Time for the next chapter. Thanks to all of you who reviewed; you guys are great. Hopefully more will come along. Thanks for reading.
And now to astound you with the further developments between Cloud and Tifa—that's right, I've finally updated. Here goes. (You didn't think this was going to be a one-shot, did you?)
Chapter 2: A Rude Awakening
"Aight," Barrett announced, "In two minutes, we're jumpin' off this train."
These were the words Cloud and Tifa heard from the bellowing leader of AVALANCHE. And as much trouble as they had believing the words, Barrett's fierce expression was enough to convince them of his honesty. Not to mention his desperation.
"What y'all lookin' at me like that for?" he demanded. "You wanna get caught? Then stay here! Have fun! But all I know is, those Shinra bastards ain't taking me down without a fight. Now are you with me or not?"
Biggs, Wedge, and Jessie, all clad in somewhat ridiculous disguises, nodded assent. They were with Barrett no matter what he did. Cloud and Tifa were reluctant to join in, but it seemed they had no choice. Their new fake IDs weren't working, and the train's security sensors had easily detected them as unauthorized passengers. They had to escape the train somehow before it was automatically locked down, and it appeared that jumping out was the only way.
How ironic that they'd been taking the train to destroy another mako reactor.
They ran through the compartments of the train as its doors locked behind them, heading for the caboose. At long last, they got there, and Barrett threw open the door. Yellow lights flashed by them rapidly, the only illumination of the dark tunnel the train was running through.
Cloud and Tifa barely noticed.
They were focusing too closely on each other.
"I…I never thought we'd have to do something like this." Tifa said, trying not to stare at Cloud. He looked so tough and untouchable in his purple SOLDIER outfit, especially with his sword, that she couldn't get him out of her mind.
Is she blushing? Cloud thought, irritated by her hesitation. "You didn't have to come along, you know."
"I know…" she definitely was blushing, and she knew it most of all. She looked down at the floor, feeling those piercing eyes on her.
"Hey, you two!" Barrett grumbled. "There ain't no time for that! We need to get off this damn train now!"
Tifa felt ashamed of herself for acting so girlish. She immediately stepped up to the open doorway, watching the lights go by.
Turning to Cloud, she wondered if she was even competent to go on this mission. Especially because she was so distracted. She just couldn't get last night out of her mind—how good it had felt to be that close to him, how close she had come to kissing him…
"All right. Here I go." She said, forcing those thoughts out of her mind. She turned around, coiled her athletic body like a spring, and calmly hopped out of the train. She didn't even lose her balance when she landed, but she did have to get her hands up, to stop herself from running into the tunnel wall. Up ahead, she saw Cloud jump out of the train as well. He tripped on the floor and rolled over a few times, protecting his head with his arms.
Tifa ran up to him, her attractive features tight with concern. "You okay, Cloud?"
"Yeah, fine." He shrugged, brushing himself off as he got to his feet.
Barrett also jumped off. Characteristically, he landed in a heap, but was quite unharmed. "See? That wasn't so bad! Aight…the way to the reactor should be just down this tunnel. Biggs, Wedge, and Jessie got everything ready for us, so move it!"
Together, they turned and sprinted into the darkness, keeping as quiet as possible even though no one was likely to be there. It was just an old reactor network, after all. Barrett had selected this one as their target on the knowledge that it would be the easiest to infiltrate and destroy. He had another bomb all ready to go.
The trio didn't make it far before coming across some glowing sensors. Walking through them would send alarms shrieking throughout the reactor.
"We can't go any further." Cloud observed, his mouth set in an irritated line. Tifa almost laughed; secretly, she was so familiar with all of Cloud's mannerisms and expressions that none of them surprised her anymore. She had known him so well for most of their lives…and yet, since he'd come back from SOLDIER…something between them was different.
She almost didn't want to believe it, but their strange behavior last night was proof of their changing personalities. They were grownups now, and grownups experienced feelings that kids did not. It scared her, almost; did she want to go back to being a toddler, running around Nibelheim with Cloud, kicking dirt at each other for fun and making their parents yell at them?
Or did she want to stay here and now, where there were no parents—only constant danger—and they could communicate in ways that neither one had ever thought possible?
"Man…that's one damn tiny hole," Barrett barked, and Tifa's head jerked up. She cursed herself for daydreaming during such an important mission. "You're telling me to squeeze in there to get into the reactor?"
"It's the only way," Cloud said, shifting his full attention to the small tunnel in the wall. "After coming this far, only an amateur would get caught by a security sensor. It looks all right to me. But once we go in, we won't be able to go back."
He'd stolen a glance at Tifa before inspecting the hole, and was puzzled by what he had seen. She looked like she was totally spaced out. All his life, he'd never known anymore more focused and alert than Tifa. Something unusual must be going on.
Three guesses, he thought wryly to himself.
"All right," Barrett gave in, shaking his head, still peering in at the tunnel, a little sweat already beading on his forehead. "But damn, man…that thing gives me the creeps."
Creeps or not, they had soon crawled through the tunnel and taken some air ducts down into a massive docking area. It was dark, abandoned, and scary. One of the ladders in the distance led to the reactor. Cloud saw the small figure of Wedge waving to them from one of those ladders, and he knew that must be the correct one.
They ran for Wedge, fighting a variety of Shinra's soldiers and monsters on the way. Wedge assured them that he, Jessie, and Biggs would be moving out immediately. It was up to Cloud, Tifa, and Barrett to finish this job.
After some quick, hushed words, the three terrorists ascended the ladder into the mako reactor.
As they fought their way through the place, easily overwhelming the sparse security forces, Cloud and Tifa continued to steal glances at each other. Neither one of them could stop thinking about the other—not knowing the other was thinking about them just as much. Both thought they were making something out of nothing, that they were just fooling themselves.
Both were wrong.
Cloud stepped across the catwalk to the core of the reactor, with Tifa in front of him and Barrett behind him. It was time to set another bomb. The first time he'd done this, he had been stunned by a sudden realization, some wisp of a strange memory. He prayed it wouldn't happen again this time.
Of course, it did. He almost knew what it was going to be—after all, he was thinking about her so much. There was Tifa—in another reactor, kneeling over her slain father, taking Sephiroth's sword and swearing her hatred for not only her father's killer, but Shinra, mako, and war altogether.
Finally the vision faded out, and another replaced it—an older, more beautiful Tifa, staring at him with a mix of curiosity and concern.
"Hey, man! Are you all right?" Barrett's voice growled behind him.
"Tifa…" Cloud whispered her name almost involuntarily.
Suddenly, it seemed like the most important word in the world.
"Hmm?" she nodded expectantly.
But he couldn't tell her.
"Uh…nothing. I guess I tripped. Must've bumped my head or something." He muttered, knowing that no one, especially him, believed this excuse. "Let's get this done."
Quickly, he stooped down to the core and started the time bomb. It would go off soon, but they had plenty of time to get out, unlike in their close shave with the first reactor.
They were almost out when they saw three very bad things coming their way: an army of soldiers, President Shinra himself, and a truly formidable robot sent to dispose of them once and for all.
Cloud didn't know how it had happened. Perhaps it was just a really bad day.
But here he was, hanging onto the edge of a catwalk with one hand, while Tifa and Barrett stared down at him, their eyes wide with horror.
"Cloud…" Barrett's voice seemed oddly quiet, but still quite audible. "Are you gonna be all right?"
Be strong, Cloud told himself. "I'm fine. Take care of Tifa."
Even seconds from his impending death, Tifa was all he could think about. Cloud Strife didn't want things to end this way, not right now. Not when he was just starting to realize the strange new feelings he had for his childhood friend.
Strangely enough, his life did not flash before his eyes. He did not have the feeling that he was about to die. He had the feeling that his life was about to become infinitely more complicated and strange, and that he would have to do things he'd never done before to protect the people he cared about.
If he lived, he would fight through all of it—he promised himself. And he would talk to Tifa about these feelings, and come to understand this strange new electricity between them, no matter what.
But how was he going to live through this, anyway?
"Hang on!" Barrett said, incongruously. Of course Cloud couldn't hold on. Not for much longer.
Just as he thought about it, it happened. The bomb he had set so far back went off, destroying the reactor. The blast didn't reach them where they were—but it sent a fierce vibration through the catwalk, and Cloud lost his grip, seeming to fall forever to the slums of Midgar below.
Tifa was so blinded by emotion that she acted without thinking. She actually tried to jump down after him, and might have done it if Barrett hadn't held her back. She sobbed into his arm, her body shuddering with grief and shock.
She had never cared about anybody more in her life—never had stronger or more compelling feelings for another soul—than she did for Cloud.
And now he was gone.