Obligatory "I hate the finale" note: Hate it, OOC, ignoring it, it smells, how dare anyone hurt my babies, Cater Bays sucks etc – if you want more details you can go on the B/R livejournal and watch my various breakdowns and fits of anger over the last three weeks. It's not been pretty, it's not been a fun few weeks but now I'm happily able to ignore the finale, I still love all 206 good episodes of my show and I'm coping. I'm hoping everyone else here is ok too.

So yeah, this fic completely ignores the finale but as I consider the finale AU I consider this fic canon.

Not 100% happy with this fic. I realised half way through that writing it with the time period gaps I have limited me quite a lot, so some sections (especially the last one – which is essentially what I wrote the fic around) I'm more happy with than others – but let me know what you think.


Seconds

She's different. That's the first thing he notices about her.

Ted spots a woman at the bar at least once a week and Barney's never really been impressed with his pickings. It's not that they're ugly, Ted might have incredibly poor taste in clothes but he can recognise a hot woman just as well as the next man, but there's always something that doesn't appeal to Barney about these women. They're too intelligent for starters, none of them are going to think he's a member of SNASA, but it's not just that. These women that Ted picks out – they're all cookie cutter perfect women, with boring little lives and even more boring sex lives. Barney Stinson is a great connoisseur of women and none of them suit his fine (if somewhat cheap and easy) tastes.

This girl Ted's starting at now has brains too, her eyes are completely void of that vacant look that Barney picks out in his partners, but there's something odd about her – she's not Ted's usual mould - she's a little rougher around the edges, a little less simple, a little... hmm... he turns his head to the side to get a better look at her, "Oh yeah, you just know she likes it dirty."

Ted pays him no attention, (foolish mortal) and attempts to work out some pitiful plan so Barney smoothly swings into wingman mode, plays a quick "have you met Ted," spares a quick glance at the women (oh yes, he's totally right about her, that smile of hers just screams "I want to get caught,") then retreats, content to observe for a distance.

He doesn't think any more of it than that. Ted picked a woman a little more exciting than usual, whatever, she'll be gone within the week.

Minutes

He doesn't like her. He doesn't like her at all. He's talked to her for all of five minutes and already she's getting on his nerves. How dare this random girl, from the world's most stupid country do this to him? Not only did she just insult him, but she stole his moves, with his Ted, intruded into his gang.

She's sitting there with that smug, self satisfied smile on her face, as she talks back to him and makes all his friends (who really, should be worshipping the ground he walks on just for gracing them with his presence) laugh at him. This was not how his night was supposed to go!

He calls her Roxanne and tells her he's never heard of her country. She calls him Barry and tells him she thought Ted's suit looked better than his.

If she wasn't so hot he'd have got her deported and send back to her god awful country

He tells her this. She smirks at him and tells him she'd like to see him try.

She doesn't back down, she doesn't scowl or throw her drink at him or tell him he's disgusting or any other woman things. She just sits there and continues to get under his skin. And it's not good. It's not good at all. She's not supposed to be doing this. It makes his brain confused and fill up with indigence and incredulity and outrage and lust (because, ok it is kind of hot).

He spends the rest of the night sulking and plotting ways to take her down.

He breathes a sigh of relief when she gets up to go, he checks out her ass as she leaves the bar because he may as well get something out of this horrible arrangement, and wonders what Ted has got them all into.

Barney doesn't like change and this girl is trouble.

Days

She's a newscaster. He'd known that before, but it only sinks in a few days later, after he's got over his initial outrage that she's intruded on his world (and worked out that she'll let him stare at her cleavage for twice as long as Lily before she kicks him). Robin is on TV. Robin gets seen by the public. Robin could say rude words on TV and it would be completely hilarious. It's what he always wished he could have asked his father to do when he was a kid, and, ok, Robin's not exactly on "The Price is Right," but still, a hot chick saying rude words on camera has got to be some of the best non porn related TV out there. He has to ask, to make her understand that doing this would be for the good of the universe.

She declines. Of course she does. Honestly, he was expecting that. What he doesn't expect is her eyes to light up, for her to have to bite her lip to hide her smile and look away from him quickly. Barney knows that look, he's seen it on women a million times before, it's the look they give him when they want to go home with him but they know they shouldn't, when all it takes is a few more sweet words and a hand running up and down their inner thigh and they'll surrender. He's got her in his web, he knows he has. A few more choice jabs later and a raise in the stakes (totally worth it, as far as he's concerned $100 is a bargain) and he knows she's going to do it and it will be awesome.

Two days later and he's rewarded with the best report about a hotdog stand that's ever graced this planet. He has to admit, he's impressed.

Ted would have called him immature. Lily would have gone on about how disgusting he was. Marshall would have laughed and hi-fived him but not done anything. But Robin, Robin listened to him and actually went out and did it. He likes the way this girl thinks.

She doesn't back down either. Once she's done that she comes back for more challenges, lets him talk her into stepping up her game, to take the most hilarious form of revenge on her uncaring employers.

Sure she acts all coy and embarrassed but he's not stupid, she's enjoying it as much as he is. By the time he gets her to admit (entirely truthfully) that she's a dirty girl on air, he's not sure he can quite believe it, is this girl for real?

Despite everything he's sort of hoping that Ted saves his inevitable relationship screw up for a few weeks at least.

Weeks

Come on, Daddy, break me off a piece of that white chocolate.

He's just left MacLarin's and Robin's words still ring in his ears. Fantasies of her writhing beneath him play through his head. Damn it he needs to cool down. She's his bro's girl and he need to keep remembering that.

Something's changed in their group recently. It's her fault. He's sure of it. Robin's changed the shape of their little gang. He likes her, she's funny and great to be around, but really does she have to be so different?

He knew where he stood in the group before, he was Barney, outrageous, hilarious, awesome life coach to the poor misguided college lovers and their lame friend Ted – attempting to squeeze some awesomeness into their lives until they settled down to inevitable loserville. Robin though, she's cut from a different cloth, she doesn't want to settle down, she's not part of a group of college friends who are just begging to be guided on the right path. She's her own independent self, with no end goals and restrictions, and, though she makes fun of it, she doesn't reject his guidance quite like the others because she has a life philosophy that's not so unlike his own. He feels ousted from his normal position, uncertain of what to do with this girl he can't quite make sense of.

She's not the first addition to the group, Ted's done this all the time it's just she's just not like the normal girls Ted brings into the group. Ted's other girlfriends get sick of him fast. They scowl at him when he comes in, they to their best to ignore what he says and they storm off in a huff when he hits on them. Robin doesn't do that. She listens to him, smirk playing on her features as she scrutinises his every move. When he hits on her she looks right back at him with this challenging, sexy smile that he's never seen before in a women, it's one that warms his body up in all the right places, that scrambles his brain and his every instinct screams at him to drag her to the bathroom and take her right there and then.

If it wasn't for the bro code and Lily's stupid "You have to marry her," thing, Robin Scherbatsky would have been his long ago.

It is they're locked in a duel, both in a trial to outdo each other, they're circling each other, teasing and prying, attempting to work out each other's weakness. It's intense, frustrating, but it's also thrilling, she's an enigma, just waiting to be figured out and he can't wait to feel the sweet taste of victory once she surrenders.

The problem is she's playing the same game, she knows all his tricks and has a few of her own and he's got a horrifying feeling he might be losing.

He pictures the night he first saw her in the bar, imagines going over before Ted even noticed her, whispering dirty things in her ear. She'd go home with him, he knows she would (come on, she was about to jump Ted), he'd fuck her into oblivion and then leave before the sweat dried on her skin. He'd never see her again, never see that sexy smile, she'd never fight back as good as she got when he makes fun of her, she'd never make him snort with laughter, he'd never know what it was like to want someone he can't have this much.

He thinks that would have been easier, safer, then what's happening right now.

Months

Ted is sickening in a relationship. He always has been, always will be. He's all flowers and romance and chocolates and "oh sweetie your eyes are so blue, let's stare at them for a stupidly long time!" urgh.

Marshall is sickening when he is not in a relationship. He is all sad and moapy and "My life is over without the one girl I've ever managed to have sex with!".

Barney expected this from both of them really. Between Lily gone and Ted being annoying it was always going to be a long summer.

What he wasn't expecting was Robin to be this sappy too. He gets it, constantly getting laid (even if it must be the worst sex ever because, come on, Ted) is always good, but does she have to be so goo-y? It just doesn't feel like Robin, just some pathetic Tedifyed version of her.

He wasn't expecting to miss the old Robin as much as he does.

About two months in he's waiting in the bar, scoping out targets, when Robin enters.

"Where are the boys?" he asks.

"Ted's had to work late and Marshall's busy crying over Lily, looks like it's going to be just you and me."

"Really?" he replies raising his eyebrows, any plan to go home with a bimbo is instantly forgotten, because he knows this time she's not just talking to her martini, "So, what do you say Robin? Want to play battleship with me?"

She smirks at the double entendre, but doesn't comment on it, "Are you sure Stinson? I beat you so easily before."

And she had, he'd stacked all his ships on top of each other, in the hopes that she'd never be able to find where any of his pieces were hiding, but she had swiftly and easily proceeded to blow him away in four quick moves before he'd even got close to finding her bent aircraft carrier.

"I told you, I let you win."

She snorts, seeing through him easily, (whatever, he's awesome), "I was more thinking... laser tag?"

She full out laughs at the way his eyes light up, the biggest smile plastered on his face, as he grabs her wrist and races out of the bar.

"Woah, slow down! I want to there uninjured before we get shot at by kids." But her eyes are alight too.

He laughs and pulls her onto the street, because he's missed this so much, he's delighted to have his hottest bro back if only for a night.

Years

Looking back, he's not sure why it was such a shock to him when he realised he was in love with her.

Of course he was, how could he not be? She's obviously, unquestionably, the most awesome woman on the planet. She's smart, funny, beautiful, she likes cigars and laser tag, has the sexiest smile, she even makes being Canadian not look so bad! Truth be told he's not sure how anyone isn't in love with her. He looks at her and knows, just knows, that she's everything he wants in life.

They try to make it work, they kiss, they struggle, the make out, they fight, they fuck, they fall out, they cheat and hurt everyone around them, but still it's not enough, because relationships are hard and he's too broken. She tries to pick up the pieces, to put him back together, but she can't, no one can, because he's still that little boy throwing a ball at a TV in an attempt to play catch with his dad. He's a crappy person, a crappy friend, a crappy boyfriend – he's never been good enough for anyone, never mind her.

They settle for friends, because it's better than nothing. Mostly it's good, he gets to see her all the time, gets to laugh at her jokes, check her out when she's looking hot (and really, when isn't she?) and even flirt when she's in the mood.

And ok, sometimes he smiles at her for too long after a joke, and sometimes he can't resist just sitting and staring at her, just for a while. Maybe she knows why, maybe she doesn't, but it doesn't matter because it's far too late for him to even try to deny it from himself.

He loves her. He knows that with every inch of his being. He can barely remember a time when he didn't. It's not a conscious choice, it's not even something that bothers him all the time, it's just a fact, it's just a part of him. His name is Barney Stinson, he's got blond hair and blue eyes, a mother called Loretta and a brother called James, he's awesome, he looks amazing in a suit and he's in love with Robin Scherbatsky. Whatever happens, however he ends up, for better or for worse, he'll carry this burden to his grave.

It doesn't really matter, not anymore, if she loves him back, who she ends up with, who he ends up with. All he knows is that a day without her is awful, that just seeing her smile can make it better.

All he knows is that he will do anything, anything at all, to make her happy. No matter what it does to him in the process.

Decades

Ten years ago, he thinks, if you'd told me ten years ago I'd be here I'd have laughed in your face.

But here he is, standing at the front of the church, waiting for his bride. It's terrifying, he's not sure he can remember being so scared in his life, hell he was nearly about to run before Marshall slapped him to his senses, but it's the good kind of scary. The kind of scary you get before everything changes, before you can never quite go back to who you were before. This is the best kind of scary, because this is the best kind of change. This is a change into a life that he never, in his wildest dreams, believed he could have.

He hears the first cords of "Sandcastles in the Sand" play and suddenly all his attention is focused on the opening door.

It had taken Lily weeks to get them to decide what song they'd use when Robin walked down the aisle, "We don't have a song." He'd insisted, "If we had a song that would make us lame, like you and Marshall."

He has to admit though if they ever were pathetic enough to have a song it would be a Robin Sparkles song, or, more importantly, the song they first did it to (he'll have to remember to thank Lily for managing to talk Robin into this later).

But he's barely paying attention to that now, because now he can see Robin, positively glowing with happiness, so incredibly beautiful and he can't see anything else.

He's a screw up, he's made more mistakes than he even wants to think about. But it doesn't matter, nothing does. Because he'd make them all again to end up here, in this moment, with the most awesome, incredible, legendary woman on the planet walking towards him in that white dress. About to become his wife forever.

She reaches the end of the aisle, greets him with a bashful, "Hi," and then they look at each other, both nervous and excited as they recite their vows, bonding them together for all eternity.

"Do you, Robin, take Barney to be your lawfully wedded husband?"

She beams at him, "Challenge accepted."

xxx

Later, they're locked inside a bathroom stall and he's struggling to get his hands underneath her dress, partly because he can't stop kissing her long enough to get a clear view of her body, but mostly because her dress is so damn tight.

Eventually he concedes defeat and his mouth leaves hers so he can fully focus on the more important task in front of him. She groans in protest, forcefully pulling his head back towards her.

He gives in for a few more long, pleasurable, moments before breaking apart again, "Robin," he gasps, "that dress makes you look fucking beautiful, but it's way too tight for bathroom stall sex."

She looks up at him all wide eyed, and innocent and dead sexy, "I thought you'd appreciate the challenge."

He stops his movements for long enough to glare at her, "You did this deliberately, you little minx."

She smirks back at him, "It's called foreplay Barney, you should try it sometime," but the way she's now pulling up her dress as fast as she can suggests she's desperate as him to get to the good part.

"Robin, if I have to wait two minutes longer for this, there's going to be a rip in that dress and no one will blame me."

Her hands grip his arms tighter at his words, "Come on baby, you're nearly there," she looks him in the eye and smiles slyly at him, "and once you are, I'm not wearing any panties, you know... to save time."

For a second he freezes and just gazes at her in wonder.

"What?" she says.

"What did I do to deserve you?"

She grins, before reaching for him again, "Cut the sap Stinson, I want you inside me before Lily realises we're missing."

Forever

He likes Sundays. He has for years now. No matter what country they are in, no matter what adventures they get up to, nothing quite beats lazy mornings in bed with his wife of seventeen years. Twenty-five years later and she's still as beautiful as the day he met her. Who'd have known some woman have this many good years after thirty? Then again, Robin was always the exception to his rules. He'd always known she'd be hot as a cougar.

It's 2030 and they're back in New York for a stint. He wonders if this may be more permanent than some of her other placements, they always have fun travelling together but she always seems a little more content, more relaxed when she's back here, around her friends. He thinks she likes being settled, he thinks maybe he would too, in the most awesome way of course – no suburbs and lawn parties for them – but their nieces and nephews are rapidly hitting their late teens and, if there's any time to educate them, it's here and now. It's always nice to be able to see the others on a regular basis.

But he's not thinking of any of that now. He's not thinking of anything much now, because his wife has just woken up beside him and is smiling at him in a way that somehow still makes his heart do stupid stuff.

"Hey," she says, kissing him gently. He shifts towards her, kissing her back lazily, just enjoying the feel of her body so close to his, after all it's Sunday, and they have all the time in the world.

Finally, they deepen the kiss, he slips off her shirt her and pulls her on top of him...

As if on cue Robin's phone goes off, "Urgh again?" she mutters, it's become a running joke over the years that the phone has some sort of grudge against them. Lily argues that it's simply because with them there's always something to interrupt, but Barney's convinced there's some sort of plot involved – he's drawn up the charts and everything and there is definitely something off with the statistics – it would be just like James Bond or some other super villain to try and prevent what is pretty much the best thing that's ever happened in the history of the universe.

Robin groans, moves away from him and checks her phone, sighing as she reads the message.

"What is it?" he asks.

"It's a distress cry, Luke says Ted's decided to tell him and Penny the story of how he met Tracy."

"Again? I swear he did that at Daisy's birthday party last week. Just tell him to think of boobs for a while when his father blabbers on."

Robin rolls her eyes, but it's hard to take it as anything but affectionate when she's also smirking at the way his eyes still (and always will) gaze at her own boobs as he speaks, "No, not that version. The one that starts the day we met."

Barney frowns, "As in, eight years before the event?"

She grimaces, "Yep. Tracy's out of town for three days and he decides to torture them with that."

"Oh come on, you know as soon as she gets back she's just going to tell them her side of the story – probably from when she was five and met Max. I told you we should have held an intervention when those two decided to raise kids."

She snorts, "Classic Smosbys."

For a moment he just grins at her, wondering how he ever got this lucky, before sitting up, "Better rescue them then."

But Robin grabs his wrist, stopping him, "I was just thinking, he's only just explained the lemon law, you gave Ted so much important advice during those years. Surely you don't want to stop him spreading your wisdom quite so soon?" Her other hand moves to draw circles on his chest.

He glances down at her hand then looks at her, raising his eyebrows. She smiles at him in reply, and it's the same sexy, challenging one that she used to give to him back when they'd just met and he kept attempting to hit on her. Back when he had no idea they had this incredible future ahead of them.

"If I didn't know better I'd think you weren't concerned about whether these kids learn my life lessons at all."

She doesn't try very hard to look outraged, "Of course I care baby! Your theories are essential to future generations. They are absolutely, in no way, egotistical nonsense," She runs her hand down his chest and shifts closer to him, "Although I might have... some ulterior motives," she leans towards him, her smile full of promise, "Do you have any complaints?"

"No, none at all. The Mosbys can wait." He says hurriedly, and closes the distance between them.

The Mosby spawn are not impressed when they show up about seven hours later, when Ted has finally got to the end of their wedding, and then spend the next hour trying to convince them that their wedding dance and the subsequent Robin Sparkles performance was way more awesome than Ted has described, but Barney thinks it's worth it.