Slowly the team filtered out of the office. Gabrielle apologized that she would not be able to help with the apartment but wished Riley well and expressed happiness she joined. Riley wasn’t offended, in fact, she was a little surprised that Josh and Mike seemed so excited. They left with Emily while Ethan finished up a few more things at the office then took Riley to the apartment. It was cute and would be good for the two women. After living in such a small studio, the extra space was nice. Her boxes were all stacked in the living room, and she and Ethan began to move them into the bedroom.
Not long after, the others joined with pizza and a variety of drinks. The group ate a few slices then got to work. Riley was actually glad she had so little in her life when it didn’t take long for them to unpack most of it. The longest job would be her books, and she was fine working on it slowly and on her own.
Once everything else was up, the group relaxed in the living room and got to know each other better. Both the cases and the drive had been hard on everybody, so a chance to unwind was exactly what they needed. She knew why Emily had joined Ethan and asked how the rest of them got into it.
“I got into the supernatural basically from a young age,” Josh jumped in. “I didn’t show any signs of being a medium or anything, but they sensed a spiritual gift in me and started training me to do cleansing of spirits and other types of protections. It was interesting, although it made for a rough childhood at times. Spirits tend to be attracted to that energy, and training brings it out a lot.”
“What about you, Mike, especially since you hate all this so much?”
“I don’t hate it exactly,” he defended, “I am just afraid of it. I didn’t believe until The Event happened, and then all of a sudden, I was thrown into a world that only existed for me in horror movies when I took the internship. I have adjusted a lot actually, I’d have quit if I hadn’t. Just not comfortable.”
“To answer your question, we reached out to a film school asking for someone to help us with our equipment,” Ethan said. “Mike applied, it was supposed to be a short job.”
“Ended up going on a case with them and realized they could probably use someone with AV experience on full time. Things change on cases, and they aren’t always able to adjust to them the best. I may not be the perfect person for the job, but I like it, and they seem to like me.”
“Of course we do!” Josh and Emily both said in stereo.
“We are hoping he does not leave,” Ethan added, then topped off his and Mike’s drinks for a toast.
After a few drinks and opening up, Riley seemed to notice that they each shared a thread of darkness, it wasn’t easy to see, but it was just below the surface so that she could sense it in them without much effort – although she assumed the drinks had made her reach more. She noticed that even Mike had it, which she observed.
“It’s part of the reason we want to keep him around so much,” Josh laughed. “No guarantee that if we need to replace him, we’d find someone who would fit as well.”
“Why do you think it is, that people attracted to this job tend to have that?” Riley asked.
“I think the nature of the job itself calls to certain people,” Ethan answered. “I also think it might have something to do with the fact that a certain level of darkness is required to create spirits. Happy, generally satisfied people, tend to just move on. It makes sense that those that have experienced their own darkness in life would have the most success at it.”
“Exceptions to every rule though,” Josh added. “Outside of work, Gabrielle is nothing like you’d expect. It’s not to say she hasn’t experienced her own gloominess, but when people find out what I do, they don’t blink; when they find out about her though, it typically shocks them.”
“I just think she hides it better,” Emily replied. “The rest of us are full-time and don’t have to interact much with others, so why bother?”
“There is also the unfortunate fact that spiritual abilities and being in this job can be a drain,” Josh said a little solemnly. “It’s worth it, but you’ll notice it more now. It’s one thing to be aware of this world and the abilities you have, it’s another to experience it on a regular basis. In time you adjust, and it stops being so hard, but it will mark you at least a little.” Josh paused and took a deep drink. “But the reverse is that we also help a group that needs it, and make sure that people and the spiritual world remain in balance and don’t harm each other, especially after the barrier being disrupted by The Event. Every job comes with bad and good, this one is just a bit different.”
“If anything being slightly messed up in some way will help you with that,” Emily agreed.
“And this took a turn,” Ethan said.
“I appreciate the honesty,” Riley said. “It will help me to face the coming challenges. But I do agree, let’s turn it back.”
After that, they kept the topics lighter, and Riley got to sit back and mostly watch them interact. It was the longest she had been around other people without feeling overwhelmed in longer than she could remember. This might work, she thought to herself.
The next morning Ethan escorted Riley back to the office and showed her his work library. Riley was completely taken aback by how impressive it was, and she could practically feel her fingers itching to reach out and touch every book there. Ethan let a chuckle slip as he observed her and promised to be by later. He also felt his attraction grow even more, which he pushed away.
Riley was deeply absorbed in a book when she felt something pushing on her. Almost like when Abigail had been trying to connect, but not exactly. It was more like a physical force attempting to work its way into her personal bubble. Without meaning to, she pushed back before whipping around and seeing a man around Jack’s age standing at the door.
“That quickly?” he questioned. His accent similar to both Ethan and Emily’s but slightly different. He was shorter for a man, although not small, and his hair was turning grey. His skin was dark, but his eyes were even darker, and yet held a certain softness to them. His face was serious, but it seemed as though he was trying to keep it that way.
“What did you do? Who are you?”
“Just a little test. Empaths can project their aura a little and feel those around them. We can also sense other empaths. With some training, you’ll be able to do it too.”
“You’re an empath?”
“The name is Timm, I have known Ethan for many years and your guardian Jack too. Although the latter to a lesser extent.”
“You couldn’t have introduced yourself first?” Riley asked, curious and realizing this was likely the man to train her but a bit upset at the way he introduced himself, so to speak.
“I could have, but I wanted to observe at least a little without you being prepared. I also watched the footage of you from both cases, although a lot of context is lacking, it did help me a little. You are going to be rather powerful Riley.”
“We barely know if I am an empath or not.”
“We know for certain. Self-doubts I understand, but I know my work and my work is other empaths.”
“Oh,” Riley said softly. “What do you mean I am going to be powerful?”
“Could be that you reached your peak early, but I somehow doubt that.” He paced around a bit and began to push a little more at Riley and felt her push back somewhat naturally. “The more likely scenario is that your strength hasn’t even begun to fully form.”
“You are joking?” Riley asked.
“You don’t have to take my word for it, but remember I know my job.”
Riley sighed deeply and looked at the books in front of her, thinking over what he said and how much it bothered her that this was just the start. “Is there any way to slow it down?”
“There is, but it won’t be healthy and would likely be harder than simply training you to deal with your abilities. Your best bet is to embrace the gift, start training, use it for however long, then become a trainer yourself. It is what the overwhelming majority of us do. The proverbial train left the station the moment you stepped foot in that library, possibly even before. Even as isolated as you were, it would have likely happened anyway, given your strength.”
“Why didn’t Jack ever try to find out, or get me a trainer?” Riley mostly asked herself, more confused than ever.
“It is likely he feared you fully coming into your powers. Whatever he noticed about you, he noticed it would be strong. You were young, adjusting to an entirely new life, and struggling with what of your abilities were already out, even with them locked down as they were. He also didn’t want to lose you. He knew well enough to know that once empaths are outed, they very rarely have much in the way of peace. We are rare, and some consider us especially dangerous. It is one thing to sense spirits, it’s another entirely to be able to feel their, and the living’s, emotions and then to be able to use that. If Jack is still the man I think he is, which we both know him well enough to know that is likely, he was only suspicious and more afraid of the outcome of it being confirmed.” Timm paused. “Why did you never ask him?”
“I was afraid of the answer too, I guess.”
“There you go.”
“So now what?”
“Now, you and I will do some tests so I can get an idea of your baseline. Then I will start teaching you how to control things. How to more easily differentiate between your emotions and those around you. How to not let other people’s emotions influence you. How to know when you are reaching, stop it, or reach further. There is a lot to teach you, and I will be doing so for many years to come.”
“At first. Normally I have more than one empath that I train at a time, but given the delay in your powers presenting and the strength they already are at, you are going to take a lot of focus and probably a lot out of me.”
“That doesn’t sound disconcerting at all.”
Timm chuckled a little. “That is the nature of things. The training will be emotionally taxing on both of us, but as you need to be able to work and remain in control, it will be incumbent upon me to take on more of the burden. Also, just the stronger the empaths involved in training, the more trying it can be. I am rather powerful, and you will put me to shame in no time.”
“You sound excited?” Riley observed.
“I like a challenge, and I like making a difference. Being your trainer will provide me with both opportunities. What’s more, is I get to help someone two friends care about and who has needed it for a rather long time, from what I can sense. I do not blame Jack for his fears or you for your avoidance, but it’s happened a bit longer than is entirely acceptable.” Timm grabbed a book from the shelves and let Riley process everything she had been told. “I also have some students in the states, while you are off helping spirits, I can check in with them. The hardest part of being a trainer is saying goodbye.” The last part said quietly.
“You like all your students that much?” Riley said, a bit shocked by how loud his sadness seemed.
“No, some of them I could barely tolerate, but you will see as time goes. We will bond whether we like each other or not.” He looked at her pensive expression. “There are some though that I consider our closeness not just a product of the training.”
“When do we start?”
“That a girl. We already have technically, but right now, if you want to come with me to my office, I want to test the limitations of how far you can reach.”
Riley followed the man to his office, both of them silent while she was still processing everything he had said. It had been an odd first meeting, to say the least, she wasn’t entirely sure how she felt about him or the introduction. She did appreciate how honest he was though, and decided to focus on that. They entered an office a few doors down from Ethan’s. She noticed he was not fully set up yet and commented.
“Sadly, we don’t have time to wait for me to get comfortable. Please sit on the couch.” He gestured towards it and brought a chair over. “I am going to project to you as I did in Ethan’s library, but this time instead of pushing back, I want you to grab on.”
“How did you push back?”
“It’s hard to explain.”
“As is grabbing on, but you can trust your instincts and let them guide you. Once you’ve latched on, you will feel a slight pulling, just go with it and keep doing so until you feel entirely unable. Do not release too early.”
Ethan had watched the two of them pass, and the dread he had been feeling since Emily mentioned Sarah began weighing on him even more heavily. When they still hadn’t left Timm’s office after an hour, he realized he would not be getting anything done until he knew what was happening. He sat in a chair in the hallway, trying to remain stoic, but all he wanted to do was drop his head in his hands.
When Timm walked out, Ethan jerked a little.
“I could feel your anxiety through the damn door, Ethan.”
“I am sorry, how did it go.”
“I wasn’t able to figure out how strong she is.”
“Because she’s too powerful for me to keep up. Once she reached far enough, I had to end the test. It was getting risky for the both of us.”
Ethan sighed heavily and slumped in his chair. “I was worried about that. I had hoped deep down that I was wrong, and she would not require a trainer as powerful as you.” The thought ended.
“She is also incredibly open to learning and willing to work with me and others to ensure that she gets a hold of this. It would be extremely unfair of you to shut her down and assume that she will be like Sarah simply because of your own insecurities and fears, Ethan.”
“I have heard this before, but it is not just my insecurities Timm. If she is that powerful, she will always be at risk.”
“That will remain the case with or without you. She and I can leave and find someone else who is willing to fight for her and with her if that is what you prefer.”
Ethan huffed at that, a stronger twist in his gut. “Of course not.”
“Then get yourself together and acknowledge how lucky you are.”
“What do you mean?”
Timm simply rolled his eyes and walked back into the office. Riley was still asleep on the couch, completely drained from their test and the experiences since first agreeing to help at the library. It might take Ethan a bit, but he would eventually sort out why he was lucky.
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