Brisket Sandwiches

They had been fighting again. Lately it had been nonstop, the sort of fighting that was just one big, angry slow fight spread out over at least a month, if not longer. Rajesh Koothrappali was not one to sit down and be walked all over! Well, at least if the person trying to do the walking was an eighty pound man by the name of Howard. Anyone else, maybe they could leave a footprint or two.

Wolowitz had been in the middle of explaining an elaborate scheme involving dry ice, some supposedly local Suicide Girls, and what sounded suspiciously like impersonating some police officers. He was draped along the arm of Raj's couch, sucking on the neck of a beer bottle and gesticulating wildly with the other hand. Raj had had enough.

"Do you mind?" he cut Howard off mid-sentence. "Why are you getting drunk on my couch and talking about boning a bunch of tattoo-encrusted girls with self-esteem issues that you'll never get within five miles of? Don't you know I have work to do in the morning? Work to do with Sheldon?"

Howard mouthed the air for a moment in shock. "Hey, I just thought you'd want in on my sweet setup!"

"Well I don't. I'd have to be drunk to talk to them and I can't drive if I'm drunk and we're certainly not hauling twenty five pounds of dry ice on the back of your scooter."

"So you were listening!" Howard smiled expansively. "See, I planned for that. We'll get it delivered before we even arrive. I'm brilliant, right?"

Raj stared Howard down with a blank face. Howard sheepishly finished off his beer and set the bottle down on the coffee table, next to the three empty ones from earlier.

"So you just come in here, drink my beer when I can't, expect me to believe you know the home address of a Suicide Girl, make a mess, and stagger home?" Raj stood up to collect the bottles. They clinked all the way to the kitchen sink in his hands, waving around to punctuate his outrage.

"Well, no, I wasn't – you don't have to – Raj, come on!"

Raj spun around to look Howard square in his drunken eye. "Go home to your mother."

And that was the beginning of it.

Howard glinted. His eyes, his teeth, his shiny hair. He exhaled into Raj's face and it smelled like hops and pad thai. "No," he said. "I want to move in," he said.

Filling up and rinsing out the beer bottles stalled for time a little bit, but eventually Raj had to turn back around and deal. Instead of asking a question, Raj just raised an eyebrow at Howard, who had perched unsteadily on a dining room chair.

"Mom's been taking classes at Temple; she has new friends. She's even more insufferable than usual. Last night she had me spread cream on her lower back and told me she was learning about her yoni. I have to get out of that house."

Raj snorted. "Well I could have told you that."

"And I was thinking, you know, you're so busy with Sheldon and I've got that new grant money to work with, we haven't been seeing each other as much." Howard twined his fingers together, and looked down at his shoes. Then, in a smaller voice, "I thought maybe if I lived here we could stop fighting."

There was a sigh, and Raj realized it had come from himself. "Where are you going to sleep?" he asked.

There was that glinting grin again. "I'm small. I'll fit!"

"You're paying rent."

"Okay."

"You're paying half the fios bill."

"You don't have fios."

"We do now."

Raj ducked into his bedroom and came back with a pillow, which he threw straight at Howard's face. "I'm going to bed."

In the morning Howard was still there, curled up in a ball on the couch, hugging the pillow to his chest. After brief consideration, Raj filled a big glass with ice water and left it on the table within arm's reach.

***

Lunchtime included a tuna salad sandwich, featuring tomato that had soaked through the bread.

"Where's Wolowitz?" Sheldon inquired.

Raj groaned. "Sleeping on my couch. If he drools all over it, he's paying to have it cleaned."

"Well that's silly. He should choose a sleeping position that won't encourage excess nocturnal salivation if he's doing so on valuable upholstered furniture." Sheldon took a sip of his lemonade. "Not that your couch is particularly desirable. Considering that the only individuals who regularly view the couch are yourself and Howard, the impregnation of his transparent bodily fluids into the cushion fibers should not bother you on a social level."

The tomato slid out of Raj's sandwich and fell with a splud onto the tray.

***

That evening, all Raj wanted to do was watch tv, microwave something for dinner, and go to bed. Working with Sheldon could be surprisingly rewarding, but sweet bovine udders, it was taxing on the brain. He hesitated, unwilling to step out of the rusty industrial elevator that opened out onto his floor, and silently prayed that a sober Wolowitz meant an absent one.

He managed to put the key in the lock before hearing crunching and crashing noises. Angrily, Raj tried to push the door open, and found it was blocked by a pile of cardboard boxes. "HOWARD!"

"Hey, buddy! Have a good day at work? Sorry about the mess, I'll get it all cleared up by tomorrow." Howard wrenched the door open far enough for Raj to squeeze through, toppling over the boxes with a keenly applied kick. "Ooops, guess that was a load-bearing one."

Raj's living room was a disaster. So were his office, his kitchen, his dining room, his library, and his breakfast nook, considering that they were all the same place. Clothes that looked like they'd come out of the bargain clearance section of Delia's were splayed across the couch like a horrible denim rainbow. There was a silk kimono across the television and crates full of what was unquestionably porn under the dining table.

He couldn't take it. There was some kind of strangling noise that came from somewhere deep in the back of Raj's throat, and he stalked into his bedroom, slamming the door behind him.

Thankfully Howard hadn't used Raj's room as a staging area, and he could sink gratefully onto his bed in the dark. Raj tried to suppress the overwhelming desire to strangle Howard's bony neck.

There was a knock. "So hey, you want to order some Chinese or something?" came through the door. After a pause, "I cleared my manga off the table. You want your usual, right?"

Raj's stomach grumbled. Maybe he could sit through kung pow chicken, as long as Wolowitz was paying. He got up off the bed and straightened his sweatervest.

"You'd better have cash," he told Howard as he quietly closed the bedroom door behind himself. Howard just waved over his shoulder as he ordered on the phone. Raj plucked the shiny kimono off of the television, pinky-up, and tossed it over his shoulder.

***

Thirty minutes later and Raj was sitting through Howard prattling on about his day. "Ma had a conniption fit. She almost wouldn't let me take my clothes. I still have more back home."

Raj choked on some rice. "This isn't all your stuff?"

"No no, I just ported over the essentials, today." Howard propped his feet up on a box clearly labeled "T&A 1998-2002" and twirled a chopstick between his reedy fingers. Raj grumbled.

The evening progressed, and Raj tried to act normally, watching tv and making his lunch for the next day, as Howard puttered around behind him, unraveling some uniquely complex organizational scheme.

"What happened to the cafeteria macaroni and cheese being the only food-group you ever needed?" Howard asked from the office as he placed everything purple into a pile.

"I'm trying to cook more. Which you would have known if you ever listened to me. I can't afford to keep eating out all the time." Raj frowned and sliced some cheese.

Moving on to the pale greens in the breakfast nook, Howard hesitated. "Is that why you wanted to take cooking classes?"

"Yes." The cheese seemed awfully lonely, so Raj added some mustard.

"I thought you just wanted to pick up chicks while you were playing with knives."

"No, Howard, that's how I convinced you to come with me. Too bad you didn't make it; the vegan guy stole all our women."

There was a moment in which Raj wrestled with a sandwich baggy and Howard contemplated his belt buckles by theme. "My mom would teach you how to cook, but then I wouldn't want to eat anything you make."

Raj snickered. "I don't want to get drunk and hit on your mother while she's showing me the secrets of kugel tacos, thanks."

"Hey, don't hit on my mom, period."

"Fine! It's not like she's all that womanly anyway, I bet if I squinted I could have a sober conversation with her."

"Don't talk about Mom like that!" Howard's squawk came from the bathroom, where he appeared to be testing the capacity of the plug for his industrial-looking blow dryer.

"I'm going to bed," Raj announced, tucking his lonely cheese sandwich into a Doctor Who lunchbox. "If I don't have a floor by tomorrow, you're paying double rent."