By Famira Damaris

Disclaimer: Nope. Don't own Final Fantasy VII or any of the series.
Author's Note: Finally saw Advent Children (incredibly late) and I decided that I was going to apply for Denzel in an RPG. Anyway, this was my short one-shot for the application. Denzel focused, a few days after his rescue from Aeris's church by Cloud.

Archive: Go right on ahead – but ask me first.


When Denzel had first met Barret, he had been so intimidated that he practically vanished underneath the covers of the bed. The leader of AVALANCHE came thudding up the stairs – his footsteps were far heavier than Cloud's or Tifa's – and he practically blew the door right off its hinges with the force of his shove, giving the startled boy lying on the bed quite the fright. Denzel's first impression was of a big bear of a man, with a rough, wild face and a gleaming gun that seemed to be actually attached to the man's forearm, which he was currently pointing in Denzel's direction as he held the door open with it.

"Tifa, I can't find anything if y'keep movin' it –" Barret roared over his shoulder; in reality, he had only raised his voice just to call down the stairs, but to a recovering Denzel – trying to pretend he wasn't quaking under the sheets - his voice boomed and rolled like thunder.

Denzel must have made an involuntary squeak at the unexpected visitor's arrival, for the giant with the gun-arm suddenly whipped around and stared hard into the dim room, scrunching up his craggy face for a second in concentration. Denzel tried very hard to hide and melt into the mattress, but to no avail: Barret's mouth made an O of surprise as he spotted the dark head barely visible in the bed and he suddenly lowered his voice sheepishly.

"Hey, kid. Uh…sorry 'bout the noise."

Denzel peeped over his covers, wide-eyed. Barret sighed, feeling awkward.

"Was jez looking fer some papers," he said in way of explanation. Seeing that this didn't put the boy at ease, he asked, "Mind if I come in a bit?"

Denzel nodded, trying to find his voice and feeling irritated at himself that he was still acting like he was a little child. He had survived Meteor, he had seen death many times since the collapse of the Plate and the exposure to that strange white light, yet here he was scared of an adult – well, in his defense, Denzel reminded himself that this particular adult happened to have a gun grafted to his arm. Still, he felt very silly and annoyed at himself as he warily watched the strange man enter the room and sit down gingerly in one of the wooden chairs at the side of his bed. Cloud and Tifa wouldn't allow someone dangerous into 7th Heaven, Denzel was sure of it.

Still, he couldn't help feeling a bit nervous when Barret sat down, his eyes flicking quickly from Barret's face to the gun-arm.

"I'm Barret Wallace," Barret said and gave what he thought was a friendly smile. Denzel thought he looked more like a bear showing his fangs (not that he had ever seen a real bear, but he had seen pictures and read about them, so he thought himself versed enough). "I'm Marlene's dad."

Denzel perked up a little at that, feeling his unease ebb. Marlene usually sat with him and looked after him in the following days after he had been found collapsed at the church ruins, and he liked her a great deal. She was funny, nice, and she didn't boss him around (well, not too much, a little bossing around never hurt anybody). Denzel supposed that if this Barret was Marlene's father, then he could probably be trusted. He inched his face out further up above the covers.

"MynamesDenzel," Denzel mumbled.

Barret grunted, raising an eyebrow. "What?" He leaned forward so he could hear better, but this only made the boy stammer even more incoherently. Barret's expression by now bordered on amused as he flashed that same fierce grin as before. "Speak up an' slow down, MynamesDenzel. I ain't gonna eat you – 'ready had my dinner o' kids today, y'know."

Denzel flushed hotly at this. Bolstering his nerves and reminding himself that he wasn't just some little kid and certainly wasn't going to stand for being teased like this, he met Barret's gaze. "My name's Denzel," he said, and was frustrated to discover that his voice still quaked a little; but at least it wasn't cracking like it had been the day after he had been rescued by Cloud. "And I didn't think you were going to eat me."

Barret chuckled at the indignant look Denzel shot at him over the protection of his sheets.

"That so? Gonna take yer word fer it," Barret said. "So yer the kid Cloud brought back, huh?"

Denzel nodded.

"Guess that saying about strays pickin' up strays's true," Barret said, more to himself than to Denzel.

The boy didn't quite know what to say to that, so he kept his mouth shut.

"I heard from Cloud that you were livin' in Midgar up 'til now," Barret said. He frowned. "That jez ain't right, kid like yerself havin' t'live all alone in a place like that."

"I survived," Denzel said defiantly.

"Almost didn't," Barret countered.

"No, but…" the young boy trailed off, at a loss. Thinking about it, he couldn't really argue against that – his life in the ruins of Midgar scavenging could hardly be called a "life", could it? Day after day, until the day where he seriously began looking for slum rats to eat. He had to shudder a little at this – how could he have been that desperate?

Barret seemed to see the turmoil in the bedridden young boy and he sat back. "I used t'live in the slums too," said Barret quietly. "Knew how it felt t'live day t'day myself. Hated it jez like everyone else there; life there jez wasn't considered a life worth livin' after a point."

A strange kind of shame bubbled in Denzel at this. He hadn't lived his entire life in that kind of squalor – in fact, he had lived much of it with his parents, Shinra employees who lived up above the slums on the Plate. It was only recently that he had been exposed to the kind of hardships that had been only rumors not long before. But the collapse of the Plate on Sector 7 and Meteor had changed all that. The name "Barret Wallace" seemed almost familiar to Denzel for some reason, now that he thought about it, but he couldn't recall where he'd heard it before. Something from Shinra…something having to do with AVALANCHE…

" – aw, lookit the time," Barret was saying now as he got up. "Gotta get goin'. Can't stay forever, 'ave places I'm s'pposed t'be. You'll probably see more o' me later, I like t'visit an' check up on Marlene whenever I can."

Denzel by now had inched out all the way from his sheets and gave a nod. "Okay," he remembered his manners at last. "Nice to meet you, Mr. Wallace."

Barret made a disgruntled noise at the formality, but let it slide this time. He closed the door quietly as he left, but Denzel could hear his bootsteps stomping all the way down the stairs, even through the walls of the room. He snuggled back into the warmth of the bed, staring up at the ceiling and thinking. Cloud, Tifa, Marlene, the other unfamiliar voices he'd heard every now and then, and now Barret. So many new faces. Reaching up, he gently touched the gray scar on his forehead, half hidden by his hair. Everyone wanted to take care of him, but he had seen what the appearance of such scars meant. He had lost hope before, back in Midgar, but somehow, here with Cloud and the others, he could almost believe they would find a way to cure him.

Almost, but not quite. When Cloud checked up on Denzel an hour later, cracking open the door, the boy was sound asleep.