a/n – Thanks to Trbl for enabling the madness.
There are some things that it is a Bad Idea to Do:
Play golf in a thunderstorm.
Get involved in a land war in Asia.
And sit in the JPL, playing 'Mystic Warlords of Ka'a', the Limited Edition Collector's version, with the special hand-drawn Spellcaster's Expansion Pack, on the site of Jack Parsons' Magickal Workings...
Leonard opens his eyes, and tries to make sense of the world. It is mostly dark, with the odd glow of emergency lighting, and the faint chemical smell of the fire suppressant system. He appears to be under the tangled remains of a couple of chairs.
Howard had drawn the late duty shift, overseeing some very dull data-crunching, so Raj and Leonard had snuck in to keep him company. Leonard had swiped the cards as a bribe, a means of patching fractured friendships; what the actual owner doesn't know won't hurt him.
Then the lights had blown out, the darkness rent by spitting electricity and flames, and something had knocked him flying... He touches the back of his head, and winces. Somewhere close by, there's a whole sequence of thumps and clatters, and some swearing in various combinations of Yiddish, Hindi and Klingon.
"That was some Enchanted Bunny..." Raj.
"Oh, this can't be happening..." Howard.
The steam-hammers in his skull start up another round, and Leonard groans, begins to push himself upright. He can't move his legs for a moment, but panic subsides when he realises that that is because there is a weight across them.
When he sees what the weight consists of, a whole new series of questions arise.
Leonard's fantasies have always run more to 'slave-girl Leia' than 'Xena', but he can't deny that the thigh boots and short, belted tunic suit Penny, a delectable sprawl of shapely limbs and blonde hair.
"Dude, what the hell, you're seeing my sister now." Raj snaps.
"She can't be found in here." Howard moans. "I only just got limited clearance back after the last investigation."
"Look, I don't know what she's doing here." Leonard holds his aching head.
"Well, you gotta get her the hell out before anyone starts asking questions."
Leonard dithers briefly, but then he considers trying to explain the situation to Priya. Sheldon would probably give them a lecture on not moving someone with a possible head injury, but Sheldon isn't here, and Penny is breathing, and making small moaning sounds, and not obviously bleeding.
"Raj, you take her other arm."
Getting out of the building is going to be surprisingly easy. The doors might have gone into emergency lockdown, but there's a hole right through the walls, the cool night air clearing away the stink of burning plastic. Penny is really out of it, but she manages to put one foot in front of the other two times out of three. Slipping and staggering, they make it out into the parking lot, evading security. Raj is still raging quietly.
"Seriously, man, you cannot be making time with your ex."
"I wasn't, I wouldn't." Not unless he was single again. "I have no idea what she's doing here."
Unless maybe she was planning to surprise him, trying to rekindle things with him. Everything is frustratingly unclear and unresolved, even now. He can't help a small, smug spark of excitement at the idea, and the fact that he is in a position to turn her down, crush her as she crushed him. Because of course he would. Even if she is dressed in leather. Yeah.
He feels a bit bad leaving Howard to deal, but it is going to be a lot easier for the one person who was supposed to be there to explain himself. Whatever there was to explain.
Sheldon does give them a lecture about moving someone with a possible spinal injury, or broken limbs, or concussion. So Leonard tells him that if he's so concerned, then he gets to monitor the situation. He wants to get the heck out of there, and explain things to Priya before she hears Raj's version.
Which means that Sheldon finds himself shunted into Penny's apartment, and abruptly abandoned there.
It is quite possible that under severe torture, Sheldon might admit to being bothered by certain... thoughts about his neighbour, on occasion. Frustrating and inconvenient as it may be, every so often his body sees fit to remind him of his corporeal existence.
Just now, he is rather less bothered by the expanse of skin revealed, than by the thought that there might be some damage hidden beneath the surface. Granted, as far as he can ascertain, Penny does not see fit to actually use the somewhat limited intelligence that she does possess, but brain damage is no laughing matter.
He wonders what she was doing up at the JPL, and dressed like that, when he had seen her leave for work in her uniform earlier, and a strange pang bothers him. He really doesn't want to go through the ridiculous process yet again, of watching the slow motion trainwreck that is the mésalliance between his room-mate and his friend. Raj's sister is extremely irritating, in very many ways, but she does make Leonard less whiny. Mainly due to his increasing absence from the apartment. But with Penny, it had been a whole succession of either bragging or wallowing self-doubt. Even someone with his limited knowledge of relationships had thought that to be unhealthy.
He misses those early days, when Penny had still been an unattainable goal for Leonard, and his pining had been easier to filter out. Their interactions then had been easier, more cheerful. There hadn't been this element of negotiation, balancing the number of his friendships.
But with the advent of Amy Farrah Fowler moving herself into the role of his female friend, where does that leave Penny? She had redefined herself within their group, as Leonard's girlfriend. Did that mean that she had always been manoeuvring towards that goal, and without it, she has no need to be connected to them, except to freeload takeout and wi-fi? To reduce her to merely Leonard's ex-girlfriend, and see her only as his friend Amy's friend...
Adhesive ducks and 'Soft Kitty' and Penny-blossoms. Far more than he ever needed to know about female footwear, and 'chick flicks', and the inanities of reality tv. 'Age of Conan', and dear lord, Fig Newtons.
She has a limited intellect, and the attention span of gnat, and he misses the way she used to smile at him, wide and happy and free.
It was utterly irresponsible to move her without seeking professional assessment of her injuries. He has no idea if they even checked her pupil dilation or pain response. Tutting to himself, he manages to force Penny's icebox door open, and make a rough coldpack. A lesson from early childhood, the efficacy of a bag of frozen peas applied to eyes, nose or cheekbone. A passably clean dishcloth wrapped about it, and he paces back, reaches over to lay the makeshift coldpack on her.
Penny's eyes snap open. She comes off the bed in one swift movement, and Sheldon finds himself pinned back against the door, one arm across his throat, and the point of a stiletto heel aimed at him. Penny has often threatened him with physical harm, but this time, he thinks she might mean it.
He is extremely startled when she promptly drops the shoe and clings to him like a limpet.
He raises an awkward wavering hand, and pats a shoulder.
"There, there, Sheldon's here..."
She pulls back, and wide green eyes look at him with bewilderment.
"Sheldon? And where is 'here'?"
There is wisdom in not provoking someone who just nearly put a knockoff Louboutin through your left eyeball. Clearly, there is no physical impairment. It is far too late to call up either of the women he knows who could give him a more professional assessment re disturbed neurological function. He is just going to have to do the best he can.
"Do you know who you are?" he asks, slowly and clearly. The 'well, duh' expression he gets back is far more familiar.
"Yeah, I'm Queen Penelope, and let me tell you, if you had anything to do with that glowy door in the sky thing, you are in deep trouble unless you fix it."
His first thought is that she has suffered a blow to the head, and now thinks she's a character from 'Age of Conan'. If she has reverted to her gaming obsession, it would explain the outfit.
Sheldon is not the most observant of people, but he does have an eidetic memory, and his racing mind, fuelled by adrenaline, is noting discrepancies.
This is indeed a Penny. But not Penny the weary, slightly hungover waitress and wannabe actress. This is a fast, feral Penny, with a lithe grace to her, a Penny without that sour pinch to her mouth, or the sarcastic lift to her eyebrows. This Penny has better muscle tone, clearer skin and no odour of stale alcohol and cheap cooking fat about her.
The startling but inescapable conclusion is that this is indeed not his Penny.
In the alley behind the Cheesecake Factory, there is a sudden gust of wind, that blows from nowhere, spinning the dust and trash into little eddies. Small jolts of electricity arc between the walls, the parked cars, the dumpsters, which jitter and rattle spasmodically. The wind grows stronger. Ice begins to form, a rapid film across glass and metal. And now the lightning lashes along the walls, a crackling, spitting ball of energy, until a pinprick of darkness at the heart expands suddenly into a sphere.
There is an abrupt calm.
The crouched figure raises his head, stands swiftly. His sharp blue gaze takes in everything around him, calculates and assesses.
He gestures, and a vivid crack of fire causes a garbage can to explode. He smiles grimly, blows on his fingers. Well, that still works here, anyway. And for everything else, there's a couple of feet of sharp steel.