"How long are you going to keep this up?" Marshall asks.
"Yeah, Ted, you have to talk to him. Now he's calling me while I'm at work and it's always during finger-painting time." Lily says. "Now my phone's all purple."
"Guys, he SLEPT with ROBIN."
That's not the reason he's angry -- well, not the real reason. It's one of the reasons, a minor one, really, but it's easier to yell about that than it is to yell about being a bad friend. Also, less girly. And whatever, it's like the ninety-third time they've had this conversation, anyway, and Ted was sick of it ninety times ago. It always ends the same way. He has no idea when they're going to stop asking, but he hopes it's soon.
"But Ted -- "
"Lily, it's over." He shrugs.
"But -- " Lily stops when he glares at her.
"I'll get the next round," he says, sliding out of his seat. He can see Robin heading towards them from across the bar; he sort of smiles at her and she sort of smiles back and he hates how he's the one who didn't do anything wrong but still ends up the guy everyone's mad at.
When he gets back to their booth there's an envelope addressed to him on the table.
"Did you bring this?"
Robin shakes her head. When he looks at Lily and Marshall they both look away, at the table, at the ceiling -- anywhere but at him. He sighs.
"Just -- tell him I said to stop." He rips the card in half again and again, until the stack of papers is too thick to tear. "So, Robin, how was work?"
He doesn't really listen to her answer. He just sits there and nods and drops rolled up bits of envelope into an empty beer bottle.
"It appears this is a -- " Ted squints at the order form, "um, an Upside-Down Tomato Garden?"
"I call it!" Lily says. Ted passes her the box and reaches for the next one.
"Up next we have, uh, Mr. Clock Radio."
"Ooh, mine!" Marshall grabs the box out of Ted's hands.
"Okay," Ted laughs. "Robin, that means you get the Nano Wand Scanner. Huh. I don't know what it does, but maybe it's magic."
"Ooh, Robin, let's trade," Marshall says.
"No deal," she says.
"Fine." They're all quiet for a minute, digging through plastic packing bubbles and Styrofoam casings.
"Man, Ted," Lily says, "I can't believe Barney sent you all this stuff. I mean I can, but, wow. It's a lot of stuff."
"AWESOME," Marshall says, and Ted doesn't have to say anything at all, which is perfect. "Look, guys!" He holds up his Mr. Clock Radio, which looks like -- well, like a robot head attached to a clock radio. "I wonder what it sounds like. 'Wake. Up. Mar. Shall. Wake. Up. Lil. Eee.'"
They all laugh at his electronic voice.
"I'm gonna go plug it in!" he says, and then runs into his and Lily's bedroom.
"What'd you get, Ted?" Lily asks.
"Well, that's a flash drive that looks like a pen," he says, pointing to a small box on the coffee table. "And that is a motorized snack float that I guess you use if you're really hungry and in a pool? Or maybe the bathtub. And this," Ted lifts up the last package, "this is a food tumbler."
"Why would you want to tumble your food?" Lily asks, crawling over to read the side of the box. "Weird."
"Hey, hey guys! Come listen to this!"
Robin laughs and says, "Coming, Marshall," and heads into the bedroom. Lily pushes herself off the floor and holds out her hands to help pull Ted to his feet.
"You really should call him," she says, once they're both standing.
"Lil." It sounds like a sigh, the way he says it; it makes him feel even more tired than he already is.
She doesn't say anything else, just squeezes his hands and smiles a little. And then she leaves him standing in the middle of the living room, surrounded by half a dozen boxes of crap from SkyMall.
"Dude, I think we should talk about this."
"Marshall, I still don't want to talk about it."
"Ted, you didn't see him, though. I've never seen Barney like that."
"Like what, in a panic, trying to figure out which flight would get us to Vegas fastest? Marshall, he just sent me a stripper."
"I know," Marshall says, staring fondly at the door.
"I think the correct term is strip-o-gram."
"That's NOT THE POINT."
"Ted, what do you expect? It's Barney."
Ted drops onto the couch, buries his face into his hands, and lets out an aggravated scream. He doesn't know what to say anymore. Not having Barney around is a lot like having the ghost of Barney around – Robin's acting like he never existed in the first place, Marshall keeps talking about him in hushed tones, mysterious things keep showing up on his doorstep.
When he uncovers his face, Marshall's staring at the TV. He passes Ted a beer and unmutes SportsCenter and acts like nothing ever happened. Every so often, he looks over at Ted and opens his mouth like he's going to say something, but he doesn't, he just takes a deep breath and faces forward and drinks his beer.
Ted wakes up one Sunday morning to the chorus of "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin.'" Once he figures out where he is and what day it is, he stumbles out of his room, ready to yell at Marshall or Lily or whoever's watching Top Gun at full volume. But their bedroom door is shut and the TV's off and the music's coming from outside.
When he gets to the open window he sees Barney on the fire escape, holding an old school boombox and looking pretty pathetic. He doesn't say anything, not even when Ted walks over and shuts the window.
Ted goes back to bed and tries to fall back to sleep. He ends up lying there, thinking about the look on Barney's face on the balcony just now, and in the limo that time, and of all the horrible things Barney's done over the years. He tries not to think about the good things, like the Price is Right, or flying to San Francisco, or that time at the Met.
When he gets out of bed the second time, the window's open and Barney's gone.
"So, uh, how's Stella?"
"Good, she's good. Real good."
"Good." Robin picks at the label on her beer bottle. Lily and Marshall left a long time ago and Ted sort of wishes he had, too. Listening to whatever they're doing right now would probably be less painful than this awkward conversation he and Robin have had going for twenty minutes now. Drinking to fill the silences has helped, but not nearly enough.
"It's not his fault," she says. She's managed to peel the entire label off in one piece and now she's concentrating on folding it in half, methodically flattening the crease with her thumbnail. She doesn't look at Ted. He wonders if he acts like he didn't hear her maybe they can pretend she never said anything at all.
"It's not his fault," she says again, louder this time. "Don't be mad at him."
"No, Ted, just -- just listen. Please." There's this look in her eyes that makes him nod the tiniest bit, so she looks back at her beer label and keeps talking. And he does listen, sort of, as she tells him about the videotape and agreeing not to say anything and how Barney was the one who worked himself into a tizzy trying to keep it all a secret.
"He's a good guy, Ted, and he's spent God knows how much time and money trying to make it up to you. He's sorry and it's killing him and -- " she looks at him and says, "and I don't want to be the reason it's awkward for everyone."
Ted wants to tell her that that's not it, that it's not her fault Barney thinks it's okay to do things and then make up for it by flying everyone to a boxing match. He wants to say that, but he doesn't know how, and part of it is that even though Barney did say he was sorry, Ted's still mad at him.
He wants to say a lot of things, but Robin leaves before he gets a chance, and then he's just sitting alone in a bar, thirty-years-old and drunk and sad that his friend was kind of a jerk.
He drops some bills on the table and gets ready to leave when Wendy stops him.
"Barney paid for it," she says, and it's ridiculous that even she knows what's going on with them. She pats his arm and tilts her head towards a booth back by the bathrooms. Ted can just make out the top of Barney's head. Wendy smiles encouragingly as Ted finishes the last of his beer and heads towards Barney.
"Thanks," he says, resting his hand on the back of the booth. Barney straightens up in his seat, and when he realizes it's Ted, he smiles. If he says anything, Ted doesn't wait to hear it; he just bounces his fist against the seatback and walks toward the door.
Barney catches up to him in the hallway upstairs. "Ted, wait," he says. He sounds a little out of breath. Ted slows down but he doesn't stop. "Wait," Barney says, catching Ted by the elbow. But he's moving too fast and Ted's moving too slow and they stumble into the wall outside Ted's apartment.
Barney's really close now, one hand still clasped around Ted's elbow. "I'm sorry," he says.
Ted closes his eyes and fights the urge to scream or kick or say anything. Barney's hand is warm on his arm; his knees are bumping against Ted's and the air around them smells like cigars and cologne and alcohol.
Barney presses his free hand on the center of Ted's chest and Ted tries not to flinch as he steels himself for whatever's coming next -- a knee to the groin, screaming, a nervous breakdown -- something catastrophic, he's sure.
But Barney kissing him is not something he's prepared for. Ever. In his entire life. Ted's first reaction is to flail, flapping his arms ineffectively, before he shoves Barney away.
"Barney!" He wipes his mouth with the back of his shirtsleeve and makes a face. "What the hell, man?" He almost drops his key when he tries to unlock the door, but he gets it on the second try and storms into the apartment.
Barney follows him. "Ted!" He says it the same way he does when he's yelling at Ted for not suiting up. "Come on, Ted, we're even. Now can we be friends again?"
Ted doesn't know what to say. "What?"
"You kissed Robin, I kissed Robin, I kissed you. Now we're even."
"Oh my God, that is not how it works," he yells. He winces when his voice echoes throughout the apartment.
"Ted," Barney starts to say, but he stops, lets it hang in the air.
Ted turns around and Barney's slumped on the couch and he just looks sad, sadder than he's ever looked before, and Ted feels horribly guilty. Again.
"Fine," he says, sitting on the opposite end of the couch. "We're even."
"But if you ever --"
"I swear to God, Barney. Bros don't kiss other bros."
"Right." Barney nods. He waits a minute before he says, "So we're bros again?"
"Yeah," Ted laughs and reaches out to clap Barney on the shoulder. He squeezes a little when he says, "We're friends."
"Marshall's my best friend," he says, but Barney's already explaining what he has planned for them next weekend, so Ted just leans his head against the back of the couch and lets him talk.