The weird sound was noticeable from the moment that Ted stepped out of the elevator and made his way down the deeply carpet hallway towards Barney's apartment. He tilted his head because the faint strains of something… musical… reached him even through the steady beat of his iPod. He pulled the earbuds out and tugged on the zipper of his coat. It sounded like the old black and white sci-fi movies he watched as a kid. It sounded like he imagined mermaids might sound underwater.
It sounded like something not of this world.
As Ted took a hesitant step along the corridor, the ethereal music got louder, and yes somehow less distinct. The notices merged and sent shivers down his spine. It was no longer alien, now the noise reminded him of his childhood, of a circus or a hurdy-gurdy man, of a puppet show…
The word sprang into his mind, the perfect descriptor.
The sound, the music, was so delicate, so fragile in his ears, that it felt like any moment it could dissipate into thin air and he'd never get to experience it again.
And so Ted walked with steps as soft and careful as a ballerina and used his spare key on Barney's front door instead of knocking. Whatever that sound was, whatever was making that beautiful music, he wanted to capture it, record it, copy it and treasure it. Ted wanted to hold on to the sound and play it whenever his muse left him. He wanted to design buildings to that music.
He gently pushed open Barney's door.
His friend was standing with his back to him, jacket discarded over the back of his couch, shirt sleeves rolled up, tie folded into neat waves on the coffee table.
He was playing the violin.
The image rolled around Ted's head softly, rolling around and around and gathering force and mass like a snowball until it seemed to fill his mind with paralysing ice.
Barney was playing the violin.
His elbow juddered and danced, his head was tilted where the instrument was lodged, balanced in his grip. A cord snaked from the violin to the floor, where it was plugged into a blocky amplifier.
The instrument itself wasn't a traditional wooden Stradivarius-like violin. No, this was a twisted, sleek, shadow of a thing, gleaming and midnight black. An electric violin, Ted realised, as his brain began to thaw and flex and drink in the sound, the lilting, saturating, caressing music. As he began to bask in the wonder of it.
Then it stopped.
Barney's shoulders straightened, the violin dropping slowly to his side, the neck still grasped in his left hand, the bow still held lightly in the fingers of his right. He turned around.
"Hey," he said, and his blue eyes burned cold in the evening shadow.
They say that the devil plays the fiddle and Ted had often joked that there was something demonic about his friend. But when his body twisted around, Ted's stomach dropped. He felt frozen, terrified and exhilarated, as if it were he who'd been caught doing something secret and crazy, not Barney.
"Barney planned on being a violinist," Lily had told them. But it had seemed such a throwaway comment, like "Barney planned on being an astronaut" or "Barney planned on being a cowboy". A childhood dream that couldn't possibly come to reality.
"Barney planned on being a violinist."
Yeah. He really did.
Ted could see it there, in Barney's eyes, in his stance. He could see it even when he could only see Barney's back. It was hypnotic and all-consuming.
Barney approached him, moving forward on the balls of his feet like a dancer.
Ted tried, he really tried to stand his ground, but Barney was like a primal force, a wave of heat rolling, unstoppable across the room. Heat… cold… nature's creature. Ted took a shaky step back, his legs bumping the edge of the couch. For a moment, he thought that Barney was going to press his long, lean torso against his own but instead his friend simply placed the violin and bow on the table behind him.
There was still an inch of charged air between the two men, making all the hairs on Ted's arms stand up. Barney didn't back up at all, but just stood there with his smirk and his eyes and his warm, musky scent and for no rational reason that Ted could ever, subsequently, fathom, he leaned forward and grasped Barney's face between his palms and kissed him, hard, their mouths meeting, clashing, teeth scraping lips, stubble scratching cheek.
It was messy, crazy, impassioned.
And Barney wasn't the one to break it.
Although Ted pulled back, he still held on to his friend, one hand falling to Barney's hip. "Oh my god!" He breathed in a rush.
Barney's lips twitched and he winked at Ted.
"What?" Ted asked, his mouth suddenly dry.
"That, Theodore, is why I play the violin." He reached out and closed Ted's open mouth with gentle fingers.
And then his fingers, those clever, dextrous fingers, they moved down, down, over the eager bulge in Ted's jeans, running one perfectly manicured nail across and under and around until Ted was quivering and humming and he didn't just hear the music.
He felt it to his very core.