AN: First Howard/Penny fic from me (and possibly the first one ever?)

Despite popular opinion, Penny only got drunk on certain occasions. She wasn't a complete lush, she knew her limits. It was just...when things got tough, she often willed herself over the limit so she could forget for a while. She wasn't stupid; she knew it didn't fix anything and she still had to face the world and herself in the morning, but it always seemed like a good idea at the time and it was her optimistic viewpoint that maybe, one day, getting drunk and suffering through the hangover was going to fix something someday.

She'd tried this little plan out first with Kurt. When she broke up with him (alright, versa visa or whatever, she didn't care) she tried to hope that by morning he would have moved out and her life could go on. Instead, she had to pack up and find a new place to live.

She'd tried again when she didn't get that part in the community play. She thought that maybe if she looked a little rougher, more world-worn and broken that the director would reconsider when she forced herself back into the call-back session. Instead, she slept through the auditions and most of her shift at the Cheesecake Factory. She lost her cell phone for that month.

This time, she was going to get completely shit-faced because, frankly, she was well aware that it wasn't going to fix a damn thing. Her optimism was run out on this one because, if things couldn't work out with Leonard, it was never going to work out for her with anyone. Because Leonard was a nice guy and he was good to her. He wasn't like her other boyfriends. She thought she'd finally found someone right and instead it all went to Hell in a hand basket. Just like every other relationship from her past.

She heard a knock at the door and she screamed a very angry "Go the hell away, Leonard!" Their fight had been a bit of an epic one. It had started out over something trivial but had escalated to something volatile and dangerous in seconds. Apparently, with them, when the shit hit the fan, it went went far and wide. All their old issues had been drug up (various commitment issues, Penny's education and inferiority complex, Leonard's confidence) and just blew up like the atomic bomb over Hirota or some Japanese city. She didn't remember, it had been Sheldon's phrase anyway.

Sheldon had taken Leonard's side in this matter, not a surprise. Penny wasn't even quite sure how someone could take sides in this fight. She guessed that meant that Sheldon wasn't going to interact with her anymore (which was both a blessing and a curse) and that she wasn't going to be sitting in the middle cushion of the couch next Halo Night. Yeah, well, not like she was going to be hanging with Leonard much anyway. She was still pissed about the whole ordeal. So, she broke out the vodka.

She was surprised at Leonard's guts because she heard the door creak open. She turned, fire already on her tongue and her second shot already poured. But it wasn't Leonard with his head poked in the doorframe.

"Oh, it's you, Howard," she ground out, not really caring who was at her door.

"Yes, me," he said, entering her apartment more completely. "The guys sent me over, check on you, see how you were doing. Leonard wanted me to count the number of shot glasses on the table."

She knocked back the second shot and turned to give her patented death stare to Howard. Howard, who was rocking back and forth on his heels and using his 'I'm uncomfortable' voice, just backed a little closer to the door.

"You tell him he can take my shot glasses and shove them up his-"

"I think I've got the picture," Howard interrupted. He came over quickly and sat down on the far right of her couch, leaving a safety bubble around himself. "You know, you shouldn't beat yourself up over this. You are much too foxy to let yourself get down over Leonard. Now, if you broke up with me..." Penny, who normally was annoyed with his created bravado, snorted and threw back a third glass. "Hey!" he said suddenly, straightening up, his face brightening. "Here's an idea: how about me and you-"

"I'm not having sex with you, Howard."

"Okay, so scratch option number two off the list. No, how about instead of getting all sad and drunk here in your apartment, me and you go out to a club, pick up a couple of fun-loving people much like ourselves, and forget Leonard and Bernadette for a little while?" She looked over at him. He had forgotten that things had never really gotten off between him and Bernadette. A bad double date and a couple of mother-killing shabbat dinners hadn't really lead to anywhere significant and Howard had seemed a little down about it.

"You want to go clubbing?"

"Yeah, you can be my Raj tonight. And, might I say, you are quite a bit more attractive than Raj. Plus, you can talk me up to the ladies a little bit." She looked at him incredulously. He had this ridiculous smile on his face like this was the single greatest idea he had ever had. She wanted to tell him no and go back to the rest of the that vodka bottle. But, then again, getting drunk at a club and possibly getting laid sounded like a much better plan.

"Okay, I'll be your Raj tonight. And I will be sooooo much hotter than Raj."

"No argument here." She stood up, just a little buzzed already, and told Howard to get himself prettied up because if she was going to pimp him out tonight, she needed something to work with. He told her to meet him downstairs in half and hour.

After a quick shower and a long time standing with her her hair dryer, she was ready to go. She'd pulled out her shortest, sparkly-est dress and her nicest tightest heels. It took her a long time to get down the stairs in those shoes but she was going to kill some hearts tonight and that vindicated the ten minutes of using both hands on the railing to ease herself to the front entrance. Howard was standing in a bright royal blue and rich emerald green number with what looked like a Green Lantern belt buckle. She had to laugh, everything a little funnier with vodka.

"I told you to give me something to work with."

"Hey, this is my picking up chicks outfit. The ladies are drawn to this," he shimmied a little for her.

"Let's go." Penny stumbled a little. "Oh, I better not drive."

"Well, we've got my-"

"No way in Hell I'm getting on that little scooter in this dress." She dug her keys out of the tiny handbag she was carrying and pushed them into Howard's hands.

"Well, let's go, my lady." Howard put his elbow out and waggled his eyebrows, smiling that creepy little smile. She slipped her arm in his (more for the balance than anything else) and let him take her out for the night.

Being Howard's wingwoman wasn't bad. Her first couple of attempts were pretty weak. She would point him out and try to talk him up but the women usually laughed and Penny used her creepy candy coating line more than once. Howard's face would fall every time she would walk away from a gaggle of girls but he bounced back quickly every time the new Future Mrs. Wolowitz walked around the corner. She finally got one girl to take (some little 22 year old thing from Nowhereville, Ohio who totally loved the whole 'I design things for NASA' bit. She'd gone to Space Camp in middle school) and lost Howard for a couple of minutes. She wandered to the bar, putting the drink on the tab she and Howard had racked up for the evening. She caught the eye of a fine looking man at the far end of the bar and sauntered over to him. She was just drunk enough (but not so wasted) that she had no trouble walking in those heels anymore.

"Hey," she said, her voice smooth.

"Hey," he said, his eyebrows waggling slightly.

"I'm Penny," she introduced herself, leaning in and offering her hand.

"Penny? Does that make me a Nickle?" Penny laughed a polite laugh, not even listening but more interested in the buttons undone on his blue silk oxford.

"How about I make you whatever I want?" The guy, whoever he was, raised his eyebrows and motioned for the bartender to come and close his tab.

"So, Pearl," Penny didn't even notice that he had called her the wrong name, "your place or mine?" She was about to laugh and tease him for his impatience, that they should get to know each other first, that she liked to 'take things slow', the growl in her voice suggesting something else entirely, when she felt a hand enclose around her arm. She quickly looked to her right to see Howard there, gently tugging on her arm. She motioned for Tall, Dark, and Whoever to wait right there as Howard pulled her away.

"What the hell, Howard?" she cried as soon as they were out of earshot.

"The phrase 'it takes one to know one' comes to mind but I can't let you go home with that skeeze."

"Howard, don't even start this now."

"Look, that guy is here trolling for women every night of the week."

"How do you know that?"

"Again, not pleasing innocence here."

"I'm going back over there, Howard. Don't you have to get back to Sarah?"

"Sonya," he corrected. "And yes, I do. I sure do." Penny gave him a pointed. "Don't ever let it be said that Howard Wolowitz is a cockblocker-" she groaned in annoyance, "and I don't have any problems with getting a little strange-"

"Oh, my God," she shuddered.

"But, Penny, that is the wrong kind of strange." She stamped her foot.

"Look, why don't you go back to Sarah-"


"And leave me and....him alone." Howard put his hands up.

"Alright, alright. I'm just sticking up for you, the same way I would for Raj."

"'Kay, thanks," she said sarcastically. Howard turned around but she could tell something wasn't quite right.

"I can't find Sonya anywhere. Do you see her?" he said, his neck straining as he tried to see over the crowd.

"Nope." Penny turned around to go back to Bar Dude when she had to stop in shock. She tapped Howard on the shoulder. "Looks like Harry met Sally."

"Or at least his tongue," he said, tilting his head to the right. Penny noticed Howard looked a little defeated (and Penny had to admit she wasn't feeling to hot herself), so she broke down and decided to do something nice for him.

"Come on," she said, rubbing his arm, "I'll buy you a jello shot."

A couple of hours (and maybe one or two body shots, Penny wasn't quite sure and she really didn't want to think about it) later, the bartender yelled out 'last call!' and the club started to thin out. Howard went to close out their bar tab and Penny had to dig into the emergency cash in her brassiere to help pay off her half. Howard waved them down a cab and held the door open for her as she crawled over the sticky leather seat. She called out her address as Howard flopped unceremoniously onto the seat.

"Hey, Howard," she said, how drunk she was bleeding through in her voice. "Thanks for taking me out and not letting me be sad, drunk loser girl."

"No problem, Penny."

"It was fun, being your Raj for the night." She yawned deeply. "Hey, why didn't you stop Sonya from leaving with creeper dude?" Howard seemed to think for a moment, the jello shots clogging up his mind.

"Because Sonya isn't my friend."

"Aw, sweetie!" she cooed, grabbing his hand and squeezing it gently. "You can be quite sweet when you aren't trying to get in my pants."

"Will that help my chances any?" She laughed, seeing the obvious joke in his eyes. The two of them entertained themselves with watching the bright lights of the city as the cab rolled gently to the apartment building.

"Hey, did you bring your phone?" Howard said suddenly.

"Nope!" she laughed. "No room in the inn!" she held up her tiny handbag.

"I forgot mine at Sheldon and Leonard's," the both of them laughed. "I bet my mom has called that thing off the hook."

"Looks like neither one of us was planning on getting laid tonight."

"I should tell you," he said, the slightest shade of seriousness in his voice, "this would be the point where Raj and I would invent our cover story for the fact that we totally struck out."

"Okay, what do you want to say?"

"That we got totally wasted-"

"So far, so true."

"-got a little freaky and had a threesome with a girl we picked up at the club?"

"Uh, no?"

"Alright, another guy?" She laughed.

"Yeah, that's our story."

"Really?" he seemed far too hopeful.

"No." Howard shrugged.

"Worth a shot." The cab pulled up and Howard covered the fare, knowing Penny had already blew all her cash for the night.

"How you going to get home? Because you are far too drunk to try to weave that little scooter down Euclid Avenue."

"It's a Vespa, don't judge." He held the door open as she stumbled in, her much too high heels swinging from her fingertips. "Ah, I'll crash on Leonard and Sheldon's couch."

"Don't be silly, you can sleep on mine."

"Really? That would be great."

"Sure, no problem. At least you won't be a bitch about it like Sheldon." They had reached the fourth floor landing, Penny taking several minutes to dig through her purse to extract the single house key she had shoved in it. After making several attempts to make it in the slot, she finally got the door opened and stumbled inside.

"Da-da-dada-da-da-dada there is no place like home!" she sang off-key. Howard collapsed on her couch and buried his face on the cushions, moaning. "I'm going to go get you a blanket and pillow. Don't get anything on the cushions," he groaned in response, "you know what I mean, Howard." He flipped over suddenly and said,

"I'll take you on my Vespa to get your car tomorrow." Penny couldn't help but smile, knowing that Howard was going to be far too hungover tomorrow (much like she was going to be) to take her anywhere but the offer was sweet all the same.

It seemed as though the moment her head hit the pillow, she couldn't sleep. She thought she heard Howard tossing and turning out in her living room. After about an hour, she drug herself up out of bed and padded quietly into the living room.

"Howard," she whispered, although the whisper wasn't very quiet. "Are you awake?"

"I am now," he groaned. "What's wrong?" he sat up, rubbing his eyes.

"I can't sleep."

"You looking for a little half-conscious hoochie?" he said, the innuendos still coming first to his mind, even drunk and half-asleep.

"No, I want to watch TV." She motioned for him to scooch over and he did, pulling his blanket with him. She flipped on her TV as Howard dozed in the corner of her couch. She flipped past all the channels should would have watched when she was with Leonard, all the Histories and Discoveries and the National Geographics. She went straight to Lifetime and curled into her cushions farther. She was a little disturbed that they were still warm from where Howard had been sleeping on them but she was getting suckered into this movie quickly and the warmth soon faded and mingled with her own.

"I'm going back to sleep," Howard mumbled, "before my testicles decide to ascend." Penny just grimaced at him, noting that his eyes were only half-closed. The movie was some rural farm town drama of a young blonde who wanted to be something more so she took off to the bright lights of the Broadway stage. Along the way, she met the Best Friend, the Jackass, the Handsy Director, and the True Love. Penny couldn't help but just sit there in awe. Why couldn't her life be a movie? Sure a few of the details were different but this had been the dream she had had for her life. Instead, she had only met the Jackass and the Handsy Director. And she never even got the part.

She didn't realize she was crying until she felt Howard sit up next to her. "Oh, hey, don't cry," he murmured sleepily, although the panic in his voice was evident. He obviously didn't like a crying girl anymore than any other guy. "What's the matter?"

She took in these great big gasps of air, trying to get her mind to function enough to tell him. "!" she said, almost angrily.

"If you don't like it, turn it off."

"No!" His eyebrows quirked. "I love it. That's the problem." Howard sat quietly, watching the smiling face of the young blonde as she sang her big number on the opening night of her first Broadway play. "This was supposed to be my life, Howard. Not the whole," she stopped to wave her hands around, trying to communicate what her brain couldn't say, "Broadway New York City thing but you get the drift."

"I'm sure-"

"Oh, don't give me that crap!" her hands flopping wildly into her lap.

"Hey," he said, trying to get her attention, "You'll make it someday, kid." Penny just sobbed harder. For her to hear that someone like HOWARD (who wasn't even equal among his friends because he was an engineering genius, not a Ph.D genius) could have such faith in the girl who didn't even have a degree from community college (and she would have had a degree in performing arts anyway, so it's not like the degree would have counted among them.) She leaned into Howard's shoulder, much like she had let him once, and just let the tears fall. She was happy to see that Howard didn't even try to feel her up. He just rubbed her shoulder softly and let her cry. Hey, maybe he was growing up.

"You're such a big softie, Howard," she sniffed, sitting up.

"Yeah, well, that creepy candy coating, it's just a shell, you know?"

"You heard that, huh?" Penny's face fell a little.

"Yeah," he said, looking down at the carpet. "I'm really more like an M&M." Penny's scrunched her nose, not quite getting the allusion. "Melts in your mouth, not in your hand." She smacked him lightly, the smile on his face stopping her from taking him seriously.

"Howard," she said, after a moment of quiet between the two of them. "Thank you."

"Hey, what are friends for? Besides the occasional late night booty call," he added quickly. She shook her head before she leaned in for a kiss. It was small and sweet and innocent and she couldn't help but smile against his lips when Howard didn't try to push for anything more. She sat back, smiling at the dumbfounded and slightly confused look on Howard's face. "Uh," he began uncertainly. She waited for the obvious proposition, her own sarcastic but gentle turn down already sitting on her lips. "I would just like to clarify that I don't kiss Raj after we go clubbing." She laughed out loud, the alcohol still dulling all her inhibitions.

"Go to sleep, Howard." She stood up and padded gently to her room, looking back to see him touching his lips before laying back down on her couch.