Pairing(s): Raj/Stuart, Howard/Bernadette, Howard/Raj

Rating: Explicit

Notes: Written for (LJ) jh_july001's suggestion of jealous Howard on my prompt post. Also a fill for (LJ) kiss_bingo (prompt - greetings: goodnight). I didn't exactly expect it to be quite so lengthy. Several scenes with a somewhat limited character-focused narrator. On the whole a deviation for me. This is what happens when a bingo prompt goes out of control. I want to write more of this pairing so badly I can taste it. Major thanks go to (LJ) denkinousagi for putting up with me through not just one but two beta reads. Hah.

Disclaimer: This is a work of fictional parody in no way intended to infringe upon the rights of any individual or corporate entity. Any and all characters or celebrity personae belong to their rightful owners. Absolutely no money has or will be gained from this work. Please do not publicly link, repost or redistribute without letting me know first.


It started on movie night, just that special time Howard and Raj had always set aside to stay in and watch a movie. No Leonard whining to pause it every time he has to pee. No Sheldon. No Penny bursting in asking for an explanation about why they're still watching Star Wars when they watched it last week that would no doubt lead to more twitching on Raj's behalf while Howard attempted to explain things she just didn't get, like trilogies and special editions. Just two men on a couch with a television and no interruptions.

That is, no interruptions until Bernadette came. It wasn't that Raj didn't like her; she was amazing - smart and funny… and mostly alright for the sort of girl that would make it past the first date with Howard Wolowitz. She just seemed to worm her way between them, and as much as Raj told himself that it wasn't on purpose, and that it was perfectly normal for a man of their age to spend more time with his woman than his friend… there was that sneaking suspicion that she knew that what she was doing was much bigger than a simple "girl between best friends" sitcom plot device. Not that Raj would ever admit to thinking about that, of course. Instead, he decided it was high time to find companionship elsewhere.

By eight o'clock Raj knew for sure that he'd been haphazardly cast aside without even a fumbled text message apology that claimed that something had come up… something like his penis. Raj needed something, anything, to feel less like a stood up loser. Determined, he drove to the same place that he always went to after getting his heart broken.

"Hey…" Stuart looked up from the counter, where he'd been only halfheartedly sketching when the bell above the door clanked - it had recently been in an altercation with a neighborhood anime fan that took offence to Stuart's lack of stocking the latest manga, but had really never sounded better than the hollow clink of metal on metal. "Closing up in forty-five."

"I know when you close," Raj muttered, not particularly surprised that even the regulars had skipped out for the night, save for a guy in a bright orange windbreaker rocking a puffball haircut, whom they had affectionately dubbed "Windbreaker Guy".

"Just saying…" Stuart shrugged, watching casually as Raj loitered between a box of newer graphic novels and the 'New Releases' wall. "Maybe I can help you out; you look a bit lost without your creepy little pal."

"Screw Howard," Raj grumbled, shoving his hands into his jacket as he eyed the new Spiderman-Wolverine.

Stuart shook his head and just let it go. If he'd learned anything in his years dealing with that whole group, it was that some things you just had to let go… especially when Raj got that note in his voice, like he was about to cry. It wasn't any of his business, but it seemed like every time Koothrappali came in looking like a kicked puppy, he wasn't looking for a stack of Spiderman, but a friend that wasn't in that whole incestuous little thing they had going on.

Raj sighed, slowly reaching out to pick up the issue that he'd been eyeing. "If Wolverine and Spiderman can work together…" he muttered under his breath.

"Shit," Stuart swore under his breath, trying to return back to his sketch pad. Koothrappali was in deep; he'd seen it a hundred times before… The breaking up of a bromance was frequently witnessed within the confines of the local comic shop. In a lot of ways, he wanted to just completely brush it off - it wasn't the first time that he'd seen Raj with that look and likely wouldn't be the last with the way Wolowitz strung him along like a backup plan - but he just couldn't let it go. Call it oddity, call it the particular breed of loneliness that he felt like they could share, but he just couldn't let the poor guy flounder. "Hey, Koothrappali." He bent forward over the counter, holding out an issue of PunisherMax as though it were some sort of Holy Grail. "This is what you're looking for. And my last copy."

His interest piqued by the unexpected conversation opening, Raj approached the register and took the book. "I don't know; I've never really been big on the Punisher…"

"You haven't read this. Castle kicking ass in a big way, my friend. You'll hate yourself if you don't read it."

"I haven't read the first issues, I hate starting a series in the middle."

There was always an excuse to not read a good book. "It's the Punisher. Come on; torture, mayhem, organized crime, assassins, shooting and/or blowing shit up. What more of a story do you need?" Stuart raised an eyebrow, still seeing the reluctance. No accounting for taste, but really… what man doesn't like a good book of mostly meaningless violence and explosions?

"I don't know…"

"Okay, how about this." Stuart sighed, resigning himself to once more not caring about the problem if his final offer was refused. "After I lock up, we'll go back to my place and you can read my personal copies of the back issues." Even Windbreaker Guy turned to see how that one was going to play out; it was a hell of an offer.

Raj faltered a moment; he really wasn't that into the Punisher… but it was a very compelling offer. How often does the owner invite you to check out their private stash? Besides, he didn't exactly have anything better to be doing… and it would really piss off Howard. "Sure, all right." He smiled as Stuart withdrew the book, slipping it back in the bag. "I'd like that very much."

Stuart reflexively smiled, not entirely sure if inviting Raj into his personal space had been a good idea or not; but at least Windbreaker Guy seemed happy with the response.

The drive to Stuart's was short, but apparently not short enough. As Raj slowed down at a yellow light, he happened to look out the window to catch Howard leaving a small bistro. Before the light changed again, Bernadette ran out to join him - sweeping him into a big hug. As big as Pasadena was, he had somehow managed to run into the very people that he didn't want to be dealing with.

"Wow, when Howard makes out he really just goes for it," Stuart remarked, drawing only another sigh from his cohort. Sure, Raj was upset… Watching a guy like Wolowitz practically maul a cute blonde in public would do that. Probably even worse considering he'd ditched Raj to even go out to dinner.

Raj accelerated hard when the light changed back to green; "screw Howard" indeed.

The comic books had been pretty good; nothing quite like graphic violence to deal with his underlying anger. For Raj, however, the better part came halfway through issue #3, when Stuart emerged from his bathroom smelling of soap and queued up an old episode of Dr. Who. Just hanging out in the studio apartment once more reminded him of hanging out in Howard's room, watching whatever happened to come up at the time and thumbing through comic books. It was exactly what he'd been wanting for months.

"Hope you don't mind if I settle in a little bit. I've been working on a Wiki article I'd like to get up tonight." Stuart tugged down a false cabinet front to reveal a full sized bed already done up in primary red and blue.

"You have a Murphy bed." Raj grinned. "Like in that James Bond movie!"

"Yeah, haven't heard that before." Stuart sighed. "It came with the apartment. Saves a lot of space." He stepped away to retrieve his laptop, only to find that Raj had invited himself to stretch out across the mattress.

"I'm lying on a bed that was in a cupboard." Raj grinned wider.

"My bed." Stuart raised an eyebrow, setting down the computer. "You can't just lie down on another guy's bed."

Raj shrugged, sitting up. Before he could reply, his cell phone chirped. "It's Leonard; I should take this." He flashed an apologetic smile and answered. "Hi Leonard!"

"It's me."

"Oh. Hello Howard. What're you doing with Leonard's phone?" He laid back down, the metal frame letting out a creaky sigh.

"I wanted you to answer." Fair enough. Raj added another item to the mental list of things to avoid when upset with Howard: all incoming calls.

"What do you want?"

Stuart grimaced, sitting down at the head of his bed, pressed comfortably against the pillows.

Howard didn't answer right away; it sounded like Sheldon was saying something on the other end… probably nagging. Eventually, he said, "You, uh… You weren't at your apartment so I thought I'd check over here. Just wanted to see what you were up to and maybe hang out or something."

"So, Bernadette wouldn't put out and you thought I would," Raj spat back, oblivious to Stuart, who was clearly interested in the apparent scandal. "I already told you; if you're not interested in the relationship, we're not doing it anymore."

"No, no!" Howard loudly protested. "Nothing like that. Geez… I totally respect that. I just thought we could finish watching Two Towers."

"I finished that two weeks ago, when you had a pottery exhibition to go to." Raj closed his eyes, attempting to block out the rage. "I watched Return of the King last week when you stood me up for dinner with her parents. Guess what; I'm all out of trilogy, bitch."

"Don't even. Raj… come on, where are you? We'll meet up and talk about this privately."

"If you must know, I'm in bed." Raj quickly opened his eyes, hit by a flash of evil inspiration. He looked at a rather confused Stuart who just sat there, mouth agape.

"I went into your apartment; I think I would know if you were in bed."

"I never said it was my bed."

"You aren't…"

"I am. And this conversation is over." He hung up the phone and put it on vibrate before setting it down on the bed.

Stuart stared at him, finally blurting out, "What the hell was that about?"

Raj sighed, covering his eyes with his hand. "You probably shouldn't have heard any of that."

"Kind of hard not to." Stuart shifted his foot, absentmindedly letting it rest against Raj's arm. "Sounded pretty intense."

"That's not exactly how I would describe it," Raj muttered. "More like stupid and literally gay."

"I don't really care about the gay thing, though that is kind of compelling." He shrugged again, closing his laptop without even bothering to open up his project. Really, if he'd gone this far, he might as well throw himself off the deep end - not like he really had to deal with much drama in his day to day life. Really. "I mean… it sounds sort of strange but if you want to talk about it…"

"Howard is such an asshole sometimes," Raj blurted out. "Just when it sort of looks like maybe we're not just hooking up out of desperation, he gets this girlfriend and doesn't even want to hang out with me anymore."

"Ah… complicated…"

"I miss having a best friend."

Stuart was at a loss; he wasn't exactly used to dealing first hand with emotional situations that weren't happening to him… let alone the sort of things that Raj was dealing with. "I… uh… I'm not really good with this sort of thing." He let out a nervous chuckle, stroking his bare toes over the knit sweater vest's shoulder. "I guess it sounds like what he's doing is really hurting you."

"I don't want it to. It's not like I started out this whole friendship thinking it would turn into some sort of secret gay soap opera. I just want everything to be back to normal and right now it feels like nothing is ever going to be normal." Raj's voice caught in his throat and he let out a soft whine.

"Normal is overrated." Stuart shrugged and waited for a response, coming to the slow realization that Raj was actually crying… He was really torn up about the whole thing. "Hey, look… Raj…" He stumbled for something, anything to make the tears break. There was just something about that degree of distress that seemed to render him completely useless… There just wasn't really anything he could do to comfort a man who'd reached the point of tears. "I know how you feel," he said quietly. "I mean, geez, the last relationship I had was with an Amazon that left me for a professional rugby player." He sighed and put the laptop aside, knowing deep down that he was probably going to regret what he was about to do. With no bravado, he stretched out across the bed beside Raj. "I can't even make friendships work; everyone I know is either online only or someone I know from the store. The last time another person I wasn't trying to sleep with was in my apartment, it was to fix my sink last summer." He started to feel like he may as well have a good fucking cry too, not that he was the type… but he had to admit that it was pretty much as pathetic as it gets. "I think I have a handle on lonely."

Raj rolled onto his side, still covering his face as though it hid the obvious. Desperate for touch, he wrapped an arm around Stuart's waist - a nervous palm only tentatively touching the small of his back, fully prepared to be brushed aside. When Stuart's whole body went rigid under the touch, he managed to say, "Maybe we could be lonely together."

For Stuart, the thought held some sway; it wouldn't be bad to have a partner in misery, but Raj was clearly pretty needy and it could really cut down on his already limited free time. With a somewhat reluctant reciprocation, he let his body relax and returned the hug, swallowing a lump in his throat when Raj pulled him in close and buried his face in Stuart's pajamas. "I… I guess that could be okay."

Raj held his new companion tighter and mumbled against his shirt, "I'm sorry."

"Don't be sorry." Stuart closed his eyes and found his own palm stroking Raj's unexpectedly soft hair with a gentle touch. "It's going to hurt for a while, but I'm sure everything will get sorted out in time."

They must have lain like that for a few hours. The disc had ended and they were both nearly asleep when Raj's phone vibrated against Stuart's cheek. "You've got a call." He patted the back of Raj's head with his full palm, and then let himself go back to making soft twists of dark hair around his fingertips.

"I don't want to answer it. I want to stay right here," Raj mumbled, lifting his head to rest it against Stuart's shoulder, his lips brushing against the other man's collarbone in a way that could be read as something interesting or nothing at all.

Stuart swallowed hard and moved his hips away from where they fit against Raj's thigh. The intimate proximity did things to him; his body was really not used to closeness that didn't precede some sort of sexual activity. "It's late; you probably should head home anyway."

Raj didn't move for a long, silent moment. With a quiet sigh of resignation, he slowly rolled away and sat up on the bed. "I'm sorry I was crying; I hope it didn't make you uncomfortable."

"Horribly," Stuart answered honestly, but was quick to add, "That's what that whole friendship thing is for, right?" He pulled his blanket down onto his lap as he sat up, offering a shy smile.

Raj nodded, an echo of a grin crossing his lips. "Thank you."

"Any time." Stuart glanced down at the blanket, willing his body to stop firing off signals like a horny teenager. "You, uh… you mind letting yourself out? I really should post that article."

"Sure." Raj nodded and licked his lips. After a moment of quick deliberation, he leaned in and gently kissed Stuart's mouth - chaste and fast. "Good night, Stuart."

"Uh yeah." Stuart blushed quite obviously, startled by the kiss. "Good night."

Raj made a quick path to his car and sat outside the apartment building, keys hanging just far enough in the ignition to occasionally create a phantom "ding". He felt like a complete idiot, bawling like a little girl on Stuart's shoulder and thinking that maybe the closeness had been some sort of invitation. Friends don't kiss friends. Friendship doesn't mean relationship no matter how unexpected or easy it was to make that jump before.

He leaned back into his seat, eyes closed and doors locked. It was stupid, but at least Stuart hadn't been angry. He didn't yell or throw him out unkindly, didn't even seem a little upset. He said goodnight. "He smiled," Raj chuckled under his breath, shaking his head against the headrest. It had been nice, being close to someone who seemed to be genuinely kind with no ulterior motives. Someone who understood what it was like to get treated like some minor sitcom character just there to provide a cheap punch line.

Someone who held him and stroked his head. Someone who smelled like Smarties and strawberry shampoo. Someone like Howard used to be before he started acting like the whole world revolved around getting women, even when he was getting laid on a regular basis.

Screw Howard.

"Screw you!" Stuart waited until after the door had closed and he'd successfully counted to one hundred. When satisfied that he was safely alone, he withdrew the blanket and directly addressed the rather telltale tent in his pajama bottoms. "I hate you," he whispered, brushing his hand over the loose button that was doing a pretty terrible job of keeping the fly closed. "You know it is possible for humans to touch each other platonically." He managed to open the button, letting his hardness push out past the worn flannel opening. "It isn't like that was even a sex thing. Basic human comfort," he reminded himself, letting his fingers stroke over the hard shaft - teasing it up the rest of the way with minimal effort. "Has it really been so long that now I get aroused with a simple… long… hug?" He closed his eyes and laid back once more on the blanket. "And that kiss."

He didn't really want to think about the incident, let alone the tense knot in his belly, as he began to stroke himself while considering it. It pretty much fell into the big file of things that he didn't really want to be thinking about. Things like the soft thickness of Raj's hair, or how easily it had been for the guy to just hug him and hold him… like it was the most normal thing in the world for them to be doing.

His cock twitched and his thighs began to clench tighter. Muttering nonsense under his breath, Stuart stroked faster. "Like that, just like that… close… close… close…" he groaned low and loud as the orgasm hit, following it with a panting whine. "Yeah, things got kinda weird…"

Howard called the next morning as Raj was having his first coffee of the day. Out of exhausted blindness, he answered the phone. "Morning?"

"Good morning or great morning?" Howard asked, clearly a bit excited that Raj had even answered.

Raj sighed, taking a long sip out of his cup. "It's none of your business."

"Come on, when I get laid I'm practically shouting off the rooftops."

"Unfortunately." Raj turned his computer on and rubbed the sleep from his eyes as it booted.

"Was it really that bad? What happened? Did you make sure you use two rubbers so you don't get off too fast?"

"No! I'm not talking about it. If you just called to harass me about my sex life I'd like to go take my shower now."

"Fine, have it your way," Howard groaned. "I also called because I'm guessing you didn't listen to my voice mail last night. I wanted to remind you that I have two tickets for tonight's showing of Tron."

"I'm listening."

"I need you to take them." He sighed loudly. "I just found out last night that Bernadette's parents invited me to some family thing and there's pretty much no way I'm going to be able to get out of it."

Ahh, yes. That would figure. "You and I were going to go together before Legacy comes out! I don't want to go by myself."

"Well, maybe you can take your lady friend from last night?" Howard added in a sly voice. "She might enjoy it."

"Fine, Howard. I'll see you later."

"Hey…" Howard's voice lifted slightly. "Good morning."


By ten-thirty, Raj was already not only bored but bored enough to be playing Farmville in between bouts of looking like he was actually working. After deciding that it was between wasting the remaining time before lunch on Facebook or getting out of his office, he set off for a long lunch and a trip to the comic shop to see if his new friend was interested in extending their friendship beyond the entirely too comfortable encounter.

It occurred to Raj as he entered the store that he'd only ever been there at night or on the weekends… He briefly wondered who actually went to a comic book store before lunch time even. Turns out, it was mostly the same people who were usually there.

"Hey there." Stuart reflexively smiled when the door clanged open. "You are right on time, Raj. I just got in some back issues… including PunisherMax #1 to 5."

Raj grinned. "Sweet, I'll take them."

"So, uh… everything okay?" Stuart leaned against the counter and lowered his voice when Raj stopped directly in front of him.

Raj nodded slowly. "It will be. Taking a long lunch though; I had to get out of there for a bit."

"Yeah?" Stuart briefly looked away from him, checking up on the customers loitering. It occurred to him that things should probably be awkward, but they actually didn't feel so bad. Really, the more he thought about it, the less bad it felt, which was sort of the opposite of how things usually seemed to go. "Not much going on here… Just normal daily stuff." He laughed, wondering himself why it came out sounding a bit strangled and nervous.

"So, I'm going to see Tron up at the Regency tonight." Raj nodded to himself, flashing a smile.

"Sounds like a good time. I wasn't able to get tickets but I'm sure the theater will just be crowded, you know? I'm not really good with crowded places. I'll try and catch it another time."

"I have an extra ticket." Raj lifted an eyebrow, waiting for the response.

"On the other hand I could always take half a Xanax." A hint of a smile curled the corners of Stuart's mouth.

"Is that a 'yes'?" Raj handed over his cash when the small stack of comics had been rung up.

"Yeah! Yes… I mean…" Stuart made change on instinct, distracted by the unexpected invitation. "That'd be great."

"Great!" Raj grinned even wider, fairly certain that he looked like an idiot, but not particularly caring. "It's a date!"

"Yeah… I'll meet you there."

"So…" Howard's voice came from behind before he slipped into his seat beside Raj, lunch tray in hand. "You still mad at me?"

Raj sighed and shook his head; it wasn't completely true, but he supposed that it was the closest to an apology that he was going to get out of Howard. "No, I guess." He flipped the page of the issue he was reading.

"You gonna tell me what happened last night?"

"Geez, Howard! Nothing happened, okay? We talked and cuddled and then we kissed goodnight and I went home." Raj shot him a dirty look. "It wasn't a big deal."

"Not a big deal? I thought you knew the basics of dealing with women… Everyone knows that when a girl is cuddling she's basically putting it out there. Did you even cup a feel?"

"It wasn't like that. It was innocent… for mutual comfort." Raj gave up on actually reading and closed his comic, slipping it back in the bag and to the top of the stack.

"But… you kissed."

"It wasn't like a kiss- kiss. It was like kissing my grandmother."

"Eww, that bad huh? Was she really old or deformed or something?" Howard halfheartedly jabbed at his pasta. "Or a burn victim?"

"No! I… I sort of wanted to, but we're just friends, okay? And not the sort of friends that have sex together."

"Well you don't know if you don't go for it, right?" Howard shrugged, looking up as Leonard joined them. "Back me up here, Leonard. When a girl cuddles with you, doesn't it mean she totally wants you?"

Leonard raised an eyebrow. "I guess… it depends on the situation. Is this hypothetical girl naked, or implying that she's interested in intercourse?"

"No." Raj sighed.

"How long of a cuddle are we talking here, five - ten minutes?" Howard asked.

"Maybe like three hours?" Raj answered with a shrug. "Maybe a little more; I almost fell asleep."

"Three hours?" Leonard shook his head. "Did somebody just die?"


"Oh god, you're in," Howard groaned. "You didn't tell me that part!"

"Leonard?" Raj looked at the slightly saner one of the pair, as though he might actually say something useful.

"I hate to say it, but I think Howard's right… I would have gone for it."

"Howard Wolowitz is never right," Sheldon swept into the conversation, setting down his tray and bag. "It is a statistical improbability."

"I'm right about this," Howard defended.

"It wasn't about sex, okay? Just drop it. Everyone."

"Well now wait a second, I have no idea what isn't about sex," Sheldon pressed onward. "How can I know for certain that Wolowitz's hypothesis is incorrect when I have no data to go on?"

"It's none of your business!" Raj quickly stood up and stormed out, taking his comics with him.

"Well that was awkward." Leonard shrugged.

"He doesn't want to talk about his secret not-girlfriend." Howard gestured towards Sheldon with is fork. "My bet is it never happened and this is all just a ploy to make us think he's actually seeing someone."

"Since when does Koothrappali read Punisher?"

Stuart closed up a couple hours early, not that business was particularly busy anyway. He didn't really know what to think of the whole date thing… It just wasn't something he expected at all. Sure, he dated girls when he had the opportunity… and he wasn't exactly opposed to going on a date with a guy. At least he'd know up front what he was working with… but nothing was going like it should. The order was all wrong; you don't just suddenly invite someone to your apartment and end up cuddling them, kissing them, jerking off, and then go out to the movies together.

He muttered to himself as he hung a clean shirt and jeans over the edge of the sink, stepping into the tiny shower stall. It wasn't a big deal, really, but the thought of doing the whole date thing with no time to prepare was unnerving. The last time he'd even attempted a gay date, he was in college and ended up spending two years in a relationship that he didn't actually want but that seemed better than the alternative. Steve wasn't a bad guy, really; he just wanted the same thing every good-looking twenty year-old guy wanted, and for some crazy reason, was okay with getting it from Stuart. Unfortunately, he was getting it at least daily, and was not exactly interested in little things like reciprocating. Or going out. Or not having sex with other people.

Raj was different, of course. Probably too different, but in a way that was sort of interesting. He'd never actually managed to go out with someone he considered as damaged as he was.

A long cool shower and half a sedative later, he walked to the theater alone. It was no big deal, just a simple little date… He had his lucky brown blazer on and a decent pair of jeans. The worst thing that could happen would be that it doesn't work out… which was pretty much the way all of his dates went. It wasn't hard to pick Raj out of the short line already forming near the doors; even with his back turned, he looked pensive and the slightest bit lost.

"Hey, you beat me here; you still have the tickets?" Stuart spoke up just loud enough to be heard and ensure that everyone in line knew that Raj was holding their tickets and that he was totally not cutting in line… Movie geeks could get brutal.

"Hey." Raj turned around to face him. "I hoped you'd be able to make it."

"Come on, wouldn't miss it." Stuart smiled; it felt good to just be out… and out with someone else, for that matter.

"Mind if I go across the street for coffee? They won't be opening the doors for like, another half hour."

"No, no. That's alright. Get me a decaf?" Stuart nodded, slipping into his spot in line.

"Cream, sugar?"

Stuart shrugged. "Just a shot or two of caramel creamer."

Raj nodded, darting across the street with his hands in the pockets of his slacks.

Stuart didn't recognize anyone already queued up in the line, but that didn't mean much… Not nearly as many costumes as he'd expected. He definitely didn't expect to see Wolowitz cross the street with a petite blonde that would have to be the unfortunate girlfriend.

"Stuart, hey… Didn't expect to see you out of the store so early." Howard flashed a smile, tilting his head back to look down the forming line. "Socializing."

Stuart shrugged. "You must be Bernadette. I've heard a lot about you." He forced a smile and nodded her direction.

"Only good, I'm sure." She giggled, pushing her glasses up on her nose.

"I'm sorry you ended up with him." Stuart grinned, shrugging. "Not all of us get so lucky."

"Enough of that." Howard stepped in between them. "Have you seen Raj around? I wanted to say 'Hi' before we meet up with Bernadette's parents."

"Yeah, he just went to get some coffee; should be back in a couple minutes."

Howard paused, and then raised an eyebrow. "He, uh, came with you?"

Stuart shrugged again. "Oh, you know… he asked if I wanted to go and all." He licked his lips, looking towards the doors in an attempt to end the conversation before it got even more uncomfortable. The very last thing he wanted to do was to be in the middle of Howard and Raj's apparently messy situation.

"Man, I was hoping he'd bring the woman he hooked up with last night. He didn't want to talk about her, which means he probably had a really good time and doesn't want us to know because she's some sort of circus freak."

"Howard!" Bernadette hissed, hitting him on the shoulder. "You're supposed to be supportive; he's your best friend."

"I am supportive; circus freak or not, a date is a date."

"Yeah, well… you know, maybe he didn't have a date last night and he told you that he did so you'd leave him alone about it." Stuart sighed, knowing full and well that he was stepping in something he didn't really want to be part of.

"Personally, I'm leaning more towards circus freak," Bernadette added with a forced smile, waving when she saw Raj crossing against the light. "Raj! Hi!"

"Hey, Raj, how come you didn't invite your lady friend?" Howard grinned, patting Raj on the shoulder.

"I told you it wasn't a big deal, Howard. Shut up." Raj leaned over, whispering into Howard's ear before handing over Stuart's decaf.

Stuart chuckled nervously, stepping back out of the conversation.

"Anyway," Bernadette interjected. "Come on, Howard… we're going to be late and you know what my mother does when we're late."

"I thought you wanted her to assume we're too busy getting it on…"

Stuart waited until the pair was out of earshot before muttering, "That was awkward."

"Howard makes everything awkward." Raj sighed into the plastic lid on his cup.

"Seems to be under the impression that you hooked up last night."

Raj shrugged, looking away. "At least he didn't tell you his theory on cuddling."

"Now I'm curious."

Raj chuckled and sighed, "Apparently, in his head, cuddling leads to sex. They were harassing me about not making sexual advances."

Stuart snickered, catching a stray sip of his drink. After a short hacking fit he managed to say, "Well… he didn't seem to realize who you were with."

"I hope not. That would really make things awkward."

"Yeah." Stuart nodded. "Man, I've got to remember that caramel coffee should be swallowed, not inhaled."

Raj grinned. "You know… I'm like caramel…"

"Hey, look… they're opening the doors early."

The film was pretty much the way he remembered it; not really that great but also sort of amazing at the same time. Raj tried to stay wrapped up in the story, but he had seen it more than enough times to get distracted by the subtle push of Stuart's fingers against the side of his hand on the shared armrest. "Sorry," he softly muttered, sliding his palm against the back of the narrow wooden bar to give Stuart room.

"It's okay," Stuart whispered, leaning in close. Several minutes later Stuart's hand slid back on top of his, and then once more nudged against the side. Raj came to the slow realization that it wasn't an accident, but a request.

Raj looked at Stuart, the bright blue lights making him quite easy to see. He was staring at the screen, eating his popcorn one piece at a time with his free hand. With a shrug, Raj tilted his hand and let Stuart's fingers settle underneath his.

Stuart turned to him with an unexpected smile, and then offered up his popcorn to share. It was… nice. Usually, when he went to the movies with Howard, he got the feeling that he could have been there with anyone.

Not long after, Raj found himself enjoying the way Stuart's hand felt pinned under his. He experimentally curled his fingers around it, actually holding hands in a movie theater. Feeling even bolder, he leaned in close and whispered, "Is this a date?"

Stuart turned to face him as though startled by the question. "You said it was," he hissed under his breath.

"I didn't necessarily mean date-date. But I like this."

Stuart attempted to pull his hand away, whispering slightly more loudly when Raj held it tight. "I feel like an idiot…"

"Don't, no. I want this to be a date now."

"You can't just call it a date halfway in and that magically makes it a date."

"Maybe it was a date from the beginning and I just didn't know it," Raj whispered, leaning in close enough to kiss.

"You're the one who asked me out; if you didn't know it was a date then it categorically isn't."

"It is," Raj responded, louder than anticipated.

A young girl in front of them suddenly turned around. "Just shut up and listen to the movie, guys."

The rest of the movie was silent, despite Raj refusing to let go of Stuart's hand, the short walk to Raj's car and the subsequent drive to Stuart's apartment building even more so. Finally, as Raj turned off the engine, Stuart broke the silence. "I'm sorry; I thought you thought it was a date."

"I didn't, but that doesn't mean I don't want it to be. I just… you know…"

"You're my friend." Stuart sighed. "I know; I've had this end of date conversation before. Believe me; I understand when I've been an idiot."

"You're not an idiot." Raj locked the doors after Stuart attempted to get out. "I thought you were into women."

"It's not exactly something I advertise." Stuart looked down at his hands, unable to actually look at Raj in the face while giving out such personal information. "Look, I had a boyfriend once when I was in college and it went sort of really kind of bad." He closed his hands into fists, digging them into his jeans. "I've spent a lot of time in therapy getting over that sort of thing. You're probably the first guy I've run into that might be different from that."

"I am different; just give me a shot here." Raj didn't even really know what he was fighting for, only that it felt like it was worth it.

"You're too different. That's the problem; this whole stupid thing started yesterday and now I'm already feeling like there's something going on here when we only sort of had one stupid date." Stuart unlocked his door again. "This is all wrong; things don't happen like this."

"What do you mean; this sort of thing happens all the time!" Raj hit the locks again, drawing a soft grumble from Stuart. "Maybe not to us, but to normal people who have normal relationships; sometimes you just see something in someone that wasn't there before."

"That isn't normal, Raj. That's Beauty and the Beast."

Raj faltered a moment, recovering quickly. "Okay, maybe it is… but it works for this situation. I want to think of you like this… like I am right now."

"Like you weren't three hours ago."

"Maybe I was!"

"Were you?" Stuart shot back, letting go of the door handle in resignation. "Because I was sure as hell thinking about it last night while I masturbated, fantasizing that you had forgotten your cellphone and were going to come back and catch me. That's what I feel right now."

Raj blinked several times, then took a deep breath and dove off the deep end, so to speak. He wrapped his arms around Stuart's shoulders and pulled him across the small console, pressing a rough hard kiss against his lips. Stuart attempted to protest, only to have Raj's tongue sweep along his lower lip and into his mouth.

It was definitely a sweeter goodnight kiss.

Howard excused himself from dinner early, a text message from his mother providing just the sort of escape that he'd been looking for halfway through the meal, when the topic of conversation shifted from the space station to the Jews nailing their savior to the cross. You know, because he was apparently there.

He waited in the Starbucks across the street from the theater until the movie got out, and proceeded to trail Raj's car on his scooter. He knew it was sort of creepy or whatever, but he had a right to know what was going on. Raj barely knew Stuart, let alone well enough to take him to a special showing of Tron of all things.

The car stopped in front of Stuart's apartment building; Howard had been there a few times to make personal trades and recognized it easily enough. Deciding that if he was going to stalk them he may as well follow through all the way, he tucked his scooter in the alley and crouched behind some overgrown bushes not fifty feet away. It was dark, but they'd taken the rookie security risk of parking underneath a street light that made it easy enough to see the outlines of their bodies even through the dark windows.

His stomach flipped when he saw Stuart's outline come across the center, then into the driver's seat - into Raj's lap. There were only two reasons for that sort of move… and it was doubtful that Raj was choking on anything but a whopping dose of tongue.

Screw Raj. Screw his inability to cope with the fact that Howard had a woman that he cared for in his life. Screw Stuart too. Which he probably already has.

Stuart pulled away as soon as Raj let him, panting slightly as his body relaxed into Raj's lap, the steering wheel uncomfortably pressed into his back. "Shit."

"Much better than kissing my grandmother." Raj grinned, taking a shaky breath.

"That was… actually…" Stuart could feel his ears burning and knew that yet again, he'd probably be getting himself in more trouble than it would end up worth. "That was good."

"See, this is good." Raj nodded.

Stuart sighed and attempted to relax, only succeeding in driving the steering wheel of the small car harder into his back. "I can't do this."

"No, you can! We should totally do this!"

"In the car," Stuart grumbled. "If we're gonna go through with this, it can't be in the car."

"Right… right… yeah, here…" Raj fumbled for the locks and managed to wiggle his palm under the handle. "Can you get out my door?"

"Probably safer than going back over to my side…"

"So you're okay with this?"

"Yeah, yeah… just watch out for my foot…"

"No, I mean this… is this okay?" Raj raised an eyebrow.

"Oooh. This? This is… yeah, okay. Why not?"

"I'm a big fan of 'why not' sex." Raj chuckled nervously, popping the door open to let Stuart out onto the street.

Stuart managed to land on both feet, and then leaned his back against the hood of the car, stretching out enough to feel what was probably going to be an interesting bruise. "Aren't we all?"

"Could do it out here." Raj grinned wider, sliding out of the car and pushing his body tight against Stuart's. "It's not a busy street…"

"Right, if we were totally psychotic," Stuart chuckled, letting himself enjoy the mixture of mild anticipation and dread that he always felt with the supposed assurance of an attempt at having sex that may or may not be successful. "Maybe you can come inside for… coffee…"

"Mmm, coffee… right… with a nice big shot of caramel cream…" Raj dropped his voice to a low murmur that he appeared to think was sexy.

"Only if you don't say anything like that ever again."

"Come on, it was a good flirty banter."

"No, Batman and the Joker have good flirty banter… That… That was borderline inappropriate."

"Mmm…" Raj leaned forward, pinning Stuart against the small car as he kissed him again. "I can live with borderline."

Stuart couldn't help but smile as he shook his head. "Come on. Inside."

Reluctantly, Raj agreeably followed close at Stuart's heels into the building without even noticing that they had not been alone.

Stuart fumbled with his keys, and muttered under his breath. "I can't believe we're doing this. This is a bad idea; it's too soon…"

"We don't have to." Raj shrugged, stripping off his windbreaker. "You can totally stop it any time you want." He managed to untie one shoe, leaning against the door to as he worked on the opposite side. "I don't want you to feel like you have to do this."

"Oooh, I do." Stuart let out a nervous chuckle, stepping out of his loafers before hanging up his blazer. "It's not so much a matter of wanting to stop as that oh-so-wonderful sensation that this is going to end badly."

"I don't want it to end badly." Raj tugged his sweater vest over his head, leaving a short trail of multiple clothing layers as he stepped closer to the bed already down and still unmade from the previous night.

"Nobody wants sex to end badly, it just sort of… happens. You know, one minute you're getting ready to get down to business and the next you're handcuffed wearing nothing but ladies undergarments while a big girl in a catsuit calls you 'Princess'."

"Princess?" Raj popped open his shirt buttons and quickly as he could.

"Yeah, that was a strange year." Stuart shook his head then shrugged. "When you think about it thought, sex is a minefield of preferences and inadequacies. We're pretty much setting ourselves up for an encounter that will only prove to be disturbing and not nearly as satisfying as we want it to be."

"Still in?

"Yeah." Stuart smiled with a brief nod, somewhat excited that he actually was still interested. His voice caught in his throat for a moment when Raj finally managed to strip off his undershirt, revealing the soft, brown flesh. "Yeah," he echoed, letting out a high-pitched sigh before sitting on the bed and shimmying out of his jeans and under the covers.

Raj smiled, rocking his hips side to side, letting the pants drop to the floor with a hollow thump. "Good; me too." He licked his lips, rubbing both palms down his sides and under the waistband of his tighty-whities. "On, or off?"

"Oh god," Stuart muttered, closing his eyes as the anxiety once more bubbled up in his belly. "I'm sorry, Raj… I can't do this…"

"No! I mean… what did I do wrong?" Raj sighed loudly, sitting on the side of the bed with his back to Stuart. "I'm just trying to do this all right."

"No, no, no… it's not you." Stuart sighed and covered his face with both hands. It wasn't fair to either of them and he knew it… His brain just didn't want to let it happen. "I just have anxiety issues." He forced himself to focus on making the dread take a backseat and just sitting back and enjoying the situation.

Raj lowered his head, waiting for further explanation. When none came, he pushed himself under the blanket, lying down beside Stuart just close enough for his shoulder to brush against him as Raj rolled onto his side, looking at the covered face. "I get it," he said. "If it makes you feel any better, I sort of feel like I'm going to throw up."

The absurdity hit Stuart hard, managing to draw out an honest laugh. "God, we're pathetic." He grinned, slowly withdrawing his hands to find that he was only a little uncomfortable with Raj looking at him. "We can't even have normal sex with the fully admitted knowledge that neither of us has any place judging the other."

Raj smiled softly and cupped Stuart's cheek with his palm. "At least we can be pathetic together, right?"

Stuart couldn't help but smile; apparently it was just the sort of thing the knot in his guts needed to hear. "I don't know if that's the saddest or the most romantic thing I've ever heard."

Raj leaned in and kissed him, following the tender gesture with, "We'll go with romantic; it sounds better."

"Right," Stuart agreed, turning his cheek just enough to kiss the edge of Raj's thumb. "It's not going to get less weird, is it?"

"I highly doubt it."

"Are you still interested now that you know I'm a completely neurotic mess?"

"That depends." Raj kissed him again as though testing his chances. "Can you deal with me being a little needy?"

"A little?" he let himself joke; it was going to be okay… even if it didn't work out in the long run, they were on even ground for a moment.

"Okay, maybe a moderate amount," Raj conceded. "But only after the second date."

Stuart raised an eyebrow. "You can't just plan a second date when you haven't even beaten level one."

"Level one?"

Stuart nodded into Raj's palm as it gently stroked his face. "Level one is… uh… sexual intimacy issues. And level two is learning to cope with personal neurosis."

"This game sucks, dude." Raj laughed.

"Hey, I didn't write it." Stuart shrugged. "I'm just stuck at level one in my underwear, under a blanket, talking about how hard it is for me to actually have sex."

"If that's all we have to conquer…" Raj let himself slip into a much more comfortable position, realizing that if he didn't take the upper hand, nobody would. Boldly, he traced his hand down Stuart's cheek, across his chest, and then back across his belly, finally pausing where it joined with his underwear. "I should tell you I am a total power gamer."

"What do you…" Stuart started to ask, letting out a soft groan when Raj's fingers stroked deliberately over the front of his Superman boxers. "…That, right."

"Stuart?" Raj quietly asked, the slight shift under the cotton fabric all the encouragement he needed to continue.

"Uh-huh?" Stuart whined low in his throat, one knee shaking as his body responded easily to the unfamiliar touch.

"Shut up."

Stuart whined again, biting down into his lower lip when Raj flung back the bedcovers and slipped his hand under the elastic waistband. "Uh… okay…"

He took the entire length in his palm, squeezing softly at first, drawing it up hard enough to slowly stroke it from base to tip. "Good, good…" Raj muttered under his breath, gradually increasing his speed as Stuart's hips thrust up into each stroke.

Stuart closely watched Raj's face and the way the tip of his tongue slightly jutted out from between his lips as he concentrated on what he was doing. It was lovely, much too lovely… lovely enough for him to be getting dangerously close to making it a very quick encounter. "Oh god, slow… slow… I'm close…" he groaned, swallowing a lump that rose in his throat as his own body tried to push him even faster.

Raj listened, looking up to flash Stuart a bright grin. "See, fun?"




Raj chuckled, and then withdrew his hand from the cotton shorts, rubbing his damp palm across the leg. "I like you like this…"

"Me too." Stuart whimpered when he realized what was about to happen. "You're not…"

"What did I tell you?" Raj's smile dropped and he raised a serious eyebrow after sliding down the bed and crouching between Stuart's thin thighs.

"Shut up," Stuart groaned.

"Very good." The smile was back, eclipsed by the sensation of Raj's face rubbing against the open fly as he hooked his arms under each hip, bringing him in as close as possible. Teasing him, Raj nuzzled up against the open fly, kissing at the musky fabric before nosing it to the perfect angle for the hard cock to slip through. "Mmm, very good."

"You're killing me," Stuart whined again, lifting his hips towards his companion.

"Don't think about it, Stuart…"

"Please…" Stuart groaned, bending up his knees and slightly opening his legs, feeling the drag of worn cotton against the sensitive flesh shoot to his pleasure center.

Giving in to the anticipation, and possibly the slightest bit of Stuart's urging, Raj gently kissed the soft tip before flicking his tongue down the slit and just underneath. Encouraged by a low moan of appreciation, he worked his way down the shaft with soft kisses, then again with his tongue.

Whimpering, Stuart bit down hard into his lower lip. Too close… He was much too close to pull back again. "Raj…" he groaned behind clenched teeth. "Gonna…" Raj's warm mouth enveloped his cock completely, taking him just over the edge. Raj's fingers dug into the tender flesh of Stuart's thighs as he swallowed hard, flicking his tongue as best he could. "Up… Up…" Stuart panted, his body flushed hot.

Raj smiled and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, then crawled on all fours to fully straddle him. "See, not so bad."

Stuart chuckled softly and nodded, "Yeah… it's been a while."

"Mmm." Raj nodded, kissing both corners of his mouth and then gently on the lips, lowering his body against Stuart's.

Relaxing easily under the weight, Stuart pressed a kiss against Raj's ear. Unexpectedly, his legs were trapped between Raj's and then pushed tightly together. "Raj… Rajesh…" he murmured. "Wait a sec…"

"Uh-huh?" Raj looked at him in the eyes with all seriousness as he pressed himself down against Stuart's unfamiliar bare skin - enjoying the sensation of being skin to skin.

His brain went a little fuzzy for a moment, Raj's hard cock digging into the leg of his boxers proving to be quite the distraction. Finally, Stuart managed to say, "I… I can't do, what I think you're going to do."

Raj rocked gently his hips, rubbing up against the warm cotton as hard as he could manage. "What's that?"

"A… Anal," Stuart over-pronounced the word, not entirely surprised to be embarrassed even given their current situation. His cheeks burning hot, Stuart closed his eyes long enough to finish his thought without feeling like he was horrible. "I can't do it."

"It's okay," Raj groaned, lowering his head against Stuart's shoulder, his gentle rocking growing more and more erratic. "Just this. Good," he muttered against Stuart's neck, his mouth seeking out and tasting the new skin.

"Ahh… okay…" Stuart smiled again, still nervous but enjoying the soft kisses almost more than the steady dig of Raj's hardness against his thigh and the rasp of wiry hair against his chest. It was easy enough to get lost in the sensation.

So very close, Raj rocked his hips harder - holding himself tight against his partner. With an erratic thrust, his cock slipped past the leg opening and dug against the warm skin underneath - it was all he could take. His body clenched and he held Stuart tight, wrapping his limbs as fully around him as he possibly could. One final hard thrust tapered off into several weaker gentle pushes before all that was left was a panting, whimpering mess of the pair.

Finally relaxed and calm, Raj rolled back onto the bed, the metallic squeal of the frame punctuating his pleased sigh. "So, did I master level one?"

Stuart grinned, getting out of bed to clean up and change. "Maybe; it's not like there's fireworks and a flag."

"Was my timer on a six?"

With a soft laugh, Stuart replied, "We'll say… three this time."

Saturday came with the promise of a return to routine. Raj spent most of the day with the usual suspects, reading his back issues of PunisherMax. Halfway through the last issue, which he didn't really want to be reading but it was saving him from Howard's sideways glances, Penny let herself in.

"Oh, hi Penny!" Leonard looked up with a grin. "We're reading comics. I can show you some if you like."

"I think… no." Penny flashed a fake smile. "I've actually got some groceries I need to put away. Can I borrow you for a second, Raj?"

Raj looked up from his book, confused. He leaned in to whisper to Howard, only to have Penny's hand grip tightly around his wrist. "I need you. Now." Not having much choice in the matter, Raj let her drag him out of the apartment and into her own.

"Sit," she ordered, slamming the door behind her. "We have something we need to talk about."

Raj opened and closed his mouth, then offered a shrug.

With a Cheshire grin, she walked behind the bar and produced an oversized bottle of beer from her fridge. "I ran into Stuart at the grocery store this morning."

Raj's eyes went wide, but his vocal chords remained paralyzed. When she pressed the cold bottle into his hands, he waited a moment to see where she was going with it… It could be about a gift or something…

"So, how long have you guys been together?" Penny sat down close beside him on her sofa.

He opened the screw-top and drank the first third of the bottle in a single long swig, grimacing at the taste but thankful for feeling the psychosomatic loosening of his voice alongside the slight buzz in his head. "Excuse me?"

"Okay. Drink your beer, honey." She rolled her eyes and continued, "Stuart was hanging out at the meat case, trying to find a brisket and I was just gonna avoid him… but, you know, I still feel sort of sorry for him and he really looked like he needed a clue," she started. "Anyway, turns out he's shopping for two."

Raj slammed the second third of his drink, partially petrified and yet still partially considering mentioning that a spoiler alert would be appreciated for that sort of thing.

"I asked how everything was going with his girlfriend and he said they split up a few months ago over some rugby guy, but he was sort of seeing someone new. I wasn't going to pry, but then he mentioned that he didn't know if this someone ate beef because of their religion and proceeded to ask me if you ate beef."

Raj shrugged, feeling the heat under his collar. "So, he met some girl from India - probably wouldn't eat a cow."

"Yeah… except when I told him that sometimes you do and sometimes you don't, he said that it was a good thing to know." She raised an eyebrow at him as Raj sunk deeper into the upholstery. "And then he said he had to go and practically ran away from me."

"So? You're making some pretty wild assumptions there. I don't get where you'd get that at all…"

"I checked Facebook. Last night you guys went to the movies, and this morning his relationship status went from 'single' to 'it's complicated', followed by a whimsical status update about caramel coffee creamer."

Raj muttered, "Damn you, Facebook." With a few large gulps he finished the rest of the beer, letting his head swim a bit… It was worth it for a little tension relief.

"Right, so spill it. How long have you two been playing Batman and Robin?"

"Batman and Robin? Honestly, that's the best term you can come up with?"

"You heard me."

Raj sighed; there really was no getting around Penny when she was dead set on making you give her what she wanted. "Two days. I don't even know if we're actually officially dating… We had a date." He sighed again. "I didn't even know it was a date until we…"

"Got it." Penny grimaced. "That's what I was afraid of. He's fast tracking you."

"So…" The thought was confusing; more of that Penny logic that apparently made sense at one time or another.

"He's making you his boyfriend!"

"Oh." He hadn't considered the thought; in fact, he hadn't really thought beyond what they may or may not be doing that night that apparently involved a brisket. "That's great, isn't it?"

"No! No, honey… that's bad," Penny groaned. "No wonder you guys can't get a serious girlfriend."

"What's wrong with that? We've known each other for years and seem pretty compatible. And the sex was…"

"Stop. Okay, there isn't really anything I can say that will make a difference to you. But you need to make sure you really want this if you're going to let it move this fast."

"It's not moving fast… The last relationship I had took five years before we even had sex; I can't do that again."

Before Penny could even put that thought together, let alone form some sort of sensible response, there was a loud knock on the door followed by Howard's voice. "Raj!"

Raj was on his feet first, opening the door before Howard could yell again. "Yes?"

"We need you across the hall to settle something. It's kind of important."

"Hello, trying to have a conversation here!" Penny piped up.

Leonard's voice was loud and clear from one open door to the other. "See, I told you they weren't having intercourse."

"What in the fresh hell?" Penny shot up off the couch, storming across the hall in a heartbeat. "Did you just say what I think you just said?"

"All I said is that I think it is a fair hypothesis that you and Koothrappali are engaging in intercourse to satisfy your mutual need for physical and emotional intimacy," Sheldon defensively responded. "Sure, it may seem farfetched, but with the evidence presented an easy assumption can be made."

"We're not having sex, Sheldon," Penny shouted, stepping just inside the apartment.

"She's telling the truth, guys. They aren't doing it." Howard closed the door. "I've been telling you that they aren't for the last five minutes, but you refuse to listen to the voice of reason."

"You provide no evidence to the contrary," Sheldon replied. "And Penny, clearly if you were engaging in clandestine encounters with Koothrappali you wouldn't want to be exposed."

"We're not having sex. I don't have a secret girlfriend and I wish all of you would stay out of my life!" Raj loudly spoke up, catching everyone's attention. "It's none of your business."

"I think it is our business," Howard coldly responded, stepping closer. "You're fucking someone who happens to be a friend of ours and that could very easily affect us if things don't work out."

"It's not me!" Penny added, stepping back to Leonard's chair to see if Raj would back down.

"I only went there because you decided your girlfriend was more important than working on what was already there. You just take me for granted all the time and started treating me like I'm some sort of third rate sidekick. We were best friends, Howard, and you sacrificed all of that by acting like a total jerk!"

"I'm a jerk? You're the one who said I had to pick between you and Bernadette. I was perfectly fine handling both of you," Howard managed to defend himself despite the shaky ground.

"I didn't mean our friendship had to be thrown away. I just didn't feel right having sex with you while you were in a relationship!"

"Did not need to hear that," Penny murmured, sitting on the arm of the large chair and leaning against Leonard.

"Me neither," Leonard added.

"Certainly explains a good deal of the last several months." Sheldon didn't bother looking up from his Justice League.

"So you went and jumped in bed with Stuart? Come on!"

"You're just jealous because Stuart understands me!"

"I'm not jealous," Howard lowly growled in his throat. "Why would I be jealous? We're friends, remember? I'm happy for you."

"Right… which is clearly why you jumped to the conclusion that we're having sex."

"No, I came to the conclusion you were having sex when I saw you practically rip his pants off outside his apartment building!"

Raj's mouth hung open in disbelief. After a long moment, Howard backed down, falling into the couch. Raj grumbled, "You followed me! I can't believe you were so jealous that you followed me!"

"I'm not jealous! I was trying to protect you!"

"Protect me from what, Howard? I was out with someone I trust. Someone we all know and trust." Raj sighed. "The only thing you were trying to protect was yourself."

"Don't flatter yourself."

"If I have a boyfriend and treat him the same way you treat Bernadette, we'll pretty much never see each other." Raj licked his lips and shrugged, trying to look like he wasn't more conflicted than he'd ever felt before.

"You don't understand, Raj." Howard's voice dropped to an embarrassed mumble as he looked at their friends staring at them… even Sheldon.

"You're right, Howard. I don't understand." Raj picked up his comic books, obviously gathering his things to leave. "Right now I don't even want to."

"Well, that's an interesting presentation of Drama Theater," Penny muttered after the door was slammed shut, looking away from where Howard had sunk into the couch covering his face with his hands.

"Popcorn, anyone?" Leonard chuckled nervously.

"No thank you, Leonard. I'm waiting to see act three."

Stuart smiled when Raj came in; feeling less like it was just a nervous tic than the previous day. Granted, it had been an interesting day, what with attempting to buy groceries and Penny… and Wolowitz calling with pretty clear intent to defend his territory. "Hey, Raj."

Raj came in close, leaning his hip against the counter. "You would not believe the day I've been having."

"Oh, I've got a pretty good idea." Stuart chuckled, a blush creeping up his ears. "Howard called."

"I'm sorry. He's such an asshole sometimes." Raj lowered his head. "I was kind of an ass too, I shouldn't have said he was jealous."

Stuart shrugged and glanced around… Nobody of any real concern within earshot. "No, no… he's definitely jealous. He made sure that I was quite aware that he knew over a hundred ways to kill a man and had access to large amounts of flesh eating bacteria."


"Nah, don't be. Isn't the first time someone's threatened my life, though usually it involves my opinion of comic book, film, or television universes." He paused. "Speaking of which, I'm in the process of indexing and cross-referencing my external hard drive and DVD backups… Starting the fifth Doctors series tonight. You know, if you want to come over and maybe eat or something."

Raj grinned and nodded; "I like something. I'll bring a cake."

"Celebrating?" Windbreaker Guy cut in between them, setting a stack of dollar comics and a Mystic Knights booster pack on the counter.

"I like cake."