Polly met Barney Stinson while looking down at a picket line from the vantage of a thirtieth-story window. She was searching for the young woman who had smiled at her as she had threaded through their blockade. In return, Polly had held up her briefcase, filled with evidence implicating the company in the Lisbon epidemic. The protesters had cheered for her, hours ago.
Now, her neck ached from craning her neck to peer at statistics projected onto a very professional-looking screen, just fuzzy enough to make her squint. (All the executives had folders filled with the statistics. They had, somehow, neglected to provide the same sheets to her and her colleagues.) She was hungry, she was frustrated, and she was tired of the constant breaks for calls, "in a different time zone, I'm so sorry, you understand, of course."
"It's adorable, isn't it?"
Polly started. She hadn't thought herself alone, but she had expected the company's representatives to ignore her. Or, at least, address her like the hostile witness she was, rather than a fellow observer of kitten antics.
"I mean," he continued, one hand tugging at the lapel of his suit jacket, "it's like they think they're actually going to make a difference."
"They will," Polly replied, edging her consonants with ice.
He looked at her, a smile flickering at the edge of his mouth. "Oh, right. They're yours, aren't they?"
"I'm theirs, actually," she responded.
Another one of the suits coughed in their direction. "I'm not supposed to talk to the enemy." He backed away, winked. "No matter how hot they are."
Fortunately, the meeting was called back into session before Polly could reply.
Polly felt trapped in her hotel, so she took a long walk through neighborhoods she half-recognized, the brisk air of the afternoon reminding her of her grandparents. She walked for hours, stopping for pizza, for a doughnut, when vendors caught her attention. She almost walked past a bar, one of countless others, but something about the lighting inside caught her eye, and she backtracked, descended the steps and pushed the door open.
She took a moment to survey the room, and at the end of her scan, Stinson was there, giving her the same scrutiny. He looked at her, up and down, so obviously it was ridiculous. Her legs, her hips, her breasts, her lips. She felt like composite parts.
He finally looked at her, saw her, and he shifted backwards.
Despite her projected animosity, Stinson followed her to the bar and insisted on buying her drink. (To her consternation, his order was precise, and exactly what she had wanted.) He put his hand on the small of her back, and only her respect for the bartender's friendly smile kept her from pouring the unasked-for drink onto the ground.
"After this morning," she ground out, "what makes you think you can even talk to me?"
"Uh." He tilted his head, his confusion clear. "Why wouldn't you want me to talk to you?"
"Your company stands for everything I'm against," she began, "and you'll say anything to protect them."
He reached out, caught a lock of her hair between his fingers. "Work," he murmured, as if that was explanation.
"You lied today," she pointed out, jerking her head back. "You won't get away with it."
"Tell me." He stepped closer to her. "Do you like...magic?"
Polly looked at the bartender with apology, then tossed her drink in Stinson's face.
He barely blinked, even when the wedge of lemon bounced off his forehead. He simply drew a handkerchief from his sleeve and dabbed at his eyes. "I'm getting to you, aren't I?" He leaned against the bar, touched her elbow with his hand, briefly. "Give me another minute. You won't be sorry."
Polly raised her eyebrows. "Did your friends give you a time limit?"
Stinson blinked. "What?" He straightened, cleared his throat. "What friends? I don't know what you're--"
"The ones in the booth behind us," she interrupted. "They're staring at me right now, aren't they?" She turned her head, and the group at the booth turned their heads away simultaneously.
He laughed, and for once, it sounded real. "They didn't think you would talk to me for more than three minutes and, ha, Lily," he raised his voice, "you owe me twenty bucks."
Polly looked back at him. "I'm not going home with you, anyway."
One of the guys shouted, "Fifty bucks, Barney," but Stinson just said, "We'll see."
Then he bought her another drink.
The guy who made the side bet, Marshall, pulled a chair over and invited Polly to sit down. She ignored Stinson's protests and smiled, accepted the invitation.
Stinson, still grumbling, joined them seven minutes later, followed by the waitress, who announced, "Robin said you would have to buy the next round if the redhead sat with you guys." He scowled at one of the women, who snickered.
Polly toasted with the rest of the group before observing they might have a gambling problem. The other woman, presumedly Lily, chirped, "Nope, just Barney." Then she slid a twenty-dollar bill between his waggling fingers.
Polly leaned back and enjoyed the banter in the group. Stinson was as dismissive of his friends as he was of her, but they still listened to him. There was grudging affection and even, at some points, respect.
She tilted her head, observed him with curiosity. She was missing something about him.
He met her gaze and smirked. "I knew it. You've changed your--"
"No," Polly said. "Still not interested."
Stinson slapped a twenty-dollar bill into Ted's hand, and Ted returned it to Lily without a pause.
At the end of the evening, Robin offered to share a taxicab with Polly. Everybody stood, tossing money on the table, shrugging into coats, checking cell phones for missed calls.
Stinson tugged at the lapels of his suit, a now-familiar gesture. Ted caught his attention, and they discussed some boxing match, and Polly took the opportunity to just look at him.
He did, she concluded, wear his suit exceedingly well.
He turned back to her, and for the twelfth time that night, she told him, "Still not interested."
He grinned at her and said, "We'll see."