Author's note: The idea for this fic hit me while I was arguing with my father about whether one of my favorite actresses was prettier than one of his favorites. I had just recieved the swimsuit issue in the mail, and it occurred to me that an argument such as that would be the perfect way for Sheldon to inadvertently reveal something about the way he viewed Penny. As always, if I owned the show or the characters, this would be happening on your television.
Sheldon looked at his watch and then turned his gaze to Leonard and Raj who were sitting in front of the computer. He opened his mouth to speak then closed it and turned his attention to the stack of pizza boxes on the counter. He spread them out in a tight formation and sat a stack of four plates beside them. After a moment's consideration he pulled another plate from the cupboard and added it to the stack, knowing that Penny would be invading the apartment before long. After sitting a stack of napkins on top of the plates, Sheldon checked his watch again. "Wolowitz is now ten minutes late to Halo night," Sheldon declared. This is unacceptable."
Leonard and Raj turned to face Sheldon. "He may have a good explanation," Leonard observed. "Maybe he got stuck in traffic."
"A feasible theory, but incorrect, nonetheless," countered Sheldon. "I have already checked on-line and there is no significant traffic congestion or surface work on any of the possible routes from his mother's house to our apartment."
"Chill out, dude," Raj chimed in as he turned back to the computer. "He'll get here when he gets here."
"Did you text him?" Leonard asked as he too turned back to the computer.
Sheldon rolled his eyes and picked at the cuff of his long sleeved Star Trek shirt. "Please, that's the first thing I did," Sheldon replied. "I received no reply." Sheldon walked into the living room and settled into his customary spot on the couch. "While we could invite Penny to take Wolowitz's place, I don't relish the thought of being soundly defeated by someone whose gaming skills are rudimentary at best." He checked his watch again. "Besides, that won't change the fact that we have now gone 12 minutes into Halo time."
"He'll be here," Leonard said, as soothingly as possible. He stood up from the computer and walked over to sit by Sheldon. "It's not like he forgot what night it is."
"I should hope not," scoffed Sheldon. "We have had this particular Halo night for a considerable period of time."
Leonard opened his mouth to reply but was interrupted by the door to the apartment swinging open abruptly. Howard swept into the room, a goofy grin plastered to his face. He pulled a magazine from under his arm and slapped it down on the coffee table triumphantly. "Good evening, fellow nerds!" he declared. "Prepare to be dazzled!"
Sheldon shot to his feet. "Where have you been?" he asked sternly. "Need I remind you that it is Halo night, and you are quite late?"
"Where have I been?" Howard asked. "I'll tell you where I've been. I have been at the bookstore procuring this," he indicated the magazine on the table, "little slice of heaven."
"A magazine!" Sheldon replied, incredulously. "You delayed the start of Halo night for a magazine?"
Howard looked offended. "Not just any magazine," he said defensively. He scooped the magazine up and held it above his head, revealing the bikini clad figure on the cover. "What I have here gentlemen is the 2009 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue, with a cover featuring the world's hottest Jew, and future Mrs. Wolowitz, Bar Refaeli."
Leonard stepped closer to Howard, and Raj jumped to his feet. Sheldon continued to remain rooted firmly in place. "I don't care what magazine it is," he said primly, "Halo night is still more important."
"Screw Halo night!" exclaimed Raj excitedly as he joined the group. "There are women with swimsuits made of paint in there!"
"Screw Halo night?" Sheldon repeated, shock in his voice. "How can you say that?"
Howard grinned broadly and walked into the kitchen, motioning for the others to follow. He put the magazine on the counter and flipped it open carefully, revealing a three page centerfold of the cover model sprawled out on the sand. "Isn't she amazing? We'll make beautiful babies!"
Raj shouldered Howard out of the way and began to turn pages. "Good call man. I wonder if the next Mrs. Koothrappali is in here."
Leonard laughed as he leaned in to get a better view. "Even if she is, what would it matter? You'd never be able to ask her out."
"That's harsh, dude," replied Raj as he continued flipping pages. "Some women like the strong silent type."
"Technically she's with Leonardo DiCaprio," interjected Howard. "But that's just a phase. She'll come around."
"Who?" asked Leonard and Raj, unable to tear their gaze from the near nudity on display in front of them.
"My future wife, of course," Howard responded. "I wonder if she could go by her middle name though? Bar Wolowitz just doesn't roll off the tongue."
"The word Wolowitz never rolls off of the tongue," spat Sheldon as he walked into the kitchen. He glowered angrily as his three friends continued to devote their attention to the magazine. "I take it that this pathetic display means that we are not going to be playing Halo tonight?"
"Look at that woman," exclaimed Leonard, completely ignoring Sheldon. "She's almost naked."
"It must be awesome to be a photographer," said Raj. "You tell a girl to take her shirt off, and she just does it!"
"And then she lets you take pictures of her," Howard added. "That sort of thing never happens in real life."
The door to the apartment opened again, and Penny leaned her head in. "Hey guys, what's up?"
"Oh Penny, thank goodness," Sheldon said as he hurried across the room. "Halo night is being irrevocably destroyed."
"I'm sure it's not that bad," replied Penny as Sheldon dragged her into the room. She put up minimal resistance as Sheldon pulled her over to the couch and handed her a controller. "Why are you giving this to me?" she asked warily.
"With you here I can at least get in a one on one match."
Penny looked skeptical, but still sat down. As she waited for Sheldon to settle into his spot, she noticed that Leonard, Howard and Raj seemed to be staring intently at the kitchen counter. "What are you guys looking at?"
Leonard jumped and finally seemed to realize that Penny was in the room. "Oh, nothing Penny," he responded, stepping away from the group as casually as possible. "Just checking out the latest issue of Sports Illustrated."
"You read Sports Illustrated?" Penny asked skeptically.
"He most certainly does not," Sheldon said. "He is simply joining Wolowitz and Koothrappali in their ogling of scantily clad women."
Penny grinned and nodded knowingly. "Ah, I see. The swimsuit issue then. Makes sense." She put down the controller, ignoring Sheldon's protests, and stood up. "Any cute swimsuits in there?" she asked as she walked over and leaned against the counter.
Sheldon sighed. "Not you too, Penny. I was hoping that you would be able to put a stop to this nonsense."
"There's nothing wrong with guys looking at the swimsuit issue," replied Penny. She pointed at a lacy bikini bottom. "Ooh. Who made that one? I want it, but I bet it's expensive."
"Who cares about the swimsuits?" Howard sneered. "I'm looking at the babes wearing them."
Leonard stepped forward and pulled the magazine from Howard's grasp. "I think that's enough for today. All we're doing is fantasizing about women that none of us even remotely has a chance with."
Howard turned and jerked the magazine back from Leonard. "Speak for yourself."
"And I feel the need to point out that your statement is patently untrue," Sheldon interjected.
The other four people in the room turned to stare at him. "How is that untrue?" Leonard asked.
Sheldon took the magazine from Howard and opened it to a random page. He sat it on the counter and pointed at the model. "Take the woman in this picture for example. While she does possess the bone structure and body architecture that Western culture has deemed attractive, she is in no way more attractive than Penny."
Penny's jaw dropped in surprise. "What did you say?" she asked.
Sheldon ignored her question and stepped closer to her. "The only advantage that the woman in this publication holds over Penny is that she is clad in what could only tangentially be deemed a bathing suit." He indicated Penny's face with a sweep of his hand. "Penny has a facial architecture and coloring that is much more visually appealing and stimulating." Another sweep of his hand indicated the pink tank top and pajama pants that she was wearing. "And even being clad in what I'm told are her 'comfy clothes,' Penny's body more than equals said female."
Penny looked at Howard, Raj, and Leonard and discovered that they seemed to share her disbelief. "I don't know Sheldon," she said slowly. "This woman is so perfect looking…I don't look anything like her."
"I should say not," scoffed Sheldon. "You are much more enticingly structured than this woman."
"What?!" cried Howard.
Sheldon turned away from Penny and faced the three men. "Any simpleton can see that Penny's breasts are much more evenly proportioned and perfectly placed. Her body mass to height ratio is infinitely more appealing, and the cut and style of her accents her features much more effectively. And of course there are Penny's buttocks. I believe the popular saying is that 'you could bounce a quarter off of it.'" Sheldon flipped the magazine closed and took in the open-mouth stares of Howard, Raj, Leonard, and Penny. "So, in conclusion, if Penny were standing here clad only in body paint and artfully placed hands, then she would be in no way out of place in this publication, and the spectacular failure of Leonard's attempted relationship with Penny fails to negate the fact that he was initially successful in procuring a date with her. Ergo, if Leonard can get Penny to go out with him, then no one in that magazine is 'out of your league.' So to speak." He paused for a moment and looked at Howard. "Except yours." He paused again seemingly waiting for a response. "I take your continued silence to mean that we will not in fact be playing Halo tonight." He walked into the kitchen and slid two slices of pizza onto a plate. "In that case, I'll retire to my room."
Penny watched him gather his food and stalk out of the room, still dumbfounded by what had just happened. Officially she was offended by the way he had so casually referred to her body, but the fact that Sheldon was even aware of her in that way was so shocking that it left her more curious than offended. In fact she felt almost flattered by his evaluation. Looking at Howard, Leonard, and Raj, Penny realized that they were just as confused as she was and that they weren't going to speak until she did. "I guess he told you guys, huh?"
"What the hell was that?" asked Leonard.
Howard shook his head slowly. "Correct me if I'm wrong, but didn't Sheldon just tell us that Penny is just as hot as the models in this magazine?"
"It was a little more eloquent than that," Penny said.
"The only way that I could be more shocked right now was if he actually had referred to you as hot." Leonard responded.
Raj leaned over and whispered something into Howard's ear. "I agree, buddy," Howard replied. "It's the only explanation."
"What did he say?" demanded Penny.
"He said that it looks like Sheldon has a crush on you."
"That's ridiculous," Leonard shot back. "Sheldon isn't aware of what a crush is. Besides, if he did have a crush it would be on someone like Leonard Nimoy or Einstein."
"How else do you explain what he just said?" Howard asked.
"Hey!" yelped Penny. "What are you trying to say?"
Howard picked up the magazine and indicated the cover. "Penny, you are a pretty girl, that's true, but you are no Bar Refaeli."
"Sheldon obviously loves him some Penny," Howard shot back with a grin. Raj smiled beside him and stifled a laugh.
"You're a jerk, Howard," Penny retorted. She turned and angrily made her way to the door.
"Penny, don't leave," Leonard called. "Howard's sorry."
Penny stopped and turned around. "You know what, I don't care if Howard thinks I'm better looking than Bar what's-her-name."
"Refaeli," Leonard offered.
"Not the point," Penny retorted, irritated. "I'm going to go and thank Sheldon for the compliment, though I'm pretty sure he's not even aware that he gave me one." She pushed past Leonard and headed towards Sheldon's room. "I'll be right back."
"No one's allowed in Sheldon's room," laughed Howard.
"We'll see about that," Penny shot back as she knocked on Sheldon's door. "Sheldon. It's Penny. Please open up."
There was a short pause and then the door opened to reveal Sheldon. "Hello Penny. What can I do for you?"
"Can I come in there for a minute?"
"No one can be in my room," Sheldon responded matter-of-factly.
"I rubbed Vaporub on your chest in that room, Sheldon," Penny countered.
"I was sick. There are exceptions to the rule when I'm sick."
Penny sighed. "Then why can't you make an exception now?"
Sheldon looked thoughtful for a moment. "Hmm. Good point." He stepped back and opened the door wider. "You may enter."
Penny turned and stuck her tongue out at Howard before stepping into Sheldon's room. She waited until he shut the door and turned to face him. "I wanted to say thank you, Sheldon."
"Well, you said some pretty sweet things out there. About me."
Sheldon shook his head. "No I did not."
"Yes you did, Sheldon. Comparing me to those models was sweet," Penny replied.
Sheldon motioned to the bed. "Sit down Penny." He sat beside her and folded his hands in his lap. "A statement is only 'sweet' if it is offered as a social nicety solely for the effect of making a person feel better." He turned to look her in the eyes. "What I said in the other room was merely a statement of what I consider to be fact, regardless of what effect it had on your feelings."
Penny's eyes widened in disbelief. "You're saying that you actually believe that I'm as beautiful as those models? You're aren't lying?"
Sheldon sighed. "Penny, you may no know this about me, but I find it incredibly difficult to fabricate a falsehood without extensive time to properly format it. For me to have lied would have required advanced knowledge of the events of today, specifically the exchange we are currently engaged in." Sheldon noticed Penny's confused look and continued. "In other words, no. I'm not lying."
Penny smiled, feeling an unexpected twinge of happiness at Sheldon's response. "Ahh. Sheldon. I didn't think you noticed things like that."
Sheldon's eyes narrowed. "I didn't either," he replied. "I never did until you moved here."
Penny's grin widened. "You mean I'm the only girl you notice?" she teased.
"Apparently," was Sheldon's simple reply.
Penny put her hand on Sheldon's knee. "Well thank you Sheldon. That means a lot to me." She leaned over and kissed his cheek, grinning to herself when his skin blossomed a deep pink under her lips.
"What did you do that for?" he asked.
"To say thank you." She stood and walked to his door. "Sorry. I know how you don't like to be touched."
Sheldon put his hand to his cheek thoughtfully. "I'll make an exception this time," he said.
Penny smiled at him again and opened his door. "Well, I guess I'm gonna get out of here and leave you to your pizza." She walked down the hall and briskly crossed the room, ignoring Leonard's questioning look. She was nearly to the front door of the apartment when Sheldon's voice stopped her.
"Penny, would you like to play Halo?"
Penny stopped short, once again surprised by Sheldon's actions. "Really? But Howard's here now."
Sheldon glared at Howard balefully. "Howard sacrificed Halo night for a magazine. He doesn't deserve to play." He picked up a controller and offered it to her. "Perhaps this time I will actually beat you."
Penny grinned and took the controller from Sheldon. She was feeling mischievous, so she settled into Sheldon's place on the couch, waiting to see what his reaction would be.
"Um, Penny." Sheldon said. "You are in my spot."
"Am I?" she replied, feigning innocence. "Darn. I guess you'll have to sit in my lap."
Sheldon looked conflicted for a long moment, and for a split-second Penny thought that he actually was going to sit on her lap, but he instead smiled tightly and sat down beside her. "Fine. I'll compromise yet again, but only on the condition that you are my team this time. I'm tired of losing to you."
Penny bit her lip and stifled a laugh. "Okay Sheldon, whatever you say." She looked into the kitchen and saw that Howard, Leonard and Raj were all staring at them with open mouths. "What's wrong with you guys now?"
They all turned to look at each other slowly, then looked back at Penny. "You are sitting in Sheldon's seat, and he's letting," Leonard stammered.
"He asked you to play Halo when he didn't have to," Howard added. He looked wildly around the room. "Did we enter Bizarro world while I wasn't looking?"