The Bellagio Peregrination
Summary: Sheldon reluctantly takes Penny along to a conference in Las Vegas. Epiphanies are had, stars are gazed, cards are counted, shenanigans are had.
Disclaimer: I don't own this show. Chuck Lorre owns this show.
Note: So this takes place post-"Hawking Excitation." Let's say by now, Howard and Bernadette are married, although it won't come up much or anything. This is a big fat fun fic and I'm very close to finishing it, so you won't be left hanging. Enjoy!
"Sheldon, come on. Pleeeeease!" Penny staggered after Sheldon, following him to his kitchen, hunched in the defeated posture of a child. Leonard watched them, amused.
Sheldon grabbed a Diet Coke and gazed down at the girl with disbelief. "Absolutely not, Penny. This is not a vacation-"
"But it could be for me."
"I'm attending this conference under duress. Three nights of consorting with the pop stars of the physics world as well as a bunch of New York publishers because President Siebert is pressuring me into accepting a book deal since my paper on the Higgs Boson. And all the while the promise of department funding is dangled over my head." He pointed at his roommate and popped open his soda. "I blame you for this, Leonard."
Leonard rolled his eyes. "Yes, I apologize for getting you out of that Skyrim fueled sulk fest you were so enjoying after the Hawking debacle. You fixed the paper, didn't you? Hawking read it. He loved it. You're huge right now, Sheldon. What more do you want?"
"What I want is to be left alone to work," Sheldon huffed. "Not to be trotted around in Las Vegas of all places like some toddler in a subatomic tiara only to be turned into the next Brain Greene. God forbid." Leonard just smirked at him and Sheldon said, "The subatomic tiara remark was figurative."
"I assumed that," Leonard said.
He nodded at Penny. "I also blame you for my awareness of that horrifying program."
Penny looked sheepish. "Fair enough. It is horrifying."
"This is all your fault!" Sheldon yelped at Leonard, with a stomp of his foot. "Why can't you come with me?"
"First you blame me, then you…" Leonard grumbled. "Look, I told you. I'd love to take off to Vegas for a few days and stay at the fraking Bellagio. I can't. I'm booked for the JPL labs and I won't get another chance for months."
"You say that as if it's important work."
"Nice," Leonard sighed. "And it's Howard's mother's birthday this weekend and Raj is visiting his parents. And Amy's busy for some reason-"
"Amy's not an option," Sheldon muttered, his cheeks pink. Leonard looked at Penny questioningly and she shrugged.
No one had seen Amy in weeks. When they asked Sheldon he just said she was "otherwise engaged for the foreseeable future."
"So you should take Penny!" Leonard insisted. "You're comped for two people. Why waste it? Plus, she can drive so you don't have to fly since there aren't any trains to Vegas. And to be honest, the thought of you alone in Vegas is a little more than any of us can handle."
"Yeeeeeah!" Penny whined. "And it's at The Bellagio! I love The Bellagio!"
"That's not all she loves," Leonard said in a barely audible singsong.
Penny stalked over to him and kicked his foot, blushing furiously. "That's not why I'm going and shut up! I still know how to hogtie you."
Sheldon frowned at them. "There is a subtext here of which I am unaware," Sheldon said. Penny glanced at him wide-eyed and he shrugged. "Fortunately, I'm both uninterested and unable to decode such interactions."
"And for that we're all grateful," Penny said. "Look, I will follow all your rules, okay? I'll go to your orientation itinerary review thing or whatever and I won't be in your way. All I want to do is lay by the pool and drink mojitos all day. I just got The Witch and Mister Blue series. And you know, Vegas by yourself is super depressing."
"The Witch and Mister Blue?" Sheldon said with an extra touch of derision on the "Blue."
"Paranormal romance," Penny said.
"Of course it is," Sheldon said.
"I just really need this right now, you have no idea."
"Why? Is something going on?" Leonard said. "You just got that indie movie. I thought things were going well."
"Yeah…that indie movie with the teeny tiny budget. More like a student film. I have six lines. Basically getting paid in craft services. No, they are. Going well. Totally. I'm just…stressed. I need to relax." She turned on her best pout and batted her eyes.
Sheldon crossed his arms and twitched. "How you intend to relax in a city-sized pinball machine, I do not know. But…alright. You may accompany me."
"Yay!" Penny bounced on her toes and clapped her hands.
"But you have to drive."
"And play car games."
"I kind of suck at your car games, but I'll do my best."
"Well, that would be a first then," Sheldon sighed.
Penny ignored the insult (besides which, he wasn't far off on that one) and continued to bounce. "Oh my God, Sheldon. Thank you so much. I'm so excited. I gotta dig out my bikini! Permission to hug?"
Sheldon deflated slightly. "Permission granted," he said with resignation.
Penny threw her arms around him and he glared at Leonard over her shoulder. "Your fault," he said.
Leonard appeared far too happy. "I wish I had the money to send a camera crew with you. Live tweet this if at all possible. Periodic Facebook posts would be appreciated. With photographic evidence."
"I do not like you."
"We will be leaving at five AM Wednesday morning." Sheldon tapped his mouse and a Powerpoint screen was projected onto his white board. It was a Photoshopped picture of Sheldon and Penny riding in the Taxi from Roger Rabbit. Penny briefly thought this was adorable before processing his words.
"Five?" Penny gripped a legal pad and a purple pen with a Penny Blossom attached to the end. She was taking this seriously. More seriously even than the failed physics lessons. That was how much she needed the vacation.
"To avoid traffic." He tapped the mouse again and the next picture was cars bumper to bumper on a highway.
"We're already going on a weekday in the middle of September. There's not going to be traffic."
"Penny, you agreed to abide my rules and itinerary-"
"Right. Yes." She took a deep breath and envisioned the crystal clear beauty of the pools at The Bellagio with all the columns and fountains and luxurious sunning chairs and the hot waiters bringing mojitos and shrimp all day… For three days. "I will absolutely be ready to leave at five o'clock in the morning if necessary. I just don't think it's necessary. Especially if we can't check in before noon. Also keep in mind, I'm driving and I'm not a morning person."
Sheldon acknowledged her points with a tilt of his head. "Fine. We'll leave at seven. Drink a couple of Red Bulls."
"Approximate duration of drive is four and one half hours including two bathroom stops with optional snack purchase for no longer than five minutes. Unless... Will you be menstruating?"
Penny narrowed her eyes. "No," she growled.
"I only ask out of consideration," he pointed out. "To account for possible alternate bathroom breaks or sanitary napkin purchases-"
"I won't be on my period!"
"Noted." He clicked the mouse and a map of the route to Vegas popped on the screen. "We will be taking the Two-ten Freeway to Interstate Fifteen. Are you writing this down?"
Penny tapped her pen impatiently. "I know the route to Vegas. I've driven there before."
"Are you sure?" He pointed at the map. "That's the Two-ten-"
"Sheldon, I can see the route. That's exactly the route I was going to take."
"Oh. Good. One less thing to worry about. As previously discussed, we will be switching cars with Leonard-"
"That's fine. But I told you, there's nothing wrong with my car."
"You have no authority to make such a claim." Still looking at her he tapped his mouse which brought up a picture of her check-engine light.
"Okay, okay. As long as Leonard doesn't mind."
"He does not. Now, before we go any further, regarding the most important issue... Sunscreen!"
As it turned out, Penny needed no extra incentive to get up early when the Wednesday of their departure to Vegas arrived. She woke an hour before her alarm out of excitement. She was showered, primped, packed, and ready to go ahead of schedule and sat on the couch drinking coffee, all but vibrating in her seat, for as long as she could stand. She peed twice to make sure her bladder was "well voided" as Sheldon had put it. At seven seconds after 7:00AM she locked up, dragged her bags into the hallway, and stood in front of 4A.
Knock knock knock.
Knock knock knock.
Knock knock knock.
Sheldon whipped open the door, smiling wryly. "Good morning, Penny."
She grinned and put her sunglasses up like a headband. "Yo, what's the hold up?"
Sheldon frowned and checked his watch. "It's twenty-four seconds after seven."
"I know! Let's go, high roller."
"Very well." He let her in and Penny's mouth dropped open at his two suitcases and duffel. "You have as much stuff as I do and I brought seven pairs of heels."
"I assure you, though our luggage may be equal in volume, it is unequal in significance. I'm prepared for any unforeseen circumstances, whereas you're merely taking varied forms of inappropriate footwear."
"That's because we have different definitions of unforeseen circumstances," Penny cracked. "And I'm sure yours include zombies, aliens, and Cylons."
Sheldon was making a note on his Itinerary Clipboard, but he jerked, shooting her a disbelieving look. "Don't be silly, Penny. Cylons aren't real."
Leonard shuffled into the living room, yawning and in his bathrobe. He nodded at them with a smile. "Ah, the Oceans two. On your way out?"
"Yep!" Penny couldn't help but give a little hop of glee. "Thanks for letting us borrow your car."
Leonard tossed her his keys. "Filled her up for ya'."
She caught them and nodded back. "Thank you, sweetie."
On their way out, as Penny was following Sheldon who was dragging his suitcases behind him, he heard Leonard say to Penny, "Here's your chance, Penny. Go get em'."
Penny whipped around and smacked him on the shoulder. "Shut up! I will kill you!"
He chuckled and waved as they dragged their stuff down the stairs. "Bye, kids! Drive safe! Have fun stormin' the castle!"
"On the road again, I can't believe I'm on the road again..."
"I'm unclear as to your claims of disbelief," Sheldon said. "You drive on the roads of Pasadena everyday."
"You've seriously never heard that song?" Penny drummed her fingers on the steering wheel.
"Hmm. Musical references. The Achilles heel of my world knowledge. Albeit an unnecessary facet."
"Excuse me, a lot of people would say music is very necessary. Saved my life more than once."
They were cruising down Colorado Boulevard and Penny was only too happy to bat the verbal ping-pong ball between them.
"Oh really?" Sheldon said. "Music saved your life? Did Thom Yorke once dive into a rip tide and return you to shore?"
Penny almost swerved into a lamp post. "How the hell do you know who Thom Yorke is?"
"I googled Radiohead after your supposed challenge to my superior intellect three years ago."
"I remember that. I didn't challenge the fact that your intellect is superior. That's a given. You said you knew everything there is to know about everything. And you don't."
"I recall the conversation, Penny. Word for word." He tapped his head. "Eidetic memory. I said I had a working knowledge of the important things in the universe."
"Which assumes that Radiohead isn't important." Penny turned onto the freeway and smirked. She was having fun.
"I'm not saying it's as important as string theory," Penny said. Although inwardly, she thought that philosophically speaking, they were probably of equal importance. "But it's certainly as important as Star Trek or The Flash."
"Oh please," Sheldon snorted. "It's popular music."
"Sheldon," Penny said in a goofy voice. "Did you actually bother to listen to any Radiohead when you googled them?"
"I know you like music alright, Sheldon. I've heard you play the piano."
"Piano lessons were foisted upon me."
"Right, whatever." Eyes partly on the road and partly on her iPod, she scrolled through her albums and selected Kid A. "I issue you a challenge, Sheldon Cooper."
"Fascinating. Name your terms." He relaxed back in his seat. The sky was boldly bright and cloudless. It was a gorgeous day in Southern California. A part of his brain was somewhat startled to realize, though he had initially dreaded this conference, he now found himself more than content.
"I'm going to put on this Radiohead album. It's called Kid A. We're going to listen all the way through. Without talking."
"Without talking?" There went the contentment. Now he was rather put out. "We're supposed to be playing the agreed upon car games."
"Yeah, we will. It's a four hour car ride, we got time. I'm serious here. I want you to listen to the album."
"Do I get some kind of reward if I get all the way through without talking?"
Penny giggled. Of course, Sheldon would find the difficult part to be his own silence. "Sure. I'll spot you the snacks when we stop."
"It's a snack option. I'm not necessarily-"
"Sweetie, we both know you're getting Red Vines and Yoohoo."
"Alright," he grumbled. "And what is the point of this exercise?"
"The point," Penny said, "is that when the album is over, I want your honest opinion. I'd also like to know if it made you feel any particular way."
He pursed his lips. "Why?"
"I'm curious." She shrugged. They were speeding down the 210 now. "This album's always reminded me of you."
"Has it? That's interesting," he muttered. He was wary.
"Now, listen. Try not to over think the lyrics-"
"I know how to listen to a song, Penny."
"Yeah, sure. I know you take everything literally and start over-analyzing. Try to just feel it. Yeah?"
"Ugh. You're such a hippie. What if I don't like it? Will you be angry?"
She smirked at him. "Of course not, sweetie. Just be honest. I'll know if you're lying anyway."
That was true enough. He sighed in acquiescence. "Very well. Challenge accepted."
So Penny counted to three and put on the album. Sheldon took a breath and listened, resting his head on the back of his seat.
As the first song opened, he found himself a little unnerved by the hypnotic electric piano and distorted vocal effects. He was reminded of a melancholy robot getting up in the morning. If robots did so.
Everything in it's right place...
After the album ended with a sort of short orchestral synopsis, Penny glanced at him expectantly. He was allowed to speak now.
"So." Penny said. "What did you think? It's okay if you didn't like it."
"I don't know if I liked it or not," he said. "It's hard to say. I certainly prefer Beethoven or Chopin."
He wasn't used to attempting to describe something as ephemeral as music.
She shrugged. "Considering I thought you'd probably hate it, that's not so bad," she said.
"The themes were fascinating," he went on. "Although ambiguous. Yet the music itself was a bit cacophonous and unsettling. Oddly dream-like."
Penny smiled at him. She seemed pleased. "I can see that. I've listened to it so many times but, yeah. I could see that."
"Why would it remind you of me?" His cheeks felt warm and he wondered what emotional reaction that he was unaware of was causing that particular physicality. It was nothing he could name. This was also why he so studiously ignored the propensity to art. It was so subjective. He could talk at length about the logic of superheroes or the leadership of Captain Picard, but to describe how somebody's creation made you feel, well it often caused a sudden loss of the proper vocabulary. And also, there were no right answers per se. So what was the point?
Penny cleared her throat and stared straight ahead at the road. "Oh...well. It's probably silly." The truth was, when Penny had thought of it, she had written it all down in her journal. She had crossed things out and reworded things. When she was finished she reread it over and over. She was a little bit proud of her thesis on Sheldon and Kid A. Doubtless, he would think it was ridiculous. She shouldn't have said anything about it reminding her of him. But she knew he wasn't about to let it go, so she took a breath and dove in.
"So, it's not so much about the lyrics, the reason it reminds me of you. Some of the lyrics, sure. But the feel of it... The first time I thought of this was because of the song "Optimistic." I imagined it could be about evolution in a weird way? Which I wouldn't have thought of, except you're always talking about homo novus and all that. I imagined that the whole album was about someone who's evolved. He's become advanced, right? To the point that he's kind of connected to the whole universe because he sees it's mechanics more clearly than anyone else. But he's also weirdly disconnected from the world. From people. Because they don't understand him. So he's totally connected and disconnected. It's like he understands everything and nothing. I mean if everything includes both the way the world works physically and also, like human understanding... It's um..." She tapped her fingers. She had looked up the phrase. What was it? "Oh yeah. It's kind of a dichotomy."
She spared a glance at Sheldon, who was just staring straight ahead. He didn't say anything.
He finally said, "And that reminded you of me?"
"Uh...yeah." It suddenly occurred to Penny that her little thesis was wildly personal. It was never something she'd ever expected to share with Sheldon or anyone. Why would Sheldon ever be interested? How would it ever come up? But somehow it had seemed natural in the moment to explain it to him.
Sheldon was quiet again and when she glanced at him, she saw his mouth twitching a little. Great. Now she'd upset him. Of course, it was too personal.
She cleared her throat. "Hey, why don't we listen to that Doctor Who radio drama thing you told me about? You'll have to explain to me about Daleks again. They're robots, right?"
Sheldon brightened immediately and put on his happily superior face. "Penny, I've told you a number of times. They're not robots! They're the mutated descendents of the Kaleds of Skaro. They're cyborgs if anything-"
"Eh, robots...cyborgs. Same thing."
Sheldon swallowed a bite of Red Vine and said, in a guttural voice, "Vam OH!"
"Um...what?" Penny's lips twitched in amusement.
"That's 'enjoyable journey' in Klingon."
"Got it," Penny said, taking a sip of Red Bull. They were making great time on the I-15. "Vam OH!"
"In the interest of ensuring your participation in car games, I've devised a couple that require no scientific or historical knowledge. They are the least intellectually arduous games I was able to invent."
"Right." Penny frowned, but didn't let him see it, since they were having such a nice time. But she felt that all too familiar sting.
Yes, Penny. You're stupid. Sheldon's just stating a fact. He does it with everybody.
Except Leonard, Howard, and Raj, weren't stupid and they knew it. She had no such assurance.
"The first game is creatively and narratively based," Sheldon explained. "It is called Mortal Conundrum. In this game the first player creates a fictional situation in which he or she is in some kind of danger. The second player is then given a suggested solution to rescue the first player which would require certain peril, possibly mortal. The second player may either accept the solution, or come up with a better alternative."
Penny nodded, focused on the road as well as his instructions. "Why wouldn't the second player just automatically take whatever the solution was? How does the alternative fit in?"
Sheldon sighed dramatically. "Because, Penny, the whole point is to take the game as seriously as possible. You must imagine that the situations are absolutely real. If the second player does not accept the solution and can't come up with a logically sound alternative, they lose the game."
Now that sounded like a game invented by a guy who had written a Body Snatchers Clause into the Roommate Agreement.
"Okay, that sounds kinda fun." OK Computer was playing through the car speakers, and she turned it down slightly. "You wanna go first?"
"Very well." Sheldon squirmed, excited, in his seat. "The scenario is this. The world has been overrun by a zombie-creating virus-"
"Of course it has." Penny said.
Professorial expression of irritation: "Please let me finish."
"The world has been overrun by a zombie-creating virus. One day a massive hoard of zombies-"
"Zombies move in hoards?"
"Obviously. One day a massive hoard of zombies is moving through Pasadena-"
"From which direction?" Penny didn't smirk, but Sheldon couldn't see the laughing expression in her eyes. He might not recognize it anyhow. She didn't give a crap about 'from which direction', but this was a delight.
Sheldon took the question seriously and mulled it over for a moment. "For the purposes of the game, let us say they are taking the parade route."
Penny whistled. "Hoo boy, those rich folks on South Orange Grove aren't going to like that all."
"Oh, they're all dead," Sheldon said, with a casual wave of his hand. "Now, you're holed up at the Cheesecake Factory. You and the staff have barricaded the doors and windows and you expect the zombies to pass you by. As far as you know, the rest of us are safe out of town-"
"Hey wait a minute, why are you guys safe out of town?"
Sheldon mulled and chewed on a Red Vine. "We were out of town when the outbreak began."
"Should've taken me with you," she muttered.
"It's for the purposes of the game, Penny."
"I know that, I'm just saying, if there's ever really a zombie invasion, you guys better take me with you if you leave."
"Of course we would," Sheldon huffed. "Judging by your skills at paintball and your professed talent in junior rodeo, you would be our best chance of survival."
"As I was saying, as far as you know I am safe. But as it turns out, I was separated from the others. Unaware of the approaching hoard, I returned home. Now I am trapped in the apartment. The zombies have passed through Old Town and are approaching Los Robles, when you find out I'm stuck-"
"How do I find out?"
Sheldon made a little noise of irritation.
"C'mon Sheldon, obviously there's no internet or cell phones, right?"
Boy, she'd been paying too much attention to the way these guys' brains worked. But still: fun.
"It's a post-apocalyptic hell-scape!" Sheldon agreed. "There's no Facebook!"
"Exactly, so how-"
"Carrier pigeon?" Penny snorted a laugh.
"Certainly. I started raising them long before the outbreak, having predicted it and suspecting the grid would go down."
"And you sent an SOS via carrier pigeon to the Cheesecake Factory?"
"Yes. But not an SOS per se. Morse code wouldn't be necessary if I were able to write a note."
"I didn't mean...alright."
"So your suggested solution is to take the shotgun and hatchet you are given-"
"I have a shotgun? Where'd I get a shotgun?"
"Your manager has a secret stash of weapons and ammunition. Anyhow, your suggested solution is to fight your way through the zombie hoard to save me as the apartment building will doubtless be overrun-"
"And I'm supposed to pretend you were left completely unprepared for a zombie attack when you know very well-"
"No, of course I wasn't! But I was...slowly fading into unconsciousness when I sent the carrier pigeon. Caused by...dehydration. Because a bunch of jocks took my store of water."
"Okay, that makes sense."
"So do you fight your way through the zombie hoard? Or devise a reasonable alternative?"
"Penny." Derisive look. "Far too easy. It's the... It has the pumpy thing."
Penny burst into laughter. "Pumpy thing? You mean pump-action?"
"I don't know about guns. One of the few cliched Texas traditions I was able to escape."
"Fine. Pump-action. How many rounds?"
"Eh...twenty." He would've thought all these details out beforehand, but the scenario was off the top of his head to give Penny equal footing.
"Oooh. Not great odds for a zombie hoard."
"You also have the hatchet."
"Okaaay." She pursed her lips and thought about it for all of ten seconds. "Yeah, I'd fight my way through the hoard. Suggested solution accepted."
"Now, Penny," Sheldon said, all irritation again. "You have to take it seriously."
"I just asked you a whole mess of questions! I am taking it seriously!"
Sheldon took a big chug of Yoohoo. "Penny, you have to fight through an entire hoard."
She shrugged. "It's only like eight blocks."
"But there are hundreds of them! You only have twenty rounds!"
"Zombies are slow and I'm an excellent shot."
"Penny, your death is certain. You'd never make it."
"Maybe. Maybe not."
"You could at least try to come up with an alternative."
She licked her lips. "Okay, well like what? I can't think of anything."
"You could wait out the hoard-"
"No way. You might be dead."
"For all you know, they've passed right by the building-"
"But I don't know that. I'm not just gonna sit around waiting."
"Well, you could attempt to go around the perimeter of the hoard and approach our building from the north-"
"Nope. Take way too long. You'd be dead."
Sheldon seemed almost put out. "Well, if nothing else, on the off chance there is a corpse in the Cheesecake Factory that you know not to be infected by the zombie virus, you should coat yourself in their innards as in The Walking Dead. Assuming the zombies ignore the scent of desiccating flesh in favor of the living."
Penny blinked at him. "Okay. That's cool."
"Let us be clear, Penny. Do you honestly expect me to believe that you would, in reality, cover yourself in the decaying guts of a dead person and battle your way through hundreds of undead to rescue me with only twenty rounds and a hatchet?"
"Hells yeah, sweetie."
"I do have one more question," Penny said.
"If this is a post-apocalyptic hell-scape, what the frak am I doing still going to the Cheesecake Factory everyday?"
Sheldon widened his eyes. "I can't believe I didn't think of that!"