A/N: Because a world of hurt is coming up and our beloved ship is going to have to make a choice thanks to Minelli's replacement. Love or career. What will they do?


Painting the Roses Red

Grace was the first to admit it. She hated fuck-ups. A lot. She hated a botched job. She hated idiots who deservedly bore the description. She hated lies and cover-ups, and intensely hated half-assed cover-ups that were eventually found out. They all drove her crazy. They insulted people's intelligence. They ruined lives, and usually not the life of the perpetrator. They were all selfish acts. Stupid acts. For her, there was no two ways about it. Never lie, but if you do, make it stick. Walk tall and never cover-up your misdeeds, but if you do, make sure the cover-up is bulletproof and can withstand even the closest scrutiny. Respect those who might detect your duplicity. Never assume you've outwitted anyone.

Be a saint or an evil genius.

Dare to be a mediocre liar and risk your precious reputation and waste a lot of everyone else's time.

She'd always carried this ethos, ever since she was a little girl and her mother read Alice in Wonderland to her. As Alice wandered into the Queen's beautiful garden, she discovered playing cards madly painting the white roses red. White roses, planted by mistake, would surely mean the Queen would have their heads. So, fearing punishment rather than respecting honesty, the gardening cards were globbing on layers of painfully obvious red paint onto the poor flowers. The Queen happened along, saw the paint, and promptly went ballistic. The gardeners were ordered to death, not even knowing if it was the white roses or the red subterfuge that angered her.

Grace found the whole situation ridiculous.

Painting the roses red? Who wouldn't immediately notice? Who wouldn't be twice as angry at the lie than they would the honest mistake? Even a trigger-happy queen must see the reason in that.

And so Grace had gone through life with a pack of beheaded cards as her talisman. They were her reminder. Never paint roses. Never act the fool.

It scared her to death how far she'd fallen from her lofty principles.

She was well past the honest mistake of falling in love. She was far beyond the lie about not being romantically involved with a co-worker.

And now the Queen has happened along.

SA Madeleine Hightower, replacement of Minelli and roller of heads, has wandered into her little garden of an office and discovered a white rose bush covered in red paint.

It's so painfully gauche and insulting that Grace cringed just thinking about it. The woman had known instantly and Grace had wanted to throw herself at her feet and cower, begging for her life like that damned Two of Spades. She'd broken the rules. She'd lied about it and tried to cover it up. Badly. And now all she wanted was mercy.

But the Queen was kinder than most in her cruelty. Choose, she'd said. Choose your prince, or choose your job, but one of them must go. Banished forever. Leave us or leave him, that was Her decree. No worlds, not even wonderlands, were truly wonderful.

Indecision froze her lungs and stopped her heart. This choice was no choice at all, it was an amputation. Something had to give, but nothing could be spared. She needed her job. She needed her man. Both were unique in the world, she'd never find better on either score.

What was the point of keeping her head if she had to lose both arms or both legs? How macabre was it to make her? The honest mistake should be empathized with, she thought miserably. The lie and the cover-up should be overlooked. No harm was meant. No damage truly done. But she couldn't defend herself and she knew it.

She'd painted the roses.

She'd played the fool.

For the first time in her life, she pitied the lowly, headless Two of Spades.