Cilantro

Synopsis: Tag to the final scene of "Say Cheese" (5x18)

One Year Later...

She had tried many different tactics over the course of the year, tickling him, scaring him, seducing him, surprising him, tripping him, throwing spaghetti at him, wine, her ten inch stilettos... okay, she wasn't actually intending for him to take a bad picture when she did that, but the fact that the shoe knocked him fair and square on the forehead right before Lily's camera went off, and yet even as he sat, blood streaming down the side of his face, his photo had turned out perfect. No blood, no dodging poses, or even a look of alarm to indicate that a dangerous object had been flying his way. But this new idea... this was something she hadn't tried before. Of course, she had thought about it - making him sneeze. Especially after remembering back to that one Christmas when he had been bogged down with the flu and the general pathetic awfulness he looked back then. No, when Barney Stinson sneezed, it was not a pretty sight, and would probably not be a pretty sight in a photo either. But how do you make someone sneeze? It wasn't like she could throw pepper under his nose as Lily clicked the camera... and yes, she had tried that already too... he simply sniffed and gave her one of his classic "good try, Scherbatsky" looks.

He was the one who eventually gave himself away, when the gang was trying out a new Mexican restaurant downtown a week before Lily's 33rd birthday, and Barney had refused the Nachos.

"Cilantro makes me sneeze... among other things" he had claimed.

Perfect, thought Robin.

Dip was the best choice. He may not know that she notices, but over the years, she had been to enough important group events to pin down everyone's place in the puzzle. Marshall was the entertainer, Lily the cook. Ted would of course, be trying to entertain his latest "she might be the one", and Barney... well, without the usual parade of bimbos for him to lust after, he would spend most of the time frequenting the appetizers table. She found the perfect recipe too, a green pasty dip where the cilantro was perfectly blended and could easily be mistaken for avocado or any other herb. She planned the timing, she would arrive extra early to put the dip right at the back of the fridge so that it was forgotten until the time came near for Lily's all important group picture, and then she was going to discreetly place it next to the corn chips, knowing they were Barney's most frequented snack, and also knowing that whenever Lily announced group picture time, Barney always used the standing up and shuffling into frame as an excuse to visit the appetizers one more time. So when Lily invited the four of them over to her 33rd birthday party, Robin put her fail proof plan into action.

"Picture time! Let's make a memory!" Lily finally announced. Robin had been sitting at the edge of her seat all night in anticipation, especially when she noticed Barney was already munching away at the corn chips and various surrounding dips, including the one she had just put out onto the table as the group went through another round of "Name that bitch?" with Ted. Robin thanked whatever God was out there that Lily's announcement came just in time, as she noticed Barney taking a final corn chip, scooping up her cilantro dip into his mouth whilst wandering over to stand beside her.

"Hey Robin, what's in this dip that you made?" Barney started, "cause it tastes like...cilantro..." he faltered, "and you know that cilantro makes me...snnee.. CHOO."

"YES!" Robin exclaimed out of excitement as she raced over to the camera to see if her plan finally worked, only half noticing Barney as he continued to sneeze repeatedly, loosing his balance and falling in the process. She grabbed the camera off the stand, quickly rewinding to review the picture. There he was, eyes closed, off balance, face scrunched up as he sneezed, certainly a "bad" picture if there ever was any. She was about to release another "wooo" of victory and share the picture with the others when she looked up and finally realized the commotion that had occurred. Suddenly it was as if someone had grabbed the world by its emotions and turned it upside down. The temperature around her grew cold, her heart dropped like a stone. Everything blurred and grew dark, and all she could see was Barney, still on the floor... not only on the floor, but in Ted's arms and gasping desperately for air.

Marshall, dial 911, Lily, grab the first aid kit, Robin... Robin?

Ted's voice broke her trance, and she raced to him, tears choking into the back of her throat.

"Robin, here, I need you to hold him," he instructed, signaling for her to kneel down and take Barney into her arms. She numbly pulled him into her embrace, at the angle Ted indicated, her heart racing as she felt each gasp of air he struggled with and praying with all she had that the gasping would not cease.

"Barney? Barney, come on man, I need you to concentrate," Ted's voice broke through again, "Do you have an epi-pen on you?" She felt Barney's head shake weakly on her shoulder, "no...", then a nod, "first...aid...kit..." he wheezed.

"Lily and Marshall's first aid kit?" Ted clarified, to which Barney nodded weakly again. "Okay, I'm going to help Lily find it okay? ... everything is going to be okay," he told Barney and, Robin suspected, reassuring himself as well. He ran off into the bathroom and Robin's attention lingered after him. She could hear Marshall yelling to some operator over the phone in the background, and rattling in the bathroom where Lily, now joined by Ted, sought out the much needed first aid kit. It all seemed so surreal, it was meant to be a joke, Barney was not meant to be on the verge of death because of this... because of her... no, she willed herself to stay strong. They would get through this, Barney was going to be fine, maybe sulk a few days over breaking his lifelong good picture streak, but ultimately, back to his awesome best. It was a few seconds later when Robin felt Barney's eyes on her, and she dared herself to look at him. His blue eyes were bright, dilated, searching her.

"Don't...cry...Scher...bats...ky..." he gasped.

"Shh..." she admonished him, only then noticing the tears that had escaped from her own eyes and were now streaming down her cheeks. He blinked, as if contemplating something, before scrunching his face in discomfort.

"What's wrong?" she sniffed, pulling him tighter towards her.

"It...chy..," he replied, eyes glancing down at his own chest. Her eyes followed, and she noticed the red creeping up his neck. Using her free hand, she unbuttoned the top few notches in his shirt and tugged it open, exposing his very red and inflamed skin underneath.

"...Hot..." he gasped again, a hint of devilishness creeping into his eyes to hint at his double meaning before he focused his attention solely on breathing once more. More tears fell out of her eyes as she remembered everything he meant to her, and just how truly awesome Barney Stinson was.

"I got the pen," Ted hollered, racing over whilst reading the fine print on it at the same time. "Okay, it's not expired, so I need to pull off the grey cap, and it goes into his thigh..." Robin heard him muttering under his breath. Barney's breath hitched as Ted positioned him before plunging the needle deep into the side of his leg, and Robin felt her arms wrapping even tighter onto him as they awaited the seconds for the medicine to go through.

"Did it work?" she stammered after a moment's silence. Ted was rubbing the spot on Barney where he had just administered the pen. Robin's heart skipped a beat when she realized the gasping heaves rocking Barney's body had stopped.

"Barney?" Ted questioned.

"Robin... too tight," was the muffled reply. Robin finally let out the breath she had been holding, loosening her grip on him somewhat, but still reluctant to let him out of her arms. The blue tinge that had formed on Barney's lips slowly turned back to a shade of pink, and a pink flush made its way onto his cheeks. Exhausted, he slumped himself into her, resting his head between her shoulder and neck, and she could feel the heat radiating from him, his soft hair, now damp with sweat, tickling her. Lily had made her way over, crouching down beside them, running her hand soothingly up and down Barney's back, whilst Ted kept his hand on Barney's pulse, finding comfort in counting the beats of his heart. The drama of the few minutes before still haunted them, as each contemplated how close they came to loosing one of their members.

"The ambulance is downstairs," Marshall suddenly announced, breaking the deadly silence.

The paramedics flew into action as soon as they arrived, listing off questions in rapid flow as Ted took over in filling them in on the necessary information. They started an IV for Barney, placed an oxygen mask over his face to help him breathe easier, and placed him onto a stretcher when his attempt to stand on shaky legs resulted in him toppling over and almost pulling out the started IV. And even though Barney protested and insisted that he was "fine... no, more than fine, awesome in fact," they took him to the hospital. Robin, Lily and Marshall arrived in the taxi moments after, Ted had insisted he rode the ambulance, and all four had sat outside in the waiting room whilst the doctors performed further tests to make sure Barney wasn't going to have another attack. It was another hour before a nurse appeared and allowed them to see him.

Robin was the first to burst through the door to Barney's room, the others staying back to discuss Barney's medical condition with the doctor they had passed on their way there.

"You said cilantro made you SNEEZE! SNEEZE?" she accused as soon as she saw him, sitting in the hospital bed, a cup of jello in his hand. He blinked at her, looking all of twelve years old, a small patch of rash still imprinted on the side of his forehead, the hospital bed seeming to swallow up his lean frame. It reminded her of the stilettos incident, when after he had been taken to the hospital for stitches, he had given her the exact same blinking expression, causing her to feel all the guilt in the world weighed upon her shoulders even though he was the one who had provoked her in the first place.

"I said it made me sneeze... among other things..." he stated to her, attention falling back onto his jello as he scooped a mouthful.

"Other things? Yes, you just failed to let us know that other things include... oh I don't know, breaking out in rashes? Losing the ability to breathe? DYING?" She was crying now, she couldn't help it, after all this time, he was still so irresponsible, so complacent in his regard for his own life, and so thoughtless of anyone else who dared themselves to care for him...

"Well, you know me Scherbatsky. My awesomeness prevents me from doing anything halfway... even allergic reac-"

"I thought you were going to die!" she cut him off. "I was so scared, have you ever thought about that? About what it is like to think that someone you care about could have died? And it would have been all your fault because you made that stupid dip to win some stupid challenge you set for yourself over a year ago...Have you?" Her tears continued to flow and she silently cursed herself for that weakness. Why did she even bother with him, why did she give a damn about him, allowing herself to live life in the whirlwind of emotions that came from being around Barney Stinson.

Barney slowly put down his cup, and reached out to take one of her hands into his.

"I'm sorry I scared you Robin..." he told her earnestly, and she knew he meant it. Every word of it. It was the same earnest he had been when he apologized to Ted all those years ago after his bus accident, and the same earnest he had been when he apologized for hurting her with his exploits right after they had broken up a little over a year ago.

"And I'm sorry for almost killing you," she finally answered, the two of them sharing a smile.

"I promise to never eat any green colored dips again," he offered, "...and to tell you directly if I have any life threatening allergies or diseases."

"And I promise to keep cilantro out of anything you might potentially eat," she replied, giving his hand a squeeze. The others entered the room at that moment and Robin quickly pulled away to wipe her tears.

"Hey buddy, looks like you're staying here overnight," Ted announced as he came in, "they want to make sure it's all out of your system before they let you go."

"But... I feel fine!" Barney retorted.

"That's because you're still on a drip of steroids," Ted answered.

"Yeah Barney, we really don't want you dying on us, on my birthday," spoke up Lily, "not only because of the 'you dying' part, because 'you seem really nice' too, but it would really put a damper on future celebrations since we'd be obliged to remember you every time my birthday came around," she finished, breaking out into a grin and patting his shoulder after he mocked offense.

"It's not that bad man," Marshall piped up, "I spoke to the nurse for you and she said that unfortunately you're currently on a strict diet of 'jello and liquids only' for the next few hours, so cake is not possible. But since many of their patients here have similar restrictions they sell these cool jello cakes in the cafeteria" he smiled, "so I detoured down there and bought Lily a birthday cake and we can all celebrate here instead! Happy birthday Lilypad!" he finished, presenting the large jello cake in a box he had been hiding behind his back.

"Aww, thank-you Marshmallow!" Lily squeaked as husband and wife shared a kiss, "and guess what," she continued, "It's picture time again!" She pulled her camera out from her bag. "I'll name this one... 'The time when Robin almost killed Barney!'"

"Hey!" Robin retorted, "it was an accident!"

"How about 'Dip of Death'?" Ted put in, to be answered with a glare from Robin.

"I know! 'Barney's Bad Picture II - The Saga Continues'!" put in Marshall.

"Hey, how do you already know it's going to be bad?" asked Barney.

"Because man, your streak is broken. And the universe shall have its revenge... it's part of the mysterious laws of the universe," Marshall answered smugly, "well, that, and the fact that you're in a hospital gown with rashes and looking as pasty as glue, not to mention the bed hair."

"Well kids, watch and learn," Barney replied, ignoring their snorts as he smiled his usual charm at the camera Lily was setting up on the bed table.

"Robin, aren't you going to work your magic?" asked Ted, "Come on, you can't let all that hard work go to waste on just one measly photo."

"It doesn't matter now," Robin shrugged as the others looked at her in question, "I broke his streak, mission accomplished." Barney sighed, and turned to face her.

"Fine... somehow I should've known if anyone were to break my awesome streak, it would be you, Scherbatsky," he spitted out her last name in mock bitterness. Smiling, Robin sat herself down on the side of his bed, and draped an arm over his shoulders. She thought about all the Barney's she had gotten to know over the years. There was Awesome Barney, Bro-ing out Barney, Gross Barney, Sleazy Barney, Selfish Barney... and then there was Vulnerable Barney, Innocent Barney, Fun Barney, Completely Selfless Barney, Loving Barney, Boyfriend Barney... and over the years her heart had spun in circles, mixing into this complicated web that was Barney Stinson. After tonight's incident though, after almost losing him, she was certain of one thing, and that was that she would have missed every single one of those Barney's if she had lost him. With a shake of her head to clear those tears that threatened to spill once more (gosh, what was wrong with her tonight), she waited until Lily pressed the button to start the auto timer on the camera before reaching over and whispering into Barney's ear.

"You're an idiot..."

The camera clicked.