A/N: My extremely late-Christmas (now birthday!) present for Nicole! I'm so sorry that it took me so long to finish, but I hope you like it!


I.

Leonard's not exactly sure whose idea it was to recognize birthdays within the department, and whether or not they thought giving him a Cheesecake Factory gift card was some kind of joke. But now that he has it, he's determined to use it.

Not to actually celebrate his birthday, he tells himself, but it'd be silly to let a perfectly good gift card go to waste.

(And maybe they'll have German chocolate cake.)

The hard part, of course, is convincing Sheldon.

"It's not on the approved restaurant list," he says automatically, when Leonard breaches the idea. "I don't know what's on their menu, or how timely the service is, or how far the restrooms are from the main dining room area -"

"I get it, I get it," Leonard interrupts. "Never mind."

"You know I don't make exceptions," Sheldon continues. "And any alterations to our restaurant schedule must be discussed at our weekly meetings."

Leonard stops to consider. Maybe he can make this work after all.

"Add it to the agenda, then."

There's a lot more paperwork than Leonard expected - he's certain there wasn't this much involved when they negotiated their current restaurant list. He has the sneaking suspicion that Sheldon is purposely making this extra difficult, but the more forms he fills out, the more determined he is to see this through to the end.

The process requires one test meal before the final vote. Leonard really doesn't care about the final vote - he only needs one meal to use his gift card.

(He checked online, and they have a German Chocolate Cheesecake. He thinks if he takes enough of his Lactaid pills, he might be able to try a slice.)

The night finally arrives, and Leonard ignores Sheldon's mutterings as they approach the restaurant. Howard and Raj, who had been whispering to each other the whole drive over, trail slightly behind.

They enter the restaurant, and Leonard walks up to the hostess to give his name and number in their party. He never manages to get the full story of what exactly happened next, but all he knows is he turned around just in time to see Sheldon running out the restaurant's front doors, loudly exclaiming that he'll never set foot on its premises again. Howard and Raj, meanwhile, are nearly on the floor laughing.

The gift card stays in Leonard's wallet.

Penny sulks when she returns from her break and hears the story from the other waitresses. She always misses the good stuff.

II.

Penny loves the apartment.

Granted, it's smaller than what she shared with Kurt, but it's just the right size for her first place on her own. And compared to the couch she's been crashing on the past few nights, it's massive.

And sure, the broken elevator is annoying, but the landlord promised that it'll be fixed soon, plus even offered to discount her first month's rent for the inconvenience.

She's tempted to sign now and make it a done deal, but she still has one more place to look at today, and doesn't want to commit until she's absolutely positive. So she thanks the landlord for his time, and takes one last glance around the apartment before leaving.

But barely after stepping into the hallway the door to 4A opens, and Penny lingers to catch a view of her potential neighbors. A tall man exits first, followed by a shorter one, both wearing full paintball gear and carrying paintball guns.

"I can't believe Wolowitz and Koothrappali didn't show up for our strategy session," the taller one says, heading straight down the stairs. "This will be reflected in their post-game evaluation."

"I'm sure that'll teach 'em," the shorter one mutters, locking the door. He glances up and freezes when he sees Penny across the hallway.

She offers a smile, but before either can say anything, the first man is yelling up the stairs.

"Leonard! Don't lose the extra points you earned by showing up to the meeting by making us late!"

Leonard rolls his eyes and trudges down after his roommate, while Penny's not sure whether or not to laugh.

But the next day she gets a call and finds out she got the part for the guest star role she auditioned for. It's just a one episode arc, but she'll be on TV, with speaking lines and everything.

So she sets her sights a little closer to LA.

When she gives her notice at the restaurant, and explains why she's moving, most of the other waitresses roll their eyes. Bernadette, one of the newer hires who Penny hasn't had a chance to get to know very well yet, is the only one who sincerely wishes her luck. Penny promises to keep in touch.

III.

Penny's confused when she's told that she and her fellow cast members will be appearing at Comic Con to promote their new show. For one thing, she's never heard of it, which makes it difficult to share in the excitement with everyone else. For another, their show has nothing to do with comics.

But apparently that doesn't matter. Because people who like comics will like their show. Or at least they're hoping they will. Or something. Penny's not entirely sure, but she's going to be on TV every week, so she's up for anything.

They warn her about the crowds, but Penny decides to explore the floor on her own during a bit of free time before their panel. How crazy could a bunch of comic fans be, really?

...

Leonard removes his Yoda mask as he leans over to take a closer look at some action figures. Sheldon and the others were supposed to meet him here, but surprisingly they're running late. Reluctantly deciding that he has enough Superman figurines, Leonard straightens back up and scans the crowd again for his roommate.

Sheldon is still nowhere to be seen, but Leonard is distracted by a young woman walking around by herself. Not just because she's pretty (though she certainly is), but because he's almost positive he's seen her before.

She wanders up to the same booth he's at, glancing over the display, and Leonard tries not to stare as his mind works overtime to place her. Finally he remembers, just as a loud voice speaks up from behind them.

"Hey, you're on that new show Galaxy, right?"

She turns quickly and smiles at the man who spoke.

"Yeah, I am."

The guy turns around and yells across the aisle.

"Mark! Hey, Mark! Look who's here!"

Her smile freezes, and suddenly she looks nervous. Her eyes dart around, and Leonard realizes she's looking for an exit. But once the crowd catches wind of who she is, Leonard knows she won't have a chance of getting out of there. He supposes the only reason she hadn't been recognized yet is Galaxy won't start airing for another month.

The guy's back is still turned. Making a quick decision, Leonard steps towards her and hands over his mask.

"Put this on."

She looks from him to the mask for a moment in confusion, then understanding crosses her face.

"Thanks!"

She slips it on and ducks away from the booth. Her long blond hair still hangs loose in the back, but while she may get some strange looks for wearing the mask by itself, at least she should remain unrecognized.

"Where's your Yoda mask?" Sheldon asks later, when he finally arrives.

"Someone else needed it more," Leonard says with a shrug.

"Well at this point you might as well give away your robes, too," Sheldon scoffs. "No point in wearing an incomplete costume. Would you believe I saw someone wearing a Yoda mask with jeans and a pink t-shirt?"

Leonard just smiles.

IV.

When Penny hears through the grapevine that Bernadette is getting married soon, she gives her a call, and feels bad when she realizes how long it's been since they talked.

Bernadette insists that she comes to the wedding.

"I couldn't!" Penny argues. "It's too last minute for you, I don't want to be a burden."

"That's part of why you have to come," Bernadette presses. "Howie's mother will blow a brisket!"

Penny laughs and gives in.

She's a little surprised at the wedding when she sees the groom, but obviously Bernadette is thrilled, and that's all that really matters.

But during the ceremony one groomsman draws her attention - the one with slightly curly hair, and glasses - and Penny feels like she's seen him before. At one point in the ceremony his eyes wander through the audience, and meet hers, and he gets flustered and snaps his attention back to the proceedings. Penny thinks it's kind of cute.

Later at the reception Penny's nursing a glass of wine, nodding but not really listening as Kim fills her in on the latest goings-on at the Cheesecake Factory. She notices the groomsman with the glasses a couple tables away looking at her, and she smiles when he quickly looks back away, caught.

She finishes her wine and excuses herself for another, with no intention of coming back, because who-freakin-cares about the new specials. While she's standing at the bar someone steps up beside her, and she's relieved when she turns to see that Kim hasn't followed her, but it's the groomsman instead.

He takes a deep breath, and she tries to guess what line he's going to use. But he surprises her.

"Hi. My name's Leonard."

Penny smiles and shakes his hand.

"Penny. Nice to meet you."