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Dacy stayed fairly quiet on the ride from the hospital to Solomon's facility. She wasn't quite sure if Trick hadn't kicked her out again because he'd been distracted, or because he wasn't angry anymore. She had taken a bit of a risk, coming back, and wished she knew where she stood. Starting with, why he'd gotten so angry in the first place! As far as she knew, she hadn't done anything to make him mad. Part of her wondered why she'd even come back. Generally speaking, she didn't appreciate being treated poorly, and usually didn't hang around long if someone didn't treat her well. The part of her that wondered that, though, was answered by the part of her that knew. Somewhere, at some point, she'd gone past mere attraction to Trick. He clearly was trying to keep her at a distance, but as she'd come to know him, his strength of character, decency, sense of humor, and integrity had reinforced her initial attraction to his good looks and charm. The depth of her reaction to the danger Trick had been in had revealed to her how very much she DID care. She wasn't sure there were any feelings on his side, at all; she wished she knew there were. It was something she wasn't used to. Men frequently let her know how attractive they thought she was. She'd learned how to get attention and manage attention that she'd attracted. She'd never faced a situation where she couldn't get that attention before. She wasn't sure what, if anything, would come from this situation, but she decided, for now, it didn't matter. It didn't change her feelings about Trick one bit. She sighed. Unfortunately.


Trick had stayed very quiet, too, on the ride over. He seemed to be full of introspection and thoughts Dacy would just as soon not interrupt. She wasn't about to call attention to her presence again until she was more sure of the reaction she would get. The big man seemed almost dazed with the flurry of activity involved in getting him settled, reacting to almost nothing, until Marcus Solomon rejoined them in the room.

            "So! Your surgery is scheduled for first thing in the morning, don't eat or drink anything after 10. Any questions?" Marcus grinned.

            Trick snapped to attention. "Yes! Lots! But every time I've tried to ask them, something else has come up, and I lose my chance! I don't know what happened after I got knocked out in the warehouse! What happened? Did you get the vase back? What happened to Mac?"

            "Who is Mac?" Solomon asked, frowning.

            "Mac. He's another detective. I have no idea why he was there."
            Dacy snapped her fingers. "Scott McIntyre! I knew I knew that name. But we call him Mac! Yes! I remember him now."

            "Right. Scott's his first name, but he goes by Mac. Anyway, what happened to him?" Trick asked them.

            "He's dead, I'm afraid, Mr. Dacy. We know nothing more. We were hoping you could tell us what happened," Solomon replied gravely.

            Trick looked down for a moment, his face saddened. "I was sitting at a safe distance from the vase, hidden from view, but where I could watch it to make sure that if anyone came to move it, I could track where it went. I wasn't going to lose it again! I'd carefully scouted the area, and figured there were traps set up. No one is stupid enough to steal a vase and then leave it out in plain sight. Had a bad feel to it. Plus, there were a few non-magical traps, too. So, like I told Dacy, I was going to wait for the heroes to show up, or for something that would help me detect and disarm the area."

            "So I'm sitting there, waiting around...suddenly, I hear someone coming. I look, and lo and behold, here comes Mac at a pretty good clip, just making a beeline for the vase. Which, like I said, is out in plain sight. Only Mac, he isn't what I'd call the sharpest tool in the shed, he's not looking for traps. He's got his eye on that vase, and not looking for Circle goons or nothin'. There weren't any in the room, but I heard them in a back room, and I knew they'd come out if they heard a ruckus. I tried to get his attention, but he was focused, I'll give him that. I can't yell, because of the Circle, and nothing short of a tackle is gonna take his mind off of his payday. So, I tackled him." Trick smiled, just a small smile. "He took exception, and tried to fight me. I think we got too close to the traps, in the scuffle."

            "Idiot," Dacy said in exasperation.

            Trick nodded. "Yeah, he was. I tell you the truth, I have no idea how he found the vase! Guy has a hard time finding his behind with both hands, if you know what I mean. I mean, I worked really hard tracking that sucker down, and truthfully, the only reason I found it was because..." Trick trailed off, thinking. His eyes met Dacy's and they exchanged a look of shared comprehension.

            "I knew that man was a snake. I told you he gave me the creeps!" Dacy declared.

            Trick growled in frustration, low in his throat. "When I get my hands on that scum sucking dirtbag...."

            Marcus looked from one to the other in bewilderment. "I think I'm missing something. Care to clue me in?"

            The big detective looked at Solomon. "That informant, the one Dacy called you about? Wanted $5,000 smackers for the info? He double sold. At the least. That is the only way Mac could have been right on my trail like that. I know I wasn't followed, and I'm a good detective! If I couldn't find the vase without the intel, no way Mac found it all by himself. I'll bet that is where Manny went, when I lost him. I bet he went to meet with Mac. Timing works out about right, if that is the case, too." Trick nodded to himself. "Greedy slob couldn't be happy with the dough he'd gotten from me, he has to go sell to someone else. Ha! Just let him try and collect the rest, now! He probably got out the phone book, or something, and just dialed private eyes and offered them the scoop!" Trick fumed.

            "Ah, I think I know how Mac came to be interested in the vase," said the gray haired adventurer. "Like I told you earlier, I've interviewed many private detectives, including some for this case. I thought the name Scott McIntyre sounded familiar. He was one I interviewed. Obviously, I didn't care for something about him, so didn't hire him, but I imagine the idea of collecting a reward for the retrieval of the vase appealed to him. Could be he was sniffing around, too, and caught your informant's eye."

            "Doesn't much matter. I'll be letting him know, real definite, like, how shennagins like that sit with me, soon as I'm able," Trick promised. "So, now I know what happened to Mac, and you know how I got caught in the explosion. Only thing left is did you get your vase?!"

            Solomon laughed. "I'm sorry to have kept you in suspense, Mr. Dacy. Yes. My team was able to retrieve it, with the help of some heroes, after the explosion. Your bank account should already be showing a credit of the balance I owed you for your services." He smiled.


            Dacy looked as if something had suddenly occurred to her. "I have a question, too! What was the deal with your phone? I tried and tried to call you, because M.A.G.I. called with a warning, but I couldn't get through!"

            "Ah. Yes. Well," Trick said, somewhat sheepishly, "I'd been using the phone quite a bit, and it was nearing the end of its charge. It also wasn't picking up a signal very well, way inside the warehouse where the vase was, so I turned it off for a while. I figured I'd get a message if I missed a call. I didn't figure on anyone calling with anything like that warning! Sorry, sure didn't mean for you to come all the way out there, Dacy. But I'm glad you did." He smiled at her. She beamed back at him, holding his gaze as long as she could, to stretch the moment out.

            "Well, I think I'd best be out of here, for now. Tomorrow is a big day!" Solomon's wide grin faded until it was merely a reassuring smile. "Sleep well, Mr. Dacy. This is all going to work out well. You've got the best care possible," Marcus reassured the detective. He held his gaze, eyes locked on Trick's, for a moment, as if willing some of his confidence into an uncertain patient. Then, he was gone.


            Dacy fidgeted, unsure of herself now that Solomon was gone. The conversation that had come so easily, lapsed into a silence broken only by the beep of the machines that monitored various vital signs. "Well, I suppose I ought to go, too," she said awkwardly. "I'd hate to be keeping you up, when you need your rest." She started for the door, then hesitated, turned, and said, "Trick?" He looked up at her, his face unreadable. She swallowed, and lost her nerve. She managed, "I hope everything goes well, tomorrow. I...I think I know how much this means to you, to be able to keep working as you do."

            The dark haired detective looked a bit uncomfortable. "Thanks, Dacy. I believe, maybe you do." His smile was a bit strained. She turned to leave. "Dacy?" he said quickly, then paused when she turned back towards him. "Thank you, for all the ways you've helped." His blue eyes found her brown ones, and held them.

            She waited for him to say more, but when it became apparent that he was done, she gave him a tentative smile. "Sure, boss. That's what I'm here for."


She walked out, feeling a little better.



* * * * * * * * * *




Dacy contemplated her nails. Although she didn't usually spend much time on them, she was wondering if giving them some shape and polish would be nice. At least it would be something to do. She looked regretfully at the book she'd finished earlier. Maybe she could reread it... She slumped and sighed, catching her cheek in her hand as she considered the pitiful range of options she had. She scowled at the clock. It ticked on with its implacable progress, indifferent to her boredom, or her desire to see Trick walk through the door.


In the months since Trick's operation, Dacy had become increasingly restless. She seemed unable to find enough work to do to fill her days, even though Trick's detective agency was busier than ever, and both of them now worked there full time. She prowled about, searching for something to do. She settled on double checking the assignments that Trick had been working on for his various contacts. She functioned something like a communications base in this regard, relaying information back and forth while Trick was in the field. Nope, like she'd thought the first time she checked it: she'd told them everything Trick had given her to communicate, and checked with all of them for any information they had for him. She glared at the clock again, as if it had some answers to what was bothering her, but wouldn't share them with her. What was bothering her? The big man had done amazingly well with the surgery; he could walk every bit as well as he had before. The gamble had paid off. The implants were showing promise of fulfilling Solomon's wild-eyed predictions, as well, although the powers and Trick's control of them were still developing. Just as Marcus had predicted, remaining on the police force lost its allure to Trick, as he got a taste of how effective he could be in fighting crime with his new abilities. So, her boss had retired from the blue line, electing to take an early pension; which, although quite small because of the early age at which he was claiming it, would help bridge any gaps in income from taking his detective agency to full time.  He was also, with his burgeoning talents, able to work with heroes and take assignments from their contacts, for the first time. This left Dacy with much more to do than she'd done in the past, and the cases were very interesting, to say the least. The fact that she was done with all the work she'd had to do before she was willing to leave wasn't the source of her boredom, she'd always done that. So, why was she filled with a vague dissatisfaction?


She looked up eagerly at a noise at the door. Trick walked in, looking tired.

            "Hey, Boss, how did it go today?"

            "Really well! I was able to move from just hovering above the ground into more or less full control over my own gravity is that good! Still a bit slow, but I think I can improve the speed pretty quickly, now that I have the hang of it. It's going to make getting around in Boomtown a lot easier tonight, that's for sure." Trick concentrated a moment, and a wave of restorative energy coursed through the room. It gave Dacy a feeling of well-being, and she hadn't even been feeling bad. Trick positively glowed with health, and the tired look faded completely. He smiled. "Ah, that feels good! It sure was a bonus to find out that the same bioregenerators that helped repair my spine could actually heal all of me, and others, once I learned how to control it. It's nice to have, especially with the tough thugs we have to take down sometimes. I wasn't born tough, like some of the heroes I've run into. I have almost a regular person's vulnerabilities to injury, so I'm glad I can heal pretty fast. Hasn't kept me out of the hospital completely, but it sure helps."

            "So, you're heading back out tonight, then? To Boomtown?" Dacy winced a bit. That was a rough spot! They didn't even let civilians like her into the area, since it had been damaged so heavily by one of the cataclysms that had so recently shaken the city, an extradimensional invasion of an alien race known as the Rikti. Now it was overrun with all kinds of evil things. And all this talk of how easily her favorite guy could be injured wasn't making her feel better about the idea of him going there.

            "Yeah, my contact said he wanted me to patrol the area, and clear out some of the clockwork that like to accumulate there. Starchilde and Fire Onyx said they could help me take some down. So we thought we'd hit the place tonight."

            "Seems like you are teaming with them a lot these days," Dacy said wistfully. She'd heard a lot about the heroes Trick got to work with, but never had gotten to meet any of them. It all sounded so exciting! She bit her lip and sighed quietly. She had always wanted to, some day, convince the big detective to let her come help him in the field. Now that he was working with heroes, there seemed to be no chance of that. It was far too dangerous for a civilian with no powers at all.

            If Trick noticed her wistfulness, he gave no sign. "Yes, they are great partners to work with! Fire, why, she was a mercenary before coming to Paragon City; knows all kinds of tactics to use. Can really take it on the chin! Never met such a tough dame," Trick shook his head, smiling a little. "And Starchilde! Whoa! That doll just radiates power! She gets in there and bodies just start flying. Can take them out before they even know she's there, with her ability to literally throw energy at them. So, yeah, they are wonderful. Me, I can hold some, crush them a little, but most of 'em have to be knocked silly before we can arrest them. It's a lot faster for me to let Star and Fire take them out, and it's safer for them if I'm holding them in place. That way, the goons don't rabbit," the handsome hero grinned. "Meantime, I got some assignments I can give you that I finished, so you can get the info to the client for me. See if any of them have anything else they'd like me to take on, would you? I'm going to grab a bite and head out." He adjusted the yellow fedora on his head, and grinned at her, his excitement clear. "See ya later, doll!" He was out the door almost before she could respond.

            "Yeah...later, Boss," Dacy replied, a little forlornly. "Be careful out there!" she called after him. But he was already gone.




* * * * * * * * * *




            "What, again?" Dacy's apprehension was clear, even over the phone. "How bad?"

            "Oh, it's not so bad," Trick replied soothingly. "Really, don't worry so much. The hospital transport system always zips us out of there before we are in any danger of actually dying. We just pass out, and wake up all patched up back in the city," he reassured her. Actually, that wasn't entirely true. They'd discovered that some villains, like the Circle of Thorns, had ways to interrupt the transfer to the hospital so you actually wound up in a slammer, instead, and an easy target, should something nasty come calling; but he wasn't about to tell this to his Girl Friday. He especially wasn't going to mention that he was fighting the Circle on some assignments. He hadn't yet tracked down who in the Circle had been responsible for lifting Solomon's artifact and his own injuries, so he was still quite wary of them.  He was determined that he'd find out that information, but so far, he had no specifics. Even though they'd never shown any particular recognition of him, he knew that whoever was responsible was likely still out there. He knew that Dacy knew enough about them to know that payback was a real possibility, and she already worried too much, so he didn't feel the need to mention any of this.

            "Still, what happens if you get hit hard, and re-injure your back? You could be paralyzed! There's plenty of less heroic, less dangerous work around town. You could do that, and have a good business!"

            "My back is stronger than ever before. The polymer they used to reinforce and replace bones is stronger and more resilient than just bones are. Relax. I'm fine," the detective reassured her.

            There was a doubtful silence. Then Dacy asked with a resigned sigh,"So, what happened this time?"

            "Eh, we were fighting a group, and another group came up from behind us, and jumped me before I saw them," Trick said with a shrug. "Happens sometimes. Don't worry, I came back, and we kicked their tails into jail really fast."

            "We? So, you had other heroes helping you, and you still got hurt? Isn't the idea of working with other heroes supposed to be something like, they protect you? They aren't doing a very good job!" Dacy declared with some irritation.

            "Well, especially in a situation like this, that's just not always possible. Besides, I'm hardly helpless. I can hold a whole group for a little while, up, suspended in the air!" Trick gave a little laugh, "It's a riot. I love doing that. And part of my job is actually, to protect and heal others on the team. I need help because I can't take 'em out, only put 'em up for a while." He chuckled. "And, they do protect me, too! It's just that, sometimes, it gets crazy. It's just not possible to be safe all the time, and really, I wouldn't expect to be safe, if I'm going to go after the kind of evil I'm fighting. This is high level stuff! I'm doing more good than I ever got a chance to do, before, and I'm not going to stop just because sometimes it's a little dangerous," he asserted.

            "I know you love what you do," his assistant said, "I just hate to see you getting hurt, is all. I wish I could help. Maybe if I had been  there, I'd have been able to warn you!"

            Okay, he didn't like the direction this was headed, not at all. The last thing he needed was someone like her to worry about. The places he went to were dangerous! They were no place for a doll like her. "That's a sweet thought, dollface, but you wouldn't last a second. You don't have any abilities that would help you. Besides, usually, I'm fine! I team up with Fire Onyx and Starchilde quite a bit; they take good care of me. And I'm getting more powerful and honing my skills more every day. Trust me, I can take care of myself, even on a team that doesn't know quite as much as those two do. Well, usually." Trick hoped that the idea of joining him in the field was just a passing thought. He doubted that the talk about being able to take care of himself was having a big impact, seeing as she knew he'd just been in the hospital. Time to switch topics. "Hey, have you picked out the colors and the carpeting yet, for the office?"

            "Yeah, that's all set up for next week. They repaint on Monday, carpet on Tuesday, and the furniture should all be here by Thursday." Dacy didn't sound all that interested. Trick was puzzled. Didn't all dames love that decorating and shopping stuff? She'd been so somber and quiet of late. He'd decided that it was high time to improve the office environment, and he'd thought that letting her handle it all would cheer her up. Strangely, it didn't seem to be having any effect.

            "Sounds great!" he said, trying to sound enthusiastic. "Can't wait to see what you do with the place!" He paused for some response. Getting none, he plowed on, "Well, I'll be stopping by to update my progress with my clients, soon. See you then, doll."

            "Yeah....see you then," Dacy said quietly, and then hung up.


Trick shrugged to himself. Dames. He'd be old before he figured them out. If then. Still, as he flew back to meet with his team of heroes, he wondered idly what it was going to take to cheer her up. He rather missed her bright enthusiasm.




* * * * * * * * * *




            "Are you quite sure, Miss Davis?" The woman on the other side of the desk regarded her gravely. "The final price may be quite high."


Dacy felt the weeks of frustration she'd been experiencing coalesce into a hard knot of feeling inside her. She hated feeling helpless or incompetent, much less, left out of things. She'd never been one to stand idly by. And, just because she was currently powerless, didn't mean she had to stay that way. Her chin took on a determined tilt, as she looked back at the M.A.G.I. mage across from her.

            "I believe I showed you that I have the funds to cover this," she said, deliberately sidestepping the point the mage was trying to make.

            The woman, Karielle, smiled sympathetically. "That isn't what I meant, Dacy, and you know it. Magic isn't the easy, painless solution to problems that you see in children's stories. I've tried to make that clear. We have the power to affect the transformation you seek, but we are truly only the catalyst. The change must come from you, from within you. Your will to make the change must be strong enough, your reasons compelling enough, your mind strong enough to hold on to what you are, and what you wish to be, throughout the whole ordeal, or it will not work. All will be for nothing. It's possible, you will come out a different person than what you wish to be, if you waver. It's even possible you could lose your way entirely. And trust me, I do not use the word 'ordeal' lightly. All true change is difficult. What you ask will be of a magnitude impossible to fully comprehend, before you actually experience it, but I must do my best to make sure you understand as fully as possible. Do you have the strength of will to see this through? It's dangerous; you must be quite sure." She sat back, and looked at the brown haired young woman consideringly.


Dacy thought about her situation from every angle. She had always been one to jump at the chance for adventure, and absolutely hated being left out of things. And she was so left out of things! She'd never even met the heroes Trick was working with. And he was gone out of the office so much, she hardly saw him. Perhaps the saying was true, that absence did make the heart grow fonder... she really missed his dry sense of humor, and the conversations they'd shared. It was tough to get him to talk much, but she'd found he was highly intelligent and knew a lot of fascinating things about a lot of topics. Ever since she'd realized that her feelings had become deeper than a mere physical attraction, it seemed like they just got stronger and stronger.  She'd come to realize that she really loved Trick, and that she hated having to work so far from him.  And, she was concerned about his safety! She just knew, that if she was there, she'd be able to protect him, if she was strong enough. She was determined, she'd be strong enough. He'd see. Dacy's native stubborness kicked in on this point. She wasn't fond of being told that she couldn't do something. He just thought she couldn't handle it because she didn't have any sort of powers. Well, ok, she didn't...yet. She'd considered other options. She could train and hope that one day, she'd be tough enough; but that sort of thing took years, and it was a rare person who managed that level of ability. She could stay and keep doing what she was doing, as an assistant, but that was slowly driving her to distraction, especially as it felt like Trick was moving ever farther into a world where she couldn't follow, with people she'd never even met.  She couldn't imagine continuing on this way. Anything was better. Well, almost anything. She'd tried to contemplate leaving her job and getting away from Trick all together, but she couldn't bear to think about that. So, the only other thing she could think of was to find some way to become a hero, a way that wouldn't take years with a dubious outcome. Naturally, having worked some with M.A.G.I. over the years, she thought of coming to them. They at least would know if it was possible. Magic had always made her very uneasy, so she'd already summoned up quite a bit of courage to even come here today. And, the idea of helping others as a hero was tremendously appealing to her! No, she'd already made her decision. It didn't matter what it took. She wasn't the type to back down. Her eyes met the mage's, steadily.

            "I am quite sure. I have thought about it. I will take the consequences, if this ordeal should show me to be less than sure about who I am, or who I wish to be. But, I am certain I will be fine."


            "Hold on to that certainty, you will need it. Let's go over what it is you want to change, and what is and is not possible to do, here. Now...hmmm," Karielle said, frowning over the notes she'd made during their conversation. "You want to be strong and able to fight? Well, we can give you access to the'll know how, and it will be a master's knowledge, but," she looked up at Dacy, "the muscles to power the skill, they must be developed the old fashioned way," she smiled. "Now, what sort of fighting skills did you want to learn?"

            "Using a sword really appeals to me! Seems like that would be more effective than just using my hands," Dacy said.

            The other woman smiled. "All the styles are good. It's just a matter of choice. Okay, then. A sword fighter. I'd suggest the katana, it is a lighter sword, and might be easier for you to use." Dacy nodded, the mage made a note, and then continued, "All right! The way that will work, is, you'll have all the knowledge to do any attack, in your head, but you must train your body to do it correctly. Only once you've learned one thing properly, will you be able to move on to the next skill. In other words, you may possess the knowledge, but your ability will be based on your experience and training. Also, you'll find, you'll be able to enhance your abilities with certain magical amulets and so forth."

            Dacy nodded again. Sounded logical. Sure would be nice to just have someone wave a wand at her, though... "What about my ability to survive a fight? I hear that that's not something a normal person can do very well."

            "Yes, that is right. And this is where we will have to make magical changes in you. Magic is not a 'something from nothing' power, despite what it seems to be, to a layperson. Everything has a price, and has to come from somewhere. You will find that you might tire more easily, and need to eat more to keep up your energy, for example. Your ability to survive is going to be your own natural ability to heal, augmented magically and driven by your will. In other words, the more determined you are, the better you will be able to stand against what comes your way. This is what will be tested, during your ordeal, for the strength of your will is what will be bent, magically, into the strength of your ability to survive."


            Dacy weighed this statement, balancing it against what she knew of herself. She'd always been told she was stubborn, and it certainly was hard to get her off the track of something, once she'd decided to do it. She was sure she could do this. She was sure she wanted to do this. She nodded again. "I'm ready. When can we do this?"

            "Well, a spell of this complexity can't be rushed. I need to gather the appropriate mages together and they need time to prepare. We should be all ready by the end of the week; I'll give you a call and we'll set up a definite time. I have to check with the mages to make sure there aren't any conflicts that would hinder preparations. One more thing, Miss Davis: M.A.G.I. exists to fight evil. That is our whole reason to be, and it is the only reason we have considered your request. Part of the price we require for our service, is your service. We use our powers to help heroes by giving them information and providing them with resources, and we will do the same for you. In return, we expect that you will do such assignments as we may offer you. This is not negotiable. Is this agreeable to you?"

            "It was expected. I didn't walk in here off the street, you know. I did my research first," Dacy grinned. "Naturally, you would want me to take assignments with you. And, no problem. Anything else?"

            "Just, during the time you have this week, be building an image in your mind of who you want to be. Every detail. As vivid and specific as you can make it. Also meditate on who you are now, and how you came to be that way. You'll need to be able to hold both images in your mind during the ritual, one as an anchor to What Is, and the other as a guide to what Will Be. It will take tremendous will and focus to do that, and it's important that you don't waver, as we've already discussed. So concentrate on that, and we will see you next week!" She shook Dacy's hand. Dacy walked out, looking forward to something for the first time in weeks.




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