The Cry of the Planet Chapter 29

The Promise

By Edyn Cross

After leaving the support pillar, the ex-SOLDIER made his way into the main Sector 7 town. It was a unclean area with trash littered dirt for roads and all the buildings were vandalized and falling apart. Dim streetlights and business signs lit up the area with a depressing hum. The largest sign that caught Cloud's attention was above a familiar bar in the northernmost part of town and read, "Tifa's Seventh Heaven."

Under the sign, Cloud saw the AVALANCHE members gathered outside the Seventh Heaven while Barret charged into the business, shot a few rounds and then all of drunken customers stumbled out of the bar with drinks still in their hands. A few moments later, Barret walked out with the gun where his right hand should be still smoking.

"Okay!" Barret announced to the team. "Go on ahead."

The AVALANCHE members all piled into the bar Cloud bringing up the rear as Barret stayed out on the porch making sure no one else followed other than their team. As Cloud entered, he saw a young girl of about four years old in a pink dress charge him in happiness with her arms out.

"Papa!" The girl cried.

Before the girl reached Cloud, she noticed her mistake in calling the wrong man "Papa" and abruptly stopped, then ran back and hid behind the bar counter. A moment later, a beautiful woman jogged up to Marlene with a smile on her face. She was a small, but athletic woman with long dark brown hair down to the back of her knees that had a tie in the end. She wore a small black skirt, a tight sleeveless white top, black suspenders and brown boots and gloves both with steel plates on them. On both her arms were black sleeves starting at her hands and ending just above her elbows and on her right elbow was a pad with a steel plate on it. She looked down at the little girl with her large brown eyes and smiled warmly.

"Marlene," The woman said. "Aren't you going to say anything to Cloud?"

The little girl shook her head shyly hiding behind the woman looking up at Cloud with mistrustful eyes.

"Hi, Tifa," Cloud greeted.

"Welcome home," She said smiling at Cloud with the girl still hiding behind her. "Judging by the news on TV, looking like everything went well... Did you fight with Barret?"

Cloud shook his head, "Not this time."

Tifa looked at him thoughtfully, "Hmm... you've grown up. When you were little, you used to get into fights at the drop of a hat."

Tifa paused a moment looking over Cloud to make sure he was alright when she noticed the beautiful white flower that he forgot he was carrying.

Tifa's face brightened, "Flowers... You almost never seem them here in the slums. Is it for me?"

Cloud looked down to Marlene and offered her the flower. The little girl cautiously accepted it and then hid back behind Tifa's legs. After he handed Marlene the flower, Cloud looked over to Tifa and gave her a wink, who smiled in return.

Cloud walked over to the table where the rest of the AVALANCHE members and took a seat. The other members were busy winding down the evening eating, drinking, and talking amongst themselves.

"Oh, Cloud..." Wedge said through a mouthful of food. "Tifa REALLY knows how to cook, mmm, mmm. Anyway, let me tell you something."

"About what?" Cloud asked.

"About this place," Wedge said still munching. "Tifa always lets me taste her cooking and now look at me, I'm rolly-polly! I don't know whether I should be happy or sad, but it's the good food and drinks that make this shop famous."

"Hey, Cloud," Biggs said slurring a little. "Nothin' like that first drink after a job, hic, why don't you have one too?"

Cloud shook his head, "No, thanks."

"What?" Biggs slurred. "Don't act all big-headed jus' cause you were in SOLDIER... Even if you were with SOLDIER, you're still a rookie here, so you'd better listen to whatever I tell ya."

Cloud shrugged.

"Oh... Hic...!" Biggs started. "Don't tell Barret what I just said."

After some light conversation with the other members, Cloud began to feel lightheaded and thought the bar was getting the better of him. Too much smoke and noise forced Cloud out of his seat and to the exit. Before he could leave, Barret stomped through the doors entering the bar. Confident that the girl had the right man this time, she greeted him.

"Papa!" Marlene yelled running towards Barret. "Welcome home!"

Barret picked the small girl up with his left hand then lovingly and effortlessly placed her on his left shoulder. Cloud looked at the two in amusement thinking they were quite the pair. Barret was black in color, stood a good six feet four inches, looked like he had been weightlifting for twenty years and on his left shoulder was a flaming skull tattoo. The girl was white in color, about three and a half feet tall, had a pink dress with a pink bow in her hair, and had eyes as innocent as a kitten's.

"Hey," Barret said kindly. "Where'd you get that flower?"

Marlene looked at the flower, "Cloud gave it to me."

"Oh..." Barret looked at his daughter. "Did you thank him?"

Marlene shyly shook her head and looked at Cloud, but not in his eyes, "Thank you Cloud."

Cloud just gave Marlene a little wink as Tifa looked at Barret thoughtfully, "You all right, Barret?"

"Did you see the news?" Barret said with a grand smile. "Never better. Get in here fools, we're startin' the meetin'."

With Marlene still on his shoulder, Barret crossed the room to a pinball machine on the far right corner. To all the regular customers, the machine had never worked since the day the bar opened, but little did they know. Barret hit a lever under the machine and the floor under him rumbled a bit before lowering into the basement operating somewhat as a hidden elevator. After they dismounted the machine came back up to the top then Biggs, Wedge, and Jessie followed their leader to the AVALANCHE hideout in the basement.

Tifa went behind the bar and began to clean up for the evening and motioned for Cloud to have a seat at the bar. Cloud walked over and took his seat waiting to hear what she had to say.

"How about..." Tifa said reading his mind. "A drink?"

Cloud chuckled, "Give me something hard."

Tifa smiled one of her customary bright smiles eager to do something she knew she was good at, "Just a minute, I'll make one for you."

Tifa went to the end of the bar and with practiced talent then produced a small glass from a high shelf, swiftly took two bottles of clear liquid, flipped them around in her hands, poured them into the glass and quickly replaced the bottles. Tifa then slid the drink down the bar directly to where Cloud was sitting.

"Thanks," Cloud said accepting the glass.

"You know," Tifa said wiping down the bar. "I'm relived you made it back safely."

Cloud took a drink, "What's with you all of the sudden, it wasn't even a tough job..."

Tifa shrugged, "I guess not, you were in SOLDIER after all."

Cloud finished his drink and after a few moments of silence Tifa spoke, "Make sure you get your pay from Barret."

"Don't worry," Cloud said setting his empty glass down. "Once I get the money, I'm outta here."

Cloud got up and walked towards the pinball machine. He was sick of getting the run around and just wanted to get the money and get out. Something about working with this group didn't sit well with him.

"Cloud," Tifa said following him. "Are you feeling all right?"

Cloud looked at her, "Yeah... why?"

Tifa shook her head, "No reason, really. You just look a bit tired, I guess. You'd better go down and get your money before Barret gets any ideas."

Cloud nodded then stood in front of the pinball machine and hit the button underneath activating the lift. The pinball machine lowered him into the AVALANCHE "hideout" which was a basement the size of a small bedroom with a workbench, a computer terminal, a TV and a bunch of blankets piled on a corner. The team was busy going about their own business. Marlene was watching Barret work out on a punching bag while Jessie sat working in front of a computer terminal and Biggs and Wedge sat at a work table drinking and looking over what appeared to be blueprints of a Mako Reactor.

"Hey, Cloud," Wedge said as the life landed into the basement. "Do you think I'm a little too uptight?"

Cloud shrugged and wondered why this guy kept wanting his opinion on everything, "Not really."

Wedge nodded, "Our next mission will be to blow up Mako Reactor No. 5 and I'm pretty nervous. Don't you ever get nervous? You sure don't look like it... or are you like impervious to feelings? Nah... that can't be it."

Cloud shook his head and around the workbench towards Barret passing Jessie whom rolled her computer chair back accidentally bumping into Cloud.

"Oops, sorry," Jessie said blushing. "Hey, look at the news, what a blast."

Cloud looked at the TV to see President Shinra in a live news conference and every now and then the screen would change from him, to live amateur footage of the Mako Reactor exploding and people running in terror and panic on the streets. Cloud turned the volume up and listened thoughtfully to another one of the President's overrated speeches.

"...earlier this evening," President Shinra continued. "The No. 1 Mako Reactor was bombed. The terrorist group known as AVALANCHE has claimed responsibility for the bombing. It is expected that AVALANCHE will continue its reign of terror, but citizens of Midgar... there is no need to fear. I have immediately mobilized SOLDIER to protect our citizenry against this senseless violence. Thank you, and good night."

President Shinra followed by a very large man in a green suit with long black hair and a black beard and a average dark haired man in a blue suit with a goatee walked away from the podium waving his hand in a shooing manner to over aggressive reporters. Cloud felt a hand grip his arm and turned back to Jessie.

"Do you think it was all because of the bomb I made?" Jessie asked. "But, all I really did was just make it like the computer told me..."

Looking at the bomb she was preparing Jessie turned her eyes to the computer monitor, to the bomb and back to the monitor again.

"Oh, no..." She muttered. "I must have made a miscalculation somewhere."

"Yo, Cloud." Barret's booming voice came from the corner. "There's somethin' I wanna ask ya... Was there anyone from SOLDIER out there today?"

Cloud shook his head thinking back to the inept guards at the train station and on the bridge, "None, I'm positive."

Barret narrowed his eyes, "You sound pretty sure."

"If there was anyone from SOLDIER," Cloud said in a cocky tone. "You wouldn't be standing here now."

Barret gave the bag a single, powerful punch, "Don't go thinkin' you so bad just cause you was in SOLDIER."

Cloud rolled his eyes in annoyance.

"Yeah, you're strong," Barret said. "Probably all them guys in SOLDIER are, but don't forget your skinny ass is workin' for AVALANCHE now. Don't get no ideas about hangin' on to Shinra."

Cloud was growing angry, "Staying with Shinra? You asked me a question and I answered it. That's all."

Cloud walked up to the towering Barret and stood directly in front of his face.

"I'm going upstairs," Cloud said bitterly. "I want to talk about my money."

Cloud walked towards the pinball lift and hit the switch. The lift lowered, but with Tifa occupying it coming down. She stepped off as Cloud pushed past and got on.

"Wait, Cloud," Tifa said pleadingly.

"Tifa!" Barret's voice called. "Let him go... looks like he still misses the Shinra."

Cloud shot a dark glare at Barret, "Shut the fuck up. I don't care about Shinra or SOLDIER, but don't get me wrong. I don't give a shit about AVALANCHE or the Planet for that matter."

"Cloud..." Wedge said softly. "You said you don't care, but... you just want friends, right?"

"Blow me," Cloud spat in annoyance.

"Yeah, we'll you look like of lonely to me," Wedge said patiently. "If you ever got anything you wanna get off your chest, you can always talk to me."

"I really don't care," Cloud said pressing the lift button.

"You're terrible," Wedge said shaking his head. "Real cold blooded."

Cloud flipped the switch and rode the lift up and waited for Barret to give him his money so he could get the hell out of here. Who were they to lecture him on what he should and shouldn't believe in and fight for? The only reason why he agreed to do this job in the first place was because of her... Tifa had been a friend of his since childhood and it would have been utterly wrong to turn her down. But, now Cloud's patience with this "team" was running out and it would cost them a hell of a lot of Gil to keep his service. Cloud's thoughts ended as the pinball lift motor began carrying someone up, but it wasn't the man with the money that Cloud was hoping for. It was a certain female who had gotten him involved in all this in the first place. She stepped off of the lift and walked towards him.

"Listen, Cloud," Tifa pleaded. "I'm asking you, please join us."

Cloud shook his head, "Sorry Tifa..."

She took a step closer, "The Planet is dying... slowly but surely it's dying. Someone has to do something."

Cloud shrugged, "So let Barret and his team of Super Friends do something about it. It's got nothing to do with me."

Cloud walked towards the door, but was stopped by Tifa's raising voice, "So! You're really leaveing!? You're just going to walk right out on your childhood friend!?"

Cloud looked down to the floor, "Sorry..."

Tifa shook her head, "You forgot the promise too, didn't you?"

"Promise?" Cloud asked thoughtfully.

Tifa looked disappointed, "So you DID forget. Remember, Cloud... It was seven years ago... "

Cloud nodded, "Yeah, back then..."

Cloud closed his eyes remembering that evening he met Tifa at the Nibelheim Well before moving to Midgar. He had been fourteen years old and Tifa was thirteen. Even then, Nibelheim was a poor town with few residents, but it was a quiet town, a secretive town. The Shinra Mansion had been vacant for over two decades and there hadn't been any problems with the monster population in the Nibel Mountains.

Cloud and Tifa had grown up together as next door neighbors since they were born and had built a solid friendship. One fated day, Cloud had asked that Tifa join him at the well that evening, but didn't say at all what it was about. She spent the entire day wondering what could be on his mind that was so important to him not to be able to just come out and say it. Cloud spent almost half an hour at the well waiting for Tifa to show and just as he was about to give up on her showing, she appeared.

"Sorry, I'm late," Young Tifa said wearing a pretty teal dress and matching shoes, "You said you wanted to talk to me about something?"

Young Cloud nodded while sitting on the side of the well wearing shorts and a T-shirt with the back of his hair tied into a small ponytail sitting just above his neck.

"Come this spring..." Cloud began. I'm leaving town for Midgar."

Tifa sat down on the edge of the well beside Cloud and hung her feet down the side, "All boys are leaving town."

"But, I'm different from all of them," Cloud said. "I'm not going just to find a job."

Cloud stood up and spoke with pride, "I want to join SOLDIER. I'm going to be the best there is, just like Sephiroth."

"Sephiroth," Tifa said to herself. "The great Sephiroth."

Cloud climbed to the top of the well by the water and looked up at the starts. The night sky was crystal clear as billions of stars shone down laying a soft blanket of blue across the land. Cloud watched the starts intently as Tifa spoke.

"Isn't it hard to join SOLDIER?" She asked.

Cloud nodded still looking at the stars, "I probably won't be ale to come back to this town for awhile."

"Will you be in the newspapers if you do well?" Tifa asked.

Cloud smiled faintly, "I'll try."

Tifa stood up and gave Cloud a bright smile, "Hey, why don't we make a promise? Umm... If you ever get really famous and I'm ever in a bind, you come save me, alright?"

Cloud raised his eyebrow, "What?"

Young Tifa smiled even wider, "Whenever I'm in trouble, my hero will come rescue me. I want to at least experience that once."

"What?" Cloud repeated.

Tifa put her hands on her hips, "Come on! Promise me!"

Cloud nodded solemnly, "Alright, I promise."

Without another word, Tifa joined Cloud at the top of the well. Each of their thoughts were on each other and of the promise. Tifa smiled faintly at Cloud and gave him a small kiss on the cheek as a shooting star silently glided its way across the night sky.

Cloud opened his eyes erasing the memory from his mind and he was back in Tifa's bar.

Tifa looked at Cloud thoughtfully, "Do you remember now? Our promise?"

Cloud nodded, then shook his head, "I'm not a hero and I'm not famous. I can't keep the promise."

"But you go your childhood dream didn't you?" Tifa said. "You joined SOLIDER."

Cloud could only look at the floor.

"So come on," Tifa said taking a step towards Cloud. "You've got to keep your promise..."

Cloud turned towards the door to leave, "... I can't."

Before Tifa could say anything else, the pinball lift went through its mechanical routine this time carrying Barret to the top.

"Wait a sec, big-time SOLDIER," Barret said sarcastically. "A promise is a promise... Here."

Without much enthusiasm, Barret tossed Cloud a small bag that landed at his feet. He picked up the sack and counted the Gil inside which totaled 1,500Gil.

"This is my pay?" Cloud scoffed. "Don't make me laugh."

"What?" Tifa said shocked. "Then you'll..."

Cutting Tifa off, Cloud added, "You got the next mission lined up? I'll do it for three thousand."

"What...?" Barret said knowing his funds were running low.

Tifa took Barret aside and whispered to him, "It's okay, it's okay. We're really hurting for help, right?"

"Ugh," Barret groaned and whispered. "That money's for Marlene's schoolin'."

Barret stood thoughtfully for a moment and turned to Cloud, "Two thousand."

Cloud stood motionless for a moment and then nodded.

Tifa smiled a bright smile, walked over and took Cloud's hand, "Thanks, Cloud."

Cloud only offered a small nod in return before going back down to the basement to get some much-needed sleep. Normally he would want to get out of this kind of gig as soon as possible, but prior obligations to a long time friend kept him in. Something about this group didn't sit well with Cloud, as this wasn't his usual type of job.

He spent the night in the basement sleeping on old blankets with the rest of the AVALANCHE team awaiting the mission scheduled for the next morning. The next target was the No. 5 Reactor and Cloud really wasn't looking forward to this one. Shinra security would be tighter than ever and he was even expecting to see some members of SOLDIER on patrol.

Cloud looked over to Tifa sleeping next to Marlene who was snuggled up to her father. He wondered to himself not for the first time how he let her talk him into all this and also wondered how it would end. Cloud eyes fell sluggishly as he slipped into sleep and dreamt of angels with glowing green eyes.

Chapter 30

Final Fantasy 7 Fanfic