Disclaimer: Characters belong to Squeeeeeenix.

Cloud Strife and I are brothers.

We are bound together by the love of women who are gone, bound by the torment of failure and self–doubt, but there is one fundamental difference between us: Her coal black hair and teardrop pearl earrings captivating him as she walks by, setting the bottle of tequila by my right elbow, her perfect line of teeth gleaming as she laughs at Yuffie's gracelessness. I peer at the ninja from the side of my eyes; she is trying desperately to play the perfect hostess to Tifa's charming barmaid, and the bamboo mats on the floor and cherry blossoms in simple vases about the room brighten up the gleaming, polished bar strewn about with decorative dividers hinting at the illusion of privacy, the room set to Tifa's Wutai theme, a balance between the pair who are wandering circles around enthusiastic customers. Yuffie appears to not to be enjoying this as much, but that is likely due to the black kimono dusted with creamy petals, the edges tinted with different colors, making each movement into a shimmering, darkened rainbow. Tifa, though, is a contrast: her hair brushed over her shoulder, crimson kimono brighter than my cloak, subtle stitching depicting a landscape of gentle streams and twisted bonsai, her pearls and pale skin, burgundy eyes constantly scanning the room but always landing on one figure.

Cloud is dressed in blue from head to toe, arms crossed and smile faint, keeping an eye out for unruly characters. Tifa's pained expression tells me she wishes he was at least on her side of the room, but her face changes into a soft smirk as she glides down the aisle behind the bar on silent feet before I can ask her for a slice of lime. She approaches Cloud with demur smile, hands clasped in front of her in an uncharacteristically shy manner, and Cloud shoots her a puzzled glance as the grey–eyed ninja plops herself directly into my line of view, cutting of my gaze with one of her own as she turns to watch the couple by the door. She sets several slices of lime next to my long shot glass of tequila, before she pivots on the stool to face me. "I gave her basic etiquette lessons," She crinkles up her nose, "She seemed to like it, even though I told her it's no fun to be forced to follow them." She glances back at Cloud and Tifa, and I can see Cloud lift one hand and scratch his head and somehow Tifa's unrepentant giggle floats across the noisy room to me, and all I can see of her is one pearl suspended from her earlobe.

Lucrecia had not been wearing that strand of pearls the first time I visited her cavern. But she was crystallized with the necklace, yellow ribbon exchanged for white and loose, pure robes encasing her still body. I often wonder where she received them; a wedding gift from Hojo, perhaps? But it truly didn't matter, because in the end, she is still gone.

I slam back a shot, startling a babbling Yuffie, who exclaims, "Without lime!" like it is the most profound thing she's ever be privy to observe.

I grant her a critical glare. "I do change my habits, Yuffie."

She sets her chin in one hand, and I spy a faint glimmer of melancholy in those slate eyes. The nails on that hand are short and raw, bitten to the quick. She kicks the bar, swinging her feet in a childish manner, and I notice she is short enough they barely brush the floor. She has not been to Wutai since her materia–stealing fiasco, three years previous, and that nostalgic gleam is haunting on her normally shining face. I slide a replenished shot glass in front of her and she tosses it back without flinching, plucking up a slice of lime and giving it a hearty suck. "Oh," She breathes, eyes wide, "So that's why you do that."

I chuckle at her naivety, and she gives me a sharp glance, but I am instantly sober as I notice the slender strand of pearls encircling her neck. Observation dulled by spirits, I remind myself as she notices my stare, lifting one hand to touch the collarbone on which the necklace rests. "Tifa wore pearls, so she wanted to me to wear some, too," She tells me, but I hardly hear her, fascinated by the contrast of black silk, olive skin, and shimmering pearl. I do hear her next words, though, as they are tainted by that melancholy that has been looming over her vibrant figure all night: "They were my mother's." She lifts her eyes to mine, and I stare into them, drinking her in as she asks softly, "Do you like them?"

Same necklace, different beauty. Despite my normal reserve, I am surprised by the words that spring out of my mouth.

"You look wonderful."

And she beams, all trace of sadness gone, and suddenly I understand something else about Cloud: Aerith's pearl of materia and Lucrecia's strand of light were the white of mourning, but…

… maybe there is no fundamental difference, after all.

A/N: I seem to be inspired into one–shots these past few days. I had completely unintended for it to end up how it did, since i meant it to be some angsty reflective philosophical bullshit on Vincent's part, but i started to go with Seventh Heaven with a Wutai theme, and got away with myself. So how's my first Yuffentine? (holds out a tempting platter of baked goodness)