Chapter 1: Playmates
Ifalna Gast glanced down at eight-year-old Sephiroth as she changed baby Aeris' diaper.
"Why is Aeris always in such a bad mood all the time?" the boy asked.
"What do you mean?" Ifalna asked curiously.
"Well, she rarely smiles, she never laughs…all she ever does is cry and fuss,"
Ifalna laughed. "Well, Aeris is only four weeks old, Seph. She doesn't know how to smile yet,"
"She smiled in her sleep this morning," Sephiroth pointed out.
"That was just gas," Ifalna explained.
Sephiroth looked stunned. "She smiled because she farted?"
Professor Faremis Gast burst out laughing from across the room where he sat reading.
"I don't get it," Ifalna said to no one in particular, "Doesn't matter what age they are, if they're male, they all love 'fart humor',"
"So she's not still scared about what happened when we left Icicle Inn?" Sephiroth asked.
"I doubt she even remembers it," Gast reassured him.
"When will she learn how to smile?"
"In a few months," Ifalna answered.
"When will she learn to walk?"
"When she's about a year old,"
"When will she learn to speak?"
"She'll start with one or two words maybe a little before she starts walking. You won't really able to actually talk to her until she's a couple years old,"
"Babies are only good at laying around, huh?" Sephiroth asked, slightly frustrated.
Ifalna smiled. "Were you hoping for someone to play with right away?"
"I don't know how to play," admitted Sephiroth, "People talk about it, but I don't know how to talk to the other children here,"
"There's a park not too far from here," said Ifalna, "Why don't you go walk over there and watch what the other kids do? Then maybe whatever they're doing, you can ask them if you can join in?"
"You mean, all I have to do is say, 'Can I play with you'?"
"Is it safe for me to go off on my own?"
"You'll be fine," Gast told the boy.
Sephiroth stared pointedly. "I was talking about you. Maybe I can create another barrier while I'm gone,"
The professor looked irritated.
"Shinra's influence doesn't reach here," he said, keeping his annoyance in check, "They won't just swoop in and snatch anyone away,"
"Or shoot anyone?" Sephiroth pressed, recalling how his new father figure had been shot in the leg, and would have been shot in the head, had Sephiroth not blocked the attack.
"We'll be fine," Ifalna reassured the boy before he could injure her husband's pride any further, "Go play. But when somebody asks you your name, what do you say?"
"My name is Joseph Lanier," Sephiroth recited mechanically, "I live with my parents, Dr. and Mrs. Lanier, and my baby sister Aeris Lanier,"
"There's a good boy," Gast praised him.
"Be back in time for dinner," Ifalna told the boy before he left.
Sephiroth had spent half an hour watching the kids at the park. He couldn't understand any of it. None of the kids had swords, so he couldn't spar with them. He realized it was a good idea to leave his wooden sword behind. These kids probably wouldn't give him space to train, and let themselves get struck. All everyone was doing was running around. Some kids were even stealing toys from the other kids! Sephiroth wasn't sure what he would do if someone tried to steal his precious bokken.
He got up and started to wander around. His eyes then came to rest on a large playground structure that several children were climbing all over.
That looked interesting, at least. He decided to investigate.
Making his way over to the structure, he looked up at the side. Watching the kids sliding down quickly looked intriguing. Finally, he decided to try it himself. He grabbed the sides of the ladder and began to climb up. He watched one little boy get to the top, but instead of sitting like the other kids, he got on his belly and slid down.
As Sephiroth reached the top, he decided to do as that other kid had done. He lay down on his stomach and pushed himself down, perhaps a bit harder than he should have. He sped down the slide, launching off head-first into the sand below.
The boy cringed as he spat out the sand and emptied it out of his shirt.
"Hey, move away so I can slide!" someone called from the top.
Sephiroth wordlessly rolled over and got to his feet, still shaking sand from his shirt. Still, he couldn't help but smile a little.
It's as if I was flying!
"Show-off!" a voice said.
Sephiroth turned to see three girls a couple of years older giggling at him.
"Your hair is pretty," said one girl.
"R-really?" the boy stammered as he brushed more sand out of his hair, which was now reaching to his shoulders.
Ifalna had offered to cut it when they were living in Icicle Inn, but he'd refused, wanting to have control over his looks for once. As it was, he'd been surprised that the staff at Shinra hadn't come by to give him another stupid bowl cut while he was still there. Maybe they had finally given up given how stubborn his cowlicks in the front were. But for now, he was happy to let his hair grow until he saw fit to trim it.
"It's so shiny!" another girl giggled.
The first girl went over to him and put her hands together. "Can we braid it?" she begged, "Please?"
"I-I don't want to cut my hair!" Sephiroth protested nervously.
"We're not gonna cut it, silly!" the girl said, rolling her eyes, "We just wanna braid it! You can take it out if you want later!"
"Uh…okay," he said.
"I'm Eleanor," the girl introduced herself, "This is Thena and Emily. Come with us to that rock over there. Right near the pond. That way when we're done, you can look at your reflection in the water,"
She and Thena then each grabbed a hand and began to drag the boy off.
"I can't believe how soft your hair is!" Emily cooed as she and the other girls walked with a freshly-braided Sephiroth around the pond.
Sephiroth scowled. "Is it really that soft?"
"Like a baby's," Thena said.
"No, not that soft," said Sephiroth, "My baby sister takes the cake for soft hair,"
"You have a baby sister?" Eleanor squealed, "Is her hair the same color as yours?"
"No," Sephiroth replied, "I'm adopted,"
"Oh, this is rich!"
Sephiroth looked and saw a group of older boys in the distance. The one who spoke was a scrawny dark-haired kid who looked to be about twelve years old. In the back was a hefty black kid with an afro who looked a bit bored.
"You found a new girl to play with?" the boy sneered.
Eleanor stamped her foot. "Shut up, Dyne!"
"You're mistaken," Sephiroth corrected him, "I'm a boy,"
"Then why do you have your hair braided all girly?" Dyne taunted him.
Sephiroth looked a bit wary as he turned to the girls. "Did…you do this to make me look like a girl?" he asked slowly.
"No!" Eleanor protested, "We did it because it's so long and pretty!"
"Why don't your show us your dress?" Dyne teased.
Sephiroth was slowly getting angry.
"Leave him alone!" Thena complained.
"'Leave him alone!'" one of the boys mimicked her.
"Come on, Joseph," Eleanor said angrily, "Let's just ignore them,"
"No, really!" one of the boys blocked their way, "Let's see 'Josephina's' training bra!"
He yanked up Sephiroth's shirt. However, Sephiroth quickly grabbed the boy's hand, twisting it behind his back. Before the boy could react, Sephiroth tossed him into the pond.
Dyne stared in shock, while the black youth burst out laughing.
"You little bastard!" the boy shouted as he stood up, soaking wet, charging at him.
Sephiroth easily shoved the boy back into the pond.
"I know what that word means, and I don't want you calling me that ever again," the silver-haired boy said coldly.
"Screw this!" Dyne exclaimed as he took off running. The soaked boy stumbled out of the water and did the same.
The boy with the afro came over to Sephiroth, still laughing.
"Leave him alone, Barrett!" Eleanor warned him, while Sephiroth tensed up again.
"Naw, I'm not gonna do anything," Barrett snickered, "Just wanted to say you're pretty strong. You play ball?"
Sephiroth shook his head.
"You should," said Barrett, "We could use someone like you to play with,"
"You…want to play with me?" Sephiroth asked hesitantly.
"Can you come by the field tomorrow around three?" Barrett asked, "Don't worry, those two jokers will leave you alone from now on,"
"Okay," Sephiroth said, "Sure. Oh- I have to run now. It's almost dinnertime. Uh…it was nice meeting you all!"
He turned around and jogged off, taking the braid out of his hair.
Other kids sure are strange…he thought.