A/N: This one-shot came out of a conversation with Devaro Ayanami, who asked me if I had ever given Aria (Moogle Girl) a last name. I had one for her, but I had never written it, as I had never needed to, and I mentioned that Denzel had never been given a name in AC, either.
And I've always been very weird about names. Or maybe not weird, depending on your perspective, but names have always been very important to me.
And then I had to write this, even though I had other things I should be writing more than this. :p Though I admit, I've been writing a lot of adults lately, and it was nice to take a break and write childhood friendship instead.
Disclaimer: Still not mine.
The north side children's home in Edge was as busy as it ever was when Denzel arrived on the doorstep. There were kids running around outside, and he could hear the noises of more children inside. A couple of girls sitting on the doorstep playing a game with string called, "Hi, Denzel!" to him, and he returned the greeting.
"Aria's packing up her stuff, if you're looking for her," one of the girls informed him.
"Thanks, Bree." Denzel opened the door to the home and stepped inside, only to have to immediately dodge out of the way as three little boys, no older than four or five, almost bowled him over as they pushed toy cars on the ground in a frenzied race.
Denzel went up the stairs to one of the girls' dormitories. He could hear excited chatter within, and recognized Aria's voice among them. He knocked twice on the wall and poked his head inside.
Aria and two other girls looked over at Denzel. "Hey, Denzel!" Aria waved. "Come on in."
The two other girls whispered and nudged each other, and then jumped up and headed for the door. "Say goodbye before you go, Aria!" one of them called.
"I'm only going four streets over!" she replied.
"Still!" The girls slipped past Denzel, smiling at him, and chatted their way down the stairs.
Denzel stepped into the girls' dorm and walked through the rows of bunk beds over to Aria. She was pulling clothes out from the small drawer that fit under her bunk and moving them to a large backpack.
Denzel dropped onto the edge of her bed. "Can I help with anything?"
"I think I've got it all. I don't have much." Aria zipped her backpack closed and then peeled off a tag that was stuck to the drawer. When she slapped it onto her backpack, Denzel saw that it was her name: Aria Curtis.
"Do you think you'll miss it?" Denzel wondered.
It was a moment before Aria answered, her eyes moving slowly around the room. "Sometimes. But I'm really happy you know…to be able to have a home of my own. It's been so long, I don't even know what it will be like anymore."
"Sometimes I think I'm still figuring that out, and I've been at Seventh Heaven for a while."
Aria stood up and slung her bag over her shoulders. "I think I'm ready." She picked up the Moogle doll that sat at the head of her bed. Denzel held out his hand, silently offering to carry it, and Aria passed it to him.
He followed her downstairs, where she said goodbye to Ms. Reid, the head of this children's house in Edge. "Thank you for everything, Ms. Reid," Denzel heard her whisper as she threw her arms around the woman's waist.
"It has been my pleasure. Now, hold your head high and make your new family proud, Aria."
After Aria told her friends that she was leaving, she and Denzel set off toward Aria's new home. "You didn't have to come, you know," Aria said. "It's a short walk."
Denzel shrugged. "I know."
They turned the corner and walked past Mr. Tamoya's sweet shop, glancing at the rows of chocolates and candies in the window. "Denzel," Aria said suddenly, "Cloud and Tifa filled out adoption papers for you, didn't they?"
Denzel nodded proudly. "Four months ago." If the Geostigma crisis had done anything good, it had made even more people aware of how many orphans there were, and the WRO had been doing their best to make a record of all of the children and to find them homes. It wasn't always easy-Denzel knew this, because Tifa had been playing a big part in helping Reeve organize it and he heard her talk about it. He knew that not all orphans wanted to be found and categorized. Not all of them wanted to be put in a home and sometimes they ran away. Some of them had been orphans for so long, and since they were so young, that they didn't even know what their last names were. Sometimes they didn't even know if their first names were the ones they had been born with, either.
But some orphans were eager for homes and families, and Tifa and others were trying to make sure each adopted child was registered to make it easier to keep track of everyone who still needed homes.
"But you kept your last name." Aria looked over at him, and he knew her well enough to see that something was troubling her.
"Yeah." Denzel shifted the Moogle doll under his arm. His eyes fell on the nametag she'd slapped onto her backpack. "I could have taken on Cloud's last name or Tifa's, if I wanted to."
"Why didn't you?"
Denzel thought of the photograph of his parents that he kept at his bedside. "It's all I had left. It's…my parents'. I didn't have any brothers and sisters, or uncles or aunts or cousins. It was like…" He struggled to find words to something he'd never really had to say before.
"You didn't want them to be forgotten," Aria murmured.
Denzel nodded. "I'm the last. I'm Denzel Itsuki, and I know I would still be if I had changed my name, but...Cloud said that I'm my parents' namesake and that I had to decide if I wanted to carry it on. Is it something that I can claim and be proud of? He asked me that. And Tifa said that some people are happy to get rid of their old names and take on new ones for a lot of different reasons, and that if it made me happy, I could change my name to whatever I wanted." He grinned. "And that's when Marlene asked if Tifa was gonna change her name whenever she and Cloud finally realized they should get married."
Aria giggled. "I would have loved to have heard her say that."
"Well, the expressions on Cloud and Tifa's faces were pretty funny," Denzel said.
Aria's smile faded and they walked another block before she said, "It's hard being the last. My mom died just after my brother was born…and then Dad died when the plate fell…and then my brother…and even though I'm so glad I get to be part of a family again, I'm so scared I'm gonna mess it up. What if they decide they don't want me? What if I want to keep my name and they want me to change it? What if-"
"Aria." Denzel stopped walking, and after another step, Aria paused and turned back to face him.
He knew. He understood. After being an orphan and being alone, he was all too aware of what it had been like when he first became part of Cloud and Tifa's family. Always watchful, always scared that he would lose them, that they wouldn't want him, that he would say or do something wrong and end up back on the streets. He wasn't really sure how to tell her all of that, though, so he just waved the Moogle doll at her and said, "You keep this because it was your brother's, and I don't think your new mom is going to make you throw it out or throw you out because you keep it. And it's a toy. Do you think they'll do that because of your name?"
Aria slowly shook her head. "I guess not. It's just…I've had friends who were adopted and they wanted to have a new last name because they wanted to be part of the family. But I want to be part of a family and I don't want to change my name. I am proud of it. I want to carry it on and I want to be able to always have it and remember my mom and dad and brother."
Denzel started walking again. "Then don't worry about it."
Aria fell into step beside him. "That's easy for you to say," she grumbled.
"It wasn't always easy. And after a while, it'll be easy for you, too, and maybe one day you can tell someone else the same thing I'm telling you."
"Maybe." Aria stopped in front of a door. "We're here." Her new house was attached to a row of others like it, but when Denzel saw the flowers traced all over the front door, distinguishing it from the others around it, he decided he liked it already.
When Aria just stood there and stared at the door, looking equal parts exhilarated and afraid, Denzel took her hand and smiled at her encouragingly. She glanced at him quickly and took a deep breath, and then lifted her hand to knock on the door.
A moment later, the door was opened. A woman with a head of curly hair and a kind, smiling face stood there, beaming at both of them and welcoming Aria with a hug and a warm greeting. She invited Denzel to come in with Aria, and Denzel smelled something that reminded him of his own home-fresh cookies-which Aria's new caretaker offered to both of them as she ushered them inside.
As Denzel followed Aria into the house, his eyes fell on the nametag stuck to her backpack, and he knew, even if she didn't yet, that being part of an adopted family wasn't about what name you carried. It was about the people who loved you as their own even though you hadn't been born to them. It was the people who would do anything for you.
As Cloud had told Denzel when he was making his decision about his last name, "A name gives you an identity, but you choose who you want to be."
But there was plenty of time for him to work on who he wanted to be, and plenty of time for Aria to figure out that everything was going to be okay. Right then, the only thing they had to work on was eating some chocolate chip cookies.