I know I'm insanely late... but, this is for you Sammie! Lots of love!
Disclaimer: Don't own.
For Sammie's B-Day...
The sun was fiercely bright the day Denzel and Marlene joined their friends outside in the cool breezy alleyways of Edge; brighter than the sunlight that streamed through their windows in thin bands of light. People walked by the children gathered in the shady space between buildings, ignoring them for the mostly with a few casting curious glances. The kids, for their part, ignored the adults, caught up in their own discussion.
"It's behind the bookstore, you'll see. It's so cool!" A dark haired boy's voice exclaimed, his scratchy voice barely managing to stay hushed in his excitement.
"Isn't it just lying there?" An older girl questioned, facing the boy with her hands placed delicately on her waist.
He deflated a bit. "No. I swear it moved..."
Denzel half-listened to their banter, his eyes focused on the sharp contrast in the dull shadows and the sizzling sun-drenched sidewalks.
The heat was enough to make him wish he hadn't left his bedroom, which was decidedly cooler. But, he really hadn't been outside in two weeks... Which made it impossible to say no when he'd been invited.
Part of it was because he didn't want to miss out on anything that might happen while he would be laying in bed.
Not that much had changed while he had been in bed, but, he still couldn't help but feel that he had already missed something.
"Denzel? Are you okay?" Marlene gently grasped his hand, her whispered question and gaze pulling him from his rambling thoughts.
"Yeah." He smiled at her, squeezing her hand.
He knew he'd missed Marlene's change from the slightly spoiled 'only' child but caring girl she'd been when he first met her, to someone who barely left his side in their waking hours, and when she did it was with growing reluctance.
It would've driven him crazy if it didn't say just how much she cared for him.
Or just how worried she was.
"Alright! Let's go to the monument. The guard got fired after that lady drove her car into the side of his booth."
"I think she was his wife."
A chorus of 'Ooh's and 'Ahh's echoed across the group as they started towards the monument, half of it encased in shadow.
"Let's go." Marlene tugged his arm, pulling him along as they crossed between the cars lined up around the circle, all the while ignoring the blaring horns and shouting voices that invariably came with a traffic jam.
The summer heat rolled off the pavement and cars in waves, occasionally broken by a strong breeze from the west that sent the fresh flyers taped to the side of the monument fluttering in the wind.
Since the guard had been fired, people had taken shameless advantage of the opportunity and posted the flyers to advertise whatever they were selling, he'd been told. Though a lot of them looked... Unclean.
Running headlong into the shade, a collective sigh came from the children as the temperature dropped by several degrees.
Denzel walked to the long bench and sat, his brown eyes watching the cars, while his hand wiped a thin layer of sweat from his forehead, causing a light wince as he brushed the bruise-like dark spot.
Maybe Tifa and Cloud were right, he should have stayed in the air conditioning of the bar. But, he'd been so eager to get outside after his extended bedrest that he begged to go with the others to the monument. He'd given them his best puppy dog eyes, and looks of hesitation faded... And, so they let him go with smiles that almost disguised the fear and worry.
"Hey, Denzel. Look. There's the cat that steals those books from the adult bookstore." Marlene stated, her hand pointed to an orange and white cat that carried a thin magazine in it's mouth as it trotted out an open door and down the sidewalk, darting in between people legs as the walked.
He watched for a moment, a smile breaking out on his face as the store owner lumbered out the door and began yelling for someone to 'catch that damn cat.'
He chuckled quietly as the others burst out into laughter.
The smile slipped from his features as the vision blurred and darkened, and felt his head begin to spin.
Rubbing his eyes to try and get rid of the blurriness and steady the spinning motion he felt, his other hand shot out to grab the benches armrest.
"Are you okay?" Marlene asked quietly. The laughter had died off as well, with everyone watching him, worried looks on their faces.
"Go get Cloud and Tifa." Someone said, and the youngest boy ran off, being the fastest of the group.
Pain shot through the blackish bruise on his brow and rapidly spread throughout his body. A groan escaped him as he cradled his head.
"Denzel?" Marlene called as her hands lightly grasped his shoulders. "What's wrong?! Denzel..."
The sound of her screaming slowly faded until the world slid sideways as he fell from the bench to the concrete, unconscious.
"Is he going to be okay?" Tifa asked, her voice frightened yet quiet as she tried to keep Marlene from hearing.
"I can't be sure. This is the second time he's collapsed like this. This disease is getting progressively worse, and there aren't treatments or cures that work." The doctor looked torn for a moment, his eyes focusing on the children by Denzel's bedside. "To be honest, he may not wake up. At this point, I can't do anything."
Next to her, Cloud was silent. He ran a lightly shaking hand through his hair in frustration.
"So all we can do is wait." He finally asked, though it wasn't a question at all.
They both knew the answer.
The doctor nodded reluctantly, his eyes lowering to the floor. "Yes."
Four days passed by with no improvement.
The doctor came by everyday, taking Denzel's vitals, and always left shaking his head. It didn't need to be said that he had watched others slip away. He clearly didn't want to be there.
But, they'd be cheating Denzel if they gave up on him for even a second.
"I'll see you guys tomorrow." Tifa called after the drunken men leaving, receiving nods and 'Yeah's for responses.
The routine she went through at the end of the day quickly became an automatic one: after working the bar and listening to the woeful tales of scorned men while dodging pickup lines from others, she would lock the doors as the last patrons stumbled out into the night, and head up the stairs to stand at the cracked doorway of the children's room.
In the darkness of night, it was hard to see anything but the unmistakable figure of Marlene leaning over Denzel's bed, wringing out a wet cloth to place over the boy's head as she whispered comforting words and combed through his hair with her unoccupied hand.
Tifa never knew how long she stood there each night, wishing, hoping and praying for the miracle it would take to keep Denzel from dying right before her. But, after a while, Marlene always fell asleep, her small arms supporting her head as she dozed at his bedside.
And holding back tears the entire time, Tifa gently moved the girl into her own bed.
"Denzel, please... Wake up." Marlene talked in her sleep.
Careful to leave the door half-open, Tifa left, walking into her own room, dark, save for the tiniest sliver of moonlight that passed through the cracked curtains. Despite the bed calling to her across the room, she crossed the space to the window, looking up into the night sky.
"What do I do?" She asked, her hands gripping the windowsill as she leaned her head against cool glass.
The world looked different from the inside, where before it was so bright beyond the bars that Shinra had placed in front of them. Now, it seemed to be so far away, a picture that was blurred around the edges. The only thing that felt real was the sharp heartwrenching pain she felt every night as she watched Marlene begin to mourn for the boy they were losing more and more every morning that he didn't awaken from his sleep.
Four nights they waited for one sign that maybe, maybe Denzel heard their pleas.
Stuffed animals littered the pavement outside the bar, 'Get Well' cards were taped to every empty space on the outer walls, all from friends who were waiting just like them, visiting every day, grasping his pale hands in theirs, and asking in hushed voices if he'd please come back.
Those voices haunted her dreams.
Closing the gap in the curtains, Tifa turned away from the starlit city, her brown eyes focusing on the empty room.
Cloud left after the second day, determined to find a way to save the boy he had found on the steps of the church not long ago. He was searching across the continents, the oceans; fighting for answers. He'd been gone three days.
It was hard not to worry he wouldn't be in time.
It hurt to think of the alternative. None of them wanted to lose Denzel; he and Marlene had lit up their lives in ways she hadn't thought possible. Everytime they would enter a room, everything became brighter, livelier, more hopeful than she could have hoped for without them.
Now, she could only hope that he'd pull through.
The sunrise was what bought Cloud out of the thoughtless daze he'd slipped into as he stood on the empty dock awaiting the next ferry to Mideel to arrive. Glancing around warily, he bought his wrist up, looking at the simple watch.
The ferry was late.
Mako blue eyes scanned the horizon for any sign of movement. A quiet curse slipped from his lips as he noticed none.
Mideel was all he had left. The search so far had turned up no leads. Everyone had heard about the mysterious illness that was killing people around the world, but, no one knew about it, let alone how to cure it.
He still needed to find help.
The shrill ringing of his phone interrupted his train of thought, the tone instantly ceasing as he flipped it open.
"Cloud! There's nothing in Wutai! No one knows anything, and there aren't any records of a disease like this..."
Feeling a knot forming in his throat, Cloud stood silent, listening to her quickened breaths slow down to normal levels.
"I'm sorry, Cloud."
Yuffie was the last of his friends to say those words, the apologetic tone echoing the calls before it from Barret, Red, Reeve, Cid, and Vincent.
"It's not your fault." He told her in a calm tone, his eyes now scanning the horizon in a near frantic pattern of left to right, right to left.
She sniffed, "This is the first time in a long time you've really asked for help... and I couldn't help!"
"Yuffie-" Left to right.
"I know! Don't blame myself. You call me if I can do anything more! Okay?"
Right to left.
The ferry finally came into view before him and an almost relieved sigh escaped him. "I will."
He hung up as he steered Fenrir toward the docking ferry with a quick glance at his watch.
"Hey! You the only one?" The dock manager asked him curiously as he boarded the ship.
The manager nodded. "Alright, five minutes and you're headed out."
Cloud continued to set up the large motorcycle without another word.
With a departing comment that sounded alot like 'Damn mercenaries.', the man walked away.
There was nothing in Wutai. That fact in itself didn't surprise him; but, the fact that there weren't anymore places other than Mideel to search left him feeling a familiar fear.
No more options that he could see, and time was running out.
What if there was nothing there as well? What could he do then? What if he couldn't save Denzel?
How long did they even have left to find an answer?
Pulling his phone from his pocket, Cloud dialed the delivery service phone number. There was an answer after the second ring.
She sounded completely awake, and for a moment he wondered if she slept at all.
"It's me. How is he?"
He listened carefully as Tifa put down the receiver, than came back seconds later.
"He's still... asleep. But, his breathing sounds almost normal. Like it was when you left."
He nodded to himself, "How are you and Marlene?"
Tifa paused, "I'm okay. Marlene's worried, but she's handling it... well. Considering... Where are you?"
"Headed to Mideel."
"How is the search going?"
Cloud ran a callused hand through his hair, his eyes watching two more passengers board and the crew move into action; disengaging the ferry from the dock. They were finally departing.
"Cloud?" Her hesitant voice called in his ear, pulling him back from the temptation of distancing himself from the reality of their situation, which was growing worse by the hour.
The sun fell beneath the skyline too soon, the sky growing darker and the stars coming into view one by one despite the bright city lights beneath them. The sound of raucous laughter below signaled the beginning of another long night.
Nothing terrified Marlene more.
Her tearful eyes landed on the nearly motionless form of her friend, his breaths coming slowly and progressively shallower.
"Denzel?" She called across the darkened room quietly, before crawling from her bed to move to the side of his. "I'm here. Don't worry." She fought back a sob as she grasped his hand and found no response.
"Cloud's out there looking. We're not giving up on you. I promise. Please, just try to make it."
It got harder every night to watch him, wondering all the while if in the next moment he would wake up, or fade away.
Tifa always told her and Denzel that the departed never truly left, her hand absently brushing the ribbon on her arm. 'As long as you remember them, they'll always be there.'
Cloud had agreed, his eyes staring into the gray sky. 'We carry them within us.'
They made death sound so peaceful, but, the thought of Denzel not being there with her, not talking to her, or smiling at her, laughing with her... It made the pain so much worse.
"It's going to be okay, Denzel. You'll see."
Beginning to sing under her breath, she ran her free hand through the boy's brunette locks. The soft pelting of rain against the roof startled her, breaking her quiet song before she began again, singing in tune to the rhythmic beat of raindrops.
A glance out the window told her it was a quick midnight shower, but, her eye was caught as the rain glowed and sparkled an entrancing shade of light emerald.
"Denzel, look! The rain is sparkling!" A breathless gasp escaped her as she turned to look at him. "It's so beautiful."
Leaving his side, she walked to the window and pulled the latch to open it. "It's not too cold, and, fresh air is nice!" She left the window open a small crack as she made her way back to the bed.
The small smile decorating her face fell when she noticing his breathing slow further. "Denzel?"
Cloud walked into the bar, brushing back people without looking up from the floor, instantly catching the barmaid's eye.
"Cloud?" Tifa's face was drawn into an anxious expression, her hand's dropping the towel she held as she stepped from behind to bar to walk to him.
Bringing himself to meet her gaze wasn't easy, but he did, and watching the tears slip down her features as he shook his head slowly was breaking what was left of his heart.
"I'm sorry." He said, his eyes dropping back to the floor in defeat.
She opened her mouth, but, whatever she was about was interrupted by Marlene screaming her name from the top of the stairs.
Racing up the stairs faster than she ever did on any occasion, Tifa ran into the room to see Marlene standing over a barely breathing Denzel.
Cloud came in right behind her, rushing past her to Denzel's side as he moved a softly crying Marlene away, an unreadable look in his blue eyes.
Grabbing Denzel's hand, Tifa tried to remember anything she knew about anything medical, while trying to look past her rapidly falling tears.
"Call the doctor!" She suddenly called out, and Cloud was gone in the next heartbeat, leaving Marlene grasping the wet windowsill.
For a moment, she wondered if the windowsill was really wet, or if she was seeing things.
Cloud ran back into the room, his breathing barely labored with the exception of the grief now evident in him. "He's on his way."
She turned back to Denzel, grabbing his hand in hers. "Listen, Denzel. You have to fight it. Don't give up." Her tearful voice filled to otherwise quiet room. "Please."
The silence was punctuated by their unsteady breathing. Cloud kneeled on the opposite side of the bed beckoning Marlene over as he watched Denzel's increasingly slower breaths.
Marlene came to him, crawling into his lap as she brushed her damp hands across his forehead, sending the glittering rain trailing down his nose.
His breathing stopped.
A dazzling light appeared and grew behind his eyelids, blinding him with it's intensity until he opened them to be greeted with a vision of blurred and murky flowers as far as his eyes could see.
"Where am I?" Denzel asked, his eyes scanning the infinite white for any clue.
Edge didn't have flowers.
"It's okay. You're safe." A calming voice called, the sound echoing from all around him. "You're Denzel, aren't you?"
Surprise overpowered confusion, and he looked anxiously for the source of the sound. There was nothing but flowers. "Yeah. Who are you?"
A woman in pink and red with long brown hair silently appeared before him, her hands clasped demurely before him. "My name is Aerith." Her emerald eyes twinkled jubilantly while watching him carefully.
"How do you know me?" He asked, looking around him curiously again. "And, where am I?"
A smile spread across her youthful face. "I'm a friend of Cloud and Tifa's." She said as if it explained everything. Denzel fought down a sigh, but it really explained why she was so cryptic in her responses.
'Cryptic' didn't even begin to explain Cloud sometimes.
Her expression suddenly sobered. "You're at a gateway, Denzel."
This Aerith woman was puzzling, to say the least. Shaking his head, he tried to focus his thoughts; finding it near impossible.
His mind felt completely scattered in the field of flowers and white and he couldn't figure out why.
She had called this place...a gateway.
"A gateway to what?" He asked aloud, pausing as she kneeled before him to meet his eyes squarely. "Where?"
Those green eyes saddened, lowering to stare at the ground. "To the lifestream; the afterlife... You're dying."
"Dying?" His voice broke. As if the word opened a dam he felt his head begin to ache as new memories pushed themselves into his mind.
The day he collapsed at the monument, Marlene's screams, her voice pleading with him to wake up, Cloud and Tifa calling him, his friends calling him, Marlene's hand holding his, her fingers running through his hair... Her song, and the rain.
When he came back to himself, his mind felt sharper, and he looked back to the young woman with clear vision and focused eyes.
Aerith was still before him, watching him closely as she waited for it to sink in. "What do you want, Denzel?" She asked, the light in her eyes growing brighter.
The answer came to him instantly, and with a determined voice he told her, "I want to live."
She smiled happily, standing and clapping her hands together. "Good. Because you didn't have a choice." She leaned down and wrapped her arms around him, "Say 'Hi' for me, okay?" She whispered.
He found himself sighing as her warmth soaked into him, along with it the feeling that a burden had been lifted from his shoulders. He returned her embrace fully, nodding as he closed his eyes and inhaled the scent of stormy skies and rain that radiated from her. "I will."
"Thank you, Denzel." As she spoke, her voice seemed to sound further and further away until it was drowned out by the sound of heavy rain.
Denzel felt himself being lowered carefully, the sensation of light-lined feminine hands cradling him gently.
A gasping breath broke the pained silence that had fallen over the room, as Denzel sat up and began struggling to take in air, his eyes squeezing close with his efforts.
"Denzel!" Marlene called, her voice ridden with shock and simultaneous excitement.
A large warm hand supported his back as a cooler one began examining him. "His vitals are reaching normal levels... This is a miracle!"
The room became quiet again as breathing became easier, and finally, Denzel opened his eyes once more to see Tifa, tears running down from her eyes to disappear behind the hand she held over her smiling mouth.
Cloud, his hand gently holding him in a sitting position, a small but, happy smile on his lips.
And, Marlene who rushed forward to embrace him, her small hands overlapping Cloud's hand at his back.
He could only let out a chuckle that turned into a small cough as Marlene squeezed him a little too hard. She let go quickly, a sheepish smile decorating her features.
Denzel tried to speak, but the doctor halted him, pushing a glass of water to his lips.
His throat hurt, but after a long sip, he managed to speak, his voice scratchy and low. "Aerith says 'Hi.'"
The room became quiet. Tifa's smile widened, the tears in her eyes spilling over. Cloud, looked like he'd been jolted by a bolt of lightning before he rubbed his palms over his eyes.
"You met her?" Marlene asked, leaning forward as she sat next to his legs.
He nodded, "She was warm, and she smelled like-"
"Rain." Cloud finished, his small smile widening. "And thunder. That's her."
Tifa reached forward to brush her hands through Denzel's hair. "Well, I guess we'll have to thank her for bringing you back to us."
"I'm glad you're okay." A contagious grin spread across Marlene's face.
Laying back on his bed with Cloud and Tifa's help, Denzel returned her smile. "Me too."
The stars twinkled brightly outside the open window as a night wind blew by.