Disclaimer: Indubitably not mine.

A/N: Originally part of the Poetry of the Air collection, but I went over the time limit. The original brief of that ficlet collection was this: Pick a character, pairing, or fandom you like, turn on your music player and put it on random/shuffle, then write a ficlet related to or inspired by each song that plays. You only have the time frame of the song to finish; you start when the song starts, and stop when it's over.

Last Generation

© Scribbler, October 2008.

Rest in peace, it's all over now.
It's the end of salvation;
Memories in the photographs
Of the last generation.

-- From Last Generation by The Rasmus

Denzel squeezed Marlene's hand. "Don't worry," he said with a tight smile. "I'll protect you."

"You just worry about protecting you," she replied smartly. "I can handle myself just fine, thank you very much." She tugged on her gloves, but took a moment to stroke the back of one. Tifa used to wear gloves like that, Denzel remembered, images of fingers hooked into beer mugs and curled into fists appearing in his mind unbidden.

His jaw tightened, as he remembered the last time they saw Tifa, vaulting over the bar to run into yet another battle. Her voice had floated back to them to be in bed by the time she got home.

They were good kids. Surviving several apocalypses and a deadly disease tended to cultivate respect for the adults who'd pulled your fat out of the fire. They went to bed on time, but Tifa never came home.

Cloud did his best, but he was always slightly disconnected after that. Mostly it was Denzel who'd been taking care of them ever since, especially in the last twelve months, with all the impossible, supernatural things thrown their way by the unearthed Jenova Beta Project. Shin-Ra had left so many nasties behind, they'd probably never stop coming to light. No matter where they surfaced they always made a beeline for Edge, as though the wreckage of Midgar, Shin-Ra's one-time power base, drew them as inexorably as Sephiroth once called his black clones to the North Crater.

Denzel intensified his grip on the Ultima Weapon, remembering all those who'd gone before, until it was just him and Marlene carrying on their legacy. They were supposed to be the ones who didn't have to fight. That was why Cloud and the others had struggled so hard and against such impossible odds – to create a future where battle wasn't inevitable, where life could be free, and where children didn't have to grow up to be warriors.

Just another hopeless dream.

Denzel would never forget the last time he saw Cloud. He never wanted to, even though the memory of blood-scent and burning flesh had turned him into a vegetarian since then. Cloud had never stopped fighting. It was Denzel's biggest regret that he hadn't been able to help lift that burden – or even convince Cloud that it didn't have to be him who carried it after each of his friends died or fell into darkness.

"You ready?" he asked now.

Marlene balled her fists and threw a few shadow punches, her lithe sixteen year old shape moving with an efficiency and grace that took his breath away. "Yeah. Let's go kick butt."

"Bo," he ordered firmly.

Marlene stuck her tongue out at him, but popped her bo-staff. She wasn't as good with hand-to-hand as Tifa, even if she had developed a tendency to dress like her. Marlene wasn't much of a fighter at all, actually, but that was no excuse these days. You fought when you needed to or you died – simple as that.

Except nothing about their lives was ever simple. Yet another legacy they were carrying on that they never should have had to.

"Now we're ready to kick butt," Denzel said, taking the lead and touching the pink ribbon on his bicep for luck. "Monsters tremble, Denzel and Marlene are here!"

"You are such a melodrama queen." Marlene shook her head, but touched her own ribbon and followed him out the door of their bar.