A/N – In the unstable cultural grab-bag that passes for my mind, this is what happens when that scene from 'Garden State' meets 'Age of Conan', and gets filtered through 'Weregeek'.

*spoilers for 'The Bozeman Reaction'



The Paladin Protocol



Saturday should be paintball day, but somehow, Penny has decided that a trip out would be a good idea. She has a Plan. Of course, three of them are an easy sell; with the fourth, she bypasses bribery or cajoling and goes straight to threat. But she's got them all into the car – she's having to navigate from the back seat, because you have to pick your battles, and ousting six foot plus of whiny Texan from shotgun is one too far this morning – and now they are nearly there.

'Off the Grid' is a concept that terrifies the boys deeply. They have all become quieter since the buildings gave way to trees and hills. Even Sheldon has been reduced to simply squeaking faintly every time another bar disappears off his cell-phone reception. Howard has fallen asleep with his face on the window, and Raj is just being Raj.

Leonard wonders what Penny has planned, and why all of them had to come. He'd quite like to spend some time alone with her. It seems that lately all their dates have been double with Howard and Bernadette, and since the robbery, Sheldon really doesn't like to leave the apartment at all. But there had been one of their weird conversations-without -words, all scowls and glances and hidden menace, and then Sheldon was being propelled out of the door, protesting volubly, her hand between his shoulder-blades.

"Ooh, turn here." Penny orders suddenly, and he obeys...slams on the brakes.

Sheldon shrieks ("Sweet sufferin' Jesus!"), Howard gets thrown into the front seat ("It was one lousy burger, I swear, Ma!"), and Raj gives a strangled squeak.

One of the...things in the road shakes a club at them and bares a mouthful of fangs, before loping on.

Leonard grips the wheel tightly, eyes wide.

"Did I just nearly hit an orc?"

Raj makes a small whimpering sound, pulling at Howard's sleeve and pointing. There's a large banner proclaiming what they are about to encounter.

"The StormFist War-Guild?" Howard yelps. "The 'No Magic, No Mercy' guys?"

"Penny, we don't..."

"C'mon. You play this stuff on-line all the time. What's the deal?" Penny keeps her voice bright, though her shoulders droop a little. "It sounded like fun."

The boys look at each other. Nobody has ever explained the Geek Hierarchy to Penny, she couldn't possibly know. She has really tried to find something that she thought they would like.

"I...we didn't think you'd be into this sort of thing." Leonard says weakly. "Dressing up and, er, roleplaying..."

Sheldon frowns in mild confusion.

"Leonard, Penny proclaims herself to be an actress. Her avocation is to dress up and pretend to be someone else. I can't see why she should object to a cosplay scenario."

"Cosplay?" Howard gawps at him. "This is hard-core boffer LARP. We're going to be beaten to death with giant cotton-buds..." (Someone who appears to have forgotten to put on any clothes over her fake-fur underwear wanders past the car) "...and we could certainly give it a go." he finishes, smoothly. Raj has his hands up on the window, last puppy in the shop.

Leonard sighs, defeated. He'll do this to keep Penny happy. And at least with the 'no magic' style of play, nobody will have to listen to a five minute lecture on what type of lightning bolt somebody thinks they are throwing.


Penny has a lovely time getting kitted out, chatting with Deena and Beth. Deena had done costumes for some of the local theatre groups, which was how Penny had found out about this. She does wonder why the boys were freaking out - instead of spending the day running about shooting paint at each other, they get to dress up and hit each other with rubber swords. Given some of the outfits they have been known to wear in public, she doesn't see why this should be a big deal, either. Grins as she remembers the 'Doppler Effect' – watching that being pursued by orcs would be like 'Wild Kingdom' on crack.

She's sure the guys (most of them, anyway) are hoping for something a bit more 'Red Sonja' but she's not running about in front of Howard in a chain-mail bikini. In the absence of Bernadette, he still has a tendency to...lapse.

"Ahh, Penny, really rocking the Xena look there. Wanna show me your chakram?" (Yeah, like that.)

Predictably, Howard has gone overboard on the studs, and looks like a Middle-Earth leather-pet. Leonard is looking awkward in a padded tunic that is just a little too large on him. Raj has fared better, his burnous a bit more 'Prince of Persia'.

Sheldon - has a suit of armour. Of course he does. And it's not tin-foil over painted string either. He's got the full breast-plate, and greaves, and bracers, and he's tall enough to get away with the cloak he's wearing. (Superman red, of course.)

"Hey, Sheldor."

He tilts his head, looks down at himself.

"Why, yes, in this context, I suppose so." Eyes her. "And that is indeed a good facsimile of Lucy Lawless' classic outfit. Though I would suggest a chakram would not be a useful weapon today."

"Oh, it's okay, I've got a Slayer scythe...oh, sorry, Raj, sweetie."

Raj makes a tiny gesture that means 'No, really, it's fine, I like being beaten up by strong warrior-chicks' , and retreats to a safe distance. Leonard is torn between admiration and terror. Penny didn't get the childhood nickname 'Slugger' for nothing.

"I just don't know if we should have exposed her to the works of Whedon." he frets. Sheldon scoffs.

"Leonard, never underestimate a cheerleader."

"What you packing, Sheldon?"

Sheldon picks up something that looks rather more dangerous than a length of rattan wrapped in moulded latex foam has any right to...

"Broadsword." he says.

...particularly when he wields it in a sweeping slash and parry.

Penny picks her jaw up. Holy crap. Sheldon Cooper, PhD, dressed in armour, and handling a sword like he actually knows how to use it, rapid cut and thrust. C3PO has just turned into a freaking Terminator.

Howard listens to Raj whisper urgently, nods in wide-eyed horror.

"Well, he's smart enough to be the Intersect...has he had any weird e-mails lately?"

"In Heidelberg, I initially assumed that 'academic fencing' was a form of intellectual debate." Sheldon switches the sword from hand to hand, swings it in a swift and casual figure of eight. "It wasn't. Wheee."

"It's more like the Matrix." Leonard moans. "Someone uploaded 'sword-wielding lunatic'."

Penny grins at him.

"Leonard, never underestimate the whackadoodle." Raises her voice. "So, Sheldor, you up for some conquering?"

Sheldon gives the blade one final spin, jerks his chin up.

"Bring it on, Queen Penelope."

Leonard, Raj and Howard huddle even closer.

Both Sheldon and Penny are horribly competitive, and now they are armed. This can't end well.