Title: Phoenix.Author: icyboots icynovas Characters: Cloud's mother, Cloud, mentions of AVALANCHE.Rating: PGStatus: One-shot. Complete.Notes: OGC, canon-divergence. I go with Claudia Strauss regarding Cloud's mother's name (from that one concept art). Summary: Her nightmares were the image of her boy, shame in his eyes as he told her that he didn't make it, couldn't achieve his dream, and her not being able to speak, comfort him. Her nightmares were her son taken away from her embrace by something she couldn't even remember or name. Her nightmares were this.
[Cloud's mother survives the Nibelheim incident].
Cloud invited a friend over, a SOLDIER. It was something that never happened before as far as Claudia knew. She suspected feeling more excited about it than her son, preparing to make what couldn't be called as less than a feast. Cloud told her not to overwork herself, but she dismissed his worries; she had been waiting for this day for so long and she was ready to meet it…
… except for the main course, at least. She'd need to go hunting deep into the woods to get something worthwhile.
Her hunt warm by her side and ready to be worked on, Claudia currently faced a predicament made up of many misfortunes.
For one, her right leg was injured. For two, it was a long way back to Nibelheim. For three, her hunt for the day was relatively heavy.
Oh, Claudia had no doubt she could get back to Nibelheim even with an injured leg and a heavy hunt. The real problem was that she doubted she'd be able to reach Nibelheim before dinner-time at her current pace.
She was going to try, though.
At the sight that greeted her, Claudia dropped her hunt in shock, unable to believe what Nibelheim had been reduced to - ashes and ashes as far her eyes could see, the scent of blood and smoke, the silence that spoke of death, all overwhelmed her senses with horror.
Cloud… where was Cloud?
Then she heard it, the sound of vehicles - voices breaking the tragedy of the scene with monotone drawls. She looked closer to see they were from ShinRa, but they sure as hell didn't look like they were here to help. "Get anyone you see breathing."
Claudia hid her presence, barely allowed herself to breathe. She needed to remain undetected, figure out what was going on.
Once the last of them left, she walked out from her hiding place and started searching, searching and searching and searching, uncaring of her injured leg and the damage she was causing it.
She found nothing.
She took shelter in Rocket Town until she healed, and in her stay, she tried to find an explanation to what happened to her hometown, but just as it was in Nibelheim, she found no mention of what happened. They're pretending, Claudia thought, watching a press conference president Shinra held, lamenting the loss of his esteemed SOLDIER, Sephiroth, in an incident, never specifying what that incident was. Claudia had an idea, though.
She heard from the townspeople that ShinRa made Nibelheim into a restricted zone. Nothing went out or in. They were good at keeping their dirty secrets, that much Claudia could admit.
Her nightmares were the image of her boy, shame in his eyes as he told her that he didn't make it, couldn't achieve his dream, and her not being able to speak, comfort him. Her nightmares were her son taken away from her embrace by something she couldn't even remember or name.
Her nightmares were this.
She started traveling around, looking for information. She even went to Midgar and it was there she learned to never ask of Nibelheim, never ask of an infantryman named Cloud Strife. She barely managed to evade the Turks.
It was three years later that she gave up and retreated to Mideel. Far away from ShinRa, of the reminder, it seemed as the perfect place to start mourning.
For the two years she spent in this town so far, she worked as a caretaker at the only clinic Mideel had, like a nurse without the education to back it up. She learned, though, from the doctor and the nurse and even the patients. The pay wasn't much, but then again, living in Mideel wasn't the most taxing.
On her way to the clinic, she overheard the whispers of the townspeople, of a peculiar young man with a sword as tall as he taken to the clinic. The Lifestream carried him, they said. Poor kid, some sympathized.
Claudia predicted that this was going to be an interesting case.
The nurse beamed when Claudia entered the clinic, relieved. "Oh, thank goodness! We have an emergency."
Claudia followed after her in silence, only to drop her bag upon seeing the emergency, just like she dropped the prey she hunted five years ago upon seeing Nibelheim's ruins.
"Cloud…?" she whispered, unable to breathe steady, vision fogging from tears.
Claudia didn't care what the doctor said, didn't believe a single word he uttered of how hopeless her boy's condition was. Cloud was alive, he could breathe, and that was what really mattered.
At least, that was what she was convincing herself.
She wiped the drool from the corner of his mouth, set him steady on the wheel-chair so he wouldn't fall, and fought so hard to feed him. She comforted herself with the memory she had of doing the same things as she was doing now, years ago, how glad she was to do so.
But there was a difference, wasn't there? Even as a toddler, even while dazed from fever, Cloud's eyes shone with a smile, he felt her presence and responded to her voice. Now, even with eyes as bright as the Lifestream, her Cloud was hollow.
"What happened to you?" she always asked, every single night.
Cloud never answered.
It was weeks later that a group showed up, all searching for Cloud. Claudia didn't recognize most of them, but she did recognize Tifa Lockhart, the mayor's daughter, and from the way she reacted upon seeing Cloud's condition, the guilt in her eyes, Claudia suspected them all of knowing what led Cloud to his current state.
In any other circumstances, Claudia would've been overjoyed to see Tifa, to see another survivor of the tragedy that befell Nibelheim, but this wasn't one of those moments.
They did. It was an incredible story, one rather hard to believe, but Claudia knew they were speaking the truth.
"Cloud told us you were dead…" the man who introduced himself as Barret said.
"Perhaps I should've been." Days before Cloud arrived to Nibelheim, she dreamed of dying, repeatedly and with vividness that had her thinking it was a message.
"I'll stay," Tifa said, haunted. Claudia was quick to say no.
"The Planet needs you more than my son does." She didn't want anyone to stay behind for her son out of guilt, an obligation, when that force could be better directed elsewhere.
"And Tifa…" Claudia called out, before Tifa left. "He's no fake. He was there."
After the WEAPON attacked, Claudia mused on how… strange being in the Lifestream felt. It wasn't pleasant, but it wasn't the opposite either. Just strange.
She wandered around for what felt like forever before she felt a familiar pull, a familiar presence. Cloud.
Was… was this the inside of her son's mind? These scattered, broken fragments?
She promised herself that she wouldn't cry, not until Cloud was awake and whole to wipe her tears away. She was a Struass, after all, and those of Strauss always had their way.
She walked to the nearest manifestation of her son, a child image of himself. "Mom," he said, in disbelief. "Are you…?"
Kneeling down to his level, Claudia tried so hard for her smile to be cheerful instead of heartbroken. "I'm alive. I survived."
"I thought I imagined hearing your voice."
Claudia snorted in mock offense. "You know better than anyone how unique my voice is. Those banshee shrieks can't be replicated."
Cloud laughed, light and soft, and Gaia, how she missed seeing that expression on his face. "It really is you…"
Holding his hand into hers, they started putting the pieces together.
She opened her eyes to see Cloud over her, the concern in his eyes fading into relief.
Claudia started to tear up.
Her son was quick to wipe her tears away. "Don't cry, you know I hate it when you do."
Letting Cloud help her sit up, she laughed through her tears. "I have every damn right to cry! I'm too old for this."
"You're not even forty."
"Well, I feel like a hundred."
"Your mother is really… something," one of Cloud's companions remarked. When did they arrive here?
Still holding her close, Cloud said, "Yeah, she's incredible," the warmth in his voice unmistakable.
If Cloud thought she'd stop crying because of his praise, he had another thing coming.
That huge ball of fire still loomed in the sky. Claudia missed seeing the stars and that fucking ugly thing was blocking the view. "When are you getting rid of it?" she asked when Cloud called, barely able to hear him due to the loud static.
"I might not come back," was Cloud's response. "This is my goo—"
"Cut that shit, Cloud. You're gonna come back." Claudia was sure of it.
"I told you so," she said, when Cloud came back to Mideel, when the Planet was miraculously saved.
In response, Cloud embraced her tightly – not so much he'd break her bones, but tight enough for her to feel warm. "I'm glad you're here," he whispered.
Claudia smiled. "I'm glad too."