV but didn't see it as his mind replayed the crashing of his world just a few minutes ago.

He had got a sinking feeling as soon as Penny had sat him down and started with the words dreaded by all men when their girlfriend starts a conversation with them.

"Look there's something I need to tell you."

Stay calm Leonard he had told himself. Maybe it's not bad news.

"Oh? Yeah, okay?"

"I don't know how to say this."

It was a forlorn hope. He knew it was going to be just as bad as he worried it might be.

"Just say it."

She said it but most of the words simply went by him. Only some stuck in his mind. They were nice words but he knew what they were leading up to.

"You are great."

But?

"A sweetie."

But?

"So special and smart and nice."

But?

"A new kind of boring love."

Okay, there we are. She's bored. She's letting me down easy. Then thankfully it was all over. They were officially broken up. He left, carefully closing the door behind him.

He wondered what he should do now. The same thing he always did when his personal life took yet another nose dive into the cellar where it spent most of its time anyway. He'd go to work. That it was already after normal working hours might make it even better. He wouldn't have to be talking to anyone while he sorted his thoughts out. He picked up his shoulder bag and methodically checked to make sure he hadn't taken anything out when he arrived at home earlier. He hadn't of course. He retrieved his keys from the bowl and left.

"Leonard? Leonard are you back?" Sheldon came out from his bedroom and looked around. Not seeing his roommate he looked fretfully at the time. "He KNOWS it's Wednesday and he needs to drive me to Pottery Barn and Radio Shack and the Soup Plantation. Sometimes he takes his responsibilities very lightly."

For a moment Sheldon considered going across the hall to get Penny to drive him. He decided against it. For one thing she had seemed more and more reluctant lately to shoulder her share of the responsibility of taking him places. And after the completely unreasonable fit she had thrown last night about his coming into her bedroom he thought perhaps he would leave her alone for a while. It obviously was that time of the month for her. Rather hard to tell, he admitted to himself, she seemed to act like that much more than "the memezies" should account for. No matter. He called Raj and told him to come pick him up.

When Leonard arrived at work he was rather surprised to see how many people were still bustling around. There hadn't seemed to have been that many when he was using the free-electron laser at night a few months back. He decided to get a cup of coffee and let his emotions calm down a little before going to the lab. Getting a cup he sat down at one of the tables and was soon lost in his thoughts.

Alex Jensen locked the door of the office behind her and stretched. Another long day. But she had been aware that long days were going to be part of the package when she accepted the position as Doctor Cooper's graduate assistant.

Certainly there were more than just long hours. Doctor Cooper gave new meaning to the word "eccentricities". But she put up with them. She knew she would not be sharing in any publications even if she wrote the majority of an article. She still remembered how one of her predecessors, Ramona Nowitzki, had asked for credit on a project once. Even though it had been acknowledged that she had played a vital role in its preparation Doctor Cooper had responded by firing her. And it had been quietly passed around that he had informed his friends who had gone on his Artic Expedition with him that while he wouldn't mention them in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech that they could "expect a very effusive footnote" in his memories.

Never-the-less she had persevered. Not only would the experience look glowing on her resume ("You lasted an entire YEAR as Sheldon Cooper's graduate assistant? Amazing!") But this experience had immersed her in Physics in a way that no ten years of classroom instruction could have done. By far what she had learned outweighed the downside. But the days were long. She checked her watch. Time to get a cup of coffee and maybe a sandwich before the cafeteria closed. She lived just off campus but the caffeine would help.

The serving line was empty so she took her time. This close to closing the on duty manager had marked down the items that would be thrown away so she decided to have a Cobb salad and decided that tea matched the salad better than coffee. She turned to survey the just about empty room and her heart thumped as she saw him.

The senior members of the Physics Department were a mixed bag. Most were like Doctor Cooper, although usually not as extreme. They were buried in their research work and while they didn't treat their grad assistants badly they tended to treat them as rather interchangeable parts that came and went without much notice. That included females; Doctor Winkle was in that category, although Alex knew both she and Doctor Cooper would be affronted to be put together in ANY category. All of them were definitely preferable to a few of the others, such as Barry Kripke and Howard Wolowitz who thought that the female students were put there to be hit on. Fortunately the department chairman Doctor Gablehouser knew just how much trouble that could cause the University in this day and time and firmly dealt with any faculty member who crossed the line from flirting to harassment.

Then there was Doctor Hofstadter. Most of the other students, graduate and undergraduate saw him as just another member of the "geek squad" as someone had dubbed them but Alex knew better. He was different. Oh sure he was brilliant and addicted to science as well as all the other things that the so called nerds seemed to be, roleplaying games and computers and sci-fi movies and Alex had no doubt that one day he would win the Nobel Prize for Physics himself but that was just part of him.

He was cute and sweet and so self-effacing that when she, or any of the other females around, tried to hit on him he never saw it. She smiled as she recalled her last attempt. She had all but gone across the table at him and it had gone right over his head. In fact he thought the idea of any woman hitting on him was so ridiculous it had made him laugh.

Well, it served her right after all. He DID have a girlfriend and it wasn't right to flirt like that with someone in a relationship. But she really did have such a crush on him that she couldn't help it. It only added to the attraction she felt for him that he was so loyal to the girl in his life that he couldn't even see another woman hitting on him.

She nearly giggled as she recalled that last conversation and how he had instructed her to call him "Leonard" rather than "Doctor Hofstadter".

"Doctor Hofstadter's my father," he had told her. "And my mother. And my sister. And our cat," he had added with an engaging grin that drew her in. "Although I'm pretty sure Doctor 'Boots' Hofstadter's degree is honorary."

Okay the rest had sailed by him, including her try perking his attention by an attempt to accentuate her cleavage. Somewhat embarrassed at the memory Alex decided she needed to sit somewhere else. Then she took a closer look at Leonard.

My GOD! Was he crying? Without thinking she set her tray down on a vacant table, abandoning it as she made a beeline for him.

Penny was still in her apartment. In fact the blonde actress/waitress was still on the couch right where she had been when she broke up with Leonard. She was still thinking about it. Had she made the right choice? She felt guilty as she remembered the look in his eyes. Her guilt increased when she heard Raj and Sheldon talking in the hallway and she recalled Sheldon's late night visit and his plea for her not to hurt Leonard. And she had told him she wouldn't and she had gone ahead and done it anyway.

But she had to. It wasn't fair to her and it wasn't fair to Leonard. What she was doing was stringing him along and that was wrong in anyone's book. She couldn't settle for boring love. She needed the "Wow" and that just wasn't Leonard. She drew her feet up under her, wrapped her arms around her legs and rested her chin on her knees. She had to do it. She HAD to.

She sighed. What was done was done. Shoving way in the back of her mind the little voice that was yelling at her that she was making the biggest mistake of her life she picked up her phone and started calling friends. Time to go out and find that "Wow" guy. She wasn't going to do that sitting here.

(To be continued)

(By the way I adore Penny and Leonard and am really happy that they didn't break up and how well things are going for them. But I really get upset with how Penny treats Leonard sometimes and am rather delighted for her to have someone giving her a run for her guy.)