The freedom that came with living in their own apartments was enough to keep the remaining Horsemen happy for a while; Daniel was glad that he could finally try out his act in private, without Jack or Merritt sniggering in the doorway. Jack and Merritt were glad that they could finally get a moment's peace without Daniel telling them that they should be practicing.
Daniel's new flat was perfect; Alma had chosen well, as he'd known she would. The wooden flooring and exposed brickwork was so him, and once he'd filled the place with his vast collection of bizarre magical items (with the odd sentimental object thrown in) it actually felt like home.
It felt like a new start; a clean slate in which Henley did not feature, meaning that he could put all of his time and energy into perfecting his act, becoming the best magician he could be, dedicating his life to being what the Eye wanted him to be.
Jack had been his first visitor two weeks after they'd all moved out of the big house in North Carolina; by that point, even Daniel had to admit that he was starting to feel kind of lonely. After a year and a half of constantly being around the same people, living alone wasn't exactly how he remembered it.
Merritt arrived just twenty minutes after Jack did, so Daniel suspected that it had been some sort of plan between the two; he didn't care enough to ask, and he even waited a full hour, during which they actually took an interest in each other's lives, before mentioning the 'P' word.
"So, you guys have been practicing, right?"
Jack groaned dramatically, pulling out his wallet and grudgingly handing Merritt some money. Daniel frowned.
"I thought we had a deal about you guys betting on me?"
Merritt smirked, "Come on, Atlas, it was too good an opportunity to miss!" he said, "You should be grateful; I bet in your favour. Jack said you wouldn't last ten minutes." Daniel turned his glare to Jack, who shrugged.
"Sorry, man, but after over a year of having you on our backs, I thought you'd want to get straight back into the swing of things."
Daniel rolled his eyes, "Okay, but seriously: have you be working on tricks and stuff?"
"Of course we have," Merritt said, sitting back in his seat and putting his feet on the table, grinning when Daniel knocked them straight off again, "It's kind of hard to put a set together when we don't know what kind of show we'll be putting on, though."
"Then practice everything," Daniel said, "We've got to be ready for any scenario."
Jack and Merritt glanced at each other and grinned conspiratorially.
"Wait, what was that?" Daniel asked, pointing at them both suspiciously.
"What was what?" Jack asked, his face innocent.
"That look, you know I don't like it when you guys look at each other like that, what are you planning?" Daniel said, the agitation in his tone evident. Jack had to suppress a grin.
"Jack and I have just been trying our hands at something new," Merritt jumped in, his tone reassuring despite how much he wanted to burst out laughing, "It can't hurt to have a couple more weapons in our arsenal, right?"
Daniel looked surprised but there was a hint of a smile on his face, "Oh. Well, it might be good to get some new stuff into our sets, especially now that Henley's gone."
Neither Jack nor Merritt had worked out how exactly Daniel could be so calm and collected when mentioning Henley's absence; it was like he believed that she'd simply gone on holiday and that she'd be back at any moment.
"Great," Merritt said quickly, "So we'll get working on that. What about you, have you got anything interesting up your sleeve?"
Merritt had long since learned that the way to keep Daniel from asking about him, was to get him talk about himself; it worked like a charm.
"Well, I've been working with this idea for our entry…"
Beyond 'female', the Eye hadn't exactly given Dylan much of an idea in regards to what they wanted the newest Horseman to be like. Which was why he was having so much difficulty finding someone to join the three remaining members for the next project.
Or… that was the excuse he was giving, anyway.
Alma, of course, saw right through him.
"You can't just keep finding problems with people just because they're not Henley," Alma said, shrugging off her jacket as they got home after going to yet another magic show that Dylan deemed as 'unsatisfactory'.
"I'm not!" Dylan protested, kicking his shoes off and shutting the door behind him, "I just think that we have to find the right person, you know?"
"Well, it's a bit difficult when you're judging them so harshly," Alma said, rolling her eyes, "Especially when they don't know that you're judging them."
"That's how the Eye works, Alma," Dylan said, following her into the kitchen, "You don't get to audition on your own terms; you get to audition on theirs."
"Well, no wonder they only take on new recruits twice a century," Alma muttered.
Dylan sighed, sitting at the kitchen table as Alma got them both drinks from the fridge. "I just… I want to find the right person for them, you know?"
Alma nodded, sitting down opposite him and passing him his drink, "Fine," she replied, "But you've got to be a bit more open, Dylan. The girl tonight was good! Very funny, her tricks were impressive…"
"She's also the girl who pulled a hat out of a rabbit in front of Atlas," Dylan pointed out, "Or tried to, at least. He's not going to forget that easily, you know what he's like…"
Alma groaned, "See? This is what I'm talking about!" she said, "The thing with the rabbit was eight years ago, Dylan! What she did tonight was clever, funny, entertaining… come on, didn't you want my input on this because I have an outsider's view?"
"I seem to remember wanting you to make sure that the others don't hate her," Dylan said, frowning slightly.
Alma sat back, grinning, "Well, then," she said decisively, "They won't hate this one. I'm certain."
Dylan's frown deepened, "I just… I don't want to screw this up. God, if Henley had only stayed a bit longer…"
"Then nothing would have happened," Alma said, taking one of his hands in hers, "I know it's awful, but… Henley leaving made the Eye realise that the Horsemen aren't just magicians: they're people. And people don't wait around forever."
He heard the hidden meaning in her tone; this new girl wouldn't wait around forever if he didn't get her interested in the Eye, and the Horsemen definitely wouldn't wait around much longer if he didn't start producing results.
"We'll go and see one more person," he decided after a moment, "If she's no good… We'll go back to this Lula person, get her to show us what she's really got. If you still like her and I'm more convinced… then we'll go with her. Deal?"
Alma nodded, sipping her drink, "Deal," she replied, "But I'm telling you, she's the one."
Dylan simply raised his eyebrows, looking at his girlfriend sceptically, not committing himself to making a decision until he'd exhausted every available option.
"Dude, seriously? It took me like three days to learn how to throw cards, how are you this awful?"
"Well, excuse me, kid, but I don't see you being any better at hypnosis!"
"What… what are you guys doing?" Daniel asked, entering his living room two weeks later to find Jack and Merritt stood opposite each other, the floor between them covered in scattered cards.
"We're… trying something new," Merritt offered, a small grin on his face, "Namely, each other's talents."
"This… how is this helpful?!" Daniel demanded, walking between them agitatedly, "We could be doing a show in a matter of weeks, and you two are… are playing around? Aren't you taking this seriously?!"
"Danny, it's been a month since we last heard from Dylan," Jack pointed out, slightly quieter now, "We can practice and put sets together all we want, but… there's not much point when we don't know where we'll be doing it, who we'll be doing it for, or what the point of the show is."
"That may be true," Daniel grudgingly admitted after a moment, "But the Eye chose each of us for our unique talents. They chose you," he looked at Merritt, "For your mentalism and hypnotism. And they chose you," he turned to Jack, "For your cardistry and… you know, all your other stuff."
Jack rolled his eyes, "Wow, man, it means a lost that you took the minimal effort in the last year and a half to learn my exact skillset. Thanks a lot, Danny."
"Don't call me that," Daniel said almost reflexively, "And if you can put a definitive term on your wide array of random talents, then I'll apologise, but my point is that now is not the time to be taking this kind of risk. We need to be ready the second the Eye gives us an assignment and this," he gestured at the mess of cards on the floor between the other two men, "Isn't. Helping."
Jack opened his mouth to argue again but caught the subtle raise of Merritt's hand as the older man jumped in, "Okay," he said softly, "You're right. Jack and I will, er… we'll focus on our own 'unique talents', alright?"
Jack settled him with a confused look that Merritt tactfully ignored as Daniel nodded once.
"Good," Daniel said, "Because, with Henley gone, it's all on us now."
The second time Dylan and Alma went to see Lula, Dylan made a pledge to be more open-minded about her act.
The moment her show started, a little voice in his head said 'she's not an escapologist though, is she?'.
A second later, Alma was nudging him firmly in the ribs with her elbow and glaring at him, "Stop frowning," she muttered, "She hasn't even started yet!"
"Sorry, sorry," he muttered, "I'm trying not to judge her too hard."
"How about you don't judge her at all?" Alma suggested, linking her arm through his, "Just enjoy the show, Dylan."
He looked at her sceptically for a moment, her look unyielding as she dared him to protest. He sighed, "Okay."
Once he'd (reluctantly) resigned himself to not picturing Lula as one of the Horsemen but as a magician in her own right, he started to see what Alma had seen the last time they watched her. She really was funny, loved playing the audience against themselves and was generally quite talented.
He was thoroughly enjoying her show when she caught his eye and grinned slightly.
"You, sir!" she said excitedly, "How would you like to come up and help me with my next trick?"
He froze for a moment, completely unused to not being hidden at the back for a show like this. He could sense the wide grin on Alma's face without looking at her.
"Er, no, no, I think, I, er…" he didn't get any further in his protest before Alma had shoved him closer to the stage. He glanced back and glared at her, only receiving an evil smile in response. He knew what she desperately wanted to say to him: 'what better way to judge someone's talent than to get directly involved in the act?'.
He hadn't disliked her this much since they'd been working together on the Horsemen case.
Lula shook his hand enthusiastically when he got up on stage; he almost expected her to try to take his watch but she made no attempt to do so. She was grinning as she turned him to face the audience.
"Would you like to share your name with this lovely audience, sir?" she asked him.
"Dylan, huh? Great name! I knew a guy called Dylan once. We dated for a while actually, but it didn't work out."
The audience dutifully 'ahhhhh'-ed in response and she nodded, pretending to wipe a tear away, "I know, I know, it's very sad. I broke up with him, actually, because he didn't appreciate my unique talent for stealing his things." The audience laughed at this and Dylan was beginning to get increasingly uncomfortable with where her story was going.
"He wasn't anything like this Dylan though," Lula carried on, throwing an arm around Dylan's shoulder, "For example, he didn't buy me expensive flowers, like this Dylan does," she held up the receipt from the florists' he'd visited earlier that day to buy flowers for Alma. She was a big fan on spontaneous gifts and he was a big fan of the way her face lit up when he gave them.
He reached into his jacket pocket, which had been empty except for the receipt and that was now just… empty. His eyes widened slightly; he hadn't even slightly felt her reach into his pocket. He could just about make out Alma in the crowd and the look on her face was both impressed and smug.
"Yeah, he also didn't wear a belt, like ever! Weird, right, like who can actually ever buy pants that fit them perfectly?!"
Dylan glanced at her and she was holding his belt up for the entire audience to see. He didn't even dare to check his pants, simply covering his face with his hands and trying to work out how the hell she'd managed to get his belt off without him noticing.
"And he most certainly didn't work for… oh, okay! Maybe I shouldn't announce that to the whole crowd, huh, Dylan?" She handed him back his FBI ID with a grin and he quickly tucked it back into his inside jacket pocket. She also passed him his belt and his receipt, offering her hand out to him again. "Dylan, thank you so much for coming up and being such a great sport. Enjoy your work at you-know-where." She winked at him and he simply smiled awkwardly in response before hurrying off the stage and back to Alma's side.
The grin was still on her face when he reached her. "So?" she asked.
Dylan sighed but couldn't keep the smile off his face, "Yeah," he admitted, "She's the one."