A/N: So, first of all, sorry for the long wait (again).
This chapter covers the events of episode 6.23 ‘Landmarks’, also slightly referencing ‘The Perfect Cocktail’. With hindsight, I think the timeline of this story actually begins slightly before ‘The Perfect Cocktail’ – a very minor technicality which doesn’t really affect anything much, but I just wanted to say that in case anyone spotted a discrepancy between Chapter 1 and this one.
‘Landmarks’ gets a whole chapter to itself because this is kind of the game-changer, or the beginning of it. It has been a bitch to write, because (especially in the wake of the AUE) I would really prefer to live in Happy-Fluffy-Land forever where B/R are concerned, but that’s not possible unless I just abandon this story entirely. So things are starting to get a touch darker in this chapter. Not too much – like I say, this is just the beginning. Let’s call it a transitional chapter, which is a nice way of saying it’ll get a lot worse before it gets better, I’m afraid.
So to anyone who’s been reading this fic mainly for the humour, I have to apologize but this chapter is rather short on that. There’s some sex, and some swearing. We get a little Sad!Barney here, but we also get a little of Barney being kind of a dick. I’m sorry. Please don’t hate me too much. It hurts me more than it hurts you!
Another week passed, and as the weekend approached, Robin found herself thinking more than once that maybe she and Barney ought to have drawn up some kind of ground rules regarding who would call whom, and when.
True, they had agreed that their… thing was ‘casual’, but for the first time in her life she was forced to consider what that word actually meant. Was it ‘casual’ if they only saw each other intermittently? How often? At regular intervals, or did it have to be more random? If they made a plan at one meeting to see each other again, did that immediately negate ‘casualness’, even if they knew without verbalizing it that there would definitely be a next meeting at some point? Did the switch from ‘at some point’ to ‘next weekend’ change things?
How about whether they met only for sex, versus doing other activities as well or instead? Technically, so far, both of their… um, not-dates had involved doing other stuff together. Did this mean they were truly ‘friends with benefits’? Wasn’t that supposed to be more like, people who knew each other as friends first, and then one day started having sex?
Wasn’t what she and Barney were doing more like… dating?
But no, she reasoned, it’s only dating when you call yourselves ‘we’ and ‘boyfriend and girlfriend’.
And when it’s exclusive. We’re not….
Oh wait, I guess I have been. So far. I mean, it’s not that I couldn’t sleep with anyone else. I just, um… don’t want to.
Oh crap, I don’t want to!
But he – oh crap, we didn’t talk about this.
Oh crap, I just said ‘we’.
What if he’s sleeping with other girls? I mean, he probably is, right? Which is cool. Totally, totally cool.
Why didn’t we arrange something? What if he never calls again?
Oh my God, is this why people want to be in committed relationships? So that they don’t have to worry about all this crap?!? What is WRONG with me? I never worried about any of this before.
Eventually she decided to spend her Friday night at the shooting range, with her phone on silent – not that she would have heard it anyway, what with the gunshots and the noise-cancelling headphones - but still she felt it as a small personal victory over her raging hormones or whatever it was that had inexplicably turned her back into a besotted fifteen-year-old. She was still disappointed however, when she pulled her phone out from her purse and saw that there were no missed calls or messages.
Saturday morning hockey on TV helped a little more, and she was just mentally high-fiving herself for not having thought about Barney for at least a few hours (oh, wait) when her phone rang at around 12.30 on Saturday afternoon. She tried to ignore both her fluttering heart and the overwhelming relief she felt at the sight of his name, and let it ring six times before picking up.
‘Hey stranger,’ she answered flirtatiously.
Crap. Not cool, Scherbatsky.
There was a pause on the other end of the phone.
‘Uh, right. Yeah. Haha.’ Barney sounded tense and unamused. ‘So, um, tonight? Can we, um, can I come to your place?’
Robin frowned. ‘Um, sure,’ she replied after a second’s surprise. ‘You okay?’ she added before she could stop herself.
‘What?’ he responded crossly. ‘Yeah. Course. I’m awesome. Everything’s awesome. So, eight?’
‘Sure,’ she said again, slowly, a sinking feeling creeping into her stomach.
‘Sweet. Later. Stinson out!’ he barked, and was gone.
Robin was still staring at her phone and chewing on her lower lip when he called back a few seconds later.
‘Um, hey again?’ she tried, attempting to sound more relaxed and cheerful than she felt.
‘Remind me of your address?’ he snapped.
She relayed it and could hear him muttering it back as he scribbled it down. ‘Okay. I’ll bring Scotch. Later!’ he said again and the line went abruptly dead for a second time.
By the time eight o’clock arrived, Robin had already had one Scotch (okay, maybe three) and was sitting on her couch checking her emails for the fourth time, in an effort to prevent herself from pacing nervously around the room.
There was no denying something was up with Barney. She’d heard that tone from guys before, and it usually came right before they told her ‘this just wasn’t working out’, which generally meant that he wanted her to be more couply and committed than she felt able to be. The irony here, she reflected bitterly, was that she was about 99% certain that if Barney was truly about to end things between them, it wouldn’t be for that reason.
A loud rap on the door made her leap to her feet. She took a few calming breaths, fluffed her hair, pulled her top a little lower (no harm in using last-ditch dirty tactics), set her newscaster smile firmly in place and answered the door.
Barney was leaning against the door jam, clutching a bottle of Scotch the way another man might hold a bouquet, but the first thing she noticed was the deep frown line etched between his expressive eyebrows, which were lower over his eyes than she’d ever seen them before. She repressed the urge to reach out and smooth the lines away with her thumb, trying not to notice the perfect contours of his body in the blue suit and white shirt, the top two buttons of which were unfastened, his tie skewed slightly to the side to reveal that pink throat of his which made her come undone every time.
‘Hey,’ she said softly, for the third time that evening.
To her relief, his expression brightened considerably at seeing her, but nonetheless he gave her only the briefest of smiles and pushed past her into her apartment without touching her or returning her greeting.
Once inside, he stopped, seemingly unsure of what to do. He sighed, ran a hand through his hair and looked around him a little wildly as though searching for inspiration, before finally dumping the Scotch bottle on her coffee table and fixing his gaze upon it.
‘You want some of that?’ asked Robin after a moment.
He looked up at her and smiled properly this time. ‘Ah, yeah,’ he exhaled at length. ‘That would be great. Really great, actually. I mean, I’ve had one already. Well, three, but…’ he smiled and shrugged self-deprecatingly.
She almost said ‘Me too,’ but thought it better to play it cool until she found out what had got him so shaken up. Her panic that it was something to do with her was starting to subside. He did seem kind of happy to see her, after all. Instead, she crossed to the cabinet and fetched two glasses, filled them and handed Barney his drink.
He threw it back immediately and held out the glass for another, which she duly supplied. He took a sip and then, finally, threw himself down on the couch with another dramatic exhale. Tentatively, sipping her Scotch, she joined him, though she was careful to sit far enough away not to touch him.
‘So, um,’ she began after a long pause, ‘you gonna tell me what’s up? I – I mean, you don’t have to,’ she backtracked rapidly as he turned a hunted-looking glare on her. ‘It’s just that you seem, um, y’know…’
Damn, why am I so bad at this stuff?
He sighed again and flopped back against the pillows. ‘Oh, it’s just, y’know – work stuff,’ he forced out through gritted teeth, managing to imbue those two syllables with a shocking depth of bitterness.
‘Oh my God, they didn’t fire you, did they?!’ she exclaimed, too appalled to reflect on how that question might sound.
‘What?’ he barked, his eyes snapping to her in annoyance. ‘No. What are you, my wife now?’
‘Whaat?!! No!!’ she squeaked out, determinedly ignoring the wild turmoil which the word had set off in her stomach. ‘I’m just being – um – concerned. As a friend. ‘Cause you told me before that you were having trouble at work, and I feel partly responsible. No other reason. Apart from, y’know, the fact that you haven’t touched me yet, plus it’s only 8pm and you’re on your fifth Scotch already. Ahahaha, not that that’s any of my business. Obviously. Ha ha ha.’
Oh, that’s just great, Scherbatsky. Way to convince him that you don’t care.
Fortunately, Barney seemed too distracted to take in her answer. He was silent for another long moment, then muttered, ‘The meeting’s on Monday.’
There was another pause as her brain struggled to catch up with what on earth he might be talking about.
‘What meeting?’ she asked eventually.
He glanced at her, then looked down into his Scotch. ‘The NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission special meeting. On the future of the Arcadian,’ he intoned grimly. ‘It’s on Monday night.’
‘Oh.’ All at once it made sense. The meeting which would determine the future of a great deal more than just the Arcadian. ‘And things aren’t looking good?’ she prompted gently after a pause.
He looked up at her again and snorted bitterly. ‘You could put it like that.’ He paused, grinding his jaw a little, then said, ‘Remember I told you about my buddy Marshall? The lawyer?’
If she was honest, she had only a vague recollection. He’d told her so many stories, the names and events had gotten jumbled in her head, drunk on sex as she had been when listening to him. Frankly it was a challenge to absorb anything Barney was saying when he was lying naked next to her, his chest and abs hard and golden and glistening with – okay, Scherbatsky, focus.
‘Uh, yeah, the lawyer. Right. Ah – he works at GNB?’
Another snort. ‘He did,’ he responded in a deeply bitter tone, his gesticulations growing wilder as he spoke. ‘In a job which I got for him, to help him out when he was stuck. Twice. But now he’s off on his goddamned environmental kick all over again – which he only remembers, like, once every three years. Seriously, six months ago, he was all set to sign a permanent contract with us. But one little bit of personal angst happens to him and all of a sudden it’s all’ – he switched to a sarcastic imitation of a deeper, faux-earnest voice – ‘”Oh, don’t knock down the building, Barney. The world is going to end if I don’t save it, Barney. The fucking gorillas matter more to me than you do, Barney!” Fucking self-righteous asshole.’ He stopped for a second, trying to collect himself, then added by way of explanation, ‘He’s gone to work for Zoey Pierson. Marshall, that is. He’ll be speaking against GNB at the meeting. Fuck! Marshall, of all people! He’s like, the nicest guy on earth - plus, we go back ten years. Ten years!’
She started to reach out a hand to place comfortingly on his arm, but then thought better of it. Barney was still glaring down into his Scotch as though Marshall were in there and he could watch him drown.
Robin swallowed. ‘That sucks,’ she said cautiously. She didn’t want to sound too overly concerned again. ‘I can’t believe he would betray you that way.’
Barney’s eyes snapped up to hers again, but then dropped back to his drink. He shrugged. There was a long pause, and then a sigh.
‘Ugh, I’m just frustrated, I guess. I don’t really blame him,’ he said wearily at last. ‘I mean, I did at first, but… he’s had a rough year. Guess he’s gotta do what he thinks is right. Who am I to judge?’
Robin could scarcely believe what she was hearing. ‘Barney, you should blame him!’ she protested. ‘Who cares about the stupid building? Getting you fired isn’t going to save the environment or whatever, and if this guy’s truly your friend, he ought to show you some loyalty and respect. You know what you should do?’ she continued, brandishing a finger, suddenly fired up by the outrage of it all. ‘You should get some kick-ass lawyers of your own and fight back. You’re going to fight this. Can you do that? Did you do it already?’
She was pleased at least to see him grin for the first time that evening. ‘Well, I pulled some pranks on him. Like, really bad ones,’ he gloated maliciously.
‘Barney!’ she admonished, although she was laughing, just as she never seemed to be able to prevent herself from doing when he was around. ‘This isn’t the time for kindergarten behavior. This is serious stuff.’
But his face had clouded over once more at the mention of the word ‘kindergarten’, and he merely shrugged again and wouldn’t meet her eye.
She decided to try a different tack.
‘How about that other friend of yours – um – Ted?’ she asked. ‘I mean, I know he’s dating Zoey and all, but at the same time he’s designing your new building, right? So there must be at least a chance that he’ll be on your side.’
He raised his head and looked at her for a long moment then, and the wealth of hurt she saw in his blue eyes made her heart ache.
‘Yeah, well,’ he began. His voice was quieter and more serious than she’d ever heard it. He sounded like he had the weight of the world on his shoulders. ‘That’s the thing, see?’ he went on, slowly. ‘You never can tell. Not with Ted.’ A pause. ‘He – it – um’ -
To Robin’s horror his voice began to choke up a little, and he ground to a halt, his fist to his mouth, obviously desperately trying to compose himself. This time, her hand shot out and gripped his other hand before she could stop it.
Barney flinched but didn’t actually retract his hand. His jaw worked harder still and she could almost see him wrestling his mask back into place before he turned back to her, defiant smile and cocked eyebrow firmly set, and said, ‘Ted’s problem is that he’s too easily distracted by magic lady bits. So I figure it’s every hombre for himself on this one. ‘S no biggie. I’m used to it. I’m awesome.’
Yeah, she thought in amazement, I think you actually might be. Because clearly this is hurting you like hell, and nobody else seems to care or even know, and yet you just keep your head up and keep fighting your own corner because you figure nobody else is going to, and you don’t even hold it against them.
But she couldn’t say that. She toyed with the idea of offering to accompany him to the meeting, but it seemed like moral support wasn’t really his style.
Besides, that’s like, girlfriend-y, right? I can’t.
Instead she asked with a smile, ‘Magic lady bits?’
His grin widened sleazily. ‘Rob-innn,’ he teased, waggling his eyebrows. ‘I’m pretty sure I don’t have to explain that concept to you, now do I?’ and he winked exaggeratedly.
She moved closer to him on the couch and slid her hand high onto his thigh.
‘Why Barney Stinson,’ she responded in a mirroring tone. ‘Are you suggesting that I’ve cast some kind of spell on you?’
For a second he looked unnerved, as though seriously considering this possibility, but he concealed it quickly behind another smile and drew her slightly towards him.
‘Well, I don’t know about that,’ he said smoothly. ‘But you can certainly work some magic. Talk about sword-swallowing! Yeah,’ he nodded with a grin, faced scrunched up in pride at his own innuendo in a way that would have been nauseating in anyone else, but with him was somehow endearing. Robin couldn’t prevent the loud chuckle which emerged from her mouth, and he disengaged a hand from her waist to high-five her, to which she responded with a smile which belied her affected sigh of resignation.
‘So how about I help you relieve a little of that tension?’ she murmured suggestively. ‘I’ll show you magic. In fact,’ she said, biting her bottom lip thoughtfully, ‘I’ve got a better idea.’ She lay back on the couch. ‘Take it all out on me.’
His eyebrows shot up. ‘What??’
‘Your anger. Work it out on me. Through sex. They say it’s the best therapy, right? C’mon, Barney. Nothing’s off limits.’
He gawped at her. ‘Wh – ah – are you sure?’ he asked at last.
‘Absolutely,’ she said firmly. She stared into his eyes so that he could see the truth of it. ‘I mean, I don’t have as many, um, props as you do at home, but we can improvise, right? Just go crazy. Unless I say ‘flugelhorn’, I’m good.’
His mouth stretched into a slow smile. ‘Good?’ he breathed, shaking his head slightly. ‘No, Scherbatsky. You’re not good. You. Are. Legendary.’ And with that he flung himself on top of her, one hand already tearing off his own tie while the other reached up under her shirt, his nails raking her skin and making her moan.
It was hard and wild, but it turned out that they needed nothing except each other. Barney kicked over the coffee table, shattering the Scotch bottle and two glasses all over the floor, but neither of them so much as paused for breath. Then the couch somehow tipped over backwards with them on it. Barney pulled his head up from where he was now sprawled over her to gasp ‘You okay?’ and when she nodded, he simply reversed their positions and carried on, yelling expletives so loudly that she was convinced they would have the cops knocking on the door any second. Finally he collapsed on her with a wild cry which for once drowned out her own.
She opened her eyes just in time to see him make a movement which looked suspiciously like the dashing away of a tear.
‘Feel better?’ she asked with a small chuckle, when she could speak again.
‘Mmm, a little,’ he groaned appreciatively. He began to trace circles in the sweat which soaked her stomach and breasts by his cheek. ‘Guess we didn’t need the props, huh?’
She wrapped her arms around him. ‘There’s still time,’ she said soothingly.
At that, he raised his head and shot her a grin that was bright enough to blot out the sun. ‘Are you sure I didn’t injure you in some way?’ he asked, jokingly, but with a hint of sweet concern behind it.
‘Nah. Are you kidding me? I’m Canadian, remember? You think that’s the hardest I can take it?’
‘Oh, challenge accepted, Scherbatsky. But I know you can give it out pretty hard too, am I right?’
‘Oh, now, is that a challenge for me, Stinson? Because if so, I say bring it.’
He pulled himself up on his elbows, wriggled up to the level of her face, and gazed down at her. The look on his face was something akin to pure adoration and it took her breath away.
‘You’re the most incredible girl I’ve ever met,’ he said wonderingly.
Robin had heard words like that from men before, on occasion, but usually it left her feeling nauseated and panicked. But there was something in the way Barney said it which made her heart flip over in an entirely different way.
Oh my God, what is happening here? she thought. Stay cool, Scherbatsky. ‘Ah – thanks. I try,’ she managed at last with a smirk.
Barney rolled onto his side, beaming. ‘Ohohoho, you succeed, Scherbatsky. Trust me.’ He narrowed his eyes mischievously. ‘But you wanna bring it? I can bring it.’
‘I can bring it harder,’ she murmured back.
‘Oh yeah?’ he returned, leaning in closer, and then seized her mouth in a bruising kiss before leaping to his feet and pulling her up after him. Then he stopped at the sight of her ruined lounge - furniture overturned, spilled Scotch and broken glass everywhere. ‘Um, do you want me to clean this up first?’ he asked sheepishly.
She glanced at the mess, and then back at Barney’s gleaming naked form standing beside her.
‘Nah,’ she said again. ‘I’ll do it later. Now come on,’ she continued, tugging him towards the bedroom while carefully avoiding stepping on the broken glass with their bare feet. ‘Props, remember?’
They had sex two more times that evening, and both of them were a surprise to Robin. The first time, she was expecting Barney to still want to dominate, but he surprised her by turning the tables. She could tell he was still angry and upset, but clearly it helped him to channel all of that in this other way too, so she gladly complied with his requests.
They were laying, sated, side by side, when he suddenly said, ‘You know what I did the last time this happened?’
‘The last time what happened?’
‘The last time I nearly got fired. It was last year. I screwed up some merger. Whatever. Anyways, you wanna know what I did?’
‘I’m not sure. Do I?’
‘I went for the perfect week,’ said Barney, staring at the ceiling, ignoring her joke.
‘Perfect week? What is that?’
‘Seven for seven. You know, like in baseball. Seven nights, seven different girls. I pulled it off, too.’
Her stomach roiled a little. ‘God, Barney. That’s kinda gross. But also impressive. But still mostly gross. Did you even know their names?’
‘Um, there was something with a ‘C’, I think?’ he said, scratching his head. ‘And yeah, it was impressive. Even for me,’ he added smugly.
‘I said it was mostly gross. Why exactly are you telling me about this, um, accomplishment of yours, anyhow?’
He hesitated for a second. ‘It helped,’ he said softly. ‘Then. But – this was… better. Thanks.’ He turned to look at her and even in the dark she could discern a smile on his face, hesitant but tender.
‘Any time,’ she quipped.
He shuffled nearer to her and started to nuzzle her neck and shoulder. She kissed him lightly and he moved closer still until his cheek rested against her arm. They stayed like that for a long time. Eventually, Barney started to touch her again, and they slowly, gently moved into Round Three. It was quite unlike either of the previous times – or possibly any time thus far. Barney was unbelievably attentive and tender, and it was almost silent except for tiny gasps which came from both of them, and by the end of it, Robin may have been the one wiping away a hidden tear.
****************************************The next thing she was aware of was waking up in the darkness to an empty bed, the display on her clock radio reading 3.08, and the unmistakable sound of broken glass clinking from the direction of her lounge.
Robin sprang into action. Her only rational thought was that this was New York City, and broken glass sounds at 3am in your apartment in New York City were not good. Pulling on her robe, she grabbed the gun from her nightstand and burst out of the bedroom with it aimed in front of her, yelling, ‘Okay buster, whatever you’ve got there, drop it NOW!!’
‘Don’t shoot!!’ squealed Barney, a sodden floor cloth falling at his feet with a wet ‘slap’ sound as he raised his hands and leapt about a foot in the air. He was standing in front of her sink with a trash bag next to his feet, a piece of broken glass piercing out through the black plastic. A bottle of floor cleaner stood on the counter beside him.
Robin blinked, taking in first the combined aroma of Scotch and lemon, then the sounds coming through the window which he had pushed slightly open, presumably to let the smell out, then her now upright coffee table and couch with the pillows almost exactly as they had been before, and finally the sight of Barney, fully dressed, right down to his shoes and tie.
‘I was just cleaning up the…’ he squeaked again.
‘Were you sneaking out on me?’ she demanded abruptly.
‘Ah – do you mind putting the gun down before I answer that?’ he gulped. ‘Robin? Please?’
‘Oh. Yeah. Sorry.’ She lowered the gun. Barney’s eyes followed it all the way down until she placed it on the nearest end table; then he heaved a sigh of relief and flopped forward, hunched over his knees, panting.
‘God, Scherbatsky, do not DO that!’ he exclaimed.
‘Well – don’t you – tiptoe around and clink stuff in my lounge in the middle of the night!’ she retorted defensively. ‘Why are you even up? And dressed? Oh my God, you are sneaking out, aren’t you?’
He looked caught in headlights for a second, then brightened and straightened up, wagging a finger, looking pleased with himself. ‘No. No. I am not. It’s not sneaking out if someone sees you. And you’ve seen me. Ha!’
She sighed. ‘But you were.’
He dropped his head, frowning.
He scratched his head and looked shifty. ‘I, um, I have to go to my Mom’s tomorrow. I go every Sunday, but I missed last week ‘cause you and I were – y’know – and if I skip another one she’s gonna start asking awkward questions.’
‘And you visit her at, what, the crack of dawn? Or does she live in some exotic location which requires you to take a red-eye flight?’ she shot back, a sudden flash of razor-sharp anger burning through her. He hadn’t treated her like one of his bimbos up until now, and she was damned if she was about to let him start.
Barney’s eyes flickered for a second as though he were weighing up going with one of those two excuses, but then he exhaled deeply and pushed his hands down into his pockets, muttering, ‘She lives in Staten Island and I have to be there at like, twelve.’
‘So what’s with the mad dash for the exit?’
He spread his hands, imploring. His eyebrows were high and knotted. ‘Come on, Robin,’ he whined. ‘Please don’t make this harder. I was going to call you. I mean, I will call you.’
It was the turn of Robin’s eyebrows to shoot up. ‘Um, you’ll call me? Is that what you say to all your conquests? I thought we weren’t doing – this’, she finished helplessly, suddenly remembering that they had never actually set any ground rules whatsoever, and that since all of the previous nights had been at Barney’s apartment, there was no precedent for how to deal with it happening at her place.
Barney had apparently reached the same conclusion, because he responded coldly, ‘Really? Is that so? I don’t recall getting that memo.’
‘Fine,’ she huffed, sitting down hard on the couch. ‘Go if you want. It’s none of my business.’
His mouth opened and then closed, but he didn’t move from his spot in the kitchen. She looked away, but she could hear him toeing the floor and jingling his keys in his pocket.
‘Look – Robin’ – he began eventually.
‘Oh, are you still here?’ she asked sarcastically.
He let out an exasperated growl and stalked round to the front of the couch to face her, his face an angry scowl. ‘Don’t do that!’ he hissed, pointing at her threateningly. ‘That is not the way to – not antagonize me, okay?’
She looked up at him coolly. ‘Yeah, but I still have a gun,’ she pointed out.
His eyes flicked to it, warily, then back to her face, and finally he flopped into a sitting position at the other end of the couch. He scrubbed his hand across his face and loosened his tie a little.
‘Look,’ he said again, and she was suddenly aware of how tired he sounded, and looked. ‘I just - have a lot on my mind, okay? You don’t want me around. I’ll be horrible company until this damned meeting is done, trust me.’
‘I thought you said I helped?’ she offered, a little more gently.
‘You did. Look at me.’ She complied, and there was sadness in his blue eyes, but honesty too. ‘You did. Okay? But’ - He sighed. ‘This whole – “a problem shared” thing?’ He waved a finger back and forth between the two of them. ‘Not really my shtick. I deal with this stuff on my own. It’s just who I am, y’know? The lone wolf.’ One hand moved to his tie and he began to gaze into the middle distance, his expression taking on the dreamy quality which it did when he was about to give some fanciful speech. ‘The solitary hunter. Answering to no man – or woman – he wanders the lonely hours, patrolling the pathways where others fear to tread. The last warrior, standing alone amid the’ –
‘Okay, Barney, I get it!’ she cried, rolling her eyes. ‘It’s fine. Just go be solitary in your – lone – wolfiness. You don’t wanna talk about it. I get it.’
In a sudden, blinding moment of clarity, she pictured herself in his position. She’d never actually been fired or even directly threatened with it, thank goodness, but she’d suffered enough career humiliation that it really wasn’t that much of a stretch. What would I be doing if it were me? I’d be down at the shooting range, firing off a few rounds until the pain went away, that’s what. BY MYSELF.
She gulped, and continued softly, ‘I’m exactly the same, actually.’ I’m EXACTLY the same. He’s just like me. I’m just like him. Oh God, we’re the fucking SAME. ‘Really, I don’t mind. I just wish you’d woken me up, is all.’
‘I did wake you up.’
‘I meant on purpose, Barney.’
‘Oh.’ A beat. ‘Do people do that?’
She thought for a moment and then began to laugh. ‘I have no idea.’
He stared at her, and then his mouth crept upwards and he was laughing too.
‘Look, I know this Arcadian thing sucks,’ she managed to say, after a few minutes. ‘I guess I was just hoping I could keep on – you know, distracting you.’ She winked and smiled at him.
He grinned back, but then looked pained again. ‘Thanks, but seriously, at this stage, I don’t think anything’s going to distract me - unless it’s forty-eight straight hours of continuous mega-sex!’ he exclaimed excitedly. ‘So we could try that, if you’re up for it? I could call my pill guy!’ He sounded like he was only half joking.
‘Well, tempting as that sounds…,’ she began. ‘Wait, you have a pill guy? Actually, you know what? I don’t wanna know.’
He winked and clicked his tongue. ‘So? You in?’
She pursed her lips at him. ‘Does this forty-eight hours of continuous sex include during the visit to your Mom’s? Because I could see her maybe not liking that,' she said teasingly.
Barney threw his head back and guffawed, then exhaled and stood up, smiling.
‘Look, I’m sorry,’ he said earnestly. ‘I really do just want to be on my own right now. Nothing personal, ‘kay? It’s going to be tough enough, getting through seeing my Mom and pretending everything’s okay so as not to worry her. The rest of tomorrow, I think I just wanna smoke, drink and watch Die Hard until my brain numbs over.’
‘Hmm, that actually sounds like a pretty great day,’ mused Robin, without thinking.
Barney’s eyes widened and he stared at her for a moment in what looked like alarm. Then he swallowed and began to back almost imperceptibly towards the door.
‘Right, so, um’ – he was saying nervously. He seemed to relax as soon as his hand hit the doorknob. ‘So I’ll, um – I’ll call you,’ he said. He was gripping the knob and had the door half open already, and she found herself wondering again just how many women he had uttered those exact three words to from that exact position.
‘Sure,’ she murmured. ‘Oh – Barney?’ she called out, as he was half outside already.
‘What?’ he poked his head back in, looking like a startled animal.
‘Can you let me know how the meeting goes? I mean, the outcome? I – ah – you know, feel like I’ve got a vested interest. It’s how we met, after all.’
He stared at her blankly again for a moment, then blinked and said, ‘Ah – okay. Sure. I’ll call you, or text you, soon as it’s over.’
‘Okay see you bye!’ he cried, all in a rush, and the door closed behind him.
Robin spent the rest of the weekend in a state of anxiety. Monday was even worse, and on Monday night she actually went out to a bar by herself, as an attempt at distraction. It wasn’t something that she often did alone, but the thought of sitting at home just waiting for Barney’s call made her want to vomit. Or punch herself in the face. Or something.
The bar she picked was quiet enough. Sure, the occasional guy came over to try and hit on her, but she pulled out her laptop and pretended to be working, so for the most part they left her alone. Monday night wasn’t really pickup night anyway, she figured. And if all else failed there was always her gun in her purse.
Her distraction techniques only proved moderately successful, however, when hour after hour passed in crushing silence from her phone. She had neglected to ask Barney the actual time of the meeting, and an online search offered no information, and as a result she grew increasingly worried as the evening drew on.
Finally, at around 10.15, the waiting was getting too much and she figured it really had to be over by now. So, giving herself a solid talking to about being so passive and waiting by the phone for a guy’s call, she sent Barney a text message.
Any news? she wrote.
There was an agonizingly long wait for a response, but eventually, after around ten minutes, her phone buzzed.
Verdict adjourned until tmrw night. Not good. Can’t talk. Strategy meeting with the gang.
The gang? Robin texted back, not understanding.
This time his response was much faster.
Yeah, in other news, it looks like Ted/Z are over so we’re all good. Every cloud, huh?
Robin stared at the phone, confused and conflicted. On the one hand, she felt happy and relieved for Barney that he’d got his gang back because he really had seemed like such a lost puppy without them. On the other hand, two days ago, he’d been asserting his status as a ‘lone wolf’, and all but admitting that these so-called friends of his didn’t have his back and would betray him over the slightest conflict of interest. Now, what? Ted breaks up with Zoey and suddenly everything is forgiven and they’re all on the same side again? And he’d said the outcome of the meeting was ‘not good’. What the hell?
So, strategy meeting? What can you do now? she typed, and hit ‘Send’.
Another five minutes elapsed before her phone buzzed again.
I am the master of the possimpible. Also, this conversation never happened, she read.
She stared at the screen for several minutes more, perplexed, and eventually replied, Got it. Let me know the result tmrw.
After ten more minutes, she concluded he wasn’t going to reply again and so she finished her Scotch and went outside to hail a cab, her anxiety unabated.
In the end, she had no need to wait for Barney to tell her the verdict because she worked late the following evening (which totally wasn’t another attempt at distraction), and the news was announced towards the end of the seven o’clock broadcast.
It seemed that the Landmarks Preservation Commission had been all set to declare the Arcadian a landmark on the basis of some ‘iconic lion’s head stonework’, but that this particular piece of masonry had mysteriously vanished during the night, leaving the Commission with no choice but to decide in favor of GNB. Police were investigating, the report said, but they had few leads to go on, any potential suspects at GNB having been ruled out.
Robin did her best to suppress a whooping laugh, and found a quiet spot to make a call before whipping out her phone to call Barney.
It rang for a good long while, and when he answered, his ‘Go for Barney’ was almost drowned out by raucous background noise at his end.
‘Hey!’ she said loudly. ‘I gather congratulations are in order.’
‘What?’ he yelled.
‘The Arcadian!’ she yelled back. ‘I heard on the News! So I guess you’re celebrating, huh?’
‘What? Oh! Yeah!’ he shouted.
‘How did you pull it off?’ she asked.
‘Pull what off? I have NO idea what you’re talking about!’ he cried, sounding happy. ‘Though you may be interested to see the new wall ornament over my bed, ha ha!’
She paused, allowing relief to flood over her.
‘I’d like that!’ she shouted at last. ‘How about tonight?’
There was a slight pause, then he shouted, ‘I can’t really hear you!’
‘I said, you wanna show me that later tonight?’
‘Ah. Oh. Well, I’m kinda busy here right now. The gang’s all back together. Y’know? But I’ll call you!’
Her heart seemed to stop beating. ‘I’ll call you’. Those three words again.
Oh God, this is it, isn’t it? she thought suddenly. It’s over. I was just a stop-gap for his missing gang, and now he’s got them back, he doesn’t need me anymore.
She swallowed hard and forced a professional smile into her voice. ‘Sure,’ she said. ‘I’ll um - talk to you soon. You have fun now!’
‘Oh, I will.’
‘Oh, and Barney?’
She hesitated for a second. ‘I’m really happy for you’, she enunciated loudly, to be sure that he would hear.
His hesitation mirrored her own. ‘Thanks.’
‘Um, okay then. Bye!’ she cried.
‘Yup. See ya!’ he barked, then added, more softly, ‘And, um, thanks for calling. And, um, everything.’
Was that ‘Goodbye’?
‘You got it, Stinson.’ Was THAT?
She opened her mouth to speak again, unsure what she planned to say.
But she was interrupted by what sounded like a high-pitched female squeal not far from the phone at the other end, followed by background shouting, and the unmistakable sound of Barney’s delighted laughter and his voice exclaiming gleefully, ‘Wow!! Hey Ted, look at this! Ted! Ted! Ted!’ before the line went mercifully silent.
Link to previous chapter here. (Links to the preceding chapters can be found at the end of Ch 5. Apologies, but it's getting too much to link to each of them individually each time.)