Note: This is my first HIMYM fic and I've been out of fic writing for a while, so I'm rusty. The title of this story and the lyrics throughout are from the Ben Folds Five song of the same name. It's one of my all-time favourites, and I thought it had "Barney" written all over it. Enjoy.
I feel like a quote out of context, withholding the rest so I can be for you what you want to see. I've got the gesture and sounds, got the timing down. It's uncanny. Yeah, you'd think it was me.
Barney Stinson was good at reading people. It was something he prided himself on, a natural talent he'd honed into an art. And, true, it came in handy for dodging questions about activities that might, in certain countries, be considered minor acts of espionage. But that was more of a beneficial side-effect. No, the real point of reading people was to be able to play right into their hands. Particularly women's hands. Preferably their well-manicured, long-enough-nails-to-leave-scratch-marks hands. Yeah.
Yes, Barney knew what people wanted to hear from him. Or, in the case of his friends, expected to hear from him at this point. Knew what put them at ease, not to mention what set them on edge to hear coming from him. That, he'd learned all too well in the past year. So even as he found himself sitting alone across from Robin, a situation that frankly made him a little queasy in a way totally unrelated to what he'd recently had to eat or drink, Barney was practiced enough to know exactly what would keep her from noticing.
"I'll have an Aberlour 12 year with ginger ale," he said, leaning back casually in the booth as Wendy nodded and headed back towards the bar. He let his eyes roam the room a little, knowing Robin would assume he was on the lookout for bimbos and would never guess he was avoiding staring too deliberately at her neck.
"You know Barney, there's something I've always wondered about you," Robin mused. His eyes drifted back to her with practiced nonchalance.
"Yes, I'm a natural blonde," he cut in. "But you should remember that." He winked purposefully. It got the expected eye roll.
Continuing as though he hadn't spoken, Robin asked, "How is it that someone who claims to be such a Scotch aficionado always orders their single malts with ice or soda or, God forbid, Red Bull?"
The real reasons ran through his mind. Drinking Scotch had seemed like an appropriately manly and awesome thing to add to his post-Shannon persona. Unfortunately, the first time he'd tried Scotch straight, his throat and chest felt somewhat like a bog on fire. And it tasted a little like it, too. He'd found adding something to the Scotch helped mellow it out. It had enabled him to pretend to like it long enough for him to actually grow to like it. But still, only diluted.
Which is what a real person might have said in response. But he had read Robin clearly on this, and not just tonight. She had practically screamed it herself during that awkward semi-date they'd had months ago. She didn't want him to be a real person. She wanted him to be Barney.
It took him only a split-second to add this all up. "Oh. Ohhh-ho!" Barney crowed with exaggerated indignation. "That's rich coming from miss Johnnie Walker." He snorted. Wendy arrived with the tray, perfect timing for him to grab his drink and use it as a prop for dramatic gesticulation. "Seriously, if you're gonna drink a blended Scotch, you might as well just drink moonshine made in a hollowed-out pumpkin in a barn loft. Please." He punctuated his point with a sip of his awesome drink.
Robin, encouraged by his own antics, increased her volume a little. "At least I take mine neat!" She countered, sitting forward. "You're saying cheaper, less snobby Scotch is horrible, but Scotch mixed with ginger ale is okay?"
Ah, a perfect opportunity for pontification. Classic. "Robin, in my travels around the world, I have seen and tasted the delicacies of many lands. And not just the ladies." He nodded and grinned broadly, proud of the grimace this elicited from Robin. "And I have concluded that a single malt Scotch is just one of those drinks that is totally awesome on its own, but happens to be even more awesome when combined with another awesome drink. Call me crazy, but I think a good ginger ale can make a Scotch even Scotchier."
He had to bite his cheek to keep himself from remarking that maybe she was his ginger ale. Wait, where had that come from? His face twitched a little and he covered it with a cough. I mean, really? That was an uncharacteristically Ted-like analogy for his mind to betray him and make.
Robin shook her head, finishing her sip of beer before replying, "Doesn't this go against your whole theory of how all mixed drinks are inherently girly because the complete integration of two drinks is just a projection of the female desire for marriage? Why would mixed Scotch drinks be an exception?"
"It just tastes better that way," he muttered, sounding a little like a grumpy child. Fortunately, his mouth was already closing in around his glass for another drink, muffling his words.
Robin's eyes narrowed slightly in a manner that suggested she knew he'd said something that might be incriminating. But she let it slide, along with the underlying implication she apparently didn't realize was there. Thankfully.
"I'm just saying," Robin said with a shrug, "to me Scotch is one of those drinks that doesn't mix well with others, you know? It's like if you mix it, it's just not Scotch anymore."
He paused, his glass perched on the edge of his lips for another sip. His hand sank a little as he peered over the edge of the glass at Robin. The glimmer faded from Barney's eyes. He could feel it happening, against his will. He took a deliberate gulp of his drink, savoring the fiery-sweet flavor. Robin must have noticed, because she made a little face of mock disgust at his enjoyment of the bastardized version of the drink.
Or maybe she could see the look drifting into his eyes. Suddenly the alarm bells went off in his brain, the ones that usually told him a girl he was chatting up was about to figure out he was not actually a world renowned fencer or the owner of Sea World. It was only a tiny change in Robin's expression, but that was all it took. He was, after all, very good.
Barney subtly made a face as he looked down at his drink. A calculated hint of dissatisfaction at this obviously inferior, girly, Teddish drink. Just enough of a show that he knew Robin would catch it. He gave her a look that said, "okay, maybe you were right. This is an inferior drink, but I'm not going to admit it." She totally bought it. When she took another sip of her beer, she raised one eyebrow in victory.
Outwardly, he kept up his bravado. Privately, he vowed to order his Scotch neat around her from now on. Guess that uncomfortable burn in his chest was something he'd get used to. At least now he could lie and tell himself it was just the Scotch.
(more to come…)