Several hours ago the Seventh Heaven was closed for the night. The drunken rabble that frequented the establishment left at the closing either by their own free-wills or though forcible removal courtesy of the owner. This wasn't to say the removed patrons were the rowdy sort, quite the contrary in fact. They just wanted the pleasure of experiencing being thrown out of a bar, or anywhere for that matter, by an extremely attractive young woman.
The next morning they would tell all their friends about the excitement of the pervious evening to brighten the drab day. Between laughs they would exchange comments on their mutual experiences at the Seventh Heaven.
On a normal day the owner would spend most of the morning complaining with mock aggravation of her patron's antics. In true, the owner found their crazy behavior rather enduring. However, tomorrow wouldn't be an ordinary day. At least not for him, he didn't know if the same would be true for Tifa.
It would be a little out of the ordinary because she wouldn't have him to worry about. The thing he found the most troubling wasn't if the day would be ordinary but if it would be the type of day Tifa would consider ordinary. The type of day she wanted.
He didn't want Tifa to fret over him while he was gone but he was afraid she wouldn't even miss him. Over the last few months he had little contact with her. His couriering service kept him away for weeks at a time. And when he was home…well, she barely ever saw him. Life kept her busy and he, he just kind of hung in the background. She probably wanted him to leave.
The few things he did around the Seventh Heaven were thing Tifa could do for herself with much more efficiency. Those things hadn't been much. All he was doing was living off her good graces. His work brought in little money at unstable incriminates so he found himself unable to replay her. There was something he repaid her with, worry.
Thinking about in more detail Tifa would be glad he was gone. She wouldn't have to support him anymore or worry about his problems. Life, for her, would be relative carefree. There still would be the children but they were more of a joy than a burden. She didn't need him around to handle them.
Things would work out better this way, he continued reassuring himself. At first she'd be anger at him for disappearing into the night. But after a while she'd get over it probably very quickly. Out of the two of them Tifa was the strongest. He was the one unable to move on. No matter how hard he tried he was always so far behind her.
Leaving like this would keep him from having to see her reaction. He was so afraid of seeing the emotions he feared she'd have showing up on her face. If he didn't see her he could always imagine she'd miss him. There were other things too. What if he was wrong? He had too leave, too many thing were catching up to him. They'd all bring her down. It would be so much better if he left. He found himself continuing to wonder what kind of expression would be on her face if he spoke to her. Would she be angry, happy, worried, relieved, would she cry?
A brief flair of pain coming from his left arm pulled Cloud out of his speculations. He was returned to the dingy garage where the Fenrir was awaiting his departure. The garage had a low ceiling with a single bulb casting a dim light over the junk piled around his motorcycle. Dust hovered in the still air and cobwebs covered the collection of useless belongs scattered everywhere. Cloud was the only inhabitant of the Seventh Heaven who used the garage. Tifa had allotted the garage for his personally use. It was funny; the only part of Tifa's home that could be considered dingy was under his charge.
Unconsciously, Cloud's right hand moved to his left upper arm trying to massage the ache away. There was nothing Cloud could do to ease that ache. He'd consciously stopped trying to sooth the pain away months ago. All that ever did was draw attention to the problem. His reflexes continued to be optimist about his condition.
There was one way, Cloud smiled humorlessly, he wasn't quite coward enough for that. There was no hope for him but he wasn't giving out. As long as he pretended everything was alright, then things could still be alright for others.
"Mr. Cloud." A hesitant whisper came from behind tugging at Cloud's resolve. He had wanted to avoid this goodbye almost as much as one with Tifa, almost.
For completely unknown reasons Denzel had adopted Cloud as his role model or idol to be more correct. It was just a case of childish hero worship which the boy would out grow in time. Cloud could never exactly figure out why Denzel picked him out of all people. Maybe it was because he was sort of a male parental figure or because they shared the same illness. Those were the only reasons Cloud could think of. Nothing he'd done with his life was idol worthy.
Unsure of how best to handle the situation Cloud looked over his shoulder at the boy. The boy was standing in the garage doorway, warm friendly light from the kitchen streaming into the garage glum. He was wearing his most hated pair of pajamas, the chocobo pajamas.
Even with his limited sense of fashion, Cloud could tell the bright gaudy yellow of the outfit clashed painfully with Denzel's natural coloring. Several hundred tiny chocobo prints were sprinkled across the blinding fabric. The pajamas looked more appropriate for an infant than an eight year old boy.
Denzel hated that pair of pajamas more than he hated anything else in the world. The few times he would willingly wear them occurred after he'd angered Tifa by not letting Marlene 'take care' of him. Tifa absolute adored those pair of pajamas. Why she adored that particular pair of pajamas compared to all Denzel's others was beyond Cloud's comprehension. Denzel was full aware of her feelings for his pajamas so he wore them to persuade Tifa over to his side. Even though it never worked Denzel never stopped trying.
Those pajamas were the ugliest things known to mankind but Cloud couldn't understand why Denzel hated them. Tifa loved those pajamas. That was reason enough to wear them. If there had been a pair in his size Cloud would have bought them. Sometimes Cloud wished Tifa would ooh and aah over him like she did the pajamas. There were also sometimes he found himself jealous of those chocobo pajamas.
"What are you doing up?" Despite the guilt swirling up inside of him Cloud keep his voice as casual as possible. No matter how bad of a hero he was for Denzel he wouldn't shatter Denzel's expectations of him. The boy need his dreams now more than ever, Cloud wasn't going to destroy them. He knew how it felt to find out your idol was something other than you believed. When Denzel final found out about Cloud, he would have moved onto another role model.
"I was getting a glass of water." Denzel didn't need to get a glass of water from the kitchen. There was a glass of water sitting right beside his bed so he wouldn't be wandering around at night. Cloud was never good at disciplining the children so he tried to do what Tifa would do. Narrowing his eyes with disapproval, Cloud waited for Denzel to confess.
The expression seemed to work because a chastened looked crossed Denzel's face before he looked down at his sock covered feet. "I just wanted to look at the Fenrir." This wasn't the first time Cloud had caught Denzel down here trying to 'look' at the Fenrir. From the look on Denzel's face this was one of those times.
If the decision to keep Denzel away from the bike was only up to Cloud then Denzel could play on it as long as someone watched him. But it wasn't just up to Cloud. Tifa was worried about Denzel being around the bike incase he hurt himself. So Denzel wasn't allowed near the bike.
Cloud tried to explain this to Denzel but the boy would not listen. The one thing Cloud could do to stop the midnight raids, without getting Denzel in trouble with Tifa, was to take Denzel out on a weekly bike ride, if the boy had been good during the week and if Tifa wasn't around. The reward system worked out most of the time with the exception of the times Denzel had gotten himself into trouble and wasn't going to get his ride anyway.
They'd both gotten caught doing something neither one of them should be doing. At least they caught each other instead of Tifa catching both of them. This way Denzel would get off scotch free. Since Cloud wasn't willing to see Tifa again and tell her about Denzel's transgression. Cloud hadn't gotten off so luck. While he wasn't facing Tifa, Denzel was just as bad for the same reasons.
"Are you going on a mission?" Ever the opportunist, Denzel attempted to slide Cloud's attention away from the boy's midnight escapade, unaware he wasn't going to get punished. Still unsure of how to leave, Cloud nervously shifted his knapsack under the intensity of Denzel's stare. "No. I'm going away to think."
It wasn't a lie. Cloud wouldn't lie to Denzel. The boy deserved more than lies, he got enough of those when people explained his condition. But he couldn't explain his reasoning to Denzel. He hardly understood them himself. Maybe if he did this wouldn't have been so difficult. He had to leave. That was the part he understood, the whys weren't important.
"About this?" Without Cloud noticing it, Denzel had moved from the kitchen door to standing beside him. The boy tugged lightly on Cloud's one sleeve. Geostigma, it was their secret. One day several months ago, Cloud couldn't remember the day, Denzel was feeling abnormal lonely. He had locked himself in his room frighten about what was happening to his body. There was no one sharing the infection he could confide in and it had become too much for him. The only way for Cloud to get Denzel to return to his normal troublemaking self was for Cloud to reveal his secret. Cloud never regretted it. Denzel wasn't the only one who needed to share.
"Yeah." Cloud's voice wasn't much more than a whisper. That was one of the reasons, he wasn't sure if it was the main reason. It was becoming much more difficult for him to hide, if it was even hidden anymore. Tifa seemed to have suspicions. There were times he noticed her looking at him from the corner of her eyes. She would also make a special effort not to touch his arm even though he never told her not to. Why wasn't she saying anything if she know? It wasn't because she didn't care.
"If you leave who I'm I going to talk with." Cloud couldn't find an even remotely positive answer. There were hundreds of other children with Geostigma in Midgar. Finding them would be dangerous for Denzel or even Tifa. Meteor hadn't purged Midgar of the bad element.
Denzel's eyes brighten the way they did when he discovered his own answer to the problem. The young man looked away from Denzel's hopeful eyes afraid of having to deny whatever idea had come into the boy's mind. "Are you going to take me too?" A slight wince crossed Cloud's face as he heard the excitement in Denzel's voice. The question was one Denzel asked all the time. This time it had some credibility because Cloud wasn't going on a mission. There wasn't a good reason for Denzel not to go, in Denzel's mind. He couldn't come. This would be the first time Cloud ever let him down.
"Now that I'm sick Aunt Tifa never lets me going anywhere anymore." Something sharp began cutting up Cloud's insides as the boy continued his merry request. "Could we go to the Gold Saucer, Marlene went with her dad. Whoever that is?" Was there anyway of answering Denzel without letting him down. Cloud had let Tifa down so many times before. He'd always hoped he could spar the kids from experiencing it. "I could watch you race chocobo or I could race." Even without seeing them, Cloud could feel Denzel's eyes looking up at him hopeful.
"I'm sorry Denzel but you have to stay here with Marlene and Aunt Tifa. They'd miss you if you left." It was the best reason Cloud could come up with and it sound lame. Cloud did force his head to look back down at the small boy, he owned Denzel that much.
Instead of speaking the boy tilted his head slightly regarding Cloud in utter silence. Denzel was only quiet like this if he was extreme upset. Cloud didn't let himself wonder about what the boy was think. He was just going to take it. Whatever Denzel said or did Cloud deserved it. Thinking about it would make worse.
"They'd miss you too." That wasn't what Cloud expected Denzel to say, but he wasn't finished yet. Denzel continued examining Cloud his eyes narrowed in deep thought then they widened. "I see." Cloud was left momentary confused as Denzel's voice took on a sly note. "You're running away from Aunt Tifa like I do with Marlene."
A surprisingly bitter laugh bubbled up inside of Cloud. Denzel was trying to hard to compare himself to Cloud that he was mixing up facts. No matter how Cloud would have like Tifa to treat him like Marlene treated Denzel she never did. It wasn't her fault. It just was. She had a real life now she didn't have time to bother with him. The blame was his. He wasn't treating her right making her support him, all the time. Maybe if he'd been better things would have ended up differently.
"But Aunt Tifa doesn't bother you like Marlene bothers me." Denzel lost his slyness as he more carefully considered what he was saying. "She lets you do whatever you want." There was envy in Denzel's voice as he said the last part. Denzel was under the misconception freedom was having no one around to take care of you. If that was true Cloud had been free for most of his life and had hated it. "Yes she does." He was so stupid for having so much trouble moving on from Tifa. Just friends, he was sure that's all she wanted.
"Do you want her to?" Puzzlement was clear on Denzel's features. With the exception of Geostigma Cloud and Denzel had very little in common. Back when Cloud was Denzel's age he wanted nothing more than a girl to pay attention to him. He would have died to be in Denzel's position. Denzel wasn't like that he was a normal little boy. He wanted to play games and hang out with the guys, having a girl notice him was humiliating. That's all Cloud want.
"You know when your older you might like having Marlene around." Denzel's eyes bulged as he stared up at Cloud with horrified disbelief. "After you get better…" The young man swallowed he wasn't directly lying to Denzel. There was still a chance he could survive. "She'll play games with you, you'll stay up late together driving Tifa crazy." A faint smile crossed Cloud's face as he imagined a distant future, full of laughter and smiles.
"You'll help each other do chores around the Seventh Heaven." Memories of building the Seventh Heaven danced across Cloud's mind. Those were the best days of his life. He and Tifa used to do everything together. They would work all day, talking long into the night about silly things, then go to bed happily exhausted. There had been so many things that need fixing Cloud never thought it would never end. But it did and Tifa didn't need him around anymore.
Cloud locked eyes with Denzel in an attempt to show the boy the seriousness of his next words. "There going to be a lot of fun times with her. And there will be really hard times. But as long as you have each other everything will work out. I know she's really annoying now but one day you're going to be all alone and your going to want more than anything to have her standing there just being there. So can you put up with Marlene for me, ok?"
Scrunching up his nose with distaste, Denzel frowned at the notion. The request was one Denzel would have a hard time accomplishing but he could do it. He'd be happy if he did. "I guess so." That wasn't the answer Cloud wanted. It was Denzel's "I'll do it for awhile" answer.
"You promise." Conflicted with the difficult decision Denzel looked down at his feet. Cloud felt sorrow for Denzel but he had to have the promise. If Denzel actually made a promise he would keep it no matter what. This was Cloud's only way of keeping Denzel from ending up all alone with like him. "I promise."
Relief coursed through Cloud at Denzel's responds. The boy had been sincere, well as sincere as an eight year old could be. It was enough for Cloud. He wouldn't have to worry about Denzel turn out like him. Staying with the girls would keep the boy happy for as long as he had left. It was a good thing Denzel caught him. After seeing how sappy Cloud was Denzel wouldn't miss him at all.
"I have to go." Morning would be coming soon. It wasn't often that Tifa was able to wake up early after a late night but Cloud wasn't going to risk another encounter. He didn't have any works of wisdom for her. "When are you coming back?"
Cloud took a deep breath as he tried to think of an answer for the question. There was no easy way of saying it so Cloud didn't try. "I'm not coming back." The answer put a deeper frown on Denzel's young face. Things would work out this way. The first time Cloud ended up disappointing Denzel would lead to a chain event. Hopefully Cloud's advice would help Denzel in the future. At least Cloud wasn't with Tifa, he end up only disappointing her. "I'll still be around if there's ever a problem I'll come and help."
Cloud did his best to smile with as much enthusiasm as he could muster. Parting wouldn't be so bad if Denzel thought he'd still be around. Cloud would be in away. He was planning on staying nearby for a short amount of time. Grasping at the faint hope Cloud might come back Denzel brightened. "Will you promise?" False hopes never helped Cloud in the past but he couldn't stop his mouth from giving the desired answer. "I promise now go to bed."
Denzel nodded with renewed excitement. Without hesitation the boy sprinted back into the kitchen, not even stopping as he stage whispered his farewell. "See you later." No you won't. Cloud silent watched Denzel disappear into the house, already missing the boy. It was time to leave.
Goodbye Tifa. I know I messed up everything but I'll make it up to you. You won't have to worry about me. Maybe you'll get married now that I'm gone, start finishing your life. I won't be mad. I sorry I could be him for you. I am so sorry.
"I'll get you're milk." Marlene volunteered leaping out of her chair before Denzel could even think to protest. She was halfway to the refrigerator when she realized Denzel wasn't racing towards the refrigerator. Glancing back the little girl saw her friend sitting at the table nibbling at his eggs. Suspicious of Denzel's lack of action Marlene slowed to a walk expecting the refrigerator to be booby trapped. The door opened easily enough and she was able to get the milk without anything erupting at her.
Still suspicious of the lack of involvement on Denzel's part Marlene reached into the upper cabinet for a glass of milk still nothing happened. There were still no complications as she poured the glass of milk. After putting everything up Marlene returned to the table with the glass of milk quite perplexed. Denzel accepted the glass sullenly but without complaint. Bewildered Marlene watched him drink it without spilling any of it on the floor. He then placed the glass down and began to eat his eggs again. So strange,
Denzel didn't look sicker than ordinary but what other explanation was there for his actions. Marlene continued staring at him waiting for an answer. After several seconds of silence Marlene impatiently took matters into her hands.
"Why are you being so nice?" Denzel glared down at the table avoiding looking at the girl. "I promised Mr. Cloud." Marlene sat down not sure what to make of the statement. Her young mind couldn't comprehend the information so she moved onto a topic she could handle with more ease. "Where is Mr. Cloud?"
Denzel as usual lost his sullen look replacing it with an excited smile as his hero's name was mention. "He left." Marlene once again wondered what was wrong with Denzel. Mr. Cloud leaving was never a good thing. "Does he have a new job?" Denzel shook his head then leaned across the table his voice dropping to a whisper. "He's leaving forever." Marlene felt her eyes go wide with horror at the statement. How could Denzel be so happy? What were they going to do without Mr. Cloud? Her eyes widened ever further. What was Aunt Tifa going to do without Mr. Cloud?
"That's terrible." The exclamation was answered by Denzel rolling his eyes. If Marlene hadn't been so taken by panic she would have tattled on him for being mean. "Hardly, he promised to come back if there's trouble." Marlene looked at him blankly. "We always have trouble," Denzel further explained, "he'll come back more often than normal."
It took Marlene a moment then what he said sunk into her and she became equal excited. There wasn't a day that didn't go by without some sort of trouble. They would get to see Mr. Cloud every day instead of every once in awhile. Aunt Tifa would be so happy.
"You're so clever." Denzel smiled at her praise. Marlene's further praise was cut off as Aunt Tifa came into the kitchen looking worried. "Has anyone seen Cloud this morning?" The two children beamed up at the older woman ready to tell her of Denzel's cleverness. "He left," they chimed.
Aunt Tifa frowned at the statement. "Cloud didn't say anything about a job." She mumbled to herself as Aunt Tifa was prone to do when she worried. "A message." The woman floated over to the phone before Marlene could assure her everything was wonderful. They would get to see Mr. Cloud more.
To Marlene's surprise Aunt Tifa looked hesitant before pushing the replay button. It had to be Marlene's imagination because Aunt Tifa was never afraid she was the strongest, bravest, prettiest, cleverest woman ever. Marlene was going to grow up to be just like her and Denzel would grow up to be just like Mr. Cloud. Then they'd live together happily ever after just like Aunt Tifa and Mr. Cloud. Marlene could barely wait.
"Hey, Tifa." It was Mr. Cloud on the machine. Marlene tried to decide if she should cover her ears to avoid hearing the mushy stuff he was going to say or keep her ears open and listen. She decided on listening so she eagerly leaned towards the phone. "I'm going away. I'm not coming back so you can sell my stuff or whatever. Sorry I left it behind for you to take care of." Aunt Tifa collapsed onto the kitchen counter covering her mouth. Why was she acting so odd? Mr. Cloud was on the phone. "I-I don't really know what to say. Words were never my strong suit." Aunt Tifa behavior continued to confuse little Marlene. It looked as if Aunt Tifa was shaking. Was she laughing?
"Thanks for letting me stay around so long. I'm sorry I was a burden. Don't worry about me. I'll be fine. Thanks again for everything. Bye." The message ended leaving an extremely disappointed Marlene. Where was his confession of love? Had Mr. Cloud fumbled another attempt to ask Aunt Tifa out? When he got back Marlene was going to have a word with him.
Marlene's plans were put on hold as a strange sound started coming from Aunt Tifa. It sort of sounded like a hiccup. Could Aunt Tifa be covering up her laughter? Why would she be laughing? Mr. Cloud hadn't said anything remotely funny. Oh, it's an inside joke Marlene realized as she watched Aunt Tifa push away from the counter.
"I'll be back in a moment." With that said Aunt Tifa rushed out of the room leaving behind two confused children. That joke Mr. Cloud most have been super funny for Aunt Tifa to run off like that. "Did you think what Mr. Cloud said was funny?" Denzel rolled his eyes at Marlene making the little girl glare at him. When Aunt Tifa came back she was telling. "She was crying. We didn't tell her about how Mr. Cloud going to come back so she's upset."
"You're wrong." Marlene shouted at the boy pointing her finger in his face. "Aunt Tifa never cries. Mr. Cloud was joking about never coming back." After saying it Marlene wasn't to sure if it was correct or not. Mr. Cloud never joked like that. Oh well, it didn't matter. Mr. Cloud was coming whenever there was trouble. Everything would be o.k.