Still Rockin' in Midgar

The needle pierced his flesh, marking his virgin skin with ink. Ever since he was a child he had dreamed of giving himself this symbol. The Bahamut Sin stretched across the expanse of his back. His long, brown hair had been tied up out of the way for this. Denzel could feel the butterflies in his belly as he waited to see the finished work of art he would now bear forever.

Now at the age of 18 he was old enough to do whatever he wanted. He scratched at the solitary gold hoop in his left ear and asked if it would be alright if he smoked in the tattoo parlor. Suddenly, he thought of the reaction his girlfriend Marlene would have when she saw this thing. He tried not to laugh and cause the artist to mess up.

He could almost hear her nagging now. She was so cute when she was pissed off at him. He took a slow drag and blew out a puff of smoke and let his mind wander to her slender form. Her breasts weren't all that bad either. She'd developed rather nicely over the years. She wasn't built quite as much as Tifa, but she was still pretty good looking.

Denzel gave a mental shudder. He did not need to be thinking about his step mom like that. While it was technically true that he and Marlene had been raised almost like brother and sister, at least they were the same age and had been almost pre-teens when they had met. Why the hell was he thinking about stuff like that anyway?

Soon enough the tattoo was finished. He stared at its reflection in the mirror for a good long time. It still looked awful since it was still fresh. The skin was puffy and red, but he knew in no time it would look amazing. It was like some sort of dream. He still couldn't quite believe it was real. He thanked the man for his work and handed him the appropriate amount of gil. He'd been saving up for it for years, and it was money well spent, in his opinion.

Out on the street, he lit a fresh cigarette and hopped on his motorcycle. It wasn't custom built like Cloud's Fenrir, but it was still a good bike. He revved the motor and winked at a couple of cute girls who were trying to pretend like they weren't looking at him. They giggled and turned to whisper to each other. Denzel put on his helmet and let his hair down. He flinched a little from the tender skin, then took off toward home.

The small apartment he shared with Marlene a few doors down from the Seventh Heaven Bar wasn't much, but it was home. After all, it was the best they could afford on their salary. Marlene was working as a cocktail waitress at the bar. She'd been mixing drinks since she was four, so it was almost expected. Denzel had helped out Cloud with his deliveries for a while, then tried to start a band. When that didn't work out, he had become Cid's apprentice at the garage and started learning how to fix cars and ships and such.

"Marlene! Baby, I'm home. Are you here?" He shouted to what proved to be an empty place. He glanced at his watch and realized his girlfriend must still be at work. It was his off-day, but he had a lot of time to kill. He decided to wander over to Cid's and see if he needed help with anything.

"Hey, kid! What the fuck are you doing over here? You don't have work today." Cid lit a fresh cigarette with the butt of his last one and offered the pack to his young guest. He watched as Denzel took one then clapped him hard on the back, not noticing the boy's painful wince. "Come on in. I'll have Shera fix you up some goddamn tea and we can shoot the shit for a little while." The old pilot led the way in and shouted for his wife. "Hey, get your lazy ass out here and make some goddamn tea for our fucking guest. You good for nothing wench!"

A quiet and unassuming woman shuffled out from one of the back rooms of the house, her eyes downcast. In a soft voice, she requested for the men to sit while she put the kettle on. "Would you boys like some cake or sandwiches to go with your tea? I'll fix anything you want; It's no trouble at all." She gave a warm smile to Denzel.

Denzel smiled back at her. "I'd like some cake if you have it. Marlene won't let me have a lot of sugar. She says it'll make me fat." He laughed a little at that and Shera bustled off to the kitchen.

Cid straddled a chair and guffawed loudly, slapping his knee. "Marlene won't let you?! You sure are pussy-whipped, boy! You ought to grow a pair." He punched the young man in the arm and grinned.

Rubbing his arm but trying to look tough, Denzel smiled. "So, what are you working on today? Got any broken planes or anything? I'm ready for something more challenging than bent bicycle frames and cars that need oil changes." He politely took the cake that Shera offered him and nodded when she informed him that his tea would be ready soon.

Denzel listened to Cid go on about his current airship he was rebuilding. He enjoyed the cake and sipped his tea after it was brought out to him. He shared a couple of more cigarettes with his boss. Finally, after the pilot had begun to reminisce about his days as a pilot for the old Shinra company, Denzel realized that they weren't going to be working on anything today. He looked up to the old man, but he sometimes wasn't in the mood for his old stories.

"Hey, Cid, I hate to interrupt, but I promised Marlene I'd walk her home from work tonight and it's almost that time. I'll see you at work tomorrow." Denzel stood and took his leave. As he left, he could hear the pilot inside yelling at his wife again. He shook his head. He often wondered how they could have been together so long.

Denzel went back home. He went into the bedroom and slowly peeled off his shirt. He winced at the pain. Positioning himself in front of the mirror, he turned his head to inspect his tattoo. He wondered how long it was going to stay tender. Wasn't there some kind of cream with painkillers in it, or had he just imagined it? He considered calling Reno and asking him. That guy seemed to know about that kind of stuff for some reason. He couldn't ask Marlene because he wanted to surprise her with this.

She still didn't know about the tattoo. Denzel grinned devilishly to himself. He couldn't wait to see the look on her face. Tossing his shirt on the floor, he pulled out his cell phone and dialed Reno's number.

"Yo, Denzel! What's up?" The lanky redhead was at his partner's house where a few of their coworkers had gathered after work for a few beers and a game of cards. Reeve was winning again, as usual. It must have been all that time he had spent "spying" at the Gold Saucer. Reno grabbed his beer and stepped to another room so he could hear Denzel better.

"Hi, Reno. I didn't mean to interrupt you, but I have a question for you. And you gotta promise not to tell anyone about it yet, okay?" Denzel was beginning to regret calling the loud redhead. Sure he was an old friend, but the guy had loose lips when he was drinking, and that was most of the time.

Reno laughed. "What's the matter? You catch an STD? You get some other girl pregnant? Or no, wait! You're gay now?" He took a swig of his beer and winked at Elena who had peeked in to see where he had gotten off to. He smirked as she rolled her eyes at him and walked back out.

Denzel sighed in frustration. "Will you shut up and let me tell you? And stop being an idiot for just one second." He ignored Reno's noises of protest and feigned offense and continued. "Here's the thing. I got this tattoo..." Denzel paused while Reno interrupted to congratulate him. "Yeah, but see, it hurts like a mother and I was wondering, do you know of anything that will kill the pain." Denzel paused and added for clarification, because this was Reno he was talking to. "Anything LEGAL."

Reno pretended to be offended again. "Why would I suggest anything else?" His voice dripped with sarcasm as he started laughing. "Okay, yeah. I may have something. When's Marlene going to be home? I'll try and swing by before then." Reno finished his beer and made his way into the kitchen.

"Hmm. I think she's not getting off work until late tonight. How about before 11:00?" Denzel got Reno's assent and hung up. He glanced at his watch. It was still pretty early in the evening. He decided to go take a nap until his friend got here.

It seemed like he had barely laid down when he found himself bolted out of a sound sleep by pounding on the front door. He groggily sat up and glanced at the clock. It was 10:30. Who the hell? Then he remembered. Reno. Denzel winced as he rolled off the bed. "I'm coming! Give me a damn minute!" He yelled toward the door. When he finally got the door open, his guest pushed past him into the apartment.

"You owe me, little man. I got something better than any medication. Look what I got." Reno grinned and produced a glowing green ball in a gold bangle that was on his left wrist.

Denzel's mouth fell open in shock. "That's a cure materia! That is brilliant! Why didn't I think of that?" The brunette advanced toward Reno and reached out his hand.

Reno took a step back. "No, you let me handle the healing. I'm an expert after all."

"I can't imagine why." Denzel muttered under his breath.

Ignoring the younger man, the Turk turned Denzel's body so that he could get a good look at his back. He let out a low whistle. "That is some ink, yo! No wonder your hurting. You gonna try and get it colored in or you just gonna leave it like this?" Reno activated the materia and aimed it toward the brunette.

Denzel let out a sigh as his skin began to tingle and grow warm. The pain was gone almost instantly. "Man, those things are life savers." He straightened up and stretched a little. "I don't know. I might just leave it like is for now." Denzel grinned when he turned and caught the look of admiration on his friend's face.

Reno punched Denzel's arm lightly. "Marlene's gonna freak, yo!" They shared a laugh, then Reno pulled out his pack of cigarettes. He offered one to the younger man, who took one. As they shared a smoke, Reno started to wander off toward the kitchen. "You got any beer or anything in here?"

The brunette shrugged. "I think we've still got some. Marlene gets it for free sometimes. If you want, I've got some tequila." Denzel went to one of the cabinets and started to rummage around.

"I don't know, kid. Usually when I drink that stuff, I wake up next to strange people in strange places." He chuckled lightly.

Denzel rolled his eyes. "Suit yourself, but you're at my house. You'd be pretty safe here." He smiled as his friend took the bottle from him. He went to get some shot glasses and some salt and limes. He knew he was already signing his death warrant with Marlene by getting a tattoo and now getting drunk with Reno, but it would be worth it.

The two men faced each other at the kitchen table and poured their shots. They simultaneously poured the salt on their hands and licked it, took the shot of tequila, and bit into their slices of lime. Denzel grimaced at the burn and the sour chaser.

Reno laughed. "You're drinking with the master, kid. I hope you know what you've gotten yourself into, yo!"

Denzel laughed as he set up his next shot. "Hey, Reno, remember when you pierced my ear. I think the night started off something like this." He took his shot and bit into the lime and shivered slightly. He blinked as the room started to waver around him. He could hear Reno's voice floating toward him.

"Yeah! Tifa gave me an earful that night. You were only 16." The red head took his shot and noticed the younger man was getting buzzed. "Hey, Denzel. You might wanna slow down a little. I don't want to carry your drunk ass to bed and deal with your woman blaming this on me, yo." The Turk stood and went to fix his friend a glass of water. He set it in front of him and pushed the tequila out of his reach.

"Hey! Don't treat me like I'm still some kid." Denzel frowned and had to make an effort to make his eyes focus on his tall friend. "Shit! Okay. So maybe I am a little drunk right now, but..." He trailed off and reached for the bottle of tequila. He set up another shot and downed it before the redhead could stop him.

Reno put his hands up. "Allright, fine. But don't come whining to me in the morning about it." The redhead set up another shot for himself and rolled his eyes. Then a thought occurred to him. "Everything going all right for you, man?" He knew Denzel was still pretty young and this kind of behavior wasn't all that odd. Hell, he'd been much wilder in his younger days, Gaia only knew. But Denzel was usually a little more in control of himself.

Denzel blinked his eyes blearily in Reno's general direction. It was getting really hard to stay sitting in his chair. "It's none of your damn business, Reno." His words were starting to slur quite a bit and it was hard to get his mouth to form his words. The brunette lurched forward slightly. "Just 'cause Marlene works all the time and doesn't notice me anymore don't give you the right to say I'm not still a man. I'll show her who's the stud. You just wait."

Reno sighed. The poor guy was hammered and starting to spill his feelings. He couldn't have that. The Turk moved around and helped his friend to his feet. "You tell her, Denz. Now let's get you to bed before she gets home. Come on. I got ya'." Reno half-dragged and half-walked the drunken brunette to his room and dropped him onto the bed. He got the glass of water and set it on the night stand.

Turning to face Reno, Denzel rubbed his face. "Ren? You think she still loves me?" The drowse of the alcohol was starting to pull him under. His friend's voice and the soft bed were soothing to his heavy body.

The redhead brushed a strand of hair out of the young man's eyes. "Yeah. She does, yo. Now you just get some rest. I'll holler at you tomorrow, okay?" The Turk stood to leave. He glanced back at his friend who had already passed out. He hoped he could get out of there before Marlene got home.

Reno went to the kitchen and hastily cleaned up their little mess and grabbed some leftovers out of Denzel and Marlene's refrigerator. Then he left for home, locking the door after himself, and silently wishing his friend good luck.

An hour later, Marlene finally arrived home after a long night at work. She was tired and smelled of alcohol, cigarettes, and Gaia only knew what else. All she wanted to do was get a shower and hit the sack. When she stepped through the door, however, she sensed something was off. Call it her woman's intuition, but it was almost as if something was in the air.

"Denzel! I'm home." She waited. No answer. It was nearly midnight after all, so she just assumed her boyfriend was asleep. Marlene paused at the entrance to the kitchen. Her eyes zoomed in on something green lying near the wastebasket. "What the...? A piece of lime?" Her nose detected the scent of tequila. She frowned.

Pulling her hair out of it's low ponytail she kept it in for work, she made her way back to the bedroom. She could hear Denzel's loud snores before she even got there. Stomping into the room, she leaned over her boyfriend. He reeked of alcohol and was completely oblivious to her presence. She growled and took her foot and pushed hard at his hip. Her anger only swelled when he grunted and rolled over, then resumed snoring. Then she saw it.

There, spreading across her boyfriend's back, was a perfect rendition of a bahamut sin. Just like the one that had attacked them as kids. Marlene's feelings were torn. She wanted to be angry for Denzel getting drunk and marking up his beautiful body like this without telling her. Yet she knew the importance of this symbol for him. He had often told her that it was on that day so long ago that he had felt he had become a man.

Overcome with emotion, the slender young woman plopped down on the bed beside her man. She reached out a trembling hand and touched the tattoo. She could literally feel the inked skin, the texture was slightly different. "Oh, Denzel." Her voice was soft, and almost reverent. Marlene leaned down and placed a light kiss on his shoulder blade.

Denzel stirred a bit and roused himself from his stupor. He blinked at Marlene, who was lightly rubbing his back. His voice cracked, still hoarse from sleep. "Do you like it, baby? It was supposed to be a surprise." He gave her a lopsided grin.

"Denzel. It's...I don't know what to say. It's alright." She started to cry and fell onto her boyfriend hugging him tight, feeling his arms wrap around her. She lifted her head to allow him to kiss her gently. When the kiss broke, she looked into his brown eyes. "I love you no matter what, Denzel. I know this is something important to you, so I love it, too."

The young man smiled broadly at that. "I'm glad, Marlene. I love you so much." The alcohol still in his system was making him more emotional than usual. He held Marlene a while longer before she whispered that she needed to take a shower so they could go to sleep. He reluctantly let her go and smiled as he watched her slip off her clothes as she headed for the bathroom. Denzel felt like the luckiest man alive. He heard the shower start and soon had drifted back off to sleep.

When Marlene got out of the shower, she peeked out and saw her boyfriend was asleep again. She smiled to herself and went to dry her hair and get ready for bed. She was really happy here with Denzel. There wasn't anything else she needed in her life. Sometimes she wished her real parents were still alive so she could share her happiness with them. Though she would trade her adopted father, Barret for anything, she couldn't help but wonder sometimes.

Marlene sighed and pushed those thoughts away. Things were fine the way they were. They had been through so much in their young lives; they were lucky to still be alive and in such good health. The young woman climbed into bed and snuggled up to her man. She breathed out as he pulled her tight to his warm body and they both slipped off together into their own dreams.