Sephiroth carefully inspected the carnage before him at the campsite. Two slaughtered Red Plains Wolves lay together about ten feet away from the tent that had been set up. Nearby was a pile of dead cubs, and a knife that lay nearby. The culprit stood near a campfire, oblivious to the swordsman's presence, and holding one last cub. Unmoved by the tiny creature's frightened squealing, he placed his hand on the cub's neck, ready to snap it.
Acting quickly, Sephiroth flew out of the shadows and grabbed the man's arm.
"What the hell-?!" the man growled, before seeing Sephiroth's furious face glowing in the nearby firelight. He then shut his mouth.
"An entire litter of cubs," the silver-haired swordsman remarked, his voice dark as the night. "I see at least six little ones that you've killed. Are you some kind of sociopath?"
"The furs of baby Red Plains Wolves fetch a high price," the man argued warily, "I could get an easy ten-thousand gil for that litter. I stalked them all night before I could make my move!"
"Give me the animal," Sephiroth ordered.
Reluctantly, the man obeyed.
Sephiroth inspected the cub. It couldn't be more than a few weeks old, and was still crying out, likely for its mother, who would no longer come.
"I'll pay you 500 gil if you give it back," the hunter offered.
"No…" Sephiroth said as he tucked the cub under his right arm and summoned Masamune with the other hand, "I'll make you a deal. You turn around right now, and go home, and I won't castrate you."
"This is my living!" the hunter protested angrily.
"Find another line of work," Sephiroth coldly advised him. "There's enough brutality in this world. If it weren't for the fact that my wife would disapprove, I'd kill you myself and end your reign of terror.
"I don't recognize your face, so I'll assume you're not from around here. As a leader of Neo-Avalanche, let me inform you that you are not welcome here. If I ever see you in the area again, you'll not be treated as kindly. Go now. You will not pack your things. You can leave with your gun, to protect yourself. Now get out of my sight!"
The man didn't need to be told twice as he took off in the other direction.
The cub continued to whimper.
"So you're all alone, aren't you?" Sephiroth sighed.
The cub began to shiver.
"I think I understand how you feel," he said, "You don't forget these things. Let's go…" He banished Masamune and tucked the tiny animal into his coat before walking away.
"Oh, he's so cute!" Aeris squealed as she nuzzled the cub.
"Why'd you bring home a puppy?" Keter asked excitedly.
"He's not a puppy," said Sephiroth, "He's a wolf cub."
"Neato!" Keter exclaimed.
"Wait- a wolf?" Aeris asked, looking wary.
"What's wrong with wolves?" asked Sephiroth.
"Look, I know we made friends with that wolf that lived near Cosmo Canyon when we were kids," Aeris said as she began scratching the cub's head, "But that's different than having one for a pet. Even if wolves are nice to me and respect you, even if the kids have that same calming effect on them…what about Cloud, or Tifa or Zack? What about Denzel and Marlene? They live right down the street."
"Maybe I can build a decent enclosure for him," said Sephiroth, "And wolves will submit to those who are dominant. I don't think Cloud or Tifa would bat an eye if he decided to growl at them one day. Also, if he's exposed to our friends and family from day one, he'll be used to them. The same goes for everyone else we know."
"He's so tiny…" Aeris said worriedly, "I don't think the poor thing was even weaned yet. I'll go get one of Aleph's extra bottles. Maybe he's hungry."
She handed the cub over to Sephiroth and left the room.
"Where'd you find him?" Keter asked.
"Doggie!" three-year-old Remi exclaimed.
"Nuh-uh, he's a wolf!" Keter corrected his sister.
"A hunter killed his family so he could sell their furs," their father explained, "He was about to kill this one too, but I stopped him. I couldn't just leave him alone without anyone to take care of him. Your mother and I had been talking about getting a pet for a while, but I think she wanted a cat."
"I think a wolf is better," Keter declared.
"I completely agree with you," said Sephiroth, "Cats are irritating animals. The noises they make, the sneaky way they behave…I can do without one. Not to mention, a Red Plains Wolf can live for over twenty-five years."
"That hunter was a bad guy, wasn't he?" Keter asked.
"Yes he was. He was a coward too. Wiping out a litter of helpless wolf cubs. Most people are scared of wolves, but like your mother said...when we were kids, we made friends with a wolf."
"So they're not dangerous?" Keter asked as he scratched the cub's head.
The cub yawned.
"Not necessarily," said Sephiroth, "If he's raised with people, he won't be as scared as he would be if he lived in the wild. On top of that, your mother has a way with animals. Maybe you might, too."
"Here we go," said Aeris as she came back into the living room with a bottle, "You must be starving, you poor thing..."
She held the bottle up to the cub, who immediately began to suckle.
"Can he sleep in my bed?" Keter asked.
"No, my bed!" Remi protested.
"He's too little to sleep in anyone's bed," Aeris said firmly, "We'll get some old blankets and put them in one of our empty apple crates. That way he can't get out and pee on everything. Right, little guy?"
The cub kept drinking.
"You're a big softy," Aeris said as they lay in bed that night.
"Think so?" Sephiroth asked as he read a book.
"Yep! You took in a helpless little cub who wouldn't have had anywhere to go."
"He won't be so helpless when he's full-grown. He'll be a force to be reckoned with. There's a reason most people don't keep those kinds of wolves as pets."
"Yet, you want to."
"You'll keep him from going on some wild rampage. I'll just show him who the real alpha wolf in this family is."
"You think we can pull this off, huh?"
"All right, then. I guess we have a pet."
"He'll fit in perfectly with our little madhouse. He'll be able to endure kids as strong, fast, and insane as ours."
"More reason for the other residents of Edge to think we're the crazy family…"
"You know…one picture gets out and I'm suddenly someone to be feared."
"I'm surprised it didn't get out sooner. Seriously- was there any real reason why you had to impale WEAPON's corpse on a tree trunk when you killed it?"
"I told you before- my memory was hazy at the time..."
The sound of the alarm clock screeching jolted Aeris and Sephiroth awake. After Sephiroth reached over and pounded it into silence, the sound of Keter and Remi's voices could be heard from the living room.
"We'd better make sure they don't fight over the cub," said Aeris as they trudged into the bathroom together.
"Mmm-hmm…" Sephiroth droned as the two stood at the two-person sink and began brushing their teeth.
As soon as they finished, they headed down the hall.
"EWWWW!" Remi could be heard shrieking, "He pooped!"
"Why...?" Aeris cringed.
"Rock-paper-scissors?" Sephiroth suggested.
After the mess had been cleaned up, the kids were given turns to hold the cub. Even Aleph, who was only eight months old, was encouraged to pet the tiny animal.
"Look how gentle he is!" Aeris said to Sephiroth, "He's going to be good with animals, I can already tell."
"Daddy, what's his name gonna be?" Keter asked.
"Balthazar," Sephiroth answered right away.
"Where'd that name come from?" Aeris asked.
"There was a sage from Beud A'Evori," said Sephiroth, "who lived about a hundred years ago. He started off as a mercenary, then a general, and after he retired, he spent the rest of his life as a war adviser. He was a very admirable man worth looking up to. I read about him while you were still in the hospital recovering from Id's Death."
"You're a mercenary," Aeris said, "And Rufus did give you the chance to replace Genesis Rhapsodos after his disappearance. Yet, you refused. Then when Reeve gave you the chance to lead the WRO army, you refused again."
"Maybe in another life, I could have been a general," said Sephiroth, "But my battle tactics have always been on a much smaller scale. As far as advisors go, Angeal is more than qualified to help Reeve's new army. Leading Avalanche is where I belong. I'm not trying to copy that sage. I only admire him."
"And you want to name a pet after him?" Aeris asked.
"No, the man in question was named Malkut," said Sephiroth, "Balthazar was the name of his pet."
"Malkut, huh?" Aeris mused, "Might be a good name for the next one if it's a boy…"
She patted her stomach. Sephiroth raised an eyebrow.
"Another one?" he remarked.
"Hey, you helped make it," Aeris said before stealing a kiss. "I just found out while you were cleaning up the mess. I bought the home pregnancy test last night and kept it hidden."
Sephiroth raised an eyebrow. "Have I told you lately how utterly sneaky you are?"
"No, not lately," Aeris said playfully.
"What's going on?" Keter asked.
"We're having another baby," Aeris announced.
"But we've already got one!" Keter protested as he pointed at Aleph.
"So?" Aeris laughed, "Who says we need a limit?"
"Obviously not you," Sephiroth remarked.
"Where's baby?" Remi wanted to know.
"Inside of me," Aeris said, patting her stomach again.
"Mama ate baby?!" Remi was horrified.
"No, she didn't eat the baby!" Keter explained, rolling his eyes.
"Wanna see the baby!" Remi insisted.
"You can't right now," Aeris explained patiently.
"Wanna see now!" Remi protested.
Sephiroth cringed. He could see a tantrum brewing, and when Remi started shrieking, it always got Aleph crying as well. Then Keter would try to "help" by doing something that inevitably did not help.
"Do you want to feed the cub?" Aeris handed what was now Balthazar's bottle to Remi.
"'Kay," Remi suddenly cheered up.
Sephiroth stared at Aeris in both amazement and relief.
"You can thank me by taking them out to play after lunch," Aeris said sweetly, "I've got alchemy recipes to try out today and I need total concentration."
"For how long?" Sephiroth asked warily, knowing Aeris could get distracted for hours working on her guild endeavors. She was too much like her father that way.
"If I succeed, I'll be able to create cheaper but more effective potions," said Aeris, "X-potions are way too expensive. I could make life easier for Neo-Avalanche and still get a patent on this planet. I get a patent, that's a college education for baby Malkut…or Sera if it's a girl."
"For how long?" Sephiroth repeated.
"Two hours…" Aeris confessed.
"You're merciless…" Sephiroth grumbled.
"All done!" Remi exclaimed as she brought Balthazar over, dumping the cub in Sephiroth's lap.
Content, the little wolf lay down, grunting a bit before he closed his eyes and fell asleep.
"He really likes you, Daddy," said Keter.
Sephiroth gently rubbed the cub's head with one finger.
"Quite the growing family we have," he remarked to Aeris.
Aeris smiled. "Is that so bad?"
Sephiroth shook his head. "Not at all."