Title: The Distraction Reaction (3/3)
Characters: The Gang, Barney/Robin, Ted/Stella, Marshall/Lily
Word Count: 7,582
Disclaimer: Not mine. -sniff-
Spoilers: Takes place three days after 4x02, "The Best Burger in New York." Spoilers up until then!
Summary: As far as defensive reactions went, The Distraction Reaction was, decidedly, the least effective. The equivalent to throwing the dog a bone when you had a sirloin steak in-hand, any idiot could have told her that it just wasn't going to work out.
Author's Notes: The conclusion! Tis here! This was a blast to write. -grin- AU from 4x03. Still newish to the fandom and still no beta, so any concrit would be more than welcome. Thanks everybody for your support and time!
FIVE DAYS LATER (PARTY NIGHT)
Lily was a machine.
A pastry-making, chip and dip setting, streamer hanging machine.
The end result had been a little terrifying. Over the span of ten wonderful and horrific hours the apartment had been transformed. There were streamers on every rafter, glittery, stringy things hanging from the ceiling and an abundance of party-hats. Oh, and Marshall's wife had become a she-demon the likes of which Jaba the Hutt had nightmares about.
"Don't touch that!"
Ted yanked his hand away from the bowl of chips enticingly displayed on their coffee table. "But, I –"
Lily snorted and Marshall almost thought he saw steam come out of her flaring nostrils. "Not. Until. Robin's. Here."
Ted held his hands up in surrender and slowly backed away from the finger-food.
Parties took a lot out of Lily. Specifically, they took out her goodness and love for mankind.
Marshall, however, was used to this. Prepared as he was, he stood meekly in a corner with his head lowered in submission so that the Lily party-demon would overlook him as a non-threat to the perfect pre-party atmosphere.
Ted, after his first brief encounter, mimicked him, inching closer and whispering, "What's wrong with Lily?"
Marshall shook his head. "That's not Lily."
Ted raised an eyebrow.
"That's the Lily party-demon."
"Oh," Ted nodded. "Gotcha." With that he joined Marshall in his calm, meek, and not at all disruptive vigil.
As for Barney… Well, there wasn't much happening with Barney.
He was sitting dejectedly on the couch, staring at his hands, and looking pretty miserable all-around.
Of course it was obvious as to why, which anybody with a half a brain could see. Except for maybe Ted, whose brain was too busy being conflicted with doubt and guilt involving Stella to notice.
The woman that Barney loved was about to go to California, maybe forever, and he didn't imagine that there was anything he could do about it. Of course there was something he could do, but Barney never would, due to his various attachment issues and deluded perception of god-like awesomeness.
Marshall resisted the urge to huff in annoyance. Between Barney and Robin and Ted and Stella, it was like high school drama club all over again. Except with fewer pimples. (Acne had sucked, big time.)
Two minutes to seven Lily hurled herself out of the kitchen and bustled over to the boys in the corner. "In front of the door."
Marshall and Ted sent each other a nervous glance.
They scurried in the front of the door.
Lily stomped over to Barney, her tone gentling slightly as she neared him. "Barney, sweetie?"
Barney raised his head and proceeded to look forlorn.
"Honey, I know that you're hurting right now and that the last thing you want to do is pretend to be happy."
Barney nodded his head miserably at Lily.
"But you know what, Barney?" she asked, smile growing hard. "I don't care." She tugged him up by the arm and pulled him over with the other boys.
"Robin's going to be here in…" She looked at her watch. "Fifty-three seconds, and if you aren't smiling and screaming out surprise when she gets here, I'm going to beat your head in with a wooden spoon. Understand?"
Barney obediently plastered an enthusiastic smile on his face, eyes darting to Marshall in terror.
Marshall nodded in warning from behind Lily.
Oh, she was serious. His head still hurt from that time she threw a baby-shower and he didn't rub the mother's belly with enough gusto.
Barney's smile got bigger.
Lily grinned in satisfaction. "Good!" She turned to the door, eyes on her watch. "Ten seconds left." She shot them all one final glare, "Remember – we're happy."
Ted, Marshall and Barney all quickly agreed.
"Yes, happy. This is happiness. Woo hoo!"
"Happier than the happiest person ever."
"If you're happy and you know it, clap your hands!" A chorus of clapping ensued.
Lily nodded in satisfaction and returned her attention to the door just as the knob started to turn.
Robin entered, already looking startled before she had completely opened up the door.
Everyone understood that when Lily was throwing a party, there were certain roles that had to be played. And if they weren't done properly, the end result would be violence.
Nobody liked a violent Lily.
Robin gasped, oo-ed, and aw-ed at the decorations, and marveled at the elaborate display of food.
"Guys, this is too much."
Lily blushed and grinned. "I know." She shoved a piece of pre-cut cake at Robin. "Here, take some cake."
"Oh, thanks Lily, but I just got back from leaving the Metro News One party." Robin sent her a regretful smile. "I'm a little stuffed."
Lily's eye twitched dangerously. "Shut up and eat your cake Robin, or I swear to God…"
Robin quickly yanked the cake out of Lily's hands and started eating. "Yummy! Delicious!"
Lily nodded in satisfaction and began to hand out more pieces of cake, Barney and Ted both faking the utmost eagerness, while Robin backed away slowly until she was ducking behind Marshall "Hide me!"
"It's okay," Marshall reassured her. "The Lily party-demon will fade in ten, twenty minutes, tops."
Robin peeked her head over his shoulder, eyeing Lily with fear. "We just have to survive until then."
They sent one another a nervous look and prepared for the worst.
After fifteen more minutes of having food shoved down their throats, various threatening snarls being sent their way, and a few dangerous finger jabs, Lily lost the maniacal gleam in her eye and started being human again.
Then, settled around the coffee table, they talked properly about Robin's impending trip.
"Caal-i-fooornia," Barney sang as they finished off their second bottle of wine. "Hear we cooooooooom-!"
"Barney, don't make me stab you," Lily (a bit of the madness returning) snapped at him.
Barney gulped. "Sorry, Lily."
Marshall smiled fondly at his lovely she-demon of a wife (Lily, even at her most inhuman, was always the most amazing person in any given situation. She was even almost as good as Han Solo – which was saying something) before turning to Robin. "Will you be blonde when you come back?"
Ted adopted a surfer accent. "And, like, will you like have a tubular tan, man?"
Robin laughed. "Guys, it's just a weekend tour."
There was a beat of silence as they considered this statement.
Ted shook his head. "You're going to be a completely different person when you get back."
Robin rolled her eyes even as Lily nodded in agreement.
"It'll be like when you went to Mexico, except less bongo drums and more surfing."
Marshall gasped in excitement and tried not to bounce too eagerly in his seat. "Will you teach me how to surf?"
Robin raised an eyebrow. "If I can learn how to in the two days I've got filled with studio stuff?"
Oh please oh please oh please!
She sighed. "Sure Marshall, I'll teach you how to surf."
Marshall looked around to the others, wanting some affirmation of just how magnificent the idea of surfing was, only to be met with lackluster stares. Except for Barney, who didn't seem to be paying much attention to anyone, eyes fixed onto his wine glass. Oh, he laughed at all the right times and threw in an annoying remark now and then, but the guy's heart just wasn't in it.
Something had to be done.
Marshall just wasn't entirely sure what that something was quite yet.
Robin glanced down to her watch and winced, finishing off her glass of wine. "Oh, crap, I have to leave." She gathered her purse and stood up. "I've got to run to my apartment, pick up my bags, and make to the airport in three hours."
Everyone else reluctantly go to their feet to send her off.
No one wanted Robin to leave – not really. Yeah, it was only for a weekend and yeah, it didn't mean anything. But this was a step of some sort, a step in a direction that no one was entirely comfortable with. Robin leaving, even temporarily, meant that their group was unraveling. Moving off in different directions – growing up.
And, really, who wanted to do that?
Lily sprang forward and gave Robin a hug. "Bye!" she said, smiling at her best friend. "Take pictures, of-" She sent Marshall a small look out of the corner of her eye. "You know."
"Hot young men on the beach?" Robin asked, lacking all tact.
Lily grinned. "Exactly!"
Robin winked. "You got it."
So long as she didn't actually say it, Lily thought her desire to stare at barely-legal muscled men didn't actually count. Not that Marshall minded, exactly. They both knew there was only one Marshmellow for his Lilypad.
Still, a farce of sensitivity would have been nice.
He gave Robin a hug as she continued the rounds. "Surfing!" he insisted. (He was going to learn how to be one with waves!) "Learn it. Teach it. Live it."
She nodded seriously. "I'll do my best."
Then she got to Ted, and they did their awkward friends with significant history thing, that weird state where you could both be more honest with somebody and less so at the same time.
"Clear your head, okay?" Ted said, punching her gently on the arm in a way that only looked a little uncomfortable.
She smiled, mimicking the gesture in a similarly uncertain way. "You too, Mosby."
And then they hugged, and were generally aww-able.
Marshall nodded in approval and put on his wise and all knowing persona. They'd be okay, those two… So long as they got Robin to watch more Star Wars.
And finally, the California-bound reporter got to Barney.
And if watching Robin and Ted's goodbye had been awkward, this was just painful.
"Bye, Barney," she said, staring at him with… something.
Barney shuffled in place, lifting his head up to grin at her with… something else. "Bye."
The entire room proceeded to notice the silence that ensued.
Finally, Robin reached forward and wrapped her arms around his shoulders, gave him a squeeze, and then fled across the room.
"All right," she said as she reached the door. "I'm off!" She gave them all a wave. "See you in a few days!"
A chorus of 'byes' followed her out the door.
And then everyone turned to stare disbelievingly at Barney.
He blinked. "What?" He let out a strained laugh and backed away from them, leaning against the fireplace. "Guys, the way you're looking at me is making me question exactly how awesome I am, and we all know that's ridiculous."
"'Bye'?" Lily demeaned, stalking up to him. "She's leaving, heading across the country, and all you have to say for yourself is, 'bye'?" She smacked him on the shoulder.
Barney winced and rubbed the attacked spot. "It was succinct and to the point!" he insisted, looking at Ted and Marshall for support.
He didn't find any.
He glared. "Stop judging me with your eyes of condemnation and… judgment!" He shrugged in a way that almost looked careless.
Unfortunately, no one had told Barney that he wasn't able to fool them anymore.
"She's only gone for two days and then she's coming right back!"
Marshall just shook his head sadly. "That was your moment, man."
"She was giving you the signal and everything!" Lily added.
"There is no such thing as the signal!" Barney yelled, throwing up his arms in annoyance.
"Yes there is," Ted said, crossing his arms over his chest and staring at his friend seriously. "And you missed it."
"You too?" Barney scoffed. "I thought you wanted me to stay away from Robin?"
Ted sighed. "Yeah well, that was before I realized that you were watching tapes of her from old broadcasts."
"And that you sit next to her no matter where we go and get flustered when she talks to you," Marshall added.
"And that you maintain eye contact even when she's in the slinkiest dresses." Lily let out a small whistle of appreciation. "No easy task, let me tell you."
"And how you're absolutely, pathetically and totally in love with Robin," Ted concluded.
Barney gaped for a few moments while they all stared at him expectantly.
At last, he let out a small cough and straightened his tie. "So what about this economy lately, eh?"
They all groaned.
It was such a sad attempt at The Distraction Reaction, it wasn't even worth a verbal reprimand.
"Go after her!" Lily told him, hitting him again on the arm.
Barney sputtered a moment before snapping his fingers. "What about the bro code?"
Lily rolled her eyes. "Oh, forget about the stupid bro code!"
"Yeah!" Ted agreed. Then he frowned and looked to Lily in betrayal. "Hey!"
The bro code was, after all, a sacred document.
Lily shrugged. "Well, he should!"
"Barney, some things transcend the bro code," Marshall said, getting his lawyer on. "Exceptions can be made."
"No," Barney said, fighting his way past them and moving in front of the door. "No!" he repeated, turning back to them and glaring. "Guys, she's not even interested."
Barney paused, and Marshall had to wonder if it was caused due to longing… Or maybe to uncertainty? Because Marshall – in all of his wise, guru-ways – suspected that Robin Scherbatsky wasn't nearly as disinterested as she would like to believe she was. No one had a hug so socially excruciating unless there was mutual longing, doubt and all of that twisty, complicated, emotional stuff underlining it all. (Plus there was what Ted had said about what happened at brunch. That had also been informative.)
And maybe, just maybe, Barney had noticed that too.
Marshall and Ted exchanged a knowing glance (and Marshall didn't care what Ted said – his best friend was as much of a secret whore as the rest of them), but in the next instant, before they could say anything, Barney had let out a sigh. "And why the hell should she be?"
He looked up to see the shocked faces of his friends.
Barney and self-doubt? Lily looked like she was about faint.
Barney recovered quickly, letting out a confident chuckle. "Don't get me wrong, I'm awesome. Way more awesome than any of you… lame people." He stared at the ground, frowning. "But Robin doesn't want somebody like me." He looked back up at them quickly, throwing on another smirking face for show. "Somebody like me being, namely, everything beyond her wildest dreams, of course."
Lily stepped forward. "Barney, you're better when you're with her."
He looked at her helplessly. "But I can't be with her, Lily." His gaze hardened. "So just drop it." He shot a severe glance at Marshall and Ted. "Everybody just drop it." He sighed. "She'll come back in two days and everything will be just the way it was before, and then she'll move to California and I'll never see her again and everything will be back to normal, okay?" He put on a smirk. "The same old life. Barney Stinson – connoisseur of awesomeness and bimbos."
He looked off into some imagined distance, posing with his usual swagger, determined. "It'll be legendary."
Lily huffed next to him, and from his corner of the room, Ted allowed a resigned nod. Defeated, in more than one sense.
Marshall let out an internal grumble.
He was going to have to drop some knowledge again, wasn't he?
Resigned, Marshall stepped forward and glared at Barney. "No, it won't."
Distracted out of his fantasy, Barney turned to him and frowned. "Pardon?"
"It won't be 'legendary,'" Marshall clarified. "And the problem isn't that you can't be with her, it's that you won't try."
From his corner, Ted shifted uncomfortably.
Marshall was, after all, an efficient guy. This was a speech of wisdom that was being dropped for two pairs of ears.
And Ted knew it. "Marshall –" he began.
"No," Marshall interrupted. "I've got something to say."
Out of the corner of his eye, Marshall saw Lily grin.
She loved it when he got all manly and wise. And he loved her loving him.
Reassured, Marshall braced himself and faced the most moronic emotional retard in the history of modern society.
"Barney, you're scared."
Barney opened up his mouth in denial.
The mouth snapped closed at Marshall's certainty.
"Everyone is when they're in love, and for good damn reason. It's never perfect, and if you think it is you're tricking yourself to make it easier." He shot Ted a significant glance. "Love doesn't just happen – you have earn it."
Ted lowered his eyes, frowning at the floor.
Marshall turned back to Barney. "And yeah, sometimes it doesn't work out. But when it does, when you get to be with the one person who you know loves you unselfishly and completely, it's worth everything you could have risked trying to get them and more." He fixed Barney with a hard stare. "But you have to work at it." He took a breath and squared his shoulders. "So I'm not letting you sit around while the woman you love takes off on a plane and doesn't come back."
For an instant – when Barney's face was still and shocked, contemplative and hopeful – Marshall dared to think that he might have gotten through Barney's thick, nearly impenetrable, skull.
But then Barney had his smirk back in place, scoffing. "Marshall, please, like I believe some crap –"
So, Marshall strode forward, whipped out his hand, and slapped Barney Stinson so hard that his great great grandchildren would be feeling it. (Of course, the only reason Barney's great great grandchildren would get to feel said slap would be because of this very moment, so Marshall figured they could deal with it.)
Barney staggered to the floor, hand to cheek, and eyes wide as he looked up at Marshall towering over him.
"That's four," Marshall said, holding up four fingers. He pointed to the door. "Now go get Robin."
Slowly, Barney stood up, looking from Marshall to the door, and then finally to his watch on his wrist.
And suddenly a new determination took a hold of Barney Stinson, an internal transformation so profound that Marshall swore he physically saw the change.
Barney Stinson was going to win Robin Scherbatsky's heart, and make a grand fool of himself doing it, too.
Marshall grinned happily. He loved it when his plans worked out. "That'll be five bucks, by the way," he told Barney, who was still staring at his watch.
The slap-shocked man glanced at him. "Huh?"
"I'm charging," Marshall explained. "Marshall Eriksen – Guru of Love and Mushy Stuff." He held up an expectant hand. "Pay up."
He still had a week until he started work at Goliath, and Marshall wanted more goldfish.
Barney distractedly dug into his pocket, pulled out a wad of bills, and shoved it in Marshall's hand. "Here, take it all." He walked to the door. "I've gotta go."
And with that he was running out of the apartment.
Objective number one had been completed, but now it was time to evaluate the success of his secondary target.
Marshall turned to his best friend, still staring at his shoes in the corner, and raised an eyebrow. "Ted?"
Ted's head jerked up.
"Don't you have somewhere you need to be, too?"
"Yeah." Ted nodded. "Yeah, I do." With that he followed the trail Barney just finished blazing.
Until Marshall yelled at him. "Hey!"
Ted rolled his eyes, put a hand into his pocket, and shoved a five-dollar bill at Marshall.
Marshall nodded in satisfaction and Ted ran out of the room.
Smiling, he counted his hard-won earnings. "Kids," he muttered before sticking the money in a pocket.
From behind him, Lily wrapped her arms around his middle and grinned into his shirt. "It's a good thing they've got you to set them straight."
He turned around and rested his hands on her back, still marveling - even after eleven years - at how tiny she was.
She smirked. "All thanks to my influence, of course."
"Yeah, and my zen-like guru-ways." His hours of meditation had obviously paid off.
She nodded. "And those, obviously."
She grinned up at him and he smiled back, running a quick hand through her hair and wondering, again, how he had been lucky enough to get this girl to want his olives. "Love you, Lilypad."
"I love you too, Marshmellow." She went up on tiptoes, and he obligingly bent down to give her a kiss.
He pulled away and she grinned. "Almost as much as I love Han."
He gave a firm nod. "And don't you forget it." Really, no one could compete with Han.
He slung an arm over her shoulder and they made their way to the kitchen. He could feel that Lily was hungry (sympathy hunger – it was a pain) and anything that she had touched in preparation for the party made her (them) want to gag.
Speaking of gagging… "Did you know that Ted's afraid of drinking fountains?" she remarked as he opened up the fridge.
"Really? Nice." Lily wanted something classic and homey, so he pulled out leftover macaroni and cheese. "Not as impressive as Robin's mustache, though."
ONE HOUR AND FOURTY MINUTES LATER
Why did New Jersey have to be so far away?
Why did Marshall have to be right all of the time?
And why was Ted such a moron?
Stella was amazing. Lucy was amazing. They were amazing together. And he had managed to screw that all up. So now it was time to start making things right. He just hoped that it wasn't too late.
And so, a train ride and long walk later, Ted was outside of Stella's house, knocking on her door, and praying she'd let him in. A person only gets so many chances at this kind of thing, and Ted was terrified that he didn't have any more left.
"Stella!" He banged on the door, feeling obnoxious. Lucy was at a friend's house for a sleepover this weekend, so that was good, but he was still screaming at a closed door in the middle of the night in a perfectly serene suburban neighborhood.
The really obnoxious thing was that he didn't intend on sopping until he got a response.
How was it that he always managed to feel like a jackass when he was trying to woo a girl? He used to see it as dogged determination, but really, it could all come off as obnoxious, couldn't it?
Well, too bad.
Because being obnoxious seemed to be the only way to get the attention of the most amazing women. "Stella, I know you're in there!" He paused in his banging and heard a small shuffle on the other side of the door.
He leaned against the wood and spoke to the woman on the other side. "Look, I just want to talk."
"We've already tried that, Ted." She sounded so tired.
Not even married, but exhausted by him already.
Why hadn't he been able to hear that before?
"Not like this," he said. Because before he had been able identify what had been wrong without being willing to try and make right. Because Marshall had a point. Love didn't just happen, wasn't instantly magical. It had to be earned, worked for.
"I was an idiot," he continued. "I am an idiot. I have been since that accident and I think it might have –" He took a breath, slowing down. "Listen, I don't want to marry you."
There was a heartbreaking gasp from the other side of the door. "Oh."
"No!" Ted shouted quickly, feeling like a moron.
He needed to learn to be more careful with these sorts of things.
"Not like that! I don't want to get married yet."
He heard the nearly silent hitching of breath ease on the other side of the door, even while he felt a soft thump against the wood – her forehead, slumped against the frame.
Ted wished he could see her. It would all be so much better if he could just get her to open the door – to be able to look into her eyes and make her believe him. But, maybe he had to earn that too.
"Stella, I haven't done anything to deserve marrying you."
Ted braced himself, taking the plunge, letting himself fall face-first into what could be a jolting and unfortunate dive into the shallow end of a relationship that might not work out.
And it was exhilarating.
"I love you. You're amazing, and funny and smart. Plus you're a doctor with convenient tattoo-removing abilities that I know I'll need to utilize come mid-life crisis time."
He loved hearing her laugh.
"I don't want to let you go, not ever if I can help it." He sighed. "But I've been doing this all wrong. I've been selfish. I wanted to get married three months ago because I thought I could die without having you in my life. I couldn't stand the thought of a future – however brief – that you wouldn't be in. And so I rushed us. I skipped all of those difficult middle-steps that make this relationship thing so hard and so worth having." He paused. "By the way, do you like olives?"
"Yeah," she replied, tone confounded.
Ted grinned. "Me too!" Just like Lily and Marshall. "That's great, we'll have an olive-filled future together." He gave a nervous laugh. "Hopefully, anyway." He shuffled his feet. "Look, I jumped over all of the small things you do so that the person you love becomes your best friend, and that's what everyone wants, right?"
He thought about himself and Robin, about Barney. About Lily and Marshall. About how, no matter what, they'd all be friends in spite of what happened, because before anything else, they had been friends. Something more basic than the messy, love stuff, but maybe just as important.
And he wanted Stella to be his friend.
But it wasn't just that. Because being married wasn't just about having a best friend – it was about being one too.
"By proposing I left out the tough parts, and by doing that I forgot the most important thing."
He almost felt Stella frown through the door, could sense her unease and uncertainty even without being able to see her. Maybe that's how Lily and Marshall did their magical emotion and thought sharing. Maybe they made the effort to stay attuned to each other, consciously decided to put the other's thoughts, always, before their own.
Maybe it wasn't magic at all.
Ted took another deep breath.
"I already know that I love you and that I don't want to live without you, Stella."
He couldn't see it, but he knew that she grinned.
"But I'm not marrying you until I've made sure you don't want to live without me either."
And then, just for an instant, Stella stopped breathing.
Ted slumped his head against the door. "And you know, maybe it won't work out. And that would suck. But at least we'd know that, even if we don't get married, for a while there we really had that deep, messy, passionate, difficult, unselfish love that's worth risking everything for." He breathed against the wood, able to feel their distance and their proximity, simultaneously so close and so far from contact. "Even if it means not getting married to you at all."
He went down on one-knee, proposing to a closed door. "Stella Zinman, will you not marry me?" He winced at his own wording.
"Well, at least, not right now?"
He waited long enough to consider getting up and going home.
And then, slowly, the door cracked open.
TWENTY MINUTES LATER
Robin loved the sun. And she loved attractive men lounging on beaches. She loved her job, she loved success, and she loved the opportunities that were being made open to her with this position.
But Robin also loved her friends. And New York. And she also might care a bit about something stupid that would remain nameless for the time being, just for her own shaky mental state.
Because Robin had been clutching her carry-on to her chest in terror for the past hour, ever since she had arrived at her terminal.
She didn't know why. It was a small, little, weekend tour. It meant nothing! A quick pop there, a quick pop back. No decisions of any kind had been made yet. After all, she could still take the job at the New York station, if she wanted to, if it ended up being the smart decision to make.
Yet for all of that, ten minutes before her plane started boarding, Robin couldn't seem to ignore every instinct screaming at her not to go, even while her head kept sending her perfectly rational reassurances. But that other organ – the one with the goo-goo filter and terrible taste in movies – was determined to make Robin do something stupid.
Something stupid who would remain nameless for the time being.
('Bye'? That was all she had said? Just 'bye'? What about that night, at her apartment? What about how he thought he felt about her? What about how she might feel about him?)
Clearly, Robin's irrational terror was all the work of the goo-goo filter. None of those… things really mattered in the grand scheme of it all. Besides, she had a formula to work with. Action led to reaction, led to success, led to happiness. Everything else was simply excess – extra stuff she didn't need and that would only cause trouble later. Now it was just a matter of making sure her head won the internal battle taking place, and to do that she would have to calm down and act like an adult.
An adult about to spend two days in California getting tan on the beach, obviously, but an adult nevertheless.
She had just started to loosen her death-grip on her bag when a familiar voice sounded from behind her.
For a moment, she was convinced she had imagined it. The last, desperate attempt of the goo-goo filter to cause her to stray from her path of logic.
But then it happened again.
She jerked herself around and he, that something stupid who wouldn't remain nameless much longer, was staring back at her, panting and breathless, like he had run to get there.
"Barney?" She dropped her bag, stood up out of her seat, and walked over to him. "Barney, what are you doing here? My flight's about to leave." She frowned when she saw that the entire left side of his face was bright red. Either he had gotten an impressive sunburn in the middle of the night, or something had smacked him. Hard. "What happened to your face?" She almost reached out a hand to touch him – almost.
Barney ignored her. "Look, Robin, I forgot to say something back at the party."
"So you followed me all the way to the airport?"
He smirked. "It's a very important something."
In spite of herself, she smiled. "Well?" she asked with a raised eyebrow.
He began. "Robin –" And then halted. Looked around frantically, like he trying to find something that could stop him, something that he could use that wouldn't be what he had been about to say.
It was a terrible thing to witness – The Distraction Reaction failing in someone's time of need.
And so Barney shut his eyes, winced, and let out a pained, "I love you."
Robin was shocked into silence.
Oh, she had heard it before, of course. She just never thought that she would ever hear it from him.
With that, Barney seemed to relax slightly. He took a deep breath and said, "And it's the worst thing that's ever happened to me."
Robin frowned. Not exactly the words a girl wanted to hear immediately following a confession of love.
Barney ran a hand through his hair before looking her directly in the eye. "I wake up in the morning and I can't stop thinking about you. I can't pick out a tie to wear without wondering how you'd like it. The only thing I drink now is scotch because I know that it's your favorite." He looked at her severely, enunciating every word. "I've watched every single minute you've been on Metro News One at least three times, and if that's not equivalent to some brand of medieval torture, I don't know what is. I check out some girl's rack and I think, 'Not as good as Robin's.'" He gave her an acknowledging nod. "Which isn't just me being flattering, that's actually true."
"I keep two cigars in my jacket at all times, hoping that there'll be an excuse for me to give you one." He opened up his jacket and went searching through the inner pocket, finally pulling out the cigars. "See?"
She did – and those were some damn nice looking smokes.
He sighed, patting the cigars back into place and looking at her desperately. "You're in my head all the time and I can't get you out." He let out a bitter snort. "And I've tried. God, I've tried." He locked eyes with her again. "I've become an inept, bumbling fool because of you, Scherbatsky."
She rolled her eyes.
"I'm serious," he insisted. "My score on the awesomeness scale has decreased by at least half here. That makes me close to a mere mortal, you realize." He sighed, still staring at her. "But you won't leave me alone."
She wouldn't leave him alone? What about him? Keeping her up at night, making her question her decisions, making her vision get all gooey and her better senses go stupid on her.
Barney took another large breath. "So I love you." He sighed in annoyance. "And it's not a sickness, or phase and it's not going away," he muttered, almost seeming to be frustrated with himself for that, before turning his full attention back to her. "So I thought I should let you know."
And for a minute, nothing else happened. He looked at her, heart on his sleeve for perhaps the first time, and she looked at him, too shocked for words.
And then, he broke eye contact, staring at his shoes. "Yeah." He coughed. "And, um. I think that's it actually, so I'll, uh." He gestured to the uninterested masses waiting to board her flight. "Let you leave with all these nice people."
With that he gave her a smile – the real one – clasped his hands behind his back, and started to quickly walk away, almost like he was afraid of what she would do if he stayed around.
Even though she did want him to stay. Even if she shouldn't, even if it would be stupid, even if she still had no way of knowing if Barney was just deluding himself.
But whatever she might have wanted, he was going away, and her head was rejoicing in victory as her heart sunk.
Her better judgment had won, in the end. Barney Stinson was walking out of her life and she was going across the country, free of him for a few days, maybe free of him forever.
But the battle was still raging, and before she fully knew what she was doing, she had called him back.
Without her consent, the mushy organ without a lick of sense had taken control, and Robin suspected that her revamped formula for happiness was about to include something stupid.
FOUR SECONDS LATER
Barney stopped his frantic retreat to raise an eyebrow at the woman he had just poured his heart out to. (An exercise that felt icky and gross and terrifying, and something he had no intention of ever doing again. Stupid Marshall and his guru ways.)
To be fair, Robin looked as startled by her question as he felt.
But, committed, she continued. "Why do you love me?"
He had just told her he loved her – with more honesty, compassion and sincerity than he had ever mustered for any one statement in his entire life – and now she wanted to know why?
This was why he didn't do the earnestness thing. If you showed women one morsel of genuine emotion they got all greedy and demanding with it. (He couldn't believe Marshall had slapped him – with more force than a raging typhoon, he might add – into this.)
Clearly noticing his reluctance, Robin had the nerve to cock a hip and smirk at him. "Come on Stinson."
She was awfully cheeky, wasn't she? (He loved that about her.)
"If you're going to do this 'confessing your love' thing, you better do it right. Why do you love me?" she demanded. "Why not one of the other bimbos you had a night of fun with? Why me?"
And the answer seemed so obvious that it was completely natural for him to respond.
"Because you're smart," he said, walking back toward her. "I can't trick you into doing anything. I can bribe you, maybe, but I need a whole hell lot of money to do it." Seriously. He had gone broke, the first year he had known her, trying to get her to say ridiculous things on air. "Because you like laser tag and guns." And she was a much better shot than either Ted or Marshall. Combined. "Because everything you do, not just the way you look, is beautiful without you trying." Although, that being said, he never wanted to see her with her mustache. "Because you're confident and smart, and you know how amazing you are without anyone needing to tell you." Even if she clearly enjoyed hearing it. "Because you recognize what a girl Ted is." And yet she had dated him anyway. Barney still didn't get that.
He sighed, standing close enough so that his breath made her hair move against her cheek, close enough to take in every bit of her. "You're just awesome, okay Scherbatsky?"
He couldn't decipher, just then, the way she was looking at him. Eyes big and wide, staring directly into his, mouth open just slightly, almost dazed. And Barney could feel, even if he didn't know how, that something big was about to happen.
"Barney, I think –"
Then the loud speaker came on. "I think they're seating my section." With that, she started retreating.
"Oh, no," Barney said, following her as she went to pick up her bag.
She was not going to deprive him of his Something Big. Not after all of that emotional crap he had just put himself through.
"Wait." He jumped in front of her, blocking her progress to the line for boarding. "You were going to say something."
Robin glanced over his shoulder, trying to avoid him. "No I wasn't." She made a move to walk past him.
He grabbed her arms. "Scherbatsky, please. Don't try it. My skills are such that The Distraction Reaction doesn't even register with me." He leaned in, staring directly at her, forcing her to stare back. "What were you going to say?"
She turned away, looking at the ground. "Nothing, it was nothing."
Was Robin blushing?
"No it wasn't." Barney studied her, head tilting in interest.
Robin never blushed, or at least not that he noticed. Not once, in all the time he had known her, with all the dirty things he had said and every inappropriate innuendo he had attempted throughout the years. She didn't get embarrassed about sex, was too confident to be humiliated when she didn't something ridiculous. No, the only things that ever made Scherbatsky uncomfortable were feelings she thought were absurd.
Which, really, could only mean one thing.
"You love me back!"
Robin's head jerked up and her cheeks, already tinged, positively burned. "What? No."
Barney continued to smirk.
"No!" She huffed, shouldering her bag and finally pushing past him, even more desperate to avoid him. "You wish, Stinson."
Barney bounded forward to keep up with her, seemingly incapable of wiping the smile of his face. "You love me." Honestly, his jaw had somehow been wired that way in the past two minutes.
"You know what?" Robin muttered, finally turning back to him as people continued to board the plane around them, utterly uninterested. "You can just shut up now."
He nodded understandingly at her. "Robin, it's okay. I'm really awesome. It's nothing to be ashamed of."
She made a few puttering sounds of indignation before finally pointing an accusatory finger at him. "I don't need to take this." She put down her finger and fiddled with her bag at her side. "Now, I'm going to get on my plane and-"
He never found out what she was going to do once she was on her plane, because realizing what he had to do to shut her up, Barney had brought a hand to Robin's face, bent down, and kissed her.
They came up gasping for air.
"God, that felt good," Robin said.
Barney smirked in satisfaction.
Yes. He was that good.
"What was it that you were saying?"
She glared at him. "Shut up." And then she yanked him forward by the lapels of his jacket and kissed him.
Also with tongue.
And Barney, in all of his infinite experience with the fairer sex, had to admit that nothing in his life up until then had felt as good as being kissed by a Robin Scherbatsky who loved him.
Suddenly, mid twisty-tongue action, Robin jerked him away, her accusatory finger back out again. (He had a feeling he would learn to love that finger as much as he loved the rest of her.)
"This isn't resolved, you know."
Barney nodded his head eagerly. "I know."
She continued to eye him severely, hands still twisted into the fabric of his jacket. (He hoped she never stopped touching him.) "You don't just get to kiss me and have all of the problems go away."
"To be fair, you definitely initiated that second lip-locking incident." He grinned as Robin's cheeks flared again. (He hadn't even known she could blush, and now he wanted nothing more than to make her do so as often as possible.) "Taking charge and being in command. The Barnicle approves."
She blinked pointedly at him, emphasizing each word with a tiny shake. "We're not done talking here."
"Had we started talking?"
She looked like she wanted to be mad, she really did, but instead she smiled, leaned forward, and kissed him again, but now with less desperation. Languid and controlled, like she was tasting him, learning him, getting intimately accustomed to something she would be coming back to and picking up again later.
Barney was only too happy to taste back.
Eventually (regretfully), she pulled away again, resting her forehead on his. "And I still need to go to California."
"Right," Barney said, adjusting as nervously as possible without encouraging her to move in any way. (He liked having so much of his body so close to hers in such a casual way – it was an intimacy, a comfort, he could get used to.)
"About that." He coughed lightly. "You see, in order to get past security, I sort of had to buy a ticket. And, well, if you wanted me to come with you, so we could… talk," and maybe some other things (he was, after all, still Barney Stinson), "I guess I –"
"Yes," Robin said before he could finish, stepping back with a smile.
He felt himself beaming and was too happy to care how unawesome it must have made him look. "Great. Hold on just a sec." With that he dashed back to the janitor he had met before coming up to Robin.
The guy handed him his bag with grunt, and Barney responded with an enthusiastic, "Thanks, my man!"
He walked back to Robin to see her blinking at him. "You packed a bag?"
"Just in case."
She continued to blink at him. "Awfully confident of you, wasn't it?"
Barney scoffed. "Seriously, what are the odds that anybody would be able to resist this package?" He ran a hand up and down his magnificent and impressive bod, inviting her to appraise him properly. "Really?"
Robin heaved a sigh and shouldered her bag once more, heading for the line to board. "I can't believe I'm actually considering this."
"Oh, come on. It'll be fun." He caught up with her and slung an arm around her shoulder (the way Marshall always did with Lily). "I mean, we're awesome. The powers of our awesomeness combined? It'll stagger the globe."
Robin shot him a speculative glance. "I suppose."
"You suppose?" Barney shook his head, disappointed. "You obviously don't get just how awesome we are. We'll have to fix that. Get ready, Scherbatsky, I'm going to teach you how to live." He smiled at her. "With me."
She chuckled. "Are you now?"
"Yep," Barney affirmed. "And once you get those lessons down, I think we'll have something really going for us here.
"You know what, Stinson?" she mused, almost to herself, an arm twining around his waist. "I think you may be right."
Barney huffed. "I know I'm right."
"And if this whole thing works out, you know what else I think?"
He turned to her, this sexy, sophisticated woman he was ready to make his leading lady of awesome. "Hm?"
"It'll be legendary."