Author's Notes: My reaction to the finale. Aka, the things I would change. Not beta'd.

Disclaimer: Usually I don't, but I feel the need to point out that this is in no way my series, or my characters, and I don't own the words/scenes I have novelized from the show. This is but what I wish would have happened, a way that made the story real without destroying the pieces of it that I loved so much. I've only really touched on the tones/things I wanted to change in the final episode, and it follows the episode exactly, so assume things happened where they happened unless I write them different (aka, scenes with Ted/the Mother we've already seen).

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May 2014

"Not like this," Lily smiles, watching Ted across the bar; the way he stands, the set of his shoulders, the happiness in his eyes and the smile that coats his voice, "This is different."

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March 2015

"So how you guys doing?" Ted asks as Robin leaves the table, Barney's eyes following her until the sightline disappears. "I mean, Robin's really taking off at work, huh?"

"Hm?" It takes a second for the words to register – three months shy of a year, and Robin's ass is still distracting as hell – but eventually he comprehends. "Oh, yeah, no, she's really taking off. Everywhere: Egypt, Guatemala, Spain, the Netherlands. It's great – really great. Super great. Great-awesome great, is what it is. It's grawsome… It's great."

Ted nods empathetically, "Not so great?"

"It's a little difficult," Barney admits, glaring at the table. Yeah, the sex was still great, and it was fun, and he flew out to her more than she came back to see him (which was never), and it was all great… except for, there was something wrong. Something off, something that they were stuck on, a hiccup that was trapped in the throat.

But Barney doesn't elaborate, because Tracy's in the bar now, and Ted's sort of got the whole tunnel-of-love vision thing going. And, you know, the whole pregnancy thing.

"You're what!?" Lily screeches over the phone, and Tracey looks at him from across the table, grinning. "I can't believe you're pregnant! Ted, that's amazing! Marshall! Ted's going to have a baby!"

Tracy can't keep the laughter at bay any longer as his eye twitches from Lily's inadequately phrased announcement, and Ted sighs, "Lily, Tracy's pregnant."

"I'm putting you on speaker phone!"

Marshall's yell comes through the speaker, and Ted pulls the phone away from his ear. "You're pregnant!"

"Tracy's pregnant," he repeats, but they're too excited to care.

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May 2016

"Uncle Barney! Auntie Robin!"

"Whoa buddy," Barney laughs, catching the speeding four-year-old Eriksen as he hurls towards their legs. Robin caught the red-eye in from Toronto last night, and between the charity event for work, and… well, not seeing each other for almost two weeks, sleep hadn't been a priority.

"Uncle Barney!" Marvin shouts again, bouncing in Barney's arm, ecstatic. Marvin Eriksen was one fucking happy kid. "Auntie Robin!" Then his eyes light up even more, and he asks hopefully, "Bear?" Robin grins, pulling out a stuffed teddy bear from the bag she's carrying – they brought booze, and a stuffed bear to add to Marvin's (and now Daisy's) 'Around the World' collection.

"This one's from St. Petersburg, in Russia. They like to think they're good at hockey there, but Canada's the best, right?"

The kid grabs the toy bear and hugs it, oblivious to her attempted brainwashing – he's getting heavy, so Barney puts him down.

"Another one?" Lily asks, coming into the hallway, shaking her head. But they all know she loves the fact that Robin spoils Marvin, loves that Robin cares enough to remember their family when she's away working in different continents.

"Little buddy's going to have the whole world in no time!" Barney says, and they take off their shoes, and there're hug all around, and they invade the kitchen with loud stories and delicious food; it's been almost two years since they've been together like this, and it feels perfect.

The kids are down for the night, Lily's finally stopped cooing over Baby Mosby, and they're all sitting around the living room coffee table with beers.

"I can't believe how adorable Penny is," Lily sighs, a wistful look in her eye that makes Ted think there might be a third addition to their family soon.

Robin nods, taking a sip of beer. "Even I gotta admit the bugger's cute."

"So, how was St. Petersburg?" Ted asks – there hadn't been a very good connection at the hotel she was staying at, and Barney hadn't been forthcoming with any details from his visit out there.

Barney and Robin exchange a look, hesitant and uncertain. "It was great," Barney says, making a stab at the safety phrase.

"It was great," Robin agrees, but they sound wrong, two notes that didn't make a chord.

"So great."

"Really great."

"Awesome-great."

"Grawesome," Robin nods, but it's clear at that point what things are like.

Ted shares a look with Lily and Marshall as Tracy asks the question they would've otherwise let lie: "What happened?"

A look passes between the two, a conversation in head tilts and half shrugs. "Three years ago," Robin starts after a pause, "Barney… slept with a girl."

"More than one girl," he asides to Ted, winking – somehow, Ted doesn't feel like this is an appropriate time to brag.

"Yeah," Robin says, looking as annoyed as she sounds. "Anyways – it turns out, that now, the girl needs some money, and…"

There's a fifty-fifty chance that Barney has either been blackmailed with life-altering, potentially scaring video tapes, or –

"And… I have a kid."

Heavy silence follows, and Ted watches Robin's face carefully, waiting for some sort of sign that she's okay with this. Neither of them had wanted children, in any sense of the word, and this… this wasn't unexpected, to be honest, but it was still a lot to deal with.

But then a small smile tugs at the edges of Robin's lips, and she squeezes Barney's hand, and Ted knows that's she's alright.

"You're a Daddy!" Lily squeals, jumping up from her seat and pulling Barney up so she can squeeze the life out of him. The next second she's slapping his arm, demanding, "How are you only telling us this now!?"

Barney scoffs as he rubs his shoulder, "Look who's talking."

Lily looks caught, and it doesn't take long to connect the dots – looked like detective Mosby had been right about a third addition!

There's a reason they have four guest rooms in the house, and as each of them retire to their respective beds, the warm, heartening presence of friendship lingers.

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October 2016

"I still don't see why we have to help," Barney grumbles, leaning against the wall, watching Lily playing with the kids. Marvin, and his own kid, Sam, are playing with trucks, while Daisy watches Penny roll around on the floor. Babies are hilariously awful at moving, he thinks to himself, jerking as Marshall hits him with a box,

"Someone's not helping at all," he comments, and he shrugs,

"What, I just got a manicure. I don't want to chip."

Marshall drops the box, folds his arms, and gets through, "You know – " before Lily interrupts them,

"Can we all make a promise that we'll always be there for the important times?"

The pregnancy had been making her tearier than Barney remembers her being before, and he scoffs, "Okay."

"Hey," she frowns, offended, and he shrugs,

"What? We do that." Sure, it's only once every couple of months sometimes, but that's what she's talking about, isn't it?

"Do what?" Ted asks; case and point, Barney thinks, it's the first time Ted's been around since they found out Lily was pregnant again.

Lily grabs Ted's hand, "Make sure that we're always there for each other. For the special times, and the important dates; and that we'll always be there, when one of us needs help."

Ted looks around at the group of them, "We already do that, don't we?"

"Well yeah." But Lily's not getting any less teary, so Barney's not sure what the point of this is. "But I want it to stay that way. And Robin's not here, and…"

The door opens just as Lily starts sniffing, and Robin comes through the door, her hair a mess, her clothes rumpled in places that begged explanation. "I made the flight," she announces out of breath, "Surprise," and Lily starts sobbing hysterically, throwing herself at Robin like she was dying or something.

"See?" Barney says, and he's not sure why making a point of being together as a group is so important to Lily, but he loves her, and she's one of his best friends, and he's willing to indulge her, since it's usually painless. And since he usually finds himself enjoying these get-togethers as well.

"Oh, Marvin, don't do that!" Marshall says, and the moment breaks, and they spend the rest of the day packing up the last of the apartment, reminiscing.

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2017

"Thanks for coming with me," Lily says, watching Marvin run around with some kids, his fire truck backpack bouncing against his back. He's half a foot taller than the next tallest kid, and it's hard to believe that he's only five.

Ted's watching the kids today, Marshall has a hearing, Barney and Robin are in Australia, and Lily just needed someone to come experience this moment with her.

So that left Tracy, who was standing beside her, watching Marvin with a smile on her face. "They grow up so fast," she says, and Lily holds back a sniff.

"Soon it'll be Daisy, and then Rose. And Penny's going to be going soon, and Sam too… they're all going to grow up." Her voice caught, emotional and raw, "And they'll have friends, and jobs, and, and they'll be good at stuff, and bad at other stuff. And then they'll be twenty, and graduating college, and moving in to their friends apartment with their boyfriend… and then they'll fall in love, and they're lives will be perfect. And then things will change… and they'll want things to change, but they won't want anything to change too."

Marvin grins at her, waving, and Lily waves back. The bell rings, and the kids all huddle up next to the doors – they've already gone through the first day, with parents, and then the second, with parents staying for a little bit… this was his first time all alone.

"Marvin needs finish today first though," Tracy says gently, and Marvin disappears through the door, and Tracy takes her hand and holds it, and Lily can't imagine being alone right then.

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2018

The kids have babysitters, Barney's going a little crazy because Robin's in the Yukon, and they're all at MacLaren's waiting for Marshall.

Barney and Robin were going through a rough patch; Sam was starting preschool in a week, and Barney was using it as an excuse to avoid Robin. Lily was going to get to the bottom of it tonight, with the help of a couple drinks.

"Marshall's going to be here soon," Lily tells them, and Barney grabs Ted around the shoulders, way too excited to be at a bar on a Friday night.

"It's going to be a legen-wait for it! –dary night! Legendary. And we're going to start by scooping out the chicks at the bar, as a humble homage to our younger years." He stands up and heads to the bar, but Lily's up right after him, grabbing his tie,

"Don't you dare!" she warns, tugging him back, and he growls at her and pulls back – they're half playing, half serious, and after a second, she lets go and he straightens up. "You're married! We're all married! Well, Ted's almost married," she adds as an afterthought, "But you're married! Do not go over there!"

Barney takes a big, lecturing breath, holding up a hand. "Lily," he starts, but Marshall's between them, ushering them into their seats with badly concealed excitement.

"I got a phone call today," Marshall tells them, and Lily's eyes light up – Marshall's going to be a judge! "A judge in Queens is retiring. I'm gonna be a judge."

Their celebration disrupts half the bar, and once Carl offers his congratulations, he tells them to quiet down or he'll have to kick them out. It was actually a bit encouraging, that they could still make enough of a scene to warrant a talking to.

By 1:30am, Barney's primed (read: hammered enough) for manipulation, and his declarations of family, love, and a bond that conquered all obstacles was the perfect way to bring up:

"Speaking of, how's Robin doing?" Her eyes zero in on Barney, and he frowns through his inebriation, suspicion sprouting,

"Why… would you ask about Robin?"

Lily shrugs, all innocence, "Well, you know, all of us here together, it just feels like she should be here."

Barney blinks, his reservation gone, a new idea taking over: "Or, we bring the party to Robin!"

"We are not going to the Yukon!" Ted says, dismayed; it's already way past his bedtime, and out of them all, he's the most likely to actually get roped into it.

"Why haven't you gone to visit her yet?" Lily asks, still playing innocent, and Barney frowns at her. Maybe he's not drunk enough quite yet.

But Marshall's got her back, as always, and he jumps on the train, "Yeah, when was the last time you went to see her?"

Suddenly, Barney's drink is much more interesting to him than the company, and he mutters something into his glass.

"What?" Ted asks; even he looks concerned.

Barney slams his drink down, obviously frustrated, "What, like I'm always the one who has to go see her? I've got my own shit to do. I have a kid to take care of. I have a job too. Why am I always the one who has to see her? Huh? Why can't she carve out some time on her end so that she can come and see me? Is that too much to ask for? I thought being married and loving each other meant you wanted to spend time with each other, instead of just being okay with the occasional flyby!"

Silence meets Barney's outburst. They're not used to Barney being so honest, and the alcohol in their own systems makes it a little harder to make sense of what's happening. The months apart has put a kink in their group physic; it's only when both Marshall and Ted are both looking at her that Lily realizes she's been elected to speak.

"Have you tried… talking to her?" she asks, and it's probably pretty obvious advice, but this is Barney, and he's talking about Robin, and they aren't exactly champions at communication.

"No," Barney says petulantly, picking at the corner of the table.

Marshall's next, "Maybe you just need to… say something, or something."

Barney glares at the table, "Robin hasn't said anything, so obviously I'm the only one feeling like this."

"But, Robin wouldn't say anything," Ted says, and even though he hasn't seen Robin in seven months, he still knows her pretty damn well. "She'd be feeling it too, but she wouldn't say anything."

The night ends on a low note, despite how much fun it was, and the next morning Lily tries to convince herself that she remembers it worse than it actually was.

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2019

It's Sam's first day of kindergarten, and Lily's standing there with Barney, and Sam's mother. "Be brave little man," Barney tells Sam, who's got his narrow face and goofy smile.

"Robin?" Sam asks, and Robin crouches down,

"Yeah Sammy?"

"Are you leaving again soon?"

Robin reaches out to brush his bangs aside, and sighs. "Yeah bud, pretty soon."

"Okay," Sam says, and he looks disappointed, and he rushes into Robin's arms, and gives her a tight hug.

They wish him luck, and as he says goodbye to his mother, Lily watches Barney and Robin. Barney's jaw is tense, and Robin's looking off into the distance – they're not happy, not like this. And Lily thinks she knows what the problem is, but she doesn't know how to fix it.

"Have fun Sam!" Robin calls as the kid runs into the school, and when they leave, Barney and Robin don't hold hands.

They head back to the apartment once they drop Lily off, and the first thing Barney does is start up the coffee machine. Robin leans against the wall, watching him work; this is it. This is the moment. It's been slow to come, building up to epic proportions, and it was all coming to a head, now.

But she needs to ask, because Barney won't. "Are you happy?" she finally asks, her heart in her throat, her hands clammy and shaking. She folds her arms across her chest, to hide the shaking, and hide herself.

Barney steps away from the coffee, and it's steaming from the pot. "I love you," he says, staring at the cups; when he finally looks up at her, he looks lost and scared, younger than she can remember seeing for a long time.

"I don't want to make you miserable," she tells him, terrified of what she's saying, of what it might mean.

He takes a step towards her, but he can't take another. "Robin, I love you," he repeats, but those are just words, and they don't mean anything if you can't back them up. Words aren't enough – feelings aren't enough. A family isn't a family unless you're there.

"Look, if you're unhappy then – then I can just, go." There's supposed to be more, but she can't force it out, and she can't look at Barney, and she catches a picture of the three of them – of Barney, Sam and her, at the beach, and fuck it if she didn't always know this would happen.

Barney's closer now, and he's shaking his head, "Don't."

"I have to," she tells him, begging him to understand. It's not his fault she can't make anything work.

"Please?" he asks, and he's holding back tears, and she is too, and she has to step back when he gets close enough to touch her, because all she wants to do is throw herself into his arms.

"We can still be friends. I'll visit."

Barney doesn't talk to her as she packs up and leaves. She has to take her ring off at the airport, and she stares at in the tray on the other side, looking up at her, forcing her to decide.

She doesn't put it back on.

"Ted?"

"Barney?" Ted asks, and he puts Luke into the playpen, where he finds his stuffed snakes, and starts smashing them together. Penny's dancing around in a dress, making up the music as she goes, and Ted watches her as he sits down on the couch.

"Ted, how do you…"

There's something wrong in Barney's voice, something broken, and Ted gets up; the conversation's going to need his full attention, and he pops his head into the kitchen, gesturing for Tracy to watch the kids. 'Barney', he mouths to her, and he heads outside,

"Barney?" he asks, because there've been a couple sharp breathes and false starts, but so far Barney hasn't actually said anything.

"How do you… love someone so much… and then just… just… just…"

The bench swings lightly as Ted sits down on it, "Barney, what happened?"

Barney says her name, and it's almost like that's all he can say. Just her name and nothing else.

The first thing he thinks is whether or not Robin's okay in all this – and then he feels guilty, because Barney's the one who's called him, not Robin. "Barney, dude, I'm sure you guys can work it out," he offers, because damn-it if he doesn't believe in the power of love.

"She didn't even give me a chance," Barney mutters, and his voice is muffled. Ted's heart goes out to him – sure, he'd spent his time courting Robin, but Barney had found the love of his life in her.

It's getting darker, and Ted can see the outlines of the houses, bumping up against the clouds, backlit by the setting sun. He has no idea what to say, what Barney wants him to say. "I think Robin… Robin just needs time."

"It's been five years Ted."

"Do you love her?" Ted asks; his beliefs might come out of the Disney handbook, but they'd served him well.

Barney doesn't answer right away, but when he does, Ted knows it's true. "Yes."

"Then just wait."

They talk for another hour, mostly going in circles, about the same thing. When Ted gets off the phone, the kids are in bed, waiting for him to say goodnight, and he's not sure what'll come of Barney and Robin.

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2020

"Another fun fact about Goliath National Bank Building; the sleek but historical façade has been described by Architecture Vision Monthly as 'Modern Classicism'."

Ted grins, looking down at his daughter, who has a studious look on her face. "I can see that."

He loves her so much.

"Any questions from the group?" he asks, playing the bit; what he's not expecting is someone to answer, and someone's voice to sound like Robin:

"I have a question – what happened to the building that used to be there? It was… way nicer."

When was the last time he'd seen her? Since before her and Barney… weren't her and Barney anymore. It's been ages, and he can't help the joy he feels at seeing her, alive and in the flesh, and not just on the television.

"Robin!" He wraps his arms around her, hugging her tightly; she's real. The only other explanation was that she was a robot, but they didn't make robots this warm yet (a sustained, human-like temperature was the lowest priority, at present day). "What are you doing here? I thought you were in…"

Even Lily hasn't talked to Robin in months, and the last Ted saw, Robin was in Monaco.

They catch up over lunch, Penny sitting across from Robin and quizzing her on all the various places she'd been. They don't talk about Barney, or about what happened, and Ted makes her promise to get a drink with him later, when they don't have to keep their conversation G rated.

It takes Sam a second to recognize her, and even when he does, he frowns. "Robin?" he asks, like he's not sure if his memory's playing a trick on him.

"Yeah, that's Robin," Barney says softly, watching them. She's hurt him, badly, but he doesn't want to cause a scene in front of Sam.

"Where were you?" Sam asks, frowning, looking up at his Dad, like Barney would have the answer. Which, Barney did.

Robin crouches. Sam's bigger than she remembers him being, and it hasn't been that long, but she's already missed so much. "Hey Sammy," she smiles, and he suddenly he grins,

"You call me Sammy!"

He's hugging her, and when Robin looks past him at Barney, Barney looks torn between hating and loving her.

"Hey buddy, why don't you go get your stuff? Your Mom's gonna be here soon."

"But Robin," Sam argues, and Robin carefully disengages from him, standing up, and steering him towards Barney,

"I need to talk with your Dad – but maybe I'll see you again?" she says, looking at Barney. Barney shoulders are tense, and they don't speak until Sam's safely out the door.

Barney sits on the couch, and Robin sits on the armchair, across from him. "Technically we're still married," she tells him, and he looks stunned, before he lets out a nasty laugh.

"Whatever," he mutters, his head in his hands, and she hopes he'll hear her out.

"Look, I know I hurt you – "

"Sam kept asking when you'd come back," Barney tells her, still not looking at her, his voice stony. "Every time he was over, he's see the picture on the fridge, and he'd ask when you'd come back. I had to take it down. You just, left, Robin."

And she ignored his phone calls, and his emails, and the letters she got through the network. "I was… it was just… Barney, I didn't want to hurt you."

Barney looks up, incredulous. "You left!"

"I just, needed – I needed time!"

"Time for what?!" he shouts, standing up, looking about ready to kick the table. "Time to think about whether or not you love me? Time to think about whether or not you need this?" Then he stops, suddenly sad. "Robin, you were gone a long time before you left us."

It's awful, and she can't deny it. And she'd even had a whole speech planned out; she'd practised. "I'm sorry," she tells him truthfully, and he turns his back on her, and she starts crying. "I'm so, sorry. I'm – I just needed to know. I had to figure stuff out, I had to be away for a while." She's desperate for him to understand.

Barney tries to say something a couple of times, but eventually he just leans against the wall, and sinks down to the floor. Robin gets up, going to him; she's hurt him, badly, and what if he doesn't even want her to come back? She could be making this whole thing worse.

"I'm sorry Barney," she tells him, sinking to the floor in front of him, reaching for his hand – he doesn't pull away, but he doesn't look up either. "It was just… it got so real, so fast. And, and I'm not a mother, and I'm not a wife, and I suck at this. I suck at all of this, and it's the hardest thing I've ever had to do. And there was all this pressure, and – "

His fingers tighten around hers, but not from anger. When he speaks, his voice is softer, easier: "You don't have to be a mother – just be Sam's friend. He got a mom. You just have to be you. I love you, not who I want you to be. Look, we don't even have to be married but- "

Why was he always doing this to himself? It was like he couldn't do otherwise, trapped in a cycle where he was his own tormentor. But he was a slave to his love, and it would always get the better of him. Being married, it did count to him, it did matter. But for Robin… "We don't even have to be married," he repeats, and he knows he can do it, if he has to. "I just… want you to let me love you."

"I don't want to mess this up," she says, and it's weird, that between the two of them, she's the one who's worried about messing things up. Love had changed him, marriage had changed him, Sam had changed him… but they'd changed together through all that, and somehow, he'd grown into the one who was granting forgiveness, instead of asking for it.

"I want to try," Barney tells her, and he can't say that it'll be okay, or that it'll go back to normal, or that it'll work, just because now she wants it to work. He promised her that he wouldn't lie to her, and he was going to keep that promise. He could promise her to try though.

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thursday

It's not quite noon yet and they're already at the bar – Ted's getting married in two hours, and this is where they're supposed to meet Barney.

It was quick, and impulsive, and it wasn't the big wedding he'd been dreaming about for the past five years… but at some point over those five years, the wedding had become less about the castle, and more about wanting to establish what'd always been there.

"Teddy-boy!" Barney bellows (there's really no other word for it), and Ted grins – even Barney being obnoxious and loud isn't going to ruin this day for him.

And then he sees Robin behind him, and his grin turns into a smile, and he's truly happy, because they're going to work things out, and he's getting married, and Marshall's on his way to being a supreme court judge, and Lily's just happy that everyone's happy.

That night he watches as Barney and Robin dance around each other, navigating their way back into the pattern of their connection. It's in the way that their hands brush against each other, it's in the looks they share, and it's in the small smiles that come out as they rediscover just how awesome they can be together.

Everything had fallen into place.

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2024

"Love is something I've spent my whole life searching for. I've been lucky enough to find it in a lot of places. I found it in my parents, who raised me, and taught me that even if the world hates me sometimes, they never will. I found it in my friends, who are there for me when it's cold, and when times are hard and things are rough. I found it in my work, in that beautiful language of shapes and harmony, in the ability to create something real, that comes from inside of me.

I found it in my children; when I look at them, I see the world in their eyes. I see my whole world – everything that I've ever loved or been passionate about, captured in their smiles, and their laughter, and their arms around my neck, holding me tight, trusting that I'll protect them.

I'm… sorry, I couldn't protect you guys from this. It's not supposed to happen this way, and it's not supposed to end like this.

I, found love… in your mother, too. And it was a special love and it was the best kind of love. It was the love of missed connections, of circumstances that never quite lined up; I knew your mother long before I'd ever met her, and when I did, it was as if we'd always been together.

We had… so… little time, together. All the times we could have met, I can't –

… But, Penny, Luke, guys, we haven't lost that love. We still have it, in the way you, Luke, the way you laugh – you hiccup, sometimes, just like Mom used to; and sometimes you snort too, and your shoulder jerks, and I can't help but think of her. I can hear you singing in the shower sometimes, and I swear, she's out there singing with you.

And Penny, you don't know it yet, but you're going to grow up one day, and you're going to look in the mirror, and you're going to see Mom, looking right back at you, because you're so beautiful, and you're so strong, and I see it everyday, even if you don't.

See, that's the funny thing about love. You can spend forever looking for it, but once you've had it, once you've found it, once you've felt it and it's been yours… you can't ever lose that."