Author's Note: In my Creative Writing class, we were told to choose a poem or two from our textbook and write something from them—whatever they inspired us to write, we were supposed to write. I chose Nikki Giovanni's Balances, particularly the last six lines of the poem, which read:

and i've begun

(as a reaction to a feeling)

to balance

the pleasure of loneliness

against the pain

of loving you.

It really reminded me of the almost abusive relationship between Cloud and Tifa when they were children—he loved her more than anything, but she refused to even talk to him, so it hurt. I could picture him thinking about how much nicer it was to be alone, with no one else around, than trying to gain her attentions. In any case, I wrote a nice little rope-bridge sequence, all the way through the beating Tifa's father—called Coru in this story, just as he is in Bound—gave Cloud afterward. I compounded on that a little more though, just because I could.

X...X...X

Rope Bridge

"Easy now, I've got you!" he called, holding tightly to the girl's wrist. Her eyes, the color of cinnamon, were wide and glassy with fear, flitting from place to place in search of some method of survival; her savior, the sunshine-haired youth serving as her only hope of survival, was stiff with determination. Adolescent muscles tense, slender arms strained and damp with perspiration, the boy ground his teeth and tried for the third time to pull her up.

How did we come to this? The boy wondered. How did we end up here, so close to dying? One of the main lines of the bridge was broken, had snapped when Tifa ran across it, heedless of the boy's warnings. Nothing Cloud ever said mattered to her—not a single word of his ever penetrated her shell of obvious perfection. It wasn't much of a surprise when she didn't even turn as he called for her to come back, but when the line began to snap there was nothing he could do but rush forward to catch her.

Tifa had wanted to see if her mother had gone over the mountains; no one who went over the mountains ever came back, and her mother had not come back either. The pale-haired, slate blue-eyed boy understood what that meant even if the girl he so selflessly loved did not. If there was one thing Cloud understood that Tifa didn't it was death. Death, for him, was the memory of his father, the slamming of the front door as he stepped out for the last time. Death was the metallic tang of blood in his mouth when the other boys in the village threw him down against the cobbled stones and took turns, one by one, kicking him. Death was the complete and total darkness that settled over him in the deepest moment of night, when he knew—with a certainty he never felt at any other time—that he was alone.

He tugged and groaned but couldn't pull her up; their weights were too evenly matched. He cursed himself for being so small.

Death, for him, was hanging over the side of a broken rope bridge with the girl he loved holding to his hand so tightly he could feel the bones cracking, and knowing he had nothing left to give.

"Just don't let go," he commanded through clenched teeth. "I-I'll figure out something…" He looked about, searching for some way to save her, some way to come to the rescue as he had longed to do for so many years. He had spent too much time watching the way the sunlight glinted off her deep brown hair, how her eyes lit up when she saw a friend coming down the street to meet her, how her laugh sang like bells of light in the darkness of their stagnant little town… He had spent too much time loving her and wishing with all his soul that she loved him back to give up now. If only, he thought, their roles were reversed. He would let go and fall to his death and she would live; she would survive.

Of course, if he had run off to the bridge to mourn a lost loved one Tifa wouldn't have followed; even if she had, when the rope began to snap she would most certainly not have run across the tottering planks to reach him. She would not risk her life for him, as he would for her. He was nothing to her.

But she was everything to him.

The sunshine-haired boy gave one final heave, trying with all his might just to lift her high enough to reach the other rope, give enough of a tug to let her reach out and take hold of the line…

The other rope snapped, and Tifa screamed as they fell. The cry was ragged, as though torn from her throat by the claws of cold air that rush past them as they fell, and was rank with more than enough terror for them both. Where she was horrified, Cloud was mourning his last failed attempt to win her attention. Even then she hadn't looked at him, never once had her cinnamon eyes met his slate; she had been too busy searching for some way to save herself. He didn't mean anything to her, after all. He was, and it seemed would always be, absolutely nothing.

They hit.

The world turned black for what seemed a fraction of a second, but must have been more for when Cloud opened his eyes the sky had deepened from blue to violet. He rolled over, letting out an involuntary groan as his ribs screamed in pain. Slate eyes cast over the grey sand, guided by muddled voices, and he found her at last.

Tifa's father was there, along with her grandfather and most of the other men in the village. They were crowded around her, one checking her abraded wrist for a pulse, the others wearing masks of worry. Worry for her, not for him. They were all alike, all like her; no matter what he did, how hard he tried to prove himself, he was worth less even than the tiniest, most flawed gem pulled from the mountains' mines.

It hurt more than the wounds he had sustained—horribly skinned knees, abraded arms, bruises and at least one black eye, judging from the pounding ache surrounding his left—to know that no one in that crowd was concerned for his safety. His wished his father hadn't left, wished his mother didn't always wear that tattered skirt, anything just so that there would be someone in the crown of concern. Anyone— He broke off when loud words cut into his thoughts.

"Tifa!" her father, a man by the name of Coru, called, shaking her gently. "Tifa, what happened?"

Her cinnamon eyes fluttered open halfway, glazed and obviously unseeing, and her lips worked silently for a long moment before she rasped a single word. "Cloud…" Then her eyes drifted shut once more and she went still. Tifa's grandfather bent down and lifted the girl onto his back as her father turned, shaking, to face the battered youth.

Cloud recoiled slightly at the rage in the man's eyes, but remained silent. The man rose to his full and imposing height and gave a dark command for the group to take Tifa back to the village. "I'll catch up later," he said, deep voice dripping with pent-up rage. Tifa's grandfather gave Cloud a single glance, concern clouding his features for a fraction of a second, then turned away and did as his son-in-law ordered.

The youth watched the men go, pleading silently for one of them to stay, one of them to stand up for him…but they all averted their eyes and left him alone with the father of the girl he loved. Coru took a step forward and Cloud scrambled back with a faint whimper. Another step, another scramble; another and another; another—Cloud let out a short cry when his back slammed up against stone and he realized that he was trapped.

Coru towered over him, large hands clenched into fists at his sides. "Bastard child…" he hissed through clenched teeth. He surged forward and backhanded the youth across the face, sending him to the ground. Cloud coughed as he tasted blood in his mouth and struggled to push himself back up.

Coru wasn't done. "How dare you bring Tifa to such a dangerous place!" He kicked him once, twice, three times, and the boy convulsed upon each blow, whimpering and curling into a ball, trying to become a target too small for Coru to hit. "No wonder your father left your mother! If my kid turned out as selfish—"

No, she came her on her own… Coru kicked again.

"—as stupid—"

I tried to save her… The man grabbed him by his hair and lifted him up.

"—and as weak as you—"

I didn't do anything wrong…! He threw Cloud to the ground and kicked again.

"—I'd leave too!"

Cloud coughed out a short spurt of words through a bloody cough, and Coru stopped his beating for a moment to listen. "What did you say?"

"N-Not my—" Cloud choked. "Not my fault!"

Coru ground his teeth, bent down and dug his fingers into the youth's arm. He lifted him to his feet, then off the ground, taking hold of his other arm and pulling him upward until they were eye to eye. "Not your fault? Not your fault! You brought her here! You probably cut the ropes of the bridge yourself!" Cloud wondered detachedly when Coru's definition of him had changed from stupid to homicidal. "You should have just kept your filthy hands off my daughter, you little freak!"

So that was it, that was what Coru's rage came down to. Like the other children, like Tifa herself, Cloud was simply too different to live with. How different the boy didn't know—perhaps it was his hair, such a bright shade of gold, or perhaps it was the way he spoke, so certain and adult—but the fact remained that he was different, and he would never be treated like a normal child.

Coru threw him back to the ground. "I wouldn't come back to the village if I were you. Just stay out here until you die."

"Tifa," the boy coughed, using one battered arm to push himself up. "Is she…Tifa…" Tears of sorrow overcame the tears of pain in his eyes.

Coru didn't answer for a long moment. "She's alive," he said stiffly. Cloud let out a sigh of relief and fell back to the ground, closing his eyes. As he drifted off—or passed out?—he heard Coru's heavy footsteps fade into the distance. He knew that he couldn't stay here, but at least he could rest until he was sure everyone would be inside their own homes before he headed back. It would be better if he didn't sneak back into his house until after dark, and there was no way he would be able to move at all—much less in silence—without a little rest.

He closed his slate blue eyes, not knowing how dull they had become, and thought that it was much nicer to be alone like this, with no one to taunt or tease him, no one to hurt him, than to try socializing with the other children. It would be easier to be alone than to keep loving Tifa, who paid him no heed and inadvertently got him beaten more times than he could count.

Sleep overtook him, and his thoughts faded into the void.

X...X...X

Another Author's Note: This scene is going to be used in Raveled, but it's going to be a little different because Raveled is an AU fic and this little one-shot isn't. I hope everyone who read it enjoyed it—there really wasn't much of a point, but my instructor read it out loud to the class the other night, so I guess I did something right.

Oh, in case anyone interested in my other fics is reading this…

To anyone waiting for Glimmer's next chapter: Halfway completed at this point, just about to have Yuffie and Vin meet up again. Should be up next week.

To anyone waiting for Raveled's next chapter: also about halfway done. Coming slower than usual. Should be up week after next.

To anyone waiting for Bound's next chapter: Almost finished. Touched up Chapter 23 and reposted it, (it's much better now.) so if you want to see the REAL preview check it out. Chapter 24 should be up next week.