|The Thrill of the Chase
Author: idioticonion PM
Stuart has relapsed into alcoholism and Claudia heads to the bar feeling vulnerable and upset. And Barney wants to take everything off her mind. Spoilers for S4: Intervention. Warning - sexually explicit. Co written by SNOGGED from LIVEJOURNALRated: Fiction M - English - Romance/Angst - Barney S. - Chapters: 3 - Words: 5,911 - Favs: 2 - Follows: 2 - Published: 06-07-09 - id: 5119522
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
The Thrill of the Chase
It works if you work it.
One day at a fucking time.
They really should just tell the truth. Those phrases are just a big load of bullshit. It doesn't work. No matter how many meetings he attends, no matter how many different interventions she tries, no matter how many times she pours her favorite bottles of vodka down the drain just to keep him away from it.
"Ugh," Claudia hisses, plopping her purse down on the bar counter and a ghost of a grin plays on Carl's lips.
"Long day?" the bartender asks, picking up a glass and wiping it out with a towel before placing it down in front of her. He already knows her order. Every time she gets this way the only thing to soothe her is a Vodka Cranberry. On happier days, he knows to make her a fuzzy navel or a sex on the beach.
"Understatement of the year," Claudia sighs, tears already stinging her cheeks. He had left her this morning for a fishing trip with his buddies. Buddies that didn't care one lick about the struggle, buddies that would wave longneck beer bottles under his nose and chuckle as he yapped like a dog getting a treat.
"Stu?" Carl asks, because even though it's his profession to watch people get wasted, he was part of the last intervention. He knew the damage alcohol could wreck on a happily married couple and saw how it had affected them.
"Fallen off the wagon," Claudia replies sullenly, gritting her teeth as she watches him mix the sweet, gut-rotting drink. "Hell, he got run over by the wagon. Big, fat spokes indenting his face."
Carl finishes making the drink and she takes it from him, letting it slide down her throat, feeling the small bite of vodka hit her stomach.
And she can't believe just how much her life sucks right now.
Barney notices the girl with long, chestnut hair, from the table where he's sitting, sipping slowly at a whiskey on the rocks. He's been waiting an hour for a chick to walk in the door that's more than a six and right now he's in watch-and-see mode.
"One hundred dollars says when you turn around, I say 'Wow!'" he thinks to himself.
She turns around.
He didn't recognise her, still not used to the dark hair. But seriously, it makes her an eleven at least and, for a reason he can't name, he's drawn over to the bar like a moth to a flame, fixing his most sincere smile as he taps her lightly on the shoulder. "Hey…" He slides an elbow on to the bar, his body curled around hers. She's a challenge; she's always been a challenge. And tonight there's no Lily to stop him getting what he wants.
"Barney?" She asks, sniffling. She lifts up her hand and brushes a few stray tears off her cheek and offers him a pathetic half-smile.
"God, why do you always find me like this...I must look so gross..." She picks up a cocktail napkin and dabs at her cheekbones.
He feels so close to her like this with his arm on the bar and his stomach centimeters from her side. It's so intimate, so caring. So not the cheap bravado he brings into a crowded room. And so not the man who forgot to read the intervention invitation.
"You look amazing…" he says, knowing that he looks utterly sincere (he practices enough in the mirror) and, come on, at least she doesn't get all puffed-up and piggy-eyed when she weeps like some chicks do.
He reaches forward and hooks a stray lock of her hair behind her ear. The chestnut brown suits her, brings out the blue of her eyes. It's just so much sexier than the baby-blonde she used to be. More sophisticated. More…
"Now tell me why you're crying?" He says softly, all sympathy and supportiveness.
"It's Stuart," Claudia says, sighing deeply. "The intervention didn't take. He..." Her fingers imperceptibly shake when she reaches for her drink and her eyes lower to the counter as a wash of shame and guilt passes through her.
She can hear the words of her Catholic mother telling her how she's failed at keeping her husband sober and it's eating away at her like a parasite.
"He started drinking again...and I..." Her breath catches in her throat as she feels his hand touch her cheek again. It's warm and it makes her feel a tingle in the base of her spine. God, she's a married woman. Married women aren't supposed to feel tingles from another man's hand on their cheek. "I don't know what to do, Barney."
Her eyes lock with his, hoping he can give her an answer to her problem.
"Baby, there's not a lot you can do. Except talk through your problems with someone who can lend a sympathetic ear. Someone who's your… equal…?" He smiles.
"Chin up?" He lifts her chin with his finger, tilting his face towards hers. With any other girl, it would look like he might be trying to sneak in a kiss but he can't let Claudia think that yet. He can't let her get skittish before he really goes in for the kill. It would take all the fun out of it.
"You need a friend," he suggests innocently. "Let me buy you another drink? We can talk at my table?"
His fingers brush her knee, but it's like a pat of reassurance.
Her chests heaves slightly as her breathing quickens. She can't believe that he just wants to be nice, wants to talk, and wants to listen.
God, Stu never wanted to listen or talk. He always wanted to drink or watch football or play fantasy baseball with Tom, Dick, and Stupid.
"I...Barney, thank you." As she rises to her feet to follow him back to his table, she can't help but wonder out loud. "Tell me again, why more men can't be just like you?"
He tilts his head with a wry, self-deprecating smile, although inwardly he's punching the air.
"I guess that most men would just see a pretty woman crying and maybe take advantage?" He sounds like he can barely believe it. "But all I see is a friend. A friend who, maybe, hasn't let herself have fun a while?" His voice rises in tone at the end there, leaving the question hanging between them.
A waitress comes by and he shakes two fingers at her mouthing "Same again but a double!" over Claudia's shoulder as she turns her back to sit at the table.
Her eyes close for a moment, contemplating his words and how smooth they sound coming from his lips. For a second, she wonders about the stories she's heard about him bedding women just for the challenge of it and from the way he's looking at her, the way he's soothing her...she has to firmly believe they are fabricated.
This can't be a trick.
Not when he seems so genuine. So...perfectly Barney.
She leans against the back cushion and wraps her arms around her waist.
"Fun...I have fun...I'm in a book club and it's...fun. Totally fun."
He chuckles, teasingly. "Oh, wow. A book club! You wild thing!" He flashes her a grin because this is going to be so much easier than he thought. He moves closer to her so that their hips are touching - close, comfortable, getting her used to the idea of physical contact without her defenses going up - that's the trick.
"You know what you need?" He grins, handing her a fresh cocktail glass. "A girl's night out. You need to kick back, de-stress."
His fingers brush against hers as he hands her the glass, her hands are a little cold. He makes a mental note. When she's a little more buzzed he might offer to warm them up.
She bites down on her lip when he scoots closer, his hip pushing slightly against hers.
"Okay, so maybe I'm not the wildest girl in the world. But I can have a good time when I want too. My drunk husband certainly can." There's a hint of bitterness in her voice as she thinks of Stuart and she reaches for the freshly paid-for drink in Barney's hand. When his hand touches hers, it sends a small tingly shock through her skin. In the soft haze of her slowing brain cells, she has to believe it's the alcohol. That it's a mirage. That she's a married woman and Barney's not...hot.
Her eyes drift to his jaw line and his lips, taking in their defined structure and feeling a bit like a girl developing a crush on Brad Pitt.
"Girl's night out? Wouldn't that take me away from the relaxation you're trying to force on me?" She teases, a little bit of a twinkle returning to her eyes.
Barney grins indulgently. "Well, the way I see it, beautiful girl like you needs to be shown just how much attention she could get, how many guys would walk through red hot coals just for a smile from those pretty lips. Maybe you just need a little lift? Show Stu that he's an idiot for neglecting you? A little harmless flirtation does wonders for the soul, Claudia..."
And thus he plants the seeds in her brain - independence, hedonism, freedom… because if he's lucky, she just might be persuaded to take the next step. Just one step, then another. Enough steps and he'll have her, half-naked, in a bathroom stall.
But she's got to take that first step.
Her heart flutters at his words and butterflies take wing in her belly. The idea of any man walking through coals just to see her smile- its poetry. And it sure as hell lifts her spirits a little.
God, if only she could get Stu to talk her like that. Maybe their marriage would be different. Maybe the sex would be better. Maybe...a little harmless flirtation couldn't hurt. Barney was her friend, after all. He was certainly trying to keep her best interests at heart.
"You're right, Barney," she murmurs. "But I'm not really not comfortable just flirting with some stranger. I mean, they could get the wrong idea, couldn't they? And I...I don't want to hurt Stu like that. But maybe, because you're a friend...you could help me; you know, break out of this shell a little and show Stu what he's missing out on? I want to be fun Claudia, not mopey Claudia."
She's just… this is just… way too easy.
And okay, so he's gotta play this slow, play this clever, but she's handing herself to him on a platter and she has no idea how hard she's getting him right now.
"Aw, baby! Anything I can do to make this a little easier on you…?" He moves casually so he's pressed tight against her and indicates that she should look towards the bar. While he talks, he's conscious of her warm, soft body and he knows damn well she'll be thinking about his.
"First rule of flirting, don't bother with the guys who aren't worth your while. Look at the dudes over there. Anyone who catches your eye?" He turns to her with a grin. "You know you can make any guy dance to your tune. You just have to play the jig."