“What did Timm have to say?” Gabrielle asked when Riley joined the group again.
“Nothing all that different from what we already established. I shouldn’t be alone, and my best bet is the shade being defeated. He did say he wanted everything Emily was researching, both on the shade and the case itself. When I said the shade would not give up much, he insisted it didn’t matter, he wanted it all and as she was getting it.”
“I can add him to the group so that he gets a live update,” Emily said.
Gabrielle studied Riley carefully. “What else did he say?”
Riley sighed but answered, “To have faith in myself and the team.”
Gabrielle could tell Riley was still holding something back but let it go for the time.
“Good advice but vague,” Emily said. “One of these days, the wise people that guide this little ragtag team will have to give us something solid like, look behind the bookshelf, or the answer to all your problems is on this website.”
Emily and Riley smiled at each other, and Riley gave Emily a brief nod. She was glad the storm had passed and understood the silent apology. Emily was emotional and prone to outbursts, she had warned Riley about that. Riley could also tell that she did work on trying to contain her emotions, and Riley knew how stressed Emily had already been at the start of the case. The insecurity of being a failure combined with the fear of something happening to the team had overridden Emily’s better sense. Riley also knew that Miller was right, the shade was influencing the worst parts not just of Riley but the entire group.
“Well, I will continue to research both what I can of the shade and Grace. She is not the answer, but maybe she will fill in a few missing pieces. She was the first, after all, so I can at least get an idea of a timeline,” Emily added.
“Maybe he will mess up if I let him mess with me a little,” Riley suggested.
They all stiffened except Ethan, who gave a quick and definite, “No. Even if that were a possibility, it is not worth the risk, and he likely heard you suggest it anyway. He will mess with you regardless, we do not need to bait him.”
Riley lifted her hands in surrender. “I was not too keen on the idea myself, I just wanted to throw it out there.”
Ethan studied Riley carefully. He did not want to hover and continue to make her doubt his faith in her, but he was willing to do so if he felt it was needed. He seemed fairly confident she was telling the truth, though, and nodded before moving off to talk to Miller.
Riley sighed and turned away. Once again, he was putting distance between them. “I think I would like to go to my room and rest a little if that’s okay?” Riley asked, and Ethan agreed. “I might also start doing some research on the dream unless you need me Emily?”
“Nope, there isn’t a lot still,” Emily said and then winced a little. “And that’s fine,” She quickly added.
“Knowing more about your abilities will always be helpful,” Gabrielle said, stepping in to help out Emily. “Remember though, it wasn’t really a dream, so if you focus too heavily on that, it will not help your research. It is more like viewing a memory.”
Ethan again nodded but remained silent, much to Riley’s disappointment.
“I’ll take you,” Mike said
“If anything happens to her, quickly get us,” Ethan said, handing Mike a walkie-talkie. “Even if you are not certain it is anything. No risk-taking.”
Mike agreed, and the two set off. When Riley got to the room, she left to the bathroom to change quickly. Then sat on the bed with a few books and her laptops.
“Come sit, you will bother me more hovering over there than sitting with me,” Riley said after a few moments of Mike watching her from a chair across the room.
“What’s wrong?” Mike finally asked.
“I would think that would be fairly obvious.”
“I know you are upset about the case, but there’s something else.”
“Ethan and Miller are closer than I thought. In fact, I was convinced he mostly just tolerated her.”
“It doesn’t seem that way.”
“Or everything with this case and the last is throwing off your perception?” Mike suggested.
“Possibly,” Riley said and continued to do some research.
After about half an hour of watching and building himself up, Mike finally added. “Maybe you aren’t meant for Ethan.”
Riley paused, and her breath caught a little in her throat. She thought about Miller and Ethan in the van and nodded. “Maybe not.”
Mike felt guilty for the suggestion, especially knowing his reasoning was a bit selfish. “Sorry,” he said, shoving her shoulder with his.
“It’s fine.” She shoved him back, smiling a little.
“That’s what we like to see. Now get to work,” he said in mock sternness.
After a few hours and mostly discovering that being able to join spirits in their dreams or memories was something advanced empaths and mediums could do, Riley was getting bored, and the events of the day were catching up.
“I am going to get some sleep. I’m pretty beat.”
“Understandable,” Mike said, preparing to move when Riley’s hand caught his arm.
“Stay close, I don’t feel safe.”
Mike nodded sadly and sat back down by her. When she fell asleep, he took a moment to watch her. She was amazing, but he was being a jerk and a bit dumb, he chastised himself in his mind. Mike watched over her until Emily came to the room.
“Is she asleep?” Emily asked, concerned.
“Yeah, passed out completely.”
Emily watched the way Mike watched Riley and sighed. She wasn’t going to allow herself to let this get ugly. “I have it from here, Ethan is waiting in the hall.”
Mike nodded and met Ethan outside. “How is she?”
“Not good. I think she might even be a bit worse than she admitted to me.”
“Did you two talk about anything?”
“Not anything you need to know, or that I am willing to share,” Mike said firmly, then walked to the room the men were sharing.
Ethan sighed and glanced at the door, he wanted to talk to her but knew now was not the time, and followed Mike in to catch a bit of sleep himself.
Riley blinked the next morning as the sun started to peek through the curtains. Her sleep had not been a restful one. The spirits had gotten active again, constantly at her through the night, wanting her attention and help. Riley knew something must have happened during the night to restart them and wanted to get to the base quickly. She got up and quickly went through her morning routine and looked at Emily. The younger woman likely needed more sleep, so Riley pulled out her walkie.
“Hey base, this is Riley. I am ready to come, but Emily is pretty tired,” she said as quietly as she could.
“Alright, Gabrielle is ready to call it. I will walk her up there and you back,” Josh’s chipper voice replied. Riley was impressed he could keep it together so well, but knew he must be hiding the same sad emotions they all were.
Emily groaned and rolled towards Riley but did not open her eyes. “Do I need to get up?”
“No, go back to sleep.”
Emily didn’t answer, only pulling the covers over her head which made Riley smile a bit. She waited by the door, so Josh and Gabrielle would not need to knock. When they arrived, Gabrielle looked beat, and Riley gave her a sympathetic smile before walking back with Josh.
“How did you sleep?” Josh asked.
“Pretty terribly. Did something happen last night?”
“No,” Miller answered for Josh when they arrived. “What was keeping you up?”
“The spirits got rather active again.”
“They might just be having a hard time dealing, especially as they feel like they might have a chance with you here. Like people, spirits can have difficulties controlling their emotions,” Miller replied.
“Should I include it in the report?”
“Yes, better to have a note in case something does happen,” Ethan replied.
“Could you get a bead on anything specific they might have been trying to communicate?” Miller asked.
“Sadly no, they are too panicky. I can’t even really discern individuals other than Grace, which makes me feel horrible.”
“It happens a lot with clusters of spirits.”
“I still feel guilty.”
Miller sighed but tried to reassure her. “Because it is in your nature Riley. I know that it’s hard, but you can’t let it distract you from doing what you can to help them. By the time you worked through sorting each one, the shade could claim any one of us or them. Focus on Grace and him as individuals and them as a group.”
“I don’t like thinking of them as not individuals.”
“I don’t either, but it becomes necessary sometimes.”
“I wonder if you are naturally jaded or just been doing this for too long.”
“Both,” Miller answered honestly.
Ethan had been watching the exchange carefully, ready to step in. They both got close to the line, but neither seemed to think the other had crossed it.
“Fair enough,” Riley admitted, “You’ve been doing this for much longer than I have, but my nature is unlikely to change.”
“And your nature is fundamentally different than mine, as are your abilities. However, my advice is still sound. You need to focus on what is helpful, even if that means shutting up your empathetic nature.”
Riley sighed and thought for a moment, she didn’t verbally answer but nodded and turned to the monitors. Both Miller and Ethan understood this was the best they would get. Riley understood Miller’s point but wasn’t too thrilled with it nor the spike in her jealousy at realizing that Ethan and Miller must have been together in the base for a while.
“Oh, little empath, I like you like this. Angry, insecure, jealous,” the shade whispered in her head.
“Now, that’s no way to treat your new friend.”
“We aren’t friends, go the hell away.”
“That’s fine, you need a little more time anyway. I assure you when I am ready for you, I won’t care how much you tell me.”
“Riley?” Ethan asked.
Riley noticed she was pulling on her hair a little through her clenched hands and tried to relax them. “I’m fine, he’s just an asshole.” Ethan raised a brow at that. “Taunting me,” she clarified. “He is done for now.”
“Hey Riley, long time no see.” The group heard Daniel’s joking voice from the door.
“What did Timm have to say?” Gabrielle asked when Riley joined the group again.