Je Mange les Petits Enfants

A/N- Ok, so I had massive title-block for this chapter, so I decided to do it in French. 'Cause… uh…, we all know foreign languages make things more romantic. On that note, if you know French, you'll know how very romantic that phrase is, right? –menaces all francophones with her penguin army- I thought so. Anyhow… I've decided that since there are so many challenges out there , no one will probably get around to a XD Mirabel/Alrage unless I start the revolution first. After all, as Cliff would say, if you want something done right, ya gotta do it yourself. And I still don't know what possessed me to like this coupling since I'm a Cliff-Mirage fanatic and an Alnel fan. I think I always have a tendency to go against the grain coupling-wise. Must… be… original… Well, at any rate, let's see how this dabbling into the realms of insanity goes, shall we?

Mirage leaned against a white marble wall, trying to tune out the tinny music wafting from the ballroom. Even though it was night, the summer heat still permeated through the corridors of the castle of Aquaria, making her want to tear off her overly-ruffled formal lavender dress. The tailor had obviously never had to design a dress for a woman as muscular as she was, and she could barely breathe because of the binding silk. She'd never really understood why the women on this world insisted on wearing such impractical dresses at formal events, but it seemed like a slight to not follow the custom.

"I still hate to dress up, though. Who am I trying to impress?" Mirage muttered darkly, kicking at a wall, which just made her more aware of the pinching high heels on her feet.

She cursed under her breath and wondered for the eightieth time that day why she'd come. Still, duty was duty and the Queen was honoring the band of heroes with a ball to tribute their contributions to Elicoor II. There was no way she could have gotten out of it, even though she had tried. Her father was almost back to complete health and Romeria had sent the invitation herself, along with an entreaty from Fayt.

There was no way to avoid the return to Elicoor, but it didn't mean she had to like it. She'd spent most of her time in the inn, avoiding the one person she'd hoped wouldn't show up, but had. Once in a while, she had gone out with Sophia, Maria and Nel to some bars in town, but they had been too busy vying for Fayt's attention to help her drown her miseries properly. Not that it mattered. She'd had to put a stop to the revelry anyways when a man who'd gotten fresh with her had most of his bones broken. When the bartender's too afraid to pour a good drink and your favorite outfit has stubborn blood stains on a planet with no detergent, there's really no point in staying out.

Lost in her musings, she barely heard someone softly closing the ballroom's double doors and sneaking down the hall, obviously trying to remain unheard. Luckily, she'd been trained to detect such things even when preoccupied. She gathered a breath with some effort and sprinted to the nearest door, which happened to be a cramped materials storeroom.

'Better than nothing.' She thought, panting slightly and slipping inside.

She tried moving to the back of the dingy room, but something blocked the way. Something that scowled fiercely and flexed a clawed gauntlet menacingly.

"In case you couldn't tell," Albel the Wicked glared, "this closet is taken."

Mirage glared back even more fiercely and balled one fist equally menacingly while pressing the index finger on her other hand to her lips. Albel shrugged and turned his back to the Klausian. It was strange, she had to admit, to see Albel dressed formally. Rather than his normal, midriff-baring shirt, he donned a simple black silk dress shirt. This was coupled with a deep violet sarong that was embroidered with fine black designs. Most noticeably, though, was the fact that his katana was missing, replaced instead by two barely perceptible throwing knives under his sash. His smirk looked even thinner than usual, something Mirage guessed was because of the wardrobe changes (presumably forced on him by Woltar). She couldn't help but empathize; she was feeling the same way at the moment.

"Is there a reason you're staring at me so intently, worm? For that matter, is there a reason you came rushing into my closet?"

Before she could answer, the response came from outside in the hall. A familiar rough baritone was reverberating against the walls making Mirage both wince and want to go out and greet the owner.

"Mirage! Where are you? I saw you run off! What's going on with you?" Cliff called loudly.

From the sound of doors being roughly opened and closed, she guessed that he was searching all the rooms. He'd eventually find her obvious hiding spot, an the thought of having to come face-to-face with him made her bury her face in her hands and step back involuntarily. She bumped into Albel for the second time in two minutes, and he snorted, looking down his nose at her with his crimson eyes. The message was clear: he was calling her a weakling. She tore herself away from him, though a few rogue thoughts commented treacherously on how hard her heart was pounding.

'That's just because Cliff is hell-bent on finding me.' She thought, trying unsuccessfully to convince herself that that was the only reason.

The sound of the doors grew more distinct as her determined counterpart drew nearer. Finally, the storeroom door was flung open, and Mirage glared up at Cliff.

"Mirage! Why have you been avoiding me? Do you play these kind of games with all the guys you're dating?"

It was obviously the wrong thing to say because Mirage instantly drew herself up to full height, eyes blazing. It's a known rumor in the universe that anyone who makes a Klausian woman angry rarely lives to tell about it. By the ferocity of Mirage's expression, the adage seemed to be true.

"Dating?" She screeched furiously, "Do you usually run off with your best guy friend when the girl you're with has to go home to care for her father, who, I might remind you, was your mentor? Not only that, but don't think I don't know about that Opera tramp you went to dinner with. Cliff, I will only say this once, but know that I don't want to see or talk to you anytime soon. If you try to get near me, I will forcefully incapacitate you."

She took a ragged breath and glanced at Cliff to see how he was reacting. Shell-shocked, he was staring past her and into the depths of the storage closet, his mouth moving wordlessly. Suddenly, she remembered about Albel.

"Whu… who..?" he stuttered, trying to speak coherently and failing miserably, "Is that Albel, Mirage?"

This time, it was her turn to become mysteriously mute. All the excuses she thought of sounded weak, but at the same time, she knew Albel might try to stab her in the middle of the night if she led anyone to believe they were together.

"W-- Well…" she began shakily.

Noticing her hesitancy, Cliff put one massive hand on her forearm.

"I understand that you're upset, Mirage. I just never thought you'd do something this… drastic. I'll forgive ya, though. Are we even now?"

She tried to pull away from him, but the shock of everything that had happened in the past few moments left her immobilized. Before she could recover, Albel pushed past her and planted himself between her and Cliff.

"You heard her, fool. She doesn't want to see you now.

His hand strayed to the daggers in his waistband.

"So leave or I'll have to teach you a lesson."

Cliff's eyes burned with anger, and he craned his neck past Albel to get a good look at Mirage.

"I'm not buying this, you know." He scoffed.

"Is that so, maggot?" Albel grinned as he turned to grab Mirage by the waist.

He let his intact hand trace its way up her spine, unleashing a wave of chills that made her shudder. Finally, he threaded his hand through the hair at the nape of her neck. Before she knew what was going on, he forcibly tilted her head and locked her gaping lips into a passionate kiss. Her eyes widened as though she'd been jolted by one of Nel's thunderbolts and she inhaled sharply as she found Albel's tongue slipping over hers, teasing different parts of her mouth sensuously.

Strangely enough, he tasted vaguely of cinnamon and apples. Then it hit her: cider. So that's why he was doing this. He'd been drinking. Her lips tried to curve upward in a wry smile, but Albel recaptured them, making the smile (not to mention all her coherent thoughts) melt away. Finally the kiss broke, and Albel turned back to Cliff, a deviant smirk plastered across his face. Meanwhile, Mirage let out a low sigh as she tried to piece everything together.

"So… are you buying it now?" he smirked challengingly.

Cliff clenched his fight, and then, as if thinking better of it, he stalked away without a word. At one point, he turned back to give Mirage a glance of the betrayed look on his face, but she turned away sharply, beyond caring about his feelings after all he'd put her through. What seemed like several minutes passed, and Mirage looked up at Albel expectantly, waiting for any kind of response. When she didn't get one, she coughed quietly, hoping he'd explain himself, but he was too busy gloating at the shocked expression she still wore to notice her other actions. Because of this, he didn't see her fist arcing in a collision course with his head until it was too late. Like we mentioned, don't make a Klausian woman angry.

"Can you explain what exactly just happened?" Mirage gasped, finally regaining her breath.

"Hmph." Albel glared, rubbing the growing lump on his head, "What do you think, fool? It's called a kiss."

Mirage planted her hands firmly on her hips like a school teacher scolding an unruly child. However, instead of emanating an aura of seriousness as she had intended, it just made Albel more acutely aware of the way her skirt clung to her curves. He dug his gauntlet subtly into his leg with enough force to draw tiny prickles of blood to distract himself.

"I meant to ask why you did it." She glared, annoyed by his evasive sarcasm.

"I was under the impression that you didn't want the fool to bother you, and he'd already made his own assumptions, so I just gave him what he was expecting." Albel finished, coolly staring her down.

It didn't work, not that he'd really expected her to back down. She merely matched his gaze, her own expression colder.

"I don't recall asking you for help. I was handling things perfectly well by myself."

Even as she said it, she knew it was a complete lie. Still, her pride wouldn't allow for any other response.

"As I suspected. You didn't really mean anything you said, did you?" Albel growled, "Why don't you just go chase after him like you always do, worm?"

"Chase after him? I've never—"

"Then what have you been doing for the past nine years in his pathetic little rebel group?"

Having someone else voice the inner-most worries she'd been nursing was too much. It also brought to mind the question of just how much Albel really knew about her. The idea mildly disconcerted her, but luckily, he wasn't the only one who had researched his battle companions.

"The same thing you've been doing in the Black Brigade. Following the call of duty, attempting to ignore the feeling of being abandoned, trying to block out the things that haunt you by focusing solely on the task at hand. Take your pick. They're all things we've both done."

It was Albel's turned to look shocked, but that quickly faded as he gained control of his emotions again and put up his standard blank face.

"Hmm. So you're not as much of a maggot as I'd thought." was all he said in response, but she could tell he was scrutinizing her more carefully, with more seriousness. Most significantly, though, he know looked at her with something that could have sworn was intrigue, had she not known better. Feeling uncomfortably like an insect under a microscope, she shifted and stared back at him.

"So, I still have one question: what were you doing in the supply closet?"

His face cracked into a lethal grin and he laughed mirthlessly.

"I'd think it'd be obvious. These balls bore me to death. Between being asked to dance by annoying worms and all the niceties from everyone else, it's a wonder I don't massacre the lot of them. Besides, it's mostly Aquarian scum out there. I simply needed to find somewhere quiet before I went berserk."

Mirage appraised him for a moment with a smirk on her face, then she turned away smoothly.

"Well then, I'll leave you to sulk, shall I?"

"Going back to the blonde oaf so soon?" Albel snarled.

Mirage let out a low laugh.

"Hardly. But if we spend much more time shut away in a closet together, people will start to talk."

She watched as he slowly turned pink. It was the only time in their acquaintance that she'd seen him with an emotion other than sarcasm or angry, and the change amused her.

"And you care what people would think?" Albel said bitterly, trying to regain his normal demeanor.

Mirage thought for a moment, then responded.

"No, but I think that you do."

Before he could protest what she'd said, she flung the door open, only looking back to flash him a mirthful smile.

"Women…" Albel muttered darkly, but he couldn't help but watch her leave.

A/N- Damnation! That was hard. Not only did I have to make my lovable Cliffie a jerk, but I realized that I was trying to hook up the two most emotion-repressing characters in the game. Jeez… Still, I do like the pairing; I'm just not that good at dramatic coupling fics. Don't worry, this'll be a two-chapter fic, so there is more to come. I know it's not my best, but tell me what you think anyways! Hopefully there'll be more Alrage/Mirabels popping up!

Also, happy birthday to AMS today! –sends a cyber cake- This would be dedicated to you if you weren't such a big Alnel fan. Also dedicated to Blue Persuasion panzerraptor, who actually were open to the idea of a Mirabel/Alrage.

Now, go click the periwinkle box or I shall also couple it with Albel, since we know that he's coupled with everyone else. –sigh- He's such a man-whore…