Now the thought
Both of lost happiness
and lasting pain
Torments.
-John Milton

"Anything from Lily?" Ted settled into the booth across from Robin.

"Nothing. I've hinted. Offered bribes. Threatened. Cajoled. And she still won't tell me what Barney did."

"...'Cajoled'. Good word."

"I know! Right?"

"Severely underused word – 'cajoled'" Ted took a sip of his beer and Robin did the same with her own bottle, both of them pondering the question of the neglect of the word 'cajoled'... that and the unexplained split of their pals Lily and Barney. Ted offered up his opinion on the Lily/Barney situation. "Of course, I'm not really surprised; I mean, I think we all knew that whatever they had going on wouldn't last long. I mean, c'mon... Barney and Lily? Lily and Barney?" Ted shivered.

"Still...they seemed… happy-"

"-happy."

They simultaneously sipped their beers again.

Robin offered, "Do ya' think he cheated on her?"

"It isBarney that we're speaking of, so cheating would fall high on my list of possible break-up reasons." He started to pick at the edge of the label on his bottle. "Unless..."

"Unless what?"

"Unless... uh..., nothing."

"No. Uh uh. That wasn't a 'nothing 'unless'', that was a 'something 'unless''. Spit it out Mosby."

Tad looked at Robin sheepishly. "You don't think he asked, or tried to...uh... get her to... uh... " he ran a hand along the back of his neck and then the rest of his words splurted out of his mouth, "Do something... kinky?" He peered at Robin sheepishly, "Like a threesome? Or moresome? Or...or …."

"Okay stop right there!" Robin held up her hand and scrunched her shoulders, shivering uncomfortably at the picture his words were painting. "We're sooooo not talking about this any more. Right?"

"Right."

"Right."

"..."

"... spanking; maybe he wanted to spank her? Or worse, Wanted her to spank him!"

"Ted!" Robin crowed warningly.

((()))

What good is love, when thirst is killing
and there's poison in the well?
What good is it, if you are willing
to buy, but never sell?
What good is love, if you can doubt it
next thing you know, you can't live without it?
Can you tell me, what good is love?
I'm moving on... off this island,
gonna spread my wings,
and seek asylum... in nothing.
hat good is love with standards falling,
And your name all over town?
God marks the man, who's attitude becomes his only ground.
...can you tell me,
What good is love?
-What Good Is Love by Colin Devlin

He woke up to the smell of stale sweat and alcohol. The scent was wrapped around him, clinging to him like the threadbare sheets that were tangled around his frame. He kicked at the cotton, working angrily to release himself from its constraints.

Finally free, he reached for the glass that sat next to the hotel alarm clock. Scotch? He threw down the remaining dregs and grimaced. Rum. He wondered briefly where he'd gotten Rum from, then with a shake of his head, he realized he didn't really care. Hair of the dog... that's all that mattered; he just needed something to take the edge off of the hangover. Although, it faintly occurred to him that this morning's headache was milder than previous mornings.

He must be building a tolerance. He'd have to fix that.

It had been five weeks since he'd walked out on Lily – left her sitting in his apartment - a look of guilt painted on her face. Guilt for not wanting to have his child.

He ran a hand through his hair and then ran his palm and fingers over his unshaven face. He'd found out he was a 'dad' and that he'd lost his child in the same moment. The same moment that confirmed his fear that Lily would never want him the way he – He shook his head to stop his mind from heading down the path it seemed unable to avoid. Get the fuck over it Stinson!

He forced himself out of the bed and padded naked into the bathroom. Turning on the faucet he looked at his reflection. Blurry red eyes greeted him as he continued to try and put all of his pieces back together. You didn't – don't - even fucking want a kid! She really did you a favor.

He tested the water with his hand – cold – then cupping his hands together he splashed two bracing shots of the liquid onto his face; his mind still lecturing his emotions. And you knew she would never really want you as part of her life... Bed warmer, maybe. A few laughs, fine. But... a kid? Commitment?

His reflection stared back at him, pitying him, mocking him. Poor stupid bastard.

((()))

I know I'm an echo
of a man I use to love
even though that was long ago
he's all I'm made up of.
-'Made Up Of' by Barnaby Bright

She slowly pushed the lock of hair covering her eyes away from her face and without lifting her head from the mattress, she squinted at the clock. 6:53am. She let her eyes close again.

37 days.

It had been 37 days since she'd last seen Barney. And it had been 44 days since she'd destroyed the illusion of happiness she and Barney had fragilely built.

She'd broken that illusion into pieces so small, it could never be repaired.

Feeling the bed beside her shift, she screwed her eyes shut and focused on keeping her breathing slow and steady. It would suck to have to talk to the Random she'd picked up last night.

She heard him ease out of the bed. Listened to him fumble around the room, picking up his clothing, shuffling his way into them and creeping to the room door.

Only after she heard the door shut behind him did she reopen her eyes.

She smiled thinly. He'd been the sixth man this week. One more and she'd match Barney's streak.

Just one more guy.

(())

It had to happen eventually. He'd realized this. But knowing it was going to happen didn't prepare him for the clench and claw that he felt in his gut when it actually did happened.

Seeing Lily again was hell.

He was still so... he wanted to wring her neck; and he'd never wanted to hurt a woman before in his life. Of course, he'd never been so hurt by a woman before in his life.

Yeah, he wanted to wring her neck. But what scared him even more than the itch in his fingers to hurt her... was the fact that he recognized, rolling around somewhere in the middle of his chest, a kernel of 'want' for her in him.

Still.

Wanting Lily - and this want wasn't even just physical want; it was centered on the coffees, and the newspapers, and the sleep, and the time they'd spent together - now? Scared him more than the desire to hurt her scared him. The urge to hurt her was... reasonable. Based upon 'real'. Real shit. A real reason.

Wanting Lily was based upon... nothing.

Nothing he recognized.

Nothing he could grasp on to. It left him clinging to the ethereal, and Barney didn't do ethereal; he did reality. What he could see. What he could touch. What he 'knew'.

He watched her wrap her hand around the bicep of the man she'd brought with her. She use to wrap her hand around his bicep that way; with her 'I'm smaller than you, I could be yours, I could make you mine' grip.

Only she couldn't be his. Never wanted to be his. She'd proven that. And he just needed to man up and, and...

He watched her settle on her date's lap. Making a public display of her affection that surpassed any display she'd ever made with him. Hell, it was more than she'd ever displayed with Marshall.

He lifted his glass to his lips and tried to ignore her. Tried to focus on the strained blathering that Ted and Robin were providing in an attempt to control this awkward situation.

The situation that had Barney and Lily in the same room, together, for the first time in six weeks. The situation that had Barney courting a bottle of scotch, while Lily courted some... some... mimbo.

He abruptly pushed his chair away from the edge of the table and without looking at any of them he headed to the bar.

(())

Bringing the guy she'd met the night before: Ed... Ned... whatever his fucking name was, with her to the bar had been a mistake. She'd realized that fact in the cab. Realized it again, when they walked into the bar. And realized it again and again, when Barney's eyes slid over them when they reached the table – their normal booth taken by some other group.

All of the 'normal' in her life seemed to be fucked up these days.

When Barney got up from the table and moved off to the bar, she felt relief. Relief to no longer have his eyes 'not' watching her. Relief to have her guilt and anger back under wraps. Not exposed for the world to see.

She felt relief. And then she panicked.

Mumbling something to everyone at the table. She stood up and pushed her way into the ladies room. She paced the small space, her hands shaking, her skin – every nerve ending – jumping.

She'd thought she could handle this; that was the only reason she'd agreed to show up when Robin had invited her. "Puzzles is neutral ground, you and Barney can be in the same space, a public space, Ted and I will be there. Mediators. We'll be like Switzerland."

Yeah, it had sound good in theory.

But reality was something else altogether.

She didn't have a right to be here. After what she'd done. How she'd hurt him. How she'd hurt herself.

She could feel the panic rising in her chest. She needed to get out, and she needed to get out now.

Shaking her hands out nervously, she took a deep breath and opened the bathroom door, planning the half-assed excuse she'd offer when she got back to the table. Her progress out of the bathroom was halted by the sight of Barney, leaning against the hallway wall just opposite the ladies room.

His eyes were cool, his stance tense and relaxed at the same time. Lifting the icy glass that he held in his hand to his lips, Barney shot his first arrow. "Aldrin, I was just thinking about you." His smirk was hard; his words were harder. "I sure hope you're using protection with Ed there, you definitely wouldn't want another little accident coming along and changing your life plans."

He pushed away from the wall before she could respond, but not before he saw the sting of his words settle into her skin. Standing in front of her... close enough to feel the heat emanating from her body, he added "He kind of reminds me of Marshall, that big, goofy, boy-next door look." Taking another flavorless sip, he offered second shot, "Is he managing to keep you satisfied in the sack?" His voice dropped as he leaned in even closer, the scent of aftershave and whiskey surrounding her, "What's his record? How many O's has he delivered?"

Every word was razor sharp and hit the mark it aimed for full force.

He'd wanted to hurt her. And he'd succeeded. Pieces of her crumbled right before his eyes: a small section of her armor. A tiny bit of her strength... The littlest corner of her soul.

She opened her mouth and he imperceptibly tightened his spine, ready to deflect whatever barb she was about to throw in his direction.

But then she shut her mouth without issuing a sound.

Her eyes were wide – that lost, pained, tortured, wide openness that he remembered her looking at him with the night she'd come home from the clinic. The night she'd...

He closed his eyes, his hand tightening around the glass, his fingers numb from the ice/or the pressure, or... whatever. He closed his eyes so that he couldn't see her eyes wide open – sparking with something that looked suspiciously like tears.

He felt her move; shimming out of the lavatory entrance and skating around him.

She'd almost made her way out of the bathroom hall when he blindly reached out and grabbed her wrist.

He was still facing the bathroom door – his back to her – his eyes trained on the wood and the peeling paint. "Why'd you do it Lily?"

His fingers burned where they wrested at her wrist. "I just need to know why."

He could hear the clink of bottles and glasses around them. The rush of voices clambering to be heard. Drunken, tipsy, teasing laughter ringing out. But his ears were primed and peeled to hear Lily's voice.

Silence.

She hadn't tried to pull away or escape from his grasp, but his fingers gripped tighter anyway.

He knew why she had done it. But apparently, he was a glutton for punishment. He needed to hear it. From her lips. Proof positive that what he knew to be true, was actually true. Nail in coffin so to speak.

"Why, Lily?" He hated the rawness in his voice - the vulnerability it suggested.

He felt her moving beneath his fingers, and then, she was holding him. Her head against the back of his shoulders, her arms – including the one that was still gripped by his hand – wrapped around his waist.

And she was holding him.

Hugging him.

And he knew he should shrug her off. He should shake her loose.

But honestly, he didn't want to.

As he tugged her arm closer around his waist, he felt her body begin to tremble. Softly at first, then bigger, more violently. Until her whole frame was shaking along the line of his back.

Lily was crying.