Even for Cloud, five years old was early to be abandoned by her parents.
Of course, they meant nothing to her. Even years before she could recall her first mother, she knew deep down that these people who halfheartedly fed and clothed her were not family. And, as happened to most of her 'parents' sooner or later, their compassion and enthusiasm for Cloud only dwindled as she grew older. That, she assumed was part of her curse, though a small part of her often wondered if it was her ever contrary personality.
Still, most people-- the mothers at least-- could tolerate her until her memories returned and the years of brooding self-pity began. While Cloud would never admit it vocally, she had expected to be taken care of until the dreaded age of ten.
She was not remorseful, however. In fact, truth be told, her surprise was somewhat dwarfed by her relief that she wouldn't have to put up with the latest pair of imbeciles any longer.
The trouble, however, was that even Cloud's unsettling, premature intelligence could not fathom up somewhere else to live until she could be fully self-sufficient.
She had been wandering the streets of Insomnia for about five hours, ever since she'd been left on a crowded street corner around what would normally be her 'lunch time'.
In summer, she might have been able to find some kind of passable shelter, but at present her thin white dress was not enough to stave off the harsh chill of winter, and she could feel herself getting more and more tired. Cloud wondered briefly if she might be able to stow away in some unsuspecting house, but quickly came to the conclusion that an orphanage would likely be her best chance at peace and quiet.
Within her field of vision she could see a large, imposing building surrounded by gardens and a fence. With the atmosphere of near clinical precision and authority the place gave off, she figured it was quite likely to be a home for emotionally broken children.
Steadily, with steely determination, she slipped through the wide bars of the fence and walked brusquely through the vast gardens until she came across a large door. Cloud banged feebly against it, but after several minutes, and with no reply, she simply gave up and lay down under the door's shelter. Her last thought before slipping into unconsciousness was to damn any deity that might be listening.
She awoke in a bright, white-painted room, and suddenly became aware of the fact that she was lying in a large bed, and that someone was observing her from a chair at her bedside.
"Well, well, young lady. You had me worried for a while there."
The man's face was gentle, and he was smiling, despite the nature of his remark.
"I don't suppose you'd like to tell me your name? Or why you were on my doorstep?"
There was a name Cloud's "mother" had given her, a hideously flouncy, flowery thing that she didn't care to think of, but deep in the back of her mind, along with the knowledge that she was much older than five, was a word that was whispered in her head every night as she slept, and every day when she thought of who she was.
"Cloud." she murmured. "I'm here because I don't have anywhere else to go."
"Cloud," he repeated, "it suits you. Where are your parents?"
"Gone." she simply said. He could interpret it however he wanted, it didn't really matter either way.
Judging by the serious look that crossed his face, he'd assumed the worst. This was a man used both to hearing and relaying bad news; she could tell by the lines on his otherwise young face.
"I'm terribly sorry to hear that. Nowhere else to go, you say?"
Cloud shook her head solemnly.
He stood from his chair, and walked towards the door.
"I've a son about your age." he smiled, "When he heard we'd found you by the western gate he was desperate to come and see you. I told him he'd have to wait until you were feeling better, and then we'd see."
When he reached the door, he stopped and turned to face Cloud.
"I was thinking, while you were asleep. The sad thing about my son is that his position means he won't have much time to be a child. Judging by that anxious look on your face, I'd wager you probably haven't had much time to enjoy your childhood either. I want my son to have friends, to form bonds so he knows how to connect with others, but it can be so difficult finding the right people for him to grow up with. I sense a kind of sadness about you, Cloud. One that I recognize all too well. A kind of loneliness that comes from being surrounded by people who don't understand you. My boy needs a friendly presence in his life, someone who can teach him tenderness, compassion, and love. I think, my dear, that you might fit in quite well here."
For once in her life, Cloud was perplexed.
"I'm sorry, sir, but I don't quite understand you."
The man chuckled. "My name is Regis. I think I'd like you to meet my son, and tell me what you think of him. If you like, I can find you new people to live with, who'll take good care of you. Or, if after a week or so, you like it here, you can stay with me and Noctis."
"Noctis?" Cloud blinked.
"My son." the man--Regis-- smiled, "The one you can hear bouncing up and down in the corridor outside."
Sure enough, there was a faint banging sound coming from just beyond the door.
"I told him to wait in his room. He doesn't tend to listen when he's excited." he sighed. "If you're not feeling up to visitors, I can bring him back later to see you."
Cloud concentrated on that bouncing sound for a moment, and then decided.
"I think I'd like to see him now."
All night Noctis had been lying awake.
His governess had been sheparding him to his room after dinner last night when he'd heard two guards talking to a maid about a "mysterious package" that had been found at the western gate.
"What is it, Miss?" he'd asked excitedly.
"Never you mind." she'd responded.
He knew it had to be something cool when his father came to see him just before bed time.
"We've found a girl about your age at the gate." he said, in the straightforward voice that meant he was trying to keep his son calm.
"Whoa! Cool! Can I see her, Dad? Please?" he begged.
"I thought you didn't like meeting new people? You were awfully shy when I introduced you to Ignis last week." his father observed.
"Ignis is all stuffy and boring. This girl's more interesting-- she came in a package." the young prince mused.
"Well," Regis laughed, "not exactly."
"Please let me see her, Dad!"
Regis thought for a moment. "She's asleep for now. I'm going to keep an eye on her tonight, and if she wakes up tomorrow you might be able to say 'hello'." said the king, tucking his son into bed and turning out the light. "If she wants to see you, I'll come and get you from your room."
"You promise?" his son whined.
"I promise." he said. "Now get some sleep."
But the excitement didn't wear off, and all night Noctis lay thinking about meeting the "Package Girl" and asking her what it was like to be a parcel. At eight o'clock (the earliest the prince had ever been awake and out of bed) he bounded out of his room armed with two soft toys and a picture book, and ran till he got to the only guest bedroom he'd ever seen anyone use. The door was closed, so he sat outside and waited.
When he got tired of waiting, he thought he'd see how many times he could jump up and down without getting tired (a skill he was sure would impress the "Package Girl" if he could only perfect it).
He was caught off-guard when his father opened the door as he was mid-bounce.
"Hi, Dad!" he said. He'd be lying if he said that it had occurred to him that his father could hear him springing about behind the door, but then, upon reflection, he realized he hadn't been particularly stealthy either.
"Hello, son." Regis chuckled. "There's someone here who'd like to meet you."
His father pushed the door all the way open, so Noctis could see a girl, maybe a little bit smaller than him, sat on the bed with her long, brown hair falling around her. Happily, he gathered up his toys and ran towards her. He didn't miss the anxious look that crossed her face, but he smiled and climbed up onto the bed next to her anyway.
"Don't be scared. I'm Noctis, and I brought you some of my toys. What's your name?"
The king observed them playing for a few hours, which included Cloud stumbling over the few words in the picture book, the renaming both of the soft toys and Noctis teaching Cloud "how to bounce".
He was reluctant to pry them apart, so much so that when Noctis requested that he be allowed to sleep in Cloud's room that night, it didn't take many "please"s for him to allow it.
When he finally left the two of them alone they were both sleeping, Noctis' arm thrown over Cloud absently in a way which made the king smile fondly.
He approached his council about making Cloud his ward not a week later.
"What exactly are you proposing, your highness? That the child be instated as princess?"
"Yes." said the king. Murmurs spread across the room as the council considered Regis’ plan. "Not as Noctis' sister,” he clarified, “but as his companion. Depending on how well she trains, we may even be able to consider her a suitable wife for him in the future. She'll be someone he knows, someone he can trust and draw strength from. With Niflheim's growing hostility and the rumors of their plans to continue invading, we cannot be certain that an arranged marriage between Noctis and the oracle of Tenebrae will even be possible in ten year's time. I see this as a golden opportunity for us to secure the future of our kingdom. We must ensure the next generation of the line of Lucis."
Two weeks later, Cloud Lucis Caelum began her training as a princess of Lucis.
Six Years Later
The young princess looked up from having her first portrait painted, then smiled when she saw who was calling her.
She could easily have guessed, since he was the only person who didn't use her title when addressing her, that it was the prince who was calling, but it was always funny to watch him sprinting towards her when he wanted to tell her something.
"Eyes down, please, Your Highness." the artist instructed.
Cloud obeyed, turning her eyes back to their fixed position on the ground, as Noctis stopped behind the painter to observe his work.
The prince laughed. "It looks just like you."
"Oh, good." the girl said. "What was it you wanted me for?"
"Oh!" Noctis fumbled around in his pocket before pulling out a crumpled piece of paper. "You got accepted to the same school as me! You'll be in the year below, since I'm a year older than you, but we get to see each other at break time and lunch! I'll finally have someone good to talk to."
Cloud giggled. "Have you even tried to make friends?" she asked, momentarily casting her gaze up to meet his with the look on her face that said she saw right through him.
"Everyone there just wants to know me 'cos of my title. The only kid who doesn't bother me just spends all his time playing around with his camera." the prince grumbled.
Cloud looked down again with a soft, "You're too picky."
"You'll get it when all the boys in your class want to go out with you just for a chance to see the Citadel." Noctis mumbled bitterly. "If anyone bugs you, you've gotta tell me, okay?"
"What would you do? The king would kill you if you got into a fight." Cloud pointed out.
"Still." the young boy protested. "Aside from all that, are you excited?"
The girl paused to think. The memories usually came when she was around ten years old, and certainly the last year had been full of dreadful nightmares which alluded to memories of lives that amounted to nothing, friends who gave their lives over and over... the man-- no, the monster that she knew would stop at nothing to make her suffer. At this time in her life, Cloud generally felt a sense that her new life would be no different from the others, a blot in her existence that she may not even remember in a hundred year's time. And yet, this time something was different. For the first time in many, many years, she was surrounded by people who loved her, who would take care of and put their trust in her. So no matter what hideous memories of her former lives Sephiroth filled her head with, no matter how many times she saw people she loved dying in her dreams, she knew that this life would be very, very different indeed.
"Yes," she said at last, "Yes, I am excited."