Ted woke up with only the rumpled covers and a few marks on his throat left as evidence. He touched a particularly sore spot at the base of his throat, wondered whether or not he’d guess correctly whose mouth left which hickey when he looked in the mirror.
He should have been freaking out right about now, but instead he felt oddly calm, almost numb. It might have been a delayed reaction, but more likely it was just a survival mechanism kicking in, since Ted was certain that Barney and Robin were both off somewhere panicking and knew that all three having simultaneous freakouts would spell disaster. Well, even more disaster. (He just hoped Robin didn’t actually make a break for Canada in her panic.)
He got up and staggered first to the kitchen to grab a glass of water and some aspirin for his hangover, then to the bathroom for a badly-needed shower.
When he emerged, Robin was sitting on his couch.
He remembered that panicked expression all too well from the night she thought he’d proposed. “Ted,” Robin said, and stopped. There was disbelief in her voice, as though she’d half-convinced herself that last night was just a crazy dream, despite all evidence to the contrary.
He should say something to lessen the panic -- actually, he’d probably stick his foot in his mouth and make her even more upset if he said anything, but still -- and instead flinched as his cell rang. God, he really, really hoped it wasn’t Marshall or Lily checking up on him.
Robin eyed the cell phone like it was a disguised grenade when Ted went to answer.
“Hello?” he asked and didn’t even recognize his own voice. Yeah, maybe he was in a bit of shock. Who could blame him? It wasn’t like he woke up yesterday morning and decided that he was going to have a drunken ménage à trois with two of his closest friends, one of whom happened to be his ex.
Somehow, he was sure that this was all Barney’s fault.
Barney’s expression turned positively wolfish. “Bad move, Scherbatsky. I warned you that I was the master at Truth or Dare. It was how I got Tyra Banks into bed. True story.”
Robin, who had relaxed more and more with every drink she tossed back, smirked in response and made a vague sort of gesture. There was a slight movement of her hand and twitch of her fingers, anyway, which Ted guessed meant she was telling Barney to get on with it and that she could handle anything he threw at her.
“Truth: have you ever been physically attracted to me?” Barney asked and Ted choked on his beer.
Robin, though, threw her head back and laughed. “Aw, does Barney need an ego-boost? Not feeling pretty tonight?” she cooed, voice dripping with pseudo-concern and sympathy. Then she shook her head and downed her latest glass of scotch. “Dare then,” she said, once she’d swallowed.
Even as he struggled to get oxygen back into his lungs, Ted noticed that she’d neatly avoided even hinting at an actual answer.
“Okay.” Barney had on a look that Ted recognized: it was the one he wore whenever a woman fell for one of his lines hook, line, and sinker. “Dare: tell me if you’ve ever been physically attracted to me.”
“Foul!” Ted protested, once he could breathe again. “The cherished and sacrosanct rules of Truth or Dare clearly state that once someone has been asked a question and refused, no one can dare that person to answer.”
Barney made a face in his direction, pouting like Ted had just pulled a Lily and ordered him to stand in the corner of the apartment for a time-out. “Fine. Geez, Ted, this game was supposed to get you to lighten up.” He frowned, obviously trying to think up a dare to top his question.
Robin watched him with amusement, confident that he’d dare her to do something lame, like prank-call Marshall and Lily -- who were on a weekend visit to the in-laws -- or sing ‘Let’s All Go to the Mall.’
After a moment, though, a smile of pure evil graced Barney’s lips. “Oh, this is gonna be awesome,” he said, clearly pleased with his own ingenuity as he nodded to himself. Robin and Ted rolled their eyes in unison and waited. At last, he leaned back and said, “I dare you to kiss Ted.” The dare was sing-song.
If Ted hadn’t just spilled the last of his beer all over his shirt, he was sure he would’ve choked on his beer for the second time in as many minutes. “Wait, what?” he said, disbelief making his voice go high and sharp, and turned to meet Robin’s startled gaze.
It was Barney, of course, sounding just as panicked as Robin.
Barney’s voice wavered between his normal pitch and the falsetto that he unconsciously used when he was upset or nervous, his volume unnaturally loud as he snapped, “Ted, this is so not awesome. In fact, this is so far from awesome, awesome has disappeared into the singularity of a black hole and will--” He paused, searched for a way to end the sentence and finally concluded mournfully, “This is so much worse than the time I slept with Lily.”
“Barney, calm down--” Then Barney’s last sentence registered and Ted almost dropped the phone. “You did what with Lily? You-- you--”
“What?” Barney sounded confused for a second and then snorted. “Please. We slept in the same bed. Get your mind out of the gutter, Ted.” He sounded almost normal as he said that, and Ted felt something relax a little in his chest.
“Look, come back to the apartment,” he said. He didn’t mention that Robin was already here, since there was a fifty-fifty chance that little fact would send Barney running in the opposite direction. “We need to talk about this.”
“No, we need to forget all about this, Ted,” Barney snapped but hung up, apparently (hopefully) on his way.
When Ted put down the phone, he could feel the weight of Robin’s gaze pressing against his skin. He didn’t dare look up. “Um, I’m going to go put on some pants,” he said instead and practically fled. Once he was dressed, he’d try to convince Robin that last night wasn’t a clusterfuck of epic proportions.
Right after he convinced himself.
Robin’s eyes were wide and shocked for a moment, and then her expression cleared and she laughed. “Jesus, Barney, can we say fixation? Freud would’ve had a ball with you.”
Barney just grinned expectantly at them both. “Come on, boys and girls, it’s time for Robin to either reveal her obvious attraction to me or pucker up for Ted. What’s it going to be?”
Robin raised an eyebrow. “I’m going to have to go with ‘pucker up for Ted,’” she drawled.
Barney’s face fell a little as he pouted. “You are a cruel, heartless woman, Scherbatsky.”
Ignoring him, Robin turned to Ted. Her face was flushed but that was probably from the scotch. She smiled a little, a small, private look that Ted didn’t recognize and doubted he’d ever seen grace her face. “Well?” she said and he realized that he was staring. She rolled her eyes, amused. “Don’t worry, I’ll be gentle.”
Barney didn’t even bother to smother his snicker at that and Ted would have flicked him off, only he was frozen in place, heart pounding unsteadily in his ears.
Then Robin put a hand on the back of Ted’s neck and tugged, coaxing him up onto the couch next to her. Her hand was hot and heavy and he felt something coil deep in his belly-- it was that familiar sensation of desire that had never quite gone away, not even after they’d broken up. Ted doubted that this ache of want would ever recede, not when Robin could still look at him with half-lidded, glittering eyes and touch him like this.
“Robin,” he said, uncertain suddenly. He wanted to tell her that he didn’t mind if she cheated at Truth or Dare and lied to Barney about any sexual attraction she did or didn’t have towards him. The words got lost somewhere between his lungs and his lips as Robin leaned in, expression intent.
It was surprisingly chaste at first, just the barest press of lips on lips, nothing like her usual kisses. Then Barney booed and declared indignantly, “I wasted good scotch on you for this pathetic make-out session? Damn it, I want my scotch back!”
Robin made a sound in the back of her throat that was probably laughter or maybe a sigh or perhaps even a warning sound for Barney to shut the hell up. In the next moment, though, her kiss turned ravenous, all glorious pressure and clever tongue.
Ted closed his eyes without meaning to, one hand drifting to touch her shoulder. Whether it was to get her to stop tempting him or plea with her to continue, he wasn’t entirely sure. God, he’d missed this. He and Robin might have been doomed in the long run but she was still one of the best -- if not the best -- kissers he’d ever been fortunate enough to date.
When the kiss finally ended, he opened his eyes and licked his lips, tasted a hint of scotch. “Huh,” he said after a moment, blinking at Robin and struggling to ignore the want that was still hot and heavy in his stomach, the ache in his throat that made him want to lean in and continue where they left off, the way her reddened lips half-demanded another kiss.
Dimly, Ted was aware that Barney was laughing and saying something about “Make-out high-five! Oh, come on!” but it was lost amid the roaring in his ears. His lips felt swollen and hot and he resisted the urge to press his fingers there, because he really didn’t need both Robin and Barney calling him a twelve-year-old girl.
Instead, he lurched upright and muttered, “I’m going to get another beer.” As he headed to the kitchen to grab the aforementioned beer (and to splash some cold water on his flushed face), Barney’s loud voice followed him, obviously meant to reach Ted’s ears as well.
“So, Scherbatsky, about my earlier query. You, me, sexual attraction. Yes? No? Inquiring minds want to know.”
Ted snorted. Barney would pester Robin all night, he knew, using every one of his turns at Truth or Dare to try and cajole or trick her. On one hand, it will probably get annoying. On the other, it might be fun to see what Robin did when she finally snapped. The water ran tepid for a moment and Ted waited for it to half-freeze his fingers before actually splashing his face. The shock of the icy water chased away any heat that had lingered in his face, and he snagged a beer from the fridge.
He listened for a second, but couldn’t make out Barney and Robin’s low conversation, just the soft sound of their voices.
“So, Robin, your turn to choose--” he began and then stopped and stared as Robin said, fond exasperation sharpening her words, “Barney, why do you ask a question when you already know the answer?”
Before Barney could respond, much less blink, she grabbed him by his collar and pressed their mouths together in a hard, ardent kiss.
After Ted dressed, he lingered in the doorway of his bedroom, just looking at Robin. She looked pale and unhappy, with the deep crease between her eyes that meant she was thinking about something she’d rather not.
At last, he cleared his throat. “Robin.” She didn’t look at him, dropping her gaze to her hands instead to study her whitened knuckles. He fumbled for the right words. “Robin, look, it was-- we were drunk and obviously not thinking straight, and--”
“Shut up,” she said, without any inflection, and he did. She looked up briefly, offered him a sickly smile. “Let’s wait for Barney, okay?”
“Okay,” Ted said. He didn’t know where to sit. Would Robin want him to sit next to her on the couch, or would she prefer he stay as far away as possible and take one of the chairs? He felt as awkward as a teenager at a party, not knowing what to do with his hands.
It seemed like an hour but was probably only twenty minutes later when Barney let himself in. It wasn’t a flashy entrance; there was no hint of his usual manic energy. He slunk into the apartment, the door shutting behind him with a subdued click. Then he leaned against the door, looking at them both with a guarded expression.
Ted cleared his throat and tried to say something to chase away the slump in Robin’s shoulders, the anxiety radiating off of Barney, but all that came out was a stilted, “Um, so we, I mean--”
“Shut up, Ted,” they both said in unison and he subsided.
Right now, Ted wished a hole would appear under his chair and swallow him. Oblivion had to be preferable to watching this scene unfold. Any second now, he knew that Barney or Robin would say, “I can’t handle this--” and make a break for it, never to be seen here again. Something like grief lodged in his throat, then, and he couldn’t quite breathe, thinking about Barney- and Robin-shaped holes in his life.
There was silence for a moment and then Barney exhaled loudly and pushed himself away from the door. He wavered, gaze flickering between Robin and Ted, obviously grappling with the same decision Ted had only twenty minutes earlier. At last, he perched on one of the arms of the couch.
Whereas Robin was all loose and hopeless, Barney was strung tighter than a violin. A muscle jumped in his jaw and Ted was half-fascinated, half-horrified by the way he could almost hear Barney’s teeth grinding.
Barney cleared his throat.
Before he could say anything, though, Robin reached out, touched the back of his hand with her fingertips. He stilled and looked at her, and Ted watched in utter disbelief as they held a fucking mental conversation like they’d turned into Lily and Marshall when he wasn’t paying attention.
“Guys?” he said, incredulous. They didn’t even glance at him. “Seriously, guys?” He was an outsider looking in, watching as Barney and Robin stared into each other’s eyes. The suspicion bloomed that maybe last night had been just a means to an end, one in which Barney and Robin admitted that they were perfect for each other, what with their commitment issues and life plans that involved never having kids, and left him behind as the third wheel.
He pushed the suspicion away, buried it in a deep, dark corner of his mind. Besides, the silent conversation seemed to be doing both Barney and Robin some good -- the tightness around Barney’s eyes started to ease, and Robin’s spine firmed as the slump vanished from her shoulders.
After a long moment, Barney’s mouth quirked into a familiar, amused look. It wasn’t quite as vibrant as usual, but it was definitely one of his looks when he’d been surprised, but pleasantly so. “Fine by me, Scherbatsky,” he said, as though they’d decided something.
There was a rough mixture of frustration and relief (and perhaps even an edge of jealousy that he would never admit to) in his voice as Ted snapped, “Would someone like to catch me up? I wasn’t exactly privy to that little conversation you two just had.”
They both blinked at him and Ted’s stomach twisted a little when he realized they’d half-forgotten he was even there. The misgiving piped up again, insistent and the tiniest bit triumphant now.
What did you call a guy who was a third wheel to two different couples, anyway? A third wheel squared?
The beer slipped from Ted’s nerveless fingers. He noted (with the tiny part of his mind that wasn’t focused on what Barney and Robin were doing) that the beer miraculously didn’t shatter but rather landed with a loud thud and rolled.
Robin kissed Barney like she was punishing him for teasing her and trying to cheat at Truth or Dare, her entire body caught up in the kiss. Eyes half-shut, they nevertheless held a victorious gleam when Barney made a strangled, needy sound and kissed her back.
When the kiss ended, Barney swallowed and asked, voice a little husky and making Ted’s breath stutter a little because Barney’s never sounded like that when he was making out with other women, “Now will you actually give me a make-out high-five?”
“Oh, I am so not drunk enough for this,” Ted muttered. Barney and Robin? Seriously, Barney and Robin? Had the world gone crazy without him noticing?
At the sound of his voice, Barney and Robin both jumped and looked at him with wide eyes.
“Oh, uh, hey, Ted,” Barney said, offering him an innocent grin that Ted would have seen through even if he hadn’t witnessed the kiss. Barney smoothed down his collar so it didn’t look like Robin had just grabbed it and added glibly, “Isn’t Truth or Dare awesome?”
Ted just looked at Robin’s flushed face, Barney’s overly bright grin, and retreated back into the kitchen to gain his bearings. He wasn’t surprised and a little resigned when Robin followed him.
“Look, Ted, I can explain,” she began and then stopped, pursing her lips in thought. After a moment, she shrugged and smiled awkwardly. “Okay, I can’t really explain it. Call that kiss temporary insanity?”
There was a faint protest of “Hey!” from Barney in the living room, and then Barney joined them in the kitchen, shooting an offended look in Robin’s direction. “I don’t think temporary insanity lasts for two weeks, Scherbatsky,” he sniffed. “Unless there’s a new definition for temporary that I haven’t heard about.”
“What?” Ted said in disbelief as Robin punched Barney, hard, in the shoulder and hissed, “Shut up.”
“Two weeks?” Ted repeated and leaned against the counter for balance, blinking as the floor seemed to tilt a little under his feet. Robin and Barney were seeing each other as an actual couple? The world really had gone mad. “And you didn’t tell anyone?” There was a hint of an accusation in his voice that he couldn’t quite mask.
They both winced a little at his tone and looked away for a moment.
When neither of them answered and the silence turned even more uncomfortable than before, he took a deep breath. “I just-- uh-- you two are really--” Ted took another deep breath. “Okay, I need alcohol. A lot of it.”
Robin silently handed him a beer.
“Ted, you have to swear not to breathe a word of this to Lily and Marshall,” Barney said, ignoring Ted’s request for someone to let him on the mental conversation. “You might have thought we were joking last night, but Robin and I don’t want Marshall and Lily asking us what we’re going to name the kids.” He paused to shudder at the idea and then looked thoughtful. “Though I would enjoy watching you and Marshall fight over who gets to be my best man.”
Robin rolled her eyes. “I’m sure they would, only not in the way you’re thinking,” she remarked dryly, ignoring Barney’s pout. Then she locked gazes with Ted, expression turning a little pleading. “Please?”
Ted just stared at them both. “Okay, am I missing something here? Not only have you two been sleeping together for two whole weeks, but we had a-- a ménage à trois last night, and you just want me not to tell Lily and Marshall!”
“Oh yeah, and you probably shouldn’t tell them about the ménage à trois too,” Barney said, nodding. “Nice save.”
Ted buried his face in his hands and huffed out a frustrated breath. A moment later, Robin touched his shoulder. “Ted.” He didn’t look up, and her hand moved to cup his chin, forcing him to look at her. “Ignore Barney for a second and talk to me,” she said, voice soft.
“Talk to you and say what, Robin? That I’m a little weirded out about two of my best friends sleeping together and, oh, also how I slept with them too? Because I really, really am!” Both Barney and Robin stared at him, Robin’s hand dropping to her side, and he realized he was shouting. Okay, apparently it was time for his freakout, since Robin and Barney seemed to be done with theirs. “I mean, what do we do now? Do we just pretend it didn’t happen? I can’t see that working out at all and I don’t want--”
This time it was Barney who reached out and grabbed Ted’s shoulder, shaking him until he stopped talking. “Turn off your brain right now, Ted,” Barney ordered and Ted couldn’t help but snort.
“Oh yes, Barney, I’ll just turn off my brain, because we all know how well I do that--” he began.
The rest of the words were lost against Barney’s mouth as Barney rolled his eyes and kissed him. It was a warm, easy kiss; Ted might have even called it chaste, but this wasBarney he was talking about.
Ted felt himself relax, lost in the warm and easy nature of the kiss, until finally Barney made a satisfied noise and allowed a hint of the passion from last night to creep in. Neither of them flinched when Robin wrapped an arm around them both, or when she stroked the back of Ted’s neck with light fingertips, a move of hers that always made him weak in the knees.
All right, he decided, thoughts a little muddled as Robin continued to caress the back of his neck and Barney deepened the kiss, maybe he could turn off his brain for a little while longer and worry about this whole thing later.
“Okay, I can sort of see how this would work,” Ted announced. He frowned a little when his mouth messed up the consonants. Starting to set his beer on the coffee table, he blinked when the can dropped to the ground instead, the final drops spilling onto the floor. “Oops.”
They were sitting on the couch, Barney on his right and Robin on his left, her knee pressed against his and Barney’s elbow digging into Ted’s side, as though Robin and Barney thought he would bolt or grab a phone and tell Marshall and Lily if they let him out of their sight.
When Ted frowned at the last of the beer as it stained the floor, Barney passed him the scotch bottle.
Taking a long swallow and gasping a little at the burn, Ted belatedly remembered why he preferred beer over scotch. He took another swallow, feeling the scotch burn its way to his stomach, and then looked back at Robin, trying to remember what he’d been saying before. “I mean, yeah, I totally get it now. You two are meant to be. Totally.”
“Yeah, totally, soul-mates and everything,” Barney deadpanned, smirking a little. Ted readjusted his grip on the scotch bottle when Barney nudged him. “While it’s great that you’re not crying or running off to tell Lily and Marshall, Ted, I’m afraid I will have to disown you if you start talking about Robin wearing white.”
Ted laughed and bumped Barney back. “I said meant to be, not married. You two shouldn’t get married. It would be as big a disaster as, as, well, me and Robin moving in.”
“Thanks for the vote of confidence,” Robin said dryly and Ted frowned. He hadn’t meant it as an insult. Was she angry?
“No, I meant--”
“No offense taken, Ted,” Robin said. This time Ted realized she sounded amused rather than annoyed. She looked at him and smiled. “And I’m glad you’re not upset.”
“I’m too drunk to be upset,” he informed her, despite the pang of jealousy that pierced him at the realization that he’d made a fool of himself for Robin for months and yet it was Barney she’d chosen in the end. It was a very small pang, though.
Ted licked his lips, where the flavor of scotch lingered, and wondered if Barney and Robin’s mouths now both tasted of scotch and each other. It sort of hurt his head to think about. “Hey, does this mean when you and Barney were off playing laser tag last week, you were actually having sex?” Oh god, he was never going to be able to look at laser tag in the same way again.
“Shut up, Ted,” Robin said fondly and then made a startled noise when he kissed her on the cheek to say congratulations. Well, he’d aimed for her cheek, anyway, though his mouth actually landed closer to her jaw.
When he pulled away, he couldn’t read her expression. “Congratulations,” he said, throat dry, chest tight, and gulped down the last of the scotch. He’d just made things weird, hadn’t he? He turned to Barney and couldn’t read his expression either. Definitely weird. “No, I mean it. This is awesome, you guys. Really.”
To show how awesome it was, he gave Barney a one-armed hug. It ended with Ted’s head resting on Barney’s shoulder, muttering into his shirt, “Robin and Barney, sitting in a tree-- hey, that rhymes. Awesome.” He laughed, pleased with himself and whoever had invented that song. He wished the room would stop spinning though.
“I think it’s someone’s bed-time,” Robin said and he nodded his agreement into Barney’s shoulder.
Together, Robin and Barney hauled him to his feet and made their way to his bedroom. Ted kept his eyes closed because the spinning room was beginning to make him nauseous. It wasn’t until he bumped against the bed that he opened his eyes.
“I love you guys,” he informed them, arms around their shoulders. “You rule.”
“We love you too, Ted,” Robin said, the amused look back on her face. She pulled down the blankets and helped him into bed. Ted’s throat tightened again as Barney and Robin bent to tug off his shoes. He watched Robin for a moment, unable to help himself and feeling a lot more sober than a minute ago. God, she was beautiful. “Now sleep well--” She looked up and saw his expression. The smile vanished from her face and she exhaled sharply, as though he’d just hit her.
He squeezed his eyes shut and sprawled out on the bed, feeling Barney release his ankle as he did so. Maybe Robin would just pretend not to notice, let him go to bed and pretend he still wasn’t half in love with her. “Goodnight,” he said, pleased when his voice came out steady. He recoiled at Robin’s hand on his chest, opening his eyes to blink at her in surprise.
“Ted,” she said, and he had no idea how to respond to the jumble of emotions in her voice. When he ignored her, fumbling so that he could just curl up under the covers and wait for the tightness in his chest to subside, Robin sighed and pulled her hand away. “Ted.”
“Goodnight,” Ted repeated and turned away, focusing his gaze on a wall instead of Robin.
He expected her to touch him again, to try and get him to talk to her. He just didn’t expect her to press her hand against his chest and kiss him, especially not when Barney was right there, watching them with an unreadable look.
After a moment, Ted jerked away, breathing hard and staring at her. “I--”
If he hadn’t expected Robin to kiss him, he definitely hadn’t imagined Barney would follow suit, pulling Robin into a kiss even more passionate than the one Ted had witnessed earlier. When Barney broke off the kiss, Robin was smirking and Ted finally recognized Barney’s turned-on expression. His brain took a moment to process that. Barney was turned on by him and Robin kissing. A surprising little shiver of pleasure ran down his spine.
“So, Barney,” he said slowly, “when you dared Robin to kiss me, were you hoping this--” He paused, gestured vaguely at the bedroom, unable to put a name to what had happened, was still happening. “--would happen?” Barney shot him a guileless look and Ted had his answer. He couldn’t help but laugh a little, slightly breathlessly. Trust Barney to use Truth or Dare to get someone (or rather, someones) into bed.
Robin laughed as well and punched Barney in the arm, ignoring his yelp of protest. “Jesus, Barney.” She shook her head for a moment. Then her expression took on a distinctly predatory look. “Barney. Truth or Dare?”
“Dare,” Barney said immediately and grinned when Robin said, “I dare you to birthday suit up.”
“Your dare is my command,” he said, and, before Ted could point out how that sentence made no sense at all, began to unbutton his shirt and after that, Ted wasn’t really thinking too much about syntax and proper English.
Ted woke up with his heart in his throat, panic gripping him. This time, Barney and Robin were still in bed, Robin’s head resting on his chest and Barney’s arm flung over Ted’s waist, but even their presence couldn’t banish the tightness in his chest.
What were they going to tell Lily and Marshall?