A/N: I've been kind of intrigued by this pairing for awhile. There is very little fic for these two so I thought I would make a contribution. Enjoy!
Raj wasn't too sure when the change had taken place. But there had been a change and it unnerved him.
For the past few years Howard had been his closest friend. They worked at the same university, had nearly all of the same interests, and Howard was Raj's link to the outside world. With his crippling inability to speak to women, Raj relied on Howard to be his interpreter. But Howard also encouraged him to be bolder and do things that he would never have dared do on his own.
Both Raj and Howard knew that they were very important people in each other's lives; they spent more time with each other than with anyone else. But Raj was beginning to wonder whether or not their friendship was normal. Did normal best friends spend this much time together? Did normal best friends get called out as being involved in an "ersatz homosexual marriage"? Did normal best friends get jealous when one of them tried to hit on a woman? And since when did he care if Howard hit on women? That's just what Howard did. He was a tiny, horny Jewish engineer. Trying to score with women was just an inherent part of who he was.
It was Anything Can Happen Thursday, and Howard and Raj sat alone at the bar. Sheldon, of course, had wanted nothing to do with the idea, and Leonard had Penny now, so that left the Dynamic Duo. On their way to the bar Howard had used that exact phrase to describe them, which in turn caused an argument over who was Batman and who was Robin. After the usual bickering, Raj conceded to Howard and then proceeded to sulk.
"Okay, fine, you can be Batman," Howard offered.
Raj grinned and said a sincere, "Thank you."
Raj had opted to try a new drink, and sipped at a white russian as he sat next to Howard at the bar. Howard took a swig from a bottle of beer and scanned the crowd, searching out and sizing up women. He slapped Raj on the shoulder and leaned in to whisper, "Seven o'clock, chunky redhead. Most guys would overlook her, but you know, I don't mind a little junk in the trunk. Just a little more to love, right?"
Raj turned to look to look at the woman Howard was eyeing. When Howard slid off the barstool and headed in her direction, Raj felt a pang in his chest. This certainly wasn't the first time Howard had ditched him to try to hook up with some girl, but that didn't make it hurt any less. It felt like a rejection.
Raj turned back to the bar and took another sip of his drink. A couple minutes later, Howard was crawling back up onto the stool.
"I told her I was a scientist and she, uh, she said she didn't like science, and I can't help but be the intellectual I am, so I gracefully bowed out."
Raj smirked upon noting the red mark on Howard's cheek that looked suspiciously hand-shaped. "Want to go back to my apartment and watch DVDs?" Raj asked.
"But we just got here, the night is young! There are still so many beautiful women here to score with!"
"I think you mean strike out with," Raj clarified.
Howard glared. "But it's Anything Can Happen Thursday! Don't you want to stick around and see what can happen?"
"I know what can happen. You can get turned down multiple times by multiple women, maybe get slapped again, and then go home alone. Come on dude, let's just go."
Howard sighed dramatically. "Yeah, okay."
Raj unlocked the door to his apartment and flicked on the light. Howard followed him into the apartment and flopped down onto the couch.
"Do you want a beer?" Raj called from the kitchen.
"Sure, I could use one. Or five."
Raj came around the couch and sat next to Howard. He handed Howard a beer and kept one for himself.
Howard took a long swig from his bottle and sighed. "Why is it that I always end up with you at the end of the night?"
"I really don't think you want to know the answer to that, dude." Raj responded while rolling his eyes.
"Am I really that pathetic? I can't believe that the only person who would want to spend the evening with me is you!"
"Oh, thanks a lot!" Raj spat sarcastically. He was clearly hurt by Howard's comment.
"Aw, come on man! You know I didn't mean it like that! You're my best friend, of course I want to spend time with you."
"Whatever, let's just watch a movie." Raj got up and picked a DVD off of the shelf. He put it in the DVD player, turned off the lights and sat back down on the couch.
Partway through the movie Howard leaned forward to put his empty beer bottle on the table. When he leaned back again, his arm rested next to Raj's. The feel of Howard's arm against his own caused Raj's mind to flash back to the time they had spent at the North Pole this summer. Specifically the night the heat went out.
The four of them had huddled together, more or less naked, in the cold, dark cabin, their body heat keeping them all from freezing to death. Raj had been on the end, with Howard next to him. When Raj awoke in the morning, Howard was behind him, and Howard's arms were wrapped tightly around Raj's body. Howard's hand was covering Raj's, which he had clutched against his chest. Raj stretched out his fingers and entwined them with Howard's. Raj could tell that Howard was awake because Howard's chest was pressed up against Raj's back, and when he linked their fingers he felt Howard's breathing stop for a moment and then change pace slightly. They lay there for a few minutes, neither of them moving or saying a word. When he heard Sheldon get up, Raj dropped Howard's hand and got up himself. They never spoke about this incident with each other or anyone else.
When Leonard's mother had come to Pasadena for a visit, she had posited that Raj and Howard sought intimacy from each other as a means of coping with their inability to find intimacy with women. But what if that wasn't the case? Okay, so neither of them had ever really had a girlfriend, but neither of them were virgins either; they both had a certain amount of experience with women. But maybe, despite that, they still looked to each other for something they weren't getting from anyone else. What if there really was something between them that wasn't ersatz at all? Perhaps there was a possibility for something more. The problem was, Raj wasn't too sure as to how to go about testing this theory.
He sat for a moment, staring blankly at the movie on his TV screen. Howard's arm was still pressed up against his own, and the cogs in Raj's mind were turning, trying to come up with a way to feel out the possibilities. He tentatively placed his hand on Howard's knee and asked, "Do you want another beer?"
Howard tensed at the contact and then said, "Uh, yeah, sure."
Raj went to the fridge and grabbed two more beers. So far, not so good, he thought to himself.
When he sat back down again, Raj positioned himself just slightly farther away from Howard than he had been before. Howard took the beer Raj offered and slumped down in his spot. In doing so, he moved his knee so that it knocked against Raj's leg. Raj shuffled a bit, until he was once again shoulder-to-shoulder with Howard. They sat this way, sipping on their beers occasionally until the movie finished. Raj hit the button on the remote to turn off the TV and they both sat in silence for a moment.
"So," Howard said, trying to break the silence.
Raj took the initiative to continue to dialogue, "Umm, I would give you a ride home, but I've had a few drinks tonight, so I probably shouldn't drive."
"Oh, yeah, that's okay. I can call—"
Raj cut him off, "Do you want to just stay here tonight?"
Howard nodded, "Sure, okay. That works too."
Raj went to the closet and grabbed a blanket and pillow. He took them into the living room.
"Can we…" Howard started and then paused, thinking about what to say, "I mean, I know we all agreed not to talk about this, but can you and I talk about what happened at the North Pole?"
Raj felt the heat of embarrassment creep up his neck. He nodded and sat down on the couch and placed the blanket and pillow next to him.
Howard took a deep breath, opened his mouth and then closed it again.
Raj suddenly felt bold, and grabbed Howard's hand. "I don't know why you did it, and I don't know how you feel about it, but what happened that night meant something to me. You mean something to me."
"You don't have to get all sappy about it," Howard smiled. He then raised his free hand to Raj's face, leaned forward and placed a quick, soft kiss on his lips. "You mean something to me too. I'm just not sure exactly what yet."
A huge smile slowly spread across Raj's face. "Well, let's find out then." He stood up and pulled Howard to his feet. Raj wrapped his arms around Howard's slim torso and kissed him deeply. Howard kissed Raj back with just as much fervor. Their lips broke apart; Raj grabbed Howard's hand once again, and dragged Howard towards his bedroom.