In Life, I Am Lost

Summary: He thinks maybe he knows what he wants. He just doesn't know who he is. Maybe it's time to find out. (How Patrice ties in). Robin/Barney overall. Patrice and Barney friendship.

A/N: This is some speculation on what the last episode left us with. Hoping it goes in a way similar to this, because if not that might get a little weird. We'll see though!

Barney thinks maybe he does know what he wants, no matter what he says to the contrary. It's just not something he'll easily admit. Down at his core, he knows: he wants Robin, needs her, loves her, is in love with her and has been for years now. Since the first time they slept together. Since before, even. He doesn't know when he fell, only that he did.

But she's shut him out. Once. Twice. He's losing track. This latest jolt from her – that kiss and subsequent rejection – has left him spinning. He's dazed. He's lost.

He means what he tells her: he's done chasing her. Not done loving her, but done trying to have her. He knows she doesn't feel the same way. He gets it, he does.

Every time she does this, he regresses. He goes back to the playbook, going in circles, having sex with all the women who will have him. He tries this time, too, with Brandi. He wants to want it. It's better than being alone, and hey, it's his thing. His friends know him as Barney the womanizer, Barney the sexual God. It's a mask but at least it's a constant. He doesn't know who he is without it.

He tries with Brandi, but his stomach lurches at the idea. It hits him, then, with the surging energy of a thousand lightning bolts, that he is too old for this. He thinks back to the old man make-up, that one familiar play. He sees himself as a truly old man, his friends moving beyond him with marriages and kids and a lifetime of being with The One. He knows he'll be left behind. He's always known it.

And then there's her. Patrice. She offers him broken cookies. He thinks of his broken heart. She's overeager, but she's sweet, and easy to talk to. He knows they're the same in many ways, and one in particular stands out. Neither of them will ever be enough for Robin.

They can both love and adore her til they're blue in the face. It doesn't matter.

This thing with Patrice – he'll call it a date because he doesn't know what the word for it is – it's something more than he's had with anyone in a long time. She doesn't know the guy he's been pretending to be for 20-something years. There are no masks. Even with his closest friends, even with Robin, he's had his walls up. But he can talk to Patrice over Crazy Eights. There is no great attraction, but she is kind and understanding and he needs that now. Not from his friends who know Barney the womanizer. From a near-stranger who he can let see the little boy with no friends and no father, the boy with the heart so broken by Shannon that he had to replace it altogether.

He likes talking to her. They become great friends and take it slow. There's no sizzling, burning chemistry but that's only ever gotten him into trouble, anyway. It's time for something new. With Patrice, he finds it. A connection, a steady companionship. He wonders if it's love. Why else would simply talking with her make him feel so alive?

Robin doesn't like their friendship, their relationship, their whatever this is that blossoms out in front of her eyes. He wants to tell her that she should just let it go, that this is something he needs, because he simply can't do this anymore. He needs a friend beyond them, beyond the gang. He needs to figure out who he is and he can't do it if he's endlessly treading the same water. When he talks to Patrice, he feels so very, very close to understanding himself, his life, his heart.

He expects Robin to make a snide comment about all that's going on with him and Patrice, but she doesn't. When she sees him that first time after she interrupted their "date," she gets this look. It isn't anger. Not jealousy. Not even hurt or confusion. It's the look he knows well, and with Patrice's help, he's starting to see all the things he's missed with Robin, with everyone. He's not the only one who's lost these days.

He loses track of the number of times he hangs out with Patrice. He's never done this the slow way; it's strange being friends first. Sure, he was friends with Robin before the first time they fell into bed together, but there had always been something there. Simmering beneath the surface, unspoken chemistry.

The first time he kisses Patrice, they're out for a walk and snow is falling down upon them.

The first time is also the last.

She stops it before it really starts. She pulls back and he's stunned cold. Her hand goes to his cheek. It warms him. "Barney, I'm not in love with you."

He feels the ache start low in his stomach, spread up through his heart, to his throat. He'd thought he'd found it. "You're not in love with me, either," she continues.

It isn't an accusation, just a statement, simple. She makes it sound like a fact. "Pat," he says. "I care about you a lot, I feel…alive when I talk to you. I feel. Isn't that love?"

"Barney." It's a wistful sigh on her lips, tinged with pitying impatience. "It's Robin. It's always been Robin for you. It always will be."

He'd tried so hard to bolt that door shut. He feels the chill seep beneath the cracks and he pushes his hands down into his pockets, holds them in clenched fists. His breath comes out in a white fog. "I don't know what you mean."

"Yeah. You do. You're in love with her. She's in love with you. It's time to be happy together."

"She's not in love with me," he bursts out. He can feel the dam breaking in his chest. "I've tried and I don't have the energy to try anymore." Please love me, he nearly says. I need someone to love me.

"Barney, I've seen her cry over you when she thought no one was looking. I've seen her get jealous and hurt and wishful for you. She tries so hard to hide it, and so do you, but I've seen it from both of you now. You light up when you talk about her. I've been trying to figure out what's stopping you. You've both been hurt by each other in the past – I get that. But it doesn't mean all the pain isn't worth what could come. It's time to stop locking up your heart."

He knows Patrice is right about him. He's still in love with Robin, irretrievably in love; he's in love just in the way he told Nick he was. And then to Robin, he played that speech off as fake, as if it were just the duties of being a helpful bro. He doesn't remember why now, only that feeling so vulnerable had made him think of November, and of red rose petals going into a garbage bag.

She would have kissed him if he hadn't taken back the honest declaration. She would have loved him. He can see it now. Clearly. What she couldn't let occur was a drunken hook-up where they pretended nothing happened. Again. He's not the only one sick of this game.

Patrice's voice pulls him back. "You guys need to talk. You have to be brave, and open, and tell her the truth. It's the only way she can feel safe enough to do the same with you."

He wonders if she's right. Hopes she is. "Pat, I do care about you," he says. It seems important for her to know. He hasn't just been using her because he couldn't have what he wanted. She's helped him so much these last few days. Just having someone to talk to has been a gift he probably doesn't deserve.

She smiles widely. "I know. We have a great friendship. And I can't wait til our next game night."

He laughs and looks down, takes a moment to process what this all means. He's still smiling when he glances back up at her. "I can't wait, either," he says, and he really does mean it.

Patrice shakes her head, puts a warm hand on his shoulder. "Go get her, Barney. Take the leap."

He almost laughs at that. Doesn't it always come down to a leap of faith between them? He's done it once, twice. Stumbled so many times over.

But Patrice believes in him, believes he and Robin have what it takes to make it work, and he's starting to believe it too.

And maybe now it's time to stick the landing.