*The idea for this story came from a single observation. Denzel has the picture of him and his parents by his bed in Advent Children.*
Denzel looked up as he finished explaining how he came to stay at Ms. Ruvi's. Tifa the new lady who took him in, smiled even though she looked rather sad. He wished Cloud was there. He wanted to properly meet the man who saved him.
He fingered the bandage on his head before continuing his story. Was there much point being saved if he was going to die, anyway?
Cloud came back to the bar a little after supper. Denzel was waiting for him at a small table near the back. Neither said anything, though Cloud did stop beside Denzel and looked down at him before going upstairs.
Later, Tifa talked to Cloud and Marlene about keeping Denzel with them.
"Yes! It'll be like having a brother!" Marlene ran off and both adults heard her excitedly welcoming the newest member of their family.
"Is it alright with you, Cloud?"
He nodded once and went back to organizing delivery recipes. Tifa sighed. Maybe he didn't care? But he cared enough to bring Denzel home. Sometimes she just didn't understand him.
The days passed and Tifa thought that maybe they were becoming a real family. Cloud was taking fewer jobs so he could spend time with the kids. Both enjoyed it, especially Denzel. Every time Cloud answered a question, no matter how terse he was, Denzel's face lit up.
Two weeks after Denzel entered their lives, Tifa decided to take a family photo. The idea came from Marlene. She had been drawing pictures in crayon of all of them together and asked Tifa if they could have a photo. "And be sure to include Cloud, too."
They used Cloud camera. He had picked it up about a month ago to take pictures of the places he visited. The picture started out with Cloud on his motorcycle with Denzel and Marlene standing in the foreground. Then a neighbor came and offered to take a picture for them so Tifa could be in the shot, too.
Tifa set the framed picture of them all together on Cloud's desk. The first picture went in the kids' room. She fiddled with the placement for a while, though, really, she was looking at Cloud's face. He looked... detached, somehow. Denzel she could understand looking sad, he was still suffering from Geostigma, but Cloud... Wasn't he healing?
Tifa turned around and saw Cloud standing in the doorway. "Hi. I was just looking at the picture we took."
"Do you think Denzel is happy here?"
"I don't know. Maybe."
Tifa looked back down at the picture. She tried to think of how to ask the question bubbling in her mind, but Cloud beat her to it.
"Did something happen?"
"No." Tifa fingered the picture frame before turning to the door. "I'm probably worrying for nothing."
A few minutes later, Cloud came back downstairs. "There's another delivery I have to do. I might not be back tonight." That's all he said before leaving.
Tifa brushed away Denzel's bangs as she cleaned up his latest attack. "On a delivery. He said he might not be back tonight, but maybe he'll come tomorrow."
"I hope so." He buried himself in his covers.
Cloud didn't come back the next day and he was still gone the morning after that. Tifa was down in the bar and Marlene was playing with friends. Denzel still had a fever, so he sat in bed reading.
Suddenly, pain like a sharp spike rammed through his head. He grabbed his head, the scar burned as black pus built up. The room started to spin. Images of Sector 7 burning flashed before his eyes before he passed out.
Denzel opened his eyes, the world little more than a blur until he focused on blond spikes and too-blue eyes. "Cloud?"
"Yeah." A leather-gloved hand ruffled Denzel's hair. "I brought you something."
"Really?" Denzel managed to sit up.
Cloud looked away and nodded. "It's not much, but..." He held out a picture frame.
But it wasn't the frame that Denzel focused on. There, behind new, clean glass, was the wrinkled and torn picture of him and his parents that used to sit on the table in their living room in Sector 7.
When Denzel looked up, Cloud was already in the doorway ready to leave. "Cloud."
Cloud turned his head just enough to look at Denzel over his shoulder.
What to say? I just wondered how Denzel got that picture that was buried in rubble. Cloud must have dug through so much debris and decaying body parts and who knows what else to find it.