Pox Panic

"Cloud! TIFA!"

Denzel all but flew down the stairs into the bar. Both of his guardians were standing at attention, Tifa still holding a carton of milk and a glass while Cloud seemed to have frozen after realizing he wasn't wearing his sword harness.

Tifa managed to find her voice first. "What's the matter? What happened?"

"Marlene... She's... She's really sick and she's got a rash over half her face and..."

Cloud was already moving. It couldn't be Geostigma, it had been cured months ago. Even if it was, Aerith's church was only a couple minutes away by bike.

When he entered the kids' room at first all he saw was a lump of blankets on Marlene's bed. The lump shifted a little with a tiny moan. He turned when he heard Tifa come up the stairs behind him.

"Don't worry." She smiled and stroked his arm before brushing past. "I think I know what's going on."

That made one of them. Cloud followed her into the room. One look at Marlene reassured him that at least it wasn't Geostigma. Not that the oozing red blisters looked much better.

Tifa knelt by the bed. "Marlene, have you been scratching these?"

"Uh huh. They itch really bad."

"Well you shouldn't. That'll only make it worse."

Marlene squirmed. "Make what worse? Why am I sick?"

Tifa started to reach for Marlene's hair but thought better of it. "You have the chickenpox. One of your friends probably had it and gave it to you."

"So... I'm not going to die?"

For a moment, Tifa didn't know if she should laugh or cry. "No. But you'll have to stay in bed for a few days. And don't scratch."

Soft footsteps alerted Cloud to the room's other occupant. As there didn't seem to be anything he could do for Marlene, maybe he could at least reassure Denzel. He opened the door and slipped out before Denzel could knock. After making sure the door latched behind him he lead Denzel down to his office.

"Is Marlene going to be okay?"

"Yeah." Cloud lead Denzel to the bed (more of a cot, really) so they could sit down. "She has chickenpox."

Denzel frowned. "Will I get chickenpox, too?"

Oh. "I... I'm not sure."

They were silent for a long time until Denzel got up the nerve to ask another question. "Did you have chickenpox as a kid?"

Cloud had to think about that one. "I'm not sure."

Denzel gave him a look that clearly said, 'How could you not know something like that?'

All Cloud could do was shrug.

Moments later, Tifa joined them, breaking the awkward silence. "I'm going to the store for some calamine lotion and bandages. Cloud, can you strip Denzel's bed and get the sheets in the wash? We'll have to think of a place for him to sleep until Marlene's feeling better."

"But I've already got her germs all over me." A sudden realization dawned on him and he frowned. "Does this mean I can't go out and play?"

Tifa and Cloud looked at each other as if hoping the other one would come up with an answer. Finally, Cloud shrugged. "I'll take the day off. You can help me with Fenrir."

Denzel's eyes went huge. "Really? But what about your deliveries? I... You don't have to..."

"It's fine. Some of the people today have small kids and I don't want this spreading more than it has to."

Tifa beamed as she left the two males alone to talk about bikes.

*7*7*

The first thing Tifa noticed when she returned home was the mechanical racket coming from upstairs. After stopping to listen she realized it was the washer.

Except the washer had never made that particular set of noises before.

She left the bags on the bar on her way to the stairs. Up past the bedrooms and around the corner she saw Cloud and Denzel sitting with their backs pressed against a highly agitated washer. Both looked so confused that Tifa had a hard time not laughing.

"We were washing my sheets, only they didn't fill the whole thing so Cloud put my blanket in, too." Denzel looked to his hero for reassurance that it was okay to say that.

Cloud coughed before continuing the story. "I didn't know which measurement of detergent to use, so I used the largest one. Sorry."

At that Tifa allowed herself to laugh a little. "And neither of you thought to turn off the washer?"

Cloud and Denzel looked at each other and then at Tifa. They didn't have to say a word. Tifa shooed both of them away from the machine and pulled the knob out until it clicked off.

"I suppose I should be impressed you could turn it on." She started to smile.

And then Marlene screamed.

Everyone jumped at the bathroom door, but only Tifa went inside. Cloud and Denzel stood anxious and awkward in the hall while Marlene alternated between apologizing and blubbering about how everything hurt.

By the time the door opened again Marlene was clean and calm.

"I'm sorry. I shouldn't complain. It's just chicken pox."

Tifa shook her head. "It's fine." She had probably already said that five times before. "I remember having chickenpox. I must have spent the entire week screaming."

Marlene relaxed a little and let Tifa take her back to bed. Denzel insisted on staying with her, arguing that Marlene had done the same for him when he had Geostigma. So with both kids in their room Tifa went back to see what could be salvaged from the laundry.

Cloud followed her. He didn't speak until she finished pulling out the soapy mess that had been a mostly blue quilt.

"Did I have chickenpox?"

"Hmm?" Tifa looked at him for a moment, at first not sure why he would need to ask. "You don't...? Come to think of it, I don't remember you catching it." Her eyes widened. "Oh, Cloud!"

Now it was his turn to look confused. "What?"

"I've just always heard that chickenpox is so much worse for adults. And you just got over Geostigma four months ago."

Cloud shook his head. "Don't worry."

"I'm not." Tifa folded her arms. "But I am concerned. One of my regulars at the old Seventh Heaven got the chickenpox and he almost died."

That took Cloud by surprise. He hadn't expected chicken pox to be that serious. "I'll be careful." He didn't add that he wasn't sure he even could get sick, aside from Geostigma.

*7*7*

If anything could make him sick, he suspected it would involve chickenpox. Not from catching it, though.

Marlene put up a brave face throughout the day. Then night came and the whimpering started. Quiet, muffled, and barely audible to Tifa, it kept Cloud on high alert all night. Worse, just knowing that one of the kids was sick made every other noise in the house that much louder to him.

The clang in the pipes.

Every shift of bedsheets when either Marlene or Denzel moved.

That loose board in front of the toilet that squeaked no matter how careful the kids were.

The click of the light switch followed by the faucet running and another click.

Every night for a week.

By then Marlene started feeling better. She even fussed when Tifa didn't let her come downstairs to eat. Denzel brought her food up and they both ate while watching cartoons on the new TV Cloud had set up in the living room.

Cloud sat downstairs at his usual spot at the bar. Tifa lingered a moment after refilling his water.

"You look tired."

Cloud grunted. "Haven't been sleeping."

"Oh? Oh. The worst is over, so maybe you'll be able to get some sleep tonight."

Barely a minute later Marlene yelled from the top of the stairs. "Denzel just threw up!"

Tifa tried not to laugh at the way Cloud nearly face-planted in his steak.


A note about the way the living quarters are set up in my mind. Tifa and Cloud's room is next to Marlene and Denzel's. Next is the washroom with a sink and a stacking washer/drier. The bathroom is accessed through the washroom. The toilet is in a separate room, since that seems to be common in Japan. I even put together a floor plan, using what I've been able to guess about scale from watching Advent Children a couple dozen times and looking up pictures online. I'm still not sure about the existence of public restrooms for the bar. You'd think they'd have to have them.