The Bath Item Gift Hypothesis

It was with an all-too-familiar exasperation that Sheldon spoke to his three friends as they sat in the cafeteria of the University. He couldn't help but roll his eyes and wish that Claire would hurry up and join them there for lunch, she was always very sensible when it came to things like this and he was sure she would have backed him up. At the moment, Howard was slowly draining all of his patience, "Your argument is lacking in all scientific merit. It is well established Superman cleans his uniform by flying into Earth's yellow sun, which incinerates any contaminate matter and leaves the invulnerable Kryptonian fabric unharmed and daisy fresh."

"What if he gets something Kryptonian on it?" Howard countered.

"Like what?" he scoffed.

"I don't know. Kryptonian mustard."

"I think we can safely assume that all Kryptonian condiments were destroyed when the planet Krypton exploded."

But then Raj just had to cut in, "Or it turned into mustard Kryptonite, the only way to destroy a rogue Kryptonian hotdog threatening Earth."

"Raj, please, let's stay serious here," at least Leonard appeared to be focused, "Superman's body is Kryptonian, therefore his sweat is Kryptonian."

"Yeah, what about Kryptonian pit stains?" Howard continued.

"Superman doesn't sweat on Earth!" Sheldon defended.

"Ok, he's invited for dinner in the Bottle City of Kandor. He miniaturizes himself, enters the city where he loses his superpowers. Now, before dinner, his host says, 'who's up for a little Kryptonian tether ball?' Superman says 'sure,' works up a sweat, comes back to Earth, his uniform now stained with indestructible Kryptonian perspiration."

"Superman would have taken his uniform to a Kandorian dry cleaner before he left the Bottle."

"Kandorian dry cl…" Raj huffed, "I give up, you can't have a rational argument with this man."

"Hey," Howard cut in, a distracted note to his voice, "Isn't that Claire with the guy who won the MacArthur genius grant last year?" he quickly added in a hiss as the three others turned as one to look in that direction, "No, not all at once!"

"Then how?"

"Claire's my friend, I call dibs," Sheldon said quickly, before looking over at where Howard had indicated.

And indeed Claire had just stepped into the cafeteria, a tray in hand, speaking with a man he recognized as being David Underhill, a scientist of some notoriety among the researchers in the University. He couldn't help but frown in slight confusion as he watched the two talking. He could feel it bubbling inside of him, a question of why they were talking to each other. He felt himself jolt at that thought, an emotion swelling inside of him at the sight of it.

It was probably just indigestion.

"Alright, Sheldon you've had your peek," Howard tried to get Sheldon to look back around, but didn't appear as though he was going to turn any time soon. He rolled his eyes at that, waving Raj on, "Raj," he gestured for the man to peek over quickly which he did at least, even though Sheldon still hadn't moved, "Leonard."

Leonard followed suit quickly enough, but Raj was pouting as he looked back to Howard, "I didn't get a good look. Can I go again?"

"No."

"But Sheldon's looking!" Raj whined.

"It's David Underhill," Leonard shrugged, "So what?"

Sheldon scoffed though he still didn't turn back to face them, his attention fixed on Claire as she laughed at something the man said, a frown growing on his face, "So what? His observation of high-energy positrons has provided the first conclusive evidence for the existence of galactic dark matter."

Sheldon shifted in his seat slightly even as he spoke those words. While he had admiration for Underhill for his contribution to physics, the more he spoke the more discomfort he felt in his gut. The man was clearly brilliant, not as brilliant as he was it went without saying, but certainly intelligent. And he was making Claire laugh...

He really needed to review what he had eaten last night that could be causing his stomach to churn the way it was.

"I have two words for you," Leonard continued, uninterested, "The first is big, the other's whoop."

"It IS a big whoop. It made almost all the work you've done since you've been here completely useless..." he trailed off, narrowing his eyes as he watched Claire say something to Underhill that had the man smiling and nodding. Why was he smiling at Claire? Well, it made sense in one way, Claire's smile was infectious, he always found himself smiling when she did. But why was she smiling at that man?

Good Lord, he started to rub at his chest, his indigestion was getting worse, his heart hurt now too...

Was he having a heart attack?!

"Did not," Leonard muttered.

"Did, too," Howard shot back.

"Did…ok, maybe some of it, but, look, the guy was just in the right place, at the right time with the right paradigm-shifting reinterpretation of the universe. He got lucky."

"In more ways than one," Raj eyed the man, "He's a very handsome man."

Sheldon swallowed hard at Raj's words. The man was, aesthetically at least, handsome, and Claire was smiling wider now, clearly pleased with whatever the man had said to her. Now his throat felt like it was closing up, a ringing starting in his ears that sounded like his heartbeat.

He moved a finger to his other wrist, taking his pulse incase he actually was having a heart attack.

"Doesn't do anything for me," Howard remarked, "If I was gonna go that way, I'm more of a Zac Efron kinda guy."

Raj snorted, "Oh, yeah, like you have a shot with Zac Efron."

"Claire!" Sheldon shouted as he saw the woman approaching with Underhill. He took a deep breath, feeling all of his symptoms starting to fade when she smiled at him in the way that she only ever smiled at him and no one else.

The indigestion was passing, what a relief.

"Hey y'all," Claire greeted when she reached them, "This is Dr. Underhill..."

"Dave, please," the man smiled at Claire, and Sheldon felt his indigestion spike once more.

"Dr. Gablehauser asked me to show him around," she continued, "This is Dr. Hofstadter, Dr. Koothrappali, Mr. Wolowitz, and Dr. Cooper."

"Sheldon?" the man asked, was a nod toward Sheldon, though it was clearly intended for Claire to answer.

"Yep, that's my Shelly Bean," Claire nodded, moving to sit down at the end of the table near Sheldon, gesturing for Underhill to sit across from her at the other end of the table.

"And she's my Claire Bear," Sheldon agreed with a smug smile, realizing that, whatever the two had been talking about, part of it had been Claire talking about HIM to Underhill.

Leonard, however, frowned when Sheldon spoke, hearing the man put more emphasis on the 'my' than anything.

Underhill nodded, seeming to catch the same thing as Leonard, and looked around the table, "Dr. Hofstadter..."

"Um, Leonard," he offered after a moment.

"Dr. Gablehauser said if I wanted to set something up in the photomultiplier lab, that you'd be able to give me a hand?"

Leonard blinked at that, "You want to work with me?"

"If you have a little time, yeah," the man smiled, "Claire had only the best to say about you, about all of you. If you're half as good as she was saying you are, it'd be an honor to work with you."

"I am not the braggin' sort," Claire warned him, "You better be honored to work with Leonard," she pointed her plastic fork at Underhill in a jokingly warning way.

"Thanks, Claire," Leonard said, touched that she would have such good things to say about him that a man like Underhill would actually want to work with him, "Yeah, sure, no problem. Uh, here's my home number..." Leonard began to jot down on a piece of paper, "Here's my cell, here's my office, here's my parents' number up in New Jersey, they always know how to reach me. So…"

"Ok," Underhill chuckled slightly.

"Congratulations on the MacArthur Grant, by the way. Big fan."

"Thanks," Underhill smiled as he began to get up, "I'll call you."

"Do you need me to show you back out?" Claire asked through a mouthful of food.

He laughed, shaking his head, "No, you gave a great tour, I remember how to get back, but thank you for showing me around."

"You're very welcome," Claire offered.

"Bye!" Leonard called, frowning when he saw the way Howard and Raj were looking at him, Sheldon not seeming to care, "What are you looking at? You've never seen a hypocrite before?"

"I'm not gonna ask," Claire shook her head.

~8~

"Are you sure?" Penny was asking as she and Claire made their way up the stairs of the apartment building.

"Mhmm," Claire nodded, "Shelly was complaining about it after my one class. Leonard and Stephanie broke up."

"How?" Penny shook her head, "Last thing you told me was Leonard sent a text to Stephanie that they should go slower and she should move out, and she invited him over to have sex with her."

"According to what Howard was complaining about," Claire agreed, "But from what Shelly says, she ended it after that."

"Why?" Penny couldn't help but ask.

"I don't know all the details, but from what I understand, she thought he was saying he wanted to move out of the apartment and in with her. She was not happy when she found out he meant just her moving out, she ended it."

"I knew it," Penny hummed, "She was not right for Leonard."

"You are really tempting me here, Pen," Claire nearly groaned.

"I know, I know, if I was still with Leonard…" Penny sighed, "But let's face it, he's probably moved on."

"Pen, if you think that boy isn't still interested in dating you, I'm gonna have to smack you."

"He had a girlfriend," Penny pointed out

"And you've been on how many dates since?"

"Ok, ok, ok," Penny huffed, "But still, those were more like one off things, he dated-dated Stephanie. I don't want to make a move if he's not interested. It would be awkward and we've sort of just gotten back to being normal around each other."

"So ask him."

"I can't do that! You're the smart one, you should know that."

"I'm also the one that said people need to actually talk and communicate more. Ask him, Pen, I'm sure he'd jump at the chance to date you."

"Yeah, I guess," Penny murmured, "I just…I'm gonna wait till after Christmas at least."

"Penny."

"I know, it's just…IF he says no, I'd rather not have that hanging over me during Christmas, ok?"

"It's your life," Claire waved her arm slightly, before smiling at how Penny's words about it 'hanging over her' were giving her some ideas of other things she could hang over the doorways to try and help nudge her two friends together, "But I call dibs on hanging the mistletoe."

"No way, tree only," Penny tried to cut her off. While she would LOVE to set up some mistletoe and sneakily get Claire and Sheldon under it, to see what Sheldon would do, for science, she knew if she let it happen, Claire would probably use it the exact same way for her and Leonard. She was willing to sacrifice that part of her experiment if it meant no awkward moments for her and Leonard either.

"But we need both to balance out the guys not putting up a tree."

"What do yo mean the guys aren't putting up a tree?" Penny frowned.

"Exactly that, Shelly doesn't believe in Christmas."

"No way, I call BS."

"Ask for yourself then," Claire gestured at the guys' door as they reached the fourth floor.

"Alright I will," Penny pushed the door open, hearing them talking from within. Even if Sheldon didn't believe in Christmas, Leonard had to, though, sadly, Leonard wasn't there, "Hey, Sheldon, are you and Leonard putting up a Christmas tree?"

"No," Sheldon answered, "Because we don't celebrate the ancient pagan festival of Saturnalia."

"Told you," Claire coughed behind her.

"Saturnalia?" Penny looked between her and Sheldon, seeing that Howard and Raj were there too.

"Gather round, kids, it's time for Sheldon's beloved Christmas special," Howard groaned.

Sheldon rolled his eyes at Howard but looked back at Penny, "I'm surprised Claire didn't explain this to you."

"It's because I happen to enjoy Christmas," Claire reminded him, "And I haven't been able to decorate a Christmas Tree in years."

"It appears I've lost another one to the pagans," Sheldon huffed, "Penny, in the pre-Christian era, as the winter solstice approached and the plants died, pagans brought evergreen boughs into their homes as an act of sympathetic magic, intended to guard the life essences of the plants until spring. This custom was later appropriated by Northern Europeans and eventually it becomes the so-called Christmas tree."

"And that, Charlie Brown, is what boredom is all about," Howard joked.

"Ok," Penny shook her head, making a mental note to ask Claire about a few of the things Sheldon had said to see if it was actually true, "Well, thank you for that, but Claire and I already got you and Leonard a few silly neighbor gifts."

"We'll put them under our tree for you," Claire smiled.

"You bought me a present?" Sheldon looked more at Penny for that, sounding utterly horrified to hear it.

"Yeah," Penny said slowly, "Claire and I both did."

"Well, yes, I expect one from Claire," Sheldon rolled his eyes at that, "She would not budge on having that in the Best Friend Agreement. But why would you do such a thing?"

"I don't know," Penny looked confused, "'Cause it's Christmas?"

"Oh, Penny," Sheldon huffed, "I know you think you're being generous, but the foundation of gift-giving is reciprocity. You haven't given me a gift, you've given me an obligation."

"Don't feel bad, Penny," Howard tried to comfort, "It's a classic rookie mistake. My first Hanukkah with Sheldon, he yelled at me for eight nights."

"Now, honey, you don't have to get me anything in return," Penny tried to offer.

"Of course I do!" Sheldon defended, "The essence of the custom is that I now have to go out and purchase for you a gift of commensurate value and representing the same perceived level of friendship as that represented by the gift you've given me. It's no wonder suicide rates skyrocket this time of year."

"Ok, you know what? Forget it. I'm not giving you a present."

"Oh, it's too late," Claire patted Penny on the shoulder, "He knows you have one for him now."

"The die has been cast," Sheldon agreed, "The moving finger has writ. Hannibal has crossed the Alps."

"I know," Howard murmured something to Raj as he whispered in his ear, "It's funny when it's not happening to us."

"Sheldon, I am very, very sorry," Penny apologized, more for herself than actually to Sheldon, if she'd known this was going to happen she would never have brought it up. Which brought up another thought…

"No, no, I brought this on myself by being such an endearing and important part of your life," Sheldon absolved Penny and, instead, turned to Howard, "I'm going to need a ride to the mall."

Howard groaned, "It's happening to us."

"You have fun with that!" Claire shouted, seeing an opportunity to get Penny out of the awkward situation.

"Why didn't you warn me abut this?" she hissed to Claire as the girl led them to their apartment.

"Shelly deserves to get gifts at Christmas just as much as the next person," was all Claire said.

~8~

Claire and Penny stepped out of the apartment a few hours later, about to go get some grocery shopping done, when they heard Leonard coming up the stairs.

"I had no idea it was so heavy," he was saying, "The thing just fell right over on me, didn't it?"

"Yeah," Claire recognized Underhill's voice, "Lucky for you it wasn't moving."

"Oh my god, Leonard, what happened?" Claire hurried over as they came in sight to see Leonard hobbling with an arm slung over Underhill's shoulder, something wrong with his leg.

"Are you ok?" Penny asked too.

"Oh, yeah," Leonard tried to wave it off, "It's just a little motorcycle accident."

"My God, how fast were you going?"

"I don't know. It's all such a blur."

Underhill chuckled at that, "Good one. He couldn't even get it started. Hey Claire. Oh, hi, Dave," he reached out to shake Penny's hand.

"Hi," Penny introduced, "Penny. So it's your motorcycle?"

"Uh huh."

"Oh, is it ok?"

"It's fine."

"Yeah, lucky for the bike it landed on my leg," Leonard muttered, digging into his pocket for his keys as Underhill helped him over to the door of his apartment.

Penny reached out to grab Claire's arm lightly, tugging her back from where she'd moved to help Leonard, "You know that guy?"

"Yeah, he's working at the University for a little. He and Leonard are doing a project together."

"So he's smart…"

"Yup."

"And he's cute, right?" Penny asked.

Claire gave her an odd look for it, "I guess? Why?"

Penny just smiled, "No reason."

Claire continued to eye her for a moment before she managed to go help Leonard get his door open, "Here, let me help with that…"

"So, um, Dave, how do you know Leonard?" Penny asked, ignoring how Claire looked back at her, since she already knew the answer.

"I'm a physicist," Underhill stated.

Penny laughed, "No, you're not."

"Why is that so surprising?"

"Uh, well, it's just that the physicists I know are indoorsy and pale."

"I'm not indoorsy," Leonard defended, "I just wear the appropriate sun block because I don't take melanoma lightly."

"Neither do I," Claire agreed, helping Leonard over to the couch to sit.

"So, are you and Leonard working on an experiment together?" Penny continued, quickly moving to the side so Underhill would follow her and so he couldn't see the next questioning look Claire shot her.

"Yeah, actually we are," the man smiled.

"Yeah, we're examining the radiation levels of photomultiplier tubes for a new dark matter detector," Leonard told her.

Claire, who had just opened her mouth to explain to Penny what that was exactly, as she anticipated Penny was about to ask her it, frowned when, instead, Penny shushed Leonard with a, "Uh, sweetie, sweetie, Dave was talking. You know, I love science."

"Since when?" Claire snorted a bit, moving to the freezer to get an ice pack for Leonard.

"Since always," Penny gave Claire a pointed look that the girl was sure was meant to tell her something but she was lost as to where all this was going, "Call me a geek, but I am just nuts for the whole subatomic particle thing."

"The last thing I would ever call you is a geek," Underhill gave her a charming smile.

"Well, that's what I am, queen of the nerds."

"Stealing my crown, Pen?" Claire asked teasingly, sitting beside Leonard, though there was a genuine questioning tone in her voice, not for the question she asked but for what the hell Penny herself was talking about. This was making no sense to her.

"Well, if you like, I could show you the lab we're working in," Underhill offered Penny, "We've got some cool toys, you know, lasers and stuff."

"You know, I have always wanted to see a big science lab," Penny remarked.

"Since when?" both Leonard and Claire asked.

"Since always."

"Leonard, are you ok here?" Underhill questioned though he didn't take his eyes off Penny.

"Claire can keep an eye on him, right?" Penny looked to her.

"I…guess?" Claire shook her head, completely confused. Just hours ago Penny was lamenting how she might want to date Leonard but the man might not want to date her and now she was falling all over Underhill? As Howard would say, what the frak?

"I mean we can always have that girl-talk later right?"

Claire nodded slowly, hoping she was reading into this right. They were supposed to get groceries, not have girl-talk…so maybe that meant Penny was going to explain all this weirdness to her then?

"How 'bout we go see it now?" Underhill asked, "Maybe afterwards we take the bike up the coast, we grab a little bite to eat…"

"Um," Penny began, causing Claire to look up at the slight hesitance she was now hearing in Penny's voice, but the woman covered it quickly, "Yeah, yeah, that sounds great, let me just get my jacket."

Underhill waited till Penny left before he smiled at the two on the couch, "Boy, she'll do, huh?"

"Yeah, if you like that type," Leonard shrugged.

"So, you and her?"

"No, just neighbors."

"Right," he nodded, then glanced at Claire, "You two…"

"Roommates," Claire finished, "Penny's a friend," before adding under her breath, "A very confusing one…"

"Ok," Penny called, hurrying back, "Let's go."

"Alright," Underhill grinned, "See you tomorrow, Leonard."

"See ya," he called, "Bye, Penny. Have fun."

Claire shook her head as the two left, before looking at Leonard, "…I have no idea what just happened."

Leonard just dropped his head back on the couch in defeat.

~8~

"I don't see anything in here a woman would want," Sheldon remarked as he looked around a bath and body shop in the mall with Howard, and Raj.

"You're kidding," Howard scoffed, "You've got lotions and bath oils and soaps, that's the estrogen hat trick."

"What it is is a cacophonous assault of eucalyptus, bayberry, cinnamon, and vanilla. It's as if my head were trapped in the pajamas of a sultan."

"Sheldon, if you don't like this stuff, let's just go next door and build her a bear," Raj offered.

"I told you before, bears are terrifying. Claire Bear is the only non-scary one."

"Come on, bath stuff, it's perfect!" Howard argued, "You got a scented candle, a cleansing buff, spearmint and green tea scented bath oil, promotes relaxation."

"That presupposes Penny is tense."

"She knows you," Raj shot back, "She's tense. We all are. Buy a basket! Get two for Claire while you're at it!"

Sheldon let out a scoffing noise, "Oh please, Claire would be disgusted if I got her a generic basket of lotions. I already got her a gift."

"Then what's the problem here?" Howard asked, "You already have one for Claire, Penny should be easy."

"Excuse me, but that is not true at all. I have known Claire nearly my entire life, she is my very best friend. I know her better than anyone else. Of course I'd be able to pick out the perfect gift for her. Penny, however, is only barely a friend I've know a fraction of that time."

"So give Penny the same gift!"

"I can't," Sheldon remarked as though the suggestion was utterly foolish, "It wouldn't fit Penny."

"Sheldon!" Raj whined.

"Look, let's say for a moment that I accept the bath item gift hypothesis, I now lay the following conundrum at your feet, which size?"

"This one," Howard pulled a random one off a shelf, "Let's go."

"You put no thought into that."

"I'm sorry. Uh…" he looked at the shelf for a moment, "This one. Let's go!"

"I have insufficient data to proceed," Sheldon told them, "And Claire isn't here to assist. I can't even call her to ask because Penny would become suspicious," he sighed and looked around, spotting a sales assistant, "Excuse me, miss?"

"Yes?"

"If I were to give you this gift basket, based on that action alone and no other data, infer and describe the hypothetical relationship that exists between us."

The woman blinked, "Excuse me?"

"Here," Sheldon handed her the gift Howard picked out, "Now, are we friends? Colleagues? Lovers? Are you my grandmother?"

"I don't understand what you're talking about and you're making me a little uncomfortable."

"See?" Howard gestured, "Sounds just like you and Penny. We'll take it."

~8~

Claire sat beside Penny on the couch of their apartment, giving her quite a disapproving look.

"Don't do that, please," Penny begged, "I already feel bad enough as it is."

"You should," Claire told her, "You were playing two guys Penny, you could have just TALKED to Leonard instead of this whole scheme."

Penny had FINALLY explained what was going on with Underhill to her. She'd been putting the final touches on her gift for Sheldon and hadn't been in the apartment much the last day or two to see Penny but they finally got a chance to talk and she was not happy with Penny either.

"Didn't you learn anything from Desdemona?"

"Leonard isn't going to murder me."

"Well he ain't gonna be pleased with you neither."

"I know, and I'm sorry."

"I'm not the one you owe apologies to."

"I am NOT apologizing to that jackass," Penny muttered, referring to Underhill not Leonard.

"Wasn't talking about him, sugar."

"I know, I just…I thought this would work."

Claire shook her head, Penny had certainly gotten herself into a fine mess with all this.

It was all fake.

Penny wasn't actually interested in Underhill, it was just her strange way of seeing if Leonard was still interested in HER. Make him jealous, of course, because that always worked.

But it had blown up in Penny's face because Underhill actually WAS interested in her. He'd wanted to take her on dates and do other thing and Penny either had to go along with it or find a way out of it. It was even worse than that because Underhill wouldn't go away after Penny expressed that first interest.

From what Penny had told her, she'd only planned to go to the lab with Underhill to see what Leonard would do, how he'd react, if he'd say anything. She was hoping she'd be able to see a reluctance or a jealousy in Leonard if she showed an interest in another scientist. But she hadn't. So she'd kept on with Underhill till she could be sure, and now that she was looking at it with hindsight, Penny only JUST realized that Leonard was a genuinely good guy who wouldn't do anything or act that way if he thought Penny was happy.

And now she'd probably hurt Leonard. Penny had told her that she'd gone with Underhill to the lab and run into Leonard. He'd brought up how she always turned HIM down when he offered to show it to her, citing she had yoga. It had somehow led to Underhill complimenting how curious and agile she was…in other respects. Which Penny swore to her was literally yoga this time, how she and Underhill had gone to a session, the man likely playing to her interests by being willing to 'try it out.' But Leonard had clearly taken it another way which made Penny feel awful. Especially when Underhill continued to express how he and Penny were going to 'work on another experiment' with her involving tequila shots on a 22 year old woman. Penny had tried to salvage it, tried to clear up what Leonard had to imagine at those words, by saying that the man saw it happen last night. NOT on her! They'd been at a bar and seen someone else doing it. But, again, Leonard had misinterpreted and looked so hurt that now Penny felt awful.

Pissed. And awful.

Because as much as she might have been playing Underhill, and Leonard to a degree, Underhill had been playing with her too.

The man was married and clearly intending to fool around with Penny. She was angry she was 'the other woman' and angry that she tried to make Leonard jealous with such a jerk. She was angry that she'd done that to Leonard in the first place.

Claire wasn't much happier about it, "Look Pen," she sighed as she reached out to take the 'eggnog' from Penny's hands and put it on the table, "Right now drinking isn't going to help you. You gotta talk to Leonard, clear this up, let him know you aren't actually with that jerk anymore. And just tell him how you feel."

"I know, I know," Penny murmured, but she felt like if she told Leonard now, after how awful she'd been, she was afraid he'd hate her, "I just…"

"Ok," Leonard cut in as he burst into the room, flustered, "I have just one question for you, Penny. Hi, Claire. Look, while I am perfectly happy with the way things are between us, you said that you didn't want to go out with me because I was too smart for you! Well, news flash, lady, David Underhill is ten times smarter than me! You'd have to drive a railroad spike into his brain for me to beat him at checkers! Next to him, I'm like one of those sign-language gorillas who knows how to ask for grapes! So, my question is, what's up with that?"

"…why are you yelling at me?" Penny almost started crying, feeling like exactly what she was afraid of was happening in front of her. Leonard hated her for all this.

"Sorry!" Leonard immediately backed down, "I'm sorry, I'm sorry! Never mind, we're cool."

Claire shook her head at both of them, patting Penny on the back before she looked at Leonard, "Underhill is an ignoramus," she told Leonard.

"Yeah, sure."

"He's an idiot," Penny agreed, feeling like an idiot herself for having ever thought of her stupid scheme.

"…really?" Leonard moved closer, "Why would you say that?"

"Because a smart guy takes the nude photos of his wife off his cell phone before he tries to take nude photos of his girlfriend!"

"No photos were taken," Claire hurried to add, not wanting Leonard to get even more of a wrong impression over this, "He was trying to talk Penny into it but she was saying no, so he actually showed her other ones he took to convince her and his wife was there."

"That's terrible…" Leonard began, though he sounded more relieved than actually sorry for it all happening.

"Don't sound too angry about it, Leonard," Claire sighed.

"Yeah, and if you are so ok with the way things are between us, why are you so jealous?" Penny asked, the only question she really cared about asking right now.

"Well, uh, the important thing is he's married and that's terrible!" Leonard backtracked.

Claire groaned at that, knowing that Penny was not likely to take anything short of Leonard actually admitting he was jealous because he wanted to date her as proof that he was still interested in her. For as much a Penny acted brave and courageous in relationships, the girl seemed genuinely afraid of being rejected by Leonard. She really liked him and if he turned her down…she could understand why Penny wanted to be 100 percent sure of Leonard first.

If she ever…and Sheldon didn't…her friendship with Sheldon meant the world to her, she'd want to be 200 percent sure he wanted a relationship with her before she even thought of asking him anything like that.

"Nice save, genius," Penny muttered, sounding disappointed.

"Men are such idiots," Claire murmured to herself under her breath. If only Leonard had just said he was jealous…

"Eggnog?" Penny offered Leonard.

"Lactose," he shook his head.

"I don't think there's any of that left in there," Claire told him.

"It's just rum," Penny agreed, "It stopped being eggnog like half an hour ago."

"Smooth," he laughed.

"Smoother than you."

"Come on, it's Christmas, just give me this one."

"Ok," she sighed, "Merry Christmas."

"By the way, my leg is killing me. Thanks for asking."

~8~

By the time it came to exchanges gifts, Penny was in much better spirits, which Claire was thankful for. It would take a while before she was fully not-upset with Penny, but she and Leonard seemed to be on better terms after the whole fiasco which helped. She just hated seeing either of them get hurt.

"Merry Christmas," Penny greeted, pulling Claire from her thoughts as they entered the guys' apartment where the gift giving was going to take place.

"Merry Christmas," Leonard greeted as Claire offered the same.

"How's your leg?" Claire added.

"Very good, thanks for asking Claire," Leonard grinned, she was the only one who had ever asked how his leg was doing, "Come on in."

"Ah, good, Penny," Sheldon's voice called as he entered the room, "You're here to exchange gifts. If you don't mind, I'd prefer to exchange gifts with Claire first."

"Go right ahead," Penny gestured him on.

Sheldon nodded and picked up a small envelope to give to Claire, as she smiled and handed him what looked like a manila envelope with a bow on it. Penny watched in utter fascination...only to frown when she saw that all Claire got was a card.

"Wow Sheldon, way to splurge," she remarked.

But Claire was smiling at it as though it were the best gift ever, reading it, "Thank you, Shelly, I love it."

Penny's face scrunched as she moved closer to see it, but it was just a normal card, "I feel like I'm missing something…"

"Shelly picked it himself," Claire explained, still smiling at it, "Each year, he goes out and he gets me the card that is most me for that year. He reads though every single Christmas card in a ton of different stores till he finds just the right one."

Penny started to smile now, understanding, Sheldon put a lot of time and effort into finding one that represented his best friend and what she meant to him. She could see the sweetness now.

"What's that?" Leonard asked, moving more towards Sheldon to see what had the man actually bopping in place and grinning, "Is that a comic book?"

Claire nodded, "Mhmm, each year I write out another little story of Sheldor and the adventures he has."

"With his sidekick Bearyl," Sheldon added, flipping through it.

"I know," Claire continued when she saw the incredulous look on Leonard's face, one that said he noticed something poor but didn't want to be rude, "I'm a terrible artist. Can't even do stick figures justice, but it's the thought that counts."

Sheldon didn't seem to care a lick about how god awful her artwork really was, every year it was another book to add to his collection and it came from his best friend. He loved it.

"Thank you, Claire Bear," he moved to actually give her a hug, which was part of their agreement after exchanging gifts.

"Merry Christmas, Shelly," Claire added, hugging him tight another moment before pulling back.

"Now, Penny," Sheldon moved right on, "You'll be pleased to know I'm prepared for whatever you have to offer."

"Ok," Penny gave him an odd look before offering him the small rectangular wrapped package in her hand, "Here."

"I should note I'm having some digestive distress, so, if I excuse myself abruptly, don't be alarmed."

Claire rolled her eyes at that with a soft smile on her face. Sheldon had explained to her his plan for Penny's gift. He'd gone out with Howard and Raj to get Penny some sort of lotion kit, but he didn't know how expensive the gift Penny had gotten him was…and she wasn't about to tell him and ruin the surprise. So he'd gotten one of each price bracket so when Penny revealed her gift, he could excuse himself and find one of the appropriate price to give her, returning the others.

She couldn't wait to see the look on his face when he saw what Penny had manged.

"Oh, a napkin," Sheldon sounded almost let down when he saw that was resting in the little box.

"Turn it over," Penny insisted.

He sighed but did so, reading a message written on the other side, "'To Sheldon, live long and prosper…Leonard Nimoy!'"

Claire laughed joyfully at how much he was freaking out, staring at the napkin with wide eyes and shaking hands, moving to sit on the edge of the armchair in his shock at possessing something from Leonard Nimoy, the original Spock. Penny had called her the second she realized she was serving a celebrity to see if it was one of the 'other ones' as she called it. Not the mainstream ones she knew, but the ones famous to the guys.

"Yeah, he came into the restaurant. Sorry the napkin's dirty. He wiped his mouth with it."

Sheldon nearly jumped out of his skin hearing that, "I possess the DNA of Leonard Nimoy?!"

"Well, yeah, yeah, I guess. But look, he signed it."

"Do you realize what this means?" Sheldon nearly hyperventilated, "All I need is a healthy ovum and I can grow my own Leonard Nimoy!"

"Ok, all I'm giving you is the napkin, Sheldon."

Sheldon suddenly stilled, reminded that he needed to give her a gift in return, "Be right back."

Claire shook her head and looked at Penny, "Nailed it."

Penny rolled her eyes at that and turned to give Leonard a card of his own, "Here. Open it."

"What about you two?" Leonard gestured between them.

"We exchanged gifts before," Claire reassured him. Penny had gotten her an easy bake oven as a joking little gift. She'd gotten Penny a sort of notepad in a metal case that attached to the back of her cellphone case. That way she could jot down notes about questions she had right when she thought of them instead of trying to remember or get her phone open and typed up before she forgot.

"Oh, a gift certificate for motorcycle lessons," Leonard laughed as he opened Penny's card, "Very thoughtful."

"Yeah, and I checked," Penny added, "Not letting the bike fall on you while standing still is lesson one."

"And this one's from me," Claire gave him a small parcel.

Leonard opened it and smiled, "Oh wow!" it was an autographed picture of Professor Proton! "How'd you know I…"

"Shelly mentioned it," Claire shrugged, "I thought you'd like it."

"Well I hope you both like these," Leonard offered them his gifts.

"101 Totally Cool Science Experiments for Kids," Penny read as she opened her package.

"You know, 'cause you're so into science," Leonard teased.

"Aww, thanks Leonard!" Claire smiled at the small object she'd gotten. It was clip-on sunglass lenses for her glasses. Not sunglasses in their own right but ones she could pop onto her own lenses to act like sunglasses.

"I know lights can hurt when you've got a headache but sometimes you just have too much work to stop," he shrugged, "I thought it might help."

"I love it, thank you."

"Sheldon!" Penny suddenly gasped when the man ran back into the room with his arms full of bath products in colorful baskets, "What did you do?!"

"I know!" he shook his head, upset, dropping them on the armchair, "It's not enough, is it?" before a thought struck him when he glanced at Claire, "Here."

Penny watched him awkwardly approach and put his arms around her, actually taking a moment to realize he was hugging her before she gasped, "Leonard, look! Sheldon's hugging me."

Leonard just smiled into his coffee, "It's a Saturnalia miracle."

"Gods bless us, every one," Claire laughed.

A/N: Awww :) I felt like Claire is such a simple person that she wouldn't want some big perfect gift from Sheldon, and knowing how he can get overwhelmed sometimes and uncomfortable, she'd set the tone for just being fine with a card of some sort. And Sheldon sort of goes out of his way to make sure it's the best card for her :)

As for the bit about Stephanie, I wasn't a big fan of how she just disappeared from the show with no real explanation or mention of the breakup, so I tried to guess what might have happened based on how her relationship with Leonard was and how it could go from Leonard rushing off to have sex with her at the end of the last episode but yet how she dropped off the face of the earth in the next one :/ To me, I thought it might be possible that she misunderstood Leonard's text that he wanted her to move out, so he could move in with HER and she'd be upset when that wasn't the case and end things with him. I also thought it could be possible she might have just used sex as a distraction, knowing where Leonard's conversations were going, and she'd invite him to have sex and pretend like he never sent the text, only to be upset when he held to his wanting her to move out. With how much he wanted the relationship to slow down but NOT to end outright, I felt like Stephanie would need to be the one to break things off. Idk, hope it made some sense :)

I also wanted to build up a bit with Penny and Leonard, with the whole not wanting to date Leonard because he was so smart, if Leonard's claim is right, and how she dated someone smarter than him, it felt odd to me. So I wanted to explore a possibility behind her doing that. With Claire there sort of rooting for them, I felt like that might be Penny's way to see if Leonard was still interested :)

But who loved Sheldon experiencing a bit of jealousy himself? :) Indigestion, ha! :)

Some notes on reviews...

Claire and Penny definitely care about Leonard very much :) Claire sort of has a twofold care there, he's her best friend's friend/roommate, and he's her roommate's almost-beau :) She and Leonard are definitely going to get closer, but they may keep things platonic, having friend-dates and meals and hanging out together sort of thing. Whether Penny and Sheldon see that as dating though I can't say ;) Leonard will be a support for Claire when Amy comes a knocking, I can say that much :) But that triangle, you're very close with how Sheldon feels for Claire which makes Amy an interesting cog in the machine, HOW does Shamy happen when Sheldon would undoubtedly pick Claire at every turn? We'll have to wait and see }:)

Oh the dating game with Sheldon and Claire will take a while to get to, yup. There will be some dating, some realizations for Sheldon, he may not be quite as oblivious as in the show with Claire around so he may discover his feelings for her earlier than you think...but Amy will factor into it, I just can't say how. There may be a bit of a wedge between the girls, and even between Claire and Sheldon, but whether that last part will be because of the relationship or something else we'll have to see };)

Lol, since I've started writing this story, I've been adding 'sugar' into my Firefly fanfiction I'm dabbling with on the side (not posted yet, just sort of in the pre-writing stages) and I have to keep deleting it because that OC does not call people sugar :)

I don't do so much of that in this story, to me the comedy is intentional and fits with the characters as we've seen them since the beginning :) I might try to explain a bit of the jokes, so that they're a little funnier once they're understood, and I might explore some of the harder things behind funny moments, but I largely try to keep the same feel in the story as in the episodes. Ragnarok was harder for me because we had 4 movies of a very specific Thor characterization that was just sort of out the window and turned into a comedian and it just didn't fit with how I'd seen Thor up to that point, so in that case I tried to balance the Thor we'd always seen with the funnier bits, not quite sure it worked out there :/

I actually have it up on my profile that Two and a Half Men is one of the few shows/movies/books I probably won't do a story for :( Only because those are the few I tried watching but just could not get into :( But that sounds like an awesome story and I encourage you to write it! :D No one will ever understand your idea for a story better than you ;)

I plan to continue Piper's OUAT story once Lyssa's current CBTS story is finished, so about 10ish more chapters for her and then we get Piper :D As for the Lunar Cycle, that won't come around again for quite a few months :( I try to do the DW stories in order of OC. I did Proffy, then Evy, now I'm on Angel. I'll be doing Mac and the Judge once Angel is over and, depending how far I get with Sadie by then, I might try to catch Sadie up to the main stories or loop back around to the Professor for Series 9. So we'll be getting Piper soon, but maybe not Evy just yet :( But I definitely have plans for 12 to encounter some of the family in some series/episodes, we'll have to wait and see which ones ;)