“Never forget that on any day you can step out the front door and your whole life can change forever. You see, the Universe has a plan and that plan is always in motion. A butterfly flaps its wings and it starts to rain. It’s a scary thought, but it’s also kind of wonderful. All these little parts of the machine constantly working....”
Barney stands near the window of his corporate office looking out at the early September leafs just beginning to change. He’s always loved autumn in New York and relishes the fact that his job has kept him here in his home town to experience it one more time. Though tragically it means the end of sundress season, the first signs of fall feel like a cool refreshing respite after the long hot summer. Moreover, the new season brings with it three new months of wide-open promise. And as his motto goes – well, one of his mottos – new is always better.
In that vein, he’s taking Ted out tonight to get him laid. Dude hasn’t had what he defines as a girlfriend in months. Despite living as the third wheel in Marshall and Lily’s world of coupledom that doesn’t usually bother Ted as long as he’s getting a semi-regular flow of women in and out of his bed. Because while his best friend subscribes to “true love” in a way that makes Barney both scoff and shudder, Ted’s no more ready to settle down than he is. Problem is, Ted’s been going through a dry spell as of late and it’s started to make him moody. But that doesn’t change the fact that he’s still got plenty of wild oats to sow – and lucky for Ted he has the Barnacle to help him find a new and willing field tonight.
“Hey, Stinson,” he hears his partners voice behind him and it draws Barney’s attention back into the here and now.
Unbeknownst to the rest of the office, the two of them actually work for the FBI as undercover agents specializing in corporate corruption and espionage cases. They’ve been assigned at GNB for the past eight years, a long time by any count, but this is a huge international case: insider trading, fraud, money laundering, embezzlement, racketeering, extortion, obstruction of justice, and financial ties with several shady organizations including some suspected terrorist groups. The corruption even goes as high as a handful of congressmen who have a direct ear to the Whitehouse yet are in cahoots with GNB’s dirty dealings. Something as big as this requires a lengthy investigation with men deep undercover to gain the trust of the organization, and Barney has done just that, working his way up in in the corrupted division of the company as far as one can go. The senior managers in question don’t suspect him in the slightest. He’s fully infiltrated their group and become the smooth talking, hard playing, suited up businessman just like the rest of them. But the big boss back at the FBI is getting impatient and there’s no way Barney is going to call this investigation without seeing Greg behind bars. He has a personal stake in this case; it’s what started his career in the first place and made him who he is today.
“James,” Barney greets him expectantly. While he was keeping the executives busy in conference, James was up in Greg’s office looking for the latest piece of evidence to be appropriated – secretly, of course – into his FBI file. Their meeting finished five minutes ago at which time Barney sent James a coded warning text. He had no doubt James would get out of there without being caught. The only question is if he got what they were after.
“Did you get the – ” Barney cuts himself short when his secretary walks in with a stack of new paperwork. “You can just put it on the desk, Dolores,” he instructs her and turns his attention back to James but slightly alters his word choice. “Did you get that file you needed?” he asks meaningfully.
“I did.” Barney does a mental fist pump, but then James qualifies it with, “But it wasn’t exactly what I expected.”
Barney frowns. “Oh?”
“Yeah…..After all that work, I think I’m actually looking for a different month’s figures for – ” Dolores clears the doorway, shutting it behind her as it seems the two men are talking important business, and James immediately cuts to the chase. “We were wrong about the Wharmpess deal. It’s clean.”
“I know,” James commiserates. “It’s disappointing.”
“We need to go back to investigating the execs that were in charge of the Altrucell merger. Take a third and four look. I’m telling you, that’s where the body’s buried.”
“I think you’re right,” James agrees. “But this means we’ll have to confer with Arthur and Blauman tomorrow at headquarters. Let them know he’s barking up the wrong tree.”
Barney sighs. Arthur was sure the Wharmpess file would be the money shot. Barney never believed it personally; the man’s just getting desperate and grasping at straws to finish up this investigation in the next few months. “That’s not going to be a fun meeting, is it?”
“No, it is not,” James deadpans. “….Especially after the way I left things with Blauman.”
Barney grins. “You mean the way you gave him a free sample of the ol’ Gibbs lovin at last month’s corporate retreat?”
“It wasn’t just a sample, my friend. It was an entire buffet.”
“And yet you told him you weren’t interested in any further shared feasts. Smart move.” Barney lifts his hand for a high five that James reluctantly gives.
“It wasn’t altogether like that. Blauman’s a nice guy, but I’m not sure it’s a good idea to get involved with someone you work with.”
“Hey, you don’t have to justify it to me, bro. You got yours, now – NEXT!” Barney calls. “And you know we can keep em lined up. You take all the guys, I take all the girls. It’s a win-win situation.”
“I’ve been meaning to talk to you about that,” James cautiously begins. “You know how I haven’t been out there with you in a few weeks.”
“I know. It’s been Ted and I alone, and sometimes we could use that third heat. But I figured you were just laying low after the Blauman incident.”
“No. It’s more than that.” James holds Barney’s eye as he reveals the next part, already knowing his partner isn’t going to like it. “I met someone. Tom. He’s – well, he’s just….I think he’s everything I’ve been looking for. This could really be something, man, and I’d like to have you on board.”
Barney groans in disgust. “James, not you too. I’ve already got Marshall to contend with and his balls rolling around in Lily’s purse. Now I’m gonna lose another bro to ‘love’?” he utters the word with disdain, putting it in air quotes. “And it’ll only be a few years before Ted starts getting antsy too. What is it with all of you willingly putting a noose around your necks?”
“Come on, Barney,” James says gently, getting real with him. “You know when you say stuff like that I know that you’re lying. You forget we went to college together. I knew you before you were this,” James reminds him, running a hand over Barney’s immaculately suited up frame. “I know all about Shannon. I mean that’s why we’re here, isn’t it?”
“Ahp, ahp, ahp,” Barney stops him. “You know we don’t say that name,” he tells him uncomfortably. “…..It reminds me of a time I’m not proud of.” Barney looks down, rearranging a Sharper Image toy on his desk that was fine the way it was. “It’s embarrassing. And you know I don’t do embarrassed. I get awesome instead.”
“You are awesome, Barney. But you were awesome before. Just in a different way. That’s why we were friends before we were partners. And you don’t have to be embarrassed with me. You were the first one I came out to. You helped me through that and I helped you when Shannon stomped on your heart like the little bitch I always knew she was,” James grins in solidarity. “One’s no different than the other.”
“I guess,” Barney shrugs, but he’s smiling again too. “Why don’t you come out with us tonight? Marshall and Lily are having some big romantic dinner, the anniversary of the first time they brushed hands or something nauseating like that. It’s just gonna be me and Ted at the bar….unless you wanna bring that third heat?”
James laughs. “Did you hear nothing I just said? I’m in a relationship now. I’ll still help get you all the tail you want – not that you need my help – but I’m off the market. I’m a one man guy.”
“Already? After just a few weeks?”
“It’s been a month, and I didn’t say we were getting married or anything, but if you want to see where something goes you’ve gotta keep it in your pants – or, you know, only take it out for the person you’re with,” James clarifies.
“Ech, monogyny,” Barney spits.
“Says the guy who lived that way – monogamously celibate, I might add – for his first twenty-three years. But that wasn’t natural for you?”
“And what did it get me?” Barney questions, uncharacteristically brooding because James has hit one too many direct targets for comfort.
James clamps a hand on his shoulder, knowing it’s time to ease back. “If at first you don’t succeed try, try again.”
And just like that Barney flips the awesome switch. “Yeah, well, you let me know how that works out with this Tom guy.”
James just shakes his head affably. “You just wait, Stinson. One day it’s gonna happen to you. You’re going to meet a woman who absolutely grabs you by the short and curlies, and I’m gonna sit back and laugh while you write sonnets for her like a lovesick little school boy.”
“Pfftt,” Barney chokes out a laugh. “You been drinking on the job again, Gibbs? Tonight Ted and I are going out to score some action and there’ll be grabbing alright, but no sonnets. Just a good boning and then out by morning.”
James only grins, knowing better but leaving it alone. “Better make it a great boning. Cause we’re going to get reamed by Arthur tomorrow,” he says as he heads out of his office.
Barney grimaces, but puts it out of his mind as he gathers his things to head out for the night. A quick stop for a takeout meatball sub for dinner, then home to grab his pocket-sized Playbook, and then on to MacLaren’s where he and Ted and going to have one legendary night.
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AN: For those readers who are familiar with my other stories, this one is going to be different in length and somewhat in format as well. This is meant to be a more serialized story with the plot occurring in small chunks much like with a TV program’s weekly episodes. That will mean shorter, snappier, more action/dialogue driven chapters (and hopefully lead to somewhat frequent updates because this is going to be a long story).
I’ll have another chapter coming later this week, but after that will be a short break as I’m taking turns updating stories between this one and “Catching the Clock”.