Alright, I'm going to apologize beforehand because this one is REALLY confusing. It jumps around a lot and it's hard to follow. Thanks for all of the reviews for my first fic though. Reviews really are encouraging.


Path of Thorns -

"I will be the answer
At the end of the line
I will be there for you
Why take the time
In the burning of uncertainty
I will be your solid ground
I will hold the balance
If you can't look down,"

- "Answers" Sarah McLachlan

In a flurry of black and white, a scent of rose petals and strawberries, she was before me - a great and beautiful presence. Leaning over, she pressed her lips against my forehead in farewell and smoothed down my flaming red hair with a gentle hand. Then she turned to stride out the door bravely, her long dark hair waving goodbye to me as she departed from the cozy abode she had created with her own hands. I was young then. And so was she.

She was my mother. A proud and strong woman. They told me that back then only the men left for jobs and women who searched for work were oftentimes laughed at and met with a slam of the door. But my mother left the house every early morning to search for work and wouldn't return for hours on end, the grumbling of my stomach only seeming to spur her further along in her resolve.

Finally, after weeks of searching, she managed to find a paying job. She washed the floors of upper plate homes and was paid at a sparse two gil an hour. Even so, she always managed bread, with a dash of butter or jam, on the table and warm clothes on my back. They told me she had gotten an offer from the Shinra building once, one in which she turned down immediately. She said it was because she would never support such a malicious company. I think she hated Shinra.

They told me she was once well-off. They also told me she was once considered a magnanimous beauty to all who were lucky enough to catch a glimpse of her. She had laughed and dismissed it as careless flattery of generous neighbors when I had regurgitated those very words to her.

But I had always wondered how she did it. If she really did come from a wealthy family. How she managed to taste the richness of the upper plate, chance upon their rich green lawn and their large wealthy neighborhoods, perhaps stumble upon a bout of nostalgia, and still walk the long mile back home to me with a cheerful smile on her face, holding a grocery bag, her two gil well spent at the marketplace. Everyday, I waited for her arrival by the window, the light-hearted expression on her face registering thoughts of lemon water and strawberry jam-licked bread in my head.

"Happy birthday!" she exclaimed, wiping her hands on her thin, worn apron as she nodded her head towards the inviting meal she had just cooked for me. Eggs, onion soup, and a small birthday cake. Just enough for one. She had probably saved up for the occasion. "Now eat up," she urged me, filling my plate with another egg. "You'll need strength for your first day of school tomorrow." The corner of her eyes crinkled into a smile as she ran her fingers through my unruly hair. "Today, my boy turns five," I heard her whisper proudly to herself.

I ate slowly. Normally, I would have shoveled every morsel of food down my throat for fear it would suddenly be snatched away from me. But it bothered me that she wasn't enjoying the meal with me. She had labored hours over the stove, working to perfect my birthday meal. I'd always known she was a great cook. I held the plate up for her but she shook her head.

"I'm not hungry," she replied, sliding into the seat across the table to prop her chin against her palms and watch me eat. I knew she was. She hadn't eaten since breakfast, and that had only been a meager slice of plain bread. But I wasn't surprised by her answer. She always had a knack for pushing food at me. Sometimes, I was afraid to ask for more portions because I knew she would give me her half and when I protested, she would simply shake her head and dismiss by telling me she wasn't hungry anyway.

I placed the food delicately in my mouth, savoring every bite, as my eyes traced the weathered lines of her face and hands. Work was hard on her, I knew. And the hours were long. I usually liked to surprise her by cleaning up around the house when she was away at her job, but even so, I often grew lonely. I knew my mother added extra hours so she could pay for my schooling. I was excited.

"Shh," she murmured in my ear, rocking me back and forth as I half-cried, half-yelled to her my frustrations about the bullies in the schoolyard, the angry teacher with the long yardstick. The only things I had failed to mention to her were the remarks they made towards me about her. How they suspected she had gotten knocked up by some random man and ended up with a bastard child, just like their own mothers.

It wasn't true, and I knew it. I had a father and I knew him. I saw him once when I was younger. When I had curiously inquired why my red hair was not jet-black like her own and why my aquamarine eyes were not like her shade of deep mahogany.

"It's because you've got your father's features," she laughed, quietly, tucking a wayward lock of my hair behind my ear. And then she took my hand and placed it over my left breast, while she touched her own hand to her own left breast. "But we're alike in here."

The next day she shook me awake earlier than usual. "Let's take a walk," she suggested, as she handed me a warm washcloth. She watched my reflection in the mirror carefully, an unreadable expression on her face, as I wiped the sleep from my eyes. She helped me dress in my finest school clothes and groggily, but wordlessly, I let her lead me out the door. Together, we walked hand-in-hand along the stray road that led to the upper plate.

"Who is that?" I inquired, blinking up at her, though her eyes remained fixed on the red-haired man in the dark sloppy suit that stood a long way from us, an indiscernible expression on her face. We were standing at the corner of a large building, peeking over as she drew the slight of her hand towards a pair of dark-suited men.

"Don't you recognize him?" she chuckled, though her eyebrows were pulled up and her eyes grew shiny as though she were struggling against something within her. I shook my head, not understanding. "That's your father," her voice lowered into a whisper. "That's where you get your good looks from." I saw something flicker in her eyes but then she blinked, and it went away.

I took a closer look at the man she pointed out as my father. Twin scars on his cheeks. Unknowingly, I traced my own cheeks with my fingers. They were smooth and soft. I took a step closer, craning my neck, to get a better look at him.

And then his friend, a tall bald man with dark glasses looked over in our direction suddenly, and my mother gasped slightly, drawing me back closer to her. Her eyes met the black shades of the tall man for a brief moment, before she looked away and led me in the opposite direction, hurriedly.

"Let's go back home," she murmured, pointedly not meeting my gaze. I thought I saw tears form in her eyes, a ghost of sadness. But they were gone by the time we reached home. Perhaps I had mistaken.

Why didn't she say hi to him? Why did she run when his friend looked over? I never asked her. But I wondered if the man in the dark glasses told my father we were there. I wondered if my father knew we had visited him and would come down to give us a visit in return. He never did.

I was six when we came across a peculiar looking bar in Sector 7. She steered me in its direction and we stood before it, gawping at the broken-down mess that she referred to as her "golden vision."

"I was going to go in to ask for a job here, long ago. I would have fixed it up real nice," she said as she smiled down at me. She turned back and brought her hand along its front entrance, her eyes telling of a sight that she seemed to see. "Wooden steps, a homey interior with red velvet-lined stools, and a bright shining sign that read '7th Heaven' just above the door."

"Why didn't you?" I asked. She smiled at me again and squinted, pointing a finger at the corner of the steps. "I met your dad here. Just as I was about to walk in. He took me to a nice coffee shop on the upper plate." I saw her swallow hard. "And I fell in love with him." She looked down, noticing the wrinkle of my nose in distaste, and laughed loudly, draping a gentle arm around my shoulders. "But I don't regret meeting him," she added, her eyes twinkling down at me as she guided me away. "Because now I've got you."

We came across an odd pair: a large dark-skinned man in a cutoff vest and a small girl in a purple dress. My mother's eyes followed my gaze over to them.

"Marlene!" the towering man called over to the girl as she straggled slightly behind, turning her head to meet mine with confusion. She jerked her head back towards the man.

"Coming, Papa!" she replied, scampering quickly to catch up with him. They entered the dilapidated building, disappearing behind its swinging doors and out of our sight.

"They're different," I noted, looking up at my mother in astonishment, "Just like us."

"Yeah?" was all she said. And we continued on.

My mother never took me to visit my father again, nor did she ever mention him for a long time after that. And I never brought him up. But occasionally, when I got older, I would sneak my way to the upper plate to try and catch a glimpse of the red-haired dark-suited man.

They told me she was young when she first met him. Barely seventeen and still fresh with wounds from nearly two years ago, both internal and external. She came from a town far far away; just a lonely orphan, in search for a job. And he, the man with the hair as bright as fire, the eyes as sharp and striking as the ocean's jewels, and the charm as crooked as it was attractive, had indeed swept her off her feet by her "7th Heaven."

He worked for Shinra, much to her dismay. He offered her a job which she turned down immediately and instead settled for a job at the coffee shop he took her to, wiping windows for one gil an hour. Reno - it was his name - the first man who had showed her true warmth since she arrived in Midgar. It was no wonder she fell so hard for him. And to him, she was a pretty little thing from the slums. Maybe he loved her, maybe he didn't. But they were positive he felt something for her. Otherwise, he wouldn't have stayed with her for so long, they speculated. Long for him, anyway, as his reputation was notorious. But no one had bothered to inform her.

Two years later, he had her propped up against his bedroom wall, their clothes half-torn off but not completely shed in all their eagerness. So excited that their knees buckled and trembled weakly as their bodies moved in syncopated rhythm.

And then she was pregnant. He left her a week later, telling her his job description didn't allow a family to tie him down, without so much as a glance back. The kind neighbors visited her after she gave birth and told her if she kept the baby, she would find herself in a path of thorns. She told them she's been pricked by thorns before and doesn't mind them so much.

One night, she caught me coming home late and greeted me at the door with a furious look on her face. "Where have you been?" she demanded, slamming the door shut behind us as I walked in.

"No where," I lied, looking away from her. There was silence and I made the mistake of sneaking a glance in her direction. I couldn't lie. "I went to the upper plate," I admitted, tearing my eyes from her stare to gaze sullenly at the floor.

There was more silence.

And then finally, "Did he see you?" Her voice sounded ragged, but a bit hopeful.

"Yes," I answered, honestly, combing a hand through my thick red hair. "At least... I think he did."

She stalked over to the sink and jostled with the dirty dishes, the loud "clinks" and "clanks" jarring me from my state of sulk to look up at her apprehensively. She finally paused to turn her head slightly. I watched her dark hair fall over the profile of her face and waited, shuffling my feet.

"Did he say anything to you?" she pressed on, quietly.


She didn't reply to this. She simply turned back to the sink and began to scrub at the dishes.

At that moment, when my heart began to hurt, I remembered once when she clasped our hands to our respective chests, and I knew that hers was hurting too.

"If it takes my whole life
I won't break, I won't bend
It will all be worth it
Worth it in the end
Because I can only tell you that I know
That I need you in my life
When the stars have all gone out
You'll still be burning so bright,"

- "Answers" Sarah McLachlan


Author's Note: Okay this one was strange. I don't know where I was going with this piece. I think I lost my original point. I was going to focus it on just Reno and Tifa. (Reno and Tifa were the parents, in case anyone didn't get that part.) but I ended up focusing mainly on Tifa and the son. I didn't name him. I was going to name him after Lenny from the Simpsons but then I changed my mind. The reason why I made it an AU fic was because this morning, it struck me: What if Reno just happened to interfere the first meeting of Tifa and AVALANCHE? Well.. It could have been Rude also, but I just can't see Rude being so forward when it comes to girls. Ah well. At least Rude makes an appearance! Wheee!

Constructive criticism is welcome!!