Warnings: If you are offended by and/or would prefer not to read potential violence, foul language, and sexual situations, it would be wise to turn back now. Such material will only be used as found accordingly to the story.
Disclaimer: Characters are taken from FFVII. Setting and plot are original.
Other: This fan fiction will contain shounen-ai and probable shoujo-ai. It is completely AU, 'AU' standing for 'Alternate Universe,' meaning that this does not take place in the world of FFVII, and all that made up the setting, world, and timeline to the game have been completely altered to create a reality as I see fit for this particular story to take place. If such specifics do not cater to your preferences, please turn back and find a story which does so.
He had been wrong. It wasn't pitch black out.
Of all the days in the life of the small town, this one didn't stand out in any particular manner. In fact, it was the sort of day that gave a particularly hazy overlook on everything; the kind that made one want to slip away into hibernation for a good while. It was a cloudy, humid, and generally miserable sort of day that gave the impression that it wasn't drizzling out only because the clouds didn't feel like putting in the effort to do so.
But, though one wouldn't know it from the start of this particular morning in this particular little town, surrounded by forest and generally secluded from the rest of the world, this day would be the day that the pages began turning, pages of a story still being written.
And it was right about now, on this particular morning, where most were still sleeping or just beginning that faze in the morning where one is still preparing to prepare for the day, that a 15 year old Cloud found himself running down the stairs and out the door, through the back gate and into the hen house, where the various chickens had already begun their squawking, and proceeded to puff up their breast feathers in an offended yet dignified manner upon seeing him approach.
The blonde let out a sigh, and found himself muttering an apology to the offended chickens, and then pausing to roll his eyes at himself for doing so. These particular ladies, you see, enjoyed their breakfast rather early in the morning, and had a tendancy to get rather testy when made to wait. He was always up earlier than the rest in the small town, spending the early, quiet hours he had to himself reading on magic and other elements that made the world go round. Compared to the others in the village, and many in general, he was very knowledgeable on the subject, having absorbed every book he managed to get his hands on. True, that still didn't make too many, but he had read them so thoroughly he might as well have written the books himself.
After completing the task of seeing they had their breakfast, he dusted of his hands and headed off back into the house. He hurried back up the stairs, having only barely tossed on his attire before heading out to take care of the chickens, and entered the small bathroom area, where he paused to frown at the mirror before washing his face. He had always been a slim boy, and likely always would be. He was also missing a few inches in stature; just enough to make him a target for other boys' foolery. His shock of blonde hair fell only lightly over his eyes, which were of a bright blue shade and set off his delicate features rather nicely. His current attire would be best described as a well-worn gray-green shirt, which was made to be loose fitting and had sleeves which hung about his arms. He had pants of the same loose material, which were hand stitched tighter at the waist to hold them up properly. There was a thick band of a very pale grey shade around the bottom edge of each pant and arm leg, and around the shirt's collar as well, so that the outfit's appearance wasn't left quite as bland as it could have been.
In all honesty, his appearance was a rather touchy subject. He had a beautiful face, and while that wasn't something one would normally consider a bad thing, Cloud wasn't very outgoing (to say the very least), and certainly didn't have a very keen social life. His feminine looks got him into a hell of a lot of trouble with those his age, considering they weren't something he could consciously change.
He headed back down the stairs, taking his time this time around, a voice catching his ear as he reached the bottom of the staircase.
"Good morning, Cloud. Come and grab some breakfast, won't you, dear?"
Cloud gave a light smile, though despite the efforts behind it, he still looked inwardly sad, like the sort of smile one receives when they're being given a false reassurance.
His mother, who shared his same shock of blonde hair, smiled warmly in return. She always seemed to be well aware of everything, and was very at ease at taking things as they came. He loved her very much; she did a fine job of raising her son and keeping the house on her own, even with Cloud always doing everything he could to assist, and she always gave an aura of comfort. Her smile was the loveliest he had ever seen, probably because it was the most earnest and heartfelt one. There was never a frown on his mother's features, and sometimes, he was just amazed at how easily she could take things in stride, and answer the questions of life with a simple answer that made one pause because it would always be the sort of response that really couldn't be argued.
However, she near never went out, and Cloud always felt as though his mother and himself, along with their little home, were always separate from the rest of the town, somehow. His mother had never mentioned much about his father, not that he could remember, at any rate, but he had never really found it fit to ask, despite it being rather puzzling to him. After all, his mother always wise at telling him everything he needed to know; if she ever kept something, there was undoubted reason behind it for the best.
It wasn't until later that evening that events outside the norm began to take place, after Cloud had suffered through another day of ridicule by those his age. They all seemed to feel that he made for the perfect scapegoat for venting out their frustrations. Despite it, however, or perhaps because of it, they all seemed rather keen to hang around him as often as they could. One girl in the town, one who had blossomed particularly well appearance-wise and who carried a confident aura about her, was Tifa Lockheart. Tifa was one in the group who wouldn't always pick on him, per say, but rather ignore him completely, aside from laughing at the other's antics and giving him snide looks of superiority when their eyes met. Today, however, she had been acting a bit different, and it hadn't seemed as though anyone else had noticed.
Cloud leaned back in the grass of one of the few open areas in the surrounding woods, not far from the town's edges, staring up at the stars as he considered this. She had seemed abnormally withdrawn, and kept acting almost as though she were trying to catch his eye. However, when the others had finally retreated to their own activities, she had as well, never saying a word. Her dazzling eyes had seemed to be filled with a foreboding worry, and lip biting had apparently become her new habit. He had mixed feelings towards the girl; one was a sense of fear somewhat, because she seemed to hold so much power because of her high standard among the others, and though she often acted the nicest out of the group, she would also often ignore him or give him a look when he was near that he wasn't wanted, and that she was just too polite to say anything.
However, he also admired her for the fact that she was able to handle herself and everything around her so well. Or perhaps for the fact that she managed to be on top of the social ladder, something Cloud could never come near accomplishing and was somewhat awed by.
He closed his eyes, shutting the darkening twilight sky from his view, and collected himself. He couldn't let himself be absorbed in the thoughts of the other's ridicule; he had to ignore it, and just live with it, and not being able to do so was not an option, because he was going to allow himself to be that weak-willed. Or so he kept telling himself, but honestly ...it really stung, and there was just no way to avoid the biting sensation that came from it. Though he tried making himself more neutral on the outside, seeming more cold and distrusting sometimes as an effect of the bitterness he felt, on the inside he was still just as sensitive as he had ever been.
It was just then that the sound of footsteps in the grass behind him reached his ears, and his eyes quickly blinked open as he sat up and turned in the same motion to see who was approaching. There was Tifa, in her black skirt and deep purple top, eyes cast somewhat downward. She came over next to him, and sat down, wrapping her arms around her knees, silently... and didn't say a word, looking ahead as though it was perfectly normal for her to do such. Cloud wasn't quite sure what to make of it, and, somewhat bewildered, opened his mouth to say something, before closing it, waiting for her to speak, as his eyes trailed to grass at his feet.
Tifa paused, voice clear and confident, but strangely thoughtful in comparison to her normal attitude. "…I know that… we're not exactly 'close' or anything but…well, you were always a better listener then anyone else around here…"
"...I..." Cloud paused, not sure how to respond. It seemed he had been right about Tifa not being herself; there was obviously something out of the norm occupying her mind, but the fact that she had seeked him out to confide in was baffling to him. Not that he would turn her away, of course. He was all ears, even if still thrown a little off course.
"I'm um…I'm worried, I guess..."
"…About what?" Cloud encouraged her a bit as she seemed to wait, as though she wanted some precedence to proceed.
"I'm not sure. I don't know if you've noticed, but my dad has been acting strange lately…" She looked up, seeming to think on how to word herself, "...I mean...at first I just ignored it, figuring it was just him being weird, but today he seemed almost scared. I think he's in trouble or something, and I don't know what to do about it." She paused, and looked at him for a moment, before looking down towards her shoes and continuing, seeing he was listening. "I just...I think...something's gonna happen. If something is, I think it's gonna happen soon... perhaps... perhaps tonight even... especially tonight, even. I couldn't stand not telling anyone, and you're the only one who wouldn't go and spread it around, because... well, maybe I am being silly, and it's really nothing... but..." She bit her lip, trailing off.
Now she was getting Cloud worried as well; you must understand, you see, that her dad had never always stuck to the cleanest of affairs, something not talked about but somehow known throughout the small town, and the idea that he had dug himself rather deep this time wasn't unfathomable. He wrapped his own arms around his legs, looking towards his feet, mimicking Tifa's position. "...Does it really seem that bad?"
"…'fraid so..." She flopped backwards, looking up at the stars as Cloud had been when she had first arrived, and folded her hands over her stomach.
They both sat there for a moment, rather quiet, considering not just the situation Tifa was potentially in, or at least that her father was potentially in, but the fact that they were sitting alone in a rather lovely setting. When worried, simple things like the beauty around you still manage to catch your attention, and to some extent, it only seemed proper to revel in the time they had to do nothing but consider the view above them, the sky's shade growing deeper as the last traces of the sun's light vanished from the sky, twilight's lighter shades giving way to the blanket of darkness that brought the night, wishing worries would melt away as the day did.
"...Cloud..." Tifa was the first to break the silence with the voicing of simple musings, "…I wish you were… a warrior."
"I wish you could fight. Real good. Just like...Sephiroth or something. Because nothing could get in your way, and there'd be no worries, right? I know you'd fight for me." There was an amused tone to her voice, at the thought of it.
Cloud was surprised once again, a slight blush crossing his features. Sephiroth was quite the legend; the warrior who could diminish anyone in his way without any effort at all. Him and his right hand, Zacks. The both of them had been in countless tournaments, and floored the competition. Zacks hadn't been great to start off with, from what he'd heard. He had, however, seemed to have a natural hand at everything, and improved at such an amazing rate that he was soon a legend himself. Sephiroth however ...he had never lost. Ever. No one was quite sure where he came from, or what experience he had had before he became a real fighter. "Heh...well...sorry I'm not exactly up to par..."
A surprisingly comfortable silence had fallen over them at that, and a sense of warmth now filled the small clearing. Sometimes two people, who would normally never be around each other, two opposite sides of the spectrum, when put together to confront a certain wall, could create an amazing sense of comfort that all was right in the world, for a short period of time. For the fact that they both sat there, musing, sharing a moment, showed that right then, and right there, nothing else in the world mattered except for the chirp of the crickets, the pinpoints of light occasionally appearing beneath the clouds covering the star studded sky, and the warm presence of another at your side, reveling in the same appreciation of what was around you.
Cloud was feeling surprisingly comforted by how simple life had temporarily become as they both were near the point of feeling as though they could stay there forever, or at least, until they were woken up the next morning, when suddenly the sound of commotion from the village wafted through the air, the creaks of wagons, and the shouting of men's voices, one particular voice ringing familiarly clear, as the two sat up straight and stared at one another, both hearts skipping a beat as Tifa uttered in a hushed, yet frantic tone, "Father-!"
...They were both on their feet, darting through the section of woods separating them from the town, Cloud trailing just behind Tifa, a sickening sensation forming in the pit of his stomach as he hoped to anything and everything, that the worst wouldn't come to pass, that everything was fine... his mother's face came to mind, as his thoughts sought reassurance... everything would be fine, it had to be...
Though, as his breathing quickened, and the sensation inside him worsened, no matter how he tried to reassure himself, his gut instinct wasn't buying it, and both of them had at this point broken into an even more frantic run.
Cloud and Tifa entered the town's clearing at the same time, both running out of breath. The lack of light coming from the homes within sight signaled to him that most of the occupants had retired for the night, and all was dark, save for the light of torch bearers from a band of wagons that had pulled in... and that were currently around Tifa's house.
Cloud looked over and saw her face pale, and though she held a strong stance, her curled fist was shaking by her side. Her dad was currently outside, and the men's tones had fallen more hushed than they had been previously, but the situation was looking bad. Seeing Tifa make a move to go forward, Cloud reached a hand out to her shoulder, "Don't-!"
She paused, then roughly swatted his hand away. "He's in trouble, Cloud!" Tifa hissed the words hurriedly.
"You'll put yourself in danger if you go over there! You don't know what those people might do!"
"..." She seemed to consider, biting her lip as she watched. But then, the one speaking to her father raised the torch in a threatening manner, and the voices began to raise again. "Cloud, I didn't tell you everything earlier- he's made some sort of deal with Corneo's Traders lately-"
"He what?" He couldn't believe it- he knew that Tifa's father dealt with some small time not-so-legal groups of men, but this was the big leagues. These were people you did not mess with- if you owed them something, they got it. If they wanted you dead, you were dead. Anyone with a sane mind would avoid getting involved with them at all costs...
Of course, he saw the tears beginning to fill Tifa's eyes, and found himself left without a voice as he realized she was quite sure of this.
"I...I got suspicious of all the letters he had begun sending and...I read one that he had told me to send. I always take the mail out, and I guess he knew it would be suspicious to Ma if he treated those letters any different so I...I read it, and..." She trailed off at that, deciding any further detail of the letters contents were unnecessary, just the explanation to how she knew what she was talking about. The blurred voices rose again, and Tifa threw a last, frightened look at Cloud, before darting forward once again before he could try and stop her. And so, he did the only thing he could: he promptly ran after her, mind racing, questioning his own idiocy in getting involved and praying things wouldn't go as bad as they were probable to.
Tifa got close enough just in time to see her father backhanded over the head by another man from behind, and she swiftly ran to his aid, "Papa! Leave him alone! Please!"
Cloud paused in his chase, and darted to sidle along the edge of one of the nearby wagons, trying to formulate some sort of a plan- perhaps if they would of run to fetch someone before, but-but now there wasn't time, with Tifa faced with immediate danger. His heart was racing, his throat was strained- and he was just close enough to hear what the man who had been talking to her father, and who seemed to be the leader, was saying...
"Well, well now, aren't you a precious little thing..." His tone had changed to a mocking one, but also with an edge of delight, as though he had stumbled across quite a discovery. Cloud peeked around the edge of the wagon to get a look at what was going on.
The man had now kneeled lower to be at eye level with Tifa, and had placed a hand at her chin. "Didn't know yer old man had a nice little catch here... since he can't pay up, you'll do instead..." Tifa let out a muffled scream as another man grabbed and attempted to drag her towards the wagons, despite her struggles. Cloud jumped in instinctively- he lunged at the man, knocking into him with as much force behind his shoulder as he could muster. ...Which, given, wasn't all that much, but with the adrenaline of the situation coursing through him, and the man's current preoccupation with the struggling young woman, it was enough to knock him off and away from Tifa.
The moment he did so, however, another man was on her and he felt two arms grab his own, forcing them behind his back in a twisting manner. Cloud bit his lip to hold back a yelp as his attacker did so; the man was strong enough to hold both his arms bound with only one of his own, and his free hand came up to wrap a hand around his neck.
The leader of the bunch now turned his attention on the interruption, Tifa screeching and cursing as she was dragged towards one of the wagons, "Well, wot's 'is? Trying to play the hero?"
As soon as the man focused his full sight on the boy, however, his eyebrows piqued with interest, and he leaned forward to get a better look at Cloud, pulling his torch closer for assistance in the dark. Cloud pulled back at this, then closed an eye shut in a wince as the man behind him tightened his grip. He shouted for Tifa, and continued to jerk himself from side to side in attempt to break loose of the grip, despite that he was failing miserably and causing himself more pain. " 'nother little spitfire, aren't you? Awful pretty face, there. What d'ya know, throw this one in too, boys!" The man bellowed the command just as a certain cry sounded from the direction Tifa had been dragged towards, and a blur of brunette came barreling into Cloud and the man holding him. Before he had time to think, Tifa was already grabbing his arm and dragging him into a frenzied run as they scrambled towards the shelter of the surrounding trees, shouting shrilly: "RUN!"
Indeed, as they darted into the woods, Cloud saw that Tifa had apparently gotten a good kick at the man in a rather inappropriate area.
They ran through the forests, unable to see a thing, now that it grown darker. It was pitch black out; he couldn't see a foot in front of himself, and was still unsure as to how he was managing not to run into any trees. Panic rose within him, chest tightening, as he heard the shouts and creaks of wood behind them- the men were obviously following after.
The duo wove between the trees, stumbling over foliage but thankfully not falling, hissing out what was left of their breath and hoping the other was close. He ran for what felt like an eternity, heart pounding, demanding more of his legs as he prayed to everything good in the world they were fast enough. The men would be catching up; they had to avoid coming near the paths through the woods which the carts had originally come through, but how could they avoid them if they couldn't see them? The pinpricks caused by their torches were no longer behind; he could see them to the side and he believed to the front, as well; but then again, he couldn't be all to sure which direction had originally been 'behind', either.
Where could he turn? How could he escape past them? Perhaps if he and Tifa found a tree with low enough boughs, they could climb up and hide undetected... "Tifa? Tifa, where are you?" He hissed out, voice shaking, hoping she heard him, though he was unsure whether she was close by or even if she was, if he had been loud enough. He stopped his running, chest and throat on fire, and glanced at the trees around him. They all seemed far too tall to climb, even if they were to get on each others shoulders... but there had to be one somewhere... It was then that he heard a gentle rustling that must have been her. He carefully approached, trying to keep his mind calm and find his voice again, wishing his eyes would adjust to the dark, "...Tifa?"
"...Cloud! Thank goodness, what can we do?! We have to hide!"
He let out a sigh of relief, and whispered, "I know, look around for a-" He was quickly cut off, letting out a surprised yelp and heard Tifa give a corresponding screech as two men that had apparently snuck up from behind and grabbed them both rather firmly, kicking seemingly only in vain.
"We gots 'em, sir! We gots 'em! Oi! Hey! Over here! Over here, We gots 'em!"
He had been wrong. It wasn't pitch black out.
Now it was pitch black, inside the wagon. He could see thin strips of light from cracks in the wooden sides and floor, that proved that there must have been some light outside after all; his eyes just hadn't had enough time to adjust properly. Both he and Tifa had been thrown into an empty wagon at the back of the train, and both leaned against opposite walls. Tifa had taken to the pulling her knees up and wrapping her arms around them, and was currently looking pitiably distressed. Cloud was unsure what to do now- what could they do? He felt stuck and helpless. Until they got another opportunity for escape, all he could was sit an anxiously wait... if they ever got one, that is. His heart was beating like a rabbit; he didn't think he had ever felt so frightened and unsure before.
"...Are we gonna be ok?"
"...We'll be ok, Tifa. ...Of course we will..." He attempted to reassure her, and perhaps himself. For the second time that evening the sickening sensation in the pit of his stomach wasn't eased in the slightest, only this time it was far worse.
star·gaz·er (stärgzr) n. 2. A daydreamer.