The Challenge: To loosen up the Author's writing style, to produce chapters in no more than two (2) sittings, one to write, one more to edit, if necessary, and to simply have fun with the idea without getting caught up in attempting perfection of phrase.

The Reason: To push the Author's limits and expand her boundaries.

The Story: A series of glimpses into Sephiroth's life before the game. Only glimpses, no unified plot.

The Concept: A chapter for each belt color in the Author's  taekwondo club, skipping the stripes. Please do not howl that there is no chapter for orange or brown. The author's TKD Club does not follow that system.

The Disclaimer: FFVII is the property of Square Enix. No monetary gain is made or sought from this work.

White Linen

"Dane!" Dr. Hojo paced around the dark laboratory, aggravated beyond belief by the noise. "DANE!" He stuck his head out of the door and peered down the roughly hewn corridor. As he had hoped, a pair of feet hurried down the rickety stairs at the end of the tunnel. The stiff white shape of a lab coat was visible in the weak light long before Hojo could discern features, but the feet beneath it wore shiny, black shoes. Hojo had been hoping to see a pair of scruffy sneakers. "Damn it!" Hojo turned away from the door. "Where the hell is that boy?"

"What's the matter?" Dr. Gast heaved as he flew into the small lab. 

Hojo scowled over his shoulder at the man and yelled over the racket. "It's nothing you should have to worry yourself over, Gast. Where's Dane?"

"Dane's gone. What's wrong with the baby?" The raucous wailing instantly grew louder. Hojo clapped both hands over his ears, completely unable to stand the crying. He did not seem about to answer so Gast shuffled around behind the desk to check for himself.

The baby lay squalling in a bassinet on the floor. Its little hands were curled into tight fists and its skin was flushed with infant rage and discomfort. It's skin looked so pink beneath the pale downy hair. Gast stood over the bassinet and scratched his head. There was nothing wrong that he could see. Then he smelled it.

"Oh goodness!" He stepped back out of the way, waving his hands to clear away the stench. "Diapers, change the diapers. Where are the diapers, Hojo?"

"How the hell should I know? I'm a scientist, not a nursemaid!" The gaunt man rubbed his forehead and walked further away. "This part of the project is Dane's responsibility. Where's he gone off to?"

Gast followed his associates lead into the bookshelf-lined tunnel. "He's just gone. He left a note and didn't say where."

Hojo paused and lifted his head. He turned slowly. "You mean he's gone for good?"

Gast's brow furrowed in exhaustion as he nodded. "In the note he said that he didn't want to be a part of this anymore, even if it is for the benefit of mankind. No word of where he went. I've been asking around for him all morning. I think he skipped town."

"Dammit!" Hojo swore again and stormed further into the library, away from the infant's persistent cries. "If only that blasted woman hadn't died on the table," he muttered as he went. "Things like this should be her job, but no, Lucy had to up and die just as the project really gets going!" He reached the solid wood desk at the end of the tunnel and banged his fist on it in frustration.

Gast stopped in the hallway to polish his glasses on the sleeve of his labcoat. "It's not the end of the world. We'll just request a new assistant and in the meantime," he rubbed furiously at a stubborn spot. "In the meantime, we'll just have to manage on our own."

"And what about Dane?" Hojo fumed. "We can't have that young fool running freely across the countryside. He knows too much about the project."

"Believe me, I know that." Gast put his glasses back on. "I've already notified the Turks. They'll be a few hours behind him, coming all the way from the city, but they know their work." He sighed. "We wouldn't be in such a pickle if Vincent hadn't disappeared on us. You haven't heard from him, have you?"

Hojo turned away. "I've heard nothing." Gast suspected there was more to it than that, but he knew he would get nothing more out of his tight-lipped colleague. Specimen One's cries echoed down the tunnel and seemed to grow louder in the silence.

"Well, first things first." Gast straightened his tie and headed back towards the lab. "We have to change the diaper." He turned around to look at the other scientist. Hojo had not moved. "Come on, now," Gast coaxed. "It is your son, after all."

Hojo rolled his eyes and pushed himself off from the desk. "Where did that boy leave the clean diapers?" Gast paused again. He really did not know. All the tedious caregiving business had been the assistant's job.

He folded his arms and held his chin in one hand. Where had he last seen diapers? "Check the clothes line in the yard." It was the only likely place he could think of. "I think Dane washed a bundle before he left." Lucrecia – let her spirit rest in peace – had gone into a full-scale nesting phase in the few weeks before her terrible delivery. She had lovingly embroidered the name she and Hojo had picked out for the specimen upon each and every item of clothing, that she had somehow acquired between checkups and procedures. Gast suspected that the doting young Turk had done most of the shopping but had remained silent on that issue. It was not his place to speak.

Hojo grumbled as he walked  out the door, but it was half-hearted. The dingy, little lab was as far as one could get from outside but it was a chance to get away from the noise. Gast winced as the door slammed shut and gingerly walked over to the source of the crying.

He had to stop for a moment while still a few feet away. "Odin's crazy horse, it's true. How can something so small make such a big stink?" He steeled himself up for the task and took the final step. He grabbed the bassinet and balanced it on one hip as he cleared the tools and instruments off the workbench. Then he dropped the bassinet on it with neither ceremony nor care. Specimen One cried even louder at the impact. Gast had not supposed that it was possible.

He put one hand in the bassinet and attempted to unfurl the baby's fingers. It was ridiculously hard work. Already, the child had strength beyond its age. Without warning, the child stopped crying and the little hands opened and closed, capturing the doctor's forefinger in a sneak attack. "Hey, now," Gast warned, though he was more alarmed himself. "That's my finger. Let go."

The baby opened its eyes instead of its hands, but showed no sign of letting go. It only stared at the captured digit, curious and interested. There was no indication that the child had been screaming loud enough to wake the dead only a few seconds ago. Gast leaned closer in surprise. The infant gaze shifted to meet his eyes.

Gast was speechless. Those green eyes were so familiar. True, they were younger than he last knew them, and bore a glow that Lucrecia had not possessed, not until her last agonizing moments of delivery. Gast sighed and let his chin drop to rest on the edge of the bassinet. Lucrecia had picked it from a catalogue for her child. The young Turk had helped her open the package when it came. Hojo had just been glad that there was something to throw the child in at night. And Gast? He had to admit, he hadn't paid too much attention to the matter.

The child began to whimper again, as if it could sense the turn in the man's thoughts. Gast put his other hand in to pat the baby's head. "There, there, now," he mumbled, surprised to hear his own voice. "It's okay. What happened to your mommy wasn't your fault. We should have taken better care of her." Gast felt a great weight upon his shoulders. "I should have listened to her near the end."

The child stared at him with a wide, blank gaze that could only be innocence. The child would never know how much his mother had grown to love him. He would never know a mother's care. Gast shook his head, disappointed with himself. Specimen, Project, Savior of Mankind or not, right now, the baby was only that – a baby. He needed food and warmth and care and . . .love. Gast supposed there hadn't been much of that lately, if ever. A tiny frown marred the child's delicate brow as he drew the doctor's finger closer to his mouth.

"No, no, no," Gast pulled away. "Not in your mouth. My hands are all germy." The baby gurgled. "I guess you must be hungry too. As soon as we get your diaper changed we'll head up to the kitchen, okay?" He smiled at the child. The baby smiled as best it could in response. Gast felt the weight leave his shoulders instantly at the sight of that toothless baby grin. He laughed a little and the baby laughed with him.

The scientist caught sight of some rough thread on the baby's cloth diaper. It was the name, stitched in love, if not with skill. Lucrecia's gifts had run more to academic pursuits than the simple crafts of the hearth. With his free hand he pulled enough of the cloth free to read the little monogram. "Seph . . . Sephire . . .Oh, darn," Gast fumbled around it.  He knew that Lucrecia and Hojo had picked the name for some symbolism, supposedly relevant to the project, but he himself had never been able to pronounce it properly and after the first few failed attempts, he had not tried.

That was no good. This was a child, a marvelous product of science, but a baby nonetheless. And children had names. Gast scratched his head. It would be ridiculous to keep calling the child 'Specimen One' as he got older anyway. "Seph-eeeeeee-roth…Sephi-roth…Sephiroth!" The man grinned, pleased with himself. "Sephiroth! Sephiroth! Sephiroth!" Little Sephiroth smiled again and gurgled happily. He let go of Gast's finger and began to clap.

"Ah, that's a smart boy! He knows how to clap!" Gast reached in and picked the baby up. "Sephiroth is a smart boy!" He grinned again and hugged the baby close, excited by the discovery and warmed by the little one's response. He did not even notice that he had grown used to the smell of a soiled diaper.

The heavy door creaked open and a grumpy Hojo entered with a diaper bag slung over his shoulder. It was a pastel yellow affair with a printed pattern on dancing moogles, another of Lucrecia's motherly acquisitions, no doubt. The thing oozed maternal softness. No wonder Hojo looked angry. The thin man stopped in the doorway to stare at the sight of Gast dancing a waltz with the baby in his arms.

"Gast, what the hell are you doing?"

The man grinned. "I'm playing with him, obviously." Hojo made a sound of disgust as he came forward to drop the heavy diaper bag on the workbench.

"That's hardly how to go about raising the savior of the human race," the man growled. Gast paid no mind.

"How would you know?" He asked lightly as he spun the gurgling baby around once more. "Ever raised a Messiah before?"

Hojo grumbled, vexed at having his authority over his own specimen usurped. "Hand him over. He needs changing." Gast rubbed noses with the little boy before he did.

"Do you know how to change a diaper?"

"No. Do you?" Hojo rooted around in the diaper bag for a clean, white linen, square.

Gast scratched his head and looked down at the squirming child in the bassinet. "I've seen it done."

The two began the laborious process of sorting through the items in the bag and figuring out what to do. Between the arguments about wet wipes and diaper pins, they forgot entirely about the baby.

Sephiroth didn't mind. He was uncomfortable but he did not really mind now. He had seen the familiar squares of white cloth that the men had pulled out and draped over the side of his bassinet. He knew the discomfort wouldn't last much longer. They were arguing over how to do the job properly right now.

Neither of them suspected that he could already understand them, but whenever he tried to mimic their sounds, form their words, only baby's squawk would come out. Sephiroth had heard one of them say that it would be some time yet before infant vocal cords developed well enough to be capable of human speech. Sephiroth remembered this every time he tried to make them understand what he wanted, but he only became upset with his failure.

Crying and screaming was all he had for now. The young one, Dane, responded quickly. That was his job, but he was gone now. He had told Sephiroth goodbye before he left. Sephiroth had not learned enough of loss and regret to feel either. Maybe the young man would come back.

Sephiroth lay back quietly and watched the two men in white work above him. He had just decided that Gast was nice. Gast smiled with him. Gast played with him. Gast was not the one who gave him shots. Sephiroth did not like shots. They made his eyes hurt. They made his head hurt. He heard strange voices from people that he could not see. Hojo gave him all the shots. Hojo frowned at him and yelled at him to be quiet when all he wanted was to be dry, or fed, or held.

And so, Sephiroth fought back any way he could. When Hojo told him to shut up, he cried harder. When Hojo came to give him shots, he fought hard. He could grab the syringe and hold it at bay for a long time before his hands lost their strength. Hojo often said that he was getting stronger. Sephiroth did not understand enough of time yet to hope to have the strength to hold the shot off forever one day. He only knew to fight each battle as it came.

"Alright, here goes," Hojo grumbled and reached to undo the dirty diaper. Sephiroth tensed up and then began to kick furiously "Oh hell, why does he have to give me such a hard time?" Hojo grumbled and he tried to get a hand on the diaper pins.

"Babies just do that, I've heard," Gast murmured as he looked on in interest. Hojo had grown quick himself from dealing with the rambunctious infant. He soon had the old diaper open and was ready to pull it out from under the child. Sephiroth was ready for him.

"Oh crap! He peed on me!" Hojo flew back and stared at the damp spot on his lab coat in disgust.

Gast fell over laughing. "Yeah, babies do that too," he sputtered, and Sephiroth laughed along with him.

**************************

Time: 3 hrs 45 mins

Assessment: Too long, but a start.

Mission: 16.67% complete.