muir_wolf: (Default)
muir_wolf ([personal profile] muir_wolf) wrote2011-12-22 02:17 pm

FIC: i am your lionheart | BBT Saturnalia fic for [ profile] galfridian

Title: i am your lionheart
Rating: PG-15/R
Warnings: Character death(s), strong language, violence, much hand-waving.
Word Count: 10k
Disclaimer: BBT isn’t mine, etc.
Summary: Penny wanted something to change, but she could’ve done with something a bit less world-ending.

This is a Saturnalia fic for the ridiculously amazing [ profile] galfridian ♥ ♥

A/N: All of the thanks ever to my betas [ profile] deathgetsusall for coralling sentences into shape and listening to me whine, and [ profile] weasleytook for being generally amazing and positive and doing the pretty cover ♥

mix - here i. come downstairs and say hello / guster, ii. dead hearts / stars, iii. one last dance / matrimony, iv. the road / frank turner, v. somewhere a clock is ticking / snow patrol, vi. hopeless wanderer / mumford & sons, vii. troubles will be gone / the tallest man on earth, viii. we will all be changed / seryn, ix. the storm / boy & bear, x. all of your heart / fm radio, xi. king and lionheart / of monsters and men, xii. concerning hobbits / lotr soundtrack, xiii. this is war / 30 seconds to mars, xiv. goodbye, i! / mewithoutyou

And as the world comes to an end
I'll be here to hold your hand ‘cause
You're my king and I'm your lionheart

— Of Monsters and Men

i am your lionheart

It's raining.

It's been raining for days and days.

It's never rained this much, not since she's been out here. She's been lulled by the sunshine and the Santa Anas. This feels like a betrayal, if she were in the mood to be melodramatic, which—double shift at the Cheesecake Factory, check; screaming match over the phone with her mother, check; phone company threatening to cancel her service, check. Yeah, she’s pretty sure she's in the mood for being melodramatic.

The news stations keep talking about the rain. It should be hilarious, given that this is nothing compared to back home, but it just keeps pouring down, no end in sight. People are joking about end of days just like they've been doing for every minor and major natural catastrophe in the last few years. It's easy to be lulled into watching the 7:15 weather report, and the local 10 news, and the 11:30 recap with the man on the scene outside in the pouring rain and the befuddled weatherman shaking his head and saying it'll have to clear up sooner or later, but in the meantime it's breaking a helluva lot of records.

It shouldn’t be this easy. She gets that.

She’s getting a lot of things, lately.

Working at the Cheesecake Factory is awful and she mostly hates it, but there’s the cute bartender she flirts with and Bernadette works there, too, and she makes decent tips and what’s she going to do instead? It’s easy. It’s easy to stay.

Trying to be an actress is self-esteem shattering and, she’s beginning to suspect, hopeless, but it’s a goal, and it’s an easy thing to tell people that ask, and it’s easier to keep trying this than figure out what to try for instead.

The rain against her window is numbing, and there’s nothing wrong with being a little numb to it all. It’s why practically everyone in their twenties has a drink after a long day, to take the edge off, to relax. It’s why television has overtaken the modern world, because you can chill on a comfortable couch and be told a story, no expectations or effort involved.

She gets that she can’t stay in this rut, pleasant and comfortable as it might be, for much longer. She gets that she’s going to have to make a change. She eats with the boys most nights and bickers with Sheldon most days and gets gas and goes to work and comes home from work and goes out on casual dates that lead to exactly what she wants, namely hot hot sex, and she helps Bernadette with her wedding and she can feel these cycles just sweep over her, just carrying forward. It’s probably a little like ocean waves, but she’d have to ask Sheldon to be sure. The way she moves, always forward and always back, just like her and Leonard, just like her and acting, just like everything in her life.

She needs some sort of momentum. She’s getting that now. Sheldon would surely have the physics of it, the force and velocity and the way it’s so hard to move when she’s stayed so long in one place. He’s lectured her about inertia, but not much of it stuck. She needs a push, though. Something has to give.

She picks at the label of her wine cooler bottle and braces her feet against the coffee table. The news anchor is talking about a new development in the local grocery store union strike, when there’s an Emergency Weather Update, which. Given it’s soCal, she’s expecting fires (unlikely, given the rain) or flooding and mudslides, and there’s already been problems with those. Either that or earthquakes, but she didn’t feel anything, and—



Holy shit.

Sheldon’s already knocking—only once, and then throwing the door open, and that alone is enough to freak her out—and he has two duffel bags in his hand. He throws one to her and Leonard’s behind him, a duffel bag of his own in his hands, and Sheldon’s voice is high-pitched as he says her name again, “Penny!” and Leonard’s hand is against her back as he follows her down the stairs. Somewhere above them, a window shatters.

“Hurricane winds are stronger at high elevations,” Sheldon says, and she’s trying to keep her footing as they practically run, other people spilling out of their apartments, locks being snapped as if that will be enough to keep everything out, and she wishes she weren’t barefoot, and she wishes—

Wind howls as it rips through the broken windows and circles down through the building, and Penny trips. Sheldon turns as she falls into him, stopping her fall, his feet spread wide to keep his balance. He takes her hand in his, his fingers curling around hers, and turns and keeps going.

They stop on the second floor—the people on the staircase down are turning back, their eyes wide, their mouths forming the word flooding, their hands tightening on the banister. Sheldon pulls her to the stairs anyway, but halfway down there’s water and it’s soaking into their pants. She pulls back with a cry as she steps on something sharp—she’s bleeding as they spill back into the hallway. Leonard is to her left and Sheldon is to her right, his fingers still entwined with hers. More glass shatters, and Sheldon turns to her, eyes wide, and he’s saying something to her but she can’t quite hear it, can’t quite—

She wakes up.

She’s on the floor in front of her couch, her wine cooler lying empty on its side on the coffee table, a small pool of it soaked into the carpet. She’s sweaty and panting and she tries to get her breathing back under control, because she’s never had such a realistic dream before, never—

And then she stops, her fingers bunching into the couch cushions, because the bottom six inches of her jeans are sopping wet, and there’s a cut on the sole of her left foot that’s still bleeding.

Outside, it’s raining.

She hobbles over to the boys’ apartment.

She doesn’t bother knocking.

“Penny, there has to be a rational explanation—”

“Trust me when I say I’d love to hear it, Sheldon. I’m just kinda drawing blanks right now.”

“You could have been sleep-walking.”

“Really? You think I somehow, what, stepped into standing water and cut my foot and made it back to my apartment without getting blood anywhere? Because there are no bloody footprints, I looked. And my bathtub and sink are both dry. Even the kitchen one.”

“Well, maybe you… No, that wouldn’t…” He pauses, frowning, as she finishes cleaning the gash in her foot and starts wrapping a bandage around it.

“This is going to suck at work tomorrow,” she sighs.

“You believe you were actually hurt in a dream?” Sheldon asks, his nose crinkling up a little at the very suggestion of mysticism.

“Look,” she says. “I don’t know what happened. I just know it was weird. And not normal.”

She doesn’t add that it was more than a little scary in its realism, and he doesn’t mention the way her fingers curled into his arm when she’d walked in, limping and wild-eyed.

“Well,” he says. “I’m sure I’ll be able to figure out what happened.” It’s just the right amount of blustering arrogance to actually be reassuring, and she smiles up at him despite herself.

“Oh good,” she says, “What could possibly go wrong with you on the case?”

Penny’s late to work. The cut on her foot is throbbing, and has been since yesterday. She isn’t, one might say, in the best of moods.


“What do you want, Bernadette?”

“I—I was just saying hi?”

No. Not in the best of moods at all.

Table seven—with the stupid college boys that keep leering at her as if they’ll ever have a chance in hell of getting within two feet of her when they’re not paying customers—keep talking about some possible terrorist that snuck into the Oval Office and kept claiming to be the President, which. If she wanted news she’d turn on the—well. The news.

“Hey guys! You decided what you want to eat yet?”

Her shift passes slowly, and for the most part dully. She’s a little weirded out by one set of twins dating another set of twins at opposite ends of the restaurant. At least both couples tip well. In fact, they actually tip the exact same amount on the exact same meal, which is kinda creepy when she thinks about it.

No wonder they always have twins in scary movies, right?

Sheldon grabs her as she limps up the stairs, and practically manhandles her into his apartment.

“Um, Sheldon? Do you have something to tell me?” she asks. He grabs her waist between his hands and, frowning, starts prodding her sides.

“Shush,” he says, lecture-mode activated, and really it’s enough to wish he’d keep groping her rather than subjecting her to unintelligible technobabble. (She always has identified with O’Neill when they watch Stargate. Although the thought of Sheldon as Carter is….confusing.) “I’m checking you to see if you’ve leapt forward in time.”

“What?” she asks. “What?

“I think you’ve jumped forward in time,” Sheldon says. “It would explain your disorientation and several other details. It’s imperative we find out sooner rather than later, given the hurricane you experienced.”

“Wait,” she says. “Wait, you’re going along with this? Did you tell Leonard?”

“No,” he says.

“Why, do you think he’ll think I’m crazy?”

“I think Leonard is often small-minded and unable to comprehend things on a larger scale than he is used to,” he says.

“Do you think I’m crazy?” she asks.

“I’ve never known you to sleepwalk before,” he says. He looks rather cautious. “Besides…I asked Leonard, and he says he’s never told you about the emergency duffel I made for you not long after we’d first met.”

“Emergency duffel?” she asks, confused. Sheldon opens the back closet and pulls three individually monogrammed duffel bags off the top shelf. Penny crouches down next to the one with her name on it, trying to ignore the faint shaking in her hands. She runs her fingers along the fabric, and then finally stands and lifts it, hefting its weight. “Sheldon,” she says. “This is what I dreamt about.”

He looks rather grim. “I thought that might be the case. You need to take me back to CalTech,” he says. “I need to run some tests.”

Penny’s never going to a doctor ever again. Ever. Ever again. She’s so over being poked and prodded, and whether or not Sheldon’s hands are nice (really the question is unimportant because clearly she’s ambivalent about the matter and has never really given it any thought), she’s had enough of him checking her for implants from the future (really, Sheldon?) or heightened radioactive levels.

Still, she promised him she’d give him her fingernail clippings (and really how, how is this her life?), so she pops over to the boys’. And stops. Because Sheldon is standing next to Missy and some random guy and they’re all chatting easily as if it’s not totally weird for Missy to pop up out of the blue when last Penny heard she was in the middle of finals at her community college.

“Missy, what are you doing here? And who’s that?” Penny asks, gesturing to the guy with the hair.

“Penny? You...don’t recognize Ted?”

“Ted?” Penny repeats, confused. Sheldon moves closer to her, frowning, and Missy starts looking worried.

“Ted Mosby? My husband? And your brother-in-law? You were at the wedding?”

“My—my what? My brother-in-law?” Penny asks, torn between laughing and gasping, because this is the most ridiculous practical joke ever, but no one is capable of keeping as straight of faces as these people are keeping. Plus, what’s Missy even doing out here?

“Penny, are you feeling all right?” Sheldon asks, stepping over and taking her hand, and she jerks backward as if she’s just caught fire. “Penny?”

“Come on, Pen,” Missy laughs, “You've got to milk the honeymoon stage of this marriage for as long as you can.”

“What the hell, guys? What’s going on?” Sheldon reaches for her hand, again, and he looks…concerned. He looks concerned. “Is this another flash of the future, because it’s not making sense,” she says. She can hear her voice get higher, but she can’t help it, because yeah, she’s seriously freaked.

“Penny—” Missy says, and then—

She’s standing in the middle of the boys’ living room by herself.

“Penny?” Leonard asks from the kitchen, looking up, startled, “When did you come in? I didn’t hear you.”

“Oh shit,” Penny says, and sits down. “Oh shit.”


“I’m not married and you’re not married and Missy’s not married and Sheldon’s not married, right?”

“Penny, are you—”

“Is anyone married, Leonard?!” Penny yells, and Leonard’s hand jerks, soda spilling all over the countertop.

“No,” he says, sounding vaguely strangled, but she’s really not dealing with that right now.

“I need Sheldon,” she says. “Get me Sheldon.”

“Married?” Leonard repeats. He’s been repeating it.

“This sounds more like parallel universes,” Sheldon says, frowning.

“You think you two are married in a parallel universe?” Leonard asks, crinkling up his nose a little. Penny—who’s got some bigger fish to fry—ignores him.

“I’m sorry, you think I’m hopping universes, now?”

“In the first instance, this building was on the brink of destruction, while in the second both Missy and I had found time to marry, and you yourself said that I appeared…different from my current state,” Sheldon says. Penny closes her eyes for a moment, trying to block out all the awkwardness around her. It takes a long moment, but then it’s a lot of awkward.

“Okay, skipping right along,” Penny says. “Can we make it so I stop flying away to other worlds? Because I gotta tell you, it hasn’t been a whole lotta fun.”

“It’s weird that it’s just Penny, though, right?” Leonard says. “I mean, assuming this is happening.”

Thanks,” she hisses, throwing him a sour look. He winces a little, but still doesn’t look that convinced.

“I’m more concerned that it isn’t just Penny,” Sheldon says. “After the first instance, I took the precaution of setting up several Google alerts, and found an alarming uptick in ‘ghostly’ appearances of the long dead reappearing for brief periods, as well as people claiming to have been abducted by aliens, where they were surrounded by alien constructions of their friends and families, as well as general missing persons reports.”

“In English,” Penny snaps.

“People from other universes, whose counterparts in our own universe have died, could easily be mistaken for ghosts returning from the dead,” he says. “And those alien abductions have far more in common with your experiences, Penny, than with any common alien mythology.”

“Wait…” Leonard says, frowning. “Did you guys hear about that imposter in the White House?”

“Are you saying the Secret Service arrested a president from another universe?” Penny asks.

“For however long he stayed in this universe, it would indeed be possible,” Sheldon says. “Perhaps we could rig up some sort of dimensional locator,” he adds.

“Oh, right, the whole fricking multiverse is collapsing, but you can fix it,” Leonard says, rolling his eyes.

“Wait—multiverse?” Penny says. “Christ, guys, can we maybe take it down a notch so I don’t have to keep asking what the hell you’re talking about? Possibly hopping universes over here, I’m evidently on something of a timetable.”

“The term multiverse was coined by William James, American philosopher and psychologist. He used it to describe a hypothetical set of multiple universes—which are sometimes referred to as parallel universes. The multiverse would comprise the entirety of existence. If, as I suspect, the multiverse is beginning to break down for some unknown reason, that would explain why you have been, in your words, ‘hopping universes.’ If the fabric between parallel universes is breaking apart, you could be literally stepping from one universe to another.”

“And this is pure guesswork on your part,” Leonard says. “There’d be no way to test this.”

“Nor any way to fix it,” Sheldon says. “Not at our current level of scientific understanding. I merely meant that, if there were someone out there in a more accelerated universe, it could be possible for them to use our dimensional locators in order to examine the magnitude and multitude of the problem.”

“Okay, but what are dimensional locators?” she asks, crossing her arms. Leonard sends her an amused smile, mostly because he doesn’t get how fast her heart was racing when she was running down those stairs, the wind howling around the building and only Sheldon’s hand in hers keeping her steady. Sheldon looks more concerned.

“Simply put, they’re beacons that signal the presence, and temporal and spatial location, of a universe.”

“So they don’t actually fix anything,” Penny says. She’s not quite sure where this lands on the whole scale-of-believability, but something is clearly going on. It’s a bit worrying that the boys are divided on the issue.

“If this were a multiverse collapse, we would be the redshirts,” Sheldon says, deadpan. “We’d be all the people the Daleks kill before the Doctor stops them. We don’t have a chance of fixing this ourselves.”

“Oh, good,” Penny says. “That’s a relief.”

Penny sits on her couch. She’s got a nice big glass of wine, because clearly if her options are a) the world is ending or b) she’s going crazy, she’s going to take option c) get drunk. Well, get drunk and then deal with whatever does end up coming her way, preferably with awesome kung fu moves and five inch heels.

She’s had just enough to take the edge off and steady her nerves when there’s a knock on the door. It sounds like Amy, so she stands and walks over and opens it up, her wine-filled coffee mug still in her hand.

“Bestie!” Amy proclaims. Behind her, Bernadette waves, although it’s a little difficult to see her.

“Hey guys,” Penny says, backing up so they can get in. “Come on in. It’s a party in here.”

“It doesn’t appear to fit the usual definition of a party,” Amy frowns. Bernadette elbows her sharply in the side.

“Everything okay, Pen?” she asks.

“Oh, y’know, I’m on the 12:20 to crazy town, and only resident sane man Dr. Cooper himself believes me, which is just about enough to convince me that I am going crazy. Then again,” Penny says, frowning, “I have had worse days.”

“Slow down there, speedy-pants,” Amy says, perching on the couch. “Why do you think you’re going crazy? And what has it got to do with my ex?”

“Eh,” Penny says. “I don’t want to talk about it. How’re things with you and Stuart, anyway?”

“Stuart?” Amy frowns. “What’re you talking about, Penny?”

“I mean…that you and Stuart are together? Have been since you and Sheldon broke up a few months ago?”

“Why Penny, I’ve no idea what you’re talking about. Are you feeling unwell? Have you somehow forgotten that we’ve been in a relationship ever since Sheldon and I broke up? That you’re my bestie in the bedroom, now?”

“I—what?” Penny’s not often struck speechless, but this would be one of those times.

“You two are such a cute couple,” Bernadette sighs. “I wish Raj would realize how perfect the two of us would be,” she says.

“I’ll—I’ll be right back,” Penny chokes out, moving towards the door.

“I’ll be here, lover!” Amy calls after her.

“Sheldon!” she yells, bursting through the boys’ apartment door. Raj and Howard and Leonard are there, too, and the four of them turn to look at her as if she’s just spontaneously grown a second head. She pats her hair surreptitiously—given how life’s been going, it’s best to be on the safe side. “Sheldon, it happened again!”

“What happened?” he asks, puzzled. The other three’s faces are morphing into some terrifying sort of lust-shock hybrid. Between that, and the different shade of paint on the walls, she’s already figured out that she’s not where she’s supposed to be.

“Nevermind,” she huffs out, “You’re not my Sheldon.”

Your Sheldon? What’s going on? How do you know his name?” Leonard practically squawks.

“You—you’re Penny,” Howard says, sounding short of breath. “You’re Chapel from the Star Trek reboot! What are you doing here?

Which. Of course. Of course she’d be successful in some universe that’s not hers. Probably in this one it’s Chapel and not Uhura that gets all down and dirty with Spock, because Zachary Quinto is hot and that would be—

“You and Uhura are so hot together,” Howard adds. “Such a sexy storyline.”

And. That’s unexpected. She’ll discuss the merits of Star Trek pairings another time, though, because right now she doesn’t have time. Universe ending and all that. Kirk would totally understand.

“Look,” she says. “I’m not Penny. I mean, I’m not that Penny. Not your Penny. Different universes, yada yada yada, everything’s going to hell in a handbasket.”

“Is this some sort of reality show?” Raj asks. She stares at him in open-mouthed shock.

“Holy shit, you talk in this universe? I’ve been so cheated!”

“Are you talking about the multiverse?” Sheldon asks, arching an eyebrow, so she focuses, and does not think that Sheldon looks kind of hot with the arched eyebrow, and what? Not her Sheldon, so it doesn’t count. Her Sheldon would probably just look annoyed. He doesn’t have this whole…smolder thing going on. Christ, this isn’t fair.

“Yes. You told me they’re all colliding together, which is why I’m here instead of where I should be, and why you don’t know me, and—did you guys have an imposter in your White House?”

“Is this really the time for political commentary?” Leonard asks, and she rolls her eyes.

“Look, people are popping in and out of different universes, and in at least one there’s been hurricanes in soCal (which is stupid, I know) and just go get me, okay? Your Penny?”

“Okay, saying we believe you, and believe you’re not—um—our Penny, she’s famous,” Howard says. “She won’t want to see us.”

“But she’ll need you. And Sheldon—my Sheldon—told me I should tell any more of you I found to try to rig up, um. Dimensional locators? Something like that?”

“He wants to try to keep track of the separate, colliding multiverses?” Sheldon asks, which, yes, he’s definitely smoldering, and seems to be believing her? “Does he have a plan?”

“Not yet,” she says. “He says it’s impossible. Something about how we’re all redshirts and all the people the Daleks kill. But maybe someone out there has a plan, and he thinks this will help them.”

“I’m sorry, how exactly are we going to make dimensional locators?” Leonard cuts in, frowning. Sheldon rakes him over with a look.

“Leave it to the big boy scientists,” he says. And wow, okay, smoldering he might be but this guy is kind of way more of an asshole than her Sheldon has ever been—but hell, stupid perfect actress Penny probably deserves him.

“Okay, so. I kind of thought I’d pop back to my universe before now. So. This is kind of awkward. Oh hey, are you and Bernadette still engaged?” she asks, turning to Howard. Raj narrows his eyes and yanks Howard around.

“Who the hell is Bernadette?” he growls. Howard is wide-eyed, hands up and protesting.

“I don’t know! Raj, baby, you know you’re the only one I’ve ever loved!”

And with that, the universe(s) save her from any further shocks, and she snaps home.

“Okay,” Penny says, practically yelling. “Okay, this is definitely happening. Sheldon, the other you agreed with you. And Leonard, for the record, I don’t know why other you puts up with other Sheldon.”

“What?” Leonard asks, confused and a bit freaked out by the way his ex appears to be going off the deep end. She waves a dismissive hand at him and turns back to Sheldon, who has scribbles over most of his whiteboard and his thinking face on.

“Can we at least stop me zipping around the multiverse?” Penny asks. “At least long enough for me to have a stiff drink? Because the wine wore off, and I don’t think I can deal with this sober.”

“Penny,” Sheldon says, and she realizes then just how high her voice had started pitching, because Sheldon’s turned towards her, his marker held loose in his hand by his side. “Are you all right?”

“I’m—” she starts, and pauses. It’s not just the not knowing what’s going on that’s getting to her, precisely; it’s all these people wearing the faces of her friends, and not knowing what to expect whenever someone opens their mouth. It’s wearing on her, is all. “I’m fine,” she says. “It’s fine, I’m fine.”

Howard bursts in the door, then, practically tripping over his own feet. His jacket is loose and open, and one of his shoelaces is untied.

“Raj—” he starts, and then breaks off, gasping. Leonard practically drags him over to the couch while Penny pours him a glass of water, moving familiarly through the kitchen. Howard manages a few gulps before pulling up, his eyes wild. “He’s gone,” he says. “He was right in front of me and he just disappeared.”

“What do you mean, he disappeared?” Leonard asks, frowning. Sheldon is already standing and turned towards his whiteboard, his eyes raking the surface. Penny’s glad she’s no longer holding the glass because her fingers go lax at her sides, spread open and vulnerable. She feels unsteady, as if she could dissolve into air and—and molecules, those atoms that Sheldon so often waxes poetic about. Sheldon looks at his whiteboard and Leonard looks at Howard and Howard looks at the glass in his hand; Penny steps backward until her back hits the island.

She can’t. She can’t.

“Penny,” Sheldon says, and his voice breaks through the humming in her ears, the thrum of blood in her veins.

“What’s happening?” she asks, because maybe before she could try to pretend this away. Maybe it would’ve been better is she was going crazy. But she’s not.

“I don’t know,” Sheldon says. For him, it’s practically a declaration of surrender, and it’s more than a little humbling to see him admit ignorance, so rarely does it occur. Humbling, perhaps, but not reassuring. Leonard is still speaking to Howard in soothing tones—and Raj, God Raj—but the apartment feels smaller and warmer and closing fast.

“I’d feel better if you knew what was going on,” she says, and he looks at her, his eyes shadowed.

“So would I.”

Four in the morning, and Sheldon hammers on her door until she wakes up, forgoing his routine triple knock. She only fell asleep an hour or so ago, spending most of the night staring at her ceiling, so she’s a mess when she stumbles up and yanks the door open.

Any outraged reproaches fall silent on her tongue, though. He’s leaning against the doorway, his clothing soaked, his hair slick against his head. He’s coughing and can’t quite catch his breath, and as soon as the door opens he catches her wrist in his hand.

“Sheldon?” she asks, worried, but he shakes his head; she starts to pull him into her apartment but suddenly there’s a man’s voice behind her.

“Penny?” it says, and it sounds like Kurt—but that’s impossible, because Kurt can’t be in her apartment, that’s impossible. She was just in that bedroom.

“Sheldon?” she asks, because he’s still coughing, and little rivulets of water are sliding down his skin, and he pulls her towards him, out into the hallway.

“Penny, what’s going on?” the voice that can’t be Kurt’s asks, and Penny turns and sees him. His hair is different than she remembers, and he walks out as if he owns the place. Sheldon shakes his head, but she’s stuck in place as Kurt comes closer. His hand settles on her waist, and still Sheldon doesn’t let her go, and Kurt leans in and kisses her neck.

Sheldon yanks her arm hard, and she comes loose, stumbling into Sheldon’s arms as he moves to catch her. She’s not sure how they get to the boys’ apartment, but she’s the one that flips the lock and sinks to the ground, her back to the door, trying to ignore the sound of a confused Kurt yelling for her.

It’s not my Kurt, she tells herself. I don’t even have a Kurt anymore.

Sheldon sits on the ground next to her, and it takes a minute for her mind to settle from Kurt to process the water soaking into her sleeve. She turns to Sheldon, once more shocked at how soaked he is. His eyelashes look exceptionally long, and it’s a bit distracting, so she focuses on the way his fingers still encircle her wrist.

“What happened?” she asks.

“I jumped universes,” he says. “I woke up drowning. Evidently somewhere, California’s already sunk into the ocean.”

She twists her hand until she can twine their fingers together, ignoring the weirdness of that, as there’s a bit of a bigger picture going on. They sit there for a long while, listening as Kurt finally goes back into Penny’s apartment (their apartment?).

“Where’s Leonard?” she asks at last, since they’ve been making enough noise to wake the living dead, and Leonard should definitely have poked his head out by now.

Sheldon frowns and stands. Penny, not exactly willing to let go of Sheldon’s hand, follows him, and they walk to Leonard’s room together.

It’s empty.

It’s empty, and no matter how many times they call, he doesn’t answer his phone.

She’s brushing her teeth with Sheldon’s extra toothbrush after a sleepless night with the two of them sitting side-by-side on the couch when the world tilts and she’s standing barefoot in the snow. She spits toothpaste out into the white, and it takes a second for the chill to seep in past the shock. When it does, she turns to examine her surroundings, and there’s her house. Not hers, though, not anymore—this is her childhood home, where her parents still live. This is Nebraska.

“Penny!” her dad says, coming out, and he’s laughing at her, “Penny, what’re you doing out here still in your pajamas? You’ll catch your death like that! Get inside, pun’kin!”

“Dad?” she says, because most of this feels like she could be dreaming. The snow stings at her bare skin, and she moves towards him, eager to escape the cold if nothing else. He catches her up in his arms as she starts past him, lifting her off the ground and laughing at her startled shriek.

“C’mere, you,” he says. “I gotcha. I’ve always gotcha,” he says, carrying her onto the porch. She’s silent at that, and doesn’t move when he goes inside, the screen door hitting the frame roughly. He comes back out a few minutes later, throwing a pair of his socks at her and draping her with a blanket before giving her a mug of coffee. She cups it between her hands, sitting down on the old bench swing; he grabs his travel mug and sits beside her.

“Now tell me what’s going on,” he says. “It’s not like you to be out here like this. One of your kids get into trouble again?”

“My kids?” she repeats.

“I know I gave you a lot of flack for becoming a teacher,” he says, “But I can own up to my mistakes, and I’ve told you, I think you’re doing a damn fine job with those little ones. They light up when they’re around you, Penny.”

“You think so?” she says, her fingertips digging into the side of the mug to try to hold back her tears. He must hear the way her voice catches, though, because he wraps an arm around her and pulls her into his side.

“You know I’m proud of you, Pen,” he says. “I’ve always been proud of you. You’re the best thing that ever happened to me.”

It’s enough to break her, and he barely catches the mug before she spills coffee all over. He sets it down on the old wood at their feet and gathers her up in his arms, holding her tightly as she sobs into his shoulder.

This is a lie, she thinks, but she can’t let him go, and he holds her and holds her and holds her.

And then she’s standing in front of the mirror, and her arms are empty, and she has to look away from her reflection because it hurts too much to look herself in the eyes.

She stumbles out of the bathroom like her feet are weighed down by bricks.

“I thought you were gone,” Sheldon says. “You can’t leave me,” he says.

“I didn’t mean to,” she says, and her voice is still thick with unshed tears.

Sheldon turn and shoves her into the wall, his arms bracing himself around her. His eyes are dark and there’s something desperate in them as he leans in and kisses her. For a second she’s shocked into silence, lulled by the surprise and the way his mouth feels against hers, and then her hands come up to his chest, because not now. Not right now.

And then she’s kneeling on the ground, her heart pounding in her ears. Sheldon is gone, and the door to the apartment is open.

“Christ,” she says, and she means it.

She walks back across the hallway with the mistaken notion that she might have a second to collect herself. Unfortunately, there’s another Penny standing in the doorway to her bedroom, and she doesn’t look too happy to see her.

“Who the fuck are you?” not!Penny asks. She has a big pointy knife in her hand, so Penny’s kind of thinking that maybe this Penny didn’t get all the TLC necessary as a kid, or was maybe dropped on the head a few too many times. Clearly something isn’t right.

“I’m you. Just not you-you. Look, Sheldon can explain it better what with the multiverses and—”

“Sheldon? Are you working for him, then? I told him and I’ll tell you, he’s not getting that diamond, not while I’m still breathing, and if he thinks some punkass clone of me is going to be able to get the drop on me—”

“What? What? I’m not a clone of you! Diamond? What?”

“Listen skank—”

“Whoa whoa whoa, really? Skank? We’re going with skank now? Because if I don’t take that from shitty ex-boyfriends, there’s no way in hell I’m taking it from some psycho alternate universe version of me.”

“Keep laughing, sister,” not!Penny says, and she’s stepping a little closer with the knife, and Penny starts thinking that maybe she should shut up, because she doesn’t happen to have a spare knife in her pocket, and she’s not sure she’s got the skill set to compete with someone who, for all appearances, wants her dead.

“Look,” she says, trying to smile, hands lifted a little in surrender, “Look, I think we got off on the wrong foot. I’m not working for Sheldon and I’m not a clone. I’m not even from this universe. I’m a different you, that’s all, okay?”

Except not!Penny is still advancing, knife in hand, and Penny’s mind is downspiraling into if I die over here do I stay over here or do I go back? Because if I stay here no one will ever even know what happened to me—ohgod, what if they think I just left them? What if they think I let them down?

Not!Penny comes at her, and Penny dodges, but she’s not quite fast enough, and the knife catches the side of her arm as she slips away—it tears through her shirt, cuts a little into her skin, and she stifles a gasp, pivoting on the floor as she steadies herself. Maybe she hasn’t been to a rodeo in years, and maybe she talks up her achievements to the boys because it’s fun to have them a little in awe of her, but Penny’s always been a fighter. Ask Kathy Peters. Ask Drew Fuckwit Matthew. Ask anyone that ever did her wrong.

Not!Penny launches herself at her, and Penny ducks and slides out of the way, her eyes skimming the table for anything she can use, anything at all. There’s a wine bottle on the table, and Penny grabs for it, so when not!Penny knocks her into the table, the wood sharp against her back, her spine creaking a little from the impact, Penny grabs not!Penny’s arm and keeps the knife a little away from her throat and then smashes the wine bottle into not!Penny’s face.

There’s a list of things that Penny knows about herself. She knows she can be lazy and she knows she can be fearless and she knows she can be afraid. She knows she loves too easily and she’s too slow to forgive and too eager to please and too desperate to be free. She knows that sometimes she gives up when she shouldn’t. She knows she doesn’t back down when sometimes she should. She knows she’s strong and she’s weak and she’s gorgeous and she’s nothing at all.

She’s never doubted that she’s good.

There’s hate in a face that’s hers, though. More than hate, it’s a rage that looks bottomless and consuming, as if it’s eaten its way through her skin and burrowed down so deep there’s nothing that’s not tainted by it. This is Penny’s face, but it’s not.

It terrifies her.

More than the knife near her throat, more than the blood that’s dripping onto her from where the bottle shattered against not!Penny’s skin, more than alternate universes and multiverses and too much that’s too impossible to consider, she is afraid of herself.

Afraid of possibilities.

She doesn’t ask What happened? Why are you like this? Can I fix you? Can you be fixed? Why are you you and me me? Can I become you? Will I become you? Deep down, underneath it all, are we the same?

She doesn’t ask because there’s a knife near her throat and she can’t breathe for the fear and she can’t get free. It’s not until the universes realign, and Penny is sliding off a table to her knees, her hand at her throat, panting, that she admits to herself that some things aren’t worth finding out the answers.

Penny waits in Sheldon’s spot until he comes back.

He punches a hole in the wall, an aborted yell on his lips as he draws back with bloodied knuckles.

“Sheldon?” she asks, because she’s never seen him violent like this, and when he looks at her there’s something broken in his eyes.

“My father,” he says. It’s all he says, and probably all he’ll ever say on the matter, because his lips are set firm and his hands won’t stop trembling. His clothes are disheveled, and torn in places, and she takes the time to straighten them out, smoothing fabric beneath her fingertips. He calms slowly beneath her hands, his breath evening out, the muscles in his back relaxing.

“Are you all right?” he asks.

She doesn’t know what to say to that, because she’s not. She’s really not all right. She can feel all of it flood back up around her, and vainly she shoves it back down, focusing in on the way his shirt seam should lie on his body.

“Sheldon,” she says, at last, and she lifts her eyes until they meet his. “Were you the Sheldon that kissed me? I couldn’t tell which universe I was in. Was it here? Was it you?” She knows she sounds almost hysterical, but she has to know. She has to know if it was her Sheldon, or if it was just someone that looked like him, and maybe it shouldn’t matter so much, but she has to know.

“Someone kissed you?” Sheldon asks, and his eyes are dark when he looks at her, his voice a touch more gravelly than she’s used to, and she takes a step back, and then another.

“What did you try to steal for me when you first met me?”

“Your television,” he answers. “What was your boyfriend’s name?”

“Kurt,” she says. “What do you call your grandmother?”

“Meemaw,” he says. “What did I say you should put on the floor of your bathtub?”

“Adhesive ducks,” she says. “With umbrellas. They’re whimsical. And you drove me to the hospital.” She’s fighting back tears from stress and hope and fear and everything that’s been building up inside her since this all began. “Who’s Howard with?

“He’s engaged to Bernadette,” Sheldon says. “I don’t know why. You think she deserves better. You told me when you forced me to watch The Proposal last month.”

“And Amy?”

“Amy’s begun a tentative relationship with Stuart, despite knowing my dislike for it, after I failed to live up to her expectations as a boyfriend.”

“Sheldon, tell me you’re you,” Penny says, and she’s choking down a sob, her fingers crumpling her jeans, her mascara smearing.

“One of my duplicates kissed you?” he asks, and he’s closer still, close enough that she has to tilt her chin up to look him in the eye.

“It wasn’t you,” she says, because it wasn’t, because it couldn’t have been. He leans into her, his hand cupping her cheek, and presses his lips chastely against hers.

“That was me,” he says. “This is me,” he says, kissing her again, and her fingers curl into the fabric of his shirt, bunching it up at the back of his neck.

She can feel his desperation in the way he holds her, but right now he’s all she’s got to hold onto, and maybe it’s enough that they’re the last ones standing together. Maybe it’s enough that she’d be surprised if it was anyone but him.

“Give me your hand,” she says. She drags the back of her hand across her face, wiping away her tears, and knocks things off Leonard’s desk until she finds a permanent marker. She turns back to him, her face set with determination. “Give it,” she says.

He puts his hand out cautiously, and she takes it. She scrawls Mine, on the back, the e looping down to his thumb.

“I need to know it’s you,” she says. “I have to know.”

He takes the marker from her quietly. His letters are more deliberate and careful, his fingers dry and soft against her skin. He writes My own, and the phrasing of it just about does her in.

“There could be another Penny and another Sheldon doing this,” he says. “This doesn’t guarantee we’ll always be certain.”

“It doesn’t matter,” she says, swallowing hard. “If another Penny’s done this, it means she loves you enough to protect you. It means she’ll keep you safe.”

And maybe, she thinks, maybe she shouldn’t be showing her hand like this, but Penny’s always gone all in, and if there’s ever been a bet to place, it’d be this one. He brushes the hair from her face, and the contrast between his gentle touch and the way his knuckles are stained red with blood should be too much. She shoves up into him, and he kisses her back, eager and unskilled, his fingers tangling roughly in her hair.

They break apart, panting for breath, and she rests her forehead against his collarbone.

“Stay with me,” he breathes into her hair. “Stay with me, Penny.”

“Have you finished it?” she asks, because she’s never made promises she couldn’t keep, and if there’s a chance they can do anything to help stop this—anything—they have to try.

“Almost,” he says. “I think someone else worked on it while I was gone,” he adds, and she laughs roughly into his neck.

“Well,” she says. “You always said you’d get more done if there were two of you.”

She wakes as the floor tips beneath her. A hand grabs her and pulls her up, and she’s running before she can think, before she can remember.

“Raj?” she gasps when she realizes it’s him pulling her down the stairs. He doesn’t stop, and they haven’t time to stop (never have time to stop).

Something shakes loose behind them, and the building creaks as something gives in its structure.

“Raj!” she yells, and his hand is tight around hers, his mouth mute, and she thinks, Are you mine? Are you?

The ground is still rolling underneath their feet, and she thinks the whole world is about to shake apart. It’s hard to stand, let alone run, but the building is starting to fall apart around them. She tightens her fingers around his and swallows back all the things she wants to say.

They make it out onto the street, but out there it’s barely better. Cars have swerved onto sidewalks, and a few surrounding buildings have already collapsed into rubble. His grip on her hand is almost painful, but he moves unerringly forward and she follows.

They’re a block or two down the street when a small crack widens before them, splitting the asphalt and the sidewalk into an open maw. They back up, their balance off, but before they can make it the ground rolls beneath them, and Raj slips.

Penny lands hard on the ground, and still she holds onto Raj, holds him up, but their grip is slipping and the ground in front of her is beginning to crumble.

“Give me your other hand!” she yells. “Raj, give it to me!

He says her name. Just once, just this once, he says, “Penny.”

And he lets go.

She knows that she’s jumped universes. She knows that the ground hasn’t really sealed itself over Raj. She still can’t stop herself from crying. She lies on the sidewalk, her fingers pressing down on the concrete as if she can still feel his skin against hers.

After minutes or hours, she sits up, and it’s clear she’s not home. The sky is red and thick with smoke above her, and the buildings around her have been trashed. Nearby, broken glass from a shoe store has scattered across the ground, and after a beat she realizes that the buildings themselves are different here. She steals a pair of boots and tugs them on, finds a bandana to tie across the cut on her arm from when she landed on the ragged ground. There’s nothing much else to do but walk, after that. She follows the wrong sidewalks towards where her apartment used to be.

She thinks, vaguely, that she should be surprised when she hears him call her name, but she doesn’t have it in her anymore. Still, she turns to face him.

Leonard’s hand is stretched out, a ring on the fourth finger on his left hand, and he says, “Penny,” like it means something. But it doesn’t. Not to her. Not anymore.

The ink on the back of her hand stains through her skin, and she longs to move, longs to run. Instead she stands, tethered to this man she doesn’t know at all.

“I’m not who you’re looking for,” she says. “Tell Sheldon, dimensional locators. There’s a chance—”

“Penny!” Leonard says, and there’s a shadow in the face of this man that’s so familiar and yet not.

“Tell him,” she says, her hand braced against the wall as she pauses for a moment, looking back at him. The wall is cool beneath her palm, and the night air is chill despite the heavy smoke in the sky. This world is burning down around them, and still Leonard runs toward her, just as he always has.

But this time she doesn’t run to meet him.

“I’m sorry,” she says. “I hope you find her,” she says, and she means it. She always has wished Leonard well.

There’s a moment, when the world shifts and he throws himself in front of her, that she thinks he’s hers. She hears the recoil of the gun and feels the impact as he’s thrown against her. He gropes on the ground and lifts a gun and their bodies are so close that she can feel the recoil of it as he pulls the trigger.

She’s still a half step behind as she sees the blood on his shirt and the blood on her hands. There’s a Howard with an old scar across his face sprawled sideways in front of them, a gun still in his hand, a neat hole above his heart dribbling out blood, and for that moment that’s all she can see, the red of it everywhere, staining everything.

“Sheldon!” she says, the syllables heavy on her tongue as she looks down at him. The gun slips from his hand and lands heavily on carpeted hallway.

“Penny,” he chokes out.

She can see his hand, now, she can see his hand, and it’s not—he isn’t—

“But I’m not your Penny,” she says, her voice uneven on the intake. She takes his hand in hers as he struggles on a breath. His fingers curl around hers.

“She died,” he says. “In the first hurricane, she—” He breaks off, hisses out a soft expletive, and it’s the small things that still take her most by surprise. “That’s my handwriting,” he manages at last. “My own,” he says, smiling a little around the words. “Your me must love you,” he says.

“She died?” Penny asks, because there’s something in his eyes that reminds her of something, something at the beginning of all of this.

“She slipped universes at the wrong time,” he says, and then he frowns. “That was you, on the stairs, wasn’t it,” he says.

“You brought me out of there,” she says, choking a little on the words, remembering the way he’d held her hand and dragged her to safety. He softens unexpectedly against her.

“I love her,” he says. “I’ve always loved her.”

Penny runs her hand through his hair, trying to soothe him a little as another wave of pain drags across his face.

“It’s all right,” she says. “It’s all right. Tell me about her?”

So he tells her about a Penny that doesn’t know how to shoot a gun and went vegan for almost a year. He tells her about a Penny that graduated with BA in Theatre from University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and who sings Billy Joel songs in the shower. He tells her about a Penny that always wins at Risk and cut her hair into a pixie cut and cried the day she gave up on acting.

He loves her; that much is clear. (“Love doesn’t stop when the receiver of it dies,” he says, and she should want to laugh at this Sheldon that speaks as if poetry is something admirable, but all she can think about is her own, and if he’s all right, and how long they’ll have together before they’ve no time left.)

“I don’t think this is going to be fixed,” he says. “But there’s another way.”

“Another way?” she asks, and she’s a hand pressed against his wound to slow the blood, holding him together.

“If the multiverses are collapsing like so many of us think,” he says, sounding a little wry at using himself as a plural, “There’s a good chance that they’ll collide and collide until only one universe remains. Which means there’d be one Sheldon and one Penny left.”

And she wants to ask him what he expects of her, what he wants of her, but his eyes keep going back to the letters on her hand, and she knows. Maybe she’s always known.

“She was perfect,” he says toward the end, his fingers twitching against hers. She doesn’t try to hold her tears in anymore. It’s too late for him to notice. “You’ll remember her?” he asks, his eyes searching for her face, and she squeezes his hand.

“Always,” she says, and she means it. She means all of it, and the pressure of it aches against her chest, and she doesn’t let him go. “Always.”

“Take my duffel,” he says. “You’ll need to be armed. Last one standing, Penny,” he says. “Make this count.”

She closes his eyes when it’s over. There are scraps of prayers on her tongue from when she was a child, but she settles for kissing his brow.

She wipes her bloodied hands on her jeans, and scrubs her face against the crook of her arm. The duffel bag is full of guns and ammo, and she hooks it over her shoulder and stands.

Make it count, she thinks.

At least she’s finally got a goal.

At the top of the stairs, Penny pauses in the doorway. Sheldon stands in the kitchen, a first aid kit open. Another Penny stands near the couch.

Fuck,” Penny says, because this other Penny has cuts on her face, and Penny can still feel that wine bottle in her hand as she swung it down. “Sheldon, get away from her—she’s dangerous.”

“Penny?” Sheldon asks, and he’s wide-eyed and looking between the two of them, and it’s hard for Penny to breathe around the fear tightening around her lungs. She won’t let her hurt him. She won’t. She won’t.

She lifts her hand, the smudged ink still clear enough for him to read.

“Get away from her,” Penny says. “Sheldon, I mean it.”

“You’re that bitch, aren’t you,” not!Penny says, realization dawning on her face.

“That’s me,” Penny says. Her hand slips behind her, her fingers curling around the butt of the gun in her waistband.

“Did you really think you were going to get away with that? Did you think I was just going to let that go?” not!Penny asks, and Penny doesn’t even care anymore, because not!Penny is turning away from Sheldon, stepping away from Sheldon, and it’s enough, it’s all that she needs.

“I was really kinda hoping you weren’t,” Penny says.

She’s never shot a person before, but there’s a first time for everything.

The dimensional locator glows a light purple behind them from where they sit on his bed. Sheldon’s told her it might be able to stabilize them, and keep them here. She’s wary of anything that sounds promising, right now, but she can’t hold back a little hope.

The phone lines are down and the power is out it in the city. From the window, it’s a wide open sea of black, and she wonders how long it will be until the natural disasters hit here. She wonders what they’ll be.

They haven’t been able to find anyone else.

They don’t know if there’s anyone else left.

The duffel bag is open on the floor, and her hand that’s not holding a gun is holding his.

“I hope she’s happy,” Penny says at last. Sheldon turns and looks at her.


“The last Penny,” she says. “If we don’t make it, if all the different realities collapse and all of us are dead but one, I hope she’s happy. I hope she’s happy and I hope she’s strong.”

He doesn’t tell her they’ll be all right. She doubts he even knows he should.

“It’s odd,” he says instead. “By rights it should be comforting to know that a version of me will most likely survive, but it’s not. There are a few alternate versions I met that I’d rather never existed. It would be a shame for my legacy to be reduced to them.”

“Well,” she says. “Maybe it’s like evolution. Maybe only the fittest will survive. Maybe the best and brightest of us.”

Sheldon looks at her, and sometimes, like now, the depth of his gaze takes her breath away. His hand catches hers, his fingers entwining with her own.

“Then I suppose we have a chance after all,” he says. He squeezes her hand once and then lets her go. He checks the clip in his gun and takes the safety off. “If it all goes to hell in the proverbial handbasket,” he says, his eyes crinkling a little around the edges and the corner of his lips turning up, “Do you want to take the Pennys or the Sheldons?”

“Can you kill someone that looks like me?” she asks. There’s a steadiness in her voice, now. Her fingers are sure as they move over her own gun. An object in motion, she thinks, her fingers sliding over metal, stays in motion. That other Sheldon, the one that wasn’t hers but was, who’d pressed that duffel bag into her hands and told her his life story as he bled out, who told her about the Penny that wasn’t her but could have been, he’d told her about Newton’s Laws.

Newton’s Laws and Schrodinger’s Cat, and she wonders if there’s a Penny out there that knows all this, if there’s a Sheldon out there that doesn’t. Whether she’ll have to kill one of them before the day is out.

“I don’t think I can,” Sheldon says. She’s not surprised. She’d held that other Sheldon as he died. She doesn’t think that’s something one can come back from.

“What if there’s a Penny out there that’s better than me? You don’t think I should let her survive instead? You don’t think I’m—I’m holding the species back?” The permanent marker is faded on her skin, but still the sprawl of My own is legible. She thinks of the wedding bands she’s seen on other Sheldons’ fingers, and the way that other Leonard had called her name and reached for her.

“I don’t think people can be categorized that way,” he says, and it sounds like a lie to her ears, and when he looks up he can’t quite meet her eyes.

An object at rest stays at rest.

“Don’t,” she says. “Don’t.”

“All right,” he says. “I think, to me, for what you are to me, for who you are to me, there is no better Penny. I think you should fight. I think we have to fight.”

“Unless someone else, in all the multiverse, figures out a way to stop this,” she says.

“Unless,” he agrees. They’re quiet for a moment.

“I don’t think we have that sort of luck,” she says.

He braces a hand against the wall and pushes himself up to his feet. She knows he’s had a hard time of it—not just the universe jumping, but the spaces where Leonard and Raj and Howard and Amy and Bernadette should be. If she’d ever had to guess, she’d have guessed that, end of the world, they’d all make a stand together. Maybe they are in some other universe. Maybe their Leonard and their Raj and their Howard and Amy and Bernadette are still alive, scattered through the city and through the universes. Maybe it’s enough to pretend, for now.

For every action there is an equal and opposition reaction.

She takes his hand and he pulls her up to her feet. She leans her back against the wall, the gun loose in her free hand.

Let me stay, she thinks. Let me stay with him.

Outside, in the hallway, a different Sheldon calls to someone. Inside, her hand tightens around her Sheldon. His eyes are dark in the half-light. His mouth is firm. She tilts herself up on her toes and brushes her lips against his, and then turns to face the door, the wall behind her, her shirt sticking to the small of her back.

She closes her eyes.

She breathes.

She lifts her gun.


for those that do not like ambivalent endings, a bonus track.

Prompt: The apocalypse comes. But this isn't something out of one of Sheldon's sci-fi shows: The multiverse has begun to collapse, only one reality can remain, and survival comes down to outwitting yourself. (RATING: up to R; CHARACTERS: Everyone!)

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