A/N: So many many thanks to Leslie, aka ScullyAsTrinity for both being awesome and helping out with reading various drafts. This is one of the longest fics I've written period, at over 11K. It goes from S5 (current canon) to the future. Barney/Robin, as always, and please leave a review (to steal a YouTube catchphrase: like it, hate it, love it, whatever!)
They navigate their lives around each other – this is how it happens, no matter what universe.
There is watching Lily and Marshall plant roots, watching Ted find someone who makes him exceptionally happy. There are weddings and christenings and birthdays and anniversaries and in the midst of it all, there are … them.
She has Don to cover the next track of her life. He does things like bring her flowers on days that aren't significant and take her out to places that he thinks will make her happy. She even brings him to the bar – that's when they know that it maybe is serious. (Well, she did bring Gael to the bar once, but that was a fluke.) It's when he proposes that she wonders what the fuck am I doing with my life because she had such goals and she's not getting any younger and it's not like this was ever something she thought she wanted.
In her mind, the old phrase about gift horses rings.
Don says: Robin, will you marry me?
In a fancy restaurant with candles and orchids and on bended knee.
(There was a massacre at Wounded Knee and she knows that's not significant, just particles of history lodging themselves where she doesn't need them right now, because this is Important with a capital I, this is a life-changing moment and who is she to think that she isn't meant for this, because she isn't Barney, she's Robin, and they always had the expectation that someone would change her except she keeps hearing his Slapsgiving speech in her head as Don is busy extolling all of her virtues about how she'd never sacrifice her virtues for anybody and here he is, rambling, here he is, talking at her like she's perfect –)
She folds her napkin, sets it on the table.
It's a massacre, all right.
And Don stops showing up to McClaren's.
"What happened?" Barney asks, in measured tones, sipping at his scotch.
She swirls the white wine in her glass, arches a brow. "It just didn't work out."
And they tack it up to Robin being Robin because she's always been vocal about how anti-commitment she is. oh, you'll find the right person one day, Ted says in that patronizing voice. She drains the rest of her wine in one gulp, lets the cold liquid settle on her tongue with that tartness as she thinks about the choices she's made and the choices she's making and what she's done and doing and time.
Ted smiles as he talks about how he's thinking of proposing and he recites what Stella told to him one day in the car, he says he's coming, robin, as fast as he can and she can't think of anything but hell in a handbasket.
And Barney brushes his hand against hers in the booth and she tenses up and she doesn't even know why because what exactly is that one hand brush supposed to mean – jesus, she's reading divine symbols into everything. She pulls away and says I need another white wine and everyone looks at her like she's just bitter from the break-up but she turned him down; she needs to go to the shooting range.
She squeezes off rounds after work when she can – it doesn't make the pressure in her head go away.
They navigate their lives around each other--
--it's times like this when he wonders if they do this to each other. He's half-convinced himself that he isn't cut out for monogamy when he knows that he was, once upon a time. Everyone forgets about Shannon, but he hasn't – she's branded herself so deep into who he is that sometimes he wonders if he's some watered down version of a Batman villain, part-himself, part-well-meaning Barney Stinson from Staten Island, and part-someone else, part-Shannon. Fuck, he doesn't even take half-and-half in his coffee.
They're alone but together, circling each other like vultures, hyenas.
At Ted's wedding, he asks her to dance.
"Shouldn't you be trying to get the bridesmaids to sleep with you?"
"Done, done, done, done, and pregnant, but don't worry, it's not my baby." She rolls her eyes. "It's a dance. I'm not asking for a quickie in the bathroom, though, if you're willing—"
She takes his hand.
Dancing with him seems remarkably familiar and strange all at once. It's like revisiting a bad idea - there's something about it that tells her that it's a bad idea - but at the same time, she can't help but think of everything else they did in the shamble of a relationship they were in. She's been in relationships with plenty of people, and if you honestly asked her why she thought they failed, she can't really come up with an answer.
They destroyed each other, that part is pretty much fact.
What she can't figure out is whether or not they did that on purpose.
He spins her around and her dress is a whirl of silk chiffon and she feels five-years-old all over again. She never played dress up, it wasn't her thing, but her mother used to dress her up for church on Sundays in the most garish dresses, and she's just as confused and dizzy now as she was then.
The strawberry champagne is still sweet on her lips.
If this was a movie, the song would switch to Cyndi Lauper right about now, "Time After Time" because that's just what the cliche is and she'd read some grand metaphor into the lyrics about what they've been doing and why they do it and he'd move closer and somehow, ten years later, they'd end up married with maybe a kid and a dog.
This isn't how it works.
Life is not the movies. He doesn't move closer; it's really the art of ballroom dancing at its finest – he's impeccable at it, and she wonders why she's surprised. As if anything he does could ever still surprise her after all these years of knowing him and being his friend. And yet, they keep the box remarkably square, his movements are tight and sharp, and she feels like this is maybe a test that she didn't study for and all she can do is let him lead even though she hates it, and at the same time, he never moves closer.
Some kind of demarcation of space happened while she was away, she thinks. He's never been afraid to intrude on her space before, and yet, and yet isn't this what she asked for? She's never been quite so confused.
Afterwards, he reaches for his scotch and she reaches for her champagne and they toast.
To our mutual destruction, she thinks, tipping her head back.
"Come on," he says. "Let's do shots."
She blinks. "Barney, this is Ted's wedding."
"Correction. This is Ted's wedding reception. And please, what do you think the words 'open bar' on an invitation mean anyway? If you're so scared, I'll just ask the bartender to give us a bunch and we'll sneak out in the hallway."
Her heart pounds hard in her chest.
And it's her mind again, bringing up memories of Marshall showing her Nancy Reagan's "Just Say No" campaign as he lights up a joint. say no, say no, say no--
She licks her lips. "Why the hell not?"
They go shot-for-shot but she bows out after the seventh. At that point, to say she's pretty drunk is an understatement.
She doesn't reach for him in her state of weakness. She considers this an achievement.
Their official story, on-the-record, is that they don't have a story.
James always asks about the two of them, Barney-and-Robin the unit, like they have some kind of epic spanning months and years, but Barney can never think of anything to say.
Barney goes to visit James and the nephew for Christmas dinner, and as James plies him with wine to talk about his love life, he just says that he's going to be a perpetual bachelor.
James purses his lips and suggests they watch the football game.
It's hard to forget that they weren't friends from the get go, he thinks. Revisionist history has a weird way of working itself into his head and if he were to think about it, their entire relationship has been filtered through someone else. He met her through Ted, got together with her through Lily, broke up with her through Lily, Marshall, and Ted. And he thinks – fuck, he doesn't know what he thinks, he doesn't know if this is where he wanted to end up, because god knows, he used to want to change the world, and somehow he's become Anakin Skywalker who wakes up one day to discover that his son Luke's trying to kill him because he's now captaining something called the Death Star, for christ's sake, which hardly means he's on the side of good.
Christmas dinner and the football game is on and he's standing outside, smoking a cigarette. James steps out onto the porch, wraps an arm around him. "How are you really doing?"
He mumbles something around the cigarette.
"Yeah, I thought so."
He changes the subject, takes a long drag. "You seem happy."
James beams. "I am happy."
Barney takes another long drag; the paper sizzles and his brother says, "Come inside."
"In a minute," he says. And he smokes the cigarette all the way down to the filter, the stub still between his fingers.
Lily drags her out to see things on Broadway on Wednesday night, if only because she sometimes needs to break away from Marshall and her kids. They go to see the revival of Les Miserables and she doesn't know why Lily decided to bring her here because it's not even like this is kind of her thing, but there's something about A Little Fall of Rain that makes her heart hurt a little, and goddamn, it's cheesy but she can't help but tear up.
Lily nudges her, smiling. "I knew you had a soul."
"Shut up," she says.
She buys the soundtrack after the show.
They've done the relationship thing and broken up.
They haven't talked about it since then. There's something about talking about it that seems to make the whole thing real all over again. And the idea of the two of them in a relationship? Together? It's ridiculous.
And sometimes when she babysits for Lily and Marshall, her mind wanders. Where did they think it was going to go?
She calls him over on Saturday night when she's stuck with babysitting duties and they watch Toy Story with the kids and buy them McDonalds and when Lily and Marshall get home, the kids are kind of bouncing off the walls from the hot fudge sundaes, but, Barney says with a grin, they're kids, ice cream's part of the deal. And Lily's looking at them like somehow this is going to result in a repeat of what happened years ago.
Sometimes Robin has these weird nostalgic moments when she's in the apartment. It's not even that Ted's dead or anything, but it's so weird not to see him around the apartment, being anal about everything. It takes her time to get used to the idea that he's married.
And there's something different about the group. It's not like it could have gone years and years without changing. But even Barney, things are different with him. They have been ever since that weird fluke of a thing between them – they've never really been the same kind of friends they were before they got together.
It's kind of always been his schtick: Barney, the heavy-drinking, smoking, childlike womanizer. But really, he wonders if this constitutes some kind of problem. Granted, it hasn't reached levels of drinking in the morning, but sometimes he has trouble reconciling his life right now to what he wanted it to be ten years ago.
It's like those stupid letter projects from high school. You write a letter to yourself about where you think you'll be in ten years, and ideally, in ten years, that teacher will mail it to the address you wrote down ten years ago, if you still live there. And he kind of wishes he did that, kind of wishes he had some kind of map to go off of for how to run his life. Because he's pretty sure that his twenty-year plan twenty years ago was to go to Nicaragua, build schools, save the sick, or some other shit like that, and right now, he's doing the exact opposite of what he wanted; he's meeting with foreign powers like Finland and Kyrgyzstan to talk about potential corporate expansions, and sometimes, with Ted and Marshall gone and tied down with kids and 401(k)s and life plans that involve couples-only retirement homes, sometimes, sometimes, the thing that pulls him through the day is that tumbler-full of scotch waiting for him at home and the way it courses through his veins and makes him feel like maybe he's not so pathetic after all.
It's a cycle, he thinks. And he knows the statistics. Children of alcoholics are more likely to become alcoholics themselves, and if his mother is anything to go by, then, well, he's fucked. He might as well accept it now.
He's stopped even thinking about what his dad is like, Bob Barker or not.
And really, if he's stopping to buy another bottle of Johnny Walker at the end of every week, maybe it's time to step up and say that, yeah, maybe this isn't who he should be.
He stares into the glass sometimes, hoping to see something new. He never does.
He dreams of her voice sometimes and fuck if that doesn't want to make him drink some more.
There are no scenes where they run to each other in the rain and clinging, kiss desperately. This isn't how it goes.
Friday night, she tells him, "You look like shit."
And at McClaren's, Lily, Ted, and Marshall are sitting at the booth waiting for them, and he's standing at the bar while she waits for their usual round of beers. He's on his third scotch of the night and as he downs it quickly, she sets her hand on his wrist and says, "What are you hoping to do tonight?"
"Score with the blonde cheerleading squad in the corner," he says without missing a beat.
He sings a bar for her, "Don't stop me now, I'm having such a good time, I'm having a ball."
Carl hands her the platter of beers. "There you go, Robin."
Barney grins at her. "I'm going to go for a smoke. I'll be back."
She brings the beers to the table. Lily nudges her foot gently. "You okay?"
"Yeah," she says.
Lily takes her to see the revival of Company a week later and she vaguely wonders if Lily's up to her old tricks again. And this is how she feels all the time, like she's reading too much into everything without really knowing what she's doing.
Lily, for her part, says nothing.
And in the middle of intermission, Robin blurts, "I'm thinking of moving back to Toronto."
Lily looks aghast. "What?"
"New York hasn't been going the way I hoped. I'm still working at Metro News 1, and it hasn't led to anything significant for my career, and I love you guys, but sometimes I just miss Canada, you know?"
"So go home for a weekend. Don't move back there before you know if it's what you really want."
"Lily, I don't know what I really want. That's the problem. I just feel like I'm not getting it here."
Lily sets her hand on top of Robin's. "So figure it out."
"Don't worry," she says. "I'm just thinking about it."
Lily's rings are cold against her skin.
He calls her that weekend, asks if she wants to come over. She sighs. "What do you want?"
"Let's play cards."
"Oh, come on, Scherbatsky. What are you doing tonight?"
She looks around the empty apartment. "I'll be there in like fifteen."
"Don't be ridiculous," he says. "I sent a car."
She hears the honk of a car horn and, rolling her eyes, pulls her boots on.
His apartment seems emptier than usual but they sit at the island in his kitchen and play rounds of Texas Hold 'Em in relative silence.
"Don't you get tired of it?" she asks.
"Marshall and Lily, Ted and his wife."
He rolls his eyes. "I was tired of it when you were still dating Ted." His voice is sardonic as he adds, "The first time."
She tosses a bunch of chips onto the pile. "Call."
"Why'd you ask, anyway? You think about it?"
"I don't know. It just feels weird, being the only people not in a couple."
He shrugs. "That's just not who we are. So what?"
Yeah, so what, so what, even though her mother has that accusing tone every time she visits home about well when are you planning on getting married, robin and her dad tries to look like he doesn't care that she isn't a boy (and was never a boy).
They could have been best-friends-and-neighbors in another universe; he would have been nice and she would have done things like pushed his face into the dirt because that's just the kind of girl she was growing up. And he'd laugh at her the first time she wore a dress on Sunday, and all in all, they'd be reluctant friends. And somewhere in there is a montage of them growing up and slowly realizing that maybe there's more there than friendship.
That kind of story works because they're so similar, she thinks, in background.
Honestly, it's like puzzle pieces sliding together; when she's bored or drunk or both, sometimes she fabricates these narratives in her head, staring off into space, about what their lives could have been like.
He could have come over to her house, been another person for her mother to dote on when his mom was out dancing or stripping or drinking or whatever it was. James could have been the daughter her mom always wanted, and her dad could have taught Barney how to shoot and hunt and things like that, and the pieces of their life would just fit together.
They've both never really fit in with their families, with the world, and she knows that, she does, but for some reason, she feels like if they fit together, there's something wrong with that too. That's why it was so important to fail the first time, she thinks. It's some sort of validation from God. Except that she's not sure if they brought it on themselves or if it happened naturally; she likes to believe the latter but sometimes their hands will accidentally brush or he'll kiss her on the cheek when he's drunk and she'll feel that spark that used to end up with them in a bedroom, naked.
"It's your bet," he says.
And her mind is a mess of non-sequiturs, so of course:
I'm shocked—shocked!—to find that gambling is going on in here.
Friday night, he drunk dials her.
He coughs out a laugh. "Yeah. I don't know why I called you."
"Where are you?"
"I'm at this bar in the East Village."
"I thought you were going to the cigar club."
"Turns out the cigar club really frowns on public drunkenness. Who'd have thought?"
"I'm coming to get you," she says. "Hang on."
The phone clicks and as he watches the horrors of open mic night unfold right in front of him, his hazy mind tries to figure out if he implicitly included some kind of invitation or plea for help that has her meeting him here.
Things have been building up for a long time, and it's only natural that he wants to figure things out right now (well, that, and he feels a pretty strong need to perhaps throw up later) because, years, years of ignoring things doesn't make them go away. He feels like a radiator about to burst.
She comes in around an hour later, just as he's beginning to sober up a little, holding her iPhone in the air like some kind of weapon. "Turns out apps are good for something." She sets a hand on his back. "Are you feeling sick?"
They decide to walk a good way back towards his apartment in Midtown. They're not going to walk all the way, but the cold air might do him some good. He decides to smoke as they walk and she bums a cigarette off of him.
"We should talk," he says.
"About what we haven't been talking about for a long time," he says.
She tries for the joke: "I didn't think you were the monogamous type."
"It doesn't make sense to me," he says.
"Any of it. All of it." He exhales gray smoke into the chill air, and it's hard to tell where the smoke ends and his breath begins.
"Well, if you want to talk, talk."
He mulls over his thoughts for a while, taking pensive drags from the cigarette, before he says, "I don't think we gave it a fair chance."
"What? Us?" She laughs loudly, because, really, what does that even mean they didn't give it a chance?
He stops walking and looks at her. "It was none of their business," he says.
"They're our friends. They made it their business."
"We were okay," he says. "Before the – we were okay. In the summer. When everything was still us."
She crinkles her nose. "So what, you think that just because we went public with it, that ruined us?"
His forehead wrinkles as he thinks and then he shakes his head. "Forget it. I am not drunk enough for this."
She shakes her head. "You're pretty drunk."
"But not drunk enough."
She shrugs; they drop the subject.
It's on Lily's birthday that something happens.
They head to High-Rise after dinner, and sitting there, watching traffic and sipping at their beers, they hear, "Barney?"
Ted, Marshall, and Lily turn; any time his name is brought up in public by someone who's not one of them, things are bound to get interesting.
And he turns, characteristic grin in place, and seeing her, exhales shakily. "Shannon!"
It's revertigo, it turns out, though Ted still rejects Marshall's term for it. They find out that he didn't sleep with her that night when they found the tape; it was all a lie, which they should be used to.
She's pretty gorgeous. Blonde and tall with red lips and a bright smile. Turns out she works for GlaxoSmithKline in some kind of PR respect, but they don't really care because they've never seen Barney look that way at anyone, or act that way…ever. He's suddenly become so awkward, standing there, just gawping at her.
"It's nice to see you," she says.
"Y-yeah," he stammers. "Same."
She's the one who transformed him, Robin thinks, and before that, he was just someone who was in love with a woman who tore him to pieces. He was a Ted, she thinks, who wasn't quite so lucky as Ted.
"What are you up to?"
"Shannon," he stammers, "um, well, it's my friend, Lily's birthday."
"Oh! That's nice. You work for an NGO or a nonprofit or something? I know that you used to talk about going to Nicaragua to…build things, help the people there."
"Well, we were going to go," he says with that hard-edged bitterness. Shannon just blinks. "And, uh, no. I work in midtown. I headed the campaign for Goliath National."
"Oh, yeah, I saw that. That was a pretty good spot," she says.
And it feels so stilted right now, staged, and Ted is even grimacing a little at the way this conversation is going. Shannon gives him one more patronizing smile.
"Hey, Shannon, can I maybe give you a call sometime?"
And Robin bets they all look pretty ridiculous, jaws to the floor, because she can't remember a time when Barney asked a woman for anything that wasn't part of some kind of Wile E. Coyote-esque plan to get her into bed.
Shannon hands him a business card. "If you ever want to talk about mergers or someone to head up marketing, let me know." She raises her left hand and her wedding band catches the light. "It was good seeing you." A simpering smile and she's off (probably to chat with some kind of Candace Bushnell-reading imp of an executive, Robin thinks).
Barney just stands there, holding the business card.
Lily asks, "Barney, you okay?" (It starts to feel like a broken record.)
He's trying not to lose it, but it feels like that moment in the coffee shop from ages ago. He doesn't even know why his feelings run (ran?) so deep for her, ever, but here he is, ready to down an entire bottle of vodka just to forget this whole painful encounter.
"Yeah," he says. "I'm fine."
They get Lily a cake and sing to her, light a few candles. At the end of the night, Barney hails a cab for her, tucks the business card into his pocket.
She thinks too much about what happened on Lily's birthday.
She wonders if he called Shannon, if they ever had a corporate lunch or business date about possibly getting Goliath National Bank to be some kind of powerhouse on Madison Ave. She thinks about the set of his shoulders when Shannon showed up, the way he sat afterward, the look on his face. Overall, she imagines too much.
It kind of gets to be a burden, really; she's got all this weight on her shoulders from feeling guilty about things she never really resolved (kissing Ted when he was still dating Victoria, letting Barney take most of the fall after they slept together) and it keeps building and building. Like a giant Tetris game. One of these days, she's going to overload and then, game over.
Lily calls and asks her to babysit pretty last minute, but she agrees, mainly because they've all gotten older, and it's not like she likes to go to bars alone. It makes her seem desperate. And Robin Scherbatsky is not desperate.
The kids are quiet for the most part, and she reads Stellaluna about twelve times, but they fall asleep pretty early.
She has a glass of wine and watches reruns of The Price is Right on Game Show Network.
It's on Ted's birthday that it happens.
They all go out and get super drunk, even Lily and Marshall. (Lily's aunt is in town, the kids are away.)
They cling to each other to stand, his hand on the small of her back and her head plopped on his shoulder.
Marshall slurs something about sex as they watch him hail a cab for himself and Lily. Lily bursts into giggles. It's after Ted and his wife leave that Robin can feel the warmth – the heat – of Barney's hand just burning on her skin and she looks up for a second, still wobbly on her feet, and sees the line of his jaw.
She doesn't know what makes her do it.
She presses a soft kiss to his jaw.
Time doesn't slow down. Neither of them bursts out with a declaration of pent-up love. It doesn't start raining.
She pulls away and squints at him. He opens and closes his mouth a few times, but doesn't say anything.
"Let's get a cab," she says. He takes her hand, links his fingers with hers. She smiles as he cautiously trots out into the street, arm outstretched.
It's when they're halfway to her apartment in Brooklyn that she realizes that a) this cab ride is going to be fucking expensive and b) he chose to go to her apartment. She's too drunk to think about what this means or doesn't mean and the minute they both step out of the cab, his hands are in her hair and his lips are on hers, tongue teasing out everything they feel or don't feel.
They clumsily head up the stairs, into her apartment.
The sex is fast, rough, and loud.
In the middle of it all, Robin doesn't think about him or her – she vaguely wonders if she remembered to lock the door behind them. And then it's all fingertips and sensation.
When she wakes up in the morning, head pounding, it takes her until after she downs the aspirin to realize he's left already. It's for the better, she reasons, that they fast-forward past the awkward relapse fuck and move back towards friendship.
When she sees him again later that week, he doesn't say anything about it and they all pretend everything is normal.
She sits at the booth with her ankles crossed, and when she looks up, he's staring into his tumbler of scotch. She notes the way his fingers curl around the glass, observing the dryness of his cuticles.
"When was the last time you had a manicure?" she asks.
He smirks, tries for the easy joke. "Times are tough."
She wonders if his life is falling apart –
the bruises his hands left on her hips twinge with pain when she gets up to go.
Robin doesn't date for a while. She tells Lily she wants to take a break. She's tired of all the guys who are out scamming for wives so they can have kids, or who just want to sleep with her. Lily just looks up from her grading and says, "I just don't want you to be lonely, Robin."
And Robin knows Lily's heart's in the right place, but it's times like these she's reminded of just how meddlesome Lily can be, just how hurtful.
"I'm not lonely," she snaps.
Lily purses her lips, doesn't say anything. "Hey, I haven't talked to Barney in a long time," she says. "We should do a dinner or something."
Lily looks down, and then, "Robin, Marshall and I are thinking about moving."
Robin blinks, digesting the information. "Moving where?"
"It's just that there's no space in New York, and Brooklyn's all right, but Marshall and I are tired of it. We just want fresh air and grass and space for the kids to play in."
"Lily, you've lived in New York your whole life."
"Yeah, but Marshall hasn't. Marshall grew up in a place where they had like acres of space. I think he's starting to hate it here."
"Where would you go?"
Lily shrugs. "Upstate, maybe? It's nothing decided, yet, Robin, but I just wanted to let you know. You're one of our best friends."
It feels like a death sentence, Robin thinks. One of those lines accompanied with the sound of a bell tolling in the background. You're one of our best friends.
They have a dinner at Marshall and Lily's three weeks later. They announce their plans to move when their lease comes up.
Ted wishes them well and Barney says, "Wait, you guys are – you guys are moving?" He wrinkles his eyebrows. "But the – the group!"
Lily grins. "Aw, Barney, are you saying you'll miss us?"
Marshall says, "It's okay, little buddy. We'll only be a two-hour drive away…"
"And it doesn't mean we love you any less." Lily pats him on the head. Robin stifles a laugh, but she knows this means the beginning of the end – it's always been the five of them (Ted, Marshall, Lily, Barney, Robin) and even after Ted got married, it still used to mainly be the five of them. Once Marshall and Lily leave New York, she knows their dynamic will change. Ted will need to start paying more attention to his kids and before either of them know it, Barney and Robin will just be the last two remnants of an era.
Lily runs back to their bedroom, brings out these pictures and pamphlets. They've already scouted a house in Connecticut that's right in their financial range, with a huge yard.
Barney runs his thumb over the picture of the large colonial-style house. East Hampton, Connecticut.
"We'll still see you for holidays," Lily says, throwing an arm around Barney's shoulders.
He's quiet, leaning into her. "It won't be the same," he says.
"Tell you what," Marshall says, "As a parting gift, I won't even give you your last slap."
Barney snorts. "Whatever, Marshall. I'm sure Connecticut will be way more exciting than Manhattan. Don't forget to bring me one of those cows carved out of butter when you come back."
They do the middle-aged dinner party repertoire, including a slew of board games. No one's really into it, though.
"Our lease isn't up for six months, yet, Barney. We'll hang out," Lily says.
"Yeah, buddy," Marshall says, clapping a hand on his back.
The time goes by fast.
Five months and twenty-five days later, Marshall and Lily are mostly packed, the kids mostly bitter at having to leave, and Ted, Barney, and Robin quietly sad.
They go to McClaren's one last time, Barney buying most of the drinks. He's vocal about how much he's not going to miss Marshall and Lily, but at the end of the night, he still gives them both about ten hugs each.
"Shouldn't have given up your last slap, Marshall," he says.
Ted and Marshall try and hide their teary goodbye.
Their last drink together, Ted gives a final toast. They sit in the booth and he raises his beer. "To us," Ted says. "And McClaren's and this booth and the law of New York – nothing ever stays the same. Marshall and Lily, things will never be the same without you. We've had slap bets and goats and jumping buildings, Robin Sparkles, 'lawyered' – it's the end of an era."
Lily starts crying.
That morning, they gather at Marshall and Lily's apartment, helping load the car. Ted smacks Marshall on the back and Lily gives Robin one of her Hermes scarves.
"I don't think I'll need it in Connecticut," Lily says.
"I don't know, Lily," Robin says, sniffing. "There are a lot of WASPs in Connecticut." Lily laughs.
Barney gives Marshall a bottle of his best scotch, gives Lily a bag of clothing from Saks and Neiman Marcus. She goes to hug him tightly.
"Don't forget to call," he squeaks.
Lily gives him a kiss on the cheek. "We're growing up, Barney. It happens. Can't be twenty forever."
He snorts. "Watch me."
Lily instructs the kids to say goodbye as Marshall starts the car. "Bye, Uncle Ted, Uncle Barney, Aunt Robin," the children chirp.
Robin hugs and kisses all the children, tries to ignore the way her heart pulls in her chest. She sniffs. "We'll Skype," Lily says.
Barney slings his arm around her shoulders as the three of them watch Marshall and Lily head towards FDR Drive.
After Ted heads home, they both head to McClaren's later that night, and drink until Carl refuses to serve them any more. She clings to him as they stagger towards the curb. Leaning against him, her nose pressed up against his starched shirt, she closes her eyes, smells the fragrant mix of his cologne and him.
She reaches her arms around him in a semblance of a hug.
He's silent, stands still, back rigid.
She tucks her head beneath his chin and then, biting her lip, says, "Do you want to come over?" She looks up at him from beneath her eyelashes, watches his jaw clench.
He hums. Then, "No."
She blinks. "What?" He shakes his head.
She stands on tiptoe then, presses her lips to his urgently, sloppily. He kisses her back immediately, leaning into it; her hands find their way to his tie, pulling him towards her even more. She presses her hips into his, but then his hands are on her shoulders pushing her away. "Robin."
He makes her feel so fucking confused, she thinks, dazed. She wants him, and she knows that, but she's not sure she wants him in any other way than this. And she knows it's unfair to him because she's just using him, and he has the right to do this – she doesn't even know why she feels hurt by it. Maybe she thought he'd always be open to this, to just fucking around because he's Barney Stinson and this is just the kind of persona he's cobbled together over the years.
So she reacts the only way she knows how, with anger. "What?" she asks. "I'm not good enough for you?"
He looks down at her, fingers the ends of her hair. "You know that's bullshit," he says, and she marvels at how odd those words feel coming from him. He pauses, licks his lips.
She shakes her head. "Forget it, Barney," she says, and then down the street she goes.
"You're Scherbatskying me," he calls after her. She turns on her heel.
He walks up towards her, impassioned. "You're not Mosbying me anymore, you're Scherbatskying me, and I don't know what the fuck to do." He clenches his fists and then, "I'm not just going to be your fuck buddy when you're drunk."
"And why the hell not?"
He coughs out a laugh and she's surprised at how bitter it sounds. She wonders if he's become a true cynic, down to his bones, rather than the hidden romantic she knew he was, the person who flew to San Francisco to bring Lily back just because he believed in Lily and Marshall. He metes out his words slowly, forces them through his teeth almost, filtered through his indignation. "You were the…first person…I ever – since Shannon, Robin. How – and you honestly don't think you're different from the other girls that I just slept with? You're not that naïve."
He walks up to her, reaches for her. He kisses her deeply, his need showing as his fingers dig into her back, mouth plying hers with urgency. She kisses back, trying as hard as she can to entice him. She doesn't want to think about the emotional, about defining anything, but the physical? She lives through it, can feel the blood thudding loudly in her ears, feel the warmth of him through his coat.
When they pull away, she's panting.
"You –" he starts. "It's been five years, Robin. And you think I'm the same person."
She doesn't say anything. He looks at her for a second and then sighs. "I'll call you a cab," he says.
"Don't bother," she says, anger laced in her voice. "I'm taking the train." Her boots stomp furiously down the block.
He doesn't follow her. There's no emotional reunion scene at the magically clean subway platform.
She takes the F train back to her apartment, spends the rest of the night lying on the bathroom floor.
She doesn't hear from Ted or Barney for two weeks. She assumes Ted's busy with helping his pregnant wife, doesn't think about why Barney's avoiding her. In the silence, she really feels Lily's absence. She realizes the lack of people to call about her present situation. Not that she would even know what to say. She can't even begin to think of the words that would describe their situation. She's always been the passive actor in their relationship, and this time, he keeps forcing her hand, prompting her to make the first move. It's not a role she's comfortable playing.
She must call him about twelve times. She hangs up every time before he picks up.
Instead, she buys cheap wine, relives her college days by drinking Franzia and watching the Designing Women marathon on Lifetime. Her second glass into it, her phone rings.
"I know you called me," he says. "What did you want to talk about?"
"I didn't call you," she says.
He laughs. "Who are you kidding?"
"Don't flatter yourself," she says before hanging up.
He reacts appropriately. He invites himself over.
To be fair, he does bring Boggle, though she's not really in the mood for word games. They play enough of those themselves. That's not to say they don't try to work the pretense – he shakes up the box and the lettered dice fall where they fall.
She jots down the first word she sees – fate.
He jots down tea.
He says, "We need to talk about this."
She says, "Don't be such a girl."
Second word he finds – taxed. Hers, axe.
Her TV plays quietly in the background. The Designing Women marathon becomes Grey's Anatomy. He snorts. She offers him some wine.
He stands then. "I should go."
She looks up, lips stained red. A beat passes. And then, she whispers, decisively, "Stay."
He knows it's weakness, but he can't help but reach for her. It haunts him, it really does, the softness of her skin, the smell of her hair, the soft noises she makes. She seems happy enough when she winds her fingers through his hair, and he knows he's making a mistake; he's not stupid, he's older and wiser, and this will only lead to trouble. He knows that the right thing to do is to cut her out of his life, the right thing to do is make sure he never makes this mistake again. Because all it ends up in is something like his heart breaking (he's heard about it happening to other people). Except she's here, hands on his chest, and she needs him and, fuck, he doesn't have the willpower to resist that.
It's like math, really: y = mx+b
If y is them sleeping together, all they need to do to get there is have Robin (m) with sexiness (x) plus Barney (b). Every single fucking time.
They sleep together that night.
Christmas at Marshall and Lily's and they decide to drive up together. It's awkward, but Ted has his wife and daughter, so what choice do they have? They don't talk – the radio always stays on, some bland Top 40 station that plays music that neither of them like, people like Miley Cyrus and Taylor Swift, singers that Barney's sure Ted will inevitably spend hours of his life listening to.
Barney's rented the car, Robin drives. It should be simple. It inevitably is not.
The awkwardness gets stifling about forty-five minutes into it, and sitting in the passenger seat, Barney can't help but observe the little details about her that he never really noticed before, like the way her slender fingers curl over the steering wheel, or the way she blows hair out of her eyes when she's impatient.
She can feel his eyes on her, though, and it's unsettling – it makes her feel both uncomfortable and not. She's used to this game that they play, back and forth, back and forth, the whole thing plays like an unending tennis volley. She listens mindlessly to the pop blaring from the car speakers, tries to forget the feeling of his blue eyes settling on her. It's all in her head, and she knows that, but they've been doing this weird relationship for so long that it's impossible for her to imagine what life before Barney was like. She's starting to think it's some regressive nostalgia problem, imagining that life in Canada was all The Andy Griffith Show now that her life and relationships in New York are calling out for their own Dear Abby column.
Driving usually gives her an outlet for things she doesn't really want to think about, provides a mindless set of rules and procedures she needs to focus on that simultaneously occupy her mind and clear it.
Barney's beginning to question his own sanity. He's thinking about propositioning Robin with an ultimatum of all things, and he's starting to wonder when he became this person who should rightfully belong to General Hospital. They were in a relationship once, that lasted a whopping three months, years ago and for some reason, he can't let go of it. She won't respond to an ultimatum, and he knows her well enough to know that, but the desire to just get it out in the open, to make her choose friends or sex is still buried deep within him. He just wants to sort it all out so he can go back to being the Barnacle and stop being this half-assed mess.
But what is he going to say? We need to talk? Where is this going? He's hardly on Desperate Housewives, and he's not even sure she would respond to those questions beyond a laugh. He feels lost in his life, and it's been so long since he's felt that way about someone that he's not even sure what to do about it.
He stays silent.
Christmas dinner is nice and relaxed. Ted's new baby sleeps fine. Lily and Marshall's kids remain generally well-behaved, and Robin's surprised to see Lily's pregnant again. "What can I say?" Marshall shrugs, grinning.
Barney high-fives Marshall and for a second, it feels like old times.
It's at night, when Lily and Marshall and Ted and his wife go to tuck in their respective children that they find themselves alone again. He sits by the Christmas tree, all lit up and decorated, marveling. She sits across from him, mirrors his stance. "When I was a kid," he says, "Our Christmas tree was never this big."
She makes a soft noise, takes another sip of wine. "Barney," she says, and he looks up. I don't know where this is going, she wants to say, but I know I want you. His eyes wrinkle at the edges in curiosity. "Happy Christmas."
"Merry Christmas," he corrects, and with a good-natured roll of the eyes, adds, "Canadian."
She laughs, but she feels a dull pain – things are so different now with just them in the city. They rarely see Ted, who's busy with his baby and his classes. The two of them occasionally spend time together, though not as regularly as they used to. The dynamic's changed. They were all expecting it, but the lack of camaraderie still resonates in her.
Marshall and Lily come down first, and then Ted and his wife, and they all mingle around the living room. Marshall and Ted tell a bunch of old stories about college, and they all start talking about McClaren's, and Robin realizes she hasn't been back in something like a year. Lily runs to keep everyone's glasses overflowing with alcohol.
"Lily," Barney says, standing to stretch, "Are you trying to get me drunk?"
Lily smiles. "You know me, Barney." And Robin's smiling but even these meetings with Marshall and Lily and Ted – she loves them and she knows they love her, but it's starting to feel more like a sitcom than what it used to be when they used to just hang out at McClaren's. Lily's playing the hostess and Ted's the distinguished professor, and she – what has she done with her life? She's still working in Manhattan at a job she only semi-despises that barely gives her enough money to front rent, but she doesn't have enough money (or faith in the economy) to want to relocate anywhere else.
Ted and Marshall start playing with the various toys the kids got for Christmas that are left on the floor. Ten-thirty p.m. Christmas day, and Robin's sitting in a room with boys playing with toy trains.
She and Lily wander off to talk for a bit, but things haven't really changed, so there's nothing to report. When she's heading out of the kitchen towards the living room and Barney's heading into the kitchen, their point of intersection happens under the archway.
"Stop!" Lily yells, and Ted and Marshall suddenly shove the toy trains behind their backs, guiltily. "Not you, baby. Barney, Robin, look up."
Robin looks up and sighs exasperatedly. "Lily, we tried this already."
"I don't care. I'm pregnant, therefore you have to do what I say. It's in the rules."
Marshall nods from his spot on the floor. "It's true, Robin. She has powers."
Robin sighs, but her heart still picks up all the same as she leans in, and the feeling of anticipation seizes on her again. Even though her fingers ache to reach up and touch him, she keeps them still by her side and their lips touch. It's a gentle kiss, not like the ones which lead to their having sex in her apartment, but it shakes her all the same.
They pull away and he swallows hard. She pretends not to notice.
Ted's wife makes catcalls at them as Lily smiles, smug. "You guys still got it," she says.
Barney looks away and she tries not to blush, and all in all, Christmas isn't bad.
It's when Ted suggests that she and Barney meet him at McClaren's a year later that she knows something is up.
He looks amazingly happy, though, so she suspects that maybe, for once, her instincts are off, that maybe his wife's pregnant again or something.
Turns out, she's right. Twice. His wife is pregnant again (a boy this time, it turns out), and he's gotten a promotion. Sort of.
She takes a sip of her beer. "What do you mean a 'sort-of' promotion?"
"They offered me a teaching position at Cornell's architecture school."
She jumps out of her seat. "Ted, that's great!"
Barney exhales forcefully. "You moving, Ted?"
Robin sits back down. "Wait, Ted, couldn't you commute?"
"It's a four hour drive," Ted says. "Plus, now that she's pregnant again – you know, Brooklyn still doesn't even have that much space."
"Oh, come on!" Robin protests. "On Law and Order, that one guy has like five kids and lives in Queens. You know, the hot one. It's not impossible."
Barney stares into his scotch.
"Oh, come on, guys," Ted says. "It's not like we won't still see each other!"
"Sure, Ted," Robin says.
The end of that night, they hug and Robin feels even more lost.
Barney calls her the following weekend, grief in his throat, and invites her to laser tag. They haven't played in a long time, and she knows that this is more about him losing his best friend than about their fucked up relationship.
It's one-on-one this time, not team, and it's incredible how intense it gets. It almost feels like she's actually in the military, rolling her steps to hide the sound, peering around corners. The adrenaline thrums in her body, hands clammy.
She's not even sure who wins.
He turns a corner and she aims, but he goes for the dirty blow and knocks the gun out of her hand. She, of course, retaliates—suddenly laser tag is serious business—and knocks the gun out of his hand. And then, they're…wrestling. It's not even sexual, surprisingly. He's on top of her, arms pinning her down, and she's trying to kick him anywhere, just to get the advantage, and it hits her five minutes in just how angry he is. Legitimately angry. She can't figure out why.
He pants, muscles tense.
"Barney," she says, and he blinks.
She slaps him, open hand right across the face, and he gapes for a minute. "Sorry," she says. "I always kind of wanted to do that."
He pushes her off of him and she moves back towards him, kissing him. He pulls away abruptly. "Stop."
"I know this is about Ted," she says. "I know you."
He scoffs. "You're just angry because you couldn't beat me at laser tag."
They both reach for their laser tag guns at the same time, aim point blank, and squeeze – nothing goes off.
Barney has to laugh.
Ted's last night in the city, and Barney takes him out to McClaren's.
Ted wears a suit and Barney dresses down in a t-shirt and jeans. Barney slides his arm across Ted's shoulders and leads him around the bar.
He taps a woman on the shoulder. "Have you met Ted?"
Robin notices the small sad smile as Barney walks away. Ted chats up the woman for five minutes before heading back to their booth. Sitting down, he loosens the tie. "You should be lucky my wife decided not to kill you."
Barney snorts. "Please. She loves me too much."
Ted smiles, claps a hand on Barney's back. "You'll be okay. We'll come down and visit."
Barney raises his tumbler of scotch. "You were a good wingman, Ted. And the best friend I could ever have."
"Well," Ted says, with a smile, "You were legen-wait-for-it-dary."
Robin thinks she might even see a tear in Barney's eye – she catalogues the night as one to remember.
Barney calls her at nine a.m. the next morning, asks her out to breakfast. She agrees to meet him at a diner in Midtown.
She crinkles her nose when she sees him. "Oh my god." He smells like cigarettes and stale beer, suit rumpled with a sizeable shadow on his face. Sitting down, she asks, "Did you not shave? Or bathe?"
He sniffs and flags down the waiter, who shoots him a dirty look. "Coffee," he says.
"Have you slept?"
"Your concern is touching."
She gets an omelet and he gets pancakes, drenching them in maple syrup. She watches as he eats. It's a fascinating process, her eyes drawn to his lips. She drums her fingers on the table. "Why did you invite me?"
"What do you mean?"
She waves her hand in the air between them. "We're not talking. This is – I don't even know what this is. Why did you invite me?"
He looks down at his food, and then up at her. "Sometimes," he says, with a long pause, "Sometimes, people just need…people."
She blames the early hour, her hunger, her mindlessness. "And you need me?"
His eyes are charged then when he looks at her, bright blue with an intensity she hasn't felt in a long time. He continues to eat, one pancake piece at a time, and then, when he finishes chewing, dabs at his mouth with the napkin and says, "Yeah. I need you." He takes his coffee cup then, stares into it as he takes a long drink.
She doesn't know what to make of what he says, doesn't know where they're headed or what they're doing or if this is even anything new or serious. She says, "Oh."
He snorts, unsurprised.
This is not the movies. He doesn't ask her, loudly, what do you want and she doesn't guiltily look around before admitting you and there is no follow-up montage sequence where they kiss, have sex, and somehow end up living together in Florida, eighty-years-old.
He says, "I did just lose one of my wingmen."
Robin's grateful for the out, but this morning is just not a great one in terms of the choices and decisions she's making (the Southwestern omelet even though she's always disliked pepper jack cheese, though it sits better with her today than it usually does), so she says, "That's not why you need me."
"You think you know why I need you?"
The air between them grows charged. "Yeah," she says, taking a bite of her home fries. "I do."
"And why is that?"
"Because you love me," she says. And he looks between her and his plate of food about a thousand times and her mind is racing because—god, how could she just have said that—what the fuck was she thinking, they haven't gone out in ages, and it's all supposed to be behind them. Both of them are supposed to have moved on to bigger and better things, like sexual promiscuity and emotionally detached relationships.
He reaches for the ketchup bottle. "Loved," he corrects. "Past tense." He squirts the ketchup onto his plate. He drags his home fries through them with his fork.
It shouldn't hurt as much as it does, Robin thinks, that he changed the tense of the verb. She doesn't really know what she was expecting.
Three a.m. and she's at his apartment building, knocking on his door.
She expects some sort of diabolical silk pajama set or maybe even a suit but when he answers the door, he looks like everyone else, t-shirt and boxers. He scrubs at his eyes with the back of his hand. "What are you doing here?"
She lifts the brown paper bag. "I brought scotch."
He stands aside to let her in.
It's a bad idea and both of them know it – they're past the hour when logical reasoning kicks in naturally, so they just stand by the island counter in his unused kitchen, drinking scotch straight from the bottle. "You haven't answered my question," he says.
"I, um, I wanted to see you."
He chuckles in disbelief. "You wanted to see me?" She places her hands on his face, drags her fingertips along his jaw. He closes his eyes. "What are you doing?"
She exhales. "I don't know."
"Nothing good," he says shakily as her hands move slowly down to his neck, "Nothing good happens after two a.m."
She leans close to him, nose pressing against his collarbone. "We're not Ted," she says. "Bad decisions are kind of our thing."
He leans closer, and then further away. Like a pendulum, he sways between her and the island, and she can't figure out if it's from the alcohol (though she doubts it) or if he's having second doubts (though she doubts that too).
And then he takes a step back and a deep breath and says, "I can't do this."
And she blinks. "What?"
He laughs, rubs his hand over his eyes again. "I'm too old for this." He turns his back to her and starts heading back towards his bedroom. "You can let yourself out."
Her hand accidentally knocks the scotch as he's halfway down the hallway to his bedroom. The amber liquid spills down the marble counters, and she just stands there for a second, unsure of what to do.
She doesn't leave.
Instead, she rifles through his hall closet, changes out of her clothes into one of his old college t-shirts. She tiptoes into his bedroom, slinks into bed with him.
It's dark and his breathing is too erratic for him to actually be asleep, but she pretends that she doesn't know that and he pretends he's sleeping, and like the story of their relationship, somehow, if both of them believe the lie, it almost seems to become true. She shifts closer to him, reaches for him. She splays one leg over his, presses her nose against the crook of his shoulder.
She lets her lips graze the skin of his neck.
"I," she breathes against his skin. She's halfway into another syllable when she realizes that she doesn't know what to say. I'm sorry? I love you? I need you too? The clichés run through her mind like one of those old microfilm reels, and she doesn't know what she feels, much less how to let him know what she's feeling. She just presses another kiss to his neck, settles against him. She matches her breathing with his until she falls asleep.
In the morning, she, surprisingly, doesn't wake up alone. He's awake, but he's just lying there, looking at her, hand on the small of her back.
She doesn't want to talk about what happened, so she doesn't bring it up; he doesn't want to chase her out so he doesn't talk about it either.
She stands and heads towards the bathroom. There's a Duane Reade bag on the counter, a toothbrush and body wash in it. She brushes her teeth, takes a quick shower. When she emerges, he has breakfast on the counter.
This is even more awkward than when they actually had sex.
She says, "Thanks for letting me stay."
He takes a muffin from the bag. "Anytime."
She genuinely smiles for the first time in a long time. It feels like growth.
It's about a week later when he comes over to her apartment when she's watching Conan, a bottle of wine in hand. He knocks.
She answers the door, wearing one of his t-shirts. He smirks. "You stole one of my shirts?"
"Shut up," she says.
"I brought you wine."
She steps aside, lets him in. He pours them wine and she slips back into her bed to watch Conan. He toes off his shoes, sits on top of the covers with her. They drain their glasses pretty quickly, but he's never been the hugest wine fan. He pours her a second glass, sets his on her bedside table.
She falls asleep pretty quickly.
It's when he shifts his weight to reach for her wine glass to take out to the kitchen with his that she wakes up, turns towards him with great effort. She tries to open her eyes, but settles for an exhausted, sleepy mumbling. "Stay," she says, flailing her hand.
"I'm just going to put these in the kitchen."
She rolls onto her side. "Mmkay."
When he comes back, he shrugs off his jacket and takes off his dress shirt and pants. He lies next to her as gently as possible in his wifebeater and boxers, trying not to wake her. She rolls over in her sleep, kicks him soundly in the thigh. He grunts. Her arm settles on his face as she nuzzles her face into his shoulder blade.
He can't fall asleep until she rolls back towards the edge of the bed, allowing him to reposition himself.
It's at Lily's daughter's birthday party that Robin realizes things have changed. Her weird…arrangement with Barney has been going on long enough that she finds she can't sleep late at night without him there. As Robin plays with her godchildren, Lily busies herself with making french fries.
Barney stands behind her as Lily's daughter starts braiding part of her hair as part of a makeover.
"You're going to look so pretty, Aunt Robin!"
Robin laughs dryly. "Yeah, I bet." She lifts her hand and Barney reaches for it; in the kitchen, Lily smirks. She flags Robin down.
Robin stands. "Sorry, honey, your mom's calling."
"Sorry, baby," Lily calls. And then, to Robin, she says, hands on hips, "What was that?"
"Don't 'what' me, Robin Scherbatsky. I saw that weird…hand-holdy thing you and Barney were doing. Are you guys dating again?"
Robin rolls her eyes. "Lily, this failed the first time you pushed it."
Lily grins. "Uh-huh, sure, change the subject. I am used to all sorts of deflection, Robin. I have kids. I'm a 's code for all-knowing."
Barney sneaks into her room later that night, slides into bed with her.
She shifts to one side, sighs contentedly in her sleep.
When they're driving back to Manhattan (read: she's driving, he's…sleeping), she comes to realize just how much she's come to rely on him. It used to be that she could just ignore the gravity of his presence in her life, but it's not even that they're Robin Scherbatsky and Barney Stinson in The Group anymore. They've become the group, replaced the group. Everyone's settled down and planted roots everywhere else, and they continue to hover around each other, buzzing and floating as they pretend they haven't found someplace to land.
He wakes up when she decides to stop to refill her gas.
He buys a pack of cigarettes and some cheap coffee as she stands at the pump.
Driving on the New Jersey turnpike, he says, "We can swap if you want."
She smirks. "You don't even have your license."
"It's the thought that counts."
When they get back to her apartment, he goes to get pizza and she heads inside. She relies on him, and for some reason, it doesn't bother her as much as it used to. There's something about growing older, something about the things that people say to her, that make her think that maybe relying on someone else isn't a bad thing. After all those late-night LifeAlert commercials, you know, when they're eighty or something, if one of them falls down the stairs, at least the other person can call the paramedics.
The door opens then, and he says, "I got pepperoni, that's all they had." He sets the cardboard box on the kitchen counter, and she just walks towards him, silent, and wraps her arms around him. He chuckles, and murmurs, "Guess you really like pepperoni."
"I need you too," she says, looking up.
His eyes study her expression for a second, bright with curiosity. She knows he knows what she's referring to, and it's this connection, she thinks, the way that he knows what she's thinking about even when their conversation was paused months, years ago.
He says, "We don't have to be those people."
And she says, "I know. It'll be different."
She doesn't say anything else then, just disentangles herself from him to grab a slice of pizza. He watches her as she eats it, gently jokes that the right way to eat pizza is to fold it first, let the grease drip down.
She wrinkles her nose. "That's disgusting."
"No," he says, picking up a slice of his own and demonstrating his own technique, "that's New York."
They have Thanksgiving at Ted's this year, and as Robin helps Lily prepare the stuffing, she says, off-handedly, "I think this is going to be a good year."
Lily's always been the optimist of their group, so she just beams. "Aw, Robin, that's great! Did you get a promotion?"
Barney steps into the kitchen, dress shirt sleeves rolled up to the elbows, a child latched to each leg and one to his back. "The Barnacle's got barnacles," he says, dryly. The children giggle.
"Dad," Ted's daughter says, cutely, "Why aren't you as cool as Uncle Barney?"
Ted scoffs. "I'm cool!"
"Dad, you read us The History of the World's Best Bridges as a bedtime story once."
Barney shakes his leg and the children laugh.
Robin says, "I think it's time to open the vino. What do you think?"
Lily nods. "I can't believe you even had to ask."
Robin laughs as she rummages through the drawer for the corkscrew. The cork comes out with a loud pop and Robin takes a swig straight from the bottle.
Ted narrows his eyes. "I hope you've been tested for alpaca flu," he says. "Because if not, that's just irresponsible."
Marshall grabs the wine bottle, pours it into glasses. "Ted," he says, deadpan. "Robin does not have alpaca flu."
Robin smiles. "Thank you, Marshall."
"No problem, Robin. Besides, everyone knows alpaca flu is a myth."
Ted smirks. "Marshall, alpaca flu is not a myth."
They start arguing.
It feels like old times, Robin thinks. (Part of it, she thinks, is that it feels like the summer before – the summer before the breakup, the summer before everyone knew, the summer before her life started to change.)
Robin's lease on the Brooklyn apartment comes up.
She doesn't renew it.
They spend Christmas at Marshall and Lily's again. She loves spending time with her old friends again, setting up the Christmas tree and arranging presents for the kids. Sometimes, it's hard for her to believe just how grown up they are, with their own lives and houses. It's hard for her to believe that they're not just playing dress-up.
It's when she hands Lily the gift she got her that Lily gasps. "Robin Scherbatsky," she says, lifting Robin's right hand. "What is that?"
"It's a ring."
"I know that. It's gorgeous. Is it a present from a gentleman caller?" Lily does that thing where she sits up straight, shimmies her shoulders. Marshall's head perks up.
"Robin," he says. "Do you have something to tell us?"
Lily sighs. "Wrong hand, baby."
"Oh. Sorry, Robin."
Robin laughs. "A gentleman caller, Lily?"
"I've been in Connecticut for a long time, Robin. Can't help that some of it just rubs off on me." Lily grins. "Spill."
Robin says, "Open your gift, Lily."
Lily does – it's this season's it item, which she's sure Lily's been wanting since it made the fashion pages. Lily gasps. "You got me the Jimmy Choos?" She tackles Robin in a hug. "Thank you, thank you, thank you!"
Robin laughs. "Merry Christmas, Lily."
At night, when the Christmas tree lights are on, Robin's ring sparkles in the red and green light. Lily smiles. She doesn't tell Robin that she knows what the ring is, that she saw it in the Harry Winston catalogue months ago and she knows how much it costs and who can afford it. She doesn't tell Robin that she's pretty sure who gave it to her, doesn't tell her how happy it makes her.
Marshall comes to stand next to Lily by the window. It starts snowing. "Babe?" he says.
Lily grins, reaches for his hand. "It's a Christmas miracle."
Marshall blinks. "Lily, it snows every year. It's been snowing since November."
New Years' and Robin pads out into the kitchen in her socks and bathrobe. She makes coffee, holds the warm mug in her hands as she looks out the window.
He comes to stand next to her and she leans her head on his shoulder.
"It's going to be a good year," she says.
He kisses the top of her head.