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Bound by All the Rest

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Barney and I... Robin's cursor blinks from the screen of the laptop balanced on the needlepoint throw pillow in her lap. This isn't the easiest email to write. Lily has three sick kids, and one sympathetically itchy Marshall, which has to count for at least two more sick kids. There has to be some sort of sliding scale for this kind of thing. She backspaces until the words disappear. Now there's nothing at all in the empty space where the message goes. There is no way Lily is going to agree to Skype when she's on twenty-four hour nurse duty. Robin taps her index finger over the trackpad. The Barney answer would be to hire a private nurse and send her to take over for Lily, give Lily time for a shower and a nap, and then she'd be able to talk. I wanted to make sure you heard this from me first...Ugh, that sounds worse. Delete, delete, delete. The nurse idea might not be that bad.

Barney probably has a nurse guy, but she can't ask Barney right now. Barney is on a business call, and the window guy will be here any minute. The window guy is going to need Barney to show him the funky thing the window in the master bedroom is doing, because she has no idea how to explain it without using words like wobbly and jiggle and making squeaky noises. There may or may not be some discussion about the pros and cons of replacing the windows in all three bedrooms with double paned glass. Sam and Loretta don't think it's necessary, but they don't own the house; Barney and James do. Ultimately, it's their call. Sending this email to Lily's is hers.

Barney paces from kitchen to front door, phone to his ear. top two shirt buttons undone. The knot of his stripey tie is loose, his jacket probably draped over the back of a kitchen chair. He has one finger stuck in his other ear, to block out the ambient sounds. There are a lot of sounds in this house. The washing machine in the basement gurgles. The heater clanks. The third step from the bottom creaks, which is not good for restless landlords-slash-houseguests who want the occasional midnight snack, without waking their hosts-slash-tenants. Robin is the only one who doesn't know to step on the other end of the third step from the bottom if she doesn't feel confident in skipping it. She eyes the stair. Hug the wall, that's the key. The creaky part is next to the banister. She can remember that. Probably. Sam seems to have figured it out fairly quickly, but he has the home court advantage. He's probably stepped on it loads of times. She opens a note document and makes a note, then saves it. There.

I've been thinking about what you said... Weak. She highlights the line and hits the delete button. She shifts in her seat. Even though Sam said she could use his home office while he's out, she's here, on the living room sofa, shoes off, legs crossed criss cross applesauce. Stupid Marvin. That's what this position is now, ever since the first time Marvin brought the tem home from preschool. She can't get it out of her head. She's tried. It's in there. She has seven nieces and nephews. That's a lot of reinforcement for that kind of term. Maybe Sam's office would help her concentrate, without the distraction of the human perpetual motion machine that is the person she married.

Barney stops in mid-pace. He scowls, lets out a breath, releases a stream of rapid, irritated Cantonese. It's Cantonese, not Korean. She can't tell the individual words, but she's sure she can tell the difference between the two languages. That's a start, isn't it? She has no idea what he's saying, but he isn't happy. No. She understands that much. Pause. Another no. That one's quiet, softer. It hangs in the air. Its echo sends a chill over the backs of her hands. He sucks in a deep breath, holds it, lets it out. One more no, this one short and firm. Whatever the question is, that's his final answer, end of story, case closed. Too bad if the person on the other end of the line doesn't like it. He's not changing his mind. He tosses the phone onto the overstuffed chair at the end of the coffee table, then sits on the non-squeaky end of the squeaky step, his face in his hands. He's done this before, probably a million times, after school, or in the middle of a long, hot, summer afternoon, after some dumb jerk kid said something stupid to him about not having a dad, about not having the same dad as his brother, about how he sucked as basketball and liked magic better. She wants to punch them all.

Barney and I...She's back to that, because she can't put it any other way. It's not him. It's not her. It's them. Okay. Three words is a good start. She glances over her laptop screen. Barney still has his head in his hands. His shoulders twitch. Crap, is that crying? He's not making any sounds. She's not sure if that's good or bad.

Robin, the person you married is giving you the gift of his vulnerability. What are you going to do with that gift? Dr. Makepeace's words echo. Vulnerabilty is a crappy gift. She sets the laptop on the coffee table, and tosses the pillow to the end of the couch. Rangers tickets, now those would be better gifts, but she'll work with what she's got.

She extricates herself from the couch cushions and crosses to the stairs. There isn't anywhere for her to sit but on the squeaky part of the step. Maybe they can get a stairs guy to fix that. Wood guy, maybe. Carpenter? They probably need a carpenter. Right now, Barney needs her. She has no idea how to do this, but she has to try. If this were Marshall and Lily, Lily would sit next to Marshall, put her arm around him, tell him she believed in him, and everything would be okay. Robin's seen Lily do that probably a million times. It can't be that hard.

Barney's shoulders twitch again, and there's a weird pull in the pit of her stomach. Definitely arm around the shoulder time. Okay. She can do this. She scoots closer, until her hip bumps against his. Her arm hovers in the air, elbow bent, fingers splayed. Crap, she has no idea what to do with her fingers. She drops her arm. Her fingers rest naturally on his upper arm. She has two options here, rub or squeeze. One of them has to be appropriate, unless this is one of those times when being present, to use another Dr. Makepeace term, is what the person she married needs, but it would be a hell of a lot more helpful if he would actually freaking talk to her and tell her that.

He doesn't talk. The shaking stills for the briefest of seconds, before he lifts his head from his hands, the corners of his mouth curved upward. His eyes are bright, the lashes spiked and wet. Laugh lines crease mouth and eyes and forehead, his face flushed red. He shifts his position, slips one hand to the back of her head, threads his fingers through her hair, and then his mouth is on hers.

The surprise of it paralyzes her for the space of half a heartbeat. The world stops, and then starts back up again, on fast forward. He kisses her again, hot, hungry, laughter still on his lips as they work their magic. She needs more hands, for his tie, for his buttons, for his belt buckle. He yanks her shirt over her head, his touch warm on her skin, and walks her backward, to the couch. Laughter rumbles deep in his chest, moves from his body into hers, and she's laughing with him, and she doesn't know why. She doesn't care. She slips the loosened tie over his head and tosses it onto one of the chairs at the exact second the doorbell rings. They both freeze.

Window Guy. The thought passes between them without a need for words. Robin lunges for her shirt, tugs it back on, and resumes her seat on the couch while Barney puts himself in order. She reaches for the laptop. This time, the words come easy.