Katydids and Ladybugs

[11.15.01] » by Silvyrwing

It hadn't been a hard decision… okay, so it had. But not anymore! No, Sir. The heart wrenching sight of seeing Tifa play with the OTHER boys, and not HIM, made Cloud decide once and for all that he was going to make his OWN friends, even if it meant approaching the funny-looking kid that lived at the Shin-ra mansion.

They had been mean to him, Cloud thought as his hands worked at the numerous locks adorning the front gate. He'd never seen locks before, not like these anyway. After several failed attempts to figure out how the contraptions worked, he paused and allowed a glance to his rear. There sat Tifa, near the well, surrounded by boys. Why wouldn't she look his way?

"Can I help ya?"

Cloud spun around, finding himself face-to-face with the white-haired boy. He stood off to the side, a little behind the brick pillar, with one pale hand clasping the bar. The fact that he wore all black didn't help his complexion one bit… but that didn't matter. Cloud was absolutely mesmerized by inhuman jade eyes of his newly found acquaintance. They were friendly, though a bit fearsome. Had this kid ever talked to anyone before?

"I'm Cloud, and I'm this many." Cloud held up six fingers. "What's your name?"

The pale boy shrank back into the shadows a little. "The Doctor says I'm not supposed to tell…"

Bolder now, the spiky-haired intruder giggled. "Well, what am I s'posed ta call ya if I don't know yer name?" Cloud waited, as the other boy considered. He took up the brief past time of shuffling his foot in the sand and creating what he imagined were brilliant works of art. These masterpieces were systematically obliterated as he thought of bigger and better subjects. He was halfway through his monstrous drawing of a bowl of grapes when he heard a shy, almost terrified voice…


Cloud scrunched up his face. "What? I couldn't hear ya! You aren't one of those people that mumble all the time, are ya?" Honestly, Cloud had never met a person that mumbled all the time, but dang it, now wasn't the time to run across one! He had friends to make, and a bruised ego to heal.

"Sephiroth," the boy repeated, louder this time. "That's my name."

"'S a funny one," Cloud said, ignoring Sephiroth's look of confused hurt. The pained expression was replaced by a slight smile when Cloud added, "But, I like it! My momma said that unique is good, and that's a unique name. I think unique means good…?"

Sephiroth knew it didn't, but he kept silent as Cloud rambled on a little more. He didn't really start paying attention to the one-sided conversation until he heard one little question. "Have you ever been out of your yard?"

"N… no…" Sephiroth said, lifting a few strands of white hair out of his line of vision. The question had just never risen in his mind, since HERE had always been HOME. "Doctor told me that it's dangerous out there!"

"How old are ya, like, ten?"

"I'm eleven," Sephiroth pouted.

"Well, then it's time you left and struck out on your own, see?" A frown crossed his face, and Cloud suddenly and unexpectedly sat down on the sandy earth with a dull thump. "But, we gotta get you over the fence, cuz ya can't open it, and ya can't go through it! I betcha it'll be a hell of a lotta work to dig under it, too."

Sephiroth blinked. "Do kids your age say stuff like that?" he asked incredulously. He seemed to stare right through Cloud, looking into the distance. It made the boy feel uneasy, but no matter. There was work to be done!

"Stuff like what?" Cloud asked as he looked above the fence. "Hm. Maybe if I threw a rope…? Nah, they you'd get hurt on the little pointy things on the top when I dragged ya over. 'Sides, you're probably too heavy…"

Seph again tuned out his friend's musings, as he looked for his own way out of the cage in which he'd been trapped for years. It came as a surprise to him that even though he'd spent his whole like in this same enclosure, he'd never had the driving desire to leave. Perhaps, Sephiroth thought, he was held here by some sort of instinct. It was the only explanation his young mind could fathom. The thoughts were quickly replaced by a curiosity. He looked up into the tree branches above his head, and saw a katydid crawling along one, moving further out to the end of the branch. All the once-healthy leaves in its wake were eaten or brown, and now it was moving out in search of new shoots to sate its hunger. It had been content, until it had the need for more.

Sephiroth needed more.

"…So I was thinking, what if you got some exploding stuff and blew up the fence? No… those lock things are perdy strong…" Cloud stopped to consider. As he was still sitting on the ground, he ran his fingers through the sand, and suddenly an idea struck him. "What if we piled all the sand against the gate? We could make a hill and you could climb over!"

Climb over, huh? Sephiroth narrowed his eyes and turned away. It was his position of concentration, one that allowed him to block out all outside influences. A halo of greenish light, cast from his eyes, fell on his cheeks and reflected back into his eyes. This obscured the visual distractions, but what to do about the other boy's never-ending soliloquy? Part of him seethed… the Doctor told him he would have to learn to control that anger, or else, but he just couldn't take it now.

"Hey, shut up for one minute, would you!?"

Cloud was so taken aback by the sudden outburst that he stopped in mid-word and simply blinked at Sephiroth, who was now climbing the oak tree.

Determined hands grasped the bark of the old tree, for through it, the prisoner had found his escape. The katydid would be free to roam. There was one branch that extended out over the fence, about six feet above the ground, and that would be his liberation.

The silent concentration was broken by a question from ground level. "What are ya doin', Sephi?" Sephiroth cringed and continued climbing, reaching out a tentative arm to grasp the slightly acute branch. It was harder than it looked, since he'd never climbed a tree before. His hands were already bleeding, and the redness of the blood on his pale skin was like an errant rose in a snow field. While one hand gripped the tree, the other reached down and tore a strip of cloth from the already torn shirt. Sephiroth divided the strip and wrapped a half around each of his hands. That relieved the bleeding, but gave him less grip, thus it was just a tad bit more difficult when he transferred himself from the tree trunk to the outreaching branch.

Cloud eventually caught on to what his friend was attempting, and encouraged him. "That's it! Go, Sephi! You'll be out of there in no time!" He smiled, now much more confident in his ability to meet people all by himself. Wouldn't Tifa be jealous that HE was the one that made the strange ghost-boy come out, and not one of her friends! Cloud had to admit, Sephiroth seemed to be a nice enough person, not the horribly disfigured monster that everyone had associated with him. "How ya doin' up there, Buddy?"

"I'm alright!" Sephiroth called down from his perch on the branch. He'd made it to the end now. "It's kinda wobbly. Every time I try to scoot off, it shakes! I'm 'fraid I'm gonna fall backwards!" To demonstrate, he tried to jump off the branch. It shook, causing him to fall back, instead of forward. "But I can fix that…"

Interested now, Cloud forgot about Tifa and her posse and looked up at the tree branch. Sephiroth scooted forward again, but this time when the tree trembled and threatened to topple him backwards, he used the energy as momentum and executed a perfect backflip. He landed neatly in the sand beside Cloud, a smirk on his face.

"Whoa! Where did you learn that?" Eager blue eyes widened at the prospect of learning.

"I didn't learn it. Just… I dunno. The Doctor says I have some weird skills cuz of my mum." Seph kicked some sand. "Doctor Hojo told me that my mom's name was Jenova, but I never got to meet her."

"Jenova's a pretty name," Cloud commented, again looking toward the well. "Hey! You wanna meet some of my friends? I bet they'd all like you a lot!"

Sephiroth blushed about twelve shades of red. "I'mnotsupposedtotalktopeople…"

"Why not?" Cloud, unabashed, tugged on Sephiroth's arm. The boy stayed put. "I thought ya were gonna strike out on your own!"

"I am! I am!" hesitantly, he took a few steps forward. "But what if I get caught? You don't know what happens when I get in trouble."

Interested once more, Cloud put his mission on hold. "Well, tell me?"

"Hojo puts me in this tube with green stuff. I get scared."

For perhaps the first time that day, Cloud looked genuinely concerned. What kind of punishment was that, anyway?

"Well then… we just won't get caught."

Sephiroth found himself being dragged away from the comfort of His Yard. Had he made a mistake?

"C'mon, c'mon!" Cloud growled. The look on his face as he attempted to drag the much older and stronger Sephiroth down the path to the well was comical. He had his eyes scrunched up so they were barely visible, and the corners of his mouth formed what looked like a half-smile, half-frown. "What are ya doin', just standing there? Can't meet my friends if you don't move…"

"I'll go when I'm ready," Sephiroth said shyly, still seeing his home out of the corner of his eye. "Besides… I already met you, right? And… well, you're a friend, aren't you?"

"Yeah, I suppose I am," an unkept clump of spiky yellow hair flopped in front of Cloud's eyes, and he had to release Sephiroth's arm to brush it away. It would have been an excellent chance for a hasty escape, but Seph stayed put. He had to be free… he couldn't just ignore the fact that his world was so much bigger than his front yard. A glance toward the group of kids sitting by the well told him that they were all between his age and Cloud's… perhaps it wouldn't be so bad at all!

"I'm ready."

"Alright! This'll be so much fun!" Cloud pumped the air with his fist, anticipating the reactions he would get. He'd actually met the Ghost of Shin-ra, and even befriended him! He led his newfound friend down the path again, this time with much less resistance. When he was in shouting range, he called out to the others. "Tifa! Gregor! Avi! I got someone I wantcha to meet!"

Three eager eyes looked toward the voice, but the anticipatory expressions all faded when they saw who was talking. One of the boys, the one that looked to be older, stood up. "What the hell d'ya want?"

Cloud's resolve faded a bit, but he kept forward. "I just wanted ya to meet one of my friends…" He looked back at Sephiroth and nodded. Hesitantly, Seph stepped forward, getting the not-so-good feeling that these kids didn't want anything to do with him OR Cloud.

"…'M Sephiroth," the white-haired boy said, holding out his hand in the way he'd been taught, to accept a formal greeting.

Instead a follow-up introduction, Seph was greeted by a sneer. "Hey, ain't you the Ghost-Boy we always see hangin' out by the Shin-ra mansion?" He looked back at his companions. "Gregor, Tifa, c'mere. Lookit what Cloud found!"

Sephiroth's eyes widened. These kids were hostile! He backed off a little, but the older boy, the one that must have been Avi, followed his steps. "Where do ya think you're goin', kid? We jus' met… Don't think yer takin' off."

"Leave 'im alone, Avi," the other boy said. "He ain't done nothin' but introduce 'imself. Hey, Sephiroth," Gregor said, waving and jumping off his seat on one of the well's beams. "I'm Gregor. That mean one there's Avi. And this is Tifa." He helped Tifa to her feet. Sephiroth couldn't help but notice the horrified look on her face, but even so, he bowed to her, as Hojo had taught him. That was how you greeted a lady, after all.

Cloud had remained remarkably silent as the whole introduction was going on. There were plenty of rumors surrounding this fabled "Ghost-boy," And he hoped with all his heart that Avi wouldn't have the audacity to bring any of them up. It was a vain hope… because no sooner had the thought risen in Cloud's mind did Avi open his fat mouth.

"Hey, lookit, guys! His hands are all wrapped up!" Avi reached out to remove the black cloth that stayed the lacerations from the tree. Sephiroth pulled back, and for a moment, both parties were silent. Then all hell broke loose.

"Whoa! I bet he's got monster hands!" Tifa exclaimed, stepping in front of Gregor. Her red-wine colored eyes widened with mock fear.

"We'll just have to find out!" Avi attempted to reach for the cloth again, but Cloud stepped in front of him before he could, successfully allowing Sephiroth a chance to back away. Avi simply pushed the younger boy out of the way, and Cloud skidded along the dusty ground until he came to a stop at Tifa's feet. Surprised, Tifa aimed a powerful kick at Cloud's head, adding a strangled scream. Cloud issued a surprised syllable, and then fell silent.

"Damn, Tifa, you didn't have to knock 'im out!" Gregor leaned over the unconscious boy and giggled. "Guess you've been trainin' too hard, ya know? I mean, Geez! He's out cold!"

Sephiroth was pleased to see that Tifa didn't share in Gregor's joy. She looked appauled, actually, and looked up to him for help. Seph shrugged, clueless as to what to do. He had fighting skills, sure. But when it came to helping people… he felt absolutely powerless.

"Aw, someone do somethin' about Cloud!" Avi whined, gritting his teeth. "If they find him this way, we're gonna get in trouble!" He leaned down and poked at the back of the spiky blond hairdo. "This ain't good."

"…He'll be alright,"

Three pairs of eyes looked up at Sephiroth, who was now leaning over Cloud as well. Gregor blinked in surprise, replying, "Whoa, it talks!"

"You have a nice voice, Sephiroth!" Tifa giggled. It wasn't hard for them to notice when the pale skin blushed bright red.

"I think he's got red blood, too," Avi commented, "Else he'd be blushin' green or some rot, hey? Oh, yeah. Forgot about those wrapped hands!" While Sephiroth was trying to decide what to do with Cloud, Avi again reached for the now blood-soaked black cloths. He snagged both of them at once, backing off with a big smile on his face, holding his prize high…

…Until he realized that they were sticky with blood. They were promptly dropped in the dirt, and amidst the looks of utter disgust and rude noises, Sephiroth found himself backing away once again.

"It's true!" Avi yelled, the disgusted expression becoming a sneer, which Seph found ultimately repulsive in and of itself. It oozed with triumph, a sign that whatever Avi was conspiring could not possibly be good.

Gregor's face remained washed with pallor, and that was a disturbing site. To be feared… Sephiroth had never imagined such a feeling; it made him sick to the pit of his stomach. They. Were. Afraid. Of. Him…

"He… drinks his own blood! Just like you tol' us he did, Avi!" Gregor shivered visibly. "Man, I'm outta here! I don't want 'im thinkin' he can make a snack outta my blood. I need that!" Gregor turned tail and ran off, with Avi close at his heels.

"Freak!" Avi called over his shoulder.

Tifa was torn. Which way should she go? With her friends… or should she stay and help Sephiroth deal with Cloud? Seph's longish silvery-white hair danced in a passing breeze, which cleared the shadows away from his emerald eyes. Tifa gasped, eliciting an upward glance from those eyes. She realized that for all the monstrosity she could see there, he was still just a kid, like her. And the fear… It hurt to see him like that.

She leaned down next to him and slowly rolled Cloud over on his back, working his neck for a pulse. It was still strong, thankfully.

"I know a little about helpin' people," Tifa explained. "I'm learning to be a fighter so I can do somethin' one day. Maybe travel. Maybe I'll stay 'round Nibelheim and be our town's own personal guard! But this guy that's teachin' me... He says I should know first-aid, too."

"Aren't you scared of me, too?" Sephiroth asked shyly. He mimicked Tifa and also searched for a pulse.

"Uhm… Should I be?" She asked, allowing herself a little smile. Yes, of course she was afraid of Ghost-boy. All her soul screamed for her to run away, but somebody needed help and she seemed to be the only one that could give it. "Are… are all those rumors about you… true?"

Seph looked at the ground for a moment. "I dunno about any rumors. I jus' stayed at home with Doctor Hojo. Then Cloud came along an' asked me if I wanted to strike out on my own. So I climbed th' tree… cut up my hands…" He felt tears in his eyes. They were warm, a feeling that was almost foreign to him. "I want… to go home…"

Any doubt that Tifa had in her mind about this strange boy vanished, and she put an arm around his shoulder. "Don't worry. You know, my mum always used to tell me a story 'bout how ladybugs fly around all day then they go home at night cuz that's where their fam'ly is. Maybe you're just like a ladybug, huh?"

Sephiroth wiped away the tear that had settled on his cheek and nodded. "Yeah, I reckon," he replied, sitting down next to Cloud. Tifa sat down next to him, smiling, with one hand around Seph's shoulder, and the other gently shaking Cloud.

"We gotta go get some help," Tifa said. She began to rise, but stopped when a dark shadow fell across the earth. She turned quickly, losing her balance and fell on her elbows. Stifling an outcry, she cowered in front of the small but imposing man.

"Getting help won't be necessary, child. You and this boy will be coming with me."

Tifa was no longer able to hold back the scream that was rising in her throat. The cry was brief, however, as Hojo darted forward and neatly dispatched her consciousness with a swift blow to the back of her head.

"What did you do that for, Dad?" Sephiroth breathed, incredulous. "She was bein' nice to me! So was Cloud, 'till he got hit…"

"You left the yard," was Hojo's sole reply. He glared at his son with the normal mixture of hate and scientific interest. Try as he might, Seph could find no hint of love there, only ambition, and an icy, indifferent stare. "You know what you are, and you know where your place is." Furious, Hojo lifted Tifa and Cloud into his arms, and tossed one of them over each of his shoulders. "Now, Tell me, or we'll have a little Mako experiment tonight."

Sephiroth visibly shivered at the thought of being suspended in the green liquid again. He hated cowering like this, and hated Hojo even more. One day, he would force himself to forget he even had a father, though he'd have to ponder over just how to accomplish such a task. With cold precision, the boy looked right back into the eyes of the scientist, and said, "I am the child of JENOVA. A Prodigy. My home is wherever you command, for I would be nothing without you." Sephiroth sneered as he watched the oversized trench coat flap idly in the wind as Hojo turned. It was a farce, nothing but a rehearsal… But he'd said what had to be said to keep himself out of the Mako pods for another night. As he turned to follow his father home, he noticed the unfamiliar wetness in his eyes again, and it gave him some joy that at least he'd learned to cry.

The walk back to the mansion was far too short. When the gate shut behind him, Sephiroth felt as though the weight of the world had landed square on his shoulders. JENOVA… Hojo often spoke of the woman, and Sephiroth felt at ease when he heard her name. The story was the same thing, though, no matter how many times he'd asked. JENOVA was missing… She'd disappeared without a trace…

She'd been calling out to him.

"Sephiroth, come. You've provided me with a new idea. I wish to test it on these children."

The boy turned from his post near the closed fence. "What? Father, No! They're… they're… My friends!"

"Experiments do not have friends, you fool." Hojo held open the door until his son was through, then he proceeded to place a booted foot on the small of Sephiroth's back and shove. Almost instinctively, Sephiroth rolled and stood in an attack position, facing Hojo.

The doctor, however, had already moved on. He carried Cloud and Tifa over to the left-most room and deposited them side-by-side on a table. "Watch them," he commanded as he headed for the stairs. What else could Sephiroth do, but obey? Sitting next to the table, he placed his chin on the grainy wooded surface between the two younger children and sobbed.

Do not worry, child. It is for the best…

Sephiroth sat bolt upright at the sound of the voice. "Wha…?" He wondered, looking around. It was the voice again, the voice he'd been hearing in his dreams. "JENOVA… Mother…" There was a pause as he anticipated more, but there was only the sound of the basement machinery whirring below. Softly at first, then quite freely, Sephiroth laughed, finding himself considerably comforted. He placed his lacerated hands on Cloud and Tifa's foreheads and smiled. "My mom says everything is gonna be alright, and I believe her."

In a cacophony of falling parts and curses, Hojo returned toting a pile of machinery and medicinal things, and threw them down on the floor next to the table. After mumbling to himself over the pile, he assembled a few pieces that fit together like a dish, attaching one part to a long metal tube. Fused to the other end of the tube was a rubber hose which narrowed into a fine, sharp point. He coupled a syringe to the point. Affixed to the dish were about ten cords, and each of these went to another contraption, each one so outlandish that Sephiroth couldn't even start to guess what they were. One, however, led to a monitor, which was of some general interest. It was reflective, and Sephiroth could see the glowing reflection of his eerie eyes within it.

"This is my memory machine," Hojo explained. Sephiroth turned just in time to see his father inserting the needle into the top of Cloud's head. He watched in horrid fascination, unable to speak for the longest time, listening.


"What am I doing?" Hojo voiced the concern. "Well, they saw my experiment before I was ready to show it to the world. I must either destroy the experiment, which I'm unwilling to do, or… The memory of the experiment."

Hojo carefully placed a tiny green materia in a slot in one of the machines. "This is a confuse materia," he continued the explanation as Sephiroth watched the monitor light up. It played several blurry snippets of, what Seph gathered, were Cloud's memories. He saw himself through Cloud's eyes, a worried, scraggly preteen with determined eyes… as a gauge appeared on the screen, Hojo touched the glass, placing a slider at the far right end of it. Next, he picked up a numeric device and started to key in a number.

"How long would you say he's known you for? Ah, no matter, I can just look with this." A bony finger touched the screen and another slider appeared. He scrolled it backwards for a couple seconds, and stopped at the point just as Cloud turned to see Sephiroth standing at the gate.

"He will never see you again. He'll look for you… He can do that. But he'll never find you. He won't even know he ever saw you… It's brilliant! Ha!" Hojo untangled another device from the pile and began turning a lever on it. The monitor adopted a red tint and the slow, dreamlike actions of Cloud's mind ceased. Another device was produced - this one was a small metal box with several buttons and lights on it.

"Such a mysterious power…" Sephiroth mumbled, eyeing the machines. "Is it magic?"

Hojo rounded on him with surprising quickness and cuffed him across the cheek. "Never use such unscientific terms to refer to the power of materia!" he snapped, lifting his hand in preparation to strike again. Rightfully intimidated, Seph cringed back, as Hojo's raised hand descended onto the metal panel.

It happened too suddenly for Sephiroth to react. One of the numerous buttons was pushed, and electricity jolted through the wires right into Cloud's mind… a small green orb, about half the size of the confuse materia, was deposited neatly into the bowl.

The monitor went blank.

"That's his memory," Hojo explained. "All bound up into that neat little bead. I'm such a genius! Ah, Seph, do me a favor and put Cloud out by the front gate for me, huh? I'll have to think of what I'm doing with these two a little later. They should be out cold for a while, if my calculations are correct." The doctor, finished, bent over Tifa and began working the process on her, as well.

Sickened, Sephiroth stared at the marble in the bowl. "Can I have that?" He asked as he hefted Cloud onto his shoulder.

"Go away, boy! I'm busy!" The bony hand waved twice in his direction. The fact that he hadn't been yelled at or disciplined told Sephiroth that the answer was yes, thus, on his way out, he pocketed the half-sized materia.

"I'm real sorry, Cloud," Sephiroth said as he gently set the young child down by the front gate. He seemed so small and frail now, not the imposing intruder he'd once seen. "I wish I could just forget all of this ever happened, you know? I'll miss you, and Tifa… We coulda been friends and all…" He palmed the green marble and looked into the myriad of color that swirled within. "This kinda looks like my eyes, huh? You should keep it. It's your memory, after all. And maybe one day you'll remember me or somethin'…"

Sephiroth placed the memory materia inside Cloud's boot. He'd find it there, most likely.

The memory machine… Could he use it to forget?

He had to try. The katydid longed to be free… and the ladybug… wanted to leave this false home behind.

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