A/N: Things get slightly steamier in this chapter, but we're not at full-on smut. Yet. ;-) Also, a few familiar faces make more of an appearance here. (No, it's not the gang. Yet). One of them you may not be so pleased to see, but they are very necessary to the story. Enjoy.
Having glanced up the corridor to ensure that Barney had safely found his way into Sandy’s briefing room, Robin hurried to the bathroom and surveyed herself in the mirror.
Yup, she looked exactly like she’d been interrupted in the middle of a steamy make-out session. Flushed cheeks, smeared lipstick, hair ruffled, clothing slightly awry.
What am I doing? she thought, as she attended to her lipstick and made a few tweaks to fix the damage elsewhere. I just made out with a virtual stranger in a meeting room at my office. I just openly agreed to bunk off work for the afternoon and have sex with him. What kind of slut am I? Not to mention I could lose my job here.
She paused a moment to consider this seriously. She wasn’t sure what was the most alarming – the prospect of losing her job or the fact that she didn’t care. Come on Scherbatsky, career first, right?, the Voice of Reason tried to insist.
Career? You call this a ‘career’? Seriously??, objected that pesky, rebellious voice in her head, which was starting to sound disturbingly like another voice which she was getting to know and like a little too much. And besides, career first before WHAT, exactly?
That was a very good question.
She had no idea what was going on with her or why she was acting this way. Just over a good-looking guy? That made NO sense. She’d met dozens of hot guys – well, okay not dozens, but a few – often through work, and she’d never done anything even remotely like this before. Why didn’t I just ask him out for a drink after work? He’d have said ‘yes’, that’s pretty obvious. Why does this guy make me act like I’ve lost my mind? she wondered. But it was unfathomable.
The last man who’d had this effect on her was Simon, all those years ago. Well, and that time three years ago when he’d come to New York for a gig, met up with her and asked her out again, and she went crazy like she was sixteen all over again, only to find that Simon hadn’t changed either, and the night ended with her sobbing into her lonely Scotch bottle as she watched ‘Sandcastles in the Sand’ on a repeat loop, alone on her couch, wishing there were some arms there to hold her and someone with the words to make it all better.
After that night, she’d given herself a good talking to, shored up her game face even more than before, and decided to forget about men (she didn’t even like to think of it as forgetting about ‘love’, because what the hell was ‘love’, anyway?) and pursue her career to the exclusion of all else. It was largely what prompted her to take a job in Japan a few months later. But Tokyo hadn’t worked out. She endured it for her contracted twelve months, but she felt like a fish out of water, and the day she stepped off the plane back onto American soil she burst into tears. Even though she was Canadian. Of course she’d hidden in the airport bathroom to do it, but still. Three months after that, about a year ago, she’d received a letter from the Immigration Department threatening to deport her back to Canada if she didn’t find a job in journalism immediately. Unsure whether being the next Coin Flip Bimbo would be satisfactory, she played it safe and took the WWN job.
But still, she kept trying. She would make a success of being in New York. She would. So she kept focused, kept working hard, despite the creeping suspicion that this job was even more of a joke – or at least, she was even more of a joke – than she had felt at Metro News One. Outside of work, she’d started dating again – God knows, after the dating hell which was Japan, she was getting desperate – but it was even worse than before, and even more tedious than the job. She’d had a few fun times, met the occasional nice guy, but nothing, no-one, had touched her mentally, emotionally, sexually. It didn’t matter if it was a one-night stand or whether she dated a guy for a month – she’d tried both, with the same result. Nothing. No feelings. It was like something in her had been switched off.
Yet now, in just twenty-four hours – or barely in minutes, if you counted the actual time she had spent in Barney’s presence or speaking to him – the switch had been thrown and it was as if her mind was blown. She felt profoundly unsettled, shaken up, like she’d stepped through the looking-glass and the world wasn’t quite as she knew it. Something was bubbling beneath the surface of her, desperate to be released. She’d always been in control, but for the first time that she could remember since Simon – or that embarrassing Paul Shaffer obsession episode - she didn’t feel that way and she wasn’t hating it. She ought to be hating it, but it was as though Barney Stinson had… worked something loose in her somehow, and it felt good, like opening a window, or cracking a stiff muscle, or the first day of a vacation when everything is new and anything is possible. But still, the unaccustomed recklessness which it seemed to be engendering in her came as a shock. She hadn’t even known she was capable of this kind of behavior any more.
At length she headed back to her desk, thinking she should probably check some emails rather than writing off this entire day to the weird blur of lust and confusion which it was turning into.
‘Oh there you are, Robin,’ chirped Patrice as she appeared. ‘There was a phone message for you just now. This guy said you’re to SMS him straight away.’ She proffered a Post-It note with a cell phone number on it.
Robin frowned. ‘That’s weird. Did he leave a name?’
‘No,’ replied Patrice. ‘But he said to tell you that if you were still on for the meeting, to Google it, and it would be, um, what was the word he used again? Awesome. That was it.’ She shrugged. ‘I didn’t really get it.’
Robin struggled to suppress a grin.
‘What’s funny?’ asked Patrice innocently.
‘Nothing, nothing,’ replied Robin. Pulling out her phone, she rapidly input the number Patrice had handed her, and fired off a quick SMS: Missing me already? ;-P
There was no reply for a few minutes (despite Robin checking her phone roughly every three seconds) and she was just starting to wonder whether Barney was already in the studio with Sandy and couldn’t reply, or even whether she’d misunderstood and this wasn’t his number at all, when her cell phone rang.
‘Hello?’ she gasped. Patrice looked up from her desk in curiosity. Seriously, that girl watched her like a hawk. Robin could scarcely breathe in peace with her around.
‘This is your call from the hospital,’ he said slyly.
‘My – what? What do you want?’ she hissed.
‘I’m bored,’ whined Barney. ‘They’re done with me in make-up and I’m just waiting to be called into the studio. So anyways, I figured you might need help with your escape plan. If we’re still on? Don’t answer that. Well, I mean, answer it, but don’t answer-answer it, if you know what I mean. Pretend I’m calling from the hospital and one of your relatives has been hurt in a terrible accident. I know you can do it. Okay, go.’
Robin took a breath and pursed her lips mischievously.
‘My car?!!’ she cried in mock horror. ‘You can’t be serious!!’
‘What’s the matter, Robin?’ cried Patrice in alarm.
‘Oh Scherbatsky, really?’ sighed Barney on the other end of the phone. ‘If you’re going to try to outplay me just for the sake of it, at least come up with something good.’
Robin turned to Patrice in fake agitation. ‘My car was stolen and the police gave chase but it was accidentally totaled by a truck carrying a load of, um…’ she stalled suddenly, her mind a blank.
‘Bananas?’ suggested Barney excitedly. ‘Condoms? Ooh, ooh, whipped cream?’
‘Maple syrup!’ cried Robin wildly at last.
There was an audible groan from the phone, followed by laughter.
‘Maple syrup?’ asked Patrice, her forehead crinkling in confusion. ‘Why? I thought you only had that in Canada. Why would there be a truckload of maple syrup in New York City?’
‘THE POLICE CHASED THE THIEVES OUT OF THE CITY, PATRICE!’ yelled Robin in irritation, causing Barney to yelp, ‘Ow! Jeez, mind my ear here!’ before adding, ‘Who’s Patrice? Is she hot? Can we have a threeway?’
Turning back to the phone, Robin said sweetly, ‘No, officer, I don’t think it’ll be necessary to have my lawyer present. I’m pretty sure I can provide everything you need.’
‘Oh, I’m sure you can,’ he murmured, in a voice which turned Robin’s insides to liquid flame. ‘As I can for you. Everything you need, everything you ever wanted, and a few things you never even dreamed of.’
It took every ounce of Robin’s self-control to keep her face composed under Patrice’s continued wide-eyed scrutiny, and to reply, ‘Well, thank you, officer. I appreciate that. It’s not every day one gets such admirable service from the NYPD.’
‘Oh, you’ll be serviced admirably, all right.’
‘Well then, I guess we’d better get down to it – I mean, get on with it – I’ll um, meet you there in an hour then,’ she concluded jumpily, losing her cool just a little.
Barney sniggered. ‘Ha ha, that one nearly got you, huh? And, you’ll meet me where in an hour? I’m still upstairs.’
‘Then that’s where I’ll meet you,’ she said with just a hint of a tease. ‘Thanks again for your call, officer. Oh – this isn’t going to take all afternoon, is it?’
‘Oh no’, said Barney. ‘I was thinking more along the lines of all night.’
Robin sighed exaggeratedly and rolled her eyes for Patrice’s benefit. ‘Oh well, if you think so, officer. I know these things can be very lengthy,’ she sighed innocently.
Barney gave another absolutely delighted snigger and exclaimed, ‘Yeah you did! Just you wait. I’ve got about the lengthiest thing you’ve ever seen.’
‘Oh, that won’t be a problem at all, officer,’ she replied. She was about to continue ‘I’m quite used to that’ but then decided she didn’t want him to think she was a total slut who did this kind of thing every week. She wasn’t quite sure why she cared what he thought. Still, it was difficult to dial the innuendo back now that they’d gone this far with it, so she simply changed tack slightly and said, ‘Just let me know what you want me to do, or if there’s anything special which I need to bring along.’
‘Oh ho, now you’re talking!’ he exclaimed. ‘But I think you’ll find that my, um, station is pretty well equipped, if you’re saying what I hope you’re saying.’
‘Absolutely,’ said Robin. ‘Thanks again, officer. It’s good to know I’m in such great hands. I’ll see you later then.’
There was just time to hear him breathe, ‘Wow, you’re awesome!’ before she pressed the button to end the call. She tried to ignore the way it made her heart skip a beat.
***************************************Around twenty minutes later, Robin sauntered as casually as she could into the producer’s booth in the recording studio. Researchers like her didn’t normally go in there, but it wasn’t the first time, and she was able to whisper something about ‘working on a bigger feature based on this story’ into the headphoned ear of Eddie, the producer, who just waved his hand distractedly and moved aside to let her sit down. She thought it might arouse some suspicion if she asked for a set of headphones herself, so she contented herself with watching through the glass partition. She couldn’t hear anything which was taking place in the studio, but from where she was sitting she had a clear view of Sandy sitting in between an angry-looking blonde woman in a knitted beret, whom she took to be Zoey Pierson, and an impeccably cool Barney.
Sitting back in her chair, Robin simply watched him. Despite his earlier claim, the studio make-up had somehow managed to make him look even more attractive (What had they done? Had he asked them to deliberately emphasize his cheekbones? Jesus) and everything in his posture, body language and facial expression exuded confidence, sincerity and natural charm. He listened attentively whenever Zoey spoke, and smiled a disarming smile every time before making his own point. When Sandy directed a question to him, he paused for a moment as though considering it seriously, and then pinned Sandy with a look of such gravity that one might have thought he was discussing a cure for cancer, rather than attempting to justify his corrupt bank spending millions of taxpayers’ dollars on a totally unnecessary and overblown building project. Every once in a while, he would turn and deliver a sentence directly to camera, his eyes half puppy-dog, half ‘trust-me-I’m-a-salesman’, and then give a hint of a sad little smile as though to say to the viewer, ‘I don’t do this for the money. I’m a troubled soul who doesn’t belong here’, before switching back to his fully dazzling charm of before.
Even without hearing a word he was saying, Robin could tell it was an absolute bravura performance. Zoey Pierson grew redder in the face by the minute and constantly waved her hands around as she spoke, seemingly sputtering her responses with increasing agitation. Barney, meanwhile, remained completely calm. Even Sandy seemed to be falling under his spell, his body language becoming more and more obsequious, and giving the floor over to Barney to a degree which was almost unprecedented for someone of Sandy’s monstrous ego.
Utterly mesmerized as she was, Robin failed to hear the door to the booth open, and almost jumped out of her skin when a British voice behind her said, ‘Oh hi, Robin, I’ve been looking for y- Oh bloody hell, who’s that? He’s a bit of all right.’
Robin swung around in disbelief. Nora. She was standing just inside the door, her hand on the handle but her eyes like saucers, glued to Barney. Sweet, innocent little Nora, whom Robin had never heard express a single sexual thought in the whole twelve months that she’d known her, and she picks now, now, to suddenly grow a pair of ovaries? Seriously??
Doing her best to resist the impulse to scream ‘I SAW HIM FIRST!’ and also to ignore her dreaded Voice of Reason - who was really being very unkind about the fact that Robin might possibly be feeling just a tiny bit jealous and that this was totally unreasonable when she’d known Barney for all of forty minutes and it wasn’t like they were dating or anything just because she’d openly agreed to have sex with him later this afternoon and all night and maybe if she could swing a sick day tomorrow and who knew how many more times after that, because really she wasn’t thinking like that and she knew it was a one-off casual thing and that was all she wanted, really – Robin looked at her nails and affected nonchalant disdain.
‘Who?’ she questioned. ‘Oh, you mean that guy?’ she allowed herself a glance in Barney’s direction but had to look away again quickly. ‘He’s just some bank guy from GNB. Fat cat. Sleaze. Totally obnoxious. Ugh.’ Was that convincing enough? Was it too much?
‘Well I don’t know about that,’ protested Nora. ‘He’s bloody gorgeous, if you ask me.’
Just at that moment, Barney raised his hands to emphasize some point he was making, which for some reason caused Nora to squeal excitedly.
‘And he’s not wearing a wedding ring!’ she breathed. ‘Oh my God. How is a guy like that still single? I can’t believe some woman hasn’t snapped him up yet! Hey Robin, introduce me to him!’
Robin stared at her, stunned. How was it possible that in the 21st century anyone could still be so naïve as to see people as either married or waiting-to-be-married? She was suddenly reminded of Barney’s blog and his diatribes against his friend who was hunting for a wife. Maybe that guy should date Nora, she thought. They were about as stupid as each other.
Whereas she… well, she was Robin Scherbatsky, queen of detachment. She knew what was what. Didn’t she? Although all of a sudden, these past twenty-four hours, she wasn’t so sure.
However, there was no way she was going to let Nora, of all people, rain on her parade so, affecting a patronizing smile (which really wasn’t too hard, under the circumstances) she said, ‘I don’t really know him, Nora. But I know his type all right, and trust me, you do not want to go there. He’d only break your heart.’
Because Nora was the one who needed to be told that. Nora. Not her. Not at all.
Nora looked a little dubious but largely undeterred by this revelation. ‘Well, why don’t you let me be the judge of that?’ she retorted, a little frostily.
Robin opened her mouth to reply, but at that moment she heard Eddie call, ‘Thanks, guys. Thanks, Sandy. That’s a wrap!’ Pulling off his headphones, he rose and went through into the studio.
Robin turned back to the window just in time to see Zoey apparently storming off set, as Barney calmly removed the microphone from his lapel. Then, raising his eyes directly to her (oh God, had he known she was there the whole time? That was – embarrassing) he flashed her a grin. The eyebrows went up – down, and then he winked.
Robin was smiling back when she noticed that Nora was standing right next to her, beaming in Barney’s direction and preening her hair. She had to suppress an urge to either strangle her, or just point and laugh while shouting, ‘Ha ha, he’s winking at me! ME!!’ but just about managed to remain composed.
The door to the studio burst open and Barney appeared.
‘So? How did I do?’ he grinned. His expression was that of an eager five-year-old after his first school Christmas pageant.
‘Great!’ she exclaimed, returning his smile. Dammit, be cool. ‘I mean, I didn’t actually hear it, but you looked, um -' Incredible? Masterful? Devastating? Like I wanted to burst in there and jump you over the desk, live on air? '- ah – very convincing. And professional,’ she finished with a gulp.
‘I think I gave Zoey a run for her money, huh?’
‘Well, it certainly looked that way,’ agreed Robin with a laugh as she noticed a blonde, hatted figure storm past the door in a whirlwind, heading for the exit, and both she and Barney paused to watch her go.
At this moment, Robin became aware of a small hand tugging annoyingly at the back of her jacket. Glancing swiftly around with a menacing frown, she found Nora’s eyes pleading meaningfully into hers.
Crap. Okay, let’s get this over with.
‘Oh,’ she murmured without enthusiasm. ‘Sorry. How rude of me. Barney, have you met Nora?’
To her Robin’s intense surprise, Barney’s eyes lit up and he simply stared at her – at her, not Nora – for a moment, open-mouthed, a small smile of what looked like delighted incredulity pulling at the corners of his lips. Robin frowned in confusion, but then he recovered himself and with an actual visible shift of all his facial muscles, he turned to Nora with the identical charming smile which she’d seen him use in the interview and which – oh crap – he’d used on her when they first met earlier.
‘Noraaaa,’ she heard him purr in that familiar tone. ‘Barney Stinson. It’s a pleasure.’
Robin wasn’t sure whether to scream with jealousy, or to guffaw at his cleverness and barefaced cheek when she realized that he should have said ‘It’s a pleasure’ before his own name. Because what Nora thought he'd said and what he’d actually said were quite different things.
Nora shook his hand, giggling like a schoolgirl. ‘The pleasure’s all mine,’ she simpered.
Barney opened his mouth and Robin wondered whether she might go literally insane if the next words to leave it were ‘Oh, it will be’.
‘Wow, you’re British?’ Barney asked politely. ‘From London?’
‘What brings you to New York?’ he went on, but she didn’t hear Nora’s answer because she was too busy being aware of the sweat trickling down her back and her knees almost giving way in relief. Still, this was a situation which she had to terminate, and fast.
‘Um, Barney, sorry to interrupt but we actually need to vacate the studio and didn’t you mention something about a meeting downtown?’ she said pointedly, all in a rush.
He looked at her with a slight smirk. ‘Oh, gosh, yes that’s right. Thanks for reminding me, Robin. Actually’ – he wagged a finger in her direction with a mischievous expression growing on his face – ‘I was wondering whether you could help me out, if you’re not too busy this afternoon, that is? You mentioned that you speak a little Japanese, right?’
Wow, was that a lucky guess, or had he really researched her that thoroughly?
‘Um – ah – yeah, I, um, spent a year in Tokyo. Why?’ Where the hell was he going with this?
‘Oh, it’s just that I have some very specialized Far Eastern interests which I was hoping to take to the next level this afternoon, and it would be really beneficial for me to have a sympathetic partner on board, you know, someone who’s familiar with the cultural, ah, sensitivities, who could provide me with some assistance and help me avoid any truly compromising positions.’
Robin’s held his gaze steadily as she replied, smiling, ‘Well, my experience in such matters is that compromising positions are usually inevitable, but that they’re rarely a bad thing in the long term and can often lead to great cultural enrichment and satisfaction for both parties.’
‘That’s true, actually,’ put in Nora, which almost caused both Robin and Barney to lose their cool and burst out laughing.
‘Well,’ said Barney, managing to hold it together, ‘I certainly hope so. So what do you say, Robin? Are you up to the challenge?’
She gazed into his eyes and said, ‘Never more so.’ The look of joy and awe which she received in reply was enough to make her want to grab his hand and leap off the roof with him. She simply didn’t care about anything else now.
‘Right,’ she heard Nora say in a slightly confused tone. ‘Okay, so, I’ll, um, clear it with Sandy for you then, shall I?’
‘Already taken care of,’ said Barney smoothly. ‘Thanks anyway. And it was nice meeting you, Nora.’ He turned and shook her hand again.
‘Oh, well, yes, it was lovely to meet you too,’ she gushed. ‘Um, bye then. Bye.’ And at long last she was gone and they were alone again.
A moment later, Barney exploded with laughter, clutching at her, at the mixing desk, at whatever was nearest as he all but collapsed in giggles.
‘Oh, that was awesome, that was SO awesome!’ he wheezed. ‘All right! You rule!! Up top!’
Robin couldn’t help but laugh along as she returned his resounding high-five.
‘What is she, anyway?’ Barney asked, still laughing. ‘The resident office virgin? Are you planning to like, sacrifice her on the next solstice to appease the gods of sex, or what?’
Robin giggled. ‘Who knows what’s going on under those dresses she wears. Her legs are probably sewn together into some terrifying British chastity contraption.’
‘Right?’ he agreed gleefully.
‘She liked you, though.’ Crap, why did I say that?
He did a cocky little pout. ‘Well of course she did. Come on,’ he replied, gesturing up and down his body. ‘But fortunately for you, I don’t sleep with desiccated husks. Shame though, ‘cause if she dressed better she could be an eight. Maybe even higher.’
‘Oh relax, Scherbatsky,’ he drawled happily, clearly enjoying her jealousy. ‘You’re a total ten. And besides, the Barnacle Express is already booked for the day. You got your ticket. I don’t give refunds.’ He winked again, clicking his tongue.
‘Do you ever actually listen to the way you talk?’ Robin asked.
‘What do you mean?’ he asked, completely innocently.
Robin smirked. ‘I’ll take that as a ‘no’. Come on, let’s get out of here.’
‘Thought you’d never ask.’
She could feel his eyes on her all the way to the elevator, and the moment the doors closed on them he was up close to her, breathing heavily. It took all her powers of self-restraint to push him away.
His eyebrows shot up in surprise.
‘Just – save it for later, okay?’ she pleaded anxiously. ‘I’m gonna be in so much trouble if anyone here finds out about any of this.’
‘Fine,’ he replied irritably. ‘I’ve got a car right outside anyhow.’ He leaned back against the wall, regarding her. The sense of déjà vu from their earlier elevator ride was overwhelming, but Robin’s mind was a whirl. Had that really been barely an hour and a half ago? It felt like so much had changed in that time.
Barney, however, appeared to have succeeded in composing himself. ‘So, you still up for the cigar bar?’ he asked conversationally. ‘And if you wanted, we could go play laser tag after that.’
What the hell? Was this a DATE now?
Robin narrowed her eyes. ‘Cigar bar? Laser tag? Seriously? You don’t just wanna -?’
He gave an inscrutable smile. ‘Have you never heard of foreplay, Scherbatsky?’
Robin barked out a laugh. ‘Um, what exactly about going to a cigar bar qualifies as foreplay?’
Barney’s eyebrows furrowed high in disbelief. ‘What exactly about going to a cigar bar doesn’t qualify as foreplay? The sensual atmosphere; you inserting a thick, hot, heavy, cylindrical object between your lips and sucking on it until it’s spent, while I sit back and relax?’
It was Robin’s turn to look incredulous. ‘And what do I get out of this?’
‘Um, the pleasure of my company and a hint – albeit an inferior one – of things to come. What up. Plus, you know, a cigar. Pre-coital, if you will. I have the post-coital ones at home, in case you’re worried.’
Robin wished that his filthy mind and breathtaking arrogance weren’t so damned sexy.
‘Right. Good to know,’ she teased. ‘But, um, what about laser tag? Isn’t that a game for eleven-year-olds? How is that foreplay?’
‘You get to hold a pulsing, volatile weapon in your hands and we romp about vigorously for thirty minutes or so before both firing at each other repeatedly until the force of the multiple explosions finally overwhelms us.’
‘Wouldn’t we be on the same team, rather than fighting against each other?’
He tilted his head with an exasperated look. ‘It’s a sex metaphor, Robin. Just – okay?’
She grinned flirtatiously and took hold of his lapels. ‘Well,’ she said, ‘I am a crack shot.’
‘Nice!’ he replied, smiling down at her. ‘Anyway, if gets too much for us and we can’t wait we can always just bang in the bathroom.’
Their faces moved a little closer. ‘What happened to never sleeping with a Canadian?’ she murmured teasingly, suddenly remembering something he’d said yesterday.
He pulled back a tiny bit and regarded her with amusement.
‘Robin,’ he said, ‘my one unbreakable rule is that all the best rules are made better by their exceptions. True story.’
She raised a skeptical eyebrow while laughing at him.
‘What?’ he questioned. ‘You don’t think so?’
‘I think you may be an idiot.’
He frowned, then shrugged, and she swallowed hard and their faces were moving closer still, but abruptly the elevator doors pinged open. Robin felt him place an urgent hand on her elbow and propel her towards the exit like a hostage. Blinking in the sun when they arrived outside, she was aware of Barney doing something with his phone, and then a minute or so later he was steering her towards and helping her into the rear door of a low, black limousine.
There was no further need for words. The millisecond that Barney slid into the soft leather seat and swung the door shut behind him, he was on her. Hands everywhere, tongue doing something unbelievable. Robin’s body simply dissolved and she returned the kiss with a fervor she hadn’t known she was capable of. One hand clutched desperately at his neck, pulling him closer because she felt like she wanted to devour him. Her other hand was frantically moving over his chest, loving the feel of his muscles through his thin dress shirt. She was aware of herself moaning as he slipped a hand under her jacket, felt her breasts through her top, then with a grunt shifted himself closer to her and let his hand travel inside her bra. She almost shrieked into his mouth when he first rubbed and then pinched her nipple. Grabbing his tie, she pulled him closer still, and –
‘Hell-o!’ said a cheerful voice from the front of the car.
Panting heavily, Robin broke away from Barney’s mouth and froze, stunned, at the sight of a middle-aged Pakistani man grinning idiotically at them from the driver’s seat. Her body was throbbing and she simply couldn’t process what she was seeing.
Barney, recovering his breath a little, grinned and straightened his tie but didn’t release his hold on Robin’s behind with his left hand.
‘Oh hey, Ranjit,’ he responded buoyantly, seemingly unfazed by the interruption. ‘Robin, this is Ranjit. He drives for me sometimes.’
‘Hell-o!’ repeated Ranjit.
‘Ah – hi,’ Robin managed eventually.
‘Ranjit,’ Barney intoned seriously. ‘This is Robin. You’re going to be seeing a looooot more of Robin.’
She looked up at his face in amazement, but his expression was impenetrable. Snaking a hand up his chest again, she stole a glance at the driver first. And then she understood. For in the rear-view mirror her eyes met Ranjit’s, and she saw there a combination of amused indulgence, mild disapproval, and the unmistakable world-weariness of someone who’s witnessed the same thing a dozen (Fifty? A hundred? Two hundred?) times and knows exactly how it’s going to play out, but whose place is not to pass comment.
Defiant, Robin lifted her chin at him. I’m different, her eyes said. Just you wait and see.
Ranjit gave her a little smile. It was acceptance, and ‘It’s none of my business’, and dear God no just a hint of pity. Then he looked back at Barney.
‘Where to?’ he asked.
‘To the cigar bar!’ shouted Barney with a flourish of his finger, grinning down at her with dancing eyes.
‘To the cigar bar,’ repeated Ranjit, and the car started to move.
Robin was simply staring at Barney’s face. This is where I stop this, her Voice of Reason told her. This is where I tell him ‘No’, and get out and walk away.
‘What’s wrong?’ frowned Barney.
She swallowed. Tell him ‘No’. Say you’ve changed your mind. Don’t do this. This is a bad idea. He’s going to destroy you.
He was just inches away from her. His lips just inches from hers. His heart beating beneath her right hand. His left hand still on her ass, his right now back on her arm, and there were those blue eyes and there was that expression of actual concern on his face. She thought of Canada, and Tokyo, and Simon, and her bad dates and her depressing job, and the fact that she had never, not for one single moment of her whole damned existence, felt as alive as she had felt a few minutes ago when kissing and touching Barney Stinson.
It’s too late, said the other treacherous voice in her head. You’re half destroyed already. To which another voice - her regular, cynical Robin one - added, Besides, if I don't have him right now, there's a strong chance I might spontaneously combust, so what the hell?
She took a deep breath and smiled.
‘Nothing’s wrong. It’s just – does Ranjit have to watch?’ she whispered.
‘Ranjit’, he called sternly. ‘Partition up.’
‘Partition going up’, repeated Ranjit dutifully, and the tinted glass hummed into place as Barney bent his mouth to Robin’s once more, and she willingly met him halfway, and the voices in her head all fell silent.
Link to Chapter One here
Link to Chapter Two here