A/N: Thanks very much for all the wonderful reviews! I'm glad people are enjoying this 'fic. This chapter takes place after Of Course (5.17), so there are spoilers for that episode and for previous episodes. There are also a lot of Star Wars references near the end, but I don't think they spoil anything...
Enjoy, and please let me know what you thought of the chapter! :)
A knock on the door forces Ted to full wakefulness. Groaning slightly, he opens his eyes and casts a baleful glare at his clock. It's only one in the morning. He'd been in that no-man's-land between wakefulness and sleep, and the knock had rudely brought him back from the precipice. But that doesn't mean he can't try to get back to sleep. Ted lies back down, closes his eyes, and attempts to ignore the incessant knocking. But just as it finally quiets down, Ted's phone rings. Ted sighs and gives up on sleep for the moment, picking up his phone.
"Hey, Ted." It's Barney. His voice sounds small and tinny over the phone. Ted doesn't bother to stifle his sigh.
"What is it now? Are you trapped in your sex swing again? I'm not helping you out of that."
Barney laughs hollowly. "No, it's not that… this time. I'm outside your door. Can you let me in?"
"Fine," Ted grumbles, cursing Barney as he makes his way to the door. He'd just spent hours grading papers and he'd really been looking forward to sleeping. But now that Barney's involved, Ted doubts that sleeping is still in the schedule.
Ted opens the door, still fuming over Barney's interruption. But concern overtakes his irritation when he sees Barney. He's dripping wet and shivering even with a blanket wrapped around his shoulders. Ted glances outside, but he can't see any sign of rain. How did Barney get so soaked?
"Dude, what happened?" Ted asks.
Barney looks at him for a moment, teeth chattering. "Can this wait? It's a legendary story, I assure you, but right now I could really use a change of clothes and a beer."
"Yeah. Article 151 of the Bro Code states that a Bro must always lend clothes to another Bro in need –"
"Really? That's strange, because Article 55 states that a Bro never lends clothes to another Bro."
Barney grins at Ted. "Aw, Ted, you're reading my blog! Well, there's now an addendum to Article 55 – a Bro may lend clothes to another Bro if and only if the Bro really needs them. And right now, believe it or not, I really need your unfashionable, chick-repelling, Teddish clothes."
"Well, after that compliment, how can I resist?" Ted mutters sarcastically, but he goes to get Barney clothes anyway. That wet suit does look extremely uncomfortable.
Barney follows him in to the apartment and stands there, dripping slowly. He looks like he doesn't quite know what to do, so Ted ushers him into the bathroom and hands him a towel. "Dry your hair," he instructs. "I'll be back with clothes and hot chocolate. I think it'll do you more good than beer would."
"Only if it's alcoholic," Barney mutters, but Ted ignores him and heads to his room. He picks out his old Wesleyan sweats and a T-shirt for Barney to wear. He'll probably complain, but at least they're warm and dry. Ted then walks over to the kitchen to begin making a cup of hot chocolate. Finally, he makes it back to the bathroom.
Barney's holding the towel loosely in one hand and staring at himself in the mirror. His hair is half-dried and he's frowning. He looks… sad. And contemplative. For a moment, Ted wishes he could know what Barney's thinking. But then he comes to his senses. No one should ever want to enter the circus tent of funhouse mirrors and flawed logic that is Barney Stinson's mind.
"I brought you some clothes," Ted announces, stepping into the bathroom.
Barney's thoughtful look morphs into one of exaggerated distaste. "Sweats, Ted? Seriously?"
"Hey, at least they're warm. And dry."
Barney sighs but grabs them anyway, muttering something about Ted's fashion sense. Ted can't hear what it is, but knowing Barney, it's probably snarky and insulting. Ted goes back to the kitchen to finish making the hot chocolate. About a minute later, Barney emerges from the bathroom in Ted's sweats and T-shirt, which hang loosely on his frame, even though he and Ted are the same height. Barney carefully stacks his wet suit by the door.
"I don't trust you to take care of it appropriately," Barney explains when Ted gives him a questioning look. Ted rolls his eyes at Barney's response. He'll never understand Barney's obsession with his suits. Hell, he'll never understand Barney, period.
Barney's still shivering, so Ted hands him a mug of hot chocolate and sits him down on the couch. He sits next to Barney, hopefully close enough to emit some warmth through body heat, and pulls an old green blanket (Robin's, he thinks) over the two of them. Once they're all settled, Ted turns to Barney expectantly.
"What?" Barney asks.
"I've waited for it," Ted replies. "Now I'm ready for that legendary story."
"Oh, right," Barney says. He runs a hand through his slightly damp hair. "Um… It's actually not that good."
"I'm not stalling! If I were stalling, I would –"
Barney sighs. "Fine. So, earlier tonight, I was with this hot girl, and man she liked it dirty! And wet. Heh. What up. You wouldn't believe the kind of fun you can have with a water gun… that's how I got so soaked… oh, and then there was this one time in the shower when she left the water on – and, uh, there was a swimming pool – clothes were involved – we kept them on… 'cause, uh, she liked it better that way? Um… bathtub… suit got wet…"
Barney trails off, probably realizing he's overdone it. Ted stares at him in disbelief. It never fails to amaze him that Barney, who regularly lies to girls to get laid, is so bad at lying to his friends.
"C'mon," Ted says. "What really happened?"
Barney doesn't meet Ted's eyes as he fiddles with the edge of the blanket. It seems like Barney's going to insist on sticking to his lie or simply refuse to tell Ted anything else. But then Barney admits, "I jumped into the Hudson River."
"You what?" Ted isn't sure what he had been expecting. (Barney angered a woman so much that she threw drinks at him until he was dripping wet? Barney's revenge scheme against the newest Laser Tag place that wronged him went drastically awry? Someone got mad at Barney because of his mysterious job or he was in debt because of his gambling problem and they threw him in a pool?) But he hadn't been expecting this. Ted can only think of one reason why Barney would throw himself into a river. His heart almost stops just thinking about it.
"Oh my God, Barney, I had no idea," Ted blubbers. "I'm so, so sorry. You should've talked to me! I want you to know that you have a very solid support system – we all love you – and life is a gift, a wonderful, wonderful gift –"
"I'm not suicidal, you idiot!" Barney scoffs.
"Oh." Ted breathes a sigh of relief, but seconds later, he has to ask the obvious question. "So then why did you jump into the Hudson?"
Barney starts fiddling with the blanket again. Ted wants to shake him to force the truth out of him, but he's determined to be gentle. He's still not entirely sure Barney isn't suicidal, and he doesn't want to push any buttons.
"You remember Anita?" Barney finally asks. Ted stares at him blankly and Barney prompts, "The author of that book you have… what's it called… Of Course You're Still Single, Take a Look at Yourself, You Dumb Slut?"
"It's Robin's book," Ted corrects Barney hastily. "I just read a bit of it. And yes, I remember her. She was coming on to you but you refused her, right? Did you jump in the river because she was chasing you?"
"Pff. No. I wasn't afraid of her. The only women who scare me are Lily and Robin." Barney's face gets this sad, wistful expression when he mentions Robin. Ted feels a pang of empathy. He doubts that either of them has really gotten over Robin Scherbatsky. She knows how to dig her talons in a man's heart and never let go.
"Anyway," Barney continues, snapping out of his daze, "When I found out how hurt Robin still was by our breakup, I wanted to make it up to her. So I promised not to bang Anita. But she was so tempting, Ted! If you could've heard the things she whispered to me…"
Barney shudders. Ted isn't sure if it's because of the remaining chill from the river water or his memory of Anita's words.
"That woman has a dirty, dirty mind," Barney murmurs.
"So… you jumped into the Hudson to get away from her?" Ted clarifies. That doesn't seem to make much sense.
"I needed to cool down and think clearly again… so… it seemed like a good idea at the time."
Ted groans. Barney's one of his best friends in the whole world, but he can't help feeling like he'll never understand him. In what universe is it ever a good idea to jump into the Hudson River, especially in the winter?
Ted takes a moment to look at his friend. He's staring off into the distance, wrapped in Robin's blanket, wearing Ted's clothes, and sipping hot chocolate. He looks small and defeated. Usually Barney's personality is enough to overcome any potential vulnerability he might have, and it's almost enough to convince Ted tonight. But he can't ignore the fact that Barney just admitted to literally throwing himself into a river for Robin. Robin, who Barney pined after for a whole year and then broke up with in only a few months.
Maybe he's still on Robin's hook. Maybe they both are. Maybe Ted's missed Barney's pain over the breakup just like he missed Robin's. Neither Barney nor Robin ever admits weakness. That word probably isn't even in their vocabulary. But as Ted looks at Barney and thinks about what he's just said, he can't help but think that Barney has a huge weakness, and her name is Robin Scherbatsky.
"That was a really, really stupid thing to do," Ted says eventually. "You could've died."
Ted will always remember the sight of Barney lying in a hospital bed after he got hit by a bus, wearing multiple casts and covered with cuts and bruises. Ted doesn't want to worry about losing Barney again.
"I know," Barney responds with a sigh. "I wasn't thinking straight."
Barney sips his hot chocolate and stares into the distance. Ted recognizes that look. It's the same lovelorn expression Barney wore so often during the year he was pining over Robin. Maybe jumping into a river for Robin had rekindled some of those feelings.
"You miss being with Robin, don't you?" Ted asks.
Barney glances at Ted, eyes open and honest. He must be too miserable and tired to keep up his usual defenses. He shrugs. "It didn't work out between us, dude. We tried, but it turns out that two awesome people actually cancel each other out. Who woulda guessed, huh?"
Barney smiles briefly, but Ted can tell that it takes a lot of effort. Barney never actually answered his question, but Ted lets it go. He can see the answer in Barney's eyes.
"I gave Robin the Super Date with Don," Barney says, aiming for casual but missing by a few feet. Ted raises his eyebrows. He knows that on rare occasions Barney can be very selfless, but it seems like tonight he's really outdone himself for Robin.
"That was really nice of you."
Barney shrugs. "The Super Date was a good idea, Ted, but let's face it – it's ridiculously gooey and romantic. And the Barnacle doesn't do gooey and romantic."
"But you did jump into a river for Robin," Ted points out. "That's pretty romantic."
"C'mon, Ted," Barney says disapprovingly. "Be cool."
Ted grins. They're quiet for a while, Barney drinking his hot chocolate and Ted thinking about everything that Barney's revealed. He'd bet they're both thinking about what is probably going on in that Super Date (and after it). He feels the shadow of Robin hanging over them, but he doesn't feel up to letting in any light. Barney, however, Ted can always count on to try to liven things up.
When I get sad, I stop being sad and be awesome instead, he had said once. And to Ted's knowledge, Barney still followed that principle.
"Let's watch a movie," Barney suggests.
Okay, so watching a movie isn't exactly "awesome" (unless it's Star Wars or Field of Dreams), but Ted will let Barney off easy this time. Barney's had a tough night, and it's not like Ted has any better ideas.
"Alright," Ted agrees. "What d'you want to watch?"
"Something with hot chicks in it."
"Return of the Jedi it is, then."
"Princess Leia in a bikini…" Barney winks. "Good choice."
Ted gets up to load the movie. Star Wars is bound to make them feel better. It's probably like two or three in the morning by now, but Ted doesn't want to go right to sleep after this conversation. He'd feel depressed and probably have really weird dreams, like Barney running away from Anita as she fires a water gun at him. Ted would much rather dream about Princess Leia in (and maybe out of) a bikini.
Ted puts in the DVD and returns to the couch, joining Barney under Robin's blanket. Barney sets down his hot chocolate and moves closer to snuggle up next to Ted, resting his head on Ted's shoulder. Ted stares at him.
"You're warm," Barney explains defensively. Ted thinks about teasing him (and pointing out Article 77 of the Bro Code, which states Bros don't cuddle), but he ends up putting his arm around Barney and pulling him closer. Ted understands the need for human contact, and he figures he can handle a little illegal bro-cuddling while they watch Star Wars.
"You're my best friend, Ted," Barney says sincerely.
Ted smiles. "I know."
Barney huffs a laugh. "Very Han Solo of you, dude."
"You got me," Ted chuckles. After a moment, he says, "Love ya too, buddy."
Barney grins. Ted starts the movie, and pretty soon he forgets about their woman troubles and Barney's issues and the late hour, and just enjoys one of the greatest movies in the galaxy.
When Ted finally does go to sleep, he dreams about Anita chasing Barney with a water gun. Barney's wearing a metal bikini and is carrying a lightsaber, and somehow has Princess Leia's hairstyle.
Ted is scared to go to sleep for a few days after that.
Luckily, the nightmare fades from his mind over time. The night talking with Barney doesn't fade, though, and Ted always remembers his insights about Barney and his relationship with Robin. Ted begins to think that maybe he is finally figuring out Barney. It's about time, really. Ted can recite and understand Dante's Inferno in its original Italian. Now it's time to start understanding his friend.
Nothing and everything is possimpible. And for Ted, figuring out Barney Stinson is definitely possimpible.