Author's Note: This is the completed version, all in one chapter for ease of reading. I know it's been a long time since I've worked on this one, but I haven't had any inspiration for it until recently. Thanks for the patience, and I hope you enjoy.
"When worse comes to worse,
And beginning comes to end,
Just believe in yourself,
And you will come back,
Stronger than ever before."
Follow Me

Barret Wallace sat, quiet at last, in the still night as the wind swept over his broad shoulders. The soothing hum of the Highwind lulled him into a dreamlike state and he couldn't help but reminisce. It had been awhile since the fated incident, and he hadn't really had time to stop and think about it. And now, here he was, soaring to the northernmost point of the planet to risk his life to save it. He had changed. Tifa had told him that only a day ago. Barret suddenly saw how true it was. Marlene's absence had awakened his fears, and he had been a lot more cautious than the obnoxious Barret he used to be. But it was hard for him, it was hard for everyone. And since he had lost his three dearest friends, it was even harder.
Barret remembered the first time he had met them...
"Got you, you're it!" A light brown haired girl put her hands on her hips, laughing wildly like a hyena.
"Nuh uh!" A short tubby boy crossed his arms, shooting her and her comrade a frustrated glare. "Jessie, you en't it, HE is!" Barret watched sullenly from his perch on the branch overhanging the park and cocked his head.
"Nope!" The boy next to Jessie teased. "We tag-teamed!" He flaunted in a singsong voice.
"Why're you too always pickin' on me?!" The tubby boy sat his bottom down in the sand and furrowed his brow.
"Aw, Wedge, we en't pickin' on ya." Jessie ceased her giddy laugh and put a gentle hand on his shoulder. "We just like ya." Barret raised an eyebrow. They didn't seem to like him, from what he had been watching.
"Really?" Wedge' eyes lit up and he smiled hopefully. "Jessie? Biggs?"
"Yeah." Biggs nodded, and pointed over to some neaby bushes. "Us three are stuck together like glue."
"Forever." Jessie added seriously.
"Forever!" Wedge sealed the deal and Barret sighed. He felt sort of lonely, sitting up in the tree all alone. His Aunt had just accepted him into her home in Midgar, and he was the new boy in Sector 4. It was so dark, but his parents couldn't take him anymore for some reason, and Barret had been forced to come stay with his Auntie Jeannie. All of a sudden he noticed that the three kids had gone quiet, and shifted his weight nervously when he looked down to see that they were staring at him in wonder.
"I... ugh!" Barret stirred and slipped right off of the branch, plummeting down to the ground below before everything went black.
"Do ya think he's dead?" Biggs's voice filtered through as Barret slipped into conciousness.
"No, see, he's movin'." Jessie noticed, and Barret's eyes fluttered open. Three faces crowded over him and he sat up quickly, causing everyone to fall backwards.
"Ya'll stay away from me." He snapped, and watched Wedge' big round eyes widen.
"What's your problem?" Biggs shot back, and Barret stood up, brushing himself off. "You was the one spyin' on us!"
"I en't spyin'!" Barret defended, fists raised.
"Don't ya even think about it buddy!" Biggs clenched his as well.
"Hey hey hey!" Jessie scrambled to her feet and flung herself between the two boys, backing up into Biggs to calm him down. "I don't know what's up, stranger, but we don't mean no harm. Right Biggs?" She emphasized her words to Biggs, and he furrowed his brow, running a firm hand through his mussled hair.
"Sure." He muttered, turning around. "Just don't let me catch ya again." Wedge looked from Biggs to Barret, and back to Jessie, and quickly scampered off after the two, leaving Barret alone. Again.
Barret sighed, looking down at the rapidly passing landscape. It was such a long time ago...
"Bye guys!" Jessie waved as Biggs and Wedge jogged away from her down the path in the woods where they played. Barret heard her musical voice and froze, listening to the light cracking of twigs as she neared him. His reasoning told him to run, or hide, or get out of her way, but he couldn't. He wanted to see her. She rounded the corner and nearly jumped out of her skin when she spotted Barret standing in the middle of the path, facing her. "Jeez, don't do that!" She scolded, her lopsided ponytail flopping as she shook her head from side to side.
"Sorry." Barret shrugged, and Jessie's cute face crinkled into a smile.
"Hey, you're that boy that Biggs was gunna smash." She crossed her arms, shifting her weight to her left leg.
"He couldn'ta smashed me." Barret quickly replied, staring her down.
"You're a stubborn one." Jessie laughed, and walked closer to him, inspecting his face. "But you're tough."
"S'right." Barret clenched his jaw, even as a grin played Jessie's face.
"I'm Jessica." She held out her hand, and Barret stared at it for a moment before engulfing it with his own. "You can call me Jessie, everyone else does."
"Barret." He told her, and then Jessie launched into a splur of words. She was talkative, but she kept a conversation so long that the two lost track of time and before they knew it, it was nearly pitch black in the forest.
"Oh..." Jessie stopped short of her sentence, finally noticing the darkening surroundings. "Oh no. I'm in HUGE trouble. Papa's gunna kill me. I gotta run... you know you're way outta here?" She asked, and Barret nodded. She winked and waved, and then bolted through a few trees, disappearing into the blackness. Barret ran a hand through his black hair, and then turned to head in the general direction of his Aunt's house.
That had been his first time meeting Jessie formally, and she had seemed to take a liking to him. Barret realized all of a sudden that on the way back to his Aunt's house that night, he started loving Jessie. It was odd, but that was when his feelings began. Wedge was easy to become friends with, Barret was nice to him and he was accepted. Wedge began looking up to Barret as if he were a fearless leader; he portrayed natural strength that Wedge envied. Biggs was harder to convince.
"Naw Biggs he's way cool!" Wedge drew a circle in the sand with his stick. "He's real strong too." He looked to Jessie, who was sitting on a tree branch overlooking him. her legs swung back and forth as she looked over the field looming ahead of her.
"He en't one of us, Jessie." Biggs crossed his arms, too stubborn as he stood toughly like a statue.
"I never said he was." Jessie argued, her brow furrowing. "I just feel sorry for him... he's all alone." She blushed slightly, looking down at Biggs's still form. "At least we all have eachother." At that moment he looked up at her, and her innocent eyes were windows to reason. He bit his lip, and then turned back to the field.
From that moment on, Barret, Wegde, Biggs, and Jessie had been the best of friends. It was a little icy between Barret and Biggs at first, but then things became as natural as ever and the four were inseparable. Their devotion was constant, much like what he had now with Tifa... and all the rest, even if he had just met them. Cloud was strange, but he couldn't turn his back on everyone, he was sincere. Cid was tough talking, but very good natured and loyal at heart. Red XIII was a protector, these were his friends, he'd give his lives for them. Especially since he had lost his dear grandpa. Yuffie was a thief, but she had learned that everyone was true to her, so she was true to them. Vincent was a little distant, but he still would never betray his newfound friends. Cait Sith was a mystery. He had helped them in times of need, but had gone against in them in the past. And Aeris... Aeris had been so good to everyone, such a beautiful person. She had saved Marlene, given herself up for Barret's little girl. He'd never forget her.
Jessie was Barret's first love. And it became more evident as the quad grew older into teenhood.
"Wh-whoa." Barret choked on his words when he saw Jessie step into the light. She was wearing a long deep burgundy silk dress, with spaghetti straps and a tie up back. Her hair was down, the long lush brown curls framing her face and tumbling down her creamy shoulders. She was beautiful.
"I feel like a girl." She scowled, shifting her weight uncomfortably.
"Y-you are a girl." Barret gulped quietly, and walked up to her, offering his arm hesitantly. Jessie looked at it, and then slipped hers through, grabbing a handful of skirts in her free hand, allowing her to walk.
"I don't understand why we have to get all dressed up for dances." She spat. "It's horrible." Barret couldn't help laughing at her attitude, and his nervousness melted away easily. This wasn't a painted up doll, this was Jessie. He didn't have to be nervous. He straightened his tie, feeling his own discomfort at the suit he was in. Wedge and Biggs were waiting at the corner, and both of them gawked at the beautiful girl just as Barret had done.
"Jessie?" Wedge raised an eyebrow blankly.
"Just because I'm in a dress doesn't mean I can't kick both your sorry little asses." Jessie snapped, and both boys grimaced at the same time. Soon Biggs's face disappeared behind a cocky grin, and the four of them headed across the street towards the brightly lit building where the dance was held. There was already music playing inside, and Barret opened the door for Jessie to step through. She blew a stray curl out of her face and entered, the three boys following her as quickly as possible.
That night Barret had really noticed Jessie's beauty.
"God, Jessica, you were a sight." He murmured to himself, and wiped the sweat forming on his forehead even through the chill wind sweeping over him.
"Barret, where'd Jessie go?" Biggs asked, breathing heavily from all of the dancing he had been doing. Barret shrugged, and realized that he hadn't seen her for quite awhile.
"I'll go look for her." He offered, and Biggs nodded, heading over to get something cold to drink and striking up a conversation with a cute looking girl nearby. Barret shook his head, and exited the building, peering around to see if Jessie was anywhere in the vicinity. He walked nonchalantly down the road, peering around in the darkness. He heard a 'ploonk' and turned towards the pond, where he saw the silhouette of a curvy female tossing stones into the dark water. The moon was brightly behind her, and by the way her arm reeled back and angrily hurled the stones, Barret knew damn well it was Jessie. He walked up quietly and watched her graceful form. She was a tomboy, that was evident, but she had a beauty and grace of a princess.
"Why are you staring at me?" Jessie asked without turning around. Barret chuckled, not able to figure out how she knew he was behind her. "And why are you laughing?" He immediately wiped the grin off of his face when he heard the falter in her voice.
"What's wrong with you?" He asked, furrowing his brow. It came out harsher than he had wanted it to, but he couldn't help it. He was normally harsh.
"I don't want to talk about it." Jessie leaned down, picking up a larger stone and pitching it high into the air as she sighed heavily. She threw her hair back with her hands, and then crossed her arms, shifting her weight to one leg. Barret's heart was pounding, he wanted to say so much to her but he couldn't find the words. "I'm going home." She turned halfway towards him, hesitating as she looked into his eyes briefly. He followed her, picking up to a slight jog to catch up to her angry long strides. When she wouldn't slow down, he grabbed her arm and yanked her back to face him. She made a fist and nearly punched him in the face, but Barret didn't even flinch. All of a sudden she threw her arms around his neck, and he nonchalantly embraced her back, not used to the concept. But he knew that this would comfort Jessie in some way, and that's what he wanted to do. Comfort her. Hold her and make all the hurt go away... whatever it was.
Jessie's dad used to beat her up. It had left a traumatic mark on her, and the only person she ever told was Barret. And although she would never let him tell anyone or try to fix the problem, he was always there for her. He was so relieved when Jessie's dad left her and her mom, so he could leave them both alone. It had hit Jessie really hard though, when her mother died soon after. She couldn't get by without her husband, and died without any notice. Jessie disappeared, but turned up at Barret's doorstep a few days later.
"Where's your Aunt'n'Uncle?" Biggs asked, entering Barret's house with Wedge close behind.
"They went to visit some friends in Kalm Town." Barret replied, his voice hollow with isolated depression.
"How'd they get outta Midgar?" Wedge's eyes grew wide.
"Don't know." Barret shrugged. "Don't care." He sighed, getting up and pouring himself a glass of spirits to drown himself in. It had been four days since Jessie had gone away, and he was miserable. Biggs and Wedge weren't much better, but they could function a lot more than he could.
"Yo B, I-" Biggs began, and all of a sudden the door swung open and a frail looking figure collapsed on Barret's porch. She wobbled back and forth, a feminine hand trying to support herself on the doorframe.
"Jess?" Wedge blurted, frozen in place. Barret was immediately at her side, scooping her weak body into his arms and holding her close to him. Neither Biggs nor Wedge could move, they could only watch and gape.
"Aw Christ girl where'ya been?!" Barret murmured into her hair, and she turned her dirt covered face up to him. Tears had streaked little rivers down her cheeks, but she didn't reply, she just clutched him with all the strength she had. They sat there in the doorway for a good five minutes before Biggs and Wedge snapped into reality, and quickly sped over to lend a hand. Wedge helped them both to their feet and Biggs supported Jessie up to Barret's Aunt's room, laying her down on the bed. Wedge put a kettle on and Barret rummaged around frantically to find something for Jessie to eat.
"How are you feeling? Where were you? What happened? Are you okay?" Biggs drilled her with soft questions and Jessie pulled the blankets quaintly up to her chin, forcing a tiny smile.
"I need to sleep now." She squeaked, and Biggs sat down on the edge of the bed, watching as she drifted into a deep slumber. Barret and Wedge hurried in, juggling plates and mugs in their arms. They set everything down on the dresser and stood beside Biggs, watching Jessie peacefully sleep.
"She left because of her mom." Wedge stated the obvious. "But where'd she go?" He asked to nobody in particular.
"Why'd she come back?" Barret added in wonder.
"For us." Biggs blinked explicitly. "For us."
And it had been true. Barret didn't believe it at first how much Jessie cared for the three guys. Three bumbling blokes that knew nothing more than their little sector and worshipped the ground she walked on. Although they all treated her like 'one of the guys', they all loved her more than she could imagine.
"Barret?" Jessie's voice cracked and she sat up slowly, looking around. He immediately sat up from his uncomfortable position on the floor. His head had been resting on the side of the bed while he watched her sleep.
"Want some water?" He immediately asked, and she nodded, waiting for him to hand her the glass on the dresser. "Feelin' better?" He questioned after she had gulped down half of the clear substance.
"Lots, thanks." Jessie leaned back up against the wall, and stared off into space, looking deep in thought. "I'm sorry I left."
"Aw, don't 'pologize, Jessie." Barret shook his head, confused at her words.
"I shouldn't have left you." She barely mouthed, sighing heavily from the pit of her stomach. "I had to come back, Barret, I felt so badly." She was rambling, Barret thought, he was sure of it. She was delirious. "I went everywhere, but I couldn't stay away, I had to come back for you, Barret." Her eyes were darting all over the room, and he knew that something was wrong with her.
"Lie down now." He reached over and put his hands on her shoulders to help her lie back down, but Jessie put both her hands on his.
"I really love you." She murmured, and he was taken aback. But he didn't want to alarm her, so he kept moving her down and covered her up with the blankets again.
"You gotta rest now." He instructed, and she smiled faintly, eyes fluttering closed.
Once Jessie had recuperated a little, she stayed at Barret's house. He often asked her if she should go home, but she always said no. He stopped asking when she replied that she didn't have a home anymore. Wedge and Biggs lightened the atmosphere a lot, and Barret was glad for the support. Jessie was still a little distant, and Barret didn't dare ask about what she had said that first day back while she was lying in bed. He was afraid of how she'd respond... that she'd say she didn't mean it...
"Morning." Barret greeted Jessie, who was fixing herself something to eat for breakfast. He was already dressed, and came up beside her to help.
"Hi." She quietly replied. She looked a little hesitant, but he didn't prompt her before she was ready to speak. "Barret... where are your Aunt and Uncle?" The thought suddenly hit him and he nearly fell over from the realization that clicked in his brain. His Aunt and Uncle were supposed to be gone for a few days... and Jessie had been at his house for about a month. He had totally forgotten about them, which was incredibly impossible. Where were they? "Barret?" Jessie let a look of complete concern roll over her pretty features and he shook his head as if to clear his thoughts away.
"I- I don't know." He managed to croak, and sat down at the table, staring off into space.
"What do you mean?" She knelt down by his side, looking up into his confused eyes.
"They've been gone for so long..." He began, pursing his lips for a moment. "I have no idea where they are..." Jessie didn't know what to say to try and console him. "God dammit!" He leapt up, the shock knocking Jessie backwards onto her backside. She watched fearfully as he overturned the table in his anger. "Why in hells does everybody gotta leave me all alone?!" He yelled, clenching his fists simultaneously.
"You're NOT alone!" Jessie screamed, leaping to her feet. "Jesus Barret! You are NOT alone." She felt the tears streaming down her face, but didn't hold them back. She was angry at his sudden ignorance. He blankly stared at her, trying to read her narrow eyed expression. "We're here for you, you don't have to be so damn ungrateful! You haven't lost everything, you know!" Barret was stunned. He was about to stalk out of there fast, but he stopped when her words sank in. He saw she was right. He still had her, and Biggs, and Wedge. He never paid any attention to his Aunt and Uncle, why shouldn't they have left him? He wasn't completely deserted, because he still had the ones he loved the most. He nonchalantly picked up a chair and righted it, sitting down slowly. Jessie gulped, swallowing her tears and wiping her cheeks. "I wasn't lying when I said I loved you." Her voice quivered and he looked up, his eyes questioning. Before either of them could break the silence, they broke the barrier between them and embraced hungrily. Their lips pressed together and they shared a long, lasting kiss that neither of them would ever forget.
After that, both Jessie and Barret returned to their normal selves, save the sweetness that they shared together. Biggs and Wedge clued in quite quickly that the two were together, and backed off a little bit to give space. They really didn't want to, and found themselves missing the strong quad friendship from before. But everyone changed at one point in their lives. And Barret and Jessie had eyes for each other. Biggs and Wedge would just have to accept that.
"Barret?" Tifa asked from behind him. "What are you doing down here?"
"Aw, just thinkin'." Barret replied gently. Normally his voice was strong and cold, but he knew that going over memories of Jessie softened him. He didn't have to worry about downing his harsh shell with Tifa anyway, she understood him better than most.
"About what?" She joined him at the railing, interested in his thoughts.
"Everything." Was his only reply, and he sighed in unison with Tifa. It caught them both off guard and Tifa let out a tiny chuckle.
"It's about Jessica, isn't it?" Tifa had always called her Jessica, she felt it was more formal and that Jessie should be treated more like a lady.
"Some." Barret lied. It was all about Jessie. God, he missed her.
"Well tell me." Tifa turned to him.

Biggs and Wedge had become a little distant with time, as they tried their best to give Jessie and Barret 'alone time'. It never really occurred to Barret at all what was going on, until he told them he was leaving.
"Barret, what do you think will become of us?" Jessie inquired lightly, looking out over the little trees that were left in the sector. Barret tightened his grasp around her, holding her close as if she would slip away. The two of them were seated quietly on the roof of his Aunt and Uncle's old house, as they usually did in their spare time.
"I don't know." He honestly replied, stroking her hair fondly.
"We can just stay here, I s'pose." Jessie said, a smile playing her lips. "It can be our house, we'll keep it together. Depending on what Biggs and Wedge want to do, of course, they're welcome to come here too, right?" She paused, awaiting an answer. It was a moment before Barret even moved slightly. "Barret?"
"I've been thinking about things." He said, voice completely serious. Jessie's smile faded when she recognized his tone. "I... I think I should go back to Corel."
"Wh, what?" Jessie pulled away, eyes wide with fear at his statement.
"My family's all left me, Jessie. But I never even knew my parents, really. I want to find them, I have to." Barret sighed heavily, trying to ignore the betrayed expression on his love's face. "I need to find out why they sent me away. Before it's too late."
"Too late for what, Barret?!" She suddenly leapt to her feet in rage. Anger overtook her, and she nearly lost her balance for a frightened moment. Barret cringed at her icy voice, but didn't try to protest. "Why do you want to go back to those people? The people that push you away? Why can't you just stay here, with the people that love you? With the woman that loves you." Her voice softened as she turned away from him. "What about Biggs and Wedge, huh? Are you even planning on telling them? Or were you just going to pick up and leave, without even giving them a simple goodbye. You haven't even talked to either of them in months." Jessie stopped, afraid that her voice would give out on her, and refused to meet his eyes. There was a shuffle as Barret got to his feet, and slipped back into the window that led to the attic. Jessie fell to her knees, allowing the tears to overtake her, praying to hell that he wouldn't leave her.
"Jesus, that's horrible." Tifa's expression was sympathetic.
"I sat by the window and listened to her cry for the better part of an hour." Barret admitted. "But after that, I couldn't listen anymore. And, I was too ashamed to face her, so I did what she dreaded. I picked up and left."
"But why? Why did you leave her?" She wasn't in the understanding at all.
"Because I was afraid. I was afraid of my feelings."
Soon after, Jessie was forced to leave Sector 4. They were clear-cutting the area and wanted everyone out for good. There was nothing there for her, and so she sold what she could and headed off to find somewhere else in Midgar to live. Barret had left her some money, but not enough to leave the city along with Biggs and Wedge. There was more than enough for her, but she wouldn't leave her two best friends for the world.
Jessie ended up in Sector 7, rooming with an old merchant who was looking for someone to keep his small building in shape. So she worked for him in return for a place to sleep and daily meals. Biggs' family traveled to Sector 6, and Wedge's family moved in near Jessie's place. The three of them stuck together, and Biggs even got a job as apprentice merchant with the man Jessie was staying with. It was a good idea, too, because he was quite old and if Biggs took over the business then he would be well off and so would Jessie.
"That was when I met them!" Tifa exclaimed. "Now I remember... it's been so long that I didn't even recall... I was 9, at the time. Jessie was about 18, I think. Were you THAT much older than her?"
"By five, six years, yep." Barret nodded. "I didn't know you met her that early on... where were you living?"
Tifa was an orphan, having lost her parents, she was shipped off to Midgar's child care center. But, being the tomboy that she was, she was too much trouble for the caregivers there, so they located a willing person in Sector 7 to take her in. The man was the owner of a bar, 7th Heaven, which was right near Jessie's place. Tifa was often sent there for supplies, and the older girl took to her almost immediately. Biggs and Wedge often played with Tifa too; she was like a little sister to them.
"Now I see just how long you were gone..." Tifa trailed off. "Obviously you did more in Corel than just search for your parents, didn't you?" Barret paused.
Barret never did find his parents in Corel. He did, however, find his childhood friend, Dyne. He was married to an amazing girl, Eleanor, and they allowed Barret to stay with them until he could fend for himself. Corel was a mining town, and it wasn't too hard for him to find work there. He couldn't find anything to do with his parents, but knew in his heart that he couldn't go back to Jessie, Biggs, and Wedge with a proud heart. He had betrayed them, and for nothing. So he stayed in Corel with his friends, and eventually got married to a nice young woman by the name of Myrna.
After the tragedy, after everyone died, Barret was just too ashamed to even look at Corel anymore. He took in Marlene, Dyne's newly orphaned daughter, and left the mining town. He wasn't sure where to go from there, and began to ponder about Midgar. Marlene talked about how she wanted to meet this Jessie girl that Barret had once told her about, and so it was decided.
They made it to Midgar to find it in worse shape than it had been when he left. When he entered Sector 4 to find his Aunt's old home completely falling apart and rotting due to the air pollution, he made a pact with the Gods. He promised to free Midgar from it's disgusting atmosphere, if they would give him the strength and determination to free the Planet of the Mako reactors that were slowly killing it.
Barret searched high and low for his old friends, even though he was reluctant to see them. He was afraid of what they might think of him, and how he would be greeted.
"I was eighteen when you showed up." Tifa smiled nostalgically. "Jessica had talked so much about you, and when you walked into the bar I almost had a heart attack when it registered who you were."
"You paled lighter than a ghost, I remember." Barret teased.
"She was so happy to see you, though." She lowered her gaze.
"Really?" His voice dropped in volume drastically. "She was so... odd... when I met up with her..."
Finally reaching Sector 7, Barret took Marlene into Seventh Heaven to relax for awhile, and order something to vanquish their hunger. It was a bar, but it was the only place within realistic distance to go to eat. He walked through the door, with Dyne's little girl perched on his shoulder, and sat down at the counter easily.
"Whatcha goin ta eat, Barret?" Marlene innocently inquired, eyes wide with curiosity. He smiled, unable to keep it inside. The girl really got to him in ways he never knew any human being could. He really liked her, her childish purity that nobody he knew had ever had. Except for Jessie, he thought with a pang.
"Hang on, I'm coming!" A lush female voice called from behind a red curtain hiding the kitchen, presumably.
"I don't know yet." Barret cocked his head. "Maybe they have my favourite food, toenail salad with Mako dressing!"
"Ewwwwww!" Marlene made a face, and they shared a laugh. Barret's expression hardened when he heard a clang. The bartender, a short girl wearing a black mini skirt and a white tank top, had stepped into the area and was staring at him with her mouth agape. The tray she had been holding lay on the floor in disarray as she stood, frozen in place.
"You... you're..." She stammered.
"I don't know you." Barret narrowed his eyes, and Marlene blinked.
"She's pwetty, dontcha think?" She smiled, lightening the shocked atmosphere slightly. It knocked the bartender out of her daze, and she shook her head, bending down to pick up her things that were strewn across the linoleum. When she stood up again, she had resumed a more cool stature, and leaned forward onto the counter.
"I'm sorry... but aren't you Barret Wallace?" She asked, and he was taken aback. He wondered how she knew his name, but before he could ask, Marlene cut in.
"Yep! And I'm Marlene!" She stood on the stool she had been perched on, and put out her chubby hand. "Who are you?" The girl's face crinkled into a cute smile as she took the little girl's hand.
"Tifa Lockheart." She said, and then extended her hand to Barret. "It's really a pleasure to meet you both... especially you, Mr. Wallace, I've heard so many amazing things about you." It then hit him with force that nearly knocked him over.
"Where's Jessie?!" He cried, standing up. Tifa backed up a step in shock at his outburst, but kept her exterior rather calm.
"She's the merchant's apprentice in the tower next-" She wasn't able to finish her sentence because Barret had scooped up Marlene and was out of there in a flash. "... But she's downstairs..." The pinball machine to the left of her disappeared into the floor, and then with a buzz came back up, revealing Jessie standing in front of it.
"I heard shouting." She said. "What's going on?"
"You won't guess who just came in here!" Tifa gushed.
"Who?" Jessie furrowed her brow, pondering.
"Barret!" Tifa nearly jumped up and down, but contained herself enough to simply surge around the counter and wrap her sister-like friend in a tight hug.
"OH MY GOD!" Jessie squealed, backing up against the wall. Her eyes were wide with anxiety, and she found it hard to find her breath. "Are you sure?"
"Very sure." Tifa smiled widely.
"Where'd he go?"
"Next door to look for you." There was a creak as Marlene came back inside, cutely holding her hands behind her back and peering up at the two girls.
"Hello little one." Jessie's voice shook, and she tried to keep her stature steady. Tifa giggled.
"Barret! She's in here with the pretty lady!" Marlene yelled, and Barret slowly entered, head slightly down. Jessie couldn't stop the gasp that threatened her throat and he caught it, looking away in shame.
"Don't you avoid me, Barret." Jessie said, more stern than she had meant to sound. It surprised everyone that she was so firm. Marlene smiled brightly, taking Tifa's hand. With a minute tug, Tifa understood, and the two of them headed into the back room behind the curtain to give them privacy. Jessie ran forward, stopping right in front of Barret, forcing him to look down into her sweet eyes. "You've been avoiding me for long enough." There was an awkward silence. Barret didn't know what to say at all, knowing that if he opened his mouth he might regret his words. "It's about time you came back."
"I had to." He chanced, gulping audibly. "I didn't have anywhere else to go... and I had to take Marlene somewhere."
"Oh." Jessie crossed her arms. She poked at the floor with her shoe. She looked fabulous, in her own little way. She was wearing a pair of brown cutoff shorts, a black tank top, and she had her hair up in a red bandana. Any other guy would have overlooked her, but in Barret's eyes, Jessie was still the goddess she had always been.
"And because I missed you." His statement brought a look of sheer happiness and relief to Jessie's eyes, and she took his massive hand in hers, leading him to the pinball machine.
"Come see Biggs and Wedge." She pushed a button, and they descended.
"Wow!" Tifa happily chattered, coming out from behind the curtain with Marlene and lifting her onto one of the bar seats. "I can't believe Barret's back!"
"He talked about Jessie da whole way here!" Marlene bubbled. "He's so happy now that he can see her!"
"She is too, I gather." Tifa leaned over the counter, winking at the little girl. "Well, little lady, what'll it be?"
"Marlene is SUCH a cute girl." Tifa grinned. "She was so articulate for her age."
"She was tiny then." Barret agreed. "She's still tiny, and cute as hell."
"Marlene was to me what I was to Jessie." She nodded. "I took to her right away."
"I took to the others right away." He replied. "Again."
After getting acquainted once again, things almost seemed to go back to the way they had been. Except for the part that they were all countless years older. But it didn't change much. Biggs was a little icy at first, but eventually they all warmed up to each other. Before long, they were all chatting equally about many things.
"So, is that your little girl?" Jessie casually asked, yet there was deeper thought to her question. Fortunately, Barret didn't notice.
"No, Marlene was orphaned after Corel was destroyed." He proceeded to tell the story of exactly what happened those years in his hometown, even the parts about Myrna. He tried to sound enthusiastic about her, but he didn't know why he was doing it. He didn't manage to catch Jessie's momentary hurt expression when he spoke of being married. But she was lightly consoled that Marlene was Dyne's, and not his. But Barret was oblivious to her introverted feelings, as were Biggs and Wedge as they consumed themselves in his story. The only thing he didn't talk about was his arm, which was now replaced by a powerful gun. Nobody asked, either, it seemed more of a personal matter.
It was then that Barret actually got down to business.
"How many Mako reactors are in Midgar?" He suddenly asked.
"Mako reactors?" Biggs furrowed his brow in question. "Eight, one for each sector."
"Well, there was a reactor in Corel, and there was controversy over it." Barret lowered his gaze. "The reactors are real bad for the planet, ya know."
"It is, and Midgar is the center of that." Jessie confirmed with a nod.
"Well I wanna fix that." Barret clenched his fists. "Shinra's killin the Planet every day, and makin people miserable. The reactors are suckin the life outta the Planet, and it should be stopped."
"What do you propose?" Jessie inquired.
"Shutting down the reactors." He replied easily.
"Wh, what?" Wedge was taken aback. "The only way to do that would be to..."
"Blow em up." Barret nodded. "Each and every one."
"We could get in huge trouble for that." Jessie warned.
"So we don't get caught." He shrugged. "Biggs is an expert, he can make us fake ID's to use on the trains and stuff, right?"
"Well, I'm in, Barret. I'll follow ya." Wedge crossed his arms triumphantly. Barret looked towards Jessie and Biggs anxiously.
"Good to have you back, buddy." Biggs gave a pert nod, and Jessie leaned back.
"We'll need a cool name."
"One step ahead of you." Barret smiled. "How bout Avalanche?"
"So THAT's how Avalanche started!" Tifa grinned. "You guys didn't recruit me until later."
"Well you were our center of operations, right?" Barret winked. "You guarded the stronghold, and the Princess Marlene."
"Well it wasn't really until Cloud showed up that I joined you out on missions. But then we got caught up in all this." She scratched her arm absently.
"Yep." He leaned on the railing, looking down to the moving landscape below.
"Wow, someone's hungry." Tifa giggled as she watched Barret wolf down her food.
"Naw, it's just that your food is so damn good." He mumbled, before shoving more meat in his mouth. Jessie laughed outright.
"He always was a pig."
"I'm a piglet!" Marlene announced, and Biggs ruffled her hair. All of a sudden there was a crash as the doors swung open violently.
"Cloud!" Tifa exclaimed, as a purple clad spiky blonde haired mercenary entered the bar. "I thought you were staying in Sector 5."
"Change of plans." He gruffly said, sitting down in a huff next to Jessie. She half smiled.
"You know you can show some emotion once in a while, it won't kill you." She teased, and he shot her a death glare.
"Who's this chump?" Barret snapped, and Biggs laughed.
"This here's Cloud, ex-Soldier." He explained, and Barret narrowed his eyes.
"Soldier, eh? You work for Shinra?" He demanded. Cloud looked up from the plate that Tifa had set in front of him, glaring with his brightly glowing Mako eyes.
"I used to." He coldly said, lightly placing a cut of dark meat in his mouth.
"You know the reactors, then?" Barret continued. Looking as if he were tired of talking, Cloud impatiently raised his gaze once again.
"Wanna join us?" After the question, Cloud nearly choked on his dinner.
"Join you?" He skeptically asked.
"Join what?" Tifa cut in casually.
"We're going to liberate Midgar of the reactors." Jessie proudly announced, and Cloud chuckled softly.
"You're going to fail." He said.
"YO! Why do you say that?" Barret cried.
"Do you know how heavily guarded those reactors are? What are you going to do, just waltz right in, plant a bomb that counts down and then attempt to escape before it detonates?" Cloud sarcastically rolled his eyes. "The soldiers would rather go down with the reactor than let you out."
"Well mister ex-All Powerful, that's where you come in." Biggs jumped into the conversation. Cloud shifted his irritated expression towards the tall dark haired speaker. "With you, we can navigate easier and then get in and out quicker."
"You won't get in and out without a fight." Cloud stated firmly.
"We're willing to fight." Jessie blushed at herself.
"Right." Barret agreed, silently thanking her for the faith filled statement.
"Of course, we'll need to do some research before we can do this, but if you're going to be around, you can help." She added quickly. When he didn't answer, Tifa shifted her weight, cocking her head.
"If you ask real nice, they might pay you." She joked.
"We could, if that's your game." Barret took it seriously. Cloud stared at him incredulously.
"Barret..." Jessie warned. They didn't have that much money.
"I have all the family finances from Dyne's family and my own, I could pay you to help us." He assured her.
"... If I'm around." Cloud replied, and then didn't say anything for the rest of the meal.
"Cloud used to be such a cold guy." Tifa bit her lip. "It's amazing how he's so open now, and caring about everyone."
"He was hard to crack, but he ended up helping us." Barret replied.
"Good thing he did, too." She raised an eyebrow. "Otherwise you would have been cooked in that first reactor."
"That was so much later, though. We waited for a good year and a half before actually doing it." He countered. "If he hadn't of been there, I would of just taken Biggs with me to plant the bomb. It would of been okay."
"This is it." Jessie sat, gun in it's holster on her leg, cracking her knuckles nervously. "We're finally doing it."
"Chill Jess, it'll be fine." Biggs patted her shoulder fondly.
"Remember all the passcodes?" Wedge prompted, and she nodded.
"Almost there." Barret confirmed, looking out the window. Cloud sighed, impatient as always.
"Don't get too excited, Cloud." Jessie teased. She was always on his case, and he half smiled at her, giving a small reaction so she'd leave him alone.
The train screeched to a stop, and they all got to their feet. Barret nodded triumphantly, leading them all onto the platform. Cloud took out the two guards there, and they all bolted inside quickly to avoid further contact. Jessie deciphered the first door code, and then Biggs took care of the next one. He and Wedge took their post there to keep any unexpected visitors from heading down to the reactor while the others were down there. Jessie raced ahead, unlocking the elevator, and the three of them piled inside.
"You don't even care, do you?" Barret asked as he studied Cloud's serene expression. "Mako reactors are sucking the life outta the Planet, it'll die without us."
"Not my problem." Cloud replied automatically, in a monotone voice that got to Barret like a stab through the heart.
"ARRRGGH." He shook with irritation, but contained himself as the elevator came to a halt. Jessie parted with them at the end of the nearby ladder, giving a reassuring smile as the two kept on by themselves. "There it is, set the bomb." Barret seethed, motioning towards the core of the reactor. Cloud paused for a moment, and Barret saw beads of sweat pop out on the youth's forehead. "YO! You okay?"
"Yeah, yeah." Cloud regained his cool stature and quickly set the bomb, turning around and wiping his forehead.
"Look out!" Barret yelled as a huge Shinra machine leapt down at them. He fired his gun arm frantically, hitting it but not doing much damage. Cloud coolly whipped out his extravagantly sized buster sword, and expertly sailed at the machine, slicing the exact wires needed to shut it down.
"Let's go." He said. "Ten minutes until the bomb detonates." They ran quickly down the pathway, reaching the ladder that they had to climb to get to the elevator. They were at the top when Barret realized Jessie wasn't with them. She was still down at the bottom off to the side, down on one knee. "What the hell is she doing?" Cloud snapped.
"Just go, I'll get her!" Barret leapt down efficiently, and rushed to Jessie's side. "What's going on?"
"My leg is stuck, something attacked me..." She stammered. "I can't get it out... I think it's broken!" Barret's mind began to race. He gently pushed her backwards, so that her leg was right in front of her where he could examine it. It was at an odd angle, and Jessie cringed terribly when he poked at it.
"I'm going to pull it out." He looked at her solemnly. "It's going to hurt." Jessie nodded, clenching her jaw and squeezing her fists tightly, bracing for the pain. Barret wrapped his strong hands around her tiny but muscular leg, and then pulled with all his strength. Jessie's scream echoed almost in a deafening manner, and slit Barret's heart to the very core. There were silent tears streaming down her face, and he didn't acknowledge them because he knew she was trying to hide them. She wasn't able to walk, so he slung her over his shoulder, taking great care not to hurt her as he stumbled up the ladder. He made it to the top, huffing and puffing, praying wholly that he could make it out in time. They entered the elevator, and he jammed on the button, sending them speeding upwards so fast Barret nearly lost his footing. When it finally reached the top, he sprinted to the bridge near the reactor core where Biggs, Wedge, and Cloud were waiting impatiently and anxiously. Biggs' face softened when he saw Barret run out with Jessie, full of relief. Wedge motioned, and the five of them just made it through to safety as the reactor exploded in an impressive array of Mako fire.
"Meet at the train in a half hour." Biggs instructed when they got outside. "We can't be suspicious getting on right after the explosion."
"Alright." Barret agreed. "Don't get killed, you hear?" They all parted, except for Jessie still on Barret's shoulder. They stopped near a small run down church, and he set her down in a small alley that wasn't too dirty. It was actually rather cozy. The peace of the church seemed to emanate into the area.
"Thanks, Barret." She blinked, seething at the pain.
"It was no problem for you, Jess." He sat, draping an arm around her small shoulders. To his surprise, he suddenly heard her sobbing violently. She could barely speak when he looked down at her, expecting an explanation.
"You were gone for so long... and then you come back... and I tried to get used to the fact that you were here again... but it's so hard to keep it out of my head that you might just leave again... I didn't think you'd come back for me..." She rambled, not even thinking as she blurted out her words.
"Oh... Jessie..." Barret hugged her tightly, allowing her sobs to be muffled into his chest. "I couldn't keep myself away from you, I just couldn't."
"B, but." Jessie managed to stifle her sobs for a moment. "You went off and got married, Barret. Then you came back, and I felt torn because of that. And now, you risked your life to save mine. You came back for me, just like you did a year and a half ago. You've saved my life many times, Barret. Did you realize that?" She stopped talking as her voice became almost normal again.
"When we fix Midgar, and move out from under this pizza together, I promise I will marry you, Jessica." Barret firmly looked her in the eyes. "We'll get out of here, you, me, Marlene, Biggs, Wedge, Tifa, maybe even Cloud. We'll go somewhere quiet, somewhere where the sun shines all day long. And we'll get married, you an me, Jess."
"Oh my God..." Tifa trailed off. "I didn't realize... I didn't realize you'd proposed to the girl..."
"Yeah, I guess I did." Barret coughed nervously.
"You really loved her."
"Yeah, I did."
"Don't worry, Jessie, you'll be alright." Tifa finished putting the brace around Jessie's leg, and then stood back to look at it. "The mechanics are pretty genius on the thing, you should be up and around in no time."
"Yay!" Marlene clapped her hands. "Jessie can still play with me!" Biggs poked his head in the room.
"How's our heroine?" He smiled, and walked in, setting some flowers on the dresser. "Here, I bought these off of a sweet girl I came across before we got to the train."
"Thanks, Biggs." Jessie faintly smiled. "Where's Wedge?"
"He's outside with Barret trying to convince Cloud to stay and help with the next reactor." Biggs' mouth set into a harsh line. "He says it's a waste of time and unless we pay him twice as much he won't do it."
"OOOOH!" Tifa cried. "He makes me so mad sometimes!"
"Aw Teef, ya know ya love him!" Marlene teased, and Jessie cracked a smile.
"I can't not love him, he's my best friend from when we were little, Marlene." Tifa admitted, and then turned towards the window. "But when he sets his mind on something, he's really stubborn about it. So I don't think he'll stay unless Barret pays him double. Jerk."
"He's a valuable jerk." Biggs shrugged.
"And an entertaining one." Jessie scratched the back of her head. She found Cloud's coldness intriguing, however harsh he may be.
"Well, we'll let you rest, girl." Tifa pulled the blankets up on Jessie, and then took Marlene's hand, walking to the doorway. Biggs was the last one out, and just before he shut the door, he spoke.
"Anything for your happiness, Jess." He said, and it puzzled her as he disappeared completely. She wasn't sure what he meant by it, but it didn't matter because of her tiredness at that particular moment.
"The last thing she said to me before the plate crashed was 'Barret, I'll follow you to the ends of the earth'." Barret sighed. "She didn't follow me, though."
"She'll always be following you, Barret." Tifa smiled, and patted her friend's shoulder fondly.
"Hey, you two, the crater's just ahead." Yuffie's face was still green from her airsickness. "I think Cloud wants to talk to us all before we land... you should come up to the bridge... urp..." With that, she ran off to the corner where she had spent most of her time on the airship.
"Well, at least we know what we're fighting for." Tifa slipped her arm through Barret's. "Their deaths won't be in vain, Barret."
"Death is always in vain." He replied solemnly. "Only we can prevent it."