(A/N: My apologies for the long wait. My computer short-circuited and I didn't have access to my files for two months. In other news….

LINK: abyss-valkyrie. deviantart. com/art/In-the-apple-orchard-179897181?q=&qo=

Before we go on, ~Abyss-Valkyrie has drawn a piece of beautiful fan art inspired by my unworthy story. I think you should all take a moment and appreciate its enthralling beauty. It's absolutely breathtaking, and I couldn't be more honored. She has a gallery full of gorgeous artwork.

You know the drill. All AngealxGenesis fans should copy the link, paste it in the URL bar, and delete the spaces in the link. You will be pleased. Go on, go tell ~Abyss-Valkyrie how amazingly talented she is. The story can wait.)

"Gillian! It's your boys." The tavern keeper held the phone out over the bar, and Gillian released a held breath. Each of the seven minutes that had ticked past six o' clock added a crushing pressure to her chest. She grasped the telephone tighter than necessary, her index finger twirling the spiraling cord habitually.

"How are you?" were the first words that tumbled from her mouth. The mere sound of her son's voice instilled such great relief, she almost couldn't process the words that followed.

"We're great, Mom. Just setting up camp for the night. We'll be in, ah… Gen? What's the name of that town we're gonna pass through tomorrow?"

"Nibbletime, or Nittlemime… Something like that."

"Have you run into many monsters?" Gillian's attempt at composure was rendered unsuccessful by the inescapable quiver in her voice. It was unavoidable, really. The ordinary mother would worry enough; Gillian's scientific experience in the world of mako and monsters proved to be of little reassurance.

"Nothing too strong."

Genesis' voice sounded once more in the background, saturated with excitement: "You're talking to Gillian? Did you tell her about that Basilisk we fought this morning? I'm certain it used the second level of Quake-"

What followed was a distinct slapping sound, followed by a hiss of 'shut up'! Angeal returned to the phone, his voice tinged with irritation. "Like I said, Genesis and I are doing just fine. How are you, Mom?"

Genesis cut in once again, much louder this time. "She's not going to tell you if she's not well. She doesn't want to worry you! Give the phone to me." A few moments of scuffling ensued, followed by the sound of Genesis' voice, slightly taxed for breath. "Hi Gillian."

"Hello, Genesis."

"How have you been? Is anyone giving you any trouble? If they are, we'll turn right back around and take care of it for you."

"That won't be necessary, but thank you for the offer."

"If you say so. In a few months' time, your son will be a member of the ShinRa army and you'll have respective bragging rights. Oh, Angeal is setting things on fire again! Best go sort it out."

"For heaven's sake!" Angeal had apparently snatched the phone away, somehow incurring an indignant 'ow' from Genesis. "The countryside isn't nearly as difficult to navigate as the forest. I swear I never should have let Genesis have control of the compass. He gets us lost on a regular basi-" His words were interrupted by a thud, followed by a yelp.

"Don't lie to your mother, Angeal!"

Though it would have gone unseen, Gillian pressed a hand against her mouth to suppress her smile. "Well, I'm glad you two are doing so well. I don't want to hold up this line any longer, so I'll let you go."

"Can you be at the tavern same time next week? We'll call you then."

"Of course. I love you. Both of you."

"We love you too, Mom."

Gillian settled the phone back into the receiver, thanking the manager before removing herself quietly from the premises. She wrapped her arms around herself as she walked, eyes lowered in deep contemplation. All factors considered, two teenagers shouldn't have been able to make the journey across the western continent with such ease. They were traveling faster than average limitations should allow, and combatting at levels impossible for others to attain without formal training. Gillian fell to a standstill in the doorway to her home, clasping one hand on the frame and curling the other around her mouth to prevent a wave of nausea. It sickened her, the ease with which she could shift into the scientific ideology she had sworn to abandon long ago. Angeal and Genesis were boys, not monsters whose behavioral habits were the subject of study. The very idea of Hollander and Hojo having access to their lives once more was enough to make her wish she could call Angeal and Genesis back and explain everything. But that would mean coping with her past mistakes; it would mean revealing to Angeal and Genesis and side of her that she had wished never existed. If she had it her way, she would take her horrifying secrets to the grave.

xXxMyCountermelodyRhapsodyxXx

Three minutes was all it took to set up camp nowadays. With a Fire materia and a mere snap of his fingers, Genesis could start the fire. Angeal set up the tent automatically, hands working without so much as a suggestion from his mind. Together they sat near the warmth of the makeshift fire pit as the sky over the mid-continent grasslands turned a blackish-blue, reveling in the scent of whatever Angeal had slapped on the grill. "What's for dinner?" Genesis whispered, as though afraid of disturbing the unseen choir of crickets that chirped an indistinguishable tune. He stamped out an ember that leapt out of the fire before turning to his lover.

"Kielbasa hash." Angeal chuckled at the befuddled expression on the other's face. "I promise, you'll like it. My mother made it for us once." Well, that settled that. The only disgusting thing Gillian had ever put onto his plate was peas. Granted, that really wasn't her fault. Peas were disgusting regardless of how they were cooked. Angeal reclined back and folded his hands behind his neck, tipping his head back to gaze at the stars peeking through the blanket of the darkening sky. He felt a twinge of homesickness at the sight; it reminded him of the night he and Genesis had first kissed amongst the orchards, the scent of apples heavy and familiar and sweet. He glanced over at his redhead companion, who was admiring the wisps of smoke that made the stars above shiver. With his lips slightly parted and eyes reflecting the light of the moon, the sight was picture perfect… Angeal smiled, sliding his cell phone out of his pocket and snapping a picture from below. Genesis glanced down at the sound of a beep with a bewildered expression, before his lips twisted into a smile. "That's gonna be my new wallpaper," Angeal whispered, admiring his artistic genius. Perhaps if joining SOLDIER didn't work out, he could fall back on photography. He had an eye for the beautiful, after all.

Genesis fell back beside him, resting one hand on the younger's well-defined chest with a contented sigh that hardly complemented his next words. "My parents disowned me."

After six seconds of dumb silence, Angeal reflexes kicked in. He sat up and faced the older boy, bewildered by the other's absurdly misplaced expression of delight. "What?"

"The town we passed through today had a bank with an electronic wiring system. I swiped my cards for grins. They've gone and taken my name off of the accounts. They probably did it the day after I moved in with you. Knowing them, they've released me from the will and waived guardianship." Genesis shrugged, gesturing to the phone still clasped in Angeal's hands. "If they handled their own bills, we'd have been cut from the phone plan as well."

"I'm… I'm sorry, Gen," Angeal murmured, passing a hand through his hair awkwardly. The hatred he'd felt for Genesis' parents rested in the foremost niche of his subconscious, always ready to be enflamed when they discovered new ways to wrong their son.

"Don't be." Genesis stretched his arms over his head with a wide grin. "I'm not." He leapt to his feet, unsheathing Rapier and holding it heroically over the fire. "I'm free, Angeal! Genesis Rhapsodos is his own man!"

"You've always been your own man," the other said with a chuckle, leaning forward to strip the foil from the grill over the fire. "This does bring into question our enrollment fees. Can we cover them with the savings we have?"

Genesis tipped his sword over his shoulder with a shrug and a murmur that sounded oddly like 'killjoy'. "One hundred and fifty Gil for registration and three hundred for tuition. So…" He paused. "Nine hundred Gil total for us both. Easily handled." Angeal smiled, not bothering to ask how Genesis knew the figures by heart. The redhead overlooked the ShinRa pamphlets in their possession almost as often as he opened his novels.

"You worry too much," the Rhapsodos scolded, watching keenly as the younger dished out the night's dinner. "Enjoy our blessed freedom."

"Sorry. Guess I'm just accustomed to worrying about money." Angeal handed a bowl over to Genesis, who took his seat once more by his lover's side with a contented smile. One bite left the redhead's taste buds tingling, and he groaned with pleasure.

"You take after your mother, 'Geal. You'll cook for us when we have our own apartment, won't you?"

"Setting aside the fact that you've already signed your name onto the lease, you're not just saying that to save my feelings, are you?"

Genesis scoffed, his words muffled by a full mouth, "I've never been one to stifle my opinion, have I?"

"I suppose not." Angeal turned back to his own dinner, running his tongue thoughtfully over his lower lip. "If I substituted the carrots for apples, it would go better with the kielbasa. Remind me of that."

"Remind me to remind you." Genesis returned to his food with the typical ravenous appetite of a teenage boy, speaking between mouthfuls, "This is delicious, 'Geal. You're so domesticated. I love it."

Angeal raised an eyebrow, his utensil poised in midair. "I'm not sure whether to thank you for the compliment or nurse my bruised ego."

Genesis waved a hand in dismissal. "Gillian had a lovely influence on you. The ability to cook and sew and do laundry is priceless in a handsome man."

"I can always teach you."

"Ah… It suits you better, I think."

"Sure, sure." Angeal laid his head to rest on Genesis' shoulder, shuffling his food about his plate with little interest. "Do you think Mom sounded strange over the phone today?"

"Strange?" Genesis tilted his head to meet the other's eyes and set his plate to the side. "What do you mean?"

"She-" Angeal paused, flexing his left hand in a gesture of contemplation. "She was quiet. When she did speak it sounded like… like she wasn't saying what she wanted to say."

"Maybe she was trying not to be overbearing. You know, stop herself from pulling the motherly routine on us. She had you and I around her almost constantly; living alone must be difficult for her."

Angeal shook his head, finally shoving his half-eaten dinner aside. "In a way, she's always been alone. Independence has never frightened her. The fact that she's trying to hide it from me proves enough. I think something is wrong."

Genesis frowned, wrapping an arm around his lover's shoulders. "You're worried about her health." Angeal didn't answer as he dragged the sole of his shoe absently against the ground. "Angeal, she would have told you if her heart was having complications again. She wouldn't keep something like that from you."

"She would if she thought it might stop me from going to Midgar."

Seven painful seconds followed before Genesis forced himself to break the silence: "We could always go back." A jolt of pain coursed through his chest when he spoke those words. Angeal's neck snapped to the right in his haste to meet Genesis' eyes. His sapphire eyes were wide, mirror the shock Genesis himself felt.

"Gen…"

"I mean, it's no big deal," Genesis interjected, speaking swiftly so he didn't have time to swallow his words. His heart grew heavier with every passing second, but he didn't dare pause to let it have an effect on him. "We can always apply next year. It won't take us long to get back to the Gongagan Bay, and we can-"

"Gen."

"-take a ship back to the Mideelian islands. We could use the time to train and you could-"

"Genesis!"

Genesis paused, taking a much-needed breath. He couldn't seem to look Angeal in the eyes as he traced the lines of his left palm intently. Angeal grasped the other's hands in his own, forcing him to meet his gaze He made no effort to express that he understood the magnitude of what Genesis was suggesting. Genesis, who spent years planning his escape from Banora, whose life's ambition was to join ShinRa… Angeal simply kissed him, lifting a hand to stroke the hair from Genesis' distressed face. "Don't give it another thought. My mother did everything she could to get us on our way. She wouldn't want us to turn back now. I don't want us to turn back."

Genesis bit the inside of his mouth to delay a relieved smile. "Leave all of the worrying to other people, Angeal." A sly smile crossed the teenager's face as he leaned over and kissed Angeal's shoulder where his T-shirt had slipped to the side. "You take on too much responsibility," he whispered, using one hand to knead Angeal's neck as he kissed his way up his lover's throat. He smirked when he felt the other's body slacken beneath his ministrations. He slid one leg over Angeal's waist and pushed him back into the ground, leaning forward to press his lips against the younger man's throat. Angeal shifted and groaned as his lover nipped at his collarbone. He laced his hands at the small of Genesis' back and brought him closer, letting his head tip back against the dry grass as his breath deepened. "Fuck, Gen," Angeal whispered as Genesis bit into his neck tendon and slipped a hand into his jeans. He muffled his moans against clenched teeth, at which the redhead laughed softly.

"Let me hear you, Angel. There's nobody else around." Genesis worked his lover, relishing the heat and hardness swelling beneath his fingers as he watched Angeal's tortured expression. The younger teenager arched into his touch, and Genesis knew it was time for a change of scenery as his own groin pulsed with heat. He tilted his head and brushed his lips against Angeal's ear with a whisper, "Put out the fire. I'll be in the tent." Genesis slid down his lover's body and lifted himself upright, casting him a sultry expression that made Angeal's breath feel like ice in his lungs. After a few moments of staring at Genesis' backside as he retreated into the tent, he finally came to his senses. He smothered the fire as quickly as minimal safety requirements would allow, blaming the way he tripped over his own two feet on the resulting lack of light.

Genesis was already shirtless as he lay back on their rumpled sleeping bags, one hand rested on his stomach and the other holding up his mobile to aimlessly thumb through the pictures stored there. Angeal settled at his side, resting shoulder-to-shoulder against Genesis as he shuffled through the pictures. A river chocobo who had snuck into their food, the setting sun of Cosmo Canyon, an unamused and soaking wet Angeal after he'd 'fallen' into the river in the middle of filtering water… "We'll print some of these up and send them back home when we reach Midgar," Genesis murmured, flipping the device shut. The last thing Angeal saw before the backlight was extinguished was Genesis' seductive smile, and he crawled over his lover and blindly kissed along his face until he captured the other's upturned lips.

A soft noise sounded from the back of Genesis' throat as a tongue slid against his own, and he curled his leg over the other's hip to pull him closer. Angeal ran his hand over his boyfriend's bare chest, admiring the developing muscles lining the older boy's slender form. Genesis shifted and squirmed beneath his touch, tugging at the ends of his lover's shirt. Angeal pulled away long enough to strip off the offending garment and shove it to the side. Their lips eagerly met once more, bodies and arousals pressed up together in a hot, sweat-slick tangle. Clumsy hands fumbled with one another's pants until they had just enough room to grind against one another, gasping softly for breath between kisses. Angeal's hand slithered between their bodies and wrapped around their pulsing erections, slick with their combined fluids.

Genesis moaned, the friction of the flesh-to-flesh contact driving him wild as he traced his hands along the rippling muscles of the other's back. He used the leverage to thrust up against his lover, face flushing with blood and heat. "Faster," he whispered, to which Angeal eagerly complied, inescapable noises of pleasure escaping his lips as he rocked against the other. Excitement mounted in Genesis' stomach. His fingers dug into his lover's back as the rhythmic pulse of Angeal's well-practiced hand drove him over the brink. With a sharp cry and a shudder he came, spilling onto his stomach. He whimpered as Angeal stroked himself to completion, working Genesis' spent arousal in the process and drawing out his orgasm. The sweet sound of Angeal's cry was music to Genesis' ears, and he allowed himself to be pressed back into the cool, slick fabric of the sleeping bags piled beneath them.

Angeal settled to the side, draping a lazy arm over Genesis' chest. It was sloppier, less intimate than they would have preferred; however, walking more than a mile the day after sex did not proceed without a persistently whining Genesis and a distressingly guilt-ridden Angeal. After a few minutes of silence they sluggishly stripped away the remainder of their clothing and slipped underneath one of the sleeping bags.

"Damn, it's cold," Genesis whispered, pressing up against the other's body. The refreshing contrast between the chilly evening air and the warmth of his lover's arms made him shiver. "It's hard to believe we'll be passing through the mountains tomorrow."

"Hmm. Those mountains are the last obstacle in our way before we're en route to Midgar." Angeal smiled, running a hand over the other's firmly toned thigh. All of this hiking had done wonders for Genesis' body (which was admittedly perfect to begin with). He kissed along Genesis' throat, smirking when he felt the other shiver. "Ticklish much?"

"Shut up." Genesis made a half-hearted attempt to push the teenager away, only to be drawn into his arms once more. He let out a begrudging groan before settling into the other's embrace. "Don't get me wrong, I've loved every second of roughing it out in the wilderness. But a nice hotel in Midgar sounds really good right now. Maybe I'll take you out to a club for your birthday."

"Perfect. Can't think of a better way to prove we're from out of town."

"What's that supposed to mean? I don't know about you, but I can dance."

"…"

"Angeal? Don't you ignore me."

"…"

"I know you're pretending!"

The steady rise and fall of the other's chest was his only response.

"Fine," Genesis growled, scooting away from his lover as far as the arms encompassing him would allow. "When you come to me begging for dancing lessons, I'll just say 'I told you so'."

Angeal's unexpected response gave him a start: "Don't you remember? You were giving me a dancing lesson the first time we kissed. I know firsthand that you dance very, very well."

Genesis' cheeks unexpectedly flushed red, and the teenager simply hissed, "I knew you were still awake."

xXxMyCountermelodyRhapsodyxXx

"Angeal! Move it!"

"Ngh…" Angeal grunted, pulling the covers over his head and cursing whatever vile creature thought it appropriate to waken him. He felt a distinctly familiar pressure on his chest, and he opened his eyes to find a pair of bright cerulean eyes staring him down impatiently. Ah, that vile creature was his boyfriend. "Can I help you?" Angeal gently pushed Genesis to the side and rose, only to duck back under the sleeping bag with a hiss, "It's freezing!"

"Go make a fire and start breakfast," Genesis ordered as he rummaged around for his clothes. "The sooner we get through the mountains, the better. I can see my breath."

"You could make breakfast for once," Angeal grumbled as he made a lazy grab for a pair of sweatpants. He was really starting to regret falling asleep naked.

"Don't whine. It's unbecoming."

Before Angeal could bite back, Genesis slid on that sleek red jacket that made him look so… sophisticated. In the sexiest possible way, of course. By the time Genesis found himself properly dressed, he was dipped back into Angeal's arms and drawn into a kiss. A soft noise of surprise escaped from Genesis as an unusual and much less pleasant feeling intermingled in their kiss - a rough, abrasive sensation as their lips brushed. Genesis jerked back, eyes narrowed at his lover. "What the hell is this?" He ran a hand over his lover's cheek, sneering at the foreign friction.

"Hmm?" Angeal followed suit, his brow furrowing slightly. "That would be facial hair."

"Well get rid of it. It's disgusting." Genesis slid out of his lover's arms, wrinkling his nose at this new development.

"Aren't you the bossy one this morning?" Angeal huffed, pulling on his T-shirt and sweatshirt as quickly as possible. "Besides, maybe Iwant to grow a moustache or something." He shoved his hands in his pockets and inclined his head to catch a glimpse of the man's reaction.

Genesis tugged on the collar of his jacket, shooting the other a deathly glare. "Let me make one thing clear, Hewley. You can either shave your pathetic little lip hair, or you will never kiss me. Ever."

"Alright, alright." Angeal leaned over to give him a kiss of habit, earning a hand in his face. "I'll pick up a razor in Nibelheim." His mouth twisted into a scowl as Genesis slipped under the covers once more, giving him a sneaky smile. "I spoil you." The smile widened. The younger teenager sighed, unzipping the tent and taking a step out into the oddly crunchy terrain. Angeal blinked away his sleepy daze, glancing down to see a crisp white powder lining the ground and smothering the browning grass of the pastures. "Gen! Check this out!"

The rustling of blankets sounded followed by Genesis poking his head out of the tent, eyes wide with childlike amazement. "It snowed last night?" He reached out and scooped up a handful, tousling it between his fingers. The closest either had ever seen to snow was a heap of ice cubes. His eyes ran over the rolling hills surrounding them, covered in a thin, unbroken film of snow. Heavy clouds trailed past the sun, causing the icy white matter to glisten alternatively in haphazard patters. Genesis shivered, allowing the snow to slide from his hand and rubbing his palm against his jacket.

"Well," Angeal began with a sigh, standing to his full height and stretching out his arms behind him. "A fire's out of the question, I guess." He turned northward, assessing the distance to the white-topped mountains towering above the plains. "Shall we?"

Genesis looked thoughtfully from their campsite toward the mountains, eyes sweeping over the snow lining their path. His mouth twisted into a grimace and he disappeared back into the tent. "Five more minutes."

"Oh, no you don't." Angeal snagged the teenager's collar, dragging him back into the cold with a jerk of his wrist. "You know how volatile the weather is up here. We need to get through the mountains as soon as possible. It'll take us most of the day to reach Nibelheim. We can stay the night there and use the eastern pass on the map tomorrow. Let's start packing." Genesis let out a noncommittal grunt, dragging their packs out of the tent and rising to assist Angeal in dismantling it. It was when he bent over to wrap the interlining cord 'A' around retractable pole 'B' that Angeal felt a cold slap of ice against the back of his neck. He spun around to see his boyfriend clasping a hand to his mouth to stifle his laughter. "Did you just throw a snowball at me?" he demanded, rubbing a hand over his chilled flesh. Genesis' laughter promptly disintegrated into a stiff yelp as Angeal made a swift retaliation, lunging forward and pinning the redhead to the soft terrain below. The older gasped for lost air, cheeks flushed from the cold as Angeal ran his fingers along his jawline. "You can be so immature," he mumbled, lips tinged with a smile.

"Too much maturity turns the hair grey." Genesis' eyes narrowed, smashing his hand against Angeal's incoming lips. That red-haired beauty he called his lover sure could kill a romantic moment as easily as he instigated one. "Shave. Then I'll kiss you all you want."

Angeal rolled his eyes as he gathered a handful of loose ice chips and ruffled them into Genesis' hair, earning a whine of displeasure. "I'll hold you to that."

Genesis pushed his lover off of him and reached beneath his shirt, unclasping the chain proudly displaying his Banoran charm to hand it over to Angeal. "Hold onto this for me," he said as he stood, dusting the snow from his clothing. "I'm going to the stream for a few minutes."

"To bathe?" Angeal scoffed. "You'll freeze!"

"Just to wash up a little." Genesis shot him a quite a dirty look. "You just couldn't help yourself last night, could you?"

"Wha-? Me?"

But Genesis had already run off, a smirk pulling at his lips.

xXxMyCountermelodyRhapsodyxXx

Nibelheim gave Genesis the chills. And no, it wasn't just because there was iced water falling from the sky, thank you very much. Below that thickening blanket of beautiful glistening snow was a village that may very well have been empty. As he stepped foot into the small encirclement of buildings, panting slightly from having tromped uphill through the snow for hours on end, he concluded that this town was creepy. Having read his share of suspense novels, Genesis was willing to assert that he could adequately identify 'creepy'.It could have been the fact that not a single human being was seen in the courtyard or on the streets. It could have been the fact that behind every frosted window, the shutters and curtains were all drawn tightly. It could have been the spooky, (obviously haunted) mansion at the far edge of town.

"This place freaks me out," he announced, a shiver running down his spine as he heard the resounding echo of his words. His feet arched unpleasantly in his boots, aching from both the will to keep moving and the will to collapse in a warm inn bed. Angeal hummed with vague agreement, rubbing the back of his neck to quell his prickling skin. It was quiet. Too quiet, to be cliché. The slightest shuffling through the snow caused them both to flinch and tense, hands ascending to their weapons instinctively.

"Bark! Bark, bark!"

The fearsome monster turned out to be a slobbering chocolate-haired mutt, paws soaking wet from trampling about in the snow and silver-spotted tail wagging ferociously as it skidded to a stop in front of the teenagers. Angeal's face brightened immediately, extending his hand out and whistling softly. "Here, girl. C'mere. Oh, good girl!" The floppy ears twitched with relief as Angeal knelt to scratch them affectionately.

Genesis wrinkled his nose, taking an unconscious step backward from the exchange. "Careful, 'Geal. That thing could be rabid."

"She is not!" Angeal protested vehemently as the dog rolled onto her back to allow her new friend to rub her stomach. "Oh, look at you! Who's a good dog? Poor thing out here all alone in the cold!" The dog whined, left rear paw thumping insistently against the ground.

"Get a room," Genesis mumbled, rolling his eyes at the disgusting exhibition. "Speaking of which, I'm heading over to the inn. Once you're done playing with that mutt, you can go shopping for a razor."

Angeal let out a cough that sounded suspiciously like 'nag' before scouting the village out for something that looked like a convenience store with an obliviously happy dog in tow. Meanwhile, Genesis gathered himself together (attempting to subdue his inexplicable unease) and headed toward the village inn, frowning when he noticed the vacancy sign un-illuminated. Waking up to another three feet of snow did not make another campout sound very appealing. Using the edge of his boot he shoveled away the pile of snow at the base of the door and shirked inside. Upon stepping into the establishment, he became ninety-nine and nine-tenths percent certain that it was haunted. Creaky aged floorboards, a steadily swaying chandelier, silvery threaded spider webs stretching from the ceiling to the spooky frosted panes of the windows… He approached the unoccupied front desk, basking in the eerie silence for a moment before tapping lightly on the bell at the edge of the counter.

The response was surprisingly immediate, signified by a shuffling from the closet beneath the lone stairwell. A man emerged, hunched with age and wiping his rounded glasses on his apron before settling them on his nose. His eyes widened comically, the wrinkled brow of his forehead creasing deeply as he exclaimed, "You're not a traveler?"

"My…" Genesis' voice hitched slightly, "friend and I are passing through to Midgar. Do you have any open rooms?"

"You don't want to stay here, Son," the man spoke gruffly, shaking his head so that the greasy grey locks clung to his perspiring forehead. "Ain't you heard the news? Nibelheim has a monster stalkin' these mountains."

"Monster?" Genesis' attention perked up and he rested his folded arms on the desk, leaning forward as he spoke, "What sort of monster?"

"No witnesses to say. Only disappearances and the tracks we find the next day. Big son of a bitch, I reckon. Claw marks found were about four inches deep. Three adults and two children, all gone missin' within the past two weeks." He sighed, his dark brown eyes clouded with solemnity. "Can't even go outside anymore, no Sir. ShinRa's lackeys arrived just yesterday, but they can't do shit. Couple 'o SOLDIERs stuck a few recruitment posters up and called it a day. They left those," the man pointed at a pile of papers at the edge of the counter, "lyin' around. Fuckin' applications to their brainwashed cult. Can you believe that? They couldn't care if we all dropped dead!"

"How perfectly dreadful," Genesis agreed, pocketing two sets of paperwork when the man's beady eyes shut tight with fury. "So have they been able to track the monster at all?"

"They think it's hangin' around the base of the northern mountain range." The man jerked his thumb (in the direction of south, Genesis noted) and spat, "That don't mean they can catch it, though. I bet it has somethin' to do with that goddamn reactor. Piece o' shit. I was against it from the start."

"Well, between you and me…" Genesis leaned even farther forward, tapping his fingers contemplatively against the desk. "Standard military men take forever to get things done. Establishment, regulations, all of that bullshit. My companion and I happen to be professional exterminators of a sort. We'll get rid of your monster problem for you."

"Exterminators, eh?" He eyed Genesis suspiciously from behind his glasses. "You don't even look like you've seen a battle with a roach!"

Genesis scoffed, retaliating the direct attack on his pride by unsheathing his sword halfway. The crimson blade glistened as he spoke, "This isn't just for show, you know. We've battled more monsters than this town has seen in its lifetime. We'll mince the thing to pieces. Now about that room…"

xXxMyCountermelodyRhapsodyxXx

"You did what now?"

Genesis sighed, crossing his left leg over his right as he was forced to repeat himself: "I offered our services as monster exterminators. Obviously this town is in need of our help."

Angeal forced his frozen fingers to swipe away the last bit of shaving cream from his jaw before cupping his hands and splashing his face with icy water in hopes of awakening himself from this nightmare of a life he led. He rested his forehead against the wall mirror to collect himself before trudging out into the bedroom to snap his nonchalant boyfriend out of his delirious moment of glory. "Genesis, are you completely insane? People are disappearing left and right without a trace. This sounds like something better left to SOLDIER."

"But what if we found the monster first?" Genesis demanded as he clenched his hands, fingernails scraping against the frayed fabric of the quilt beneath him. "We could upstage SOLDIER and become real heroes!"

"Are you even listening to yourself?" Angeal folded his arms, his classic stance against all that is wild and ridiculous that comes out of Genesis' mouth. He resisted the urge to bang his head against the wall, knowing that no self-induced brain damage would knock any sense into his lover's head. "We don't know a single thing about what's causing these disappearances! This isn't something we should walk blindly into."

"We have the weapons, we have the strength." The redhead waved a dismissive hand, sparking Angeal's irritation. "I don't understand what the big deal is."

The younger teenager felt the thread wrapped around his restraint snap loose, and the words came tumbling from his mouth before his mind had a chance to review them: "No, Genesis. You don't understand. There's a difference between playing hero and being one. This is real life, and this town is full of people whose lives are in danger! Using the plight of others as an excuse to prove yourself is petty and spiteful." No sooner did the words escape his lips than Angeal felt his blood freeze in his veins. Genesis rose from the bed in one swift motion, cerulean eyes hardening into the coldest gaze anyone had ever directed at him. Angeal barely registered the sound of the door to their room slamming, splinters of plywood and dust layering the ground below as a result of the force. He was left staring into the air where Genesis had once contentedly sat, realizing exactly what he had done. Angeal sighed, collapsing back on the bed with an arm slung over his eyes.

"Way to go, Hewley. Way to go."

Genesis couldn't hear the ramblings of the inn keeper above the ringing in his ears as he trampled down the stairs and slammed the door to the inn shut behind him. How dare Angeal speak to him that way! Boyfriends were meant to be supportive, were they not? His stomach twisted unpleasantly and for a moment, he thought he might retch. Genesis cursed, every step he took mimicking the pounding of hot blood within his veins. It didn't matter. He would show them all what he was made of. He would show Angeal. The teenager paused when he reached the edge of town, glancing up at the infamous mountain. There was only one passage up, and if he took it straight to the mako reactor he was bound to identify some trace of the monster's whereabouts. He had only Rapier and his materia, and it would be all he needed.

Genesis tugged his collar up to his jaw and began his ascension, glancing up at the sun shadowed by the grey clouds above and estimated another four to five hours of daylight. Plenty of time. The ledge of the mountain became narrower and narrower as he stomped through the snow, forcing him to brush shoulders with the ice-capped mountain with one hand instinctively wrapped around Rapier. The whistling of the wind amplified as he climbed and infiltrated the unsettling silence. His eyes followed his surroundings intently as he took note of indents in the snow and unnatural scratches embedded in the ice. These don't look manmade, he observed, running his hand along four deep scratches in the fresh layer of ice lining the path. The size of these marks… It's hard to believe nobody has actually seen this thing yet.

Genesis straightened up with a sigh that clouded the air in front of his eyes. The ever increasing need for concentration soothed his blinding anger, and he cast a glance down at the town for the first time. Angeal would most certainly worry about him… Perhaps he should head back down and accept his most sincere apology? The words 'petty' and 'spiteful' paced across his mind and his nose wrinkled accordingly. No, he couldn't return to Nibelheim empty-handed. Besides, Angeal needed some time to wallow in his mistake. With a huff of satisfaction he carried on, stepping lightly and keeping one hand glued to the mountain should the tapering cliff side give way. Unused to navigating such a steep and unyielding terrain, a mere five steps found his left foot sliding across the slick ice and over the edge of the cliff. He took a sharp breath, gloved fingers digging into a crevice to steady himself. "Damn," Genesis whispered, sparing a quick glance down toward the base of the mountain before deciding that wasn't the smartest idea. He pulled himself upward and pressed on, feeling just a tad bit nauseous.

xXxMyCountermelodyRhapsodyxXx

Maybe I was too hard on Genesis.

His recklessness is reaching new heights; for both of our sakes, he needs to control himself.

But did I really have to say those horrible things?

He needed a dose of reality. If he puts himself in danger at the wrong time, for the wrong reason…

Angeal wasn't sure how long he laid back on the bed debating with the ceiling, but his patience was wearing thin. He so badly wished to seek out Genesis and ask for forgiveness- but approaching the situation before he knew how risked making it worse. Never before had his boyfriend walked out on him; in fact, the only people who had received the sharpest end of Genesis' temper were his parents. The very thought made Angeal sick to his stomach. Of course. His parents, always telling him what he can and can't do. Always implying he's at fault for wanting aspirations. I never should have spoken that way.

Having successfully defined his faults and the appropriate apology, Angeal sat up and his eyes fell on the Buster Sword. Of course there was an obligation to help the people of Nibelheim if they could, but there was a fine line between assistance and intrusion. But who was to say, even in the midst of said obligation, that they had the strength to fight an opponent even SOLDIER had yet to track down? He rose and strode over to his idle weapon, running his hand over its hilt. There was a certain responsibility that came with the path they had chosen, and the doubt that accompanied it would always be present. Maybe… Gen just didn't have the right words. And neither did I.

Alright, where could Genesis be found now? The pub wouldn't be a bad place to try. Perhaps the lounge downstairs. It was unlikely that Genesis would have taken refuge in someone's home. But as his hand lingered on the hilt of his sword, a horrible possibility ran through his mind. His eyes swept over the room and toward Genesis' belongings, his breath deepening and his heart pounding fiercely against his chest. Rapier was gone. Genesis wouldn't have taken Rapier unless he was planning to use it. Angeal whipped out his phone with shaky hands, trying to calm his unsettled mind long enough to speed-dial Genesis' number.

"The number you have dialed is outside of the service area. Please hang up and try your call at another time."

The mobile phone cracked beneath Angeal's grip and the dots connected as swiftly as his beating heart. The rumors implied the creature in question would be found in the mountains, consequently where Genesis' mobile would lose its signal. Half of him so desperately wished to believe that Genesis would not be so deliberately reckless; the other half accepted the truth and was too busy scolding himself for not realizing it sooner. He snapped his equipped armlet on, strapped his sword to his back, and laced his boots, not giving a second thought to the jacket slung over the bathroom sink that he would surely regret forgetting later. Adrenaline kept his body surging with warmth as he took his first few steps into the cold, some complaint about leaving the door open behind him going unregistered.

He broke out into a run on the empty streets to the silent mantra of 'please be safe, please be safe'. He skidded to a stop in the town square as he was intercepted by the dog whom he had befriend, eyes shining hopefully up at him. "Sorry," he choked out in a breathless whisper. "No time to…" He paused, staring down at animal in wonder. Maybe there was time after all. He began shoveling through his pockets, mind racing in circles around a jumble of cluttered thoughts. I must have something, anything! He took a deep breath, putting a hand to his heart to ease its unsettling rhythm. It was then he felt the distinct metal shape of the Banoran charm beneath his shirt. No, not charm. Charms. Genesis had given him his charm to look after that morning, and Angeal had forgotten to return it.

Angeal unclasped Genesis' necklace and knelt down, holding it out for the dog who curiously sniffed it. It was possible that Genesis' scent still lingered on the pendant; the redhead wore powerful, aesthetically pleasing scents on a regular basis. If his lover was, heaven forbid, trapped or lost… Angeal needed all of the help he could get. "Erm… Can you find him? Fetch?" Angeal wasn't familiar with the mechanics of scent tracking, but this canine seemed to understand his purpose. She stuck her nose out in the air before trailing it down to the ground and sniffing about in circles. Angeal stared hopefully as he clasped his hand around the pendant, making an indent in the middle of his clammy palm.

His heart leapt when the dog gave a start, holding up a single paw with a victorious yowl. She bounded her way toward the base of the northern mountain, glancing back at Angeal to see if he would follow. "Thank you," he breathed, though to whom he wasn't sure, and went sprinting after the dog as quickly as he could without risking a misstep.

xXxMyCountermelodyRhapsodyxXx

Genesis was beginning to lose faith in his methods. He came across more similar markings, some freshly made and others blurred over time. But no monster. His body was beginning to show reactions to the steadily decreasing temperature, and light was becoming scarcer and scarcer as the shrouded sun descended. He was determined not to head back to Nibelheim until absolutely necessary; unfortunately that time was drawing closer and closer. Genesis sighed, squeezing his gloved hand over his sword to keep the circulation flowing as he contemplated the matter. On one hand, he was shivering, wet, cold, and wanted to make up with Angeal. On the other hand... Well, on the other hand was his pride which, more often than not, weighed heavier on the scale than any other factor.

Before he could reach a decision, it was made for him. A heap of snow ricocheted off of the mountain side and tumbled over the ledge before him. Before Genesis could glance up to identify the source of the disruption, a searing hot pain jolted through his right arm. His acquired reflexes leapt into action, and he drew Rapier and slammed it into the side of the mountain to steady himself. Almost instantly he was knocked onto his back, an oddly hot rush of air brushing over his throat. A monstrous snarl sounded from somewhere above him, but when he forced his eyes open there was no enemy to be seen. He paid no mind to the deep slash in his arm, nor the blood seeping from the wound and wetting his sleeve. His dominant hand trembled, but he managed to yank his sword free of the ice and stumble backward cautiously. His eyes darted in every direction catching sight of more dislodged snow falling from the ledges above, before he was once again slammed into the mountainside. What felt like thick, dull blades clasped his throat on either side. His hand ascended swiftly in an attempt to free himself, brushing against an unseen claw and scaly flesh. An invisible enemy?

Genesis lunged his crimson blade upward, hissing as his injured arm labored to protect his body. The pressure was released and Genesis saw a hitch in his sight that was unmistakable: the dull grey texture of the skies blended momentarily with the smooth icy walls of the mountain. The creature, whatever it was, could change color. He strained his ears, focusing on the clicking of claws against ice and the hitches in his sight that would indicate the monster's location. In a split-second realization he swung Rapier up and to the left, feeling a distinct resistance when his blade met the target. The monster hissed, and Genesis activated his Fire materia in hopes of catching it off guard. It's fast, he realized as the flames disintegrated into thin air and the icy layer along the wall above him were scraped, indicating that the creature had traveled up and around to approach him from behind.

xXxMyCountermelodyRhapsodyxXx

Angeal clasped a hand onto the ledge above and pulled himself up, panting softly. The canine, once leading him with barks and howls, now scampered beside him with soft whimpers. The relieved noise that escaped Angeal's lips was a mixture of a sigh and a sob when he lifted his head. His lover was standing before him a mere few feet away; the expression that met his, however, was less than relieved. In fact, Genesis looked utterly horrified and Angeal suspected that it had nothing to do with their fight. He hauled himself over the ledge, catching sight of the crimson blood splattering at Genesis' feet. "Genesis!" He dashed forward as quickly as the terrain would allow.

"Angeal, stop! The monster, it's-" The older teenager swallowed his cry when the unseen creature slammed into Angeal, nearly sending him tumbling over the edge of the mountainside. Genesis lunged forward, grasping Angeal's arm and yanking him upright. "It's invisible, changes colors. Be careful."

"Your arm-"

"It's not bad." Genesis' tone, saturated with urgency, was enough to silence him.

Angeal drew his sword and the two stood back to back as silence fell over them. But it wasn't a silence of reprieve; rather, the silence of the hunted only vaguely aware of their impending doom. A sharp scrape of claws against ice caused them both to tense. Their senses strained to catch any trace of the beast… A touch of snow trickled down from Angeal's left, and he accordingly raised his weapon and slammed it in the direction of the upheaval. His sword met only icy rock.

"It's fast," Genesis whispered, flexing the fingers of his uninjured arm. "But I have an idea."

"Now would be a great time to implement it."

Three seconds of silence, followed by a soft cackle of ice. "Break."

The simple word, one of many they had come to use over the months, served its effect. Angeal dodged forward and dropped to the ground as Genesis activated his Fire materia not in the supposed direction of the monster, but high above it. The flames melted the ice of the mountain side, causing water to drizzle down and fall atop the beast. The drops of liquid appeared suspended in midair, giving away the position of the enemy as it completed its unsuccessful pounce. Angeal's sword made a direct strike, and the monster's charade faltered for a moment. A scaly emerald reptilian monster of seven feet hissed angrily, yellow eyes dilated furiously. The wounded beast toppled over the cliff, claws digging desperately into the rocks, its slender tail lashing out in every direction as it attempted to wriggle out safety.

Well aware of Genesis' intent, Angeal shoved the Buster Sword deeply into the mountainside and wrapped an arm around the other's waist. Genesis activated the first level of Quake; weak enough to spar the mountain from an avalanche, but strong enough to send the monster spiraling helplessly to the ground below. With a sickening crack it struck the ground, utterly motionless for a few tension-filled moments. Genesis sighed, collapsing back against Angeal with relief. The younger teenager held his lover for the sheer sensation, before remembering their Restore materia was linked to his left glove.

"Let me see." His voice escaped in an unintentional whisper as he extended his lover's right arm. The gash was deep and wide, dividing his arm with a bloody ridge. He'd already lost a great deal of blood, as evidenced by the crimson stains in the ice around them. "Oh, Gen-"

"It's nothing." The redhead was pale and trembling, in severe contrast to his words. Angeal didn't speak, merely extended his hand and cast Cure upon the wound. The flesh sealed, tinged a raw pink but no more worse for the wear. Genesis flinched as Angeal's bare arm brushed the exposed flesh. "Angeal, you're freezing."

"I hadn't noticed," Angeal said through chattering teeth, suddenly all too aware of his frosted blue lips and shivering body.

"Bark! Bark, bark, bark!"

Angeal leaned down to scratch the dog's ear, whose tongue lapped in midair in an attempt to catch his flesh. Good dog.

"Idiot." The word was laced with undeniable affection, and would be the last one spoken between them until they reached Nibelheim. The addition of a scaly reptilian monster to the town's décor did not go unnoticed by its population for long. By the time they reached the base of the mountain, a large group of people surrounded the monster's carcass and awaited the descent of its vanquishers. Bombarded by a whirlwind of questions and praise, Genesis took the initiative to explain the situation despite his weakened state:

"Yes, we believe this monster to be the one terrorizing the town. The markings it made seemed to resemble the description of those found near the village following the disappearances."

"No, there was no sign of the victims. I'm afraid that the monster's aggressive nature suggests that their survival would be highly unlikely."

"Monsters have often been linked to mako reactors, but there is no way to tell if the reactor was what was drawing it to Nibelheim."

"No, thank you. We don't accept money for our services."

The pride and exhilaration Genesis predicted he would feel was diminished to nonexistence. Angeal's expression was solemn and stoic, and the forlorn sheen in his eyes was a rare sight to behold. In spite of every word of praise he received, all that seemed to matter was Angeal and the pain in his heart when the man wouldn't meet his eyes. They finally made it back to the inn after promptly refusing a 'key to the city' (whatever that was). Genesis sat on the bed and stripped away his shirt, his motions mechanical and his chest feeling somewhat empty. He gingerly rubbed his freshly healed wound with the cream in their medical bag, his arm shaking with discomfort. The silence of the room tore at his conscience; gratitude, concern, and an apology all teetered on the tip of his tongue.

When he finally looked up at Angeal, slumped tensionless against the doorframe with one hand still linger on the Buster Sword leaning against the wall. Genesis was shocked to find the man's sapphire eyes glistening with unshed tears. "'Geal?" he asked is a ragged voice, to which his lover reluctantly met his gaze. After a moment of heavy silence, Angeal strode over to him and knelt between his legs. Genesis' breath left him as strong arms wrapped around his torso and his lover's head rested against his abdomen.

"For a while today, I was faced with the possibility that I could lose you." Angeal's voice was broken, and nearly did the same to Genesis' heart. "I was so scared, Gen. I never wanted to feel like that ever again. But…" Angeal withdrew one arm, unclasping Genesis' Banoran charm from around his neck and pressing it into the other's hand. "I realized that if we join SOLDIER, I'll never be free of it. That feeling I had when you went off by yourself, when I saw you on the mountain with your arm soaked with blood. I don't know if I can go through with this. I don't know if I'm strong enough."

Genesis trembled, reaching down to cup Angeal's face and lift his head so their eyes met. "Have faith in me, in us. I wouldn't have bothered going to Midgar if I didn't think we could do this. You and I can do anything together, Angeal." Genesis' lips cracked a soft smile. "Hasn't that always been the case?"

A sound resembling a chuckle escaped Angeal's throat as he slid onto the bed and reclined back, pulling Genesis into his arms without the intent of releasing him. "Yeah. I guess you're right."

But even faith itself couldn't displace the fear Angeal felt as he ran a hand over Genesis' chest. He knew that the beat was as fragile as it was strong.

xXxMyCountermelodyRhapsodyxXx

The words mocked him. Genesis considered himself a master of words. He tamed words, and through them he channeled his limitless passion. But these words, printed in tiny standard black font, mocked him. 'Blood type' it read. It was a question that was on the first page of the military application forms he'd obtained from the front desk of the Nibelheim inn. Consequently, the establishment in which he was still stuck. Angeal had insisted that his blood loss was severe enough to stay in the wretched (haunted, Genesis insisted) inn. So what if he got a little dizzy when he stood up, or he saw four too many fingers when Angeal tested his sight? Three days had passed and Angeal insisted that he still seemed 'a touch pale'. At least the rent was free; a courtesy for eradicating the monster, after which no disappearances had yet taken place. Genesis did feel obligated to adhere to Angeal's wishes. After all, it was his… misjudgment that had nearly sliced his own arm in two and caused his lover's case of near-hypothermia.

And so here he sat, alone on a lumpy bed trying to pass the time by filling out paperwork. The questions, however, were becoming progressively harder. His name had been easy enough to write, though he cringed when he wrote out the word 'Rhapsodos'. His address? Why, he'd use the Hewley residence of course. Amongst the basics were sprinkled questions he couldn't answer if his life depended on it. Allergies? He had no clue. Blood type? His parents had never told him that. Not that Genesis expected them to know. They probably couldn't even name his eye color. His immunization records? He hadn't thought of taking those when he moved out of the Rhapsodos manor. And what the hell was his social security number? He'd memorized it at some point, but it was getting harder and harder to recall.

"How's it going?" Angeal's sympathetic voice was music to his ears as the younger teenager slipped through the doorway, tossing his mobile absently between his hands.

"Swimmingly," Genesis sneered, tapping his pen on the bedpost pointedly. "What's my blood type?"

Angeal raised an eyebrow as he sat himself down on the edge of the bed. "How am I supposed to know?"

"You're my boyfriend. You're meant to know those sorts of things."

"Never saw that in the job description." Angeal flopped back onto his back and smiled a rather charming smiling, quelling Genesis' irritation and earning a chaste kiss. "I have good news anyhow. I just got off the phone with my mother. She said she can fax both of our medical records to us."

Genesis smiled, allowing the documents in his hand to flutter atop the bedspread beside him. "I do love your mother." The smile promptly faded as he wondered aloud, "You don't think she'll ask my parents for them?"

"Not likely," Angeal scoffed. "The clinic probably kept complete records; most people who are born in Banora, die in Banora. She's going to send them to the only fax machine in town: the bookstore across the square. I'll head over there and wait for it."

"Nonsense!" Genesis leapt to his feet a little too quickly, arching his spine with a pleasant crack and a shiver. "You just get started on these awful application forms. I could use the fresh air."

Angeal eyed him up and down carefully, a grimace crossing his features. Perhaps, in light of his smothering Genesis ever since his injury, he owed the other a little peace and quiet in a bookstore. He consented with a stiff nod, taking Genesis' place against the headboard. "Take care, Gen. Call me if you need anything."

"You'd make a good mother," Genesis assured him with a roll of the eyes, shuffling over to his pack to fish out his jacket… of which the torn right sleeve had been seamlessly mended. "A very good mother," Genesis muttered to himself, glancing over his shoulder to see Angeal wink. He smiled in return, wrapping his jacket around his body almost tenderly. "Well, I'll be off then."

As the threat of the monster had been eradicated, he found the streets of Nibelheim pleasantly busier. Citizens were out and about shoveling snow, chopping wood, and catching up on the latest gossip. The town was healthy with life and bustling once more; apart from, of course, the distant mansion that simply oozed an aura of 'stay-away-or-suffer-unfathomable-consequences'. Genesis shoved his hands into the pockets of his pants with a shiver. The sooner we get out of this place the better.

Genesis shuffled across the town square, earning many a greeting in the form of warm smiles and cheerful waves. At least some good came of your rash stupidity. He sighed, squinting at the worn signs hanging over the shops. They were nearly indistinguishable, but he supposed that it wouldn't be too presumptuous to try the shop with the icon of stacked books above the doorway. A soft bell sounded when he opened the door, complemented by an indignant squeak of the floorboards. Genesis had never thought he would come across a bookshop more unimpressive than that of Banora's. Nibelheim proved to be a worthy exception. The store couldn't have been more than ten feet in length and breadth, with a total of two isles of scantily-clad shelves on the far right. On the left was a lone desk, equipped with a surely outdated computer and fax machine. Seeing no one in sight, he shrugged and checked the fax machine for any signs of life. When staring at the machine proved to be even less exciting than it sounded, he began to browse the shelves. They seemed to be stacked with just a little bit of everything, from historical texts to romance novels. He couldn't guess the system used to organize the texts, so he merely shrugged, plucking the book with the brightest-colored cover from the shelves.

"You won't like that one."

Genesis jolted, snapping the book shut and whirling around. It took him a few moments to locate the source of the voice, as it was huddled in the corner and rather low to the ground. A young blonde boy sat cross-legged on the floor, staring at Genesis with blue eyes half-lidded from boredom. In his lap was a script of some kind, which he promptly returned his eyes to once Genesis met his gaze. "It's a horrible book," the boy continued, keeping his eyes fixed on the pages of his own text. "They made us read it last year in school. "It's meant to make some sort of outstanding political statement, but it's just tedious."

"I see." Genesis replaced the book, frowning down at the boy. Ordinarily Genesis might have ignored the child (as he found children in general rather repulsive), but he couldn't take his eyes off of the boy. There was something… strange about him. It struck Genesis within a few seconds of contemplation. The boy couldn't have been more than seven or eight. Ordinary children of that age were keen on avoiding books altogether, having been traumatized by their first formal attempts at reading in school. The boy should have been off playing with his friends, or committing some sort of juvenile nonsense. Genesis swallowed hard as an image came to him of his seven-year-old self, curled up in the library to avoid his indifferent parents and suspicious neighbors. "So, what are you reading there?" Genesis asked, trying not to sound too terribly patronizing.

The boy simply held up the cover. Genesis leaned forward, squinting a bit. The worn cover simply read LOVELESS. No author was listed. "Sounds depressing," he muttered, straightening and cocking his head curiously. "What's it about?"

"You've never read LOVELESS?" The boy looked almost disgusted, which caused Genesis some odd form of indignity. Never before had his literary escapades been questioned by anyone, let alone some kid. "It's only the most epic poem in existence. They made a whole play about it!"

"Oh?" Genesis sat down and took the book from the boy's outstretched hand, flipping through the pages.

"That edition is in two parts," the boy explained with a sense of authority. "First comes the poem, and then the script that's based on it. Everyone in Nibelheim has to read it in their second year of schooling, but everyone in my class is too stupid to understand it."

Genesis suppressed a smile. Had he sounded as arrogant when he was that young? "Do you read a lot?"

"Not like there's much else to do," the boy muttered, clasping his right hand to his left arm. He returned his eyes to Genesis, studying him curiously. "You're not from Nibelheim," he observed aloud as he examined the teenager.

"No. I'm Genesis." Faced with a child of a considerably developed mentality, he did the only proper thing and offered his hand out, which was reluctantly accepted.

"That's a weird name," he informed said teenager, though without disdain.

"I suppose it is," Genesis admitted, awkwardly shuffling a hand through his red locks. "What's yours?"

"Cloud." The boy blushed, toying with his hands and averting his gaze.

"As in the fluffy white things in the sky?"

"Yeah." Cloud winced, as though expecting a blow to his self-esteem.

Genesis shrugged, turning his attention to the book in his hand. "Unusual names make for unusual people, I suppose. Can't be a bad thing." He ran his hand over the cover, relishing the sensation of well-loved binding beneath his fingertips. He flipped open the book to this supposedly famous poem he had yet to come across.

He read it once.

He frowned, and read it for the second time.

He decided it was the worst poem he'd ever read.

He read it for a third time.

He decided that stylistically it was beautiful, but he had no idea what it meant.

He read it for the fourth time.

He decided that it was the most enthralling literary piece he'd ever laid eyes on.

"It's…" Genesis didn't have an appropriate word to describe it. He would never have the right words. Every word that ever came out of his mouth for as long as he lived would be inferior to these words. He felt like the meaning of it all was right in front of him while he grasped blindly at it. No poem or story had ever left him so thirsty for satisfaction. Who was the Goddess? What was her gift? Was this journey purely metaphorical? Most importantly, what was its conclusion? Perhaps its adapted script would offer some clarification? Genesis shut the book with gentle hands, mind buzzing with fragments of the poem.

Seeing that he had finished, Cloud added, "People say it's not finished. The poem, I mean. That there's another stanza that got lost over time. But that's usually what people say when they don't like the ending to something."

"Stories don't have endings," Genesis mumbled, eyes fixed on the book in his hands. "They're eternal. They're always happening, being relived over and over again. That's why people write them down." He blinked and glanced up, remembering who he was speaking with. "Do you like poetry?"

Cloud nodded, his lips pursed in what seemed to be contemplation. "Yeah. You kind of have to… figure it out. It's more interesting that way."

You know, as far as kids were concerned, Cloud really wasn't all that bad. Even so, the teenager's smile gradually melted. Cloud was smart. Smart children were almost always lonely children.

You would know, wouldn't you?

The terse silence was broken by an erratic buzzing noise sounding from across the room. Upon investigation, he found several papers spilling over the edge of the fax machine's tray. Genesis leaned over and collected the scattered documents with his free hand, all while clutching LOVELESS to his chest. "I don't suppose I can borrow this book from you?" Genesis asked as he shuffled the papers into some sort of order before glancing back at Cloud.

A shy, subtle smile passed over the boy's face. A sign of approval? "You can keep it if you want. I have two more copies back at home."

Genesis returned the gesture with a smile of his own. In a sense, childhood was the most honest age. Children didn't act out of kindness because they felt obligated; they did it simply because they wanted to. "Thank you, Cloud. I'll take good care of it." He nodded once before making his way out of the shop, each step feeling lighter than normal. When he returned to the inn, he found Angeal frowning at the application papers in a manner similar to his own earlier.

Angeal glanced up from his seat on the bed, documents neatly piled in a semi-circle all around him. "The fax came through alright?"

"I didn't really get a good look at it," Genesis admitted, dumping the disordered papers on the other side of the bed before carefully setting his newfound literary excursion on the nightstand. He sat down and began to sort through the disorderly papers, making one pile for himself and another for Angeal. When they were more-or-less sorted, Genesis sat up against the headboard and began to scan over his details. He frowned, reaching to the side to flick on the bedside lamp. It was… odd. It looked as though someone had haphazardly splattered white correction fluid across random areas of the paper. The compilation appeared more like the rough draft of an incomplete research report than birth records. He compared them side-by-side:

PrXXecX G, SpXXimXn 1 / XroXXXt G, SXXcimXX 2

Sex: M / Sex: M

Given Name: Genesis / Given Name: Angeal

AXoXXXd Surname: Rhapsodos / Surname: Hewley

Date of Birth: September 13, 1977 / Date of Birth: December 15, 1977

Born to: CXlXstXXe XinXeX / Born To: Gillian Hewley

Location of Birth: MBS LB 3. CNT. / Location of Birth: MBS LB 2 CNT.

Eye Color: Blue / Eye Color: Blue

Hair Color: Auburn / Hair Color: Black

Weight: 6.243 lbs. / Weight: 7.565 lbs.

Blood Type: A+ / Blood Type: O-

Pulse: Below Average /Pulse: Healthy

Allergic Reactions: None / Allergic Reactions: None

This was followed by immunization records and citizenship certificates, written in coded nonsense that made little sense. Genesis frowned, smoothing his finger over the smudged section where his mother's name should have appeared.

"That's weird," Angeal murmured, glancing over Genesis' shoulder and pointing at the code listed on the top of each page. LB 2: M-BASE SHINRA: D-1. "This isn't from Banora. It's a fax from ShinRa headquarters in Midgar."

"That can't be right," Genesis insisted, frowning as he glanced between the papers. "Why would ShinRa have our records?"

"Maybe Mom sent them to ShinRa. And ShinRa… sent them to us?" Angeal suggested with a half-shrug. "As long as we have the information, I guess it really doesn't matter."

Genesis flipped through the pages, his frown deepening. "Look here. Some of it's been blotted out."

Angeal reached over and plucked the papers from his hands. "Must have been a problem with the fax machine. The important parts are still readable."

"My mother's name is missing."

"You know your mother's name," Angeal murmured distractedly, the tip of his pen furiously scratching the paper as he filled out the blank areas of the application. Genesis didn't respond as he sat up against the headboard, tucking his knees to his chest and curling his arms around them. Silence pursued until Angeal reached the final page, allowing the pen to go limp in his hand. Angeal's tone softened to a whisper: "There's one question I wasn't sure how to answer."

"What, some stupid essay question? 'Why do you want to join ShinRa'?" Genesis scoffed, tugging absently on the cuffs of his jacket.

"Who do want notified in the event of injury or death?"

The redhead stiffened, inclining his head toward Angeal. The other refused to meet his eyes, keeping his sight firmly poised on the paper before him. Genesis sighed, resting his head on Angeal's shoulder and mumbling three names into his lover's ear.

The sooner we get out of this town, the better.

xXxMyCountermelodyRhapsodyxXx

"Hello?"

"It's me."

"…Gillian? Gillian Hewley?"

"Yes."

"I wasn't expecting to hear from you. What-?"

"I wasn't expecting to call. Do you have a pen?"

"One moment… yes."

"Take down this code: BD 1: NIBEL: D-7. Send Angeal and Genesis' records as soon as possible."

"Angeal and Genesis?"

"Can I trust you to filter the information appropriately?"

"They're coming to Midgar."

"Don't sound so surprised. This is what you wanted, isn't it? You did everything in your power to make this happen."

"It wasn't like that. Angeal, he must be fifteen. And Genesis is… I see. You've kept the truth from them all this time?"

"They're better off not knowing."

"This is nothing to be ashamed of."

"And you wonder why I left."

"Gillian-"

"Swear to me you won't say a word."

"I won't have to. They'll figure it out for themselves."

"You are not going to treat my boys like they're experiments."

"The experiments have already been done. All that's left is the observation."

(A/N: Just in case you forgot, or simply tuned me out at the beginning….

abyss-valkyrie. deviantart. com/

Go check out her amazing gallery. Her renditions of Angeal and Genesis are amazing, alongside many other beautiful pieces.)