“Where to next, boss?” Emily asked when the group was back on the highway.
“We are taking Miller to Albuquerque for a flight, then we will head back home for a bit,” Ethan answered.
“Home?” Emily asked.
“I need to review our case requests. We also need to finish the process of making Riley officially part of the team and getting her a trainer.”
“Alright, well, we’ll work on the wrap-up,” Emily said, and the two got to work.
After working for a few hours, Riley glanced over and realized Emily was looking up directions on her laptop. She was confused until Emily spoke.
“We have to backtrack after dropping you off,” Emily said bitterly.
“We are aware Emily,” Ethan replied, “She needs to get back on her book tour.”
“Yes, some of us have more to do than simply research and be assistant on cases.” Miller interrupted.
Ethan continued with a stern tone. “Not only that, but there are few places to stop on our route that are not small towns. A slightly longer drive with a nicer stop will be worth it.”
Emily huffed but dropped it. Riley was a bit sympathetic but also thought Emily was pushing it. She gave her a kind smile but stayed out of it. They could talk later. Hours later, Miller had been let off at the airport, and the group made their way to their hotel rooms.
“Alright, what’s wrong?” Riley asked when she and Emily were alone.
“I just can’t stand it!” Emily burst, and the dam broke. “He gives us some be a team pep talk that applies to everybody but her. She doesn’t carry equipment or help with it. She doesn’t help with the paperwork or research. She won’t do interviews. She just shows up on some cases, insults us, and then says if she senses a spirit. She can’t even be arsed to drive with us.” Emily lost steam and fell onto one of the beds.
“Can I ask you something?”
“Miller aside, do you like your job? Are you overworked, or does Ethan put too much pressure on you?”
“I love my job, and yeah, I am fine with the work I do. I mean, don’t get me wrong, you’ll be a huge help, but I would have been okay without for at least a little while longer.”
“Then don’t worry about it. Miller will either step up or continue to be an outsider, which I am sure will only harm her in the end, not you. You can only control you in this situation.” Riley had more to say but didn’t think Emily was in the right place to hear it. Her observations of Miller’s relationship with the team had been troubling on all sides.
Emily shrugged. “Yeah, you’re right, but it still frustrates me.”
“Is there anything else?”
“She just got at one of my insecurities. I don’t want to talk about it right now.”
“Okay, well, I saw a pool when we were checking in.”
“Way ahead of you!” Emily exclaimed, jumping up and grabbing her swimsuit.
Riley smiled as her roommate headed to the bathroom. She began to dig through her suitcase to find her own suit. When Riley took her turn to change, she heard Emily on the phone and assumed she was inviting the others to join. The two headed out and were happy to see that only a few other people were in the pool area. Emily barely took her cover off before diving in, and Riley sat in one of the chairs to read.
It didn’t take long for the rest to join, confirming Riley’s suspicions. Mike and Josh jumped right in with Emily while Gabrielle sat on the edge. Ethan, however, made his way over to Riley.
“I suspect I owe you my thanks,” he said by way of greeting.
“I have not gotten another earful about Miller from Emily.”
Riley nodded in understanding. “I talked to her a bit; I don’t know how much I helped, though. There’s obviously a lot more going on there than I could possibly get from one conversation. I hope I was able to do a little.”
“It is not my place to tell, but Miller has a habit of tweaking an insecurity of Emily’s. Not having supernatural abilities makes Emily doubt herself sometimes. She worries I will see her as replaceable. I am the man in charge and extremely knowledgeable on the subject of the supernatural, so my lack of powers means little. Mike, while helpful, ultimately does not care much about the job, so it would not bother him if I found someone else. This job means the world to Emily, however. She was raised in it, her family has been paranormal investigators for a few generations. To lose it would crush her. So she worries, and Miller does not help.”
“Emily is very skilled,” Riley protested.
“I know that. Even Miller does, which is likely why she uses that particular tactic to upset Emily. In all honesty, and as much as I hate to do this with team members, I consider Emily the most irreplaceable to me. However baseless the doubts are, they do exist and make them no less real for her.”
“I am surprised you told me this.”
“I am too,” Ethan admitted, “Emily seems to have attached to you rather quickly and in a way she has not with the rest of the team. I do not want to give away too much personal information, but if I can help you to help her, I will gladly do so.” Ethan paused. “You are also startlingly easy to talk to.”
“Startling, is it?”
Ethan smirked. “I did not mean it like that. There are few I talk to outside of work, and despite not knowing you for long, I find when we do talk, the words just flow.”
“You are not the first to say so, although it seems weird to me. I don’t feel comfortable around most people myself, so it’s always a bit alarming when they find me easy to talk to. Is it connected to the empath thing?”
Riley watched the group for a bit. “Miller was not surprised to see me, it was an act.”
“That was my suspicion as well.”
“Can I tell you something that is likely to upset you?”
“You are part of the problem as well.”
Ethan leaned back in his chair and sighed. “I have begun to realize that.”
“I hardly knew all of you before it was clear that you don’t really see her as part of the team. You separate her from them both in the ways you favor and isolate her.”
Ethan’s brows furrowed. “Your point has merit.”
Riley nodded, sensing the conversation was over. Soon after, Emily and Mike made their way over. “You two are not sitting here the whole time. Get up and join us. Think of it as team-building if you must,” Emily said.
Riley laughed and stood covering her book with her bathing suit cover. Riley missed Mike’s quick blush and exit, but it caused both Ethan and Emily to pull a face.
When Riley walked away, Emily turned to Ethan, “Sorry to break up your alone time, but now you can enjoy her in a bikini.” Emily laughed and then quickly made her escape.
Ethan scowled however, he still joined them. He chose to stay more to the side and not actively involve himself with the rowdy group. Gabrielle was forced to abandon her own attempts to stay separate when Josh pulled her in.
Gabrielle finally spoke up as the group started to calm. “Riley should get into a doctor soon.”
“Why?” Riley asked, confused.
“Seriously?” Emily asked, then shook her head. “Those bruises look pretty bad.”
Riley looked at her body, further confused. “Oh,” She acknowledged, “They don’t hurt, though.”
“That may be the case, but you are dealing with a lot that you have never experienced before. Your mind may just be pushing pain to the back,” Ethan replied. “It would be better to make sure there is no significant damage.” After a pause, Ethan added, “Please.”
Riley shrugged after a beat. She did not think it was needed, but the group would likely feel better, and Ethan seemed especially concerned. “I’ll have to see a new doctor anyway.”
After that, Emily attempted to break the tension by getting everyone swimming and enjoying themselves. Ethan sat on the side, and Riley moved over to join him.
“Thank you for agreeing,” he told her when she swam up.
“Thank you for asking,” Riley returned.
“Ethan, the boss does not ask often.”
“Ethan, the normal guy doesn’t seem to be too much of a fan of the concept either.”
Ethan fought a smirk. “Did you join me with the intention of insulting me?”
“A bit,” Riley said with a smile. “Why aren’t you joining the fun?”
“Not my definition of fun.”
“Now that is an insult, madam.”
Riley gave a full belly laugh at this. “Alright, enjoy your definition of fun,” she said, swimming away. Ethan watched, satisfied with himself.
Eventually, the group got tired, but the release of tension had helped them all. They all showered and changed before finding a close local place to eat. Ethan was glad to see the team enjoying themselves after what had been a tough case, especially with the long drive ahead of them. He was also glad to see that Riley seemed to be improving. There was still sadness in her eyes and a bit of a cloud around her, but she was already showing marked improvement. Ethan also knew this was further proof of how strong but unstable her powers were.
When they got back to the hotel, Riley took some time to call Jack. They had a tearful conversation but confirmed that while they missed each other, they still felt it was for the best. The team woke up early the next morning and got back on the road. Emily almost instantly fell right back asleep.
“How are you feeling this morning, Riley?” Ethan asked.
“Much better. There is still pain and longing, but it is easier to ignore. The numbness seems to have almost entirely passed too, but I feel myself slipping into it sometimes. Yesterday helped.”
“I am glad.”
“I will admit I am a bit nervous about the tests.”
“You do not need to be. They are nothing painful or overly invasive. We just need to get a read on how strong your abilities are. The problem being that it is not an exact science with empaths and your abilities will develop more over time. We need to get you a trainer as soon as possible.”
“You are concerned?”
“I have an idea who I might call, but yes, I am always concerned when I discover someone with untrained paranormal powers. It can be dangerous for them and the people around them.”
“Alright,” Riley said and settled more into her seat to read. Ethan could tell she had something on her mind.
“Your other empath?”
“Not now,” Ethan said quickly, “I apologize, but I cannot discuss it now. I will someday.”
Riley could respect that, so did not push. She turned back to her reading. The drive back to Washington was a hard one. They drove long hours and rested as little as possible. Ethan was in a hurry to get home so they could get some things done and then get back to their cases.
When they got to the city, they pulled in front of an office building. It was larger than Riley expected, but not overly so. Inside was mostly uninhabited. While there were people that stayed in the office full time, the bulk of the team worked on cases. Emily explained that other than the core team, there were a few people who helped with the paperwork and research, but otherwise, it was just them.
Emily uploaded all the data from the last cases to sort later and put in an order for an upgraded laptop for Riley. While she did that, the team focused on bringing in all of the equipment. It was shifting from evening to night, so they just focused on getting stuff inside and would organize it later.
“When you get to your apartment, there should be some furniture for your bedroom,” Ethan informed Riley. “You can replace it at any time, but we did not want you moving into an empty room.”
“It is not a bother. It is not often we uproot people, but when we do, we try to make the transition as smooth as possible.”
“I am glad I will be living with Emily. I think adding alone in a new city on top of everything else might have been too much.”
“She is glad to. As I said, she likes you, and I do not think she has even opened the door to her second room.”
“You weren’t kidding about how little time you all are home.”
“No, I was not. I am trying to get us a larger budget so we might be able to fly to more cases. It would not only help us to take on more, but make it easier for us to come back here to do the work that requires we be in the office.”
“Do you think it will happen?”
“I do, actually. Due to the size of America, it simply makes more sense for us to have better means of travel. Other divisions are able to take on larger caseloads and do more non-case related research. Our branch would be more efficient and productive if we could travel faster. It is just a matter of convincing our backers that there will be monetary gain for them.”
“I think this is the first time I have really thought about the fact that there are other branches.”
Ethan nodded. “We have teams in the UK, Western Europe, Russia, and Japan. We are also opening one in Australia, and trying to see about South America. Much like a franchise, we are each our own, but we share many backers, and by having one name it helps to build a certain image, and,” Ethan cringed, “brand.”
Riley laughed at the face he made. “It is a business, Ethan.”
“Yes, I just prefer not to think of that aspect of it, which is one of the benefits as well. Many of those types of things are handled by other people, although no one can move unilaterally ahead with anything that stands to impact the whole.”
“That makes sense. The different branches part is a bummer though, I was hoping to one day go on cases overseas.”
“You will. I made certain you had a passport for a reason. It is not frequent, but we do help out when other branches are overwhelmed, just as they sometimes come here to help us. I have gone back several times for work.”
“Was Emily from the UK branch as well?”
“Unofficially. Her parents were instrumental in helping to set up that branch, but neither they nor she ever signed on full time. She did, however, work a few cases with me, and I was impressed. Between that and our personal relationship, it made sense to offer her a job, and she jumped at the chance.”
“You didn’t want to stay in England?”
“No, and there is no real reason. I wanted a change, I had no real ties, and I knew I would be in charge here. Nothing exciting or dramatic.”
“Did you know Jack before you moved here?”
“Yes. I have been working with him since I first started, which I did so at an exceptionally young age.”
“There’s that ego,” Riley said with a smile.
Emily walked into the room. “Boss, I am exhausted, plus we need to show Riley her new home. Can we please call it a night?”
“Is everything at least out of the vans?”
“Then it would be a good idea. Perhaps we should come over and help with the initial unpacking?”
“I don’t want to put anyone out,” Riley replied quickly.
“Nonsense, we can make a night of it,” Emily said. “Everyone can come over for some pizza, drinking, and hanging out. Helping you won’t even feel like work.”
“You do realize you should actually ask your roommate at some point,” Ethan said sternly.
“Right,” Emily cringed a little. “Do you mind, love?”
“As long as no one else does, then I think it sounds lovely,” Riley agreed.
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