Title: Nowhere Else To Run

Summary: As Cloud recovers in Holzoff's cabin, Barret forces him to come to grips with his feelings about Aerith's death. Takes place during the Great Glacier stuff at the beginning of disc 2. Kind of angsty.

Word count: 1,873

A/N: So I was one of the unwashed heathens that was introduced to the fandom through AC, and didn't think I'd ever get the chance to actually play the game...But persistence, a little luck, and eBay changed that. And it's just such a ridiculously fun game.

Except the Great Glacier part. I totally hated playing this part, so I got a plotbunny for it. XD So! Not very experienced with writing for Barret and Red XIII kind of accidentally ended up being Captain Obvious. Ah well. It was a nice character study for Barret and Cloud. Enjoy!

It was hard to tell where you were when there was nothing but trees and snow around you, and all you had was a yellowing, hand-drawn map. Supposedly there was some kind of base at the foot of Gaia's Cliff. (But as long as they could find the cliff itself...) They couldn't agree on which way to go, east or west, because there were eight of them and they were tired and she wasn't there anymore to smooth things over.

Yuffie, Vincent, Cid, and Cait Sith went east (Vincent looked highly displeased with his traveling companions), while Cloud, Tifa, Barret, and Red XIII headed west (Tifa really had no idea which way to go, but she didn't want to leave Cloud if she could help it).

They'd bought outerwear from the Icicle Inn locals, whom they trusted were selling them suitable clothes, and not just screwing them over because they were from out of town. Still, nothing could really prepare them for the bitter winds at Great Glacier.

They'd been out for about two hours when Red XIII suddenly sat down in the snow. Tifa stopped too, looking curiously at him (actually she was more curious about the flame on the end of his tail, which was still burning bright as ever, despite the blizzard raging around them). Barret paused as well, and finally Cloud turned and looked at them all.

"What?" he demanded shortly.

"I don't think we're going the right way," Red XIII said placidly, as though remarking on a curious change in the weather.

Cloud ran a hand through his hair. "What do you propose we do about it, then?" he asked, making no attempt to hide his impatience.

"Turn around, of course," Red XIII replied, drawing himself up a little straighter, indignant at Cloud's attitude.

"I think he might be right, Cloud..." Tifa said cautiously.

Cloud sighed again. "What about you, Barret?"

The large man just shrugged. "All I know is, we only got a coupla hours of daylight left, so we better either turn back or find this base thing soon."

Cloud just looked at the three of them. "I'm gonna keep goin'," he said curtly, turning around and plowing through the snow with long strides. "We gotta find this base thing, right?"

"Yeh can't keep up that kinda pace, Cloud!" Barret called after him. "Besides, we're s'posed to stay in a group!"

Cloud made no indication that he heard them, and Barret swore under his breath. But another icy blast of snow ended the matter, and it wasn't long before the snow was so bad they couldn't see Cloud any longer.

It wasn't long after that, half an hour maybe, that through the haze of wind and snow, a dark smudge became visible on the horizon.

"What's that?" Red XIII mused aloud, and was promptly almost bowled over by Tifa, who, ignoring the shouts of the other two, broke into a frantic run.

Stumbling through the snow, it didn't take her long to realize that the thing ahead of her was, indeed, a person.

"Cloud!" she cried, falling to her knees beside his unconscious body. She was beside herself.

Not this again, please, no, I just can't-

"Cloud!" she shouted again, peeling off her glove and pressing her fingers against his neck. There was a pulse, but she was unnerved by how cold his skin was.

The others had caught up to her and were kneeling down as well.

"He'll be alright, we just need to get him out of the cold," Red XIII remarked gravely.

"But how?" Tifa asked, and then, almost like an answer from a higher being, there came a ringing from her pack. She dug out the ringing PHS, pushed a button, and Yuffie's voice came crackling out of the device.

"Tifa? Heeey, you there?"

"Yuffie!?" Tifa clutched the PHS like a lifeline.

"Um, where are you guys? 'Cause we, uh, found the base. So, are you guys okay?"

Tifa was chewing her lip. "No," she answered, struggling slightly to keep her voice steady. "It's Cloud, he...he's unconscious, and we don't know what to do..."

"Ack! Okay, don't worry, we-" But Yuffie was nearly drowned out by Cid, shouting in the background and demanding to know what Cloud had done this time. Yuffie shouted back, yelling at him to be quiet.

"We've got snowmobiles we can use! So we'll make Vincent or somebody come get you, and, uh, we'll track you with your PHS... Just start heading east and we'll meet you halfway," Yuffie explained. "Don't worry, we got you covered!" she added as an afterthought.

They settled Cloud on Barret's back and hoped they didn't get attacked. Barret was surprised at how light Cloud was; he'd forgotten that, despite the way he threw his weight around all the time, Cloud was just barely an adult.

Cloud was somewhere warm and soft, and it felt almost as though he were swimming back to consciousness. Suddenly he panicked, the gentle soft feeling was broken when he found he could not open his eyes, but lifting a hand to his face he found someone had draped a cool cloth over his eyes.

"Welcome back," came a gruff voice to the right of him, and Cloud turned. Barret slowly came into focus.

Cloud propped himself up on his elbows. "Where-?" His voice was weak and hoarse. Silently Barret offered him a glass of water, which he gratefully accepted.

Cloud tried again. "Where are we?"

"The base of Gaea's Cliff. This guy Holzoff, he lives here and helps out people who're gonna climb the mountain. Or somethin' like that. He said we'd all talk once you could get your ass out of bed."

"O...kay..." Cloud said slowly, taking in the small room. The walls and floors were made of wood, plain but sturdy, and Cloud realized he was lying on a mattress that had been set on the floor. Barret was sitting up against the wall, a bunch of tools spread out in a jumble on his lap, idly tinkering with his gun arm. There was a spasm of impatience in Cloud's arms and legs and he just about jumped out of bed.

"Then let's go talk to this guy," he said, his tone edgy.


"And why not?"

" 'Cause you gotta rest, Cloud. Dontcha remember passin' out in the snow?"

"Well, yeah, but I'm fine now, aren't I?"

Barret didn't reply.

"Barret...how long was I out for?" Cloud asked, almost dreading the answer.

"Almost four days."

"What!?" Cloud immediately swung his legs over the side of the mattress. "Then we've really gotta get going!"

"Nope." Barret didn't look up as he spoke, just continued working with that screwdriver and his arm.

"But we've probably lost Sephiroth's trail by now!" Cloud said, all but shouting in his frustration.

"Mebbe." Barret looked at Cloud. "But we ain't leavin' yet."

"Yes, we are!" Cloud shouted. "I'm the damn leader, aren't I!?"

"Some leader..."

"We have to go after Sephiroth now! Are you forgetting what he d-" And suddenly he was interrupted by a screwdriver that nearly collided dead-on with his face.

"That was a damn stupid thing you did back there, Cloud," Barret said finally. He wasn't shouting, but somehow he seemed much louder than Cloud. That was why Cloud finally fell silent. Or maybe he just didn't want any more tools thrown at him.

"Every man, woman, and child in Icicle Inn warned us to stick together," Barret began. "Yeh knew you'd get in trouble if you went off by yourself and you did it anyway! Y'know you spiked a fever of almost 103? And you was totally unconscious, too. We couldn't get yeh to respond at all. Dammit, Cloud, d'you have any idea how worried we were!? And Tifa, what the hell didja put her through that for, huh?"

At this, Cloud flinched involuntarily. Barret saw and softened considerably. "C'mon," he growled. "Don't you dare sugges' the rest of us are forgettin' about Aerith. But we both know Sephiroth wants to fight you as much as you wanna fight him. Whether you fight him tomorrow, or a week from now, or a month from now, it don't really matter. It'll happen. But geez, Cloud, you should know better than anybody what this guy can do. If you aren't at your best he'll crush ya. And y'know she'd be furious at you if you died tryin' to avenge her death!"

Cloud didn't reply. On the journey to Holzoff's cabin, Barret had slowly begun to understand why exactly Cloud ended up passing out in the snow. Judging from the way this conversation was going, Barret had been completely right.

"If there's one thing I've learned fightin' the Shinra all these years," Barret sighed, "it's that bein' right don't make you invincible. So, that's why we're gonna wait till you're completely better. Just don't go pushing yourself till you're ready to drop. It's a stupid way of dealin' with stuff."

Cloud just stared at him. "What are you talking about?" he asked, though the hostility plain on his face suggested he knew exactly what Barret was talking about.

"You push yourself, Cloud, 'cause it's just easier that way. The more worn-out you are, the less time you spend thinkin' about what you coulda done to stop it. You fight harder, 'cause the more beat up you are, then you can fool yourself into thinkin' losing her doesn't hurt as much."

The look on Cloud's face was almost one of fear. He seemed to realize it and quickly turned away. "You don't know me..." he mumbled.

Barret smiled wryly. "I don't hafta. I did the exact same thing, four years ago. Went all over the place, jus' traveling as far as I could each day and sleepin' as little as possible. I was so determined to find somebody who'd gimme this thing," – he nodded toward his gun-arm – "and when I finally did, I was in such bad shape I nearly died on the operatin' table. Had to spent weeks healing up and all I had to occupy myself with was thinking, which was exactly what I was tryin' to avoid doing in the first place."

Cloud drew his knees to his chest and was silent. Barret sat back and took a look at his arm.

"Hand me that screwdriver I threw at your head, will ya?"

Cloud complied silently. Keeping his eyes focused on the floor, he suddenly spoke. "The worst part," he said softly, "is this dream I had in Gongaga. She was in it, she...She told me that she would be all right, and that I should just worry about myself. She told me she would come back."

Barret nodded slowly. "That's always the worst part, innit, Cloud," he said sympathetically.

He looked over at Cloud and smiled wryly again. The blond stared unblinkingly at the floor in front of him, the blanket clutched in his fist. "What," Barret said loudly, "you think you're too much of a man to cry in front of me? What a brat."

They sat in silence for a time – Barret tinkering away on his gun arm while Cloud sat with his head buried in his arms, his shoulders trembling.