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Shades of ___

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“Mx. Noire, would you please stop stalking up and down the hall? It’s making the other patients nervous.”

Noire glared at the nurse for a minute, mildly impressed that she didn’t cower and tilted her chin up challengingly instead. They scoffed then stomped over to the sitting area and flopped down in a chair directly opposite their twin, legs sprawled and arms crossed. Blanche glanced up in acknowledgement then went back to pouring over their tablet, making notes in a separate notebook in their lap.

“Find anything?” they asked quietly, tilting their head.

Blanche’s brow twitched, though their eyes stayed glued to the screen and they continued to write. “About as much as we thought we would.” Their pen paused as they sighed. “Worse, even.”

“Worse?” Noire sat up straighter, frowning when their twin’s posture stiffened. “What do you mean ‘worse’?”

“Exactly what the word implies,” Blanche snapped, gesturing to their tablet and beginning to write again, “What we encountered and thus broke up was an outskirts lab for Team Cipher – a Phase IV location with a prerogative in human experimentation,” they paused to glance in Noire’s direction, voice lowering, “We were in Phase III.”

Noire’s upper lip curled up in distaste. “So, the bastards kept experimenting. We figured as much, right?”

Blanche nodded, their free hand swiping across their tablet screen to move to the next document. They studied their twin for a moment, taking in their tense shoulders and the way their pen seemed to move more than it should, twitching in their grasp with tremors they couldn’t seem to stop. They sighed through their nose and sat up, uncrossing their arms.

“Blanche,” Noire said, leaning across the gap between them to snatch the tablet out of their hand, “Let’s put this away for a bit.”

Their twin flinched when Noire took the tablet, glare cold as they held out their hand. “No,” they said, voice firm, “This needs to be done eventually, and I’d prefer no eyes but our own be first to review it. Not to mention any bit of information could prove vital to-”

“You’re shaking,” Noire cut them off, motioning to the way their twin’s hand wavered in the space between them. “You’ll only upset yourself more if you keep at it, mon petit chou.”

Blanche retracted their hand, curling it into a fist on their lap. “I’m fine.”

Noire raised a brow and sat back into their seat, keeping the tablet with a challenging jut of their chin. They glanced over the page Blanche had pulled up, attempting to keep their face smooth. “Phase IV, Section YD000: ‘Clones of the Beast’,” they mumbled, swallowing back a bit of bile that tried to creep up their throat, “So that’s what they are.”

“Based on the other records, I can estimate that were over one hundred clones in the beginning,” Blanche said, glancing down at their notebook, “80% of which did not mature past organogenesis and thus perished.”

There were far too many emotions that stirred within them at the thought of being cloned – rage, horror, indignation, disbelief – but Noire brushed them aside for the moment. They weren’t any different from what they already felt towards the organization that had turned them into a human weapon, after all, only geared in a new direction.

“Cipher playing with an imperfect science,” they scoffed, repressing the urge to shudder, “What else is new?”

Blanche nodded. “Precisely. It’s one of the reasons they terminated the cloning division – too many wasted resources when there was no guarantee of success for the main process.”

“The Corruption Program.” The two of them fell silent for a moment, faces equally dark.

Noire sighed, curling forward to rest their elbows on their knees, tablet hanging limply in one hand while the other rubbed at their face. “How many?” they asked, thumb and forefinger pressing against their eyes hard enough to hurt, sparks dancing in the darkness behind their eyelids, “How many were ‘successful’?”

“None.”

Noire looked up. “None?

Their twin nodded, shifting in their seat. “There were none that registered as a full transfer.”

Noire sighed in relief - bitterly glad they wouldn't have to hear of Cipher taking over cities with an army of corrupting children anytime soon. One Beast of Orre was enough, thank you very much. They shook their head then sat up and looked down at the tablet once more, not even bothering to read any of the information they’d stolen only roughly 24 hours before. “But there were a couple that had limited success, weren’t there?” they said dully, the question flat enough to be a statement, “Prismatics.”

“Yes.” Blanche reached out to take their tablet back and Noire let them. They used a finger to sweep back through a few of the documents, tapping one firmly and studying it for a moment. “Seven in total. How ironic.” The quiet laugh that followed was bitter.

“Full spectrum?” Noire asked, raising a brow.

Blanche shook their head, making a note in their notebook. “Not quite: two Rouges, three Verts, one Bleu, and one Indigo.” Their voice was soft and devoid of emotion, but Noire knew enough to peek at their eyes. They recoiled slightly from the agony that flickered through them, swallowing, words of comfort left unsaid.

Noire turned slightly in their seat, looking down the hall. “And they would be?” They let the question hang, gesturing vaguely toward one door in particular when Blanche glanced their direction.

“Difficult to know for sure.” Their twin swallowed, looking back down at their tablet briefly before meeting Noire’s eyes. “The Indigo, notably unstable, had a psychotic episode two years ago and decimated a Rouge and two Verts during a duel and suffered from multiple organ failure as a result. The three victims, unfortunately, also succumbed to their injuries. The remaining Rouge and the Bleu recently attempted to escape the facility and were killed in the process of recapture.”

Merde,” Noire breathed, “Was it a lab or a fucking slaughter house?!”

“Knowing Cipher, likely both.” Blanche paused, closing their eyes for a moment and exhaling shakily. “That leaves one Vert and a handful of... of… Clai-”

“Got it,” Noire said briskly, “So they have either moderate abilities or none at all.”

“The records indicate that the remaining... unsuccessful clone subjects as well as a few of the others were designated to be sent off to other facilities to be used in alternate experiments.” Blanche inhaled deeply, shaking their head. “The transit was to take place in stages over the last few days, so it is uncertain which they might be until we can speak with them.”

“Ugh!” Noire groaned, throwing up their hands and leaning back in aggravation, “All this waiting is really starting to piss me the hell off!”

“Well, be grateful! Your wait is finally over.”

Both twins jumped slightly at the voice, looking over to see Amelie approaching down the hall, a thick stack of papers balanced in her hand. Annie remained further down the hall, speaking quickly to a small cluster of nurses and doctors, handing over an equally padded bundle to the police officers that hovered nearby.

“Is it done?” Noire asked, leaping out of their seat. “Can we see them?”

The redhead nodded, searching through the stack and handing them each a few papers. “As soon as you sign these,” she said, sighing and rolling her shoulders and neck, “It was a trip through hell, sans handbasket, but we got it all squared away. It’s a good thing Willow stepped up to claim them. As he’s a guardian already registered in the region, it really made everything smoother - well, more legal, anyway.”

Blanche glared at Noire when they snatched their pen, studying the sheets they’d been handed. “We’re being listed as ‘next of kin’?”

Amelie nodded. “Technically, he and Executive Sabrina were your foster parents, and even though you’re not minors anymore they still can claim you two – which the good Professor did willingly.” She paused to shrug. “It was the fastest way for you to get access to them.”

“And the other children?” Noire asked, handing the pen back to their twin after signing the documents with a dramatic flourish.

“They’ll get a full diagnostic in this hospital and then be sent off to various other locations, as per your orders,” she replied, “Discreetly, of course. They’ll eventually be placed in secure foster homes, as you had been, and hopefully fade into anonymity.”

“Good,” Blanche said, “The less they appear on official records, the harder it will be for Cipher to locate them.”

“Or anybody else, for that matter,” Noire added, sharing a look with their twin. They both handed her their signed sheets, which she quickly tucked back into her stack, and then the three of them started down the hall.

Syric met them at the door, eyes brightening when he saw the stack of papers. “It’s official?” he asked, reaching for them. Amelie handed them over readily, sharing a tired smile when him as he signed off on various documents with quick, efficient strokes. He’d been acting as a bodyguard, of sorts, for the child – gently bullying the nurses and other doctors out of their room as much as possible. It helped that the hospital already knew who he was (or rather, who he worked for).

“How are they?” Noire demanded, attempting to peer into the room around his large frame.

“Sleeping, actually,” he replied, handing the completed pile back to Amelie before looking at the twins, “Can’t say I blame them though. Based on just the initial test results, they’ve been through quite the ringer.”

“We’ll discuss it in detail later. For now, we would like to see them for ourselves,” Blanche said briskly. They appeared to be trying to will him out of existence with their mind, eyes narrowed and lips pressing into a thin line to show their displeasure at his continued hindrance of their plans.

Syric sighed, then grudgingly moved out of the way. Noire elbowed him in the side for good measure, doubtlessly just to be an asshole, though he barely reacted beyond a small grunt and a glare. Amelie scoffed and patted his arm, drawing him from the doorway to give the three some privacy. Blanche entered the room right on their twin’s heels, their eyes landing on the small frame arranged on the hospital bed at the same time Noire’s did.

It had barely been a day since they’d seen the clone last, and yet it still was off-putting. Long limbs lay spread out, arms tucked against their sides as their legs were positioned straight down from their hips, awkward even in their stillness. Their face should’ve still had a soft roundness to it, the last vestiges of childhood fighting with adolescent maturity; instead, their cheeks were gaunt, dark circles blackening the skin under their eyes. Their silvery hair was clipped in a short bob, spilling out onto the pillow beneath their head.

Blanche’s hand found Noire’s, a motion borne of instinct rather than intention, but Noire laced their fingers together regardless.

“So small,” Noire breathed, throat tight, “Look at them, Blanche. They’re just… so…”

“I know, mon chou,” Blanche replied readily, voice equally weak, “I see them.”

The two moved closer, scooting the chairs right up next to the bed before sitting in them. Neither spoke for some time, too anxious as they each traced their… new little sibling’s features.

Noire glanced to the foot of the bed, clicking their tongue in annoyance. “Syric took their chart. Bastard.”

“Would it really do any good?” Blanche said, cautiously reaching out to smooth a wrinkle in the dull blue hospital blanket, “We’ll find out eventually.”

“Weren’t you the one that wanted to know everything just a few minutes ago?” Noire said, scoffing.

Blanche glared at them mildly, fingers continuing to trace the stitches in the rough linen. “I still stand by that, you know. It’s just…” Their eyes returned to the child on the bed, expression faltering. “I’m almost afraid to find out what was done to them, what scars they’ll bear.”

“What?”

“We at least had each other,” they explained, shaking their head, pained when they stared at the clone’s sleeping face, “Someone to live for, to protect. They had no one, Noire, and I can only begin to imagine what sort of despair-”

“Yeah, well, they have us now so don’t worry about it,” Noire said firmly as they slung an arm around their twin’s shoulders, fist clenching when they flinched in surprise. There was a moment of stillness, tension radiating between the two, until they both slowly relaxed into the embrace. It had once been so easy between them, and the reminder hurt worse when faced with what at first glance seemed like a mirror into the past.

They sat like that for what was likely hours, time only indicated by the sliding of the sun across the sky and the periodic checks by Syric or another member of Noire’s medical team.

There was a slight stirring, the child’s expression twisting into a small grimace before relaxing, their green eyes sliding open slowly. They blinked, hazy and disoriented for a moment as they stared at the ceiling, confusion flickering across their face as they slowly became more coherent. Noire shifted in their seat and the clone turned their head immediately in their direction, the only reaction being a slight widening of their eyes.

“Hi there,” Noire said, giving a half-wave with the hand that was draped across Blanche’s shoulders. Their clone’s eyes darted between the two of them, struggling to sit up.

“Easy,” Blanche said, reaching over to try and push them back down, Noire’s arm sliding off their shoulders from the motion, “It’s probably best that you do not move so much.” They frowned when the child’s eyes widened further, shying away from Blanche’s outstretched hand and ducking their head.

“Hey, relax,” Noire said, sitting straighter, “We’re not gonna hurt you. You’re safe here.”

Their miniature doppelganger tilted their head slowly, shoulders hunching. Blanche glanced at Noire, then looked back at them with a slow blink. Based on what they’d seen in the documents, they had a sneaking suspicion why the little one was staying so quiet.

Is this better? Can you understand me?” they asked, lips twitching when the child’s eyes lit with comprehension.

Yes,” came the reply, soft and demure. The victory of eliciting a response was a hollow one.

(‘-and thus, subjects are to learn French as their primary dialect for the sake of rendering them unable to communicate with the local population on the off chance they manage to escape the facilities. This will lessen the likelihood of them receiving outside aid and increase the rate of recapture-’)

Noire, unaware of the strategic conditioning they had witnessed, looked between the other two and smiled. “Hey, they sound like you, mon petit chou – cute and small,” they said, the smile morphing into a smirk when Blanche scowled at them and the child blinked in confusion. They looked back at them after a moment, studying their clone with carefully schooled features. “Do you have a name, kid?

A… name?

What you are called.” Blanche clarified.

Yeah, like, I’m Noire,” they said, squeezing their twin’s shoulder just to be cheeky, “And this is Blanche!

Names are not ranks,” Blanche said quickly, wincing at the disappointment the clone’s face now showed when their eyes had snapped to them in surprised awe, “But it would help if you told us yours.

The child frowned, glancing away. “I am 480227YD000. Designatio-

“Ah, this little one’s awake! And has visitors!” a nurse said brightly as she entered, a tray of food balanced in her hands. The three of them jumped at the sound of her voice as well as her sudden appearance, though she seemed oblivious to the reaction. She set the tray on a side table, turning to call over her shoulder, “Isn’t that wonderful, Callie? You’ll be able to give them your egg!”

Several things happened all at once when the Chansey entered the room, none of which were good.

The clone immediately let out a shriek, flying out of the bed in a flurry of sheets and their pillow, their IV being torn from their arm and blood beginning to trickle down their skin from the small puncture. Blanche and Noire stood and stumbled back, their chairs being knocked to the ground, instinctively trying to get out of the frenzied being’s way. The child raised their injured arm and gestured at the Pokemon, trembling, eyes tinting a tell-tale shade of poisonous magenta.

Leave!” they said, voice a soft rasp that held the same force of a shout, “Get away!

The nurse looked terrified, taking an involuntary step back (understandable, given the fact she’d just been hissed at by an incensed child in a language she likely didn’t speak) only to bump into her Chansey. She glanced down to see the pink Pokemon move back, hesitate, then set her egg on the ground, giving the shell a gentle pat with a small, slow nod. Her eyes were glazed a matching magenta as she finally turned and toddled out of the room.

The woman looked between the three in the room and the door, stammering, “I- Wha-”

“Get the fuck out of here!” Noire snarled, making a similar motion to their clone at the nurse, sans the compulsion, as Syric and Amelie burst into the room. “We’ve got this. Go!” The woman looked at Syric, who nodded, then turned tail.

“Callie!” she called, voice fading down the hallway, “Where are you going?!”

A wet, rattling cough drew everyone’s attention, and Noire turned to see their little clone had collapsed against Blanche, who was helping them remain standing by holding onto their arms just above the elbows. They covered their mouth, blood seeping between their fingers and dripping from their nose as they continued to cough.

Syric immediately strode over, militant, medical efficiency oozing from his form, barking orders over his shoulder to the small cluster of nurses that had gathered at the door as he carefully took the kid from Blanche and lay them on a gurney when it arrived. Their clone flinched when he touched them, green eyes glassy with pain flickering briefly to magenta, then went limp in his grasp.

“No,” the medic said firmly when Noire tried to follow, jerking his chin back toward the room. “Probably better if you stay here.”

They wanted to argue, but a look back in the direction he’d indicated halted them in their tracks. Blanche remained in the spot they had been before, unmoving, staring down at their hand with a pale, unreadable expression. Blood flecked their normally immaculate blue coat, reaching only about to the middle of their ribs, but they seemed totally unconcerned.

Amelie put a hand of Noire's shoulder, making them jump slightly, her face impassive save her one, glittering grey eye. They met her gaze, nodding at the unspoken question, touching her hand lightly before shrugging it off. They squared their shoulders as their assistant walked away, shaken and antsy after everything. Honestly, they'd prefer to put the adrenaline pumping through their veins to good use - but, as always, Blanche came first.

Noire moved toward their twin, glancing down to see the smear of red in their palm and swallowing harshly. “Blanche-” they began, cutting themselves off when their twin let out a weak chuckle.

“Well,” they said, lips twisting into a bitter smile when they looked up to meet Noire’s concerned eyes, “I suppose that clears up the mystery of what they are.” Blanche’s fingers curled into their palm, almost protective of the scarlet mark staining their skin, clenching a trembling fist as they sighed in what was likely equal parts resignation and relief.

“Yeah.” Noire nodded, face grim. “They’re the Vert.” They grunted when Blanche suddenly tugged them into a hug, blinking in surprise when they tucked their head under Noire’s chin. Their heart hurt when they registered the faint trembling emanating from the other.

Our Vert,” Blanche corrected them, arms tightening around their twin’s waist.

“But of course, mon petit chou,” they replied, pressing their lips to the top of Blanche’s head and running a hand between their shoulder blades in soothing circles, “They are our precious little sibling.”