Disclaimer: FFVII belongs to Square Enix, but you knew that, right?

Author natterings: I wrote this in a half-hour long(?) burst after going through Stacey-Anne's superb Cloud shrine at (Her intepretation of Cloud is something fierce. I recommend seeing for yourself.) I'd been wanting to write a CloTi for a while too, so this is the result of good reading and motivation mushed together. I really like this one. I hope you do too.

And Never Always Hand in Hand

She was standing with her mother in the middle of town, around the big, ungraceful stone cone that children loved to climb and had no idea what purpose it actually served.

He walked with a tall, blonde woman - his mother. Tifa didn't realize it then, but there was something haunting in the way his mother walked that it was impossible to not look. It was there when she spoke to the townspeople, it was there when she looked across the street before realizing that in this town nothing would surprise her. She was jaded in a way that was just heartbreaking enough. Her eyes weren't blue - they were glazed.

Touched, too, was Cloud himself. His walk was mechanical for a five year-old - as if it had been drilled into him already. When he'd trip and scrape his hands and see the blood, he didn't cry, didn't even squirm.

She watched this happen, still clasping her own mother's hand with her uplifted one, the blood rushing to her shoulder and making her whole arm numb. Was his arm numb? Was that why he couldn't feel the pain?

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Grade two, and he sat bored at the end of the row behind her, the other boys yanking at his hair and spitting at his feet.

Her hair was so very perfect - brown but not muddy, black but not brass. It fell to the middle of her back - the length his mother's had been before she'd cut it.

She turned now, to look behind her because the door had slammed, but he couldn't help but hope her eyes would fall on him. They did. She smiled. She frowned because his hair was being yanked at and his feet were being spit at. Her hair was even prettier falling across her face.

Footsteps followed the doorslam. A man rushed to Tifa - Mr. Lockheart. He was upset, he was crying, tears gathering and falling from his dark eyes. He was telling Tifa that her mother had died.

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She was lying at the bottom of a trench. Whywhywhymommaohwhy? The star swirled sky above her.

She felt a hand on hers - cool, so much like her mother's. Blue eyes. Her name. Tifa! Tifa!

And then she saw black.

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Cloud Strife was trouble, was what her father told her. He did something to her, he had to have, because he had fallen and she had fallen, and only she had died for seven days. Her father was scared to death, he told her, because he couldn't imagine losing the only two people he loved enough to kiss goodnight. And he kissed her goodnight.

Tifa thought about this in her bed, covers pinned beneath her arms. Cloud was quiet. Cloud was maybe reclusive, Cloud was maybe a troublemaker, but Cloud had never been, in her eyes, mean.

Tifa thought that if Cloud was anything, it was sad.

Tifa thought that if she was anything, it was sad as well.

She tried to sleep. She tried not to think of her mother. The floor creaked. She looked at it but she didn't see it. She looked at her piano but she didn't see it. She looked at her toes poking up through the blanket but didn't see them either. She looked at the window and--

Cloud.

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She was lying, bleeding, on the ground. No. No no oh please not her.

He was seven again, and Tifa was lying, dying, again. She had a hand to a wound, it was bleeding, bleeding deep.

Tifa! Tifa! His seven year-old self called, and he felt his knee buzzing, just like it had that night so long ago. He bent down to her and lifted her head and he was touching her beautiful hair but it was mixed with blood.

She was hurt. She was hurt and it was because he couldn't protect her - he told her he would. He promised himself that he could.

Her eyes fluttered open and recognition hit them immediately. His name on her lips and he wanted to press them back to her because he didn't deserve her thanks, because he loved her, because he had done nothing, nothing but move her farther away from a puddle of blood he couldn't stand to see anymore.

He stood back up to set his promise right.

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He was lying, bleeding, on the ground. No. No no oh please not him.

Cloud. Cloud's name was on the other man's lips. Cloud was also lying, bleeding, on the ground. He wanted to drag himself over and let the dirt infect him and die.

When he knew that his name was the last word the other man had spoken, he cried and cursed and let his heart screech in pain. His heart.

A memory ripped from him, a memory of a girl he did not yet love but soon would, standing in a townsquare against a vein-blue sky.

And then the mako mixed with her blood with mothers with promises, and he was reborn.