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Eric didn’t feel like heading home right away after seeing Angela, partially because he had no interest in getting in his car while soaking wet. He walked away from the distant lights, heading down the beach in hopes of sorting out his thoughts while his clothes dried.
He didn’t pay attention to how long he walked. He looked up at some seagulls and realized the sun had risen at some point.
“Aaron?” a familiar voice questioned.
Eric looked over to see Frederick Grey, barefoot with his pants and sleeves rolled up, kneeling in some wet sand by the water. It took a moment for Eric to even register what he was looking at, let alone respond to him.
“It’s Eric.” That probably wasn’t the best response right then, but he wasn’t really thinking clearly, partially due to lack of sleep.
“Yes, of course,” the doctor replied as he stood up, “What are you doing out here at this hour?” He frowned for a moment, seeming to be deep in thought. “I didn’t ask you to come help me, did I?”
“No,” Eric rushed to assure him. He couldn’t help smiling at the doctor’s familiar absent-mindedness. “I was just out for a walk.”
“And a swim?” Grey gestured toward Eric’s clothes, which hadn’t been able to dry properly in the humidity of the beach.
Eric shrugged. “Bit of a long story.” He didn’t really want to explain his dating life to his boss. “So what are you doing out here?”
He held up a vial of seawater. “Just collecting some samples. I do it every week. It’s useful to do it at different times of the day, so I showed up early this morning.”
“Alright.” Eric figured this was more logical than most of the doctor’s observations. “Anything I can do to help?”
“Not today,” Grey answered, “I was just finishing up.” He corked the vial and gently packed it into a nearby box. “I’d be happy to have your help next time, though. Perhaps, you could collect an afternoon sample for me.”
“Sure,” Eric agreed, “No problem.” He yawned, the late night creeping up on him.
“You should get some sleep,” Grey told him, “Sleep deprivation is terrible for your health.”
Eric wondered how many nights the doctor actually slept properly, but he decided not to ask. “My car’s down the beach. I’ll just head back there.”
“You shouldn’t drive when tired.” Grey stood and looked at him. “I’ll drive you home. You can get your car later.”
“I couldn’t ask you to do that.”
“You’re not asking. I’m offering,” Grey pointed out, “Also, I am your boss, so you have to do as I say.”
Eric almost laughed at that. He wasn’t used to his boss actually taking control of a situation or being the reasonable one in a conversation. “Alright. If you’re sure it’s okay…”
“If I weren’t sure, I wouldn’t offer.”
“Maybe she made it back to the surface already,” Kai suggested as he swam beside Freya.
She had taken on a more human form and shook her head. “She’s still in the ocean. I can sense her. We just need to find her.”
Freya had shown up to help Kai escape the Glemorans, but not in time to keep from losing Aria. The pair had been searching for her for an hour with no luck. She was doing her best not to panic as they swam through the endless sea. She knew Aria would have trouble finding her way back to the beach of her own and she would be in serious danger if she transformed before she reached the shore.
“Can you not get more specific in your feeling?” he asked.
“It doesn’t work like that.” Freya looked around as she spoke, desperately searching for any sign of her friend. “Maybe, if we get closer, but not yet. I feel like she’s probably in this direction, but I have no idea how far.”
“We’ll find her,” he promised, “I know we will.”
“We have to,” Freya said.
Freya did her best not to become frustrated with the merman. She knew he was just trying to make her feel better, but his unfaltering optimism wasn’t actually helping. It also didn’t help that she already resented him for dragging Aria into this danger in the first place.
“Do you ever think about leaving her alone?” she asked, “After all, none of this would have happened if you were not pursuing her.”