Author's Note: Hey, everybody! I'm Silvan Arrow, and this is my first FFVII fic. I've actually been part of this website for several months, but I've never submitted a Final Fantasy fic before. Please be nice to me. Anyway, I got this idea after watching Advent Children. That movie is so awesome! I noticed how the children seemed to gravitate to Cloud and suddenly got inspiration, so I ran with it. I hope this isn't too cheesy. Enjoy!
Disclaimer: I do not own FFVII or any of its characters. I just own Katie.
The Heart of a Child
Cloud walked through the crowded streets of the city of Edge, its ruins now mixed with the ruins of Midgar. It had only been three months since Kadaj and his misguided gang had tried to revive Sephiroth and strike back against the planet. It had also been three months since the deadly geostigma epidemic. So many people had suffered from the illness, especially children. The children were innocent, suffering for sins they had never committed. And yet, countless children had resorted to living on the streets as orphans while still suffering from an illness that racked their bodies with pain and robbed them of all hope. But now things were starting to look up for the people of Edge. Buildings were reconstructed, including the memorial of Midgar, and the orphaned children had all found caring homes. At least, that's what Cloud thought.
A faint sound caught Cloud's attention. He turned to the right and looked down a dark alley to pinpoint the source of the noise. Huddled against one wall was a little girl. She looked to be no older than six, with messy jet black hair, and wore a tattered gray dress. She hugged a dirty stuffed teddy bear and stared off into space. A dreadful thought crossed Cloud's mind. Did she have the stigma? He slowly approached the alley so as not to frighten the child. She noticed his approach and shrank back into the shadows, hugging her knees to her chest. Cloud stopped at the entrance to the alley and knelt down to be at eye level with the girl. "It's okay. I'm not going to hurt you," Cloud said softly. "Where are your parents?"
The girl sniffled and looked away. "Oh. I see," he whispered. So there were still orphans trying to survive on the streets that had not been found or taken in. A quick glance told Cloud that she didn't have the stigma. A good sign. He was relieved that there wasn't another epidemic. He probably wouldn't even be here today it Aerith hadn't healed him with rain from the Lifestream. He decided to try and gain the girl's trust. "My name is Cloud." The girl turned her head slowly and met his gaze, but fear was still evident in her eyes. He held out a gloved hand. "Come on. I'll take you to a home where you can get something to eat." She looked at his outstretched hand warily but finally tucked her teddy bear under one arm and grasped his large hand with both of her tiny ones. Cloud led her down the busy streets toward Seventh Heaven, where Tifa lived and managed his delivery business. She would know what to do.
The bell rang as the door opened, alerting Tifa to a potential customer. She hurried to the counter and put on her Hello-may-I-help-you face. "Welcome to Seventh Heaven. How may I-Oh, Cloud! I didn't think you would be here today."
"Something…unexpected…came up," Cloud replied, looking down at the girl, who stuck by his side like glue.
"Did you find her on the streets?" Tifa asked. Cloud nodded. "Oh…then she must be an orphan. That's so sad."
"Do you think she could stay here?"
"Of course! I'm sure Marlene and Denzel would love to meet her and someone else to play with," Tifa exclaimed. She stepped from behind the counter and walked toward the girl. The child's eyes widened in fear, and quickly hid behind Cloud's leg. Tifa knelt down and smiled warmly at the girl. "Hello there. My name is Tifa. What's your name?" she asked kindly.
The child gripped Cloud's pant leg and didn't speak. Tifa sighed sadly. The girl apparently didn't trust strangers very easily. But that wasn't surprising, considering all that she had been through. Tifa looked up at Cloud, her eyes begging him to try talking to girl. He seemed to be the only one she actually trusted. Cloud looked down at the small child and said, "It's okay. You can trust her. So will you tell us your name?"
"…Katie," the girl replied, her voice barely above a whisper.
"Katie? Is that your name?" Tifa asked to make sure she had heard correctly. The girl nodded. "Well, it's very nice to meet you, Katie!" Tifa held out her hand. "Would you like something to eat?"
Katie nodded and reached out timidly to take her hand, but then two sets of footsteps pounded down the stairs belonging to none other than Marlene and Denzel. "Cloud! You're back!" Marlene exclaimed in delight. Cloud couldn't suppress a smile at her enthusiasm. He was rather fond of Barret's adopted daughter. Marlene then caught sight of Katie, who had once again shrunk back against Cloud's leg, and asked, "Who's that?"
"Her name is Katie," Tifa explained. "Cloud found her all alone and brought her here to stay with us."
"Oh." Marlene smiled brightly and exclaimed, "Hi! I'm Marlene! It's nice to meet you!"
"And I'm Denzel!" added the young boy. "Do you want to play with us?"
Katie didn't budge, and Cloud could feel her body stiffen up against his leg. He placed his hand on her head to reassure her and said, "Go on. It's all right, Katie. These are my friends." Katie slowly stepped out from behind Cloud's leg, still holding on to her teddy bear.
Now that Cloud was sure Katie was in good hands, he said to Tifa, "I'll be going now."
"Must you leave so soon?" Tifa asked.
"Yeah. I promised Barret I would meet him this evening."
Cloud turned to go, but he heard a tiny voice call, "Wait!" He stopped at the door as Katie dropped her teddy bear and ran up to him, holding on to his pant leg with both hands. "Please…don't leave, Mr. Cloud." He looked down at her bright blue eyes that were begging him not to leave her here alone.
Cloud looked over at Tifa helplessly. "Maybe you should stay here tonight. It would helpKatie adjust, and I'm sure Barret won't mind."
Cloud sighed in defeat. "All right. I'll stay."
"Yay! Cloud's staying!" Marlene cheered. Katie looked up at Cloud hopefully, and the ex-Soldier couldn't help but smile at her. Then for the first time, Katie giggled.
"Marlene, could you help Katie find something to change into? I'll be upstairs in just a minute," Tifa requested.
"Sure thing, Tifa!" Marlene replied cheerfully. She ran up to Katie and grabbed her hand. "Come on, Katie! We can go to my room." With that, she pulled a very confused Katie along with her up the steps. Denzel followed them upstairs and went back to his room.
Tifa turned her attention to Cloud now that they were alone. Cloud was the first to break the silence. "Why me, Tifa?"
"Why do all these kids look up to me? I'm no hero."
"You are a hero in their eyes, as well as in the eyes of many other people," Tifa replied softly.
"But I've let so many people down. I couldn't help Zack or any of the victims of Shinra's greed. I…couldn't even protect Aerith when I was right next to her," he said sadly. "Somehow I don't think I'll ever be able to repent for my sins."
"But that's the wonderful thing about children," Tifa objected. She walked up to Cloud and placed a caring hand on his shoulder. "Children have such innocent, caring hearts. They keep no record of wrongs and always seem to see the good in people. Katie saw the good in you, and that's why she trusted you so quickly."
Cloud turned to face his childhood friend. He felt like he at least owed her a response for trying to make him feel better. "Thank you…Tifa." Then without thinking, he pulled her into his arms. She returned the embrace and laid her head on his chest, resting in the comfort of his arms as he held her close.
The moment ended all too quickly when Tifa pulled away, her face bright red, and exclaimed, "I almost forgot! I told Marlene I would come upstairs!" She hurried to tend to the children, pausing long enough to pick up Katie's dropped teddy bear, and left Cloud alone with his thoughts. Maybe Tifa was right. If children held such forgiving hearts toward others, why couldn't he forgive himself?
A loud crash of thunder made Katie awake with a start. Storms had always scared her. Images of hiding under demolished buildings while thunder and lightning crashed around her were still burned in her memory. She had to survive on the streets for several months in those conditions after losing her both parents and her home. Lightning flashed outside her window, followed closely by another peal of thunder. She whimpered as she hugged her teddy bear and tried to hide under the blankets. Then she remembered Cloud. She had felt safe with him, and he did say that he was staying here tonight. She just had to find him. Katie slipped out of bed, careful not to wake up Marlene in the other bed, grabbed her teddy bear, and left the room to find Cloud.
'I didn't think it would storm this badly,' Cloud thought. He sat on the couch, idly watching the rain through the window. His buster sword leaned against one end of the couch. Tifa and the children were already in bed, but Cloud just wasn't sleepy yet. 'Maybe staying here wasn't such a bad idea after all.' Tifa would most certainly give him a stern lecture if he tried to stay in the broken-down church that he usually called home. The sound of approaching footsteps caught Cloud's attention, and he turned his head to see Katie standing at the bottom of the stairs, holding her teddy bear and looking very frightened. "Katie? What's wrong?"
"The…lightning's scary," she replied in a quivering voice. "Can I…come sit with you?"
Cloud smiled. "Of course." Katie trotted over and climbed onto the couch to sit next to him. Another flash of lightning made Katie jump, and she tried to keep from crying as the thunder rumbled again. Cloud could understand why the child was so frightened. She had probably faced several storms without any decent shelter. He picked up Katie and settled her in his lap. She curled up against his chest for security as he wrapped his arms around her and rubbed her back soothingly. "It's all right. I'm here," he said softly. "Everything's going to be all right."
Cloud felt Katie relax as she shifted to a more comfortable position. "Thank you, Mr. Cloud," she mumbled groggily before finally falling asleep in his arms. Cloud could have sworn she also whispered something about "big brother."
At first, Cloud wasn't exactly sure what to do. He thought about carrying her back to her bed, but that would probably wake her up. He didn't have the heart to do that now that she was finally starting to feel safe. Rats, where was Tifa when he needed her? Asleep, duh. Cloud finally decided that he would sit up with Katie as long as she needed him. However, weariness finally started to catch up to Cloud. The delivery service had kept him busy till long hours of the night frequently. He laid his head back against the cushions and drifted off.
Tifa couldn't remember the last time a severe storm hit like this. Since she was already awake, she figured she might as well check on the children. Tifa went into Denzel's room first to find the boy fast asleep. That child could sleep through anything. She entered the girls' room next and found Marlene asleep but grew slightly alarmed when she saw Katie's bed empty. 'Maybe she just went to the bathroom,' Tifa thought. She quietly searched the entire upstairs but found nothing. She decided to enlist Cloud's help in searching for Katie and went downstairs only to stop dead in her tracks and smile at the sight in front of her. Cloud was lying back on the couch asleep, and Katie was curled up on his chest sleeping in his arms. Both of them were smiling slightly. Tifa felt a tear roll down her cheek at the touching scene. Cloud rarely showed his soft side, let alone smiled. Tifa quietly approached and covered them with a blanket to keep out the night chill.
'Do you understand now, Cloud? The heart of a child loves unconditionally.'
Author's Note: Well, that the end of my little one-shot. I hope it turned out okay and wasn't too cheesy. At first I just wrote this for fun, but I liked it so much that I decided to post it and see what other people thought. Please review and tell me what you think!