Lily secured the corner of the banner on the push-pin in the wall, grumbling about how it was always the short one that had to climb up and take care of the hard-to-reach-things. Robin and Marshall weren't doing the banner work, no; they were off doing other things. Eh, at least it was done now, and it was going to be well worth it. Anything to bring back that smile.

It had been over a month since Barney had been home. From the moment Ted brought him to the hospital for an extended bloody nose, he'd been a resident there. Lily still didn't like being told that her friend had cancer by text message but she could understand. Ted wanted the others there for Barney, and didn't want to leave the room to make a call. It made sense. Didn't mean she had to like it. But it was all in the past, she had to forgive and forget. They had to ignore whatever hard-feelings they might have from the way they had been treated over the last month and a half. Everyone had been on edge. But now, everything was going to be just fine, everything was going to be okay, and they could be happy now!

At least she hoped so. Last time she had seen Barney (it was a week ago Tuesday) he had looked like crap. He didn't look like Barney, he didn't look awesome, he looked…


But she could understand why. Having Daunorubicin pumped into your veins for three straight days could make anyone cranky. She couldn't even pronounce the drug! But she knew what it was doing. Everyone knew what it was doing. The doctors were poisoning their friend, killing him, to save him. God, that sounded wrong. It really did. Sighing, Lily folded up the step-ladder and stuffed it in the corner behind the clone trooper. She thought it was a storm trooper, but after saying it wrong every time, Barney finally snapped and showed her the entire series. All six of them. And he pointed out the differences. Like color. She didn't really care, but it mattered to him. So, whatever. She stuffed the step-ladder behind the trooper-thing and went to help Marshall in the kitchen.

Finger foods were the choice of the day. Marshall had noticed last time he had visited Barney's room that he was looking kind of thin. A month and then some of being nauseous and eating only hospital food… yeah, not very good on the body. But Ted had told him that Barney might not be up to eating anything big, if at all. So he wasn't going to get anything spicy like take out from Lily's apartment. And he wasn't going to get anything big like a turkey sub or something like that (how was he with dairy anyway? Right, no mayo). Just, something light. Chips of all kinds were in mix-matched bowls, popcorn was in another one. There were just snacks, lots of water, (though what Barney really wanted was a drink, they had been told explicitly no alcohol) and plenty of nuts. Marshall had read somewhere that nuts were supposed to be good for energy. Barney hadn't had much energy lately. Again, they could understand why.

Marshall and Lily picked up the various food-bowls, making several trips from the small kitchen to the wide living room. That's where they met Robin. She was busy rearranging the furniture. Ted didn't have to tell them that Barney was going to be sick still, they all kind of figured it out on their own. Robin was in charge of making sure that there was plenty of space for a quick get-away to the restroom. The chairs and sofa and tables were all set at least an arm's-span and a half from each other. There was no chance of tripping over anything if there was a sudden need to run. Now it was just a waiting game. A long, un-necessary waiting game. Why? Because Robin was on edge enough. She had no idea how to deal with Barney. Evil, annoying, man-whore Barney she could live with. He was fun, he was exciting, he was funny. Scared, sick, weak Barney she had come to hate. She had sat with him once. Only once. It was his second day on chemo, and he was a mess. Shaking, violently ill, afraid to be touched… she had sat with him an hour before texting Ted saying she couldn't stay, that she couldn't come again. And she hadn't. She hadn't seen him for over a month. And now he was coming home. And it scared her shitless. Would he still be like that? Even now? What would he look like? Lily had said he wasn't going to look like he used too.

There were voices outside. Lily was excited, Marshall stood and smiled, glad that things were going to be normal again. Robin stayed where she was, trying to force a smirk if not a grin. But it wouldn't come. The door opened, Ted entering first. Like Marshall, he was in a suit. They had agreed that for this, they would suit up. Following him was someone that was less-than-dressed. Barney. Over-big sweatshirt and jeans, shoes that had never seen a drop of polish. And a fedora. A large hat, pulled down over stunning silverblue eyes. It made his ears look huge.

"WELCOME HOME BARNEY!" Lily, Marshall, and Ted shouted, echoing the banner that Lily had hung over the door to the hallway. Robin finally managed to smile. Barney gave a tight-lipped grin.

"Thanks guys." He was so quiet. Was this really Barney? The Barney Stinson, the man that slept with over two hundred women, including herself? Robin doubted it. This was someone else. How dare they look like Barney, how dare they use his voice?! She was boiling, and Lily could see it. The other woman moved in front of her, trying to keep her from doing something stupid. And thus the evening started, Barney avoiding any kind of sustenance or contact. They talked, sat and watched a movie, enjoyed company. But Barney sat apart from the others, sometimes slipping into the back to use the restroom. Lily worried about him, voicing this to Ted who quickly dismissed it. It was just nerves, he'll be back to normal soon enough.

But Robin knew it wouldn't. Nothing would be. When she tried to make it normal by making a big-hands joke, she reached out for a high-five from Barney. Who just forced a chuckle and looked at his hands again. Robin couldn't take it. Everyone was acting, everyone was trying to pretend it was normal. Angry, she stood.

"Stop it! You're not Barney! You killed him and took his place. Just stop it!" She snatched the hat from his head, revealing the hairless scalp underneath. Barney sat, stunned, what little color he had was gone. Robin knew this was coming, she knew his hair would be gone. But, but not like this. What had she done?! What, what had she… oh god. Before she knew it, she was outside, hat in hand, hailing a taxi. No one had followed her. She was glad.