Happy holidays everyone! Thank you for joining me in the final chapter of "Rose Tinted". I couldn't be happier! I don't know when I'll put finger to keyboard again as of yet, I'm taking a short break. I can finally watch cartoons on Saturday mornings! Really people, there's nothing better than sitting on one's duff with a bowl of cold cereal, (a burrito, or day old pizza) to watch (insert random cartoon that I'm way too old to be watching.) On to the thank-you's

Aquila Strife- Thank you so much for your thoughts! Yes, it is the last chapter and I heave a heavy sigh of relief. Another story? Hmmm...

Childhood Aspirations-Thank you for your review! I'm glad you found it amusing. My goal for the end of the year has been set! Hehe!

Wends-Thank you so much! I'm glad you enjoyed it. I've been trying my hardest to restrain myself, but I simply must ask: Are you in the Navy? I just know I've just overstepped some boundary by asking...but you mention the sea all the time, and...well...if you are, that's so awesome! We'll leave it at that. Anyway, sorry about my lack of identifiers. I will try harder!

Alright, now that the thank-you's are finished, on with the story! I own nothing.


"I really don't want to be here."

"I know."

"I really, really, don't want to be here."

"I know."

"I really, really, really—"

"Will you shut up?!" Riku shouted. "Go help Sora in the back."

Cloud fell off the stool, hitting his head against the shelf of stuffed animals. "I'm not going back there."

Riku held his arms akimbo. "Then go work the counter. Just go somewhere!"

"Fine," he patted his apron clean, then stalked off to the front of the counter. The day had already gotten off to a perfect start.

Situating himself comfortably on another stool, he leaned back to his usual position against the rack of stuffed animals on the wall. Had any of them been something people actually wanted, then he might have been more careful with his habits.

However...

None of them had been sold in over a month, so Cloud saw it fit to use them as pillows.

Rocking the stool legs only enough to amuse himself, his gaze indifferently fell over the people in the lobby.

Nurses scurried back and forth like chickens on the farm, and receptionists were answering phones with mechanical repetitiveness. It was the everyday, hum-drum, mediocrity that made Cloud want to pull his hair out.

A woman approached him and he acknowledged her with an eyebrow raise.

"What can I help you with?"

She furrowed her eyebrows at his less than attentive posture, but proceeded to tell him anyway. "Yes, well, you see, my daughter just had a beautiful baby boy, and, well—"

"—Did you want flowers or something?" He snorted. He hated life stories, and he heated them even more when they involved children; especially the newborn variety.

"Oh, yes, that's exactly what I wanted, but I'm not sure what type to get."

Cloud snorted again and leaned a little bit further back on the stool. He could just barely see the open door in the back of the store. Sora was more than likely in there sorting out those miserable growing menaces. "Sora! You need to exercise your skills out here," he coughed then added quietly, "Because I'm certainly not going to do it."

Moments later, Sora emerged, his apron smudged with pollen, chlorophyll and water. Giving Cloud a glower, he settled himself behind the counter. "What do you want?"

"This lady wants to buy one of your heinous bean sprouts."

"They aren't heinous Cloud, they're nature's works of art!"

"Whatever."

He turned to the lady with a smile. "Well, I just finished a bouquet of geraniums, but if you're looking for something a little simpler, I suggest the ever popular robin's nest."

The woman looked pleased. "Well, my daughter just had a baby."

Cloud fought back an eye roll.

Sora rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "A baby...hmm, well, I can't think of anything that would suit the occasion better than an arrangement of carnations, baby's breath and—"

"Great, you've decided." Cloud interrupted, not sure he could stand another moment of the conversation. "Go get it."

Sora shot him a dirty look. "I'll be right back." He skipped off to the room where he spent the majority of his time, leaving Cloud and the woman to stare at each other with increasing disapproval.

Sora returned moments later, arms filled with a freshly cut bouquet and a smile on his face. "Here they are. Enjoy!"

Cloud shied away from the dastardly mop of weeds, trying to avoid even the smallest whiff of their stench.

Gratefully taking the arrangement, the woman opened her purse. "Thank you young man, you've been a wonderful help. How much is it?"

"$24.75." Cloud muttered, sticking out his hand.

The woman noted Cloud's outstretched hand with a hint of apprehension, but never the less handed him her credit card.

"Great. Here." Almost before the machine finished processing, he snatched her receipt from it and returned her credit card. "Have a nice day."

"Cloud!" Sora elbowed him in the ribs. "Stop being so...the way you are."

"Then you stop being so cheerful."

"It's part of the job!"

"I didn't see that anywhere on the description."

Sora sighed. "I don't believe you sometimes."

"Yeah, well, sometimes I don't believe you—"

There was a groan from the back of the store, and a moment later, Riku appeared holding a clip board. "What's going on up here? It's really hard to do inventory when you two are screaming at each other."

"Cloud started it."

"Did not."

Riku pinched the bridge of his nose. "Cloud, are you being rude to the customers again?"

"Yes," Sora replied, latching onto Riku's arm. "I think you should fire him!"

Riku put his hand on Sora's hair and mussed it a little. "I can't do that. He's strong enough to lift the heavy crates."

Cloud scowled at both of them.

"Why don't you help me in the back, Sora? We'll leave Cloud up here, but if he messes up again, I will personally scold him."

"Really?" Sora's eyes lit up as the two of them headed away from the front desk. "Can I help?"

Cloud didn't hear the reply, but he was sure Riku had given an affirmative.

Whatever.

Sora recovered quickly. Riku and he had been nearly inseparable since Sora had come out of the hospital—so to speak—and it was only heightened when Riku moved all of his inventory books to the flower room. Sora was elated about the attention. He stuck to Riku almost constantly, pulling on his arm, chatting with him, and when the time came, he whined to him, guaranteeing the boy almost anything he wanted. In most cases, it involved Cloud being punished.

Riku waved him off when Cloud brought the subject to him, saying he didn't know what he was talking about and that Sora and he were always that way. Cloud in return snorted, claiming that Riku was just blind to his own actions, and that resulted in a two hour containment in the flower room.

As of then, he was officially terrified of anything green and blossoming.

Aside from that, Riku seemed to be in a noticeably nicer mood since the incident. He wasn't the sour type anyway, but over the past few days, he seemed to be brighter. Cloud wondered if Riku had adopted some of the cheerfulness from Sora, as the boy never seemed to run low.

Yeah, that was probably it.

Cloud yawned, taking his previous position against the wall of stuffed animals. So went another slow day, he thought glumly. He found himself feeling bored...again.

Days at the gift shop had resumed their usual slow pace, mirthful only briefly when Cloud took his self decided breaks. He was glad that the lobby wasn't packed with the ashy faced inhabitants that moaned constantly about their illness.

But he supposed that anything would have been boring compared to back then. After all, with the feeling of panic hanging thick in the air for days, it was hard for one to relax properly against a wall of stuffed animals to which one was accustomed. Things were calmer now.

Cloud had forgotten how dull it was.

Unlike Riku or Sora, Cloud decided that he hadn't really gone through any major changes that he could reflect on. He was still the glass-eyed, unwilling employee of the floral shop that would have done almost anything to get a more masculine job. Cloud hadn't come to some bright realization that he should treat humans with greater respect, or that he should be more charitable. He feuded with Sora on a regular basis, and he made conscious efforts to give Riku a hard time. He wasn't nicer, or more pleasant, if anything, his fuse was shorter, but maybe he was just having a bad couple of days.

He had a lot of those.

In fact, the only thing that changed was that he maybe...possibly...could have...slightly...almost...kind of...felt a little, teeny, tiny bit more appreciative of a certain brunette doctor...but that was only because he saw what the guy had to go through. That was it.

And what had happened to that man anyway? Sure, Cloud caught glimpses of him darting around the back hallways of the hospital, filling out prescriptions or checking out the latest patient claiming that they had Diphtheria, but he hadn't come over to the shop for his routine cup of coffee.

Perhaps the bacteria had burned the taste buds from his tongue and he hadn't the pallet for cheap gourmet coffee. Or maybe he just didn't feel like fraternizing with his favorite blonde antagonist. Either way, Cloud was a little curious to find out why.

They hadn't really said anything to each other since the day Cloud had so valiantly rescued him from certain doom and destruction. After Cloud left with Riku, the doctor apparently got up on his own to once again tend to his patients, although Cloud wasn't sure exactly when that was. Perhaps that blonde doctor, Dr. Almasy, was responsible for the quick recovery of Leon. Come to think of it, Cloud hadn't seen him much either... Well, he had no way of knowing, after all, he had confined himself behind the counter at the gift shop, making sure no one would try to steal his coffee maker. He eyed it wryly.

There was approximately half a cup left.

He sighed, taking out the cannister of coffee. Once he took the last bit—he was most certainly going to—he would need to make more, or Riku was sure to yell at him. Setting up the machine, Cloud wondered if it was really worth the half a cup still sitting at the bottom of the pot. If he just left if there, he wouldn't have to go through all of the work.

Moments later, the pot was brewing and Cloud was stirring multiple packets of sugar into his cup. Riku would have his head on a silver platter later on, but for now, he wasn't going to bother worrying about it.

"I don't think that anyone's going to buy anymore flowers this late at night," Sora said with a yawn. "I guess I'll pack things away."

"Good idea," Riku said tapping his pen on his clipboard. "I'll help you." The two headed back into the store room.


It was late, almost time for the gift shop to close. Cloud was barely conscious at the front desk; he had tired himself out being bored. Suddenly startled by the clamor of boxes being moved about in the back, he rubbed his eyes and sat up. This was his favorite time of night, and he was about to miss it.

It was the time when the janitor came out of his dusty den in the back of the hospital to sweep up after grimy patients. It was the time when only half the lights flickered down the hall, cutting through the darkness of the sunless sky. It was the time when Cloud could truly appreciate the smell of disinfectant.

It was closing time.

Cloud stretched, reveling in his enjoyment. He could go home and crash on his bed, completely forgetting the trials and tribulations of another boring day at work, or perhaps he could situate himself in front of the TV for late night talk shows he would never admit to watching. Both choices seemed wonderful in comparison to spending another lazy minute nodding off at the counter.

"Excuse me, but could I get a cup of coffee?"

Cloud stopped mid stretch to peer at the person addressing him.

It was none other than that scarcely seen doctor Leon.

He scratched his mop of dark hair, eying Cloud expectantly. Cloud however drummed his fingers near the stack of cups. It was about time.

"Well, well, well, what brings you here, and at closing time too?" Cloud didn't even try to hide his smirk.

"I believe I've already addressed why." Leon replied dryly.

"I'm afraid you're a little too late. All the coffee's been thrown out."

"Is that so?" Leon asked eying the half full pot of coffee on the counter. "Well then, I guess I'll just have to settle for that other brown liquid."

Cloud didn't know why, maybe it was because of the slow day he had, but he wanted now more than ever to start trouble. "That's raw sewage."

"I'll take my chances."

Cloud shrugged and plucked a cup from the stack, pouring coffee in until it was half full. "Cream and sugar?"

"No."

Cloud ripped a few packets open with his teeth and dumped the contents into the cup; grin widening when Leon frowned. "Will that be all?"

"Yes, actually it will."

"Great." Cloud then proceeded to drink the cup in one gulp, trying to ignore the painful burning sensation as it slid down his throat. At least he was quick to discover that drinking hot coffee was not a good idea by any stretch of the imagination. He straightened his throat. "Would you like another cup?"

Leon didn't say anything for a moment, but then a smirk appeared on his face as well. "Were you aware that the burning of the back of the throat can lead to severe infection? Of course this action has to be continuous, but I wonder what you would do if I ordered another cup of coffee..."

Cloud frowned and slammed another cup on the counter. "That'll be six forty nine."

"The last time I paid it was—"

"I know exactly how much I charge for coffee. You're paying for the cup I drank."

"...No."

Cloud shrugged. "Well, I can't give you coffee that you don't pay for. I guess I'll just have to keep this one for myself too."

"There's a gas station across the street that serves even better coffee, without the added antagonizing."

"Why you—"

"Cloud!" Riku yelled from the back. "Stop causing problems!"

Cloud sighed, sweeping the sugar packets off the counter. "So where have you been anyway? It's been a while since I've seen your face around here."

"I've been busy...something you would know little about."

"What?! I'm trying to be polite here! It's called pleasant interest."

"It's commendable, really, it is. Sorry I don't have anything more interesting to offer."

"I don't really care. That's the catch. I just wanted to make sure you didn't keel over or something."

"Keel over?"

Cloud rolled his eyes. "Yes, keel over, you know, pass out unexpectedly?"

"Why would I..."

"Iddiot!" Cloud shouted, nearly knocking over the other cup of coffee. "You were sick, I didn't know if Almasy screwed you up or not." He folded his arms.

"Oh," Leon looked a little bemused. "How kind of you."

"It's unbelievable, I'm sure."

Leon shrugged, taking the cup off the counter. Well, as you can see, I'm fine. Now if you'll excuse me, I have work to do."

Cloud shorted. "Have a terrible day."

"You've made that possible." With that, he turned away, leaving Cloud at the counter to finish off the last of the coffee himself.

"I was afraid I was going to have to come out here," Riku said, locking the other door behind him.

"Shut up."

Sora was, as usual, attached to Riku's arm, grinning from ear to ear. "Let's go home!"

Cloud shrugged, pulling off his apron and setting his hat on the hook. For a day that had started off so mundane, he actually felt the slightest bit...better.


T-T I must say, it's not one of my best endings, but you know what? There it is. As promised, Here's a brief overview of Diphtheria. Note: All information gathered from random sources, and are not from my previous knowledge.

Diphtheria comes from a strain of bacteria called Corynebacterim diphtheriae. It affects the respiratory system, but it can also affect the skin. The symptoms (mild fever, fast pulse, headache, swelled throat tissues, and a thick membrane in the back of the throat) are caused when the bacterium releases a toxin. A particular strain of the bacteria produces a toxin that also affects the nasal passage way, in which it produces a sort of bad smelling, blood stained discharge. Needless to say, this is NOT the type I used, because...well...ew.

Actually, there are some other details I left out. For instance, though the disease is very contagious, it needs an incubation of three to five days before anything really happens. I didn't have that kind of time, so I fast forwarded a little, hehheh... Let's see, after the United Kingdom launched an immunization program, Diphtheria is pretty much gone there, (there have only been two deaths since 1972) but in the former Soviet Union, there was an epidemic in 1994.

One more slightly important thing...um...well, hehheh, the chances of someone catching diphtheria in a hospital are pretty slim to none. That was a little overdramatizing on my part. It's usually spread in places with poor sanitation, and I highly doubt that Leon would allow the hospital to drop into such a condition. Have you noticed no one died? That's partly because I hate killing people, and partly because...the death rate is, at maximum, 10.

There you have it. Secrets exposed. Don't think any less of me, PLEASE!! I hope to see you all later on, after the New Year. In the mean time, read Muddled Lines. It's good stuff! Happy Holidays everyone!!