When Cloud was six, he started talking to an imaginary friend. Although he was maybe a bit old for it, his mother thought nothing of it. Cloud had trouble getting along with kids his age, and she figured it was logical that something like that happened sooner or later.
Thus, she was only a little surprised when Cloud said while eating his breakfast one day:
“Mom, you know! I have a new friend. But you can’t see him!”
“Really?” she asked. “Why is that?”
He happily pointed to his head.
“’Cause he is in there.”
“Is that so? Is he tiny-tiny, then?”
He shrugged with a pout.
“I dunno. I can’t see him either.”
She hummed and poured more orange juice in his glass.
“Is he nice?”
“Yes! All the time. But not at first. At first, he made my head hurt a bit. And sometimes, he says things I don’t understand. He’s a bit weird, but that’s okay, ‘cause he is still pretty nice.”
She couldn’t help but smile. Of course Cloud would create a friend smarter than him. It was only natural, as he thought others kids too immature to be interesting.
“Well, what’s his name?”
He scrunched his nose.
“That’s why it’s weird! He says his name is Cloud. But I told him it can’t be, ‘cause that’s my name. Right? That’s weird, huh?”
Well, it certainly was unusual. She raised her eyebrows.
“Hum… Let’s see, what kind of person is he?”
“What kind? Huh… He is nice… but sad, too. Yes, it’s like he is sad all the time. And lost, I think.”
“Yeah. Like he doesn’t know where he is, or where he is supposed to go, and that makes him really sad.”
“Really? Well then, he is nothing like my Cloud, is he? Because my Cloud is a white, fluffy cloud, like you see in a warm summer day. And this Cloud sounds more like a raincloud, doesn’t he?”
“Yes. Why don’t you call him that? Rain for short. It’s nice, don’t you think?”
He looked to the ceiling and seemed to think for a moment. Then he smiled widely.
“He says it’s okay! Rain. Alright, I’ll call him that. Thanks, mom!”
He finished his plate and ran outside. Well, it’d pass on its own, she figured.
Rain slept a lot. Most of the time, he’d only be here a couple of hours per week. Cloud didn’t understand why he needed to sleep so much, but Rain didn’t seem to know either. Still, it was nice having someone to speak to when he was awake. Rain always understood everything he said, it was like he read his thoughts or something. Then again, maybe it was the case, what with him being in his head and all.
When Cloud was nine, the mayor’s daughter fell from the bridge in Mt. Nibel and hurt herself. Cloud liked Tifa. She was his neighbour and was always nice to him. He had been with her, but he hadn’t managed to catch her on time.
Mr Lockhart was really angry and said it was all Cloud’s fault Tifa had been injured. Cloud knew he was right, that he should have been more careful, should have been able to protect Tifa.
The other kids, too, thought it was his fault. He started fighting a lot with them. Rain eventually awakened in the middle of a fight and said it was stupid of him. If he wasn’t strong enough to protect people important to him, obviously, he should be busy getting stronger.
Cloud agreed. Besides, Rain had slept all throughout Tifa’s accident and he was upset when Cloud told him about it. After that, he could tell that Rain made a lot of effort to sleep less.
Rain did his best to teach him how to become stronger. Cloud also went to see Zangan, who was a martial arts master, but he discovered he was not very good at martial arts… When Tifa also came to ask Zangan to teach her, she quickly became much better than him. He was impressed, and he started liking Tifa even more. He didn’t dare to talk to her too much after the accident, especially since he didn’t like her friends at all, but he really liked what little time he spent with her.
When he told Rain, his friend was really amused for some reason.
Along the years, he had realized that Rain was unique. No one else but him had someone like Rain talking in their head like that. His mom thought he spent too much time talking with him, so he stopped telling her about him, and he didn’t tell anyone else. Rain was like a secret brother that no one but him knew about. And to him, that was what he had become: a big brother, who was not here that often, but who was awesome and always had a lot of good advice for him when he was.
So when Rain said they should try getting into the Shinra Mansion, which all kids in Nibelheim knew to be haunted, Cloud was scared, but he agreed.
They didn’t manage to get in, though. There were a lot of monsters in there, and Cloud was in no way strong enough to beat more than one or two of them.
He came back home bloodied and dizzy from the blows he had taken, and his mother screamed and nearly fainted. She called the doctor. It turned out he had even been poisoned by one of those things. His mother grounded him for months.
It didn’t matter much, though, because Cloud didn’t feel like getting out. Rain was really upset that they had failed. He tried hiding it, but Cloud could still tell. Cloud said they would try again, but Rain said no, that it was too dangerous. So Rain was feeling upset, and guilty because Cloud was grounded. And Cloud felt guilty and worthless because he couldn’t even do a single thing Rain asked of him.
He really wasn’t strong enough.
A few miserable months later, the Wutai War reached a peak. It became impossible not to hear about it, even in Nibelheim. At that time, an extraordinary SOLDIER was quickly climbing the ranks of Shinra military. He was rumoured as having a keen strategic mind, and he was nothing short of unstoppable on the battlefield. He was even a charismatic enough man that under his command, every soldier seemed to surpass himself.
SOLDIER counted in its ranks many incredible men, but even amongst them, Sephiroth was swiftly becoming a legend.
Or so, at least, is what came to Cloud’s ears.
In Nibelheim, the television had bad reception. The images were blurry and the sounds sometimes inexistent. Nonetheless, Cloud was entranced. Every time the Wutai War came on the news, he had to be here. His mother complained, as she didn’t appreciate stories of bloody victories at dinner time, but she let him do as he pleased since she didn’t remember ever seeing him this enthusiastic about anything before.
When he awoke during the news, Rain was very quiet. Cloud could feel he was in a weird mood at those times, but he kept to himself and never said anything. Over the years, Cloud had begun to understand Rain a little better. He knew there were a lot of things his brother of choice wasn’t telling him. Rain had a lot of secrets, he was sure of it. But he didn’t feel he had any right to ask him for the truth, not when he wasn’t even able to grant him the one favour he had ever asked.
That’s why, one day, he made up his mind.
“Hey Rain, I’m gonna be a SOLDIER.”