Fandom: The Big Bang Theory
Spoilers: set a year or so in the future after Season 2
Word Count: Part 2: 2,400 words
Disclaimer: If I owned them, I'd get to eat at the Cheesecake Factory more than once every blue moon.
Betas: foxtwin, fujiidom, van_el (my personal Marvel encyclopedia)
Summary: Sheldon’s to blame. Penny’s furious. The guys are helpless. What’s a string theorist to do? Episode-style fic featuring the full cast, with a focus on Sheldon/Penny. Based on the prompt “pinkslip” from sheldon_penny‘s Fiction Friday. Awesome banner by patronuscharms.
Previously: Part 1
“What do you guys think I should get today?” Leonard asked, flipping through the Cheesecake Factory menu the way he did every Tuesday evening. “I’m not sure I’m in the mood for Soy Cheese anything right now.” He frowned, and turned another page.
“I know what I’m going to order,” Howard said with a smirk. “In the mood for a little ragin’ Cajun.”
“Are you sure about that, Howard?” Raj asked. “Remember last September when you tried the extra hot blackened catfish to impress that girl...?” Raj turned to Leonard and Sheldon, seated on the other side of the table. “The only thing she was impressed with was how fast you raced to the bathroom.”
Howard snapped back, annoyed. “It’s not my fault that my stomach is remarkably oversensitive to cayenne pepper!”
“Anything for a girl, huh?” Leonard said, one eyebrow rising over his black eyeglass frames.
Howard smiled slowly. “You would have done it, too, if you’d seen the size of those--”
“Hey, guys!” Penny greeted them brightly, thankfully interrupting Howard’s lascivious comment. “What are you guys going to have tonight?”
Sheldon spoke up for the first time since the others had been dithering over their order. “I’m going to have my usual, of course.” He snapped closed the menu, even though he had not needed to look at it at all.
“Why mess with a classic, eh?” Penny didn’t bother writing it down. The cooks in the back were probably already getting it ready. “Raj?”
He lifted his menu and pointed to the Steak Diane.
“Still mad at your folks, huh?”
Raj nodded with a rebellious frown. They’d been interfering in his love life again and he was striking out the only way he could.
“A bit adventurous, too! You know there’s... wine... in the sauce, right?”
He nodded again. He nodded over to a trio of hotties sitting at the bar. Perhaps he’d be able to talk to one of them tonight.
“Alrighty then! Howard?”
“I’d like the...” Howard lowered his voice and waggled his eyebrows for effect. “...Bang Bang Chicken and Shrimp.”
Penny reacted not at all, except to write it down. “Got it.”
Howard seemed a little disappointed that she hadn’t risen to the bait. “Add a little extra...” He thrusted his hips. “...bang, if you know what I mean.”
Penny’s eyes narrowed and she gave him one of her patented looks. “Watch where you’re shooting that gun, or it might misfire... if you know what I mean.”
Howard curled in on himself just a little bit.
Expression bright again, Penny turned to Leonard. “And what about you, sweetie?”
“Hmm...” He scanned the menu page again. “I can’t really make up my mind. It’s between the Chinese Chicken Salad and the Herb-Crusted Salmon Salad...”
“Oh, please, Leonard,” Sheldon interjected. “Don’t pretend to be health-conscious when you’re just going to go and binge on Fritos Flavor Twists when you get home.”
“Fine,” Leonard said with a pout. “I’ll have the Fish and Chips.”
“Great!” Penny said as she collected the menus. “I’ll be back in a few minutes to check on you.” She briskly walked toward the kitchen
“Penny? Penny? Penny?” Sheldon called after her, but he was too late -- she had moved out of earshot. “I believe that she is ignoring me.”
“Why would you think that, Sheldon?” Leonard asked, rolling his eyes.
“Well, considering that she was clearly within range before her ambulatory velocity would have taken her out of...” Sheldon pressed his lips together suddenly. “Oh, this is sarcasm, isn’t it?”
“Is Sheldon really starting to master the ways of social interaction?” Howard sneered.
“Better than you, Wolowitz,” Sheldon shot right back. ”How many times must you continually proposition our neighbor before you realize that she is uninterested in any sort of sexual encounter with you?”
Howard leaned forward, narrowing his eyes. ”Oh, I’m learning all right. It’s a field experiment. I’m exhausting all possibilities -- discovering what works and what doesn’t.”
“It’s exhausting all right,” Raj put in.
Before the verbal sparring could start up again, Sheldon continued, “I am beginning to suspect that she is not as committed to costume authenticity as I am.”
“First of all, Sheldon,” Leonard tried to explain, “don’t you think it’s a little much -- coming over to her place at all hours to make some miniscule adjustment to her costume?”
“That did not stop her from interrupting my sleep cycle to ask me about strategy for Age of Conan.” He huffed. ”Or calling me at work for the same purpose.”
“That was over a year ago, Sheldon. Has she bothered you since then?”
“Well, no... but I think we can all agree that this situation is far more important than trying to level up in online gaming.”
“Give her a break -- this is her first Comic Con -- and her first time cosplaying!”
“Which makes this all the more essential! If she’s going to attend the convention with much more experienced cosplayers, she mustn’t look like a noob.” Sheldon shifted in his chair. “If Penny prefers the ‘Invisible Girl’ moniker, or is fine with being the mother of two children, then she’s going to have to wear flat boots. If she wants to wear the classic, post marriage, pre-Franklin costume, that would have been the redesigned version with high-heels - an uncomfortable choice, but the simplest from canon’s perspective without denying her the more interesting scripts when she meets other costumers representing citizens of the Marvel Universe. Despite the nuances that have come and gone with fashion over the years, it’s plain to me it has to be one of these three versions of Jack Kirby’s original classic look. It’s simple, elegant and iconic. It’s not too flashy or crass, won’t make her look awful and it won’t have tailoring so bad it’ll chafe. It won’t require too much flesh exposure or leave her looking half-undressed, unlike the designs created by some artists such as Greg Land or Jim Lee.” He shuddered. “The trick however is to get these details right -- the swatch of blue, the glossiness of the black sections, the height of the boots and length of her gloves... and most importantly of all -- her era’s hairstyle.”
“He has a point there,” Raj conceded with a shrug.
“Fine,” Leonard said, giving up. ”Secondly, the con is five months away.”
“I know! She barely has enough time to learn Sue Storm’s rich and varied history, let alone begin to develop a script for all possible interactions.”
“Sheldon...” Howard said. ”She’s going to be wearing a skintight blue spandex bodysuit. Do you think anyone is really going to pay any attention to any canon mistakes?”
“I will! And considering that I am going to be responsible for her complete authenticity, it will reflect on my reputation.” Then in a very low serious tone, Sheldon added, “And I’m sure Penny will care. She would be far happier impressing them with her proportionate knowledge of continuity than with her actual proportions.”
The other three were silent for a few moments, considering the truth of that statement.
Finally, Leonard said, “That may be so, but I think you’re making a lot of assumptions for Penny...”
At that moment, Penny came back to the table, carrying her loaded trays. ”Assumptions about what?” she asked as she set their orders in front of them.
Sheldon answered, “Why, assumptions about what you would find important in preparing for Comic Con. I--”
With a frustrated moan, Penny said, “Enough on Comic Con, Sheldon! It’s still five months away!”
Leonard gave Sheldon a victorious look.
“More like only five months away,” Sheldon pressed. “Have you requested the time off yet?”
She sighed. “Not yet.”
He tilted his head, raising his eyebrows like a peeved schoolteacher.
“I’ll do it soon. It’s not a big deal.”
“On the contrary, it is a ‘big deal,’ as you say. I have already lent you the money to purchase the four-day pass, and unlike in previous years, the implementation of the new identification system will not permit me to ‘scalp’ the tickets outside the San Diego Convention Center, let alone proffer them on Craig’s List.” His voice got more strident. “What will happen if you have to work!”
“Sheldon, just shut up about--” Her eyes cut to the side, and she gathered up their empty drink cups. “Oh, crap. My new manager is looking this way. We’ll talk about this later.” She strode off in a hurry.
“Dude, if you keep this up, she’s going to refuse to go even if she does get the time off!” Raj complained.
Howard growled, “And if you ruin my chance to see her in that costume... you’ll be worrying about more than a hairstyle.”
Sheldon ignored Howard’s feeble warning. He was all bark and no bite, as had been proven by a certain crossbow threat which never materialized. He prepared his burger, placing the bacon, cheese and barbeque sauce in the proper order, and then sank his teeth into the burger.
He immediately spit the mouthful of beef back out. “What in the name of the de Broglie Hypothesis is going on?!”
“What?” Leonard asked, unsure he really wanted to know.
“This,” he pointed to the offending morsel, “is not the burger I ordered.”
“Oh, c’mon, it looks exactly the same as it has every single week for the last two years,” Howard said.
“It may look similar, but I assure you, it is not.” He lifted two fingers imperiously in the air. “Excuse me, Penny?”
She turned away, speaking to customers at another table instead.
“Penny!” he called again, raising his voice a fraction.
She smiled and nodded at the people at that table, even laughing at something one of them had said.
“Penny!” he nearly shouted.
Her head whipped toward him, her stare like knives. Just as imperiously, she lifted two fingers toward him... then slashed them downward in dismissal.
“How rude. Well, I’ll just have to take this up with the manager, then.” He pushed his chair back and pistoned up out of his chair. He walked purposefully toward the hostess’ stand.
“What was that?” Leonard asked the other two guys. They just shrugged and took a simultaneous mouthful of food. Leonard set down his fork to watch.
Penny noticed what Sheldon was doing with a start, excused herself hurriedly, and took off after him. She caught up just in time to hear him say to the hostess, “...expect to eat the same hamburger as I ordered, not some poor imitation.”
“I’ll call the manager for you, if you’d like,” the hostess said immediately -- she’d had enough experience with Sheldon that she knew it wasn’t worth it to argue with him. She lifted the receiver on her extension.
“Thank you,” he said with a nod.
“That won’t be necessary, Tami.” Penny put her hand on the girl’s arm to halt her. “I can take care of it.”
Tami set the receiver down and backed away from them with a quick step.
Penny hooked him by the elbow and dragged him away from the waiting area. “What is the problem, sweetie?” She ground her teeth together on the last word.
“My Barbeque Bacon Cheeseburger is no such thing! They’ve changed the sauce!”
“No, they haven’t. If they had, someone would have commented on it by now.”
“Or possibly, no one has as highly refined sense of taste as I have. Either way, it is different, and it can’t be different.”
“Sheldon... can’t you just accept that sometimes things are different?!” She stamped her foot and waved a finger close to his nose. “Not everything has to live up to the exacting standards of Dr. Sheldon Cooper, Ph.D!”
“Is there a problem?” a voice interrupted. Penny’s new manager stood beside them, a frown on his pinched-looking face.
“Yes!” Sheldon insisted, as Penny argued, “No!” at the same time.
“The barbeque sauce on my Barbeque Bacon Cheeseburger is sub-par. The hickory-smoked flavor has been tainted with a touch too much garlic.”
“And I was trying to tell him that it is no different than before, but if he would like his order replaced, we would be happy to give him something else.”
“You said no such--”
Penny started to drag him back to where the guys were sitting, pretending not to know him. “Just come on back to your table, sir, and we’ll take care of--”
He shook off her hand. “I would rather have the burger I came in here for, not something else!”
“Ooooo, Sheldon! Just sit down, shut up, and eat!”
All conversation around them came grinding to a halt. Penny flushed, realizing that she had let her emotions get the best of her. She turned to the manager, whose mouth was set in a grim line. “I’m sorry, Mike, but he--”
“Sir,” Mike said, ignoring Penny, “I deeply apologize. It is true that we changed the brand of barbeque sauce we use last week.”
Sheldon sent Penny a vindicated look.
“I will be happy to take it off your bill if there is nothing else on the menu that is satisfactory.”
Sheldon nodded and opened his mouth to respond, but Mike was already turning toward Penny.
“Penny, may I see you a moment?” he gestured for Penny to follow him over toward the kitchen, away from the other customers.
“Your behavior has been rude toward these gentlemen all evening...” Mike began, “...might I even say... snippy.”
“Snippy?” she asked in disbelief.
“We will not be needing your services here at the Cheesecake Factory any longer. Please turn in your notepad and your apron.” He held out his palm.
Penny’s mouth opened and closed in shock. Then she bit her lip, willing the tears not to come, and took off her apron. “Well, good. I needed to devote more time to my acting, anyway,” she said breezily. She draped it over her manager’s palm and then turned on her heel.
Across the room, the guys watched her grab her purse from behind the bar and stalk out of the restaurant. Mike came to offer his profuse apologies, but his words went unheard. Even Sheldon was stunned to silence. The manager left after pressing a gift card into Sheldon’s stiff hands.
When Sheldon awoke from his stupor, he said in a shaky voice, “That was... unexpected.”
“Well,” Raj said quietly. “At least now you know she’s got the time off.”
Author’s Note #2: Many thanks to van_el, whose lengthy exposition and analysis of Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow costume for Iron Man 2 in an attempt to piece together her Movieverse origin, inspired me to ask him to help with Sheldon’s Sue Storm lecture above.
Next: Part 3