Well, screwed up a lot of stuff in my college this semester. So the novel thing’d be slowed waay down…

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Chapter 10: Flowers in Midgar

Well, wrote this chapter up when I was supposed to be reviewing for Physics. This is now officially more updated than the one in fanfiction.net
Anyway, A lot of Cloud and Aerith interactions here that I added, but it somehow seemed to fit (Tifa fans, pipe down! I’ll make a Tifa scene like this too when the opportunity comes!)

Chapter 10: Flowers in Midgar

Are you all right? Can you hear me?

A voice was in his head.

“Yeah…”

Back then, you could get by with just skinned knees…

                “Huh? Back then? What do you mean?”

Don’t worry about me. Just worry about yourself now.

“…I’ll try…”

Hello? Hello?

                The voice changed. It was now feminine. He could have sworn it sounded real…

“Hello?”

Cloud opened his eyes and blinked. A pair of emerald eyes looked back at him.

This is a dream. He thought. I died and went to heaven, huh? He stared at the face in front of his. It seemed kinda familiar… He was just inches from her…

The girl blushed and moved back. Cloud sat up, confused. And then, he realized that their faces were really close just then.  His cheeks reddened a bit too.

“You okay?” She asked as she turned her back to him. “This is a church in the sector 5 slums. You and a bunch of other things suddenly fell down here. It was a bit scary…”

“I came crashing down?” Cloud asked, trying to make sense of what he remembered last.

A red robot, fire, the president…

“The roof and the flower bed must have broken your fall- You’re lucky.” The girl said, bending down and lightly brushing the flowers with her hand.

“So this wasn’t heaven, huh?” Cloud muttered. “And these were your flowers? Sorry…”

“…Seriously, do guys have a speech about heaven prepared for when they fall down?” She mumbled as she turned to him. “Anyway, it’s all right. The flowers here are quite resilient because this is a sacred place. They say you can’t grow grass and flowers in Midgar. But for some reason, the flowers have no trouble blooming here. I love it here.”

The girl smiled as she said that.

“Oh, I remember you!” Cloud said in remembrance.

“Haha!” The girl laughed. “Fancy meeting again so soon huh?”

“You were that scary flower girl!” Cloud said without thinking. He prepared for the worst…

“So, you remembered, huh?” The girl simply smiled that sad smile he saw before.

“Ahh.., yeah.” Cloud responded, unable to think of an answer.

Was she really that girl from before? She seemed so… peaceful here. Like this was her world. With a pretty girl in a paradise within Midgar… Life could be worse, right?

“But, am I really that scary?” The girl pouted at him.

“Sheesh, you ruined the mood.” Cloud laughed a bit.

“Eh?”

“Nothing.” Cloud smiled bitterly again. What was he doing here? Thinking a girl was pretty…

“Hmm, but you were staring at me.” The girl mused.

“I-” Cloud looked at her, trying to find an excuse.

He looked closer. He couldn’t help it. She really seemed familiar, yet he knew he didn’t know her. But still…

“Hey, what are you doing!” she stood with her staff out, looking alarmed.

Cloud went out of his reverie. He didn’t realize that he was already reaching out to touch her face.

Damn! Now she’s swinging the staff down on me!

                “Hold up! I wasn’t gonna-”

THUMP.

Cloud heard a painful sound as he felt his consciousness slip away for the second time.

<O><O>

“Ugh, wha-?” Cloud muttered as he woke up. He felt traces of magic around him. Restore, maybe?

“Umm, let’s start again, you just fell down from the sky and was rescued by me.” A brown haired girl was kneeling beside him, explaining the situation. “You should be very grateful since you might have died otherwise. As proof of your gratitude, you can just treat me to the 500 gil eat-all-you-can here at sector 5.”
“Oh…” Cloud shook his head, trying to recall. “Thanks, I guess I could have died, but I don’t have too much, so maybe a 50 gil bread would- Hey!”

The girl looked anxiously at him and then the door. She was sweating now.

“You hit me with that staff of yours! THAT’s how I was knocked out!” Cloud cried indignantly.

“Ugh, I got found out!” The girl puffed her cheeks childishly.

Ugh, is she a kid? She’s bloody older than me!

“Oh well, see ya!” The girl said brightly as she stood to leave.

Cloud grabbed her hand to stop her.

“Hey now, you just attacked me, you know.” Cloud stared at her.

“Well, you were sexually harassing me!”

“Just when did I do that!?” Cloud put his face on his palm. He really had to clear this up.

“Before I knocked you out!” The girl retorted. “You suddenly tried to touch me. And not exactly on a place comfortable for a girl!” She added, putting her arms around herself protectively.

“I was trying to touch your face! Not- well, there!” Cloud began.

“That’s almost the same!” The girl said, though she seemed to relax a bit. “Besides, why would you do that in the first place? It was so sudden, any girl would do what I did.”

Any girl would run and scream, not hit the guy with a bleeding metal staff! This was getting nowhere.

Cloud sighed.

“I reached out to touch you because you seemed kind of familiar AND because I just woke up. Sorry, but I don’t go around holding girls like that. Cloud explained.

Her green eyes studied him.

“Even if they looked as pretty as you.” Cloud added, somewhat lamely.

The girl gave a start at that. Then, she suddenly laughed- no, giggled! Was she seriously 22?

“Oh, that was funny!” The girl said, trying to stifle her laughter.

What was funny with what he said? Girls are seriously confusing.

“Was there anything funny with what I said?” he frowned.

“Nothing, nothing!” the girl said, finally managing to stop laughing. “Thanks for the compliment, I guess. But you don’t have to say it with a face that serious and a voice that grouchy.”

The girl smiled again.

“Sorry. Was I really that bad?” Cloud scratched his head.

The girl’s smile faded a little.

“Yeah, you’re even like that right now.” She frowned now. “Would it kill you to smile or something?”

Cloud froze. Huh. I rarely smiled these days. He realized.

When was the last time he smiled before he saw Tifa back at Sector 7 a few days ago?

He shook his head.

“That’s probably just because of the fall.” He said stiffly now.

“I hope so.” The girl said in a flat voice now, with a flat expression to match. “I don’t want to be stuck talking to Mr. ‘Even if they looked as pretty as you’.

Cloud turned his head and hid a grin. That bad, huh? I’d laugh at me too.

They sat in silence for a while after that.

Then,

“Say,” Aerith started. “I feel like talking, are you up to it? After all, this is the second time we’ve met…”

“Well, I have nothing better to do right now and you did save my life. Sort of.” Cloud turned to her. “So, yeah, I guess.”
<O><O>

“Wait, just let me finish tending to these flowers.” Aerith said as she watered the ones on the center. “There, done!”

She sat next to the moody guy who was looking at the flowers silently.

“Say, do you have any materia, mister er- moody person?” Aerith asked playfully, taking a small white stone from her hair somewhere.

The guy looked annoyed.

“I have a name, you know.” The guy said. “It’s Cloud Strife. And I have some.”

Cloud raised his materia-equipped bangles. “Nowadays, you can find materia anywhere.”

“Yeah, but mine is special.” Aerith said, rolling the white stone on her hands. “It doesn’t do anything.”

“Huh. You probably just don’t know how to use it.” Cloud said carefully, looking like he was trying not to piss her off again.

She frowned. Was she really that scary?

“I used the Restore materia on you earlier, remember?” She looked at him. “It just… doesn’t do anything. I just feel safe having it since it was my mother’s.”

“I see.” Cloud said, then went silent again.

“Oh, and since you didn’t ask,” she said, somewhat miffed. He’s not your usual guy, but at least ask my name! “It’s Aerith. Aerith Gainsborough.”

“Er- the materia? It has a name?” Cloud asked stupidly.

“No, you idiot, it’s my name.” Now she was annoyed.

“I know, I know, I was just teasing.” Cloud yawned and stretched out his arms, looking at the sky through the hole he made. She caught a half-smile on his face.

Suddenly, he turned to face her again.

“Nice name you have there, Miss Aerith Gainsborough.” And winked.

She laughed a bit. So he did have a sort of a personality. There was just a hint of it, like he was suppressing it, but it was there.

“You, on the other hand, have a remarkably suitable one. So, Mister Strife,” she asked, taking the bait. “if I’m a flower girl, what things do you do?”

“Me? Hmm…” Cloud wondered. “I guess I do a little bit of everything.”

She glanced at the entrance of the church. A man was leaning against the church door. She couldn’t see his features from that far, but he was wearing a black business suit.

“A jack-of-all trades, huh?” Aerith asked. “A freelancer who does odd jobs?”

“I suppose you can call it that, though I lean more towards the mercenary work kind of things.” Cloud said, his voice starting to lace with tension now. So he noticed it, too.

“Well Mister Strife, have you ever been a bodyguard?” She looked at Cloud, trying to tell him to relax. It’d be bad if someone like him fought seriously here. “You do a little of everything, right?”

“Hmm, I probably have, at some point.” Cloud answered, only relaxing a bit as the man just stood there.

“Then I’ll hire you as one.” She said simply, trying to catch him off-guard. “Get me out of here and take me home.”

He finally relaxed enough to look at her with those blue eyes.

“I can do that for you, I guess.” He suddenly grinned mischievously. “But it’ll still cost you, you know?”

She smiled now. Oh, he’s enjoying it now, huh? Is that a challenge?

“Let’s see, how about I repay you with… one date?”

“Huh,” Cloud said thoughtfully. “well, I can hardly say no to that now, can I? But I have a condition.”

Pressing his advantage, huh? And I thought he had no personality… Aerith smirked. “Hmm, if it’s something perverted, you’ll be needing an ambulance in a bit.” Now what could it be….

His eyes widened at that.

“Nothing like that!” Cloud said indigantly.

“So, what is it? I’m listening…” Aerith smiled at him. Her heart was starting to race now. She hadn’t felt this way in a while.

“You start calling me Cloud.” He said, grinning at her.

“Only if you start calling me Aerith.” She answered back.

Cloud stood up and put his sword in its place behind his back. Heading towards the man in the suit, he turned his head around, looked at her in the eyes and said:

“Fair enough, Aerith.”

Chapter 9

So it’s now updated with the ones I’ve put on fanfiction.net. Damn, I’m still getting used to this interface in wordpress. Anyway, feel free to comment what you think of this stuff. (Once you read it, anyway..)

 

Chapter 9: Falling

“Why is the President Shin Ra here?” Tifa asked in an incredulous voice. She already knew the answer, though: It was just as Cloud said, a trap. But that raised the question of how. Even if they increased the security in all the reactors, for the president to be in the one they actually planned to bomb- it was too much of a coincidence. The only answer was-.

“A traitor.” Cloud said like the calm before the storm, tense and prepared.

“No way!” Barret shouted. “No one apart from AVALANCHE knew of the plans, no one!”

“But…” Tifa cut herself off. That only meant that one of them was the traitor.

The president seemed to be looking at them in amusement.

“Ahh.. So you must be that… What do you call it?” he asked with mocking eyes.

“AVALANCHE!” Barret said defiantly. “And don’t you forget it!”

Jeez Barret, no need to antagonize them further. But that was fine- distraction had its purposes. Now how to escape…

“Long time no see, President.” Cloud said, his eyes unblinking.

The president gave a start at that.

“Long time no see…? Ahh…” He looked at Cloud’s eyes. “You’re the one who quit SOLDIER and joined AVALANCHE. I knew you’d been exposed to Mako from your eyes.”

“Tell me, traitor, what was your name?”

“Cloud. Cloud Strife.”

“Forgive me for asking but I can’t be expected to remember every SOLDIER’s name”, the man said, as if not really interested. “Unless, of course, if you become another Sephiroth. Yes, he was brilliant, perhaps TOO brilliant..”

The president seemed to be muttering to himself more than talking to them but he got Cloud’s interest. Sephiroth? What was it about him? He disappeared years ago…

“Don’t give a damn ’bout none of that! This place’s goin’ up with a big BANG soon! Serves y’all right!” Barret seemed to have gotten over the confusion of the moment and was all fired up again.

President Shin Ra sighed.

“And such a waste of good fireworks, just to get rid of vermin like you…”

“VERMIN!? That’s all you can say…VERMIN!” Barret was now enraged. Not good. “Y’all Shinra’re the VERMIN, killing the planet! And that makes you King VERMIN! So shu’up jackass!”

“You are beginning to bore me.” He did sound bored. “If you’ll excuse me, I have a dinner I must attend. I’ve arranged a playmate for you all, though, so don’t worry.”

“Dinner!?” Barret exclaimed, incredulous, as the president started boarding his chopper. He aimed at the president. “I ain’t even started with-”

“Tch.” Cloud muttered in distaste as he casted an intense flame to counter the beam headed towards Barret.

“What’re you playing at!?” Barret glared at Cloud. “I almost had him!”

“Idiot. That THING almost had you.” Cloud corrected, pointing at what seemed to be a red robot with fans and vents around its body.

“What is that thing?” Tifa shouted as she dodged a barrage of bullets from the robot.

“Meet AIRBUSTER, a techno-soldier!” The president’s voice seemed to be amplified. “ Our Weapon Development Department created him. I’m sure the data he’ll extract from your dead bodies will be of great use to us in future experiments. Now, if you’ll excuse me…”

“This is from SOLDIER?” Tifa looked incredulous as she watched the helicopter ride away on the night.

“No way! It’s just a machine!” Cloud said angrily.

“In any case, we have to do something about it!” Barret ran on the platforms, narrowly avoiding a another laser.

Well, it seems that he talks sense sometimes. But…

“SOLDIER? This thing? It’s too early for you to be challenging a real SOLDIER!” Cloud said as he jumped, his mako enhanced body helping him reach the Airbuster’s height.

For those few seconds, it seemed that time slowed down. The robot’s arm was glowing and it was absorbing air slowly. Air compression?

Cloud brought up his bangles and crossed them, green and blue materia pulsing in unison ever so slowly…

Bolt…” Cloud whispered. “ALL!”

Time sped up.

A hundred lightning bolts came from all directions and targeted the Airbuster. Originally a technique for attacking multiple enemies, Cloud modified the process a bit, allowing a focused attack to the enemy.

“Hah!” Cloud spun as he got down.

“Tss.. Show-off.” Barret snickered.

“Got a problem?” Cloud glared.

“Stop!” Tifa said in a commanding voice. “It’s still not over.”

Cloud looked over his shoulder and saw the robot levitating a bit. Damaged but definitely far from destroyed.

“Well, it looks like it won’t be able to fly up now.” Cloud pointed at the fried parts. “Let’s surround it. I’ll go around!”

Surrounded in front and behind, the robot had nowhere to go.

Self-destruct sequence activate

Tifa was like a human weapon, sending a flurry of kicks and punches which passed through the metal and backed up as Barret fired a Big Shot.

Seriously, what was Tifa doing all this years? Cloud thought, incredulous. In any case, time to wrap this up!

“Guys, move back!” Cloud said as his blue eyes glowed in sync with the area around his hands and the Buster Sword.

“Heehhhhh” Cloud groaned for a moment as the mako gathered in his arms. He let it burst. “Cross Slash!”

The Airbuster exploded as a fiery glow of a cross remained on the air, taking the parts of the platform around it.

“Damn!” Cloud cursed. Cross Slash didn’t make things explode.

“Hey, you all right!?” Barret shouted as Cloud held on the edge of the destroyed platform.

He could have made it but another explosion started.

“The bomb! We took too long!” Tifa moaned.

Barret’s eyes met his. Cloud nodded.

“It’s gonna blow, let’s go Tifa.” Barret said quietly.

“But Cloud… Barret, can’t you do something?” Tifa looked at Cloud. Damn, his hands were slipping.

“Not a damn thing.” Barret growled. “Hey, you gonna be alright?”

“Don’t worry about me, idiots.” Cloud said grimly. “Worry about yourselves! I’ll be fine.”

“Cloud! Please don’t die! You can’t die! There’s still so much I want to tell you!” Tifa had tears on her eyes.

“I know, Tifa…” Cloud smiled at her. Then he glared at Barret. “But, will you guys please stop talking like this is the end? It’s making me more bloody nervous! It’s irritating!”

“Okay. Sorry about this.” Barret said gruffly as he carried Tifa into the other building to safety. Odd, he sounded sincere…

                The platform was starting to get too hard to hold. Everything around was already ablaze.

                He could let go and fall or get his hand burned and STILL fall.

                “No brainer!” Cloud said mockingly as his hands let go.

                Hero, huh?

Chapter 8

I added quite a bit of stuff here, though the monster names are canon. I think.

 

Chapter 8: It’s a Trap!!!

                “Yaah?” Barret asked Cloud as he jumped, snickering.

                “Oh, shut up.” Cloud said tightly. “Look around you, we’re in no position to be making jokes yet.”

                Sheesh! You say one thing… Barret thought. That guy really can’t take a joke huh.

                He was right, though, this was no time for games. He walked quietly behind Cloud and Tifa, checking the rear every so often.

                “Where are we?” Tifa asked, frowning slightly on the slime-covered walls.

                “Midgar underground railway system.” Cloud said. “We’re still near sector 5, we just overshot it a bit.”

                How did Cloud know that? Even the sector area they were in itself! He thought only grunts and low Shin Ra infantry were made to go here…

                “Umm, Cloud, how do you know that?” Tifa asked his unvoiced question.

                Cloud stopped for a moment and frowned, as if trying to remember something. Then-

                “SOLDIER work. I don’t exactly remember but I think we were made to put down a monster infestation here.” Cloud said hesitantly.

                Barret gulped. A friggin’ INFESTATION? Here? And Midgarders just take the trains passing here? Damn, that’s freaky.

                “Don’t worry,” Cloud added, probably from seeing their faces. “It’s been put down now, only a few mutations remain…”

                “Mutations?” Barret asked in a decidedly uncomfortable voice. He wasn’t scared, just… uneasy, that’s all… “What kind?”

                “I dunno, animals, usually?” Cloud said, resuming his pace. “Shin Ra experiments a lot.”

                “Erm, Cloud?” Tifa asked in a voice that could only be afraid. She was looking above them. “Were there scorpions there?”

                “Yeah, Grashtrikes*, we called them.” Cloud said absently, looking for something. “The mutation hives actually consisted mostly of them.”

                Barret saw what Tifa was looking at.

                “Blue-green scorpions?” Barret asked, panic starting to lace his voice. There must be hundreds of those things!

                Cloud stopped.

                “How do you-?” He began then stopped, staring at the ceiling. They were stirring.

                “Whatever you do, don’t turn on your lights.” Cloud said, turning off his own light stick.

                They were plunged in darkness.

                “They can’t see well without light and might sleep again.” Cloud explained, moving faster now.

                Barret grabbed Tifa and followed after the footsteps.

                He was sure he heard a few go down behind him already. But it’ll be all right as long as he-

                “Oh, shit.” Barret swore. He stepped on something.

                Then, the world seemed to explode with scorpions.

                “Run!” Cloud shouted, suddenly encased with a green glow.

                He didn’t need telling twice. He carried Tifa on his back, with her, sending wisps of fire on the scorpions on front of them. Behind him, Cloud was going all out while running backwards, columns of flame incinerating the grashtrikes behind them.

                “Damn bloody scorpions!” Cloud swore as he sent an arc of flame to the jumping scorpions.

                JUMPING?

                “Shit, shit, shit…” Barret muttered like a litany. “There’re too many!”

                “Of course!” Cloud shouted. “We stumbled on a small hive pocket!”  

                “A SMALL hive pocket?” Barret exclaimed, incredulous. “How’d hell did you manage to bring down a whole bloody infestation?”

                “Forget that!” Cloud said. “We’re near the chute! I can block them from there.”

                Barret ran. They lost the monsters for a minute but he could still hear them following.

                “Here!” Cloud said triumphantly as they reached a laser barred doorway.

                “And how” Tifa asked. “exactly is this going to help us? We’re on the other side as well!”

                Cloud pointed at a small chute on the ground.

                “That’s one damn tiny hole!” Barret said, looking down. How was he going to fit here!? “You tellin’ me to squeeze into that to get under the Plate? No, way!”

“Well,” Cloud said scathingly. “You could try the mercies of the grashtrikes. I could kill them all here but the explosions’d probably alert Shin Ra to our presence. So, you with us?”

“Fine.” Barret spat. “But damn, man, that thing gives me the chills! You guys go along first.”

A leader always stays behind!

“Hurry!” Barret said as Tifa was jumping down. They were here! “I can see them aready!”

Ten seconds before they reach him. He held the cover of the chute and prepared to jump. He pointed his new gun-arm at them.

“See ‘ya suckers!” Barret fired then jumped, closing the hatch.

<O><O>

“Rocket Launchers.” Cloud explained. “that’s how we destroyed the infestation before.”

It’s been two minutes since they’d escaped the grashtrikes. He wondered why a SOLDIER like him had to put the infestation down- it was a job for grunts!

They ran faster since the regular rounds for the reactor were only two hours away.

The sooner I finish this, the better. Once we’re done, I’m outta here!

They met up with Jessie and the others who apologized for the train fiasco. It seemed that there were problems on their IDs that Jessie forgot to address…

He went to the elevator with Tifa and Barret, who was still grumbling about the grashtrike incident. Idiot.

Cloud sighed and straightened. He looked at the other two and began.

“We’re in the reactor now. Security here is way tighter because of the insect incident and probably even more since we blew up the Sector 1 reactor yesterday-”

“Hell yeah!” Barret interrupted.

Cloud gave him a piercing look.

“Uh, sorry.” He muttered. “Continue.”

“The rocket launchers used before are now here as security details, always fully armed and fully automated.” He looked at each of them to see if they understood the implications.

“We can’t make it without causing a commotion.” Tifa said.

“We have to get in by stealth since even if we somehow destroy the missiles, the cameras making them automated would show us to Shin Ra and bring reinforcements. We’ll be surrounded in no time.” Barret said with interest, checking their D-map** of the reactor.

Interesting. They were smarter than he thought. Even without him, they could probably pull this off, it would just take longer.

Cloud nodded.

“Why didn’t you tell us this before?” Barret’s eyes narrowed.

“Because the plan was for us to go through here.” Cloud pointed at a spot on the D-map. “From here, there is a line of blind spots that we could follow and the only place we’d be seen is on the reactor itself, from where they wouldn’t be able to stop us anyway and the recordings’d just blow off at the same time as the reactor.”

“I see.” Barret said, still studying the D-map.

The elevator stopped. Cloud pressed close again before the doors’d open. There was a camera right outside, he had to tell them the plan first.

“We’ll go through this room.” Cloud said, pointing at the rest room sign on the D-map. “No cameras inside and the way up to the reactor is clear except for one or two cameras.”

“But how do we get there?” Tifa asked shrewdly. “There’s too many areas from the elevator to there.”

“We go up.” Barret said quietly. “Up the elevator and then the vents until the bathroom.”

This guy… He acted roughly most of the time but when he thinks…

Barret pressed the vent area and the holographic view of the floor zoomed in on the vents.

“The other paths all lead to rooms with cameras and the one leading directly to the reactor core has lasers blocking the way.” Barret continued. “Of course, I’m assuming that’s the plan, Cloud?”

Cloud nodded.

“A thing you need to remember, though, the missile launchers can go into mobile mode.”

Barret’s eyes widened.

“Then how do you propose to get past the two of them remaining on the way?” he asked.

“Bait.” Tifa said. “They won’t fire unless they focus on something identified as an enemy. I’ll run fast enough to distract it and it’ll follow an unidentified movement then you guys take it from behind and take it down before it fires.”

Cloud smiled grimly. If there were more of these guys, they might actually take down Shin Ra.

“Just one thing wrong.” Cloud said. “I’ll be the bait.”

“No.” Tifa argued. “Jessie said the robot focuses on unauthorized weapons first. You’re not fast enough and it’ll attack the second it sees your sword.”

“But, Tifa, the danger-” Cloud interrupted.

“No.” Tifa said calmly.

“I could be-” Barret complained.

“No.” Tifa said. “you’re even slower than Cloud and you have a gun-arm.”

Tifa opened the elevator from above and started going up. Cloud sighed. So much for that.

“Fine.” Cloud said. “Just be careful.”

Tifa looked down on them and said in a dead serious voice:

“I’m always careful.”

<O><O>

Something’s wrong Cloud thought as they raced to the reactor core. The Rocket Launcher didn’t attack or move. It was almost like it was turned off.

Except that the red light blinking said otherwise.

Cloud jumped down the platform to the core area. The other two followed silently.

The only opponents they faced were Blugus*- mutated flying fishes which actually flew. There was even one big Blugu there. Chuse Tanks which were flying seahorses and a few Grashtrikes. No Shin Ra soldiers or weapons. Something was wrong- reactors weren’t just that empty…

“Argh!” Cloud screamed, a blinding pain assaulting his head.

Tifa was kneeling beside a man bloodied. It was her father and he was dead. She was screaming, “Papa…Sephiroth!? Sephiroth did this to you didn’t he!? Sephiroth… SOLDIER… Mako Reactors… Shin Ra… Everything! I hate them all!”

“Cloud?” Tifa’s voice said. “Are you all right?”

“Damn man, get a hold of yourself!” Barret’s voice said.

He opened his eyes. He was lying on the ground, still on the reactor.

“Tifa-” Cloud began.

“Mm?”

He looked at her. She didn’t need reminding about that. He stood up.

“I- nothing. Forget it. Let’s hurry!” Cloud

“All done!” Barret said, going back to them. “Enjoyed your sleep?”

“It was only for a minute!” Tifa scolded.

Cloud shook his head.

“Only an hour ‘til the rounds begin and ten minutes ‘til the reactor blows.” Cloud muttered. “Let’s run!”

They climbed up the ladder and ran to the raised platforms above the reactor.

“What about Jessie and the others?” Tifa asked Barret as they ran.

“They’re already out. I told them to go once I’d set the bomb.” Barret said, holding up his phone.

“Come on…” Cloud said tightly. He had a bad feeling about this… No security bots? Easy access in and out? Something was wrong…

“This way!” Barret yelled as they reached the platforms outside. The winds whipped up Barret’s jacket as they ran across.

“Careful now,” Cloud said. They weren’t very high but it was high enough for them to break their neck if they fell…

The sound of footsteps from the door in front stopped them.

“Shin Ra soldiers?” Barret asked in confusion. “What’s going on!?”

They ran to the other side but soldiers were piling up there as well. Too many for a guard patrol. A helicopter came and hovered in front of the doorway they just went through, blocking all escape paths. A big man in a red suit came out of the chopper and walked. He was a familiar man.

“President… President Shin Ra!?” Barret looked incredulous. “What’s going on here!?”

Cloud put his hand on his sword. This’d be a dangerous battle.

“A trap.” Cloud said grimly. “It was all a trap.”

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.

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.