Beyond the illusion

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Part II

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They were all able to go home late at night, after Ted had finally been discharged, his hands freshly wrapped. Barney’s doctor told them that there was nothing they could do and that it would be better for everyone if they could get some rest at home. They protested but they knew the doctor was right. They’d be of absolutely no use to Barney if they were exhausted. Ted tried not to think about the fact that they were just as useless if they were at their very most alive and awake.

The four took a cab home and Robin slept on the couch because just like the others, she didn’t want to be alone. Ted thought he’d never be able to sleep but he was out before his head hit the pillow.

At four in the morning, he woke, sweaty but cold. His pajama was soaked and his heart racing so he had to have been having nightmares, but he couldn’t remember them. He could imagine easily enough, though, because the nightmares weren’t just his imagination, but memories, and the memories haunted him even as he changed into a t-shirt and sweatpants.

When he came out into the living room, he found Robin sitting up wrapped in blankets, staring straight ahead.

“Robin? You okay?”

She barely reacted to his words, only glancing sideways when he sat down next to her.

“Hey,” Ted said.

“Hey.” Her voice was small. The room was dark, but he thought her eyes looked puffy. “Couldn’t sleep.”

“Yeah, the couch is kinda lumpy.” Ted tried to joke and she gave him a hint of a smile.

He knew how much this must frighten her. It scared him so much he woke up drenched in cold sweat – it had to scare her the same way. Maybe even worse, because he knew first hand how Robin tended to shut down whenever things got too emotional. She couldn’t possibly shut this down.

“What did he look like, Ted?”

He wasn’t used to hearing her voice crack.

He had no idea how to answer her. No truth could calm her, because the truth was that Barney had looked like he was already dead. Yet no lie would comfort her either, because she had caught the glimpse of Barney as he was wheeled into the ER and she’d heard the doctor list his injuries, so she knew that things were bad. Getting hit by a bus was bound to be bad.

He pulled her to him instead and after a moment of sitting stiffly, she relaxed a bit into his embrace. Not completely – Ted suspected that to relax completely she’d have to let her guard all the way down and that was just not happening – but enough for her to draw comfort from him.

“We’ll go see him,” Ted said. “Just as soon as the sun comes up, we’ll go see him.”

“I don’t know if I can.” Robin sounded broken and she had to be, to be able to admit that much of what she would perceive as weakness.

Ted smiled slightly into her hair. “Of course you can. You’re Robin Scherbatsky. You can do anything you put your mind to.”

“But what if he doesn’t—” She broke off and looked away, as though ashamed of even thinking it.

“He’s Barney,” Ted said as though that was an answer. He wished it was.

She hid her face in his shoulder at that and didn’t say another word. He wondered if she was crying.

They fell into some half-slumber there on the couch, her head on his shoulder, and stayed that way until Marshall and Lily stumbled out of bed an hour and a half later.

Lily brewed coffee and poured it into four mugs that they could bring with them and then they took a cab to the hospital. Visiting hours wouldn’t start until eight, but maybe they’d be able to get in anyway. No one felt like sitting around in the apartment.

At least Ted hadn’t gotten the call they’d all been dreading. The doctor had promised to call should anything change drastically during the night. The lack of calls must mean that Barney was, at the very least, still alive.

“He is,” said Dr. Patrick once they got to the hospital, “but I’m afraid that’s the extent of the good news. He has been stable since last night with no change for better or worse. He’s still comatose.”

“Can we see him?” asked Marshall.

The doctor looked at each of them in turn before nodding. “You may.”

Barney’s room number hadn’t changed since the night before; room 106 in the Intensive Care Unit. Dr. Patrick told them that talking to comatose patients could help, but that they’d only get to stay as long as they kept calm and quiet. Ted wasn’t sure what the doctor expected them to do – sing and dance with joy around Barney’s bed?

Ted went in last this time. In part because he’d already seen Barney so he felt he could give the others some space and in part to make sure that Robin didn’t bolt. She looked like she might at any second.

“Oh God,” she breathed as she came up to Barney. She looked away, hiding her face in her hands.

Marshall stood with his mouth hanging open. “He—he doesn’t look alive.”

Lily reached out and cupped Barney’s cheek much like she had done the day before. “He’s warm, at least. And with the heartbeat and the breathing, that makes him still alive.”

“But comatose,” Ted said.

“Don’t bring up the bad stuff!” Lily said. “Just the positive. We need to stay positive. He might be able to hear us and what do you think he’d say if he heard us talk all bad about him?”

Ted frowned briefly. “It’s not bad talk. It’s just truth.”

“Yeah, well, sometimes truth isn’t what’s needed, no matter what he says,” Lily said and they all remembered Barney’s one-man show too well to not know what she was referencing. “Sometimes, the rules need to be broken, even his.”

“I remember,” Ted muttered, though a second later he wished he hadn’t, and it wasn’t just because Lily was suddenly glaring daggers at him.

“You got something to say?”

“Lilypad, is this really—” Marshall said, but Lily sent him a glare as well.

“Ted here has something he wants to share with the class,” she said.

Ted half shrugged, half sighed. “You know what I’m talking about.”

“Oh yeah. The big Bro Code break.” Lily moved towards Ted and anger colored her voice. “Poor Ted. Barney slept with Robin, Barney broke the Bro Code, Barney gets thrown out in the cold – what right do you have to judge him?”

Ted wondered briefly how things had turned upside down so quickly. Hadn’t they just been fine, all there to support Barney? And what was he supposed to do about what had happened? What was done was done.

He ignored the guilt pointedly, even though it crashed on his head like an avalanche. There was annoyance too, now, because Barney had been wrong to sleep with Robin. What right did Lily have to judge him?

“He slept with my ex,” he said, a slight hiss to his voice.

“Yeah, your ex, whom you’d been broken up with for a year, Ted,” Lily said. “What claim do you have on her? You’ve moved on, or at least I hope you have, considering how much you say you want Stella back – otherwise I feel sorry for her.”

“She’s my ex and sleeping with her was breaking the Bro Code!”

“Hey, I’m standing right here,” Robin said, but she too was ignored.

“Bro Code, Bro Chmode,” Lily scoffed. “You always roll your eyes whenever Barney brings up the Bro Code and yet now it suddenly matters?”

“Fine, not Bro Code,” Ted snapped. “Common decency. Common fucking decency between friends! He doesn’t have that either.”

A small part of him knew that that was a big, fat lie – Barney certainly had common decency. He might not always choose to use it, but he certainly had it. And with his friends, Barney had shown several times that there were few things he wouldn’t do for them.

“Hey, guys,” Marshall tried, but failed as his wife turned red and yelled at Ted.

“Get out! You don’t deserve to be here!”

“Neither of you can be here.” A stern-looking nurse had come into the room and it was a testament to how loud they’d been that none of them had noticed her entering. “You two will have to leave. I won’t have visitors causing such ruckus at this hour.”

Without ceremony, she grabbed Ted and Lily both by the arm and led them firmly out the door. Robin and Marshall stared after them. Ted glared at the nurse for a short moment before turning his ire at Lily.

“Oh no, you don’t,” said the nurse before Ted could start. “You go outside if you want to scream at each other. Not in here.”

“Fine,” Ted snapped and stalked off.

The sun had started to rise but it was still very early morning, the air crisp and fresh. Ted didn’t have time to enjoy it; they had only barely passed the doors leading outside before Lily started up again.

“What the hell is wrong with you?”

“I don’t know, you tell me,” Ted said. “You seem to know everything!”

“I know that you’re an idiot.”

“Gee, thanks.” Ted turned and tried walking away again, but she grabbed his arm.

“Why didn’t you shut Robin out of your life?”

“Because—” he started, but found he had to stop dead, because he had no reason that rang true. Because he loved her? Sure, he did, but not that way. Not anymore. That should mean that Barney and Robin were both his friends and as such should be treated equally. Because Robin was a girl? Well, she was, but she was also a gun happy and sleeping around as much as Ted. She certainly didn’t need him to be her knight in shining armor.

But Barney was Barney and Ted realized that that was the true question of the matter – why he had banished Barney, rather than why he hadn’t banished Robin.

Barney was a bastard who took home a new girl every night. Barney drank, smoked cigars, made a lot of money doing God knew what kind of work. Barney lived alone and thought marriage was Satan’s invention. Barney was a childish ass most of the time and could thus be treated as such.

Lily had apparently read Ted’s thoughts. “He doesn’t live life the way you do and so you feel superior. He craves your attention and you just throw it in his face.”

“I don’t!” Ted protested.

“You ended your friendship with him,” Lily said. “Just like that. He hates relationships but he’d do anything for you to admit that he’s your best friend – and I know that hurt him more than any physical pain you could ever inflict on him. How the hell is that doing anything but throwing it in his face? You wouldn’t treat a dog like that, so why is it okay with Barney?”

“Because he’s Barney!”

Lily’s eyes turned cold. “I sure as hell hope you come up with something better to say to him when he wakes up.”

“What, should I beg for his forgiveness?” Ted didn’t have a leg to stand on anymore and he knew it – he had blown it with Barney, blown it big time. He had behaved like a way worse bastard than Barney ever had.

Now that he thought about it, he suddenly couldn’t come up with any of the bad stuff Barney had supposedly done. Sure, there had been the crappy bachelor party for Marshall – but then Lily had revealed the secret of Barney’s trip to San Francisco, which more than compensated for everything. He had married Lily and Marshall and paid for their honeymoon. There had been Mary the non-prostitute, but that hadn’t exactly been a friendship-ending joke – it had just been Barney’s slightly odd kind of humor, just like him stealing Ted’s stuff when he was moving in with Robin.

And the good stuff? Barney had been his Wingman – sure, whether Ted wanted him to or not, but he’d done it really well – and he’d kept Ted company whenever Ted needed it. They’d played video games, watched movies, gotten drunk.

Barney wasn’t like Marshall. If Ted got drunk and tried to do something stupid, then Barney just cheered him on – the Pineapple Incident had been more than enough proof of that. But even though Barney would push Ted into doing stupid things sometimes, he also always had Ted’s back. And going on adventures with Barney was always awesome.

“You should beg for his forgiveness and hope he takes you back,” Lily said. “And if you’re so lucky as to get him back, then you should seriously think about an attitude adjustment, or his is not the only friendship you’ll lose.”

She swirled around and stalked into the hospital again, leaving Ted standing on the sidewalk.

People bustled by. Ted looked longingly at them; they hadn’t just had their worlds turned upside down by a large yellow bus, a tiny redhead and a blonde man who said ‘legen-waitforit-dary!’ a bit too often.

He swallowed hard; the spot where the bus had hit Barney was right in front of him. Between the busses passing by, Ted could see the darkened spot of dried blood on the asphalt. His mind flashed back to the day before – it had been less than twenty-four hours, oh God, it hadn’t even been twenty-four hours – and he wished he could go back and change it. He wished he could go back and get into a different cab to begin with. If his shoelaces hadn’t been untied, where would he be then? Where would Barney be then? In his office, surely. Beyond the new-girl-each-night thing, Barney was a workaholic.

Ted sat down with a sigh, leaning against the wall of the hospital building. He sat there, staring at the people passing by, until someone mistook him for a homeless person and threw him a nickel.

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Days passed and some sort of relative normality settled. Robin and Ted both started working again while Marshall and Lily, unemployed and off from work because of school recess respectively, stayed in the hospital with Barney. Robin and Ted both came there as soon as they got off work. James came to town and stayed in the hospital most of the time.

Lily and Ted hadn’t spoken since their fight. Ted wanted to make up with her, but he had no idea how to start.

“Dude, why don’t you just admit that you were wrong?” asked Marshall when Lily was out on a series of errands and Robin was still at work. James had left to go for a walk, unable to sit still at the hospital any longer.

“I don’t know,” Ted said. “I just—it doesn’t feel like it’s Lily I’m supposed to be apologizing to.”

“So you’re gonna apologize to Barney?”

Ted looked at Barney, wishing fervently as he had so many times in the last few days that he would wake up.

“Yeah,” Ted said softly. “I’m gonna do what Lily told me: ask his forgiveness and hope he takes me back.”

“Good,” said Marshall. “I would’ve had to hit you over the head or something otherwise. Barney is part of the group, dude. We don’t just throw group members out.”

Ted made a face. “I know.”

He would have said more, except Barney chose that exact moment to start moving. The heart rate monitor started beeping faster and Ted saw Barney’s hand twitching. Immediately, Ted was by Barney’s side, hand gently on his shoulder – the one where the collar bone wasn’t broken.

“Barney?” He tried not to sound too hopeful.

Barney moved weakly beneath Ted’s hand; it was more like an attempt at flexing muscles that hadn’t been used in days, than actual movement. Then Barney’s eyes flew open and he looked around wildly, attempting to struggle against the casts and braces he was in.
“Barney, calm down,” Ted said, trying not to panic himself. “You’re in the hospital. You’re okay. Just don’t try to move.”

Barney blinked rapidly against the dim light of the room, his gaze continuing to flicker this way and that.

“Barney, look at me,” Ted tried. “Come on, man, just look at me.”

Barney’s gaze finally landed on Ted. His eyes were filled with terror and Ted squeezed Barney’s shoulder ever so lightly.

“Good,” Ted said gently. “Now just calm down and the doctor will be here in a second to take out the tube in your mouth, okay? Just stay with me, Barney. Everything’s okay.”

He felt a little like he was talking to a child, but it calmed both himself and Barney. Barney’s gaze bore into Ted, all confusion and fear but still endless trust that had Ted’s stomach tying itself into tight knots.

A doctor and a nurse entered the room, having apparently been alerted of the change in Barney’s status. A few moments later, Barney was free of the ventilator. He coughed and gulped down air, eyes squeezing shut. Ted stayed beside him. His other hand came up to run across Barney’s forehead and hair, in a hopefully soothing motion. He wasn’t sure who needed to be soothed the most.

“You’re okay, Barney,” Ted breathed. “You’re okay.”

“’ed,” Barney rasped, looking up at Ted with such happiness that fresh, heavy guilt welled up within Ted. Barney shouldn’t be looking at him that way. Barney should hate him for how Ted had treated him.

A nurse gave Barney an ice chip to suck on, soothing his unused throat, while the doctor started running Barney through a series of tests. Barney flinched as the doctor shone a light in his eyes but said nothing. Then Ted held his breath as the doctor pricked Barney’s toes with a needle – and Barney could feel the pricks.

“You’re not paralyzed,” Ted said in a breath of relief that made it almost a laugh.

Barney looked at him and there was a shadow of his old self in his eyes. “’course not. ‘m way too awesome for tha’.”

Marshall chuckled and came over. “Yeah, you are.”

Ted wondered where Marshall had gone before – had he been there the whole time? Ted had been so focused on Barney that he hadn’t noticed. It didn’t matter; what mattered was that Barney was awake.

The nurse left and then the doctor, after a promise to return once Barney had recovered a little. That left Ted, Barney and Marshall in the room.

Marshall smiled at Barney. “Good to have you back, dude.”

Ted caught the meaningful look Marshall sent him. It was the look that said that if Ted wanted to keep being friends with Lily – and by extension Marshall – then he needed to apologize to Barney.

“Barney,” he said, thickly. “You—you could’ve died.”

Barney looked at him, eyes filled with pain and regret. “Ted, ’m sorry I broke the Bro Code.”

Barney was only half-alive and he was the one apologizing? He’d pushed Ted out of harms way and gotten run over by a bus and yet some of the first words out of his mouth was that he was sorry? Just how much did he value their friendship? Yeah, it had taken Ted this whole ordeal and a tongue-lashing from Lily to realize how wrong he’d been about everything, but still—

“No, I’m sorry,” Ted said. It wasn’t so hard to say. It wasn’t hard at all, actually.

His heart broke at the sight of Barney looking at him, almost shyly, blue eyes flickering. There was such adoration in his gaze it almost scared Ted. What had he done to deserve such devotion?

Barney’s voice was quiet, the words still muffled by his unused voice. “Ted, can we be friends ‘gain?”

“Barney, come on,” he said, reaching out to squeeze Barney’s shoulder, ever so gently as to not aggravate any pain he was in. “We’re more than friends. We’re brothers.”

Barney closed his eyes and a lazy, soft smile spread across his lips. It was like someone was pouring life into him, little by little. “You’re my brother, Ted.”

Ted could feel every wall he’d ever built crumbling at the gentle joy in Barney’s voice. “You’re my brother, Barney.”

It wasn’t very comfortable, but he had to hug Barney. He bent down and rested his head on Barney’s chest. He could hear Barney’s heartbeat, steady and safe. The fear and panic that had been following him like a shadow for the last couple of days washed over him and the tears started. For once, he didn’t bother to try to hide them or wipe them away.

He heard Barney taunt Marshall about being Ted’s brother and upon Ted’s admission that they were all brothers, he could only smile into Barney’s chest when Barney asked if he was Ted’s best brother. No matter what Ted named Barney, Barney would obviously always compete with Marshall about being the one closest to Ted. Ted didn’t understand Barney’s fixation on him, but at the moment he ignored the questions it called forth and just enjoyed having Barney back.

After a while, Marshall straightened. “I’ll go call Lily and Robin.”

Although Marshall would surely do just that, it was still a thinly veiled excuse to leave Ted and Barney alone. The door closed and Ted kept his head on Barney’s chest, still in the awkward hug.

“I missed you,” he said. He had, though he hadn’t wanted to admit it. After all, he’d been the one who’d ended things and so he’d blamed the times he’d turned to where Barney should’ve been sitting to say something on habit. Only now that it was over could he admit that he’d missed Barney. He’d missed Barney a lot.

There was a sleepy chuckle in answer. “’course you did. ‘m the Barnacle. ‘m your Wingman. It’s like Chewbacca without ‘n Solo.”

Instead of rolling his eyes – because of course Ted would be Chewbacca and Barney Han Solo – Ted raised his head to look at Barney and smile slightly. “Yeah.”

Then Barney winced and Ted worried immediately. “You okay?”

“Fine.” It was a lie, but if Barney wanted to keep some brave façade up, then he was allowed to. After everything that had happened, Barney was allowed to do pretty much anything.

“Thank you,” Ted said instead.

Barney raised an eyebrow in question.

“You saved my life.” The image of Barney getting hit by the bus flashed before his eyes. “I’ll never be able to repay you for that.”

“No need,” Barney said. “We’re brothers. ‘s what brothers do.”

There was a slight slur to his voice, his eyelids falling shut. Barney struggled to open them again, but he seemed to be fighting a losing battle.

“Sleep, Barney,” Ted said.

Barney opened his eyes to gaze at Ted briefly, then averting his gaze. He looked shy again. It was a strange look on Barney’s face; Barney was always so certain of himself. So full of awesomeness and tricks and magic; there usually wasn’t space left for shyness. Now he seemed to be debating himself on asking Ted something. Ted suddenly realized what it was.

“Do you want me to stay?”

Barney almost glared at him, but there was no heat behind it – rather, Ted saw a pleading ‘yes’ in his eyes, even though Barney scoffed, “No, ‘f course not.”

Ted sat down in one of the four visitors’ chairs and picked up a magazine. They’d bought a bunch of magazines to keep themselves occupied while keeping watch over Barney and then none of them had been able to read a single line.

The next time Ted looked up, Barney was sleeping, the pulse monitor showing a slower, steady rhythm.

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Later that evening, Ted was sitting outside Barney’s room. Robin was with Barney and Ted thought he’d give them some privacy. Besides, a part of him needed to breathe. Not because he couldn’t stand to be around Barney – in all honesty, he had half a mind to glue himself to Barney’s side for a while, just to make sure that Barney didn’t jump in front of any other busses for any other friends, but he had to admit that lying perfectly still on a bed for six weeks the way Barney was supposed to didn’t sound like fun.

No, he needed a breather from himself. From his own thoughts, his own guilt, which was amplified every time he looked at Barney’s beaten body. Guilt crashed upon him anew with every wince Barney tried to hide.

Why had it taken him this to admit that he’d been wrong? Why hadn’t he just called Barney after a week and told him that he missed him? Why couldn’t he have admitted earlier that he was wrong?

Lily and Marshall came down the corridor carrying coffee cups and a bag of what had to be donuts.

“Hey,” said Marshall and handed Ted his coffee. “Robin inside?”

“Yeah,” Ted said. “She got here twenty minutes ago.”

Lily was studiously not looking at Ted. Ted only glanced up briefly at her, before studying the cup of coffee with feigned interest.

Marshall looked between his wife and Ted. “I’ll just go in and give Robin her coffee, then. And she’ll probably have a donut too.” He grabbed a donut and Robin’s coffee from the bags and headed inside.

Ted wasn’t sure he had the energy to face Lily right now. She wasn’t looking murderous anymore, but Lily’s face could be deceptively calm sometimes.

“I apologized to him,” Ted said, hoping that that was what Lily wanted to hear. “And I thanked him for saving my life. We’re friends again.” When Lily stayed silent, just looking at him, Ted squirmed a little before continuing. “I’m not sure why he took me back. He just did.”

“He loves you,” Lily said. “More than you deserve sometimes, you douche.”

“Yeah.” Ted sighed, almost wistfully. “He does.”

“Did you mean what you said?”

“Yeah.” Ted didn’t have to ask what she meant, nor did he have to think about his answer. He had meant his apology with every fiber of his being.

“Good.” Lily sank down onto the plastic chair next to Ted’s. “If you ever hurt him again, I’ll have no choice but to hurt you. Just so you know.”

She was perfectly serious, he knew, but when he looked at her, he also saw that the twinkle was back in her eyes. She’d forgiven him for acting like an idiot.

He wondered why everyone accepted his apologies so easily, but decided not to look in the gift horse’s mouth.

“I’m glad you’re okay,” Lily said. At Ted’s confused look, she continued, “You were in a car crash and then nearly got hit by a bus. My nerves—well, you frazzled them a bit. You and Barney.”

“Is that why you yelled at me?”

“A little bit,” Lily admitted. “But mostly, it was because you were a douche.”

He smiled slightly at her, then wrapped his arm around her shoulders and hugged her. He marveled at his luck in finding such good friends. He didn’t know what to do without them – and that included Barney.

It definitely included Barney.

“So, now that Barney’s awake, are you gonna go talk to Stella?” Lily looked up at him.

Stella! He hadn’t thought of her since Barney’s accident – he hadn’t so much as called her or sent her a message of any kind.


“Forgot all about her, huh?” Lily asked.

“I—I’ve gotta go.” Ted stood up, nearly spilling coffee all over the place. He opened the door to Barney’s hospital room. “I have to go, right now. I just realized—Stella. Barney—”

Robin and Marshall looked at him with raised eyebrows. Barney – who could only barely see him out of the corner of his eyes – did a dramatic, “Go. Run, Ted, run. If there’s anything I’ve taught you over the years it’s that—”

Ted smiled at Barney’s antics. He decided that since days had already passed, it wouldn’t matter if a few more moments went by. He walked across the small room and hugged Barney, interrupting him mid-sentence.

“You’re my brother, Barney,” Ted said.

“Yeah.” Ted could hear Barney’s smile. “Your very awesomest brother ever. But we’ve already established that. Now you need to go get laid, bro.”

Ted chuckled. He couldn’t remember the last time he was this happy.

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To this day, Ted felt guilty when he thought of the weeks leading up to the accident. And even now, when he closed his eyes he could still see the bus hitting Barney, as clearly as though it was happening at that very moment.

When he told the stories to the kids, he exaggerated a few things – like the amount of cool parties he’d been to – and withheld other things. Things like the way Barney still needed pain meds to handle the pain on really bad days, because broken bones don’t always mend themselves back to perfection.

There were scars on Barney’s legs, torso and arms that had faded over the years, but silver lines were still visible. Ted caught sight of them sometimes when Barney rolled up the sleeves of his shirts or when they went swimming together, and he always felt the need to apologize and thank Barney again, even though Barney would hit him over the head and call him a repetitive little girl whenever he did.

But even though Ted wouldn’t tell it to his kids, he would never forget how it really happened.

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Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.
Albert Einstein

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