“What do you mean you’re not coming?” Barney cries in outrage into his cell phone as he rides in the back of a cab on the way to MacLaren’s. “Of course you’re coming. And you’re suiting up!”
“Barney,” Ted petulantly protests as he picks at his fried potatoes at the diner down the street from the apartment where he sought refuge after Marshall wanted him to clear out for the night. “Did you not hear me? Marshall is getting engaged tonight. That’s game changing.”
“Why?” Barney questions in exasperation. “Marshall and Lily have been attached at the hip for the past nine years. Why should this change anything?”
“Because it’s marriage, Barney. Even you have to admit that’s a big deal.”
“It’s a big mistake,” he corrects, “but go on.”
“Like I said….it’s a wakeup call. They’re going to get engaged tonight and before you know it their wedding will be here. Where is this going to leave me? Sharing an apartment with a married couple?” Ted speculates. “Being the pathetic, eternally single and depressed live-in nanny when their first kid arrives? This whole thing has made me re-examine my own life. I’ve got to get it together. I’ve got to stop fooling around with you and find myself a wife too.”
“Seriously, Ted? You think you can just order up a wife the way you order a burger? Even I know it doesn’t work like that,” Barney says, throwing Ted’s words back at him.
“Well it will for me,” Ted proclaims, refusing to accept anything else. “It will because I want it to. I’m using the Think System.”
“Okay, Professor Hill.”
“Hey, being a professor would be awesome.”
“No, it wouldn’t; that’s lame,” Barney dismisses. “And you are aware the Think System was a load of crap, right? He just made it up so he could swindle the town and screw the librarian. Mad props to that last part, but the system didn’t actually work. And besides, if you’re gonna use tricks and schemes to get a woman into bed you’ve gotta make them up yourself, or at least give credit where credit’s due. That’s just etiquette – nay, bretiquette. It’s basic Bro Code. But no worries. I’ve brought my travel size copy of the Playbook for you tonight,” he assures him, patting his breast pocket. “Phone five!....You didn’t do it, did you, Ted? I can tell when you don’t do it.”
From there it spirals into more and more of Ted’s whining about how he needs to get married and find “the One”. Barney tunes most of it out, hearing nothing but a low garbled droning, until Ted says, “Marshall’s planning out the rest of his life, and what am I doing? Hanging out with Barney Stinson – the biggest, shallowest womanizer in the city – all in the hopes of picking up a bunch of nameless women at best and getting drinks thrown in my face at worst. I’m not going, Barney.”
Barney can’t pretend it doesn’t hurt to hear his self-proclaimed best friend talk about him that way, but then again Ted doesn’t know the truth about his past the way that James does. None of them do – not Marshall, Lily or Ted – just like none of them know what he really does for a living. Still, you’d think after all these years Ted would be able to recognize at the very least that he isn’t “the shallowest guy in the city” and that he does in fact care deeply about his friends and shows them great loyalty. But Barney brushes those hurt feelings away into that same dark corner where he locks up all of his unspoken pain and he chooses to be awesome instead. It’s just what he does. “Yes, you are coming to the bar, Ted…..Alright, I can give on the suiting up part. But it’s gonna be your loss. You’ll have to take a 5 instead of 6.”
“No,” Ted laughs in an annoying I’m-humoring-you-because-I’m-above-it-al
“You act like hanging out with me is the worst thing, like you’re doing me some kind of favor, but you love it and we both know it. Marshall getting engaged doesn’t magically change that no matter what you want to think now.” When Barney’s spot-on assessment is still met with silence, he lays out some more brutal honesty. “Tell me this: what else are you doing tonight, Ted? Hanging out at an all-night diner till 2 a.m.?”
“Okay fine. I’ll come to MacLaren’s. I’ve got to meet my wife somewhere.”
Barney chooses to ignore Ted’s continued harping on the wife thing and merely focuses on the first part. “Sweet. I’ll be there in ten.” Anyway, he can change Ted’s mind once he gets him in the bar within range of all those tasty cutlets.
A half an hour later, Barney’s standing at the bar scanning the room, scotch in hand, next to Ted who is sipping his beer morosely in between complaining.
“I’m never going to find her.”
Barney rolls his eyes. “You just started looking twenty minutes ago. And in that time you’ve talked to all of one woman – who happened to be Carl’s girlfriend.” Sadly, he’d been very wrong about being able to shake Ted out of this whole marriage business as soon as he got him to the bar. The past twenty minutes have, however, taught him what a whining bummer his friend can be.
“But that lone woman should have been the One,” Ted laments. “All it takes is just one. And that’s how I want it to be. I don’t want an endless cycle of pointless dating to search her out. I just want to find her – right now. It should be fate and kismet and all that stuff you see in a movie.”
Barney rolls his eyes again, sighing deeply. Ted has been playing this same pity party/tears and violins routine since he got here. Hoping to snap him out of it, he’d promised to be Ted’s dedicated wingman tonight, his sole focus devoted exclusively to getting Ted a woman before he so much as set his eyes on anyone for himself. Either Ted goes home with someone first or they both strike out. Unfortunately it’s becoming pretty clear that means they’re both going home alone, and Barney takes a slug of his scotch to mourn all the sex he won’t be having tonight.
Ted earlier criticized that no good ever comes from hanging out with him, and the self-loathing part of Barney that’s disgusted by his own behavior – that part James was talking about earlier – in his rare, dark moments is secretly inclined to agree. But another part of Barney – the bitterest, most self-aware part – wonders if the same critique might be applied to Ted. Sometimes the two of them have great fun together, because after all nothing is truly legendary unless your friends are there to see it and experience it with you. But other times – like now – Ted can have this condescending way of treating him like he’s the scum of the earth despite the fact that he too often engages in the very same behavior and enjoys it. That’s the whole reason they became friends in the first place shortly after Barney took the job at GNB. By then James was fully out and while that meant they could rock a bar or a club from both ways and totally clean house sometimes Barney still had that yearning to ‘troll for women’, as Ted put it, with someone who could high five over an amazing rack and actually appreciate it. It’s the same reason James sometimes goes to gay bars with his other friends who can similarly get excited for how well hung the guy in the corner appears to be. But after losing Dwayne, Barney no longer had any such person to fill that role in his life – and then he met Ted at the urinal and it all fell into place.
The trouble is Ted has developed that tendency to look down on him. Barney knows he doesn’t really mean the little insults he makes, and he knows the whole looking down on him thing derives from Ted resenting the parts of Barney that he too possess but wishes weren’t there so he could just happily settle into a life mirroring Marshall’s. Barney knows all this, but it doesn’t mean those insults still can’t sting.
And especially now that Ted’s gotten on this marriage kick he seems to blame his entire state of being single on him, as if it’s somehow his fault that Ted would rather casually bang chicks than settle down with just one. Ted finds too many faults in women anyway. The kind of perfect wife he’d be looking for doesn’t even exist. And if she did, she’d bore the hell of most men – she’s certainly bore the hell out of Barney.
“Maybe Marshall was right to find someone straightaway in college,” Ted ponders.
“Ted, will you just give it a rest. The world isn’t going to implode and you’re not going to die alone just because Marshall is getting engaged tonight and you’re still single. Now look over by the far wall,” Barney instructs, drawing Ted’s attention to the front corner of the bar beyond their usual booth and just to the right of the door to the kitchen. “There’s a Lebanese chick over there. I’ll let you have her,” he entices. “What do I always say about Lebanese chicks?”
“You’re always saying something about one group of women or the other. You have way too many rules. I’m not even sure you keep them all straight.”
“Fine. Desperate times call for desperate measures.” Barney pulls his travel size manual out of his coat pocket. “I’ll take you deep into The Playbook. I doubt you’re ready for it, but these advanced plays when performed correctly get results 83% of the time – and then ‘results’ again a second and maybe even a third time before you’ve climbed out her window.” He mulls it over, flipping through the book. “How about “The Two Can Play At That Game”?”
Ted ignores him in favor of continuing with his Marshall-fueled, soul-mate-lacking rant. “I finally know what I want. Everything’s fallen into place, but it’s like ‘Here I am, ready to get married’.” He stretches his hands out to the bar desperately. “Now where is – ” Before he can finish that sentence his phone rings in his pocket. Knowing it can’t be Barney, Ted figures it must be a serious call, perhaps even work, and he rushes to answer right away. “Ted speaking.”
“Hey, Ted. It’s Marshall. Don’t freak out, but I’m calling from the emergency room.”
“What?” Ted asks, doing exactly that. He slides the phone away from his mouth, telling Barney, “Marshall’s calling from emergency.”
“What happened?” Barney wants to know, concerned for their friend.
“I don’t know.”
“Well ask him,” Barney says at the same time that Ted says, “We need to head over there.”
“Oh, okay, yeah. I’ll ask him first,” Ted resolves.
“Put him on speaker,” Barney instructs. Once Ted does, Barney asks into the phone, “Marshall, what happened? Are you okay?”
“I’m fine. It’s not me; it’s Lily. She’s gonna be alright but we had a little accident.”
What Barney can grasp from Marshall’s overly-detailed story – along with frequent interruptions from Ted – is that Lily had a bad day at work. Some kid touched her butt during finger-painting hour and ruined her favorite skirt as well as put a serious damper on art time, Lily’s favorite portion of the day, so she was already in a frazzled mood by the time she got to the apartment. She’d started to cook them some gourmet frou-frou dinner, and to get her back into a fully positive and happy mood again Marshall thought he’d ease her nerves with a little pre-celebration champagne. But, as usual, the guy was afraid to open it. They’d started bickering about that and Marshall didn’t want to propose in the middle of a fight or when she was annoyed with him, so he decided to just man up and open the bottle himself like she wanted. But apparently he was correct about his incompetence because in the process he hit Lily with the champagne cork directly in the eye, thus their trip to the emergency room.
“Now she’s got a scratched cornea and they’re making her wear an eye patch,” Marshall informs them. “Needless to say, the proposal is off for now, so don’t mention it to Lily. I want it to be perfect for her, which means it’ll just have to wait till some other time. I want to marry Lily more than anything but I guess there’s no real hurry. We’ve already been together for almost a decade. What’s a little while longer before we get engaged?”
After assuring Ted there’s no point in him coming down to the ER since as soon as the doctor’s finished patching Lily up – an unintentional pun that makes both Barney and Marshall crack up – they’ll be heading back home themselves, they end the call.
“Huh, what d’ya know?” Barney chuckles to himself. “Maybe Marshall will hit her in the kneecap next time he tries to open a bottle and then we can get her a peg leg too!” He looks to Ted who’s staring off into space, failing to appreciate his joke. “I know, I know,” Barney sighs. “Where is your wife?”
“No,” Ted answers slowly. “I was thinking just the opposite: I’ve been panicking over nothing. Marshall’s right; there’s no hurry…..And you know something? Hearing that Marshal isn’t getting engaged tonight or maybe even at all in the upcoming weeks, I’m actually relieved that things can stay the same and I don’t have to rush.”
“And do you suppose that means you weren’t really ready to settle down yet in the first place?” Barney points out.
“You’re probably right. Why should I rush things? What’s that you always say about getting married?”
“‘Never get married until you’re at least thirty’, and I stand by that.”
“That means I’ve still got almost a solid year before I even need to start worrying about finding the One,” Ted reasons.
“YES!” Barney cheers. “So let’s get you laid.” He takes a moment to scope out the bar for any new talent that came in while they were busy on the phone or in the few minutes before that when he was drying Ted’s tears. While his eyes sweep right, Ted’s go left, and in seconds Ted is elbowing him.
“Whoa, Barney. See that girl over there.”
Barney directs his attention over to where Ted is staring, and after just one look at her Barney feels everything settle down low and warm in his groin. This mysterious brunette in the green turtleneck is easily the hottest woman he’s ever laid eyes on. The lack of skin on display only makes him want to peel away that shirt privately. Already he’s imagined having her in at least ten different positions. And more than just physical beauty, she has a sharpness in her expression that tells him this woman isn’t the typical attractive dullard he usually beds. No, this girl’s got brains too. Even better, he can recognize the little twinkle in her eyes as she notices them noticing her that tells him she’s a wildcat in the sack who wants her sex just as wild and kinky as he prefers his. “Oh yeah,” Barney sighs, almost a groan. “You just know she likes it dirty.”
She must have just gotten here while they were on the phone or he would have noticed her the second she walked in. But now Ted’s seen her first and that means by all Bro Code laws he has implied first dibs should he choose to exercise them. And what idiot wouldn’t? “So go say hi,” Barney encourages, because at least someone should get to experience being with her. “She is hot,” he reiterates as he takes yet another look.
But none of the salience is there for Ted anymore. Despite seeing her across the room, he’s no longer obsessed with fate and the idea of a meet cute from an old movie because the need to keep up and find a woman as quickly as possible so he too can get married like Marshall doesn’t exist anymore. And with that objective removed, Barney’s right; what he needs is to get laid. It’s been a month and a half and ol’ Mosby needs some. But this girl, beautiful as she is, appears to be a little too much for what he’s after tonight. He’d like to cut to the chase and just get to it. That means he needs a far easier target.
“Nah, she looks busy,” Ted decides. “She’s with a group of women – which is always a challenge – and, even worse, one of them is crying in the corner. I don’t want to get in the middle of that. Not when there are other hot girls in the bar.”
“God bless you, Ted. You’ve been reading my blog!” Barney enthuses. “It looks like I’ve taught you a thing or three over the years after all.”
“That’s not from you, Barney. That’s just Guy 101….Oh hey, what about her?” he points out a different woman sitting at the other side of the bar who’s already giving them the eye. “You’ve got to admit she’s a 10.”
Barney gives this new blonde a onceover. “Meh, she’s a 7 at most. But that makes her perfect for you.” And before Ted can say anything further and Ted-out about the situation, Barney is already playing his favorite game, tapping the blonde on her shoulder and arranging an introduction. “Excuse me, haaave you met Ted?”
Now that his mind is no longer preoccupied with what plans Marshall’s making, Ted makes quick work of it. Barney stands back and watches proudly as, within ten minutes, Ted takes off with the 7 to a second location.
All alone and having now fulfilled his wingman duties, Barney focuses on finding himself a little fun for the night. And he immediately turns his sights back to the girl Ted wouldn’t say hi to. Ted’s loss is his good fortune because the dibs are all his now. Ted couldn’t handle that anyway. This woman isn’t just a mere 10. She’s something like a 20. Far too much for Ted.
A 20. Even he’s never been with a 20…..But he has a feeling he’s about to scale that mountain.
AN: Some of you may be wondering when we’ll hear from Robin but I wanted to establish Barney and his world in the story first since it’s there that the very important difference occurs setting them all off on different paths than what we see in the “Pilot”. Next chapter will give us Robin’s (slightly altered) backstory and from then on we’ll start seeing her side of things too.
Also, the very perceptive may have noticed I made Ted slightly older here. I’m fiddling with all of their ages a bit because I didn’t really want to start this thing back in 2005 or have it span 8 years, so they’re all going to be aged slightly differently. In this AU, Robin, Lily, Marshall, and Ted will all start out the same age, 29, and Barney is 32.