A/N: I was really mad immediately post-finale and this came out. I tried to be as faithful to the timeline they presented as possible, but tbh it got a little muddied in my head, and there were certain details they either did not include in the finale or that were not made clear. I named Marshall and Lily's last kid; in this fic, I also think the Ericksons live upstate somewhere while Ted lives in Long Island, but I'm not positive about those, and honestly, they don't factor into the fic as much so I don't reeeeally care, but for the purposes of full disclosure...


Now is the new beginning. (the third or the fourth, et cetera - ) Now is the moment when her heart's supposed to jump up into her throat because this is what she had been waiting for the whole time, isn't it; this is what she was destined for – a life full of believing in destiny, and two kids that aren't hers, and a family – a whole family – that does things like play board games on family night, and make dinner, and go to PTA meetings, and a family that lets her be Robin Scherbatsky (or Robin Mosby, or Robin something-in-between). This is now; now is when she realizes that everything in her life makes sense because this makes sense; this is now, same as then, when there's a man standing outside her window with a blue French horn, screaming her name.

They're older now. They're grayer now. She has ruined more relationships than she cares to count, but here it is: a fresh start, a new beginning, an old beginning. The same thing, except different. Something old, something new – isn't that destiny?

Her hands shake as she grips the sill, leaning out the window to wave at him, and she can't stop thinking about that scene in Butch and Sundance when they're clinging to the cliff and thinking about whether or not to jump.

I can't swim , The Kid says, and Paul Newman starts laughing hysterically because swim? The fall's going to kill you! or something like that, and her hands are itching, and her father showed her that movie once when she was a kid and they were still pretending everything was fine, and here it is -

A new beginning in an old friend; a new lover out of an old beginning; a new Robin from the old.

"I'll buzz you up," she shouts.

Her palms itch, and she suddenly can't remember what it is The Kid says as he's kicking his way down towards the river.


Ted's nervous in her living room when he comes up and she doesn't know what to do with her hands, or what to say, except - "Wow. A blue French horn. This is really becoming your thing, huh?"

He smiles, and they all try to remember they aren't in their twenties anymore. "Well, when you know you love someone, you have to..." he says, clapping his hands for want of something to say, "go big."

And now she's just holding this French horn and they aren't speaking, and isn't this what she wanted? Isn't this the key to everything that's been missing in her life for the last half-dozen years? For the last decade?

Ted is the dream – attentive, warm, loving, and considerate, and isn't that what every girl should want?

"Ted," she says. "I can't believe you did this. Again."

He smiles, and the corners of his lips twitch, and she can feel it – the people they used to be and the people they are now struggling to close the distance – so she does the only thing she can think of. The only thing she knows will somehow make sense.

She tosses it onto the sofa, crosses over to him in two long strides, reaches for his face and kisses him.

He hasn't shaved in a day or two, and his cheek scratches against hers as his hands come up to cup her head.

She can't breathe.

(He pulls her against his body and she gasps, a sharp, desperate noise.)


She gets a text from Barney the same night – a mess of letters and numbers – and she spends a half hour just staring at it, trying to figure out how to respond. She hasn't spoken to Barney since the fallout from the divorce settled, since she stopped hanging out with the group, since she seemed to figure out that the best solution to her Ted problem was distance.

And now, here he is, chasing her again.

And now, here she is, wondering if she's going to make the same mistake she made dozens of times before. (What does that say about a person anyway? Isn't that the punchline to a joke – picking the same wrong choice every time and expecting a new result?

No, Robin. That's not a joke; that's insanity.)


She can't help herself. (Isn't that the truth?)

are you okay? can you get yourself home?

She remembers St. Patrick's Day of 2010, and Halloween another year (before or after, she can't recall), and dozens and dozens of bar nights that resulted in calling a car, and needing to tip extra to take care of the vomit in the backseat. It all blurs together – the history of Barney and the group and all of their hangouts – into something that feels like it took place in a year.

All of the good, some of the bad – selective memory always works its magic.

She hits send, and digs her nails so hard into the bed of her palm, they leave welts for hours.

Every ex-wife would be concerned about their husband dying, wouldn't they?

They did used to be friends once.


i'm sorry, comes the response an hour later, ellie got the phone.

She'd heard, of course – couldn't avoid what with Lily posting Facebook updates left and right – but it's still difficult to put two and two together. Barney. A single dad. Amazing to think the world didn't explode.

oh ok , she replies. sry .

it's good to hear from you though. how are you doing? you still in san fran?

back in new york.

if you're in town, we could go for a drink. how long's it been since you went to the cigar club?

She doesn't answer, and he types out another quick response.

for old times , he says. to celebrate you being back in town.

This – right here – would be the moment for new Robin to assess the situation. She isn't in her twenties anymore; she isn't in her thirties; now is the time for self-awareness. She never makes good decisions when he's concerned, and even if he does have a kid, isn't she supposed to be more mature than this? Than putting herself in a place to be in risk of making bad decisions?

i've got to get back by 10 anyway.

ok, she says.


The cigar club is still in business – somehow avoiding the clutches of the law of New York – even if it looks a little shabbier and they get their old seats by the fireplace, and the same scotch and cigars they had the first time they went. It's a little anniversary, she figures – to finding the new people they are out of the old places they used to haunt; maybe that's a little morbid, but that's new Robin – too aware of herself.

Barney lifts his glass and clinks the edge of it against hers before taking a sip.

He looks mostly the same – his hair starting to gray, and his suits exchanged for dark slacks and a button-down – if a little more tired than she remembers. There's wrinkle lines around his eyes and his mouth. He looks a little less crisp, and more relaxed in himself.

"So what have you been up to?" she asks.

He hums around his mouthful of scotch. "Ellie keeps me busy. I've still got a lot of money in investments from that suit, so..."

Her mouth falls open. "You just stay at home?"

"I work on the blog," he says, with a shrug. "It's a real thing."

She smiles, a small, limpid thing. "You're still the same, huh?"

He grins, and it nearly splits his mouth. "What about you? Still chasing stories everywhere? I see your, uh, picture everywhere, you know. The buses and everything."

They were never built for small talk. She nods and takes a gulp of her own drink, hoping to keep the night from feeling even more stilted. "I'm back in New York for a bit. I think that – well – after a while, you get tired of running around, you know? You want to just... stay somewhere for a while."

He hums, and his eyes don't catch her glance.

"So..." he says, waving his hand vaguely, "You and Ted, huh?"

She looks up, eyes wide for want of anything to say, and says, "Oh."

He laughs, and it's a dull, flat noise.

"How'd you - "

It hits her a moment after, and they end up saying it together.

"Lily."

She reaches for the glass and ends up knocking it with her hand instead. It slides across the table a small distance, knocking into his and splashing liquor everywhere.

"Fuck," she says, reaching for the stack of cocktail napkins and clumping them on top of the spill. "Fuck, fuck."

He doesn't say anything, just reaches in and helps her cover the mess with napkins until they've got most if it cleaned up.

They don't talk about Ted after that.


Lily texts her two days later -

you're back in town?

...

She doesn't answer.


Ted tells her to consider it, tells her that they all used to be so close and now that she's back to spend more time in New York, couldn't they try to be more the group that they used to be? Doesn't some small part of you want that?, he asks, and she can't think of anything to say so she doesn't.

She used to be this person.

She used to be this person in this group who went out and did these things, but now she's new Robin, and new Robin has seen people get blown to pieces in Kuwait; new Robin has learned to accept the things that she can't change; new Robin has seen Ted get married and felt her heart break a thousand times, and learned that sometimes the only way out is to run for the nearest exit.

Sometimes leaving is an inevitability.

Sometimes friendships have shelf lives.

I don't know what I want, Ted, she says, and that's maybe the first honest thing she's said to any of her friends in years.


The problem is that she knows what Lily is going to say. She knows all of them too well; they know each other too well, and she's starting to wonder when Ted will wake up and realize that sometimes it isn't healthy to let people know that much about you.

She can see the way it works out too clearly – Lily leaning across the table with a new hairstyle, and an oversized bag full of toys and baby bottles, Robin , in that concerning voice that she affects when she's trying to give advice without sounding like it, are you sure that you want to revisit this thing with Ted? I mean...I'm not trying to overstep here, but I just don't know that it's a good idea.

And before, wasn't it are you sure you gave this thing with Barney a fair shot?

And before, it was do you even know what you're doing here?

It's all the same conversation, and she can have both sides of it herself.


New York brings the worst sense of revertigo in her. Everywhere, she can feel the pull of old Robin, telling her to try a drink she used to like, or to just visit a place she remembered from her days at Metro News 1. Or, maybe, MacLaren's, with its familiar booths and faces. (She doesn't. Not right away.)

She isn't a creature of habit. She's trying not to be. After all, she's seen too many things to think that familiarity is a comfort. Sometimes, it's the places you feel most comfortable that turn out to be the most dangerous. Sometimes a going-away Halloween party can turn out to be the most painful place to be.

But she has a cupcake from her favorite bakery, and a coffee from the bodega right around the office with the guy that still remembers who she is - "with the guy with the fake hair!" - and she thinks about Sandy for the first time in years, and everything else follows.

Marshall showing her the little Yosemite Sam stickies they used to put on the TV for Sandy's segments, Ted's class drinking game, Lily buying her a drink after her first aired segment, Barney daring her to say a word on air for fifty dollars -

Maybe coming back was a bad idea.

She skips the coffee place on the block to head for the bubble tea place two storefronts down.


They'd had a conversation about it once, before it all ended in a series of legal meetings and signed and initialed documents – she and Barney – jet-lagged and starving and in a three-star hotel somewhere in Milan. She'd been on assignment and he'd been unable to find his toothbrush in their mess of constantly unpacked and repacked bags, and collapsed on the bed.

"Come here," he'd said.

She had smiled and somewhat meant it, and joined him on the bed. It had been late afternoon, and the sun was too bright in the windows. His arm was heavy against her shoulders as they just lay there together, and he had pressed a kiss to the crown of her head.

"Are you okay with this?" he'd asked.

"With what?"

"This," he'd said. "Us."

"Barney, I, uh - "

"I never want you to feel like," he began, voice dropping to a low whisper, "I'm – that you're not doing as much as you could be doing. Because of... whatever. Anything."

"I'm not – hey, I don't think that, okay?"

He had nuzzled his mouth against her neck, and murmured something she didn't catch. And they'd fallen asleep, just like that. With his words caught against her hair and her neck, and his weight against her body.

(Three years, he'd said, after they walked out of the lawyer's office. That was a good run, wasn't it?

And she couldn't think of how to answer, so she didn't.

She just walked to the corner of Madison, and hailed a cab, and drove in circles until her head felt clear again.)


Ted drops the bomb on her four months later -

I think it's time to tell the kids.

Her head buzzes.


He calls her for the first time in years when she's out to dinner with Ted, the night she's supposed to go back with him to see the kids. Her phone's buzzing in her purse and it takes her a second to register the name that's flashing on the screen.

"Sorry," she says. "I have to take this."

Ted smiles and waves her away.

Outside the kitchen doors, she takes the call. "Barney?"

"Hey," he says, sounding breathless, "I'm sorry, but I couldn't find anyone to watch Ellie, and my mom had an emergency, and I – you were the first person that I thought of in the city." He heaves a deep breath.

"Um..." she says. "You know that kids have never been my... there's no one else that you can ask?"

He sighs. "My usual babysitter's out, and Lily's like an hour out. I can't leave her alone that long."

"Your apartment's still...?"

"No," he says. "After we sold – I have a new place on 84th St, by the park. Just buzz."

"Okay," she says. "I'll be there."


Ted looks up over his gnocchi and says, "What's the matter?"

She waves her phone, the screen dark. "I have a small emergency," she says. "I'm sorry, Ted, but I'm going to need a rain check."

Throwing his napkin on the table, he stands, waving down a waiter. "Well, I'll go with you! Is it anything serious?"

She shakes her head. "It's a private..." she says, waving her hands. "I'll see you later, Ted, okay? I'm really sorry about tonight."

He nods once, lips thinning into a small line as he appraises her. "Yeah," he says, voice hollow with skepticism.

She leans in and kisses him once. "We'll reschedule. I promise."


Barney's apartment is nothing like she remembers. Nothing like she expects. Although she supposes living with a young daughter changes things.

It's a small two-bedroom – nothing like his old palatial penthouse – and there are toys everywhere, and crayon markings across some of the wallpaper. The rest of it looks lived-in – a suede sofa and leather armchair, bookcases, a coffee table and desk.

He's shrugging into a coat when she makes her way into the apartment, a duffel bag already placed by the door.

Her look of panic must be recognizable because he chuckles, a warm sound she hadn't realized she'd missed hearing.

"Don't worry," he says. "You won't need to stay the night. I should be back before then, but it might be late."

She nods, hoping she looks reassuring. "I'll be fine. Where's Ella?"

"Ellie."

"Ellie," she says, wincing. "Sorry."

"I made sure she ate, and there's food in the fridge if she's hungry. There's notes, and she's pretty loud about what she wants and what she doesn't want. Don't let her boss you around, Scherbatsky, or you'll never get any respect in this house."

She nearly sags with relief; say what you will about him – and she has – but he's always known how to make people feel comfortable. Well, maybe just her.

"Where is she?"

"She's supposed to be doing homework in her room," he says, booming, "but I think she might be watching tv."

At that, she hears the thudding skitter of footsteps from the bedroom.

"Listen," he says, "Call me if you need anything, or if you're freaking out, okay?"

He turns towards the door, and it takes her a second to react. She follows, and catches the sleeve of his coat. "Hey," she says.

He pulls his sleeve back, and doesn't look at her. The air changes, and she tries to ignore it.

"Is Loretta okay?" she says. "Even if we're not – you know that I still care about her."

He nods once. "She just had a slip in the house," he says. "They called the paramedics, and she called me. I'm just going out to check on her, that's all. I should be back."

"Okay."

He sets his hand on hers a beat too long. "You'll be okay. Ellie's nice. Even to strangers."

"Hey, you know, I'm sorry that I - "

"You'll be fine," he says. "And thank you. Really."


Ellie falls asleep an hour after she's supposed to, but there aren't any other real bumps. Given who her father is, Robin expected worse. She's a little bit like Matilda, she supposes – quiet and nerdy, but sweet.

She's got her mother's dark hair – whoever that woman is – and Barney's eyes.

"I'm your Aunt Robin," she had said in introduction, and Ellie had looked her up and down and extended her hand to shake.

"Dad talks about you a lot," she had said. A beat later, she'd added, "I kind of didn't think you were real."

"You either," she'd answered.

Robin's not good at kids, usually, but Ellie's got a mind of her own. They do a few puzzles together, and Ellie shows her her growing book collection and talks about her latest science project, and then it's time to tell her to get ready for bed, and to tuck her in and sit with her.

She starts stroking her hair, because – well, isn't that what you do to help kids sleep?

When Ellie falls asleep, she's halfway through another sentence about the next trips they should have.


She must have fallen asleep because he wakes her up when he's back, and the clock reads half past three.

"Sorry I'm so late," he says. "I'll call you a car."

She shakes her head. "It's all right."

He's quiet as he unloops the scarf from around his neck, and she's still half-asleep on his couch, and it feels a little too much like she's stepped into a life she wasn't supposed to lead. Maybe if she had decided to stick it out – maybe if she had committed to it the way that Ted commits to anything (to everything), things would have been different.

(Maybe that's what she likes about Ted – his commitment. To things, to goals, to people, to the idea of people.)

"I'll call you a car. It's late, and you shouldn't walk anywhere."

She sits up and rubs at her eyes as he dials his usual guy. Her hair is loose and shaggy, half out of its ponytail, and she tries to straighten herself up as he finishes up on the phone. "You really... got everything together, huh?"

"I still complain about wi-fi," he says. "But you kind of have to be."

"How did this - " she says, and stops. "Sorry, this isn't – we aren't – that wasn't what I meant."

It's late, and the low glow of the single lamp on in the room makes everything feel slightly unreal somehow. Like this could have been them, like she could have come home to find him tucking in their daughter with a glass of scotch waiting for her.

Barney shrugs. "Bambi was going to give her up."

She arches a brow. "Bambi?"

"Yeah, I'm starting to think that wasn't her real name."

She chuckles. "It seems like it's working out." Standing, she stretches and reaches for her bag, starting to gather her things together. "You know, when I heard, I didn't really believe it."

"What?"

"That you'd changed this much."

"I couldn't leave her to..." he says, pausing. "She was depending on me."

The words are out of her mouth before she can stop them. "You weren't really there for me."

"You never really needed me."

She knots the scarf around her neck. "I just didn't ask you."

His smile's crooked this time, and she resists the urge to reach out and smooth the wrinkle against the shoulder of his shirt. "It wasn't anybody's fault," he says.

"I know."

"It probably wouldn't have made a difference."

She shrugs into her coat. "Yeah," she says, "You're right. I, uh, I don't know."

A car horn blares from outside.

"Thanks for doing this."

She crosses to him and wraps him in a brief hug. "It's good to see you."

His hand ghosts warmth against the middle of her back. "You too."

The car horn sounds again, and she rubs her arm through the sleeve of her coat. "I should be going. I'll, um, I'll see you."


In the back of the car, she doesn't turn to see if he switches off the lights right away, or if he stays to see the car pull away.

She doesn't.


This time around, she and Ted settle into a weird kind of domesticity. It's been too many years for them to pretend that they're the same kinds of friends they used to be; it's too much distance to pretend that they're the same kind of lovers they used to be. She's too old to believe in the things that are still coming out of his mouth, and he's too old – too tied down, too mature – to believe her when she says that she's changed.

Even if he pretends that she still can be that kind of person.

They haven't even slept together. (Yet.)

And everything seems to be ticking down to that moment, and Robin already knows that's the moment that will change everything over – that, all of a sudden, all of their old friendship and relationship points will make this the longest relationship she's ever had somehow – or, was the other one longer? Or isn't she supposed to think about those kinds of things anymore now that she's happy and settled and...? - and that has to mean something Significant because this is Ted. He's always meant more than the others – hasn't that been true, too?

Somewhere along the way she's forgotten why she was determined to have him, but it doesn't mean she can't figure it out. The answer's inside of her somewhere. Ted is the kind of guy you change for. The kind of guy that changes you.

Isn't that what every girl wants?


One night, she's lying with Ted on the chaise sofa in his house, and his kids are sleeping, and he starts kissing her neck.

"Robin," he says, and when he settles his weight again, she can feel him half-hard against her leg.

She takes a deep breath and kisses him. The kiss is slow and messy – his position doesn't make things any easier – and he misses half of her mouth, and she can't help but think of her dogs at home in her apartment, and the cheese that's starting to go moldy in the fridge that she really ought to have thrown out days ago, and whether or not she has enough birth control.

"What's wrong?" he says, pulling away, and she smiles and kisses him again, softer and chaster than the others.

She shakes her head.

He smiles and leans in again, deepening the kiss. His tongue is heavy and thick in her mouth, and she pulls at his hair with her hands, scratches her palm against the beginnings of a beard on his jaw.

"I should go," she says, when they pull apart.

"No," he says, leaning his forehead against hers. "Stay."

"Not tonight."


There's one text from him waiting for her by the time she exits the train.

when are we going to tell luke and pen?

She clicks off the message.


Their first fight starts because of a work trip. She's due to fly to Geneva the week Ted schedules his tell-the-kids dinner, and he spends most of the time after he finds out trying to tell her to reschedule the trip.

It's nothing too huge – a quarterly review of their European satellite offices to see if there's any waste that can be cut, or if there's anything that could be made to operate more efficiently. Granted, the huge news of the world isn't taking place in Belgium – not these days – but it's still an important part of her job.

I can't, Ted, she says, and he sighs, his posture deflating in the way it always does when he's really upset.

Can't? Or won't? He lets the words sit for a while, and adds, If you didn't want to tell them about us, you didn't have to do this. I would have understood. But this isn't -

She shakes her head. This is important, Ted. This is a job that I spent years working for, working toward, and I'm not going to skip an important meeting so that I can do this!

He shakes his head, and forces a smile. Let's not do this right before your trip. I don't want to fight.

I don't want to fight either.

He turns back towards the pot of simmering pasta sauce on the stove, and gives it a poke with the wooden spoon.

She doesn't say anything else. Just turns towards the wedge of parmesan and continues grating.


Part of her can't keep running over the fight in her head for days after.

Wasn't he supposed to fight for her?

Wasn't she supposed to fight for this?

She spent years thinking that if only she could have the chance to do it over again with him, that if they tried when they were older, when he was less idealistic about the way the world worked and she realized just how narrow her options were, they'd really try.

And now she's older, and the wedge of parmesan is cold and hard against her hand, and Ted keeps running out of teaspoons to use to taste the sauce, and in the living room, there are nine different pictures of Tracy – with the kids, with Ted, with Marshall and Lily, by herself, with her band. There's even one of her and Tracy, at her and Barney's wedding reception, somewhere past Robin's twelfth drink of the evening.

She's leaning on Tracy and they're both laughing and clinging to each other like real friends.

Somewhere along the line, Tracy became the best version of her – warm and effusive, just quirky enough to fit with the group but sweet enough to charm them all, devoted and attentive – and she's become … this.

"I think that's enough," Ted says.

She knocks the rind against the grater twice.

"I'm going to round the kids up for Scrabble later, if you want to stick around. Have to show 'em that their old man's still better than them at something."

She laughs. "Sure."

"You mean it?"

"Yeah," she says, wrapping the cheese back in its plastic. "I'll stay for a little bit."

He smiles, and it lights up his face.

"I really missed you when you were working abroad those few years, you know."

"Yeah, I missed you too. All of you guys."


It doesn't take her long to pack for Switzerland.

She's always kept her favorite suitcase by the door in case of last-minute business trips, and this time, when she pulls it out and unzips it, she has to pull a few last minute changes. The old t-shirts that are still in there that smell kind of like suitcase go into the hamper; in their place go new blouses and fresh slacks and suits.

There's a card that Barney got her tucked into the mesh lining against the lid.

She finds herself pulling it free to throw it out, and sitting down to read it instead.

There's a small doodle on the inside page of two stick-people high-fiving.


scherbatsky -

it doesn't ever feel like home without you. i'm (crossed out, illegible) thinking of you, and i love you. i'm sorry about what i said before you left.

you're it for me.

counting the days (and bring me back one of those cool beer mugs)

b.


She doesn't know why but she sits with the card clenched in her hand for nearly half an hour, and thinks about calling him. Thinks about crying, too, but it passes. Everything passes.

The card gets pinned behind a State Farm magnet on her fridge.

She can't even remember what they fought about.


She gets another text from Barney's number -

are you ever gonna come over again?

its ellie


There's something comforting about traveling abroad that makes her head feel clearer. Maybe it's the way the ocean looks as they fly over in the middle of the night, or the feeling of hitting solid ground when they land.

Maybe it's the fact that her itinerary is full of items that she knows she can handle quickly and efficiently – meeting after meeting, lunch with a potential sponsor, networking meeting with another network looking to affiliate.

It feels … freeing.


She Skypes with Ted once. It's late for her and early for him, and they're both yawning and trying to smile with mugs of coffee in hand.

There's street traffic on her side, and he can't raise his voice above a whisper.

"How is it?" he asks.

She shrugs. "It's pretty busy. I've never really had any strong feelings about Switzerland, though. Their hockey team..."

He shakes his head. "When do you get back? I can't wait to see you again."

"Just a few days," she says. "I land on Saturday."

"Did you think about what I emailed you earlier? About the kids?"

She sighs, and leans back in the chair.

"You promised me you'd try."

"I am! I am trying. It's just really hard for me to pin down a date right now, that's all. You know that I don't hate Luke and Penny."

"I know." There's a long pause as he sips from his coffee. "You know, part of me thought this would be easier."

"What?"

"This. Us. You know, we've just... we've been through it, I figured that our finding each other meant something."

That's the problem with Ted she'd forgotten. It always has to mean something.

She hums and takes a sip of her coffee. "It means we're trying."

It does mean that they're trying. She's trying. And trying has to count for something... isn't that what they always tell the kids?


Her flight back has a three hour layover in Berlin. She cruises around the airport shops, shopping for terrible James Patterson paperbacks and snacks.

She picks up a couple of souvenirs for the kids.

Kinder chocolates for Marvin, Daisy, and Lucy, a keychain for Marshall, a souvenir t-shirt for Lily. A small snow globe for Penny, a shot glass for Ted, a small piece of the wall for Luke.

At checkout, she spies a big picture book in German of various sights.

She picks it up.


When she lands, Ted's waiting with a sign with her name written on it in permanent marker. Luke and Penny are there, waving her down.

Her suitcase wheel catches on something, and she jerks nervously at the handle.

"Aunt Robin!" the kids shout, skittering towards her.

She's got a kid hugging her from each side, her purse slung against her shoulder and her suitcase handle still in hand.

"Thought we'd surprise you," Ted says, kissing her.

"Well," she says, as Luke takes her suitcase from her. "I'm surprised."

(As the kids head out towards the doors, Ted brushes another kiss against her mouth. "What do you think?"

She swallows dry air. "You're going to drive all the way into the city?"

His smile is crooked. "It's on our way to see Marshall and Lily, so we'll just drop you off and head out."

"Oh," she says. "You really didn't have to come pick me up at the airport."

"That's a thing that I do, Robin! I'm the airport guy!"

She laughs. "Yeah, Ted. You are.")


Lily calls her a week later, and asks if she wants to swing by and come and see the kids. This is what their group hangouts have been reduced to – wanting to see the kids and measure the rest of their lives in penciled in height marks against the wall.

She says, "I got some gifts for you and the kids from my last trip abroad."

"Yeah?" Lily says, excited. "You really didn't have to, you know. It's enough of a gift just to be able to see you."

She smiles. "It isn't anything big. Just some knick-knacks. The kind of stuff you pick up in the airport."

"Well, I really miss you, and I want to see you whenever you can get the chance to come up."

"I'll come up the first chance I get, Lil. I swear."

"Yeah?" she says, voice quiet. "You always say that, but we never get to see you."

"I'm...just busy with work right now."

"You're always busy with work."

"Lily, I'm trying."

"Okay," she says. "Okay."


(She doesn't manage to head up for another two weekends, but she takes a few days off work and manages to stretch it out to a mini-vacation.

Lily's all smiles when she breaks out the presents for the kids, but it's different when they're alone together. She used to think that she could tell Lily anything, and now, there are more dead silences than comfortable ones. There used to be a time when Lily knew what she wanted before she did herself, and now, they're just two people who knew each other decades ago, and grew apart, and started living different lives.

What's new with you, Lily asks, as they sit to watch something on tv, and she can't think of anything to say, so it's the same old answer in Lily's refurbished living room.

How are you and Ted doing?

She shrugs, and runs her hand through her hair for want of anything better to do. I think we're doing better than we were this point around last time.

Lily's laugh is sharp.

What?

Lily doesn't answer.

All of them, tiptoeing around the things they said they'd never let go of.

It's good to see you , Lily says. I hope you stay for a while.)


She gets a series of texts from Barney's phone over the next few weeks, all at odd in-between times and all from Ellie.

Barney apologizes for it, but Robin doesn't mind. It isn't that she hates kids – she doesn't, unless someone's trying to tell her that she needs to live with one – and Ellie's a sweet enough kid. Plus, she figures she knows how it feels to be lost.

To miss having the full picture.

i got her something, she texts him. She isn't sure why – it isn't like she wants to rekindle any kind of anything with Barney – and he's been really good about abiding by the (non-contractual) terms of their arrangement.

Still, there's no denying that it all feels like she's working her way through the old familiar motions. First, Ted, then Barney, and then the whirlpool of emotional mess that is the both of them clouding her head.

She tells herself it doesn't mean anything. She got gifts for Marshall and Lily's kids, and Ted's kids, too, so what difference does that make?

you didn't have to do that comes his response.

i know. i did anyway.

you want me to pick it up from you? or you could send it to the apartment.

we could get coffee. you could bring her.

It's a few hours before he replies, but when he does, it's short. ok.


She has sex with Ted for the first time in a long time that night. (She isn't trying to prove anything.)

His kids are both away that night – Luke at a sleepaway computer camp, and Penny at a sleepover – and his house is too quiet. It makes her skin itch. Everywhere there are photos and reminders of Tracy and some great bygone narrative of Ted's great love, and all she can think is that she shouldn't be here. This is the one place in his life she doesn't belong, she doesn't fit, and all the while, his hands are hot against the bare skin of her back and his mouth is leaving wet trails against her shoulder.

He tries to lead them to his bedroom, but they never make it.

They collapse into a mess of limbs and partially removed clothing in the hallway. He shoves her jeans down to her knees and there's murmured words against her skin, her neck, that she doesn't catch, and she doesn't want to hear them. She wants this to be about whatever they are now, and not whoever they used to be, whatever they used to be.

She pants his name against the shell of his ear, his fingers dig into the backs of her thighs, and when he manages to get the condom on and push into her, she sighs at the feeling.

It's been a long time.

His teeth click as he leans down to brace his hands against the floor. She stares at the patterns on the ceiling as he starts to move.


The second time she meets Ellie, the kid's still just as excited. Excited in the way that all children are, all focused intensity and nonstop chatter about school and the books that she's reading and the movies she wants to see and why the fact that Barney won't let her get a scooter is ruining her life and, maybe, a violation of some kind of amendment to the constitution.

All of this before Robin can get a word out edgewise.

That's what she likes about kids (sometimes). They can be low-pressure and do all the talking, as long as you don't lie to them or treat them too much like kids. And she can handle that.

She's got the book in her bag and when she breaks it out, Ellie's eyes go wide and Barney sets a hand against her arm, mouthing thanks over Ellie's head, and she smiles.

Ellie just thumbs through it at breakneck pace, not even trying to look at the words or any of the smaller pictures.

"I can't read it," she says.

"It's in German," Robin says. "So you'll have to look up the words, but one day, you'll be able to."

Barney laughs. "You're going to make her learn German?"

She shrugs, and Ellie turns to him and pushes at him with both of her hands.

"Stop it," Ellie says. "It's a really cool present."

Barney raises his brows at her with a small smile. "Impressive present, Aunt Robin."

Ellie grins at her then, and her tongue pokes through one of the gaps in her teeth.

"I hope the tooth fairy gave you something for that," she says.

"If you can keep a secret," Ellie says, leaning in to whisper, "I'm not supposed to tell but she gave me a whole dollar."

"Wow. A whole dollar!"

"And it wasn't even a very big tooth."

Barney gives Ellie a gentle push behind her shoulder. "Say 'thank you.'"

"Thank you, Aunt Robin."

Robin smiles, and reaches to brush her hand across Ellie's head. "No big deal, kid."


Barney insists on buying her a caramel macchiato to make up for it - "Or whatever it is that you drink now." - even though the book didn't even really cost her that much.

Ellie's sitting with the book in her lap, paging away eagerly, and they sit in a row of seats and face her.

"How was Switzerland?"

She gives a noncommittal shrug.

"GNB used to send me out there to deal with the banks. There's not much to do."

"No."

They settle into a small silence, and, for his part, he never asks about her and Ted. Not once.

"You working on anything new? Projects?"

She shrugs. "There's always a story somewhere."

"I thought you were staying in New York for a while. That's what I heard."

She arches a brow. "From Lily?"

"Doesn't chasing the story wherever it takes you keep you from staying in New York?"

She takes a sip of her coffee. "My contract's up for negotiation in eight months, and I guess we'll see where it goes from there. I don't think I'd want to just be behind-the-scenes and overseeing everything, but it's not exactly a safe position to be in anymore. And not when you're trying to bank on retirement, you know?"

He angles his head toward Ellie a moment.

"Yeah," he says. "You'll figure your reasons out."

"Yeah."

Another few minutes dwindle in silence, and she can't remember what they used to talk about. They must have talked? Surely, somewhere in three years of marriage, they talked about what they wanted and what they were going to do together and the things they were going to build for themselves, for each other.

All she remembers is their wedding day. The vows he made to her in private, the night they spent lying in bed after, all the things he told her that he hadn't been able to say in front of other people.

sometimes you make me think i could be a good person.

"Hey," he says, "I'm sorry she keeps texting you. She likes to play with my phone when we're in the car, or I'm in the shower or something, and I guess she..."

She shakes her head. "Don't worry about it."

"I've told her to stop a few times."

She sets her hand on top of his. "Hey," she says. "I like Ellie, and I mean, I haven't exactly been the gr– a good friend to you either."

His face goes blank and unreadable. "Is that what we are? Friends?"

"Yeah," she says. "Haven't we always been?"

He tries a grin, but it doesn't quite meet his eyes.

"I'm sorry if I was – if I didn't reach out the way I..." she begins, struggling to find the words.

"No," he says. "The group wasn't the same, and I guess it took you leaving to... make that clear for me."

"Are we okay?"

He looks down and swallows hard. "Yeah," he says. "We're fine."

She pulls his hand from his and reaches for her nearly empty drink. "I should go," she says, standing. "I have a videoconference later, and I don't..."

He laughs. "Scherbatsky, calm down. I'm not going to – I don't expect anything more than... whatever this is."

"I know," she says. "I just... have to go."


The night that they tell Luke and Penny that they're dating is... not a disaster.

The kids are weirdly into it, even. Ted makes dinner and she helps set the table and they all sit there quiet for a minute before Ted drops it – your Aunt Robin and I are dating – and Luke and Penny burst into matching grins.

A chorus of jokes follows, and she finds herself smiling at them to match their glee.

"Does that mean you're going to be over here all the time, Aunt Robin?" Luke says, with an arched eyebrow, and Penny kicks him under the table.

"Don't be gross, Luke."

"I wasn't, Pen, jeez."

They get into one of their typical petty arguments, and Ted's playing ref again, and she just sits rigid in her seat and watches. It's so clear from looking that they're a unit – Ted (and Tracy) and the kids – and they make sense. And it isn't that she doesn't fit – they're trying, they really want her to – but part of her chafes against it.

It isn't her house; it isn't what she wants; it isn't the life she ever thought she'd find herself in.

It isn't her house.

(It isn't her place.)

"Luke was just joking, Aunt Robin," Penny says, with a bright smile. "And we'd love to see you! You could let me borrow some of your makeup, and you and Dad could... I don't know, do whatever it is that you guys do."

Robin laughs. "Sure, Penny."

The girl runs over and throws her arms around her, squeezing her into a tight hug. "We love you, aunt Robin. And Dad loves you, too." She finishes the sentence off with a small squeal, the kind that only teenage girls can make.

Across the table, Ted beams at her, and she feels her heart catch in her throat.


She's too old to be this drunk.

She's too wise – mature? No, that sounds like something used to promote a new Oprah shopping network for the discerning over-sixty shopper – to be this drunk.

Her jacket is half-off her shoulder and she's mumbling something at the bartender, and half the office is stumbling around the bar, looking for their bags or their phones or their spouses.

Her phone buzzes in her pocket, and she pulls it free and pushes at some of the buttons with her fingers.

Man, she has missed being this drunk.

The phone gives a sharp, shrill ring and one of the guys beside her – who has most of his shirt unbuttoned for some god-unknown reason – whines.

"Hello?" someone says over speaker.

She taps at the screen with her fingers and brings the phone up to her ear. "Hey," she slurs. "Y'should come meet me. Like righ'now."

She giggles, and the curved corner of the phone digs into her cheek.


"Hey," someone says, lifting her arms from behind to help brace her up. "You okay?"

She blinks twice, and tries to get her vision to come into focus. "Fine," she mumbles. "m'fine." She turns her head and catches sight of a man's jacket moving just out of sight. "Ted?"

He sits beside her on the sofa – and, oh, she isn't still at the bar either; this is her apartment, and her very comfortable sofa, and her head is spinning too much to even begin to think about the geography of how she got here (from office bar to home, from door to sofa, from standing to sitting down) – and shoves a glass of water between her hands.

"You're going to have an insane hangover tomorrow."

She winces, and feels her stomach roll at the thought.

"You want me to bring you a trash can or something?"

Her lips are dry and she opens and closes her mouth, hoping for some kind of relief. The lip of the glass meets her mouth and she takes a small sip. Water is so delicious, how did she ever forget that?

"I haven't been this drunk..." she says, slurring, "in a v'ry long time. V'ry long."

He laughs, and she reaches out and touches her hand to the cuff of his sleeve.

"'re you gonna stay?" She leans back against the sofa and lets her head loll against the cushion, splashing some water across herself. "You should stay."

"I don't think that's a good idea."

She doesn't say anything, just groans and leans her head down into his lap. Warm hands brush against her hair and she fights the urge to fall asleep.

"You should drink some water before you fall asleep."

"I will," she says. "Jus' resting my eyes for a second."

He chuckles.

"Don't go," she says. "Please?"

She shifts onto her side and presses her face into the crook of his arm and just breathes him in. It's amazing how much she's missed this – missed him – the smell of his cologne and aftershave with his plain soap and the crisp smell of his pressed shirts.

"Stay," she mumbles against him as she falls asleep.


In the morning, her mouth is dry and tastes a little like tequila and a little like vomit, and her head pulses so badly she can't move for the first few hours of being awake.

She doesn't see the note until after she manages to force herself into the shower.

On the kitchen counter, beneath a takeout soup container filled with something green, is a note.


hangover cure. you'll need it.

b.


She sticks the note behind the greeting card on the fridge, and retreats back to the comfort of her sofa.


This year is Ted's turn to host Thanksgiving, and she finds herself more involved in the plans than she anticipates. From late August on, it's menu planning and weighing the benefits of gluten-free and tofurkey vs. actual turkey and deep frying vs. roasting or however else you're supposed to cook a twelve-pound bird in a tiny oven.

Penny's in the middle of a pescatarian phase, and Lily's youngest isn't old enough to be out of a high chair yet, and Ted's got some kind of complicated chart or diorama of all the possible seating chart arrangements that she only partly understands.

"I want your input on this, Robin! They're your friends, too!" he says, as he moves a popsicle stick Lily two seats further down the table.

She claps her hands together once. "It's Thanksgiving, Ted! You've done it a thousand times before. I mean, what's the big deal?"

He freezes with the popsicle stick in his hand, and she knows she's said the wrong thing. Doesn't stop her mouth from running, though, although she wishes it would.

"It's a seating chart, it's not the layout to a whole brand new building!"

"Robin," he says, "We never see these people anymore."

She shrugs and moves to sit down on the sofa. "Yeah, but that's just part of what life is, Ted. You don't always get to see your friends all the time, and when you do, it – it doesn't always mean it's going to be the same."

"Well, maybe I'm not happy with that, Robin. Maybe I'm the kind of person that actually likes to fight for their friendships instead of just - "

He freezes and jams popsicle stick Lily into the slot he had moved her from.

"What?" she says. "Finish."

"No."

"No, finish what you wanted to say. You're the kind of person that fights for their friendships, right? Not like me."

He stares down at the popsicle sticks in his shoebox diorama. "You just... left. You didn't even say anything. It was like... once you started your real life, you didn't need us anymore."

"You!" she says, and he snaps up to look at her. "I couldn't be with you and – not when I was carrying this thing – I had to leave."

He deflates, and shakes his head with a wry laugh. "You didn't, though, Robin. You chose to."

"Yeah," she says. "I did." She tracks over to the kitchen and refills her glass of wine. She heads back towards the living room and hovers over the doorway rather than crossing through. "Sometimes things aren't as simple as you think they are, Ted."

"So you'd just run away if things got hard?"

She sniffs. "Don't talk to me like I'm one of your kids, Ted."

"Robin."

"No, I mean it. I'm too old for that bullshit."

Ted picks up another popsicle stick and moves it down another seat. "Maybe I'll move Barney and Ellie a little further down the table instead of Lily."

Her focus falls on his hands, and the way they tremor when he's adjusting the small sticks. "Maybe."


That night, she soaks in the tub at his place in the middle of the night and smokes her first cigarette in a long while. It isn't even that satisfying, but part of her helps her start to switch her overthinking off. It makes her feel a little younger and a little dumber, honestly, and she misses that. The learning curve.

Now she's just a woman on the verge of falling into Something Serious with a man that she's always known would be someone serious to settle down with, and she can't figure out if any of what she felt – feels – is still real.

The problem, she figures, is that she's never been the kind of person to make up her mind one way or the other and stick to it. There's always another option, another way. You don't make it to world-class journalist from teenage pop star without thinking of all the escape routes.


She texts him that night: i still never feel like i know what i'm doing.

Hits send before she can rethink what this means, if this means anything. That's the problem with being around Ted too much – soon everything starts to mean Something, and Somethings always add up to greater destinies. Who has the kind of time to plan for every eventual domino clicking into place, or not clicking into place?

That's the problem – she isn't like Ted. She isn't put together – not in that way – and she never was. She's the kind of screw-up that sends texts to an ex-husband because she has to tell someone and it might as well be him, because he knows better than anyone else how much of a screw-up she is and because he won't hold it against her because he already has. It's too low-stakes to fight a war with someone you already defeated, isn't it?

That was always the thing with Barney – for all that he lied and schemed, it was never anything more than misdirection; whenever it came down to real things, he was never dishonest with her. Not really. They were too much the same for that. Too much the same to keep that from destroying them little by little.

you think i do? comes the reply.

i thought i'd have it together by now, she writes.

scherbatsky the only reason i have it a little together at all is because someone else's life is depending on me.

you're doing better than me.

There's a long gap between her message and his answer and when it comes, she isn't sure what to make of it. He's never lied to her, but there's been too many times when he's gotten too close to the bald truth to keep her still.

you were always better than me, her phone reads, and she switches it off for the rest of the night.


Somehow it always comes back to this – not knowing who she is, not knowing how she's going to react, and Ted, and Barney, and her caught somewhere in between everything else. There are destinies for people, that's what Ted says, and she can't help but wonder what that means for her when all of her destinies seem to come back to the fact that she can't stick to anything, that every time she tries to change, she ends up not changing at all.

Give up a job for a man she worked with that she loved, and break her own heart; give up her friendships for a job to keep her from thinking about a man that she was friends with that she loved, and break her own heart; give up a husband for a love that doesn't start for years after when she isn't even sure of her own feelings anymore, and break her own heart.

(If you look close enough, there's a pattern, isn't there?)

She can't even talk to Lily about it anymore. Not since she decided she was going to leave a going-away party early because she couldn't handle not being selfish for one single moment in her life.

So what does that make her?

And if Ted proposes and she accepts, would her transformation into the evil stepmother be complete?

She keeps chasing herself forward, and every time she looks back, she's not quite sure what she started running after in the first place.

(And isn't that progress?)


Lily calls her up one night and says, hey, you're going to Ted's for Thanksgiving this year, right? You're not going to bail like you did last year?

And she says, of course I'm going, Ted's kind of making me co-host

How are you and Ted doing?

As if Lily hasn't talked to Ted about it already. Robin doesn't have a ready answer so she gives the rote response – everything's fine, they haven't discussed anything serious (yet), she's already met the kids, they've already told the kids – and that's enough to satisfy Lily for the time being.

I miss you, Lily , she says, and Lily doesn't say anything for a long while. It's maybe only partly true, but she means it, and that should count for something, shouldn't it? She's still here, she's making an effort, and she knows she skipped Lily's Thanksgiving last year, but the situation was different – she was different – and she's ready now. To be there and to see the group and to act like the past few years, the past decade, hasn't made a difference in the way they all are.

I miss you too , Lily says, with a soft sniffle. For a long time.

I'm sorry. For not being there.

No , Lily says. I understand. I think I understand.

This time, when they slip into silence, it's less stilted, and somehow, it feels like the first big positive shift in their friendship in years.

Like somehow they've managed to lift the weight off of all the distance.


The six kids alone are enough to keep their hands full at Thanksgiving.

Marshall keeps trying to switch the tv from the parade to the football game; Ted's monitoring his turkey like he thinks something's going to happen to a twelve-pound bird in thirty seconds; and Lily keeps picking fights with him about the stuffing. All in all, Robin feels comfortable in it – the madhouse of too many people – and she takes the opportunity to sit and play with all of the kids.

Marvin's just entering the asshole adolescent territory, so he spends most of his time fiddling with a new video game or glowering at all of them, so she spends the time with the other kids – playing with puzzles and building lego structures and tracks for toy cars.

"How come we never see Aunt Robin, Mom?" Daisy says.

Lily crosses in from the kitchen, wiping her hands dry with a dish towel. "She's just really busy with work, honey, and she lives far from where we do."

Daisy clicks her tongue and tilts her head. "Okay."

Robin reaches out and brushes her hand across Daisy's head, and Lily moves to sit beside her. "You'll be seeing more of me, kiddo," Robin says. "Don't worry about that."

Lily leans against her. "You mean that, Aunt Robin?"

She smiles. "Yeah. I do."


After dinner comes the Mosby family tradition – everyone sitting down to a fifteen minute speech on the importance of animation – and, somehow, the Flatiron Building – before someone finally switches on It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. It's not something she's grown up with, but the kids are all excited for it – even Marvin, who manages to pull his headphones off for one second to watch – and she doesn't mind sitting with them.

It's crazy how fast the kids have grown up. All while she wasn't paying attention.

Ellie demands to sit next to her on the couch, so Marshall, Daisy, and Lucy cram into the other free seats on the sofa, and the others pull up spare chairs from the kitchen or camp out on the floor. Luke and Penny make little quippy comments at the beginning – we're too old for this now, dad, come on, someone says – but fall quiet somewhere nearly half an hour in.

It's a little late for the younger kids, and Ellie starts yawning and leaning her head against Robin's arm.

"Good Thanksgiving, Ted," Marshall whispers, and from her position on the couch, she can see the ghost of his smile.

"Ours is going to be better next year," Lily adds.

"Natch."

Ted scoffs. "Better than the Mosby Christmas miracle of '22? Uh, I don't think so."

"You guys are so weird," Penny says, rolling her eyes.

Ellie shushes them all.

"Yeah, guys," Robin says. "Shhh."

On the floor, Barney leans back onto his elbows and prods Ellie in the foot.

She giggles, and Robin can't help the small laugh that slips out of her.

His gaze falls on her then, lingering for a second longer than usual. There and gone again before she has a chance to know whether or not it was real, or whether or not she just wanted it to be.

Lily smiles at her. "Ellie's really sticking to you, huh?"

"Yeah," she says. "I guess she is."


When the movie's done and the kids are all meandering around, half-asleep, Ellie takes her by the hand and refuses to go to bed unless she reads her a story.

Barney's got his suit jacket off, the knot of his tie loosened, and he says, "You don't want my help, Ell?"

She shakes her head adamantly. "I see you all the time. I want Aunt Robin," she says, tugging on her hand.


The good-night routine seems fairly straightforward: there's teeth-brushing and reading a chapter or two of the latest book Ellie's devouring, and then, sleep.

Except Ellie keeps asking for other things, and saying that she needs to go to the bathroom or that she needs another glass of water because she's just so thirsty.

"You have to go sleep, Ellie," she says, and the kid practically pouts. "Come on, your dad'll kill me if I let you stay up any later than this."

There's a creak as the door opens then and Barney tiptoes in. "Hey," he says.

"Little goon's still awake," she says, and he laughs.

"Go to sleep, Ellie. You're never going to get up in time tomorrow morning for Uncle Ted's pancakes."

"Will you stay with me until I'm asleep?" she says. Barney's already climbing into bed beside her. Robin slips out on the other side to make room for the both of them, and retreats out into the hallway.

She catches the soft noise of him humming and Ellie's giggle just as she closes the door behind her.


They run into each other in the kitchen later.

The kids are all sleeping, and they've all stayed up another hour or so to polish off another few bottles of wine and to catch up on whatever it is they've missed in each other's lives recently. It's crazy to think that they used to hang out so much when now they're stuck to trying to force all of those smaller moments into major holidays. Thanksgiving at Lily's next year, Christmas at Ted's.

She's rinsing off some of the dirty dishes and loading the dishwasher when he comes up beside her. "Thanks," he says. "For what you've been doing for Ellie."

She shrugs. "It's nothing."

"It's not nothing. She really - " he says, haltingly. "I, uh, I really appreciate it."

She finishes loading up the dishes, pours in the detergent, and shuts the dishwasher as she sets it to run. "You going to bed?"

He doesn't answer right away, so she turns to the cabinet and pulls free two glasses.

"I'm going to have a drink," she says.

He takes a seat at the table, and she brings over the bottle of scotch and the glasses. She fills them about even and slides his over to him.

"Thanks."

Except now that they're sitting down together, she doesn't know what to say to him. She takes a sip of her drink and lets the liquor sit on her tongue.

"When do you have to go back to work?" he says.

"I took tomorrow off so that I could spend some more time with the kids and... everyone, so."

He hums, and they both get a little further into their drinks. She doesn't know what she was thinking.

"Do you ever think..." she begins, and he looks up at her.

"What?"

"You think that things could have ever been different?"

His expression darkens and she isn't sure if she's just made one of the typical big mistakes she's prone to making. Maybe they've gotten past this. Maybe asking those kinds of questions can lead to nowhere good.

"Why are you asking?"

She tilts her head, and drums her fingers against the glass. "I don't know. I was just thinking about it, I guess. If I hadn't worked so much, if we didn't fight so much... I mean, what was three years, right? In the scheme of things?"

He shrugs. "Maybe they had to work out the way they needed to. To get us to be ready for whatever we're supposed to be doing now."

"Maybe," she says. "I mean, for you, that's – you've changed a lot."

"So have you."

"Have I?"

She inches her chair closer to his. When she looks up at him, he doesn't look like he has any of the answers. He doesn't even look like he believes what he's saying. He just looks...tired.

"Yeah," she says, draining the rest of her drink.

"Scherbatsky, you're-"

"Sorry," she says. "It was a dumb question."

"Why are you asking?" he says, and it comes out sharp and nearly angry. "I mean, you're – you're happy now, aren't you? You have everything you worked for."

"I don't know. Maybe I just want to know – need to know – that it wasn't – that there wasn't anything else we could have done. That we really tried."

"It was three years, Robin. There wasn't exactly a magic fix sitting around and waiting for us to find it."

"It was longer than three years. It was – I don't know. It was longer than that."

He reaches for the bottle and refills their glasses.

"We loved each other a lot," he says. "Didn't we?"

She smiles. "Yeah," she says. "We did."

"So..." he says, taking another long sip. "Maybe that's all we could have done. And it still wouldn't have been enough."

She looks down into her drink. "Maybe."

She's close enough to him to reach out and touch him, and more than part of her desperately wants to. Maybe it isn't anything serious – just an impulse to convince herself that it wasn't her fault, that whatever happened to them would have happened to them regardless. That it wasn't because they didn't try hard enough. (How many times do you have to try, anyway, before it can finally count as 'enough'? And is that more or less than how many times you're supposed to try before it becomes sad? Before somebody thinks that it's a question of not learning from your mistakes?

She sets her hand on the table.

He tilts his head in the way that she remembers, the way that he does when he isn't quite sure whether he's got it figured out. "Why does it make a difference?"

She leans forward and her fingers brush against his.

"It doesn't, I guess. I was just... thinking about it."

"Yeah."

He finishes his drink and caps the bottle. The chair scrapes loudly against the tile as he stands and stretches. "I think I'm going to head up," he says.

"Okay."

He touches his hand to her shoulder. "You should too."

"Yeah."


He's halfway towards the stairs when she calls his name.

She's switched the lights off in the kitchen and the house is nearly all dark, except for the splashes of light from the hall nightlights Ted has plugged in to keep people from tripping on their way to the bathroom in the middle of the night.

"Yeah?" he whispers.

She crosses to him and stills. "Good night," she says. There's a long beat of silence and she decides to lean up and kiss him on the cheek. It's closer to the corner of his mouth than she planned for, but that's just because of how dark it is.

He takes a ragged breath, and she reaches up to straighten his shirt collar. (This isn't her anymore. This isn't supposed to be her anymore.

They've moved past this.)

"Robin," he whispers.

And she can't think about what it is she's doing so she just doesn't. Just moves her hands up from adjusting his collar to cupping his face, and then she's drawing him in and kissing him once. It's soft and tender, and she can feel how tense he is right now, how rigid and still he's keeping himself.

"Good night," she says.

"Good night," he says.

And then he's leaning in and kissing her again, his hands burying into her hair. And this is not a good night kiss. It's everything she remembers about them both – explosive and heated and halfway to desperate, wet and open-mouthed. He angles his head, and deepens the kiss, and she just lets it run on because she knows the moment they let it end means reality will set in again, means that they will still be divorced, that they are just going through the motions of a failed relationship because she doesn't know how to let things go.

She doesn't know how to let this go.

He pulls away and she doesn't say anything, just leans her forehead against his and tries to catch her breath.

"Robin," he says, his voice catching on the first syllable. "Robin, what - "

She kisses him. A small, chaste thing. "Good night."


In the morning, Lily insists on dragging her to Starbucks to get coffee for everyone. The younger kids have been up since seven or so, and her head is still at a low-grade ache so she agrees.

When they pull into the parking lot, Lily switches off the engine and just sits there.

She's yawning, and reaches for the door handle when Lily switches on the child-proof locks. "What the hell, aren't we going to get coffee?"

"We will, but we need to talk."

"You're kidnapping me?"

Lily waves her hand. "Kidnapping shmidnapping. I saw you and Barney last night."

Robin freezes. "Lily, I don't know what you think you saw, but..."

"I was coming downstairs for a glass of water."

She sags against the seat and waits for the slew of angry comments, the litany of things that Robin has heard a thousand times before. Lily's become one of her dearest friends over the years, but she's hardly close to being subtle.

"Well?" Robin says.

Lily beats her hands once against the steering wheel. "Well, what?"

"Isn't this usually where your lecture goes? Let's have it."

She huffs. "I'm not going to lecture you, Robin. But do you know what you're doing here?"

No. She has absolutely no idea what she's doing. All she knows is that somehow she keeps coming back to this same juncture in her life, and if she were the kind of person to believe in signs the way that Ted does, well, there must be something here that she's not getting.

After all, it's not like they're young anymore. Ted has roots, and so does Barney, for that matter, and she's the only one out of the whole group that seems to be floating aimlessly just like before.

"No," she answers. "I don't."

"What even are you hoping to find? Nothing good can come from this."

"Don't you think I know that? I wasn't planning to do it. It just kind of happened."

Lily blows out a long breath. "Robin, at some point, you're going to have to stop using Ted and Barney to figure out what you want. Someone's going to get hurt. Someone always gets hurt."

"Thanks," she snaps. "I'm just – I'm trying to figure it out, okay?"

"It's Ted and Barney," Lily says. "You think you'll ever manage to figure it out?"

"I don't know," she says.


Ted tells her he loves her two weeks before Christmas.

It's one of the first snows of the unseasonably warm winter, and they're shopping for presents for the kids together and somewhere in the middle of the aisle of Barbie dolls in Target, of all places, Ted just says, "I love you, Robin." (She thinks she even hears a fellow shopper stop and gasp.)

She has a mermaid Barbie in one hand and a Disney Princess doll in the other, and she sets them both down in the cart.

"Don't you have anything you want to say to me?" he says.

She feels her stomach in her throat, and she knew that it was coming – it's Ted; of course she knew it was coming – but it still hits her harder than she'd thought. In the scheme of things – this latest round – they haven't been dating for that long. Not counting the other runs, and not counting all of the times in-between then when they weren't dating and were just consistently missing each other's timing.

He slings an arm around her shoulders and presses a quick kiss to her mouth.

"Come on, you can't tell me that this is a surprise. Especially not after I brought that blue French horn for you."

She shakes her head. "We should head over to electronics, and pick up Luke that game he's been asking about for weeks."

"Robin?"

"Yeah."

"That's it? You're – that's all you're going to say?"

"I think electronics is over by the furniture?"

His face falls, but he doesn't say anything else. Just folds up the circular and starts wheeling the cart in that direction.


It probably makes her an awful girlfriend.

(It does.)

That's the thing she forgot about being with Ted in all of her questioning and all of her doubt and all of the time and distance she put between herself then and the memory of being with him (even further back then). Being loved by Ted has so much weight to it; it's not enough that they're dating, it's never enough that she's in this relationship, that she wants to be with him.

Ted needs the future.

He needs to know that everything she does matches his level, that she loves him as much as he loves her (and not later, but now, always right now). He needs the whole picture – family, wife, house, kids – and she's never been comfortable being part of someone else's picture. She has her own. She is her own.

And she can't lie about this. It isn't her.

She's always been someone who figured things out on the fly, and sometimes the gravity of his desire to put everything into his neat little story makes her skin itch. She isn't a figure in someone else's story; she isn't even a story; she's bigger than that, and she's always known that about herself. Even if it wasn't true, she's always believed that about herself.

And she's loved Ted, and fallen out of love with Ted, and begun and ended a thousand different relationships with him. And none of them were ever the same. And this one isn't the same as the last time they did this.

Part of her envies that in him – his ability to put everything together into a story means that their endings before were never endings, just speed bumps.

But Robin's always been a stop-and-start kind of girl. She knows how sometimes you just have to destroy everything and start all over again.

She's used to it.


That night, over dinner, he drops the real bomb he was holding: "I want you to move in with me."

Her fork freezes over her lasagna. "What?"

"After everything that's happened in the past few years, after Tracy, I've just realized how easy it is to forget how little time we all have. And to live our lives to the fullest at every available moment. And I love you, and I want to spend every available moment that I have with you with you. The kids love you and I want you to move in with me. With us."

"Ted," she says.

"I know it'll be a change. Don't think that I don't know that, but at least promise me that you'll think about it."

She tries a smile, setting her fork down against her plate. "I'll try."


It's a renegotiation year for her employment contract this year, and when she has her meeting with the senior executives, they offer her an extension on her contract as anchor with a new stipulation that would give her senior managerial duties over the foreign press offices.

It's a promotion – a small one – but one that comes with more travel and more oversight and a slight pay bump.

They ask her to provide her answer within two weeks.


When she tells Ted about it, he says, "Well, what does this mean for us?"

"Well," she says, "I'll be traveling more for work, but it's a … pretty big deal for me, Ted. It means they want to give me more responsibility, that I'm going to be long-term here."

He frowns. "But, I mean – are you really considering it?"

"Yeah," she says, "Of course I am! Why wouldn't I be?"

"I thought you came back to New York because you wanted to feel settled."

She rubs at her eyes. "I don't want another fight, Ted."

"I'm not trying to pick a fight. I just thought – you said that part of the reason why you came back to New York was because you wanted to have a life. And you're seriously thinking about taking that job?"

"Yeah," she says. "I am."

He huffs out a breath and leans back in his chair.

"Okay," he says. "Okay."


She gets a text a week later from Barney -

i got rangers tix thru work. they're playing the canucks. you want?

Vancouver's been playing like shit recently, but she's got three jerseys in her closet so she texts him back immediately.

is this a serious question?, she writes.

just thought i'd check.

how much do i owe you for the tickets?

i got them through work scherbatsky. on the house.

well for the thought then... let me treat you to dinner afterward

She doesn't get his answer until nearly an hour later.

sure.


Vancouver loses, but only by one goal and in OT, so she's still chalking it up as a win.

They end up at this tiny hole-in-the-wall Italian place that isn't that far from the Garden. They get beers – it's hard to go wrong with beer – and pizza. She can see the relief on his face when they walk in and get a half-pie to split. After all, there's getting something to eat and then there's getting dinner. And, to be perfectly honest, she's not sure which one she meant when she invited him in the first place.

"Sorry Vancouver lost," he says, and she folds her slice and takes an enormous bite.

"This isn't a good season for them. At least they got a point."

He nods vacantly, and takes a bite of his own pizza. Sauce and grease drip wetly onto the thin paper plates. "I can't stay too late," he says.

"I know."

He's watching her out of the corner of his eye as he works through his few slices. She sets hers down and takes a swallow of her beer.

"Hey," she says, "did I tell you that I got a promotion?"

"That's great!" he says, wiping his hands on a napkin before lifting it, "High five!"

It seems even sillier now than it did twenty years ago, but it's his thing and she's missed him so she high-fives him and wonders how it came to be so many years since they've done this together. "They've given me a lot more responsibility over the foreign offices, so I'll be traveling a lot more, but I think it's a really great opportunity..."

He swallows hard, and she watches the bob of his adam's apple. "Have you talked to Ted about it?"

"Yeah," she says.

"And he's okay – you guys are going to be okay with it?"

She takes another swallow of her beer. "I don't know, honestly."

There's no change in his look, no shift in the air between them. He's holding himself back a little and she can sense that, and it's not that she doesn't understand – sometimes maybe three times on the ride that got you sick is enough – but she hadn't expected it. Not from him. (Wasn't he once the one person who could never say no to her?

Wasn't he once the one person who believed in her without any follow-up questions? Without qualifying it?

Wasn't he once the one person who understood her more than she had understood herself? And isn't that why she ran?)

"I'm really happy for you, Scherbatsky," he says, knocking his side against hers. "You're getting everything you worked for. You deserve it."

She smiles. "I have to give them my decision on Tuesday."

"You're going to take it, right?"

She hums. "I don't know how comfortable Ted is with all the travel," she says. "He wants...the big picture."

Barney snorts. "Yeah, but it's not his life." His voice grows quiet then as he adds, "Not everything you have to do has to make him happy. You're different people."

"I know," she says. A long beat stretches and she takes another bite of her pizza. "Plus I'd have to figure out what to do with my dogs."

He smiles. "Ellie'd probably take one off your hands. Marshall and Lily would probably take the other one if you asked them."

"Maybe."

He starts clearing up the loose napkins and their garbage on top of his own cleared set of plates. "You done?" he says.

She nods, wiping her mouth before crumpling up the napkin and adding it to the pile. He takes the whole stack and dumps it in the nearby trash can, and heads out into the brisk wintry air.

"Let's walk," she says, and he doesn't say no.

She links his arm around his and they head north.


"I've missed this," she says, as they're standing in the street, waiting for the cars to pass. Her head touches his shoulder. "You."

She can see the tight line of his jaw from here, can feel the way he's carrying tension in his shoulders and his neck. He's fighting himself about something, and part of her desperately wants to know about what.

"Robin, you're - "

The cars pass and they move again. "I'm what?"

He laughs, a short, bitter noise. "We're doing this again?"

"We're not doing anything again, but it's just – you don't want to know?"

"Know what?"

"Why we didn't work? Why it fell apart?"

He runs a hand through his hair. "And what do you do when you find out why?"

She slows her pace and he matches her. It starts to flurry.

"I don't think I was fair to you," she says. "And I think it took me twenty years to figure that out."

He shrugs. "You didn't need to be. I was an asshole."

She laughs. "Maybe. So was I."

"Maybe we just fell apart," he says. "It doesn't have to mean anything greater than that. We tried, and it didn't work out."

She steps a little closer into his space. "You were – you were the only person that was there for me, no matter what."

He snorts. "That's not true, and you know it."

"And I never..."

"Don't feel guilty about it," he says. "It was years ago, and you were just as good to me, so. You have nothing to feel... weird about."

She reaches up and cups his cheek. He stays perfectly still, and when he looks down at her, his expression isn't one she remembers. Unreadable in its own way.

"Robin," he says, voice low with warning.

She doesn't listen.

(She never listens.)

She kisses him, slow and soft in the way they never were, and just pulls away and lets the moment linger in the air. Her hands move down to pull at his tie, and he swallows hard.

"It's just... a goodbye kiss," she says. "That's all."

"You're not leaving yet."

"Well, then, maybe for the goodbye we didn't have from before. You – you can't believe how much I missed you."

He takes a breath and the noise is harsh and ragged and part of her thrills at hearing it. She's supposed to be over this, isn't she? Infidelity is for people who don't have learning curves and growth arcs; it's for people in their thirties and forties; it's certainly not for people who are in their fifties and are supposed to know better.

She has receipts for her progress somewhere. She's sure of it.

"Robin," he says, "what do you want?"

And the easy answer is that she wants this – and maybe this comes with Ted and maybe it doesn't, but she wants this feeling. It isn't just that she's wanted, but that she's comfortable.

She wants to finally be comfortable with someone.

And she can't decide (she could never decide) who that's with.

Instead, she leans up and kisses him again. This time, she puts her whole body into it, leaning into him. And when his hands move to her back, she deepens the kiss and feels him respond. His hands come up to brush against her ear, the line of her jaw, and she groans into his mouth; she had forgotten how great a kisser he is.

He pulls away first. "Are you taking the job?"

She hums. "I think I am."

They stay like that for another moment, and neither of them say anything more.


She takes the job.

(When she tells Ted, he pulls her into his home office wearing that look of disappointment that she's come to recognize a few times over the years.

He paces, and he says, i thought you came back to new york because you wanted to start building a life. i thought you came back to new york so - i thought we were going to try to make this work.

can't it work with me taking this job?

He doesn't answer right away. this isn't just – it can't be the way that it was before. i have a family now.

i know that.

robin you didn't even want to come and talk about what it would mean before you took it?

it's not your decision to make, ted. this job means … everything to me.

He stills, and that's the moment she realizes that was the wrong thing to say.


It's a mutual break.

Both of them pretend they haven't felt it coming for weeks.


She spends a year in Europe – misses a Thanksgiving but manages to fly in for Christmas at Ted's. The workload is much more than they told her it was going to be, and she can feel the stress driving her nuts, but it's worth it most of the time.

She Skypes Marshall, Lily, and the kids whenever she can; she and Ted are still in that weird state where they haven't climbed back to being the regular friends they were, but are going through the motions; and Barney she talks to on occasion when their work schedules happen to line up.

He always asks her the same questions, and she gives the same answers.

It's a good thing, the distance. That's what she has to keep telling herself. She hasn't gotten the chance to be her own person in a long while, and the break is good; the solitude is good; what she's always needed maybe more than a kick in the ass is time to figure herself out.


Barney says, how're you doing over there

And she always wants to answer i miss you (she doesn't).


She runs into him at O'Hare of all places.

She's on a layover on her way to San Francisco for a meeting before heading to Japan; he's got a connecting flight to Texas for a meeting for work.

She's got a coffee in her hand, fiddling with all kinds of foreign money in her purse when he calls her name.

She nearly splashes the coffee on herself.

He offers to pay and she gives him a couple of European coins to take back to Ellie.

"I thought you were in France for a couple more months," he says.

She shrugs and stirs her coffee for want of something else to do. "Ad sales meeting got pushed up because the – you don't care."

He gives a rueful smile.

"Well, how've you been? How's Ellie? You ready for your first Christmas?"

"It's not really Christmas if they've got to get hotel rooms, right?"

"You've got a tiny apartment. Besides, it's a big deal. You know how seriously Lily and Ted take this kind of thing."

"I think you mean just Ted."

She laughs. "Yeah. Have you started planning your menu yet? I'm sure he's got some thoughts on how to make it better."

"He wants to see the first draft so he can make his comments."

She takes a sip of her coffee when it still isn't cool enough and scalds the tip of her tongue.

"How long's your trip?"

He shrugs. "It's a preliminary consulting meeting so I'm just going to Houston to meet with some of the board, introduce myself." He drums his fingers against the side of the cup. "I don't like to leave Ellie alone for long."

Robin raises her eyebrows. "She's..."

"With my mom, I mean."

"Oh, right."

A long beat passes and she watches all the other travelers lounging around, waiting to be heading somewhere again. Funny the way airports can seem like limbo sometimes. No sense of time, no place to go, and with dozens of people that know nothing about where they are apart from the fact that it's supposed to get them somewhere else.

God, she sounds halfway delirious.

"Robin," he says, "I've got to ask you something."

"Okay..." she says.

"Why do you keep – over the holidays, when you keep – why do you – what are we doing?"

"We're not doing anything," she says.

"Okay," he says.

"I'm just – I'm trying to clear my head. I'm trying to figure out what I'm supposed to be doing, you know? I thought that maybe it was Ted, that I had missed a train I was supposed to catch and that if I didn't do it now, I'd never know, you know? And it turned out to be a mistake."

"And you know what you're doing now?"

She hums. "Yeah. I think I do."

"Mm. Okay."

The time ticks away and he has to head over to his gate to board, so they hug like friends do and she doesn't hold him there for a beat longer than necessary.

She watches him walk away towards his gate and doesn't read any more into it than that.

Honest.


Christmas at Lily's '33 becomes one of the memorable ones for a totally different reason.

Somewhere between the pouring of eggnog and Marshall spiking it a little more than necessary, Ted says, "The kids and I are moving to Chicago."

Lily freezes with her ladle over the cup. "What?"

Ted smiles. "I got offered a job out there, the kids are about to start college, and... I don't know, it seems like time for a fresh start, don't you think?"

Lily's already tearing up and she moves in to embrace Ted. "When are you moving? Not for a while?"

"I'm supposed to start in April, and they've got a relo company all slated to help me move, so it shouldn't be too much of a hassle. And besides, I think that – with everything that happened with Tracy – maybe it's time for me to let go of that house."

Marshall goes to embrace him as well with a melodramatic sniffle, and then Ted's laughing and everyone's sad-cheerful in that way that going away parties always are.

Ted comes to her last, and she gives him a big hug.

"This isn't the last of Teddy Westside, Robin," he says, and she laughs.

"Good."


It's the biggest Christmas Lily's ever planned, and the news of Ted's move only makes it bigger. She really spikes the eggnog and the kids get a movie and an early bedtime, plus there's nonstop Christmas music and tree decorating and enough cookies for the entire neighborhood. It doesn't help that every time she sees Ted, she starts sniffling.

She forgets that sometimes – just how long Ted, Marshall, and Lily have known each other, and just how little time they've spent apart.

She and Barney hover around the celebration, but there's something about this that feels like it belongs to the three of them.

"Maybe Chicago is where I was supposed to end up all along," he says.

"I don't think maybe there's ever one place anyone's supposed to end up," Lily says. "I think you just find yourself where you're supposed to be."

"Yeah," Barney says, "so enjoy your terrible 'pizza.'"

Ted laughs.


Christmas Eve and the kids are all asleep – Luke and Penny having opened their presents already in the Mosby family tradition – and they're all sitting and having a drink. It feels too close to a last goodbye to be comfortable, and Nat King Cole is still softly singing about Jack Frost in the background.

Lily's got eggnog for herself, Marshall's nursing a beer, and the rest of them have scotch. No one's said anything in the last ten minutes.

"You think you're going to be happy in Chicago?" Lily says.

Ted takes a long sip of his drink. "Yeah. I think it's time for a change. When I was telling the kids the whole story, it just became so clear that New York was – New York was us, in our twenties and thirties, trying to figure stuff out. And this house was what I had with Tracy, and I'm just not in those places anymore. I'm not the same Ted. I never thought I'd say this but I think New York was a place I outgrew, you know?"

Marshall nods. "We're still going to miss you, though."

"Yeah, you'll come back for Thanksgiving and Christmas, right?"

"Of course! I'm not going to just drop you guys."

"Aw, group hug, guys, come in here," Marshall booms, and then they all descend on Ted.

"Really, guys, I'm not leaving for a couple of months," he says, clapping a hand to Barney's back.

Robin raises her glass. "To the best friends anyone could ask for."

They all clink their glasses.


She finds Barney sitting on the porch stoop later, fishing a lighter out of his jacket pocket. "I'm trying to quit," he says, mumbling around it, "but every once in a while..."

She laughs. "Got an extra?"

"I thought you quit," he says.

"Just this one. Come on."

Their fingers brush as she takes it from him. He flicks open the lighter and lights his own, and holds it open for her to light hers.

It's just after one, and it's freezing and beginning to snow.

"When are you flying out?" he says.

"I have a flight out on the 27th."

"Italy?"

She hums. "Germany. For all the EU conferences."

They watch the snow fall after that and smoke their cigarettes down in silence.

"You should call me when you're back in town," he says.

"Okay."

He disappears inside the house first, and she stays out for a moment, just enjoying the chill air and the snow falling.

It's almost enough to make her believe in magic.


She's in and out of Europe over the next few weeks, and misses out on most of Ted's packing. He's renting a unit in Chicago until he can find a condo, and Robin mostly hears about it secondhand from Lily and Marshall, who are apparently scoring a ton of furniture out of this deal.

She even calls him once or twice, but he doesn't answer, and she doesn't leave a voicemail.

This isn't how everything was supposed to go.

Ted was supposed to find the love of his life and be happy with her. He was supposed to be settled.


She sends him a card, postmarked from Munich.

hope you find everything you're looking for in chicago.

robin


It takes her six months to feel comfortable in her new position. It's a lot more travel than they initially told her it would be – and a lot more responsibility – but she's getting the chance to shape the news instead of just tell it. Hunt the stories and contribute to the structures that keep the channel running. It's the first time she ever feels that she's building something lasting.

Each time she flies back to New York, she feels a little more discombobulated, further disconnected from the domesticity that Marshall, Lily, and Ted keep proselytzing to her. But it's the first time that she's honestly starting to believe that she's okay with it. It isn't a question of her not being enough, or that she hasn't been looking for it, or that she doesn't deserve it; maybe it took her too many years but she's finally come to believe that maybe her friends don't understand that she wants different things.

And maybe that's okay.

She still loves them, anyway.


(Kids, this is the story of how I met your father. He was the friend of my first boyfriend in New York.

This is the story of how we messed it up a whole lot of times. Sometimes it was his fault. Sometimes it was my fault.

This is the story of second – or fifth – chances.

I don't know if I believe that there's one person out there for everyone the way your Uncle Ted does, but some days, I think that he could be that person for me.)


Her return flight's a Wednesday morning red-eye. She's terrible at figuring out how to combat the jet lag – she loves to eat too much to skip her meals, and she can't sleep on the plane – so by the time she manages to catch a cab, she's so exhausted she feels like she's hallucinating being conscious.

She calls him.

"Robin? What's going on?"

"Can you meet me?"

"Yeah. Give me like twenty minutes."


It isn't blue French horns or declarations of love or balcony scenes from the noisy street to her third-floor walk-up apartment. Sometimes it's just someone standing in front of your door because you asked him to be there.

"Hey," he says, wheezing a little, "you moved into a walk-up? What, do you hate yourself or something?"

She laughs.

"Hey," she says.

"Hey."

She reaches for him, and kisses him and leads him into her apartment.


They don't sleep together. Not then.

(She takes like a twelve hour nap first.)


It isn't a new beginning. It isn't even an old one.

It's just some days you wake up and things start to make sense in the way that hindsight works, and certain mistakes don't look like mistakes anymore, and other decisions start to look like mistakes. It's correction of course. Nothing more, nothing less.

When she wakes up, he's sitting beside her on the bed, looking rumpled and fairly uncomfortable.

"Hey," she mumbles, blinking up at him sleepily. "You're still here."

His jaw works for a second before he answers. "Yeah."

She lets out a long breath, rolling over onto her stomach. "You're always here when I need you," she says, drifting back to sleep. "I didn't think you were."

She tugs at the comforter and covers herself with a corner.

"You have enough space?" she asks.

He laughs. A small sound. "Yeah. I have enough space."

She reaches back and finds his hand with her own. "Good."


The first night she spends at Barney's, he takes her back into his bedroom – decorated less ostentatiously than the last one – and they get ready for bed.

They lie there next to each other in silence for several minutes, and it's when he lets out a quiet laugh that she realizes just how much they've both got nerves about this. It's been so many years, and they've both made so many mistakes.

But when she kisses him, it almost feels like there haven't been so many years.

And when he kisses her back, it feels just as it always did – a little confusing, dizzying, and addictive. His hands are warm when they slide up her arms as he deepens the kiss, and she groans. It's a quiet noise, but this is who they are now – quieter people, and maybe even a quieter love.

She licks up into his mouth and he chuckles, and she forgets how much she loved this – how much they were good for each other, and good at figuring out each other. He sucks her bottom lip between his, and pulls, and she scratches her nails against his back in retaliation.

And when he pushes down her shorts and underwear, and slips his mouth down between her legs, she stutters his name out in the middle of a shaky laugh.

Oh, yes, she's missed this.


Christmas at Lily's '35 is when the news comes out.

Ellie's fifteen and effusive on top of being smart and confident, and is in the middle of talking about a new play that she's trying to write – on a theater kick, the kid is, after Robin took her to see one Broadway play – when she says that she wants Barney and Robin to read for the parts whenever she finishes writing it.

Lily coos. "Honey, that's great!"

And Ellie says, "Yeah, and Robin's over all of the time anyway so sometimes I get her to test a line or two for me when I'm brushing my teeth."

Marshall's sliding a tray of sugar cookies into the oven and says, "Say that again?"

"Yeah, I see Robin all of the time so whenever she isn't doing anything, I like to get her to read some of the scenes. Just to hear how they sound, you know?"

"You ought to go have a cookie, Ell," Lily says. "And talk to your Uncle Ted about that. He loves that kind of stuff."

Ellie shrugs and heads out into the foyer while Lily and Marshall descend on her like zombies.

"How could you not tell me?" Lily says, punctuating each word with a smack in the arm.

She shrugs. "It kind of just...happened."

"It happened," Lily repeats.

"Yeah."

"That's the whole story?"

"Yeah. I swear."

Barney smiles at her from the living room, and she hides a grin. Lily reaches for her wine glass and refills it.

"You sure this time?" she says. "I mean, I don't want you to get hurt again."

"I know, Lily," she says. "And I appreciate it, but I think I know what I'm doing here. For once."


So that's it:

she doesn't have a more impressive epic like Ted does, or a cute one- or three-liner like Lily and Marshall do, but her story is still her own.

Maybe it's not about the where and the how, and the way that things unfolded to make things happen.

Maybe it's enough that when she's staying in New York, she wakes up next to him and watches him as he goes through the morning routine with Ellie; maybe it's enough that whenever she's abroad working, and Ellie has off from school, they come to see her and go sightseeing; maybe it's enough to have a life full of travel and adventure and friendship and love without needing to say that she's tied down to any place; maybe it's enough to know that planting roots can sometimes be just about people, and not in a way that means giving everything up.

Maybe it's enough that when Barney says i'd follow you anywhere, she believes it.


Sometimes the ending justifies the telling, doesn't it?