This fic was commissioned by Ciel (Tenseiga on AO3). She requested work-safe scenes of Angeal, Sephiroth, Genesis, Cloud, and Zack "hanging out" and left the details up to me. There's a bit of suggestive humor and fluff, but the relationships can all be read as either platonic or romantic depending on reader interpretation.
I'd like to specify that readers offended by crossdressing (or by the treatment of crossdressing as humorous and/or sexually gratifying) should skip over this one. For the rest of you, please enjoy!
"No! No! This is not happening!" Genesis's voice came in a baleful squawk from the other side of the square, and he rushed back to where Angeal, Cloud, and Sephiroth waited for him.
Cloud thought Genesis's rage could curdle the rainwater in the gutters.
Angeal knew better than to reach into the hornets' nest, but he did it anyway, tentative hands extending to comfort Genesis. "What happened? What did she say?"
"Nothing! There's no one there! They have a sign posted saying the power is gone because of some "emergency plate inspection". Emergency my ass! Total insanity, that's what this is, and nothing less."
"Emergency?" Angeal furrowed his brow, pulling Genesis in for a hug. "That doesn't make any sense. Inspection week ended yesterday, and everything was fine, or we'd all be somewhere very different right now."
"Oh, I know it doesn't make sense," Genesis hissed, "it's that rat bastard Heidegger, I'll bet. Anything to ruin my birthday." He didn't stir from Angeal's hug, but Angeal could tell he was seething through it. "You know how he is. If there isn't a problem, he'll make one. He's been giving me these vile looks for the last few weeks, ever since that meeting where I called him a—"
"Genesis," Sephiroth ventured, interrupting him before he could drag Shinra into their only day off. Cloud cursed himself for choosing to stand behind Sephiroth – he did not want to be in Genesis's line of vision, but he was even more loath to make a scene, so he held fast. "Why don't we just go somewhere else? We all agreed we were going to celebrate until tomorrow morning anyway."
Genesis shook his head. "I know you all. You'd never come see LOVELESS with me of your own free will. If we don't do it on my birthday, we'll never do it."
"If it cheers you up, we can do anything you want. Anything."
"…Really?" Genesis broke the embrace and stepped closer to Sephiroth with quick feet and doleful eyes. It was a performance Sephiroth's soft heart couldn't refuse, even knowing full well that it was a performance. "You mean it?"
Angeal shot Sephiroth a look that Cloud couldn't quite parse, but he figured out what it meant as soon as Angeal opened his mouth. "Uh, Sephiroth, are you sure you wanna—?"
"Of course he wants to, Angeal, my god." Genesis whirled around to face Angeal again, and Angeal thought to himself with wry amusement that the display was just Genesis's way of showing off the clothes he'd picked out for the evening. He loved things that billowed, and billow they did, great big robes rising like sandstorms in the Corel Desert under the force of his body. Sephiroth noticed what he was doing as well; Genesis had far overdressed himself, but that was typical. Sephiroth only resented the extra attention he knew it would draw to their gathering, but that turned out to be a non-issue in the deserted streets. It was like everyone in the city knew about the "emergency" except five First Class SOLDIERs, something that was not lost on him.
"I bought your ticket! Are you really going to deprive me of this?! On my birthday?!"
Angeal met Genesis's eyes, and the two shared a look that turned from adversarial to mirthful, unnoticed and not understood by the other three. He smiled, shaking his head almost imperceptibly. "Spare me, then, and you have a deal."
Genesis smiled back, and Zack returned, confections and drinks and other treats overflowing – nearly spilling – from his arms. "Spare you? What's wrong?"
Before anyone could clue him in or tell him to shut up, Genesis flung himself on Zack with a great shriek of, "Oh, it's just awful!" as the other three watched, helpless to do anything but shake their heads and wonder what Genesis could possibly have planned.
"We're going to Wall Market!"
Everyone stared at Genesis. Zack was the one that broke the silence. "That's cool! But," he paused for a second, sipping his drink, "why?"
"I thought you'd never ask." Patently false, but Genesis thought it would be hilarious to say. "Actually, I'll need your help," he shifted his attention to Cloud, "for this one."
"…Me?" That took him aback, and the word help had him instantly suspicious. The prognosis was never good when Genesis needed "help".
"Cloud," the performer in Genesis was coming out again, and everyone could smell it, "I need you. It's really important."
That only made him more suspicious. "And maybe I could help you out if you'd tell me what you needed." He was not looking forward to this.
"Oh, you're no fun." Genesis didn't lose heart, though, because what he said next brought him great joy. "I need you to dress up as a girl for me."
That shut everyone up pretty fast, Cloud least of all. He was the first of the five to break the silence. "You," he struggled to spit the words out in the right order, "you want me to do what?"
"Not want," Genesis shook his head, "I said need. And—" he paused and looked around at everyone, "it's about LOVELESS."
"Oh, for the love of—" Cloud couldn't even muster a response, so he just shook his head. "Really? Really, Gen?"
"What, are you saying you won't?! On my birthday, the only day of the year I don't have some pathetic company dog barking up my ass?"
Sephiroth couldn't resist fanning the flames just a tad. "There are other holidays, you know. Corporate and national."
Genesis shot him a glare, and Sephiroth answered it with a blithe smile.
"Well, Cloud," Zack piped up, "are you sure you're not up for it? I mean," he looked to Genesis, then back at Cloud, "he said it was really important."
That was unexpected. "I mean," Cloud stammered, "Maybe if the situation was really—"
"Dire?" Genesis was enjoying this a little too much.
"…Yeah, dire." Cloud crossed his arms and stared at his feet. "Which it isn't. There's no way you'll get me to do it. Sorry, but I'm not interested in," he struggled to find the words he was looking for, "whatever you have in mind."
"Cloud, my dear," Genesis's tone was a little too happy, the way Cloud saw it, "I don't think you understand how dire the situation will end up," he smiled again, "if you don't do this."
He looked to Angeal for support, and Angeal in turn glowered in amusement at Sephiroth and Zack as if to say I told you so. Zack didn't seem opposed to any of it, though undecided; Sephiroth really didn't seem opposed, eyes fixed on Cloud but clearly thinking about something much too filthy to speak aloud. Genesis noticed all this with delight, giddy and smug that he had won yet again, and on such a special night at that.
"But I don't need to dress up like… like that," Cloud protested. "If this is about LOVELESS, they'll let you in for sure! You're the biggest ticket seller for LOVELESS because of your fan club. You don't have to drag me into it!"
"I mean," Zack pondered, half to himself, "Cloud in a dress… Doesn't sound like it'd be hard on the eyes, at least…"
Cloud turned to Sephiroth and Angeal, face burning just a little too hot for his liking. "Do either of you have anything to say here?"
Angeal coughed. Sephiroth restrained a laugh. Cloud stared at the latter, challenging him – daring him – to side with everyone else.
"Well, Cloud," Sephiroth allowed himself, at the very least, a thin smile, "There's nothing worse than being disappointed on your birthday."
Challenge accepted, he thought, savoring the look on Cloud's face for as long as it lasted.
Of course, Genesis couldn't let it end there.
"No, that's not right," he shook his head. "I need more than one of you to dress up."
"What?!" Cloud was surprised to see Zack react so explosively. "Then why'd you look at him that whole time?! Are you saying we all have to do what he's doing?"
"Oh no, not me. I'm not getting out of this outfit. It took me long enough to get in it." Genesis waved his hand dismissively; they all had, as Sephiroth noted dryly, a front row seat to more billowing. "And Angeal won't do it either. Truth be told, I owe some gil to one of the barkeeps at the Honeybee Inn, and he has…" Genesis trailed off, as if searching for the right way to frame it, "…quite the sense of humor. Asked me to bring him a "pretty girl" – he only likes men! And we both know it, so I know what he means when he says "pretty girl". But I wasn't lying when I said it was about LOVELESS. He knows tons of the people involved with production, so this gil thing needs to disappear."
"Angeal won't?" Zack sounded mystified, which in turn mystified Sephiroth. Of course Angeal won't, he wanted to say, and he thought he might check Zack for a head injury while he was at it.
"No, no." Genesis made a big show of shaking his head. "I already asked him once, and it was a no-go."
"That is true," Angeal spoke up to affirm Genesis. "I told him I'd knock him flat if he tried to drag me into it, actually. You three are on your own here."
Genesis wore the pleasure of that comment all over his face.
Cloud felt vindicated beyond belief. You three included him, unfortunate though it was, but if Angeal and Genesis weren't part of the three, then that meant…
"Serves you right!" He looked pointedly at Sephiroth, tone just on the edge of haughty. "Now we're in the same boat."
Sephiroth raised an eyebrow at him. "What, is that supposed to offend me?"
"You're not… embarrassed?"
"Why should I be?"
Angeal stifled a laugh. "Cloud," he said, "listen. Would you rather endure twenty minutes in a dress," he couldn't help but chuckle just a bit, "or two hours and fifty minutes of LOVELESS?"
"First of all," Cloud groused back, arms firmly crossed, "we all know it isn't going to be twenty minutes. On top of that, no one wants to wander the streets of Midgar, let alone Wall Market, god, looking like a girl. But," he continued, cheeks very pink, "we'll all be together in a group, and it's Gen's birthday, so I'll do it."
Genesis clasped his hands together, playing up how much it enraptured him. "Cloud," he sighed, "that was beautiful. You could be on stage, you know. Once my debt is paid, maybe I'll slip the crew at the Honeybee Inn a letter of—"
"No," Cloud moaned, covering his face. "Please, god, no."
Everyone laughed, that time.
"Now, then," Genesis smiled, obviously feeling very pleased with himself, "shall we get you boys some new clothes?"
"This is how you want to spend your birthday? Running… errands?" Zack's mood quickly sulled again and he kicked a rock, grumbling something to himself that Genesis pretended not to hear.
"Well," he sniffed, "I won't say it won't be great fun to see everyone all dressed up, and I'll likely never get the chance again. By all means, when your birthday comes around, feel free to throw me around as you see fit," his tone grew sharp, "but not a day before or after!"
"Woah," Zack grinned again despite his position, "after this? Anything I want? You must be a real masochist to offer that up."
Sephiroth cleared his throat, but everyone could tell he was smothering a great deal of laughter.
"I think it's time we got a move on." Angeal stuck his thumb over his shoulder. "This way to Sector 6. The shops in Wall Market are open late, but we shouldn't push our luck. I think we all know that Mr. Rhapsodos will be—"
"Positively devastated," Genesis cut in.
"…if anything else comes between him and his special day."
Cloud and Zack sighed together.
"Alright," Cloud swallowed, "let's get this over with."
Genesis could do little else but marvel at his handiwork.
No one, not even the President himself, would have dared order a high-ranking SOLDIER into this mess. All the top brass knew that there was a certain threshold at which the highest military elite, especially people like Genesis and Sephiroth, would draw a line in the sand, and this was no secret. And yet he, Genesis Rhapsodos, dared to push that envelope—not just once, but three times. He did what no one would be brave enough to do, and what few would even entertain as a joke.
And he was quite satisfied with himself for it, too.
"Man," Zack griped, tugging at the collar of his shirt. It was almost like he wanted everyone to know how very uncomfortable he was – Sephiroth thought it was fitting for him to act so much like Genesis in this situation – but no one paid it much attention. "I know it's your birthday and all," he blushed, "but did you really have to be the one to dress us?"
"Why, of course," Genesis feigned a look of shock, then hid a smirk as he noticed Zack's blush thicken. "No one else here knows this man's taste in clothes except Angeal, but," he shook his head, "I mean, Angeal… You can hardly dress yourself, dear."
Angeal gave Genesis a grunt, acknowledging the tease but never looking away from Zack. "Stand up a little straighter, Zack," he mumbled. "This'll be over before you know it. Don't lose your honor."
"You won't lose even a bit of your honor? For me? On my—!"
"Can't we just get this over with?!" Cloud tried to bark, but it just sounded shrill. He was sure everyone could hear the desperation in his voice, so he just looked at his feet.
Angeal turned toward Cloud, hiding the smile on his lips as he did. "That corset's a bit tight on you, isn't it?"
Cloud did his best not to show his embarrassment, and he failed miserably, shifting his weight around as if it would buy him time to figure out a response. "A bit," he finally gave up, blushing a shade darker than Zack had. Genesis watched, clearly amused, before dismissing himself to the changing room to meet Sephiroth.
"Here, I'll help you out!" Zack bounded over. Cloud flinched – pure instinct – and shook his head, but it didn't register. Zack fussed around Cloud's clothes a little too eagerly, searching for something, but it was clear to the room that he had no idea what he was doing. Cloud stood there and took it, utterly paralyzed by the situation, and Angeal dropped his face into his palms without saying anything else.
Just when Cloud thought it would never end – and right as Zack's fingers "accidentally" unfastened the back of Cloud's dress – Sephiroth stepped out of the dressing room with Genesis on his arm. Cloud thought he had never been so glad to see Sephiroth – and to not be the center of attention – in his life, but his attention was quickly captured as well.
Sephiroth was dressed quite differently than his two unfortunate comrades; Genesis had seen it fit to put him in something he wore well. Cloud wore his outfit well too, of course – maybe a little too well – but Zack's outfit was just comical. Genesis made his selections based on entertainment value; it "entertained" him to see Cloud looking meek and girlish, but forcing Zack to cram his big, mannish feet into women's shoes amused him even further. Zack's shoulders were broad from training and mako infusion in a way that Cloud's weren't yet, and the elegant blue dress that Genesis chose for Zack struggled around his bulk. To the unseasoned eye, this would seem nothing more than poor taste, but it was every bit as deliberate as Cloud's baby-pink corset or the satin ribbons clipped into his hair.
Sephiroth, on the other hand, could have been on his way to any Shinra glam event on the books. He looked so much like himself, and yet somehow not, bleeding jewelry from all the right places but never reeking of excess the way Genesis could. A bit of makeup modestly lit his features. His fingernails, always well-manicured by the PR department, had an extra layer of gloss to them – Gen's work? – and his hands, trained for war though they were, had a special elegance to them among the greens and blacks of his outfit. Genesis had tied part of his hair back into a braid, but he left the rest to fall in shiny ribbons over his shoulders.
Cloud's eyes lingered on Sephiroth's hands for a moment too long before looking to his groin. He looked perfectly feminine; Cloud wondered how in the world he'd managed to tuck himself away for such a form-fitting dress, and Zack, noticing the same thing, wondered to himself why no one told him to do the same before it was too late.
Genesis, watching them both closely, guessed what they were both thinking and laughed softly.
"Oh, General, I think you outdid yourself," he sighed, leaning closer to snuggle Sephiroth's arm and pretending the dress wasn't his idea. "The boys seem quite impressed with you."
"Admit it," Sephiroth looked away from Genesis, not giving him the attention he wanted, "you just wanted something nice to look at."
"Did I ever deny that?" Genesis brushed stray hairs out of his eyes and laughed, undeterred by Sephiroth's attitude. "Come on, now, we have a bar to crash. Let's be on our way."
"How long is this going to take?" Zack really did his best not to complain, but it took everything in him. "These shoes are really hurting my feet!"
"Time spent having fun is hardly time wasted," Genesis smiled. "Now, let's place bets." The smile devolved into a smirk. "Who's going to get picked up first?"
Angeal gave him a look. "No one is going to get picked up, G. This isn't a TV spot."
"They could! This is Wall Market we're talking about. These people will hit on anything with a pulse." Genesis sighed as though reminiscing about something. "I almost regret not dressing up myself. I'd love to see people treat Angeal like they treat that pimp Corneo."
Sephiroth couldn't help harassing Genesis again. "What, do you only have a pulse when you're in heels?"
"Mm," Genesis sniffed, "You won't have a pulse much longer if you keep talking like that."
"Oh? You'd spare me from the riffraff, then," Sephiroth couldn't help but smile. "How kind of you." He looked over his shoulder to Cloud, then turned back to Genesis. "Your generosity is unparalleled, Mr. Rhapsodos. I may have to take you up on that if we're here much longer."
Genesis huffed, but he didn't bother hiding his smile either. "You're lucky I'm feeling so generous today. I could pawn you off on anyone here, and you'd have to go. It's my birthday."
"Yes, what an honor," Sephiroth said, "to be street-walking with you two hours before midnight in women's clothing. I must be the luckiest man alive."
Genesis grinned. "Indeed you must."
Cloud was grateful that the bar Genesis had in mind was close to their point of entry; he didn't want to be out as it was. The possibility that he'd run into someone he knew mortified him, and he didn't think that being with Genesis would be enough of an excuse or symbol of status to save him from the ridicule. After staying with his thoughts for a bit, he shook them off; this was just another mission, nothing more. He had to believe it wouldn't be a big deal.
"I think Zack is going to be the first to go," Genesis chimed in, clearly displeased with the silence.
Sephiroth smiled to himself; how very Genesis it was to say something inflammatory or grandiose just to reinvigorate the room. "And why is that?"
"Oh, the clientele at the Honeybee Inn is quite diverse, but there's been an influx of… curious men."
"What's that supposed to mean?! I'm pretty too, you know!" Zack stopped in his tracks, but he quickly picked up the pace again, sensing that it would be bad to make a scene where they were on the streets. "You can't—" he lowered his voice, "you can't dress me up like this just to embarrass me in front of everyone!"
"Actually, I can," Genesis smirked, "and I just did."
"An influx of curious men?" Sephiroth tucked a stray chunk of hair behind his ear, "And you'd know this how, exactly?"
Genesis laughed, pointing up at a big neon sign down the block. "Look," he said, "that's where we're headed. Not much longer, now."
Cloud finally relaxed. It wasn't more than a few hundred feet away. How much could really happen between where they were now and there? He let a bit more of the tension steam out of his body with a soft sigh.
As if on cue, he felt a big hand clap down on his shoulder and squeeze.
Cloud turned around, almost rolling his ankle in surprise. He still wasn't used to walking in his new shoes; Genesis had chosen a very thin heel, merciful only in its height – he remembered Genesis making some comment about not wanting to play too much with Cloud's "dainty" stature – and the pavement didn't help. Cloud had enough trouble walking on the messy roads in the slums, all collaged together with different shoddy tiles and stones, but he stumbled back once he turned around to see—
His hand slipped off Cloud clumsily, almost like he was drunk. The next breath Cloud sucked in told him this man was very drunk, the smell of strong alcohol cresting over his face in a big, dead wave.
"Hey, sweetheart," the mystery man slurred, "how much for the next half hour?"
Cloud stepped back reflexively, beyond horrified or embarrassed, and flew backwards over his trapped heel with a shout. His shoe had wedged itself into a crack. He slipped back fast and hard, bracing himself for an impact that never came; he fell instead into the steady warmth of Sephiroth's arms, there to catch him in an instant before he could even think to ask.
Sephiroth slowly pulled Cloud to his feet from behind, never taking his hands off Cloud's upper arms. "Sorry to disappoint, but she's with me."
"You're not so hard on the eyes yourself, Miss," he gurgled, pointing to an alley across the street. "How's about you both join me back there?"
Cloud couldn't help being incredulous. "Outside?!"
Sephiroth tapped him on the shoulder, his way of saying Let me handle this, and Cloud shut his mouth, looking away and trying not to picture what he knew Gen's face must look like as this unfolded.
Sephiroth gave the man a look of his own. Cloud couldn't see his face, but Sephiroth's body language behind him and the reaction of the man in front of him told him everything he needed to know. Sephiroth said, "Something tells me you'd best be on your way."
And, mercy, that was the end of it.
Genesis, rejoicing that they were all alone again, cackled himself into a coughing fit, and Angeal looked around at the rest of the group like he was about to faint. Genesis took a bit to calm himself down, but he eventually composed himself. Cloud could tell he was savoring the situation, making a mental note of what street corner they were on; he knew what Genesis was like, and that meant they'd all eventually be back down this road for some ridiculous reason just so Genesis could laugh and retell the story as if they all hadn't been there when it happened.
"Why didn't he come after me too?" Zack wondered aloud, sounding very pitiful as he said it. Genesis, as though viciously captivated, seized Zack into a big, showy hug, melodramatic as always.
"Oh, Zack," Genesis lamented, stroking Zack's hair, "you poor thing. How precious you are."
"Leslie, dear, so good to see you again."
"He's not here," Leslie sighed, not looking up from the glass he polished, "and we don't have anything on tap tonight."
"Not here?" Genesis paused for a moment before wrinkling his nose. "That aside, you know I don't like beer. Here, I brought friends!" He turned back to face everyone with a smirk and a salacious waggle of the fingers. "Say hello, Cloud!"
Leslie gave the group a look before turning back to Genesis. "I'm not into that. Like I said, the boss isn't here, and we only share our tastes in liquor, not in customers."
"Not into that?!" Zack couldn't hold himself back. "But Genesis said—!"
"Then he doesn't know what he's talking about," Leslie said simply. "And he knows he doesn't know what he's talking about."
"Well," Genesis sniffed, "I never implied you were, as you say, into that, but I'm here to pay my debt, so I'm looking for your boss. You know," he smiled, "the one who is into that. Is he really not here? I thought he was in every Saturday night." Genesis looked around; boss or no, the bar was really dead for a Saturday night.
Leslie folded his arms. "He's not. Like I said. He's on vacation."
"Vacation?!" Genesis looked like he was about to faint. "So I went through all of this just to meet with someone who isn't even here? On my birthday? This is my life, you know! I don't have this much time to waste. I'm in the military, for God's sake!"
"Time spent having fun is hardly time wasted," Sephiroth teased Genesis with a placid smile, "as someone wise I know once said. And you sure seemed like you were enjoying yourself from where I was standing."
Leslie wasn't so inclined to play along. "If you cared that much about your time, you'd have called ahead. I don't think you have anyone to blame but yourself."
Angeal looked at his feet, seeming—strangely—much more embarrassed for the situation than anyone else.
Genesis, as though sensing something, turned to face him. "You're being awfully quiet," he arched an eyebrow, folding his arms like Leslie had. "Do you have anything to say?"
Angeal mumbled something no one could hear, gesturing to Leslie to come closer. "Could you…" he lowered his voice, "could you let them use the changing room before we go in? I have a feeling it'll be bad all around if we—"
Genesis thought Angeal should know better than to try and hide gossip from his trained ear. "Go in where?"
Leslie looked from Angeal to Genesis and back again. He sighed. "You're paid up, so it doesn't matter what you do as long as you make it fast."
"I'm… paid up?" Genuine confusion flashed over Genesis's face. "But that doesn't make any sense. I haven't paid anything yet. How do you know I'm actually good for it?"
"Uh," Angeal extended his arms awkwardly to Genesis, "Happy Birthday?"
It didn't register. Genesis poked and prodded, trying to solve the mystery for himself. "You don't… want my money?"
"I don't want your money, no," Leslie said. "I'd have to slave in this bar every day for the rest of my life to pay you back, so I'll pass. But you're clear now."
"I paid it, G."
Genesis looked around. Sephiroth, Zack, and Cloud had all gone already; Sephiroth had probably urged them each into a stall before Genesis could notice and demand they stay in costume. He turned back to Angeal. "But… why? And why didn't you tell me back at the—?"
"Is my job here done?" Leslie looked between them both again.
Angeal nodded. "Thanks," he cleared his throat, reaching in his wallet and offering Leslie an extra bill. "We really appreciate it."
The other three all came back out, and Leslie stuffed the bill in his pocket. "Head through those double doors whenever you're ready. And I wouldn't stick around too long after you're done. We normally keep that door locked," he jerked his thumb over his shoulder, "but you can use it to head to the surface a bit quicker.
Sephiroth gave Angeal a look. He wouldn't let on that he was feeling uneasy, but he wished he'd been told more than he had been. From the way Leslie talked, he could have sworn that they were all about to go to war again. "Is there something I should know about, Angeal?"
"I should ask the same," Genesis said. "But," he paused, tipping his head back, "I do love surprises…"
"Then I'm sure you're eager to get on with it." Sephiroth strode over to the doors, and Genesis followed, never wanting to be left out. They each took one handle, meeting each other's eyes one more time before pushing the doors in to a cry of—
"HAPPY BIRTHDAY, GENESIS!"
Not five—not ten, not fifteen—easily over fifty people shouted and cheered for him as the doors shut behind the five of them. A man stood up from between two studio lights just as they flared bright and aimed the camera right between Genesis and Sephiroth.
Sephiroth recovered quickly, having been through enough "surprises" with Genesis in front of a camera that he'd learned to save face long ago, but Cloud and Zack had no idea how to react and were grateful no one pointed anything at them. Everyone who had cheered for Genesis stood up hand in hand and bowed, and that's when Sephiroth realized they were no ordinary people.
Genesis, realizing it seconds earlier than he did, gasped and whirled to face Angeal. "You didn't!"
"It looks like he did," Sephiroth whispered, raising his hands to clap as everyone in the room—yes, the entire cast of LOVELESS—rose to applaud their biggest fan.
Angeal privately noted that he had outdone himself; Genesis, unbelievable though it was, seemed at a total loss for words.
"Mr. Rhapsodos!" A younger woman with a microphone stepped in front of the camera and sidled up to Genesis. "Thank you so much for always coming to our shows! Your patronage means the world to us, and the Midgar Theatre Company would not be what it is today without your support. We owe you everything!" She extended the microphone to Genesis, cueing him to offer his thoughts to the camera.
Genesis wondered how much Angeal had paid her to say that, but he didn't care. He was so happy.
He leaned in. "Well, this is a wonderful surprise." He smiled, pleased by the response his comment elicited from the crowd. "I only regret that I don't have more time to spend with you all," he shook his head, "because today is my birthday, and there's still so much left to do before duty calls once more." He spotted more people behind the cast in tiered seating—definitely Red Leather; my, live tickets for this must have cost a fortune—and gave them all an ingratiating wave. He sighed into the microphone, making eye contact with several people in the back before addressing the whole room. "But it is I who would be lost without all of you. What a beautiful gift, having you all here to meet me tonight. I'm honored."
Angeal didn't need to look at Genesis to know Genesis's eyes were all over him with that last part.
The hostess smiled and withdrew the microphone. "Ready, everyone?" She turned back to the cast, this time offering them a voice. The camera panned to frame the cast, now an audience for Genesis as he'd been for them so many times.
"There is no hate, only joy! For you are beloved by the goddess, hero of the dawn, healer of worlds!"
They all cheered again, and the show was over almost as quickly as it had begun; a good thing, because Genesis looked ready to melt into a puddle, and he never would have let it end on his own.
Sephiroth bowed curtly, television etiquette that was second nature to him after all these years, before ushering the other four back out and closing the doors behind them. "Quick, outside now. We don't want Red Leather fiends catching up and keeping us here." He gave Angeal a look. "Next time, Angeal, let me know if you have something like this planned. I can only imagine the scandal if you hadn't warned us all to get changed."
"Hah," Angeal looked embarrassed, "I'm sorry, Sephiroth. G's just too good at getting you to talk. You can't keep any secrets from him. I couldn't have him knowing about any of it before it happened or he wouldn't have the same amount of fun with it. You know how he is about all that stuff… Besides, you might not have come if you'd known, and it would have crushed him. Not having you here, I mean."
Genesis swept Angeal into a warm embrace, though it only lasted a moment. "You're quite the actor, you know. I had no idea you were leading me on back in the plaza." He let go as Sephiroth ushered them through the door Leslie had shown them earlier, but the smile stayed on his face.
"Well, G, you surprised me too. I didn't think you'd choose to come here on your own. I thought I'd have to convince you." Angeal scratched his head—Genesis couldn't stand how cute it was, but he didn't stop walking for fear of incurring Sephiroth's wrath.
"You're lucky," Genesis draped himself over Angeal's arm, "that it doesn't take much to convince me to have fun." He looked over his shoulder to make sure Cloud and Zack were still with them. "Did you hear what they all said to me? To me!"
"Oh, we all heard." Sephiroth was blunt, but he couldn't bring himself to be upset. It was just too fun seeing Genesis get so worked up. "As much as I wish I'd known beforehand, I think Angeal had the right idea getting it all on tape. I don't even want to think about how many times you might go back and watch it."
Angeal wiped his brow. "So, what do you think, G? That tire you out?"
Genesis shook his head, grinning as he shut the door behind them. "The night is still young, everyone. Come now," he spread his arms wide, "Let's head to the surface!"
Genesis liked to drink, but he didn't like to do it alone. In fact, he much preferred dining in front of an audience; he liked the attention, certainly, but he especially liked reading what people would say in the tabloids the next day. Studying the general population's reactions to his antics provided him with endless entertainment, but it also gave him valuable insight; he knew what his fans thought of him, since they were so vocal, but he also knew how far he could push things and how much he could get away with in front of average people, and the tactical edge it gave him in the military was surprisingly deadly.
He thought it wouldn't hurt to get a bit more practice in.
Once he broke the idea to the group, though, he knew right away that he wouldn't get his way.
"Never again," Sephiroth said, tone firm. "I told you I was never doing that again. Last time was mortifying enough, and I doubt Angeal is anxious to go through it again himself. I don't know if you have something secretly planned, but this is not turning into another PR stunt for you. You can do that on your own time."
Angeal nodded silently, staring in the ground as though deep in thought.
Cloud felt too far out of the loop. "What's wrong with going out to drink? We've gone out before and it hasn't been the end of the world. It's his birthday. We were just in a bar!"
Angeal looked at Genesis. Genesis looked at Sephiroth. Sephiroth looked at Cloud.
"Cloud," Angeal began, still not taking his eyes off of Genesis, "you haven't been here as long as the rest of us have, but going out to certain bars or restaurants with Genesis, especially on his birthday, is a mistake. You don't even want to start down that road. Besides, it's so public. We were lucky to get away from Wall Market in one piece. Do you really want hordes of Red Leather members chasing us down for the rest of the night? We're not even really out of the woods yet."
"I'll give you that," Genesis admitted, not giving Cloud much room to ask questions, "but I want drinks on my birthday. I won't drag anyone into another bar, but I don't have anything left at home, so it won't be much fun if we go back there without dinner or something first."
"We'll go to the liquor store," Sephiroth said, "since there are plenty of nice ones here on the upper plate, and there won't be as many people. Less chance of running into anyone, Red Leather or not. If we cut through streets off the main road, we'll probably be fine."
Genesis laughed. "Always the tactician, aren't you?" He smoothed his hair back. "Either way, that works for me. You lead the way."
It didn't take them much time to find the right store with Sephiroth's guidance. The one he picked was smaller than many of the other topside corner stores, but it was off the beaten path and had plenty of what they'd need.
"What does everyone want?" Genesis broke from the group, heading for the dirty glass door.
Sephiroth grabbed Genesis by the shoulder before he could get too far. "Wait. You stay here. I can't tell how many people are inside, so we should send someone else."
"I'll go." Cloud stepped up to the plate. "I'll be in and out fast, and I stick out the least."
Cloud made good time, but Sephiroth didn't like the look he had on his face coming out.
"So," Cloud struggled to carry all the boxes and bottles of wine, so Sephiroth and Angeal both stepped forward to unload a few each. "No one noticed who I was, even from the TV spot earlier, but they were right in the middle of a shift change and the girl who got off was definitely Red Leather."
Genesis looked a little too excited. "How could you tell?"
"Well, she had a lanyard covered in pins and buttons of your face. It was kind of hard to miss."
Sephiroth nodded and motioned for Zack to come pick up a few bottles. "Then we should already be gone. Hurry. If we head back the way we came and go left, we'll get there faster."
Sephiroth had been right that they were off to war, just not in the way he'd anticipated, but his tactical efforts saved them and brought them to Genesis's front door unscathed.
The door shut behind them.
Sephiroth had never been so relieved to see the inside of Genesis's apartment.
"I wonder what the tabloids will say tomorrow…" Genesis ran his finger along the rim of his empty glass, eyelashes fluttering happily as it whistled a long, clear tone at him. He wouldn't admit how tired he was, wanting to squeeze all the joy he could out of his birthday, but they all knew it. Everyone was spent.
They'd all wound down for the night, having had the chance to drink and settle into Genesis's apartment. The dim lighting, all muted yellow, didn't help keep them alert, and neither did their spoils from the liquor store. Zack was especially exhausted, for some reason, but was far too proud to be the first to go to bed. He scrubbed at his eyes, trying to keep himself alive, but he knew he fought a losing battle.
Genesis set his glass down on the coffee table in front of him and yawned languidly, arms stretching above his head. "I just want to make one thing clear," he sprawled out on one side of the L-shaped couch, positioning himself for maximum comfort as a cat might, "if you all can forgive my rambling. This was the best birthday I've had in a long time. I haven't had so much fun in years, but I wouldn't have wanted to spend it with anyone else. I'm so happy you were all here with me."
Angeal knelt down and hugged him first. Sephiroth, still sitting beside Genesis, slid a hand up to stroke his silky red hair, curling one finger in to play with it absentmindedly. They both treasured Genesis's moments of sincerity more than they'd ever admit to him.
Cloud, for all he'd been through that evening, nodded. "We love you too, Gen. Let's all spend time together again like this next year."
Something extra softened in Genesis's face, and he smiled at Cloud and Zack. Angeal settled in next to him between the couch and the wall, parroting the arrangement they'd often shared in their youth, and wrapped one arm over Genesis's chest.
"I have one final request," Genesis murmured, words dripping with wine, "while it's still my birthday."
Everyone turned their full attention toward him, unsure of how alarmed they should be.
"I want us all to go to that showing of LOVELESS together, just like we planned before. Believe me, I'll make sure they replace those tickets. They aren't refundable anyway, so we'll just have to get into another showing, but it shouldn't be too hard."
Zack bit his lip and made a big show of checking his watch. "Ah, looks like you're a little late! It's just past midni—oww!"
Angeal gave Zack a little warning kick with his free leg, rolling his eyes a bit at Zack's melodramatic reaction. For god's sake, he was turning into Genesis. "Your watch has always been a few minutes fast, Zack. Of course we'll go with you, G. It's my fault we didn't go in the first place, and I made sure you'd be able to pick a new date when I made the arrangements. We'll go whenever you want." He turned over on his side and closed his eyes. "Happy Birthday."
Zack stifled his complaints, but the incredulous Then all that dressing up stuff was for nothing?! that he wore all over his face was not lost on Genesis or anyone else.
Cloud went silent, red face buried as deep as he could get it in his hands, and Sephiroth smiled.