It is sometime after he has made her toes curl and her fingers clench whitely on the sheets that she says, "Thank you."
"No, thank you," he says, and she can hear the smirk in his voice while he stretches his long, slender body next to hers, close but not touching. He lies on his side, propped on his elbow, and he is watching her in the dimness of the streetlights with a curiously intent expression.
"No. Thank you for the corsage."
"Oh. No problem. It was a necessary accessory."
She lies silently for a moment, staring at the patterns of light on the ceiling. She always gets cold after she comes, and she has pulled the sheet and blanket up to her waist. Some boyfriend in college made her believe that it's rude to hide your breasts from someone who just went down on you, but she's cold, and she is clutching the edge of the blanket and the folded over sheet like they are the key to saving a life.
It is the second time he's been in her bed since the mess with Ted, and she still refuses to think too much about it. Since it's Barney, she hasn't been too worried about taking what she needs. He won't get hurt. If anything, she'll be the one who gets hurt, because she was the one who started crying when he gave her a corsage for prom. And she was the one who sat uneasily next to him at the bar, hoping no one noticed how much she liked him lazily draping his arm along the back of the booth seat. She had somehow, somewhere along the way become so attuned to his presence that she imagined at that moment that she could feel the heat from his body radiating across her shoulders, and she found herself sort of pretending that they were a couple. Just a little.
She shivers a little. The landlord has turned off the heat, but spring hasn't moved to summer yet, and the window is open just a crack.
"Are you cold?" Barney asks in a low voice, a gentle voice mostly devoid of his idiosyncratic intonations.
She stirs and stretches her legs a little, and realizes he's just been watching her for almost five minutes, maybe ten, without a word or a touch. "Yeah, I'm a little cold."
He twitches the covers up over them both, and then takes her into his arms, and she lets him. And it's strange. He smells like Barney--an expensive shaving soap ("Hand-milled by Tibetan Trappists. Yes--the two great monks that monk great together."), an even more expensive shampoo ("It's the best. It's so good, it doesn't even have a name."), and the expensive linen spray that his laundress uses on his clothes ("Yes, I have a laundress. Dry cleaning is so twentieth century."). He also smells like Robin, like rather intimate areas of Robin, in fact, and while that's wrong on so many levels because she's not sure that she trusts Barney enough for that kind of stuff to be happening, it has happened.
Robin remembers the first date with Ted and how it was easy to slip into that zone with him, the dating zone, the "I'm kissing you and it's normal" zone. It was too easy, in fact, and that was one of the reasons she'd built the Great Wall of Friendship between them. If she had kissed Ted for five more minutes on that first date, she would have blinked and found herself married, pregnant and living in the suburbs by now. Lily and Marshall's two-month wedding ramp-up would have seemed like nothing compared to how fast Ted would have had her in the lithotomy position, pushing out little Tedlings.
And she doesn't want that because she wants a career, true, but she also doesn't want that because she doesn't want to be comfortable. She could have been lead anchor in Iowa City three years ago if she were into comfort. Comfort is not taking the shitty job in the big market. Comfort is having one small dog, because it's practical. Comfort is doing the easy thing.
Comfort is a slow death in a big house, Robin thinks, and then wonders how her mother got into her head just then.
There's a tear about to spill, and Robin twists away from Barney because the last thing she wants to do is cry on his chest. That would not be the thing that Barney and Robin are about. Barney and Robin are about sharing a cab up-town, while she tells him the story of kissing Lily in the ladies' room just to see his eyes light up, just to hear what insane thing he'll say. Barney and Robin are about having a glass of port as a nightcap so he can tell her about his legendary exploits as an undercover turtle. Barney and Robin are supposed to be about hooking up just once, just because Robin is feeling a little vengeful about Ted, and because Barney is an opportunist... Barney and Robin are not supposed to be about calling each other the next day, even though it was totally just a friendly call to let the other know that the laser tag place is closing down. Barney and Robin are not supposed to be about hooking up a second time, and they are certainly not about having a 2 AM conversation with tears.
She isn't sure if Barney is being an insensitive ass or the kindest person she's ever met when he doesn't comment on the sob that follows.
Robin lies very still and concentrates very hard, and there aren't any more tears and there aren't any more sobs. After a few minutes, with most of her voice control back, she says, "Has it occurred to you that we're both side-kicks?"
"What?" He sounds startled, and he jumps a little, like maybe he was falling asleep and she interrupted it. Well, that explains the not-noticing of the crying, she thinks.
"Barney and Robin. You're Fred Flintstone's side-kick. I'm Batman's side-kick."
He starts laughing. "That's awesome, Boy-Wonder. How long have you been worrying about this?"
"I haven't been worrying about it."
"Why do you think I've been worrying about it?"
"Because you brought it up at 2 AM."
"The other night we talked--" She stops herself from saying, "--until dawn."
"We didn't just talk, Scherbatsky. Now, really. How long?"
"It just came to me."
"Did it? Because to me it sounds like you think you're second banana. Now, if you're feeling second banana to Lily and Marshall, that's cool, because for the next two months, they're the masters of a three-ring circus and we are their dancing monkey-bears. But if this is about Ted--"
"It's not about Ted," she says.
"--Then I take extreme offense, because I am not Ted's side-kick. If anything, Ted is my side-kick. The Sancho Panza to my Don Quixote."
"Ooooh-kay," says Robin. "I didn't realize that I opened such a gigantic can of worms here..."
"Didn't you?" He's all Barney again, she notices. He's taken one arm away from her to make gesticulations. But when she doesn't respond, the arm comes back down, and he rests his palm on her naked hip. Suddenly, the ranting mode is off, and he's nuzzling her neck.
"Barney," she says.
"Mmm," he says through a mouthful of her.
"Promise me something."
He takes his mouth off her ear. "Uhm."
"Promise me that we'll always be friends."
There's silence for a moment, until he says, "You mean, 'promise me that we'll always be friends, after this is over and I move on to someone else.'"
Robin doesn't want to say it out loud, but yes, that's what she means. Barney's fingers are locked on her hip like a vise. They don't hurt her, but they're there. He's tense.
"You mean," Barney says, "'promise me that we'll still be friends when I move on to Ted.'"
Robin realized some time ago that Barney is still the smart, sensitive kid who wanted to join the Peace Corps. The fact that he uses the smarts and the sensitivity in service of his pursuit of pleasure doesn't negate those things. She is sorry for hurting him; at the same time, she doesn't believe the hurt can last. Brutal honesty is called for.
"It seems inevitable," she says. "I'll be mad at him for a while, and who knows, maybe he'll find someone before... but if he doesn't. Well. He didn't make that mistake on his own."
"Oh, yeah," Barney says, and his fingers relax and leave her hip one by one until he's not touching her at all anymore. "You can't blame him entirely. You were the one who had a 2 AM juicing emergency."
Brutal honesty, Scherbatsky, she reminds herself. She takes a deep breath. "Yeah." She reaches for him, draws him in for a kiss, and Barney, opportunistic hedonist that he is, is into it. For a bit. But the kiss ends, and instead of going into the next move, he slides out of bed.
He finds his socks and puts them on. He locates his underwear at the foot of the bed, puts that on, and stands before her in socks and underwear. The street lamps highlight his nose, the line from his forehead to cheekbone, and leave his eyes in shadow.
"I promise," he says. "If that's what you want, I'll promise."
"What's wrong? Why are you leaving?" She sits up.
He goes to the closet and takes his shirt from the padded hanger he'd stolen from her earlier. "Look," he says, sliding his arms into the shirt. "If I stay tonight, I'll stay another night. And if I stay another night, we will have done this for three nights. And then it will be a habit. And that's not gonna work, if you want me to promise that we'll always be friends." He buttons the shirt, and sits down on the edge of the bed with his pants in hand.
"I guess..." Robin says, and she's ashamed it comes out in a little girl voice, but she can't take it back.
Barney leans forward and does the brotherly forehead kiss. He's extraordinarily good at it. "You know I'm right."
She's actually not sure, not in this moment. She was counting on him being here tonight, and really, the next one, too. He was right, it'd become a habit. But would that be so bad?
Well, maybe not for her. Maybe she was wrong before, and she isn't the only one who can get hurt here.
"Thank you," she says, but she waits to say it until the door is shut and Barney is gone. She lies back down and stares at the streetlamps until they become a blur and then the darkness of sleep.