A/N: Happy New Year, everyone! I just wanted to give thanks to all the people who commented on Under the Bridge, you guys are awesome. 3 Here's a B/R piece that's been kicking around in my files since December '09, but it finally got itself finished. When "Last Cigarette Ever" first aired and they told us the dates or circumstances surrounding how each of them quit smoking, I basically went ASIAJKFJGHSHAAAHHHH and ran to the computer. Then, y'know, time happened. But hey, it's actually done!
Spoilers for "Last Cigarette Ever" and the current season through "Natural History".
Warnings for minor character death.
1. June 2010
"I think… I think this is my last cigarette. Ever," Robin proclaims, taking a drag.
"You really want to quit?"
She shrugs. "Maybe it's time for a change."
Barney doesn't remember how long ago the others left – Lily and Marshall had scampered out early in the evening, a murmured code word between them, and at some point, Ted had bowed out with mumblings about his class and now it was just him and a slightly-mussed Robin left at the bar. Matching shot for shot, sometime between the tequila and the bourbon she'd suddenly burst out with the story. Don had left her, he'd gone to Chicago, and now she was alone.
He'd felt an odd constriction in his heart as he watched her stare into her drink, fingertips running down the glass. That's when he downed the rest of bourbon, because Barney was damn well not going to sacrifice his awesomeness to whatever… feelings… had decided to stretch and yawn from their slumber in his soul. So Robin broke up with Don. So what? He'd comfort his friend, he'd wingman her until she was properly rebounded, and then they'd go on with their legendary and adventure-filled lives. Right?
But now they were outside, dealing with the muggy heat of a June night, cigarettes glowing in the darkness and alcohol creating a pleasant, warm fuzziness.
"You should have gone, you know. To Chicago. You would have been great," he says suddenly, and hates himself a little for it. But the idea of Don leaving her for that job, leaving her alone—
Robin Scherbatsky is the kind of woman who should always be the one to walk away and leave a broken heart behind. It shouldn't have ended like that, not for her.
She nudges his shoulder. "You should, too."
"What? Move to Chicago? Let me tell you something about the women there, it may be the Windy City, but there's a lower trend of accidental-skirt-blow-upwards scenarios than one would expect—"
"No, Barney," she says, and while she sounds exasperated, there's a smile on her face. "Give it up. You and me, a pact. This will be our last cigarette."
"Robin, haven't we done this before… like, a million times?"
"Not like this." She leans in, and for a second, Barney can recognize the familiar scent of vanilla and gunmetal. "Normally it's all of us, as a group. Once one of us fails, the rest of us tend to give up. But with just the two of us…" She trails off and her smile widens. "Or are you going to turn down a challenge?"
"Challenge accepted!" The words are out of his mouth before he can stop them.
Robin smirks. "Good. This is our last, then."
"Our last," he echoes, and then holds up the cigarette for a mock toast. "To our future success. It will be legen – wait for it –" They tap their cigarettes together, a brief flicker in the orange glow as the ends collide. "Dary!"
"Our future success," she echoes.
He knows, taking a slow drag from the cigarette, that it won't be her last one. She can never really give things up like that, never really fight the craving. Maybe she'll hold on for a week this time, maybe even a month or two, but sooner or later she'll sneak out to the roof and light one up under a starless New York sky.
But for now, they'll stand here and pretend.
"It's a new day, y'know?" she says, before stubbing out the lingering remains of cigarette on the edge of the steps.
If there's one thing Barney knows, it's that Robin Scherbatsky is the kind of woman that will always leave a broken man behind. Whether she means to or not. Whether she knows it or not.
He stares down into the cigarette. If he can give this up, maybe he can learn to give her up, too. "Maybe it is."
2. September 2010
"I'm scared," Lily admits and there's a slight tremble in her voice that shows the truth to her words. She slides her hand across her stomach, almost tentative in the touch as she tries the motion. She can do this, her body seems to say as she more firmly lets her hand sit on her abdomen, rubbing gently.
Barney doesn't know what he's doing here, sitting uncomfortably on Lily's couch with a cup of coffee - just take it Barney, I've got to learn to be the perfect hostess now that I'm gonna be a mom, dammit, so let me hostess! -– clutched between his hands. "Come on, Lil," he says, "You and Marshall have been wanting to have a couple short people running around for awhile. This was the plan. What's the big deal?"
"Wanting it is one thing, this time… We're actually going to do it. I saw the doppelganger, you know? It's actually happening. I mean, tonight we're going to – you know." She makes an awkward hand gesture, causing Barney to raise an eyebrow.
"Lily, no offense, but if *that's* how you're doing it, you're not going to get anything except a trip to the ER—"
"Hey! You know what I mean. Now we start *trying*." She glances down at the cigarette balanced between her fingers, eyeing it speculatively. "I'm going to have to give up smoking. Like, for actual-real this time," she says and there's a flicker of mourning in her eyes that quickly gets replaced with homicidal rage. Barney wonders if she's already practicing the hormonal bit. "Barney, I swear to god, if I get pregnant and then Marshall *ever* comes home from the office smelling like smoke when I can't have one, I'm gonna… I'm gonna…"
As her eyes descend into the realm of Crazy, Barney quickly holds up a hand, making a light shushing sound. "Shhh. Lily, it's okay. Really. Marshall's so whipped, I'm sure he'll give up in solidarity with you. And probably gain weight with you. And have food cravings. Hell, he'd probably do the whole 'labor pains' gross bit for you if you wanted."
Lily brightens. "You're right. He would, wouldn't he?"
He rolls his eyes. "He would. You two are disgusting," he says, with only amusement in his voice.
"Barney," she asks hesitantly, before glancing over at him. "I know you're pretty anti-baby… and anti-family… and anti-, well, anything normal. But are you going to be happy for us?"
A flight to San Francisco and she still doesn't know the answer. He smiles, shakes his head, and lightly knocks his knee into hers. "Lily, shut up and smoke your cigarette. All right?"
She breaks into a wide, beaming smile. "Oh, Barney." But she looks down at the pack in her hands instead. "One more, then never again."
"Maybe this one'll be my last one too," he says. It's said without any real intention of following through, but even the words are enough to make Lily's eyes brighten.
"You and me, we could smoke our last cigarettes right here. Then years from now, I could tell my daughter about how me and my friend Barney gave up cigarettes on the night she was conceived."
Barney snorts. "First off, no kid should know about the night they were conceived. That's just cruel, Lily. And secondly, what kid wants to hear dumb story like that from her mother? I mean, do you really want your kid to know that you were a smoker?"
"Okay, okay," Lily says and laughs. "I won't tell her. But you and me. Right now, Stinson. Light it up."
And a tiny smile lights up Lily's face, a secretive grin as she thumbs the lighter. That's how Barney knows it's real this time for her, this will be the last. The two of them sitting in the living room with the distant sound of traffic filtering through the window, half-empty beers sitting on the coffee table in front of them - it's not so bad, he figures. There's worse ways to have your last cigarette.
3. December 2014
His mom always hated the rain.
She'd always scowl out the kitchen window (when she was home at all, anyway) and close the blinds as if by ignoring it, she could make the weather itself go away.
Barney in no way ever felt that this paralleled her treatment of his various childhood questions. Never.
She liked August and September the best, lazy days of warm sun and fall leaves beginning to color. But he remembered watching the way the frown would darken her face and how she'd yank down on the cord to shutter them off from the world, and all he wanted was to be able to do that too. To shutter off the rain and make the entire day vanish back in time to the crisp autumn skies.
It shouldn't be raining.
Barney stands out in the grass, his sweatpants and t-shirt soaked through in the rain. He tries valiantly to get his lighter to ignite, to cast a small flame in the grey morning, but his effort is futile.
"What the hell are you doing, Barney?" Suddenly James is there, grabbing his arm and yanking the wet cigarette out from between his fingers. He watches dispassionately as his brother grinds it beneath his heel.
He tries to smile but he's pretty sure it comes out pathetic. "One more for the road."
He wants to focus on his brother, he really does, but a shadow trudging through the fog, grey hair matching the dreary day, suddenly comes into focus like a silhouette out of the photo he definitely does not have hidden away in his dresser.
"Barney," James tries again, his voice finally dragging Barney's gaze to meet his. He bumps his shoulder against Barney's and his voice softens. "Come on. Don't do this shit, not here. Not now."
"It wasn't supposed to be like this," Barney says without thinking, without letting himself think about the words slipping out. " She made it through the first time, even when no one thought – this time, she was supposed to…"
"I'm know, man. I know. But… look. Promise me, Barney. I need you to take care of yourself, okay? I couldn't… again…" James falters, his gaze dropping to the grass beneath their feet.
Barney clears his throat, nodding towards a pair of distant figures clasping hands – a smile, a knowing look shared, a moment of stillness between them. Sam Gibbs was speaking quietly to the older, grey-haired man in front of him. "We should go and… talk to our dads, I think."
"Our…" James pauses for a moment, his hand still resting on Barney's wrist, his grip suddenly tightening as shock laces his words. "Is that—"
"Looks like Uncle Jer—Dad," he corrects slowly. "Decided to show up."
"You're right, James. You're always right." He prods the soggy white remains of the cigarette with his toe. "Let's go, all right? Just… let's go."
"Okay." There's no hesitation as James comes forward and Barney's eyes close instinctively as he feels the warmth of his brothers arms curl around him. He doesn't bother to hide the tremors that spread through his shoulders, the sorrow whispering through his veins seems… a little farther away, for the moment.
He can wait to deal with the gaunt and distant eyes of his newly-found father , can wait to deal with watching James lean into his father with a sense of comfort that he's happy to see given to his brother even as the jealousy gnaws away, can wait to deal with the sympathetic eyes of his friends huddled together among his mother's mourners.
For now, it's just him and his brother, holding each other up to keep from falling. Just like the Stinson boys always have and always will.
It shouldn't be raining, he knows. Somewhere in his mind, he's still six years old, clutching desperately at his mother's leg as she frowns at the rain, her fingers raking gently through his hair, the smell of whiskey and smoke on her fingertips.
4. July 2016
There are thousands of files. Three thousand, seven hundred and fifty seven, if he's counted right – not that he can trust himself these days. All of them are printed out and neatly stacked in manila folders, as if murdering a few trees would be the last few drops of evil to really make it a GNB investigation.
Barney's never been a maudlin sort, but there's something to it when you start wondering if you're ever going to see the sun rise over the city again.
He's never made a mistake before. Not like this. If he really were just a bank guy, a facts-and-figures cruncher, it wouldn't be so terrible. It wouldn't be the end of the world, at least, in a quite possibly literal way.
After all, everyone still remembers what happened when Tommy in accounting CCed the wrong guy on an email and started an altercation in North Korea that the United States government still refuses to admit ever happened.
So now it's time to be 'evaluated', words that make his throat constrict. He's done this a hundred times to a hundred other employees, he just never quite expected his awesome to slip for a moment and allow him to be one the searing end of the interrogation lights.
He'd always sat there, arms crossed, never expecting to find himself on the other side.
A few boxes are half-packed, a desperate attempt to ward off some sick twist of fate. If he plans for the worst, plans how to leave the building before security bears down on him, prepares to leave this all behind, maybe whatever sadistic spirit that rules over Alanis Morissette-defined irony will ignore him this time.
He's about to put the photo cube in the box when he hesitates, letting the weight rest in his hand as his gaze is drawn from the box back to its traditional place on his desk. With a faint growl, he plops it back in its usual home, tapping the switch to turn it back on. The digital frame that alternates between three images: the whole gang at the bar with their glasses raised and smiles on their faces, one of him and his brother with their arms thrown over each other's shoulders and matching grins, and finally… him and Robin, leaning against each other as he whispers in her ear. Something Lily snapped once, years ago, and sent to him.
Barney doesn't know why he still has it displayed, seven years later. He doesn't like to think about it. Not even Feely, still stuffed away in his desk, has the audacity to ask.
He pulls open the second drawer on the left, feeling beneath the leather-bound address book and feels a faint brush of relief edge on his mind as he pulls out the battered, stuffed bear. He plops it down on the desk, offering the toy a cigarette.
His plastic eyes stare back silently.
"Don't quit on me now, Feely. I need at least one friend in my corner tonight."
He could tell the others. He could have a hell of a lot more friends in his corner than one life-weary stuffed bear, but what's there to say? 'Hey guys, I may end up dead in a tragic accident sometime this week, but don't worry about it'? 'So things aren't going so well at work – no, it's not about the sexual harassment suit'? Marshall had seen enough in his time at GNB to not want to know the things below the surface, but even he wouldn't understand the high-risk, high-reward game of Barney's job position. He could tell them. They'd laugh, they'd joke, and they wouldn't understand what it's like to sit and wait for the day.
And then the frame flashes back to the picture of him and Robin. Smiling face, back when they were younger and dumber and probably happier.
"Feely, let me tell ya… being legendary is hard work. Tireless effort, day after day, without reward…" He picks up Feely, holding him lightly against his chest. His eyes don't leave the picture until it fades into the next image.
Barney Stinson never thought he'd be the kind of guy to go out with regrets. He always expected it to be some ridiculous stunt that would end up with half of a page of The New York Times dedicated to it. A tragic stripper accident gone wrong, at worst. He expected a blaze of glory and a smile on his face and not a care in the world.
He never anticipated an image burned in his mind of her eyes, her sly smile, her skin hued by candlelight.
Tomorrow he could say something. He could do something monumentally stupid, something of Ted-stupid proportions. He could tell her he cares about her, that he thinks about her whenever the world is ready to come down on his head. He could do a lot of things with another day.
He could spend a day saying a lot of idiotic things that he would have never even considered saying a few years earlier. He could do a lot of things, if his life keeps marching onward. He could make changes.
But that's just wishful thinking, he knows. Counting on a tomorrow that may never come.
Three hours. He inhales, leans back, and waits for the dawn.
5. March 2017
The red glow of the cigarette is just another tiny pinprick of light against a horizon of neon in a thousand colors, the artificial oranges and reds and brilliant neon blues of a Las Vegas night.
He leans against the balcony railing, letting the ash vanish into nothingness as he gives the cigarette a flick. It's a familiar feeling, the paper against his fingertips, and it's comforting given that there's a strange new weight on his ring finger.
"Think they're going to forgive us?" Robin's voice is soft in his ear, her arms wrap around his bare waist, her hands coming to rest lightly against his stomach.
"Ted and Marshall will be thrilled. Lily…" He grins. "Lily will take absolute, complete, and horrible vengeance against us for the fact that she's not here."
Robin's quiet for a moment. "Maybe we shouldn't tell them. Throw some party when we get back, pretend like we're doing it for the first time."
"She'd know. Her Commitment-Radar probably already picked up the signal last night."
"Damn that woman and her powers."
"Want one?" He holds up the cigarette, the thin ribbon of smoke rising enticingly towards the sky.
She nudges his shoulder. "You know I quit."
"It's a special night."
He feels the warmth of her skin as she leans her cheek into his back, her grip tightening. It's perfect, he knows, and he thanks whatever GNB deity decided to send him on a business trip to Vegas without any oversight as he made the travel arrangements, the extra ticket just another expense on the account.
If life's never going to be the same, Barney figures he might as well go all the way. With a rueful grin, he takes another drag, letting the cigarette dangle between his fingers. "I think this is the last one."
"Mmmhmm. I've heard *that* one from you before. You love your post-coital cigs too much. And pre-coital. And coital. And—"
A tiny smile curves her lips upward and he can feel the grin as she presses against him. "You mean it, don't you?"
He takes a final drag and then extinguishes the cigarette on the balcony, letting it fall from his fingertips into the hotel courtyard below. "Maybe I've got a reason to take care of myself from now on." Since he is who he is, he can't help but turn around in her arms to face her, leaning forward and letting his lips barely graze hers. "Gotta keep my lungs in shape," he murmurs. "After all, I intend to be getting a lot of exercise in the future…"
Maybe Lily won't forgive them for spending ten minutes with an Elvis impersonator rather than standing up in front of all their friends. But he'll tell her, tell all of them, that he's done with smoking because he doesn't need it anymore, he's got a new addiction feeding his body and his fingers no longer itch for the feel of paper rolling between the pads, but to skim along soft skin and the curve of Robin's cheek, to touch the only thing he ever knew was truly real.
Their hands twine together as he leans into kiss her, fingers linking, and he can feel the press of metal as her new ring rubs against the skin on the side of his fingers.