So, as typical of me, my decision isn't really a decision at all. Obviously, I'm a very indecisive person. But, at any rate, VE will stay as it is-platonic. There will be many Seph Cloud scenes (seeing as though they are roommates...) but none in that sense. Although, to satisfy my sephxcloud love without butchering this plot, I ended up just writing an entirely new story. As of now, I'm calling it the Old Light, and it has absolutely nothing at all to do with VE.


.

.

.

At first Cloud had no time for this to fully sink in, as he immediately began a long winded message to Shelke explaining his first mission as well as the Turk he'd seen outside of Seventh Heaven. It was no coincidence, and Shelke said so much herself. She'd known about them, obviously, though Shelke explained she was not aware if AVALANCHE was as well. It was highly possible the environmental terrorists were completely oblivious to the well-trained Turks. Either way, Shelke insisted that it wasn't part of their affairs, and that she could take care of herself.

Cloud didn't see much of Sephiroth for the next few weeks. Rather, if he did, it was the scuff mark at the door mat, or coming home to the door already unlocked.

He never saw the man, but was certainly aware of his presence at every waking hour.

He did, however, see plenty of Genesis, as more often then not if he was on a mission that wasn't by himself, he was paired with either the dramatic first or a variety of troopers as back ups. Once, he and Zack had gotten another easy mission to exterminate some monsters down beneath the plate, which had been fun. But mostly, he worked alone.

But Cloud liked it that way.

He didn't have to hold back when he was by himself—no Turk watching from the one-way observation window, no army troops behind him staring wide eyed. No Zack to freak out and then insist on the blonde teaching him all of his, "ultra cool First class moves". Why the Second didn't just get Angeal, the First he hogged all the time to teach him them, Cloud didn't really know, but Zack always said it was because Angeal was too much of a stickler for the rules and would never teach him anything really interesting.

And while Genesis would much rather quote Loveless and divulge him of all his secrets (and occasionally, he wondered; his clothes too) the blonde could stand his presence as well.

In fact, Cloud would almost call them… friends?

Which was absurd, as Cloud was well aware of Genesis' fate, and he really shouldn't be making friends with people who were going to go batshit on the company and attempt to destroy the planet. Albeit that Genesis never got as far as Sephiroth did, but Cloud would prefer not to have to take down someone who meant as much to him as Sephiroth did.

And Genesis was becoming something close.

Closer then Cid or Reeve, but farther then Vincent. Perhaps accurately pinpointing the First's distance from Cloud would be aptly named in Barrett. Which was ironic, considering there was absolutely nothing the two had in common. For one, Barrett was a large black man with a turret arm, who couldn't stand useless poetic dramatics and especially couldn't stand ShinRa. Meanwhile, Genesis was lithe—although, still muscled. Just not… overly muscled—and pale like snow with fiery red hair, had a penchant for dramatics and a keen eye for detail. But Barrett would always listen to Cloud, and Cloud always felt he could talk to Barrett, who, in his bullishness, would never judge him.

Genesis, however, ripped the answers straight out of him. But yet, he still got the job done. He still made Cloud talk.

He also managed to draw the blonde into the training room on an occasion or two.

"It's a wonder how you managed to master all that materia." There was something glinting in the man's eyes.

He was such a materia hoarder.

Oh hail Gaia if he ever met Yuffie. Cloud knew one thing; it'd be the apocalypse. Either they'd hit it off so well that the world would be robbed of all materia, or they'd attempt to destroy the other in their quests for obscene amounts of the crystallized mako. One way or the other, Cloud would have none and neither would the world.

Cloud shrugged. "I… fight a lot of monsters?"

Genesis plucked one out of First Tsurugi, tossing it up in the air once, twice, before releasing a fiery wall of red inferno. He watched it, looking feral and amused, before extinguishing the flames with a wave of his hand. "They react well too. Very smooth." And then, with a glance at their vibrant color. "Are these natural?"

"They're not ShinRa made." Cloud answered, by not answering at all.

Genesis noticed, and scowled, before tossing it back to him.

"You never seem to give me a proper answer." He noted duly.

"Perhaps you're just not asking the right question." Cloud answered mysteriously, wondering when he had started channeling his inner Vincent.

"I'm surprised your shadow hasn't shown up yet." The redheaded First remarked, dropping the conversation and started to pace around the blonde, who eyed him carefully. Just because Genesis could be considered something of his friend at ShinRa didn't mean Cloud trusted him in the slightest.

"Shadow?"

"Zack."

Huh. That was true. The Second had taken to following him around a lot. Cloud supposed he hadn't really noticed because Zack didn't really bother him. Never really could. It was the easy confidence about the guy, not arrogance, but also not a lack of self esteem—something which Cloud had always looked up to in Zack. He could charm a Bahamut into taking tea with his grandmother if he sincerely tried. But Cloud didn't know whether that meant that the Second was just very witty or just a genuine nice person.

"I'm sure he has better things to do." Cloud was pretty sure he was on a mission. "I'm not a very interesting guy." He added as an afterthought.

But Gaia, if he had known that the fastest way to get attention was shutting up and looking put off and brooding all the time, he'd never have bothered with fighting all those kids in Nibelheim or going off to the army.

Genesis watched him, eyes lidded. "You have your secrets." He reserved coolly.

Cloud shrugged, flipping First Tsurugi in his hand, the blade almost weightless in his palm. "Doesn't everyone."

"Infinite, is the mystery of the Goddess."

Cloud gave him a flat look.

Genesis smiled.

After a good two hours of repeatedly sparring, taking breaks in which Genesis subtly prodded Cloud for answers he wouldn't give, bantering, and then more Loveless quotes, Cloud had sufficiently worked up a good sweat and was ready to take down some monsters.

"I'm heading to the briefing antechamber." He told the First as he sheathed First Tsurugi in its harness.

"Going to take another mission?" Genesis panted, looking a bit exhausted but mostly in good spirits. "Save some for the grunts, you know. You're doing all of them."

Cloud shrugged. "What else am I going to do with my time?"

"Get a hobby!" Genesis called to Cloud as the blonde walked out of the training room.

He huffed.

Cloud was like talking to a brick wall. Although, he was a witty brick wall who always had a way to turn one's questions around, or remark with a question with his own, but still a brick wall for all the answers he ever gave out. After a couple weeks of knowing the blonde, of fighting him, Genesis found he knew more about the blonde through clashing blades with him then through talking. He favored his left hand—but he must have had some clear formal experience, as regardless, he held his sword with his right hand firm. He constantly left the shoulder with the gauntlet unguarded, and sometimes he moved as if he was expecting a phantom pain in his chest. Whatever he had fought in the course of his life, he fought it long and hard and with tooth and nail. There was something graceful about the blonde's artless quality of fighting. As if every moment was a struggle that decided the fate of the world.

And the blonde thought him dramatic.

Clearly Cloud wasn't a fan of fighting, if his style was anything to go by.

He fought like he wanted the battle to end. Genesis thought it ironic and a tad amusing that the blonde First had chosen being a Soldier as his career. He had mentioned something about a Delivery Service he used to run—obviously, he could always do that instead.

It'd be a waste of his innate talent, surely, but perhaps the man would enjoy it more.

Maybe not. Cloud kind of looked like there were few things he enjoyed—and whatever they were, they were long gone.

Genesis didn't know how long he sat there, musing on his new friend and enigmatic puzzle to solve, but Sephiroth had come in at some point.

The silver haired General took one look at Genesis appearance.

"Training with the air?" He questioned with a slight smile.

Genesis scoffed. "Hardly. It seems my partner has run out on me, however." He swung his rapier in a wide arch. "Care to join me?"

It had been a while since he'd fought Sephiroth.

The man had been mysteriously absent as of late, always holed up in his office, submerged underneath an ungodly amount of paperwork that could have sunk the Midgar plate. Genesis always told him to just get a secretary, but the man insisted on doing it himself. Sometimes Genesis wondered if he was a bit masochistic. If he wasn't scrawling his signature over papers, he was out on missions that seemed to take him globe trotting for weeks at a time. Surely, souring matters with Wutai weren't helping. Genesis couldn't even recall the last time he, Sephiroth and Angeal busted the Second's training room to have some fun with the VRS.

Now that the man was back, they should do that again.

Sephiroth swung in a broad stroke, Genesis catching it just in time, before retaliating. Blades clashed, parted, and met again.

Genesis didn't know how it was possible, but there was something about Sephiroth's style that reminded him of Cloud. But perhaps that was wrong. It was almost like Cloud's style complimented Sephiroth's. The General was very collective and analytical during battle, always maintaining his same temperament regardless of the situation (although Genesis had yet to see a time in which Sephiroth wasn't in control). Cloud was almost the opposite, as if he was so accustomed to fighting against a steel defense that he fought erratically to oppose it.

It may be too early to tell… but, if he had to put money on it, he'd bet on Cloud.

When he voiced his opinion aloud, Sephiroth paused.

"Cloud…?" The General tasted the name on his tongue. It sounded lyrical, foreign. He wondered where it came from.

Genesis gave him a dubious look. "Yes, Cloud. Your roommate?"

Sephiroth blinked.

"Strife, you mean?"

"Yes, Strife." Genesis amended quickly. "Cloud Strife. He's the new Soldier First here. Bit of an uproar at that—oh, you missed that, didn't you? Got inducted straight into it, didn't have to take injections or anything. I hear there's a bit of a story behind it, but no ones talking."

Sephiroth digested this with a thoughtful look on his face.

"I wasn't informed of this…"

"Because you haven't been here." Genesis pointed out, a bit of abandonment in his voice at that.

Sephiroth's eyes softened. "And I'm sorry for that." And after a pause, "He's my roommate?"

"Has been, for the past couple weeks."

Genesis paused.

"You mean to tell me you haven't met him?"

Sephiroth shrugged. "I was aware of his presence. The occasional locked door when I was sure that I had kept it unlocked. An unused water in the fridge… I think he left a pair of boots at the door once."

Genesis was watching him flatly. "You've never met him." Actually, the Commander looked bemused. "How is that possible?"

"We must be on different shifts." Sephiroth supposed.

"No, the both of you are workaholics, that's the issue. If one of you isn't working, the other is!"

Sephiroth looked unsure. "And he's a good fighter?"

"Beyond good." Genesis amended. "He surely fights like a trained Soldier First. Now where he found that strength, however," Genesis purred. "That is a different story I've yet to unfold."

"You speak of him like you've talked quite a bit." Sephiroth noted. "Are the two of you friends?"

"Acquaintances would be more apt."

Sephiroth seemed to ponder this.

"Perhaps it would be a good idea to meet him."

Genesis smiled generously. "You wouldn't regret it, certainly."

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.

Shelke began to notice a shift in dynamic in AVALANCHE become clearer as the days seemed to pass.

Elfe was clearly the leader, while frightfully nonchalant and very level-headed, she was apt in battle—or so Shelke heard, as she had never seen the woman fight before—and very well versed in politics. Although considering that AVALANCHE's policy was usually blow up reactors first, make compromises later, she supposed the latter skill wasn't put to as good of use as it could have. Elfe had a good control of things, and Shelke made the correct choice in leaving her safety with the woman, who had a large heart and good intentions.

Or so Shelke had thought.

It wasn't Elfe that was the problem.

Nor was it Shears, who was something of Elfe's second in command. It was obvious to tell that Shears was five ways in love with Elfe. While it was a different matter entirely if Elfe was aware of this—she was a bit dense in those ways—it was clear that Shears would do anything for the woman, even join AVALANCHE. Even leave AVALANCHE, if it served a purpose to help her. It wasn't any of the other AVALANCHE members, who resembled much of who they would come to be when Barrett ran the group, kind and only wanting the best for the planet, and a little wary of using more necessary force.

As these were the only people Shelke saw in the first few months, she didn't notice anything wrong.

It wasn't until Fuhito strolled into the bar one day that Shelke was able to fully comprehend the tilted wires AVALANCHE was strung by.

She had been sitting in the back corner near the windows, idly fiddling with the hems of her dress and waiting for the connection upstairs to return. Sometimes when an upper plate train rattled the power transistors the connection slowed or halted completely, and it took a bit longer until they came back. She was planning her next dive—it had taken her quite a long time to finish her SND apparatus, and each dive took a toll on her energy, so she had to use them sparingly—when she heard Elfe's raised voice from across the room.

That in itself was some sort of beacon of apprehension. Elfe hardly, if ever, raised her voice.

This would count the first time Shelke had ever seen her do so.

A man was hovering next to her, looking empowering and a bit deranged, and Shelke immediately knew him as a scientist. An AVALANCHE scientist, then. She couldn't hear their conversation from such a lengthy distance apart, but she could take a mild guess.

There were few things that could cause the woman to elate to such levels of emotion.

It must have something to do with Zirconiade, or worse.

Shelke first and foremost was a researcher. She supposed it was her lot in life—certainly while she could fight, she would never be an Azul, a Cloud, or a Rosso—to gather information when no one else could. She'd become adept to it, and instead of spending most of her evenings on one of the stools, picking at her dinner and planning her next dive, she instead listened closely to the other member's conversations.

She knew previously from researching the Zirconiade back in the past (future) that Elfe had been the owner before it had been destroyed. Since the whole matter was Turk business, there was very little written down in the reports. But Tseng had stated that he had killed off Elfe and Veld. Whether this was true or not was up to one's own discretion, but all Shelke needed to know was that somehow, the powerful Elfe managed to become significantly weakened enough to be overpowered by someone else.

And from what all the AVALANCHE members were saying, this must be true. She was weakening.

This wasn't the worst of it, however.

Cloud had told her of his encounter with that gigantic Behemoth—that wasn't any real strange fluke of nature. Most likely it had been carefully tended to by AVALANCHE scientists as some sort of SOLDIER slaying beast, though obviously this was a useless idea, as Soldier's generally took down monsters all the time.

Elfe would hardly come up with such a stupid plan, so obviously, the leading of AVALANCHE and its affairs was being hefted to someone else. Someone Shelke thought to be Fuhito.

She narrowed her eyes.

That wasn't good.

"Elfe?"

Shelke peered down the hallway to where the woman's room was located.

No response.

"Elfe!"

Shelke stopped in the doorway, frowning. "That's strange." She murmured to herself. Elfe was hardly what one could ever call irresponsible, and always managed to holler when she was leaving the bar.

Shelke tiptoed down the stairs, careful not to wake any of the sleeping AVALANCHE members. A couple had returned, looking exhausted, and were snoring away in one of the guest bedrooms. The main bar was devoid of the woman as well, who sometimes bustled around behind the counter to keep herself busy. That scoundrel Fuhito was missing as well—no doubt residing underneath the bar in the main head quarters.

"Did she leave?" Shelke wondered aloud to herself, striding through the empty bar and whirring fans to the front entrance.

The stoop didn't look any different, a couple people meandering around aimlessly outside, looking weather worn but altogether normal. No sign of her loitering out here, either. Shelke frowned. Definitely strange. She grew increasingly worried as her mind supplied her with all the possible scenarios that could be happening right now. The Turks had been watching more cautiously lately—had that something to do with Veld becoming aware about the failing Zirconiade? Or perhaps they were getting in position to snipe them all down like dogs?

"—and you really think that—"

"—I have to. I don't want your—"

Shelke's attention snapped to the side, and she left the door to quietly pad across the front, sliding as silently as she could in these ridiculously civilian shoes over to the alley way she could hear Elfe's distinct voice from. Who was she arguing with, Fuhito? Perhaps it was something serious, and she should wake up an AVALANCHE member. There was no time for that, though, if Elfe was in any real danger Shelke would have to take care of it herself—how though, was the bigger issue. Elfe could likely handle her own but Shelke could never truly be sure, what with her biggest power supply steadily weakening and—

"Rufus ShinRa." Shelke surmised coolly, eyes blinking wide.

Young.

(or, younger, at that)

Certainly there was a more robust quality to his chin, and a rapt, more readable expression to his face. His lips disregarded their usual knowing smirk, and he had a look of intense fury as he gazed down at Elfe, who somberly watched him through the fringe of her hair.

Neither heard her, or saw her, and continued to argue in the back alleyway.

Huh. Rufus ShinRa.

But of course. He had always been one of the greatest beneficiaries for AVALANCHE. But why? Because he took such a keen interest in the environment? Obviously, as he wasted money carelessly and sat around in his tower with his lavish luxuries.

Elfe certainly had a way with men, didn't she? Shelke mused with bemusement.

Her cool surprise was shattered, however, as hands gripped her shoulder.

"Are you lost, little girl?"

Shelke looked up behind her, to see a pretty face staring back at her. A pretty face in a suit, at that.

She shook her head vehemently. "No."

The woman Turk looked altogether unimpressed, removing her hands to place them on her hips like some sort of motherly figure. How ironic, considering her job description. Shelke doubted there was a Turk out there that had it in them to be a proper parent. Honestly, look at Veld. The guy considered it to be getting his employees to stalkerishly watch his daughter from nearby windows. How queer.

The Turk pursed her lips, placing another hand on Shelke's shoulder. "Well why don't you run along, this really isn't something little kids should—

"Rui!"

But Elfe had already spotted her, and was walking over swiftly. Rufus trailed behind, looking quite put upon and face twisted as if he still had quite a few words to say. Shelke was most surprised, however, by the supreme amount of worry in the tightness of his jaw.

"You know her?" Rufus asked stiffly, as if he couldn't quite believe it himself.

"She's an orphan." Elfe cut him off snidely. "Her family ruined by ShinRa." She seemed to tag that on just to spite him. It seemed to work surprisingly well, as a brief look faltered in his eyes, before passing as quickly as it had come.

"You can unhand her, Cissnei."

She did so, taking a step back.

"Unless you have anything else to say," Elfe paused, baiting Rufus. "Then I'll be going. It's getting late, and I'm sure Rui's getting hungry."

But Rufus only inclined his head, before drifting off with Cissnei in tow, his dark hood blending in with the drab scenery of Sector 7. Elfe watched them go, silent as usual, before turning to Shelke.

The woman looked her over, and Shelke shifted at her narrowed gaze, wondering if she'd get reprimanded.

But Elfe only sniffed, obviously sparing her.

Though she didn't spare her the greatest shock of her lifetime.

"Looks like you've outgrown that dress. We'll have to get you a new one."

.

.

.

While Cloud's revelation was no less shocking, it happened less climactically.

Missions in ShinRa were generally like he'd thought them to be—extraordinarily boring. Most likely ShinRa was sending him out to do the 'grunt work', as Genesis so aptly put it, for a specific reason. Cloud supposed they just didn't trust him yet. And, granted, that was very perceptive of them.

He hadn't planned in staying in the apartment for long. Bad enough having to share a duplex with the man, let alone having to visibly see him. Loitering in that mine zone would only increase his chances of doing so, yet those were his accommodations for the time being, and there was little else he could do. The blonde was only stopping to change and grab a bottle of water when he spied it.

Sure, Cloud left stuff around all the time. It was easier to do so when Sephiroth wasn't even in the northern hemisphere, and he had the place to his silent, brooding self. But now that he was aggravatingly aware that somewhere in this building the silver-haired general resided, and he'd taken to leaving the communal room barren of any personal items. But it hadn't always been like that. Shouldn't he be giving Sephiroth the same entitlement?

But seeing that glint of metal at the bottom of the sink horrified him more then he'd like to think it did.

Cloud shivered.

It was just a spoon, for Gaia's sake.

But it was so human. So inane and insignificant and yet his mind was bending backwards to even think of it. He was probably late or something, or perhaps was just lazy in the regard of washing one's spoons. Cloud didn't know. In fact, didn't want to know.

Thinking of Sephiroth as human, not some warped, mindless puppet of Jenova—frightened him.

He turned away from the sink, trashing his water and heading right out the door. Standing in that falsely pleasant kitchen in that falsely pleasant room was making him a little sick. Contrary to Yuffie—and the general population's belief—Cloud had only killed one man. He never had the stomach for things like that, ironic considering the profession he had wanted so desperately for the majority of his years. And that had only been accomplished because Sephiroth had become so crazed he was little else then a monster himself. That, and he had killed Aeris, his mother, and was attempting to do the same to the entire world.

And then, even then, he felt the dull ache of pity for the man, and all that he had become.

To think of him now as human, his roommate even, would only make it that much harder.

It was only a stroke of good timing that his PHS rang at that moment, before his thoughts could continue to spiral out of control.

"Hello?" He answered, forgetting to check his caller ID.

"Cloud." Shelke breathed a sigh of relief.

The blond blinked. "Shelke?" It was surprising to hear her voice. It sounded… strange. She hadn't called in a few weeks, though sent the occasional update on AVALANCHE's affairs.

"I'm in need of assistance."

Cloud froze in the middle of the hallway. "What's wrong?"

"Could you come to the main lobby?"

His brows furrowed. "Sure…"

To say he was surprised would be an understatement.

It actually took him a moment to recognize why she looked so different, considering he hadn't seen her in so long. It wasn't the color of her hair, which retained its soft coppery brown., although it had lengthened to her shoulders. Nor was it her luminescent eyes, depicting the mako that ran through her veins. Though there was something to the shape of her face, the cut of her chin perhaps. And she seemed a bit…

"Shelke…" His eyes grew wide. "You…"

She smiled at him brilliantly, far more then he'd ever seen before.

"I figured it would be better to let you see it in person." Though a little bit of her had wanted to show off.

"Yeah—wow." Shelke had grown. He had always thought it an impossibility, she'd said as much herself, but to see it happen, after almost an entire decade of living in a child's body… he was happy for her. "That's fantastic."

She nodded, happily, before turning to the receptionist behind the desk.

"Excuse me, ma'am?" Her voice went up two octaves as she tugged childishly on Cloud's arm, dragging him towards the desk. "This is my brother—the one I was talking about."

He waved, a little awkwardly as Shelke blinked up at him with disturbingly doe like eyes.

The woman looked flustered, as if she had been attempting to catch Shelke in a lie. "Err—I'll need some identification please, sir."

Cloud fished out his room key, figuring it would be enough. He hadn't had to sit through an aggravating identification card process yet, an event which he hoped to postpone for as long as possible. He remembered doing a similar process for the SOLDIER preliminary exams. Remembered being so clearly enamored with the thing, regardless of how long it took to make it, like it was some sort of tangible dream.

Shelke looked a tad smug as the woman waved them through.

"I thought it was too dangerous to meet in person." Cloud hissed under his breath, recalling that it had been her idea in the first place. AVALANCHE wouldn't be pleased to find out that their beloved little orphan girl was fraternizing with ShinRa, and Cloud would have preferred for his fellow SOLDIERS to be aware of as little of him as possible. Not to mention that some yards under the stonework the very same girl beside him was undergoing a torturous mako process.

"There are some things I'm going to have to find out myself from here." Shelke lowered her voice as well.

They came to the elevator hall, and took one. Shelke pressed the highest number—obviously using this to buy time away from the cameras. "I can't access the information outside of a ShinRa computer. Do you happen to know where I could use one?"

Cloud pursed his lips. "They have some in the lounge, though I don't know about their security. I'm sure they're monitored."

"That isn't a problem." Shelke waved him off.

Cloud didn't doubt it. There wasn't anyone else in the world who could rival Shelke's brains, though it had taken this bizarre time traveling for him to realize it. And though she still embodied the frame of a young, albeit growing girl, she certainly didn't have the mind of one.

The elevators slid into a sleek, empty corridor. Cloud breathed a sigh of relief he hadn't even realized he was holding. He was happy to see Shelke, sure. But he was a little more content knowing that she was far away from the menacing, mako-monopolizing energy company's reach. Coming here may as well have been walking into the lion's den.

"What exactly are you looking for?" He asked quietly, leading her through blessedly deserted corridors.

"There isn't a clear access to Deepground outside of ShinRa," Shelke began quietly. "If there's even one here at all. To be honest, it's just a hunch I'm going on… and it's extremely selfish of me to do so."

Cloud swallowed thickly. "And what part of Deepground do you need access to?"

"Myself, mostly." She admitted. "Though lately, I've been finding myself wondering about Weis' conception as well. There's something not right with this…"

Whatever she was going to say was abruptly cut off, as, just as they were nearing the home stretch, a familiar voice greeted him.

"Cloud."

The blond turned around, feeling like someone had doused him with ice.

And so did Shelke.

"And here I thought you were going to hide yourself in your room to angst." Came the almost bemused voice. "And yet here you are—

The Commander was cut off, as his eyes locked with Shelke's.

He may have only spotted her out of curiosity. After all, ShinRa was hardly the kind of company that held to the take your child to work day friendly environment, and children were few and far between in these halls. He should have lingered, and then thought little of it.

In hindsight, Cloud should have seen this coming.

Though he had never been known for his mind, and had nothing on Shelke's uncanny perception, so technically, she should have seen this coming.

He'd been aware that Shelke, like most other Deep Ground operatives, had been experimentally tested using Genesis' G-cells. The same had happened to him to a certain extent, except with Sephiroth. Though to see the two of them, face to face, certainly took the knowledge to a new level. The two of them, aside from the height difference, could have been twins. A soft, chestnut coloring to the hair, the feathery way it sat on both of their heads. It made matters worse that Shelke had lost a lot of the cherubic baby fat that made her look so young, giving her a clearer look to her eyes and a sharper chin—one she seemed to share with the Soldier First. He and Sephiroth, while perhaps more alike in personality then he would ever, ever care to admit, certainly didn't look the same.

But he'd always thought that Genesis looked disturbingly like Shelke.

It was another matter entirely to see the two of them together.

"Uh—Genesis." Cloud attempted to snap them all out of the shock that seemed to jolt them. Belatedly, Cloud realized this was the first time he'd ever addressed the other first by his name. "This is my, uh, sister, Rui."

There was a moment when neither said anything, only staring unseeingly at the other.

"…hello." Her voice was so small it could have been mistaken for the AC. Their eyes hadn't left each other's. Both glowing an unnatural, yet exact shade of blue.

Genesis seemed to regain himself, pulling his to Cloud and shifting uneasily. "You never told me you had a sister." He accused of his fellow first, though there was less heat and more shock.

"…You never asked?"

Luckily, Shelke found this an opportune moment to use her body size to their advantage. "Cloud," She whined like a picturesque teenager. "Aren't you going to take me to get ice cream?" God, was she channeling Marlene somewhere in there? He'd never heard whining until he'd seen Marlene Wallace and her ice cream.

"Oh. That's right." He looked over to Genesis, who hadn't seemed to entirely have shaken himself from his reverie, as his eyes lingered on Shelke's form. "Do they sell that at the lounge?"

"I'd believe so." Said the Commander, though he looked like he wasn't really paying attention to the words out of his mouth.

Their eyes met again, briefly, before Shelke tugged, with quite more force then necessary. Cloud actually stumbled a bit, giving a hasty farewell to the red headed Soldier before near diving around the corner. Shelke let go of his hand soon after that, pace slowing down to a more manageable walk. Cloud couldn't see her eyes, overgrown bangs hiding them from view. He could only guess what was going through her head.

Stupid.

She definitely should have saw that, the young woman berated herself. After all, it was no secret that all deep ground operatives were made using G-cells.

It seemed the more she uncovered of herself, the less she became aware of. How much of her was actually Shelke Rui? And not just mutilated mako and spliced Genesis cells? For Gaia's sake, out of all of the Tsviets, she'd never even questioned why she looked the most like him. Seeing the man in person, standing in front of him, only seemed to solidify that.

The worst part—she and Shalua didn't even look that alike.

She stared blankly ahead.

Would she and Shalua even be considered sisters anymore? Or was her DNA so butchered that, were they to ever take a test, it wouldn't show a positive match? Or, she thought a little bitterly, would it do so if she were to take one with Genesis?

"Shelke…" Cloud called worriedly.

But she brushed him off." I should have foresaw that." Said the Tsviet, flatly. "I apologize."

"No—it's fine." Cloud blinked. "Are you alright?"

"I'm perfectly fine." Physically, anyway. Mentally, she'd been more then a little shaken up. "I have always had an understanding of my genetic makeup—and how closely it pertains to that of Project G."

"Not that much, huh?"

Shelke's gaze slid to him. It was a lot easier to act more machine then human; almost a subconscious defensive way of shutting the world out. But Cloud didn't deserve that. "No." She decided upon, finally. "I certainly hadn't… expected such an uncanny resemblance between the two of us. Obviously our cell structure is more alike then I had first thought."

And Cloud only knew all too well what that felt like, standing in the middle or reunion, wondering who the hell he was. Tifa, Denzel, AVALANCHE—they grounded him. What did Shelke have, aside from a handful of memories and a dead sister? Vincent, maybe. But considering his brooding, mulish personality, that wasn't much.

They emerged into the Soldier lounge. The open space near the windows still had a few open desks with computers free.

"If anyone asks," In retrospect, they should have come up with some sort of alibi long before this situation ever arose. "I'm your younger sister who lives at boarding school—we haven't been in contact in months and this is the first time I've been able to see you."

Cloud nodded. "Anything else?"

"I'll be performing an unobtrusive net dive—if you need to contact me, do not do so physically." She held up her phone, which Cloud found bizarre. "Call my PHS."

Though it made some sense. If her mind was going into a computer, jarring it physically would probably short circuit her brain or something.

With that, she settled into one of the computers backed against the wall. The only present company she had was a pair of seconds two rows down, snickering at some video.

He made his way over to the cafeteria area, almost floored by the amount of flavors they had. Half of them he didn't even know. The blonde gave a discreet look at Shelke, who, aside from being the only young girl, seemed to have blended in rather well. Most likely she was crushing through all of the firewalls those ShinRa techs tried so hard to build… But surely they weren't dumb enough to leave out some sort of hack warning system?

Cloud blew a raspberry.

Would Genesis think anything of their resemblance? He had no reason to, Cloud pointed out to himself. The blonde had no reason to be this paranoid. Rui was his 'sister' who attended boarding school. Regardless of if she looked like she should be related to Commander Rhapsados and not to him, he doubted anyone would question it.

It didn't make him any less uneasy, though.


Good plot twist, I hope? XD Shelke is definitely growing on me..