Chapter 7

Chapter 7: Leaving

“Good morning Cloud!” a voice said brightly.

“Huh?” Cloud said groggily.

“C’mon, we’re gonna be busy today!” The voice continued. He felt something shove him.

“Just five more minutes…” Cloud muttered sleepily.

“Fine.” The voice became irritated. “Suffer the consequences!”

That woke him up. He rolled away from the voice just in time to avoid a punch from Tifa.

Like hell he would let himself be hit by that thing again! He already experienced it once and it wasn’t a nice thought, knowing your childhood friend could beat the crap out of you whenever she wanted. It was a good thing he was from SOLDIER though. She could never hit him again, not after the first time.

He opened his eyes and looked at his surroundings. The others were preparing for the mission- The Sector 5 reactor. Barret was complaining about no breakfast. Tch, can’t stand a little while with no food- no wonder they needed people like him…

20 minutes later, they were all ready, equipment and weapons at hand. Cloud picked up his Buster Sword and placed it on his back.

Barret took charge.

“Our next target’s the Sector 5 Reactor. Head for the station first, I’ll fill you in on the train.” Barret said calmly. “Move out!”

The others ran. Cloud made to follow them but Barret stopped him.

“Uh..” Barret looked uncomfortable.

“What?” Cloud said curtly. The next mission was waiting.

“The thing is… I don’t really know how to use Materia! I’ll give you that Materia you found. Just teach me how to use it!” He said in a rush. It was fun seeing his face go red from embarssment.

Cloud sighed. He had to teach him, though. He wouldn’t survive otherwise.

“Let’s talk on the way, it’s not that hard.” Cloud made for the door.

“Yes, let’s go!” Tifa said.

Wait, she was going? That was dangerous!

“I’m going.” Tifa said in a voice that said you couldn’t argue. “Even if I have to break your bones one by one, I’m going this time.”

Cloud sighed. Barret looked at him sympathetically.

“Fine, let’s go!” Cloud agreed reluctantly.

<O><O>

“And then you just concentrate, using the materia as a sort of channeling device. It kinda bridges the gap between you and what you want to do so long as it’s within the scope of that materia.” Cloud finished. He explained it well, if he did say so himself.

Barret did not look enlightened though.

“What?” Barret asked. “What was with that ‘It’s not that tough’ crap? I don’t get it!”

“You have to.” Cloud insisted. “We’d face dangerous enemies later and I don’t want the rest of us dying just because you don’t know how to use materia.”

Surprisingly, Barret seemed ashamed and kept quiet.

Now what will I do? Cloud wondered.

“Cloud, you just handle the materia for now, okay?” Tifa intervened, giving him a dirty look. “Barret will be able to, eventually- it’s instinctive once he does it once.”

Now Tifa was angry. What did he do?

Cloud sighed.

“Fine.” Cloud said. “But I’m not helping him if he gets in trouble because of that.”

“Marlene,” Tifa said, ignoring him completely “you watch the store while we’re gone, okay?”

“All right, good luck!” The little girl said with a wave as they went out of the 7th Heaven.

Does she know where they were going? Nah, probably not. Barret’d probably not like his little girl to worry about them and it’s just as well!

Damn you Strife, Cloud chided himself. You’re getting sentimental, get a hold of yourself! You were SOLDIER!

“Okay, now that we’re out here, let’s go to the shops- we need better equipment if we’re going there since there’d be tighter security now.” Barret said in an annoying commanding voice. “Biggs, Wedge, Jessie, you go ahead and make sure we won’t get no trouble on the way there.”

“Got it,” Jessie answered “we’ll be waiting in the train. Biggs, Wedge, let’s go!”

“Oh Cloud, that reminds me,” Tifa exclaimed suddenly. “The man in the weapon shop wants to see you.”

“Well, best not keep him waiting, right?” Cloud asked. “You go to the materia shop- I’ll catch up in a few.”

Cloud walked to the weapon shop quietly. Would the man be up? It was too early in the morning- the sun had barely risen. But Cloud told him to have them ready so he’s probably awake.

If not, Cloud thought. I’ll give him the waking of a lifetime!

The light inside was open when Cloud knocked on the door and opened it.

“There you are!”the old man said gruffly. “I’ve got to tell you, it was hard getting these-”

“I don’t care.” Cloud cut him off. “Do you have them or not?”

The man surveyed Cloud.

“I have them.” He said quietly. “These were the best I could get in short notice- better than what’s in Sector 7, at least.”

He handed Cloud a brown bag with the bangles inside.

“What are they?” Cloud asked, checking them absentmindedly. They weren’t much, sure, but they were better than what he and the others had for now. How did he get by before on such basic equipment?

“Titan bangles.” The shopkeeper answered. “Now, for my money. They’re 280 gil each.”

“Here.” Cloud forked over the money.

As he turned to leave, the shopkeeper stopped him.

“What?” Cloud asked, annoyed. He really had to be going.

“Be mindful of how you treat people, boy.” The man said sharply. “You’ll be using them to fight Shin Ra, yes? So I was planning to give them for free but the way you were changed my mind.”

Why would the man say that? They weren’t friends. He picked up his Buster Sword and pointed it at the man.

“I don’t need charity, old man.” Cloud said in a dangerous voice. “I was SOLDIER and you better remember that!”

He murmured his apology, looking dissatisfied but cowed. Good. They’re below me, I shouldn’t make them think of me as a friend.

Cloud left the store, his new bangles around his wrist and the others on the leather satchel he carried.

“What’s taking them so long?” Cloud wondered, looking at the sky. Dawn was breaking and the sky was slowly turning the shade of blue that his eyes were. He leaned on the wall of the weapon shop, keeping his eyes on their meeting place. He would wait. He would…

“Cloud!” he heard Tifa’s voice.

I slept? He opened his eyes. The sky was just a bit brighter. Maybe 10 minutes?

“Come on sleepyhead, we have a mission to do!” Barret barked.

Damn. He slept! Only for a few minutes, yes, but still! He was a SOLDIER 1st Class, this shouldn’t have happened! Damn it, he was getting soft!

He stood straight.

“What did you guys get?” he looked at them. They weren’t carrying anything. No, wait, Barret’s gun-arm looked different. It wasn’t the old gatling gun.

“Huh,” he observed. “That’s what took you guys so long.”

“Yep.” Barret said proudly. “This baby’ll kick Shin Ra’s asses out to the sky. Or blow them off, whatever.”

“What about you, Tifa?” Cloud asked. She was still wearing her regular battle leather gloves. As if they weren’t enough when it came to Tifa.

“Materia.” She said simply, holding out 3 emerald green stones. A Restore, a Fire and an Ice. “Take only one, Cloud!”

Cloud took fire. He already had the others equipped on his gear.

“Thanks.” he said. “What about Barret?”

“He already has 2. And he knows how to use them.” Tifa said- was that smugness in her tone? “I taught him.”

Oh yeah, definitely smug. Well, whatever.

He changed the topic.

“Here.” he said as he removed the gear. “Titan bangles for the two of you.”

Tifa smiled as she put them on. Of course. Things like those would be important to her fighting style.

“Thanks.” Barret said gruffly.

Wait, what was that on his gun-arm? Blue materia? Which one? And how did he get that?

His questions must have showed on his face as Tifa explained.

Elemental” she said. “paired with Fire. The shopkeeper had them equipped for free on the new weapon. Apparently, he didn’t know what to do with them as he doesn’t really go out to fight so he just gave them to Barret.”

Interesting. That gun-arm’s more dangerous than I thought. It’d certainly blow regular Shin Ra infantry caught unguarded.

Of course, I have my own trump card. Cloud thought, holding the sapphire blue stone on his pocket.

“Well, what are we waiting for?” Cloud asked them.

“For you to stop staring at my gun-arm.” Barret said, grinning.

Tifa laughed. Cloud flushed.

“Let’s go then!” He walked to the train station.

Behind him, he heard Tifa giggle.

<O><O>

“Hey guys!” Jessie’s voice said.

Cloud looked around the train but she wasn’t there. Then, he saw one of the train conductors smile.

He ignored her and moved with Barret and the others in the train. Barret was telling them something but he wasn’t listening. He looked out and saw the Midgar slums around him.

Really, Shin Ra messed things up in Midgar. They ought to be pulled down but he wasn’t doing that- he was no hero.

Say Cloud, do you think I was a hero? A voice came unbidden into his mind. Who was that? I know him. A hero… He was…

*BRIIIIIIIIIIIIIIING!!!!!!!! BRIIIIIIIIIIINGGGGGG! BRRRRRIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIINGG!!!*

Cloud stood up. Funny, he couldn’t remember sitting down. A red light was blaring. The ID check zone! It found their fake IDs!! Shit!

Type A Security Alert!! Unidentified passengers confirmed… A searchof all cars will be conducted! Repeat!! Type A Security Alert!! Unidentified passengers confirmed… A search of all cars will be conducted!!!

The intercom blared.

UNIDENTIFIED PASSENGERS LOCATED IN CAR#1! PREPARING FOR LOCKDOWN!

“Let’s go!” Barret yelled. “Keep it up!”

CAR#1 LOCKED DOWN! UPGRADING TO LEVEL 2 WARNING!

“Hurry!” Biggs said.

“They’re gonna lock the door, sir!” Wedge said.

“Just run!” Jessie yelled. “We’re changing to plan 2!”

UNIDENTIFIED PASSENGERS LOCATED IN CAR#2! PREPARING FOR LOCKDOWN!

They ran.

CAR#2 LOCKED DOWN! UPGRADING TO LEVEL 3 WARNING!

“Awright! We’re clear!” Barret hooted.

“Not yet,” Jessie said grimly. “They’re starting another check. If we’re caught, we’re done for! But, don’t worry. If we move up the train, car by car, we should get past it!”

Unidentified Passengers: Moving to front of Train Currently tracking location.

“Run to car 4!” Cloud growled at the others.

CAR#3 LOCKED DOWN! UPGRADING TO LEVEL 4 WARNING!

“Almost…” Biggs muttered.

They made it to the car before the first.

CAR#4 LOCKED DOWN! UPGRADING TO MAXIMUM SECURITY ALERT!

“All right!! We made it!” Barret yelled triumphantly. “Yo!! This way!! Let’s go!! We’re gonna dive outta here!!”

Barret pointed at the door. Wait, they were jumping off the train when it’s on alert? It was moving twice as fast!

“Scary, huh.” Tifa muttered to Cloud.

“Too late to be saying that now.” Cloud muttered back. “Why’d you come along anyway?”

“Because…” Tifa looked uncomfortable. “I-”

“Hey, you two!” Barret screamed at them. “There ain’t no time for that!”

Tifa blushed.

“Right, I’ve made up my mind!” she said. “Watch closely.”

She stood at the edge, her back outside and somersaulted backwards, much as he did before. But this was different!

“Tifa!” He looked out and saw her land and roll, minimizing the impact.

He sighed then looked at Barret.

“You don’t care if I go first?”

“A leader always stays till the end.” Barret grinned. “Don’t worry ’bout me, just go! Yo! Don’t go gettin’ your spikey-ass hurt! It’s only the beginnin’ of the mission! Later! You take care of the rest!”

Cloud looked out. Too risky to roll with a sword behind him. He drew out his sword and channeled into his ice materia for about 10 seconds. It didn’t have to be long, just a thin layer of ice to break his fall… A SOLDIER fears nothing!

“Yaaaahhh!” He jumped.

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Chapter 6: Promises

well, pretty feels scene here with Cloud and Tifa’s semi-mushy past.

Chapter 6: Promises

                “Come to the well at midnight, I have something to say.” Tch! What the hell possessed me tell her that, even if only on paper!?” Cloud Strife muttered, pacing around the well.

It was getting cold. She’d probably never come. And why should she? If it weren’t for him, she’d never have gotten hurt on the mountain. But he had to see her one last time- he never might again for a few years. He was leaving Nibelheim, going to Midgar and he was going to join SOLDIER! He’d be as great as Sephiroth, a hero!

Well your heroic ass is freezing waiting for a girl who won’t come. His head said. That sobered him up.

He heard footsteps behind him. She came!

Tifa Lockhart walked towards him, wearing a sleeveless blue dress. She looked amazing then, her skin glowing in the moonlight and-

Shut up! Cloud told himself.

“Sorry I’m late.” Tifa said as he sat down. “You said you wanted to talk about something?”

Cloud nodded. How to begin? Now that she was here, he couldn’t find the words.

“Come this spring, I’m leaving this town for Midgar.” He finally said.

Tifa studied him.

“All boys are leaving town.” she said.

 “Yes, But I’m different from all of them.” Cloud said, his voice getting stronger. “I’m not just going to find a job- I’m joining SOLDIER! I’ll be the best there is, just like Sephiroth!”

Her eyes widened. That surprised her, huh?

“Sephiroth? As in the Great Sephiroth?” she asked “Isn’t it hard to join SOLDIER?”

Yes, but he couldn’t tell her that. Besides, he’d make it. He could feel it!

“I probably won’t be able to come back to this town for a while.” He said.

“Would you be in the newspapers if you do well?”

“I’ll try.” For her, he will.

Tifa met his eyes.

“Hey, why don’t we make a promise?” she asked, bright red eyes looking at his.

Uh oh. This might be Tifa, but still, a promise to a girl…

“Umm…” Tifa swayed her feet, seemingly trying to say the words. “If you get really famous and I’m ever in a bind, you’ll come save me, all right?”

“What?” Cloud said, taken aback.

“Whenever I’m in trouble, my hero will come and rescue me. I want to experience that at least once…” She said, strongly this time.

“What?” the words were out of his mouth before he could stop them. Great, idiot. She probably thinks you’re stupid now.

“Come on!” Tifa raised her hand, all of her fingers in a fist except for the last. “Promise me!”

Like he can refuse her something like this. Hero, huh? That’d be great.

“All right.” Cloud told her in a steady voice. “All right, I promise.”

He raised his little finger and locked it with hers.

“It’s a promise!” they announced to the night.

<O><O>

“It’s a promise. That’s what we said, right?”

Tifa Lockhart was looking at him now and he could see, just a bit that girl he made the promise with back then. But he still wasn’t sure.

“I’m not a hero and I’m not famous. I can’t keep… the promise.” Cloud said. He was only fourteen years old back then, thinking life was a story and he the hero. Besides which, he only said that because he had a crush on Tifa, then. Strange. How did he feel about her now?

“But you got your childhood dream, didn’t you?” She pressed, her voice shaking him out of his reverie. “You joined SOLDIER. So you’ve got to keep your promise.”

He looked at her face, shining with hope and realized that he didn’t like her anymore, at least, not the way he did before. But he still felt protective of her. She WAS his childhood friend. He steeled himself and made his decision.

<O><O>

Barret had cooled down already. He had decided. Cloud can take his money and leave. They needed him but there was just no way around it. He went to the elevator and upstairs.

“Hey!” Barret said, then froze. The scene that greeted him was surprising. Cloud and Tifa sat next to each other, Tifa looking at him and the ex-SOLDIER looking unsure.

What the hell did I just walk into? Barret thought. Shit, maybe I should return later.

                It was too late, though, they saw him already.

                “Wait a sec big-time SOLDIER! A promise is a promise! Here!!” Barret threw him a bag with 1500 gil.

                Cloud picked it up.

                “This is my pay?” He said in disgust. “Don’t make me laugh!”

                Barret started getting angry again but Cloud continued.

                “You got the next mission lined up? I’ll do it for 3000.”

                Barret was taken aback. What did Tifa say? He thought that the SOLDIER’d be leaving already!

The girl was good!

                Or maybe she just said what she wanted to. Barret thought. That scene a while ago… Maybe something about the time they were childhood friends?

                Wait- THREE THOUSAND!?

                “What? 3000 gil!? Are you insane?”

                “It’s okay!” Tifa rushed to him.

                “We’re really hurting for help, right?” she whispered.

                “Ugh…” That money was for Marlene’s schoolin’ but…

                “Two thousand!” He shouted to Cloud. The guy nodded.

                Well, that’s finally done. Barret’s stomach growled. Damn, that was embarrassing. Cloud glanced at him in disgust.

                “Maybe I should cook already.” Tifa laughed.

<O><O>

                Really, I thought Cloud would change now that he agreed! Tifa thought.

                The ex-SOLDIER sat on a table by himself as he ate in silence, ignoring all attempts to make him join the others. He already snarled at Biggs and Wedge and Jessie seemed to lose nerve whenever she tried to approach him. Of course, Tifa tried too but other than curt responses, she got nothing from him.

                But he was Cloud. He’s always been that way so she probably couldn’t change him. Probably nobody could. Besides, it’s probably for the best.

                Tifa sighed inwardly. No, it wasn’t. It’d be better if Cloud just enjoyed himself with the others- even Barret was laughing with them. Come to think of it, she’d never seen Cloud laugh ever since she saw him in Midgar. Oh, he smiled, sure, but almost always mockingly, like he was better than us.

                Well, she amended. he does smile a bit genuinely at me sometimes. And sometimes at Marlene. Then again, who CAN’T smile at her? The girl was adorable!

                 She looked at Marlene who was currently chasing Biggs around the room. With everyone laughing and smiling, she wanted to join in. She took one last glance at Cloud who was watching them with those blue eyes and went to the others.

Chapter 5: Tifa Lockhart

Here’s Tifa, though not shown with her ass-kicking punches and kicks yet 😛

Chapter 5: Tifa Lockhart

                “Papa!” a young brown haired little girl exclaimed as she saw Barret who picked her up and swayed her around.

                Cloud’s mouth twitched. Funny, Barret could be gentle when around Marlene. Such a sharp contrast with his usual attitude! Then again, it was hard not to be like that around the bright little girl. She was, in Tifa’s words, “So adorable!”. Cloud almost smiled.

                “Marlene!” Tifa scolded. “Aren’t you going to say anything to Cloud?”

                Cloud looked at his childhood friend. She changed a lot since the day he left her on a burnt Nibelheim, thinking she was dead and it was all his fault. Her face seemed harder, her eyes sharper.

                And other stuff as well. He thought, involuntarily looking at the length of her. Well he was a guy. But seriously, that skirt was too short!

                He sighed inwardly. Better not go down that road though. Tifa’s looks were deceiving. He glanced at a hole on the wall beside him. That was made the last time she got angry.

                “Welcome back Cloud.” Tifa smiled. “Looks like everything went well. Did you fight with Barret?”

                “A little… Well, a lot, really.” He admitted.

                She sighed.

                “I should have known. He’s always pushing people around and you’ve always been in fights since you were little… I was worried.”

                He didn’t know what to reply so they went silent for a while. Then, Cloud laid out the things he found (and nicked) during the mission and laid them out on the bar.

                “Oh, a flower!” Tifa exclaimed in surprise. “You almost never see one of those in the slums…”

                He wasn’t really planning to do anything with it so he supposed he could just give it to Tifa since she seemed to like it.

                “Oh, it’s for me?” Tifa asked, blushing. “You shouldn’t have…”

                And now I’m feeling awkward again. Cloud thought.

                “Anyway, thank you.” Tifa said, beaming. “They smell wonderful. Maybe I should fill the store with flowers!”

                Tifa looked at him, probably expecting a reply. Okay, now what was he supposed to say? She just held his gaze for a moment then turned to Barret.

                “You all right, Barret?”

                “Great!” Barret said, a smile on his face as he brought down Marlene. He almost looked like a nice guy. Then, he grimaced as he turned to the rest of them. “Get in here fools, we’re starting the meeting.”

                So much for him being nice. He’d scare less people if he tried to frown less. Wait, never mind, that’d be weird.

                Cloud sat on the bar and watched as the others went to the bed which doubled as an elevator to the basement. He shook his head. He had to admit, THAT was a bit cool.

                He turned to Tifa on the bar. She was still cleaning up.

                “How about something to drink?” Tifa asked, not looking up.

                “Give me something hard.” It’s been too long since his last drink.

                “I was worried about you, you know.” Tifa said as she shoved him a glass. “That was a bit dangerous.”

                Huh? That was dangerous?

                “What’s with you all of a sudden?” he asked. “That job wasn’t even hard!”

                “I guess. You were in SOLDIER after all.” She still didn’t sound convinced.

                “Look, Tifa, I’m fine, okay? I can take care of myself now.”

                “If you say so… You should go down.” She turned away.

                Now what on earth did he say wrong this time? He shook his head and made for the elevator.

<O><O>

                Barret turned when he heard the elevator go down. He had to ask.

                “Yo! Cloud, there’s somethin’ I wanna ask ‘ya. Was there anyone from SOLDIER fighting us today?”

                The ex-SOLDIER’s head came up.

                “None, I’m positive.” Cloud said in a voice with no hesitation.

                “You sound pretty sure.” Barret frowned. He was hoping that they’d fought them already. If those were the best that Shin Ra could send…

                “If there was anyone from SOLDIER there, you guys wouldn’t be alive right now.” Cloud grinned mockingly.

                Why that little-!!!! Yet what stung was that it was true.

                “Don’t go thinking you’re so bad just coz you was in SOLDIER!” Barret yelled, moving forward “Yeah, you’re strong. Probably all them guys in SOLDIER are. But don’t forget that your skinny ass’s workin’ for AVALANCHE now! Don’t get no ideas ’bout hangin’ with Shin Ra!”

                He threw Biggs away, who was trying to stop him. Cloud rose and moved towards him as well. At least he’s got pluck.

                “Stayin’ with Shin Ra?” Those blue eyes seemed colder than ever.  “You asked me a question and I answered it…that’s all. I’m going upstairs. I want to talk about my money.”

                “Wait, Cloud!” Tifa pleaded.

                When did she get here? She probably heard the arguing and went down. Tch. If only he wasn’t so strong… AVALANCHE needed guys like him but like hell was he going to take insults lying around.

                “Tifa! Let him go! Looks like he still misses the Shin Ra!”

                “Shut up! I don’t care about either Shin Ra or SOLDIER!” he glared at Barret. “But don’t get me wrong! I don’t care about AVALANCHE or the Planet for that matter!”

                He stalked to the elevator. Good riddance. That guy gets my blood boiling. Argh! Barret went to the punching bag. He needed to relieve some stress. He glanced behind him. Looks like Tifa followed Cloud, huh…

<O><O>

                Tifa ran to Cloud who was about to go out. He was still the same, after all these years. Aloof and alone, pushing everyone away… He walked to the door in a measured pace, sword behind him, looking, for all the world like the first class SOLDIER he was.

                “Cloud, I’m asking you, please join us.” Tifa pleaded. She knew she had no right to ask this of him and he was a mercenary. They couldn’t afford him. But AVALANCHE needed him. And she needed to know. He knew things he shouldn’t have, had memories where he wasn’t there.

                Cloud looked sad for a moment.

                “Sorry Tifa…”

                “The Planet is dying. Slowly but surely it’s dying. Someone has to do something.” She looked at him. “We can’t do this alone, we need someone with strength.”

                “But it’s got nothing to do with me. I told you before, Tifa. I’m a mercenary now. I do jobs for money. This was a favor to you, but I-“

                She cut him off. Any more and she’d be unable to stop him.

                “So you’re just gonna leave? You’re just going to walk out, ignoring your childhood friend?” she couldn’t help but put a bit of bitterness in her voice. They all left her. One way or another, she was always left alone.

                “I… Sorry.” Cloud went silent, at a loss for words. But he sat down, at least.

                “You forgot the promise, too.” She accused then bit her lip. She was letting her emotions get the better of her. This was about AVALANCHE, not her. Tifa sat beside him.

                Yet her words seemed to have an effect. He flinched and looked down.

                “That promise seven years ago, huh?” Cloud finally said, looking out the window, at the stars they couldn’t see.

                And for a few moments they remained like that, sitting beside each other, neither saying a word, thinking of the ghosts of their past.

Chapter 4

My chapters are getting longer, see??

Chapter 4: To 7th Heaven

                “Cloud never came…” Wedge said sadly.

                “Cloud… Wonder if he was killed?” Biggs asked worriedly.

                “No way!” Barret replied. “A tough guy like that, there’s no way he was killed!” There was no point in worrying for that one. He could handle himself. Barret hated to admit it, but in himself, he knew that the Ex-SOLDIER was stronger than him by a fair margin. He wasn’t as strong as he expected of a first class, maybe, but people like Sephiroth were legends, anyhow. A group of people only a bit weaker than Cloud as the enemies of AVALANCHE would be dangerous.

                But I’ll take them all down. Until Shin Ra doesn’t exist anymore!

                “Cloud…” Jessie muttered.

                Barret glanced at her. Poor Jessie. She seemed to have taken a liking to the guy after he saved her back in the reactor. Barret was surprised with that too. He wouldn’t have thought a person like him to help someone unselfishly just like that. Were all people from SOLDIER like that? It was worrying. Fighting guys with decency would be harder than if they were all just inhuman bastards…

                “Say,” Biggs interrupted his thoughts. “d’you think Cloud’s gonna fight ‘til the end for AVALANCHE?”

                A guy like that? He’s decent but not unselfish. But he was the best in them. If he joined… But he wouldn’t. Barret suddenly felt irritated.

                “The hell would I know!?? Hmph! If you all weren’t such screw-ups…”

                Everyone went quiet for a moment, then…

                “Hey Barret,” Wedge asked. “What about our pay?”

                He lost it. He slammed his gun-arm on a nearby crate and glared at Wedge lightly. He couldn’t do a fierce glare, it went against his otherwise peaceful demeanor.

                “Uh, nothing, sorry…” Wedge apologized.

                After a few minutes of peace, he heard a familiar voice.

                “Aaah…” Cloud said through the door as he opened it. From the looks of it, the idiot came from the ceiling!

                “What the hell did you do, jump on the train!?” Barret barked as a greeting. He was glad the boy was alive, though.

                “Cloud!” the trio exclaimed in unison, rushing at him like little kids.

                Thinking of them as boys and girls… I’m only 35! He thought.

                Cloud looked at Barret.

                “Yeah, Shin Ra troops chased me so I couldn’t come to the station.” Cloud explained. Then, in a cocky tone, he added. “Looks like I’m a little late.”

                Forget that he was worried about Cloud! The guy was alive and apparently alright if he could be this arrogant!

                “You’re damn right you’re late! Come, waltzin’ in here and making a big scene…” Barret glared.

                The blond ex-SOLDIER, as usual, acted cool. “It’s no big deal, just what I always do.”

                “Shit! Making everyone worried like that…” Barret slammed his gun-arm again. “You don’t give a damn ‘bout no one but yourself!”

                “You were worried about me!?” Cloud looked taken aback and he actually sounded surprised. The Ex-SOLDIER opened his mouth as if to answer and then closed it again. He appeared, for the first time, at a loss for words.

                Well, what did he expect? He was a part of the team! He might be a jerk but as long as he was a part of his team, then Barret would worry about him. He never wanted to lose anyone he was responsible for again.

                “Wha? I didn’t say nothin’ like that!” Barret answered. “I’m taking it outta your money, hot stuff!”

                He turned to everyone.

                “Wake up! We’re movin’ out so follow me!”

                Cloud let Barret and the other three pass through first.

                “Hey Cloud, you were great back there!” Wedge said.

                “Heh heh, we’ll do even better next time!” Biggs grinned at him.

                “Be careful, I’ll shut this.” Jessie said, shutting the door from where Cloud came from. “Oh Cloud, your face is pitch black!”

                She wiped his face with a handkerchief. Cloud felt uncomfortable, he wasn’t used to this. He must have showed it as Jessie suddenly blushed and took her handkerchief away from his face.

                “There you go!” she said. “Say, thanks for helping me back at the reactor!”

                After thanking him, she went through the door. Checking the compartment a last time, he followed.

<O><O>

                Cloud was a bit shaken by the compartment scene. That they’d be worried about him! That was surprising. Even Barret seemed a bit worried though pissed off at him as well. Biggs and Wedge looked at him with eyes that he hadn’t seen in a long, long time. More than a decade, in fact.

                I used to look that way when I talked about Sephiroth. Cloud realized. They were idolizing me?

                And Jessie seemed to blush near him for whatever reason. She was probably just embarrassed by what happened in the reactor a while ago.

                Anyhow, this was troubling. He should finish this up as soon as possible and move on. He was a lone wolf, and he couldn’t take care of anyone but himself.

                The conductor’s voice greeted Cloud as he went through the door.

                LAST TRAIN OUT OF SECTOR 8 STATION. NEXT STOP IS SECTOR 7, TRAIN GRAVEYARD. ESTIMATED TIME OF ARRIVAL IS 12:23 AM, MST (MIDGAR STANDARD TIME)

                He looked around. The other passengers were crowding around the door, trying to go to different compartments as Barret gave them a menacing glare. Cloud shook his head. Seriously, there’s no use trying to be inconspicuous with this guy around. It’s a wonder that AVALANCHE still hasn’t been caught yet. Then again, this WAS their first large-scale mission.

                Cloud didn’t know what to do so he looked at the digital map of the Midgar Railing System on the wall that Jessie was looking at.

                “Hey, Cloud. You want to look at this with me? It’s a map of the Midgar Railing System. Let’s look at it together. I’ll explain it to you. I like this kinda stuff. Bombs and monitors…you know, flashy stuff. Okay, it’s about to start. This is a complete model of city of Midgar. It’s about 1/10000 scale. The top plate is about 50 meters above ground. A main support structure holds the plate up in the center, and there are other support structures built in each section…” Jessie continued speaking. Her eyes were sparkling. She was really into this stuff, isn’t she?

                She lowered her voice. “The No. 1 Reactor we blew up was in the northern section. There’s also No. 2 all the way to No. 8. Together, they provide Midgar with electricity.”

                Her expression suddenly went sad and she looked at him. “Each town used to have a name but no one in Midgar remembers them. So instead, we refer to them by numbered sectors. That’s the kind of place this is.”

                He felt uncomfortable so he studied the Map. The train route spiraled around the main structure and there were ID sensors at every checkpoint. They were using fake IDs, of course. Barret alone probably was enough cause for suspicion, anyhow.

                A red light suddenly bathed the train. They were at the checkpoint.

                “…anyhow, we’re almost back now. That’s a relief.” Jessie finished. Seriously, long speech.

                Cloud turned to Barret who was unusually quiet and staring at the plates above.

                “Look, you can see the surface now… This city don’t have no day or night. If that plate weren’t there… We could see the sky.” Barret muttered.

                “A floating city, huh. Pretty unsettling scenery…” Cloud said thoughtfully.

                Barret turned around in surprise.

                “Huh. Never expected ‘ta hear that from someone like you- you’re jus’ full of surprises.” Barret said. “The upper world… The city on a plate… It’s because of that goddam’ pizza that the people below are sufferin’!!!  And the city below is full of polluted air! On toppa that, the reactors keep drainin’ up all the energy!”

                Cloud was now wondering about it. This wasn’t his first time in Midgar…

                “Then why doesn’t everyone move onto the plate?” He asked Barret.

                “I dunno. Maybe coz’ they got no money…” Barret went silent for a moment. “Or maybe.. because they love their land no matter how polluted it gets…”

                “I know… No one lives in the slums just because they want to. It’s like this train. It can’t run anywhere except where its rails take it…” Cloud replied. Well, that was unusually thoughtful of him. What brought that on..??

                They finally reached the station.

                “Yo!!” Barret shouted. “Get over here, all’ya!! This mission was a success. But don’t get lazy now. The hard part’s still to come! Don’t y’all be scared of that explosion! ‘Cause the next one’s gonna be bigger than that! Meet back at the hideout!! Move out!”

                Cloud walked out, taking in the views as he went on.  This was where he met Tifa again. Why was he out here again? He was looking for mercenary work, right? But where was he before that?

                His thoughts were interrupted when he reached the bar. Barret scared the customers away to make room for them.

                “OK, go on ahead!” Barret said.

                Cloud read the sign above the door. 7th Heaven! A piece of heaven in Sector 7! Cloud remembered Tifa telling him about the carpenter who made it. Apparently, a guy from SOLDIER gave the name. Well, he didn’t really say that but he had sky blue eyes, so yeah…

                Cloud entered with Barret behind him.

Chapter 3: The Flower Girl

Aerith :3

Chapter 3: The Flower Girl

                She didn’t know what was going on. One minute, everything was normal- as normal as it could be in Midgar, at least. Then-

*BOOM!!!*

An explosion sounded huge metal pieces started flying around. Of course, people started screaming and running around. The explanations kept going wilder with each person she asked:

                “There was a power surge and the reactor exploded!” “No, a summon went berserk!” “No, Shin Ra were testing a bomb” and even things like “The Planet’s angry because of Shin Ra’s activities with Mako!”

“Seriously…” she muttered. She picked up her flower basket. She was going home- she won’t be able to sell flowers among this confusion anyway… Then, she saw a guy who looked like he knew what was going on, walking straight ahead without any confusion in his eyes.

                Mako eyes? the girl wondered.

                She didn’t know what it was but there was something familiar about him. In the way he walked and the aura of safety and protection that he emitted. She almost thought it was him but there was none of that exasperatingly wonderful and playful smile in his eyes.

                “Besides,” she noticed. “they look nothing alike.”

                Oh well, he’d probably know something of what happened. Clearing her thoughts, she approached the guy.

<O><O>

                Cloud was a bit shocked at the scene that met him. He knew that this’d happen but he hadn’t really thought of it before. Too many buildings were burning, innocent people wounded. Was this right?

                Get a grip. He told himself. You’re from SOLDIER 1st Class. You’ve seen and done worse.

                As he was surveying the scene, a girl approached him. She had light brown hair drawn back in a thick plait with a pink ribbon tied around it. Her bangs framed her face, showing her emerald-green eyes. She almost seemed mysterious.

                “Excuse me, do you know what happened here?” she asked in a normal voice.

                Cloud stared at her. Was she for real? Everyone else was running around, panicking, and here she was, just a girl probably around 17 or 18, asking him what was going on calmly. And politely.

                “Um, staring at someone like that is a bit rude, you know!” she pouted.

                Cloud flushed.

                “Sorry, it’s just that… you seem a bit too calm. Everyone else is panicking and a girl like you not? That’s a bit disconcerting, don’t you think?” he asked, trying to cover up his embarrassment.

Her eyes flashed. Green eyes, he noticed.

                “Excuse me, I’m already 22, you know! I’m hardly a ‘young girl’!” she said testily.

                “Eh,” Cloud was taken aback again. “you’re older than me!?”

                “Hey! It’s rude to call a girl ‘old’ you know!” she pouted again.

                What!?? She was just angry at being called ‘young’ and now she’s pouting because I called her old? Cloud wondered, confused.

                “Anyway,” he said, ignoring what she just said, it seemed safest to. “It’s dangerous out here.”

                Cloud knew he said the wrong thing as soon as the words were out of his mouth. He said the same thing to Tifa a few days ago and her reaction, well, best not to think about it. And Tifa was normally demure!

                Cloud saw the girl’s cheeks redden.

                Oh man.

                “Oh, so you’re saying that I can’t take care of myself, huh?” She asked in a honey sweet voice. “That wouldn’t have anything to do with the fact that I’m a girl, would it?” She glared at him, inching her face closer with every word.

                “Uhh,” Cloud stammered. He felt rather than saw a thick metal rod press against his chest. When did she pull that out? And he called himself a first class SOLDIER… He couldn’t answer properly, those green eyes were distracting. He looked around, trying to change the topic.

                “Hey, are those flowers? You don’t see much of those around here!” He noticed in a falsely bright voice.

                The change in the girl’s expression was shocking. Her face suddenly brightened and then turned a little… wistful- he couldn’t think of any other word for it. Then, she smiled. It wasn’t forced but it was somehow a little sad. Surprisingly, her mood still looked cheery.

                “Oh yes! Did you want one? They’re only a gil…” she asked

                “Sure, I’ll have one.” Cloud tried to smile too.

                “Here you go!” she beamed as she handed him a particularly bright pink flower. Then, she made a face.

                “Don’t think this makes up for the things you said, though! I’m still angry about that!” she winked.

                “I-“ Cloud began, taken aback for the third time in their conversation. “Wait, I gotta go!”

                Putting the flower on his back pocket, Cloud ran towards the train station.

                A minute later, Shin Ra soldiers followed.

<O><O>

                Cloud was thinking hard as he ran, letting instinct move his legs to the right direction. The girl he just met seemed… familiar. He was positive he hadn’t seen her before, though. It was just that everything about her, especially those green eyes seemed… well, familiar.

                I think I’ve heard about her before, Cloud thought, from someone’s story…

                But that wasn’t possible. He was a first class SOLDIER. He didn’t talk to anyone below him, only in the line of work. And even, with his comrades, he hardly ever talked except when necessary.

                Cloud shook his head. No matter how he turned his mind around it, he didn’t know the girl. He was sure he’d remember someone like her. Funny and witty, and also a bit childish, she was almost the opposite of Tifa who was caring and a bit motherly at times. They were both beautiful and kind of headstrong though. But yes, the flower girl was childish.

                She’d probably have stuck out her tongue at me if we talked a bit more, Cloud grinned. I hope we meet again sometime though. I still wanna know why she seems so familiar..

                That was unlikely, though. After this, he’d be off to find more mercenary work, just as he planned. Preferably away from Shin Ra so that’d mean away from Midgar and from AVALANCHE. Away from his childhood friend and a promise he couldn’t keep…  Was he just running away from that broken promise? He was just trying to pay it off with this mission, after all. But maybe…

                He stopped. No more unnecessary thoughts. The infantrymen had caught up.

                *CLANG*

                An echo sounded from the moment steel meets steel. Cloud spun and blocked another tonfa from another infantryman. Five more came running and circled him, coming in only twos and threes.

                These guys are experienced .Cloud thought. I could take them down but it’d take a minute and I have a schedule to keep.

                Cloud faced the alley and took a step back, holding the huge sword with both hands beside his waist. He concentrated. The soldiers probably sensed it or more likely, seen his blue eyes glow a bit brighter as mako built up in specific parts of his body. They widened the circle warily.

                “Braver!” Cloud shouted as he thrust into the space between two soldiers at lightning speed, knocking over those in his way.

                He continued running all the way to the bridge and, in the middle, found his way blocked. More soldiers. And an officer with red uniform. These ones had rifles.

                “Ranged, huh.” Cloud turned back but found that blocked as well. “Guess I have no choice, then!”

                He spun the sword in his hand, flipping the blunt and sharp edges. As long as he kept close, the rifles wouldn’t be a problem. He was late though. No going around that.

                “Barret’d probably freak.” Cloud sighed. The enemies cocked their rifles. Nope, couldn’t have that!

                Cloud drew a smoke grenade in his pocket and threw it. Now, the soldiers can’t fire their rifles- they might hit each other.

                He came at them then. Relying only on the sound of their footsteps, he tried to guess where they were.

                I’m not used to this. He realized. How could that be? Did he never have to fight enemies this way before?

                He put his mind in the battle and focused his mako-enhanced senses. An upward strike from behind and a downward slash from in front. He slipped sideways, letting them clash weapons and think it was him. He was winning but the smoke was dispersing… He checked his watch. I still need a few more seconds.

                He returned his sword to his back and punched his way to the railing if the bridge. He seriously needed to improve hand to hand fighting. Why didn’t Shin Ra train him in this? But he reached his goal and heard his ticket out.

                “Sorry guys, I’ve no more time to play with you. Maybe next time!” Cloud grinned at them and mockingly gave the infantryman’s salute with a rifle he picked up from a knocked out guy just then.

                “What are you talk-?” The officer began.

                The train whistle sounded.

                “There’s my ride.” Cloud shouted through the noise, throwing the rifle at the officer who barely caught it.

                He fell backwards, doing a somersault mid-air and landing on his toes like from a movie. Just as someone would expect from someone like him.

                “Damn!” he heard the officer faintly as the train sped away. “Heidegger’s gonna kill the captain when he reports this!”

<O><O>

The flower girl laughed as the soldiers went past her, chasing the blue-eyed blond. If he was what she suspected, then those guys would probably be knocked out in a minute. But she was sure now- he wasn’t him reincarnated or something. He was too innocent around girls- something very ironic and amusing! He surprised her with steering the conversation with the flowers, though. Too many memories there, triggered by his familiarity as well… She hoped she could meet him again, though. He DID look a bit cute. Aerith Gainsborough laughed again at that, the wind swaying her hair sideward as she picked up her flower basket and headed home.

Chapter 2: AVALANCHE

Yeah, I know. I love the all-caps thing -_-

Chapter 2: AVALANCHE

“Yo! This your first time in a reactor?” Barret asked Cloud who was behind him.

“No. After all, I did work for Shin Ra, you know?”

“The planet’s full of Mako energy.” Barret continued. “People here use it everyday. It’s the lifeblood of this Planet but Shin Ra keeps suckin’ that blood out with these weird machines.”

So what? Cloud thought. This doesn’t concern me.

Outwardly, Cloud just sighed. “I’m not here for a lecture. Let’s just hurry.”

Barret threw his hands up in frustration. “That’s it! You’re comin’ with me from now on!”

“I don’t care. Just don’t get in the way.”

Behind them, Biggs, Wedge and Jessie wisely kept their mouths shut. They didn’t want to get in between the seemingly inevitable fight in front of them. Better to pretend they didn’t see anything. Inwardly, though, they sighed.

<O><O>

Arrogant! Barret thought, fuming Just because he was in SOLDIER, he thinks he’s all better than us!

                In contrast with his thoughts, Barret spoke calmly. “Little by little, the reactor’ll drain out all the life in the planet and that will be that.”

Cloud shrugged. “It’s not my problem.”

Barret’s face turned an ugly shade of purple and seemed to be making an effort to control himself. He failed as he yelled. “The planet’s dyin’ Cloud!”

In contrast, Cloud’s demeanor was like ice, just as his voice was. “The only thing I care about is finishing this before the Roboguards come.”

“Aarrgggghhh!!!” Barret yelled.

The group moved quietly after that. Barret and cloud switched to the rear as Jessie and the others disabled the security doors.

“Halt!” A guard in blue appeared from the corridor they just passed. “Drop your weapons, raise your hands and we’ll not have any trouble.”

“Dammit!” Barret growled. “That’s why I told you guys not to make any noise!”

“Hey! You were the one making the most noise!” Wedge pointed out, raising his hands as more guards came.

“Shut up! Both of you!” The Shin Ra guards in their blue uniforms ordered.

“Barret,” Cloud said in a low voice. “Cover me.”

“Hey, Spikey, stop talking!”

“What?” Barret muttered

“Cover me.” Cloud said in a voice a little louder than the first.

Barret nodded

“Stop talking or we’ll be forced to use these!” The Shin Ra guard said, pointing his rifle at Cloud.

Cloud slowly raised his hands in seeming surrender and suddenly drew his sword. “Now!” He shouted at Barret.

Before the guard in front of him could even react, Cloud jumped on top of a stack of crates, using the guard’s body as a platform. He slammed his sword at the guards heading to him at twos and threes. The other guards kept their distance, knowing now that they couldn’t hurt him at close range. They pointed their rifles at him but before they could fire, something exploded where they were. Those who didn’t die were either stunned or unconscious.

“And I call that one Big Shot, baby! Ha!” Barret yelled in triumph, a mad gleam in his eyes.

“Barret.” Wedge warned as he kicked the recovered guard in front of him. The remaining guards were also getting to their feet.

“Damn! I can’t do that move again right away! Run!”

AVALANCHE went deeper into the reactor but as they ran, the guards were coming closer. Jessie and Wedge ran backwards as rear guards, shooting the oncoming guards.

“We can’t keep this up!” Jessie moaned, reloading the gun.

Cloud agreed with her as he looked back and saw red uniforms mixed in with the blue. There were already guard captains and the corridor was too narrow for him to swing his sword. Not good.

Barret stopped and turned around. “I’m gonna finish this!” He aimed at the guards and his gun-arm seemed to be absorbing light. It glowed.

“No!” yelled Cloud. “They’ll just keep coming if you fire at the ones at the front. Fire at the ceiling!”

“Understood.” Barret said, his voice strained. “Here we go! Ahh, BIG SHOT!!!!”

“Everyone over here!” Cloud motioned to the others as an orange ball of pure energy hit the ceiling above them.

“Is everyone alright!?” Biggs asked after a few minutes. “Where’s Barret?”

“I’m right here. M’all right.” Barret said as he shook the dust off his dirty brown vest. He looked at Cloud with a newfound respect. “You’re really good. Good at fighting and smart too.” Barret mused.

“Can’t say the same for you.” Cloud replied in a nonchalant voice. “You’re good at fighting all right, at least, against regular Shin Ra infantry. But you’re way too loud and you have no sense of stealth. Oh, and your temper’s way out of control.”

Biggs, Wedge and Jessie exchanged horrified glances. Uh oh. they thought.

“…” Barret face contorted but he mercifully let it pass as Biggs, Wedge and Jessie sighed in relief.

What’s he getting angry for? It’s true… Cloud wondered. Oh well, they weren’t from SOLDIER so I shouldn’t expect much.

<O><O>

They finally made it to the reactor core and were going to the main part. Jessie and the others stayed on different parts on the way there to guard.

Watch out! There isn’t just that reactor!

Cloud froze. He turned but no one was there apart from them.

“What’s wrong?” Barret asked.

“Nothing…” Cloud said, blaming the voice on the strain of fighting a while ago. “Let’s continue.”

“When we blow this place, this ain’t gonna be nothing more than a hunka’ junk! Cloud, you set the bomb. I gotta watch to make sure you pull nothin’!” Barret said.

Cloud didn’t care. “Fine, be my guest.”

Cloud set the timer on the bomb and strapped it on the reactor. It was weird. The scene looked too familiar. Where had he been in a reactor before? Ugh! Cloud pushed his thoughts away and stood up.

“Done.” Cloud said.

“Good.” Barret seemed to be looking around the area. “Now let’s go before they- Shit! Heads up! Here they come!”

Cloud and Barret jumped away just in time to avoid the quick metallic tail.

“That thing’s huge!” Barret exclaimed, staring at the metallic Robo-Scorpion. “What the heck is that!?”

“A Guard Scorpion!” Cloud shouted as he ran to avoid the laser attacks. “Keep it busy for a few moments- Don’t argue, just do it!”

Barret seemed to understand the gravity of the situation as he didn’t complain and obeyed immediately. He moved around and kept firing, keeping the monstrosity’s attention away from Cloud.

“Done! Barret, keep away from him!” Cloud shouted before he released the channeled energy he held in the materia. “Bolt!

Electricity from the air and the reactor jumped to a small gleaming orb in Cloud’s sword and was channeled to the Guard Scorpion. The enemy stopped for a moment and a lot of parts scattered. Still, it continued to attack Barret. The tail almost reached him when a streak of blue sliced it in two in the air. The blue streak landed behind Barret. It was Cloud and he looked just a bit exhausted.

Braver– A sword technique of mine.”Cloud responded as Barret opened his mouth. “It’s weak from all the electricity! Do your stuff now!”

“Hey! Don’t order me around!” Barret yelled. But he aimed at the guard scorpion all the same. At the state it was in, he didn’t need full power and so charged his weapon less. “Big Shot!”

The Guard Scorpion fell down, electricity crackling from its exposed wires.

“There’s nobody inside?” Barret said in surprise.

“Nah, this one is just a programmed robot.” Cloud explained. “Bomb timer’s ticking! Come on, let’s get out of here!”

They ran. Reaching the place where the others were, they explained what happened briefly and ran again. They barely made it in time- Wedge had to go back because he forgot the weapons. Jessie got her foot stuck on the railings and had to be helped by Cloud. All in all, the reactor exploded just as they made it out.

Cloud sighed and looked at the place where the reactor used to be. Barret was right. The place did look like a “hunka junk”.

“That should keep the planet going- at least, for a little while.” Barret said, a strange look on his face.

“Yeah.” Wedge, Biggs and Jessie nodded.

“Okay, everybody, rendezvous at Sector 8 Station!” Barret commanded. “Split up and get on the train. We meet in the cargo cart, ok?”

“H, Hey! Wait!” Cloud said nervously. He hated this part. It was just always uncomfortable asking for the pay.

“If it’s about your money, save it ‘til we’re back at the hideout.” Barret said gruffly. “No more questions? Ok, move out!”

Chapter 1: EX-SOLDIER

And here’s chapter 1

 

Chapter 1: EX-SOLDIER

                “Wow! You used to be in SOLDIER all right!” the guy named Biggs said as Cloud dispatched two Shin’Ra guards within seconds. He used the blunt edge of his sword, rendering them unconscious. “Not everyday you find one in a group like AVALANCHE.”

                “SOLDIER? Aren’t they the enemy? What’s he doing with us in AVALANCHE?” Jessie asked as Cloud nicked two potions from the guards’ pockets.

                “Hold it Jessie. He WAS in SOLDIER. He quit them and is now one of us.” Biggs explained. He turned to Cloud who had kept silent until then. “Didn’t catch your name.” he said expectantly.

                Cloud held back a flippant answer. “Cloud.” he replied simply.

                “Cloud eh? I’m-” Biggs started but Cloud cut him off.

                “I don’t care what your names are.” He said sharply. God, they were so annoying! Would it kill them to shut up for even a minute or two? “Once this job’s over, I’m outta here.”

                The trio looked at him with surprise and a little hurt. What? Did they actually expect him to join AVALANCHE? The idea was laughable! He was an EX-SOLDIER! First class at that! They were just a ragtag little group trying to fight a battle already lost. No matter which way you look at it, they had no chance of winning against Shin’Ra. None. And their members- well, Biggs and Wedge were typical fighters but their skills were only a little better than the average Shin’Ra guard or infantryman. The two of them could handle maybe 6 or 7 guards between them. Jessie was the intelligent one. She was a genius on computers and bombs. She could plan ahead and think although she was a bit lacking on the physical side of fighting.

                Ok, more than a bit. He amended as he saw that her hair got tangled in the machine gun they got for her. How the heck? He shook his head in exasperation.

                The only ones in their group worth mentioning were Tifa and what’s his name?-Barret.

                That guy was an interesting character. He was the oldest one of them all. A dark skinned fellow with hair cut very short and a short black beard. He was well-muscled and Cloud would have thought him a brawler had the gun-arm in the place of his right hand not said otherwise. He was more annoying than the rest put together though, always ranting about saving the planet.

                I wonder how he got that hand off, Cloud thought idly. Oh well, I’m leaving after this anyways so it doesn’t really concern me. Besides, the only reason I’m here is because Tifa asked me to help.

                Tifa was his childhood friend way back from Nibelheim and he owed her at least this much, especially since he wasn’t able to save her back then…

                Cloud shook his head and put the memories away. He had to focus on the mission at hand.

                Barret appeared as they took a left turn towards the reactor.

                “The hell are you doin’!?” Barret bellowed. “I thought I told you to never move in a group!”

                “Our target’s the North Mako Reactor. We’ll meet on the bridge in front of it.” Barret’s face was already red with anger and steam seemed to be coming out of his ears. He looked ready to spew flames.

                Which is to say, Cloud mused. He looks normal. He grinned involuntarily at the thought.

                “What’re you laughin’ at!?” Barret eyed Cloud with distaste. “EX-SOLDIER huh? I don’t trust ‘ya!

                Who cares? Cloud shrugged non-commitally as he headed to the reactor after the leader of AVALANCHE.