Author Notes: Thank you to emerald_dragon8 for the beta! Contains spoilers to the episode: The Adhesive Duck Deficiency.
"Happy holidays!" Penny said cheerfully as she handed the menus around the table. "The usual for everyone?" She was slightly alarmed when Sheldon's face began to rearrange itself into what she had begun to privately term the Sheldon Cooper Lecturing Mode.
"No, no, no," Sheldon told her. "It's 'Merry Christmas'!"
Penny stared. She could have sworn that Sheldon had always been very strongly atheist but then again growing up with his mother in Texas might have rubbed off on him more than she had previously thought. "What?"
Leonard made shushing noises but it was too late. "Not again," he muttered.
"It's a misnomer to use 'happy holidays'," Sheldon said. "What makes these holidays so special? You might as well go around saying "happy holidays" for Easter, Independence Day and every other holiday!" He gave a little laugh.
"But," Penny protested, "we got told to say happy holidays. It's a new corporate thing."
"Are you going to say happy holidays around Easter as well?" Sheldon inquired. "It's also a Christian holiday. There are plenty of other holidays at other times of the year that multiple religions celebrate."
Penny stared. "I thought," she said, with a frown, "that the point was to be inclusive of other religions."
Sheldon sighed loudly. "Do you see any non-Christmas decorations? How inclusive is that?"
"In other words," Leonard interrupted, "Sheldon wants to stick with Merry Christmas. I think we can leave it at that."
"Fine," Penny said, with a sigh. "But you guys do want your usual orders though, right?"
Leonard quickly nodded before Sheldon could say anything.
"I was thinking," Penny said carefully, "that we could have a Secret Santa. You know, where you pull somebody's name out of a hat and then you have to buy them a present." Almost immediately, she could tell by Howard, Raj and Leonard's faces that this was not going to pan out to be a good idea.
"Would this Secret Santa have a monetary limit imposed upon it?" Sheldon asked.
"Well, yeah, I guess," Penny said. "My work is doing one and the gifts have to be around fifteen dollars."
Sheldon sighed loudly. "As I explained on a sunny morning three years ago at 10:15 am, there are numerous reasons why this idea is ridiculous. Firstly, you might as well give me fifteen dollars and I'll give Leonard fifteen dollars and Leonard will give Raj fifteen dollars..."
"I get the point," Penny interrupted.
"I don't think you do!" Sheldon exclaimed. "In fact, if none of us gives each other fifteen dollars then we'd be in the exact same position. However, we'd each be able to spend our fifteen dollars on something that we enjoy instead of having to endure being given a second-rate action figurine."
"I said I was sorry!" Howard said. "I thought you'd like it."
Sheldon sniffed. "I don't know why you would think that," he said.
"Come on," Penny said. "It'll be fun!" She turned to Sheldon. "Come on, you didn't mind it when I got you the Leonard Nimoy napkin. Didn't you say you were going to make little Leonard Nimoys?"
"I couldn't find a suitable woman to donate a healthy ovum," Sheldon said stiffly. "I did appreciate your present, thank you. However, I believe I have already explained the problems I have with this particular social convention."
"In unnecessary detail," Howard said, with a groan. "I'm sorry, okay?"
A sudden idea occurred to Penny. "It's one of those friendship things," she said. Behind Sheldon, she could see Leonard trying to stifle a laugh.
Sheldon turned to her slowly. "Are you saying that it is one of the sacred tenets of friendship that one must participate in this trivial gift giving exercise?"
With a straight face, Penny nodded. "It's important to the Christmas. The whole spirit of Christmas."
Sheldon frowned. "Well, if that is the case then." He walked over towards his computer and began typing furiously.
Penny watched for a few seconds before turning to the others. "What's he doing?" she mouthed. From what she could see, it looked as though Sheldon was typing gibberish into the computer, but then again, that's what it always looked like.
Leonard stood up and walked over to stand behind Sheldon. "I think he's working out a random probability algorithm for the Secret Santa."
"Uh, what?" Penny asked.
"He's trying to come up with a program equivalent of drawing names out of a hat," Leonard explained.
"What's wrong with drawing names out of a hat?" Penny demanded. That was the way she had always done it. It was quite fun.
Penny stared at the little printed slip Sheldon handed her. It said in neat typed letters: Howard Wolowitz. She resisted the urge to groan. She had to get him. Looking up, she saw Howard grinning at the rest of them.
"I just wanted to remind whoever gets me that I am always up for exotic dancer vouchers," Howard said, with a wink at all of them. "Although," he said, turning to Penny, "if you got me, then I'd settle for you dancing for me."
Penny shuddered. "You're disgusting," she said emphatically. Looking around at the rest of them, she wondered who had ended up with her name on their slip of paper. She hoped it wasn't Howard. Undoubtedly, with him, she'd end up with some sort of negligee that he'd then want her to model for him.
Sheldon folded his slip of paper with a self-important air and put it in his pocket.
Penny hesitated at the door to Leonard and Sheldon's apartment. She almost had the urge to knock three times and call out Sheldon's name but she refrained. It had been bad enough when she'd asked him to sing Soft Kitty to her when she dislocated her shoulder. She knocked sharply twice.
A few seconds later, Sheldon poked his nose out of the door. "Leonard's not here right now," he said.
"I know," Penny said. "I actually wanted to talk to you."
Sheldon pulled the door open. He had a bewildered expression on his face. "Is this another one of those friendship things?" he asked.
Penny rolled her eyes. "No," she said. "You don't have to say yes or anything, but I was wondering what Howard got you for Christmas that time."
Sheldon looked puzzled.
"You said that he got you some second rate action doll," Penny elaborated.
"Action figurine," Sheldon said stiffly. "Figurines are not dolls."
In all honesty, to Penny, whenever she had seen action figurines in shops, they hadn't looked that different to the barbie dolls she had as a kid, but she sensed that now wasn't the best time to tell Sheldon that. "Action figurines, then," she said.
Sheldon sighed. "Come in then," he said. "I can see that this will take a while."
Penny hid a grin as she walked into the apartment. Sheldon could be quite helpful at times, as much as he pretended not to be.
Penny felt uncomfortable. Sheldon was staring at her in a knowing way. "You are Howard's Secret Santa," Sheldon announced.
"I am not," Penny denied adamantly.
Sheldon lifted up his hand and began counting things off on his hand. "Well firstly, you came over asking about action figurines. Secondly, you came over asking specifically about something Howard gave me five years ago. Thirdly, you have no personal interest in action figurines." He gave his little laugh that grated on Penny's nerves. "That's evident enough from the fact you called them dolls."
"Fine," she said in irritation. "I'm his Secret Santa."
Sheldon sighed loudly. "You shouldn't have told me. Now I know that Howard, Leonard or Raj will be buying me a present."
"You guessed," Penny protested. She had to secretly admit that she wasn't exactly being completely secretive but she had spent two days wracking her brains trying to think of possibilities for presents and she had drawn a complete blank. "Now, can you help me come up with a present for him?"
"He did mention that he would enjoy an exotic dance from you," Sheldon said.
Penny looked at him suspiciously. He had a straight face but she suspected "Bazinga!" might erupt from his lips any second now. "Are you joking?"
Sheldon stared at her. "No, why would I be joking?"
"Because the idea is disgusting," she said.
"Oh," Sheldon said, frowning. "This is another one of those societal norms isn't it?"
"Yes, Sheldon," Penny said, with a sigh. "This is another one of those normal social things that you don't understand. Now will you help me or not?"
"I suppose I have no choice."
Penny stared around the comic book store. Regardless of how many times she came here, it never failed to sink in that the entire store was populated by nothing but geeks. She could see the owner making a beeline for her.
"Penny!" Sheldon called.
"Coming!" Penny said. She half-ran towards Sheldon who was standing next to the comic books. He looked somewhat startled at her enthusiasm. "So I should get him one of these?"
Sheldon stared at her. "One of these?" he repeated incredulously. "You would consider The Green Lantern on par with this?" He held up another comic that looked remarkably like The Green Lantern to Penny.
"I guess not then," she said with a sigh.
"Wow!" Howard said as he unwrapped her present. He looked over at her speculatively. "I never knew you were into comic books."
"I'm not," Penny said shortly. "I'm glad you liked it though."
Howard winked at her as he started to flip through the erotic comic.
"Don't even think about it," Penny warned, edging closer to Leonard. "Ever." From the look on his face, Penny realised that it was a lost cause. Inwardly, she wondered why she had ever listened to Sheldon. He had pointed out the series as one that Howard enjoyed reading, and out of desperation, Penny had bought it.
Penny watched as other presents were brought out. She could feel her heart sinking as Sheldon walked over towards her. Sheldon stood there with a satisfied grin on his face as he held out a package. "I believe you will find my gift more than adequate," he told her.
"Thank you," Penny said, accepting the very thin, neatly wrapped package. She began to unwrap it carefully, aware that Sheldon was watching her closely. "Oh," she said, staring.
"I got you adhesive ducks with whimsical umbrellas!" Sheldon announced. "I know you don't have them because when you slipped in the shower a few weeks ago, I had to help..."
"Yes, yes," Penny said hastily. "Thanks a lot. I'm sure these will come in handy." She eyed the happy yellow smiling ducks.
"Do you need me to help you put them in the shower?" Sheldon enquired. "I believe that it is customary for the gift giver to help with the installation of the gift. It's very important that these adhesive ducks are placed in strategic position or you might end up dislocating your shoulder again. I can also give you the addresses of several helpful websites on the topic."
Penny banished the thought of Sheldon leaning over her bathtub and scientifically measuring where the duck stickers ought to be placed. "I think I can do it myself," she said. "Thanks for the offer though."
Sheldon looked at her seriously. "I am given to understand that helping one's friends is an important part of friendship. One must always both give and take in friendship."
With relief, Penny realised that Sheldon wasn't going to offer her the URLs of websites on friendship. "Yes, Sheldon. That's right."
Sheldon looked relieved. "I thought I'd gotten it right." He smiled in satisfaction, waved slightly and walked away to his bedroom.
Penny stood there for a few seconds, staring after him. Then she looked down at the package of adhesive ducks in her hands and smiled.