I don't own BBT.

After nodding a thanks to the barista, Raj took a few seconds to bore into his drink's deep dark depths, like most regular coffee drinkers would. He decided that it passed his makeshift visual assessment of taste, and took a slight sip. Moderately strong, therefore palatable. He was glad that they chose this local joint over Starbucks, in which the coffee tasted like old piss at its best, its Sunday morning best. Raj rolled his eyes at that thought, sighed slightly, and leaned back into his chair. He didn't know why, but he was just not having a good day.

Nevertheless, Raj glanced up dutifully to his friend, Bernadette, who was talking with her hands just as excitedly as she was with her mouth about how she found the perfect little shop that agreed to do floral arrangements for her wedding. She, and her fiancé Howard, who sat next to her and was looking at her fondly, were to be married in a few days. Raj nodded attentively as she spoke, and even smiled a bit. He couldn't help but feel slightly happier for her. Everything sounded good bubbling from her lips. Heck, the girl was sunshine in her whole essence.

Raj was relieved that Bernadette was able to maintain her cheerful air despite her early pregnancy, at least around him and the rest of the group. He knew, from horror stories told by a shaking Howard, that she had a reclusive, yet explosive temper that "could tear asunder the whole solar system if you pissed her off enough".

Raj was glad he was not marrying Bernadette.

Absent-mindedly, Raj shifted his gaze to Howard, whose mood seemed more pleasant than his own. He could tell by simply looking into his eyes, which were glowing in a mild, lukewarm green today. Howard immediately met his gaze and curled his mouth slightly in acknowledgement. His cheeks flushed a darker pink as he released his smile and channelled his attention back onto his fiancée. Raj thought it was probably due to the heat. He sighed again; Pasadena became quite hot in the summer indeed.

It was when Raj gulped the last sour bit of the coffee and set his mug on his napkin for good that he noticed Howard had barely touched his drink. No, he had been fixating on Bernadette for all this time, who was just about to wrap up the last bit of some other epic tale she seemed to be engrossed in telling. But, during the whole two consecutive epic tales she told, Raj saw that Howard's eyes did not away from her for a second. Was she really that fascinating?

Howard did eventually catch Raj staring at him again, and grooved his eyebrows upwards curiously. Raj shrugged his shoulders carelessly in response, though he was beginning to feel slightly irritated on the inside. Howard had become so much more reserved since he began his relationship with Bernadette. But what Raj was concerned about was how immediately his friend had sunk into manhood. He had destroyed his previously beloved collection of Hentai only days after Bernadette became his girlfriend. There now existed this newly found, but uncomfortable reticence in his character. If Howard had caught Raj just stupidly staring at him months before, he would have at least said something. Out loud. But spoken words weren't good enough for the new Howard Wolowitz. Instead, he held up his drink with his right hand, while his left hand unnecessarily cupped the bottom of the mug, and took a pretentious gulp. Raj couldn't help but smile a tad at how Howard winced at the bitterness.

It was the first time Howard drank his coffee black.

What a douche.

Except to slip a couple of sugar packets across the table, Raj stayed still and silent for the rest of the hours they had in the coffee shop. He blamed the weather for his unusually bad mood.

"Hey buddy."

The first time Howard spoke to Raj today was when they were taking a late afternoon stroll down a particularly shady path in the park downtown. While Bernadette continued to walk ahead, Howard stayed behind with Raj, who had now become ostensibly downcast. But he was not actually downcast, he was irritated, so irritated that Howard's walking beside him, friendly hello, and even his putting an arm around his shoulder was not enough to lull him. Raj couldn't figure out what had caused his guts to tie in such a dead knot; he was now so mad that he couldn't even think logically. He didn't care anymore, he felt like being a bitch, and the world had better like it.

"Don't touch me." Raj whispered coarsely, shoving Howard's petite frame aside. Good thing the smaller boy didn't fall, and Bernadette didn't notice.

Slightly insulted, Howard dusted off the punch and quickly caught up to Raj. Raj, whose mind was too flustered to feel guilt or spare an apology, simply stepped aside and kept walking, never minding the fact that his feet were stomping loudly on the pavement, like a child in a fit. He would have walked straight out of the trail and into a bush or something if it hadn't been for Howard's body that acted as a bony, shaky wall for him to practically tackle into.

"Dude, tell me, what's wrong?" Howard asked, his eyes narrowed, lips parted in concern. Raj could feel waves of his nervous breath being blown onto his face. They smelled like the Tic Tacs he had popped in a few moments ago. They were standing awkwardly close to each other.

Shouldn't it have been obvious to him why Raj was so upset? Raj didn't know the reason himself, but surely Howard, his supposed best friend should have figured it out before he did? No, he now had far better things to which to pay attention. So why should Howard care about plain old Raj? God, when was the last time they did anything together, alone?

But Howard did care, whether it was by his gingerly combing Raj's hair away from his face, his softly petting off sweat from his forehead like one would a puppy, or his smiling sheepishly in response to his grumpy pout. He pinched Raj's cheek playfully, and swept his thumb across his cheek to make him smile. Raj gave in and smiled, shyly. It wasn't as if Howard was going to kiss him in public or anything.

"You coming, pal?" Howard asked.

Raj nodded. He could never stay mad at his friend for too long, after all.

It was now evening, and everyone was sitting on a park bench facing the river. The stagnant, suffocating air had been swept away by a convenient breeze, nature's own form of AC. In the distance, dying sunlight danced from the endless band of chrome skyscrapers that brimmed the horizon. It also lit up the murky, semi-polluted water in the river that now sparkled with its new crystalline coating. Raj loved seeing American sunsets- how richly the blues, purples, and reds glowed, how proudly Venus stood in the immaculately clear sky dome. He could never see sights like this in India. Too much smog.

Howard sat on the other side of the bench with one arm wrapped around Bernie's shoulders, and his other palm rested with hers on her small, bulging stomach. They whispered and laughed, held each other close, their fingers intertwined lovingly. Raj, who was now feeling a bit drowsy, found himself indulging in the fantasy in which the couple were completely alone, the sole inhabitants of what was this 3-D painting of a modern fairytale. It was like watching a romance movie unfold right before his eyes. It was perfect, like they had just leaped into life right from Andersen's pages. They were perfect, Raj thought, despite the fact that his own arm only had the wooden bench to hold.

At first, Raj almost jumped up from where he was sitting when he felt a warm hand hold his. But after realizing who's it was, he figured he could get used to it.

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