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The Pool - chapter ten

The feeling of Ted kissing him when they both know Marshall can see is confusing. Barney's certainly turned on. The kiss is hot. Deep and firm and hungry and excited. Ted's holding him tight, but not tight enough to cover up the fact he's shaking. There's a weird thrill in Marshall watching. It makes it feel naughty and illicit and a little dirty. But the good kind of dirty. Probably. Barney's finding it hard to tell.

His stomach clenches with nerves at the fact that what they're doing can no longer be a secret. That by showing this to their friends, they've got no option but to face up to it themselves. But he likes the feeling of Ted needing him; wanting him, so badly that he's willing to take that decision for both of them. To face his terror and insecurity over what they're doing and prove to Barney that this is important enough to risk everything, including the way his best friend sees him. Well. His second best friend. 

When Ted pulls away, he looks for Marshall first, not Barney. He's still shaking.
"Barney, he's gone," he says hoarsely. He's still holding Barney. 
"Ted, that was probably... weird for him to see." Barney's stroking the small of Ted's back reassuringly, sensing that he's on the verge of a massive freak out.
"Oh god. What... I shouldn't have done that. We, we should have told him first. Barney, he's going to be so hurt."
Barney can't believe he hadn't considered that. He'd considered the implications for himself and Ted. He'd known Marshall would be floored. Assumed he'd find it awkward around the two of them for a while. But of course he'd be hurt. Marshall thought he was Ted's best friend, but not only had Ted kept the biggest secret he'd ever had from him, he'd also got close to Barney in a way that completely excluded anyone else.
Barney sighs heavily. "We're idiots."
"Barney, what do we do?" Ted sounds close to tears. Barney sothes him, pulling him back into a hug and softly kissing his cheek.
"We talk to our friends. Starting with Marshall."
"I... I think I have to talk to Marshall alone. Can you talk to Lily?"
Barney nods and kisses Ted, stroking the back of his neck and running the pads of his fingers ever so slightly into his hair. "It'll be ok. He loves you Ted."

Ted heads upstairs to the apartment and Barney back to the bar, where Robin and Lily are waiting. Lily is confused and irritated by being abandoned by all three men and Robin is pretending to be, although it's obvious she's guessed at least a general summary of what's happened.
"Barney, what the hell was that about?"
Telling Lily had seemed really easy outside, with Ted in his arms and Marshall pulled somewhat crudely into the loop. He can feel Robin looking at him.
"Barney," She says, surprisingly gently. "You know we're going to get this out of you eventually, right? So why not just tell us. I'm sure it's nothing that bad." That last sentence is loaded with meaning. He's sure Lily will pick up on it, but she's focussed on him, not Robin. She raises her eyebrows expectantly.
"OK. Uh, Lily. And, uh, and Robin, obviously. Both of you. I, me and Ted. We... I..." Barney can't do anything but falter. The words won't come out. Robin reaches across the table and takes his hand, running her thumb across his knuckles reassuringly.
"Barney, sweetie, it's ok."
"Wait... Robin, you know what he's going to say!"
"I know. Sorry Lil. This was one he had to be ready to tell himself." 
Barney takes a shaky gulp of air. Robin still has his hand.
He addresses the table, unable to meet anyone's eyes. "Me and Ted are together." 
"You're... together? Together, together?"
Barney nods at the sticky glass-ringed wood. He doesn't see Lily until she's over in his side of the booth, pulling him into a tight hug.
"Oh sweetie, I knew it. Always. Marshall said I was wrong, but I just had a feeling. Is that where Ted is? Telling Marshall?"
"Um, that's the other part..."

Barney knows he's got by far the easier conversation here. Lily is sweet and understanding and she and Robin both reassure him that they know he and Ted didn't want to hurt Marshall, they were just scared and impulsive. They buy Barney scotches and ask him a lot of questions and he ends up telling them pretty much everything. Although he holds back on how utterly desolate and alone and hopeless he's felt in the intervening years. Nobody needs to know that. Not even Ted. Especially not Ted. 

It's late when Ted texts him, and he, Robin and Lily are all a little drunk. He feels oddly liberated but vulnerable now they know and they're all talking about him and Ted the same way they do about any relationship anyone in the group has. When the text arrives, they both look at him expectantly.

'Hey. It's going 2 B ok. M mad abt way he fnd out + hrt I cdnt tk to him, bt nt mad abt us. C U l8r? x' Barney reads it out to the girls, leaving out the last sentence. He texts Ted back:

'I'm pleased. All gd here 2. Def C U l8r x x'

Not long after that, Barney goes home, asking Lily and Robin to tell Marshall he'll see him tomorrow. They all seem to share a silent agreement that Marshall will be better prepared for seeing Barney and Ted together when he's had 12 hours to digest everything.

He hasn't been in his apartment long before Ted's at the door. He opens it, wearing just a white muscle vest and blue and white striped pajama bottoms. Ted smiles approvingly.
"You know, it's not just suits that suit you..." 
"How was it?"
"Honestly? Awful. I feel like I cheated on him. I kinda did. We'll be ok, but... It's complicated. Marshall's always been my best friend and now, suddenly, you and me have something that he never will. It's not like he wants to... do what we're doing. But I think he still feels sorta left out, you know?"
Barney does know. He relaised all that in the split second after the kissed outside Maclarens.
"Do you want to talk about it?"
"We've both done a lot of talking in the past couple of hours..."
"Do you want a scotch?"
"Hells yeah"

They talk about stuff that isn't anything to do with their relationship or what their friends think or how anybody feels. They drink quite a lot of scotch and things get a little blurry. They're not sure how they end up kissing on Barney's leather couch, but that's what they're doing. Barney's vest is off and Ted's shirt is open. Barney's had to undo the buttons on Ted's fly and is so hard himself that his pajamas are pulled taut. Barney's on top of Ted, running an ice cube from his scotch glass over Ted's chest and nipples and straight down the line of his stomach. He's following the path of the ice cube with his tongue, making Ted shudder. He tugs Ted's jeans down, his boxers coming with them, exposing his hard on. Barney rolls the ice cube around his mouth, before taking it out and going down on Ted, taking the full length of him and, with his free hand, stroking his balls. He works his way down, sucking very gently on Ted's balls, licking on that sensitive strip of skin beneath them, until he's tonguing between Ted's butt cheeks. Ted gasps and bucks his back slightly, grabs the back of Barney's hair, clearly unsure whether he wants to push him away or pull him down and keep him there. Barney easily convinces him it's option two. When Ted suddenly pulls back, gasping for him to stop, that he can't take any more, he licks gently back up Ted's body until they're kissing, him with one hand between their sticky, sweaty bodies, gently rolling his hand over the head of Ted's cock and down the length of it. He feels Ted pull away again.

"Barney!" he says urgently. "Seriously, I'm gonna come."

It's enough to convince him to let Ted work on him. He's unsure of what he's doing, asking Barney a lot if it's good, if he likes it. It is and he does. Ted's ability to take his whole cock surprises him. He's really good at that, lips forming a firm, but gentle seal, tongue circling and flicking. Sucking hard and wet and smooth. Ted's licked his fingers and is tracing a gentle circle on Barney's asshole, maing him feel dangerously close to the edge. He pulls Ted up, pushing up to meet him and kissing him roughly, digging his nails into Ted's back. Very gently, almost tentatively, he manipulates Ted onto his back, going back to tonguing him.

"Ted," he says breathlessly, breaking off for a second "Are you... ok with, uh, where this is going?" 
Ted nods, turning to kiss Barney again. They'e both slick with sweat. Barney gets up and takes Ted's hand, leading him to his bedroom. They make their way onto it together and Barney blindly reaches into a drawer near his headboard for lube and condoms.  There's not much more foreplay. It hurts. Of course it hurts. But Barney takes it gently, never pushing it further than Ted can take, keeping him constantly turned on too.

At one point Ted pulls away and looks a little awkward. "I, uh, I kinda feel like I'm gonna-"
Barney cuts him off. "-You're not. I promise. Just relax and it'll go away."

Ted does relax. Barney can tell it still hurts him, but he hopes he's enjoying it too. The weird mix of vulnerability and seuxal power of being penetrated. The sensation of Baney inside him. Clearly he is feeling all of that, as well as Barney using his hand on him, lube making everything smooth and silky and intense, because suddenly, Barney can tell from his breathing and the feel of his cock that he's really, really close. That sends a jolt of pleasure through Barney and he leans in to kiss Ted, whispering to him that he's going to come. Ted makes a noise that's something between a whimper and a groan and says that he is too.

When it's over, and they've cleaned up, they both lie on their backs next to each other, not talking, just breathing heavily. After a few minutes, Barney pulls the sheet over them both and Ted rolls over to be close to him putting an arm over his stomach, nuzzling into his neck.

"So... there's kinda no going back now."
"Do you want to?" Barney turns to look at him, hoping the fear he doesn't want to feel doesn't show in his eyes.
"I just want you."
"Not a wife and kids?"
"Dude, it's 2012. We can get married. And we can adopt. Or get a surrogate. I'll get better kids than I would have with the original plan."
"Whoah Ted, it's a little early to be talking about marriage and kids."
Ted looks panicked. "I didn't mean... I just..."
Barney grins at him, covering his mouth in an affectionate kiss.
"I'm kidding Ted." He pulls him closer and it's not long before Ted is asleep. 

Barney stays awake a while longer, feeling Ted's chest rise, listening to his even breathing, completely unable to stop himself smiling out at the darkness.

The Pool - chapter nine

As the door closes, Ted knows he should have done something. He'd so nearly kissed Barney, but he just couldn't. He'd imagined burying his fingers in the soft fabric of Barney's t-shirt, pulling him towards him, gently covering those lips with his own, pulling Barney in closer with a firm hand on the back of his head... but he'd been crippled by the idea of Robin seeing. Robin knowing about him and Barney and seeing it are two different things. He knows Robin is looking at him. He rolls his eyes and discovers that when you're as hungover as he is, even eyerolling can hurt.

"What, Robin? What's the look for? What do you want to say?" Talking is making his face hurt.
"Ted... we can do this if you like. You can project and argue and pretend and eventually get round to doing what you want to do, which is telling me what's the matter. Or, you can save time and precious hangover energy and just tell me."
Ted feels caught off guard. Mainly because he knows Robin's right. And he does need to talk about this. He sighs, stops walking, meets Robin's eyes. "I said something. I think I hurt Barney. I told him I don't want to be attracted to him. And I said I can't give up on getting married and having kids."
"Well... it's a change from saying I love you right away..."
"Sorry." She rubs his arm reassuringly. "Sorry, really. Did he seem ok?"
"No. He just stopped talking and made coffee."
"You know that underneath everything Barney is painfully vulnerable, right?"
"You know it must have taken him everything to do... to do what you guys are doing?"
"Yeah." Ted's voice is getting quieter.
Robin's voice is quieter too. "You know he's been completely in love with you since forever?"
"Yeah." Ted pretty much whispers.
"What about you?"
Ted feels his body threatening to betray him. His eyes are hot and his throat is burning, but he can't cry. Not here, with Robin. He swallows the lump in his throat. "I can't be gay." He feels tears well and roll down his cheeks and doesn't even wipe them away. He leans back against the wall and buries his face in the crook of his elbow.
"Ted, maybe it doesn't have to be gay. Maybe it's just about Barney." Robin pulls him into a hug, soothingly guiding his head onto her shoulder. Momentarily, Ted is struck by the weirdness of his ex-girlfriend comforting him over his fledgling relationship with a dude. 
"Robin, can we just go home?"
Robin sighs heavily. "You know at some point you're not going to be able to 'go home'? You're going to have to deal with this."
"Well right now, it's going to be a problem for future Ted, ok?"

Robin takes him home and he bluffs his way through conversations with Marshall and Lily and his mother, which is particularly awkward since she's probably imagining that he's been fucking Barney all night. They all go for brunch - Barney doesn't show up - then late in the afternoon, his mom goes home. She hugs him a little bit tighter than usual, Ted's sure of it. He goes to bed not long after she's gone. 

The day at work passes in a blur. He checks his phone constantly, half hoping Barney will ring or text and half worrying what he'll say if he does. Barney's all he can think about. He's in meetings and he zones out, thinking about stroking his hands down the firm ridges of Barney's abs, slipping his hand down further, running his nails down Barney's back, feeling Barney roughly kiss him, stroking Ted's erection through his pants. The thought that he's never been this preoccupied with a woman keeps sneaking into his mind.

By the time he gets to Maclarens that night he's desperate to just be alone with Barney. He wants to say he's sorry then tear off Barney's stupidly expensive jacket, run his hands under his shirt, grind against him until they're both hard, kiss him so deeply it takes his breath away.

But when Barney arrives and Ted sneakily runs his hand up his thigh under the table, Barney pulls away. When he tries to make eye contact, Barney won't. He engineers the two of them going to the bar together but Barney acts like the past few days haven't happened, flatly refusing to acknowledge anything that Ted (in code) talks about. Eventually, still early in the evening, he announces he's going home. Ted watches him stand up - still he won't make eye contact - and walk out. Ted's physically overcome by his need, he's practically trembling and he can't process anything anyone's saying. Abruptly, he finds himself standing up and mumbling a lame excuse and bolting after his friend. 

Barney's outside waiting for a taxi.
"Hey Ted," he says, mildly.
"Barney... stop being like this."
"Ted, I thought this was what you wanted? Ignoring what we feel because it's so disgusting." He's going for nonchalant, but he actually just sounds petulant and hurt and scared.
"Barney..." Ted moves in and puts his arms around Barney's neck. He doesn't exactly yield, but he doesn't pull away. "I'm sorry. I... I do want to be with you. I know I do. I just need to get past this. But I can't do it without your help, OK?"
Barney looks him right into his eyes. "Ted, you have to mean it, because..." he tails off. "Ted, I've cared about you for a really long time."
"I know." Ted's look tells Barney that he knows how much. He pulls him in closer, and the feel of Barney's breath and soft brush of his lips makes his pulse race and the tiny hairs on his neck rise. He feels Barney try to pull back, but he holds him tighter, licking lightly along Barney's jawline. Barney still tries to pull away.
"Ted!" He hisses urgently. "Marshall."
Ted opens his eyes a little and behind Barney, out of the corner of his eye, he can see that Marshall has indeed followed him out of the bar and is standing watching them, frozen by awkwardness and confusion. 

Ted closes his eyes, holds Barney tighter and starts to kiss him.

The Pool - chapter eight

Not at all surprisingly, Barney is awake long before Ted. Barney had ended up calling Robin. He'd put it off for nearly an hour, trying to think of another way -- any other way -- that he'd be able to take Ted home in the morning without everyone knowing. But it turned out there weren't any other ways, and he wasn't ready for Marshall and Lily to see what was going on. Or for Ted's mom to see it again. So he'd rung Robin at nearly 5am. He'd felt horribly uncomfortable about it - not because it was 5am, but because it meant actually acknowledging what was going on. But ten awkward minutes later, he at least felt like he'd be able to walk into Ted's apartment with Ted without everyone's internal monologues collectively going: 'Ohh, so Barney and Ted are gay now'.

What had happened after Barney left the bar, was that Ted had drunk a lot. They'd all been drinking - even Ted's mom - but nobody was drinking as much as Ted. But everything had been OK. Robin is completely sure that at no point did anybody mention Barney and Ted fucking. Ted and his mom hadn't had any fraught conversations which led to Ted storming out. Ted hadn't started crying and confessed to Marshall that he liked dudes. It was just that one minute he was there, and the next he'd gone. Robin -- and Barney has never loved her more than in the moment when she tells him this -- had run after him, because she had a pretty good idea where he was going. Obviously he'd ignored her pleas to go home to his own bed, so she'd made sure the cab driver didn't look too much like a murderer, given him Barney's address and gone back and told everyone Ted had got a call from the girl he'd been on the date with. Barney explains why Ted's mom had given Robin that look when she'd said that and Robin laughs. Then she takes a breath and tells Barney to make sure he looks after Ted. Barney just says 'bye Robin', but thinks that he's wanted nothing but that since he met Ted. Robin also offers to come pick Ted up.

Eventually Ted wakes up. Well. He moans like his throat is actually falling out of his mouth, mumbles something unintelligible and reaches for the trashcan.

"Wow Ted. Were you vomit-free since 93 because you wanted to save it up and do it all at once?"
"Why am I here?" Ted's voice sounds like it went to a Pearl Jam concert without him during the night.
"Oh, no... actually. Not since 93. I forgot about Robin's doormat. Ted, be honest: do you have a thing for throwing up at the homes of people you're sexually attracted to? Does it turn you on?"
"Barney!" His tone is pathetically hungover-whiny. "Barney, why am I here?" He leans gingerly back against the headboard, sipping the water Barney left him and rubbing his forehead.
Barney tells him. Ted has the good grace to actually blush and cover his face with his hands.
"Oh God, Barney. I'm so sorry. If it makes you feel any better, that was just beer on my pants."
"Actually, it does."

Barney lets Ted take a shower and brush his teeth. Insists, really. When he's done, there's still half an hour til Robin's due to arrive. Part of Barney wants to take Ted back to bed and do things which are going to make him need another shower. But he does something else instead.

"Ted, we have to talk."
Ted gets that alarmed most people get when they hear than sentence. Because it's never something good. 
"Ted, why were you that drunk last night?"
"What? C'mon Barney, that was hardly the first time you've seen me that drunk."
"No Ted, it wasn't. Every other time has been when I've got you that drunk. Because you've been having some emotional crisis about a woman. And every one of those crises has happened because ultimately, you knew it wasn't going to work out."
"This wasn't like that!"
"Then what was it?"
Ted says nothing. Puts his head in his hands. 
"I just wanted to not think about us. It was you who taught me that, remember? Drinking not thinking."
"Is getting drunk the only way you can deal with this Ted? Is it really that awful to think about?" Barney's raising his voice without even realising it.
"No! I just... I don't know how I am supposed to deal with it. I'm sorry Barney, but I don't. I don't want to want you." He shouts the last sentence, pauses, softens his tone. "I don't know if I can ever be ok with what we're doing. I just... I've spent my whole life wanting kids, a wife. I'm not gay. I don't want to give up the only thing I've ever been sure I wanted."
For half a second, Barney looks as hurt as he feels, but he quickly regains control, swallowing the burning feeling in his throat. He stands up and heads for the kitchen.
"Do you want a coffee?"
"Uh... No. Barney, are we done talking?"
"Do you have anything else you want to say?"
"I don't... No, I don't think so."
"Then I guess we're done." He smiles at Ted. "Sure you don't want a coffee?"
Ted nods.

They don't say anything until Robin knocks at the door. Not a word. Barney lets her in and it's only a moment before she picks up on the atmosphere and asks if they're ok. They both nod silently, but Robin's not an idiot. She hesitates awkwardly with her keys. Ted gets up off the couch and heads for the door, pauses when he reaches to Barney.
"So, I'm sorry again about last night. I'll call you later ok.?"
"Yeah, sure."
Robin walks out into the hallway, but Ted lingers. He opens his mouth and takes a breath like he's about to say something, but he stops and walks out into the hallway.

Barney shuts the door and goes to get a whiskey.

The Pool - chapter seven

Having finished the whiskey, Barney gets another. But when he finishes that one, he stops. He doesn't think he can face drunken introspection tonight. Because the weird thing about finally having Ted, sort of anyway, is that it's way, way more terrifying than not having him. There was a safety in knowing he'd never be with Ted. He'd reached the boundaries of how much not having him could hurt. But if he loses Ted now, he knows the pain would be boundless. Because if Ted can't deal with them doing this, it's not like they can just go back to doing what they were before. Not now they've revealed their naked need for each other. Not now Ted knows how Barney's come tastes. Not now they've kissed deeply and gently and --God Barney hopes he wasn't imagining this part -- lovingly. There's no coming back from that. Either this works, or their relationship, the brohood, their friendship - it's all over. So yeah. Barney can't bring himself to think about that. And if there's one thing Barney Stinson is great at, it's burying his emotions deep down inside himself and just being awesome.

So he showers, slips into bed, enjoying the feel of the silk on his naked body, and falls asleep remarkably quickly. Awesomely quickly. However, he's not so awesomely dragged from his deep, wonderfully fears-about-Ted-free sleep by the sound of his phone. It's Ted. Of course it's Ted. It's also 3.14am.

"Ted? What's up?" His voice is raspy
"Mm 'ousside" Ted's voice is drunk. Horribly drunk.
"You're outside?"
"Mmm Hmm."
Barney sighs and, pausing to slip on boxers and a skinny white t-shirt, heads to the door. Ted is slumped against it and half falls half staggers into the apartment as soon as it's opened. Barney catches him and grips him firmly by the arms. Ted squirms free and tries to wrap his arms around Barney, sloppily kissing his neck. He smells of booze, cigarettes, bar grease and... Barney extricates himself delicately from Ted's drunken handsy grasp, pinning him a little more firmly at the arms this time.
"Ted... did you throw up?"
"Nooo. No. I dunno. Yeah, no, I think I did."
"Right. Well, let's just say y'did. Ted, what are you doing here?"
"Barn-- he hiccups -- Bar -- and again -- Barney." This time he draws out Barney's name, before descending into giggles. "Whawwas I saying?"
"You were telling me what you were doing here." Barney says it like he's talking to a child. A stupid, drunk child.
"Oh yeahhhh. I came t'see you. I wanna fuck you Barney." He grinds his hips into Barney in what it's clear he thinks is a sexy way. All it does is alert Barney to the fact that Ted's pants are damp with what he hopes to God is just a spilled drink.
"Yeah... That's not gonna happen buddy. Do you remember if you told anyone else you were coming here?"
Ted giggles manically and puts his finger to his lips. "Nooo! We're a sh- a shec - a secret, remmemer?" He looks like he just remembered something important and slaps his hand down on Barney's shoulder. "Hey, I think I have to pee."
Barney sighs heavily, again, and steers Ted into the bathroom, where he half holds him up so that Ted's inebriated unsteadiness doesn't impose itself all over his nice clean tiles. When he's done, Barney tries again to get sense out of him, but it's pointless. Ted is only interested in making vomity, suspiciously damp, deeply unwelcome advances and can't even string a coherent sentence together. Eventually Barney stops trying.

"C'mon Ted, let's go to bed" he says gently, guiding him up from the couch.
"Yeahhh. Bed! I'm gonna fuc-- gonna fuck you sh- so hard. Hard!" Ted grabs clumsily at the front of Barney's shorts. Misses.
"Yeah. Not that kinda bed, Ted." Barney rubs his back gently.
Despite Ted being somewhat of an unwilling participant, Barney manages to get him to brush his teeth and take a quick shower. All with significant help. Barney's imagined them showering together before, but it didn't go quite like this. He'd never imagined Ted pausing halfway through to suddenly puke everywhere. Now he doesn't need to imagine it.

Eventually, Ted is beneath Barney's sheets. Barney makes sure he's lying on his stomach and positions a trashcan right next to the bed, along with a big bottle of water. Ted's asleep almost instantly, leaving Barney to worry about the damage he's done. He sighs deeply again. Because the most depressing thing about dealing with drunken, idiotic, hot mess Ted is that there's still a part of Barney that's just glad he's in his bed. He sits next to his unconscious whatever-the-hell-Ted-is-now and softly strokes his hair, wondering how the fuck he's going to explain this to everyone else in the morning.

The Pool - chapter six

Barney heads home soon after he and Ted talk in the bathroom. He aches to kiss him goodbye now that he finally finally can. Well, he can as long as there's nobody to see. He wonders if Ted will ever be ready for them to go public and he doesn't like the answers he gives himself. He does risk giving Ted a little private goodbye under the table, stroking gently up his thigh and squeezing him in a way that's more reassuring than it is sexy. He can feel Ted tense up under his grip and he hopes it's desire rather than nerves or terror. Once again, he doesn't like what he knows is the most likely answer. About to leave, he stands for a second while Marshall is still talking and he rests his hand on Ted's back. It's nothing he hasn't done a thousand times before, so it's safe. Barney has spent their entire friendship looking for every opportunity to touch Ted. To be close to him. But he feels Ted's shoulder go taut under his palm, confirming what he'd thought earlier. He catches Ted's mom's eye, and she immediately looks away, flushing and trying to pretend she wasn't looking at them at all. Robin glances over surreptitiously too. Barney wants her to know that Ted has told him she knows - wants her to know that he's the person Ted tells everything now - so he looks her in the eye and raises his eyebrow. Sliding his hand onto Ted's shoulder so she can see and squeezing it proprietorially. Ted can't help but twist his face to Barney's hand with a look that is so fraught with alarm he may as well have announced 'uh-oh, busted' to the group and started dry humping Barney against the bar. Barney swiftly removes his hand.

"Sorry, Ted. Caught you with my watch."
Ted recovers quickly, even thinking to lightly rub his neck. "Careful with that thing man, it's like you strapped a wrestling belt to your wrist."
Marshall laughs, the moment - which Barney is fairly sure went unnoticed anyway - passes, and Barney leaves. Manages to resist a backward glance at Ted. 

As soon as he's inside his apartment he pours himself a large scotch and goes to sit on the balcony. Barney would have been comfortable staying in the bar, but he knows how much Ted is struggling with this. Of course, Ted has had less time to adjust than Barney. Way less time.

The first time Barney saw Ted, an hour before they met at the urinal in McLarens, he felt the sharp tug of longing in his gut. Instantly, he wanted to shove Ted against the wall, kiss him hard, pin him there, kiss him harder, work his way inside Ted's clothes, get him hard, drag him into the bathroom and into a stall, tear down his pants and fuck him, pull at his hair - actually, not so much the hair. Ted wears a lot of gel. But he wanted to do the rest. Which was why he engineered their meeting in the bathroom; why he forced his way into Ted's life whether he wanted it or not.

Barney had been in love with Ted for as long as he could remember. Maybe since the very first time he saw him across the bar. He'd been with guys before, but like all Barney's conquests they were just a way to stop him feeling anything. Ted had the opposite affect. There had been so many times Barney physically ached to just see him. So many times Ted had crushed Barney's heart without ever knowing it. He'd fucked so many people - women and men - just to try and not think about Ted for a few hours. It never worked. Barney had lost count of the times he'd cried himself to sleep over Ted. He'd got so used to feeling hollow and lost and so fucking lonely that he almost didn't notice it any more. Almost. 

He'd stopped letting himself even hope it might happen until about six months ago. Six months ago, something had started to change in Ted. Barney had found himself subject to the sort of looks he was used to giving out. There was that night on Ted's couch, when he'd feigned sleep, just sensing that something could happen. He could barely stop himself trembling when he felt Ted spoon round him, snaking an arm protectively over Barney's chest and burying his face in his hair. He could also feel Ted's erection pressing insistently between them. He'd been deeply relieved he was facing away from Ted, able to keep his own arousal a secret. Then there was the wrestling. He'd seen the sudden look of awful realisation on Ted's face and shifting a little further down Ted's body assured him he wasn't imagining anything. He'd climbed off, not wanting to make the situation worse for either of them. Or Robin. There were other times too. Other signs.

Now, somehow, between Barney playing Ted with the 'I can't swim' thing and Ted giving in to feelings neither of them had been sure he had, they were here. Wherever the fuck here was. 

Barney had thought the second he had Ted, everything would be perfect. No more questions or worrying. No more staring into the dark on his own. No more loneliness and insecurity. No more always feeling like he might fall apart. 

On the balcony, Barney finishes his whiskey and allows himself a hollow laugh. 

The Pool - chapter five

Ted roughly pulls Barney back, not noticing the hurt look that crosses his face, hissing at him to stop. Ted had completely forgotten that his mom was coming to visit, although she wasn't due for another two days. He's panicking wildly, heart racing, adrenaline coursing through his body. He can't get his breath and his mouth is bone dry. It feels like everything beneath his skin is being pulled by a cold vacuum. There has to be something he can say to explain what his mother has just seen. Nothing comes to mind.

"Mom... you're early." His voice sounds thick and unsteady.
His mom doesn't look him in the eye and she's wearing a weird rictus smile. "Yes. I called the apartment because I couldn't get through to your cell. Lily said you were out on a... That you were out. I was in the city already for a conference, but the speaker  got sick and cancelled so... here I am!"
"Great. Well it's great to see you." Belatedly, he embraces her in an uncomfortable hug, planting an air kiss in the vicinity of her cheek.
There's an awkward pause. Ted feels horribly aware of Barney lingering just behind him.
"So, mom, we should go up."
Barney takes his cue.
"Hey, yeah. I should get off. I'll uh... see you soon Ted. Nice to see you again Mrs Mosby." He smiles, and feintly furrows his eyebrows at Ted in a look Ted can't read completely. He shoots back something he hopes says 'awesome date, sorry about this', and raises his hand in what he hopes looks like a casual wave. He watches Barney head to the kerb to catch a cab and steers his mom upstairs. He feels cheated and awkward and guilty over their goodbye and utterly horrified by the fact he's been caught doing something so completely private and secret. And shameful. He hates himself, but he's ashamed. Oh god. What if his mom mentions something to Lily and Marshall.

"Hey, mom, about before... "
"Yes, I must say, I was surprised to see you and Barney outside... talking so late."
"Um. Yeah. Uh, funny story. Barney and I, what you saw, it was just a dare. It's a stupid joke."
"Oh... well, I really just saw the two of your talking. I was just a little surprised. Because it's late."
"Well that's... Ok. Mom, with Marshall and Lily, I'm not gonna mention me and Barney, uh," he takes a shaky breath, still barely able to form words, "talking. They kind of get sick of him always coming round, so..." he trails off, painfully aware of how lame this sounds. Surely his mom sees right through him.
But her voice gives nothing away. "That's fine dear."

They don't speak the rest of the way up the stairs. The whole experience is one of the most awkward of Ted's life. His head physically hurts from it. Part of him wants to really talk to his mom, rather than keep up this facade of her pretending not to have seen and to believe his stupid lie, and him pretending to believe that she believes him. But he doesn't know how to have that conversation. They arrive at his apartment, where Marshall and Lily are waiting up for them.

"Hey Ted! Hey Mrs Mosby. Good timing for you to arrive together. How was your night Ted?"
"It, uh, yeah. Fine."
Lily assumes he's awkward talking about the girl he's taken out because his mom is there. She flashes one of those 'we'll talk later' smiles and offers coffee. They all have a drink and make small talk, and Ted is relieved when Marshall and Lily say they're going to bed and he can set his mom up in his room. Having sorted out his own bed on the couch, he heads to the bathroom, where he's cornered by Marshall.

"So how'd the date go?" He grins in that 'share the details bro' way.
"It was awesome." True. It really was. Up to a point. The memory of that interrupted kiss forces its way into Ted's mind.
"Was she hot?"
"It was probably the hottest date I've ever had." Ted feels like if he can just avoid using pronouns, it's not really lying.
"Oh man! So you're seeing her again?"
"We'll definitely see each other again." Tomorrow. In the bar. With everyone else. 
"Ok, well just don't go all full-Ted, alright buddy? Give it a few weeks before you decide she's the one this time."
"Don't worry, I'm taking this slow. It's all kinda... new."
Marshall bumps him on the arm. "Well I'm pleased you like her." 
Ted feels an extra portion of guilt heap onto him for not being honest with Marshall.

When he's finally snuggled under the blankets, he checks his phone hoping for a text from Barney, but the screen is blank. He starts to worry about the way their date ended, but he's pretty sure Barney understood. He closes his eyes, but knows he won't sleep any time soon. He shuts himself off from all the stuff he knows he really needs to resolve: what he and Barney are doing; what he's going to say to his mom; whether he's hurt Barney's feelings; how he can keep lying to his friends; whether this means he's gay. Instead, his thoughts drift to the date and he feels a rush remembering Barney's hands on his body, urgent whisky-tasting kisses and the way his heartrate goes up now as soon as they're even close to each other. Then he lies there in the dark for what feels like all night, thoughts successfully shut down, but a lingering empty feeling of guilt and unease snaking relentlessly through his mind.

He feels groggy when he wakes up, and there's still no message from Barney. He sends a text himself: "Sry about lst nite. Had amazing tm til interruption. Coming 2 th bar l8r? x". He spends the day with his mom. They go to a museum and for lunch, and Ted takes her to his office to show off a building he's working on, and although they talk a lot, the thing they're not talking about elbows its way silently into every conversation. Ted's constantly on edge, worrying that his mom will bring it up. He sensors himself every time he's about to even mention Barney in passing and fights to make sure they never stray onto the subject of relationships. Ted's arranged to take his mom to the bar later, with everyone else. They're waiting for Lily and Marshall, when his mom suddenly clears her throat nervously. Ted is instantly on high alert.

"Ted? Can I ask you something?"
"Yeah. Of course."
"Are you... Is Barney... Is Barney still working with Marshall?"
Ted knows that wasn't what she wanted to ask. "Um, no. Barney still works there, but Marshall's an environmental lawyer now."
"Right. Of course. And does Barney, does he have a girlfriend? Or... anyone?"
This is painful. They both know the conversation they'd be having if they weren't too awkward and afraid. "Uh... I don't know. Maybe. Barney's... I don't know." 
"Oh. Well... he seems nice dear. I like him"
Ted's pretty sure his mom is giving him her approval. He smiles at her: the only genuine moment between them since she arrived. She smiles back and he can tell he's right. "Yeah. He's... a good friend."
His mom suddenly hugs him. "I love you Ted."
Oh god, he actually has a lump in his throat. He swallows and manages to sound normal. Squeezing his mom back. "I love you too. Thanks."

Lily and Marshall emerge from their room and they all head downstairs. Ted hasn't had a reply from Barney - something he hasn't even had time to worry about - so he doesn't even know if he'll be there. But he is. As soon as he sees him, Ted is weirdly aware of his breathing and how he's walking. They sit down and Barney is all he can focus on. Marshall and Lily go to the bar, Robin hasn't arrived yet and his mom heads to the bathroom, which he is almost sure isn't coincidence. But he's so glad they're alone. They're next to each other in the booth and Ted hopes they're a normal distance apart. 

"Is everything ok? I'm sorry about last night. I just really freaked out when my mom saw us."
"I know. It's ok." He smiles and strokes Ted's thigh under the table.
"It was awesome until then. Really, really awesome. I wish we didn't get interrupted."
Barney smiles. "Me too." He slides his hand further upwards and Ted can hear his blood in his ears. He can't stop looking at Barney's mouth and the taut line of his jaw. He wills himself to stop thinking about kissing him. But the others return and Robin rolls up and the moment is broken. Robin looks at him and looks at Barney and gives him a private smile. He realises in the same moment that Barney is also giving him a look and that it has everything to do with Robin's look. Barney takes his hand off Ted's thigh - a blatant message that Barney wants him to know he's done something wrong. He's pretty sure he knows what. He doesn't have it confirmed until the next time they're alone, which is in the bathroom. Barney wastes no time.

"Ted. You told Robin." It's definitely not a question. Barney's tone is quiet and calm. 
"I... I'm so sorry. I had to talk about this with someone. I'm terrified Barney."
"Yeah? Well join the club. Jeez Ted, we go from bros to... whatever this is over night and you think you're the only one asking yourself some questions? God."
"But you seem so... together about this."
"Well one of us should at least pretend. But since we're talking, I'm not. God, Ted. What are we doing?"
Barney's sudden uncertainty panics him more than anything else so far. He literally can't form an answer. Barney softens slightly, but he still looks cold and hurt.
"Ted, I like whatever it is we're doing. It's just a lot to take in. And I wish you hadn't told Robin."
"I know. I really am sorry. Robin was awesome about it, she won't tell anyone else. And I haven't told anyone else. Even my mom. Although... she knows."
"Well she's not blind Ted. You had your tongue in my mouth and your hands in my pants."
Neither of them really knows what to say. Ted meets Barney's eyes.
"Are we ok?"
Barney nods. "Well, we kinda have to be. I was planning on taking you out tomorrow..."
Ted smiles and Barney moves closer and kisses him very softly, although he's still a little cool.
"So where are you taking me?" Ted forces down the part of him that's nervous it might be somewhere they'll be seen.
Barney pats his butt and plants another kiss on his cheek, finally smiling. "You're gonna have to wait and see."

The Pool - Chapter four

Ted is kind of terrified this will all turn out to be a joke and Barney will have recorded everything they've done and put it on his blog. He's booked a nice car to take them to dinner at this awesome bistro, where there's a beer tap right in the table. Not just regular beer either, fancy European beer. Ted has really done his research, and this place with the taps is only a five minute walk from a whiskey bar. He keeps telling himself that he's only chosen these places because they're awesome (and they are) and that it has nothing to do with the fact they're miles away from Maclarens and everywhere else they usually go as a group (it has a lot to do with that). He knows Barney will love the restaurant and the whiskey bar, and he's got champagne for the car ride, which isn't entirely because he's scared of the two of them being sober together. He wants to impress Barney. He wants this to be special. 
He pulls up outside Barney's building and feels a wash of relief when he sees Barney waiting. He's wearing a tux and, just like every time he's seen Barney in a tux before, Ted slightly loses his breath and feels that weird hollow sensation in the space between his stomach and ribcage. It's different this time, because it's ok to feel like that. Sort of. Barney gets into the car and Ted knows the fact he's suited up too has gone down well. Barney's smile is soft and sexy and sweet. He kisses Ted in the soft hollow behind his ear and, God, he just smells unbelievable. Something spicy and ridiculously expensive, something clean like Babylotion and that smell of fresh skin that's been in the sun. Ted's breathing in that smell, kissing Barney back - no tongue, but sexy and lingering on his bottom lip - and Barney is leaning right down, not quite sitting on the back seat with Ted yet, firmly running his hand up Ted's thigh towards his crotch. Oh crap. Ted can already feel himself getting hard. He draws back. 

"Hey. You look great. Really great. I got us champagne. I thought... y'know. It's kind of a date. I guess"
"It's definitely a date." Barney is so self assured. Like he goes on dates with dudes all the time. Oh God. Does he do on dates with dudes all the time? Ted doesn't want to think about that, so he pours them both a glass of champagne.
"So... do you want to know where we're going?"
Barney turns himself toward Ted, one hand back on the thigh, other sipping the drink. "I do."

Ted tells him and Barney is full of that childish excitement he usually reserves for lasertag and talking about boobs. They arrive and it's perfect, lots of blond wood and chrome and leather booths and man, the beer is good. Food too. At first, they're both terrified to touch each other. They're not really comfortable with what they're doing when they're alone, never mind when there are other people to see. But by the time they're halfway through the first course, beer has had the affect it tends too. They're sitting closer together. Barney has his hand back on Ted's thigh under the table. There's a type of eye contact that they don't normally have. They finish eating and Barney leans over, snaking an arm round Ted's shoulders and kissing along his jawline. Ted is torn between panic and arousal. But the beer is numbing the panic and he gently turns Barney's head toward him until they're kissing. They're still doing it when their waitress arrives to see if they want dessert. She coughs politely and Ted squirms at being seen. They don't get dessert, but they do get shots of limoncello, which is thick, sweet, ice cold and really, really alcoholic. They pay and on the way out, Ted tells Barney they're going to a whiskey bar next. Barney grabs his hand and they walk out like that. 

Half way to the bar, they stop. Ted presses Barney up against the wall of a building, hands either side of the blonde's hair, flat against the bricks. Their hips are together and they're both very turned on. Ted leans away for a second and very slowly traces his fingers down Barney's dick, which is pushing hard against the front of his pants. Barney strokes Ted right back and for a few seconds they lose themselves, kissing deeply, breathing heavily. They stop and, after a few moments of not touching or looking or thinking, they're ok to carry on walking. They hold hands and talk, and it's pretty much the same as always, expect for the fact that Ted can still smell and taste Barney all over him and Barney will actually get to do the things he's imagining to Ted later. 
The whiskey bar is awesome. More leather, dark wood and brass. Soft lighting and really a lot of different whiskeys. They take a booth, and this time there's no ease in. They're making out before their drinks even arrive, but break off to test the booze.

"Hey, Barney?" Ted is bold because of all the drinking.
"I really like this. I like you. I mean, this is still so weird, but... I want us to keep doing this. More."
Barney grins. It's not the studied, sexy look he's been giving Ted all night, it's genuine pleasure. "Me too. I like this a lot."
"It can be secret for now though right? I mean, I need to deal with what's happening before I can tell anyone. I know I want it, but I have to figure this out. I can't explain it to myself yet, never mind someone else."
"Ted, it's ok. I'm not ready to start holding hands and calling you baby in front of Marshall and Lily and going to family dinners. This is our secret for now."
Ted doesn't answer immediately, he's gripped by panic instilled in him by imagining introducing Barney to his family as his boyfriend; of the two of them snuggling on the couch in full view of everyone during movie nights; getting invited to couples evenings. 

He's a bit quiet after that. Enjoying Barney's attention and kisses, but slightly subdued. He's like it until their ride home pulls up outside his building and they get out. He's about to head up the steps when Barney grabs his wrist and pulls him close. Barney holds him really gently and Ted lets him, curling into it and nuzzling into Barney's shoulder.
"Ted," Barney says quietly. "It's fine to be scared. But make sure you talk to me. I'm happy taking it slow, but I don't want to turn into each other's dirty little secret. If I'm going to be with a guy, with you, I want to be as proud of that as I am when I'm banging some hot chick."
Ted can only nod. "I will. You think I won't want to show you off? C'mon..."
Barney smiles, and then they're kissing again, harder than ever. Ted has worked his hands inside Barney's pants, they're both rock hard and Barney's cock is already slippery, which only turns Ted on more, his on pants completely taut. Barney is taking advantage of that, rubbing him through the material, making him gasp. They've made their way up the steps and are leaning against the wall next to the door, completely absorbed in each other, Barney's hand's inside Ted's shirt, Ted's hands down the back of Barney's pants, under his boxers. Ted is leaning back, throat exposed as Barney kisses and licks, when he hears brisk footfall behind him come to a sudden halt and a familiar voice cries: "Oh my god! Ted? Barney?"
Ted tears away from Barney in a second, arousal completely replaced by terror. "Oh. Oh God. Um. Hey. Oh God." He says lamely, his mind doing summersaults of terror when he realises who's caught them. He sneaks a glance at Barney. None of the three of them know what to say. It's Barney who steps forward, hand extended.

"Mrs Mosby. Great to see you again. So... what's new?"

The Pool - Chapter Three

It's the morning after. Ted wakes up with a dry mouth and that feeling of back-of-the-mind and pit-of-the-stomach shame and anxiety that follows a night where you get drunk enough to be honest with yourself and everyone else. He feels queasy and wooly-headed and - Uh oh...

He bolts out of bed - Barney's bed, leaving Barney sleeping - runs to the bathroom - Barney's bathroom - and throws up. He's using Barney's mouthwash and supporting himself against the sink when Barney walks in. Ted feels himself flush and hates himself for it.

"You ok?" Barney looks sympathetic, but amused. 
"Yeah. I guess. I broke my streak though..."
"It wasn't that good anyway." Barney smiles that winning smile at Ted in the mirror.

Ted melts. Flashes of the previous night come back to him - Barney licking all way way down his torso, Barney turning him over and spreading his legs and running his tongue hard and deep right from that spot under his balls to the small of his back. He wills himself not to go hard again, it feels like crossing a line now it's daylight and they're both sober. He really doesn't know where they go from here, and he feels awkward. Barney definitely isn't just his friend any more, but he's got no idea what he is. Or what he wants. Or what Barney wants. He suddenly feels like he could cry.

"Do you want a coffee?" It's the first time Barney has ever offered to make him a drink. Ted wonders if he even knows how to make coffee.
"Do you know how to make it?"
"I don't even know if I have a coffee maker."

He does have a coffee maker. Ted's taking over making it and panicking about what's going to happen, when Barney comes up behind him and wraps his arms around him. There's none of the urgency, heat and excitement of the previous night. It's reassuring and gentle and maybe a little needy and it feels weirder and more intimate than anything they've done up to now. Barney softly nuzzles the base of his neck and kisses him. Ted remembers urging Barney to come in his mouth, remembers the taste, and he feels himself blush. Barney squeezes him slightly.

"Ted, what do we do now?" Ted can hear the uncertainty and nerves in Barney's voice. He's grateful to him for bringing this up. Involuntarily, he tenses his shoulders and sighs.
"I don't know. What do you want to do?"
"I don't know. I've thought about this happening, like, a thousand times, but I never got past the first part."

Ted lets that sink in. Barney is still holding him from behind. He wants to turn so they're facing each other, but he's too worried about having throw-up breath. What he does know is that he doesn't want this to be a one off, something that they awkwardly avoid talking about, which spoils their friendship but doesn't lead to anything else. But he isn't ready to think about being Barney's boyfriend. 24 hours ago he was still straight.

Ted speaks first. "I definitely want something. But I feel like I need to take it a step at a time. I... this is... I did stuff with a dude last night. And I liked it. And the dude was you. I feel like I'm asleep right now and I'm going to wake up and feel turned on yet ashamed. I'm scared, Barney. I feel weird."
Barney nods. "Me too."

Ted realises this is the most honest Barney's ever been with him and his stomach dips. He wants to ask Barney about his 'I can't swim' play, but he's not ready. The coffee is though, so Ted takes his and hands one to Barney and they both sit at the table. Neither of them really know what to say. They don't want to carry on talking about what's happened, but having a normal conversation would feel impossible right now. They make it through the cup of coffee, before Ted makes his excuses to leave. At Barney's front door, there's another moment when they don't know what to do. It's Barney who takes the lead, leaning in and giving Ted a slightly lingering kiss on the cheek.

"I'd go for the mouth, but you're pretty un-vomit free right now, so..."
Ted smiles and kisses Barney near his ear. He smells so good, even after a night of the dirtiest kind of sweating. 
"Ted... last light was pretty legendary. I'll call you later, ok?"
It's definitely ok. Barney closes the door and as he walks away, Ted can't help but breathe out deeply and shakily, running his hands through his hair. He gets a cab home and he desperately wants - needs - to talk to someone about this. It's too much to handle on his own. He gets out his phone and it's almost an automatic reaction to scroll through his contacts and hit dial. The phone is answered on the third ring.

"Hey, it's Ted. I... I have to talk to you about something, can you meet me at the bar in an hour?"

Sixty minutes, one shower and about a gallon of water and toothpaste later, he's sitting in the usual booth. He orders a lemonade and waits quietly. He doesn't even notice Robin has arrived until she slips into the seat opposite him clutching a beer.

"So what's the emergency? No, actually: hangover face, air of shame and dejection, needing to talk something over urgently... You slept with someone you shouldn't have last night."
Ted smiles weakly and can't meet Robin's eyes.
"Mosby, you dog! Who is she?"
"Um... it's a friend."
"Oh my god! Who?" Robin is excited and loud. Ted is terrified people will overhear. Not that anyone they know is in the bar. Or that he's said anything incriminating.
"I can't tell you that. It's complicated. I never saw this coming. It... it's something kind of... off limits."
"Is it Lily?"
"No! Of course it's not Lily. It's... It's not a girl you know." Technically, that isn't a lie.
"But you know her?"
"We know each other well."
"You like her?"
"I... Yeah. A lot. And I'm very attracted to, uh, the person. But I haven't thought about us getting together like this, I never thought it was an option. Now it is, I'm overwhelmed."
"Ted, if you like her and it's on the table, it should be an easy decision."
"But I've never done this before!" Ted realises he sounds a bit too loud and anxious and whiny. Robin frowns in confusion.
"It's not that different from anything you've done before... Are you not telling me something? Oh my god, is she married?"
"No! No, she's not married." Ted desperately wants to tell her. He puts his head in his hands, rubs them up over his face and through his hair. He looks at Robin, face a mixture of concern and bemusement. And a bit of irritation. He takes a deep breath and when he speaks his voice is shaky.
"It's not a girl." He says it so quietly he's not sure Robin will hear, but she does.
"Is it Barney?" She says it softly and sweetly, letting him know that she might be surprised, but that their getting together isn't something shocking.
Ted nods, covering his face and feeling tears in his eyes. It really is overwhelming. Robin scoots round to his side of the booth and puts an arm round him.
"Ted, it's ok."
He doesn't cry, but he definitely doesn't feel like it's ok.
"You really like him?"
He nods. "It was... It... It felt right. It just feels weird now."
"Because he's a guy?"
"Partly, yeah. But it's not just that. I mean, it's Barney. Robin, we all know how Barney treats girls. I don't want to be one of those girls."
"Ted, you'd never be just a conquest to him. God, he's been trying to get you to call him your best friend since day one. What was he like this morning?"
Ted thinks of Barney holding him while he made coffee, being the one to brave talking about what had happened, kissing him goodbye and promising to call him.
"A lot better than I was." He says softly.
"Well, that's ok. Don't beat yourself up for needing time to get used to this. Just don't beat Barney up for something he hasn't done."
Ted nods. "I'm gonna call him later. See him, if he wants to. Hey... how did you know it was Barney when I said it was a guy?"
Robin blushes very slightly and smiles. "I kind of had a front row seat that time you guys were, uh, wrestling. Plus, a couple of times, I've caught Barney looking at you. I've never seen him look at anyone that way."
Hearing that makes Ted's chest tighten in a good way. He catches Robin looking at him and smiling.
"Aw, Ted! You're adorable. I think I like you better gay."
"I'm not gay!" Even hearing Robin say it makes him indescribably uncomfortable. "I just... It's just Barney. Robin, you can't tell anyone. Not yet. Especially not Lily and Marshall."
Robin promises not to tell a soul. "OK, well, I have to get to work. You know I'm here any time you need to talk about this."
Ted accepts her hug. Thinks she might regret making that offer.

Back in his apartment, he summons the courage to call Barney, thinking how he's dialed this number countless times before without ever thinking about it. Barney answers.
"Hey, Barney, it's Ted." His own voice sounds stilted to him.
"Hey. How's the hangover?" Barney sounds completely normal.
"It's fine. Hey, are you doing anything tonight? Because I thought, maybe we could, y'know, do something. If you're not doing anything."
He can practically feel Barney smiling. "I'm not doing anything."
"Ok, great, so. Great. So, do you want to come here, for, like 7.30?"
Barney does. It's officially a date. Ted's going on a date with a guy. His best friend. Barney. Something else dawns on him. Lily and Marshall are out, but they'll be home soon. They'll see him getting ready for his date. Then they'll see Barney arrive, and they'll know something is weird, even if they don't work out the truth. He sends Barney a text.

'L & M home soon. Pick U up frm yrs?'
'Gd thnking. C U soon x'.

Momentarily relieved to have at least avoided one new and unnerving situation. Ted picks up his phone again, booking cars and a restaurant. Because if he's going to take Barney on a gay date, then Goddamn it, it's going to be the best gay date either of them has ever had.

The Pool - Chapter Two

Barney smiles sexily and kisses Ted back. Not softly. Not without tongues. He moves his hands down from Ted's neck, pressing on the small of his back, then slipping them under his shorts, so that they're on bare skin. Ted isn't totally sure what to do with his hands, this is all so new. Barney has stopped kissing him, leaving his lips feeling bruised and hot. Instead, he's kissing Ted's neck, biting almost hard enough to hurt on his earlobe. They're still in the water up to their waists, and it's impossible to tell if their slick upper bodies are wet with sweat or pool water. They're both breathing hard and fast, grinding hips together. 

Ted may have just told Barney he doesn't think this is a bad idea and he may be so turned on he's convinced he will come right there if Barney so much as rubs the front of his shorts, but he's still scared. He's always thought of himself as a straight dude. He's always thought of Barney as his bro. Well. Sort of. If he's honest with himself, there have been moments he's questioned his feelings; like the first time they met at the urinal in McLarens. When Barney, a stranger, had started talking to him, his first thought had been: 'this dude is trying to pick me up'. Rather than feeling nervous, or amused or just disinterested, Ted had wondered what it would be like to go through with it. Just for a second, he'd pictured Barney ripping down his pants and fucking him in the toilet cubicle, then going back out to his friends like nothing had happened. Part of him had been almost disappointed when it turned out Barney had just wanted to teach him how to pick up girls.

There had been other things. The time after a night in the bar when they were crashed out on the sofa at Ted's together. Barney had fallen asleep - or maybe just passed out - and Ted hadn't been able to stop himself snuggling into his bro's back and wrapping an arm round him. At Lily and Marshall's wedding when Barney had been standing in front of Ted and Ted kept looking at the point where Barney's blonde hair met smooth tanned neck, then neck met suit, and all he could think about was pressing his face against that neck and breathing in the smell of his friend. There was also that time they were goofing about wrestling and while Ted had Barney sitting on his chest and pinning his wrists, he suddenly had the awful realisation that he was turned on. He'd found excuses for all these things: he was drunk and lonely and cuddling is nice with anyone; Barney kind of reminded him of Ellen Degeneres, so he was probably actually just turned on by a woman - no no, a lesbian; getting turned on was just a natural response to being pinned like that when you haven't had sex in a while.

Really though, Ted knew even at the time that he'd been making excuses. But being here, like this, with Barney, brought it all into sharp relief. He was kissing a dude. Not just a dude. His friend. His bro. Barney, for Christ's sake. And not just kissing, actually. Kissing, stroking, licking, grabbing...

Ted didn't even have to try not to worry about what was happening any more, because Barney had tugged down both their shorts. The feeling of being naked, pressed together under the water was electric. Ted was breathing deeply, able to feel his pulse thudding in his neck.

"Uh huh?"
"Shall we get out of the pool? We could, um... go somewhere else."

Ted would agree to anything right now. This is probably the first time in his life that he's been too turned on to even Ted out. He lets Barney guide him out of the pool. There's an awkward moment when they're out of the water, standing by the side, suddenly feeling a little exposed - although they're both wearing their shorts again. 

"Do you want another drink Ted?"
"Yeah, I guess."
"I have scotch in my apartment."
Ted swallows, a perfect storm of nerves and excitement. "OK."

Barney wraps his arms around him and kisses him again, briefly, tugging at Ted's bottom lip with his teeth, making his stomach flip and his cock harder than ever. Then he takes Ted's hand - his grip is softer than Ted would have expected - and they head down the stairs. In Barney's apartment, Barney hands Ted a scotch on ice. It's cold and sluggish and peaty in Ted's throat. When Barney kisses him again, his mouth tastes like the drink. Very gently, Barney hooks his fingers into Ted's shorts and slips them down. Not quite as gracefully, Ted takes Barney's speedos down. For the first time, he gets a look at Barney naked. He's bigger than he'd have expected. He doesn't have a tan line, instead he's a uniform golden brown and he's perfectly groomed. Barney gets on his knees and takes Ted in his mouth, sucking, swirling his tongue and breaking off to blow very, very gently, before shifting down and working on Ted's balls with his tongue. Ted loses track of time as Barney does things Ted would question his proficiency in if he thought about it. But suddenly, Barney is breaking off, taking his hand and leading his to his bedroom.

There's no sex that night. Not actual sex, the bit Ted wasn't sure he knew how to do. They touch and kiss every inch of each other's bodies. They pant and sweat and bite and lick. Ted comes on Barney's stomach, Barney comes in Ted's mouth. When they finally stop, Ted is worried it will be awkward, but actually it isn't. Barney pours more scotch and they sit together, backs to the headboard, Barney leaning lightly against Ted.

Barney hesitates. Ted feels him tense slightly. 
"I can swim."
"Well... you made good progress. I wouldn't say you can sw-"
"-No, Ted. I can swim. I was on my school swim team."
"So... this was a play?"
Ted can't believe he got taken in. He is also instantly gripped by an unwelcome fear. "Does this mean you're never going to call me again?"
Barney turns to face Ted. He looks hurt and a little intense. His hand goes to the back of Ted's head, and he presses their lips together in a gentle kiss.
"I'm not going to stop calling you, you're my best friend."

There's a pause where Ted would normally point out Marshall is his best friend. He doesn't. He holds Barney closer, presses his face against the back of his neck and kisses him.

The Pool - first Barney/Ted fic

Kids, in the summer of 2012, New York City was in the middle of a heatwave. It was so hot tarmac melted, planes couldn't take off, and walking anywhere outdoors felt like doing a Bikram yoga session. Even going to the bar wasn't that appealing - by the time we'd got beers to the booth, they were warm. So, Lily suggested hitting the pool. The only problem was, we were pretty sure everyone else would have had the same idea and even though it was unbearably hot, nobody fancied sharing a pool with 500 screaming seven-year-olds...

"Hey Barney, doesn't your building have a pool?" Marshall asks. He's taking his turn resting his face inside the top shelf of the fridge.
"Uh... no. I don't think so. Hey, why we just put a paddling pool on the roof again? That was fun, right?"
"Are you sure your building doesn't have one? You said something the other week about 'doing twins' in the pool at your building..."
Barney avoids Marshall's gaze and squirms slightly. "Oh. That pool. Yeah. Um... It closed."
"It burnt down." He sounds like he's panicking now.
Marshall is incredulous. "It bur... a pool... Barney, what's going on? Why don't you want us to go to your pool?"
Barney laughs unconvincingly. "What? Marshall, where did you get that idea. That's crazy. So the paddling pool on the roof...Who's with me?"
Marshall is irritated by now. "No! Barney, stop being weird. We're going to your pool."
Only Ted notices it, but Barney looks genuinely worried. But he sighs almost imperceptibly. "Fine, let's go."

Half an hour later, they're all in the water and after weeks of the city's grimy, sauna-like heat, it feels incredible. Nobody can actually be bothered to expend any energy on swimming, but there's a bar right by the pool, so they're all just lounging in the water and sipping cocktails. All except Barney, who is sweating alone on a sunlounger. Ted can tell from the frown lines on his forehead that something is bothering him, so even though it pains him to leave the beautifully soothing water behind, he goes over to the blonde. When he gets closer, he can also see the tension across Barney's shoulders. He's sunbathing in just his swim shorts - even Barney can't wear a suit in this - but he's still bathed in sweat.

"Hey buddy. What's up? Why aren't you coming in?" Ted perches on the side of Barney's lounger.
"I'm working on my tan. I'm fine. It's not that hot."
"Dude... it's 112 degrees. Why are you being so weird about coming in the pool?"
Barney looks even more tense. "I'm not being weird. I just don't feel like it. I don't like pools."
"What? How can you not li... Wait... Barney, you can swim, right?"
Barney does his unconvincing laugh again. "Ted! Of course I can swim. I love swimming. In fact, I'm a master of the breaststroke. Whattup!" He recovers slightly and holds up his hand for a high five. 
Ted doesn't hit it. He's suddenly realised the truth. "Dude, you can't swim!"
"Shh! Ted, shuttup. Ok, fine. I can't swim. Nobody ever taught me, ok? Do NOT tell anyone or we are no longer best friends, promise me."
"Well actually Marshall is m-"
"Ted! Promise me!"
Ted can tell Barney's serious and he actually looks quite upset about this. He puts an arm on Barney's shoulder placatingly. His skin is hot from the sun and Ted momentarily thinks how soft it is, then stops thinking that, because it's weird. 
"Ok, ok. I promise. But only if you promise me something. Let me teach you to swim."
Barney keep his composure in his face as usual, but in his eyes, there's a mixture of fear and gratitude. He gives Ted a small nod and swallows slightly too hard.
"Cool. Whatever. If you really want to."

So that's how they end up by the side of Barney's pool later that night. The bar is closed and they're the only ones there. It's dark, but the underwater lights are on. It's still stickily, swelteringly hot and the water looks more inviting to Ted than ever. Barney is standing at the side, arms wrapped protectively round himself, looking at the water mistrustfully. He's wearing a tiny pair of black speedos and Ted takes in how snug they are over his hips and the toned V of his stomach muscles. He has a lightly defined six pack and pecs and he's golden brown all over. The swell over the front of his shorts is - wait, why is Ted thinking about this? It's weird. No, scratch that, it's really weird. Ted has no idea why it's happening, but now he feels awkward, particularly about the fact he's now going to have to be in the water his almost naked friend who he's just been having really weird thoughts about. 

Ted tries to forget about his moment of weirdness and coaxes Barney into the water up to his waist. He definitely isn't thinking about the way the movement of the water and the lights underneath are making little ripples of reflection over the taut planes of his friend's stomach. Nor is he thinking about how Barney is trying to cover up how scared he is and has set his mouth in a tight line, and how it looks kind of adorably vulnerable. 

"Ok," says Ted. "How much do you know? Can you at least doggy paddle?"
He can't. Which means it's back to complete basics. Ted realises that actually, despite his offer, he's not sure how to teach someone to swim. Sure, he can do it himself, but he's been doing it so long it just feels automatic.
"Um... ok. Right. Try holding onto the side of the pool with your hands and kicking your legs to start with." 
After a few minutes, Barney has the leg work down. And he's ok about putting his face in the water. So Ted decides it's time to practise what to do with his arms. Now, the other way round - kicking - was easy. But you can't exactly hold onlt the side of the pool with your feet. Ted can only see one way round this.
"Ok. I, uh, I'm gonna hold you up in the water now, so you can try out your arms. Ok?"
Ted swears there's a glint in Barney's eye when he smiles at him. "Sure. Shall I hop on?"
"Uh, I guess." Ted swallows. He's having to ignore weird thoughts again. God, why is this happening? Maybe he's just horny? It's been a while since he did, well, anything. With anyone. 

But he doesn't have much time to think about the reasons for their weirdness, because moments later, he's holding Barney under his stomach while he (slightly clumsily) rakes his arms through the water. His abs are hard under Ted's fingers but he feels oddly weightless in the water. Ted's stomach contracts as his hand shifts lower on Barney's body, grazing the edge of the waistband of his speedos. And suddenly, he can no longer ignore the fact he's really turned on. The feeling isn't just in Ted's cock, it's through his whole groin. His trunks have got uncomfortably tight and he's terrified that Barney will accidentally brush against him in the water and realise what's happening. He shouldn't think about Barney brushing against him. That's not going to help the situation at all. It dawns on him that Barney is saying something, and has squirmed out of his arms to stand in the pool.
"I said, do they really put that pink dye in the pool, or is it a myth?"
"Uh... It's a myth. Why?"
Barney grins mischievously. "No reason."
Ted is appalled. "Oh my god! Barney! Did you?... while I'm holding you?"
Barney genuinely laughs for the first time all day. "Of course not, you douche. I was just trying to get your attention. You seem distracted."
Ted blushes. Can Barney read this thoughts? No. That's stupid. Of course he can't.
"No. Not distracted. You were just splashing really loudly."
A doubting look flits briefly across Barney's features. "Ok. Well, since the lessons are going so well, do you want a drink?"
"Dude, the bar's closed."
Barney pulls his familiar eyebrow-waggling mischievous face, hops out of the pool and grabs a key off a table. "Not when the barman owes you a favour it's not..."

An hour later, they're both drunk. More than drunk. Into that area where bad decisions seem like good ones and terrible decisions seem like amazing ones. They're in the pool next to each other, arms resting on the side and nursing drinks. The weird thoughts still keep coming for Ted. Like now. The muscles in Barney's shoulders are tense as he rests his weight on his forearms and his cheekbones look sharp in the soft light. His hair is damp and his teeth are white. He smells of chlorine and cologne and sun-on-skin. Is it Ted's imagination, or is he edging closer?

Another half hour later and they've reached the point where they're too drunk for anything they do to even be classed as making a decision. They're definitely too drunk to be in a pool. Ted definitely thought the weird feelings would have gone away by now. But a moment ago, Barney's thigh rubbed his and he felt his shorts tighten all over again. A few moments before that, Barney had leaned in close to say something, and the feeling of his breath on Ted's neck had raised goosebumps. He realises that Barney is closer than ever. Ted can't help it, his heart starts to beat faster and his throat is suddenly dry.

"Ted, don't pools make you feel kinda sexy?" Barney's face is right next to his now and Ted swears he has the look in his eyes that he normally gets when he's realised his latest play is going to work.
"Uh... I dunno." He swallows hard. "I guess."
"Yeah. Me too." Barney smiles. 
Then, his hand is on the back of Ted's neck. He presses himself into Ted's body, manipulating him so that they're facing each other. Their hips are together and Ted relaises he's not the only one whose swim shorts are tight. Barney is defintely hard. Really hard. They're both breathing a little faster and shallower. Barney's hand has moved up and his fingertips are firmly working their way up Ted's skull, raking through his hair. Even though it's hot, he shivers. Barney looks him right in the eyes and, just slightly, raises his eyebrows. Ted knows its a question and he knows what his answer is. He nods so slightly he's not sure Barney will be able to tell, but he must, because then their lips are together.

It's soft at first. Softer than Ted would have imagined. Barney is, as ever, smooth shaven and his skin is soft too. He pulls Ted in even closer, wrapping one arm firmly around his back. The kiss gets rougher, more passionate, deeper, tongues fighting. It's frantic and hot and one of Barney's knees goes between Ted's legs, nudging them apart so that he can slot inbetween. Barney's arms are locked behind Ted's head now and his are on Barney's ass, gripping it, completely closing any distance between their bodies. Ted is pushed up against the side of the pool, and he barely feels the rough concrete edge against his back. He doesn't care about it being weird any more, because this is the most turned on he's ever been. He's so hard he aches and he can feel Barney's matching erection against his thigh. They've been kissing for Ted has no idea how long, but long enough for his mouth to feel numb, when Barney pulls away slightly.

"Ted, we're not making a bad decision are we?"

Ted thinks they probably are. He thinks it's probably a terrible decision. He doesn't know what happens next, or how they can go back to being friends, or if he even wants them to go back to being just friends. Hell, if they are going to do this, he doesn't even know how they do the next bit.

He shakes his head and kisses Barney softly, full on the mouth. No tongue. 

"Definitely not."

To be continued...