21. Crush (Hopeless)

Robin's been thinking a lot about perfection, and she's conscious of the weight of that word, of the pressure of it. Seeing that guy again, her Crush, it's brought back memories that she's buried for a long time. She remembers how Ted used to look at her, with stars in his eyes, like she could do no wrong.

She remembers how that used to get to her, how it slowly destroyed them. She could never live up to that, could never really be the person he saw.

And she remembers Crush Guy, how he'd seemed so flawless, so funny, so handsome and so tall, and how she'd fantasized that he had this super-cool job, like a flighter pilot or a surgeon - one of those professions that Barney appropriates in his little games to pick up dumb women, but for real this time. She wonders if that means she's hopeful, or just gullible? It's been a long time since she's felt in any way naïve and right now she's kind of enjoying it. It's refreshing. In fact, she'd almost rather not know what Crush Guy does or what he's really like. She'd almost rather not know any of his flaws because, right now in her mind, he's perfect.

Nobody could ever live up to that kind of pressure.

She's watching the ice cubes slowly dissolve into her scotch when Barney comes into the bar. His eyes glitter, his suit is crumpled, he looks about as far from perfection as it's possible to get.

Still conscious that she's not been a great friend to him lately, Robin drags him away from the bar and into the booth. "What happened to you and Jerry last night? I'm guessing an all-night strip club?" She tries to keep it light but his expression crumples and he picks irritably at a paper napkin, not meeting her eye.

She doesn't really know what to say. As the silence stretches out between them, she wonders how bad it could have possibly got last night. Knowing Barney, knowing Jerry… bad.

So what he says next surprises her.

"We went fishing," he says with a grimace. "As if that makes anything better. As if he gets to do that - to just suddenly be my Dad and take me fishing. He's not my Dad. I don't even know him!" He covers his face with one hand, like he's embarrassed by his outburst. "It was lame anyways. Fishing is lame. Only kids and old dudes like fishing."

It's the most he's ever admitted to her about how he really feels about Jerry and he's not even drunk. At least, Robin doesn't think he's drunk. He looks exhausted though, like he hasn't slept.

"Maybe next time he'll take you hunting?" She says with a smile. "At least you get to shoot shit up."

He smirks. "Yeah, cuz watching Jerry gut a fish with a hangover?" He gags. "Not recommended."

Robin laughs. "You wanna try a baby deer."

He groans. "Canadians! I need a drink."

She pushes her own across the table and he lifts the tumbler to his lips, pauses, grimaces, and then places it back down on the table.

"Can still smell the fish. Can't sully a good scotch with that." He sighs deeply. "Anyways, maybe I just need to get some sleep," That's not like him. He looks so… defeated.

"Crash upstairs if you like?" Robin offers.

"Only if you come with," Barney says glibly, then he adds. "I mean, no funny business. I just want to bitch some more about terrible Dads. Figured that's a subject we can both get our teeth into."

He gets to his feet and takes her hand. It makes her feel funny – a little giddy and light-hearted. But it's a relief from all the sudden introspection she's been plagued with. Robin wonders if this is what Lily feels like all the time? If it makes everything better just because Marshall touches her. And as they make their way up the stairwell he turns and asks her – "Hey, you don't happen to have a teddy bear do you?"

She gives him an odd look. "Is this a sex thing?"

And he laughs and shakes his head. "Never mind."

22. Angry Birds (The Perfect Cocktail)

Robin's first instinct is to take Barney's side. In fact, her second and third instinct is also to take his side. Her fourth instinct screams at her to go get her hockey stick and beat Marshall over the head until he stops being a jerk. It's only her fifth instinct that stops her.

Is it really Marshall's fault?

Yes.

But, he's just lost his Dad, and she can totally see how Marshall's been pulled into Zoey's web here, how seductive her ideas must seem to him right now. It's understandable.

Except no. No it isn't.

And Marshall needs direction, but does that have to mean he betrays Barney of all people?

No. So very much no.

Robin's guts roil at the thought. Maybe if she and Lily can get their guys talking-

Their guys?

When did she start thinking of Barney as her guy? When did she start acting like she's still his girlfriend? It seems to have happened so gradually over the last couple of weeks. They've been hanging around so much, having these long, rambling conversations, sometimes talking all night. He's shared so much of his hopes and dreams and fears – more than he ever did when they were together.

And this makes Robin pause. Jesus, where does she draw the line? She feels like she owes Barney, but when does that bleed into more than just simple friendship? She questions her own motives – does she really want Barney, or is she just lonely? Does she just need to date someone else?

But then she sees Barney, so angry, so full of rage, and she feels responsible, like she needs to fix this thing between him and Marshall.

She owes him. She's failed him as a friend for too long.

And that's all it is.

23. So Bad (Landmarks)

It wasn't supposed to go down like this. Not again.

Robin isn't supposed to be lying in Barney's bed, all tangled up in Barney's legs and arms and nakedness. She isn't supposed to be panting, gasping for breath as the heat blossoms through her body in the afterglow of the best sex she's had in forever.

She isn't supposed to feel this swoop of déjà vu.

He's smiling and god she wants him to smile more. She wants to protect him and shout and scream at everybody because Ted's just about broke his heart and Marshall's so wrapped up in his own hang-ups that he can't see how much damage he's done. Just like after Ted dumped Barney that time, it's left to Robin to pick up the pieces.

And god, look how that ended. She traces a finger across Barney's hip, across the feint white scars, and she remembers how it felt to almost lose him then.

To lose him now? Unthinkable.

"Mmm, that was awesomazing," he says stretching out, cat-like, beneath her touch.

"This is becoming a thing," Robin finds herself saying. "We need to be careful. We keep relapsing like this as we may as well be dating again."

His brow creases into a frown.

"Would it be so bad?" She asks, tentatively. And god, she can't believe she's being this brave – she so rarely dips her toe in the water like this, so rarely really puts herself out there. She didn't even know she was considering this until she actually says it.

And he just lies there, in silence. Staring at the ceiling. After a little while, after long minutes that stretch out like hours with Robin's fingers digging into the mattress and her mind racing and her cheeks burning he says, "Maybe. We should think about it."

She's surprised. But later, when he tells her that he might just lose his job, she wonders if he's just clinging to her like she's clinging to him. She wonders how much of this is wishful thinking and how much is real.

And she wonders how they are supposed to know the difference?

24. The Wrong Girl (Challenge Accepted)

It's okay, Robin tries to tell herself. It's okay, because look at Nora, she's even wearing a sundress. Look at her and her four languages and her cute accent and her shiny hair and her laser tag skills.

She's perfect for Barney. Nora's just perfect. She's sweet and she knows what she wants and she can stand up to him.

Robin's never really known what she wants. And where Barney's concerned, she's a bundle of conflicting emotions and concerns.

(Except that he loved her once, he really did love her, and knowing that for sure makes her so stupidly glowy inside).

So after a whole summer of agonising about him and not talking about it and having almost-getting-back-together sex, they've finally come to some sort of conclusion.

It really is over between them. There's no going back.

And Robin should be happy for Barney, really she should. Because when you look at Nora, any girl might feel a little jealous. That's natural, right? And it was as much Robin's decision not to get back together as it was Barney's; more so, if anything. God, she practically pushed him into Nora's arms again. But it's weird – with Nora, Robin can suddenly see Barney – a guy who tries a little too hard, and loves a little too deeply – and she remembers why he's always been her favourite. Maybe this relationship will work out for him, even though she still can't exactly see him standing in a tuxedo in a lil' white church, and she knows Nora would want that.

And now the train has left the station and Barney's going to take Nora out for coffee which means that soon he'll be having sex with Nora, dating Nora, defining their relationship.

And suddenly Robin knows with absolute and total clarity that she's in love with him, faults, flaws and catchphrases galore. Suddenly she sees herself for the cliché that she is.

Why couldn't she just say it all out loud? She's had a whole summer to say it! Why couldn't she tell him it's okay to try again, that new isn't always better?

Why couldn't she tell him that he's perfect for her?

Is it really too late?