The Beginning of All Things to Come

Tifa paced the room, frowning and blowing the hair out of her face. She was breathing hard, like she was about to explode soon. "That idiot, selfish, stupid, arrogant, rude..." she kept going on and on for a little while, Cloud standing helpless.

"Judgmental, hypocritical, uuuuuuhhhhh!!!" She grunted. She didn't even know what to call the man, but it clearly wasn't good. She stopped pacing, her back to Cloud. She huffed, took a big breath, and let it out slowly. She turned around. "I'm sorry about that... I just, couldn't take it anymore,. He's so rude! How can anyone live like that?! It's a miracle Marlene hasn't turned out like him yet. Uhh..." she ran her hands through her hair, trying to calm down. Cloud waited, scratching his head. It's a good thing she shut the door this time.

"I'm sorry," she said again. "That must have been really uncomfortable for you. I try to keep him under control, but I can only do so much."

Cloud looked at the floor. "It wasn't your fault. You didn't do anything."

"But I'm the one who thought of the dinner! Oh, if only he wasn't here... but then how would we have the meeting? Oh, what do I do..."

Cloud tried to comfort her. "Well, you would have seen him anyway, right? And if I were here, he would've seen me. You'd have to talk to him at one time, since he's your "leader"..."

Tifa gasped. "Oh no... did I say that? Barret's gonna kill me--"

Cloud shook his head. "He's not gonna do anything. Cuz I'm not getting involved. Apparently he doesn't like me, so I'll just go on my way." He started to leave.

"What? Wait!" Tifa grabbed his arm. "You can't just go! You don't have a home, where will you go?"

Cloud answered with almost no emotion. "I'll just have to deal with that. It's my problem, I'll solve it." He tried to leave, but Tifa wouldn't let go.

"You can stay here! I'll take care of Barret, he listens to me. Sometimes... But you don't have to go out there all by yourself!"

Cloud frowned. "I'm just causing you trouble, like he said. You shouldn't have brought me here..."

Tifa jumped in front of him. "You are not causing trouble. Barret just doesn't like Shinra, or anything that's had anything to do with it. He'll get over it when he sees you're a good person.

Cloud looked at her, then down at the floor. "I'm not a good person. I've done... horrible things."

Tifa wouldn't let up. "You are. I don't care what you did before, you're not the same now. You're... you're the same as I remember you, but older. And more mature. The old you would've beat the crap out of Barret, but you didn't do that. And I don't know what you've done, but it can't have been that bad."

Cloud frowned. He was silent for a little bit. "Why... do you care so much?"

Tifa couldn't believe him. "Because I'm your friend! I'm worried about you! I don't want anything to happen to you." She bit her lip and looked down at the floor, to hide the tear that had formed in the corner of her eye.

Cloud looked away. "You shouldn't worry. I'll be okay. Maybe we'll see each other again sometime. But I'm not going to cause any more trouble. Bye." He walked forward, but Tifa wouldn't move.

"Cloud, please don't go. You're not a problem."

"Tifa, just move."

"No. I'm not moving."

"Tifa..."

"Cloud, I need you here!"

Cloud was startled. Was that true? Did she really need him there for her? It wasn't just a delusion he'd made up?

Tifa sniffed. She was crying. Great, now he'd made her cry. He just couldn't do anything right, could he? Maybe he'd just screw everything up even more. He couldn't stay there.

"Please, I need you here. I... I'm really worried about you. When I found you, you looked horrible. I mean, you were there, but you weren't. You just looked right through me, like you were in another dimension. I--" She choked. "I don't want that to happen to you again." She wiped her eyes with her arm.

Cloud thought for a moment. Why the hell was she so worried?! He used to be a SOLDIER! He could take care of himself, for Gaia's sake.

Tifa sniffed. "Not to mention the amount of work in the bar I'll have..." she added. It didn't hurt to try, right?

Cloud frowned. Is that what she wanted him for? Cleaning duty? Waiting tables? He was out of there. He started to leave, when Tifa pushed him back. "Okay, fine. If you really want to leave, fine. You can go. But I want to ask you something first."

Cloud stopped. "Okay..." he said.

Tifa looked up at him with serious eyes. She was about to ask him something very important, he could tell. "Are you sure you cut all your ties with Shinra, and that you'd go blow the place up if you got paid?"

Cloud raised an eyebrow. Was she serious? He frowned again, getting serious. "I'm finished with them. I don't want anything to do with them anymore. But yeah, I guess I'd go take 'em out, if I got paid enough."

Tifa brightened. "Seriously?"

"Yes."

Tifa looked at the floor. She thought for a moment. Cloud didn't move; he knew something else was coming. Tifa struggled to find the right words, then just gave up. "Work for us. We'll pay you, don't worry. And you can live here, and maybe Barret will change his opinion of you."

Was she kidding? She really wanted him to wait tables and wash dishes? He frowned, then thought of something. She had said Barret was their "leader." What exactly did they do?

Tifa went on. "You need to promise not to tell anybody. Please, or I'm not telling you anything else."

Cloud nodded. "I promise." Would she really accept a promise from him, considering he threw the last one out the window?

Tifa took a deep breath. "Have you ever heard of AVALANCHE?"

Cloud flinched. Of course he had. But why would she know about them? He nodded, but didn't say anything.

Tifa kept going. "We are AVALANCHE. Our goal is to take down Shinra Electric Company, for all the horrible things they've done."

Cloud's eyes widened. He frowned. "You're AVALANCHE?"

Tifa nodded. "Yes. We're fighting to save the Planet from Shinra."

Cloud kept his frown. "... AVALANCHE is a terrorist group. They kill innocent people. Why would you join them?!"

Tifa looked surprised. "What? No, we don't kill people. That's not what we're after. We just want to take down Shinra and restore power to the people."

Cloud glared at her. "How would you know? Do you even know what you've gotten into?!"

Tifa shrank a little. "Of course I know. Barret wouldn't kill anyone unless they threatened the Planet."

Cloud continued glaring. "Really? He looked about ready to kill me. And how do you know he doesn't have any other plans? What if he wants to completely destroy anything and anyone related to Shinra?!"

Tifa frowned. "I trust him! He knows what he's doing! He may not have told us what we're doing yet, but he has a plan."

"But you don't know what it is. That's a great reason to trust him," Cloud replied, sarcastically.

"He has a little girl!"

Cloud flinched. He hated to see her mad.

She went on. "Marlene is his daughter. He wants to build a brighter future for her. And that means for the rest of the Planet, too!"

Cloud frowned. He scratched his head. "I've seen AVALANCHE. I've fought with them. They're brutal and inhumane; they don't care a bit about their members. They send them by the hundreds to be slaughtered by Shinra troops."

Tifa was stunned. "You fought with them? When?"

"When I was still a cadet in the army. They wanted to kill the doctor I was protecting, because she held valuable SOLDIER information. They didn't care how they did it, they just wanted to take down Shinra. And later, as it turned out, they were corrupt. They wanted to destroy all humans to restore power to the Planet. They were worse than Shinra."

Tifa frowned. "That's not what we're doing. I know it's not. We don't have enough members for that, anyway."

Cloud looked at her. "How many do you have?"

Tifa looked at the floor. "Only the people you saw in that room. Well, Marlene doesn't count."

Cloud was confused. What could a group of a few people do against Shinra? Were they crazy? "Are you sure?"

Tifa nodded. "Yes, that's all we have. We've had a few meetings to get organized and stuff, but we never planned anything. I guess it was to inform us of what Shinra can do."

Cloud frowned. "I guess... you're not the same AVALANCHE."

"What do you mean?" Tifa asked.

Cloud scratched his head. "I think the first AVALANCHE was taken out seven years ago, shortly after I joined the army. I still saw what they did though. I didn't think they'd come back."

"But it did! And we're different than the first one. We're determined to take down Shinra without any casualties."

Cloud frowned. Was that possible? Were these people really bent on destroying Shinra? Truth be told, he didn't think it could be done. Tifa went on. "And if by some impossible chance AVALANCHE becomes corrupt, I'll leave. I'm not just going to go around killing people because they're in the way. There are better and more humane ways to do what we do. So... will you join us?"

Cloud really didn't think it could be done. No way, not with six people. "You guys are crazy. There's no way you can take down Shinra."

"That's why we need you! You're an ex-SOLDIER, right? So you should know how Shinra works, and how we can take them down! Please, we need you. And... I missed you. You can't just leave."

Cloud frowned. What was he getting into? "I don't know..."

"Please?"

He looked at her, and his knees went weak. How could he refuse? After all, she said they'd pay him, right? He sighed. "I guess. But you gotta pay me good. And I'm not promising! I'll try it, that's all."

Tifa brightened. "Great! Of course, we'll pay you, don't worry. Come on, we have to tell the others!"

Cloud's eyes widened as she grabbed his hand, pulling him out the door. She dragged him through the hall and out into the bar. The others looked startled. Cloud was a little embarrassed, and he looked at the floor.

"Attention everyone, I have an announcement." The others were completely taken off guard by her sudden cheerful appearance. Hadn't she just been pissed off at Barret?

"Cloud says he'll help us." Tifa beamed.

Four sets of eyes bulged as she said the words none of them would have expected. Barret was the first to recover from the shock. "T-Tifa, did you tell him who we are?! Does he know what we do?!"

"Yes, he knows. And he also said he'd help us with it. I believe him." Tifa said calmly.

"That was stupid! You didn't even ask us about it first! What if he betrays us?! He's gonna go tell Shinra--"

Cloud glared at him. "When I said I was done with Shinra I meant it. If I go back there, it'll be to take it apart. Now stop judging me because of my past that you know nothing about!" He snarled.

Barret retorted, "Well, maybe I would know more if you'd jus' tell us!"

"Stop!" Tifa yelled. "Just stop, now. You guys are being stupid."

Barret frowned. "But, Tifa--"

"He doesn't want to talk about it! And I don't either," she said. "I trust him. He's my friend. So if you don't trust him, you don't trust me, and I'm leaving."

That convinced Barret. He didn't want to lose a member, not when they barely had any to begin with. He would have to compromise. "Mmmm...alright. But I swear, if you show any signs o' betrayin' us, you're ass is out! I'll make sure o' that, you watch."

Cloud snorted, earning a glare from Barret. "Alright... let's get this meetin' over with! He jumped up, nearly knocking the table over. He spun around to face the vending machine next to the wall. Cloud wondered what he was doing over there when Barret pulled a hidden lever. The machine squeaked, then started to descend in to the floor. Where was he going? Cloud followed everyone else down the hole that was created.

There was a whole room under the bar with a table in the middle covered in papers and tools, and a television screen in the corner. There was a computer next to the wall, and some boxes and simple furniture. Was this the hideout for AVALANCHE? It looked pathetic, but it would have to do. Everyone took a seat on whatever they could find, Barret still standing. Apparently he had something to say.

"Alright fools, Once you see this, there's no way you can back out. You've gotta go through with everything from the beginning, and you can't get scared and back out. Here's your last chance." Nobody said anything. "Alright. I'll show you." He turned to a box in the corner and started rifling through it. There looked to be a bunch of random papers inside, some completely blank. Cloud didn't understand. "Gotcha!" exclaimed Barret. He pulled a folder out from the bottom of the box, and threw it onto the table. "That there is our plan, our mission. Look at it carefully, fools, cuz we don't wanna mess this up."

Jessie picked up the folder and looked at the first page. "Wha... is this a bomb?!"

Biggs took it from her. "Wow... I think it is." Jessie began handing out the different pages to everybody, so they could divide up the briefing information. "Look at that... I think those are instructions on how to build it. And is this a reactor floor plan?" He held up a blueprint.

Barret chuckled. "Yeah, it is. An' guess what? That baby's goin' bye-bye with our next mission."

"What?!" Yelled everyone. Well, everyone except Cloud. He just raised his eyebrows.

"Yeah," said Barret. "We're goin' in there, and we're gonna set a bomb, then run out as the time ticks. We'll have plenty of time, don't worry."

Jessie was worried. "B-but, don't people work in the reactors? We can't just blow them up! What if they're innocent?"

Wedge looked at what looked like a schedule. "It says here we're taking the train to sector 1, where our target is. It's late at night tomorrow, when the shifts change. That way, we can minimize casualties."

Barret nodded. "That's right. Plus, the train we're on is carryin' most o' those from the next shift."

Biggs saw what he meant. "So then, if we can get in and out before anyone from the new shift enters..."

"Then there's a possibility that nobody will get hurt!" Jessie exclaimed. "That's a good plan, I guess."

Wedge wasn't convinced. "Yeah, but there's still a possibility of casualties. We can't count on everyone from the new shift taking the train, or everyone from the old shift leaving before the explosion. And what if they notice us? We'll have to fight them off. I don't like it."

Barret frowned. "We'll just have to take that risk. It's the only way. An' besides, those people are part o' Shinra. They ain't jus' some bunch o' innocent people. They know what they're doin' an' they don' give a damn about it. If they're in that reactor when it blows, it's their own fault."

Jessie scowled at him. "But, what if that was the only job they could find? We can't just kill them for trying to survive!"

"Think about all the people dyin' because o' what they're doin'! Think about the people we can save by doin' this job! Think about what's gonna happen if we don't do this! The whole Planet's at stake, here!" Barret exclaimed. "We can't save everyone, but we can save all the people who are affected by Shinra. You jus' gotta accept it."

The room went silent. Nobody wanted to admit that they had no better ideas. They didn't want to kill anybody, but this seemed like the only way.

Biggs took a big breath, closed his eyes, and sighed. "I'm with Barret on this one. There's no other way."

Jessie gawked at him. "Biggs! You can't seriously mean you're gonna kill a bunch of people just for working for Shinra!"

"There's no other way! Like Barret said, we can't save everyone. But if we let this continue, a lot more people will die. A lot more innocent little kids in the slums will become orphans, and will probably die because they can't support themselves. And when Shinra sucks the Planet dry of all the mako, everything will die. Can you imagine that? Just a huge hunk of rock with no life on it? How much more of a nightmare would that be?"

Everyone looked at him. They didn't want to think about that. And they knew he was right, they couldn't think of anything better.

"Well, I'm in."

Everyone looked at Cloud. There it was again. Couldn't people just control themselves?! He scowled.

"I'm with Cloud and Biggs. I can't see there being any other way," said Tifa.

Jessie frowned. "Me either. But there's got to be... somehow..." she couldn't think of anything.

Barret frowned. "Come on, you guys can't chicken out. You had your chance! You gotta go through with it, no matter what!"

Jessie shut her eyes and cringed. "Oh, alright. But I need time to make the bomb. It's kinda complicated, and we don't have all of the parts."

Barret was pleased. "Oh, don' you worry about that. We'll get 'em, and you can work on it tomorrow until it's finished. We'll help you if you need it."

Wedge was the only one left. "Well? Wedge?" Asked Barret.

Wedge shifted on his box. This didn't sound like a good idea. "I really don't like this... I don't want anyone to die..."

Barret tried to keep his voice from sounding impatient. "Look, there's no guarantee that anyone's gonna die. If we time it right and work fast, we can make sure everyone's out before the place blows. So how 'bout it?"

Everyone was looking at Wedge now, a relief to Cloud. "Oh, man... I really don't like this. Okay, I'll do it."

Barret let out a big whoop as he jumped in the air. "Alright, fools, everyone get some good rest, we move out tomorrow! Whoohoo!" He ran towards the machine again and pulled the lever on the wall, bringing it back down, so everyone could get back up to the bar. Tifa got off of the box she and Cloud were sitting on, Cloud following. When everyone else was on the ground floor, Marlene ran in, melting everyone's hearts like she always did. Well, everyone's except for Cloud's. He was lost in his own thoughts at the moment.

Tifa looked at him. "Is something wrong?" She asked.

Cloud shook his head. "No... I'm just thinking how the guards are gonna fare when I get there. Even if I am a bit out of shape." He scratched his head.

Tifa laughed. "Hey, everything will be fine. I think you're strong enough."

Cloud blushed. He had to ask, he had to know. "Strong enough for what?"

Tifa looked into his eyes, his beautiful, glowing blue eyes. "For anything. You could do anything if you wanted to. Just put your mind to it and don't falter." She smiled.

Cloud looked away; he couldn't stand her smile. "Huh..." he said quietly.

Tifa added, "Also, we're gonna need your strength tomorrow. Bigs, Jessie, and Wedge aren't much of fighters... they're more mechanical than, well, you know." She blushed, and looked away.

Cloud felt awkward. What did they do now? Tifa answered that question. "Well, it's getting a bit late, and you're still recovering. We should all get some rest."

Cloud looked up. "Yeah..." he said, unsure of himself.

"So, do you want to sleep in the back room, or in my room, or, where?"

Cloud shook his head. "I don't care. Anywhere's fine."

"Well, the back room has a sofa, and my room has the floor. I think you should sleep in the back room." She giggled. Cloud just shrugged.

"Okay," was all he said.

Jessie ran up to Tifa. "Hey, you don't mind if I stay here again, do you? I want to get to work on that bomb right away, but Barret wants the plans here."

Tifa nodded. "Sure, we can fit you somewhere." She smiled at her friend.

Cloud wondered, did Tifa really mean what she had said, about him being her friend? Did she really care about him, even though he'd broken his promise? His face got hot as he thought about it.

"Hey, Tifa..."

Tifa looked at him." Yeah?"

Cloud looked away. "Was that true, what you said about me being your friend?"

Tifa looked at him for a little bit, then smiled. "Of course, Cloud. You've always been my friend. You're a very nice person, and you're strong, and reliable, and, I could go on..."

Cloud looked at her. "You... really think so?"

Tifa laughed. "Of course! Cloud Strife, what's gotten into you? I think you're tired, come on." She grabbed his hand, and started dragging him towards the back room. She pushed him in there gently. "Go on, get some rest. I'll see you in the morning." She smiled, then shut the door.

Cloud stood there, speechless. Tifa was his friend... He'd always thought she hated him, or at least didn't care for him. Ever since she fell on Mt. Nibel, and went into a coma for a week after that. He said he'd protect her, and he failed. Twice. He'd let Sephiroth hurt her, and did nothing.

Sephiroth... what had happened to him? If he was still alive, Cloud was going to find him, and rip him a new one. Then kill him, for all the pain and suffering he'd caused. Tifa's father was killed because of him... Tifa. The only thing Sephiroth hadn't taken from him was Tifa. He hadn't lost everything, after all. What's more, it looked like she was giving him a chance to redeem himself. He'd do it. He couldn't just leave her behind. He had to join this new AVALANCHE, so she would never be hurt again. That's what he would do. And if Barret didn't like it, he'd have to deal with everyone else. They seemed to like him enough... Everyone. There were more people to protect than before. Would he fail them, like he did Tifa?

No, he wouldn't. Shinra would pay for turning his idol into a monster, and destroying the lives of countless people. Cloud had found his place. All of these people had the same goal. He wouldn't fail them. He would protect those closest to him, no matter what.

He wasn't alone anymore.

---

So there you have it, the end. Please tell me what you thought of it! Please! Well, even if you don't (and you really should, something wonderful and magical might happen to you), thanks for reading. And if you just skimmed over it, I still thank you for looking at it. Now I need to sleep. I mean, start working on my other fanfic, yeah! Check it out, it's about Rufus, and will be a lot longer: I Wish I Weren't the President. Currently one chapter up, chapter 2 coming soon. I will love you forever for reading it =D

Title comes from Mudvayne's two albums The Beginning of All Things to End and The End of All Things to Come. Very original, I know...