A Change of Pace – Chapter 26

“Come on, Daisy Cakes. Just come with me. We can leave this shit storm behind. Go to Europe and enjoy ourselves. We’ll be free,” Daisy looked down on a younger version of herself having a conversation with a man she was about to kill.

<This has to be a dream,> Daisy’s thought as her disembodied dream-state floated near the top of the cavernous sewer tunnels. She tried to pinch herself, but her hand passed right through her phantom arm. She tried to use her power, any aspect of her power, and got nothing. <No way this is real. And if it is some advanced mind’s trick, I’m already dead.> Accepting her fate, Daisy turned back to the scene unfolding beneath her.

“You don’t even know me do you!” young Daisy screamed back at Dave, the traitorous Hero, Dreadnaught.

<Dave…> it had been a long time since Daisy really thought about her college sweetheart.

The reason for that was simple. The first memory that always came to mind was the one playing out in the sewer below her; the moment when she judged Dave as a threat worth disposing of. Usually that was enough to drive her to the bottom of a bottle of vodka, or into a manic state of anger mixed with depressing sadness. That wasn’t the case now. Whatever had her in an incorporeal nightmare wasn’t allowing her to experience emotion.

“…You’re dead to me, and if you don’t get on the ground and surrender you’re going to be dead for real,” she’d missed a chunk of the conversation, but she knew she’d screamed her throat raw at his betrayal over money, and how he didn’t know her.

Daisy watched the young, naïve version of herself trembling with rage at her former lover. <Was this the beginning of it all?> the detachment from the scene allowed her to think about this more clearly than any time in the last thirty years. <Was this the first chip in my foundation that led to my breakdown?>

“This is your last chance, Dave.”

<I gave him a choice,> Daisy had always clung to the fact that she’d given him a chance to surrender, that she’d done the right thing even though it permanently scarred her.

“I’m not going to prison, Daisy,” for the first time Daisy heard a hint of fear in Dave’s voice. Before, it had always been confidence; or him logically imploring her to do what he thought was right. Never before had she detected the speck of fear.

<He knew he was going to die, and he did it anyway,> it was the only thing Daisy could think of to explain the new information.

There were a few moments of contemplation while younger Daisy worked through what she was going to do.

Then Dave died.

It was odd seeing the process from the outside, the way everyone else saw her most dangerous ability. One moment he was a vibrant, young man, and then he looked like he was being hallowed out from the inside. He grew gaunt, eyes sinking into his skull, muscles shrinking into thin, weak, wispy things; until there was nothing left but a lifeless husk. Daisy knew this end product all too well. She looked away as the body fell off the concrete platform and into the raw sewage.

“You’re safe with us, Mr. President,” Daisy could tell her younger self had completely detached herself from her feelings. Her face was expressionless, her body coiled and tense. Daisy knew the younger her would drink herself into a stupor tonight, and the older, wiser, sober Daisy couldn’t blame her. This had been one of the worst days of her life.

Then something unexpected happened.

The scene shifted. Daisy’s phantom dream-state was still in the sewers, but she wasn’t going back with Miriam and the President. Without prompting, and outside her conscious control, the scenery followed the empty corpse that used to be Dave.

<This is new.> The body floated silently down the brown river, sometimes gently bumping against the concrete sides of the tunnel, but otherwise offering no more resistance than any other hunk of crap. <Is this what actually happened?> Daisy wondered, since she’d never seen Dave’s body after she left with the President. <Why am I tethered to the body?>

Time sped up like someone hit the fast forward button. The body sloshed around before washing out of the tunnel and into some treatment plant. People ran around shutting down machines; frantically pulling levers and pushing buttons hoping the corpse didn’t destroy the equipment. Only after all of that did they fish out the body. What was probably days, but ended up being a few seconds, passed before people showed up to claim Dave’s remains.

There were four of them. Dave had the same strong facial structure as his father. The man didn’t shed a tear as the body was deposited in the hearse he’d rented. Dave’s mother was the opposite. She balled, wailed, slammed her fists against her husband’s chest, and finally collapsed from exhaustion. To Daisy’s surprise, the woman looked a little like she did.

<Maybe Dave saw a little bit of her in me,> the stray thought passed idly through Daisy’s mind.

The last two were children, Dave’s siblings. One was a girl, probably in her mid-teens. She was crying like her mother, but not as badly. Lastly, there was a little boy, probably no older than five. Daisy could tell he didn’t understand what was happening. He looked back and forth between his sister and mother, and then shot his father a pleading look. The older man ignored him, instead focusing on his distraught mother.

Like sand from an hourglass the imagery began to drain away, dissolving into a darkness the light of her dreams was unable to touch.

<What, no!> Daisy tried to climb higher, clawing at the ceiling of the treatment plant to escape the cascading disintegration of the scene. <Why show me this? Is this about Christopher or me getting back into the dating game? > Her mind scrambled to find meaning in the cryptic scene. <Is this about forgiveness? Am I just supposed to move on? What the fuck is this about? Stupid fucking dream!” she screamed the final statement as the fragmentation of the dream reached her phantom form. Daisy’s body solidified, she screamed, and plummeted into the darkness.

 

***

 

Daisy awoke gasping for air. She’d been slowly suffocating in the darkness. Every inch of her body compressed and squeezed of life until she woke up. Judging by her lightheadedness she’d been holding her breath in her sleep.

<What the hell?> Daisy ran he hand through her hair and it came away wet. <I need water.>

                Daisy had awoken to sweat stained sheets, clammy skin, and hair that felt like she’d just stepped out of the shower. Before she got hydrated, she rolled over to flick on the light and grab the pen and paper she kept on her nightstand. Dr. Johnson had advised her early on in her treatment to write down her dreams, so they could discuss their meaning in their sessions. It was helping her get to the core of her issues.

Daisy scribbled out every detail she could remember, trying to capture the genuineness of the scene, especially the new addition. Her writing looked like chicken-scratch as she frantically wrote it all out, because the memory was slowly slipping away. It was like challenging a strongman to a drinking contest. You’d inevitably lose it.

Daisy got all the information, or thought she got it all, before the memory disappeared completely. It left her wondering if it was a natural suppressed memory, or if someone had been messing with her mind. Either way she’d need to talk to Grace about potential mental manipulation. That was standard HCP protocol.

<Ugh,> she knew that meant more paperwork, and another possible meeting with a DVA special agent, and she was already on thin ice as it was. <Might as well get to it then.>

                It was only 4:30 in the morning. Daisy had gotten very little sleep, but there was no way she was going to get anymore tonight. She showered, dressed, made her coffee, and then took her private lift down to the subterranean campus.

Despite it being so early there were still a couple of students getting morning workouts in before class. Most were seniors, with a few of the more dedicated juniors and sophomores in attendance. A few said good morning to her, while most gave her a wide berth. The instructors had hit a handful of classes after the freshman massacre, and word of the new alternative instructor’s skills was spreading quickly.

“Good morning Professor Meyers,” Daisy didn’t recognize the black haired woman that approached her, but she was wearing the white uniform of a senior.

“Good morning…” she left the greeting hang in the air between them.

“Hannah Dixon, Ma’am,” the younger Super’s blue eyes evaluated Daisy.

“Well good morning Ms. Dixon. Is there something I can do for you today?” Daisy asked when Hannah didn’t move out of her way.

“I was just going to give you the chance of telling me who your Hero persona was,” the confidence and assurance behind the statement surprised Daisy, although she didn’t express that to the student.

“And why would I do that?” Daisy crossed her arms across her chest, taking a good look at Ms. Dixon.

<I really should start reading the upperclassmen’s files.>

                “Professor Willis has given out his inaugural assignment to all his subtlety students,” Dixon explained. “We have to find out each of the instructors Hero personas by the end of the semester.” She shrugged, flipping a stray strand of hair over her shoulder. “I already know who everyone else is but you and the Dean, so I thought I’d just give you the opportunity to tell me before I go digging around in your life.”

<I like this girl,> Daisy’s inner smile leaked onto her face.

“Congratulations, Ms. Dixon. You are officially on my radar. I look forward to you trying to figure out who I am.”

Hannah Dixon didn’t look surprised or intimidated by Daisy’s reply. She just nodded her acceptance. “I’ll see you around, Professor Meyers.” And just like that the student was gone, back to her morning workout.

<I need to ask Miles just how much of a headache this senior project is going to be.> It was just one more thing Daisy had to think about on top of her usual pile of crap.

No one else approached Daisy as she moved through the facility. She passed the staff offices and headed toward the combat cells, but diverted down a hallway right before she got to the observation room. This hallway was bare until she reached a set of double doors.

<West Private University Hero Certification Program Library,> Daisy read the bronze plaque bolted to the center of each door. Then below it, handwritten on a plan piece of paper in a black sharpie, <Come in, shut up, and do your work.>

Daisy laughed as she pushed open the door. The HCP library was an expansive space. It wasn’t as big as the gym, nothing was as big as the gym, but it easily dwarfed even the largest classrooms. That was one thing daisy loved about West’s HCP. Like Lander and Overton, West had the space to really develop their campus. If she had to guess, the HCP campus probably took up a great deal of space beneath the actual university. Schools like Sizemore and Korman, being stuck in large metropolises, didn’t have that opportunity. You wouldn’t find a library like this at the city schools.

The actual library reminded Daisy more of a fantasy themed museum than a school library. Large Greek columns rose up the fifty feet to the room’s ceiling. Each column was a solid three feet thick and spaced every twenty feet on either side of the main path that ran down the center of the room. This main path was gold.

<Not actual gold,> Daisy reminded herself. The HCP budget might be huge, but not that huge. <And whoever designed it must have been a fan of the Wizard of Oz.>

Daisy started to walk down the central path, toward the circular help desk in the exact center of the room. As she passed by she got a chance to glance between the columns. Some had separate hallways splitting off from the main route. These paths were marked with a similar plaque as the one on the main door, but identified the categories of books in the aisle. Some space between the hallway’s columns was empty, and others had some object of value to occupy the space. Daisy had to pause for a moment at the medieval suit of armor midway between the entrance and helpdesk. It was also conveniently located next to a section of medieval literature.

<Galavant would love this,> Daisy thought, moving on toward her goal.

“Good morning, Professor Meyers,” a disembodied voice greeted her.

“Good morning,” Daisy returned the greeting, not at all surprised to find the HCP’s computer interface manning the library at this early hour. “I need a private computer to do some research on.”

“Very well,” There was a moment of silence as the computer made the appropriate connections, verifications, and logged the transaction. “Computer one is available for use. Please shut down when you are finished. Thank you.”

Daisy walked around the help desk, and continued down the center hallway until she came to the last column. Unlike the rest of the branching off hallways, this one had a security door. Daisy pressed her thumb to the scanner next to the door, and waited for it to buzz her in. A blast of cold air washed over her as she entered the computer lab/server room. The students had their own separate computer lab down the opposite hallway. This one was for the professors and the classified information they were allowed to handle. Daisy might have had her Hero certification suspended, but she still had the highest clearance available to a Hero.

<That’s one plus to being around as long as I have,> Daisy grinned mischievously. <I know where all the bodies are buried.>

She sat down in the chair in front of the triple screen workstation, and started the log on procedure. She ignored the hum of the servers behind her, and the chill of the A/C pumping into the room to keep them cool.

The computer took a while to boot up, even though it was one of the more advanced pieces of technology in the HCP. It wasn’t the actual start-up up that was the issue; it was the security scan after security scan, before the hard drive backup, plus the software updates that took a few minutes. Finally the West’s HCP logo popped onto the screen and prompted Daisy for her credentials.

Daisy used her Hero name followed by a combination of ten alphanumeric characters as her username. It was the name she’d chosen when she’d been first brought into the program, and she didn’t feel like changing it after memorizing it. Next was the three part password. The first part was the traditional typing in of a password. People who worked for other government agencies thought that their password restrictions were a headache, didn’t have any idea how much of a pain in the ass it was for the HCP. The password had to be a minimum of fifteen characters with a combination of lower case letters, uppercase letters, numbers, special characters, it couldn’t actually spell any words, and it couldn’t remotely resemble any previous passwords. On top of that it needed to be changed every thirty days.

Daisy wasn’t particularly computer savvy. Her awkward one finger typing style would have made anyone under thirty cringe. She was slow and methodical with her entry, because three incorrect attempts and the whole system would shut down. That would force her to do more paperwork and contact the DVA helpdesk to get a new password. She didn’t want to have to deal with another headache.

The system accepted her password, and graciously reminded her she had two days until she needed to change it. Daisy ignored the recommendation to change it now, and moved on to the far easier second and third steps. The second step was another fingerprint scan. Daisy pressed her thumb into the separate scanner on the table. The system quickly verified it was her, and moved onto the final step. Two red lasers shot out from the top of the central monitor moving vertically and horizontally across Daisy’s eye. After a second the computer gave an affirmative chirp, and Daisy had full access.

<Now to see what cryptic note you’ve left me,> Daisy pulled out the ripped piece of paper Dr. Johnson had given her. She’d been a good girl and not opened it until now, so she was a little pissed when she read it.

<10071985. Seriously!> Daisy might not be a Subtlety Hero, but she was able to figure out it was a date. Unfortunately, a lot could happen in a single day.

She opened up the HCP’s secure portal to the DVA’s archive and typed in the date. <Great,> she sighed, leaning back in the chair. Apparently, October seventh of nineteen eighty-five had been a busy day for Heroes.

<This could take a while,> fortunately, Daisy didn’t have anything until the afternoon physical training class.

“Captain Starlight saves elderly from burning nursing home…No…”

“Armsman robs bank, makes off with millions…No…”

“A piece of legislation concerning Powereds…No…”

“A report of a Hellgate sighting…No…”

“A new and upcoming team of young Heroes kicking ass and taking names…maybe,” Daisy clicked on the follow-on link. “No…”

“Reaper foils suicide attempt…No…” Daisy didn’t even remember the event, and she didn’t want to take the time to look into it.

Daisy didn’t know how long she was in the server room, but by the time she finally got up to stretch her toes were cold, and she could hear the sound of students in the library.

“I need more coffee.” No food or drink was allowed in the room, so she’d been forced to chug the remainder of her morning brew.

Daisy logged off, but didn’t shut down the system. There was no need to waste more time with restarting the system if she was only going to be gone a few minutes.

<Ahhhh, that’s the good stuff,> Daisy felt tension release from her spine as she rotated her body from side to side. The audible cracks were accompanies by the rushing sensation of released pressure from the vertebra.

“Hey, Daisy,” the library wasn’t too busy, so Daisy could make out the woman waving at her from the help desk.

“Hey, Robin. You get stuck with library duty or something?”

“No,” the usually gloomy woman was looking rather upbeat this morning. “I like to volunteer here when I’m not teaching. The peace and quiet helps.” Daisy nodded, putting the pieces together.

“So I’m guessing the sign on the front door was Marshall’s work?” the question got a small smile out of the Control instructor.

“Yeah…”

Daisy didn’t need to hear anymore. Marshall might be a bit of a loose cannon, and have a stereotypical crude masculine personality, but Daisy was absolutely confident he adored his wife. There was a lot of crap going on in the Super couple’s home-life, but their relationship wasn’t a problem.

“Well I’m just doing some research that I should get back to,” Daisy and Robin were in a good place, but neither were social butterflies. Any longer and this conversation would get awkward.

“Good to see you,” Robin waved goodbye, and turned back to the thick novel she was reading.

<Back to work.> Daisy repeated the login process and re-entered the plethora of data from 10/07/1985.

<Shit, I didn’t get coffee,> Daisy considered if it was worth getting back up and going out to get the beverage. It wasn’t.

It was easy to get lost in certain electronic activities. Anyone could lose a whole day binge watching a T.V. show, trying to level up on the latest online game, or running through campaign mode on a first-person shooter that you stood in line until midnight to buy. Time just slipped by while you were enjoying yourself. Digging through DVA files was not one of those activities. Instead of unrestrained enjoyment, it felt like Daisy was using her own power on herself, slowing draining away her life one data byte at a time.

It was almost lunch time before Daisy finally found what she was looking for. If she wasn’t equipped with the mental fortitude decades of Hero work instilled in her, she would have missed it. Now that she thought about it, it was a wonder Dr. Johnson had been able to find this little tidbit of information. It was good the psychologist had, because it was a game changer.

The entry was near the bottom of day’s recorded events, because it didn’t deal with Heroes, and it didn’t occur until nearly midnight. Daisy clinked on the link and read a truly heroic story. An HCP student had committed an SI infraction because he helped a women give birth when she suddenly went into labor. The student, a healer, had been forced to use his ability when there were complications. Another student had been present, reported the Super, and as a result the potential Hero was dismissed from the program even though he’d saved the life of both the woman and the child.

Daisy got to the bottom and hit the secondary link. This link led to the Dean of the Korman’s HCP writing a letter of recommendation for the student who committed the infraction, urging another HCP to admit him. Clicking on a third link took Daisy to a whole folder of documentation. The first was an acceptance letter to Sizemore Tech for the former HCP student. The rest of the documents dealt with changing the student’s identity. A variety of forms, enough to fill a small landfill, from numerous government agencies, were included to officially change everything about the student’s past. Daisy read through them all, gaining a little bit of knowledge with each click of the mouse.

The true scope of the change and its connection to Daisy didn’t hit her until the last page. It was a form from the Social Security Agency. Most of it was legal mumbo-jumbo, but the last section brought it all together.

“Brian Snyder becomes Blake Sanderson” Daisy thought out loud.

<Snyder…Snyder…SNYDER!> Daisy could have spent the next week thinking of why the name was tickling something in the back of her mind. It was only because she’d just had a dream about this that it all clicked.

<Dave Snyder…Dreadnaught. That mean’s Blake is…> Daisy felt lightheaded as she slumped down in her chair.

Dr. Sanderson was born Brian Snyder, brother of Dave Snyder, the Hero, Dreadnaught.

<I killed his brother.> If a mind could be speechless, that was what Daisy was feeling.

The scared, pleading face of the boy in her dream rematerialized. It began to morph; it aged, and changed with the cruelties of life until it was identical to the face of West HCPs Chief Medical Officer.

<Aww shit,> any residual anger she felt for Sanderson was gone now. Replaced with a powerful self-loathing that threatened all the progress she’d made.

Daisy had enough sense to log out before sprinting out of the library toward the infirmary.

 

***

 

“Deep breaths, Daisy. Deep breaths.”

Daisy had run all the way to Dr. Johnson’s office, fighting back the tears the dark realization threatened to bring bursting forth. It was good the psychologist didn’t have any patients at the moment because Daisy stampeded into his office like a bull running through Pamplona. She’d actually ripped the top hinge off his door when she barreled in, so it was half hanging, half leaning in a semi-closed position.

“Take ten deep breaths and center yourself,” Dr. Johnson continued to try and calm her down.

“Shit, Doc,” Daisy voice was strained, and her chest was tight from the panic attack she was experiencing. She wheezed a few more breaths before she couldn’t take it anymore.

Daisy didn’t care about her reputation, or what the students would think, when she let all her pent up emotions out in a savage scream. The tears finally punched through he weakened defenses, and began to fall down her face like a waterfall.

“It’s ok, Daisy. Stay with me,” Dr. Johnson was suddenly at her side, and taking her hand in his.

“Its’s ok…IT’S OK!” she roared at him.

Despite the venom in her tone, Dr. Johnson stayed where he was.

“Yes it is ok,” his response was much gentler. “This whole experience is about facing your demons, confronting painful aspects of your past, and learning to move past them. Most importantly, it is about learning to forgive yourself.”

“Forgive myself,” Daisy’s sobs turned into deranged laughter. “I’m a fucking killer, Johnson.” Her haunted red eyes bore into his kind, soft brown ones. “Everyone I love either dies a horrible death, or I kill them with my own two hands.”

“You are not a killer, Daisy. You are a Hero who has been forced to do her duty for a long time,” he was patting her hand now.

“Did I have to kill Dave?” Daisy could tell she probably looked a little crazy, but she didn’t care. “Did I have to kill Tinker? Did I really have to kill all those criminal Supers throughout my career?” She was rambling now.

“Daisy look at me,” he gripped her hand tightly, his voice firm. “What would have happened if you didn’t? Would more lives be lost? Would you be sitting here blaming yourself for those innocent souls lost because you didn’t act?”

That put a stop to Daisy’s rambling. Criminals like Tinker weren’t the real problem. Some of the people she’d been forced to deal with over the years needed to be ended. However, some might not have.

<Dave…,> all she had to do was think his name and she was crying again.

“I can be o…ok with most o…of the s…stuff I’ve done, but D…Dave…” she sobbed.

“Shhh,” Dr. Johnson moved from holding her hand to giving her a hug. “It’s ok. This is the demon we face today. It will be hard and it will be challenging, but you are going to be a better person after you’ve worked through it.” His confidence gave Daisy confidence. “Here,” he handed her a box of tissues. “I’ll be right back.”

Daisy used the time he was gone to blow out huge chunks of snot. Breakdowns like this were never pretty. No one looked good when they cried like a baby. What she didn’t expect was to be seen looking like this by Dr. Sanderson.

Daisy’s whole body tensed up as Dr. Johnson led Dave’s younger brother into his office. The chief medical officer’s face was troubled, probably from the Daisy’s screams, but it immediately hardened into dislike when his gaze fell on her.

“Please have a seat, Blake. We have things we need to discuss.” Sanderson took the only other visitor’s seat, while Johnson took his place behind his desk.

“I don’t have anything to say to her,” the hate in Sanderson’s voice was intense, and for once Daisy didn’t blame him.

“You might not have anything to say, but Daisy might have something to say to you?” Johnson gestured for Daisy to continue.

Daisy hesitated, fighting past the lump in her throat, and not having any idea how to start this. “Um…” Sanderson just continued to sneer at her. “When I apologized earlier to you, I didn’t know there was even more for me to be apologizing for.” Daisy felt like she was wading blindly through quicksand with this apology. “I didn’t know who you really were, and all the pain I’ve probably caused you. I really, truly am so sorry, Blake.”

“Saying sorry doesn’t fix what you put my family through,” Blake’s eyes blazed with decades’ worth of emotion. “You killed my brother, my parents first born child, without any semblance of due process. You took it upon yourself to be judge, jury, and executioner.” He enunciated the last few words.

Daisy wanted to go on the defensive. She wanted to tell Sanderson he hadn’t been there that Memorial Day forty plus years ago. He hadn’t seen the mayhem Armsman, Tinker, and Hellgate caused with Dave’s help. He hadn’t talked face to face with Dave, and heard him admit his guilt. He hadn’t been forced to either fight a person he loved or allow them to escape. Despite wanting to scream at Sanderson that he didn’t know shit, Daisy knew it wouldn’t do any good. This conversation was about healing, not creating more animosity.

“I made a call,” Daisy said quietly, so quietly Sanderson and Johnson had to lean in to hear. “It was one of the toughest calls I’ve ever made, and to this day it still haunts me if it was the right one or not.” She looked up at Sanderson, barely holding back tears. “I loved your brother, Blake. We had a messed up relationship, but I still loved him.” A single tear dripped down from the corner of her eye. “I’m sorry,” she didn’t know what else to say.

Sanderson’s expression softened just a little; from built up rage to just plain angry and upset. Daisy could tell he wasn’t going to forgive her or anything, but this was probably the first step in that direction.

“You killed my brother,” there was none of the former sting in the statement. “You need to be held accountable for that.”

Daisy and Dr. Johnson didn’t object when he got up and left the office. Daisy watched Sanderson go, finally seeing some of the resemblances between him and his brother. Sanderson’s face had been slightly altered for him to assume a new identity, but it was the eyes that didn’t lie. They were a clear blue, like an untainted mountain spring. The difference was that Blake’s eyes were far gentler than his older brother’s had ever been.

“How are you feeling, Daisy,” Johnson approached slowly, cautiously. He didn’t want to frighten her.

“You were right,” Daisy sighed, wiping the occasional tear from her cheek. “It hurts like a bitch, but it has to be done,” her chuckle echoed her blue mood.

“What do you want to do know?” Johnson’s stance was much more casual now.

“I would give anyone a million bucks for a drink, or to kick the shit out of someone right now, but I won’t do that,” Daisy added the last bit quickly when she saw the doctor’s alarmed expression. “Right now I’m going to go teach a physical training class, and then spend some time with friends. God knows I need some advice before Friday.”

“What’s happening on Friday?” Johnson asked with a raised eyebrow that said he probably already knew what she was going to say, but wanted her to say it anyway.

“I’ve got a date,” his raised eye brow became a beaming smile at the affirmation.

“This is a very healthy and mature step for you to take,” Johnson was back in psychologist mode. “I would only tell you to not judge him based on the bars set by your past romances. Allow him to earn your trust with his own merits.”

“Words of wisdom, Doc,” Daisy had stopped crying and was grinning at Johnson. Her excitement for Friday was easy to see.

Daisy got to her feet and took a deep breath to steady herself. She’d have to look herself over in the mirror. She probably looked like shit, and didn’t want to make it known to everyone she’d just had a minor mental breakdown where she questioned her entire life’s work.

“I think we made excellent progress today,” Johnson’s smile as even bigger than when she’d told him about her date. “I’ll leave it up to you whether or not you want to meet tomorrow. Just let me know ahead of time.”

“I probably will want to,” Daisy admitted. “I’m like a finely tuned automobile. I’ve realized I need constant maintenance.”

“That’s big of you to admit,” Johnson sounded impressed. “You’ve come a long way in a month.”

“Thanks, Doc,” Daisy meant it. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go torture some innocent children.”

“Have fun,” Johnson showed her out. “And bring a check to replace the door when I see you next.”

Daisy rolled her eyes. <These therapy expenses are getting ridiculous. I should ask for a raise.>

There wasn’t a snowball’s chance in hell John would give her one.

 

***

 

“Lilly Ariadne Thermopolis!”

<Oh shit,> Lilly was lounging on her bed, in a pair of bright, sky blue boy shorts, flipping through Supervillain Weekly. <What did I do?> her mind scrambled for what it could be, and the countermeasures she’d put into place as contingencies.

She only had thirty seconds before the heavy stomping of an irate Hellgate reached her ears. It was another fifteen seconds before the famed supervillain finally burst through her door. If having a huge underground mansion was good for anything, it was good for buying time to get your story straight.

“Yes, Daddy,” Lilly put on her best, big eyed, innocent, endearing expression.

“What are you doing at West Private University?” A vein in Altair Thermopolis forehead pulsed like an angry star.

“West Private…”

“Don’t’ even try to lie to me young lady,” her father cut her off mid-sentence.

<Wow, he’s pissed. He hasn’t “young lady-ed” me in years.>

                “How do you know about that,” Lilly tried to deflect the question, and gain valuable information in the process,” she thought she’d been so careful.

“I have eyes and ears everywhere, Daughter,” he was still fuming. Lilly actually thought one of his infamous fiery circles was going to appear in the middle of her bedroom.

“Oh,” Lilly tried to look chastised, but it wasn’t one of her strong suites. “I didn’t think it would be a problem.”

“Not be a problem!” Hellgate was about to go into a tirade when Lilly hit him with her planned countermeasure.

“I know you have rules about me dating, and boyfriends, and all that, Daddy. But I really like this guy,” she pouted, chocolate eyes as big as dinner plates.

“Wh…what? B…b…boyfriend,” that took the wind out of his sails.

<He’s still going to be suspicious as hell with every move I make, but I think I got him.> She tried to keep her body language appropriately meek.

“You have a boyfriend?” His tone made her think she didn’t have the situation nearly as under control as she thought.

Lilly knew that her father knew she wasn’t really the dating type. He wasn’t naïve enough to think she’d never gotten down and dirty with a boy, and she wasn’t stupid enough to convince him otherwise. However, he did know she was more of a “one night fling” type of girl. So for her to admit to having a steady boyfriend was a little unbelievable. But she was ready for that.

“He’s soooo hot, Dad,” she practically drooled. There wasn’t any acting required for that bit. “He’s also really rich and politically connected.”

Lilly’s father looked like he’d rather be carving out his own eyeballs than talking about how hot her new boyfriend was, although he did perk up a bit at the last two facts. Money and power were always a good thing in the Thermopolis household.

Hellgate’s anger slowly subsided as he evaluated his daughter. Lilly might not have totally convinced him, but she had planted the seed of doubt in his mind. Now she just needed to make it grow.

“I want to meet this boy who had captured my daughter’s heart where so many have failed,” the smile that pulled at his lips made Lilly fight back a cringe.

<Shit,> he was calling her on her bluff. <Now I need to accelerate my plans.>

                “I’m meeting him on Friday, Daddy. I’ll talk to him about it them.” She smiled sweetly.

“See that you do,” he smiled back. “I look forward to our meeting.”

<And so the game continues,> Lilly couldn’t help but relish the rush competing against her father gave her.

As much as she loved the challenge, she now had some serious work to do. <I better wear something really sexy if I’m going to ask Seth to meet my Dad after the first date.>

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