Robin felt like she could dream again. Like she was back on the right path, like this time, her job might actually lead somewhere, like she might achieve all of her goals.
She'd spent so much of the last few years not getting anywhere. Not with her jobs, not even with her relationships and since when had she been that girl? The one who sat around and moped because she couldn't keep a guy? But she was on the right track now, she was convinced of it.
"This is going to work," she told Barney one night, not long after she'd gotten her job. "You just wait. Five years from now, I'll be reporting from around the world."
"I'll record every appearance," he said.
Because that was the other thing about her job. She'd been so excited about the normal hours, about being able to hang out with the gang late at night again.
But it turned out Lily and Marshall went home early every night to have sex and Ted had started spending every spare minute on his GNB design job.
So it was her and Barney. And she liked Barney, figured she'd always liked him, on some level, more than anyone else in the group.
He was her ex.
It was hard to think of him that way. She'd shoved their relationship into that space in her brain reserved for Robin Sparkles and bad haircuts. Poor decisions. Stupid ideas. Things that should never be spoken of again.
Only Robin Sparkles videos kept popping up.
And Barney would give her these looks or let these things slip and she'd remember, "Oh yeah, Barney." Not Barney the sleazy guy who she sometimes felt like she shouldn't even be friends with, but Barney, who she laughed with, made out with, and slept with.
After they had first slept together, it was easy to pretend it hadn't meant anything. And, really, it almost hadn't then. They weren't like the others. Robin sure as hell wasn't going to marry the first person she ever slept with and she wasn't going to have Ted's white picket fence. Sex could mean something, but sometimes what it meant was, "I'm lonely, we're both consenting adults, so let's do this."
But then everything had turned upside down and Barney gave her those looks, and Robin found herself in another relationship she'd never planned on.
Sometimes she felt like she hadn't made a decision since she came to New York. She just kept getting swept along. Into crappy jobs. Crappy relationships. And she accepted it because she felt like it was never going to change.
Only now something had changed.
She'd grabbed onto something. To a job that was good for her, that took her seriously, that would take her where she wanted to go.
And she spent her nights with Barney. Sometimes watching him hit on other women, but sometimes just talking. They'd sit there in their booth, each on their own side of the table, she'd stretch her legs over to his side, Wendy would keep the drinks coming, and they'd share all those things you couldn't really share except for when it was past midnight, you were a little drunk and talking to one of your best friends.
"I think I'm going to ask my mom about my dad," Barney said, one January night.
"Maybe." Barney had loosened his tie. He leaned his head against the back of the booth and closed his eyes.
Seeing Barney tired had always felt so intimate to Robin. He was so energetic most of the time, so positive, so excited, that anything else felt like she was seeing something special.
"It might be good to know."
"Yeah," Barney said.
On nights like those, Robin went home a little lonely.
Not for sex, but for companionship. Maybe Ted had gotten in her head more than she had ever thought because, sometimes, the idea of traveling around the world on her own felt so damn lonely and scary in a way it never had before. Yeah, she could come home and tell her friends about her adventures, but maybe it would be fun to share them with someone.
So she'd brush her teeth, go to bed, stare at the ceiling for a while, and then she'd dream up some hot foreign guy who would show her all the local sights and that would make her feel better.
That was the way to go. A guy in every port.
Because, contrary to what Lily, Marshall and Ted thought, not everyone had a soulmate. What would she even do with a soulmate?
Besides the obvious.
So she worked hard at her job and sometimes her bosses noticed and sometimes she screwed up and they yelled at her, but she felt like she was getting somewhere. She could see her future stretching out in front of her and it looked good.
Barney started worrying about Zoey.
"I'm not worried!" Barney said.
It was early February and the snow was coming down so hard, they were practically the only ones at MacLaren's.
"Uh-huh." Robin took a long sip of her drink and waited.
"I'm just saying, it's almost Valentine's Day and he's spending a lot of time with her."
"They're friends," Robin said.
"Men and women can't be friends. Do you really need to hear the speech again?"
No, she didn't. And maybe he was right. Hell, she'd slept with her male friends. Except Marshall and if Robin didn't love Lily so much, who knew? Marshall still said she was a manatee, but Robin could probably change his mind.
"Ted's not you," Robin said. "He won't cross that line."
And Barney gave her this look, like he was almost hurt. And then he shrugged and said, "You're probably right."
"I didn't mean—"
"No, you're right," Barney said. "Me, I'd probably have already slept with her and forgot her."
He stood up.
"I'm going home."
"You can't go out in that," Robin said.
"It's not so bad," Barney said.
But they stepped outside and it was that bad. Snow piled everywhere, more coming down. No cabs in sight.
"Stay with me," Robin said.
And Barney whipped his head around to stare at her.
"Not like that. We have a couch, you know."
"Please, like I'd ever go to a woman's apartment and sleep on her couch."
"Like you'd ever go to a woman's apartment and sleep at all," Robin said.
But Barney followed her upstairs.
Only Ted had left his designs all over the couch, so Robin said, "Why don't you just share my bed?"
"You're giving me really mixed signals here, Robin."
"We can share it. It's a big bed. Very comfortable and—"
Well. He knew all that.
Point was, they were adults and even if one of them was Barney, sharing a bed didn't have to mean sharing a bed.
Only when she turned out the light, she could feel Barney next to her. Could tell he was flat on his back, not moving a muscle.
"Barney," she said. "Relax."
And then, because she wanted to make it less weird, because it was snowing, because it was dark, because she was feeling good about herself, because she wanted to, she touched his arm.
That was all.
But she could feel him relax under her hand. He turned to his side and her eyes had gotten enough used to the dark to make out his face. And it was like so many nights that resided in that part of her brain she wasn't supposed to think about.
So she looked back at him.
Really looked, like she hadn't in a while. He looked older. She forgot, most of the time, that he was older than the rest of them. It made her wonder what his dreams were, if Barney had dreams besides "bang as many women as possible." If he saw himself in the mirror and noticed the lines around his eyes. If he cared.
She scooted a little closer to him and heard him take a quick breath.
She didn't know what she was doing.
She knew what she was doing.
What she didn't know, what she hadn't ever known, not with any guy, was what she wanted. Sometimes they were like Ted and knew exactly what they wanted, but sometimes they were like Barney and just as lost as she was.
Maybe that's why they hadn't been able to figure it out.
"Robin?" he asked.
And she reached out to him because that was easier, because maybe some part of her would always want at least that part of him.
The next morning, Barney snuck out of the apartment before Ted woke up.
That was easier, too. Ted might not ask questions, but he would think things at her.
And she went to work and looked up statistics on snowfall and she and Barney hung out that night and nobody said anything about anything.
The next week was Valentine's Day and Robin figured there was nothing to worry about with Ted and Zoey because Ted did what he usually did on Valentine's Day.
"Next year!" he shouted, and held his beer up high. "Next year, I won't spend Valentine's Day alone."
And then, a couple of beers later.
"Guys, what if I never find someone? I'm not going to, am I? I'm doomed to spend the rest of my life alone, aren't I? You can tell me." And Ted put his head on the table and moaned.
"You'll find someone," Robin said, because she knew it was what he wanted to hear.
"And, if not, you can be my wingman for life!" Barney said.
"Not helping," Robin said.
"What?" Barney said. "It's good to have a backup plan."
"And his backup plan is to be your wingman?"
"Oh, I see what you mean.The whole marriage and kids thing should be the backup plan."
And Barney grinned at her and Robin laughed because Marshall and Lily weren't around and Ted was practically comatose and she didn't have to be the one stuck in the middle, pretending, yeah, maybe marriage and kids weren't so bad, but, hey, being single rocked, too.
"Let's get him upstairs," she said.
So they took Ted up to bed and ended up on the coach.
This time, there wasn't much hesitation at all. She grabbed his tie and pulled him to her and his hands slipped under her shirt and unhooked her bra.
"I make it a practice never to sleep with women on Valentine's Day," Barney said at one point.
"It's past midnight."
This time, they talked about it in the morning. They both assumed Ted would be too hungover to emerge out of his bedroom anytime soon. Or, if he did, to notice anything strange about Barney being there and wearing last night's suit.
"Maybe this was all we were ever supposed to be," Robin said.
"Friends with benefits?"
"No. That doesn't work, remember?"
And Barney made a face. "That was Ted. It doesn't count."
"Not friends with benefits. Just . . . consenting adults who don't make a big deal out of sex."
"If you're expecting me to turn you down or argue about what you're suggesting . . ."
And she leaned over to kiss him and he pulled her on top of him.
It didn't happen very often or anything. Maybe not even once a month. On days like the one when Marshall and Lily announced they were pregnant. Or when Ted told Zoey they probably shouldn't spend time together anymore. And when Robin got promoted. When Barney told James he knew who his father was.
Nobody else in the gang noticed. Lily and Marshall were focused on the baby, Ted was wrapped up in work and, besides, nothing had changed that much. She went on dates. Barney took women home with him. They went to work. Neither of them wanted something serious, so why not have the occasional night together?
Sometimes it made her sad that she and Barney hadn't figured out how to be something more. They were good at sex and enjoyed spending time together and it felt like that should add up to more than it did. But she wasn't sure they could survive another relationship. And this worked. If it wasn't perfect, it was more comfortable than anything else they'd tried.
Then Marshall and Lily's son was born.
Robin didn't look at him, hold him in her arms, and suddenly decide she wanted babies. She didn't change her entire life plan because he had the cutest nose ever and his fingers were so tiny they couldn't possibly be real.
But it did start up that longing again.
She understood it better now. Sometimes, she had a glimpse of the kind of relationship that would work for her. Something unlike Marshall and Lily, unlike anything she'd tried before.
She and Barney moved slowly that night. Took the time to do all the little things they liked, to look at each other, to drink each other in.
"Robin," Barney said the next morning.
"I don't know," Robin said.
But she did. Or at least she was closer to knowing.
She wanted Barney.
But she hadn't figured out what exactly that meant, so she wandered out of her bedroom to get some coffee. Barney followed her.
They forgot about Ted.
"Did—did you spend the night?" Ted asked. He stared at them.
"Oh." Barney said. "Yeah."
And he walked into the kitchen and poured some coffee.
"Are we going to talk about this?" Ted asked. He stood in the middle of the living room and his gaze flickered from Barney to Robin.
"Relax," Robin said. She poured her own coffee and snagged the newspaper. "It's not a big deal."
"It's not a—it's a huge freaking deal!"
"It's really not," Barney said. He had his phone out, but looked at Robin.
She shrugged. Whatever it was, it wasn't something they could put into words for Ted. Not when they didn't have them for themselves yet.
Which is what she told Barney a few weeks later.
"We need to figure this out for ourselves," she said. It was another one of their late nights at MacLaren's. It seemed easier that way. That was when they'd always been able to talk.
"So, are we . . . is there a this?" he asked.
Barney sighed. "Robin, I think there will always be a 'this.' "
Well, yeah. Like there would be between her and Ted, like there would be between her and Don, if she ever ran into that bastard again. That wasn't what she meant.
And Barney laughed and rubbed his eyes. "No wonder the others thought we needed so much help back then."
And then, suddenly, they were talking about their past together in a way they never had before.
"It was too much pressure," Barney said.
"Tell me about it."
"I felt like I had to be the perfect boyfriend."
"I thought I had to be a normal girlfriend."
"Scherbatsky, you will never—"
"Like you'll ever be perfect."
And then they stopped and grinned at each other. Barney's jacket was off, his tie was loose, and his eyes were bright.
"This." Robin nodded in satisfaction.
"This," she repeated. "This is what we should be."
"Yeah," Barney said. "I think you're right."
A couple of weeks later, Lily and Marshall finally caught on. They were all at Ted and Robin's and Lily had her son in her arms. Barney made a joke, Robin shoved him, and then Barney grabbed her and kissed her.
"Hey," Lily said. "Are you guys back together?"
And Robin looked up at Barney and smiled. "Yeah. Kind of."