Summary: Like all the great gang disputes, the argument of the reacher and the settler doesn't stay resolved indefinitely. Barney/Robin.
The way it starts – he's at the bar getting them both drinks, isn't gone but a minute, and yet when he returns there's this guy standing next to her, cheesy smile in place, wavy hair, leaning in and saying something. Barney doesn't care what, all he knows is that this guy should not be looking at his fiancée that way. He grabs the drinks as soon as Carl hands them over and pushes his way around the guy - doesn't bother with an excuse me - and takes his rightful place at the booth, his rightful place next to Robin.
"And who do we have here?" asks Barney, and as he does so, he snakes his arm around Robin's shoulders and squeezes her possessively against his side.
The guy's eyes widen slightly. "Oh, sorry dude. I thought you guys were all here as friends."
The gang simultaneously shakes their heads, and Ted says, "Nope, that's just me. All these guys are all coupled-up. Just single me," he continues, his voice dropping into the morose. He swigs a large drink of his beer as the guy makes another hasty apology and retreats back to the bar.
Barney glares at his back. "Can you believe that guy?" he asks. "And what's the deal, anyway," he continues, taking Robin's left hand into his own and bringing it towards him to examine the ring upon her finger, "I thought this thing was supposed to make you invisible to other men. Is it defective?"
"Yeah, sometimes my hotness manages to override it," Robin smirks. "But you don't have to worry. I think it's cute when you're jealous."
Barney puffs out his chest, looks indignant. There's a speech coming. "Me? Jealous. No. This is just about respecting the ring and the infallible institution that is marriage."
Ted snorts, "Yeah, okay. Barney, it had to happen sometime."
"Robin getting hit on by a guy hotter than you. It's just something that happens when you're the reacher."
Barney sputters. "First of all, hotter than me? That guy was a two!"
The others shake their heads, and Marshall replies in a voice reserved for children and the extremely gullible. "Aw, honey, no."
"And second of all," Barney continues without acknowledging their dissent, "What do you mean, the reacher?"
"You know, the reacher and the settler. Every good couple is made up of that combo."
There is a moment of silence at the booth. Barney looks at Robin. Robin looks at Barney. Marshall and Lily glance at each other, and Ted swigs his beer, and then –
"I am not the reacher!" Barney and Robin say together, and on the other side of the booth, Ted's arguing with Lily as Marshall tries to speak over them all.
Ted slaps his hand on the table. "Barney is the reacher, how is this even a discussion?"
"I've slept with literally hundreds of women," declares Barney, "No way a reacher gets those numbers."
Robin grimaces. "Ugh, man, I need a shower."
Barney ignores the comment and glares triumphantly at Ted.
"Barney, you've slept with hundreds of bimbos," Ted corrects, "And that still took lies and the playbook and perhaps thousands of dollars' worth of costumes and props. I'm talking about quality women, and you've had, like, three in your life. Robin's snagged way more quality than you by the dozens."
"Not that many," Robin says defensively, but at Ted's critical look, she folds, "Okay, shut up."
"Ted, I'm sorry, but I just don't think you're seeing this objectively," argues Lily. "Yes, Robin's a hottie, but you're notoriously bad at judging guy attractiveness, and Barney's pretty much an equal match. Plus, he's rich. Plus, he's pretty smart, plus under about 200 layers of bimbo-bait, he's kind of a pretty nice guy."
"Thank you, Lily, I'm glad someone appreciates me for who I am," Barney says, and turns to Robin, "Which is someone at least as hot as you, Scherbatsky."
"Guys, come on," says Marshall, "I'm not even convinced this is a thing, alright? Not every couple has a reacher and a settler. I mean, look at me and Lily."
They avert their eyes and take a drink, and Marshall says, "Oh, come on."
No one has the energy to reply, and Ted jumps on the opportunity to direct the conversation his way. "So, about the girl I met at the food cart -"
Their cab ride back to her place is quieter than usual. Though the argument of the reacher and the settler could easily be blown off as a joke, Ted has inadvertently struck upon something heavy and tenuous between them.
Because even a silly argument like this brings back issues from the past, brings up their previous failed attempt at making this work. They haven't forgotten how hard it used to be.
Robin knows that Barney loves her, and that she loves him, and that she'll never doubt these things ever again. She'll never again force her own feelings away and pretend it is something she can move on from - for better or worse, they have the kind of love that endures even when you don't want it to, and they have the kind of chemistry that doesn't go away. But this argument speaks of some lingering reservations, and it's an icy fear inside her - that perhaps they're both just kidding themselves, after all. Engagements and marriage and monogamy and stability? That never used to be them, and love isn't always enough. Sometimes two awesomes cancel each other out. But she simply can't go through that again; there will be nothing left of her.
Barney's train of thought is the same, though neither of them realizes it. The idea that one of them is better, and deserves better, has put them on a precarious edge. He's afraid to fall. A therapist would probably tell him it all goes back to his father issues, because even though he and Jerry have reconciled, he still has the scarring of a young abandoned boy. If Robin is truly better and deserves better, then there's nothing in the world he can do to make her stay. There's no reason she should.
They're in love and they are soulmates, but the drawback of having great chemistry is that sometimes they're combustible together. And they've always been too stubborn to back down.
That night, they go to bed, and for the first time in a long time, they don't have sex beforehand. The lack of intimacy sets him on edge, and all night he lays awake, feeling like he's losing her, losing himself, simply losing.
She, on the other hand, falls into a fitful sleep, dreams of chasing a light she just can't catch, something she never has been able to hold onto.
He leaves before she wakes up the next morning.
When she wakes up without him beside her, panic bubbles in her heart, her stomach, her throat. He's left her, without word or warning, after a night of tension. She sits up and kicks the sheets off of her, ready to throw herself into a frenzy. She checks her phone: he hasn't left any messages as to where he is, and she paces the apartment.
Don't be crazy, she tells herself, he just went out to grab breakfast or something. But it isn't like him to leave without waking her, especially on Saturdays when neither of them work. She makes some cereal to distract herself, but it goes soggy before she takes a single bite.
That's it, she has to call him. It's going to seem a shade paranoid, but she just has to make sure they're alright, that him not being here has nothing to do with reaching and settling and arguments that shouldn't matter but do.
She presses his number on her phone, but just as she does, the apartment door opens and there he stands.
She's half relieved, half angry, until she catches sight of the bouquet of roses in his hands. At that point, she's just a little stunned.
"Barney, what are you -"
"Hold on, Robin. Let me just say something."
There's something in his tone that kills her need to argue. She swallows the question and nods. "Okay."
"I've been doing some thinking," he says, "about the whole settlers and reachers thing."
"No, let me finish, please."
Robin can see his nervousness, but she can also see his resolve, and she knows this is important. To him. To her. To them.
And Barney knows with certainty that this isn't like before. He's not the same man, she's not the same woman. He's finally learned to let go, to make a fool of himself, to throw his heart at her feet – because that's what it takes to keep her. He's brave enough this time around.
"I reached, Robin," he says. The sincerity of his voice is almost jarring; she's reminded of his declaration at Splitsville, when he finally admitted the truth to her and himself, though she hadn't been sure what to make of it at the time. "And I know I did. And you know what, that's okay. That's great even, because that makes me the lucky one. The lucky guy who was actually able to get what he's been reaching for all this time. You are...more than I'd have any right to hope for, and the fact that you wear my ring on your finger is just – well, there aren't words for how happy it makes me, to be with you."
She's never been the type to tear up at sweet words, but he's always been the exception, hasn't he? She had honestly thought it wasn't possible, for her to love him anymore than she already did. She closes the gap between them, steady movements, steady heart. She takes the roses from his hands and sets them aside. She doesn't need his gifts, all she needs is him.
Her hands are on the lapels of his suit, and she remembers when he first called her his girlfriend and compares the moment to now. "I hate to break it to you, sweetie pie, but you've got this one wrong."
His smile falters slightly. "Come again?"
"Barney, I've been thinking about it too, and you know what I've decided? It's a bunch of crap. Marshall was right after all. I mean, the reacher and the settler? That's not a thing, and it's not us. We've both been reaching for each other all this time."
The light in his eyes speaks gratitude and love and a thousand other things, but what he says is, "Wow, I think you hit the level of Cheesy called Ted."
She smirks; he wants to play? She can play. "Uh, you're the one who bought roses. What a girl."
He grins, "Guess I'll just have to prove what a man I am, Scherbatsky." And he kisses her with soft warm lips, kisses her with laughter and passion and love, and before they know it, they're stumbling back to the bedroom, tangling in each other, ready to make up for their lost night, and all the lost time from their first kiss to now.
And ready to follow it up with a lifetime together, filled with happy days just like this one.