There is no denying that age is accompanied by responsibilities and privileges, a double-edged sword indeed for youth with high aspirations. To earn one's license to drive, only to have a curfew enforced. To familiarize one's self with alcohol, only to learn a lesson in moderation after the first hangover. To fatten one's pocketbook with a viable source of income, only to watch the savings leak into the rent for the new apartment. Though Genesis Rhapsodos, at the respectable age of six-years-old (going on seven, as he liked to remind his pediatrician), had quite a few years ahead of him before he might earn his license, consume alcohol, or acquaint himself with the working world, the young boy was already experiencing the excitement and pride that lined the milestones to adulthood. His father had finally deemed him mature enough to introduce him to the family legacy: the intricate art of investment. Genesis could not have been more thrilled at the prospect of peeking into the 'grownup world'; he was, after all, six-years-old and approaching adulthood at the speed of light. So, when Rhapsodos had planted his hand firmly onto his son's shoulder and proclaimed that he was to accompany him to the edge of town to (as it was so carefully phrased) 'assist' in the investigation of a potential investment, Genesis' eyes grew wide and enthusiasm accelerated the pace of his young heart.
Dressed in his best set of clothes with his red polyester shirt tucked into his fine black slacks, Genesis had traveled with his father to the eastern cliffside, overlooking a small orchard of Banora White trees. It surely did not compare with the acres and acres of Banora apple trees that he was informed belonged to the Rhapsodos family. There was a certain pride in this; after all, Dumbapples were Banora's most important asset! …Whatever that meant. Upon this cliffside a meeting was to take place, a meeting that Genesis was blessed to sit in on. What fun it would be, to watch his father engage in the art handed down from Rhapsodos to Rhapsodos. He too, would be as important one day, so he figured long before that he'd best pay attention. Overlooking the fields was a pavilion made of polished mahogany that encompassed a round glass table, seating those of Rhapsodos descent on one side and two co-owners of an up-and-coming cider vat on the other. Genesis, who had sworn on multiple occasions to remain on his best behavior, watched with suppressed enthusiasm as his father shook hands with the modestly dressed man and woman, who both adorned a weariness in their faces that could only have been stripped of youth by the hand of hard work. This, naturally, was not evident to one as young as Genesis; rather, what was most apparent to the young boy was the contrast the couple held to his father, who appeared rather well-groomed indeed in a black suit with a crimson tie that ran straight down his chest as blood might from a slit throat.
The couple smiled warmly when Genesis was introduced, causing him to sit a little straighter in his chair as he returned the gesture. There was, after all, little else that instilled such pride in one so young than as to be noticed. No time was wasted; the owners of the vat dove into a lingo that could very well have been a foreign language to Genesis' ears. He associated many of the phrases with ones his father would often bark into his mobile PHS: 'production', 'net income', 'inventory'… Needless to say, it wasn't long before his youthful ears tuned out the nonsense being spoken and his eyes were drawn toward the vibrant apple orchard below. The corners of his lips turned upward at the sight of the trees stretching in uniform lines, each with a mind of its own as to what time it should be expected to produce. Sunbeams danced upon barren branches, blossoming branches, fruitful branches, while the gentle breeze kissed the white blossoms and made them shudder with joy. Each tree had declared itself an individual, it seemed, and would become sensitive to fertilization when it pleased. There was a certain sense of freedom in it, wasn't there? It was a living piece of art that-
"…isn't it, Genesis?"
Genesis' neck snapped straight at the sound of his name, his heart leaping hard against his chest when he realized his father had asked him a question. In an attempt to make a smooth recovery, his eyes flickered from his father's inquiring expression to the glass of sweet-smelling cider in his hand. Realizing that a similar glass had been placed before him, Genesis pieced together with all of the wisdom of a six-year-old what he was meant to do. He took a slight, sophisticated sip of the beverage in imitation of the wine-drinking method he'd observed at many gatherings prior. A smile tinged his lips and he nodded at his father, for at times a simple gesture could give more of an answer than words could. Especially if you hadn't heard the entirety of the question.
His father seemed, however, satisfied and the couple across from them pleased indeed. Genesis firmly resolved thereafter not to allow a wandering mind to affect his performance that day. To his exasperation, a tour of the grounds threatened his vow. The owners of the vat led them down a hill and toward the apple fields, the Rhapsodos father and son trailing behind so that Genesis could receive a lecture in basic business. "There are several important factors to consider before making an investment, Genesis. The quality of the product, its demand among the public, the cost it will take to make it, the selling price… We can only allow this couple to have access to our fields if our share of the profit is greater than our investment. In other words, we should expect more in return than we gave. Does that make sense?"
"Yes, Father." Expecting more than what you gave? Sounded like cheating to him. Genesis stifled a yawn as they came to a stop before the apple orchard, the seductive scent of the blossoming fruits lulling him toward the rows of bending trees. Small white flowers blanketed the ground, shifting with every passing breeze. Once again, he tuned out the words of couple and found himself edging toward the nearest unmarked path beneath the arching Banora Whites. The dark canopy of branches hanging over the boundless alley gave the impression of a forest, shady but vibrant with color, much like the enchanted forests he'd read about in the storybooks his parents scolded him for enjoying. Genesis glanced nervously toward his father, who was listening intently to their hosts with his hand thoughtfully poised at his chin and his back turned from his son. It couldn't hurt to peek inside of the fields, could it? Just a quick glance, nobody had to know.
So he ducked into the nearest isle, the pleasurable smell of ripening apples enlivening him, stirring forth boyish instincts he was often forced to suppress; to run, to laugh as loud as he wanted, to climb the nearest tree and start picking apples. It was not in Rhapsodos blood to commit such atrocities, and yet Genesis longed to race time itself up and down the apple fields. He flinched when he heard rustling and the snap of wood somewhere nearby, and his eyes caught sight of a shadowy figure flash among the next row of trees. Be it by the bravery of youth or childlike foolishness, Genesis firmly decided that he would not fall prey to whatever hideous monster was hiding amongst the apple trees. Rather, he would play the role of the hunter. Did knights have fear when they challenged the dragon to reach the princess? Of course not!
And so, Genesis rounded the shadow and pressed himself up against a tree about ten feet away from the unnamed threat. Silent and sly as a snake in the tropics, he edged slightly to the left while tucking his fiery red hair away to keep from drawing attention to himself. What he saw when he glanced around the trunk of the tree was not what he was expecting. Sure, a fire-breathing lizard was unlikely, but Genesis had not even considered coming face-to-face with a young boy. To Genesis' immediate indignity, the dark-haired boy was a few inches taller than him. Tall enough, in fact, to reach the lowest branches of the apple trees while standing on his tip-toes. The boy's skin was a darker shade of crème, his arms smeared with spots of dirt and thin red lines where the thicket had been unkind to him. His brilliant blue eyes were focused on the apple nearest his reach, his expression hardening in concentration as he gently tugged the fruit from the branch and inspected it before tucking it into the bag slung around his left shoulder. His clothes were faded and patched, his blue shirt hanging untucked with visible stitching around the right shoulder. His appearance was foreign to Genesis, who spent little time among those who were born into less fortunate circumstances.
Curiosity perhaps getting the better of him, Genesis stepped out from behind his hiding spot (all intentions of slaying the creature forgotten) and asked, "Do you work here picking apples?" The boy gasped, dropping the fruit in his hand and whipping around to face Genesis, his lips quivering with… fear? Before the red-haired boy had time to open his mouth again, the boy was already running deeper into the apple orchard. "H-Hey! Wait a sec-!" What strange behavior! Genesis pursued as fast as his legs could carry him, his smaller stride failing to match that of his swift elder. His breath grew ragged as the boy led him farther and farther, determined to know why he was being fled from. Lady Luck had abandoned Genesis, however, and instead placed a rotten apple in the middle of his path, which proved to be a most painful means of slipping and sliding into the dirt.
"Oof!" Genesis coughed as he performed a face-plant into the damp ground, his body flopping after him. A grunt of humiliation escaped him as he lifted himself to his knees and wrapped an arm around his heaving chest. His sapphire eyes were fixed on the soil below, watering from the pain and embarrassment of having fallen. He flinched when he felt a pressure on his left shoulder, lifting his gaze to meet that of the very boy who had been running from him! The other knelt beside him, his face solemn as he checked Genesis for wounds and brushed the dirt from his clothes as best he could.
"Are you okay?" an insistent voice asked, brimming with concern for the dazed boy.
"Yeah..." Genesis winced, stretching out his arm and turning to glare accusingly at the other. "Why did you run away from me?" he demanded, his voice saturated with an unintentional tone of authority.
He bowed his head, reminding Genesis of the shame visible in his own expression when he'd been caught committing a crime such as sneaking an extra cookie or skipping piano practice. The boy's hand wrapped protectively around the strap of his bag. He studied Genesis for a few moments before returning his gaze to the ground. "I'm sorry. I didn't want anyone to find out that I was…" He swallowed, his hands flexing nervously at his sides. "Stealing apples."
"Stealing?" Genesis' eyes grew unbelievably wide. Thievery was a crime, a sin! Was it possible that this boy was capable? He didn't seem to fit the profile of the black-capped, mask-wearing man that snuck around in the dead of night stealing from jewelry stores. And of all things to steal… "Why did you steal apples?" Genesis asked, his young mind struggling with the situation at hand. Should he run away? Tell someone? As much as he disapproved of stealing, he couldn't bring himself to bring the other trouble after he'd helped him up from the ground.
The stranger seemed moderately uncomfortable as he twisted the fingers of his hands together, but did not shy away from Genesis' question. "Because my mother and I would go hungry if I didn't."
The answer seemed so simple, and yet it was so elusive as it ran through the mind of the red-haired legacy. Genesis knew of the concept of poverty, but it was always a rather faraway one. In general, when a six-year-old was told not to concern himself with something, he followed the advice without a second thought. Was it better to steal, he wondered, than go hungry? Considering that the randomly-blossoming Banora Whites often ripened faster than they could be picked and fell to the ground, perhaps it was best that they fell into the hands of unfortunate families instead. Genesis shrugged, deciding not to hold it against the boy as he held out his hand in a sophisticated manner. "My name is Genesis," he stated with pride, enjoying the way the word rolled off of his tongue. Though he could not pinpoint the significance of his name, he felt that it sounded very important and would ensure that other people thought so too.
Rather surprised that Genesis was not going to make a scene of his misdemeanor, the other nodded and grasped the hand firmly in his own. "I'm Angeal." Excited at the prospect of meeting someone with which he could discuss all of the important things in life, Genesis' hopes that this would turn out to be a powerful conversation were cut short by the terse calling of his name.
He winced, staggering upward with the help of his acquaintance and straightened out his clothes. "S-Sorry. I have to go now. I live in the big house on the hill facing the orchards. You should visit me!" Entirely missing the bewildered expression on Angeal's face, he whipped around and ran toward the entrance of the fields, thoughts bustling about his mind at a million miles an hour. His father would certainly not be pleased with his misconduct and judging by the tone of the man's voice, he was going to be denied supper and confined to his room for quite a while unless he could explain his actions. He emerged panting from the apple orchard to find Rhapsodos' neck snapping from side to side until his eyes fell on Genesis with suppressed anger.
"I'm sorry, Father," Genesis huffed, disguising his harsh breathing with some difficulty. "I was... checking out the orchard." His eyes narrowed, his gaze as cold as it fell upon the couple standing to the side. "There are a lot of rotten apples lying around. It's a real waste, if you ask me."
The investment offer was withdrawn.
"Mom?" The wooden floorboards beneath Angeal's feet squawked, announcing his arrival before his voice rang out through the cottage. The young boy reverently set the bag of apples on the counter of the kitchenette before pausing in his tracks to listen for his mother's voice.
"In here, Darling." Angeal trotted through the kitchen-living-dining space and into the narrow hallway, passing though the doorway to his left where he found his mother seated in the middle of his bedroom floor, sorting through a pile of clothing that had no doubt been recently washed in the nearby stream. Immediately her son knelt by her side and assisted her in sorting through the apparel, earning a soft smile from Gillian. "How was school today, Angeal?" was the routine yet sincere question that escaped her lips as she looked onto the six-year-old, who was more dependable than any adult she had been acquainted with in the past. Fondly, she stroked the stray strand of black hair that framed his cheek before returning to matching socks into pairs, setting aside any that were in need of repair.
"It was good." Angeal's well-practiced hands folded his shirts neatly as to prevent any menacing wrinkles. After all, wrinkles were the sign of someone who did not care how he was perceived. "I learned about photo… um, photosyth… photosis-"
"Yes, that's it." Angeal nodded in affirmation, his eyes flickering as he recalled the strange process by which plants produced oxygen using rays from the sun. He hadn't the slightest idea before today that the air that kept him alive was provided by vegetation. He would have to appreciate assorted shrubbery more. "And we learned how to subtract numbers with two digits. I don't have to use my fingers to count anymore after that trick you taught me. I still forget to carry the numbers sometimes, though." His lips pursed with distaste as he laid a pair of pants atop the cushioned mat upon which he slept. "I have lots of problems to do for homework. Will you check it when I'm finished?"
"Of course. I'll go get dinner started and we can look your homework over afterward. I rented a new book from the library, so we can start on that before bedtime. How does that sound?" Gillian rose, scooping the freshly folded clothes into her hands before distributing them into the old dresser that sat against the opposite wall of Angeal's sparsely furnished room.
"Good." Though lacking a smile, Angeal's voice betrayed his satisfaction. It seemed that the demon known as Responsibility had already stripped the boy of childlike enthusiasm, replacing it instead with a more mature contentedness. And indeed, Angeal was content with the way things were. Perhaps it was because he had yet to be introduced to any other way of living, but Gillian was nonetheless proud of her son. The modesty that accompanied poverty had shaped him into a well-behaved, helpful boy. If only he had the chance to appreciate his youth a little more; though the days seemed long and monotonous, filled with the struggles of survival, time would fly past when they merely glanced away. Then, his predetermined fate would rise and snatch him away from her just as it had when he was baby in her arms. Upon making her way into the kitchen, Gillian's shoulders sagged when her eyes fell on the sack of apples adorning the countertop. Her head bowed in penance, the ever-present heaviness on her chest deepening. No child should have to steal for their dinner; the only reassuring thought that kept Gillian fulfilled day after day was the fact that Angeal would be blessed come his advancement into adulthood. Strength, honor, prosperity… it would be his.
She picked up the foremost apple and grabbed a nearby knife so that she might peel it.
Angeal tapped his pencil against the floor, his worn math book laid out before him with the third problem only half completed. Though Angeal was usually very good about finishing his homework in a timely manner, his thoughts were drawn to the curious, well-dressed boy he'd met earlier that day in the apple orchard. Of course, he was well aware of the manor on the west side of town; it was, after all, the most luxurious and beautiful household in all of Banora. It was obvious that someone very important lived within it, for quite a few of his schoolmates' parents were employed there. While inevitably resented for their wealth in a largely poor community, the Rhapsodos family hired villagers of Banora as gardeners, cooks, servants, maids… and paid them well enough, or so it was claimed. Despite this, there were often bitter rumors that Rhapsodos blood carried genetics that were infused with pride, arrogance, and conceitedness. After questioning his mother about these claims, Gillian had only smiled sadly at him and explained as simply as she could, "They just have another way of living."
The boy claimed to live in that manor, and yet he didn't seem so bad. In fact, he had invited Angeal over to his house! He hadn't even told on him for stealing. Perhaps he might visit the one by the name of Genesis after all. His nose wrinkled and a smile tinged his lips as he became aware of the scent of cinnamon-apple muffins. As though on cue, his mother's voice rang out, "Wash your hands, Angeal! It's dinnertime!" He sighed, displeased by the many uncompleted problems left on the worksheet. Oh, well. A little brain-food couldn't hurt.
Genesis fidgeted with the cloth napkin in his lap, his eye twitching at the roasted lamb on the fine china set before him. He had already slyly moved his vegetables around, creating craters in the troublesome mountain of carrots, broccoli, sprouts, and those little miniature-corn-on-the-cob-things that he so despised. Though skilled in the art of fooling adults into thinking he had eaten a nutritious meal, the lamb would be more difficult to work with. "Genesis, don't play with your food," his mother scolded from across the table as he flipped the shard of lamb meat over once, causing the boy to flinch. Foiled once again!
"I'm sorry, Mother." The woman nodded, the diamond pendant lying against her chest glistening as she raised a crystal glass to her red-stained lips ever so delicately. Her brunette hair was pulled into a bun, her narrow face tightly strained with sternness bred into her very bones. The width between them seemed greater than it really was, as Genesis glanced from his mother across from him to his father seated at the head of the table.
"Come now. You enjoy lamb, Genesis," Rhapsodos insisted, raising his own food to his mouth. Genesis sighed, not bothering to contradict the man. He preferred fish, actually. Pork, steak, chicken, even duck… Really, he liked almost every meat but lamb. But his parents wouldn't remember even if he told them. They never remembered those sorts of things.
"And how did the meeting go, today?" Mother inquired, setting her eating utensils down side-by-side on her sparkling clean plate before motioning for one of the nearby servants to pour her a third glass of chardonnay.
"Ah, we were forced to back out of the investment." Rhapsodos blessed his son with a rare smile. "Genesis was extraordinarily helpful. He discovered that their orchard was poorly kept; I won't allow them access to ouracres when they treat the land so indifferently. They are trying to maintain too much land without enough workers. The key to success is balance; the lowest reasonable expense for the highest reasonable income. Tipping the scale too much either way will lead to poor quality or inadequate profit. Remember that, Son."
"Yes, Father." Oh, so he was supposed to remember things? Genesis huffed, surrendering to the inevitable and swiftly downing the lamb roasted in conjunction with bitter herbs. When he had suffered enough, he politely requested, "May I be excused? I need to complete a mathematics assignment." The classic 'I-have-homework' technique never failed him.
"You may." Rhapsodos waved a regal hand, excusing his son upstairs to the massive study to complete the work his tutors had assigned him. Well… at least he would pretend to complete the work. Up the winding stairwell and into the study Genesis trudged, un-tucking his shirt with a yawn as he went. What an interesting day it had been! He had accompanied his father on a local business trip, befriended a thief, and utilized all of the knowledge that accompanied being a six-year-old to get himself out of trouble. The young boy slid into the study, which to the naked eye may have been perceived as having walls made of books. From rarely-touched reference books, to one-hundred volume encyclopedias, to dusty law books, and classic literature that was there merely for show. Genesis climbed the staircase to the second floor and parked himself in his favorite niche; a windowsill, that overlooked the village of Banora below. Waiting there for him was a book of poetry that one of the household maids had kindly given him when he expressed interest in rhymes she recited while ironing his shirts.
Genesis found the rhythm appealing, though he didn't always understand what the words meant when strung together. Some were delightful, talking of dancing daffodils, beaming sunrays, and glistening riverbeds. Others were more somber, yet equally and even more beautiful, speaking of omen-bringing ravens and death at one's doorstep. And still, some were just plain baffling, that spoke of lovers and soul mates. Nevertheless, Genesis found them pleasant entities with which to spend his time. Certainly more so than mathematics. He found that the art by the name of poetry could tell a story just as well as the fairytales he'd read, but in fewer, more commanding words. He often read aloud, so softly that he wasn't aware that he was doing it until he came across a word he had never seen before.
"…roused by the mournful call of the lark,
that drew from them the union brought about
by the serpent who kissed the ripening apple…"
"Apple." Genesis glanced out the window, toward the lone Banora White tree that stood proudly near the entrance to the manor. Perhaps that boy he met would stop by…? His shoulders wilted with a sigh. No, he wouldn't. Genesis never had any visitors. He would go so far as to say he didn't have any friends. When he went into town, he was not met with friendly gazes free of preconception. People sneered at him, leaping out of his way as though he might push them over if they didn't. He would never forget how sternly his father had spoken when Genesis had observed this phenomenon.
"You are blessed that they fear you. A Rhapsodos doesn't need anyone."
Genesis wasn't sure what it meant to need somebody. All he knew was that it sure would be nice to have someone around to talk to.
Angeal was not scared. And whoever said otherwise was certainly lying. It just seemed that, all of the sudden, the pathway to the Rhapsodos manor seemed much longer and the household much bigger. Vast and exquisite in style. It was everything Angeal's cottage was not. For the first time, his clothes seemed to stand out as being patched and his shoes as worn. He took an unconscious step back… and then a conscious one. His chest grew heavy with a sigh. Even if Genesis had invited him, there was no way he could approach the Rhapsodos household. There was just an overwhelming sensation of not being welcome. Genesis probably had no genuine interest in his company anyway. He turned and walked away as though he had merely paused to admire the scenery.
Mitsuki had begun shining the crystal glassware when she saw Genesis' nose peek over at her from across the table. She suppressed a smile as a pair of cerulean eyes stared at her. It wouldn't be long now. Humming nonchalantly, she had wiped down two-and-a-half glasses before hearing a soft 'ahem', announcing the red-haired boy's presence. She looked down in feigned surprise, acknowledging him with a nod. "Why, good morning Genesis! What can I do for you today?"
"Do you have any more of those poetry books I can borrow?" he immediately inquired, his wide-eyed stare not easy to resist. "I finished the one you gave me."
"Did you now?" Ah, it hadn't taken long. Not that she was surprised; Genesis spent all of his time cooped up inside of the household. The well-read boy found books to be among his closest, if only, friends. "I haven't any on my person, but I will certainly escort you down to the library. That is, if you ask your mother first." Genesis was already halfway out the dining room door, leaving the maid smiling after him. Such a sweet boy; it was a pity he was born a Rhapsodos.
In five minutes Genesis was waiting in the entrance hall, begrudgingly equipped with a black jacket that grazed the floor- no doubt apparel insisted upon by his mother. "I'm ready to go," he proclaimed, one hand on the door and the other waving Mitsuki toward him.
"Coming, coming." The woman tucked away her curly chocolate hair into a bandanna and shrugged on a coat of her own before following an impatient Genesis out the door. "Don't run too far ahead," she warned before she could stop herself, rolling her eyes and pursing her lips shut. Surely the boy was nagged enough by his parents as it was. Genesis walked quickly, though always made sure to remain in his escort's line of sight as he relished the chilly breeze that brushed against his cheeks and fiddled with his shimmering hair. He would certainly stand out in any crowd, Mitsuki mused as the boy jumped from stepping stone to stepping stone down the hill and toward the town. When they finally reached the outskirts of the village, Genesis edged a bit closer to her, though his wandering eyes still fervently explored his hometown with unbridled curiosity.
"What's that there?" he asked pointing to a building with soot lining the doorway.
"That's the blacksmith."
Genesis' eyes lit up. "Oh! He makes weapons, right?!"
Mitsuki stifled a chuckle, wiping a gloved hand against her lips. "He could if he wanted too. But people in Banora are more interested in having tools forged."
Genesis' lips twisted with a tinge of disappointment. Who would rather have a wrench than a really cool sword? "And that place, there? What's that?"
"That's an inn for travelers to rest up."
"What about there?"
"That's where you can buy food for horses, cows, chocobos…"
"That would be a bar."
"That's where adults can meet up with other adults. There's music, drinks, sometimes dancing at the end of the week. And this," she gestured to a relatively small building as they came to a stop, "is the Banora library. You've been here before, haven't you?" Genesis nodded proudly. He knew his way around the library very well, mind you. The children's fiction section was wedged between the horror stories and the cooking books, across from the travel volumes. It wasn't nearly as massive as his home's study, but it was certainly full of more interesting things. "Now, I'll rummage through the poetry. You can pick out some storybooks, if you like."
The bell attached to the wooden door rang as Genesis bolted through it, a wide smile on his face as he bounded past the rows of shelves and toward a secluded corner of the library. Mitsuki ducked beneath the low-standing archway, nodding politely to the man behind the counter. "Well, well!" The man's silver goatee seemed to curl as he gestured cheerily toward the blur of red that went dashing past. "I hadn't seen the Rhapsodos boy for almost two weeks. I was wondering where he'd gone."
Mitsuki could only smile. "Have you any poetry books fit for younger eyes?"
Meanwhile, the 'Rhapsodos boy' was rounding the final bend when he found himself uttering a soft 'whoa', as he performed a comical side-step to avoid tripping over a library resident seated against a shelf. "Sorry!" Genesis cried, spinning around to meet a vaguely familiar set of eyes. A pair of eyes he'd witnessed in an act of focus, daring as a hand reached for an apple… "Angeal?" he questioned, his shoulders cringing and his cheeks flushing as he stared at the wide-eyed boy seated with his legs crossed and a book in his lap. It had been a while, eight days at least, (though it seemed much longer) since the two boys had met in the orchard. Genesis had given up hoping that the other would pay him a visit. Perhaps Angeal simply did not like him? What a terribly awkward meeting this would be! His doubts withered away and his heart lightened when he was met with a warm smile.
"Hello, Genesis." There was no visible sign of irritation or distaste, so the six-year-old felt completely justified in plopping himself down next to the other and looking over his shoulder.
"What are you reading?" he asked, bringing his knees to his chest and curling his arms around his legs.
"It's a book about a boy who goes on an adventure," Angeal explained, tilting the book so that Genesis could glimpse the words. "I'm at the part where he joins a pirate crew."
The red-haired boy's eyes nearly popped out of their sockets. "Pirates! Oh, wow, I love pirates!" Angeal definitely had good taste, very good taste indeed.
"I wouldn't want any to come to Banora!" Angeal exclaimed, shaking his head vehemently. "They sound really scary."
"Well, since Banora isn't on the coast, and pirates only travel by ocean… I don't think we have anything to worry about," Genesis reasoned, strands of his hair brushing against Angeal's cheek as he strained to read the words. "What happened before he met the pirates?"
"Well, he grew up in a town that was really boring and nothing ever happened there. But when his sister gets a really bad disease, he has to go find her some medicine. He's already been through the forest and escaped wolves and monsters, but now he has to cross the sea somehow."
"So he goes with the pirates? Sounds cool!" Genesis was almost bouncing with excitement at the very thought.
"Here." He held the book between them and Genesis took one corner into his own hand. Angeal flipped the page only after receiving a nod from his reading companion, who seemed to keep up with his pace well. They shared the occasional gasp or chuckle as time passed, finding that the only thing better than immersing one's self in a story was sharing it with another person.
"Genesis, are you-?" Mitsuki's voice faded when she rounded the corner to find the two boys sharing a novel in the middle of the library floor. Her mouth rounded in surprise for a few long moments before she smiled at the Hewley boy. "Good morning, Angeal. How is your mother?"
"She's good, thanks." Angeal nodded, the seriousness in the six-year-old's face ever more apparent. The employee of the Rhapsodos household cocked her head, processing the sight before her. Though she had seen both boys on several occasions, she could not remember a time when she had seen them in the company of those as young as themselves. One was aged by responsibility, the other expectations. For once, they truly looked their age…
"Now then, what are you both up to?" she asked, folding her arms and winking playfully down at the boys.
"We're reading," Genesis announced, a proud smile on his face as he gestured to the book in their hands.
"Ah, I see." Mitsuki's lips pursed in thought, her eyes shifting between the two boys. Finally she sighed, shrugging as she let her hands fall into her pockets. "Well then, I suppose I should be calling your mother and letting her know we'll be a little later than expected." The elation seen in Genesis' eyes was worth any grief she might receive on his behalf.
"Angeal? Gillian Hewley's boy?"
"Yes, that's what Mitsuki claims. It seems that Genesis has befriended him."
"Of all the people…"
"What should be done about it?"
"The only thing that can be done. We will forbid Genesis from meeting with the boy. Nothing good can come of letting Genesis associate with any village children, let alone that boy."
"Yes, on the surface it would seem so. But perhaps…"
"Perhaps this was a fated meeting. They are different from the others, to say the least. There is always a chance that Hollander was wrong about Genesis. Perhaps he is meant for great things."
"Genesis was a failure."
"He's only six-years-old. He hasn't even been given a chance. Gillian chose Banora for a reason. If Angeal and Genesis are drawn together, there is a chance that our son will strive to attain Angeal's level."
"So by allowing them to live side by side, Genesis is given the chance to compete."
"He was injected with the cells. He will grow up stronger, smarter, more capable than ordinary children. There is no challenge for him if he competes against his peers. Putting him beside Angeal, who is enhanced as he is, may prove to be the best thing for him.
"That boy may be worth something yet."
"Mother?" The wooden door swung open, causing Gillian to breathe a sigh of relief from her position near the window as her son stepped into the room.
"There you are, Angeal! I was starting to-" His mother's eyes widened and her arms fell to her sides when a red-haired boy stepped forward, blue eyes wide as he took in his unfamiliar surroundings. "…worry."
"I'm sorry, Mom. I met Genesis at the bookstore and we read together for a while." Angeal gestured toward the uncertain boy lingering behind him. His face clouded with doubt, Genesis finally stepped around Angeal and held out his hand.
"Nice to meet you, Ms. Hewley," he said as he had been taught, hoping that he would make a good impression. After all, his mother had told him that first impressions were very, very important. If you messed up the first impression, you could never gain someone's respect! His heart skipped a beat, for Ms. Hewley stared at him for a long time without speaking a word. Finally, to his utter relief, a gentle hand grasped his, accommodated by a motherly smile.
"It's nice to meet you too, Genesis," she said softly, her eyes flickering toward Angeal. How very strange life was. Her son had never brought home a friend before how. And for it to be Genesis Rhapsodos… "Now, how would you like to stay for dinner? I think we'll be making apple pie for desert." The glint in the young boy's eyes was answer enough for her.
Come dinner time, Genesis experienced a second wave of 'culture shock', as it might be deemed. The surroundings he found strange enough; there was no color to the home, no superfluous decorations, and no servants bustling about. Instead of eating off of fine china, they ate off of cheap porcelain. None of the dishware matched, and the room was lit only by the dim glow of candles and oil lanterns. Contrary to the stiff silence of the Rhapsodos household, the air surrounding the Hewley dinner table was full of laughter and conversation. Gillian asked Genesis about his favorite books, his studies, even how he liked he peas! Genesis insisted that they were delicious (even though peas weren't exactly his favorite), because he didn't want to hurt Ms. Hewley's feelings. His parents certainly never asked him how he liked his dinner; he would eat what was served without complaining, and that was that. He made sure to eat everything on his plate, only to be greeted with a generous slab of apple pie and a glass of milk when he was finished.
Angeal sat next to Genesis, thoughtfully quiet as he ate his dinner. He pieced together that the reason they were eating so well, for they barely ever ate animal meat as it was much too expensive, was because Genesis was present. If Genesis was displeased with the humble nature of the meal, he certainly didn't betray it as he spoke animatedly with Gillian and asked Angeal question after question.
"So you go to the school in the village? Are there lots of kids there?" Genesis asked, fidgeting with the napkin on his lap as he cut into the warm piece of pie. He really hated the whole napkin-on-the-lap nonsense, but his parents had always told him that attending a festivity in another person's home required only the best of manners. This wasn't exactly a party, but Genesis decided the same rules applied.
"Yep. There are eleven kids in my class!" Angeal explained as though it was an enormous figure, causing Gillian to chuckle. Eleven was hardly a respectable number, yet Genesis seemed impressed.
"Eleven? Wow! And only one teacher teaches everything?"
"Yeah. Science and math and grammar and history and geography. Everything."
"Do you study all of those subjects, Genesis?" Gillian asked, earning a proud nod from the boy.
"Uh-huh! I have one teacher for each of those subjects. And a piano teacher, but I don't like him much." Genesis shook his head, a grimace passing over his face. "He's always slapping my fingers with his pointer." Another bite of pie wiped away any remorse lingering on the boy's face.
"I see." Genesis decided he liked Ms. Hewley right then and there, as she smiled warmly at him from the opposite side of the table. Angeal's mother had a… well, motherly kindness that Genesis had yet to know, and he had a strange idea that the pie he was eating wouldn't taste as good in his own home. When both boys finished up their desert, Gillian shook her head as Angeal began to gather up the dirty dishes and set them in the basin. "I'll take care of the dishes tonight, Angeal. Why don't you two continue on that book? Do you like hot cocoa, Genesis?"
Genesis nodded fervently, his smile wide. "Thanks, Ms. Hewley." Book in hand, Angeal led his newly found friend into an adjacent room in which the family's poverty was all the more apparent. The young boy's bedroom was just a little smaller than Mrs. Rhapsodos' closet, equipped with an old dresser, a sleeping mat, and school supplies organized in the corner.
"This… is my room," Angeal announced unnecessarily, watching closely for Genesis' reaction. He couldn't help it; even in his youth, he had a sense of honor and dignity that could be tarnished. But the Rhapsodos son held only curiosity in his gaze, without any signs of disdain.
"There's lots of room to make a really cool fort in here," were the first words out of Genesis' mouth, and this was the start of the boys gathering up every pillow and blanket available in the house. They lined the pillows around them and draped the cloth above, discussing the merit of their design.
"It's important to brace the structure so that it doesn't fall," Genesis instructed, arranging the three northern pillows so that they could lean against each other. "Otherwise we'll be vulnerable to attack."
"That wouldn't be safe," Angeal agreed, as the other reached out and tugged the nearby lantern into their makeshift stronghold. He had never felt the need to make a fort all on his own, but somehow Genesis made the idea seem appealing. They laid on their stomachs, side-by-side, and opened the book between them. This time, conversation was intertwined with their reading as instigated by Genesis.
"Oh, wow, he found a gold chocobo! I'd like to ride one sometime."
"Where would you go?"
"The Northern Continent, I think. It's covered in ice and it snows all of the time."
"I want to see Cosmo Canyon, in the west. I read that the sunsets are really pretty."
"Someday I'll see those places and the entire world! I'll travel and eat all sorts of different foods and travel by chocobo and even meet pirates…"
Their adventurous musings continued long into the evening, complemented by mugs of warm cocoa as provided by Angeal's mother. "Well, well, well. What have we here?" Gillian inquired, her shoulders shaking with silent laughter upon setting sights on their fortress.
"A fort," her son explained very simply, bright blue eyes peeking out from between two pillows.
"To protect us from evil forces!" added Genesis' muffled voice.
Gillian's next breath lightened the weight of her heart in her chest, though she hadn't realized how heavy it had felt prior. It was easy to forget that Angeal was a child, and yet here he was making forts and playing pretend. What a relief it was, to see her son have the opportunity to act as a normal child might. Goodness knows as he grew, any traces of normalcy would fade. "Two warm beverages for the weary soldiers." She set the mugs on the floor by the fort, earning unanimous chirps of gratitude as the cocoa disappeared rather quickly. She paused only for a moment to listen to cheerful chattering of the boys, before returning to the living room with her hand folded over her mouth. She collapsed into the nearest chair.
When she was pregnant with Angeal, it had been all too easy to think of him in scientific terms. He was an enhanced embryo, to mature in her womb and be born by means you could read in any textbook concerning human reproduction. But the day she had held him in her arms, the tears it brought to her eyes, she couldn't fathom having treated the life as little more than an experiment. Hollander had declared him the perfect specimen, sending the 'failed' baby boy by the name of Genesis away to Banora so that he could focus the remainder of his attentions on the newborn, whom Gillian had barely had time to name before the reaction tests were run on him. Angeal was real to her, more so than anyone else she had worked with (on) during her career. She had jumped at the chance to raise Angeal away from the corruption, away from the research, away from Hojo's mounting jealousy. And yet her protectiveness spurred from motherhood rather than the principle of research.
Guilt was what she had named the pain in her heart the morning she had arrived in Banora, a baby in her arms and sixty Gil to her name. The feinted normalcy she had painted for the young boy would not persist. Perhaps it might for Genesis, though she couldn't imagine a worse fate for an imaginative, adventurous young boy to live the entirety of his life in a place like Banora. It was her fault, wasn't it? She had agreed to experiment on unborn Genesis, whose biological parents had all but sold him to ShinRa and she herself had purposefully conceived Angeal knowing what he was destined for. Before the aching of her heart prodded tears to fall, there was a knock on the front door. Rising, she readjusted the shawl around her shoulders and opened the door.
"Ah, Mitsuki. Have you come for Genesis?" She nodded, side-stepping so that her friend could enter the home. Darkness had fallen, more quickly it seemed than most nights.
"Yes. Thank you so much for looking after him, Gillian. I hope he wasn't too much trouble."
Angeal's mother shook her head, a smile tingeing her face. "He was an angel." She led Mitsuki into the adjacent room, which had fallen suspiciously silent. Gillian peeked beneath the mound of pillows and blankets, reappearing with shrug. 'They've fallen asleep', she mouthed, causing both women to sigh. Really, who would have the heart to wake them? Or rather, who could be so heartless?
When they reached the hallway, Mitsuki pulled out her occupational PHS and began dialing the Rhapsodos household with a murmur, "I'll call Mrs. Rhapsodos, but I can't promise any- Yes, Mrs. Rhapsodos? Genesis has requested to spend the night in Ms. Hewley's home. He looks awfully tired… O-of course. I'll bring him home in time for his lessons… A change of clothing?… Yes, I'll make sure he brushes his teeth… Thank you." She snapped the mobile shut, surprise clear in her expression. "As long as I bring him an overnight bag, it shouldn't be a problem. Funny, I didn't think she'd approve. This would be the first night he's spent away from home. They're very protective of Genesis, you know."
"Yes, I imagine so."
"Angeal?" Genesis knocked on the door to the Hewley household eagerly. "Angeal!"
It was Ms. Hewley who opened the door, a familiar smile etched across her smile. Genesis' visits to the house had become routine over the past two weeks, dragging her son out the door for adventure and excitement. Well, as much adventure and excitement as Banora had to offer. "He'll be available in just a moment. He's peeling a few potatoes for me, but he's on the last one."
"Thanks, Ms. Hewley." Genesis hopped into the house after her, waving at his friend seated on a dining room chair, who seemed to be focused intensely on the dull knife in his right hand. "Hi, Angeal."
"Hey, Genesis," he murmured, using a controlled hand to swiftly flick his wrist forward and back. Genesis was thoroughly impressed; his parents hardly ever let him touch knives. "Where do you wanna go today?"
The red-haired boy pursed his lips together, his eyes flickering upward in thought. "Let's go down to the stream!" he exclaimed, as it was the farthest they were allowed from the village without adult supervision. Genesis was feeling particularly adventurous that day.
"Okay." Angeal completed the task, receiving a kiss on the forehead from his mother before being ushered outdoors.
"Race you there!" Genesis exclaimed before the door had even closed behind them, earning a chuckle from Angeal as the two took off running toward the eastward boundary of the village. Though Genesis had a reasonable head-start as they raced up the hill, Angeal's longer stride proved advantageous as he bypassed the boy only to be ready at the stream with a handful of water to splash onto the Rhapsodos.
"Aw, Angeal!" Genesis laughed, leaping into the ankle-deep water and kicking a stream of water toward the other. Angeal combated the strike by lifting the smaller boy and dunking him in the deepest part of the stream. He came up coughing, indignity written across his face as Angeal set him on the grassy shore. "Cheater," Genesis accused, playfully smacking his friend on the shoulder before folding his arms over his stomach and gazing up at the clouds above.
"You are the one who wanted to race to the stream," Angeal shot back, laying beside his friend and folding his hands behind his head. They let out a simultaneous sigh as the sun warmed their chilled skin, not yet aware of how lucky they were to be blessed with the unpolluted air that streamed into their small lungs. Their silence was contemplative, each encompassed in his own thoughts until Genesis grounded them with a simple question:
"Where is your father?"
Angeal sat up, wrapping his arms around his elevated knees with a troubled look on his face. "He lives far away from here, in the mountains. He works in the coal mines and then sends the money he earns back to us."
Genesis frowned, his disapproval clearly shown. "Why couldn't he get a job closer?"
"'Cause the only jobs here are the ones in the fields or on the oceans fishing. Mom says they don't pay enough for the whole family." Angeal glanced over at Genesis and then back up at the clouds, his brow furrowed in thought.
"Oh. Does your father visit a lot?"
"No. I've never seen him." Angeal shrugged, tucking his hair behind his ears and lying back to observe a cloud that looked particularly like a chocobo. "I wonder what he's like."
"I bet," Genesis began after a moment's thought, "he's really nice."
"You think so?"
"Sure I do. Your mom's really nice, so it makes sense," Genesis assured him, as he couldn't imagine Gillian being married to anyone who wasn't nice. He was met with a warm smile, unaware of how deeply his words had struck.
"Yeah. It makes sense." Angeal stood, his eyes wandering over the vast world that lay beyond Banora. Rolling hills, a distant forest, the pebble pathway that led to the far-off coast. Everything was such a mystery; no geography book could satiate a youthful hunger for adventure. "When I'm old enough, I'll travel too," Angeal insisted, and Genesis thought he looked conveniently heroic as a passing breeze tousled his hair. "I'll find the best work I can, and I'll be the one to take care of my parents."
"You could go anywhere you wanted to," Genesis encouraged, making light of the faraway future. Banora was surely a nice place, but it didn't even make its way onto the most detailed of maps. There was so much more beyond the village, and the horizon seemed forever expansive to their eyes. It seemed that they talked of traveling often, though this was surely a sign of just how ambitious they would grow to be.
Angeal looked down at his friend, smiling a smile reserved just for Genesis. "You want to come with me?"
"Yeah!" Genesis needn't think twice as he leapt to his feet and proclaimed his allegiance. "We'll go wherever we want, and we'll live on our own. We'll see the world and we'll find jobs that we really like." Because no matter how much Mr. Rhapsodos insisted that land and its accommodating investments were interesting, Genesis could not find himself amused by any of it.
Sensing that this was a no-nonsense situation, Angeal stuck out his hand and inclined his head at Genesis. "Deal?"
And they shook on it.