Author's Note: I feel that this ficlet, unlike others I have written, does call for some explanation. Ergo, I must confess that Waen and I were playing with an explode-your-brane-kthnx pairing generator late at night, and after getting a couple of real winners—James Bond/Marius, Frank-n-Furter/George Bush, Long John Silver/Aragorn—she brought up Cosette/Carmen Sandiego. We laughed. Then, in a moment of dread which I shall never forget, I suddenly burst out with, 'But that's so plausible! I could make that work!'. And lo, she said, 'Okay, then. Do it.' And that's why this story exists. Thank you.

Rouge et Blanc

Red, bright red. Cosette pressed her face against the iron bars of the gate. Ladies weren't meant to wear such bright colours, her Papa said. They wore plainer colours, like her brown dress or her ivory brocade, dresses that didn't flash and sparkle. But this lady's big long coat did—it was strangely tight, and wrapped around her so that Cosette couldn't see what her dress beneath it was like, but that must also be awfully tight—and her hat...! Cosette gazed enviously at her beautiful red hat, velvety and big and so deep and full a colour that she felt it swelling with its brightness as she looked at it.

The woman was speaking with a funny-looking man who wore a suit of armour, like a knight in one of Cosette's fantasy books, which she hid in her room and read when she ought to be reading the Bible. The man in the suit of armour didn't, however, capture her interest half as much as the striking red lady. Cosette looked at her with wide eyes, deeply struck by the long brown ringlets of her hair, the strange, half-smirking smile on her red-painted lips, and her curious eyes, alert, awake eyes, clever, thoughtful eyes, businesslike and cunning and intelligent. Cosette had never seen such eyes before.

She ducked her head and pretended to be interested in a flower as the lady spoke to the man and he began to clank off, rather noisily. The lady's voice was soft and had the same half-smirk as was in her smile, and Cosette listened carefully.

Suddenly the voice stopped, and she couldn't help looking up fearfully to see what had happened.

The lady was standing right at her gate, looking in at her with a slight challenging expression. "Hello, honey. I'm afraid I've got to ask if you heard me talking with that man just then."

"Oh—not truly," said Cosette anxiously, shredding the petals from a hollyhock in her agitation. "I only heard you speaking, but I didn't listen in. That wouldn't have been polite."

"Well, you're right about that. I hope you're telling me the truth. It wouldn't be right to be nosy, especially with me—have you got that, darling?"

Cosette shivered and looked at the lady devotedly. She was frightened of her, and at the same time completely fascinated, by the dress, the bright, beautiful hat, the smirking smile, the careless, strangely accented voice, and the beautiful expressive eyes that stared back at her shrewdly, taking in her young girl's face and silly, tawdry clothes. Cosette looked down at herself quickly and felt disgusted. She looked like a baby, surely! Her hair was pinned up under a silly little bonnet, and her dress was modest and wide-skirted and brown. Even her eyes must look innocent and stupid.

"Yes, mistress," she whispered. "I promise I've told you the truth."

"Good girl."

"Oh—you're so beautiful," Cosette said suddenly, as the lady turned and made to go. At once, she turned back.

The lady laughed. Her laugh was as strange and evocative as her smile, as clever and professional as her eyes. She reached out one hand—red gloves, Cosette saw—and through the bars of the gate, tilted Cosette's chin up.

"What a nice thing to say. You look like a sweet girl. If any strange person—any persons dressed strangely, or with a lot of big equipment—people who you can tell don't know what they're doing here—if any people like that show up and ask you if you've seen a lady in red, you'll tell them no, won't you?"

"Yes, yes, I will, mistress!" said Cosette eagerly, shivering with pleasure at the touch of the red gloves against her skin.

"You are a good girl." The lady gave another slight laugh. "Good-bye." Her voice hung enticingly on the last word, and she leaned forward and gave Cosette a little, quick but lingering kiss on her little pink mouth. Then she turned and strode back into the street, and took something big and blue from beneath her red coat. She touched it, and there was a sudden loud crackling noise, and Cosette started to hide her eyes behind her hands, but wasn't quite in time. The lady disappeared in a burst of yellow sparking light, and was gone.

Cosette stood pressed to the gate, and stared at the spot where the lady had stood. There was still a trace of bright red on the corner of her mouth from the lady's painted lips.