Watching from far off, Chad rested against the back of the tree, watching the proceedings with a mask of indifference. The Other materialized in an alien-like light next to him. If it could stare, it did right back at Chad.
"I take it that you failed again, Two Seventy-Four?"
Chad crossed his arms, finally looking away. "I guess so."
"You are not disappointed."
"She did not give in," The Other continued. "She did not betray the KND. That makes her just as qualified as you and Numbuh One."
Chad shrugged. "I guess so. Although, she nearly cracked under the pressure. I nearly had her."
The Other was silent, which Chad assumed was it trying to process this information. "Perhaps she is not so qualified after all."
Chad said nothing, but if the Other had any knowledge of potential human subtlety, it would have noticed a glimmer of triumph dancing in the blonde's eyes.
"May I inquire something, Two Seventy-Four?"
"What interests you so greatly in that child? Surely there are other, better suitable mates on this planet that would pique your interests."
Chad wrinkled his nose at the blatancy of that statement. "She's special."
He pulled himself away from the tree and stretched. "Your kind wouldn't understand. Leave it at that."
"You were willing to face insubordination and face losing your candidacy to join our ranks in order to keep this girl from us. You will face an inquiry as to why you would do such a thing." The Other responded back expressionlessly. "Do you have a suitable explanation for it?"
Chad stopped mid-stretch. He smiled deviously. "I do."
"And what is that?"
He looked back at the scene. Abby and Nigel were supporting a now unconscious Commander. If Rachel could have seen his smile now! It was warm, boyish and completely like the former Supreme Leader, Numbuh Two Seventy-Four. His answer, a stark contrast to his cold ironic echo back in the fun house.
"Because I could."
She was still fighting internally. He'd forgive her for that.
He also made a promise to her. And it was something he'll strive to achieve for her sake. She deserved that right. When the time comes, he'll be back for her.
It was not until the early afternoon that her eyes fluttered open. She felt warm and safe, as though she had been cocooned away into a place where none other could reach her. Warm sunlight spilled in through a large window that took up the greater part of the wall. This was her room, the one she had grown up in, had even deliberated joining the Kids Next Door in so many years ago. She looked to her right, her ruined dress had been discarded hastily by someone, though she was still wearing her plain white undershirt. There was the sound of someone clearing their throat, and Rachel turned to her left to see Nigel sitting on an unassuming chair, a folder in his lap that he seemed to only be paying half-attention to.
"I was afraid we were going to lose you." Nigel said simply, staying in his seat. The events of the past night raced through her mind, and she began to feel more awkward than usual around Nigel--although now, there were different reasons.
"It...it wouldn't have been the first time." She said simply, letting her head fall back against her lavish pillows.
"You had a rough night, didn't you?" Nigel asked, though did not immediately prod her for details.
"I...yes. But I don't think you could understand."
"Rachel...when I heard your scream, I was terrified. I didn't know what was happening, only that you were missing and last seen near your school. When you called out to me...I was afraid that. . .that I was going to lose you."
"But you did." She whispered inaudibly, not wanting Nigel to hear.
"Chad kidnapped you, we had no idea what was happening, all I knew was that if it was the last thing I did I was going to bring you back home safe."
"I appreciate your efforts."
"He didn't even take you to Father's mansion. What did he want with you, Rachel?"
"He wanted..." The entire night with Chad Dixon, previously Numbuh Two Seventy Four, made her entire mind reel and her body ache for his touch. How could she have let this happen to herself so effortlessly? What power did he have over her. "...he wanted to sell me something."
"Are you alright?"
"No, I'm not alright. I haven't been alright for too long now!" The blonde snapped at him.
"It's all right, Rachel. You're safe now. You're home, no one here will hurt you."
"Someone's hurting me right now!" She said darkly.
"I don't understand."
"Stow that line of garbage! All of this is your fault! Did I really ask so much of you? Couldn't you acknowledge me even once? You never notice me, never touch me, make me beg for breadcrumbs that amount to nothing....is it any wonder why when he lead me to water I needed to drink so badly? Just once...just once I needed to know I was alive, that someone wanted me..."
She ceased her ramblings and took a deep breath. She was unraveling, allowing her emotions to go unchecked. Gripping the sheets to counter the frustration, any further rants evaporated when she took in Nigel's expression.
Worry and confusion. He was as clueless as a puppy. Who was she to pour out her unrequited frustrations onto someone who knew next to nothing of said affection for him? It was unfair to him.
How was he to know the pains of a one-sided love? He had someone who unconditionally cared for him to this day. She couldn't take that away from him, no matter how bad she was hurting.
He loved Lizzie. He'd be lost without her.
He was simply put, just a kid.
And how she wanted to cry out in frustration. This was it. She was beginning to change. Just what Chad rightfully predicted.
Fighting her inner turmoil, she fashioned herself a smile to placate him. "...ah, sorry Nigel. Forget what I said earlier. I guess I'm still a little shot up from last night."
He didn't look convinced, but she was stubborn. He'll have to take what she can give him. "What was he trying to sell you?"
"You said he was trying to sell you something." Nigel pointed out suspiciously. "What was he trying to sell you? Aside from the kidnapping, of course." He let that last sentence drip out, obviously seeing past her initial explanation.
"You wouldn't understand." Rachel slowly shook her head, her eyes taking on a far away look.
"Try me." Nigel asked softly, concerned for what was happening to his friend
Rachel sighed, wishing there was a way to make this easier. "Don't you ever feel old, Nigel? Don't you ever feel like you're done?"
"Done with what?" The boy blinked, confused.
"This...all of this! I get so tired of it. Like there has to be a better life than paperwork and hard decisions. He showed me that there is. But...I held myself back. Something pulled me inside, into safety, brought me back to reality. But the things that he showed me, Nigel....Chad gave me hope in a way no one else ever could. But I don't think you would be able to understand."
He was quiet for a moment, taking in her words. "This isn't like you, Rachel."
She turned away, staring at some indiscernible speck on the far off wall. "I know."
"The Rachel I know," He rested his hand on her arm, causing her to look at him. "Would never give in, no matter how tempted she was."
"The Rachel I know," She mocked quietly. "Isn't perfect. Not at all."
Before, whenever she and Nigel made even the smallest contact, a small spark would shoot up and she thought, for that one split second, that they were meant for each other.
But, when Chad practically violated her personal space, grabbed any part of her within reach, an electrical current would shoot up her spine in large increments, lighting her insides on fire. And she hated and desired him for it.
Now...after quite the fix from Chad, Nigel's touch is almost pathetic in comparison. And it hurt her to know that. Badly.
"No one expects you to be perfect, you know. Especially not me. I just need you to be yourself, Rachel."
"I am being myself, Nigel. That's what frightens me so much. The girl you think I am--she doesn't exist anymore. She's getting older and...and soon she'll be gone, at least in the way you're used to. And yet I can't stop thinking about...what might have been in my life. All the mistakes I've made, all the chances I've taken, all the bad turns I've taken us down...
"Is that what this is about? Are you really so scared of yourself, Rachel?"
"I'm scared of what I might do in the wrong situation." The blond girl breathed. "Of who I will become. I think I might retire soon, before it's too late for all of us. I'm a liability to you."
"That's not true!" Nigel countered, forgetting any sense of protocol to look her directly in the eyes. "It's your relationships and interactions with others that make the difference, that transform you in to the girl you are."
"And it is those same interactions that are making me such a mess. Don't you feel something missing between us, even now?
Nigel faltered at those words, puzzled for a moment. He stared at the hand he placed on her forearm. Now that she mentioned it---she felt cold. Not externally cold, but a strange cold. Like the spark he used to feel. It seemed tame, too tame. He took a real good look at her.
Her face seemed a bit more angular and her cheerful brown eyes were dimmed, almost to a dark simmer, as if she was hiding secrets that would never be brought to surface. And her hair---that golden mop seemed a bit darker as well. She looked like a completely different person to him.
But there was an unmistakable glimmer hiding in those eyes. Like she tasted a bit of forbidden paradise and was fixing for more. Hungering and demanding...
He looked away. It was almost unbearable to watch.
"What...what did he do to you, Rachel?"
She tilted her head to the side and chuckled darkly.
"It's not what he did, Nigel..." She laid back down, her gaze drifting into dark waters where electric blue eyes and a tantalizing smirk reigned, continuing to beckon her to him. His darkness her own personal haven if she allowed it to.
The corners of her lips rose a bit, a small dark smirk reminiscent of Chad's, which startled Nigel.
"It's what he didn't do."