Summary: Global Tactical Officer Numbuh 362 isn't going anywhere for Valentine's Day. Not if her commanding officer has any say in it. (OC/362, 274/362)

Continuity: Set in The Monster universe.

Rating: T

Warnings: Kissing? That's a warning, I think.

Disclaimer: I own nothing. Title and a few lyrics belong to Sting.

Every Breath You Take

He was a recent transfer to Global Command with warm silver eyes and a friendly smile that saw more from her than just a fellow coworker. For the first time in a while something inside her twisted and coiled pleasantly when she caught his smile walking past each other each day.

Sometimes she even smiled back.

Maybe it was time for her to admit that she was a girl first and foremost with expectations that far exceeded the others. While the new boy had not much of a record or accolades, nor was he at the top of his game like Numbuh 1 or 274, he was friendly and normal that was what really mattered.

Not that she was infatuated with 1 or 274, no, she admired them, aspired to be like them. But of course, they were boys. Competent boys. Boys she could take home to her parents and they wouldn't bat an eyelash against them.

Except for 274. The true Numbuh 274. The Monster.

She should really get an award for putting up being his nigh-impossible battle partner. While bruises and split lips have slowly become a rare occurrence the past year, it was only because they both got clever enough to place them on certain weak spots; one of which was blossoming down her lower back and making it difficult for her to sit down on the past few days.

Rachel had a sinking feeling that Chad enjoyed finding all of those weak tender spots that made her go instantly limp in his arms. There were even some she didn't even know existed until he hit her in a certain way on the mat.

But that was okay because she was quickly learning some of his. That limp of his the last few days still brought a smile to her face every time.

The pain and strain came with a worthwhile price. She had a higher tolerance for physical pain than she ever did when she was in the espionage service. That paid off when Stickybeard managed to crash his ship right into the side of Moonbase and injure the whole lot of them down on deck five last month.

Rachel had bit the inside of her cheek down throughout the entire fight and hunkered down for an hour long battle until reinforcements arrived. She was the only one on deck who had forced down the pain and picked up a weapon to defend the wounded.

"See that? That's Global Tactical Officer material!" Numbuh 274 had said once the battle was over and clean up began. He helped her climb back over the barricade and held her up while he presented her to the powers that be. She had been much too weak from the battle to protest. "You gonna promote her instead of that pencil pusher 65.3 now?"

She was like some kind of trophy for him, or a diamond that he had meticulously burned free of flaws from a lump of coal. At any rate, her actions earned her the role of his XO, and for once it was something she had rightfully earned.

The real problem was the reputation that came with it. Operatives kissed her feet because she was the second most important person in the KND, but any personal relationships fell to the wayside. Fanny's new stint as Head of Decommissioning kept her out on the field and rarely on the Global Command deck and Patton officially moved into the Arctic Base permanently as their new Staff Sergeant second class.

Despite the distance she had hoped to spend at least Valentine's Day with them but it was a fruitless endeavor. Even she couldn't find time out of her new schedule to take a breather and just talk to them.

No, this year she might have to forgo the commercialized holiday and just send the mandatory cards out to operatives on command she hardly knew and probably nodded once or twice so far in her career. Impersonal, but polite.

Like school, everyone had bags or boxes out waiting for cards and candy to drop into them. It wasn't really a holiday of actual affection for kids their age, but more like Halloween but with pink confetti and hearts. Some bragged when their bags were full and some even made it a competition to see how much candy they could get.

Rachel treated it like another task to be completed and spent most of her morning meticulously writing out appropriate generic cards with those little chocolate kisses taped on the side before she arrived on base. She just didn't expect a haul of treats and cards herself. She remembered Numbuh 10 once hinting that boys were naturally 'intimidated' by a girl like her in high command.

She remembered Fanny's well-placed snarl at Belle's words. "Who else is gunna get things done around here?! Boys?! Useless, the whole lot o' them!"

Numbuh 274, on the other hand, had a mountain of cards and candy last year. Lack of respect for the chain of command aside, girls just enjoyed boys with real power. Add that with the boyish charisma that Chad Dickson used in copious amounts and the rest of the universe just followed in his favor.

She's quickly learned to forward all gifts straight to his office to avoid looking at them. Unlike developing an immunity to pain through physical training, she was just not capable of seeing romantic favors of all shapes and sizes pass by her desk and straight into his. The more each one passed, the more annoyed she became with it.

Rachel figured it was a disruption thing. Asking her to sign off on every single package would annoy anyone of sound mind and body. Chad seemed to get a kick out of it though if his smug grin was any indication.

"Jealous, Numbuh 362?"

Nope. Worried for the poor girls who you do look twice at.

And there were many. Older girls just on the cusp of decommissioning with pretty blond curls and gorgeous armor that color coordinated the latest fashions. Sometimes Rachel would watch through her peripheral vision as they walked past her desk and admire what was almost art from all the Asian-inspired kitchen utensils typical for Moonbase.

She often dreamed of having sharp sabers on her own colander… or something samurai-oriented like Numbuh 274's.

Less than a week ago the new boy with the pretty silver eyes actually went up to her desk and shook her entire universe by asking her to be his Valentine.

It was like everything dropped to a standstill and there was nothing but her quickened breath and the rapid beating of her chest that filled the silence. It had never beat so much outside of training before.

And long after she stuttered out a yes did the boy shyly reach forward to press a kiss to her cheek. As her eyes widened and her fingers immediately pressed against her burning cheek, he instantly departed with that wry grin.

It didn't it even occur to her what had just happened.

"Why the heck are you just sitting there?" Chad had raised an eyebrow at her when he emerged from his office. "You're glowing up like a Christmas tree."

Had she been just sitting there staring at the wall for the last half hour? She must have. The beating in her chest quickened once more when Chad invaded her space across the desk to press the back of his hand against her forehead, feeling for a fever.

"I… I'm not ill," she murmured weakly.

But that didn't seem to be enough for him. His fingers trailed down past the side of her temple until he brushed her cheek and retreated. That seemed to electrify her enough to snap out of whatever pleased stupor she got herself under.

"If you say so," Chad snorted and straightened up. "You almost look like one of those lovesick girls down in Engineering. Which reminds me, you're still up for a triple shift on Valentine's Day, right? Staff always gets thin on that day. I wonder why."

"Yes…" she automatically said until the boy's words came back to her in full force. Date night at McFancy's. "I mean no!"

He startled when she jumped out of her seat and slammed her palms onto her desk, nearly causing her Rainbow Monkey mug to fall off. "No?"

Rachel blushed. "I… I have plans. I'll double shift until evening EST, but then I'll have to clock out."

"Plans," he tasted the word on his tongue and, from the sudden dark expression on his face, he didn't seem to enjoy it. "I don't like it when you have plans." He approached her so fast, she hardly blinked and had to pull back a bit. She could still practically feel his breath against her lips. "With who?"

He smelled like peppermint. She loved peppermint.

Swallowing, her shoulders hitched up in defense and she tried to put more distance between them. "That's none of your business, sir. I don't ask who you have plans with."

"Evening shifts are our training shift," he growled. "and I always make time for us."

Rachel bit her lip, trying to come up with a contradiction to those words. One date, any date that conflicted with their training, she came up with none. He treated this like it was some kind of betrayal on her part.

When she finally looked up, she found him staring intently at her mouth. She let go of her bottom lip and cleared her throat. "You know… I bet we can both use the day off from training. We're both still sore…" That stupid grin of his returned again. "…and I mean, we. You haven't been walking very well since the last session."

"You nearly twisted my ankle," he purred with pride. "you're getting very good."

She sighed in order to suppress the strange blush creeping up in the back of her neck. "The point is, it's not everyday I get to go out and do normal things."

"So you're gonna go out with some random boy instead of training with me?" Chad scrutinized her hard before tossing his hand up in the air. "Your priorities are screwed."

Her priorities?! He was just asking for an empty Valentine from her. In fact, she had been debating it, wondering if he'd be offended if she refused to give him anything or be even more offended given a generic card like everyone else. Getting him anything more than that would just reward her with that smug grin and the implication that he had a very solid place in her life… which he doesn't deserve.

And besides, it wasn't like he'd lack any Valentines this year. It might even be bigger now that he's filling into his armor nicely…

…not that she noticed that in particular. It was just an innocent observation.

After blubbering to Fanny the next day about what had happened, how that nice boy from tactical had kissed her cheek, did the atmosphere of the office become nearly subzero when she ran errands for Numbuh 274.

If she had been in her right mind, she could have put together that he was Supreme Leader; a Supreme Leader with a well-known documented case of possession issues that only she was privy to. He always had his eye in the sky, had the entire Moonbase bugged and under his surveillance at just the tip of his fingers.

To find some nobody intruding on his battle partner, his XO, kissing what was rightfully his, always brought out the worst in him.

After school Rachel immediately reported to Moonbase for her first shift and found the entire deck covered in red streamers.

She smiled politely back at some of the staff that waved at her and returned to excitedly going around trading cards and candy. When some of the cadets shyly offered her some Rainbow Monkey cards she opened up her bag and started to pass out her own Valentines to them and most of beta shift.

She surprisingly ended up with a good number of cards and treats of her own before she reached her desk.

"Having fun?" Chad grinned as he leaned against the side of his office door. "Where's your Valentine, Cinderella?"

One stray look over his shoulder and she could already see his desk overflowing with cards and candies. It made her little stash look extremely pathetic in comparison, but it was her tiny stash and she loved it just the same.

"I…" She didn't know how to respond. Was he asking about her date or the Valentine gift meant for him? "…you've got more than enough Valentines, I think."

Chad's eyes narrowed. "Well it's good to know how much I'm appreciated, but I wasn't talking about that. I meant Numbuh 483."

"I don't recall ever telling you who it was," Rachel snapped and stood up. "Are you spying on me, sir?"

"As Supreme Leader, everything regarding the KND is my business. Moonbase is mine," His blue eyes seemed to burn straight through her. "And that includes you."

Not today. She wasn't going to play their little game today. "Excuse me," she deflected sharply and walked away. Rachel McKenzie had her first date tonight and she wasn't going to let anyone, especially Chad Dickson, try to ruin another one of her first's.

Remembering her stolen first kiss by the very same boy she left on a sour note, she bit her lip hard and felt his eyes burn into her back long after she left the office.

Everything, including her hair, was covered in oil. There was no way she can slip out of shift for a small luncheon with Numbuh 483 now. They would have to wait until tonight for the actual date.

Rachel sighed and climbed out of the small area that pumped the life-giving fluid that kept Moonbase's roots alive. Shaking her head rapidly, bits of oil flew everywhere and that only served to make it worse. The Engineering operative smiled apologetically at her superior.

"I'm so sorry, Numbuh 362! It's just this dress… and it's Valentine's Day…"

She raised an oil stained hand to stop her. "It's alright. I understand." Her own dress was hanging in her private quarters, one that she had never seen before but there it was in her closet and it fit just perfectly.

It really was something to be admired really; a chiffon navy blue, single strap cocktail dress that fluttered down over her knees. It was classy and comfortable and just her style.

Maybe it was Numbuh 10's doing and this was her subtle way of thanking her for taking over her shift today. There was no one else that she could think of that had taste in dresses and thinking that it was possibly Fanny made her laugh out loud every time she considered it.

"Strange. I thought engineering did the root system's maintenance every Monday?" Rachel wondered aloud and took off her gloves.

The younger girl nervously laughed and played with one of her curls, reminding Rachel of the daunting shower and gussying up she would have to do for her own date tonight. "Yeah, it is weird. I guess everyone's just so busy getting ready for Valentine's Day!"

Once Rachel sighed and disappeared, the operative pouted and grumbled under her breath. "That was so mean, but the day off is so worth it!"

One after another, it seemed as if everyone needed something from her. From a 2x4 experiment to picking out the lunch menu, Rachel had been running around drenched in oil until it dried and stuck her hair in places that would have been embarrassing if she had stopped long enough to look in a mirror.

She was ready to call sabotage until she managed to acquire some free time. Dodging 65.3 with a well-timed run to the elevator, Rachel immediately went back to her quarters for a well-deserved shower.

A shiver had suddenly ran up her spine just as she toweled off.

Someone was outside the bathroom.

Quickly changing into her simple blue dress and silver pumps, Rachel had an inkling as to who it was. There was only one person who had the authorization to override an XO's locks.

But when she opened the bathroom door, she found no one in the vicinity and sighed. Maybe she was just being paranoid. It was only a few minutes later just as she started styling her hair and looking for her simple stud earrings did she finally notice something that wasn't in her room before.

A bouquet of dark red roses sat on her bedside table and it took her breath away. Was it from Numbuh 483?

Upon closer inspection, each stem was wrapped in a dark navy blue ribbon that complimented the red beautifully and prevented her fingers from touching the sharp thorns that hadn't been cut for some reason.

It was very romantic… and very intimate. Definitely not a cheesy card. Flushing slightly, she looked away long enough to pick up the card and examine the neat scrawl. There was no name, just a few words.

You're mine until the last rose dies.

She irritably blew a bit of hair from her face. "You couldn't be anymore obvious can you, Numbuh 274?" Her lips quirked up a fraction when she read the card again. "Okay, maybe that's a little sweet. Overconfident, but sweet."

Now she felt a bit bad. Maybe she still had time to get him something. Perhaps not as daunting as claiming someone, the idiot, but a similar sentiment should stand. All thoughts of reciprocating died, however, when she lifted the bouquet and found another gift hidden underneath.

Play Me, the envelope said.

Frowning, Rachel pulled out a disk and placed it into her disk slot. The computer monitor lit up and she was greeted with the flickering surveillance footage of Numbuh 483 down on deck six, obviously gesturing to some of his friends.

"Look, I know a thing or two about networking," her date echoed out of her speakers with a charming grin. It wasn't as contagious as Chad's, but that was why she was attracted to it in the first place. It was safe. Normal. "And no one's willing to tap into the resource that is Numbuh 362. I mean, she's a girl. All girls like romance. You know how easy it was for her to accept? You can tell she was desperate."

Those words hit her hard, more than she ever thought they could. While everything seemed to crash around her, Rachel remained rooted to the spot, unable to comprehend what she was hearing. She began to shake the more 483 continued.

"And if I'm really lucky, I could get promoted to Global Command. It happens all the time on base! Couples always try to promote the other. This could be my chance! There's no way in heck otherwise. Sector V always gets the good gigs. But when I'm Supreme Leader? Things are going to change."

One of his friends laughed in disbelief. "Numbuh 362's probably the next one to be Supreme Leader after 274's decommissioning! What makes you think she's going to hand that to you?"

483 scoffed. "Please. We haven't had a female Supreme Leader since Numbuh 999. She'll be begging for her boyfriend to take the position instead. I can tell."

Boyfriend? Rachel began to tremble in anger… anger and pain. It was a pain that wasn't physically inflicted and would probably be impossible to heal with a bit of salve and a band-aid. No, she had no idea how to cover this wound up.

He didn't want to take her out on Valentine's Day because he liked her. He wanted to take the fast track up the chain of command. This insignificant kid wounded her far more than 274 could ever inflict on her physically.

The small compact mirror began to crack in her palm. With a strange coldness, she set it down and marched out of the room, silver slippers and all.

Cinderella was extremely angry.

Ignoring the fellow operatives left and right that stared at her (one ended up crashing into the adjacent wall for looking too long), Rachel found Numbuh 483 waiting at the designated fountain.

He looked her up and down before grinning. "Wow, sir, you look great!"

"Do I?" she said coldly. "I expected far more clever compliments from someone looking for a promotion."

His smile dimmed. "What?"

She held up her communicator and played the incriminating audio. It was oddly cathartic to see the operative turn from pink, to red, and then to an ashen pale. "Um… I… I… I…"

"I? I, I, I…" Rachel mimed sourly, her brown eyes almost a solid black. "A future Supreme Leader should be on the ball, I think. Sectors can't understand their orders when their superiors keep repeating the alphabet."

Numbuh 483 kept gaping at her like a fish, trying to find some kind of reason to justify himself, but Numbuh 362 had no patience for an explanation. Just payback. "Let me demonstrate the chains of commanding, Numbuh 483. Consider this an important Valentine's Day gift."

Grabbing him by the throat, she showed everyone the pros of being Numbuh 274's battle partner by effortlessly tossing him across the room and into the fountain. All while wearing high heels.

The whole deck fell silent aside from 483 coughing and sputtering in the fountain. Then a round of cheers and whistling filled the room when Rachel stomped off the deck.

A couple members of the Decommissioning Squad lowly whistled and said, "Man, I can't believe Numbuh 86 missed this!"

"Don't worry, I got this on camera! Live from Moonbase suckers and a Happy Freaking Valentine's Day! Wooo!" Numbuh 1086 made a peace sign to his communicator before forwarding the video to everyone on his friend's list.

Dressing up a Yeti in a pink dress? This totally beat Arctic Base!

Numbuh 274 should be gone from his office by now, taking her advice to leave shift early for once. That left her with an opportunity to hide under her desk and just cry. The office was her secondary sanctuary, the closest private place she could go, and she quickly broke down before anyone saw.

There was another girl in the hallway leading to their offices, but she immediately departed when Rachel glared at her before slamming the office door closed. It was obvious who the girl was waiting for, but she would have to wait all night.

Chad wasn't here and Rachel wanted some privacy.

Her voice cracking when she ordered the computer to lock down the office, Rachel finally found her destination underneath her desk and started to hiccup. The tears finally came when the on-board computer calmly indicated that everything was locked and soundproof.

She furiously tried to suppress a sob, but failed, and wiped the wetness from her eyes. Weakness. Working in espionage should have stamped this out of her by now, but here it was in full force, and she sobbed again.

It was hopeless trying to do normal things. Not even something as simple like going on a real date was ever going to be easy for her.

A gentle trill of drums brought her sobs into hiccups as she strained to hear, but it was the cadence of a bass guitar playing in time that stopped her from shaking completely. It sounded so familiar… was that music?

Tentatively climbing out from under her desk, she found the entire surface empty except the bouquet of roses from her quarters. Some of the petals were already falling off from lack of care.

Oh no. She grabbed the bouquet and held it gently in her hands, kicking herself for not putting it in a vase or something as she tried to salvage it. How it got there wasn't even on her mind.

Every breath you take, every move you make…

"Every bond you break, every step you take, I'll be watching you…" she quietly mouthed in time of the music. Memories of sitting in the car and listening to her dad's favorite 80's station until she dozed in her younger years brought back the nostalgia of singing along to it.

The music was muffled through the door… leading to Numbuh 274's office.

She instantly turned red before sighing. Of course. Brushing the airy fabric of her skirt to keep it from wrinkling, she opened the door and found the entire office dimmed except for a table with candles on it.

Oh no… again. Was that girl waiting in the hallway there for the dinner date with Chad? Unsure and embarrassed, she took a step back into the light outside in her office.

That was when Chad emerged from an adjacent room with a bottle of sparkling cider, locked eyes with her before she had the chance to run, and grinned at her. His dress shirt was the exact same color as her dress. "Huh. You're not Candace."

Her mouth opened, then closed. "I'm not."

"Even better," he purred and gestured to the table. "Take a seat."

It wasn't a request. Hand pressed against her lower back, Chad led her toward the table and pulled out the chair for her. She had no choice but to sit down and let him do what he wanted.

"I love your dress," he said with a knowing look in his blue eyes, and proved it by running his fingers up the zipper line and brushed the nape of her neck before pulling away. "You even did your hair up the way I like it. How thoughtful."

Suppressing a shiver, Rachel watched him pour the bottle into long stemmed flutes that reminded her of her mother's formal parties. Even the flute stems had a ribbon tied around them. A dark navy blue. "You were planning this from the beginning."

"Hey now. No one could have predicted you tossing an operative into the soda fountain," He sat down on the opposite side and the way he looked at her under the candlelight was even more intimidating than usual. "A wonderful Valentine's Day present, by the way. Using my weight distribution method against him? Absolutely beautiful form."

Rachel blushed and talked to her bouquet in her hands instead. "I mean everything else. The root maintenance, the flowers, the dress. Oh god, the dress."

"I have my ways," he smiled a secret smile as his eyes roved up the entirety of the navy blue chiffon. She had been played from the beginning by letting her guard down.

He had concocted a beautiful, but dangerous trap for her and she was falling for it hook, line, and sinker.

Sting's soft crooning continued to trickle in the background. "I love this song," she sighed quietly. "but it's not a very appropriate song for Valentine's Day."

"Nope, no it's not, but it's appropriate nevertheless, don't you think?" Chad agreed and took a sip of his cider.

Obsession under the guise of a love song. Rachel said nothing and instead played with the soft velvet petals of each rose. That is until her fingers brushed against a rough texture from the darkest rose, its petals the only one intact.

She locked eyes with him and he smirked. "Problem?"

Breaking eye contact, Rachel took in the nice dress shirt that complimented his blue eyes and his exceptionally clean appearance. "I… I didn't get you anything."

He snorted around the rim of his glass. "I told you tossing Numbuh 483 in the… "

"No, that's not a really good gift," she countered and, with a confidence that even surprised herself, she walked around the table. Chad's darkened eyes followed the gentle sway of her skirt and, for the first time today, she was gaining the upper hand on things.

He was just as much a slave to her whims as he presumed she was to him.

"Not really interested in those chocolate kisses you've been giving everyone on deck," he murmured when she stopped next to his chair. "I've got enough chocolate to last me a lifetime." How long was he watching her today, she wondered, and pulling the strings behind the scenes all just to sabotage another operative for a simple dinner?

She nervously licked her bottom lip, a simple instinct to moisten the chapped surface there, and caught a glimpse of Chad's incisors when he smiled hungrily for her. "Lucky for you then. I'm out of chocolate," Rachel murmured and leaned forward.

Her heel gave under the waxed floor and she would have fallen right on top of him if not for his hands, which immediately sought her waist with such an ease it should annoy her, but it didn't. He all but steadied her confidence when she pressed her lips against his and he hummed in content.

Two things ran through her short-circuited mind. One, she was stumbling through every bit of regulation, hoping that she wasn't breaking any rules with fraternization. (Which, to be fair, Chad broke that for a year now.) Two, he was completely right about kissing. It made her blood sing and her heart pound from the want. Just a pure, simple want because she had nothing to offer someone who had everything, but it must be something.

Because he was here and he was kissing her because she was Rachel McKenzie. Or maybe it was because she was Numbuh 362. Maybe it was both and it didn't matter.

"Stop thinking," he murmured against her lips. She instantly obliged, but only for a moment. If they continued any longer, she might just actually fall over in a daze.

She was the first to pull back, earning her an irritated look and a growl for ending it so soon. Interestingly enough, Chad looked just as much out of it as she was… and yet she had his absolute attention. How strange.

Her fingers somehow found themselves twisted into the soft fabric of his shirt during the kiss. He winced when she experimentally squeezed and realized she was pushing into the bruises there. "Are you in pain?" her words were surprisingly hoarse.

He licked his own bottom lip before he pulled her down for another kiss. "It's a good kind of pain."

And when her tummy rumbled, he smirked and made an off-handed remark that he forced Numbuh 483 as their waiter tonight as punishment for his scheming against the chain of command.

She impulsively kissed him again.

With an agitated huff, Rachel's sixteenth female enemy of the day was Candace, who like many other girls before her, was barred from entering 274's office. "He'll see me! What's the big idea?!"

"He's not to be disturbed, please try again later," Rachel murmured, almost imitating the monotone of the KND's computer AI. She was obscenely glad for the final update from paperwork to digital forms. Typing was far less tiring than reading and writing chicken scratch.

Candace remained, arms folded and glaring daggers at her. Eventually Rachel looked up and quirked an eyebrow. "Hello. How may I help you today?"

"Very funny. You think you're so cute because you're Chad's little prodigy," she accused. "Does he know you're intentionally keeping me from visiting him?"

Rachel shrugged, but her sierra eyes glimmered with something Candace was relatively familiar with: possessiveness. "He probably does, but he probably doesn't care. He might even get a kick out of it. Because I'm his little prodigy."

The older girl hitched her shoulders up in surprise, but, realizing that she had no chance competing with a Global Tactical Officer, she simply sniffed indignantly and walked off. She nearly barreled over Fanny in the process, who looked at her like she grew a second head.

"Ah've expected rudeness from a boy, not a girl!" Fanny snapped over her shoulder. She placed the giant stack of forms on Rachel's desk before mumbling under her breath, "Bloody preteens."

"Careful now, our Supreme Leader is a preteen," Rachel noted with a hint of a smile, though it twitched down when she noticed the stack of paper right on top of her inbox and sighed. "I really hate paperwork."

Fanny snickered. "Tha's the problem with convertin' from hard copy ter digital. Got to do the convertin'!"

She hung around for a minute, letting them both bask in the comfortable camaraderie they had between each other before the red head frowned at the lone rose in a tiny vase, a product of a holiday almost three months ago. "That rose is still alive?!"

Rachel absently clicked away at her computer. "Mhmmm."

"What in the blazes have ye been feedin' it? Blood?!" The other roses had long since died and discarded, but the ribbons they came with Rachel didn't have the heart to toss aside. She instead tied them around the little vase that held the last rose and got many compliments ever since she had it on her desk.

"I haven't been feeding it blood, but I suppose that's an idea," Rachel teased, glancing fondly at the vase. Fanny completely missed the second glance at Numbuh 274's door, but maybe that was a good thing.

"What have you been actually feeding it?" she repeated curiously.

The clicking on the keyboard stopped and Rachel looked up thoughtfully. "A false sense of security? Vigilance."

Fanny snorted and wave her arms around before leaving. "Fine, fine. Dunna tell me."

Rachel didn't have the heart to tell her that the rose was fake. Perhaps something artificial and unnatural was better than real. Maybe that lasts forever.

You're mine until the last rose dies.