Author's notes: My first longer HIMYM fic. Hope I’ve got the characters at least semi-down.

Beyond the illusion

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Part I

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Of course, it wasn’t really how all of it happened. In the stories he told his kids, some things were exaggerated – like the beauty of some of the women he’d dated – and other things withheld – there was no way he would relay the number of times the f-word was really used in conversation, to his children. But most of his stories followed the lines of truth fairly well.

Except one.

Over twenty years after the events took place, Ted Mosby still had a hard time thinking about it – and there was no way he was telling his kids exactly what had happened.

After all, it had all been his fault, even more so than he told them.

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“You can go, your x-rays were clear.” The doctor signed something on his chart.

“Thanks, doc,” said Ted, swinging his legs over the bedside. Lily handed him his pants and a shirt and within minutes, he was dressed and ready to go. “And we’re off!”

“Where are you going?” Robin asked.

There was only one person Ted wanted to see right now. Stella. She’d been on his mind ever since the crash and he needed to make things right with her. Needed her to take him back. He understood now how stupid he’d been – she was The One. He needed to convince her of the same thing; he needed to get her to give him another chance.

The look on his face must have betrayed him, because Marshall made a shoo-ing motion with his hands. “Go, dude. We’ll take care of the paper work.”

Ted gave him a quick grin. “Thanks. Later!”

He sped out of the hospital room and out the sliding doors that served as the entrance. He was filled with happiness, with a great sense of adventure – he’d just survived a near death experience and suddenly, the world seemed so much clearer. The colors were more intense, the details crisper. He’d never seen New York this way before.

—and then he saw Barney, standing on the other side of the busy street. Barney was panting and Ted could see the sweat glistening on his forehead. Ted frowned; hadn’t Lily just called him? Barney must have been in the office; it was in the middle of the day. Considering the state of Barney’s suit, had he—run there?

Irritation welled up inside. Ted didn’t want Barney around – why couldn’t Barney just get that through his thick head? Barney had broken the Bro Code and besides, he was generally annoying and never thought about anyone but himself. Ted wasn’t sure what Barney had done to get Robin into bed, but he was sure that some sort of tricking had been involved. It made his blood boil. Barney was a Thing Ted Had No Use For – what would it take for Barney to get that?

Barney looked up suddenly and their gazes met. Even from this distance, Ted could read every emotion on his face. Happiness, relief. A bit of fear. Barney had such an open face.

Ted resolutely turned away and stepped into the street, determined to ignore Barney’s presence.

He heard screeching tires.

He saw the bus.

He realized with a start that this was it – now he was going to die. No one was that lucky twice in the same day.

And then something hard smashed into him that wasn’t the bus. Ted got thrown to the side, stumbling back hard and landing on the asphalt – and he watched with wide eyes as the bus hit Barney full force instead. It made a sickening sound and Barney disappeared beneath it.

It seemed to take forever for the bus to pass. Ted saw glimpses of blond hair, pale skin and dark suit beneath the bus and he couldn’t look away, couldn’t see anything but tragedy happening.

Then suddenly the bus had stopped and Barney was lying broken on the ground. Limbs stuck out at angles they shouldn’t and there were scratches and cuts and blood, oh God, so much blood.

Ted crawled over, his hands hurting from where he’d taken the fall.

“Barney? Barney! Oh God, Barney,” he said, reaching out to touch him but realizing at the last moment that he shouldn’t. Broken bones, broken—Ted had never seen anyone look so broken.

Was he even breathing? Ted couldn’t tell. But there, a rise and painful fall of Barney’s chest, and suddenly blue eyes were looking at Ted.

“Ted.” Barney tried to move but he mewled in pain.

“Don’t move!” Ted said, thick tears lodging in his throat. “You’ll be okay, you’ll be okay, you’ll be okay. Everything will be okay.”

He didn’t know if it was Barney or himself he was trying to convince.

“Ted,” Barney said again and it sounded like a cry. Blue eyes looked up at him, unfocused, dimming with every shuddering breath he took. There was blood on his lips now, blood on white teeth, blood beneath Barney’s head and wrecked body.

Doctors swarmed around them and Ted was pushed aside. Hazily, he thought how lucky it was that it had happened right outside the hospital – but then he remembered that the reason for that was because Barney had come to see him.

Barney had come to see him.

Barney, whom Ted had banned, had still come to see him.

“Sir, are you all right?” A nurse kneeled beside him, placing a blanket around him. He realized that he was shaking, but he could barely feel his own body, so he couldn’t tell if he was cold. “Let me see your hands.”

“I was—he pushed me—he—I didn’t,” Ted mumbled, all the thoughts jumbled and impossible to make sense of. Before his eyes, he kept seeing Barney getting hit by the bus. Again and again, the sound cutting into his head and the images running faster and faster. He smelled blood and suddenly, the Jell-O he’d eaten earlier came up again and he threw up on the street, his stomach cramping until there was nothing left and he was dry-heaving.

The nurse helped him stand up and placed him on a stretcher. Ted started laughing suddenly, maniacally bubbling up, as he realized that before today, he’d never before been on a stretcher and now he’d been on one twice in the same day.

The laughter turned into sobs.

He saw Barney being wheeled into the Emergency. He only caught a glimpse, but he saw that Barney’s eyes were closed and his skin was grey and there was one of those stabilizing things around his neck and a mask over his face and people everywhere and was he even still alive at all?

How could Barney be anything but alive?

“I have to—” he said and tried to get off the stretcher.

The nurse held him down gently. “No, you don’t. They’ll take good care of him, I promise. There is nothing you can do for him right now.”

“But—but he’s my friend,” Ted said and it sounded broken even to him. Barney was his friend, but Ted wasn’t so sure that he was Barney’s. Not really. Friends didn’t say the things Ted had said—

What if Barney died now and Ted could never make things right? This wasn’t how it was supposed to be.

He was wheeled into the Emergency and he couldn’t even string the sentences together to tell them that he was fine. They needed to go work on Barney instead. Barney needed their care, their help, not him.

Lily was standing in the reception and looked up as Ted was wheeled inside. Worry creased her face immediately.

“Oh God – Ted?” she said, rushing over. “What happened?”

Marshall loomed next to her. Ted’s addled brain thought faintly that from this angle, Marshall looked huge.

But then he blinked and he saw Barney getting hit by the bus again, playing across his mind a thousand times over in a single second.

“Barney,” said Ted, trying to sit up. “Where is he? Where’s Barney?”

Lily exchanged a look with Marshall. “Ted, honey, Barney isn’t here right now. You two haven’t talked in a while, remember?”

“No, no!” Ted shook his head. “He’s here. He was—he was hit by a bus. He saved me and he was hit by a bus!”

They stared at him. At first they seemed to think he was joking, but as they took in their surroundings, with Ted lying on a stretcher again, his hands a bloody mess, their looks of disbelief turned into horrified chock.

Robin choked out, “They just—they brought a guy in just—when I was walking. He—blond hair and—oh god—Barney?”

They were interrupted by Ted’s cell phone which suddenly started ringing. Still gaping, her eyes slowly filling with tears, Lily helped Ted get the phone out of his pocket. Ted’s hands were bloody and hurt and his fingers wouldn’t do what he wanted them to, but Lily clicked to answer the call and placed the phone to Ted’s ear.

“Hello?” Ted only barely managed to get the two shaky syllables out.

“Hi, Theodore Mosby?” It was a woman on the other end.

“Yes,” Ted said. He hoped it wasn’t about work or something else stupid. He would hang up if it was and he didn’t care how rude it was or what job it would cost.

It wasn’t work. “I have you listed as the emergency contact for Barney Stinson—”

Though he tried to, Ted could barely hear the rest. Blood rushed in his ears and he was dimly aware of the phone being removed. He heard Lily talk softly but then that too disappeared in a deafening roar. The world was spinning around him, upside down and twisting back and forth. He wasn’t built for this, wasn’t supposed to handle these things. The world was supposed to be easy with black and white and good and bad, not all mixed up in shades of grey with red blood smearing all across the board.

His mind gave out and dark silence enveloped him.

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Lily was sitting by his side when he woke up. He was in a hospital bed, tucked in beneath blankets. He frowned, trying to remember. Oh yeah, the car accident.

He’d had the strangest dream.

He’d dreamt about Barney. And a bus. And Barney getting hit by a bus.

Stupid dream.

He looked at Lily, who had her eyes closed but didn’t look like she was sleeping. Resting, maybe. Her shoulders shook slightly and he frowned at that – why—

He saw tear streaks on her cheeks, glinting in the dim light of the room.

With a start, it all came back to him. It hadn’t been a bad dream. He’d seen Barney and there had been the bus and Barney had saved him from getting smashed into tiny bits by the bus. Barney had been smashed instead, into a million pieces with cuts and broken bones and blood everywhere.

He remembered Barney’s voice, so small and hurt, saying his name through bloodied lips.

Lily opened her eyes then and it seemed to take her a second to realize that Ted was awake. When she did, she was up and hugging him. He could feel the wetness of her tears through the thin hospital gown he was wearing.

“Barney?” asked Ted.

“Still in surgery,” Lily said between quiet sobs. “At least that was the last they told us. Massive internal bleeding—and so many broken bones—oh God, Ted, what if he doesn’t make it?”

“He will.” Ted tried to sound more certain than he was. Tried to be more grown up, more able to handle this, but he felt like a frightened child. “He has to.”

Barney couldn’t die, not now. The onslaught of guilt was nearly suffocating. Barney’s accident wasn’t a random chain of events – everything had happened because of Ted. If Ted hadn’t ended their friendship, then Barney would have been at the hospital from the start with Lily, Marshall and Robin. If Ted hadn’t been in the hospital, Barney wouldn’t have run there. If Ted hadn’t decided to studiously ignore Barney and go see Stella instead, then he might have seen the bus and Barney wouldn’t have had to save him.

What if Barney died? What if Barney died thinking Ted hated him?

Lily sat up and wiped at her eyes with the back of her hand. “How are you feeling?”

“I—I don’t know,” Ted mumbled, because it was the only answer he could give. The true magnitude of what he was feeling at the moment was far too complicated – and he wasn’t important right now. Only Barney was.

Why couldn’t he have realized that before? Why couldn’t he have remembered – ‘bros before hos’. Why had it been so important to crush Barney until only crumbs remained – because if Ted was completely honest with himself, he knew how much Barney valued their friendship.

There was a knock on the door and a moment later, Marshall came inside. His shoulders were slumped, a heavy weight on them, and he looked like he’d been crying.

“Marshall?” asked Lily, looking at him with wide eyes.

“He’s out of surgery,” Marshall said. “He’s—he’s still alive, but he’s in really bad shape.”

“How bad?” Ted could only just choke the words out.

“They’re not sure he’ll survive the night,” Marshall said.

Lily was over there a moment later and Marshall wrapped his arms around her. Marshall buried his nose in her hair and breathed loudly, shudders going through his body.

Ted sat up, intent on going to find Barney. He had to find Barney.

Large hands stopped him. “Sit down, Ted.” Marshall held him and Ted found he had no strength in his body. “They might let us see him in a while, but not yet. They have to make sure he’s stabilized first.”

Ted sank back into the bed. He caught sight of his hands and saw that they had been neatly wrapped up in gauze.

This was what he had to endure, while Barney had to fight for his life. Ted had his hands wrapped in gauze while Barney got turned inside out in surgery just to stay alive.

Barney shouldn’t have saved him. He should have left Ted to get hit by the bus. Ted should be the one in pain, the one near death. He was the one who deserved it after being such an awful friend.

“Where’s Robin?” he asked finally, the world still spinning too fast around him.

“She went out,” Lily said. “She said she couldn’t just sit around and wait.”

Marshall sat down heavily, Lily beside him, their fingers lacing to offer strength. Silence spread; there were no words. Nothing to say, nothing to scream. Prayers, maybe, had either of them been the least bit religious. Ted wasn’t, but he prayed silently anyway.

And they waited.

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Robin came in and Ted had never seen her so disheveled, her eyes puffy and red with mascara smeared across her cheeks. For some reason, he’d expected her to be as perfect as always even in the face of tragedy; a mask to hide behind. But obviously, this was too much even for Robin to handle without emotion.

“He’s in the ICU now,” she said softly as she came inside.

“ICU?” Ted repeated dumbly, as though he’d expected Barney to get out of surgery and be immediately fine.

Robin studied the floor. “The surgeon’s coming to talk to you in a minute. You’re Barney’s emergency contact so she’ll talk to you, since his family isn’t here.”

Barney’s family. Ted’s heart beat faster. “Did anyone call James?”

Lily nodded. “I called him earlier. He couldn’t get a flight out today, but he’s gonna try to come tomorrow.”

The surgeon who’d operated on Barney came in to talk to them, to tell Ted about Barney and his injuries. They convinced the surgeon that they were all Barney’s family, not just Ted. Ted wondered if he was Barney’s family at all – did family treat each other the way Ted had treated Barney? Thrown him out like he was an old, broken toy.


Ted heard the word over and over again within the string of words the surgeon said: broken bones, internal bleeding, broken legs, spinal cord injury, head trauma, broken arms, broken, broken, broken—

“But he’ll survive, right?” Lily asked, somewhere in the middle of all the words.

“We don’t know yet,” the surgeon said. “We’ve done our best to repair the damage, but he’s not out of the woods. The next twelve to twenty-four hours will be critical.”

Ted swallowed hard. This was all wrong. The world was on its head and nothing was the way it was supposed to be. Barney wasn’t supposed to be comatose with head trauma and broken everything – he was supposed to be at McLarens hitting on girls and drinking beer and telling everyone how awesome he was.

Somewhere down the line, the surgeon told them that Ted could visit Barney and Ted nodded dumbly, feeling all the while like he should protest because everything was wrong. Then she left and he could only remember that she’d worn green scrubs and nothing about what she’d looked like.

A little while later – it could have been minutes, or hours, or even days for all that Ted noted the time passing – a wheelchair stood beside his bed. With some annoyance, he sat in it. The nurse wouldn’t let him leave the room before a doctor signed him out, unless it was in a wheelchair.

And really, there were more important things to Ted right now, than argue his mode of transportation.

He didn’t say anything to his friends as the nurse wheeled him off to the ICU. The letters Intensive Care Unit looked large and foreboding on every sign, black like death. Ted’s heart sped up again. The ICU was for people in really, really bad shape. Did he really want to see Barney? Couldn’t Lily do it? Or maybe Robin—

But Barney didn’t deserve that. After months of being treated like dog who’d behaved badly, Barney had still saved his life and the only question of who deserved what, was if Ted deserved Barney. The answer was no, he didn’t.

The nurse opened the door to a dimmed, private room. “Just push the button if you need anything.”

She sounded gentle and nice and Ted wanted to tell her that he didn’t deserve nice.

But his throat had closed up completely.

Barney lay before him.

Ted had seen Barney sleep before, usually after drinking binges where Barney hadn’t been successful in scoring a girl. Somehow, Barney was still animated and alive even in sleep – his eyebrows twitched and he drooled sometimes, and on occasion he talked in his sleep. He’d roll this way and that and even kick and punch in the air on occasion.

Barney was nothing like that now.

Now, Barney was still and pale. Except for his chest slowly rising and falling with the help of a machine standing beside the bed and the mask covering his face, there was no movement. Barney’s forehead wasn’t wrinkled and there were no winks, no wild hand gestures. He was—lifeless.

Nausea washed over Ted again and he swallowed hard. Slowly, he stood up and walked the last few feet to stand beside the bed.

The breathing mask covered half of Barney’s face, over his nose and mouth. Ted tried not to think too long about the fact that Barney needed help to breathe; it seemed so wrong. There was a brace around his throat and neck keeping his head in place and Ted had seen enough medical dramas and documentaries to know that that was a bad thing. Spinal cord injuries. Bad, bad damage.

Below his neck, most of Barney’s body was wrapped in gauze and set in casts. Both his arms were in casts and several fingers had been taped to hold still. Both his legs were elevated and in casts as well.

“You weren’t supposed to—” Ted started, but he choked before he could get to any kind of end. He didn’t know what he wanted to say. Should he beg for forgiveness?

A part of him expected Barney to wake up, to just open his eyes and rip off all the casts and stuff, and laughingly tell him that this was all a prank or a very elaborate magical number, all done just to get Ted to realize what an idiot he’d been.

Barney didn’t magically wake up. The lone sounds in the room were those of the machines keeping him alive. Ted could only sit and stare, guilt eating away at him.

“Why did you do it?” Ted asked, voice barely holding. “Why did you save me, after the crap I pulled? Why were you even there?”

Would he have rushed all the way across town, by foot, if he’d found out that Barney had been in a car accident? Or would he have decided that Barney wasn’t worth the trouble, or that he might go see him later at night after the work day was over, if he had the energy?

He felt disgusted with himself.

The door opened and Lily came inside.

“I couldn’t stay away,” she said softly. “I had to see—him.”

She stumbled over the last word as she took in the sight of Barney. Her eyes widened and tears started spilling down her cheeks.

“I thought—I knew—the doctor said it was bad but this—” Her heels clicked against the floor as she walked over to the side of Barney’s bed. She hesitated only slightly before cupping Barney’s cheek. The contrast between her red hand and his sickly pale skin was striking. There was no reaction to the touch.

“I keep expecting him to jump up,” Ted said hoarsely. “To say that it’s all a big prank or something.”

“It doesn’t seem real.” Lily’s gaze was on Barney, taking in every detail, every cut, every bruise. “He’s not supposed to be like this.”

They fell silent, only the beep of Barney’s heart rate registered on a screen and the sound of rushing air from the ventilator filling the air. The sounds might have annoyed Ted, except right now, they meant that Barney was still alive. With the doctors giving him better odds if he survived the night, Ted rooted for the irritating sound to continue, continue, continue.

“What if he wakes up and can’t use his legs?” Lily’s soft voice broke into Ted’s reverie. “What if he’s—”



Ted wanted more than anything for Barney to open his eyes and tell them that he was never, ever going to be stuck in a wheelchair – or maybe that if he was, then he’d rock it because he was awesome.

“We’ll make it work,” Ted said when Barney failed to say anything. “No matter what, we’ll help him.”

Lily turned her head to him. “What, you’re okay with him now?”

“How can I not be?” Ted asked before he could stop himself.

“You were really pissed at him before.” There was disapproval in Lily’s eyes.

“He saved my life,” Ted said. “I—how can I not be okay with him?”

Lily’s gaze returned to Barney. “He’s still the same person. He and Robin still did it. I really want you to forgive him, but you shouldn’t do it just because he’s hurt.”

Ted stared at Barney as well. That infuriating, womanizing – and ridiculously charming when he wanted to, even Ted had to admit – idiot who’d barged into Ted’s life and then just stuck around, Ted’s new self-imposed ‘best friend’ no matter how much Ted protested. Getting him to leave had been impossible until Barney broke the Bro Code.

With a start, Ted realized that it had only been possible to get rid of Barney when Barney had felt he deserved to be punished. Ted had tried, several times, to get rid of Barney at the start of their friendship and he’d always failed, until that night in the limo.

Hurting Ted by sleeping with Robin – that had obviously done the trick. Barney had done his fair share of stupid and barely legal stuff – and probably some things that weren’t legal at all – but hurting Ted was the only thing Barney felt he needed to be punished for.

Ted’s way of handling the situation had played straight into Barney’s – probably subconscious, because really, the only thing Barney’s conscious seemed to tell him was that he was awesome – need to be punished for his actions.

Bros before hoes. So why had he chosen Robin over Barney? Why had he decided that Barney sleeping with Robin was much worse than Robin sleeping with Barney?

The door opened then and a nurse came in. “I’m sorry, but your fifteen minutes are up.”

It felt like they’d been in there for an hour, or maybe a few seconds. Ted gazed down at Barney, trying his best to ignore the lump in his throat at his friend’s bruised face. He reached out and squeezed Barney’s shoulder very, very carefully, wishing fervently for a reaction from Barney but getting none.

“We’ll be back tomorrow, buddy,” he said quietly. “You just hang in there.”

“We’re all rooting for you.” Lily’s voice was thick with tears.

They both kept shooting looks back at Barney’s still form as they exited the room. Once outside, Ted looked forlornly up and down the hospital hallway.

“C’mon.” Lily was looking at him, but he couldn’t read her expression. “Let’s go find something to eat. I’m sure Barney will be here when we get back.”

Her voice broke only a little on the last words. She held out her hand and he took it, ignoring the way it shook lightly. She had him sit in the wheelchair again and she pushed it for him. They met up in the waiting lounge with Marshall and Robin, both of whom wanted updates, and they decided to go eat in the hospital cafeteria. The food turned out to be okay, but no one ate more than three bites and what little small talk they tried to engage in soon died away.

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