What It Should Have Been…
Written by: GQ and Zhak
Warnings: Slightly AU, if your mind is closed on certain possibilities, and OOC. (smirk)
Note of Zhak: I love the concept of this fic. If you think that Cloud and Tifa in one story means instant romance, well think again, buddy. MUAHAHAHAHAHAAHAHAHAHAH! (and Zhak chokes on a pretzel).
Disclaimer: We're not Tifa haters and Cloud haters. But we are Cloti haters… at least the closed-minded ones and the unreasonably war-freak ones; not necessarily all Clotis, we hope. And Final Fantasy 7 belongs to Square. This is just a fic. Suing us for violation of copyright laws and libel will just be a waste of time and money in your part.
Chapter 1: The Childhood of Cloud and Tifa
Cloud Strife, 6 years old. Little blonde-haired, blue-eyed boy. Lives in Nibelheim with mother. No father. No siblings. And not much friends. In other words, quite the lonely boy, this Cloud Strife.
He sighed as he stared outside his bedroom window. There were a bunch of kids running around and playing tag.
"Tag! You're it!" said Ugly Boy #1 as he victoriously wiped a little girl's arm with one snotty hand.
"Hah hah, Teefa is a slow-poke!" said Ugly Boy #2.
The girl in blue, aka Cute-little-girl-next-door, called 'Teefa,' huffed. "You--you cheated!" she whined, her face turning red. She rubbed the spot that Ugly Boy #1 touched on her arm with disgust.
"Nope! Ya gotta chase us or else you'll be 'it' foreveeeer!" said Ugly Boy #3. And so 'Teefa' took a deep breath before running after the Ugly Boys.
Cloud watched all of these with a depressed air. "Wish I could play Tag wit' Teefa," he mumbled.
"Why don't you go down and play with them then, Cloud?"
The little boy turned around swiftly and saw that his Mother had somehow sneaked up on him. He looked up earnestly at her. "Cuz Teefa is pretty."
"So what if Tifa is pretty? I thought you played with her before," asked Mrs. Strife.
Cloud pouted. "I'm not pretty. I don't got long black hair… and those other kids don't like me very much cuz I got weird yellow hair, I gots a 'Midgarian' accent while they gots Nubl—nibble—nnibleheiman accents, an' cuz I'm so short. I'm not s'poseta play wit' em. They might get mad," he explained, hugging his skinned knees.
Mrs. Strife sighed as she patted Cloud's back. "Well… you aren't going to make many friends that way, Cloud. Try not to be so negative and try playing with them one more time," she said reassuringly, eyeing her son with a positive glint in her eye.
Cloud shook his head. "Nuh-uh. They won't like me… The guys might try to bite me…" he replied glumly.
"Yes they will!" Mrs. Strife got his arm and dragged him upward to make him stand up, then lifted him off the bed and on the floor. "And don't look so scared! Tell you what…" she smoothed the creased sleeve of his T-shirt, "I'll come with you outside and introduce you to them!"
The little boy looked up to her mother in surprise. "Really?"
"Yes," Mrs. Strife smiled. "Just so you won't be so scared."
Hmm. If Mommy's there, then those guys and Teefa won't beat me up! He thought a bit brightly before smiling up at her mother. "Okay, mommy!" he said as he nodded.
"That's my Cloudy! Let's go!" she said, taking her son's hand in hers and walking downstairs and out the house to meet Cloud's new playmates.
The three ugly boys and Tifa blinked up at their new neighbor, Mrs. Strife, and that weird kid from Midgar… what was his name again? Goudy? Rowdy? Randy? Larry? Curly Joe? Moe? Or Buffy…?
"Children? I'd like you to meet my son, Cloud. Say hello, Cloud!" she said, turning to her son, whose eyes were as wide as saucers.
"Hey," greeted Cloud weakly.
"H'lo/ Heya… / Yo/ Hi!" replied the kids, giving Cloud weak smiles.
"You know, Cloud's been watching you guys play, and he wants to join you," said the mother.
The kids fell silent.
After a few seconds of awkward silence, Tifa spoke up brightly. "Oh, okay, he can come play wit' us!"
The three boys turned to Tifa with shocked looks on their faces. Cloud blinked in surprise. "… really?"
"Oh! How wonderful!" Mrs. Strife clapped both hands together. "So, Cloud, I'll just go back home to prepare dinner… you kids play nice, all right?"
"Yes, Ma'am!" said the kids cheerfully before Mrs. Strife waved them good-bye.
As soon as she was out of sight, the boys glared at Tifa. "Teefa! Why'd you invite this Midgar bloke to play wit' us?" they demanded.
Tifa raised her nose at them quite haughtily. "Cuz you guys were boring me!" she said. "And besides, Clod here looks like an interesting person, right?" she said, turning to Cloud.
Cloud blushed. "M—my name's Cloud," he corrected nervously.
"Eh… whatever," said Tifa, pushing him off. "Well, we were playing tag earlier before you came along, so according to the rules… you're IT!" she said triumphantly, pointing a finger at his nose.
The other boys "ooh"-ed as Cloud looked at Tifa in a dumbfounded manner. "I get it now! You only let him play cuz you didn't want to be It anymore, eh, Teefa?" asked Ugly Boy #2.
"What made you think that?" asked Tifa innocently. "Anyways, Clod—"
"Don't intrupt me, Clod! Anyways, since you're a new player and you're It… you gotta walk a bit farther from us before you can start chasin' us!" explained Tifa with a naughty smile on her face.
"A-are those part of the rules?" asked Cloud sheepishly.
"Yep!" replied Tifa, as one of the ugly boys mumbled, "Yeah, right," and snickered.
The blonde, spiky-haired boy blinked nervously and took 5 big steps backwards. "Is this far enough?"
The kids shook their heads. "A little more," said Tifa, waving one hand away as if to shoo Cloud away. And so he took 3 extra steps backwards. "Is this okay?"
"Nope, a li'l more."
"How 'bout now?"
"Nope, a li'l more."
This went on for a while. Pretty soon, the kids were just 4 little dots in Cloud's vision. "HOW ABOUT NOW?" he yelled.
No answer. But he did hear a lot of giggles and clomping feet.
"I guess the game's startin'…" thought Cloud as he took a deep breath and started running as fast as he could…
"Hey, Teefa! Clod's pretty fast!" yelled one of the ugly boys as little Cloud instantly appeared out of nowhere and already hot on their heels.
"Just—keep—running!" yelled Tifa as she turned to a corner and disappeared.
Cloud just silently ran after the three boys; he didn't want Teefa to be It, because apparently Teefa didn't like being It, and if Teefa became It because of Cloud, well… she probably wouldn't like him anymore. "YAAAH!" yelled the Three Ugly Boys as they realized that Cloud was only a few metres away from them… and he was gaining… gaining…
"Head for my house, chaps!" yelled Ugly Boy #1. The three of them turned to one of the nearer houses. Just before Cloud could touch the end of one of the boys' shirt, Ugly Boy#1 managed to open the door, and the three of them rushed inside and slammed the door, locking Cloud out in the process.
He didn't brake in time and ended up colliding with the door and falling on the ground. The three boys laughed victoriously. Cloud looked up at the door in confusion and scratched his head. "Hey, guys, is this allowed?" he asked.
"Eh…? Oh, sure it is! Any stupid person knows that you can hide in Tag!" answered one of them.
"B-but… I thought that was Hide-and-Seek!"
"Well, you thought wrong, Clod m'lad," replied another.
"And if you don't tag anybody else, you'll be It foreveeeer!" More giggling ensued.
Cloud sniffed. "Awright," he said defeatedly, turning around and jogging quite a distance away. I guess I gots no choice but to look for Teefa and…
"TEEFA! TEEFA! RUN BEFORE CLOD GETS YOO!"
Cloud, wide-eyed, turned back. It turns out that Tifa was hiding in one of the nearby bushes near the house, and was now running as fast as she could towards the door…
Cloud, sweating and panting, bolted towards Tifa. Tifa screeched when she saw Cloud and fumbled with the doorknob, trying desperately to open the door…
Too bad Tifa's kind of slow. When she finally opened it, though, Cloud had already reached her and brushed a hand against her bare shoulder. "T… TAG!" yelled the spiky-haired boy victoriously.
Everybody froze. The Ugly Boys gaped at Cloud in disbelief. Cloud looked worriedly at his playmates at the sudden silence…
And Tifa bit her lower lip and sniffed as tears welled up in her eyes.
Before anybody knew it, Tifa started bawling. "WAAAAAAAAH!"
"Oh no…!" The Ugly Boys huddled around Tifa and attempted to comfort her. Cloud's jaw dropped in disbelief. "Now look what you did, Clod!" yelled Ugly Boy #1. "You made Teefa cry!"
"B-but… I only—"
"AAAH! I never wanna play with you again, Clod!" she cried, bolting in the house and sobbing along the way.
The Ugly Boys shook their heads in unison. "Forget it, Clod. She doesn't like you anymore. I guess ya gotta go home," said Ugly Boy #3 solemnly.
Cloud's lower lip quivered. The Ugly Boys went in the house and closed the door behind them. After a few minutes of standing there in disbelief, he sighed and decided to go home…
But suddenly, somebody yelled, "Clod, come back!"
He turned around and saw Tifa and the Ugly Boys running towards him. "T… Teefa?" he asked curiously.
She panted when she reached him. "Where are you going?" she asked.
"…home?" he answered uneasily.
"Don't be silly! We aren't done playing yet!" Tifa said, suddenly cheerful. What happened to the crying?
But Cloud forgot about the tears as easily as the four other kids did. "R… really?"
"O' course, chap," said Ugly Boy #2, patting his shoulder. "If there's one thing you know about Teefa, is that she's a big crybaby," he added.
"Gee…" Cloud said, confused but kind of glad at the same time.
"Well? What are you chaps standing around like doofuses there? Let's go to the sandbox and build sand stuff!" Ugly Boy #3 said cheerfully, running to the backyard.
Ugly Boy #1 and #2 ran after him, leaving Tifa and Cloud behind. He took a deep breath and turned to Tifa. "I'm sorry for makin' you cry earlier, Teefa…" he said sheepishly.
"Oh, it's okay, Clod! No hard feelings!" Tifa said cheerfully. "Now c'mon, let's go play!"
Cloud wasn't sure what happened, but he ended up buried in the sand, with only his head poking from the ground while Tifa and the Ugly Boys were eating pizzas right in front of him.
"H-hey, you guys! Let me out of here!" cried Cloud in desperation.
"Not until we finish the pizza!"
It sure is tough being different.
That evening, while having dinner, Mister Lockheart and Tifa heard someone knocking on the front door of their house. "Who could that be?" he mumbled as he got up from his seat and went to the door to open it. He was surprised to see Mrs. Strife. "Oh. Good evening." He greeted dully. Of course he knows who Mrs. Strife is; she's the mother of that bastard kid Cloud Strife who made his daughter cry… at least that's what Tifa had told him when she arrived home that afternoon crying.
Mrs. Strife looked cross. "I would like to have a word with you about your daughter, Mister Lockheart." She said sternly with her arms crossed.
"What is it?" he asked.
"It was 6 in the evening already moments ago and my son still hasn't come home. And so as a good mother, it's instinctive of me to go around and look for him. Guess where I found him?" she sneered.
Mister Lockheart was just quiet.
"My son was buried in the sandbox! He said he's been there ever since this early afternoon!" she shouted impatiently.
Tifa bit her lower lip to stop herself from laughing and she bowed down her head so that her long hair covered her face from the vision of Mrs. Strife.
Mister Lockheart was still quiet so Mrs. Strife just continued with an exasperated look on her face. "He said that your daughter and her little friends told him that if he gets up from the sandbox by himself, they're gonna throw him inside the well!" she snapped.
"That is the most unbelievable story I have ever heard of!" Mister Lockheart told her with a deep frown on his face.
"Are you telling me that my son is a liar!" she snapped.
"My sweet darling little Tifa wouldn't say such mean things to your son! Why, she's the nicest girl in town!" replied Mr. Lockheart, his voice getting louder unintentionally.
"Dear? What's going on out there?" a soft voice asked from behind Mr. Lockheart.
Mr. Lockheart blinked and turned around, revealing a small, brown-haired woman. He looked worriedly at her. "You shouldn't have gotten up, dear," he told her in a gentle reprimanding tone.
Mrs. Strife felt rather awkward as a sickly-looking Mrs. Lockheart looked at her in curiosity. "Oh, but I overheard your conversation—is it true that our Tifa is causing trouble?" she asked softly.
From the dinner table, Tifa bit her lower lip again and sunk in her chair.
"Well—…" Mrs. Strife began, but Mr. Lockheart cut her off, "It's just a misunderstanding, dear… now, get back inside before you catch a cold…" he said, leading her back in the house. Mrs. Strife closed her mouth and frowned again. "Mr. Lockheart—…" she called out.
"We shall discuss this tomorrow, Mrs. Strife. Good night," he said with a forced polite tone, but a hint of annoyance is evident in his voice. And with that, he closed the door.
Mrs. Strife frowned. "Well, I never…!" she said, scowling. She turned around and made her way back to her own home. But once she got to her doorway, she can't help but sigh. "I wonder if this town is good for Cloud…" she thought to herself before opening the door and entered with a sad smile on her face.
Cloud was seated on the stairs and staring curiously at his mother. "Mommy," he began.
Mrs. Strife blinked as she turned to him. "Oh. Hello Cloud. Did you clean yourself up already?" she asked.
Cloud nodded. "I took a bath." He told her.
"Good. Let's have dinner." She told him as she led the way to the kitchen. Cloud just nodded his head but kept his gaze on the floor as he followed his mother to the kitchen. Cloud sat down on his chair while waiting for his mother to finish preparing their dinner. Life sure was hard ever since they moved to Nibelheim, compared to their former life in Midgar. But Mrs. Strife felt that city life is unhealthy for a growing boy like Cloud, so she just decided to move. Besides, she had to run away from something in the city…
"What do you plan to do tomorrow, Cloud?" she asked as she placed a small bowl of porridge in front of her son.
Cloud glumly took his spoon and started stirring his hot porridge mindlessly. "Nothing really, Mommy," he answered as he took a spoonful of porridge and placed it in his mouth. He felt the food burn his tongue like acid, but he didn't feel like reacting to the pain anymore…
Mrs. Strife blinked curiously and stared down at her own bowl. "Cloud, isn't the porridge too hot for you? You could burn your tongue…" she said worriedly, then added, "Tell you what, let's let it cool off first while I make some hard-boiled eggs to go with our porridge—"
"It's okay, Mom," replied Cloud as he swallowed another hot portion of his food. He felt his taste buds practically screaming in pain, but he didn't care. Just keep eating Cloud. Don't care if it's hot. At least you won't have to talk.
Mrs. Strife sighed and ate her food silently.
5 Weeks Later…
Cloud snorted as Mrs. Strife fixed his black tie. "Hold still, Cloud!"
"I'm choking," the boy replied irritably, fidgeting restlessly. Finally, Mrs Strife finished knotting his neck tie and stood up straight, rubbing the creases on his black blazer as she did so. "There! All we have to do is to fix your hair before we visit the Lockhearts," she said as she turned to the bathroom to get a comb.
The Strifes were fixing themselves up to visit the funeral of Mrs. Lockheart, who just passed away a couple of days before. Even though the widower was against inviting the two of them, he still did for the sake of manners. Besides, Mrs. Lockheart was the only person in town who ever treated the Strifes politely…
Cloud eyed his mother curiously as she walked past him. "Mommy…" he paused and hesitated before continuing, "What are funerals for?"
Mrs. Strife paused from looking for a comb and pondered on her answer. "Well… they're for the dead. It's a way of making the dead know that they were loved and that they will be missed..."
Cloud blinked. "How will the dead know? They're dead."
"Mmm… not exactly," she answered, finally finding a comb and walking towards Cloud. "When people die, their souls go to the Lifestream."
"What's the Lifestream?" the boy asked as he let his mother fuss with his spikes.
"It's a place with the Planet. Normal people can't exactly see it…"
"Why not? Is it like Heaven?"
Cloud fell silent and just listened to the sounds of the comb running through his sticky blonde hair. When people die, their souls go to the Lifestream… so that means… Well, nobody on the Planet exactly liked him, except for his mother. Maybe if…
"There! All done," said Mrs. Strife, patting her son. She stood up and walked towards a full-length mirror and made finishing touches on herself. "Ready to go, Cloud? We don't want to be late."
He nodded and walked towards his mother. She took his hand and they started walking out of the room. As they walked down the stairs, Cloud spoke up again. "Mommy, when I grow up, I want to go to the Lifestream."
"To meet someone who will like me for a change," he replied. His mother looked at him curiously, but he didn't elaborate anymore.
"Dump him in the sandbox!" was the last sound Cloud heard from one of the boy bullies before he heard himself say "OOMPH!" and tasted and inhaled sand.
"Hahahahaha! What a loser!" the bullies were laughing heartily before rushing away from the "crime" scene, leaving poor Cloud just remained still for a moment before he slowly got up, coughed off some sand and started blowing his nose. "Ow…" he muttered, tears falling from his eyes. "I hate sand…" he was thinking before he ran off from the sandbox, dusting himself and wanting to go home. As he rounded a corner just near the inn, he noticed a woman with black hair with a little boy around Cloud's age. Cloud wiped his tears away and sniffed, envying the mother and the son that he had just seen coming down from the white limousine.
"Welcome to Nibelheim, Mrs. ShinRa." A person who just came out from the inn approached the mother and the son.
Cloud sniffed. "I wish mommy and I are as rich as those two… maybe then people will start treating us nicely…" he whispered softly.
"Rufus, come now. Let's go inside." Mrs. ShinRa called upon her son.
Cloud turned his attention to the little boy, noticing how they have the same features. "He has blonde hair and blue eyes just like me…" he thought to himself.
Rufus, whom Cloud had been staring at for a long while already, sensed that someone was looking at him. He instantly turned his direction to the area where Cloud was standing. Cloud instantly looked away and just leaned against the wall of an alley where he was standing.
Rufus just blinked and stared curiously at Cloud. "Mama, can I play?" he asked his mother.
"Oh… later, Rufus. We have to meet your father inside first." Mrs. ShinRa said.
"But Mama, I want to play with that boy!" Rufus whined.
Mrs. ShinRa followed Rufus's gaze and saw Cloud standing in one corner. Her mouth slightly dropped open when she saw the boy. Cloud was unaware that the First Lady of ShinRa was staring at him because he still had his gaze on the floor.
Mrs. ShinRa just stiffened her facial expression and cleared her throat, taking Rufus by the hand in a firm grip. "Let's go, Rufus. Your father is waiting." She said sternly before dragging Rufus inside the inn. Rufus just kept quiet and followed after his mother.
Cloud just remained standing and watched Rufus and Mrs. ShinRa enter the inn. Sighing heavily, he just walked away from the inn, but then he saw Tifa rush past him. He froze and turned to look at her. "Looks like she's in a hurry…" he thought. "Teefah! Where are you going?" he called out.
She just ignored him and kept on running. Cloud rushed after her. "Where are you going?" he called out stubbornly. "Maybe she wants to play tag with me! Hee!" Cloud thought happily but rather irrationally.
"Leave me alone! I'm going to the mountains to see my mother!" she told him angrily as she stopped running and faced him. She waited until he stopped running too and was already face-to-face with her. He was trying to catch his breath. He had to admit; Tifa is fast.
"Tifa, it's dangerous to go to the mountains alone!" he told her.
"No it's not!" she snapped.
"But there are monsters there!" he said.
"Oh yeah? Says who?" she challenged with a sneer.
"My mommy!" he replied.
"Yeah. Whatever. You and your mother do not know anything anyway! Now stay out of my way!" she pushed him away from herself and continued to run off again.
Cloud fell backwards when she pushed him, and it hurt his back so much. "…what if she gets into trouble? I can't let that happen! I don't want anybody in trouble!" he thought before struggling to get up and then ran after Tifa again. "Tifa! Stop!" he called out. But he was already beginning to get tired… and then he just tripped and sprained his ankle. "OW!" he cried out in pain.
Tifa did not even stop to look back at him. She just went on towards the mountains.
He sniffed and tried to stand up, and just hobbled his way home, frustrated at his life. "Did I do something bad?" he was thinking miserably.
Mrs. Strife just kept on kneading the dough that she had made for bread so that she and Cloud would have something to eat for dinner. Her face had a stern facial expression on it and she was rather frantic. She was also frowning and her heart was racing. "I never thought I'd find you here," she heard him say.
She just clenched her fists. President ShinRa.
"Is this the reason why you're here in Nibelheim?" she asked through clenched teeth.
"Well… aside from attending a conference here, yes. Where's… my boy?" he asked.
"What boy?" she asked.
"My son." He told her.
"He has a name." she snapped.
"What did you name him again?" he asked.
"Cloud." She muttered miserably. "How shameful. The President doesn't even know the name of his own son! Or maybe it's too much for you to remember it because you have a lot of sons too?" she snapped.
He just shrugged. "Well… one thing's for sure, I know who Rufus is. Heheh." He said sarcastically.
She got the rolling pin and threw it towards his direction. "You step out of my house you fat bastard!" she screamed.
"You shouldn't throw that word around casually; we all know who the real bastard is…" he told her, raising his eyebrow in the process.
She just swallowed hard, trying to stop herself from breaking down. "My Cloud wouldn't be a bastard child if it weren't for you…" she sneered.
The door suddenly opened and there was Cloud with a sprained ankle and crying helplessly. "Mommy!" he cried helplessly.
"Oh Cloud!" Mrs. Strife rushed to the aid of her son. "What happened to you?" she asked.
President ShinRa stared horridly at the boy. "What the hell! He looks just like Rufus… except that this boy has spikes on his hair…" he thought to himself.
Mrs. Strife just ignored President ShinRa and carried Cloud over to the sofa. While she was attending to her son, the President just shook his head in dismay and then just walked out, deciding to go back to his inn.
x x x
Some hours later…
Cloud had stopped crying and just sat still on his chair by the dinner table, waiting for his mother to finish preparing the soup. He still looked troubled and dazed at the same time, and he wasn't even talking.
Just when Mrs. Strife was about to put some soup on Cloud's bowl, they heard someone knocking on their door. "Who could that be?" she asked out loud before putting out the fire from the stove and then rushed to the door to open it. She was surprised to see Mr. Lockheart looking so stern and angry. "M…Mister Lockheart?" she stammered, surprised at his sudden visit.
"Strife," he said, restraining himself from shouting. "Where's the boy?" He peered over her shoulder and spotted Cloud at the dinner table. "You!" he pointed a finger at him and pushed Mrs. Strife out of the way.
Cloud's eyes widened in terror as he watched Mr. Lockheart storm towards him and twist his ear painfully. "Ow!" he cried.
"Mr. Lockheart!" said Mrs. Strife in shock. "The nerve of you, just storming in this place and pointing fingers and—"
"This delinquent," he cut off, dragging Cloud off his seat by the ear, "pushed my daughter off a bridge in the mountains!"
"I DID NOT! OW!" cried Cloud helplessly as he tried pulling Mr. Lockheart's hands from his poor ear. He felt as though his ear will twist off from his head at any second…
"Cloud would do no such thing!" Mrs. Strife said, her face turning redder as she attempted to pry his hands off her son. "Stop accusing him of such things!"
"My Tifa told me that when she went to the mountains to see her mother, this brat followed her and pushed her off the bridge!"
"Cloud couldn't have done that! He sprained his ankle! And you're hurting him more!" She finally succeeded in removing Mr. Lockheart's hands off of her son. She pulled Cloud closer to her and carried him. "You shouldn't believe everything your daughter says about my son!"
"Mrs. Strife, my daughter couldn't lie. Her mother just died!" he shouted.
"Cloud's got a sprained ankle, Mr. Lockheart. If you could explain how he could have done it when he could barely stand up…!" she shouted back.
Mr. Lockheart scowled. "Fine." He turned to Cloud. "Boy, tell us how you got that sprain there."
Cloud sniffed. "I was chasin' Teefa when she was runnin' to the mountain, and—"
"Soooo! You admit that you were chasing Tifa at the mountains! See, Mrs. Strife, your son admitted it himself!"
"No, sir! What happened was—"
"No! I'm not hearing it!"
"Mr. Lockheart! You are being unreasonable! How can you justify that Cloud is the reason that your daughter is injured right now? Do you have any witnesses?" Mrs. Strife growled.
"The whole neighborhood saw it…" Mr. Lockheart sneered.
Cloud gave a small gasp. "B-but…" he squeaked.
"What? What are you talking about?" his mother snapped.
"The whole neighborhood saw it, Mrs. Strife. You could ask them for yourself," said Mr. Lockheart angrily. He took a deep breath and calmed himself down a bit more before speaking again. "Hmph. Typical… the dire mother defending her bastard son… how fitting," he muttered before leaving the house in a huff.
The front door slammed. The whole house was silent, save for Mr. Lockheart's fading footsteps outside. Mrs. Strife was frozen on the spot. How dare he! That… that…
Cloud looked down sadly and let himself down from his mother's arms. He hobbled towards his chair and sat down silently.
Mrs. Strife didn't reply. She just turned to him and tried her hardest not to break down.
"What's a…" Cloud paused, but the look on his mother's face urged him to continue. "What's a… bastard?"
Her eyes widened in shock. "A… what!"
Cloud looked down and swallowed. "I… the people in town sometimes call me that when I pass by them…"
"They call you that?"
"Well… they call me that when they think I can't hear them," he replied softly, not looking her in the eye.
Mrs. Strife breathed deeply and sat down silently. "I… Cloud, just finish your food for now…" she replied sadly, taking her fork and not looking at him.
Cloud didn't look up and started prodding his food with a fork. "Mommy? Am I a… bastard?"
"No, honey, you're not. The people who called you that are liars… as all the people in this town are. Don't believe anything they say," she answered softly.
"Okay." He just muttered softly after a few moments of silence, but he was still unconvinced.