What the hell? No fanfic from anyone on V-Day? Blasphemy! Then again, I suppose we're all busy. I'll take it up.

Dedicated to my dear friends RC, Yukiko, and Zaz! I miss everyone and we need to have epic chats like the good ol' days! Also for Bri and Jon, who both need more Dirge in their lives.

I don't own any of the characters, nor am I making any sort of money off of this. The song "The Fear of Being Found" belongs to Blaqk Audio.


The Fear of Being Found

In her conscious memory, Shelke couldn't remember feeling safer than she did in Vincent Valentine's loft. At the back of her head, she knew that she had probably resolved the Trust versus Mistrust issue in her development satisfactorily, allowing her to feel safe within her own home. But then parents had died, DeepGround had happened (Shelke couldn't think of a better word to describe what DeepGround had done to her, aside from just happen), Vincent had happened (a similar experience to DeepGround, though much more pleasant), all stressing her body to what felt like a breaking point. Shelke hadn't felt safety until maybe a week after she started sleeping on Vincent's couch.

Since coming back to "the real world," Shelke had rediscovered many things she had enjoyed. Sleeping for more than six hours, for one thing, and waking up of her own accord. Food with flavor was another, though Shelke didn't think she'd ever like sweets. On a more personal note, Shelke had rediscovered dreaming much to the delight of her therapist. Shelke found it interesting that, for all of her ten years in DeepGround, she hadn't had a single dream. It was just an unusual side-effect of constant exhaustion, she supposed. Perhaps not even unusual, but a very common one.

The nightmares had come before the pleasant dreams, just as they had in DeepGround before the exhaustion had set in. As a tiny girl-child, Shelke had gone scurrying to her bunkmate's bed only to be forcibly removed by the watchmen and, later, the bunkmates themselves. When the nightmares came during her second time on the surface of the earth, Shelke had dealt with them in a series of deep breaths and reassuring herself of logical facts. Her kidnappers were dead. The Restrictors were dead. Weiss, Rosso, Nero, and Azul were all dead. None of them could come back for her, mangled and rotten, to drag her to the other side with them. She was safe.

And yet, when the nightmares stopped, she dreamed of Nero.


I have been a world apart, stuck in between time.
Head into the ground, I'm found falling through fault lines.
I feel see through.
Can you see through me?

"Shelke?"

That was a voice she could get used to. Familiar, but still possessing something new that Shelke wanted to explore. Not the light, reedy voice of a boy, yet nothing resembling the deeper voices that people tended to associate with men. Melodious, yet he wasn't singing and never would because he was dead. Forever entwined with Weiss, this man was dead, yet here he stood before her.

"Nero."

Could I change one thing?
Could I change your mind?
Shall we burn it just like the last time?

"You're shaking, you know?"

Shelke looked down to examine her hands. "No, I'm not."

"Not here." "Here" was a very ambiguous term. They were in a dream and the dream was taking place in DeepGround, that much was certain. But DeepGround had never had Vincent's couch sitting in the middle of it. "On Valentine's couch. Your body is trembling hard enough to shake his house to the foundation."

"A physical impossibility." Tearing her gaze away from her own body on Vincent's couch, Shelke eyed Nero. "The experience of astral projection isn't why you've brought me here. What do you want?"

Resolutely, Nero nodded and beckoned Shelke to leave the room with him. "This way."

I can't change a thing,

Can't explain why I never felt it,

Not even the first time.


Shelke didn't recognize the new location. It was an amalgamation of many things. If she had to guess, Shelke would say it was a combination of Seventh Heaven, DeepGround's shooting range, the WRO headquarters, her old barrack, and the ruins of Midgar. All of the locations were desolate, barren, and blending into each other seamlessly. "Where are we now?"

Nero was ignoring her, in favor of the full moon hanging over the ruins of Seventh Heaven. "You were the only other person I took interest in besides Weiss."

"What?"

"It's true." In an almost giddy motion, Nero tilted her face up to his, running a callused thumb along the side of her cheek. A mimicry of a true caress, lacking the more tender components. "And it had nothing to do with your circumstances. You were so frightened back then, a little puppy brought in from the storm." He gripped her chin roughly, bringing her close. Despite the violence of his actions, Nero's eyes were smiling. "And you still fear thunder, don't you?"

Raise a glass and toast the flame just like the old days.
Swallow but be careful, don't drown
The new ways you could say,
"Would you change this time?"

Shelke jerked her head and took a step back from Nero. "I'm not about to have this discussion. Especially not with a dead man in my own dream."

"So you have identified that I'm not among the living. Very good." Nero took off his mask, displaying a face that Shelke had never seen. During a discussion of dreams, Shelke recalled Tifa saying that you couldn't see things in your dreams that you hadn't seen in real life. The sight of Nero's face was something that only Weiss had known. "Perhaps next you'll understand that I'm showing you things you couldn't have possibly known, even in the back of your mind."

"What are you then? If you aren't my fantasy, then you must be something a bit more substantial."

"I am what is left. Remember that. This isn't wholly your dream, just as it isn't wholly my world."

I'll begin to change my mind
When you can explain why I feel see through.
Can you feel me?


"You said that you had maintained an interest in me when I was young?"

"Yes."

They were walking through yet another new place, side by side. Nero didn't have his wings and Shelke could only thank her subconscious (or perhaps Nero's conscious) for small favors. The cumbersome items would only cut her shoulders up in the narrow hallways leading to the barracks of the Tsviets.

"Why hadn't you acted on it?" Shelke didn't have to look at him to see the half-amused, half-alarmed expression on his face. "It isn't that I wanted you to act on it. I possess no interest in that type of gratification and I suspect you possess even less interest. However, certain social taboos were not present in DeepGround. I am merely curious as to why you denied yourself the satiation of your curiosity, however base or deep, despite the fact that there were no obstructions to your investigation."

"It would have upset you."

"And this was a problem for you?"

For the first time during the conversation Nero seemed at a loss for words, cryptic or otherwise. "I… Don't know. I suppose that I didn't go through the trouble for the same reason that I didn't go to lengths to upset Weiss."

"I do not think that is the solution. You loved Weiss enough to die for him." What Shelke hadn't said was, "You didn't die for me."

Could I change one thing?
Could I change your mind?
Shall we burn it just like the last time?

"The love that I have for Weiss is worlds different from what I feel for you. I would have never left him, even for your sake."

"I see."

"I don't see why it matters how highly I hold your feelings. You clearly never held DeepGround, Weiss, or myself in similar regards." Shelke was about to refute the claim, only for Nero to continue. "'I don't want to let down anyone who is counting on me.' Were those not your words? We had counted on you years before they ever did." Nero's voice slithered through Shelke's ears and poured venom onto her mind. "You betrayed us."

Shelke, apparently lacking her weapons, took a swing at Nero's face. He caught her fist and pushed Shelke into the wall. With her arm twisted high above her head, Shelke resorted back to words. "You attempted to kill me the instant I had fulfilled my mission!"

"It wasn't my will. It was Hojo's will, Weiss' body, and Azul's pleasure." Nero let her out of the hold he had put her in. As she shook out the pain that Nero's hold had inflicted, he continued to explain himself. "I won't say it broke my heart to issue your death warrant. It didn't, and it wouldn't have changed anything if it did."

"Then why are we even having this conversation?"

"Because I haven't lost interest."

I can't change a thing,
Can't explain why I never felt it,
Not even the first time.


In Nero's barrack. Another place Shelke had never seen. The details were too concrete to be some subconscious projection. More of Nero's interference with her mind. Shelke was slowly started to find his manipulations irritating.

Nero's fingers traced the outline of Shelke's body. On anyone else, Shelke supposed that the desire to map her body by touch would be the sweet gesture of an artist. Nero was scarcely tender, more clinical than Shelke thought he was willing to admit. "Why are you doing this?"

"I've already told you. I am still interested in you, Shelke."

"This isn't interest."

"Isn't it?"

Shall we?

"You said yourself that nothing we're doing now will change what we've done in the past."

"You are correct." Nero had reached the inside of her knees, ready to trace up into terra incognita. Instead, he moved his index finger across the space between her knees and continued down her opposite calf as if he had thoroughly explored that territory. "Nothing will happen to our circumstances, even if my curiosity is satisfied."

"Then why bother with me? Why not leave me alone?"

"Because there are no obstructions to my investigation."

Nothing's different...


"Shelke, I'd like you to keep one thing."

"Yes?" She could feel herself beginning to awaken. Nero was starting to lose substance.

"I don't want you to hold anything against Weiss. You may hate me as long as you'd like, but Weiss didn't ask for anything that has happened. You cannot blame him."

"I don't. I don't blame anyone anymore."

Nero tilted his head thoughtfully. "There's a change of heart. You've become disturbingly sentimental, lass."

Could I change one thing?
Could I change your mind?
Shall we burn it just like the last time?

Shelke stood across from him, perhaps for the last time, eyeing him over the several-foot distance between them. She had stood in this position before, questioning him, many times before. While receiving her orders about Doctor Lucrecia Crescent, Shelke had questioned him as a friend. On the Highwind, she saw him as an enemy. Perhaps, in her dream, Shelke was seeing him as just Nero.

I can't change a thing,
Can't explain why I never felt it,
Not even the first time.


The sun had risen, and it had been shining into the Valentine-Rui household for a good few hours when Vincent emerged from his bedroom. "Good morning, Vincent Valentine." He didn't respond. Shelke didn't expect him to. Vincent was scarcely a morning person. Shelke bit into her toast, enjoying how the warm food transferred its heat to her. Second Law of Thermodynamics, Shelke knew. It didn't make the toast any less delicious.

"How'd you sleep?" Vincent muttered, after two cups of very black coffee.

"I had a dream," Shelke blurted. Vincent nodded, as if expecting her to recount it. "It was… Odd." How else could Shelke explain it? The feeling of Nero entering her dream for the sake of conversation? In the back of her mind, Shelke knew that Nero was already absorbed into the Lifestream and would probably stay there for a long time. Even then, he wouldn't come back in a form that Shelke would recognize. Still, Shelke supposed that her head had thrown up Nero for a reason. She would need to keep her eyes open.


END