1. Wouldn't it be good?

He sat there in McLaren's and he envied Robin. Yes, Barney envied her while she talked enthusiastically about her conquests, her "naked man", her love of Minnesota dudes, her shooting cans off roof tops. He knew where this all came from and he recognised it in her. He knew she was at the beginning of a journey, one that he'd been on a long, long time.

If only he were at the beginning of that journey.

But try as he might, he was slowly losing it. The battle against feelings was one that he could never win. They'd been inside him for months now and they were eating their way into every aspect of his life. The person he'd built up over so many years - the perfect, perfect shell, wrapped around his body until the skin beneath it had withered and died - that person was beginning to crack. He could feel himself moving (or was it the world moving under him?) and the conflict was killing him.

Wherever he was, he didn't want to be there any more.

Feelings… colouring every relationship he had - his work, his family, his friends… Lily had gotten under his skin and now she was treated him more like a brother than James ever did. She seemed to think it was her personal responsibility/crusade to look after him. And he was beginning to like it.

Robin… she didn't feel anything. She didn't even feel the cold. Whereas he felt everything - the chill that seeped into his bones at night had driven him to buy pillows and comforters and blankets just so that he could wrap himself in layers of warmth. He felt the heat too - at work, in clubs, burning him up from the inside until he was clawing at his tie because he imagined it was choking him. The suit - that thing of beauty, that single piece of armour that protected him against all the horrors of the world - had finally turned against him.

And so he envied Robin and he tried to cling on by the tips of his fingers to the world that she now inhabited. But he was an old gunslinger now and soon, very soon, someone would come and put a bullet in his gut and it would be all over. He'd already drawn his pistol and he was sick of fighting.

How he wished he could stand with Robin, be with Robin and conquer the world by her side. He'd give anything to be able to turn back the clock.

2. Bring on the dancing girls

He hadn't even remembered that April worked there until she threw a drink in his face. He laughed, of course, and spun some elaborate story for Mr Yamamoto, embellishing the truth, playing with words like a master craftsman. The Japanese appreciated a good yarn and by the end of the meal they'd shaken on a deal that would bring both of their companies a great deal of money. April was, to all intents and purposes, forgotten.

The front of his shirt was still damp as they stepped out into the cold air. On a whim, he asked Mr Yamamoto if he'd like to accompany him to Rick's, which was a classier joint than the Lusty Leopard. It was New Year's Eve and everywhere else would be shut for private parties. Besides, he didn't feel very sociable. Barney got Yamamoto settled with lap dance from a statuesque blonde (Daisy) and took a stool by the stage.

He watched the girl taking her clothes off, eyes travelling over her body as each square inch of flesh was bared. He offered her a folded bill and tucking it expertly into the cleft of her buttocks, mechanically going through the motions. But he was lonely. He was tired. He was very, very bored by it all. He tried to distract himself, watching the girl gyrate, try and will himself out of this funk. But slowly, slowly, a kind of sickness crept over him. He put his head in his hands.

When a man is tired of strippers, he is tired of life.

A girl tapped him on the shoulders. "Hey, Barney?" She said. Her name was Sparkle, um… Michelle? Um… he had no idea what her name was!

"Hey, um…," He drawled, shrugging on his defences and not really understanding why. He felt a little panicked but he fought it down. He just needed something new. He was too jaded, that was all.

"Barney, honey. I'm finishing my shift and we were wondering…", she indicated two of the other girls, standing over by the bar, "if you'd like to join us for a New Year's nightcap?"

Barney stood up and let his autopilot take over, grinning his most charming grin as he rested his hand on her lower back and manoeuvred her through the crowded tables. "Ladies," he bowed taking each of their hands and kissing them in turn, playing the gentleman. "I'd love to join you on whatever adventures you've got planned for this evening." The Autopilot was judging them, one by one, trying to work out which one it would hit. The secret part inside of him that was sick of cold nights and sad days just needed something, even just for one night, to take his blues away.

"We thought we could all go back to your place?" Michelle said, hopefully.

"Bring it on…" He thought. Perhaps this old cowboy had one last showdown left in him.

3. Shame on you

The girls were dancing and one of them was dribbling scotch over her naked breasts. He let her skin warm it before licking it off, making her giggle. He loved the way her nipples bunched and hardened under his tongue.

The other two got jealous and demanded the same treatment. It was easy to switch off his brain and let his body do the talking. It was what it was good at, after all.

At one point, when two of the girls were naked and the other was well on the way, his phone rang. He left the bed and went rummaging for it, although he already knew from the tone who was ringing him. He frowned, absently, when he saw her name on the screen. It was… he checked his watch… three-thirty. Why was she ringing him? Why was she ringing him now?

He looked over at the three nubile girls, sprawled and laughing on his bed, then down at his phone. Trouble was, there was an ocean between him and Robin. He'd do anything for her. Anything. But if he tried to cross that ocean he'd drown.

He answered the phone (of course) because how could he go to hell for her unless he heard her ask him to?

"Robin…" He said, casually, he hoped.

"Hey, Barney!" Robin squealed, so loudly that he had to hold the phone away from his ear. "We missed you at midnight! Did the work thing go okay?" She screeched again.

"Robin," he shook his head with a fond grin. "Are you Woo-ing?"

"Get over here!" Robin laughed, ignoring him. "The gang needs you! It's the not the same! We miss you!" She sounded really, really drunk.

Barney covered the phone with his hand, staring at the wall. It broke his heart a little bit that he couldn't just ditch the girls, down a sixer of Red Bull, get in a cab and join his friends. That would be the grown up thing to do. That would be the thing for Future Barney to do. Right now he was still the gunslinger and the gunslinger had several bullets left to fire.

What up.

He looked back at the girls on his bed. They were doing… what the hell were they doing? Autopilot Barney was suddenly very interested indeed.

His thumb brushed the screen, cutting Robin off, and he dropped the cell phone on to the floor, pulling off his shirt and returned to the bed.