A/N: I bring you all the last chapter of this little adventure. It's far shorter than the other two, but I seriously had to stop here or it would've turned into like a ten-chapter story, and the last thing I need right now is another multi-chapter fic. Hopefully the bit of romance in this chapter will make up for the open to interpretation ending. Special thanks to: Doctor It, mom calling, Seelenspiel, Aveira, serenbach, and ObsessiveCompulsiveValkyrie. Thank you so much for reading and reviewing, and I'm sorry I didn't get the chance to reply to everyone.
Tifa raced towards the pillar holding up Sector Seven, glancing at her watch every few seconds. She couldn't allow this to happen. It was her duty to protect people, even if afterwards the company decided to discharge her afterwards. She had not been raised to purposely murder innocent people. The war had been something entirely different from this, and she would be damned if she just stood by and looked the other way.
She arrived just in time to see Reno setting up the charges. She slowly drew her sword as she approached him, and watched his shoulders tense when he realized that she was standing there.
"Company orders," said Reno, turning slowly to look at her.
"I'm not going to let you kill innocent people, Reno. It'll pain me, but I will hurt you if you don't disarm the bomb," Tifa said, serious.
"Sorry babe. We could've had something special. Don't take this personal. I'm just doing my job."
Tifa shifted her handle on her sword and pointed it straight at Reno, shaking her head. "I just decided to quit SOLDIER," she said. "And since I'm not employed by the same people as you anymore, I won't feel guilty about disobeying orders."
Reno just shook his head and drew out his EMR, switching it on until it hummed with energy. "I don't like fighting girls, even though I know you can kick my ass."
"Then turn off the bomb," Tifa said, eyeing the minutes that were running out.
Her distraction cost her—and besides, she hadn't anticipated that Reno would attack her—when he charged at her and swung at her head. Tifa flipped back and away from Reno's weapon, sending one leg towards his in order to topple him to the floor. Reno jumped, avoiding her attack, and their weapons clashed with each other, setting off sparks.
"We need to get out of here, yo," Reno grunted, attempting to force her back and away.
"Disarm the bomb!" Tifa yelled, punching him in the jaw.
Reno fell back but immediately jumped to his feet, shaking his head. He pulled some grenades from inside his suit coat and threw them at her. Tifa rolled out of the way just in time, but lost her grip on her sword. The blade slid across the plate and towards the bomb, but before she could get to it, Reno was standing at her side, his EMR right under her chin.
The perpetual amused look on his face was gone, and he looked a little frantic. "Don't make me do this, L.T. The bomb is going to go off and you and I will go with it."
"Good," Tifa spat. "We deserve to be dead if we allow this to happen."
"I've had more years to get used to being a Turk than you do as a SOLDIER," said Reno. "I've learned to live with the guilt to a point where I don't think much about it anymore. Get over it, L.T. and go back to ShinRa. They'll kill you if you try to desert. I'll probably be the one to pull the trigger."
Tifa reared to her feet and tackled Reno to the ground, sending her fists into his face and any soft body part she could get. Reno rolled her and rammed his own fist into her stomach, effectively pushing the air out of her body. He went for her face next, but Tifa twisted and sent her booted foot into the side of his head, dropping him off of her and to the side. She got to her feet, wiping the blood from minor bruises away and ran to the bomb. She cursed herself for never taking the offered curriculum for learning about bombs—how to make and diffuse them—when she couldn't figure out how to stop it.
It was too late and all she could hope for was that Yuffie and Vincent had managed to find a way to get Cloud and his friends out from Sector Seven. Then the bomb went off, and Tifa jumped back and rolled away. The plate was falling from underneath her, and she didn't have time to wonder if Reno would make it out alive; she didn't even know if she would make it out alive. Fire, dust, and debris were falling around her, nearly suffocating. Something inside her broke at the sound of twisting metal and death that reached her ears. Her hand caught one of the suspension wires that had been inside of the plate that was still falling, and she caught it and held on for dear life.
She slid for a few feet, her hand burning, and stared down at the destruction before her. There was nothing but rubble and flames left where Sector Seven had once been. Something warm and wet trickled down her arm and Tifa looked up and realized that her hand was bleeding through the blood. Changing her grip to her other hand, she began her slow descent, hoping that the glove held up for a little longer and didn't result in both her hands being badly injured before she reached the ground.
There was nothing inside of her but a cold feeling of disappointment and incredulity. To kill so many people for just a few… she couldn't fathom it. Cloud had been right. ShinRa needed to be stopped, but she wasn't entirely convinced that a group of ragtag "ecoterrorists" would be able to make a difference. All they had caused was an attack on innocent people. Tifa knew now how ShinRa truly operated, and they would more than likely blame this on AVALANCHE.
Bracing herself for more pain, Tifa took out her phone and dialed Yuffie's number. After five rings, the voicemail picked up and she shook her head, sending her long hair against her face. Next she dialed Vincent. Nothing. Finally, she dialed Cloud and hoped—almost prayed—that he would answer. Her knees gave out on her when there was no answer.
"Promise me that you'll come back?"
"Hmm… okay, but only if you promise that you'll wait for me." A feminine giggle. "I'll come back and be your hero whenever you're in a bind."
"Girls aren't supposed to be the heroes. You're supposed to stay here while I go off to become the SOLDIER."
She could remember his eyes now. So bright and blue in the moonlight, the stars making for a beautiful backdrop. The well—she remembered the well too—had been their own private little spot. "You have to stay and take care of your mom. She needs you."
"I know. But that doesn't… that doesn't mean that I won't miss having you around."
"Well, I'll miss you too." She had blushed, thankful that it was dark.
"Come back safe?"
"Only if you stay safe too."
Cloud nodded his blond head. "I promise."
Her phone beeped and Tifa looked down at it, wondering where the anonymous number had found hers. She opened her phone to read the message and she frowned in thought at the cryptic message. There was only an address where she had to get to as fast as she could, without being seen. Standing up and squeezing her bloodied hand, Tifa took off at a quick run, staying to the shadows as the rest of the city went into a panic after bearing witness to the fall of the plate.
Before she could even realize it, Tifa found herself standing in front of a quaint house located in Sector Five. It was located a good distance away from where the destroyed reactor was, so the neighborhood was in good condition. Creeping through the shadows once more, Tifa sidled up next to a window to look inside, hoping to catch a glimpse of the person who had asked her to come. The door to the basement—located next to the backdoor of the house—banged open and Tifa caught a glimpse of green eyes, motioning for her to follow quickly.
Tifa ran after her and nearly tackled Aerith in a hug as the other woman closed the door and locked it. "I didn't know this was your place!"
"My mother Elmyra lives here," Aerith explained, hugging Tifa right back. "I couldn't send you the message from my phone because I lost it. I had to borrow one," she said, motioning down the stairs, into the main section of the basement.
Tifa walked down slowly, feeling her heart pound in her chest. She nearly ran to him when she saw that Cloud was standing near the other set of stairs that led into the living portion of the house. He looked safe and unscathed, and she had to force her feet to remain flat on the ground. Cloud stared right back at her, and Tifa realized that he was inspecting every visible injury she had on her. She broke away from his gaze and finally took notice that he wasn't the only one there. Zack, Barret, and Marlene were also nearby. She hadn't met the little girl before, but knew that she was the child that big Barret so protected. The child was staring at both her and Aerith in near awe, but she broke into a smile when the door nearest Cloud opened and Yuffie dragged Vincent down the stairs.
The basement seemed crowded now, but Tifa couldn't contain the sigh of relief that came with seeing everyone that was dear to her alive and without a scratch.
"Seriously, Vince. Leather?" Yuffie was saying, and Tifa noticed that they were out of their suits.
"It's easier to move around in," Vincent said, calm.
"Teef!" Yuffie yelled, nearly taking both her and Aerith to the ground with her in her happiness. "We got the package out, and we pulled as many people as we could. Couldn't save everyone though."
"I know," Tifa said, feeling a lump form in her throat. "Thank you for helping and risking your lives to help me."
"You gotta do something about it though, or I will," Yuffie said, wiggling her eyebrows suggestively and gazing at Cloud out of the corner of her eyes.
Tifa merely smirked and thanked Vincent, who just nodded in acknowledgement. She turned to Aerith. "You think I can use your shower?"
"Of course. I'll get everyone settled in upstairs, but you, Vincent, Yuffie, and I need to stay out of sight. We're supposed to be flat under the plate too," Aerith said, a hint of anger in her voice. "We'll make them pay, Tifa. I've never been one for revenge, but ShinRa is asking for it."
Tifa nodded and turned to follow the other woman towards the other stairs.
Barret cleared his throat and stopped them. "Thank you for sending someone for us, girl."
"I do have a name, you know," Tifa said, sounding tired.
She forced a smile onto her face and nodded. "You're welcome. Just promise you'll always take care of that treasure you have with you."
Barret's eyes softened as he looked at Marlene. "Yeah. Go and take care of yourself, Tifa. You're bleeding all over the floor."
Cloud took a step forward, but Tifa was already moving away, up the stairs. Aerith led her to a guest room, where the drapes had been shut, and helped heal Tifa's hands before she left her friend to her shower. The water was turned up to scalding as Tifa washed away the blood, dust, and soot that had settled on her from her fight with Reno and the fall of the plate. After realizing that she could possibly be using up all the hot water, Tifa shut off the shower and stepped out, drying herself off before pulling on the clothing that Aerith had left for her to wear.
Slowly pulling on a pair of sweats and a t-shirt one size too small, Tifa dried the ends of her long hair slowly, staring at her pale, hollow eyed reflection in the mirror. She still didn't recognize the woman she had become, and it made her heart ache. This was not the life that her parents would've wanted for her. A person who had worked for so long with people who didn't think twice about bringing down plates over innocent civilians.
A knock at the door interrupted her thoughts and Tifa made her way over to answer it. She was surprised to see Cloud standing there, a calm look on his face. "Sorry. I lost track of time and just forgot that others would need the shower," she said, starting to move around him to leave the bathroom.
"You took a while, so I wanted to come and check on you," Cloud said, stopping her with a hand on her elbow. "Aerith's mother made some soup for us, and I brought some up for you."
Tifa nodded and pushed on another forced smile. She felt so emotionally exhausted that even smiling seemed like a chore now. "You didn't have to go through the trouble, but thank you," she said, slipping away from his touch and moving towards the small table near the door, where the food was.
Cloud frowned at her and wondered about her strange behavior. He knew it had to do with the fall of the plate; he felt it in his chest too. He had lost his home, his business, everything that he had made for himself after leaving home. Not to mention that the biggest losses had been his other friends and some neighbors that they hadn't been able to get to in time. He hated feeling so helpless and unable to help anyone. He silently watched Tifa as she picked at the chicken and noodle soup and slowly walked over to kneel in front of her, his hand cupping her cheek.
Her eyes darted up to his face and he held fast when she began to move away. "I want to help, but you have to tell me what's wrong first. You can't feel guilty about the plate. You had nothing to do with it, while we do. It's not your burden, Tifa."
"I know that, Cloud, but it still makes me angry to know that I couldn't do anything about it," Tifa said, voice low. "I was supposed to become a hero. Not a person who sits by and watches plates fall, or monsters get set on the loose to kill innocent people."
"You fought so that the plate wouldn't fall, didn't you? You fought that monster so that it wouldn't attack anyone, right?" Tifa nodded and Cloud rubbed his thumb over her cheek. "Then that makes you a hero."
Tifa stood from the chair she had been sitting in and walked a distance away. "Don't try to turn me into someone better than what I am," she said, annoyed.
Cloud straightened and forced back the scowl that threatened. "Why do you shy away from my touch?" he asked before he could stop himself.
The brunette stiffened at his question and shook her head. "I don't."
"Yes. You do." His eyes narrowed as he crossed his arms over his chest.
Tifa deflated and sunk onto the soft mattress of the bed. "Why would you want to touch someone like me? I'm a little less human because of those experiments."
Cloud couldn't believe what he was hearing, but just to prove her wrong, he sat down next to her and grabbed her hand in his, bringing her bruised knuckles to his lips for a gentle kiss. "You're more human than many people running around the city. You didn't stand by and just watch the plate fall, did you?"
Tifa shook her head after a moment. "I fought Reno, but he didn't disarm the bomb," she said, turning her hands up when she remembered that only less than an hour before they had been bleeding. Her palms were pink and newly healed, but they wouldn't scar; Aerith was one hell of a healer. "I could've done more…"
"And what? Kill yourself while you tried? We're alive for a reason, Tifa," Cloud said, squeezing the hand he still held. "I don't care about your past, or the experiments. I care… about you."
Her glowing eyes turned to him in the dark of the room, and she couldn't stop her heart from beating a little faster. She remembered him, if only a little, now. Those eyes, the scarce smile, the way his mouth softened when he was happy, or when his lower lip pouted out a little when he was angry. "You're familiar to me now. Just a bit," Tifa said, brushing the tips of her fingers across the light freckles on his cheeks.
Letting out a small breath, Cloud leaned in towards her. He gently brushed his lips against hers in a chaste kiss and hoped that she wouldn't pull away from him again. When she didn't, he squeezed her hand in reassurance. She tasted of sadness and all the tears that the old Tifa would've surely shed on his shoulder, but she was a fighter, and he knew that all that sadness that she felt now would be put to a better use.
"Join us. Join AVALANCHE. I know we can stop all that's going on, but we'll need your help to do it," Cloud said.
Tifa wondered briefly how long he had been waiting to ask her to join, but she had been refusing to leave ShinRa no matter what she claimed. The experiments had been the last straw, but the plate had been what had finally made her take action and walk away. As of now, she was just a civilian. Just an enhanced fighter with exceptional skills and a wish for retribution for the harm caused to the people of Midgar and to the planet.
"You're in a bind, and you want me to be your hero, right?" Tifa asked, unable to hide her smile.
"Girls aren't supposed to be the hero," Cloud replied, a smirk sliding over his lips.
"You'll stay with me, even if things get hard and dangerous?" she asked, turning to look at him.
Cloud nodded, meeting her gaze head on. "I will. And we'll find the rest of your memories, too."
Tifa smiled. "I'll hold you to that."
A knock on the door was the only warning they received before it swung open, letting in Yuffie. "You guys should come and take a look at this," she said motioning downstairs.
Cloud and Tifa followed after her in silence down to the basement, where a small TV had been set up. The news channel was broadcasting the fall of the plate, and Tifa had been right, they were blaming it on AVALANCHE.
"They'll be huntin' us now," Barret grumbled. "ShinRa is offering a reward for any news on our whereabouts."
"Also, we're all successfully dead!" Yuffie said cheerfully. Tifa stared at her, and the young woman shrugged. "Apparently we were under the plate and we went with everyone else. We'll have a memorial next week."
"It's so easy for them to cover up anything," Tifa muttered, anger burning through her.
"If they could cover up Sephiroth going crazy in that small town, ShinRa is capable of doing anything," said Yuffie.
"What?" both Tifa and Aerith chorused.
Vincent took in their reactions and was more curious about Aerith's. He'd never been much for gossip—the way Yuffie was—but he'd heard stories about the General having a love interest inside SOLDIER, and maybe Aerith had been the one.
"Why is this a big deal?" asked Zack.
"He went homicidal and then killed himself. Or at least that's what was said in a briefing we had before we died," Yuffie said, motioning to Vincent and herself.
Tifa turned to look from him to Cloud, and her eyes held pain in them. "He was supposed to be in Nibelheim," she murmured.
The blond started at this. "He killed the townspeople?"
"And burned everything to the ground. His body hasn't been found, so there's a chance that he may still be out there," said Vincent.
Another thing to add to ShinRa's ever growing list of mistakes and failures, Tifa thought inwardly. Her father… "We have to do something," she said, startling everyone out of silence. "We have to bring the corporation down to its knees."
"How do you suggest we do that, girl?" asked Barret.
"The same way you were doing it first," Tifa replied. "We'll take out the reactors."
"Didn't you give us a whole guilt talk about killing innocent people?" Zack asked, crossing his arms over his chest and leaned back against a support column.
"We'll have to find a way to disable the reactors without causing so much collateral damage," Cloud interrupted.
"Our bomb… supplier was under the plate," Zack said after a moment. "She didn't answer when we called."
"I'm sorry about that," Tifa said, pacing a little. She turned to Vincent and Yuffie. "You two know how to make explosives, don't you?"
"It's standard Turk training," said Vincent.
Barret cleared his throat. "Normally I wouldn't trust a Turk, but ya got us out of Sector Seven when you didn't have to. Would ya be persuaded into joining AVALANCHE?"
"Depends on who does the persuading," said Yuffie, winking at Zack. The taller man just grinned and shook his head.
"As individuals, we wouldn't even scratch the surface of ShinRa, but together, I think that we stand a chance of really striking them where it hurts. What do you say?" Tifa asked.
Vincent looked at Yuffie, and the younger woman nodded. "We want to help."
"Good," said Tifa, turning to Barret. "Wherever you lead us, we'll go."
The big man shook his head. "I think you make a better leader than I do. We'll follow you."
Everyone else nodded in agreement, and Tifa felt her spirit lift a little. She had a group of people, not the mention the planet, counting on her to make things right. She'd chosen wrong by joining with ShinRa before, but the universe was giving her a chance to fix some of her wrongs, and she would try as hard as she could. The road ahead of them would he a rough, dangerous, and treacherous one, but she had her friends with her, and… she had Cloud there to be her support for what was to come.
Their eyes met from across the room, and he nodded, his lips softening into a smile.
"Hey! Stop staring at each other and lets have dinner!" Zack exclaimed.
Laughter took over the majority of their group as they trudged up the stairs to get their food in the kitchen. And as she followed after them, Tifa felt a warm, strong hand slip into hers and squeeze. "You'll always have me here, Tifa," he said, as if in answer to her previous thoughts.
"I know, Cloud. Thank you," Tifa replied.
And here starts Tifa's FFVII… There won't be a sequel for this story at this moment, but I may change my mind later on. Thanks for reading and I hope you had as much fun with this fic as I did!