"What do you see?" Veld asked, bending down to investigate whatever had captured Sephiroth's attention. Whatever it was, the little boy was utterly fascinated by it, as he was down on all fours, peering into the darkness beneath the lowest tread of the mansion's great staircase.
There in the shadows, eyes gleamed back at him.
Keeping his hand away from the child's line of sight, the Turk reached for his service weapon. In this house, those eyes could belong to anything, and it would be nothing unusual for something to have escaped from the labs beneath the mansion. It certainly wouldn't pay to be too careful, especially in knowing who would be held responsible if Sephiroth should be bitten by something on Veld's watch.
A moment later, though, a tiny, familiar sound identified the creature. Sephiroth inched closer, more curious than ever and Veld gently drew him back and away and seated himself on the floor, pulling him into his lap. When the child squirmed in protest, Veld spoke softly next to his ear. "Shh…we must be quiet. If we are very still and don't frighten it, perhaps it will come out and play."
Sephiroth looked away from the small creature to Veld, then back again to the tiny cat that meowed again plaintively, but he seemed willing to wait. Before long, their patience was rewarded as a delicate little face inched from beneath the staircase, long whiskers coated in dust and cobwebs. †It raised its nose to sniff in their direction, then sneezed delicately. Huge green eyes blinked at them and it meowed again, inching closer until they could see the rest of the small body. Its silver fur was so dusty that the white mask of its face and chest were almost the same color as the rest of the tiny cat.
Sephiroth giggled, a sound so rarely heard that it made the Turk's heart clench. When he could trust himself to speak past the lump in his throat, Veld said: "Look, Sephiroth…it has eyes like yours." He quieted the child again when Sephiroth would have reached for the kitten. "We mustn't frighten it."
Inch by cautious inch, the tiny cat made its way to where they sat, its cries becoming louder and more desperate. Veld could certainly understand why. The little thing was terribly thin. When Sephiroth made a sound of distress in response, Veld quickly quieted him again. "It is hungry. Do you think we should feed it?"
An enthusiastic nod and a smile answered the Turk and so Veld reached out a cautious hand. He'd watched the small creature closely, looking for any telltale, shaved patch of fur and resulting tattoo that would identify it as something that had indeed escaped from the labs. It was no small relief when the kitten turned its body enough for Veld to see it fully and he determined there were no identifying marks. The unfortunate little thing had probably made its way from the village and then into the mansion. Veld found himself grateful that no one else had noticed it first.
While the Turk had been thinking, the kitten had crossed the remaining distance between its hiding place and those who watched it, finally stretching to cautiously sniff at Sephiroth's bare toes. The child giggled again as the whiskers tickled him, but Veld's hand upon his leg stilled him from drawing away and startling the little cat. "Watch," he said quietly. "Do as I do."
Veld slowly extended a single finger toward the kitten, allowing it to sniff to its satisfaction. It bumped its head against the finger and let loose one of those imperative wails only small creatures were truly capable of, a sound always so much larger than the body it came from. Veld spoke again as he petted the kitten. "Do you see? It is very little, and so we must be careful. Do you want to try?"
All the time the kitten had been investigating them, Sephiroth had been watching it with an intense curiosity that made Veld wonder if he'd even blinked, but then the child looked at him and nodded again.
"Remember…gently, now." Sephiroth reached out a single finger, moving slowly, exactly as he'd seen Veld do. When he touched the soft fur between the kitten's ears, there came a swift, indrawn breath and his smile widened. Then the kitten began to purr and Sephiroths eyes became impossibly wider as he giggled again.
The kitten bumped the child's hand and then a little pink tongue rasped against his finger to taste what it had discovered. The purring abruptly ceased and it wailed again as if reminded of its hunger.
Veld carefully moved his hand beneath the small creature, lifting it and speaking to Sephiroth as he did so. "Let's see what we can find in the kitchen for it." The Turk cupped it against his jacket and Sephiroth twisted around to follow the motion, getting so close that he and the kitten were nose to nose. Almost identical green eyes blinked at one another and Sephiroth again reahed out gently to pet between its ears.
As much as Veld was enjoying the child's fascination, they needed to move before the kitten decided to object. "Can you stand up for me?" the Turk asked. Sephiroth hesitated for a moment but then scrambled from his lap and waited as Veld stood up also. They started for the kitchen just as footsteps thudded upon the landing above, followed by the nasally, imperious tone of Hojo's voice. Sephiroth ducked behind the Turk, keeping his body between himself and the scientist who stared down with a disapproving frown.
"You. Turk. What do you have there?" the scientist demanded.
"Nothing at all," Veld replied calmly, meeting Hojo's eyes squarely. "Only my cat."
"Yours, is it? Are you certain? The insinuating tone grated on Veld's iron control as he felt Sephiroth's small hands clutch convulsively upon the hem of his jacket.
"Yes. Mine. Veld replied, his eyes as cold as his voice. "You will find nothing missing from your lab."
Hojo merely raised an imperious eyebrow and made a show of checking his watch. "Then make certain to keep it away from my sight. I'll not have my specimens contaminated. Speaking of specimens, need I remind you of Sephiroth's schedule? It is his lunchtime."
Veld felt Sephiroth flinch again and swallowed against the overwhelming desire to wipe the odious smirk off the scientist's face. "Of course. We were on our way there when you detained us."
Hojo stated down at the Turk with disdain and without replying, turned his back upon them and returned the way he had come. A moment later, there was the sound of a door slamming closed somewhere above.
When he was certain the scientist was gone, Veld smiled down at Sephiroth, and held out his hand. Sephiroth immediately disengaged his grip from the Turk's jacket and reached up to take it, gripping tightly. In a very gentle tone, Veld asked: "When he has eaten, would you like to learn how to take care of him?"
Sephiroth's smile, tentative at first, returned, and another enthusiastic nod followed. †
"He will need a name. What do you think of calling him Yoshi?" Ah…there was the giggle again. His own mood considerably lightened as they made their way to the kitchen together, Veld smiled down at his small charge and squeezed his hand gently. He held the kitten securely against his chest, trying not to think of the difficulty of removing cat hair from dark material.
Install new locks on my rooms….sturdy screens on the windows. Speak to the housekeeper about bowls and something to use as a litter pan… He would need to make a quick trip into the village. Cat food…certainly there is a place where they sell collars…and toys. And a brush.
Veld was still questioning the sanity of taking on yet another responsibility even as he continued his mental checklist, but a Turk's greatest strength was the ability to adapt.
After all, a little boy's pet was very important.