A/N: Greetings! This is my first foray into Big Bang Theory fanfiction, so I hope I can do the fandom justice with this work.
Disclaimer: I don't own the show, characters, settings, network, or anything related to anything profitable. All I own are the mistakes, since no betas were harmed during the making of this chapter.
This story takes place just after episode 5.14: The Beta Test Initiation, so assume all spoilers up until that point, and AU thereafter.
The Whiteboard Correction
"What the frak?" Howard wondered as his brain almost melted at the complexity of equations scrawled on the boards around Sheldon and Raj's joint office.
"Oh great. Is he stuck again?" Leonard continued, thinking back with no small amount of apprehension back to when he had to swim through a ball pit the last time Sheldon broke his brain.
Raj just looked helplessly around the small office, as his brow furrowed with the same confusion plaguing the others. The only difference was he had several days to try and puzzle out Sheldon's work. Repeated inquiries and offers of assistance had been met with a perfunctory wave and mumbled thanks, but Sheldon never explained his latest train of thought. "I don't know, dudes. I've been trying to figure this out for a week now, and it's just as muddy as the Ganges. That is to say, very muddy."
Letters like S, A, Pr, Le, and Pe cluttered up every board in sight. It looked like years of work. At the very bottom right corner of his right most board was a short, simple equation: (Pe-L) + (S-A) = X. Solve for X.
"S could stand for sulphur, but other than that I've never even heard of those elements before. Have you guys?" Leonard asked his companions, but they just shook their heads in denial.
The man in question ignored the clamor behind him. Numbers, letters, and symbols flew from his brain to the boards through his marker.
Leonard shifted from one foot to the other, looking back to the open office door. "Look, he's here, he's working, and he's fine, so let's let the man…do whatever it is that he's doing and go get ready for the bar tonight."
Howard turned with a gleeful grin. "I love Anything Can Happen Thursdays. Let's go hit the town, boys."
With a last thoughtful glance from Raj, the trio left Sheldon to his devices and closed the door behind them.
"Rats!" Sheldon stared at the whiteboard, willing the equations on the screen to coalesce into a more palatable solution, but the longer he puzzled over his work, the more convinced he was that there was only one answer that would bring about a satisfactory outcome. His mind involuntarily went back to that fateful evening when his Vulcan hearing caught the conversation outside his door. A beta test indeed, he snorted to himself, as if a second foray into drunken sexual encounters could pass for a romantic relationship any more successfully than their first failed effort. No, a beta test could not be allowed to happen.
Checking his watch, he also realized that he would be alone this evening, as Raj, Howard, and Leonard would be frequenting one of the many watering holes near the university in their periodic attempt to achieve coitus with a random inebriated stranger. Time was of the essence if he was going to avert a potential disaster. Going back to his laptop, he pulled up a schedule. After confirming that Penny's schedule left her free that night, Sheldon got out his cell phone and sent a quick text message.
I need your help with a problem this evening. Will you be available to come over and talk?
After a few moments, his phone chimed in her response.
You need MY help? Just us or will everyone be there?
With a small smile, he answered
It's their once-monthly evening of alcohol-fueled chaos, Anything Can Happen Thursday. They'll be at a bar somewhere.
While he clicked away on his laptop to confirm a delivery order for that evening, he could almost hear the gears in her head turning before she finally replied.
I'll be there at 8. Dinner?
He gave a breathy chuckle at his successful assessment of her response as he finalized his order online.
I just ordered pizza to be delivered.
Once again her reply came through moments later.
Count me in.
Sometimes friendship means saving people from themselves.
At precisely 7:59, Sheldon was opening a box of pizza on the coffee table when the door opened. With an accelerating heart beat and slightly sweaty palms, he scanned the room to make sure everything was perfect. It had to be. Everything was riding on this evening. He would be employing a simple ruse to plant the seeds of doubt in her mind about the beta test, but in this case it was worth the effort it would take to hide the deception to avert another inevitably failed romantic endeavor.
Satisfied, he turned and observed the blonde vision that breezed into the living area, not waiting for the door to be opened for her. "Good evening, Penny."
"Always a pleasure, Sheldor," she greeted, "Didn't want to go out carousing with the Three Musketeers?"
He smiled slightly at her reference. "No. I find the quiet evenings much more conducive to relaxation and thought than smoky bars, crushing crowds, and music so loud I risk permanent hearing loss."
To his surprise, rather than rolling her eyes or getting the slightly pitying expression her face often took when she was more experienced than he on a particular matter, Penny's eyes clouded briefly before she nodded in agreement. "I never thought I would say this, but I think I'm starting to feel the same way."
"Really? May I ask why?" he inquired as he opened the pizza box and got two plates out of the cupboard.
She shrugged as she flopped down on the couch. "You know, I'm not really sure. I was just thinking about going out clubbing with some of my girlfriends last week, but then I thought about all the work involved in getting ready and then going out, the chance of meeting some skeezy guy…it's just getting old."
"Penny! Do you realize that you just conducted a rudimentary risk-benefit analysis?" Sheldon asked as he turned around and brought her a plate.
"Is that what that's called?" Penny deadpanned with a barely-concealed smirk, "I thought it was just me figuring out what was good for me after all this time."
Seeing the glint in her eye and recognizing her sarcasm for what it was, he stopped himself from explaining the components of a risk-benefit analysis. Thinking back to a comment she had made in a similar situation, he retorted, "You're just coitusing with me now, aren't you?"
Penny clapped her hand over her mouth to stifle the guffaw that almost snuck out. When she was able to reply, she did so in kind, "Bazinga."
Sheldon felt a warm feeling settle in his gut at her evident admiration of the way he detected her sarcasm and kept up the banter. After a shared chuckle, he served two slices of the pizza and sat down in his spot.
"So what was it that you needed my help with?" she asked after a couple bites. When he didn't answer directly, Penny looked over and saw a sight she never expected: Sheldon Cooper was unsure of what to say to her. "Sheldon?"
Pausing to chew and swallow, he finally met her gaze, "It's urgent but not critical, so we can wait until after we're done eating," he deflected.
Unsure of how to best respond, Penny decided to go with the flow. She asked about his work and pretended to understand while he told her about his latest theories. Finding herself surprised that she actually was following most of what he said, she realized he was giving her the non-PhD version. Even more surprising was that he wasn't being condescending like Leonard had been the time he told her he didn't mind dating someone who wasn't as smart as he.
"How was your shift today, Penny?" Sheldon asked after another bite.
"Well, it was ok except for this one table. I had some trouble with some customers, but it's no big deal. What does worry me is that my boss might be cutting hours," she trailed off, plainly still worried about the possibility.
Out of the corner of her eye, she detected a shift in his expression. Penny turned to look at him, and before he could school his features, she saw subtle undertone that, to an actress used to portraying different emotions, signified distress.
He had to take a deep breath before calmly asking, "What sort of trouble did you have?"
He could tell the question made her uncomfortable. Pursing her lips while she decided how to respond, she finally lifted one arm in a halfhearted shrug. "Just a couple handsy frat boys. Nothing I haven't dealt with before."
Sheldon's hands clenched until the knuckles turned white. "You shouldn't be treated like that way," he almost growled.
Penny's eyes got huge and she blinked several times in rapid succession at how…protective...Sheldon was acting. "Sweetie, I promise it was nothing. I'm a blonde waitress in southern California. It's going to happen eventually."
He was far from placated. "I should have a talk with the manager. That behavior is totally unacceptable."
"Drunks spend a lot of money and are good tippers," she explained, wishing he would drop the subject, "Can we just let it go? It happened, it's over, and I'm past it. Now, what did you want me to help with? And I just have to say the fact that you are asking me for help is just a little weird."
It took him a few moments to shake the mood off, but then he visibly brightened. "Why is it weird? You've been of great help any number of times, like when I don't understand pop culture references. Radiohead springs to mind," Sheldon replied, genuinely perplexed at her confusion.
"I don't know, it's just that you know answers to questions I don't even know how to ask. I always feel so dumb around you guys, so the idea that you need my help is unexpected. Remember, I'm the blonde monkey here," Penny wrung her hands as she tried to deflect with self-deprecation.
Normally Sheldon Cooper could not care less about how his opinion of others affected their feelings to him, but after more than five years living near and getting to know Penny, she was anything but normal to him. "Penny, if I have ever said anything that made you feel inadequate or unintelligent in any way, I do apologize. You're not as intelligent as I am, but no one is. For what it's worth, I've always respected your intelligence, especially your street smarts and people sense. All that's missing is the drive to live up to your potential. You're far too smart to waste your life on menial jobs when with a little application you could succeed in any field you chose."
Penny had been the recipient of many compliments from men. Any number of boyfriends were only too ready to praise her physical attractiveness – if only to get into her pants – so she never lacked for attention. Somehow though, the few words Sheldon just told her about what he thought of her brain caused a lump to form in her throat. It took several swallows before she was able to say a raspy, "Thank you, Sheldon. Hearing that from you means a lot to me."
"I should hope it would," he said with a half-grin, "Anyway, you remember my sister Missy, don't you?"
The way he asked a question he already knew the answer to brought her smile back. "Yes, Sheldon. I may not have a photographic memory but I do remember your sister."
"It's an eidetic memory, but that's neither here nor there," he corrected with a dismissive wave, "Anyway, a friend of Missy's is having some trouble and I could use your help in determining the best advice to give her."
Penny leaned forward and set her plate on the coffee table. "Well that depends, I guess. What kind of trouble is this friend having?"
He got up and turned to his whiteboard, giving himself time to compose his thoughts so that they wouldn't appear to be either rehearsed or dishonest. "According to what I've heard, this young woman is thinking about getting back together with a man who not only wasn't good for her the first time, he's treated her very badly on the whole." As he finished, he turned to look at her again.
With a frown, Penny tried to get some more specifics. "Did Missy say anything in particular about what he's done? There are a lot of different kinds of jerks out there. Trust me, I've dated most of them." She watched the last comment caused his face to darken in much the same way as it did after she mentioned the frat boys, but just as before, it was gone in moments.
After a beat, he went through the list he had in his mind. "Oh where do I even begin? There was a veritable rap sheet of his offenses. Let's see, he tried to set up a date before they were in a relationship, luring her with promises that others would be there when he had no intentions of anyone else joining them; he had meaningless sex with three different women while proclaiming devotion to Missy's friend – for simplicity's sake I'll tell you her name is Peggy – flirted shamelessly with Missy in front of Peggy; he repeatedly belittled and mocked her intelligence and hobbies; he apparently started dating yet another woman while this woman was on a date with a friend of his; and finally he sabotaged a date Peggy was on with another man."
As Sheldon ran through his predetermined speech, Penny stood and started pacing around the living room. He watched as her expression became grimmer with every step. When he finished, she was standing in front of him with her hands on her hips and anger blazing like cold fire in her eyes. She looked every bit of a Valkyrie. His knees grew weak and he experienced a sudden rush of blood to his groin at the sheer power and passion displayed in the woman in front of him.
"You tell Missy that if Peggy was my friend, it would be Junior Rodeo time on that douche bag," she declared in a voice as cold as death itself, "No woman deserves to be treated that way. He sounds like the kind of guy who just wants to screw her and move on to the next conquest to feed his ego. If he really cared for her he wouldn't be sleeping with any woman that spread her legs."
Ruthlessly suppressing the urge to smile at her reaction, Sheldon instead simply said, "I will pass that along."
Penny wasn't done, however. "How in the world does this Peggy keep falling for that bull crap anyway?"
This was the most delicate answer yet. He had to be very careful with his phrasing. "I believe she uses alcohol to distance herself from her regrets and overlook his actions."
Her anger morphed to concern. "Oh sweetie, you need to tell Missy that her friend needs some serious help. I mean right the hell now. If she isn't careful she could end up an alcoholic. Do you want me to talk to Missy myself? I know this isn't really your favorite thing to deal with," she offered.
Although touched by her concern for his emotional stability, he demurred. "No, thank you Penny. I'll communicate everything you've told me this evening. I think your unique perspective, being outside the events, will help the situation greatly."
At a few places during his response, he paused for a beat too long, as if considering the best word to say. It was so unlike him that she narrowed her eyes, searching for any indicators that he wasn't telling her the whole story, but his face remained twitch-free. "Ok. I hope this girl gets out of the situation before she gets hurt again," she said before walking back over to the couch and plopping down.
Satisfied that Penny didn't suspect anything yet, Sheldon exhaled in relief and went into the kitchen to make some tea. He was about to offer Penny some when he heard a sharp intake of breath from the couch.
"What the hell is that?" she asked.
"What is what?" Sheldon replied, trying to figure out if the note he heard in her voice was indignation or bemusement.
He watched from the kitchen as she got up and gestured to the lone equation on one of his white boards. "This. I remember some math from high school. (Pe-L) + (S-A) = X. Solve for X. What the hell is that?"
Drat! The one time she actually pays attention to something on my board, he thought to himself. Thinking quickly, which he had to do since her eyes narrowed more and more the longer he remained silent, Sheldon forced calm into his voice. "Oh yes, that equation. It's an algebraic formula, but it's based in chemistry. Through other theories I've tested, I believe that formula will lead to the discovery of a new element." Once more her eyes narrowed, suspicion evident on her face as she waited for any of his tics to manifest, but since he didn't technically lie, there were no outward signs that he was deceiving her.
With a huff, Penny gave up her scrutiny and looked at her cell phone for the time. "Crap on a cracker. I was supposed to call my parents tonight. I have to get going, Sheldon. Thanks for dinner, and let me know how things turn out with Missy's friend. If she doesn't get things under control soon, she's going to need a lot of help."
"I couldn't have said it better myself, Penny. Thank you very much for all your advice on the matter," Sheldon said as he followed her to the door, "I hope you have a pleasant evening."
"Sweet dreams, Moon Pie," Penny said with a cheeky grin.
So good was his mood at how the evening had unfolded he neglected to correct her use of MeeMaw's nickname. Once the door closed behind her, he smirked to himself and walked slowly to his desk. "Let it begin," he muttered softly.
A/N: So far I have just three chapters mapped out for this story, but depending on the response, more might be a possibility.
Please leave reviews! Constructive criticism will help make sure I get the finer points of the story right, but meaningless vitriol left by anonymous users will be ignored.