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The Peacock Paradox

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Penny slipped through the window of her apartment with a relieved sigh. She leaned against her bedroom wall and forced herself to breathe slowly and deeply as the sound of sirens faded in the distance. Her heart rate, which hadn't accelerated as much as you might expect, given that she'd been running from the police, leaping from rooftop to rooftop across the city for the past half hour, slowed to a more normal pace. Then again, it was one of the perks of the job. The mutation. Whatever. She still didn't understand it all, but a couple of years ago, she'd woken up one morning to discover that she was ridiculously strong and stupidly fast. She couldn't quite leap tall buildings in a single bound, but she could clear a ten foot electric fence without a running start.

She'd known, then, that this was her chance to change the world--save it, even, a couple of times. She'd had Lainie, the costume designer at the small community theatre where she'd been auditioning (fruitlessly) for years, make her a costume--peacock blue spandex and black leather, with a cute, sparkly, blue mask that hid enough of her face to make her anonymous (or as anonymous as anyone in a blue spandex and black leather superhero costume could be, on the streets of Omaha). She'd ditched the cape after her first viewing of The Incredibles. Even though she couldn't fly, the thought of being sucked into a jet engine turbine gave her nightmares. Instead, she'd added peacock feathers to her mask. She thought it lent her costume a certain panache, though sometimes she was afraid it just made her look like a Vegas showgirl who was a little too into BDSM.

Penny pulled off her mask and ran a hand through her sweaty hair. She'd definitely have to wash it tonight, and maybe do a deep conditioning and hot oil treatment this weekend. She was half in and half out of her costume when she heard the telltale knock on the door.

Knock knock knock.

"Penny."

Knock knock knock.

"Penny."

Knock knock knock.

"Penny."

"I'm in the bathroom," she called out, hoping Sheldon would leave her alone.

"Are you planning to be in there all night?"

"It's a possibility."

"I can wait."

"Of course you can," she muttered, and then, raising her voice, "I'll be right out."

She stripped out of her costume and shoved it under the comforter on her bed (she'd learned not to shove it under the bed--it was impossible to find when she did that, and when she finally did find it, it was invariably covered in gross dust bunnies that would have given Penny's mother, as well as Lainie, the costume designer, a heart attack), and pulled on her bathrobe. Her hair was still lank and sweaty and gross, but she tied it up into a ponytail and hoped Sheldon wouldn't notice. He was very observant, but he'd never paid attention to her hair that she could recall.

"Penny, are you all right?" Leonard asked, his voice breathless and cracking, as he and Sheldon shoved into her living room, Raj and Howard hot on their heels, as soon as she unlocked the door. "We saw what happened on the news. Was there really a hostage situation at the Cheesecake Factory tonight?"

Raj nodded, his eyes wide and concerned.

"And was the Peacock really involved?" Wolowitz asked. "Did you get to meet her?"

"Yes, Penny, did you ask her why she didn't name herself the Peahen, as that would be more gender appropriate?"

Howard huffed. "Nobody cares about that right now, Sheldon."

"And who are you to decide what's gender appropriate?" Penny asked, defensive, and hoping to distract them from questions about the hostage incident. "Gender's not a binary, you know."

"Good point," Sheldon answered, surprising her. "The Peacock could be transgendered or intersex. We haven't had an intersex superhero yet. I think it would be fascinating if we did." His face crinkled when he caught sight of the pile of clothes occupying his seat on her couch. She sighed and shoved them over so he could sit down. "Though I'm shocked you even know the word 'binary,' Penny."

She made a face. "Just because I don't have a Ph.D. in physics doesn't mean I don't know words, Sheldon. I know a lot of words."

"Do you?"

Penny scrubbed a hand over her face. She was too tired for this. "I've got two of 'em right here for you, Sheldon."

"We don't care about Penny's vocabulary right now, either, Sheldon," Howard said. Penny crossed her arms and gave him an offended glare. "I mean, we do, of course we do. Just not right now." He sat on the other end of the couch and leaned forward, skinny shoulders practically vibrating with excitement. "Did you really see the Peacock? Was she as hot in person as she is on the news? Can you hook me up?"

Penny preened a little before she remembered they weren't supposed to know about her secret identity. It was safer for all of them that way. She knew that from Leonard's Amazing Spider-Man comics. Which she would totally deny reading if asked.

"I wasn't there," she said.

"But Raj said he saw you on your way to work before," Leonard said, surprised.

She aimed a glare at Raj this time. She'd run into him on the stairs that afternoon while she was on her way to work and he was on his way to Halo night. He'd be quiet now, but she couldn't be sure he'd stay that way once he'd left her presence. He swallowed nervously and she smiled.

"I was, but I was on my dinner break when it happened. I missed the whole thing." She tried to sound disappointed. Luckily, she'd been able to sneak into the ladies room to change into her uniform.

"The Magenta Rogue held the whole restaurant captive with her shrink ray," Howard said.

Raj nodded excitedly.

"Because apparently the low carb cheesecake is not actually low carb. Quelle surprise," Sheldon said. "That was French, by the way."

"We know," Leonard answered absently.

"And the Peacock showed up to save the day," Howard finished as if he hadn't been interrupted several times.

"And of course, the police still act like she's the criminal," Leonard said. He shook his head in disgust. "You'd think they'd have learned by now that she's one of the good guys."

Penny felt a little flare of warmth in her chest at the way they defended her alter-ego. Maybe someday she'd be able to tell them the truth. Until then, though, she would keep her secret to herself. That made her warm inside, too. She knew something Sheldon didn't know.

"As much fun as this has been guys, I really need to sleep. I have an audition tomorrow morning."

"Anything interesting?" Leonard asked.

She shrugged. "Gwen Stacy in the new Spider-Man musical." She braced for a repeat of Sheldon's lecture on how making musicals out of comic book superheroes was an abomination, but Leonard was quicker for once.

"Cool," he said. "We'll get out of your hair now."

"Yes," Sheldon said, "especially since it looks like you haven't washed it since the Pleistocene era."

Her hand flew automatically to her hair, but she knew he was right. She stuck her tongue out at him and he pursed his lips in response. Leonard shepherded him and Howard out the door before he could say anything, but Raj stopped and turned.

Penny raised her eyebrows curiously. "Yes, Raj?"

Raj pulled a pen out of his pocket and wrote, Your secret is safe with me, on the back of a crumpled Szechuan Palace menu.

Penny smiled. "Thank you."

Maybe I could be your sidekick, he wrote.

She laughed. "Maybe when you can actually talk to me, I'll think about it." More like, maybe never, but she wasn't going to tell him that.

He gave her a shy smile and left, closing the door behind him.

Penny trudged into the bathroom and started getting ready to take a shower. She was tired, and there would be more crime to fight in the morning.

end

~*~