The quaint little town held nothing of the scars that had actually remained behind. There were little pillars of smoke rising from the chimneys from several of the houses and birds chirped merrily and pecked at the cobblestone walkways. The chill wind from the mountains brushed down the air that had once been infected with mako and burned the lungs, but now, it was simply a gentle spring breeze like any other.
Cloud stood in silence at the entrance, his boots standing just where cobblestone began and the town of Nibelheim actually began. He had been unable to bring himself to actually entering the small town just yet, memories of other times flooding over his mind and preventing him from moving forward. He drew his eyes up from where he had been staring at the ground as the wind ruffled his blonde spikes, the sun glinting off the tinted lens of his sunglasses.
He stood longer still, unable to move in to face his sin full on. He had come in hopes of paying respect for that which he had left behind so long ago, but he was hesitating, thinking of all the possibilities of why he shouldn’t be in this place. He could be recognized for one, and he was on business in Wutai. It was just another reason he was using to convince himself to stay away from this place, and he wasn’t sure if it was working completely. He should stay and pay his respects to the dead long since fallen and forgotten, most specifically one that he had once held dear… but it was difficult when he couldn’t even bring himself to enter Nibelheim proper.
Gritting his teeth, Cloud finally forced himself to take a step forward, the first in an hour. The noise from his boot hitting cobblestone sounded loud to his ears, like a shot that nearly drove him to bolt away from this place, bolt like a scared coward. He was neither scared nor a coward, so he held his ground and drew his other leg over and around so that a second step was initiated. He forced his feet forward one by one, making his form glide along the stone path towards the well of the town, and he stopped when he was standing next to the only fond memory that he had left, his gloved hand lifting to rest against the wood that held up the well.
He looked to his left, taking note of the inn and the other residential buildings, allowing his eyes to play over the details that had been rebuilt so perfectly that it was impossible to tell that there had ever been a fire in this place. It was rather disconcerting if only because it made him question his own memory of way back then, even if he knew for certain what had happened and Tifa would back up the truth as he knew it.
He could see the ShinRa Mansion down the path passed the well, and even the looming gate that seemed to separate the secrets of a corporation from the common folk could not let him forget. There were secrets in that place, secrets like himself, and he cared little to move down there to remember those years of cataloguing, injections, torment and, on the rare occasion, abuse. His memory was not as good as it had once been, but the gaps were enough to tell him of what sort of treatment he and Zack had once endured in the past, forgotten much like the horrors of Nibelheim.
He didn’t want to look to the right, aware of what would be waiting for him. It would be perfect, and it would be as he remembered it from years of childhood. It would be standing there among all the other buildings, so innocent and unwilling to remember the times that were not so pleasant, remember the woman that had died within, remember the sin he carried upon his shoulders. It would just be. It would stand as a silent reminder that even the past could be erased.
He could even see it out of the corner of his eye even when he avoided looking that way. Why had he come? To pay his respects, of course… but he didn’t think that it would have been so difficult for him to do. He had not been here in years, and he supposed that he had never expected to come back at all, but she had called to him in a dream just the other night to remind him of what he had so selfishly left behind without a thought in the world until years later when it was too late to take back what he had done.
After several moments of denial, he finally turned his head just enough where his home came into view, standing as he knew it would be. There were no signs of the material-induced fires that had raged through this place, and even the little birds on the doorstep hopping around for food almost made him question his memory again. It was too perfect, and it made the pain of what he had left behind all the greater because there was no sign of the destruction that he still held close to his heart.
Before he knew it, he was walking towards his home, and, like many times before, he stopped at the door and touched the wood to make sure it was all real still. At the feel of the grain even through his gloves, his eyes closed behind his sunglasses.
The heat of the fire nearly made him draw his hand back, the flames licking against his forearm as if to force him back again. He pushed his hand against the heated door, forcing it open to reveal the burning rooms within…
Cloud blinked his eyes as he found himself staring into his home, an elderly woman staring back at him in surprise. His jaw set as their eyes met for a moment before his flicked around perfect room, only the arrangement of furniture different than his memory. He dropped his hand down to his side and nodded his head in a silent apology to the elderly woman, closing the door again and turning his back on his home.
The groans of the dying reached his ears as his eyes focused on the ground. The heat of the fire made his hair cling to his forehead, and he lifted his head to look around the place of his birth. There was blood all over the ground around him and the burning buildings didn’t seem so much a concern to him where he stood.
A heavy weight set in his right hand drew his attention, and he found himself staring down at the Masamune. He flicked his hand to the side, shaking the blade so that blood dripped down from it onto the ground, onto the bodies that he had cut down. His keen, maddened gaze lifted to look around at the scene before him, his perfect little massacre falling into place around him.
“Yes, yes I am. I know it… you know it… we all know it. I am a murderer,” he replied to the blonde woman that stood before him. He shifted his footing on the pile of bodies that had appeared under his feet. “I killed you.”
“Not with your sword…” she said sadly. “When will you allow yourself to understand? I’m your mother, Cloud. I love you… but for all that you have done, you have failed at the simplest acts…”
Cloud shook his head at her, blue eyes narrowing as he stared down at her. He lifted a hand from being pressed against his chin, uncrossing his legs and leaning forward from the throne of dead. He smirked and gestured around him with a perfect grace of a man who had lost too much. “Your little failure, am I?”
“Stop killing me!”
“Stop blaming me!” Cloud snarled.
“Stop forcing me into this madness!”
“…” Her eyes went wide a moment before the light faded from them, and dullness of death overtaking her features a moment. Her body sunk down to knees, blistering red skin and singed hair transforming her form with the death that she had suffered. “…I will find your forgiveness someday, my only son… and then you will understand…”
Cloud snapped his eyes up from the ground and looked around almost wildly, seeing the false dream of Nibelheim around him. The buildings were perfect, the lives were content, and there was no death… this was not his Nibelheim. This was ShinRa’s lie created to cover up the madmen that had walked from this place so long ago.
And then he fled from this lie into one he had created for himself instead.