CH 2

Sephiroth fell into life at the home seamlessly and became a known protector and defender of Cloud and all the girls. His 11th birthday came and went and when Edge's birthday came and they had a send-off party for him. It was sad and late that night Cloud was inconsolable. Sephiroth assured him that he would see Edge again, probably sooner than he thought. Sure enough, the next day after school Edge was waiting for the boys and took them for sodas and candy.

When summer came, Sephiroth found that he got a lot more done when he and Cloud went to work. The tourists were really gullible and it made for a good take. Communicating on crowded streets was difficult for the two until they began using sign language. When work was over Sephiroth always carried Cloud piggyback.

They ran into Edge one afternoon and he told them about his new boss Seifer. "I make plenty of money and when you guys are older, you can come work for him too. I mean you know the basics already. It's not much different. I have to carry a gun…for my own protection. But it's cool." Edge told the pre-teens as they munched on junk food. "Wow you know Seph you are getting really tall. You could probably come to work for him sooner than you think."

"Really? That would be cool. I've been trying to make a little extra money before Rydia's birthday." He admitted with a slight blush.

"You still pine after her? She's still with Kain right?" Edge asked.

"Yes!" Cloud piped up smacking his lips as he chewed his candy, "But she told Seph when he turns 12 she'll teach him to kiss. So…"

Edge roared and Sephiroth blushed. Cloud swallowed his candy and popped some bubble gum into his mouth as he grinned at Sephiroth. "She also said that he's gonna be hot when he grows up!"

That only added to the embarrassment Sephiroth already felt but Edge's laughter was contagious and he began to chuckle. Cloud squawked, "PLUS! She said she would teach him…"

Cloud slapped his hands over his mouth. Sephiroth's eyes were huge and Edge was making an oh-shit face but he continued to laugh.

"I wasn't supposed to tell that part." Cloud mumbled behind his hands.

"How do you know all this?" Sephiroth glared at Cloud making Cloud giggle. He knew that Sephiroth would never do anything to hurt him. He trusted him with his life and everyone knew that they were best friends and shared everything.

"I was kinda outside Aerith's door and I heard her talking to Tifa about you and she may have said that she liked you…well…I mentioned it to Rydia cause well, she's got Kain so why would she care right? But she got pissy and said she would be watching Aerith. She said that Aerith wasn't good enough for you…and that's when she said she would um…teach you things when you were older…and she went on about your hair and your green eyes…it was disgusting." Cloud looked down at his feet smiling. Sephiroth pondered what he had heard knowing that Cloud wouldn't lie to him...especially about his crush.

"So Aerith likes me for real? And Rydia? Wow…wonder why?" Sephiroth pondered and Edge clapped him on the shoulder.

"It's the hair dude…definitely the hair." He grinned at Sephiroth and Sephiroth returned his smile and ran his hand through his hair. He hadn't cut it and it was growing long and straight. From that afternoon he couldn't wait to grow up.

Time flew by for the busy little thieves. They accumulated quite the stash and had to get Edge to help them unload some of the items. He always brought them the cash and they split it equally. Sephiroth didn't have to fight at school anymore since he was the biggest kid there but he was about to be 12, and in middle school he would need to start over.

Cloud was growing stronger but not taller. He was just going to be a runt Sephiroth guessed, but he would protect him. Cloud had confided in him that the reason he was small was because he was born addicted and premature. He still sucked his thumb at night like a baby. Sephiroth vowed to keep his secrets and in turn Cloud didn't tell anyone that Sephiroth was hard of hearing, blind in his right eye or that he cried in his sleep.

Sephiroth gave Rydia emerald earrings for her birthday that he bought with half his stash. Kain winked at him, knowing that he had a crush on his girlfriend but assumed that it was all just a silly kid crush. Kain was 17 and Rydia was turning 15 so Sephiroth being about 12 posed no threat to him. He didn't pick up on the growing animosity between Rydia and Aerith. As time went on he just figured they grew apart.

Cecil and Rosa were watched with amusement and thought they should warn Kain but then decided against it. Kain took Rydia for granted and would be aging out and leaving her behind soon anyway. Even if it blew up before Kain left they knew that he would respect Rydia's choice but only because it was Sephiroth. Maybe it was the timing when he showed up, right before Edge left them or maybe it was because at times he seemed so much older than his years but everyone liked Sephiroth.

After Rydia's birthday dinner and before lights out, Sephiroth whispered to Cloud, "Cloud who do you like better: Rydia or Aerith?" He turned toward Cloud to watch him speak.

Cloud rolled to face him and Sephiroth could faintly hear the pop of Cloud pulling his thumb from his mouth. Honestly that kid had the noisiest mouth of anyone he had ever met. "Well, Aerith is pretty and has nice boobs…but she's kinda plain-Jane. Rydia is pretty and she is tiny…teeny…and she's flashy and funny. Aerith is sweet but she's quiet. With you being quiet too, you guys would probably just sit and stare at each other. It would be weird. So I guess if I was pickin for you, which I probably am…I'd pick Rydia."

"Do you like Aerith for yourself, Cloud?" Sephiroth asked, knowing his buddy was a total boob man.

"Yeah, there's that…" Cloud chuckled.

"What about Tifa? She has huge boobs!" Sephiroth giggled.

Cloud laughed and said, "Yeah but my guess is that she probably has a huge dick to match. That bitch is mean!"

The boys laughed until they fell asleep but Sephiroth woke to a flash of light. He rubbed his eyes and looked over at the sleeping form sucking its thumb and shook his head. He saw another flash and got up. On his way to the door he gently tugged Cloud's thumb out of his mouth just in case someone wanted to come in, they wouldn't see. He cracked the door open and peeked out. Rydia stood there and hissed, "Let me in before I get busted."

Sephiroth opened the door wider and pulled her inside. He looked down the hallway and didn't see anyone so he closed the door and turned to her. "Is something wrong Rydia?"

She watched him rub his eyes and smiled, "No. I just wanted to thank you again for the earrings. They really are beautiful."

Sephiroth focused with his left eye but in the without the lamp he couldn't read her lips. "Let me turn on the lamp, I can't see what you're saying."

When the lamp came on she was staring right at his face looking confused. Then her confusion faded and she smiled. "I didn't know you were hard of hearing. I just thought you like for people to face you out of respect when they were talking to you." She was whispering and giggling quietly.

He smiled back at her and shrugged. "Nah, I'm not that cool. So what was it you wanted?"

"I wanted to give you this…" She crossed the small dorm and put her hands on either side of his face and kissed him. He looked shocked and embarrassed at the same time and all he could do was stare. She smiled at him and bit her lip then kissed him again. This time he smiled and she seemed satisfied. "Was that a good thank you?"

He nodded smiling but instead of replying, he put his finger under her chin and kissed her. She giggled and whispered, "You little Romeo." Then winked at him and left.

As soon as she was out the door he woke Cloud up to tell him. Cloud was happy for him and said, "Can I have Aerith then?"

Sephiroth laughed, "I think that's up to Aerith."

Years passed as the boys watched their friends drift out of the house one by one. Kain left, then Cecil and Rosa. Other kids went too that weren't necessarily part of their group. A new kid came named Zack but got adopted almost immediately. They still saw Edge on the street sometimes and he kept them informed on what was happening with him. He told them that he had gotten away from Seifer because he didn't agree with how he ran things. He got a regular job as a bartender. After that they saw less and less of him and none of Kain and Cecil because they joined the military. Edge had told them that Cecil and Rosa had gotten married and were expecting a baby.

On the way home one afternoon, Cloud stopped Sephiroth. "Let's talk…"

Sephiroth followed him to the old playground they passed every day and he began to worry. Cloud was never serious. They strolled over to the old swings and sat. Cloud looked at his best friend. They were 15 now and he looked 13 while Sephiroth looked 18. Cloud had a soft voice and Sephiroth sounded very authoritative. He had gotten over his crush on Aerith long ago and she had left the home the previous February. Cloud studied Sephiroth's open expression as he waited to hear what he had to say.

Taking a deep breath he began. "Seph…there's somethin I need to tell you and I will totally understand if you wanna switch rooms or whatever…" He watched Sephiroth's eyebrows climb as his face lost what little color it had. "Remember when I had that crush on Aerith when we were kids?"

Sephiroth nodded and lit a cigarette and Cloud turned his gaze to the sand under their feet.

"Remember when she didn't like me and you told me she was stupid because I was great?"

Again Sephiroth nodded and dropped his head a bit to try and see Cloud's face. Cloud turned his face away then knowing Sephiroth wouldn't know what he said, but he turned back. "Do you remember when I was 14…my first kiss?"

Sephiroth nodded and leaned his head back blowing smoke at the sky. "I remember all of that Cloud. Where are you going with this?"

Cloud waited for him to look back at his face then said, "I told you last winter that I had a crush and I was afraid to tell the person because it was a guy."

Sephiroth looked at Cloud solemnly and nodded once.

"It's you." Cloud said and then closed his eyes so he didn't have to see his best friend's face but could finish what he needed to say. "I've tried to ignore it but I just …I don't want to. But it's killing me to watch you and Rydia together. I care about you Seph…and I always will…even if you never return my feelings, you're still my best friend."

Sephiroth sat for a long moment smoking and thinking. He looked at Cloud's boyish face and soft, fluffy blonde hair. Even though his eyes were closed he knew the exact shade of blue they were. Their friendship meant more to Sephiroth than anything. He sighed then he spoke. "Cloud…I don't know what to say really. I'm sorry you're hurt by seeing me with her. I didn't know or…I don't know …we would've stopped coming to the room together or somethin. I don't wanna change rooms but I don't wanna hurt you anymore either. Tell me what will make it better. Should I be an asshole so you'll hate me?"

Cloud laughed at that and said, "You're already an asshole but I could never hate you." He opened his eyes to see Sephiroth staring right into his blues; his face a mask of concern and guilt.

"Tell me what to do Cloud. I don't want our friendship to change…" Sephiroth said sounding a little afraid.

"It already has Seph." Cloud said then looked away. He sat and waited for his friend to speak. He heard the lighter and then he smelled the smoke and spun around glaring. "Are you trying to go to jail? You idiot!"

Sephiroth stared at him holding the smoke in and passed the joint to Cloud who snatched it away and hit it twice before passing back. Sephiroth chuckled. "Greedy bitch."

Cloud giggled and said, "Yeah…I am."

Sephiroth nodded and said, "You are…you can't just be my best friend you wanna be my boyfriend too."

Cloud's head whipped around and he snatched the rest of the joint and hopped off his swing only to climb to the top of the jungle gym and sit where he smoked the rest. Sephiroth made his way over asking Cloud to come down. Cloud sat and stared. "Come down Cloud and let's go. I'm hungry." Cloud stared silently for a moment then made his way to the edge nearest his friend. He turned his back and flipped upside down so that his face was upside down right in front of Sephiroth's laughing face. Cloud grinned.

"Come down now, you're getting silly." Sephiroth giggled.

"I think I blame you for everything." Cloud said.

"It's my fault you're gay?" Sephiroth said laughing. "Ok, let's hear it. Why is it my fault? But tell me while we're walking toward food please."

Cloud's face was turning red but he kept hanging. "Only if you carry me piggy-back."

"Deal. Now get down before you have a nosebleed." Sephiroth snorted.

Cloud swung down and then put his hands on Sephiroth's shoulders and hopped. Sephiroth grabbed his thighs and hiked him as they walked toward the sidewalk to head home. They had done this since they were 12 and no one, least of all the two of them thought anything of it. Cloud laid his head on Sephiroth's shoulder so he could speak directly into his ear as was the custom since he couldn't see his lips. Sephiroth had hearing aids but he had outgrown the ear-molds so quickly that he often just didn't bother with them. The state had fixed his broken molars immediately when he moved to the home but the more expensive things took time.

"You said you remembered my first kiss…" Cloud said.

"Of course because I'm…oh I see how it is!" Sephiroth laughed. "Are you trying to say I made you gay by kissing you last year?" They both laughed.

"No…but I was happily in denial until then." Cloud said honestly.

They stopped at a crosswalk to wait on traffic and Cloud leaned up to move Sephiroth's hair to the shoulder opposite the one he laid his head on. Sephiroth looked down at Cloud's little feet sticking out and thought about what he had said. He jogged across the street bouncing Cloud and making him laugh. Cloud laid his head back down and breathed deeply, closing his eyes.

"Seph…do you wanna change rooms?" He asked hoping that what he said earlier hadn't changed.

"No." Sephiroth said as he hiked Cloud up once more.

"Seph…will you understand if I can't be there when you are with Rydia?"

"Of course." Sephiroth answered and then stopped to wait on a light.

"Seph…" at this point they were both smiling because Cloud knew he was annoying his friend on purpose. "Will you still treat me the same?"

"Absolutely not." He said and they both roared. "No more kisses for you! And no more seeing me naked after a shower! And no more creeping into bed after my nightmares!" Sephiroth stated firmly between snickers.

"Noooooo!" Cloud howled and they both laughed until Sephiroth nearly dropped him. Cloud shrieked and they laughed a little more but got it under control before they entered the home. He continued up the stairs with Cloud on his back and everyone waved at them or nodded.

"Seph…" Cloud said as they went through their door and Sephiroth backed up to Cloud's bed dropping him then turned and said, "Hmm?"

"Thanks." Cloud said with a smile. Sephiroth nodded as he looked down at his friend. He was going to turn the tables on him.

"Cloud?" He said in his most alluring voice.

"What?' Cloud said, wondering what kind of bullshit his friend was about to spout.

"Will you still do my hair…and help me with my essays…and wake me up when I have bad dreams?" Sephiroth was serious and Cloud was surprised.

"Of course, Seph." Cloud said as he smiled. Sephiroth nodded and then pulled him up off the bed. "Good let's eat, I'm starving."

In the hallway Cloud was grumbling about Sephiroth being a bottomless pit when Rydia approached them. Sephiroth grabbed her waist and hoisted her over his shoulder not even slowing down. She braced her hands against his waist and looked at Cloud. "Hi Cloud. Are we going to the cafeteria?"

Cloud smiled at her, "Yes how did you know?"

She let herself hang then, green hair spilling down like a freaky waterfall. "Lucky guess."

That night Sephiroth sneaked back into their room late having gone to Rydia's room after dinner. He went to shower and then slipped quietly past Cloud's bed, tugging his thumb from his mouth before retiring for the night. He lay awake thinking of all the things he needed to tell Cloud. He had intended to tell him everything that afternoon, but the big gay elephant in the room got in the way. It could wait, but not too long. Sephiroth had heard about some guys who made killer money downtown and he wanted to run it by Cloud before he got involved.

Edge had told him about a kid named Reno who was about his age that hung around the bar where he worked on weekends. He said Reno made lots of money and he didn't think he was a whore, so maybe he should look into it. Sephiroth knew that he only had three years left in the home and then he would be on the street. He had to save enough so that he and Cloud didn't starve until they got jobs.

He never once thought of doing anything without Cloud. They had been together since his first day there and some silly boy crush wasn't going to change that. They would always be together he thought, no matter what.