A/N: Hello, to all you wonderful people out there in world. Boomchick here, with yet another foray into my latest addiction: FFVII. This one will be following canon as closely as possible up until Advent Children Complete, and may eventually include spoilers for Dirge of Cerberus, if it goes that long.
This is something new for me, so I hope all of you will let it fire with the remarks, guesses, comebacks, complaints, and, of course, compliments. Enjoy it! First chapter will be a little introspective intensive. I'm afraid it's a flaw of mine, but I hope you'll all stick with me to chapter two!
Warnings: Excessive violence, character death (only cannon ones,) and slight liberties taken with said dead characters. Enjoy! xoxoxo
UPDATE: Now edited by my fantabulous beta reader Annegwish! You have her to thank for the grammar.
A Brutal Teacher
Experience is a brutal teacher, but you learn. My God do you learn. - C.S. Lewis
When Yazoo died, it was the first time he could remember ever being alone. He called to his brothers almost reflexively the moment he recalled how to speak. To Loz, who must have died beside him, who was no doubt crying like a damned coward. To his little angel, their guide and savior, who had led them so far only to die at the hands of that false brother. That Strife.
They didn't answer the call. There was no frighteningly fearsome snap from Kadaj, furious at being looked after, as always. No surreptitious sniffle from Loz to lead them into their age old argument.
"Don't cry, Loz," Yazoo would say, his voice teasing and his words sincere.
"I'm not crying," Loz would argue before Kadaj would interrupt them repressively with a mad laugh tinting his voice, but mother spurring him ever onwards.
And of course, that was why Kadaj wasn't here. He'd been... saved. Or redeemed. Stolen. Yazoo felt his lip curl at the thought of the airy voice that had called to him. So unlike their mother's strong, willful call, that the youngest of them had heard for so long. It had pained him sometimes. Had pained all of them once or twice. Yazoo remembered vaguely pain so great he thought his head would split open, and screaming until he no longer could. Remembered watching both his brothers do the same. The memory of that pain, which mother had always threatened them with, should they refuse to do as she wished, was surprisingly distant.
It took Yazoo a moment to realize it was because he was dead. Truly and thoroughly dead. Blown to pieces in his own rage, his brother at his heels and the so called 'black sheep'... well, at least he could relax knowing he'd taken Cloud Strife to the life stream with them. If he was in the life stream. If Loz was. Kadaj would be, of course, because Kadaj was special, but Loz and Yazoo... Side projects at best. Why mother bothered sending them at all was something of a mystery. In the end, it proved more than they could do to destroy two lousy Turks. At least they had been the ones to kill Strife. Surely mother would be pleased.
It was then that it dawned on the silver haired boy what was so different about death. It was silent. Utterly silent. Not just of the constant noise of his elder brother, and the eerie ranting of his younger. Jenova was not speaking. A pressure in his mind he had never been aware of—had been born with- was gone. He was empty, like a marionette whose strings were burned away.
"Mother," He called into the nothing, his voice petering out the moment the words breathed from between his lips.
There was no reply to his plaintive call. The empty, blank world around him remained unaltered, and no note of mother's beautiful, dark voice touched him. It made him feel exposed and alone. He drew in breath to call out again.
"Little bastard," hissed a voice to his right, straight from the empty air.
Yazoo jumped and whirled, hand flying to his hip, only to discover that Velvet Nightmare was gone. There was nothing where the voice had come from but more of the blinding white emptiness.
"You killed us, and call for your mother?" another voice said from behind him, so very much closer.
Yazoo whirled again, seeing nothing, but feeling the breath of the speaker on the back of his neck, lingering like a stain on his skin.
"Look at him. So little soul he's barely even here," a third spoke, and this time Yazoo felt a hand shove him lightly.
He struck back, his hand only waving through thin air. A rumble of laughter sounded around him, far more than three voices caught up in the amusement. He whirled, his heart in his throat, and a tightening feeling in his chest. He was surrounded, and defenseless, and the thought chilled him. It took him a very long time to understand that he was feeling actual fear.
By the time he had figured it out, the invisible ones were holding him to the ground, and taking turns kicking. His scream barely left his lips, but as they had said, what soul he had was very small, and very weak. For the first time in his brief life, Yazoo feared not for his brothers. He wasn't afraid of his mother's pain and wrath, or the memories of Sephiroth which sometimes rose to blind him and his siblings.
As the blows rained down on his chest, and ribs, and stomach, and groin, Yazoo feared for his life. He tried to scream, knowing full well that no one was left to save him from the souls he had helped his mother corrupt and steal.
Loz came to himself under very, very different circumstances but he felt no less out of place.
"Hey, look, he's wakin' up," one voice said, very close to his ear.
He opened his eyes, and sniffled. No one told him not to cry, and none of the eyes looking down on him were the right shade of acidic green. In fact, most of them were varying shades of brown, and all of them were young.
"'E looks weird," one of the children stated sensibly, wiping a sleeve over his face.
Loz sat up very slowly and cautiously, looking around at the small faces with utter confusion. The kids surrounding him took a step back to give him room to, but none of them looked scared, like they ought to, and part of him thought that the really should have backed up further to get out of his way.
"Uh," he said, and was a little startled to find his voice lighter, his body smaller, and his sitting height greatly diminished.
Looking down at himself in surprise, he found he was only a little bigger than the kids surrounding him. He gaped, and lifted his hands to stare at them. Not only were they ungloved but Dual Hound was missing, and to make it worse, they were small. Not small like Kadaj's, in a graceful, artistic way, just small, and a little chubby. With a gasp, Loz patted himself down. His fingers found hard muscles where they should have been but slimmer and with less bulk. His cheeks were strangely soft and squishy, not the sculpted cheekbones that he remembered at all. It was with a whimper of despair that he realized he really was smaller. He'd only been born a few weeks ago, and now he was dead and shrinking. Loz hiccuped in sorrow and sniffled heavily.
"Yazoo," he called, fully expecting to be answered.
The kids all looked at each other, and one leaned very close, to tilt his head and look at Loz. The remnant stared back, caught not by the uninteresting eyes of the boy, but his own reflection in them-that of a small, silver-haired child.
"Do. You. Speak. Common?" The boy asked very loudly, and slowly.
Loz wrinkled his nose and tilted his head, both in confusion at the way the question was said, and at the face he was seeing reflected in the brown eyes before him.
"Are you stupid?" he asked, honestly curious, because he'd heard Yazoo call him that before when he said something obvious.
"No. You?" The boy replied, just a hint of challenge to his voice.
Loz frowned and tilted his head the other way, still watching his reflection. He lifted a hand to scratch at his hair as he puzzled over that reversal, having thought he knew the answer, but his changed state making him wonder if he wasn't a little dumb. No doubt Yazoo would have figured it out by now.
"Are you dead?" Loz asked, dropping the subject, since he didn't have a good answer.
A tittering laugh ran through the kids around him, and he frowned a little, sniffling. He sure didn't think being dead was funny. Especially if neither of his brothers was with him. He sniffled again, feeling the sudden urge to start crying loudly.
"Kid, I've been dead longer'n you've been alive," the brown-eyed boy boasted. "You're what, seven?"
Loz gave a little moan and buried his face in his too-small hands. One of the bigger girls gave a soft coo, and Loz felt a hand touch his back.
"It's okay, sweetie," she soothed, and Loz shivered a little under the unfamiliar touch, but was too miserable to pull away.
He wanted his brothers. He wanted his mother. Tears slid down his face, as he curled up into himself, pulling his knees close and wrapping too-short arms around them. Kadaj wouldn't come for him. Neither would Yazoo probably. They'd been together their whole lives, but that was, what, three weeks? And they hadn't gotten along too well. He and Yazoo were too different from each other. He was too emotional, to be any good, and now he couldn't possibly be strong enough to make up for that. And Yazoo was just mean. They were deadly together, but they had never really liked each other. They had barely known each other.
"Don't cry, Loz" the prettiest of the remnants had said, flipping his hair calmly as he wiped the blood of the two Turks from his hands. "You're insufferable. What mother wants with you is beyond me."
Kadaj hadn't said a word. He'd been sitting a ways away, laughing softly to himself, and watching their two captives bleed, confident in the fact that they were his key to finding mother. Maybe they would have been if they hadn't 'escaped.' It was the only nice thing Yazoo had ever done for him. He hadn't told Kadaj who the one to let them go was, even through he must have known. It hadn't seemed right to let the lady get hurt so badly, and she had been crying. Loz understood that.
He was the only one of his siblings who remembered being sad, and knew how to do it. They were remnants of Sephiroth, sure, and he could be mean if he wanted, but even Sephiroth had been sad sometimes. Loz was just 'fortunate' enough to get the ability to cry over the feeling. He was pretty sure Yazoo had never been sad. Kadaj seemed forlorn sometimes, and felt... second best, or cast aside, which was weird to Loz, because he and Yazoo both knew how important their little brother was. But he never really got sad. He was always too angry.
"Hey," one of the boys, who appeared, Loz thought with a grimace, a little older than himself said suddenly, "you got a name?"
Loz wrinkled his nose again at the boring-looking brown-haired kid and huffed lightly, uncurling enough to cross his arms grumpily.
"Of course I have a name," he muttered, "It's Loz."
The kid scoffed, and Loz bristled at the sound, tensing and clenching his fists, though they were hidden by his closed off posture.
"That's not a real name!" the boy accused, making Loz feel strangely cold, "It's made up. You're weird!"
Loz felt his eyes fill with tears, and a rage light inside himself, but what if the boy was right? It was a made up name, after all. They hadn't just come with names attached. They'd made them up so it would be easier to talk to each other. They really weren't real names. And everyone knew he was a weirdo. It was a complete surprise to him when the taller girl who had put a hand on his shoulder whirled on the kid.
"Shut up, you," she said sharply, pointing an accusing finger at the kid. "It's a great name. Don't you have some other newby to bother?"
The boy grumbled but slumped off, and a good number of the group remaining clustered around Loz followed him, wandering away with only a few backwards glances.
The suddenly young remnant took a deep breath, his lip trembling. He was fighting back the tears, refusing to cry in front of the stranger. He had to be tough after all. Instead, he looked around for the first time. His eyes widened in awe as his eyes raked over the wide, unending field that seemed to stretch on forever in every direction. Filling that place, all around him, were hundreds of children, running and screaming with glee and laughing.
"Wow," he breathed.
The sun was warm on his face, the smell of grass sweet in the air. He stood up, with a lurch of vertigo, to get a better look, gaping at the expanses of perfect green, interrupted only here and there by sturdy climbing trees, most of which were also covered with laughing children, and a few of which sported swings hanging down from their branches.
"Pretty great, huh," one of the younger boys who had remained chirped, wiping at his nose for no particular reason and grinning widely at Loz, displaying two missing teeth up front, as though he himself was responsible for the place.
Loz was too busy being amazed to comment. He'd never seen anywhere like this. He'd been born-created-in the Northern Crater and headed almost immediately to the Forgotten City and Midgar. Vague memories of Banora and Wutai from the man they were pieces of didn't quite cut it in comparison with the real thing. Or semi-real thing, since they were all dead here.
"You can stay if you like," the oldest girl informed him benevolently. "There's always games to play, and you won't get hungry or tired, though you can eat and sleep if you want to."
"It's great!" little nose-scratching boy added, and a chorus of agreement rose from all the children who had stayed nearby.
Loz thought of Kadaj, corrupting the water and making the children drink, and of the little girl he'd held by his side while he watched. He looked away from the fields and down to his hands again. Even if he looked young, he felt inside himself he didn't really belong in this carefree place. Any hands that had kidnapped a little girl, even if it had been Yazoo's idea, couldn't be trusted around these kids. So he swallowed and shook his head, even though he was longing for a good game. Especially if any of the kids knew how to fight...
"I can't," he forced himself to say, ignoring the longing to join in the playtime, clenching his jaw as he tried to fight back tears. "I have to find my brothers and mother. I can't," he paused, shifting, stretching listening for the voice in his head and hearing nothing, "seem to find her."
He lowered his eyes to the ground, feeling an ache inside of himself he couldn't identify, and guessing it was probably that he was missing mother. After all, she had been the only one to ever love him in his brief life. He was a little surprised at the groan of disappointment that arose from the gathered children, and even more surprised by the serene smile on the girl's face. She looked like Yazoo when she smiled like that. It was unnerving.
"We understand," She said.
"We do?" asked nose-scratching boy, though the other kids seemed to ignore him entirely,
"Be careful," the girl warned him softly, ignoring the other children around her. "Not everywhere is as nice as this place, Loz." She touched his shoulder one more time, her fingers gentle and warm.
Loz looked up at her in quiet amazement. He had been taller than everyone he met since being born, and it was a truly unusual experience to look up at someone. For a moment, their eyes met, and she gave him a soft, affectionate smile. Then she and the other children were gone, as though they had never been there, though Loz was still standing on the same grassy field he had been, and could still hear distant gleeful yells of children's laughter.
Part of him wanted to turn around, because he was willing to guess they'd still let him in on the game, but he could faintly hear something just a little ways away, and wandered towards it. By the time he remembered he might have turned back, he was walking out of the fields and into a forest, alone, unarmed, and lost.
Despite the entirely imperfect situation, Loz felt good. Still too short, but somehow he felt less... stretched than he had while he was alive. Yazoo always called him immature anyhow. Loz was vaguely dismayed that his brother turned out to be right about that, but he didn't let it bother him too deeply.
He seemed right in a smaller body. He punched one of the trees he came upon, and winced a little as he bruised his knuckles. Despite the fact that it hurt, he did manage to make a decent indent in the wood. He was obviously frustratingly weaker than he had been when he was bigger, but at least he wasn't human. He silently hoped being dead didn't stop him from growing.
The forest moaned around him, and Loz suddenly stopped feeling quite so good, looking around himself in surprise. There was no sign of mother arriving to express her displeasure, or Sephiroth descending in a furious flash of steel and leather, but something very powerful was very unhappy. It wasn't until the first branch reached out from where it was sitting, perfectly still, to rake across his cheek that Loz realized it was the forest. He glanced back at the tree he had punched and swallowed.
"Oops," he muttered to himself.
The trees nearest him started groaning, and abandoned the pretense of being normal trees, leaning over towards the boy, who was suddenly feeling very small indeed. Loz broke out into a run, and faintly missed the haste materia he had pilfered from big brother. Trees were not known for their speed, but he was having to work pretty hard to avoid all the branches that stretched out to whip across his skin.
"You don't have to be so mean!" he screamed, relieved that he was not, at least, winded yet, "I didn't know you minded!"
The trees ignored his words, and Loz vaguely wondered if this was revenge for the crystalline behemoth off a tree he'd brought down while fighting in the forgotten city. Surely they hadn't minded that one loss this much. Maybe it was just that he was one of 'calamity's children,' a phrase which he hadn't understood in the least until Yazoo had explained with an air of great annoyance that calamity wasn't a name, and they were talking about mother.
Loz snarled slightly at the memory even as he ducked under some more branches being thrust in his path, not as worried about the forest as he would have been if it had managed to do more than bruise and scratch him. As a matter of fact, he ever-changing obstacle course before him was a welcome distraction from his thoughts. Stupid Yazoo was never fun to think about. He could be fun to play with, for the ten minutes he was in the mood, but as soon as they no longer had a common enemy, he slid back into his cool, relaxed mode, sneering and snickering at everything Loz did.
They were brothers, but as far as Loz was concerned they were opposites too, and he hadn't been able to stand his slinky brother other unless there was something to be done. They both liked fighting-it was what they were made for, after all. As long as they were doing that, they were in perfect sync with one another. It was everything else that put them in discord.
And yet, as Loz dodged another tree branch that was apparently attempting to unman him, even his least favorite brother would have been an entirely welcome sight at that moment. He was pretty certain the feeling would not be mutual, but he could care less what Yazoo wanted.
The light of day shone through the dark forest in one direction more brightly than the others, and Loz rocketed off the path and out of the forest without a backwards glance. He let out a whoop of glee as he cleared the last tree limb and rocketed into a dusty, desert landscape that appeared as suddenly as the forest had.
His exultation was short lived, for the very next thing he saw was a crowd of souls clustered around something, cheering. Beyond that intriguing sight, and the sound of their whoops, jeers, and laughter, Loz smelled familiar blood.