Fandom: The Big Bang Theory
Spoilers: set a year or so in the future after Season 2
Word Count: Part 6: 2,376 words
Disclaimer: If I owed them, then I could actually pay my betas for consultations.
Betas: foxtwin, fujiidom, van_el
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 // Part 2 // Part 3 // Part 4 // Part 5
“What?” Penny stared at Sheldon as if he had started to glow like his luminous fish. “You can’t be serious.”
“As serious as van Vleck determinants are to traversable wormhole spacetimes,” Sheldon stated matter-of-factly.
Penny pressed her lips together in annoyance. “Which means...?”
“He’s serious,” Leonard put in helpfully.
“I could coach you in the dialogue, do the research, teach you to pronounce the words correctly so that you sound like you know what you are saying. It would be quite similar to the way Professor Higgins trained Eliza Doolittle to behave like a princess in Pygmalion, or in the story’s more recognizable form as My Fair Lady.”
Penny blinked a few times, then shook her head. “Look. It’s nice that you’re trying to help in your Sheldon-y way.” She handed back the script firmly. “But this is just a dead end. They are looking for an actual scientist, right? Not just someone who can say the right words in front of a camera. This job does not fit me at all.”
She turned and started walking back to her apartment. There was a whole hell of a lot more packing to do before the moving van came on Saturday.
“But Penny...” Sheldon called toward her. There may have actually been a touch of desperation in his voice. “Are you not an actress?”
“How is this different?” Sheldon went on. “I may not be conversant in the ways of such dramatic endeavors... but I am given to understand that a good actress can play any part.”
Penny stayed where she was for a few moments, considering his words. Her face went through a series of emotions, from surprise to sadness to bitterness. She slowly turned to face him. “But that’s the reason I’m leaving, don’t you see? I’m not a good actress.”
“Oh, Penny, you know that’s not true,” Leonard said. “You’ve just had a run of bad luck.” He took a few awkward steps toward her to comfort her.
She held up a hand to halt him. “Oh, stop pitying me. I’ve cried a river of tears these last few days, and a few more aren’t going to change anything. If I can’t get even one decent job in three years, then it’s never going to happen.”
Leonard opened his mouth to protest, but then his face fell. What could he say?
“You guys just don’t understand. You’re both successful in your careers...”
Sheldon cut his eyes toward his roommate. “Debatable.”
Both Penny and Leonard gave Sheldon an annoyed look. “You know what I mean, Sheldon. I’ve tried, and I’ve failed. Time to bulldog that steer.”
She turned again to leave.
“Penny,” Sheldon said.
She turned back with an aggrieved sigh. “Sheldon?”
“You present a compelling argument.”
Her lip twitched in irritation. “Gee, thanks.” She turned again and walked a few more steps.
Penny stopped, slapping a hand on the doorframe to keep from smacking him. “What?”
“You said this part doesn’t ‘fit’ you at all.”
She swiveled again, almost growling. “Obviously!”
“Which is because you perceive that a person with no scientific training could not believably connect with an audience on these topics. Correct?”
“Yeah...?” she said as if Sheldon were an idiot, though she felt like one herself.
“I argue that possessing expertise in a field is not necessary to be a successful entertainer.” Sheldon walked over to the coffee table and picked up the TiVo remote control. “I wish to present Exhibit A.” He tapped a couple of buttons and then gestured to the screen.
A toothpaste commercial came on, promising all the viewers a fresher, brighter smile with consistent use.
Penny rolled her eyes and stayed in the doorway. Sheldon winced and fast forwarded. He tapped play a few moments later. As soon as the program began, Leonard was moving toward the screen, a pleased smile lighting his face.
“Oh, my god, you’re right, Sheldon!” Leonard said.
“As always, but it remains to be seen whether Penny will agree.” He tilted his head and gave her a plaintive look.
She gave in with a slump of her shoulders. “Fine, I’ll come see what you’re so ‘right’ about...”
The three of them gathered around the television, which was now filled with Olivia Munn’s smiling face. Penny suddenly remembered all of the times the boys virtually ignored her for Attack of the Show. “You know, maybe I could...”
Sheldon’s face transformed into a pleased grin. “By George, I think she’s got it.”
Sheldon watched Penny pace back and forth in front of the audition room. They had arrived after Leslie Winkle had already gone in, and both of them could faintly hear her arrogant drone through the door. After a couple of uncomfortable minutes, Sheldon had placed himself as far from it as possible.
Sheldon tried to focus on his reading -- he had brought a few journals with him to catch up on -- but Penny's pacing was highly distracting. He found himself watching her move from one end of the room to the other like he were the spectator at some sort of high-stakes tennis match. Penny was dressed more conservatively than normal, with her hair swept up off her neck. Little strands were beginning to escape as she kept twisting her neck back and forth, trying to loosen up. She recited the words he had made her memorize over and over, punctuating each sentence with a turn on her heel.
"Penny, there is no need for nervousness."
Penny continued her circuit of the room. "I know. I just can't help it. I get the feeling that they are simply going to laugh me out of there before I can even say a word."
"Either you are well-prepared and you will be fine, or they will be 'looking for something else' and nothing you can do will change that."
This made her pause. "Thanks a lot, Mr. Brightside."
Sheldon tilted his head, curious for a moment about what she meant. Then he shrugged and went back to reading.
Penny hardly had time to start across the room again when the door opened. Leslie came out of the room, looking smug.
The casting assistant, Carrie, followed her partway out and shook Leslie's hand. "Thank you, Dr. Winkle. We’ll give you a call if we decide we would like to hire you." Carrie noticed Sheldon sitting across the room and smiled toward him. "Dr. Cooper? Just give us a few minutes, and we'll call you when we're ready." The door closed quickly behind her.
Leslie turned in surprise. "Sheldon? You're my competition?" She noted Penny's presence with an odd smile, but kept her attention on her rival physicist. “Though I guess this means I have the job in the bag.”
She nodded curiously at Penny. ""I thought your Lennard-Jones Potential with members of the opposite sex wasn't so much a 12-6 as a 12-zero."
He ignored her, turning a page in his journal.
"That means you only repel them, dumbass."
Sheldon stiffened, but refused to rise to the bait.
“So why are you his babysitter today?" she asked Penny directly, cutting her head toward Sheldon.
"I'm--" Penny began.
But Sheldon, unable to remain silent, protested at the same moment. "Babysitter?"
"Oh, please. Leonard brings you to school, Raj takes you to the comic book store..." Leslie quipped. "Can you do anything for yourself?"
"I fail to see how my attempt to decrease my carbon footprint can be construed as--"
Penny, who had watched them argue too many times before, jumped in before it could really get going. "I'm not here for him, he's here for me."
"For you?" Leslie asked, eyes widening in surprise. She took in Penny's professional appearance for the first time, and noted the pages in the actress's hand. "You're auditioning in his place."
Penny took a step forward, challenge in her eyes. "I am."
Leslie went silent, considering. "I see. You're auditioning instead of him." Then she barked a laugh at Sheldon. "Way to prove my point, dumbass."
Sheldon sat up straighter, offended.
Leslie patted Penny on the shoulder and sauntered toward the door. She called over her shoulder, "Good luck in there." The door to the hallway shut behind her with a snap.
"Ooooh," Penny said, adding a hiss of air between her teeth in annoyance. "I've never met anyone more condescending!"
Sheldon nodded in agreement.
Penny hastened to add, "Other than you, of course."
Sheldon stopped nodding. But before he could speak, the door to the audition room opened. "Dr. Cooper, we're ready for you."
Sheldon stood primly. "Thank you." He gestured for Penny to precede him into the room.
Penny swallowed and hesitated -- but then lifted her head and walked into the room as if she belonged there. Carrie let her pass with a small frown and shut the door behind Sheldon.
Terrence James gave Penny and Sheldon an identical frown when he saw the physicist was not alone. "Dr. Cooper, your assistant should wait in the other room during your audition."
"She is not my assistant. She is your candidate. Or auditionee." He cocked his head and pursed his lips. "Hostess? I'm not sure of the correct terminology." He shook his head. "Anyway, Penny is here to audition in my place."
Carrie and James looked at each other, their identical frowns growing deeper. "Dr. Cooper, we were interested in what you could do in this role, not some... someone else." He looked down and began to shuffle papers. "I wish you'd told us you weren't interested. This is a waste of time." He began to stand up.
"Just a moment, Mr. James." Sheldon said, walking right up to the table where the man was rising from his chair. "I am not interested in hosting because I am not an actor. I am a scientist, first, foremost and exclusively. My friend Penny here, is an actress."
James sighed. "Dr. Cooper, we've auditioned dozens of actresses for this. That is not the issue here."
"So you will not even give Penny a chance? You will go with Dr..." Sheldon shuddered dramatically. "Winkle?"
Carrie raised her eyebrows at James. After a moment, he shrugged and sat again. "Fine. Show me what you got, Miss...?"
"Penny is fine," she said, speaking for the first time since they entered the room. She hadn't even been sure that she would be auditioning at all. She walked over to the center of the room, squared her shoulders, and began. "Quantum mechanics is the description of the behavior of matter and light in all its details and, in particular, of the happenings on an atomic scale." Her voice sounded different, more clipped. More Sheldon-like, in a strange way. "Things on a very small scale behave like nothing that you have any direct experience about. They do not behave like waves, they do not behave like particles, they do not behave like clouds, or billiard balls, or weights on springs, or like anything that you have ever seen."
James shuffled his papers again. "What is this?" he asked Penny.
Sheldon answered for her. "I took the liberty of making some improvements to your script, by incorporating some of Dr. Richard Feynman's lectures."
"Oh, did you?" James said with a sarcastic quirk to his lips.
"Well, these scripts were clearly written by a person with only a passing acquaintance with true science. I hope that you are planning to consult with an actual working scientist as you develop your series or your viewership will quickly dismiss your program as a farce."
Again, James and Carrie gave each other a look. It was becoming a common reaction. "Um... okay..." He pretended to make a note on his pad and waved his other hand for Penny to continue.
Penny cleared her throat before restarting. "Newton thought that light was made of particles, but then it was discovered that it behaves like a wave. Later, however in the beginning of the twentieth century), it was found that light did indeed sometimes behave like a particle..."
As she spoke, the attentive light in the casting director's eyes slowly died. By the end of her audition, James was disinterestedly doodling in the margins of his notepad.
Sheldon, on the other hand, was rapt. He mouthed the words along with his pupil.
Penny finished and stood quietly, waiting for a response.
James nodded politely at Penny. “Thank you for your time, but I’m sorry. You just aren’t what we’re looking for.”
Penny tried to keep a smile on her face, but it was difficult. “I understand.”
Sheldon, however, was immediately up in arms. “What was wrong? She sounded believable, knowledgeable... and I, for one, was moved.”
“You may have been, Dr. Cooper, but I was not,” James snapped, finally tired of the constant undercurrent of disdain. “She does a rather convincing impression of you, I admit, but your style of ultra-logical narcissism fits her as well as your unfortunate fashion choices fit you.”
Sheldon ignored James’ jibe. “It is clear to me that your show is doomed to failure. If you will not--”
Penny stepped in between them and pulled Sheldon back by the arm. “Sheldon! Give it a rest! They don’t want me; they don’t want a version of you, either.”
Sheldon turned on Penny, shaking off her hand from his arm. “Well, maybe if you had added in the stress on particles, and used my little play on words...”
“I told you that no one would get that joke. Who do you think is going to watch this show, sweetie? The Nobel Prize committee?”
“If my name is attached to it, they may well do that while they take my contributions to science under consideration!”
Penny and Sheldon continued to argue, the volume steadily increasing as Penny slowly herded Sheldon toward the door. Carrie slipped out of the way with a squeak, and hurried behind the table where James was watching them argue, dumbfounded. Leaning over, she whispered, “Can you believe those two?”
“Actually...” he said, lifting his hand to his chin thoughtfully. “...this is the first time I can believe...” He took a few steps toward the arguing pair and shouted, loud enough to interrupt them from leaving, “Wait!”
They turned as one. “What?”
“I may not have enjoyed your performance from earlier... but this,” he said, gesturing to the two of them, excited for the first time since he had started the audition process, “this fire, this spark, is what I’m looking for. Do you think you could do that again... on camera?”
A/N: I’m sure a few of you noticed my little nod to Bartimus Crotchety’s The Reverse Pygmalion Paradox. Great fic, and I couldn’t help the reference. :)
Penny's modified audition script comes from The Feynman Lectures on Physics by Richard P. Feynman and Robert B. Leighton.
Next: Part 7