Disclaimer: This is by no means mine.
Summary: It’s a ghost story. Except for all the ways it’s not
Author's note: Very, very AU. But you can still expect spoilers through Shelter Island. [Barney/Robin, Marshall/Lily]
When she meets Ted he’s wearing a suit. A sharp black number with a red tie. She’s sitting at the end of this bar called McLaren's waiting for a friend and suddenly there’s a warm hand on her shoulder and a light friendly voice from another man in another suit saying, “Hey, have you met Ted?”
She likes Ted. Ted seems like a good person. The kind of guy every girl should want to settle down with but there’s something under it all, something sadder. Still, at the end of the night when she’s buzzed on scotch, she leans over and kisses him getting excited at the prospect of a good hookup.
But Ted pulled away before hand, squeezed his eyes shut and said, “Look, Robin. I like you. A lot. But I got left at the alter about a month ago and I really don’t think I’m ready.” He laughs. “I mean I only just shaved my break-up beard.”
“You used to have a beard?” Robin echoes, completely missing the point. “Hot.”
Ted laughs. “I’ll keep that in mind.”
“So this is really not happening? I mean you suited up and everything.”
His face goes weirdly blank at that, the underlying sadness making its way to his eyes. “I had a really good time tonight,” he says. “I’m not ready for a relationship right now but you should come out with us sometime. You can always use some new friends.”
She’s not quite sure what possesses her to say yes.
Later that same night after Ted and his friend had left, a soft voice whispers into her ear, “A hundred bucks says when you turn around I say wow.”
She turns around.
No one is there.
She goes back to the bar three days later and it’s absolute madness because it’s a Tuesday night and no one goes to a bar on Tuesday nights. In fact, Robin’s typical Tuesday consist of a night on her couch with her dogs and a glass of scotch. She likes those nights. She needs those nights after a life full of relationships gone bad and jobs gone worse. But here she is looking at the slim pickings of McLaren’s until her eyes catch sight of a vaguely familiar mess of dark hair.
Ted Mosby. Just-got-dumped-at-the-alter Ted Mosby who turned her invitation down last night only to counter with another offer of his own. She smiles to herself, takes her drink and slides into the booth across from him. “What’s shaking Ted?”
Ted lights up. “Robin! I didn’t think I’d ever see you again. I’m sorry about the other night.”
She waves a hand. “Totally forgotten. I just got work and well, I figured, like you said, I could use some friends.”
“Well I’m glad you came,” Ted says. He looks different tonight. He’s wearing a green patterned overshirt with a black t-shirt underneath. The difference this outfit and last Saturday’s is absurd. Most guys she knows only come to a bar in a suit right after work, but Ted and his friend, they donned the suits on Saturday.
The man on her left coughs into his hands and Robin turns to look at him. She has a vague sort of memory of a voice drawling, Haaaaave you met Ted? but she doesn’t have a name to place with it.
“Oh my God,” Ted says. “I’m so sorry. That was really rude. Robin,” He gestures to the man next to her. “This is my best friend, Marshall Eriksen.”
“Pleasure to meet you,” Marshall says, waggling an eyebrow as he reaches over to take her hand.
She giggles despite herself because the act is so over the top cheesy it’s enduring and she likes these two already. It’s been too long since she had people she could just hang out with. “Good to meet you too, Marshall Eriksen.”
“So,” Marshall says, “Ted tells me you’re a news anchor. Exciting stuff. Anywhere I might have heard of.”
Robin hates this question and she answers, cringing. “Metro News One and you might want to hold back on calling it exciting. I’m not even sure you can really call it news.”
Marshall shakes his head. “The whole place went downhill after Sandy Rivers stopped reading us the morning paper.”
She feels a blush creep up her face because she knows all too well the allure of Sandy Rivers. The mix of fascination and repulsion. The camping trip had been quite an... experience.
“Please tell me you aren’t Sandy Rivers fanboys because I can leave right now.”
“Guy was a douche,” Ted says.
“Total douche,” Marshall confirms. “Sounds like we got a step up in anchors though. Me and Ted should never have stopped watching.”
“No,” Robin concedes. “You made the right decision. My job’s a joke and I really, really don’t want to talk about work right now,” Robin says. “How about you guys? What’s with the street clothes. With the suits last time, I thought you two were some of those high class businessmen gracing us commoners with their awesome presence.”
There’s a long silence and Robin knows she’s said something wrong but scrolling back through her words she can’t find it, doesn’t even know if she wants to find it. “No businessmen here,” Ted says finally. “I’m an architect, Marshall’s an environmental lawyer.” He blinks twice. “Saturday was--an anniversary of sorts. Don’t worry about it.”
“Today’s definitely a sweats day,” Marshall says.
“Yeah”, Ted says. “You’re lucky this guy’s even wearing pants.”
“My ex just moved back to New York,” Marshall replies after a pause. “She called Ted earlier tonight looking to test the waters. I’ve only seen her once since she broke our engagement.”
“I told her she could just leave him alone,” Ted says peevishly.
“Wow.” Robin takes a deep breath and then a sip of scotch. “Did I run across the lonely hearts club or what? Left at the alter? Broken engagement? What are the odds?”
For a second she thinks she’s blown it, thinks she’s gotten too personal too fast but a second later the weird quiet is gone and Marshall’s grinning over at her. “So you’re telling me you don’t have some sort of romantic tragedy? I’m not sure we can be friends with you.”
Which is how after three more drinks and two more hours, she finds herself telling them the story of her break up with Simon ten years ago and then, the same exact break up just last month. Ted makes the appropriate sympathetic noises and Marshall nods at all the right places but she keeps thinking she hears someone trying to stifle laughter.
At the end of the night Marshall claps a large hand on her shoulder and says, “Thanks for hanging with us tonight. Our group’s been feeling a little small lately.”
“Plus actually hanging out with a girl gives us some street cred,” Ted adds.
Robin raises an eyebrow.
Ted laughs. “Well not street cred exactly, more like, can actually talk to a woman without sounding like an ass cred. Which is just as valuable if not more so.”
“Yeah, Scherbatsky,” Marshall says. “Anytime you’re up to hang come find us. We’re here pretty much every night. And if we’re not well, we live upstairs.”
“Don’t be a stranger,” Ted says.
It starts to be a habit. It’s been a while since Robin has had good friends and Marshall and Ted turn out to be just what she needs. The three of them are a good team, if slightly broken. She likes to think they’ll fix each other in the end.
She heads to the bar early one Friday, intent on getting a buzz on and maybe a girl to introduce to Marshall. She finds something completely different.
He’s leaning against the wall near the end of the bar just watching the scene with only a vague interest. Robin doesn’t know why he stands out from the rest of them. Something about the attitude or maybe the suit or even the slight smirk playing on his lips. He meets her eyes and everything changes.
Then someone bumps into her from behind and she turns around to find a tiny brown haired lady stammering out an apology and by the time she turned back around the guy was completely gone. She turns back to the girl. “Hey this is going to sound crazy but there was this guy at the end of the bar. Blonde hair, blue eyes?”
She goes quiet for a minute and then asks, “Was he wearing a suit?”
“Yeah?” Robin says. “Yeah, how did you know?”
Her new friend’s head snaps around, searching every direction in excitement that seems slightly tinged with panic but she finds nothing and her face settles into a frown. “Sorry, it’s just that sounds like someone I used to know.”
“Used to know?” Robin echoes.
She pulls her purse up on her shoulder, and says, “Yeah. I just moved back into the city. This place used to kind of be my haunt back in the day.” She laughs again but sounds brittle, like glass shattering in the distance. “I forgot how much I missed it.”
They end up talking for the next hour or so, using girl’s night as an excuse while they both casually fend of the bar’s usual players. When she finally catches sight of Ted and Marshall she waves them over. “You’ve got to meet my friend, Marshall. He’s one of the sweetest guys I know, you’re going to love—“
Then she stops talking because she can see the sudden tension in Marshall’s face, sees the widening of Ted’s eyes and glances back to the girl she’s been chatting with for the last hour to find a pale face and a mouth gaping wide open and Robin realizes she’d never gotten a name.
“Lily,” Marshall says.
Oh, Robin thinks as her stomach twists in on itself.
(more soonish if all goes according to plan.