|☁ (onewolf) wrote in drawpoints,|
@ 2014-08-31 02:45:00
|Entry tags:||!narrative, cloud strife|
WHO: Cloud Strife
WHAT: Cloud's return to Balamb Town becomes a visit to his past.
WHERE: Balamb Town
WHEN: Backdated to the afternoon of Thursday, August 28
The next time Cloud returned to Balamb Town, he came alone. There was no need to make it public when he was just going to drop an item and then beat it. He and Red and Solace had a weekend trip to prepare for so he really didn’t want to linger in his hometown as much as possible. Funny how that wasn’t even Cloud’s intention for holding his breath and bringing the topic of the ghost train up, they weren’t even going to get paid for dipping their toes in the water. He was after the money, of course. A rookie SeeD could only make so much without sorceresses making the job easier for them but Cloud knew how to count his blessings. And if an impromptu investigation meant a free ride to Galbadia, well, he wasn’t going to say no to that.
He knew all about Galbadia, of course. At least from the books he’d read, the movies and shows he’d seen and the stories people have told him or he’d overheard. But he’d never been, and if he couldn’t make money from sticking his neck out, this was going to be the next best thing. Did he need anything, he wondered? He thought about it as he parked the motorbike he’d borrowed from the Garden in the corner closest to the vintage item shop he and Red had visited the last time.
Standing in front of its door, the smell of moomba permeating through the slit, he forgot all about Galbadia to remind himself why he had gone out of his way to go back to his past. A hand inside his pocket was enough to remind him, of course. Looking down, Cloud extracted the cheap ring he and Red had inadvertently stolen, trying to escape the repercussions of breaking it. The gemstone was attached now through a superglue, a clean job if Cloud said so himself although he would sooner become a sorceress than grow an artistic bone. With a deep breath, he started for the door and knocked. That was stupid, of course, this was a shop, anyone could come in! But he wanted to get the shopkeeper’s attention, he needed to talk to her. With words he hoped he remembered…
The pale woman in her 30s was still there, dressed this time in a light gray blazer and a dark blue floral dress to match her brown flats. She’d been about to answer the door when Cloud stepped in himself, and the kind smile she’d put on almost made the swordsman want to go back on his quest. “Umm...good afternoon,” he said.
The woman nodded her greeting back. “Good afternoon,” she replied. “I’m happy to see you’re back. You and your sister left so soon, I was worried!”
Right. That was the story. Cloud pressed his lips together briefly in an attempt to smile but accomplished nothing of the sorts.
“Scruffy’s…” Cloud wondered… “She’s…” Was Scruffy even a she?
The woman seemed to take a hint, though, and transformed the story to one she could easily understand and readily accepted. “Oh,” came her sad answer. Smiling sadly, she said, “I’m sorry…”
Well, Cloud supposed that wasn’t a bad conclusion to Scruffy’s very short life. He’ll probably have to let Red know just in case. “It’s okay,” he said anyway with a small shrug. “She’s in a much better place now.”
That seemed to have brightened her up a little.
“Actually, I came for something else.” This time, Cloud stepped closer to her so she could see the ring on his palm. “Red and I...that is, my sister and I--”
“Your sister’s name is Red?”
“Actually, it’s Redina. Regina, sorry.” Cloud wrinkled his brows and shook his head briefly. It was true what they said -- once you lied, you had to keep lying. He wasn’t prepared to have to do this but here goes nothing. “Reg and I accidentally took this ring when we left your shop. We didn’t mean to steal it, we’d always meant to give it back but...Scruffy had us very worried.”
He studied her face closely, even as she looked down to the toy (was it a toy? It felt like one) in his hand. She didn’t strike him as the kind to suddenly scream for her neighbors to apprehend him, the thief, but Cloud was equally worried she would.
That wasn’t what happened, though. Her face transformed again into one that was lighter and with a twinkling smile, she said to him, “Thank you! We’ve been looking all over for it. I thought we’d lost it.” How she could even keep track of all the stuff she had in her shop, Cloud could never imagine. She took the ring from his palm and studied it in what little light was in the shop. “Yep, this is exactly it.”
Cloud let out a breath of relief. He dropped his hand then just as soon tossed it to the side. “I just wanted to give it back to you.”
“Thank you, once more,” she said, holding onto the ring in case it disappeared again. “You’re a good man.”
Cloud showed a flat pair of lips which was supposed to be a smile. With a wave he started back to the door. His job was done and it was time to head back to the Garden before anyone started looking for him. He opened the door just as something over the ceiling shut. Footsteps came thudding down the steps. “Cara, was that the carpet guy?” the voice was a woman’s, audibly aged but the architecture of the shop had boosted it.
“It’s just a customer,” Cara said, whirling to see the white-haired woman stopping on the landing five steps up from the floor. “He just came to give something back...grandma, what is it?”
Cloud had already stepped out when the question came and it was something that caught him with a little alarm. Was something wrong with the grandmother? Was it a heart attack? A pain in the leg? He turned back readily, in case he needed to run but the sight of the old woman made him stop and forget why he’d been scared. She was still wearing that green jade bracelet she’d always loved, and a long dress that covered her collarbone completely. It was like she’d quite literally stepped out of his past, and he blinked in recognition.
She gasped with a start. “Why!” she said. “You’re…”
Cloud did not speak for a time, even as he nodded. It was senseless denying it...not that he had thought to.
“Cloud Strife!” the old woman laughed. “Oh, it’s so good to see you again!”
With a low wave from his right, he greeted her back, “Been a long time, Ms. Julie.”
Until then, he’d always thought Ms. Julie was an old maiden, driven to perpetual singlehood due to her love for old things. Turns out Cara was her granddaughter who’d been living in the Fisherman’s Horizon with her parents and brother until two years back.
“That’s why she didn’t recognize you,” explained Ms. Julie while she moved swiftly from the kitchenette to the sitting area in the middle of the office. Up there, the room was practically the direct opposite of the shop below it. Small, with only enough space for a cluttered desk, the couches, a coffee table, a bathroom and a kitchenette, but bright with thanks to the wide windows looking out to the west.
Cloud observed with interest while the old woman served him coffee with a healthy dollop of sugar and cream. He was in the center couch, the longest one. Cara sat in the solo seat to his left, shaking some biscuits onto a white plate. The cutleries and the dishes were all mismatched. He’d tried to plead himself away from hospitality but Ms. Julie slapped him on the arm -- just as she always did.
“How long has it been...five years?”
“More or less,” Cloud said, taking his cup just as Ms. Julie took the last solo seat beside him. “I’ve been busy,” he said as his excuse.
“I heard.” Ms. Julie accepted it readily, and revealed why. “They say you’re a SeeD now! Is that true?”
That made Cloud blink. He didn’t know if there’d been anyone outside the Garden that he’d told about his graduation but he was pretty sure there wasn’t. So it must have been someone inside who shared the news. It sure did travel fast, though. “Yeah,” he said, nodding.
Ms. Julie giggled deeply from her chest, leaning back to her seat, dipping biscuit into her coffee. Cloud took that opportunity to sip his sugar in a cup and managed to put it down without betraying a wince. “How amazing! But look at you, you’re still the same. Still that quiet little boy who wanted to become a SeeD ten years ago...and now here you are! A young man and a full-fledged SeeD…”
Cloud offered a shy smile and dipped his head, scratching the back of it.
“How I wish your mom could be here to see you…”
His head snapped up, and he looked her in the eye, blue eyes on green. The regret was palpable in them, even in her smile. The shock, though, of hearing his mother’s memory again, was fleeting in his. Round eyes stared for a second longer, before Cloud looked down to his cup of coffee, brows moving together.
He should have expected this, he thought. There was a reason why he’d refused to come back to the town even after so long, after all… “Yeah,” he said, quietly.
It invited silence into the conversation, something not even the clinking of silver on china could break.
Before it got too long, the call bell rang from below, and then a muffled announcement, “Carpet!” Cara seemed to come back to life at their new visitor. She put down her cup to the saucer and stole a biscuit from the plate as she rose from her seat. “I’ll get it,” she informed her grandmother who smiled and nodded, then made her escape.
Cloud watched her until she disappeared behind the closed door. “I’m sorry, Cloud,” he heard Ms. Julie sigh so he looked back to her again.
She looked deflated all of a sudden, aging back up to her proper years. “She was just so proud of you! Sometimes, we’d pass each other in the town and she would tell me what you’d been up to. Your exams, your instructors…”
Cloud looked down again to his cup.
“Everything.” Ms. Julie sniffled. “I thought she didn’t like you going to the Garden like that...but I don’t remember seeing her as excited as when you first came back in your cadet’s uniform.”
That had been the highlight of Cloud’s young life, too. The glow in her cheeks, the stars in her eyes, they were more than what he had bargained for, and for once he truly believed that he’d done something right, finally. “Yeah,” he said again, somber in all his features. “Me too.” He recited empty words. He lived in the dorm mostly, then, because he had so much to learn and he wanted to be at the top of the class. But on weekends, he’d come back home to his mother and they’d talk until it was late at night. His mother would ask him questions, and he’d answer. He’d help her cook dinner, wash the dishes, catch up on his studies in the dining table, the lights turned low.
“Mom,” he said to her one midnight just as she was cleaning up after their midnight snack. “I’m going to be a SeeD next week.”
She whirled to him as if he’d suddenly turned into money -- for the Strifes never had been particularly rich despite the ample resources they had to support both themselves. “Next week? A, are you sure?” Her voice sounded temporary.
Cloud nodded, all the confidence in the world resting in those clear blue eyes and the resolute shape of his lips. “I’ve applied for the SeeD field exam and’ve been accepted. Once I pass it, I’ll be a full-fledged SeeD.”
His mother seemed to take a deep breath to gird herself at the prospect, but then she expelled it with a wider smile and everything was all right. “That’s good!” she’d even said, drying her hands on her apron before she returned to the seat next to him, wringing her hands on the table. “That’s so good...there’ll be a ball, right?”
Cloud nodded, again. “It’ll be my first ball, Mom. I’ll take you with me.”
“Me?” his mother laughed breathily but her beam was almost blinding. “Oh Cloud. Are you telling me you still haven’t found someone?”
Her son blinked. Well, he should have expected that. Since the kids his age had started going out with girlfriends -- at least according to her stories whenever he was home -- she’d been a little antsy to put him in the same category. Why, he didn’t know. He never belonged with them, not even as kids who only wanted to play. Seeking to escape the question, he looked instead to his book about monster biology. “I’ve been busy,” he said.
“Oh,” she clicked her tongue and smiled fondly at the boy, tilting her head to a side. “I know. But that’s what you keep saying.”
“It’s true, Mom!” Cloud looked at her. “I’m going to be a SeeD soon. That means I can’t slack off or I’ll fall off the ranks!”
“I know, Cloud, I know.” She reached to take his hand from the book, moving it to the table between them so she could squeeze his calloused fingers. “But I still worry about you. You push yourself too hard and you never tell me stories about friends or hanging out. It’s always T-Rex this, Instructor that.”
“Mom, I’m 16,” he said. “I’m practically an adult now, and I’ll be a SeeD soon! I can take care of myself.”
His mother nodded to their joint hands, her thumb moving up and down the side of his knuckles. “I still wish you’d find a girlfriend soon, though. Someone who’s older than you, who’ll take care of you.” She looked up to him and smiled, the creases of her age appearing. “Someone who can watch over you when I’m not around.”
“I know, I know,” she laughed briefly. She dropped his hand and leaned closer to the teenager to tuck some invisible stray locks over the back of his ear before she touched his cheek. “But I’m your mother, Cloud. I’ll always be your mother. So I’ll keep saying things like this if I feel like it, until the day I die. I only worry about you...okay, Cloud?”
Cloud frowned mildly and turned to his textbook. He hadn’t intended to come back home to have that conversation. He wanted to see his mother before the field exam but he didn’t want to have that talk. It was pointless and he was tired of it. What did she expect him to do after hearing all that?
He said nothing.
Cloud proceeded to stay stubborn, flipping a page instead because that seemed more productive. Even if he hadn’t really understood the text on the previous page, he wanted any kind of refuge from his mother’s counsel. He was 16, a soon-to-be SeeD, he could handle himself. Hadn’t he proven that much?
He turned to her finally, brows furrowed deeply to signify his unwillingness to behave accordingly.
His mother didn’t look fazed, though, still smiling, still stroking his hair with her fingers… “Okay, Cloud?”
Cloud did not yet relinquish his silence. For a moment there, he briefly considered daring his mother with his poor manners and not give her an answer but just look at her. But always, that smile would break him. She was his mother, after all. No matter what either of them said and thought, that would always be the truth. And it wasn’t her fault to be devoted to the only family she knew…
With a nod, he finally gave in. “Okay,” he said.
And that seemed to be the only thing she needed to hear to smile with all the world’s heart. And then two weeks later, she’d died. She’d died trying to get to him after hearing he’d been wounded in the field exam, all because it was her job to be his mother. All because of him. Had he known what was going to happen, would he have acted differently? All those times he was impudent, what would he have done if he found out that all his mother wanted was for him to be an obedient son for the short time she had left in this world? Still nothing would change the fact that she’d died because of him...and nothing could be worse than knowing he could have done something to prevent it. But didn’t.
“Let’s stop this.”
Ms. Julie’s face fell just as Cloud’s brows drew closer to each other. “I’m sorry, Cloud,” she said again. “It’s been five years...I thought you’d already moved on.”
“It’s okay,” he whispered, turning to see her wrinkled hands hold her cup on her knees. “It’s not your fault.” Empty, soulless, but what else could he say? He didn’t want to think, not when anything he thought of only reminded him of his mother. How could you? he wanted to ask. How could you move on, knowing your mother died because of you?
Sighing, he stood up. “I’ve got to go,” Cloud said. “I only dropped by to leave an item. I gotta get back to the Garden, they might need me for something.” He wished he wasn’t being rude. He didn’t mean to be but he had to get away before he felt suffocated with all the memories.
Ms. Julie took the glaring hint very well. With an apologetic smile, she nodded. “I understand,” she said. “Let me walk you to the door.”
“It’s fine, I can do it,” he said, waving his hand to Ms. Julie while he approached the office door with heavy footsteps. “Thanks for the coffee. It was nice seeing you again, Ms. Julie.”
Cloud didn’t even give much of a goodbye to Cara when he finally stepped back out to the afternoon Balamb sun and walked to his borrowed motorbike. The streets were empty, it being that lazy part of the afternoon where everyone was either taking a nap or at work, trying not to fall asleep.
That must have been what convinced him to take the motorcycle for a brief walk around town, initially an aimless refresher of his old home although he’d always known where he was going deep inside him, even if he’d barely been back home at all. No amount of heartbreak of losing his only family, of stubbornly refusing to see the town because it reminded him of the pain and the loss, would have been able to change that fact. The roads were still familiar, and his feet knew their way.
When he looked up from the cobblestones, he thought his house hadn’t changed at all. It was still the same white walls, the same herbs in the porch, the same number of steps leading up to the dark-painted door. Standing there, it was almost too easy to imagine his mother cooking lunch or wiping the table with a wet rag in preparation for Cloud’s weekend return. All he needed to do was to knock, really, and it would all come to life.
But the door had opened, and when it did, the noise of the television seeped through while a man not much older than him received him with a curious, “Hello?” a baby in his arms. “How can I help you?” he asked.
Inside, a boy laughed and the voice of a woman asking him to tone down answered in reply. Cloud suddenly felt embarrassed to be intruding such a domestic life, worlds away from his own, and shifted on his own feet, trying to hide his face by looking down to the man’s shoes. What had he done? What was he thinking? “Sorry, it’s a wrong number.”
The man didn’t volunteer much help after. With a diplomatic nod, he stepped back through his door and shut it.
And just like that, the house was Cloud’s mother’s home again. Cloud’s eyes lingered on the facade for a moment too long before he sighed and gave up on his past, dropping his gaze and his shoulders. Nothing to see here anymore…
He turned around and swung a leg over the motorbike so he could kick its stand and start the engine. His fingers wrapped knowingly around the grips while he adjusted his place on its seat. It was time to go home.