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The Silver Stem

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“Scarlet…”

He locked his legs in place, begging them to cooperate, just this once. 

“Scarlet… we’ve been through a lot together. A lot of things…” He ran his hands through his hair. This wasn’t right. “You know… kidnappings, a revolution… that one time I tried to kill you… all those times you almost shot me…”

Deep breaths, buddy, deep breaths.

“The point is… we’ve survived all of that, and then some. And I want you by my side, forever. So… will you marry me?”

He held the little gold ring out in front of him, as though handing it to his own reflection in the mirror. 

His own faced smiled back at him, anxiety-ridden. He could see the effort in himself, but…

“No.” He slouched, defeated, and sat down on the bed. “That’s not right at all.”

Besides the fact that asking for Scarlet’s hand made him a nervous wreck, he couldn’t help but think about what he was asking. Maybe she had come close to shooting him, once or twice.

But he could have killed her, for real. He almost had. How could he ask her to keep taking that risk for the rest of her life?

He needed to forgo the speech. Instead of reminding her of the bad times, he needed to remind her of the good parts. 

That could be nearly impossible, considering they had met because of aggressive drunkards, wolf mutants kidnapping her grandmother, and a deadly Lunar revolution. 

He began to despair again, until he remembered the one positive symbol that had impacted them both.

A bright red symbol.

——

The moment Scarlet was otherwise occupied, he snuck off to the tomato fields. The idea was absolutely bonkers, but he was praying that the high level of nostalgia would offset how crazy it was. 

He still tended to get lost between fields. Although it was a small farm, it was certainly of a larger area than he’d ever had access to before, and the navigation took some getting used to. But the tomatoes were his favorite crops, so he knew approximately where they were, and within three minutes he was standing at the edge of the patch. 

These tomato plants were relatively fresh, having just been staked and caged a couple of weeks prior. Many of them were still flecked with green. He passed over these. Perhaps it wasn’t necessary, but he wanted the most perfect tomato possible. 

Finally, finally, he found it: the biggest, reddest, surely the juiciest tomato the Benoit Farms and Gardens had ever grown. Taking the utmost care not to squish it, he plucked it gently from its stem. 

He stood and was immediately greeted by a farm android. 

“Hello, stranger. Do you have access to the security pin?”

Wolf grimaced. There had been an incident wherein a thief had dug up several potatoes and left a card for twenty univs in the spot. The androids had been in the vicinity, but they didn’t do anything to stop the thief, or even alert Scarlet, and it made Scarlet paranoid enough to implement a pin system. 

“If they had just stolen the potatoes without a trace, I might understand,” Scarlet had said. “But leaving the money implies that they had the capability to pay, so the act of stealing is just cocky.”

Wolf went to plug the sequence into the keypad. First a 3… then a 6… then a 1… no, it was the 1, then the six…

“Security pin incorrect. Alerting Miss Benoit to security breach.”

Panicking, Wolf did the only thing he could think to do— punch the android in the head. 

Immediately it started sparking and fell to the ground. He made a mental note to talk to Scarlet about upgrading the quality of the androids. 

He hoped it hadn’t had enough time to relay the message to Scarlet, but if it did, he’d have to figure out a lie to cover it up. 

——

Scarlet’s (phoneathingamagig) pinged just as she was putting a cake pan filled with batter into the oven. 

“Really?” she groaned. “Now?”

She quickly shoved the oven door closed and checked her notifications. 

ALERT: COORDINATES 12-22, TOMATO FIELDS

That was all it said. Scarlet’s eyebrows dipped. She really needed to look into a better quality of android help. 

Suddenly, she heard the screen door open and close, followed by some bumbling footsteps. 

“Ze’ev?” She called.

The footsteps stopped. Slowly, sheepishly (although she wouldn’t have thought footsteps could convey sheepishness), they came towards the kitchen and there was Ze’ev, standing uncomfortably in the doorway. 

“Were you out in the fields just now? I just got an alert from somewhere in the tomato fields, patch 12-22, but it didn’t tell me what about. Did you see anything?”

Ze’ev gulped visibly and shook his head. “Nope. Nothing out of the ordinary.”

She bit her lip and said nothing. Something was telling her that this wasn’t the full truth, but she didn’t want to pry. Instead, she went back to the sink and began to wash her hands. 

“Okay. I’ll go check it out. It’s probably nothing. Maybe a bird triggered the sensor or something like that.”

“Are you sure?” Ze’ev asked her with a tinge of panic. “If it is something, I could handle it.”

She dried her hands and raised an eyebrow. “That’s sweet of you, but I think I can handle it. Nothing’s ever attacked me in my own fields before.” She jumped up and planted a kiss on his cheek, then grabbed her rifle before running off to the tomato patch in question. 

It took her exactly one minute and fourteen seconds to get there, partially because she knew the way so well she could get there in her sleep, but also because she was speedwalking, just a tiny bit. 

Although the android hadn’t given its ID number in the message, it wasn’t hard to find. It lay right in the center of the tomato patch, its head bashed in enough to leave wires showing. 

Scarlet scoffed in disgust as she knelt down to inspect it more closely. She’d have to pay the rental company for the damage. Maybe she could ask Cinder how to repair it. 

She was about to stand up and search for the perpetrator— perhaps a hawk, or maybe a raccoon— when something caught her eye. 

Or rather, the absence of something. A little bit to her left she could see a particular tomato plant, holding six or so almost-ripe tomatoes. But there was one empty stem, plucked fresh an hour ago at most. 

She inspected the rest of the plants in the area. Not a single tomato was missing besides that one. 

Bewildered, she hauled the android up onto her shoulder and began lugging it back to the farmhouse. 

——

Wolf was pacing again. He couldn’t help it. Scarlet had been gone for nearly fifteen minutes, and the wait was making him crazy. 

Did she discover the android? Could she possibly suspect? He wasn’t worried about her anger, although maybe he should be. He just didn’t want to give away the surprise. 

He heard the screen door slam, as it usually did when Scarlet was coming through. Steeling his nerves, he prepared to be chewed out. 

But nothing happened. Scarlet came into the kitchen and put her rifle back without a word. 

Wolf was too antsy to wait. “Was anything wrong?”

Scarlet turned to face him, brows furrowed. “I’m… not sure.”

That didn’t sound good. “What do you mean?”

“I mean, something definitely happened. There’s an android with a bashed head out there, which means that something took it out before it could finish relaying the message to me. So that explains that piece. And I thought there would be some other kind of clue, like tracks, or missing tomatoes, but…” She trailed off for a moment, lost in her ponderings. “There was only one tomato missing, and it was cleanly plucked. I’ve never met a critter who could do that.”

Wolf felt himself beginning to sweat. She clearly didn’t have a clue what happened, much less that it was him who pulled the tomato. 

Scarlet began to wash her hands of the dirt. “I’ll call Cinder and ask about fixing the android. Maybe she can coach us through it. Or better yet, maybe she’s got a visit planned soon, before the next payment is due.”

Wolf nodded vigorously, even though he knew she couldn’t see him. Maybe he should postpone the proposal, wait until he wasn’t a wreck. But then there was the tomato, sure to go bad if he waited too long. 

Scarlet shook her hands and dried them. “As for the tomato… I’m not sure what to do about that. It could have been another thief, I guess. I’m inclined to not worry about it.”

“Scarlet?”

She turned. Wolf’s face was flushed and he knew he looked to be on the point of a mental breakdown.

“Are you okay?” she asked. “You look like… a bit of an emotional mess, to be honest. Did something happen?” Her nostrils flared. “Did you go to town when you were out? Did someone say something?”

His eyes widened. “No! I’m fine. I mean…” he trailed off, because there was no getting around the fact that he wasn’t completely fine. He swallowed. “I just… tomato?”

Scarlet’s eyebrows shot up. “Is that the missing tomato? That was you?”

He didn’t respond, unable to push any words out. Instead, he held the tomato out for her to take. 

She did so slowly, confused. She looked down at it, then, just as he’d predicted, her mouth dropped open slightly as she noticed the silver ring around the stumpy tomato stem. 

Wolf held his breath. He hadn’t thought about what to do next, or when she said yes— or worse, if she said no. He watched as Scarlet’s face broke out into a slow grin. She looked away from the tomato and directly into his eyes.

“Ze’ev… of course I will.”

Wolf’s downcast eyes regained a bit of their color. “Really? You aren’t… you aren’t scared of me?”

“What?” Scarlet darted over to him and planted a kiss on his cheek. “If I were scared of you, would I have let you live here for so long? I love you, Ze’ev, and I’m not going to run away anytime soon.”

He sighed contentedly, a wave of relief brushing over him. All told, he didn’t have much time to lean into this before Scarlet kissed him head-on. 

“Ze’ev?”

“Mmm?” He still had his eyes closed. 

“I’m really impressed at the way you pulled that tomato. I don’t even think I could do that.”