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The Paladin Protocol

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Leonard opens a bleary eye. Saturday morning, and it's Sheldon o'clock, judging by the muffled sounds. Except...that's Penny's voice. He fumbles for his glasses.

There's a seven foot chaos demon drinking tea in his kitchen, and there's a Barbarian Queen helping the Black Knight to strap on his armour in the middle of the living room.

The demon waves his mug in amiable greeting, and Penny looks round from where she's fussing with Sheldon's cloak.

“Morning, sweetie. Sorry if we woke you. Sven brought some armour over, and we're just checking the fit.”

It fits. Bits of Leonard's brain gibber at him. Black armour, black boots, black cloak, even black pants and tunic. Sheldon draws on a leather gauntlet, flexes his fingers. He looks like he's ready to start blowing up planets. Darth Cooper.

“What about the paint-ball game?” Leonard asks idiotically.

They both look at him, identical turns of the head, slightly raised eyebrows.

“Penny and I have made alternative plans today, obviously.” Sheldon settles his other glove. “Since nobody bothered to attend my Departmental Paint-ball briefing except Koothrappali, you have only yourselves to blame if the team comes up short.”

So casual about it. Penny had not mentioned the war-game again, Leonard had hoped that it was one-off, something they could forget and never repeat. And now the pair of them are setting off together. An alternative plan. A change in routine.

He's never really considered what Penny does in her spare time. Supposed that she does things with her girlfriends. (Or watches football.) Something...unsettling in watching her do something that is so much of their world. And taking Sheldon with her.

“We're going to have to make a move if we want to get decent parking.” Sven says, checking his watch. “Are you okay with the fit of the gear?”

“Perfectly satisfied, thank you.”

Penny does a little shimmy.

“Yep, not falling out of this thing in a hurry.”

“Oh, yes, the last item, as requested.” Sven fishes up a long, narrow box. Penny takes it, hands it to a surprised Sheldon.

“It's...a late Christmas present, Sheldon. Or an early birthday present, if you like. You ought to have your own.”

Sheldon opens the box, suddenly sure about what he will find. The black demonblade.

“It was quite customary for a knight to receive arms from his sovereign.” Sven says, cheerfully.

“So he gets to kneel and pledge his loyalty to you, then?” Leonard cracks.

Sheldon's head comes up.

“I have already pledged my allegiance.” he says, crossly. Leonard stares at him. So does Penny. Sheldon huffs. “Sheldor the Conqueror is the sworn Knight-Protector of Queen Penelope. I did tell you about battle-field oaths, were you not paying attention?”

Penny is charmed. Sven is amused. Leonard is terrified.

Sheldon holds his new blade up, regards it with narrowed eyes. Smiles.

“I shall smite many enemies for you with this, my Queen.”

“Hey, I wanna get some smiting in, too, you know.”

“Of course. But I hope that you will listen to my battle tactics this time.”

“You giving your Queen backchat, Sheldor? I could take that as treason...”

“Hardly. I'm trying to keep you alive. You have a lamentable tendency to leave your rearguard down...”

And they are all gone, Penny giving Leonard a rather absent peck on the cheek, and the distant sounds of happy bickering about the correct way to slay trolls floats up the stairwell. Followed by the sound of Mrs Vartabedian opening her door to see what the noise is, and screaming at Sven.

000000000000

It seems odd to be paint-balling without Sheldon's lanky figure dodging about somewhere in the vicinity.

“You've not brought Dr Dumbass today?” Leslie drops down beside him, pushes her mask up.

“He's...” Hunting orcs with my girlfriend. “...busy.”

“He's not picked up another groupie?” She grins.

...Leonard has never had a grad student bring him dinner.

“Oh, I've been meaning to tell you, since Elliot Wong went to Berkeley, we definitely need a new cellist for the quartet.”

“Wong went to Berkeley? Research grant?”

“Test subject.”

“Oh.”

She shrugs.

“One less competitor. The Academic Review Board is coming soon. After this last year's track record, maybe they'll finally get wise and dump the whackjob out.” Leslie hefts her gun, “Survival of the fittest. Talking of which, I'm gonna go frag me some engineers.”

She's gone, small, fast, predatory. Leaves Leonard with his thoughts.

If Leslie hadn't dumped Howard, then they would never have gone to Vegas, and there would be one less worm of doubt gnawing in Leonard's mind, and just maybe...

He had gone off to the Arctic in a state of confusion – so close to getting somewhere with Penny, and then dragged off to the frozen wastes (conveniently forgetting that he had accepted immediately, drawn by the idea of the prestige.)

Watching Sheldon bending the world around himself again, the way he always does, his routine, his experiments, trying to force existence itself to obey...

...and it wasn't his grant, his expedition, his recognition...

And then Sheldon had mentioned something about that time when they were away, something about staying in Penny's bed. And the armies of paranoia had marched, brought jealousy and stupidity with them. Logic tells him that Sheldon didn't, doesn't, wouldn't have the first idea, but logic doesn't stand a chance against the onslaught.

Penny is his, he saw her first, he'd been trying to make some headway for so long, got so close. And his big, gawky (rival?) friend...

Because Sheldon is taller, (can bond with Leonard's mother) and smarter, (has a mother who loves him), and he's been in Penny's bed, and all the confusion and (self) hatred boils over.

He has to make his mark, stake his claim, strike out, strike back, prove...something. (Though what, and who to, he really couldn't say.)

And he has buried the nagging little doubts, covered them up with sarcastic barbs, bolstered himself with alcohol and sex, because it was worth it, it really was, because he has Penny, and Sheldon got his job back, so no harm done, really, they just don't have to deal with it ever again. (and if it affects the rest of Sheldon's career, well, he shouldn't have boasted about it, brought it all upon himself really.)

Kripke's prank was harmless, it really was, because Sheldon was insufferable and rude and arrogant (and such an easy target), and they all got carpeted for that and their response, Sheldon and Kripke forced to shake hands and suspend hostilities. (because dumping foam on what you thought was just one guy really equates to humiliating a scientist nationally, nearly hospitalizing him.)

(...she always chooses him...)

...because screwing over your best friend out of jealous spite and frustration is so far from being the actions of the type of person Leonard believes himself to be – he's a nice guy, he really is – that it must be Sheldon's fault.

Because if he just thinks of the neurosis and the obsessions, the panic attacks and tantrums and psychotic rants...something, anything that reduces the man back into a freaky nutcase, then he can think of him as a nuisance, a nightmare.

And not a (threat) person, with devastation in his eyes, and betrayal in the lines of his face.