Last Exit for the Lost Chapter 2
"Damn you, Wallace, what the hell are you doing on our porch passed out again?"
Cloud yelled, exasperated as he saw the large man lying on their steps, limbs
strewn in disarray, snoring softly. When it was obvious that no answer was
forthcoming, he motioned to Wedge "Here, help me with Barret...we can't just
leave him out here, he'll freeze to death." While Tifa opened the padlock
and lifted the heavy bars blocking the way to Seventh Heaven, Cloud and Wedge,
groaning with the strain, carried the big man inside and laid him on the
couch, none too gently. Barret mumbled something, sighed and turned over,
the arm onto which his gun was grafted flopping to the floor, and the aroma
of alcohol wafting from him in waves. Cloud noted the sad look on Tifa's
face and asked "What'd he say?" Tifa answered "Myrna..." Cloud turned, looked
at Barret and, his face softening, said "Oh...well, let's go downstairs.
He'll be allright." Tifa looked at him gratefully, locked the door and followed
Downstairs, the group celebrated with some whoops of joy and a bottle of wine brought from upstairs. Cloud shook his head and said "I still can't believe we pulled it off...also, I don't think we'll be able to do it again..." Jessie nodded "That's probably correct. ShinRa will undoubtedly triple their security, not to mention increase the bounty on our heads." Wedge stuttered "B, bounty?". Vicks barked a short laugh "Yeah man, what do you think, we're heroes? Get real, fatso." Cloud nodded "Yeah. Nevertheless, we have to go on...ShinRa's power will not be decreased by the loss of one reactor. We still have a lot of work to do. In fact..." He got up and started checking his gear. Everyone else, except Tifa, looked uncomprehending. Tifa explained "We agreed that Cloud would go back tonight and scope out the setting for our next mission. In the upheaval, no-one will expect the infamous Avalanche to be snooping around the scene of the..." she hesitated. "Crime," finished Cloud, looking grim. "Like it or not, that reactor explosion probably killed a lot of people. That makes us all murderers and the other side doesn't care that it was for the good of the Planet. But it is, and we have to believe it. Otherwise, we lose sight of our goal and become as bad as ShinRa." He finished, tightening the strap of his scabbard. Tifa nodded. "That's why Cloud is going out tonight. He'll draw less attention if he goes by himself, and he'll find if ShinRa is up to anything." Tifa's voice betrayed that she really didn't believe this would work, but Cloud just gave her a cold look. She pressed her lips together and drew a breath. They have discussed this many times before.
Tifa followed Cloud onto the porch as he prepared to leave. "Be careful," she said, striving for a calm tone of voice. It obviously didn't work, as Cloud stopped, gave her a mischievous grin and took her in his arms. He looked deep into her big, brown eyes and said "Don't worry. I'll be back before you can say 'ShinRa sucks'." Tifa embraced him and murmured in his ear "ShinRa sucks." He grinned, kissed her and walked off into the dark, thinking that he was a lucky man indeed. She could discern his muscular frame and the sword on his back as he stopped at the far end of the street and waved. She waved back, quelling the fear in her heart and went inside, checking on Barret. He seemed to be completely blitzed, as usual. She shrugged and went upstairs after letting the rest of the group know she was off to bed. She knew they'd be partying for the rest of the night, Jessie watching the tube or surfing the SRnet for news, Wedge munching on some snacks, and Vicks trying to hit on Jessie while she blithely ignored him. Tifa smiled slightly, envisioning the infamous Avalanche: a techno-freak, a wanna-be-playboy, a glutton and a couple from a town which no longer existed. Her smile faded as she thought of Cloud's task. She knew worrying did no good, but she loved him too much not to. She showered quickly and fell into an uneasy sleep which brought no rest.
The man called Barret waited until Tifa's footsteps faded and the pipes rattling in the walls announced a shower in progress. He opened his eyes, jumped up with surprising grace and stealth for such a large man and scanned the room. Satisfied that no one noticed his sudden transformation, he tiptoed out of the house, freezing everytime the floor creaked under his considerable weight. As soon as he was out of the house, he began running down the street, in the same direction that Cloud took. He soon disappeared from view and the street was quiet again.
Cloud moved through the streets at a brisk, assured walk. He knew that the best way to stay inconspicous is to look as if he had every right to be there. He was getting increasingly wary as he approached Sector 1, but did not let the wariness extend to his face, which he kept business-like and slightly arrogant. He did take occasional quick glances into the alleyways he was passing, though. He suddenly froze as he heard the word "Careful..." breathed on the breeze coming out of an alleyway which flashed momentarily with a soft white light. He heard "Turn back..." and the light went out. He kept looking, but the light was gone. Shaking his head, muttering softly to himself, he disregarded the warning and moved on. The sooner he was done, the sooner he could go back to Tifa.
"What the hell are we here for at this ungodly hour?" Elena paced back and forth, hands thrust deeply into the pockets of her blue suit. Tseng, bemused, kept watch on the street below. "Does he think we're...security guards or something? I didn't become a Turk to guard eggs that're already broken! This is ridicu..." she broke off, hearing Tseng inhale sharply. "What?" She snapped. They've had three alerts from ShinRa employees, all of them seeing members of Avalanche parading on the streets. The regular troops took care of those hapless citizens (who, by the way, didn't in the least resemble that bitch Tifa or her gang), but Cid saw it fit to post the Turks almost on top of the ruined reactor, as if any criminal was suicidal enough to go to a place crawling with ShinRa security. And with Reno fired, there simply wasn't enough of them to cover the entire area. So they followed Cid's "hunches". Elena snorted silently and brought her thoughts back to the present. "What is it?" she repeated impatiently when Tseng didn't answer. She liked his silence; it went with his long dark hair and slightly feminine, expressionless face. However, sometimes she wished she could get a straight answer out of him. She walked up to the window and looked down. Tseng smiled and pointed. Elena looked down as well, looked back at Tseng and without hesitation they moved at a dead run towards the stairs.
By the time Cloud saw the two suited people running towards him, it was too late. He turned to run, only to smack into a third one. This one was wielding a large, blade ended pole which he held with ease and obvious familiarity on his shoulder. His short blonde hair trembled in the breeze, and his hard blue eyes were measuring Cloud calmly. The two others slowed to a walk as they neared, steadily pointing their handguns at him. Cloud measured them with a cool gaze, thinking that someone at ShinRa outsmarted him after all. He wouldn't make that mistake again...if he survived this. He thought he could handle the pair that just ran up. A tall, slim man with long black hair and finely chiseled features accompanied an equally tall, short-haired blonde woman. Their expressions were equally cold, but the woman's round face seemed to twist cruelly as she flexed her fingers on her gun. He turned back to the staff-wielder. He knew he was outmatched here and relaxed, knowing he couldn't accomplish anything. The staff-wielder observed his resignation and nodded. "Let's go, Strife." he said in a pleasant enough tone, but Cloud somehow knew he wouldn't hesitate to kill him if given an excuse. He nodded in reply.
Barret watched the Turks walk away with their prisoner. He shook his head and muttered "Damn fool kid." He knew he could probably take the Turks out with his gun arm, but that would bring the rest of ShinRa down on his head. He had enough trouble just getting to this area, and he didn't even want to think about getting out. He smiled grimly; at least he had protective coloring. Sneaking around was much easier when your skin color matched the night. He had to find out what ShinRa was up to. There was a good chance they would talk about their plans on their way to ShinRa Tower. Barret shrugged. It's what he would've done, knowing the captive is powerless to stop the plans. Psychological warfare. He frowned. That is, if ShinRa was planning anything. Then he smiled joylessly. When did ShinRa ever not plan something? He followed.
Tifa woke up around noon, feeling awful. She yawned and stretched, heading to the shower. She emerged draped in a towel, feeling much better. As she dressed, she realized that Cloud never came back. A small flutter of fear surfaced, only to be quelled ruthlessly by Tifa's force of will. He'd be back. In the meantime, she had a bar to run, and would be opening soon for the first shift of off-work, tired men. She went downstairs, noting with surprise that Barret was gone. She shrugged; at least it was one less thing to be done. Waking her staff after a night raid was always difficult, but at least she wouldn't have to put up with hungover drunks, pitiable as they were. She had no time for pity; not now, when there was so much work to be done. She woke up Wedge, noting with a smile that Jessie was curled up, sighing softly, in Vicks' arms, her head resting on his shoulder.
The day went by fast, not much different than the usual. She greeted old regulars with a shout as she prepared the drinks, eyeing the newcomers carefully. Vicks was standing at the door, ready for the first sign of trouble, but sometimes the oddest types slipped by, unnoticed. At least she wouldn't have to worry about anyone trying to make a move on Jessie, or herself. The staff at 7th Heaven was known to serve you quickly, and throw you out even quicker if you made trouble. Tifa herself had to step in only once, knocking out three troublemakers in the space of a heartbeat. After that, most clients behaved themselves. Tifa smiled, remembering that time. Cloud didn't even have to get up...where was Cloud, anyway? Tifa's smile changed to a frown as she looked at the clock. It was entirely too late for him not to be back yet, even if he missed the train. She wondered if he ran into some trouble in Sector 1.
All heads turned to the door which slammed open, revealing Barret's wide frame. Most people turned back to their drinks, but Tifa kept staring, narrowing her gaze. She wasn't sure, but something seemed different about him today. Barret made his way to the bar, his large frame and the gun on his arm commanding respect, and sat down in his usual spot. As she approached, he grabbed her hand and pulled her closer, hissing, "We have no time! Grab your crew, and let's get outta here!" He added, "I know about AVALANCHE and all that, and I'm not drunk." Tifa drew back astonished, but he only tightened his grip and said three simple words. "They got Cloud." She stared silently into his dark, sober and dead serious eyes and made up her mind. She raised her voice to be heard above the din, "The bar is closed tonight, everyone! Jessie, Vicks, close up!" Vicks and Jessie stared at her for a moment, but moved to usher out the protesting customers. That's why she picked them for AVALANCHE; they obeyed orders unquestioningly. The bar slowly emptied as Barret explained hurriedly.
"I been watchin' yer group fer 'bout 3 months now, Tifa. I quit drinkin' about 2 months ago, when I realized what you were doing. I figured it was a good disguise, ya know? Everyone still thought I was a drunk, so no-one would look again. Well, it apparently worked, hehe...no one ever looked twice. I din't wanna join you yet, 'cuz I didn't know if you'd trust me. Hell, I didn't know if I trust myself." He added ruefully. He continued. "Anyway, after Cloud ran off tonite, I thought 'Barret, that boy is doing something brave but dumb, so I went after him to keep tabs on 'im. I followed him to Sector 1, where he got nabbed by Turks. Looked like yer ah...activities brought out the head honcho, 'cuz it wuz Cid himself that showed up." Tifa inhaled sharply. Barret nodded and went on "It gets worse. I followed them all the way over to ShinRa tower, and I heard what they're gonna do. Maybe it's bait, maybe not. But they said they were gonna blow the Sector 7 Plate Pillar. Tifa stared at him, horrified. "But that will drop the entire section..." He nodded, sadly. "Yup, ShinRa totally lost it. He really wants all you dead, and he don't care what gets in his way." Tifa shook herself out of her shock and drew her mouth into a thin, determined line. "Let's go," she said, locking the door to the bar behind her.
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