[Caveat [size20 Without you, Cloud....without you, I would be alone - For _Ignis]]
Denzel smiled a little more at Cloud's words, the blonde giving him the assurance and support he needed. He had helped the boy many times, possibly without even realizing it, and continued to do so. Denzel firmly believed he had gotten this far because of Cloud and knew, with the strong male behind him, he could go further.
Cloud was his reason for being.
The two continued to move along the streets of Edge, Denzel continuing to fill Cloud in on his days with Tifa and the happenings of the city around them. It wasn't anything enthralling, however Cloud seemed to enjoy it and the small orphan loved the time he was spending with him. He grew softer after a bit, his small hand reaching up to grip Cloud's gloved one, as he caught sight of the turks working across the street.
"That's... That's exactly right."
Perhaps, Cloud thought, this was what Aerith and Zack were trying to say all along. That he didn't [i have] to try and fight this battle alone. That he had a choice. That would mean he'd been making the wrong choice every day, but now, he was beginning to see clearer.
He didn't have to continue to isolate himself.
"I'll be more than happy to help you through this." Cloud smiled once more and continued walking, ensuring that Denzel was next to him the entire time. [i And I know that you'll help me. Whether you realize it or not. It's your fault I'm back, and I'm happy about it. Truly.] He gazed up at the sky again. [i Will this be how I gain control of myself again, Aerith?]
Denzel nodded faintly, his hand raising to toy with the fenrir ring that hung around his neck; a gift from Cloud after he was brought to Tifa. He understood the male's words and the feelings behind him, but he wasn't sure if he could do it on his own. It would certainly be a challenge, but perhaps it wasn't one he had to do alone. Now that he was surrounded by people that cared about him, maybe he could finally begin to move forward.
[+blue "Maybe....it's something we can do together,"] Denzel answered after a moment, giving him a small smile. Cloud certainly needed help in that department as well. Perhaps if they worked together, they could focus on pushing each other forward. Denzel was more than willing to try, especially after all the things Cloud had done for him.
[+blue "It's much better than doing it alone."]
"That's... a good question." Cloud stopped walking for a moment, and closed his eyes. Instantly, his memories began to play through his brain like a tape. Meeting Zack for the first time. SOLDIER. Aerith. Sephiroth. Aerith's death. Defeating Sephiroth for the first time. The Geostigma. Returning to Edge. Kadaj. Defeating Sephiroth for the second time. The destruction of the Geostigma. His disappearance, once again, without so much as a note.
"There's... a lot to accepting things, and I'll be the first person to tell you that it isn't easy." Cloud bent down to meet Denzel's gaze, his blue eyes filled with grief. Happiness. Loneliness. Suffering. The emotions mixed neatly into his iris'. "I'm still trying to accept things as they are myself, and I've had a lot more time than you have, that's for sure.
"It can't be easy for you. Having lost everything at such a young age, I bet your mind is swirling with questions. Why is life so unfair? What did I do to deserve this? When will I get to be happy? Why don't I feel like I have any control?
"But I've also learned that it's okay not to have the answers." Cloud blinked for a moment, before looking at the sky. "What's not okay is allowing something that you can't fix or can't control drag you down. I've been doing it for a long time, and I'm sure you've seen it. You've seen me at my worst, kiddo. But you've also seen me at my best. I'm trying so hard to push past what happened... What has dragged me down... And it's not going to happen overnight." He smiled at the boy. "But I can do it."
"You're strong, Denzel." Cloud stood again. "You've been through more than anyone your age should. So while it feels like you can't accept them, you can. Acceptance doesn't mean forgetting. It just means that you can put your best foot forward despite all that's happened."
Denzel continued to walk by Cloud's side, glancing up at the male occasionally. He was grateful to know that he wasn't angry with the boy for keeping up old habits, but did make it clear it wasn't an activity that should be continued. He wanted to help Tifa out as much as he could, especially since she had done so much for him, and knew she had it rough without Cloud around to help. Maybe now that he agreed to stick around, things would get better for all three of them.
[+blue "No one comes out that far, except for us,"] he told Cloud. Only the little group that had so many memories of that place ever dared to visit, Cloud being its top visitor. Denzel didn't know the full story of why it was so important to him but he decided against asking at the moment. It brought up too much.
Denzel bit his lip faintly at Cloud's final thought, stopping and looking up at the male that towered over him. Sometimes that task seemed impossible, especially when life-changing events happened to one so young. Even though he was happy with Tifa, he still hadn't let go of losing his parents in sector 7. It was just so hard...not to mention unfair.
[+blue "What if....you can't? What if you can never accept them?"] he asked quietly, looking up at him for an answer.
Cloud narrowed his eyes at the child, as if ready to scold him, but he couldn't manage to do so. Denzel was a lot like him, in a strange way. "Well, I promise I won't tell Tifa," he started. "But, you also have to promise me that you'll try and stop doing that. I know gil is sometimes hard to come by, but doing it that way is extremely dangerous if you're seen by the wrong person."
But Cloud decided not to lecture him long; if Tifa were to find out, she would do it for him. Instead, he said "The church still hasn't changed. I wonder if they're going to leave it that way. There are a lot of memories in that old building; some good, some bad. Sometimes, we have to accept things as they are, whether we want to or not."
Tifa smiled at the two as they left before going back to her work. At the moment she was the most important influence of Denzel's life as Cloud had been missing, teaching him important lessons about life and everything in between. He actually liked having her in his life as she worked hard to make him feel wanted and special, just like any other child should. She gave him everything he could ever need, even when he felt he didn't deserve it, and sometimes sacrificed her own comfort in order to give it to Denzel.
Hopefully she wouldn't have to work so hard anymore now that Cloud had returned.
He smiled up at the tall male, keeping his hands in his pockets as they headed outside and began to walk the bustling streets. Edge had come a long way since Cloud had been around last: many of the destroyed buildings were nearing completion, business in many places was beginning to pick up again, and their was just an air of....calmness. Everything seemed to be getting better.
[+blue "Sometimes when I don't have much else to do, I'll go around the memorial in the meteor square and people watch,"] he told Cloud softly, looking up at him. He seemed a bit happier after talking with Tifa, maybe the two of them had a really good talk. [+blue "Or, if I have all day to myself, I'll go out to the church in sector 5 or wander into the wastelands. Sometimes I can find some useful stuff and exchange it for money, like I used to...before you found me. Tifa doesn't know about that..."]
He wasn't sure how Cloud would respond to that, Denzel biting his lip. If Tifa were to find out, he imagined her head would likely explode and he would receive one of those lectures she was famous for giving. Why would he do that to himself again? It wasn't as if he had many options for entertainment open to him; when Marlene was around he could spend time with her but, when she was with Barrett like she was now, he had to find some other way to kill time. Besides, there was good money in it if one knew what they were looking for.
Cloud had never been more grateful in his life. Tifa was a blessing - lectures and all - and Denzel had made himself to be one of the biggest parts of Cloud's life. It would only be a matter of time before he would feel whole again, he decided. He may as well enjoy it.
"Of course she did." But Cloud laughed. "Sometimes you need a big lecture. I asked her for advice, and she gave it to me." He turned back to Tifa. "I'll make sure we're back before sunset. I wouldn't want you to worry."
Without another moment's hesitation, he ushered the child out the door. The air felt nice hitting his face. "All right, Denzel. You've been outside since the rebuilding started; where should we go first?" If anyone else had seen him allowing a child to guide him, he'd have been pegged as crazy. But it didn't matter; he was going to make Denzel feel welcome. Feel human.
Tifa smiled again, resting her hands behind her back as she watched him. He small, broken family was finally beginning to come back together and, hopefully, remain that way. She wanted Cloud back for her own reasons but really needed him. He needed an adult male to look up to in his life now that his father was gone, one to guide him and teach him as he continued to grow. Cloud was certainly capable of that, even if he had his own doubts, and Tifa knew deep down that he and Denzel were simply meant to be.
They could help heal each other.
She looked over as Denzel came down the stairs and smiled up at Cloud, moving over to his side. [+blue "Yeah, I'm ready,"] he responded, shoving his hands into his pockets again. [+blue "Did Tifa give you a giant lecture? She's good at those."]
"It's okay. I'm learning that it's all right to need people in your life. I'm sure I've always known, but changing what I'm used to after so long is just new to me." Cloud's words were warm and sincere. Aerith would be so happy if she knew how much he was trying to change.
At the mention of Shinra's name, his gaze darkened. He'd never been able to fully trust Rufus Shinra, and after Sephiroth's return, the wound had only been deepened. "It's only a matter of time before he tries to mess up what this poor world has been trying too hard to fix." In a way, he felt bad for Reno; he was a good guy who was just too damn gullible.
"But of course, I'll make sure he's as safe as can be." Cloud offered a warm smile before turning to the stairs. "Denzel, ready to go?"
Cloud was certainly right about that. For the first time in what seemed like ages, Denzel could allow himself to be a child again. So many problems had been lifted from the boy's shoulders and the only thing he had to focus on was having the childhood he was supposed to have. Tifa felt he would probably rather have it with his parents but nothing she could do could bring them back. She just hoped she was doing enough for him and giving him everything he needed.
Now that Cloud had returned, he could help with that a little too.
[+red "There's always places you can escape to if you need it,"] Tifa reminded him gently, giving him a smile. [+red "Healin is a pretty quiet area, and I'm sure that after you explore Edge with Denzel you'll find some places you like that you can go."]
She pushed herself up again, wrapping her arms around Cloud in a hug and let go after a long moment. [+red "I have to admit that I'm happy you decided to stay, for my own selfish reasons. Maybe I need you just as much as Denzel does."] She paused again before looking up at Cloud and continuing. [+red "Just be careful when you two are out and keep an eye on Denzel. I'm relieved he's not going to be outside on his own much anymore; I think that Shinra is up to something. It worries me..."]
"It was a happy coincidence that he managed to grab my phone and call you." Cloud looked towards the stairs where Denzel had disappeared. "He looks so much healthier now that he's been here a while. And with the geostigma gone, he can actually be a kid again. No more worrying about when he'll be cured, or if he'll be okay."
He glanced back over to Tifa. "I owe you a lot. More than I think I could ever repay. But I'll start by staying here. It's going to be hard for me..." He shrugged. "I'm used to being on-the-go and on my own. But I need you guys, and I'm sure that you guys need me."
But Cloud laughed anyway. "It's strange. I never thought I'd be in a place like this, with people who love me like you and Denzel. But I'm here. And I can honestly say that I'm happy with it."
[+red "I'd never be able to forget you, Cloud,"] Tifa answered softly. [+red "We've been through too much together, I don't think I could ever let you go."] Neither of their pasts had been easy, that was for sure. But Cloud...even though he had been through so much, Tifa refused to let him go through it alone. Even though she couldn't fully understand the pain Cloud had been in, she knew it was there and just wanted to help him feel better, no matter the cost.
He meant far too much for her to simply let go.
[+red "Denzel sits on those steps and waits for you every morning,"] she informed him softly, moving closer and sitting nearby. [+red "Then, in the afternoons, he looks around the city thinking that maybe you'll be there. He remembers everything you've done for him, Cloud. You brought him somewhere he would be loved and cared for, and you always did the impossible for him. He loves you and you deserve every minute of it. Don't ever forget that."]
"To be honest, I wasn't even sure I was going to come back. I thought that maybe, if I didn't show up again, you'd all be able to move on with your lives. You'd be able to forget about me." The blonde then shook his head. "But it wouldn't be fair. It wouldn't be fair to you. To Marlene. To Denzel. You... You've been my best friend for so long. You've meant a lot to me for more years then you should have." He glanced up at the stairs. "And Denzel counts on me. He loves me."
Cloud let out a sheepish chuckle. "I don't know what I honestly did to earn the love I receive from him. But when I saw him at the church today, he looked worn-down. Hurt. That look washed away immediately when he saw me. I don't want to see him looking that way again. He's been through so much in his life. I want to see him happy. And I know I'm a big part of that."
Tifa smiled as she watched them, keeping her arms folded over her chest. As happy as the news made her, she knew Denzel felt ten times happier. She watched him every day, knew that he sat outside every morning in the hopes that Cloud would turn the corner and, when he didn't, would visit the male's favorite spots in the afternoon because, just maybe, he would find him there. Now Denzel wouldn't have to wait and search anymore, the blonde would always be here.
She just hoped he really was going to stick around this time. Not for her sake, but for Denzel's.
The boy smiled at this, giggling faintly as he looked up at Cloud. "Sure!" he agreed happily. He couldn't wait to explore the city with the blonde, showing him where the best spots were.
[+red "Go on upstairs and wash up before you go,"] Tifa instructed softly with her usual, gentle smile. [+red "I want to talk to Cloud for a minute."] She watched him run off, leaving the two of them alone, then looked over to Cloud.
[+red "Do you really mean it?"] she asked gently. [+red "Are you really going to stay this time?"]
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