Cloud had decided to personally go on this mission because they had it on good authority Avalanche’s second-in-command would be there. He did not want to take the chance of letting him slip through their fingers again.
It’s been three years since the war with Avalanche started. He’d already been working with Shinra for two – his SOLDIER unit had been hired right out of Academy after graduation. Shinra had hired a lot of squads from SOLDIER all over the world in preparation for an escalation in fighting. Avalanche seemed to be everywhere, bombing reactors, raiding villages and supply trains, and Shinra knew they needed more to put an end to them.
Cloud had been ambivalent about working for Shinra at first - it was just a job they were being paid to do. He was more concerned with his friend who’d been assigned to protect their hometown from Avalanche attacks. They had both left that village behind, hoping to never go back, but he had encouraged her. Said it would be okay.
Then six months later, Avalanche brutally ambushed that squad and massacred the town.
This fight had become personal for him.
So, when Shinra decided to enlist him into their military as an officer, he gladly accepted. Now he was a commander only several ranks below General Sephiroth himself. If he was being honest with himself, though, the ranks weren’t what really mattered. He didn’t care how many battles he had to fight - he was going to personally see Avalanche wiped out for ripping the one thing away that he loved.
Starting with their second-in-command.
They stalked the small Avalanche squad to the reactor in Sector Three. They’d put out false information about it containing some high-level codes, and knew it was only a matter of time before the rebel group took the bait. When Cloud saw the enemy having trouble at the door to the main reactor core – a door they’d made sure to change the codes on just an hour before – he ordered his men to surround them.
They turned around, hands raised, guns slung across their chests. The one in the middle, who did not have a gun, stepped forward – he was wearing a loose black jumpsuit and matching hat so Cloud couldn’t see his face. He had a smaller frame than Cloud thought it would, considering everything he’s heard about the man’s prowess in battle, but Cloud also wasn’t one to speak on another’s stature.
“We’ll be taking you into custody—”
A blur of movement. He’d just side-stepped in time to see their Commander’s fist moving forward into the space where his own head had been. He barely had time to grab his sword from his back when he launched into a flurry of attacks against him.
Shots rang out while the pair engaged in combat. He could see his men going down, but he was too preoccupied to help them. Cloud was fast, but with the weight of his sword, he was a hair slower than his enemy. Something about the way he fought was familiar…
Cloud dodged too late. A fist cracked him across the jaw, a kick launched him into the nearby railing. His adversary was about to kick him over the edge when a grunt ran into him and knocked him down. His hat fell off.
Cloud’s heart seized in his chest. The Commander made quick work of the grunt before standing up and facing him.
“You promised we’d graduate together, remember?”
“Aren’t the stars pretty tonight?”
“Cloud… I don’t want to go to Nibelheim. I don’t want this assignment.”
Red eyes stared back at him, at first hard and angry. He felt like time had stopped.
Suddenly she was on him, holding him against the metal railing. He leaned backward, his arms flailing behind him. Some emotion - sadness, anguish - swam in her eyes.
“I saw… I saw your body,“ he managed to say.
She pressed closer, her eyes flickering to her people behind them. She slipped something into his front pocket before leaning forward and whispering into his ear,
Her face was all he saw as he toppled over the edge.
The pain in her voice was all he could hear.
“Tifa, you’re going to be okay. I’ll see you soon.”