It started on a Thursday, she thought, if she remembered correctly. It wasn't really her fault if she didn't. She wasn't some kind of eidetic memory freak, but she had her own little tricks for memory that helped her in the trade: they were eating pizza at the time, so it was probably a Thursday. She had asked the boys why Sheldon was taking so long to come out of his bedroom, as his pizza was getting cold and he had definite rules about the heat of his food. She knew because once the chef at the Cheesecake Factory accidentally left his burger to the side for too long while dealing with a small fire and Sheldon had pitched a fit at the temperature. So, for him to ignore his meal for this amount of time was an aberration and Sheldon and aberrations made her feel uneasy.
"Apocalypse Week," Howard answered in hushed, reverent tones.
Leonard looked pained and embarrassed, his eyes taking on that pinched look he got when he had to explain something that made him look particularly nerdy. "Sheldon's finalizing plans for our annual apocalypse week."
His answer didn't really explain anything. She probably could have figured that out on her own, even with the way Howard had effused about it in a manner he usually reserved for talking about Heidi Klum or the female breast in general. Leonard did not say the event like it deserved capital letters. He said it like it was something that made him want to curl up and die.
"What's that?" she asked curiously. "Is it like Shark Week? Are you guys going to marathon the best apocalypse movies out there?"
If possibly Leonard looked even more pained. "Something like that," he responded in a high pitch.
"Fun," Penny deadpanned. "But hey, if The Day After Tomorrow comes up in rotation call me over, I have a soft spot for that movie. Jake is a total cutie and Emmy Rossum has always had my vote since she nailed the Phantom of the Opera."
"What!" Howard's head snapped up. "The nubile ingénue and the Phantom get it on? I'm going to have to watch that movie."
She decided not to correct his assumption. If he wanted to take everything in a pervy light, then it wasn't her fault when he was let down by his own conjecture.
Raj met her eyes and his lip twitched. Penny was pretty sure she had an ally in that, but who really knew with Raj?
"Yeah, so if you don't see us for the next week, or if you do see us, don't be alarmed. It's just apocalypse week."
So when she saw them the next week in their paintball uniforms she smiled and waved, not realizing until much, much later that Tuesdays weren't paintball day.
She didn't hear about Apocalypse Week again until a year later when Howard swaggered into the apartment as she sat slumped against the middle couch cushion next to Sheldon, shovelling Chinese into her mouth at an alarming rate. She hadn't consumed anything more substantial than coffee in almost 36 hours, and she was huuungry. Deliberately ignoring the disgusted look Sheldon kept throwing her way was just an added bonus.
"Yeah yeah yeah Apocalypse Week baby," he said, clicking his tongue as his fingers drew guns a hip level. His tone was mostly the usual overly self-assured one he used regularly, but she thought he sounded genuinely excited. There was a slight squeak to the words that he usually tried to keep out of what he thought to be a smooth, ladies-man voice.
Unfortunately, the wink he sent her was over the top and made her roll her eyes and ignore the fact he might be human.
"What movies will you be watching this year?" she asked, only vaguely interested.
"Movies?" Howard asked in confusion.
"I only ask because I never say no to The Day After Tomorrow," she informed him, frowning slightly at the sense of déjà vu. She was about to back that line up with a comment about Jake Gyllenhaal but she was almost sure they had this conversation before.
"Movies?" Sheldon echoed. "We don't watch movies during Apocalypse Week. Why would we waste time doing something we do all year round?"
"Then what is Apocalypse Week?" she asked, almost sure the impression it was a week-long movie event had come from somewhere.
"Oh, it's just this thing we do every year to prepare for our impending doom. It's no big deal," Leonard said, dismissively. He then winced as Sheldon turned the full force of his glare on him.
"No big deal?" Sheldon asked. "No big deal? Leonard, I have explained this to you on multiple occasions. I realize the concept of being self-aware of your own limitations is a foreign one, but even you should not take your own life so lightly."
"I don't take my life lightly, Sheldon, but I doubt Penny is interested in catering to another one of your idiosyncrasies. She has a real life."
Raj and Howard looked at Leonard in disbelief, like he had just said that Captain Sisko from Deep Space Nine was far superior to Captain Kirk. In other words, as if he had just betrayed everything they held dear.
By this point, Penny had enough and at least one of her questions was answered. The reason she thought Apocalypse Week was a movie marathon? Probably because Leonard had let her think it. And while, yeah, she wasn't really interested in the more nerdy things the boys did – as if she could ever be a contender for Klingon Boggle – she didn't want to just not know about it. With the way they were setting this week up in her mind, she wasn't sure if it was something she wanted to run away from screaming or if it was something she was secretly intrigued about. Finally, she asked again, "so what is this week exactly."
"It is the one full week of the year when Sheldon is made of awesome pretty much 24/7."
At first she heard 'maid of awesome' because for the boys to claim Sheldon was comprised of anything other than spare robot parts was rare, let alone awesomeness. She looked around to gauge their reactions to Howard's statement. Raj was nodding enthusiastically, Leonard was smiling sheepishly, looking a little mulish at the idea that she hadn't been put off easily, and Sheldon didn't look impressed by the compliment. In fact, he looked pained that the week had been summarized into such generics.
"Apocalypse Week is a series of training exercises, skirmishes, and aptitude tests based on survival simulations for various apocalyptical events." Sheldon got his lecture face on, turning to face her fully. "It serves to debunk a number of myths perpetrated by Hollywood and popular culture and to ensure personal survival scenarios are reliable and well-practiced."
"Zombies?" she asked knowingly.
"Yes," Sheldon gave a small nod.
"Yes." Another nod.
"Please Penny, that's hokum."
She tried not to snort in answer to that, she really did. How could he believe in zombies and aliens but not in an Omen-like scenario? And yeah, ok, what did it say about her that she could kind of see the distinction? Aliens and zombies were kind of scientifically possible, weren't they? "Killer virus?" she asked.
"Interesting that you distinguish 'killer virus' from 'zombies.' You're not wrong in thinking they are separate, but related, issues. It is a possible topic this week, though I will neither verify nor deny its presence in our schedule. I have to play some cards close to my chest or else you won't be surprised."
"Oh yay," Penny responded sarcastically. "Ok, one more: EMP bomb?"
Sheldon got a thoughtful look on his face. "I hadn't considered adding an electro-magnetic pulse to the roster. I'll have to consider it for next year. Hopefully, one won't strike between now and then," he fretted.
Penny tried to keep from sighing. Only the boys would think taking a test would let them survive against zombies or something. The last time she took an aptitude test, it had told her that her best career choice was in the service industry. While that had turned out to be accurate, it didn't really take into account that she hated it, so really she thought the test was a failure. "Sounds great," she said weakly.
"Yeah, we're gonna shoot some shit," Howard said enthusiastically.
And suddenly, Penny's interest went from nil to about a three. She wasn't entirely interested, but she wasn't entirely apathetic either. She did, after all, grow up in Nebraska where the phrase 'let's go shoot some shit' had a similar appeal to California's 'let's go get a mani/pedi.'
"Maybe Sheldon will let you join us at some point," Leonard supplied helpfully. "We all took the week off, so you can bet he has all 168 hours accounted for in minute detail, but maybe we can convince him to change his schedule to include you."
Everyone knew that the likelihood of Sheldon changing his schedule was about as likely as her winning a Nobel Prize, or at this point even an Academy Award.
"Nonsense. Don't be daft Leonard," Sheldon said in return. "Penny is part of our social group and as such is obligated to learn our safety protocols so she does not become a burden in the event of a true life-altering and life-threatening event. I have scheduled segments with mandatory participation around her work schedule. She will be expected to make herself available at the annotated times." He held up his finger to signal for them to wait, not noticing the looks they were all sending his way. Finally, he pulled four envelopes out of his messenger bag and passed them out.
Penny looked at the schedule in her hand, noting that every moment she wasn't working was taken up by places she needed to be at times that would barely even allow her to go home and change. "Sheldon, sweetie, I have a life outside of work and hanging out with you guys. I have dates and auditions and stuff."
"You're going to have to cancel them."
"Sheldon—" Penny started, anger and impatience evident in her tone.
"Penny, can I talk to you for a minute," Leonard asked, getting to his feet and drawing her out into the hallway. "Look, before you start going off the deep end, he's being surprisingly considerate by even taking into account that you need to work. The first year we did this he called in my vacation time without letting me know about it, so the fact that you still have your shifts for the week is surprising in and of itself. Just give him this, ok? This is Sheldon's version of Spring Break. He plans it for months in advance, and we're all just along for the ride."
"I'll think about it."
Leonard grabbed her wrist. Or, well, his hand hovered at her wrist level indecisively for a moment as she raised her eyebrow sarcastically. Either her expression or his own need to influence her decision had him actually taking the plunge and grabbing her arm an indeterminate and almost awkward amount of time later. "It's not my place to dictate what you should and shouldn't do—"
"You're darn right it isn't," she told him, giving his hand a narrow gaze. "It isn't Sheldon's either."
"Of course not," Leonard agreed. "But listen, this isn't the same as how he expects you to drop things to drive him to the grocery store, or how he expects you to get his order correct. This matters to him because he feels comforted by the fact that if there's a major earthquake or if aliens invade that the people closest to him know how to survive, and we do it because this isn't a burden. It's actually kind of fun."
"Kind of fun?" Penny asked, still suspicious about the benefits of spending hours a day listening to Sheldon lecture her on how to survive an earthquake, but she couldn't deny the fact that sometimes the antics the boys came up with made her a little jealous that they didn't include her and/or her other friends weren't as awesome. She also couldn't deny that her reluctance to participate was slowly waning the more she heard about how Sheldon just wanted them to be safe in his weird way. What she was having trouble with was the way Leonard seemed to act like he hated the idea, but was now telling her something else entirely.
"Yeah," Leonard said. "He always keeps the exact nature of his plans a complete secret, but let's see if I can decode this a little for you," he said, pulling her schedule from her hand. "Ok, so when he says seminar, that's kind of self explanatory."
"Uh huh," she said. "Nah uh, I don't think so."
"No, no, he just wants us to be informed, and it is kind of interesting because he uses pieces of the lecture against us later to test if we were listening, but not in a way that is like a school test. If we don't know the answer, we die."
"Die?" Penny asked incredulously.
"Not literal death," Leonard explained, his patently patient tone evident in his voice. It was almost grating to her ears and only a step below his whiny voice. She loved him, but sometimes listening to him talk made her want to kick him and run away. "Usually, the schedule is something like this. He teaches us stuff, we do some practicing of skills, some bootcamp stuff, and then we break into teams and do some skirmishes."
"Skirmishes?" Penny asked, raising an eyebrow.
"Yeah, like paintball."
"I don't know, Leonard," Penny said doubtfully.
"Look, just give it a try ok? Saying no to this would be the equivalent of pushing Sheldon away when he hugged you at Christmas. He's just trying to say that he cares."
Penny was doubtful that her Christmas hug had been because he cared, but she supposed in some skewed Sheldon way it might just mean exactly that. She had been more under the impression, after the six gifts baskets he bought – an approximate value of $500 – didn't add up to enough meaning, his beautiful mind had realized it was because it wasn't personal enough, and the only personal thing he had to give her was the traditional answer to great gifts everywhere – the hug. She hadn't thought about it in terms of caring before, and she wasn't convinced the answer was as easy as that, but she supposed that it could be a factor.
Great, now Leonard had distracted her from what she had been thinking about, which happened pretty much every time she thought of Sheldon's hug. She might have gotten him the best present ever, but the one he gave her was no sneeze either. It might have been one of the best gifts she'd ever gotten because she knew how much he distained personal contact. And there she went again. What were they talking about? Oh, right, Apocalypse Week. And Leonard trying to manipulate her into joining.
"Ok, fine," Penny said grudgingly. "I'll give it a shot, but if it's too Sheldony I'm outta there."
She walked back into the apartment, noticing both Raj and Howard pause. She was used to Raj's sudden abrupt pauses, but for both of them to suddenly freeze told her that they were talking about her.
"I'm in," she said, sitting next to Sheldon's spot.
"I have already considered your inability to speak to women," Sheldon said, obviously responding to the conversation Raj and Howard were trying to cover up. He rummaged through his bag and tossed a second envelope to Raj. Raj looked at him questioningly, pouring a handful of pills out on the table. "Contained are 14 beta tested pharmaceutical designed to inhibit anxiety. They should allow you to converse with Penny without any of the debilitating effects of alcohol. I had to call in a favour and promise another so both you and Penny could participate in Apocalypse Week."
Raj looked at Sheldon in awe, and quickly turned to whisper something to Howard.
"He says he'll do you proud."
Sheldon nodded as though this was expected.
Penny looked at the tiny pills on the table, her eyes suddenly widening in shock and she had to look away to keep from laughing. So that was why Sheldon wanted the sugar pills from her birth control packets. At the time she had thought it was kind of weird that he was asking for them, especially considering she usually threw them out – or, well, threw them on top of her dresser and forgot about them – but if he wanted them for some weird experiment she wasn't going to stop him. Now that she saw what he actually wanted them for she was filled with a rush of emotions. Predominantly affection for the fact he was going through so much effort to make sure both her and Raj were able to interact, but also a healthy dosage of fear.
Sheldon could lie without blinking his eye, so long as he felt secure in the lie never being found out. It was secrets he had trouble with. It made the world a slightly more frightening place to live.
"Don't," Sheldon warned, looking between Raj and Howard, "use them in some ill-conceived animalistic endeavour to achieve coitus with x-chromosomed mammalia down at the local watering hole. This package contains your allotted testing sample. Each additional pill will cost $50 and I will not take kindly to my benevolence being exploited."
Raj nodded enthusiastically.
"Good," Sheldon continued. "They should allow you to interact with Penny without any of the negative side effects of alcohol. They are not a personality altering drug, and they're reported to increase alertness, increase concentration and overall cognitive performance, and, in general, improve mood, while decreasing user fatigue. Side effects included are urinary retention, weight loss, and decreased libido."
Penny tried not to laugh at the fact Sheldon had just listed a bunch of symptoms that would probably help Raj more than hinder him in whatever events he had planned for Apocalypse Week. The man was an evil genius. She was definitely feeling affection for him over fear, possibly because she felt like she was a partial co-conspirator in this. It was as if he trusted her not to ruin his plan, and she liked the idea far more than she should.
Sheldon shot Raj one of his superior glances. "I don't see why that should be an issue. You already promised you wouldn't use them for any untoward mating rituals, and unless you have designs on Penny, a decreased libido for the next week shouldn't be an issue."
Raj shook his head frantically, and then leaned over to whisper in Howard's ear.
"He just said..." Howard said in response, listening as Raj said something else in hushed tones with an emphatic gesture towards Sheldon. "Fine... Raj wants to verify that the side effects will only last the week."
Sheldon gave Raj a scathing look. "The side effects will last for as long as the drug is in your system. There's no set time-frame on how long it could take for your body to purge the drugs. It is dependent on a number of factors, including your metabolism. Any first year biology student could tell you that."
"Yeah Raj, even I knew that!" Penny exclaimed jokingly.
"Any more questions?" Sheldon asked in a way that discouraged them from actually asking any. "Ok people, break. I expect you back here at 0800."
Raj and Howard were on their feet, half way to the door before Penny realized that Sheldon was dismissing them like some kind of military general. "What? Does he mean it?" she asked Leonard in confusion. It was only around seven on a Friday night, a night Sheldon usually enforced his vintage games and habitual routine. It wasn't even close to being the third Thursday of the month, the only day Sheldon had ever, reluctantly, allowed for pandemonium. Given the choice, she thought the boys would be heading to a bar or would try to recreate the pivotal scene in a movie or something, but both Howard and Raj were talking about getting a good night sleep.
What the heck? Seriously. Raj had a pocketful of magic pills and he wasn't going to even try one out and pay the fine? She'd have to talk to Sheldon about supply and demand. Maybe he could have a 25% finders fee of the $50 and she'd get the rest. It could be a pretty lucrative side business, though she was wary of pushing drugs. Look at what had happened to her brother.
"Appreciate your last night of freedom," Leonard told her and Penny's stomach dropped in dread.
It sounded like she'd been played.