Spoilers: Up to season six
Notes: gift for notalwaysweak, who asked for future!fic
Summary: "In physical cosmology, the Big Crunch is one possible scenario for the ultimate fate of the universe, in which the metric expansion of space eventually reverses and the universe recollapses."
They are older now. Things have changed. They all have dinner one last time.
Fifty was a hard number. Half of one hundred. The number of states in America. Two less than a deck of cards.
Penny frowned. Two less than a deck of cards was not a flattering description.
Sheldon cleared his throat and tried again. Fifty was a very interesting number. It’s both a nontotient, and a noncototient.
“I don’t need diapers,” Penny hissed. “I’m not that old.”
“It’s math. It has to with Leonhard’s Euler modification of Goldbach’s conjecture—”
“And a guy who did the thing to find the square root of fuckall chickenshit,” Penny finished for him. “I get it.”
“I was only trying to reassure you,” Sheldon said. He shifted in his seat, trying to write something on the graph paper he had in front of him with his right hand and trying to take a bite of waffles with the other. “You seemed to be suffering anxiety about your birthday. I was just trying to say that fifty is a good number. A nice, neat number. Not my favorite number, that would of course be six point oh two two times ten to the twenty-third power. A little mainstream, sure, but darn if it isn’t useful.”
Penny smiled reluctantly. He was just trying to help. Not that it counted for much, he had been fifty for five years already. Well, technically that would make him fifty-five. He looked good, though, his jaw more defined than it was when he was younger, only a few flecks of gray in his hair. It had receded a tiny bit, a fact Penny took a secret joy in as much as she loved him. Fifty had been hard work for her, especially since she still had to appear on television every week. She kept her hair highlighted and exercised more than she ever had when she was younger. And the spider-web lines around her eyes kept deepening, no matter how many questionable toxins she injected into them. For fifty, she looked good, but still. Fifty.
“Am I being too vain?” she asked.
“Yes,” he replied. Sheldon was nothing if not honest.
She ran her thumb over the edge of the envelope that had arrived that morning. It was an elegant card, cream colored, with orange and yellow accents.
“So are we going to this thing?”
“Would you rather go somewhere else for Thanksgiving?”
Penny didn’t relish their other options for Thanksgiving. A trip to Texas would mean having to see the millions of nieces and nephews Sheldon’s siblings had popped out, along with uncle who almost always got embarrassingly drunk and ended up using the bathroom in a place that wasn’t the bathroom. A trip to Nebraska would mean seeing the millions of nieces and nephews that her own siblings had popped out. It wouldn’t have been so bad except her mother had passed away almost seven years ago. Penny’s brother had been the one to take up dinner duties, but as his only prior cooking experience had been homebrewed methamphetamines, the quality of the food had greatly declined.
“No,” said Penny. She dropped her eyes and added slyly, “But I thought maybe I could stay home and cook.”
This caused Sheldon to drop his fork and look up at her with wide eyes. “I don’t think that’s such a good idea.”
“Why not?” She asked in mock offense.
Marriage had taught him some things about diplomacy. “Because you’ll be very busy with work up until the day before.”
“I guess we’ll go to this thing.”
“They are our friends.”
“I know, but we haven’t seen them in over ten years.”
“Ten years isn’t such a long time.”
“Do you think they invited Leonard?”
“Are you worried about seeing him?”
“Not really. I am worried about Howard seeing him. What if they get into a fight?”
Sheldon laughed. “Those two? In a physical altercation? That’s just ludicrous.”
Penny laughed with him. “Howard’s tiny arms spinning around like a windmill.”
“Leonard would lose his glasses and immediately lose due to blindness.”
“They would both cry.”
“Embarrassing all around.”
They were both grinning now, wide-eyed and giddy, like they used to when they were first married.
“So,” Penny said. “Should we fly or drive?”
In the end, they flew. Penny’s shooting schedule had kept her even busier than Sheldon had predicted, so there was no time for a week long road trip across the country. They had even had to celebrate her birthday on set. Sheldon came, and didn’t say anything about the candles on the cake being a tiny bit too few in number. They also celebrated privately, in her dressing room. There was at least one activity that could make her feel young again.
It was the drive in the rent-a-car from the airport to Howard and Raj’s house that had Sheldon complaining the most. There wasn’t enough legroom. It wasn’t a new car, but had artificial new car smell. The armrest on the door was at an awkward angle and he kept bumping his elbow.
“Really,” he grumbled. “Why haven’t they invented teleportation yet?”
“You’re the one with the Nobel Prize, sweetie,” Penny replied. “You tell me.”
He glared at her sulkily. She smirked and pretended not to notice as she turned onto a shady, tree-lined street. Autumn had come upon the New England town gracefully, yellow and orange leaves adorning the leaves of the trees and cluttering the sidewalks.
Penny peered through the windshield at two-story house painted a tasteful color. “What’s the number on that mailbox?”
“Did you forget your reading glasses again? You really shouldn’t be driving—”
“Spare the lecture! Just give me the number.”
Sheldon sighed and pulled his own glasses out of his bag. “Seven one four.”
“Aha! This is it!” Penny smiled and turned into the driveway. She and Sheldon stepped out of the car and stood together for a moment, looking up at the house.
“It’s nice,” said Sheldon.
“Good place to raise a family.”
Another car pulled in the driveway while they were standing there. A bright red Ferrari, slick and smooth.
“It’s Amy!” Penny yelled and ran up to the car. Amy exited and met her halfway in a hug.
“Bestie!” The two women always were excited to see each other, immediately falling into old, comfortable habits.
“How was your vacation?”
“Fantastic. I went to Puerto Rico. Oh, by the way, this is Javier,” Amy gestured to a tall, handsome man who couldn’t have been older than 25, who was unloading bags from the back of the car.
“Hello!” he called, waving. “I am Javier!”
“Nice,” was all Penny could say in a breathless voice.
“Yeah, I’m livin’ the vida loca,” Amy replied. She turned. “Sheldon! How are you?”
“I have a cramp in my anterior gluteus medius.”
“Pain in the butt,” Penny muttered.
“In layman’s terms, yes,” said Sheldon.
Amy linked arms with Penny and headed towards the front door of the house. Before they could knock, the door swung open wide. Raj stood there, smiling.
“Amy! Penny!” He hugged them both. When they separated, he turned and held out his hand. “Sheldon!”
Sheldon shook his hand and smiled. “Raj.”
Raj turned again to Javier. “And you are?”
“Hello! I am Javier.”
“And I am Javier!”
“I think Rajesh has been using wine for a little more than cooking,” Penny whispered to Amy.
“It’s an excellent skin softener.”
“Not exactly what I meant.”
Raj ushered them all into the house. Howard was in the living room, fiddling with the television, trying to avoid football. Their two kids, a boy and a girl roughly a year apart and indistinguishable to Penny, were engaged in a very enthusiastic game of slapjack on the floor. Howard stood and greeted them. They exchanged pleasantries, how are you? How’re the kids? How was the drive and the flight and wow it smells good in here. They put up their coats and their bags—Amy and Javier were going to stay in the guest bedroom, but Penny and Sheldon had already booked a hotel, despite Raj’s protest. Finally, they were all able to talk. They poured wine, some with more in their glass than others, and sat together.
Howard and Raj had worked together on the last manned mission to Mars. Neither one had wanted to fly, not now that they had kids, but they had been crucial ground support. Amy’s patent on her robot brain transplant thingy had made her a fortune and now the only experiments she conducted were in the bedroom, with Javiers and Logans and Antonios and a Boris or two. Penny had won an Emmy last year, and been nominated this year and lost. The show was in its fifth season, though, so she had expected it. Somehow, Sheldon was able to restrain himself until someone else finally brought up his Nobel Prize, which he bragged about at length. The trip to Sweden, meeting the king, hobnobbing with the greatest minds of our time—a category which now included himself.
After what felt like hours, Penny rubbed her grumbling stomach. “So when’s eats?”
“Well, not everyone is here yet,” Raj said, looking to the side nervously.
“What do you mean?” asked Howard. “Who else is coming?”
Raj said nothing.
“Raj?” repeated Howard. “Who. Else. Is. Coming?”
All the Gods of Coincidence had been listening closely to this conversation, and it was their intervention that a knock from the front door sounded at that very second.
The group as a whole turned, wide-eyed, to the sound. No one moved for a long moment.
Finally, in a creaky voice, Sheldon asked, “Who is it?”
Penny snapped. “This is ridiculous!”
With a huff, she stood and marched to the door, throwing it open.
“Hello,” said Leonard.
“Hello,” said Bernadette.
“Hello!” said Javier. “I am Javier!”
“How dare you?!” Howard yelled, leaping to his feet. “How could you do this?”
“I just wanted us all to be friends again!” Raj cried. “Kids, go to your room.”
“Dinner’s not ready yet, go to your room!”
With a grumble, the children tottered up the stairs, although Penny watched as they crouched down and peeked their head between the railings of the banister.
“And how could you do this to Penny?” Howard was yelling.
“Hey, I’m married to Sheldon now.”
“And I’m married to Raj! That doesn’t mean I’m interesting in seeing my ex-wife and—and her cuckold!”
“What is this word?” Javier asked Amy.
“Howard and Bernadette used to be married. But then she slept with Leonard. While he was dating Penny.” Amy took a sip of wine.
“Ah, I see. Leonard is bad man.”
“I’m not a bad man,” Leonard said. “I did a bad thing. I’m not a bad man.”
“Not only did you sleep with my wife, you married her,” Howard growled.
“Well, we fell in love.”
“Gross,” said Penny, rolling her eyes.
“What’s gross about that?” Bernadette demanded.
Soon they were all yelling over each other. Howard at Raj, Bernadette at Penny, Leonard at Raj, Howard at Leonard, Penny at all of them. Amy and Javier followed the action like a tennis match.
“QUIET!” Sheldon suddenly shouted. This startled everyone enough that they halted the argument. “There’s no reason to argue. We’ve all moved on since—the incident. Howard and Raj have married, Bernadette and Leonard. And Penny and me—well, honestly, I owe Leonard a debt.”
Penny looked over at her husband and smiled. “Sheldon’s right. We’re all happy now. And maybe we wouldn’t have been if a terrible thing hadn’t happened. But Howard, you’re happy with Raj, right? And I’m happy with Sheldon. And I assume these two—” she gestured to Bernadette and Leonard but didn’t look at them—”Are also happy. So let’s just make peace and sit down for dinner.”
“The most awkward dinner ever,” Amy said.
There was a buzzing noise, and Raj ran off towards the kitchen. The others stood looking around at each other.
“So,” Penny said reaching down and grabbing the bottle. “More wine?”
“Wow, Raj, this looks amazing!” Penny said as they sat down to the huge spread.
“His people were at the first Thanksgiving,” joked Howard.
“I’m not that kind of Indian,” said Raj. He started passing around dishes which everyone helped themselves to wholeheartedly. Things felt almost normal for a minute. But only for a minute, and only almost.
It was Sheldon, of course, who had to be the one. “You know, if I was into sociology—which is essentially useless—I bet this dinner would make for a fascinating study.”
“How so?” asked Leonard, scooping green beans onto his plate.
“The hotbed of betrayal and scandal. What caused our hosts to think it was appropriate to bring us all together. What complete lack of judgment—”
“You’re acting like a child,” Leonard cried, leaping to his feet.
“Don’t be ridiculous, it was an accident—”
“So is this!” Leonard sunk his hand into the bowl of mashed potatoes and flung a mound at Howard deliberately.
“How unsanitary,” Sheldon said, turning green.
“Oh shut up!” Bernadette yelled and hurled a spoonful of cranberry sauce at him.
“I’ve seen this on the American movies,” said Javier. “Food fighting, yes?”
“Yes,” said Amy.
“Food fight! Food fight!” The kids chanted at their smaller table nearby. They started flinging their own food at each other over Raj’s vain protests.
Suddenly, they were all throwing food and yelling. Penny didn’t even know how she started, but somehow she found herself upturning the contents of the gravy boat on top of Leonard’s head. Pieces of turkey and stuffing and yams and curses were flying in all directions. It was childish and outrageous and somehow, incredibly cathartic. Amy started laughing first as she pulled her hand away from Javier’s chest, covered in molasses. Penny saw and heard the stickyness of the syrup and started laughing with her. The others paused in their fighting and stared in silence for a moment, then they were all laughing and apologizing and grabbing napkins and cups of water. The kids resisted Howard’s attempt to clean their faces with a paper towel and a bit of saliva.
“I just wanted to have a nice dinner,” Raj said forlornly, sinking into his seat.
“Well,” said Penny, licking her fingers. “It sure tastes good.”
They all fell silent for a moment. There was the sound of the front door opening, then steps on the hardwood floors of the hallway. A man walked in, taking off his hat and holding a bottle of wine.
“Oh no,” said Stuart, looking around. “Did I miss dinner?”
They had a nice deck and the night was unseasonably warm. Penny, Amy, and Bernadette passed a bottle of wine between them while the boys argued about Star Wars or Star Trek or whatever it was they had been arguing about for thirty years. Penny felt like she did in high school, sharing a bottle of wine with her friends at a party while boys who pretended to be too cool but were really too nervous completely ignored them.
“What’s it like being a tv star, Penny?” Bernadette asked.
“Oh, it’s nice. People recognize me. I make a lot of money. I get to do something I love.”
“Do you and Sheldon have any kids?”
“No,” said Penny. Her lips tightened into a thin line. “We couldn’t.”
“It’s okay. With all the traveling we both do for work, it was really for the best.” It’s what she had told herself enough times, but saying it out loud didn’t make it seem any more true. “But we are happy together. Truly.”
“I never woulda thought.”
They all laughed at that. The boys—men, they were all so old now, really—looked over at them and asked what was so funny.
Penny cupped her hands around her mouth and yelled, “Love may be blind, but marriage is a real eye-opener!”
“Corny!” Howard replied. They were all laughing and scooting their chairs closer together. Soon the wine was making its way around the entire group. Penny felt the warmth of the alcohol down in her toes.
“This is what I wanted,” Raj said. “Just like old times.”
“We are old times,” Penny replied. “Really old times.”
“Remember when we shot a laser at the moon?”
“Remember when I went to space?”
“Remember when I accidentally caused an outbreak of the hantavirus?”
And so on it went. They went over every old story, from the beginning, when a young bumpkin moved into the apartment across the hall from two geniuses. They talked about Zack, who owned a construction business now. And Priya, Raj’s sister in India, married and widowed at too young of an age. Barry Kripke, who won a Nobel Prize two years before Sheldon but died in a mysterious accident the following fall. Stuart, who had sold the movie rights for his graphic novel and was a millionaire but still owned and ran the comic book shop. Sheldon would still go in there, sometimes.
Penny had missed them all so, so much. Eventually Amy and Javier retired for the night. Bernadette and Leonard left for their hotel. The kids had fallen asleep long ago. Stuart was crashing on the couch. And then Penny stood up, knowing she’d probably never see Bernadette and Leonard again. Probably she wouldn’t see Raj or Howard either, unless it was through video chat or a hurried phone call. Amy she would only see sporadically, whenever she wasn’t filming and Amy wasn’t traveling the world. She said good-bye, and she and Sheldon walked out the front door, holding hands.
“You have to drive,” Penny said. “I’m drunk.”
“I don’t like to drive at night.”
“Too bad, sucka,” she said, sliding into the passenger seat. “You’re fifty-five years old. You’ve had a driver’s license for fifteen years. It’s time to man up.”
He grunted, but didn’t argue. He got into the driver’s seat and started the car. Penny reached down and pulled the lever that allowed the seat to recline.
“Hey,” she said.
“Yes?” he replied. The dim glow of the dashboard lights illuminated his face, bouncing off of his glasses.
“Why did the scientist get a door-knocker?”
“He wanted to win the No-Bell prize!”
She could see even in the dark that he was smiling. Reluctantly, but yes, he was smiling.
“I love you, Penny.”
“I love you too.”
She closed her eyes. The sound of the tires on dead leaves. The whoosh of the midnight sky overhead. The tiny click of the keychain against the steering column. With a deep breath, they drove off into the night.
It's the last Saturnalia! And I was super excited to write for notalwaysweak, whose fic I've been a fan of for a long time. I hope you like it!