25. Realization

Chapter 25

Realization

            Fayt was understandably surprised to discover the bridal rune on Nel’s shoulder and what it meant. Sophia thought it was romantic and wanted to know everything about her relationship with the Wicked One. There was only so much the spy was willing to tell since there was some parts that were best left as a secret. Admitting that she was married was fine- that was perfectly acceptable to Fayt and it was the truth.

But telling him when it occurred and how was not going to happen. Fayt was already worried and really cared about her- the last thing he needed to know was that Albel did more than just ‘talk’ to her when she was his hostage. And she was still ashamed with herself for leaving him, Cliff, and her subordinates unconscious on the mountain pass when they were returning from the Bequerel Mines. She might have accepted her intimacy with the Wicked One, but there was no excuse for leaving her comrades in a dangerous situation like that.

“But when did this take place? Was it for the peace treaty?” the boy wondered before he raised a hand to his chin and thought about it. “It must’ve been fairly recent considering Albel admitted he was married before we fought Crosell.”

Nel was silent for a moment as she thought about how to answer that. If she didn’t want to seem like a pathetic woman that was seduced during the war, then she would have to make up a story of sneaking off with Albel while they were traveling in the Barr Mountains. Thankfully the two couldn’t detect lies- and they weren’t aware of how her marriage was carried out. Not all ceremonies involved sex. …Though the spy had to wonder if her being marked really needed it either. It seemed to involve breaking the skin until it bled, but she was still unclear of how the rune was made. At least, this was all that she picked up from Clair since she had obtained her Dragon Rune.

“When the war ended, I got a chance to know my former enemy and came to an understanding of why we fought against one another. From there, we pretty much grew close as friends,” she explained without having to lie yet. She didn’t really answer his question, but she did explain the progression of her relationship.

“Oh, how sweet…” Sophia said with a sigh before she glanced at Fayt. “It kind of sounds like that old Shakespearian play, Romeo and Juliet, don’t you think?”

But Fayt didn’t seem to feel the same way. He didn’t appear angry, but he wasn’t that happy to hear her answer either. His expression was a mix of confusion and concern. “But at the time, we had only traveled together for less than a week. I think it’s wonderful that you put aside your differences with him, but don’t you think getting married was a little hasty?”

He had a point- even arranged marriages allowed for the bride and groom to have at least months in advance to get to know each other. Nel was rushed into it and it was done before she even knew what was going on. Albel may have known and loved her for a long time, but she didn’t know him at all when it happened. She just had to go along for the ride until she was ready to decide for herself.

“…Fayt, you know there are several different reasons for marriage,” Nel began, hoping to throw him off. “Albel and I seek to ensure our kingdoms never go to war again. We both know what must be done and we work well together to make sure tensions don’t rise again.”

“…That’s fine, but… Do you even love him? You don’t strike me as the kind of person who would fall in love in a day- and friends don’t need to marry each other to accomplish what you’re talking about,” the boy pointed out as he shook his head.

Nel had to concede that he was astute when he wanted to be. Fayt’s heart was on his sleeve and he cared about feelings and other people above all else. That was a problematic trait during war, but now it was his endearing quality. But why did it matter to him if she loved Albel? Wasn’t the fact that Sophia caught them kissing enough of an indication that something was happening between them?

But Fayt knew the difference between love and lust very well despite his lack of experience in courting and romances. The way Nel could admit to being married in a causal, uncaring tone told him that she didn’t particularly care and that disturbed him. He understood the different reasons for people to get married, but feelings didn’t matter if the person didn’t have a choice. Either the spy was hiding her true feelings out of shyness or she was forced into it. Fayt hoped it wasn’t the latter…

“I…” she couldn’t easily respond to that. It didn’t really matter to her if she loved Albel. What was more important was that she didn’t hate him and that she actually enjoyed his company on occasions. It seemed to matter to Fayt though, but she couldn’t really lie to him when she wasn’t entirely sure about the answer herself. Her lie could end up being the truth.

The boy quickly caught on to her hesitation. “Why did you get married if you don’t love him? …Or was it even a choice?”

“…It was a choice- or rather it was a mistake that I’m taking responsibility for,” the spy finally admitted as she looked away from him. She didn’t really want to say it, but he was digging in too deep and she didn’t want him to hear explicit details later on. It was better to give him a general idea. “I won’t lie to you- it was a moment of passion gone wrong and I ended up bound to him permanently.”

Both teens glanced at her incredulously at first before Sophia gave her a sympathetic expression and Fayt appeared hurt and disappointed.

“That’s so sad… You don’t love each other at all?” the girl wondered in a gentle voice. The spy shook her head sadly.

“Albel has feelings for me, but I’m not sure about what I feel for him. But the damage has been done and we can’t take anything back. At least we can be on good terms with each other.”

“But that’s still not right! How could you be so reckless? If Albel loves you, then shouldn’t you at least feel something for him? There can’t be ‘passion’ without some kind of feelings!” The boy shouted in a scoff as he kicked at an invisible target and abruptly turned away.

“And what do you want me to do about it? Force myself to love him? At least I’m not blaming him for everything- I’ll admit that I had a hand in it, too, and that I didn’t think it through. The marriage that I’m in can’t be annulled. I’ll have to live with it for the rest of my life,” Nel explained tersely in her defense. She wasn’t about to be berated over a mistake that she couldn’t fix. The fact that she was remaining civil to Albel and treating him as a friend was a better outcome than hating him for everything.

Fayt’s features softened some as he gazed at her and then stared at his feet. “…Sorry. It’s just that it really hurts to love someone and know that they can’t return your feelings.”

That’s when it hit the spy. Fayt was trying to stick up for Albel because he felt he could relate to him. It sounded like the boy was speaking from experience, but she couldn’t tell if he were referring to Albel. As far as she knew, Fayt only developed a crush on the dark warrior. He must’ve fallen in love with someone else at another point in his life.

“Fayt…” Sophia sighed as she placed a hand on his shoulder. The girl seemed to know what he was talking about, thus proving the theory that he was in love before.

But what the blue haired boy said did stick in her mind. Deep down, Albel was probably distressed in trying to figure out if she was reciprocating his feelings. He always acted tough, even around her, but she caught the signs. The fact that he wouldn’t leave her alone until she forgave him was proof that he didn’t want to let her go.

“What do you want me to do, Fayt?” she repeated in exasperation. Even knowing that Albel was hurting on the inside didn’t help her any- it didn’t make her decide her feelings right then and there and she refused to force herself. If she had to, then she could probably learn to resent the Wicked One later on.

“…I don’t know,” he admitted sadly as he shook his head. “But it really frustrates me that you don’t know anything and yet you lead him on like that. Why kiss him if you don’t know? Don’t you think it would kill him on the inside to find that everything you shared with him meant nothing to you?”

The spy glanced away- she hadn’t thought of that. Albel was most likely well aware that her kissing back and participating in their intimate moments was nothing more than an outlet to get rid of stress and feel pleasure. He made sure she was happy in the end- at the cost of his own happiness…

“But that’s the thing- Albel pulled me into the relationship before I could even think it through. He knows that I might never return his feelings and is willing to accept that. In the end, he’ll still have me because I can’t leave him,” Nel replied, sounding less confident than before. She knew all along that was how their relationship stood, but saying it aloud didn’t feel right.

She still felt the Wicked One was in the wrong at the time, but he wasn’t getting any benefits from it unless her feelings changed. Something told her that he knew he would get into the situation from the beginning. It wouldn’t surprise her at all to find that he had a self-destructive behavior. Considering his past, it made perfect sense.

“Nel, you should really think about it. I know we don’t have much time to sit and think, but the least you could do for him is search yourself during our time off. And- I feel a little better hearing your voice crack at the last thing you’ve said. Before, you sounded like you didn’t even care about him,” Fayt replied before he started to head back to the door.

“I’ll try. But even if nothing comes, I won’t deliberately try to hurt him,” Nel promised, earning a gloomy smile from him.

“Thanks… I’m sorry I blew up at you- I know its none of my business-”

“But you don’t want to see Albel and I hurt- is that it?” the spy guessed, interrupting him.

“Yeah.” He nodded before he excused himself, “I’ll be going now. Sophia, you can stay with me if you want.”

“O-okay,” the girl stuttered before she bowed apologetically to Nel one more time. “Sorry for everything. I didn’t mean to bring all this on you.”

“I told you it’s fine- and you don’t have to leave. Albel isn’t coming back tonight,” she reassured the brunette.

“Are you sure?” Sophia queried to be certain. “I can understand if you want to be alone to think.”

“I’ll be going to sleep soon anyway. I can think all I want then,” the spy replied as she walked back to her bed.

“…Um.” The girl turned to Fayt, who was still waiting for an answer. “I think I’ll stay after all- in case she needs someone to talk to.”

“All right, but if you change your mind, don’t be afraid to come by,” he offered before finally leaving.

While the brunette meant well, all she brought was an awkward silence as she slowly made her way to her bed and stared at Nel with a guilty expression. The red haired woman was about to request that she forget about what she heard and go to sleep, but the girl finally spoke.

“…I don’t know much about romance-I’ve never been in love before,” she confessed as she nervously wrung her hands, “So most of what I know is from stories.”

“That’s okay. You don’t need to give me advice or anything- I don’t feel much like talking anyway,” Nel responded with a kind smile. It actually made her happy to hear that Sophia had nothing to offer. The last thing she needed was someone who was experienced with love- like most of her friends back in Aquaria.

Save for Clair, she always had to endure listening to tales of how her good friends fell in love and had to pine for them from afar. The worst of them all was Rozaria, as she was in love with the Glyphian king- something that Nel would almost consider a treasonous act. It always bothered the spy to hear such stories. They made her feel like an outcast- as if she were the strange one for not having someone to adore.

“I know, but there’s something I do want to share. I once asked my mom what love was and I could tell you what she said,” the girl offered in an earnest voice. “I don’t know if it would really help you decide anything, but it couldn’t hurt.”

It was actually rather cute with the way she wanted to help. Sophia knew she said something silly because she winced a little after offering and seemed to inwardly berate herself for saying anything. Nel had to freeze the corner of her lips to keep from smirking at her naïveté.

“Okay, what did your mother say? Maybe it will help,” she requested to ease Sophia’s mild embarrassment. She didn’t see any harm in hearing her out- at least it wouldn’t be one of those typical real life love stories.

The girl appeared a little relieved that the spy didn’t think what she had said was odd and nodded before she relayed her mother’s words. “She said that love was like a partnership, but with two people who were willing to give up some of their individuality to become a new person together. Real lovers would willingly sacrifice some of their old life for the other and work to make the other happy. Oh- and she said that it would never be a burden to be in your love’s presence. You would simply enjoy their company even if there’s nothing to say.”

That was rather insightful. Nel thought back on her time spent with Albel and found that it was mostly true from his end. She wasn’t sure what ‘sacrifices’ he made, but he was determined to make sure she was satisfied. But how did it apply to her? What would she willingly give up if she were in love with Albel?

“So, did it help any?” Sophia wondered after a moment of silence.

The spy nodded some before she lay back in her bed. “Yeah… I think so. It did make a few things clear to me, anyway.”

“I’m glad to hear that. …I guess I’ll just go to bed and let you think on it then,” the young girl said, leaving the conversation at that.

************************

Several hours later, Nel was still pondering over her relationship with Albel. She never really thought about it this hard before. In the beginning she was more concerned about what others would think rather than her opinions. Fayt’s words did wake her up and make her realize that she couldn’t keep up with her current closeness to the dark warrior without knowing what her feelings were.

She knew what kind of sacrifices she would have to make ever since she first started her work as a Crimson Blade. She would have to give up her missions- but she didn’t necessarily have to do it for Albel. Technically she would have to do it for the future children and he was willing to wait on that. The question was if she could give up her career tomorrow if he wanted it. She could easily say ‘definitely not!’

It was the one part of her she couldn’t give up. …But maybe she could go on fewer missions and trust her subordinates more often. That wasn’t too unreasonable. The spy soon realized how ridiculous her thoughts were getting and quietly grunted as she rolled over to her side. Exactly how was this supposed to prove she was in love? She could make the same agreement for Clair and it wouldn’t mean anything romantic.

Nel closed her eyes and listed what the Wicked One was to her. He was once her enemy, he was now a friend, and she trusted him and… she apparently cared about him enough to trouble her self with this soul searching. She didn’t like his atheist views on religion, but he was tolerable as long as they didn’t talk about it. He accepted her views and she didn’t see a need to push anything on him since he didn’t disobey the teachings despite his beliefs.

She could forgive him for the war because he didn’t kill her comrades out of malice. They both agreed that the people were more important than politics or the monetary advancement of the nobility and merchants. Actually, they had a lot of common ground with the only difference being religious and cultural teachings. But was any of that enough to say she was in love? All it told her was that she could get along with him.

“Heh, that’s interesting. I didn’t think we were far enough away from each other to make the connection. You must’ve been damning me in your last thoughts before you fell asleep.”

Nel opened her eyes again and quickly realized that she was dreaming him again. He was lying beside her with his prosthetic arm tucked under the pillow and resting under his head. He was staring up at the ceiling, acting as if he didn’t want to make eye contact with her. Out of curiosity, the spy peered over him to see the bed on the other side. Even though she knew Sophia was supposed to be there, the bed appeared empty. She guessed that other people weren’t allowed in their shared dream.

“What? Don’t want to talk? You must’ve had a lot on your mind if you accidentally summoned me,” he commented as he moved his good hand under her so he could wrap his arm around her waist. She couldn’t feel anything, but she did like the gesture.

All of a sudden she had an urge to snuggle closer to him and ended up shuffling her body until she was pressed against his side and had her head against his chest. Albel appeared surprised at the action before a small grin came to his features. He then rolled over to his side, facing her, and placed his prosthetic arm over her form.

She wished he were really there so she could feel him, but for the time being it was enough. It wasn’t as if she really needed him- it was just that it felt nice to be held every now and then. For some reason, she felt good in his arms- like she was …loved. It was then that the answer came to her. She still wasn’t sure if she felt romantic feelings, but she did love him in some way. And for now, that was enough.

“What’s gotten into you, woman?” he inquired bemusedly as he lifted his chin slightly to rest it on the top of her head.

“Nothing. I just feel like cuddling. Got a problem with it?” she finally responded, keeping her voice low in case she talked in her sleep. She didn’t want Sophia to wake up and accidentally overhear her. Albel chuckled over her words.

“None at all. I just didn’t think you liked this outside of sex.”

“How would you know? We rarely sleep next to each other without getting intimate,” she pointed out as she closed her eyes again. Actually, there was one time she innocently stayed by his side an entire night. It was after the first nightmare he had in the Barr Mountains and she trailed after him to comfort him. Even then she insisted to sit closely by him- so she did like close contact with a warm body at night.

“…Albel?” Nel called out again as another thought came to her. “Do you still have nightmares?”

“Not as often as I used to. But I don’t seem to have them at all if I’m near you.”

It made her glad to hear that- even though she felt that it was none of her business. She knew some of his past and even why he had those nightmares, but there was no reason for her to go out of her way to help him get rid of them. Still, it made her feel helpful knowing that she could prevent those dreams from surfacing.

“You can… come to my bed if you need me to keep your nightmares away… well not tonight since Sophia is here but…” she trailed off when she realized she was rambling nonsense. Just what was wrong with her? She was only trying to be generous, but it somehow turned into something disgustingly ditzy- like a poorly written romance.

“What’s this? Are you attempting to be nice? And here I was thinking you were going to hold a grudge against me,” he said as he chortled at her behavior.

“Shut up,” she muttered darkly against his chest. Why did she even bother to say anything at all? Though she supposed that if the situation were reversed, she would be grinning from his attempt to say something sweet. They both failed miserably at things like this.

His laughter didn’t die off until he tried to pull his body even closer to hers. “I much rather be here in person. Why not let me chase off the worm so I can have you to myself tonight?”

“It’s too late for that- and she already offered to stay somewhere else. I don’t want to impose after I told her she can stay,” she informed him, already regretting being nice to the girl. She really should’ve taken her up on her offer. But it didn’t matter- regardless of the fact that she couldn’t feel him, it was enough for her to know that he was here in some fashion. “Besides, this is nice. Just be quiet and enjoy it.”

That earned her a huff from him. “Bah. What a waste when I could be actually feeling you in my arms. Whatever… I guess this is good enough.”

Nel let out a smile and let her mind relax. Since they were technically already asleep, they ended up just lying there in each other’s arms. It was probably one of the more boring dreams she could ever remember having, but she didn’t mind. This was more than enough.

**************************

“We made it. Moonbase,” Sophia announced in a relieved tone as they headed out of the teleporter. Nel glanced around. The room wasn’t that different from the other teleporter room in the Diplo or the Aquaelie- though the walls were shiny and reflecting the light from the teleporter.

Fayt and Sophia relayed their memories of visiting the research lab before, but apparently they were allowed to go directly there back then. They were unable to teleport directly now- Wittcomb had informed them earlier that the station was under a state of alert and that there were reports of the enemy sighted within. Because of this, they were going to have to take the long way and keep on guard. They could run across danger at any given time.

“Let’s go,” Fayt announced as he headed for the door.

The real surprise came to the spy when they stepped out into a long hall that connected the outer ring they were on to the central part where the labs were. The top part of the tube-like connection was clear so that one could see outside. It nearly took her breath away to see the stars- she almost felt like she was walking among them. The others were walking ahead as she paused to hold her hand up to the translucent covering.

Glancing to her left, she was able to see a gigantic light grey rock floating close by to the Moonbase and she recalled someone mentioning that it was called Luna- the moon that orbited Earth. The station was actually in the moon’s orbit. Nel briefly imagined what it would be like if her planet had such advancements. Could they, too, have a space station orbiting around one of their three moons?

Suddenly, her eyes caught sight of her reflection in the glass and noticed that Albel had stayed behind to watch her. His stance was relaxed and he acted as if nothing was worth his time. He probably wanted to berate her for getting so excited over ‘nothing’, but he chose to remain silent.

She turned to face him with a small grin. “I wonder if we could ever develop places like this?”

“Not likely- at least not in our lifetime,” he replied, sounding rather interested in her inquiry. “I doubt we would even have the materials to create a vehicle that could go into space.”

“I guess not… But I suppose it’s for the best- I doubt our planet is really ready for all of this. Most of their inventions are rather unnecessary.”

“Hn.” He agreed with a grunt, “We better hurry and catch up with the fools.”

“Right.”

They managed to reach the others before they could leave the tunnel. Only Cliff noticed them and politely didn’t question what held them back. He seemed to understand their amazement and curiosity and he figured there was no point in teasing them about it at the moment. Fayt, Sophia, and Maria seemed to have a lot on their minds and a silly joke wasn’t going to help anyone.

When they arrived in a large circular area, they paused to look around and determine which way would be the best route to their destination. Suddenly, something flew down from above and hit Fayt in the back. The boy let out a startled cry before he fell forward in pain. Sophia was the only one to react and rush to the boy’s side when everyone noticed him on the floor.

Nel examined her surroundings carefully as she held a hand to the hilt of her dagger. Was that an attack or an accident? She quickly realized that no one else seemed that concerned- well other than the fact that their leader was down.

“Learn to dodge, fool,” Albel said mockingly as he briefly stared down at the boy. Nel was more worried about how Fayt got hurt and soon found the source. There was movement from above that blue glowing sign. Was that a person?

“What is that?” Cliff wondered as he found the ‘weapon’. Maria knelt down on the floor and picked it up.

“It’s…a rock?” the blue haired girl announced in a stunned voice before she put it down.

“Where’d that come from?” Sophia inquired in the same tone.

Considering the only ‘nature’ in the area was trees and small plants grown in controlled places, a rock wouldn’t be a common thing found around here. The spy was still staring in the same area where she thought she detected movement and soon sensed Albel glancing in the same direction. He probably noticed something amiss, too, but was just now bothering to look. He didn’t seem to think the newcomer was a threat at all.

Nel was shocked to see a young girl appear and wondered why it took her so long to show herself. She seemed angry- angry enough not to care who she was attacking.

“Say your prayers!” she shouted as she pointed down at them accusingly. “You ruined our gig! How are we gonna make money now? It’s payback time! …huh?”

She then calmed down when she took a good look at them. Nel was about to think the child realized that they were not enemies, but it seemed that Fayt and Sophia knew her.

“Peppita?” they said in unison, seeming surprised to see her there.

“Fayt…and Sophia? What are you doing here?”

What followed after that was a long re-telling of their adventures to the girl. She led them to the backstage area where all of the evacuees were staying as Fayt, Sophia, and eventually Maria began explaining the situation to her. Cliff started to get bored, then antsy, before he offered to look around and maybe find somewhere where they could stock up on supplies.

He invited Nel to come with him since she was looking just as bored and assumed Albel was coming along when she agreed. Despite the ‘mission’ that the Klausian announced they were going on, they ended up wandering aimlessly around the secure areas. It was obvious Cliff only intended to kill time rather than do something useful. Nel didn’t particularly mind since she had no clue how long it would take for the others to finish talking with that Peppita girl.

“Man, I wonder what’s so special about that girl?” Cliff wondered after a long sigh. “I understand that Fayt and Sophia met her before, but I don’t know why they have to tell her anything… Hopefully they don’t intend to bring her along or something.”

“I wouldn’t think so- or rather I would like to believe she wouldn’t be interested in helping us out. She seems to have a family to look after,” the spy replied as she thought it over.

“Nah, that doesn’t mean anything,” the Klausian dismissed as he shook his head. “Fayt has a way with the ladies- if he’s in trouble, any girl would be willing to step in and help him.”

Nel contemplated that for a moment. It was true that Fayt had more female friends who wanted to stick up for him, but that didn’t mean he charmed anyone. “It’s not as if he’s flirting with anyone to make them help- he’s just a nice and honest boy.”

“Oh I’m not saying he’s tricking or seducing anyone. I’m just pointing out how unfair it is that he has this army of women at his side and yet he can’t appreciate it like I would. It’s like he’s part of a sorority- a tight knit sisterhood club,” Cliff explained the last part when the spy gave him a questioning glance.

“Heh, watch what you say. The death seeker is one of them. She might fight you to defend the fool’s honor,” Albel muttered in amusement from behind them.

Nel’s eyes widened from his insinuation. He was making it sound like she was some rabid fan club member. “What do you mean? I don’t defend Fayt all the time.”

“Yes you do- you’re the first to reach for your daggers if I ever so much as insult Leingod under my breath,” the Wicked One added in a near incredulous tone.

“I do not!” she yelled defensively. Sure, she would admit to discouraging Albel from making fun of the poor boy, but he was clearly exaggerating!

“Yeah, you kinda do, Nelly- but not as badly as he’s talking about. If it’s not you, then it’s Maria sticking up for him and I don’t even want to know what Sophia would do,” Cliff said with a grin.

Nel scoffed and shook her head. That was so untrue! It’s not like Fayt couldn’t take care of himself… though he does need cheering up every now and then- and Cliff and Albel could be a little mean towards him. “That’s a baseless speculation. Fayt can’t help it if you’re jealous and if the two of you would stop picking on him, then there shouldn’t be problems. He is our leader, after all, shouldn’t you both support him?”

The Elicoorians and the Klausian found a platform elevator and decided to find out where it led. Cliff pressed the button to start it before he and Albel stared at Nel for her last words. Soon the blonde smirked before he gently nudged Albel’s arm.

“Watch out- she’s trying to assimilate us into the collective.”

Nel let out a smirk of her own as they chuckled over the joke. She crossed her arms and lowered her eyelids some. “We don’t need you in our little… what did you call it- sorority? You couldn’t handle it anyway- you know how Fayt likes to admire certain men.”

Suddenly the grins left their faces as her subtle threat. They knew she could go into explicit detail of how much Fayt liked men and other uncomfortable subjects that they didn’t want to know about. Albel just huffed and faced outward to the new walkway as the platform finished descending. Cliff shrugged.

“Okay, okay- we get it. Let’s just go see what’s over there,” the Klausian said as they headed toward the door at the end.

It appeared to be a bar by the looks of things. On one side was a shiny counter with shelves filled with liquor bottles behind it. On the other side were tables and chairs for patrons to sit. Directly across from the trio were sets of transparent green doors that seemed to be guarded by a scholarly looking man.

“Now that’s what I’m talkin’ about!” Cliff stated happily as he practically zipped over to the bar. “This will pass the time.”

The bartender glanced at them curiously as they approached. Nel noted that he was wearing a uniform similar to what the Federation officers were wearing on the Aquaelie. Was he another soldier? Why was he working behind the bar? “I apologize, but I can’t give you much. Since we are in a state of emergency, we must have clear minds to follow orders and help others out.”

Ah, so the soldier was protecting the alcohol from everyone else. There were most likely a lot of stressed individuals that would seek to calm themselves with liquor and probably go overboard with it. With a soldier guarding the bar, he could prevent theft and other disorderly conduct that would otherwise impede an evacuation order.

“That’s okay- we can’t have too much anyway. I just want a simple whiskey on the rocks,” the Klausian replied as he seated himself at the stool. The soldier nodded before he began fulfilling the order. Apparently Federation soldiers were jacks-of-all-trades.

“And you?” he inquired as he glanced at Nel.

“Just water,” she responded as she and Albel took a seat.

Cliff rolled his eyes. “Come on, don’t be that way. A little liquor won’t affect you- I distinctly remember ol’ Adray saying you weren’t a lightweight.”

“Doesn’t matter,” Nel said before she shook her head, “I don’t drink during missions. I’m not doing this because I’m afraid of getting drunk- it’s just my own personal code of conduct.”

“Nothing wrong with that,” the soldier muttered as he gave her carbonated water. “It’s a sign of good discipline. What will you have, sir?”

“Same. Water,” the Wicked One clarified, earning a stunned look from the spy and an exasperated sigh from the Klausian.

“You too, Albel?” he muttered incredulously.

“I’m not getting it for the same reasons, maggot. Remember that we’re not from around here and I have no clue what differences your alcoholic drinks could have from the ones I’m used to,” he replied, bringing on a good point. For all they knew, Earth drinks could be stronger or weaker than what Elicoorians had and it was best not to take chances. Not only that- there was no telling what else they put in with their liquor. Nel’s peanut allergy was a good example of exposure to foreign unknowns.

“Oh yeah, I forgot about that,” Cliff intoned while rubbing the back of his neck.

“So where are you from- and why are you here? It’s not often a Klausian visits this close to Earth… Not that I find you suspicious,” the soldier amended to prove that he had nothing against Cliff or his people.

“Oh, you know- we’re what you would call a ragtag group of adventurers out to save the universe,” the blonde said jokingly before he took a sip of his drink. He then gave a vague description of their next objective without revealing too much to the man. Chances were that the soldier was unaware of Fayt, his powers, and whatever research Dr. Leingod was conducting. Wittcomb had said that the research was only known in the top levels of government after all.

“I see… Unfortunately, you came at a bad time. I hear the intruders are congregating close to Dr. Leingod’s labs. You won’t be able to go there until they are cleared out,” he replied grimly, thinking they were unaware of the full situation.

“Yeah, we know. But we can’t let that stop us- we’ll just have to fight our way through,” Cliff responded casually before the soldier asked more questions, sounding very interested in him.

Nel watched them continue to talk and noted that their conversation sounded much like the casual talk she would hear in the bars of her planet. It was unlike the technological jargon she often heard from Maria and the others. Perhaps gossip was universal.

The spy opted to keep quiet and let the Klausian distract the man. She didn’t want to bring attention back to herself and finally answer the soldier’s initial question of where she was from. Even if he was open-minded to accept Cliff (though she wasn’t completely sure if there were tensions between Klaus and the Federation or just with Quark), that didn’t mean he could ignore an admission that she and Albel came from an underdeveloped planet.

But listening to the two got boring rather fast and she found herself wondering what else she could do. Albel wasn’t much for conversation with other company around and she couldn’t wander off on her own without at least one knowledgeable companion to explain the strange devices she might come across. An idea soon came to her and her eyes drifted over to the Wicked One beside her. He was staring down into his small glass of carbonated water with a dower expression on his face.

Being careful not to attract attention, Nel slowly moved one knee closer to him and rubbed it against his to get his attention. She held in her smirk and tried hard to focus on her drink. She could see him stare at her from the corner of her eye, but she ignored him and pretended that she hadn’t done anything. He soon caught on to the little game and responded back with massaging her bottom of the calf of her leg with the top part of his foot.

Not wanting to be beaten, the spy cautiously lowered her hand and deliberately trailed her fingers down the arm closest to her and briefly stopped at his elbow before she folded it in her lap. He responded by resting his head against the back of his claw hand and casually lowered his good hand to brush against the skin exposed by the slit of her tunic. She caught his hand before it could retreat and coyly threaded her fingers with his. She was about to guide his hand to touch more intimate areas of her body and see if he could handle it without any outward reactions, but Maria appeared at the entrance.

The warriors quickly separated before they were noticed as the blue haired girl approached them. “There you are- Fayt and Sophia are ready to go. …Why am not surprised you found your way to a bar, Cliff?”

“Heh, looks like it’s back to work,” the Klausian said to the Elicoorians with a halfhearted grin before he downed the rest of his drink. He then thanked the soldier for the liquor and the conversation before he stood up and headed for his leader. Albel and Nel followed soon after and watched as the Klausian apologized for getting distracted.

But before Nel could leave the area with them, the dark warrior stopped her by placing a hand on her shoulder.

“Don’t think we’re done playing- the moment this is over, I will have my way with you,” he purred into her ear before he passed her and left her behind. The spy hid a smirk as she trailed after him. It had been a while since they had last done anything and the little game they were playing reawakened her desire to be naughty with him. She wasn’t sure if they could get a chance to be alone again, but she hoped they could make it happen.

To the Next Chapter

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