The Emolument Argument
A/N: Disclaimer, crossover, spoilers, etc. are all given in chapter 1.
Penny groaned when she heard the ringtone. She looked away from her monitor and checked anyway. It was Sheldon. Again.
She looked into the monitor and said, “Andrew, I’m really sorry, but I have a friend who’s freaking out. I need to take that call.”
He said, “Oh sure, I get you. I have friends like that. Heck, I’ve been the one who was freaking out and needed help. Look, he gives you too much trouble, you just let me know, and those flying monkey demons are as good as summoned.”
She didn’t know whether to laugh or cringe. Based on the files Buffy had shown her, Andrew had been able to summon something like that since he was about fifteen or sixteen, if not earlier. And there were plenty of people in the Council who made Andrew look like a fluffy bunny. She was pretty sure he wasn’t kidding about summoning more demons if she asked him. But surprising Sheldon with something as impossible as flying monkey demons? He’d over-react in wacky ways, and that part would be pretty funny, but afterward he’d probably go catatonic. And she did not
want to be the one to call Mary Cooper and admit she’d sicked real demons on her son. Mrs. Cooper wouldn’t think that was a joke. Mrs. Cooper was somewhere to the right of The 700 Club. And sometimes Mrs. Cooper was the only way to unstick Sheldon when he got stuck on something. No, breaking Sheldon with supernatural evils was so not a good idea.
She gave the phone a ten-count, and it rang again. She picked it up. “Hi Sheldon, sorry, but I was Skyping with someone in England. As part of my job. I couldn’t just sign off.”
He complained, “I would like to make a formal protest. Buffy Summers was doing something
suspicious last night.”
“Sheldon, just because she bowled a 276 and then a 300 doesn’t mean she was doing something suspicious.”
He insisted, “Penny, her combined total was ninety-one point one four percent of the combined scores of our entire Wii bowling team! She adapted to the controls too
quickly, and then she was consistently throwing strikes every time
. No one can do that.”
“Come on, it’s Wii bowling. It’s not like she bowled a real 300 in a real bowling alley.”
He argued, “Technically, we have the system set up so that it is as close to true bowling alley conditions as we could devise. It might even be harder than a real bowling alley. And as you know, I have bowled in a real bowling alley, under competition conditions.”
“But that doesn’t make it like a real bowling alley!” she said. “And getting Wil Wheaton to sabotage me and Leonard doesn’t make your score good.” She paused, because she did not
want to think about that bowling match, and what that jerk had talked her into. “And let’s face facts. Everyone on our team skunked you. Even Amy bowled better than you and Barry and Raj, and almost as well as Leonard. I bowled a 120 and a 140-”
“Actually, a 122 and a 141,” he corrected automatically.
“-approximately,” she went on. “And none of you guys broke a hundred. Face it, you were just outclassed. By a little 5’2” blonde who doesn’t have bowling shoes or a bowling shirt.”
“And you don’t find that suspicious? Not at all?” he fumed. “No wonder you have no logical skills.”
She hung up. Not that she was surprised. Sheldon had the social skills of E.T. even under the best of conditions. “I for one welcome our robot overlords,” she muttered. She also wasn’t going to be surprised when Sheldon called back soon and was completely clueless that he might have offended her. She also knew what it would take to win this argument with Sheldon, and she had no intention of being that hurtful. She could just see in her mind’s eye how crushed he had been after Dr. Winkle had ripped him apart.
And there was no way she was going to explain to Sheldon how Buffy Summers had those kinds of skills. He wouldn’t believe her if she told him about vampires and demons and magic and The Vampire Slayer. And his great big brain would break if he did have to deal with something that couldn’t be explained by physics. He might have an IQ of 187, but he also had the mental flexibility of an icicle.
And there was the fact that she had sort of cheated when they played Wii bowling the night before. Without Howard around, the guys had gone with a bowling team of Sheldon, Leonard, Raj, and Barry Kripke. They even had a bowling shirt for Barry. But she and Buffy had tanked Raj by talking to him every time he tried to bowl. Raj had thrown more gutter balls than even Sheldon had.
Penny had felt bad afterward, but it had been awesomely fun while they were playing. And no one had complained. Even if Sheldon had given Raj the official Sheldon Cooper look of haughty derision when Raj started on his fourth beer, after which Raj was doing worse than when he was completely sober.
And it wasn’t like Buffy stopped talking to Raj, even after he drank enough that he could talk to her in turn. Buffy had been to India twice, both times under really ugly circumstances, and she wanted to find out about the nice things in India, so she could maybe go sightseeing or taste-testing the next time she had to go over there.
At least Buffy did a really smooth job of deflecting all the questions about her previous trips to India. “Oh no, I was there on Council business, and I never got out of meetings and work, not even at night.” Penny figured that most of Buffy’s work there probably was in the middle of the night. With a sword or a stake or that Slayer Scythe she still had only heard about, even if Andrew was trying to get something with that shape and that kind of power into a mod for Age of Conan. Penny was pretty sure it would be an illegal mod, but she wasn’t going to rat Andrew out to Funcom. Maybe it wouldn’t be illegal. She still didn’t know how Andrew had talked Funcom into releasing his design for a demonic rocket launcher as a special unlockable weapon. A demonic rocket launcher? Seriously? It was Age of Conan, not Halo!
She Skyped Andrew again to continue their discussion. He grinned when he saw it was her, and he said, “Penny Penny Penny!”
This was the only downside of talking with Andrew. Buffy had told him about how Sheldon and Leonard were so much nerdier than he was, and how Sheldon always knocked on your door and called out your name three times. So he always
started off their calls like that.
She stuck her tongue out at him, which made him laugh. “Sorry, but it was Sheldon again.”
“What was it this time?” he wondered. “Anything really juicy?”
She admitted, “We got Buffy to play on the girls’ Wii bowling team, and she bowled a 276 and then a 300, and Sheldon’s sure she had to be cheating.”
Andrew said, “Well, she was. Slayer abilities give her reflexes and spatial recognition that can beat pretty much any computer program geared for regular human reactions. Never challenge a Slayer to your favorite videogame. And never, ever, ever
bet on it.”
Penny couldn’t keep the smirk off her face. “Ooh, that sounds like a story. Was it a really embarrassing story?”
Andrew cringed, which meant it was a phenomenally good story. He said, “Let’s just say that I made a tactical error when Vi was talking about how she liked games even though she was a girl, and I was… skeptical. I challenged her to a PvP duel in World of Warcraft. I had no idea she had a high-level character already leveled up. The winner got to pick the loser’s Halloween costume.”
Andrew frowned, “No way. I am never telling that. You might as well ask Xander what his middle name is. I will never tell! So speaks Andrew the Wise!”
But while he was talking, she was texting Buffy. Andrew Halloween costume bet?
Buffy’s answer came back right away. Shirley Temple :-)
While she was at it, she texted, Xander middle name?
Buffy texted back, Nuh-uh
Penny smiled, “Oh come on, Andrew. I bet you were really cute as Shirley Temple.”
He fumed, “Who told? Who revealed my deepest, darkest secret?”
She lied, “It’s pretty well known around here.”
He growled, “Well, it wouldn’t be if…”
“If what?” she asked sweetly. She knew turning on the charm didn’t work on Andrew, but it was kind of an instinct.
He glared down at the desk. “Everybody tried to get me to sing ‘On the Good Ship Lollipop’ and I wouldn’t. And Willow had a little too much to drink – okay, a lot too much to drink – and she did a spell, so I went home stuck like that. I couldn’t get the wig or the makeup or the dress or the shoes off for two days, until Willow came back from Rio and undid the spell. She didn’t even remember doing the spell. And it’s really not a good idea having an incredibly powerful witch doing spells on you while she’s drunk. I’m probably lucky I didn’t really get turned into a six-year-old girl. Or a six-year-old rat. But it’s Dawn’s fault there are pictures.”
She decided she needed to find one of those pictures.
He went on, “I keep erasing them off the Council website, but she keeps sneaking them back on. It’s totally not fair. I mean, just because after she did it the first time, I sort of summoned some helpful monkey demons inside her apartment and they flung demon monkey poo all over the place. And how was I supposed to know she was bringing a date back to her place for drinks?”
Penny couldn’t resist asking, “And are there pictures of that?”
She hastily texted to Buffy, need Dawn monkey poo pics asap
Buffy instantly texted back, jpeg gif bmp mpeg or poster?
Mpegs? Andrew got video footage of it? Okay, she knew what she was going to be doing after she was done Skyping.
She went back to business. “So… how are the five spells going?”
He said, “We’ve got four of them ready. Two can be done by ordinary mages like me and Brian, two need some heavier firepower like Alathea, and the fifth one is still Willow-level. But the second Alathea-level spell is still under review. Somebody
thinks the Council archive translation from Sumerian to Akkadian is messed up, so we’re checking into it. ”
Penny was glad she knew enough that she understood what the Council meant by ‘Willow-level’. She was glad she hadn’t made a fool of herself by asking why they classed spells by tree names. No, Andrew meant they were going to need a spell so powerful that they would need Willow to come and do it.
Penny hadn’t met Willow yet, because Willow was down in Rio de Janeiro with her own team of Slayers, dealing with all the demon and vamp hotspots in South America and Central America that had been mostly ignored for years by the Old Council. And there were some very powerful dark mages down there, so Willow was kept really busy in her part of the War On Supernatural Terror.
But the pictures of Willow on Buffy’s wall didn’t look like an all-powerful witch. They looked like someone who would fit in with Amy and Bernadette a lot better than someone like Penny. Willow looked like a shy, nerdy teenager in the earliest pictures, and a smart but nerdy college student in the later pictures. An even shyer blonde girl was with her in some of those pictures. Some of the latest pictures had Willow with a pretty brunette, in a nice house, or on a beach, or surrounded by maybe a dozen attractive teenaged girls who looked like a casting call for a teen movie. Except for their eyes, which Penny knew enough to identify now. It was the look Buffy had sometimes. The look that said they had seen things and done things that could never be scrubbed out of their brains.
Penny had yet to meet a field Slayer who had more than a month on the job and didn’t have that look once in a while. Maybe Slayers had great abilities and healed up from pretty much anything, but their lives were so sucky that they had
to be able to heal up from pretty much anything. Buffy had spent eight years as the only Slayer in the world, or one of only two Slayers in the world, or even the only good Slayer who was fighting vamps and demons and also a Dark Slayer. Some of the pictures Lorraine had of Buffy in her sixth and seventh years in Sunnydale looked so tragic it was hard to look at them and not cry for the girl who had the weight of the world on her shoulders and looked like she just wanted to die, and yet still survived.
None of the Slayers looked that stressed anymore. Any Slayers who did start coming apart were taken off field duty and sent to a nice estate in England for what Buffy called R & R & S: rest and relaxation and scones. Apparently, Buffy had talked a couple counselors into joining the Council, and now Slayers had people to talk to about how awful their jobs were, and how their Calling messed up their lives. Penny had a bad feeling that the way it worked before the Mass Calling was the lone Vampire Slayer got depressed or stressed, and died pretty soon afterward from not being on top of her game, so the Old Council never had to worry about psychiatric help for their Slayer.
Andrew finished, “But we’ve almost got it worked out. We can try in maybe three or four days.”
She did her best Yoda and said, “Do or do not. There is no try.”
Andrew practically leapt out of his seat. “Yes! Yes yes yes yes! I am so glad Buffy hired you!” Then he sat down and said, “But I don’t agree with that philosophy. I really think Obi-Wan Kenobi had a better philosophical approach when he said-”
Penny casually interrupted like she’d learned to do with Sheldon, “Oh, sorry, but Lorraine wants me. I’ve got to go. And I should introduce you to Sheldor of the Eastern Kingdoms, and you two can discuss Star Wars philosophies all day and night. Okay?”
“That would be great!” Andrew grinned.
But as soon as she was off Skype, Sheldon called again. “Penny? I have an idea.”
He said, “You should quit your job.”
“And why would I want to do that?” she asked. She went heavy on the sarcasm, but he still missed it.
“Isn’t it obvious?” he asked. “Your new job hours are interfering with my schedule of doctor’s appointments! And which is more important, I ask you? The doctor’s appointment of a revolutionary physicist with an IQ of 187, or some secretarial work for a woman named Buffy? She probably has you doing drastically unimportant work like filling in the spaces above her lowercase i’s with little pink hearts.”
Penny couldn’t help rolling her eyes. If he knew what she was really doing for Buffy in between his annoying phone calls, his brain would explode. Her brain was already threatening to explode, because people didn’t do this stuff. She had never imagined she would have a role like this, even in a made for tv movie. She was coordinating stuff for Buffy so that Buffy could destroy a magically protected building full of evil lawyers and vampires and demons. And evil demon lawyers. This was the coolest job ever, even if she was never going to be able to talk to her friends about it. Okay, that maybe made it even cooler. It was like she was working for Sydney Bristow or Aaron Hotchner, only if they were really real Buffy could kick both their asses at the same time without damaging her manicure.
“Behave yourself, or I’ll ask Buffy to hold clog dancing classes in her apartment.”
“You wouldn’t dare!” he snapped. “And how would dancing have any effects on clogs? They’re not clogged drains, are they?”
She said, “Sheldon, that’s not what clog dancing is. I suggest you google it, so there isn’t something that I know that you don’t.”
“Very well. As I’m googling the topic, I am still capable of continuing our discussion. It is clearly far more beneficial to the human race for you to quit your job and drive me to and from my dentist’s appointment tomorrow morning at nine.”
She said, “I have no intention of quitting this job, and you are perfectly capable of taking the bus to get to your appointment on your own.”
He fussed, “But I can’t take the bus afterward! Don’t you remember the time I was sedated during my appointment and I attempted to take the bus home, and I ended up on a booze cruise to Mexico? It was dreadful! Once I was no longer ‘under the influence’ I was trapped for three days. And everyone was touching the food! And no one had any understanding of personal boundaries! It was HELL. And furthermore… Oh my God, is THAT what clog dancing is? You can’t let her do that above my ceiling! This is an imperative! No clog dancing!”
She could have admitted that she made it up, but instead she said, “Perhaps you should go upstairs to her apartment this evening and ask nicely that she not conduct dance classes in her apartment.”
“I have more important things to do with my time!” he insisted angrily. “I am currently working on an assessment of Christensen and Maier’s latest paper on the application of superstring theory to the stabilization of Bose-Einstein condensates. I don’t have time for that. Plus, we have another Warcraft raid tonight, and Buffy refused to help.”
Penny suggested, “Why not see if you can get some assistance from Andrew the Wise and his guild?”
Sheldon groaned, “Andrew the Wise? That guy is such a dork! Did you know that he’s still trying to get Sheldor to roll up a character for Knights of the Old Republic? Doesn’t he realize that Star Trek is inherently better than Star Wars?” He hung up in a huff.
Penny finally realized that someone was standing in the doorway. All the Slayers in the office made about as much noise as a dust bunny. At least Buffy could make clicking noises when she walked, if she felt like it.
Buffy leaned in a little. She grinned evilly, “So the Warcraft guy Andrew is all man-crushing over is our Sheldon?”
Penny smiled back. “I’m not sure it’s man-crushing as much just plain old crushing. I mean, isn’t Andrew… gay?”
Buffy said, “We don’t live by ‘don’t ask don’t tell’ but we do go with ‘don’t care’. Even if it would be totally hysterical if Andrew tried hanging around Sheldon, because… how long would it take Sheldon to pick up on the signals?”
Penny answered a question with a question. “How long do we have before one of them gets put in an old folks’ home?” Then she said, “Anyway, they’re not compatible geek-wise.”
“One’s metric and the other’s English?” Buffy quipped.
Penny said, “Even worse. It’s the eternal geek feud of Star Wars vs. Star Trek.”
Buffy clapped her hands to her cheeks and made the Home Alone face.
They both laughed until Lorraine came by and asked, “What on earth is going on now?”
Buffy said, “I overheard too much of the chat. Sheldon wants Penny to quit so she can drive him around to his doctor’s appointments. I was thinking maybe I should get Miri’s convertible and drive Sheldon from the dentist to his office tomorrow.”
Lorraine burst into laughter. So did several Slayers down the hall. Penny had only heard about Buffy’s driving style, but she was seriously considering letting Buffy give Sheldon a ride.
Lorraine said, “It’s really a shame Faith isn’t in town now. She could give him a ride on her Harley.”
Everyone in earshot laughed at that. Penny had found out from Molly that Faith mainly avoided traffic tickets by going faster than the police cars could follow, in places cars couldn’t go. Apparently, there were several malls she had cut through, not to mention the L.A. storm water runoff system and a couple jumps from rooftop to rooftop, or rooftop to ground, that were still legends among the L.A. County police forces.
Penny looked over at Buffy and said, “Andrew’s made some progress on the spells, but one is under review because there’s a concern about an old translation error. If you can get Willow and a couple medium-power casters and one low-power caster to go with Brian, all here in three or four days, he thinks things ought to be ready to go.” She checked her notes and said, “Oh, and I need an mpeg of the Dawn monkey poo thing, and some really high-quality pics of Andrew as Shirley Temple.”
And she really needed not to get drunk at a company party. All she needed was embarrassing pics of her
going around. Or worse, waking up the next morning in the bed of some Slayer’s boyfriend. Or even worse, girlfriend. She did NOT want to find out what would happen to her if she accidentally ended up in Kennedy’s bed and Willow went full-bore Maleficent on her.