(Author's Note: No one else has done a fic like this, as least to my knowledge, so I decided to embark on it myself. This fic will detail all the 'first time' moments of Cloud and Tifa's relationship. This first chapter is of when they very first meet each other. It will all be written from Cloud's POV, thus the way the titles are named. If any of you readers out there have and idea that would fit in here, please send me a PM or a review and I'll do my best to write it up! Please feel free to comment, and enjoy!)
I Ever Saw You
Cloud didn't want to go to pre-school. It wasn't because he was scared - no way, he was the bravest person in the whole world! He simply worried that his mother would get into trouble if he was away too long. With no father to help around the house, Cloud took it upon himself to make sure his mother never felt lonely or didn't dust after she swept and prevented a myriad other little misfortunes that would have happened if not for him.
At least, so the fussy little four-year-old believed.
But trying to explain all this to a mother that only smiles gently at his very passionate, stumbling speech is difficult. Especially since after each long and well thought out reason, she'd only smile lovingly, tousle his spiky hair and say, "You're going anyway."
For the first time in his young life, Cloud was tempted to throw a tantrum. He'd never actually went through one before but had seen other kids in the violent, writhing, screaming fits. It had immediately disgusted him, even though he was the same age - he'd heard other parents talking about how strangely 'mature' he was for his age, whatever that meant. Tantrums were a waste of time, from what he could tell. Time he could be using to look after his mother!
They were all each other had, his mother and him. He had no friends to speak of and, quite frankly, didn't see the need to make any. As long as him and mom stuck together, they'd be okay.
Alas, he was the only one that thought so. The next morning, his mother took him by the hand, and walked him to his very first day of pre-school. Cloud hid his consuming worry for his mother by fuming the entire way, refusing to say a single word.
Other parents were walking their children to their first day of school as well; Nibelhiem was such a small town that everything was easily within walking distance. Cloud watched one couple and their child, all smiles and laughter, the child between them, holding their hands.
"One... two... three! Weeeee!" They all chanted together and on 'three' the mother and father lifted their little boy up and swung him from their tightly clasped hands. The boy laughed and squealed with delight, thrilled at the human swing his parents made for him.
Cloud had never experienced that thrill before and knew he never would. Of the seven kids going to pre-school, only one of them didn't have a father. His cheeks filled with hot shame and he shuffled closer to his mother, tightening his grip on her hand. She squeezed back comfortingly and smiled down at him. "Nervous?"
No, not nervous. Scared. Scared of what would happen to her if he let her out of his sight for a minute, let alone a whole day! But he couldn't say that - he had to be brave like she was always encouraging him to be, especially when food prices rose during winter, and so he swallowed and shook his head a firm 'no'.
"Cloud..." The chiding look on her face told him she hadn't been foold by his swift denial. Mothers were too perceptive sometimes. So he conceded and shrugged one shoulder.
"Just a little, momma."
Her smile widened and she swung their clasped hands playfully. "Don't worry, sweety. You'll be fine. You'll make so many friends you won't even notice the time going by."
He seriously doubted that, but he said nothing. Best not to let her worry - that was his job, not hers.
The school was small and had the same rustic, country-mountain architecture that every building had in Nibelhiem. The teacher was a slim young woman with a big smile and dark hair. Cloud was too busy watching the other kids run around screaming and playing to hear what his mother said in quiet undertones to the teacher. He fought the urge to throw his arms around his mother's waist protectively. So many screaming kids... how was he supposed to go charging into that roughhousing mass without a care when Mom would be spending all day alone! Without him to watch after her!
His worried train of thought was derailed when the pretty teacher crouched in front of him. Her smile was dazzling and kind and Cloud unconsciously moved a half step closer to his mother.
"Hey there," the teacher said. "I'm Ms. Morrey. What's your name?"
"First day of school, Cloud?"
He had the sudden feeling that this woman wasn't smart and considered telling her as much. Instead, he merely nodded.
"Feeling a little scared?" Her tone was nerve-gratingly patronizing.
"Well, we spend the first day just getting to know each other. No boring stuff, I promise! So why don't you go have fun?"
Cloud looked up to his mother for approval and to make sure she would be okay.
Ms. Strife grinned and knelt next to him. "It's okay, honey. I'll be fine." She gave him a big hug and a kiss on the forehead before standing up. "Go on. Look, I think I see a chocobo over there!"
Excitement flared in him. Chocobo? Where! He loved chocobos! When he grew up, he was going to be a chocobo farmer. One of his neighbors had an uncle that was a chocobo farmer and he was always richly dressed, bearing extravagant gifts for his extended family. The kids went wild over his golden chocobo every year when he came to visit.
Cloud wanted to be rich and respected when he was older. That way, Mom wouldn't get worried, like she did at how fast he wore out his second-hand clothes, or tell him to be brave and make do when their table was meagerly supplied with thin bread and day-old eggs.
His young blue eyes scanned the room and instantly fixed on the life-sized stuffed chocobo across the room. With a gleeful grin on his face, he raced across the room and flung his arms around it jealously, before anyone else could claim it. He needn't have worried though - the others were all busy playing tag. For a few minutes, he tried to climb onto the chocobo's back - it would be important for him to know how to mount a real chocobo if he ever wanted to be a good chocobo farmer. After a few slips that deposited him on the floor and a couple of seconds wildly flailing his legs to find some purchase, he had hauled himself on top of the stuffed chocobo.
Triumphant, he sat astride it and looked across the room to see his mother's approving smile.
But... she wasn't smiling at him. She wasn't even looking at him. She was leaving! Once again the worry for her washed over him, pushing away all child-like fun. She couldn't go! Not without him to watch over her!
He tumbled ungracefully off the chocobo and raced for her retreating back.
Halfway across the room, something slammed into him at high-speed, sending him tumbling head over heels across the carpet. He lay face down on the floor, gasping, stunned by the collision.
Mom! He had to stop her!
He pushed himself up... or tried to, at least. Something was lying on top of him. He thrashed a bit and the thing that pinned him down rolled off him. He sprang to his feet, craning his neck to see his mother. She was nowhere in sight.
"Hey! Why don't you watch where you're going!" a young voice scolded him. A small finger poked him hard in the back, between his shoulder blades.
Cloud turned and faced a small girl roughly his age with long brown hair and brown eyes glowering at him. She wore a pink T-shirt covered with butterflies and crisp denim shorts that looked brand new. She looked vaguely familiar for some reason.
Before he could say anything, another small boy ran up behind her and tapped her shoulder, squeaking "You're It!" before dashing off at high speed.
"Not fair! I was on time out!" The girl tried to tag him back but he was gone too quickly. Frowning, she turned her glare back on Cloud and stamped her foot cutely. "Now I'm It because you tripped me!"
"I-I'm sorry..." He hadn't meant to stammer but her face softened.
Swallowing, he nodded. He wasn't used to such familiar conversation. His mother said it was just shyness, but it felt a lot more than that. Without her around to hide behind, he felt incredibly vulnerable.
"Hey, you're Cloud right?"
He blinked at her, too surprised that she knew his name to feel shy. "Yeah."
"I'm Tifa." It sounded familiar. He'd heard the name in passing, probably from his mother.
Tifa rolled her eyes at his puzzled expression. "I live next door to you."
"Oh... um, hi." He shyly offered his hand as his mother had taught him.
She grabbed his hand and shook it with both of hers, threatening to yank his shoulder out. Then she grabbed a handful of his hair and gently pulled his head down so she could inspect it. It felt incredibly awkward. She laughed and let go of him, allowing him to straighten. "You have funny hair!"
Cloud could only stare at her in amazement. This girl was overwhelming him with her straightforward, familiar attitude. The air around her nearly hummed with her energy and exuberance.
Grinning, Tifa pushed him hard with both hands, knocking him on his butt again. "You're It!" she squeaked and dashed away.
She stopped a few feet away when he hadn't gotten up to follow her. "Well?" she shouted. "You have to chase us!"
Cloud swallowed, suddenly realizing that all the kids were watching him expectantly. "I do?"
"Well duuuh! That's the game! Come on!"
He'd never played tag before but... well, what could it hurt? He stood and jogged after her.
Laughing she zipped away from him, lightning fast. "You're too slooooow!"
Now that sounded more like a challenge. He ran after her again and once more she evaded him, laughing and looking back at him with bright eyes. Before he knew it, he was thoroughly lost in the game of tag, doing his best to chase Tifa down but she always managed to slip by. Finally, when he accidentally brushed one of the other kids with the back of his hand, he was rid of the 'It' status and had to run once again.
They took a break once, to eat a snack. It was one of the few moments when the classroom was quiet and they all had to stand up and introduce themselves before eating. Cloud felt his face grow hot when he stood up and mumbled his name. Tifa practically shouted her name to the whole world. Everything she did seemed to catch him off-balance.
It was refreshing, like a breath of fresh air away from the old-fashioned ways of Nibelheim where men didn't say much and girls only wore skirts. All the stifling, old-world ways were utterly lost on Tifa, and he found himself being fascinated by her casual disregard for all the unwritten rules that had made him and his mother social outcasts.
While they ate their animal crackers, he noticed for the first time that Tifa was only one of four other girls in the room. The other five were all boys, counting him. The girls sat at another table, clutching their dolls and sipping their juice quietly.
Only Tifa sat with the boys, just as loud and energetic and brash as they were. As he watched, she whacked a boy upside the head with a teddy bear when he tried to steal one of her animal crackers. The boy was startled by her off-handed dissuasion of cracker-theft, and they all laughed at his expression.
Afterward, Cloud once more retired to his chocobo mount to watch the others. They all seemed content to let him sit up there but it annoyed Tifa that he'd just sit there and not join in on the fun. Every now and then she'd stop in her energetic playtime and stand in front of the chocobo, looking up at him.
"Are you gonna play?"
"Why don't you talk?"
He shrugged again. "I dunno."
"You're hair looks like a chocobo!"
And then she'd go dashing off again as the others caught up with her.
Truth was, he had tried to play with some of the others but they always pushed him or slammed into him if Tifa wasn't looking. She'd scolded another boy for doing it once right in front of her and so they took care not to do it where she might see. They all liked her too.
He knew why they did it. No one could have missed the lonely pair he and his mother made on their way to the school. He didn't have a father. His mother wasn't married. And because of that, many of other boys made it clear that he wasn't welcome. Those that didn't outright repel him did nothing because they didn't want to be targeted with him. Not having a father was a very bad thing.
Except Tifa didn't seem to care. To her, he was just another playmate, willing to be pummeled, trampled on, pushed around and screamed at all in the name of roaring good fun. While the other girls played quietly in the corner with their dolls and teacups, she went racing around the room, getting carpet burn on her knees and having a grand ol' time, completely unafraid of playing with the boys.
He'd never known a girl like her before. She had captured his fascination entirely.
When his mother finally came home to pick him up, all he could talk about was the girl that lived next door and how she'd dragged him into the others' play, and how she had said his hair looked like a chocobo. The next day, he was all too eager to go to school, almost dragged his mother there by her hand in his excitement to see that girl that was so different from the others.
Though he didn't know it then, decades later he'd know her protectiveness toward him that day stemmed from her genuine kind nature. She couldn't bear to see anyone being bullied or shunned. Though neither of them would know it for many years to come, she had effectively captured his heart in that first day.
While his hardships and misfortunes had drastically transformed Cloud from that shy, blushing child into the battle-hardened warrior he was now, Tifa had barely changed. She was still that incredible, energetic, kind and beautiful person he'd known when he first met her. She was just as supportive and generous and brimming with life as she had been growing up.
She was his savior. She always had been.
And, Cloud thought with a small smile as she pushed him onto the bed, her lips locked with his, she was still completely unafraid of playing with the boys.