There are many stories Ted will tell his children. This isn't one of them.
In the aftermath of doomsday, Ted doesn't go through the five stages of grief. He makes it through denial (denial that the world as he knows it has ended, denial that millions of people are dead, denial that everyone he cares about is missing and probably gone forever) and then gets stuck on anger.
Fury's a constant companion, settling in right beneath his ribcage where his heart used to be and making itself comfortable. It's a hard, burning sensation that drives him forward as he wanders through the ruins of the city. He avoids the police and the looters, searching for any sign that his friends survived. At least New York's monster is dead (killed by the Air Force or the Navy or someone with a really big gun; nobody is sure who to thank and award a medal to just yet). It means New York is better off than cities like London and Rome, which had also been attacked by monsters that appeared like lightning.
If the world is trying to patch itself up and survive (like Humpty Dumpty, and all the king's men won't be able to fit the pieces back together), Ted doesn't notice and doesn't exactly care. He just chokes on the dust that has settled on his skin and hair and keeps searching, slogging through the mud and knee-deep puddles.
Lily and Marshall's apartment is empty. So is Robin's, and Ted's glad, for a second, that he'd been an asshole about Robin's dogs, since they're upstate and (possibly, but probably not) safe, in a small town he can't remember the name of.
By the time he reaches Barney's apartment, someone's already broken in. The windows are smashed and dust from ruined skyscrapers coats everything. The sight makes it feel like decades have gone by rather than two days, like Ted's turned into Rip Van Winkle and everybody's been dead for twenty years and more. (Ted gets dizzy thinking about it, so he stops.)
If anyone's been back to their apartments since the attack, Ted doesn't see any sign. Besides, everyone had been at work when it happened—except for Ted, who'd been on a business trip to fucking Albany of all places—so who knows where they went. The phone lines are still down, so maybe they got out of the city, were evacuated somewhere. Hell, maybe Marshall and Lily are on their way to Minnesota right now, to wait out the end of the world as the various governments try to kill the rest of the monsters (try and probably fail, but then, Ted's not feeling particularly optimistic this week).
He sits down on Barney's couch and closes his eyes, which are red and watery from the dust and the fact he hasn't slept in two days. Hasn't eaten, either, but the hunger pangs he felt earlier have already been banished by the anger still smoldering in his chest. This isn't supposed to happen. Wasn't. He'd had plans. Fucking Godzilla wasn't supposed to attack New York, and Los Angeles, and Beijing, and Paris, and London, and Tokyo, and—
He doesn't dare sleep, not when one of his friends could be out there, hurt and praying for rescue. He'll try Lily's elementary school next. Maybe they made it into a makeshift emergency shelter and then got trapped there while the monster rampaged through the city.
After a moment, Ted forces his eyes open, rubs a weary hand across his face, warding off the temptation of sleep. The gesture just smears the dust deeper into his skin and he sighs. He opens up Barney's liquor cabinet and is surprised to find the looter hadn't taken everything after all. Or maybe he or she just didn't like Scotch.
Heathen, he hears, like Barney and Robin are sitting next to him, sounding scandalized by the idea of anyone disliking such glorious whiskey, and he swallows back the laughter that wants to well up at their imagined expressions of disgust. If he starts laughing, he knows that he's not going to ever stop, and someone will find him in a few days, giggling to himself and talking to people who aren't here.
He takes a swallow from the bottle, knowing he should drink water but wanting the fierce burn of the whiskey more, to match the fire in his chest. His hands tremble when he sets the bottle down; Ted stares at them for a moment and wonders if he's going to ever hold a pen and sketch another skyscraper again.
After a moment, he goes out into the hallway and locks the door behind him, hands still shaking, throat still sore from anger and alcohol and something that might be grief. Maybe he's just skipped bargaining. What is there to bargain with, anyway?
Ted will tell them that he remembers the dust and the panic but not much else. It isn't much of a story, but it will have to do. Anything more, and he would begin to taste the dust in his mouth again, and the tremors in his hands that he banished ten years ago might return.
New York has always been a labyrinth with its one-way streets, but Ted knows it like the back of his hand (better, probably). It all looks different now, with the Empire State Building gone and what looks like a hundred other buildings on their sides or smoldering from fire. He saw images of Times Square ablaze (where Robin had been, and he's trying hard not to think of the pallor of her face and the way the words had rushed out of her, hurried and horrified, before the cameraman had dropped his camera and started running).
He'd turned off the TV then, and headed back to the city, driving the rental car at 150 MPH until he'd met the rush of cars trying to get away from the disaster, people using every single road possible to escape, and slowed to a frustrating, agonizing crawl.
New York looks like—is—a warzone, and Ted's still surprised he's been able to avoid the police and military swarming the city. Apparently he has a streak of luck going, one that's due to end any minute now as he climbs over slabs of cement and finds places to hide when he hears the rumble of engines or the sound of voices.
A helicopter roars overhead and he flinches, shrinking into an alleyway to escape detection. He's waiting for the helicopter's sounds to fade in the distance when he feels the press of cold, hard metal into his back. So much for his lucky streak.
"You've got to be kidding me," he says, ignoring the mugger's command to shut up and stay still. Anger bubbles up from his chest, turns his voice harsh and disgusted. "You're really that pathetic—"
Later, opening his eyes, his head pounding from where the guy had hit him with his gun, Ted guesses he should be grateful the guy hadn't just shot him. Maybe his lucky streak isn't quite over after all. His wallet and his watch are gone, though, and he tastes coppery, wet warmth on his tongue from a split lip. His fingers come away bloody when he touches the spot where the pain is worst, his temple feeling like a cracked egg.
The agony feels worse than any hangover he's ever had, and the whole world tilts alarmingly when he tries to stand up. Nausea strikes, sharp and sudden, but his stomach has nothing to offer; he just lies there trying to regain control of his gag reflex, gasping and cursing as his entire body shakes.
Then he claws his way to his feet, leaning against the nearest wall for support. The world's still spinning, the ground shifting under his feet like quicksand, and he closes his eyes and tries to remember how to breathe. He's not certain how long he stands there, sand in some figurative hourglass trickling away, before the nausea and dizziness ebbs enough that he can take a few stumbling steps forward, out of the alley and onto the street.
He blinks, squinting and hoping his vision will focus sometime soon, and tries to reorient himself. Lily's school is a few blocks away, but his apartment is even closer, though he's not sure if he can make it up the stairs past McLaren's—
McLaren's. His knees buckle a little, the realization that anger has made him stupid hitting him like a punch to the gut. Or maybe that's just the concussion making him slump and have to catch himself on a lamp post.
How many times had the group joked that if the world was ending, they'd hide in McLaren's? At the very least, Ted's sure Carl will be there. Carl is always there (which is why Marshall had made them all swear to avoid McLaren's at all costs in the doomsday scenario of vampires taking over the world, because Carl is obviously one of the vampires who'd infiltrated New York).
He staggers his way to McLaren's, stopping each time the darkness lurking at the edges of his vision threatens to overwhelm him. It's a long, painful walk, and the fury in his chest is giving way to fear—fear that once he reaches McLaren's, he'll find out if everyone's alive or dead.
When Ted reaches McLaren's door, he stands there for a long moment. He thinks about letting Schrödinger's cat stay in the box (so that everyone is both dead and alive, and never one or the other, but definitely never the former), but he knows he can't keep wandering the streets, trying not to learn that his friends are dead somewhere. He takes a deep breath, fear twisting his stomach into knots, and then tries to open the door.
He stares stupidly at it for a moment before he begins to pound at the door, feeling sharp splinters dig into his skin with the force of the blows. "Let me in," he says, shouts really, voice hoarse and shaky.
The door opens a crack and someone says, in a low, incredulous tone, "Ted?" It's Robin, face smudged with dirt and holding a rifle in white-knuckled hands, staring at him like she's seen a ghost.
"Robin," he says, and his voice cracks with relief just as his knees buckle.
It's Marshall who throws the door open the rest of the way and catches him before he falls.
Ted doesn't want to talk about the fear and the pain, about wandering the streets and searching for his friends' bodies. But then he thinks about Lily, and the scar across her shoulder blades that will never go away, and Barney accidentally becoming a hero (with a medal and everything), and knows that he should tell his children about New York's devastation and resurrection.
He'll tell them, eventually, when his throat isn't so tight and when their mother isn't around to tell him not to.
Perhaps he'll start with how that day had begun in Albany, with a pale gray sky, the promise of rain, and a phone call from Barney.