Title: Shifts
Up to 3x20
The gang celebrates Barney's return to cast-less awesomeness.
Thanks to latante for the awesome beta.

Ted and Stella were killing the bar, that's all Robin could think about. McLaren's booths weren't meant for six people, especially when one of them needed extra space for his stiff legs and crutches. It was crowded and kinda uncomfortable, but none of them could resolve to exile themselves to McLaren's Siberia in the back.

They were supposed to celebrate Barney's return to cast-less awesomeness, but the night had a weird vibe – the dynamic of the group was undeniably changing and nothing felt familiar anymore. They all pretended everything was the same though, so they drank and laughed and swapped humiliating hospital stories, until Stella announced she had a babysitter to relieve of her duty, and she and Ted headed out. Marshall and Lily soon followed. Little by little, the crowded booths around them emptied until there were only Robin and Barney left.

"Finally," he sighed dramatically as he stretched out his legs and gestured for another drink. "The painkillers are wearing off and I don't know how much of those disgusting monogamous displays I can take."

"You're still on painkillers? Barney, you shouldn't be drinking."

"Please," Barney dismissed with a wave. "So, admit it Scherbatsky. You missed me," he said, pointing an accusing finger in her face.

"Missed you? I went to see you every day."

"And never once brought me the magazines I asked for, which is something I have yet to forgive."

"You'll have to explain the mechanics of reading Hustler with a neck brace and two full-arm casts."

"Well –"

"No, no, no, no, no!" she interrupted vehemently. "That was a rhetorical question," she added before frowning and tilting her head to the side. "Just tell me it didn't involve Nurse Jake."

"Only five no's? And anyway, Nurse Jake was a killjoy."

"I guess it would have made things a little awkward in the morning," she said before she could stop herself and only realized what she'd said once it was hanging in the air between them. "Uh, I mean –"

Barney was looking at her intently, as if expecting her next words to be meaningful instead of the pathetic diversion she was intending to throw his way, but her thought-process had ground to a halt. Her mouth was open, silent.

"Never mind," he said with a shrug, and remained silent for a moment, staring thoughtfully at the bottom of his empty glass.

"You know, you could do a lot worse than Nurse Jake," she offered half-heartedly. "He was kind of –"

"I'm in love with you," Barney mumbled.

"I'm sorry – what?" she shrieked, panic registering on her face.

"I'm annoyed with you," he enunciated slowly. There was a strange glimmer in his eye, the ghost of a smirk – it was making her a little uncomfortable.

"Oh," she chuckled with relief and decided to ignore the part of her brain that seemed to think she'd heard it right the first time. "Sorry. I think I'm hammered."

"You came to see me every day," he said lightly, not quite meeting her eyes.

"So did the others."

"No, they didn't. You all took shifts. If I recall correctly, yours were Tuesdays and Saturdays. What were you doing in my room all the other days?"

There it was again, the brain-stopping disease. It had to be the alcohol, turning her bantering functions off.

The thing was, she wasn't sure why she had visited him every day. She hated hospitals and that distinctive, nauseating hospital smell as much as anyone. But Tuesdays and Saturdays were few and far-between, and she'd just come to like the way his face lit up when she entered the room, even though she stubbornly refused to analyze it or account for it in any way.

It was one of those things better left unquestioned. There were many of those where Barney was concerned.

"You know, I think I'm gonna call it a night. I've had too much to drink."

"Lightweight," Barney sneezed-said. Robin shook her head and mumbled something about mixing drugs and alcohol, and then she was gone.

She made it all the way to the door before something stopped her in her tracks. It felt like she'd forgotten something important, but she had her purse, her keys, her jacket – nothing was missing. And then she turned back towards Barney.

He was sitting quietly, absorbed in his thoughts, memorizing the bottom of his scotch glass. From where Robin stood at the end of the bar, he looked so normal and familiar, as though the past couple of months hadn't happened. As though she hadn't spent all summer watching him put on a brave face, make stupid jokes about Little Barney, the Survivor, but wince in pain when he thought no one was looking.

Robin walked back to the table on autopilot and stood behind him for a minute, biting her lip. There were a lot of things she felt she should say, but none of them sounded appropriately detached, appropriately safe.

"I did miss you. And I...it's good to have you back," she said to the back of his head, and dashed to the door before she could incriminate herself any further.

As he waited for his last scotch, smiling slightly, Barney mentally tallied up all the times he'd near-told her since the accident. It was in the double digits now, but he was okay with that. There'd be other nights. For once, Ted's serial-monogamy was actually working in his favor. He was feeling rather confident, really. When all was said and done, she had come to see him every day. She'd missed him, really missed him. Things were looking up. Things were looking awesome.