"The Chinese Prisoner…"

Summary: A surprisingly modest Howard has returned to a global hero's welcome after an incredible space feat…But he brought some baggage home…

Disclaimer: All that is Chuck's is Chuck's…

Part XXII…

"Don't even ask…" Penny waved a hand at Lilly's sidelong glance at Amy in Star Trek blue as they entered Leonard and Sheldon's living room, dressed in casual clothes…Though Lilly's idea of "casual" Penny thought, eyeing the designer blouse, slacks, and vest…Pulling at her own "Hello, Kitty" t-shirt with small…Very small…Hole…

"Just considering…I'll stick with red…" Lilly noted as Amy went to assist Leonard with bringing out breakfast dishes and utensils from the kitchen… "Blue's nice on her but a little washed-out for me…"

"Howie, 2001…He should still have the pics…And the uniform still fits…" she grinned… "I brought it into space in my travel bag…I'd been kinda hoping I'd wind up at the ISS for a while after my lil' escapade and have a chance to wear it…Or at least in a hotel once we got down…But there were too many crowds…"

"I said I got it that Howie was hooked…I never said I wouldn't give it my all…" she eyed Penny's look…

"Penny?..." Amy had returned with dishes… "Can you take these?...I've got to change…Sheldon just called me on cell phone from his room and he's concerned my sexual attraction index will be too high for the males in our pride…"

"Hubba-hubba, girl…He's right…" Lilly grinned… "I just saw Hofstadter giving you the once-over…"

"Understandable…" nod… "Sorry, bestie…I should have considered…Be right back…" Amy turned, pausing…

"Unless of course…" wink… "We're preoccupied…"

"Ok…" Penny, nervously…

"Go get 'em, tigeress…" Lilly beamed…Waving…Amy hurrying off to Sheldon's room…

"God…I'm starting to feel like a mom trying to get over catching her kid with a girl when I catch them in something nowadays…" Penny sighed… Quick glance Leonardward…

His eyes better be firmly fixed upon breakfast preparations…Good…

"You have that maternal thing goin'…" Lilly nodded… "And Leonard's clearly 'dad' to this merry band…"

"Really?..." Penny beamed… "We're 'mom and dad'?..."

"And you got nice kids, Mrs. H…" Lilly patted her shoulder…

"What?..." Leonard had come out…Bearing mugs and bowls…

"Nothing, 'dad'…'Father'…" Penny corrected, happily…

Hmmn?...

We're not gonna go getting kinky in front of our famous guest, are we?...He stared…

"Any sign of Howard and Bernadette?..." Penny asked…

"She took him out a while ago…To give him Heck over something…Not back yet…"

"Helloooo…" an emergent Raj, entering in robe and slippers, choking off on sight of the girls…

"Medium, dark, and silent…" Lilly nodded…

"So…'Father'…Shall we get about gettin' breakfast for the kids?..." Penny urged, moving to Leonard…

"Uh…Sure…What?..." he blinked at her…She pulling him along…

"Gotta talk to you…Soon as we can get alone…" she hissed…

"Did we have a nice time last night?..." Lilly, to Raj, motioning him to a seat near her as she took seat on the couch… "Why yes, thanks, we girls surely did, kicking ass level…"

He sheepishly nodding and smiling…

"My bedroom's free now…" Leonard hissed back…She giving him sour look…

I said talk, idiot…

"We can talk there, too…" he, reading her look to her repressed pleasure…

Father gets Mother without a word being said…Naturally…

Oh, this is gonna work…It really is…I can see us on the porch in our rockers right now…Back from skiing in Switzerland after he gets that Noble prize thingy…Old Sheldon fumin' in his rocker to Amy…"Dagnabit, I was supposed to win…" bang of cane on floor… "Eh, Moonpie?..." Amy pretending her hearing aid is off…

"Penny?..."

"Oh, ok…Lets go…" she nodded…

He'll look so cute all round and white-haired…Us both with stomach troubles, comparing which brand of antacid/antigas we like best…

Complainin' how the kids never call these days…

"How's about Morse Code?..." Lilly offered… "I do that with my brother sometimes…"

Raj looking rather relieved, nodding…Yes…Eagerly…

"Ok…" she smiled…Tapping on the coffee table…

"Back in a mo…" Leonard called…Staring at Lilly rapping on his table…Raj contentedly rapping back…

"So Howie used to test the barcounters at each place before happy hour to find the ones requiring least rapping effort?..." she eyed Raj… "Then send out general propositions in Morse?..." giggle… "That is so my Howie…Practical and lewd…" Raj shrugging and smiling in agreement, rapping… "Take your time, guys, we'll check the eggs…" she called to them…Rapping back…

"Tractor beam engaged…" "Locked on target…!" cries from Sheldon's room…Penny eyeing Leonard, Leonard, Penny, with worried look…

"Just pretend you heard nothing, honey…" she suggested…Patting him…

Sometimes the best thing a good parent can do…

"So?..." Leonard eyed Penny…

"Lilly's turning herself over to the Chinese…For her family's release…"

"What?...But…"

"Leonard, didn't Howard tell you…This was all staged…Well, not Howard saving her but the 'accident' in space…She was trying to get them to release her and family…But they're demanding her back in exchange…Leonard…They will kill her…Or worse…"

"My God…But does Howard…?"

"He doesn't know…At least Lilly hasn't told him that they've refused to let her go…And she doesn't want him to know…"

"Can't she just refuse to go?…They can't touch her here…"

"That guy and the other could…Besides, they won't let her family go till she's back with them…We gotta do something, Leonard…" she insisted…

"Are you sure about this?...Lilly is very determined to get Howard…" he eyed her… "Maybe she's not above trying to worry him into something…?"

"She hasn't told him…She doesn't want him to know…"

"She told you…"

"I guessed…She admitted…Leonard, I believe her…"

"Ok…Fine…But she's gonna be on the ISS in a month or so…She'll land with Howard three months later and be picked up…Her family will be safe here…Where's the problem?..."

"They won't let her go on the mission…She'll be too sick on account of death or torture…"

"Seriously?..."

"Seriously…" she nodded… "And I believe that too…Leonard, can't you come up with something?...For me, please.."

"Me…?"

"And the other guys, if you want…Leonard, what if it were me?..."

"You, a famed astronaut/engineer back from a historic space rescue?...Saved by Howard?...At risk from agents of a foreign power?..." grin…

"Giving you the chance to outshine him…" she eyed him…

"I'll try and think of something…" he nodded… "You did get that I didn't include 'beautiful' with 'famed'…?"

"Noted and retained in your favor…" she nodded, patting him…