Not only was Barney late to dinner, but he also found himself at the business end of five accusatory stares. Even the Double Chocolate Fudge ice cream hadn't eased anyone's ire. Only Grover seemed to be unimpressed by the situation. He calmly picked at his plate of mozzarella cheese ravioli, while Barney could hardly focus on his food at all. He was too busy trying to glare daggers at Beau across the table. The disapproval radiating from his Uncle Oz, who was seated next to him, and from Jet didn't exactly put him at ease either.
He caught Beau's eye once when he looked up to take a sip of iced tea, and Barney mouthed, Tattle tale. Beau rolled his eyes at his older brother's childish antics.
"So, I'm curious," Oz said, finally breaking the tension filled silence. "What were you thinking?"
Barney crossed his arms and prepared to defend himself against the angry mob that was his family. "I was thinking that she was hiding something, and I was right."
Lucy snorted. "Oh, really? And how do you know?"
"Because I'm good with people." Everyone except Grover spit out or choked on their food. Barney frowned in indignation. "I meant that I'm good at analyzing people, observing them, and figuring out how they think. That sort of thing. Jeez…"
"What makes you think she was hiding something?" Grover asked quietly.
Beau groaned. "Don't encourage him."
"Oh, let Grover talk, would you." Eve snapped. It wasn't often the youngest Todd sibling spoke up, and when he did, he was rarely ever heard. Grover's eyes bugged out, and he slouched over as everyone's attention suddenly turned to him.
Barney cleared his throat. "She got all shifty when I said we were with the police."
"About that," Oz said, oddly calm, "you know I could have you arrested for impersonating an officer, right?"
"This isn't your jurisdiction," was Barney's automatic reply, but upon seeing the storm clouds roll across Oz's eyes, he added: "Plus, arresting your own nephew wouldn't be very good PR for your recruiting campaign." Oz shot him a reluctant and grudging look before plucking ravioli from his plate. He held the skewered piece of pasta up to Barney's face.
"I want you to listen to me good." Oz waved his fork at his nephew seriously. "If you go anywhere near that hospital, I will arrest you, consequences be damned."
"I second that," Jet said. "I don't need you harassing my patients."
Barney felt his face start to heat up, feeling cornered by his relatives. "But you can't deny that I have a point -"
"I don't think it's the validity of your observation that's under fire," Jet interrupted, glancing up at Barney from over his cup of coffee. "It's your sense of ethics, or lack thereof in this case." The rest of the table was now trying their hardest to ignore the eldest Todd sibling's discomfort, and focusing very fixedly on eating their dinner.
Oz once again picked up his fork with the ravioli on the end, and used this as a pointer. "Yes, everyone has a point." He sighed and swung the fork to Beau, causing the ravioli to slide dangerously. "You were right to rat your brother out. There's no excuse for what he did." The fork was whipped back toward Barney. "You are also right, the girl is probably hiding something. But I have a newsflash for you, kid: everybody has skeletons in their closet. Dirty little secrets are a product of human nature.
"So I want you to take this knowledge -" Here, he paused and held the fork out for Barney to take. "- and I want you to chew on it." Barney wrapped his fingers around the utensil hesitantly. Oz waved his hand and prompted him again. "Chew on it."
"Ah, so this is a hands on metaphor." Barney grumbled and stuffed the ravioli into his mouth.
"Quiet, boy," Oz snapped. "Keep chewing, savor it. Now, go ahead and swallow." Barney did. "Do you feel that?"
Barney made a face and massaged his throat. "Indigestion?" The ravioli had gone down in a hard lump.
"No." Oz shook his head patronizingly, like he was speaking to a five year old instead of a twenty-five year old. "It's satisfaction. The quenching of hunger. Be satisfied with what you know, and accept what you don't."
"Fine!" Barney finally threw his hands up in defeat. On the inside though, the wheels of his mind were beginning to turn, trying to figure out another way to get back into that hospital. This time, without being caught.
Eve raised her eyebrowin amusement, eyeing Barney as he chewed his cheese ravioli thoughtfully. "You do remember that you're lactose intolerant?"
Barney paused mid-chew, and stifled a groan. "Yeeeah," he drew the word out unconvincingly. It was going to be a long night.
The night wrapped its cold fingers around her chest. She could feel her feet pounding through the dense forest. Wet leaves clung to her clothes, and errant branches clawed at her face. She could hear heavy breathing coming from ahead. With every gasp, the breathing grew closer and closer. She was catching up.
A shock of white flashed through the foliage. A nightgown splattered with mud and drenched in sweat. The girl's long brown hair whipped around her shoulders as she glanced behind her. She saw the girl's eyes, wide and panicked. With a sudden burst of energy, she reached out and then the girl was gone. The woods suddenly became deathly quiet.
She heard the snapping of a twig. She turned and looked down. The other girl was sprawled on the ground, panting and whimpering. A spot of red bloomed just above her heart, marring the white nightgown. Both girls stared at the growing blood stain in horror. Suddenly, the brunette's neck twisted grotesquely, and her eyes rolled back.
A bell chimed and the body disappeared.
"Excuse me, Miss?" She turned again and was greeted by a warmly lit room lined with dark wood panels. Smooth jazz danced in the air. An elderly man sporting a graying mustache and an evergreen tailored suit smiled at her. "Would you mind signing in, Miss?" She approached the desk and took a deep breath, immensely glad to be rid of the dark, cold forest. The air smelled of sea salt and steak.
She took the pen in her hand and pressed the tip lightly against the expensive looking parchment. Slowly, her hand danced across the page. She passed the pen and the guest book back to the man in the suit.
"Thank you, Miss-" he paused and consulted her signature, "Camilla Downing."
The name echoed and buzzed around inside her head.
That was it.
Eve covered a yawn with her hand and wandered into the Holloway's kitchen. Jet stood tapping his fingers against his empty mug, absently staring at the percolating coffee maker. He looked up when he heard the squeak of the floorboards under Eve's feet, and gave a small, sleepy smile. She smiled back and sat down at the table, deciding to wait for the coffee with her friend's husband.
Eventually, Jet spoke above the white noise of the coffee maker and said, "You know it's not going to work."
"Good morning to you too," she croaked. "What exactly are you talking about?" The coffee maker sputtered to a stop, and Jet filled his mug almost to the brim.
"I've known Barney almost as long as you've known Lucy. Granted, we're not as close as you two are, but I have learned that if Barney is anything, it's predictable." Eve stood and grabbed a cup from the cupboard above the sink. Jet held out the coffee pot for her.
Eve glanced at Jet over the coffee pot and raised an eyebrow. "You think he's predictable?"
Jet nodded. "The more you tell him not to do something, the more determined he is to do it. Examples: drinking, gambling, extreme mountain sports. I could go on." The last part he said almost as a question, but Eve didn't need to hear more.
They stood by each other leaning against the counter and sipping their morning coffee in silence, neither one verbally acknowledging the thoughts that they were both thinking. The closest either of them came to speaking what was on their minds was when Jet said, "I just hope your uncle knows what he's doing." and Eve agreed.
"You are here to set the record straight and apologize. Nothing more, nothing less." Oz made sure his nephew looked him in the eye when he said this. Barney sighed, like an exasperated teenager, but nodded his understanding. "All right. Go in there, and make it snappy."
The girl's hospital room was the same as he remembered it. Blue, sterile, and cold. She was awake this time, and propped up with three standard issue pillows. She startled when she heard the door open, but upon seeing who it was entering the room, she quickly reached for the remote and turned down the volume on the television.
"Barney, you're back." She smiled at him and twisted the remote in her hands.
"Yeah," he said and sat down in a chair opposite the bed. "Listen, there's something I need to tell you."
"Me too!" she said excitedly. "Do you mind if I go first?" Slightly taken aback by her eagerness, Barney nodded and motioned for her to continue. "I remembered my name!" she said all in one breath, and her smile grew even wider. Barney's jaw went slack, and he thought that his eyes must have become as big as saucers.
"You remembered your name?" he asked once he had found his voice again. She nodded and clasped her hands together excitedly. Barney leaned forward and glanced out the window in the door. Oz was standing on the other side of the hallway with his arms crossed, diligently keeping his eyes glued to his nephew. Barney folded his hands in his lap, and made a conscious effort to look more contrite. "So what is your name?"
She took a deep breath. "Camilla Downing," she said, pronouncing each syllable slowly and carefully.
"Camilla Downing," he repeated. "Well, that is great news. I'll run it through the system, and see if there are any missing person reports that match."
Camilla sank back into the pillows. She seemed to deflate with relief. "Thank you so much," she said and then yawned.
Barney smiled. "I think I'll be off now. You need your rest."
"You'll come back and visit, won't you?"
He hesitated, but only for a second. "Most definitely. I will see you soon, Camilla." He closed the door softly behind him, careful not to wake the girl who had already fallen asleep. In the hall, Oz stared him down with a stony face.
"Well, how did it go?"
Barney nodded innocently. "Pretty well, actually. Do you think we can get tacos before your next seminar? I'm starved."
Over the years, Oz had trained himself to be naturally suspicious of his oldest nephew. He knew how to spot the signs that meant Barney was up to no good, and there was something about this situation that was certainly worthy of suspicion. As they left the hospital together, Oz vowed to watch his nephew like a hawk, even if it meant sleeping with his eyes open.