"He's gonna be pissed when he finds out that whatever random chick he's screwing is actually number 200." Ted shook his head, laughing softly. He stared down at the list Robin was poring over for a moment before adding, "Are you sure you want to be touching that? Who knows what you might catch?"
Robin forced a half-hearted smirk at Ted's comment, which quickly faded into a thoughtful frown as she continued to examine the crumpled papers in her hands. She knew he had a valid point; she had no way of knowing just how soon after his conquests Barney had recorded them on this list. Still, somehow, the subtle note of disdain in Ted's voice irritated her.
"I'm just curious," she explained, distracted.
"About what?" Ted dubiously asked. "Barney's a sleaze. We already know that."
Robin's irritation intensified with the second comment, and she very deliberately ignored it, focusing her attention on the list instead. She told herself that she was searching for familiar names – names of women she knew – and she told herself that it was just out of curiosity, not any other, deeper emotion.
Certainly not jealousy.
Really, she wasn't looking for other names at all – and the name she sought was not there.
She double-checked the list, her frown deepening, her chest constricting with a strange, slow burn that was something akin to anger and indignation. Ted was still going on, no doubt denouncing Barney and his womanizing ways, when Robin rose abruptly to her feet without a word of explanation, and headed for the exit.
"Robin? Hey, Robin… where are you going?"
Barney thought about going back to the bar after his violent encounter with the female bodybuilder, but then thought better of it. He was exhausted, battered and in pain, and the only way he could imagine making it through this historically lengendary evening was with the assistance of a so-hot-he-could-barely-stand-it shower and a few extra-strength pain pills – and maybe a power nap if he could catch twenty minutes.
He trudged through the door of his apartment, not having a fraction of the energy required to maintain his usual grace and confidence. He stripped off his jacket and tie as he headed for the master bathroom adjacent to his bedroom, not bothering to turn on the bedroom light.
"Why is my name missing?"
Barney jumped, startled at the sound of a voice, however familiar, in the darkened room – then winced in pain as the sudden motion jarred his numerous aches and bruises. He shook his head, his eyes widening as Robin crossed the room toward him with an angry, purposeful stride, her face coming into focus as she stopped directly in front of him.
"Why is my name not on this list?"
She shook the papers in his face accusingly, and Barney took an involuntary step back, wincing again as his scratched and battered back hit the wall behind him. Instinctively he held up his hands in front of him in a halting gesture, shaking his head.
"It isn't? I must have… made a mistake…"
"No." Robin's tone was certain, decisive, trembling with indignation. "No, not on something this important to you. You have women listed on here going back ten years, Barney. If you really thought this was a mistake, you'd be a hell of a lot more upset right now, because that would mean your numbers were off for your big important number two hundred tonight. No, you've taken a lot of care to be sure that this is accurate down to every last detail – because for whatever twisted reason, this matters to you."
She pushed his shoulder in frustration as she spoke, and he cringed slightly, staring down at her with wide, bewildered eyes, unable to comprehend why she might be upset by this – until she told him.
"But apparently… I don't."
He couldn't believe what he was hearing, any more than he could believe the hurt he heard in her voice, the strange glittering of her eyes he could just barely make out reflected in the bathroom light. He shook his head slowly, at a loss – because he was exhausted, overwhelmed, and utterly taken off guard by this, the last thing he would ever have expected from her.
"W-what?" His own voice was breathless, trembling slightly. "Robin… I'm not following you here…"
"Two hundred women you've given yourself to over the last fifteen years, Barney. Two hundred. You wrote every last name down on this freakin' list… and that's no easy feat considering the fact that I'm pretty sure you didn't know all of those names when you slept with them. But… my name?" She shrugged, a bitter smile on her face, her pretty features twisted in hurt and anger. "Didn't make the cut, I guess. Not memorable enough to even go on the list."
"Robin, that's not even close to…"
She wasn't listening; she was still furious, still raging at him with barely controlled tears in her voice.
"Well, here's what I think of your pathetic list, Barney!" She tore the papers to shreds with shaking hands, throwing them in his face before allowing them to flutter to the floor around him. "My fault, I guess. I told you I wanted to forget it ever happened. I just didn't think you'd forget so soon."
She stalked out of the room, leaving him standing there in stunned silence for a long moment. Finally, he found his senses and hurried after her as best he could on his bone-weary legs, stopping just outside his bedroom door, just as she jerked the front door open.
"You stupid bitch."
She froze – and so did all the blood in Barney's veins, as she slowly turned to face him again, eyes wide and disbelieving… and furious. She slowly, deliberately closed the door again, making a point of locking it – and he knew that he was in trouble even before she turned on her heel and began making her way back across the room toward him. Her voice was dangerously low and controlled when she finally spoke, her eyes locked onto his with burning intensity.
"I-I said you're… a stupid bitch," he whispered, knowing that it was too late to back out of the unfortunate words he'd already spoken. His gaze lowered as she reached him, and he instinctively leaned back against the wall behind him, his breath quickening with a combination of weariness and anxious anticipation as he tried to find the words to explain. "And… you are… if you really think… that I forgot about what happened between us…"
Her hand reached out to grip his arm, and he bit back a groan as she unknowingly grasped a rather deep, sore bruise. His breath caught in his throat as she moved completely into his space, gazing up into his eyes with piercing scrutiny, surely seeing far more than he wanted her to see. Her voice was a strangely gentle whisper, much softer than he expected based on her other words and actions.
"Then why wasn't my name on that list? Why don't I factor into the equation at all when it comes to your all-important two hundred?"
The moment seemed to freeze for him, his heart pounding in his chest, as he tried to find the words to answer. He'd almost told her the truth about how he felt for her several times already – and every time, something had happened to stop him, just before he got the chance. A part of him – a tiny, barely there part that clung to his old romantic side – saw that as a sign. He wasn't supposed to tell her; something bad might happen if he did. That's why fate didn't seem to want him to reveal his secret.
Barney Stinson didn't believe in fate anymore.
What he did believe in was standing right in front of him – Robin Scherbatsky, the woman of his dreams, and the most truly, genuinely awesome person he had ever known.
Not second best… that was a lie… the most awesome… I've ever known…
And she was looking him in the eye and quietly, intently asking him for the truth.
He could give her nothing less.
"Robin… you're not on the list… because…" His gaze faltered again, and his voice trembled and broke as he confessed softly, "… because you're above that list. Above and beyond it in so many ways. It's not because you don't matter, Robin – it couldn't ever be. It's because…" His voice nearly failed him, and his last words were barely a whisper. His face was flushed with anticipation of his impending humiliation, and he couldn't raise his eyes from the floor.
"… because… you matter too much… because…"
He hesitated before realizing that he had already come too far. He had all but told her. It was time to come clean and tell the truth.
"… I… I love you…"
Her total silence made his heart sink, and he waited in dreadful shame for her certain rejection.
Shouldn't have told her, idiot. Should have kept your stupid mouth shut and just kept it to yourself. She would have thought you were a jerk and hated you for a little while… but she wouldn't have known what a pathetic loser you really are. She wouldn't have figured out your lame secret, and she would have actually… eventually… spoken to you again…
The simple touch of her hand to his cheek seared away the edges of his frantic, self-accusing thoughts, and his brain seemed to grow fuzzy, filled with static, as her thumb traced the line of his jaw to under his chin, gently pushing upward in a silent request for him to face her.
Reluctantly, he raised his eyes to hers, though he wasn't able to hold her gaze for long without faltering again. He was terrified of what she might see in his all-too-expressive eyes.
"Look at me," she whispered, the words a plea rather than a command. "Please look at me, Barney."
He forced himself to hold her gaze, damn the consequences. She deserved at least that much from him. Robin studied him closely, and Barney swallowed hard, feeling painfully self-conscious, vulnerable and exposed.
"Do you mean that?" she whispered. "You really… you really do?"
He hesitated, biting his lower lip, trying to gauge her reaction in her inscrutable expression. He nodded slowly, reaching out a tentative hand to return the grip she had on his arm, holding onto her arm and drawing her slightly closer as he bowed his head again.
"Yes," he whispered back, hopeless defeat in his voice. "I've… tried not to… but I do."
He glanced back up at her, and his eyes went wide when he saw how near her face was to his, hooded eyes filled with desire over slightly parted lips that whispered a soft command, barely over a breath.
"… stop trying."
Her mouth gently claimed his, both her hands rising to cup the back of his head, soft fingers toying through his unusually disheveled hair as she softly, tentatively explored his mouth with her own. It only took him a few moments to recover from his shock and react, returning her kiss, his hands trembling with uncertainty and near-reverence as he placed them on her waist and drew her in closer.
This isn't happening… can't be real… she didn't just really…
Abruptly Robin's hands moved to his shoulders and she pushed him roughly back against the wall, her mouth never leaving his in the process. Any other night, Barney would have found that incredibly hot – any night when he was not already in severe pain from 'violent sex' that was so far over the line that it was almost nothing more than 'sexy violence'. He flinched, letting out a soft groan of pain – and Robin stopped, pulling back with a frown of concern.
"Barney, what… Are you okay?"
"Yeah, great… don't stop…"
He whined softly, tugging her close again, but Robin resisted, her frown deepening as she took a closer look at his appearance. She began deftly unbuttoning his shirt in a way that no longer seemed focused on anything sexual, then slid it down off his shoulders, her eyes darting up to his when he winced at the motion required to let it fall to the floor.
She sucked in a gasp of dismay at the sight of the bruises that marred his torso. "What did you do to yourself?" she muttered under her breath, one hand absently trailing across his stomach.
"Well, I didn't exactly… do it to myself…"
Her eyes widened with realization, and she shook her head slowly. "You actually did it. Nailed Miss One-Hundred-and-Ninety-Nine."
His heart sank at her words, as he mentally saw this beautiful moment slipping away – driven from his grasp by the reminder of his slutty ways. Robin would certainly not want to be with him, mere minutes after he'd been with another woman, and minutes before he had intended to be with yet another – admittedly impressive – conquest. He opened his mouth to try to explain, having no idea how… but Robin was already speaking, an apologetic grimace on her lips.
"And, um… I hate to tell you this, but… she wasn't one-ninety-nine. She was two hundred."
Barney's face fell with disappointment. "What? How?"
"You mis-numbered the paper."
"Damn it!" Barney muttered, punching the air in frustration – then whimpering and leaning back against the wall again as his abused muscles protested the violent gesture. He met her eyes, willing her to see the sincerity in his own. "At this point I was… hoping it'd be you. I mean… no one else deserves it more…"
"I'm not sure if that's… actually a compliment…" Robin winced slightly, looking down before looking him in the eye again, her expression sympathetic. "But… what about Petra whats-er-face? Weren't you going to…?"
"She doesn't matter." Barney hesitated, biting his lower lip uncertainly. "I… I'd rather be with you than… with anyone else." He was quiet for a moment before adding pointedly, lest there should be any doubt in her mind, "Ever."
Robin was solemn, visibly weighing his words as she closed the distance between them again. Her attention was gradually distracted by the bruises and scratches that marked his body, and her soft hands moved to his sides, trailing slowly over his skin. Her voice was low and thoughtful, her eyes drinking in the sight of him as she murmured a soft question.
"So… Miss Two-Hundred… she did this to you?"
Barney winced, shaking his head with a rueful laugh. "Don't ask…"
"It's hot," she whispered, her voice low and husky.
Barney froze for a moment in surprise, a slow smile breaking out on his face as he remembered Robin's penchant for bruised up, wounded men. Tired and sore and a little dazed from how quickly everything was happening, he allowed her to take the lead, her mouth finding his again and pushing him – much more gently this time – against the wall again.
She drew back when they both were breathless, her hands trailing slowly up and down his bare arms as she smiled shyly up into his eyes.
"I'm glad I'm not on the list," she admitted softly. "I'm glad I'm not number two hundred."
He gave her a questioning look, his head tilted slightly with a quizzical half-smile.
"Because… I think it's time for a new list," she went on. "A list of the women Barney Stinson actually loves. On which I get to be number one."
His expression softened with grateful adoration at her words, and he nodded, swallowing hard as he tried to regain enough control over his voice to answer. Still, his voice was thick and trembling with emotion when he finally responded.
"You already are."