It was all Amber's fault. Barney had picked up the hopefully legal blonde at MacClaren's. She was exactly his type: drunk, easy, and without a single interesting thought in her head. It was the last one that did it. He made the mistake of listening to her and, oh my gosh, did she really think he was interested in what her ex-best friend did five years ago and what exactly made her break up with her last boyfriend?
It was then that Barney found himself wondering what exactly it would be like to sleep with someone who could carry on an intelligent conversation. Which led him to one name.
After kicking Amber out of his apartment, Barney grabbed his phone.
"Barney, it's three am." Lily's voice was nearly as exasperated as the time he called her in the middle of the school day with a suit emergency. He could hear Marshall murmuring in the background. "Just Barney," Lily said.
Vaguely, Barney wondered if he should be offended by that. Just Barney? But there were more important concerns tonight.
"I changed my mind."
"What are you talking about?"
"I don't choose the bimbos."
Lily squealed, making Barney wince and hold the phone far from his ear. "Really? Are you going after--"
"Don't say her name!"
"Marshall fell back asleep. He can't hear a thing."
"This is top secret stuff, Lily."
"You do realize at some point you're going to have to tell her?"
Barney gulped. "That's-that's-that's--"
"Okay," Lily cut him off. "One step at a time. Let's meet tomorrow morning."
"I have work. And so do you."
"Crap. I'll come over tomorrow night. Be ready."
That sounded ominous. "Ready for what?" Barney asked. But Lily had already hung up.
"Okay," Lily said, bursting into his apartment the next night and heading toward his second bedroom. "The first thing we need to do is get rid of your suits."
"Lily, my suits are my children. They are my very essence. They make me--"
"A guy who has no chance with Robin," Lily said, as they entered the bedroom.
"Not true," Barney said. "They worked just fine on her."
"Once. I'm assuming you're looking for repeated occurrences?"
"What up!" Barney said and held up his hand for a high five.
"No," Lily said. "No high fives. No sleazy Barney. If you want Robin, you have to quit all of that."
"You asked for my help," Lily said. "You have to do what I say." She reached for the first suit.
"NO!!!!!" Barney leaped in front of her before she could touch it.
"Barney! Did you not hear what I just said? If you want a shot with Robin, the suits have got to go."
"What if I just keep them as souvenirs?"
"Souvenirs of what? Wait, I don't want to know."
"Come on, Lily."
"I don't know . . ."
"Besides, I need them for work. The North Koreans get offended if we don't dress sharply."
"Barney, what do you--"
"No! You know too many of my secrets already!"
Lily rolled her eyes. "Fine. I'll let you keep the suits. But no wearing them after work!"
"What am I supposed to wear instead?"
"What everyone else wears! Causal clothes. Jeans. T-shirts."
Barney felt sick. But then he thought of Robin and how she'd laughed at his joke about bananas the other day, and he took a deep breath. "Okay. No suits after work." He was proud of himself for saying it without his voice breaking.
Barney had always believed there was no time like the present, so he walked into MacClaren's that night in a brand new pair of jeans and a blue t-shirt that Lily swore brought out his eyes.
Robin took one look at him and burst out laughing. Which wasn't really the reaction he was looking for. Still, Ted had left open the seat next to her, so at least he had the consolation of feeling her leg brush up against his.
"What are you wearing?" she asked, after she had managed to get herself under control.
"I decided it was time for a change."
"You look weird."
"I think he looks nice!" Lily jumped in.
"I'm with Robin," Marshall said. Lily jabbed him in the side. "What?"
"Barney's our friend. If he wants to try something new, we should support that."
"Not if it makes him look ridiculous," Robin said.
"He doesn't look ridiculous," Ted said. "Just . . . not like Barney."
And now everyone stared at Barney. It wasn't that he minded being looked at it--most of the time, he enjoyed it--but something about their scrutiny made him uncomfortable. Like they were trying to figure out every single thought he'd ever had.
"Sorry for making fun of you," Robin said.
"Okay," Barney said, on the phone to Lily later that night. "It didn't work."
"These things take time," Lily said. "You didn't expect her to jump into your arms tonight, did you?"
"Uh, yeah." Okay, maybe not expected, but . . . it could have happened.
"Just keep it up," Lily said. "And do something nice for her. Bring her flowers."
"Flowers?" Barney asked.
"Women like flowers! Ooh, and chocolate. Buy her chocolate!"
Barney thought about that for a while. Flowers and chocolate did seem to work for Ted . . . .
"Barney? You still there?"
"Gotta go." He hung up and grabbed his laptop.
Was he supposed to know what kind of flowers Robin liked? How did other men do this kind of thing? He thought about calling Ted, but Ted would probably use that to start the awkward conversation Barney had managed to avoid so far. All women liked roses, right? He ordered a dozen roses, and a box of chocolate, and paid the premium for rush delivery.
The next morning, his cell phone buzzed and the display read "Scherbatsky." His hands were trembling so badly he had to reach for the phone three times before managing to hold on to it.
"Barney, did you buy me flowers and chocolate?"
He wasn't prepared for that question. Weren't women supposed to have intuition for this kind of things?
"I--you--I--I just wanted to do something nice. You've been having a hard time lately."
"Oh." Robin sounded confused. "Thanks."
"It's not working!" Barney yelled into the phone. It was the middle of the work day and he'd ducked out of a meeting when he realized he was humming "Sandcastles in the Sand" under his breath.
"Okay, Barney, calm down," Lily said.
"You said that if I gave up the bimbos, Robin would be mine!"
"I never said that!"
"It was implied."
Lily sighed. "Barney, these things take time."
"Do you know how many girls I could've slept with by now?"
"You said you were done with that!"
"I am, I am." Barney sighed, and ran his fingers through his hair. "But I haven't gone this long without sex in years."
"Barney, sex is much better with someone you love."
"What would you know about it?" Barney said. "You've only had sex with Marshall." He hung up.
Two seconds later, he re-dialed. "I'm sorry, Lily," he said. "Please don't abandon me."
"You know," Lily said. "There's really only one thing left to do."
"Have sex with her?" Barney asked hopefully.
"Barney, no!" Lily said. "Well . . . maybe. But remember, that's not the goal!"
"Oh, Lily, sex is always the goal."
"Ask her out."
"That is what a man typically does when he's interested in a woman."
"What if she doesn't say yes?"
"Since when are you afraid of a woman saying no?"
Barney didn't answer. Getting turned down by a stranger had never bothered him. There was always another bimbo who would say yes. But if Robin turned him down . . . there was no other her. No one else who could make him feel this way.
"Barney," Lily said, her voice growing quiet and soft. "Love is always a risk."
"Please," Barney said, and hung up again.
It took him a while to find the right moment. He'd never realized how much time the group spent together. How had Ted ever gotten Robin on her own? And Robin was still giving his jeans weird looks and frowning when he didn't laugh at her dirty jokes. He thought about calling her, but his smooth phone skills (the ones that had more than once calmed down the North Koreans) disappeared when Robin was on the other end of the line.
Finally, Barney's moment came. Lily and Marshall left MacClaren's early (and when exactly did Barney start to envy the certainty of knowing exactly who you were sleeping with that night?) and Ted was hitting on a brunette at the bar. This left Barney and Robin alone for the first time in what felt like years
"So, Barney," Robin said, leaning her head against the seat and turning to look at him. "What's up with you?"
"Willyougooutwithme?" Far from his smoothest moment, but she was looking at him, and he could smell her hair, and it was now or never.
He had to do it again? Blurt out all he ever wanted? He took a deep breath. Another one. Another one. And now she was looking at him like he was crazy. "Uh. Will you go out with me?" This time he said it so quietly that he could hardly hear himself, but Robin seemed to understand him because she didn't ask again.
She didn't answer right away. Barney could hear every beat his heart made, and he was pretty sure he could hear hers, too. Her gaze roamed the bar and landed on Ted. Then she turned back to Barney and shrugged.
"Sure. Why not? I've always wondered what a date with the legendary Barney Stinson was like."
It wasn't the enthusiastic response Barney had hoped for, but it was enough.
"Are you sure I can't wear a suit?" Barney asked. It was the night of his date with Robin, and Lily was helping him get ready and giving him some last minute coaching.
"Barney, you want to show Robin that she can take you seriously," Lily said.
"Uh, that's the whole reason suits were invented. Well, that and to get laid. What up!"
"Barney, no!" Lily said. "Slacks and a dress shirt. That's all. No jacket. No tie."
"Fine!" Barney said and stomped off to the bedroom to change. He would've argued more, but Lily's advice had gotten him a date with Robin. She must be on to something.
"You look great!" Lily exclaimed when he came out. She clapped her hands together.
Barney didn't agree. The jeans were bad enough, but dress pants without a jacket and tie made him feel half-naked.
"Do you remember the rules?" Lily asked.
"No talking about myself. No slang. No jokes. No looking at other women."
"Good. I think you're ready then. Don't forget the flowers!"
Lily had convinced him to buy a dozen more roses. Apparently, flowers were the perfect way to start a date.
"Okay," Barney said, smoothing his collar and wishing once more for a tie. "I think I'm ready."
"Good luck!" Lily hugged him and kissed his cheek. "I'm proud of you."
Barney stood outside Robin and Ted's apartment for two solid minutes before knocking.
"You look gorgeous," Barney said, as soon as Robin opened the door. Though it was something Lily had told him to say, the compliment slipped out naturally when he saw Robin in her short red dress.
"Thanks, Barney." Robin smiled. "Are those for me?"
"Uh, yeah." Barney had forgotten the flowers. He thrust them towards her.
"Just let me put these away and grab my purse," Robin said.
Barney leaned against the doorway. Though he had been in Robin and Ted's apartment thousands of times, it all felt different now. Ted was nowhere in sight, thankfully. That was one conversation he wanted to put off for as long as possible.
"Okay," Robin said, reappearing from her bedroom. "Let's do this." She took his arm.
Barney smiled at her. He couldn't imagine a better way to spend an evening.
'This is where we're eating?" Robin asked, when the taxi pulled up to the expensive restaurant Barney had chosen after Lily shot down his suggestion of laser tag and that Canadian bar Robin wouldn't shut up about.
"Is that okay?"
"It's fine, Barney."
Barney held out Robin's chair as they sat down. She gave him a strange look, but he tried to ignore it. Was acting like a gentleman really so out of character for him?
"So what did you do today?" he asked, as he sat down.
Robin gave him another look. "Nothing much," she said.
"Oh, yeah?" Barney said. He tried to think of what Lily had told him, what Ted would do if he were here. "Like what?"
Robin shrugged. "Bought groceries. Facebook stalked my old boyfriends."
Barney grinned. "If you want, there's this guy at work who can hack into private profiles."
"Really?" Robin said. "Because there's this jerk I dated in college and it would be really great if he ended up fat and alone."
"I can't imagine anyone ending up any other way after losing you."
"Uh, what?" Robin said, staring at him.
"It's a compliment, Scherbatsky!"
Robin frowned. "Since when do you hand out compliments?"
"Uh, we're on a date, Robin. Don't you expect the guy to say nice things to you?"
"You're not just any guy, Barney."
Barney took a sip of water. It was funny. He had dreamt of Robin saying that, but he'd wanted it to mean something far different. "So, what?" he said. "I can't be nice?"
"I just want you to be Barney."
"I am Barney!"
"No," Robin said. "You're not. Barney doesn't wear jeans and t-shirts. He doesn't take me to fancy restaurants."
"Do you really know not what's going on here?" Barney asked, staring across the table at her.
She looked away, and that's when he knew she did know. Maybe Lily had tipped her off or maybe Robin had learned some feminine intuition after Ted, but she knew. She knew what he was trying to do here. Maybe she had known it all along.
She looked back at him. "Barney, you're trying to be Ted. If I wanted Ted, I'd be with him. Just be Barney, okay?" She got up from the table and walked out of the restaurant.
It was the kind of exit Barney loved to make, the kind that left your dining partner incapable of doing anything but thinking of you all night long. And it had been a long, long time since he'd been on the receiving end of it.
Lily's advice has been crap. That was the conclusion Barney came to after a sleepless night. Robin hadn't fallen for any of it. Not the casual clothes. Not the flowers. None of it.
"You, my dear friend, are fired," Barney said, when Lily opened her apartment door the next morning.
Lily blinked at him. "Barney, it's six in the morning."
"Fired from what?" Marshall asked from the hallway. He was clutching a pillow to his chest.
"Oh, she knows," Barney said.
"Is this about Robin?" Lily asked.
"What about Robin?" Marshall asked.
"Barney's in love with her."
"You're in love with Robin?"
"That was a secret!" Barney said.
"Yeah, well, next time you want me to keep a secret, don't wake me up this early on a Saturday!"
"YOU'RE IN LOVE WITH ROBIN?"
"Shush!" Barney said.
"YOU'RE IN LOVE WITH ROBIN!!!"
"Okay, Marshall," Lily said, grabbing her husband's hand. "Go back to bed. We'll talk about it later."
"But-but-but-but . . . ."
"Go!" Lily pointed to the bedroom.
"Fine." Marshall stomped off. At the doorway, he turned and glared at Barney. "But you and I are not done!" He slammed the door.
"Okay, what happened?" Lily asked.
Barney shook his head. "No. I need to do this on my own."
"Come on, Barney," Lily said. "Tell me."
"Never take love advice from a married woman," Barney said.
Lily rolled her eyes. "Barney, that's ridiculous. Don't you think I know what I'm talking about?"
Barney reached out, and took Lily's shoulder. "Not when it comes to Robin." He squeezed her arm. "I'll figure it out." He turned to leave.
He heard her call his name, but he kept walking. He was Barney Stinson. He didn't need anyone's advice to get his woman.
Barney spent that day divesting his apartment of the Barney Lily had tried to turn him into. He got rid of the casual clothes. He destroyed the catalog of jewelry. He deleted the florist's number from his speed dial.
And he showed up at MacClaren's that night in a brand new suit with a grin on his face. "What up!" he said, as he approached the group. He slid into the booth next to Robin, and snuck a suspicious glance at Lily. Had they left that seat open on purpose? No mind. It would work just fine with his plans.
"Hey, you look normal again," Ted said.
"You mean, I look good again," Barney corrected.
Lily sighed. "So you're really back to the suits?"
"Oh, Lily, my uniformed friend. Let me tell you all the reasons suits are the only possible clothing option. First of all . . . ." As Barney continued with his well-rehearsed talk on the virtues of suits, he snuck glances at Robin. She hadn't said anything yet, but she had a small smile on her face, and she kept her eyes on him. Barney heard himself getting louder, and he threw in some new twists to his suit speech, and was rewarded by Robin's widening grin.
"Okay." Ted finally cut him off. "Barney's in love with suits. Anyone else have any news? Robin?"
"Oh, no," Robin said. "No new developments here." She stretched a little, and Barney saw just a hint of cleavage. Was she doing that on purpose? He straightened his tie, and saw satisfaction flash across her face. Oh yeah. He knew how to play this now.
As Ted launched into a long, boring story about his latest date, Barney amused himself by rubbing his leg against Robin's. He watched her face carefully, but never saw a trace of a blush. Still, she didn't retreat either. "So I really like her," Ted finally said. "But I don't want to call too soon."
"There's no such thing as too soon!" Marshall said. "Not when it comes to love."
"Marshall's right," Lily said. "You can't let these opportunities slip by."
"Don't you have some kind of complicated rule for this?" Ted asked, looked at Barney. "Like you can only call if you met her before midnight in a well-lit bar and her bra size is bigger than her age?"
"Huh?" Barney said. "Oh, um." He pulled his leg away from Robin's. "Whatever, dude. You want her, go get her."
"Really?" Ted said. "No lectures about how I should hook up with that blond over there instead?"
Barney glanced in the direction Ted was pointing. She was hot. Not as hot as Robin, but Ted had a point. "She does have proximity in her factor," Barney said.
Lily sighed. "You'll never change, will you, Barney?"
"Who'd want me to?" Barney said, and Robin grinned at him.
Before long, Ted had departed to call his date, and Lily and Marshall had left for home.
That left Barney alone with Robin. And, this time, he knew exactly what to do.
"So, Scherbatsky," Barney said, turning to face Robin. "This is me. Do you want it or not?"
Robin grabbed his tie and pulled him to her. "All you had to do was ask," she said.
The last thought Barney had before their lips met was never listen to Lily.