Life in Nibelheim as a child of a single parent was always hard. Cloud would watch from behind dirty windows and stained curtains as the children played, sometimes with each other, but more often with their parents. Both parents. Parents that survived the hardship of raising a young child in such a desolate place, and survived it together, taking everything day by day.

Cloud learned to do the same.

He never played with those kids. He never even played by himself. He only played in his own mind, conjuring up twisted, brilliant thoughts that he would never channel through his mouth. He was keeping them all to himself.

Watching his mother was even worse. Even when he was small, his mother was so pale, so thin, so sickly. Cloud was always afraid to touch her, afraid she might break.

All that time, though, Cloud knew that she wasn't dying. She was just sad, heartbroken over something that she wouldn't talk about. She stared at pictures a lot; pictures of herself when she was young and vibrant, childless, standing with another man. Upon studying these pictures, Cloud realized that the man looked so much like him...

Was this his father?

His mother never talked about him.

Cloud stored these things away, locked them up in his mind, scars that the world would never see.

X

Running, running, always running. His mother needed pills. She was in so much pain, her very heart and soul in so much agony that Cloud couldn't bear to be in the same room with her. She had no money for medicine.

This was Cloud's only choice.

He ran, ran, ran, the bottle's contents clattering noisily, awkwardly hanging out of his sweatshirt pocket. He panted, and his breath caught altogether when he saw a man run through the doors of the run-down pharmacy, waving his arms angrily at him and threatening Cloud with words that faded in the thick air before they ever reached Cloud's ears.

Almost there.

Almost there...

Almost...

Cloud lost his footing, tripping over something, some loose pebble, the air, his own feet. It didn't matter. He fell forward on his face, scraping his elbow. The pill bottle fell from his pocket, and the cap that the pharmacist didn't bother to child-proof snapped off. Little white capsules, precious things in this town, were scattered.

"Gotcha!" The man didn't even worry about the pills. He dragged Cloud by his feet to what was supposed to be Cloud's destination: home.

Cloud's mother answered the door. She looked like she was barely holding herself upright, barely breathing on her own.

"My boy," she croaked. She didn't sound surprised at all. "What did he do? What'd my boy do now?"

"Ask him yourself." The man practically shoved Cloud through the door before slamming it loud enough to cause his mother's head to pound even harder.

"This is the fourth time this month," she sobbed. "What're you doing, Cloud? What're you doing to me!"

"Was trying to help you, Mom." Cloud clasped a cold, bony hand. "I was getting you medicine."

"I don't need medicine! I'm fine!" A fire burned in her eyes, a fire that Cloud had never seen there before. "Go to bed!"

X

Cloud's mother was never nasty. There were days when she smiled and laughed and radiated warmth. Then, there were days like today, bitter and icy, razor-sharp.

He didn't cry. He never cried. Even when he lost what little hope he had, he never cried. Crying wouldn't make his mother happy again. Crying wouldn't make her okay.

His bedroom door opened, suddenly. The noisy creak was enough to wake Cloud from the deepest sleep. His mother sat on the edge of the bed, and gathered him in her arms.

"Cloud," she said softly, all her previous hostility gone. "Cloud, my boy, my sweet boy. Don't ever do that again. Don't steal. I'm okay, I promise."

Losing hope was never enough to make Cloud cry. It took the loss of his mother's hope to make him do that, and Cloud could tell that her hope was all but completely drained.

The tears felt like surrender.