AN: Takes place between Case of Tifa and ACC.

Soft grunts and sharp thwacks drew Tifa through the kitchen and out onto the back porch. She stopped when she spotted Denzel, who was—with intense determination—beating the stuffing out of one of her practice dummies with his wooden sword.

The addition of yellow straw to the head was new, and had her cocking her own head to the side. Hm.

Unaware of his audience, Denzel continued to stab at the sand bag. Occasionally a muted curse would slip past his lips, and Tifa frowned. Venting was healthy, she knew, but Denzel wasn't the angry type, and seeing him like that broke her heart.

She re-opened the screen door slightly and let it bang shut.

Bright blue eyes swiveled her way and Denzel straightened, pushed damp hair back.

"Hey." She greeted as she lowered herself onto the steps and leaned back on her elbows. "Your form has improved," she commented.

Denzel glanced down at the wood. He was quiet for a long minute, then, "Can you teach me to fight like you?" He made a vague gesture with the sword. "Instead of..."

Oh, Denzel. Despite the ache in her heart, she managed a casual shrug. "Sure, if that's what you really want. But I thought you liked training with a sword."

"Used to." His own shrug was brittle.

She sat up, braced her elbows on her knees. "But not anymore, huh?"


She sighed quietly, offered him a gentle smile. "I know you're mad right now, but that's no reason to give up something you love. At the rate your improving you'll be as good as Cloud in-"

"I don't want to be anything like him!" He tossed the sword away with an angry glare.

But you are, she thought. So strong, but so fragile. "Denzel..."

"I hate him."

She winced. "No. You don't."

"I do!" He dug the toe of his sneaker into the dirt, refusing to meet her eyes. "You should too!"

"Well, I don't," she replied evenly.

Slim shoulders trembled with repressed emotion. "How come?"

"Well, that's an easy one. Because, he gave me you."

At that Denzel's head snapped up and he stared at her. She simply opened her arms.

She bore the brunt of his weight, took in his choked sobs and vowed then and there that she wouldn't let Cloud Strife break the family he'd helped create.