The bedroom ceiling was no longer interesting after a decade of staring at it, meaning Ted was instead forced to let his thoughts wander as he waited to fall asleep. He felt slightly melancholy about the current state of affairs, he decided. Things had been changing for a while, and despite all that crap about change being healthy and positive, he didn’t like it one bit. A world where Marshall invited Lily on their road trip and saw nothing wrong with that was not one he cared for. A world where he was the only single one in a group that included Robin and Barney was not one he cared for.
Life had been completely different a few years ago. Lily and Marshall were the established couple that looked fondly upon the crazy single antics of Barney and Ted. The two of them were bros, through and through, out there bro-ing it up together. Barney was always there for Ted when he just got so damn tired of being single, when he needed to feel like he belonged with someone. Barney was that someone. Barney eased that aching emptiness in Ted.
Then Ted met Robin. And everything changed.
After Robin, things were never the same with him and Barney. They couldn’t be, not when Ted had fallen head over heels in love with her. And to regret what had happened with him and Barney would be to regret Robin. He could never regret Robin. Not when he had loved her so much, not when she was one of his best friends, and not even when she had jeopardized his friendship with Barney.
When Barney and Robin first slept together, Ted was furious that Barney would try his act on a vulnerable, hurting Robin, their friend and the woman Ted had been in love with for two years. When he realized that Barney was in love with Robin, he hurt for Barney, because he knew what it was costing him to feel that way, and he knew that once Robin stuck her head in the sand, it only came out when she was good and ready. When they came out as a quasi-couple to the rest of the gang, he focused on being happy that two of his best friends had found each other, instead of being completely weirded out that it was these two people who had found each other. So now that their relationship had imploded, it seemed counterproductive to think about all his issues with the new group dynamic, but dammit, things kind of sucked a little bit, and he was entitled to some wallowing.
And it hurt that Lily and Marshall were so caught up in being the perfect married couple that Ted sometimes felt like an afterthought. And it hurt that he had been left at the altar by a woman he didn’t know well enough to realize that she might do exactly that. And it hurt that Robin wouldn’t commit to him but didn’t mind giving things a try with Barney. And it hurt that Barney and his insensitivity still had the power to make Ted livid, in spite of everything.
He’d felt guilty every time he’d gotten angry at Barney after the accident. He still had nightmares that Barney died thinking Ted hated him and Ted had never had the chance to say sorry. He woke up screaming the first time, and would have been humiliated at the way Lily and Marshall burst into his room ready to fix whatever had gone wrong if he hadn’t been so grateful to be hugged by Marshall and reassured by Lily that Barney really was going to be okay. That happened more often than he was comfortable admitting.
And an hour went by as he laid there, held hostage by his insomnia and the breeding ground it created for rampant mind-wandering until, at last, he fell asleep.
Ted woke with a start at 3:30 in the morning. There were noises coming from the living room. He ran through a mental checklist of possible culprits. Robin was at work, getting ready for her show. Marshall and Lily were at home in Dowistrepla, probably planning their next couple’s night that he wasn’t going to be invited to. Barney was reaping the rewards of the successfully executed Scuba Diver. None of them should have been at the apartment at that time of night.
So apparently, burglars had broken in, and Robin kept the guns in her bedroom. This was going to end badly. He tiptoed to the bedroom door and opened it as noiselessly as possible. He peered out into the living room, only to see an arm reaching out from in front of the couch to grab the tv remote from the coffee table. Emergency baseball bat held securely in an upright position, he made his way to the couch, steadied himself with a deep breath and with a “YAH!” brought the bat down toward the burglar’s head.
“AHHHH!!” Barney screamed and leapt to the far end of the couch, flinching at the whistling noise the bat made as it came rushing toward the space his head had been.
“AHHHH!!” Ted screeched, embarrassed by the uncanny impression of a little girl he had just given, and pulled the bat back just enough to allow Barney to dart out of the way.
“Jesus Christ, Ted, you could have hurt someone!” Barney gave Ted a disapproving glare, then settled back into the couch, remote now in hand.
“I could have hurt someone? Barney, you nearly gave me a heart attack!” Ted resented this sort of adrenaline rush in the middle of the night. He was too old to go around confronting would-be burglars. He dropped the bat and collapsed into the armchair. “What the hell are you doing here, anyway? What happened to Claire?”
Barney took a second too long to answer. “Oh, pfft, she got all clingy and weird. ‘Oh Barney, you’re such a decent guy, oh Barney, you’re so deep and sensitive.’ So I was all ‘Well, I can go deep and sensitive places,’ then she was all ‘Oh my god, you’re a pig,’ and I was all ‘You know it baby, oink oink.’ Obviously, that wasn’t going to work, so I decided to cut my losses, and I wandered around for a while, then I realized, ‘Hey, I’m near Ted’s place, I should go say hi!’”
It was a stretch to call that reasonable, but it was par for the course with Barney, and Ted would have bought it if it hadn’t been for the way Barney refused to meet his eyes. Instead, he had his entire conversation with the kitchen, and he kept fidgeting as if it was all he could do not to jump off the couch and run out of there. “Barney? A third grader wouldn’t buy that. What’s going on?”
Unable to continue the pretense while still looking at Ted, Barney headed into the kitchen in search of alcohol. He called out behind him, “Ted, I’m too awesome for feelings, or whatever emotional crap you think is going on with me. Have you learnt nothing from years of our bro-dom?” Returning with a beer in each hand, he tossed one to Ted then took his and collapsed onto the couch.
Ted frowned at Barney and swung the baseball bat idly. “I literally want to crack your head open with this baseball bat.”
Barney paused, then shook his head and laughed. “Ha, you’ve been living with Robin too long. You mean you figuratively want to crack my head open with a baseball bat.”
Ted looked at him meaningfully. “No, I mean literally.” He and Barney then stared each other into a stalemate, neither willing to back down. Finally though, the fight seemed to just drain out of Barney and he ran a hand through his hair. “I didn’t want to be alone tonight, but I couldn’t with Claire. Or with Barbara, a delightful redhead at a bar near Claire’s place. Or with Mindy, an equally delightful brunette from a bar near Barbara’s place.” He smiled briefly, but quickly grew morose again and rubbed his eyes, trying to draw out the exhaustion. “I tried. I really did. I mean, I felt so much closer to normal than I had in months, but, I just kept picturing Robin’s face. I love her. I do. And I did that to her.”
Ted had to agree. Barney hadn’t even seen Robin when she realized that every word of apology from him was just to score with the hot blonde. She hid it well, for the most part, but in that first moment, there was a flash of complete betrayal. That was about when Ted felt like a gigantic scumbag for not seeing what the evening had done to Robin, but she brushed off any gentle inquiries and headed into work like nothing had happened.
He had to know what Barney’s thoughts were on the whole mess. “Barney, what went wrong with you two?”
Glibly, Barney tossed out, “Our respective types of awesome just didn’t gel. Too much legendary for one single, you know, unit.”
Ted was tired of Barney giving him the runaround. He drew his features into one of his favorite ‘Professor Mosby’ expressions, the one he used when students tried to explain to him why they didn’t have their homework assignments that he was certain would drastically increase their appreciation for the wonderful field of architecture. He called it his ‘You and I both know that you’re lying and I’m disappointed that you’re doing it’ look. He needed a pithier name for it, but it had proven incredibly effective so far.
Barney quailed under its power. “Everyone was on our case! We weren’t acting the way a couple is supposed to act. And the only successful couple either of us have seen are Lily and Marshall. So we tried to be Lily and Marshall. It didn’t work.”
Ted snorted in disbelief. “That was a really dumb idea.”
Ruefully, Barney shrugged. “Yeah, I know.”
Unable to get past what an appalling plan of action that had been, Ted felt the need to make his feelings perfectly clear. “A really, really, really dumb idea.”
Barney glared at him. “Yeah, Ted I got it.”
“Even I would puke if I were anything like Marshall in a relationship. You know, he actually likes being called Marshmallow. I am not marrying a woman who thinks it’s okay to call me Teddy Bear.” Ted loved Lily, but he didn’t doubt that she could make Marshall think it was cute to be called ‘Mucilaginous Root,’ or something equally appalling.
Cooing lovingly, Barney reached a hand to Ted. “Aww Teddy Bear, how could you be so mean?”
“Shut up. Do you want me to help you or not?” He appreciated a minute later that taking love advice from the single guy who had been dumped at the altar a year ago probably wasn’t the most helpful thing to do, but Barney didn’t throw any of that in his face and instead actually appeared to listen.
“You’re Barney who loves Robin. Not Marshall who loves Robin. Not Barney who loves Lily.” He couldn’t emphasize that enough. “Barney and Robin. So be them. Don’t pretend to be something you’re not just because you think that’s what you’re supposed to do. It made you both miserable.” Ted tried to imagine how his own relationship with Robin would have gone had the two of them attempted to be the second coming of Marshall and Lily. He was pretty sure the resulting fall out would have ended in the two of them never speaking to each other again, a fate he thought Barney and Robin were headed for unless something changed, and quickly.
Barney’s face was a study in dawning comprehension. He vowed silently that he was going to win Robin Scherbatsky back by hook or by crook, and he started putting together his plan of attack until one more unresolved issue pointed itself out to him. “So . . .” The unasked question hanging in the air was whether Ted was really okay with this or not.
Ted reassured him. “Barney, 8 months ago, I didn’t think you knew what the word monogamy even meant. You want to make her happy, and I think you’re really going to try and do that. I’m not standing in your way.”
Barney smiled with such gratitude that Ted had to blink tears back. He looked down at his watch and was taken aback by what he saw. Barney followed suit. “Man, it’s late. I should get going.”
Ted immediately wanted to protest Barney’s going. Practically speaking, no one in their right mind wanted to be wandering around New York City at 4:00 in the morning, and though Barney was perfectly comfortable doing that, Ted wasn’t about to let him. But more importantly, Ted felt as though he’d witnessed the appearance of a new, improved Barney Stinson, and selfishly, Ted wanted to keep him to himself for as long as he could. He looked at Barney shrugging on his trench coat and felt a fierce burst of love for this man that had walked 63 city blocks for him, this man who was one of his best friends, this man who was his bro.
“Why don’t you stay here?”
Barney’s eyes widened hopefully. He wanted to, really, but then reality intruded. “It’d be weird if I stayed in Robin’s bed. And I am too damn old to sleep on someone’s couch.”
Well that was easy enough to fix. “Sleep with me.” And before, before when they were Marshall and Lily and Ted and Barney and he almost forgot that half of them were a couple, before when being bros meant turning to each other, that offer would have meant so much more. But here, and now, they both loved Robin too much to ever do that to her. So it was an offer for a safe place to crash. Nothing more, nothing less. But it was enough.
Barney didn’t think Ted would suddenly say no, but he had to check. “You sure?”
Ted waved him off. “Yeah man. It’s a big enough bed. It’ll be fine.”
And so they went to bed at 4:00 in the morning, arguing through the entire process.
They argued over who got which side. (“It’s my bed Barney, I get to sleep where I usually sleep!” “I’m the guest, Ted, you’re supposed to be hospitable! And I want that side!” “No, Barney, it’s my bed!” “Oh, Ted. Your mother would be so disappointed in you. Didn’t she raise you better than this?” “Don’t bring my mother into this!”)
They argued over what pajamas Barney was going to wear (“Those are plaid flannel pajamas, Ted, and they will never touch this fair skin!” “You’re not allowed to just sleep in your boxers, Barney, I am not going to be responsible for you catching hypothermia!”)
They argued over what time they were going to set the alarm (“If I don’t sleep at least 7 hours, I have dark circles under my eyes and that is not a good look for me, Ted!” “If you want to explain what you’re doing in my room to Robin when she gets home at 8:00, be my guest.” “So we’ll set it for 7:30, then?”)
But at last, they slept. 7:30 rolled around, when no alarm went off, and at 8:00, they both were rudely awakened by Robin entering the apartment.
Ted sighed in defeat. “Oh crap.” This, again, was going to end badly.
He walked out of the bedroom first, and Robin smiled in greeting and started to say something but froze at the sight of Barney exiting that same room.
He attempted to play it casual. “I needed a place to crash, and I didn’t think you’d appreciate me using your room.”
Coolly, she replied, “You’re right. And I thought you were executing The Scuba Diver.”
Barney shrugged. “Never leave a bro behind.”
She looked at him askance. “You should have remembered that a little sooner.” She then directed her attention to her roommate. "I’m going to sleep, Ted. I’ll see you in a few hours.”
Ted waved helplessly as she shot a frosty glare at the blonde and retreated gracefully into her bedroom. He was right. It had gone badly.
Some time later, when Robin was sound asleep and the two of them had freshened up at their respective apartments, Barney slipped into the apartment and furtively beckoned Ted to the corner furthest from Robin’s room.
Surprised by what he saw in Barney’s hand, Ted exclaimed, “That’s the Robin 101 notebook. How’d you get it back?”
“Called in a favor or four from the New York police chief," Barney said nonchalantly. "No biggie. Anyway, it is now the Robin Scherbatsky Playbook.” He brandished the book with enthusiasm toward Robin’s bedroom.
Afraid of what was coming, Ted had to ask, “Excuse me?”
“The Robin Scherbatsky Playbook.” Barney clucked at Ted in disappointment. “Ted, you’re really gonna have to keep up here. The plays in my playbook are the stuff of legends – ”
Matter-of-factly, Ted pointed out, “You’re the only one who uses that playbook - ”
Unperturbed, Barney continued, “and since they have such a proven success rate – ”
Ted scoffed. “Half of them fail on the first try and another third fail the second try - ”
Irritated now, Barney raised his voice and finished. “I figured that the best way to win Robin back was to write a playbook specifically for her.” Ted didn’t say anything. “Well?”
Ted raised a finger and gestured for Barney to wait. “Hang on, I’m trying to decide whether that’s one of the stupidest things you’ve ever decided to do or if it’s pretty much the best idea ever.”
Seemingly assured of Ted’s response, Barney expectantly asked, “Is there any doubt?”
“You’re right.” Before Barney’s satisfied smirk could fully form, though, Ted burst his bubble. “One of the stupidest things you’ve ever decided to do.”
Completely outraged, Barney cried out, “Ted!”
Ted protested, “It’s a bad idea, Barney! Robin hates this kind of crap.”
Barney saw a very simple solution to this problem. “Which is exactly why you’ll be there as my supporting cast.”
Ted physically recoiled from the sheer awfulness of that particular idea. “Barney, the last time I tried to help you with Robin, the emperor penguins themselves were running away in terror. This time, you’re on your own.” He walked toward the bedroom but paused to lay a hand on Barney’s shoulder in a show of support. “Godspeed, my friend. Godspeed.”
THE EMPEROR PENGUIN – Casually mention emperor penguins to the target. While she is distracted, interrupt and make some romantic overture. Watch the target become putty in your hands.
“So Robin, how about those emperor penguins, huh? They’re so cute, with all their bowing and stuff.”
“What are you trying to distract me from?”
“Trying to distract me from how you pretended to be sincere and apologize just to get yet another girl?”
“What? No! I’m trying to talk to you about the cute penguins, and how they bow to each other before - ”
“And oh my god, the way the male penguins all huddle together to keep the eggs alive - ”
“Robin, I lo-”
“And the way the poor moms were starving for two months before they lay the eggs - ”
“And the way the dads are so protective of the chicks - ”
THE BATTLESHIP HEART – Engage the target in a friendly game of Battleship. Arrange your ships in a heart. Though it goes against every fiber of your awesome being, allow the target to win. Then make cheesy pun about war and winning hearts and other nauseatingly lovey-dovey crap and watch the target become putty in your hands. Really, this time.
“Oh no, what a shame. Your turn, Robin. I hope you don’t find my ship!”
“Barney, stop being fake and weird. B4.”
“Miss. And I resent that, since it is not fake and weird to merely acknowledge an opponent’s skill while in a competition. J10.”
“Barney, that’s diagonal. You’re not allowed to place your ships diagonally.”
“Please. Maybe in your lame Canadian Battleship you’re not allowed to put ships diagonally, but here in America, we put our ships wherever we want to put our ships! Hey-o!”
“All right, ew. Also, that doesn’t count Barney. It’s against the rules, and since we’re not playing special Barney Stinson Battleship where you can just place a ship wherever the hell you want, you don’t get to say otherwise! And what kind of a shape is that? An L? It’s stupid.”
“No, it’s not an L. It’s a heart. That is clearly the curvy top part, and that’s the bottom closing thing . . .”
“And you’re messing up the play! You were supposed to win, then you’d have ‘conquered’ my heart, see?”
“Barney, that’s too lame for words. And I’m done ‘conquering’ anything of yours.”
“Come on, it’s an awesome idea! It has a heart! Hearts are romantic!”
“This was one just lame.”
“Ha, you just admitted that it was a heart! I win! In your face!”
THE GLENFIDDICH – Give a bottle of really old, really expensive scotch to the bartender that is to be served to you and the target upon the execution of some predetermined cue. Invite the target to have a glass of that really old, really expensive scotch with you. Explain that you’ve been saving it for something special, and that the target is that something special. Watch target become putty in your hands, because dammit, that’s a really good line, and it better work on you this time, Robin!
“You know, this is a 30 year old Glenfiddich single malt. $600 bottle of scotch. I’ve been saving it for something special. It’s meant for those who appreciate the finer things in life. You, Robin Scherbatsky, are one of those finer things. And I appreciate you.”
“Why didn’t you appreciate me before?”
“We dated for 5 months. We were friends for 3 years before that. Why didn’t you appreciate me before?”
“Then why am I only now getting the super special scotch, huh? Was I not special enough before, when we were friends or, you know, still in love with each other?
“I’m still in love with you now!”
“Oh, excuse me for not realizing that since you’ve been sleeping with a different bimbo every night since we broke up!”
“You know what, I’ve been in love with you for a year and a half. I wasn’t staying home and crying over a pint of ice cream the nights you and I weren’t together, I was out there getting laid, just like I always do.
“Yeah, well you can go lay yourself.”
And as Robin stormed off, Ted raised his eyes to the heavens, asked the universe “Why me?” and prepared to enter the fray.
“Robin, come back!” She stalked back to the table and dropped into the booth. “Jesus CHRIST, you two, this is ridiculous! You are going to settle this once and for all.” He sat back and waited for one of them to begin speaking, but Robin just glared mutinously at both of them while Barney looked into his scotch glass like it was the only thing that could give him his pride back.
“Okay then. Robin, how about you start?”
“No,” she muttered.
He knew what the answer would be, but he had to ask anyway. “Barney?”
“Still have my balls, Ted.” Yes, that was about what he was expecting. What he was not expecting, though he really should have, was for Robin to jump in.
“See, it’s this macho posturing bullshit that you won’t quit!”
Barney fired back, “If you weren’t trying to emasculate me, maybe I wouldn’t have to work so hard to keep my balls safe!”
Robin threw her hands up in the air. “Stop talking about your balls!”
Barney defended himself. “They’re good balls, they deserve to be talked about, and they deserve better than they’re getting!”
“What?” Even Ted had to take pause at that one. That was really reaching, even for Barney.
Barney earnestly tried to make his point. “They’re good balls. They’re always there for you, they do what they need to, and they make you feel good. You don’t work without them. They deserve some love in return.”
Robin raised a skeptical eyebrow. “Are you honestly trying to use your balls as a metaphor for our relationship?”
Petulantly, Barney muttered, “Whatever, it totally worked.”
Disbelievingly, Robin continued. “It so didn’t work! You’re saying our relationship is like the male gonad.”
Ted snorted, and they both looked at him in displeasure. “I’m sorry, it’s a funny word. Gonad.” Barney was surprised into a burst of laughter, then he and Ted both started laughing helplessly. “Gonad!” “I know, it’s awesome, right?” Robin shook her head at the immaturity but chuckled softly and finally, the tension broke.
She sighed ruefully, “This is what I thought we would be. Comfortable with each other. What went wrong?”
Confidently, Barney replied, “I know! Ted explained it to me.”
Robin eyed Ted with suspicion. “Oh did he really?
“I’m just gonna be over there now,” and he moved to the next booth with élan.
“Ted said we were trying too hard to be something we weren’t.”
“That’s all he said?”
“No, there were charts and things, it took forever. You know Ted. I’m just summarizing.” Ted shook his fist at Barney in righteous outrage and subsided in a huff when all he did was grin back.
Robin took a deep breath. “Barney, just think of me as a friend that you have monogamous sex with. Because my friend Barney? That’s the guy I want back. That guy who flew to San Francisco to bring Lily home, that guy who stole every girl who hit on Marshall so that Lily and Marshall could survive, that guy who made Stella jealous when she ran into Ted. That guy who was a shoulder for me to cry on when I was feeling like everything just really sucked. I want that Barney. I don’t want the Barney who’s a womanizing son of a bitch that makes me wonder why we even bother. You’re better than that.”
Barney sat up a little taller but still hesitated when saying, “So friends with exclusive benefits.”
Robin tilted her head to the side and said, “Yeah.”
Barney sought reassurance. “It’s still you and me, then? Not the weird crazy people we were before?”
The warmth in her voice wasn’t something he had heard since before Lily strong-armed them into being something they weren’t. “Yeah.”
He looked down at the table. “I think I can do that.”
Neither of them said anything for a minute until he softly admitted, “I’ve really missed you.”
“I’ve missed you too.”
Barney slid out of his seat and held a hand out to Robin. “How do you feel about suiting up for a night of cigars, scotch, and laser tag?”
Robin took his hand and stood up, then pursed her lips consideringly and trained a steady gaze on Barney. “I was thinking more of birthday suiting up for a night of complete and total debauchery.”
Barney froze in place and said in eager anticipation, “My apartment’s 15 minutes from here if we pay the driver to skip all the red lights.”
The wickedest smirk Ted had ever seen appeared on Robin’s face. “You really only need 15 minutes?”
And Ted watched them leave the bar, Barney looking at Robin with a hunger in his eyes that had been missing for longer than Ted had realized, and he raised a glass of $600 scotch in the air to toast himself for a job well done.