Been a while, huh? Sorry for the wait, school has been keeping me busy and not leaving my brain much space for stories. But I've had this one planned for a long time, and finally managed to get it finished. This one takes place very early in the Decorum chronology, as you'll see. I hope it pleases.
Disclaim disclaim, yadda.
Part of the Decorum series
Angeal smiled up at the cloudless blue sky, inahling the leafy scent of the forest and feeling happy to be alive. The air in Midgar was nothing like this, full of smoke and smog, but this, this he was eager to fill his lungs with. He knelt by a patch of wildflowers and smelled...a strange mixture of lavender and iris, neither of which were indigenous to this region.
"Gen, did you just put more sunscreen on?"
"No. You must be smelling my hair protector." Genesis Rhapsodos, half a year older than Angeal at fourteen, squealed indignantly when the can he was spraying was yanked from his hand. "'Geal, I need that! The sun is unforgiving on this part of the planet!"
"I promise your lovely hair will still be auburn when we get home. The whole point of this trip was to relax and breathe the fresh air."
"You just don't understand because your hair doesn't change color," Genesis sniffled, but put the can away in his satchel.
"Are you okay? Do you want to take a break?"
"Goddess, 'Geal, when you're not lecturing you're hovering." But Genesis smiled, the rare unmichievous smile that made him glow and Angeal's heart skip a beat. "I'm fine. I took my meds and everything, and don't forget, I happen to be a SOLDIER, just like you two. Speaking of which, where's Seph?"
Angeal pointed, and they both turned. About twenty feet away from them, a silver-haired twelve-year-old boy was standing beneath a tree filled with yellow flowers, looking at it critically with both hands on the trunk. The sight was beautiful, mostly because the boy was indescribably lovely. Genesis liked to joke that Sephiroth would always break a lot of hearts, partly because he didn't know what else to do with them.
They were best friends, this trio, a group of newly-promoted 1st Classes allowed this brief vacation to do some camping and hiking. Angeal eagerly jumped on any excuse to be outside, but the most important thing for all of them was getting Sephiroth some time out of the lab. Though easily the most talented, Sephiroth was also the most sheltered of the three, hardly seeing anything but battles and examination tables. Genesis had suggested, pleaded for, stomped his feet till they got permission to take the younger boy with them, no chaperone required.
Angeal was proud of Genesis, on top of being in love with him. Genesis was a very attention-seeking person, and Angeal had worried that eventually he would grow to resent the spotlight always being on Sephiroth. If anything, though, Genesis had become almost maternal toward the boy, a compliment to Angeal's paternal way.
"Isn't he just the most darling thing?" Genesis cooed in a whisper, and headed to Sephiroth in his usual slinky walk. "You like this tree, Seph?"
The boy looked at him with slight confusion. "It is a kuponut tree. They grow to a maximum height of two hundred feet and are easily identifiable by three-petal yellow flowers in the spring and the presence of white nuts in the summer."
"Yes, Seph, but isn't it beautiful? Don't you feel rested just being near it?"
Sephiroth looked back at the tree, then adjusted his hands slightly, as though that were the problem.
"It's alive, but still, it breathes without speaking," Genesis went on. "It's a gift of the Goddess."
"I see," Sephiroth said slowly, though they all knew he didn't really.
"Doesn't being near it make you feel at peace?" Genesis didn't wait for an answer this time. "Never mind. Why don't you climb up and see which way is east?"
"East is that way," Sephiroth said, pointing.
"Oh, yes, I forgot you have a compass in your head." Genesis sounded slighlty displeased, as he had been hoping for a moment alone with Angeal. "How about you bring me a sample from the top? Maybe we can plant it somewhere in the Compound."
Sephiroth nodded and leapt lightly onto the lowest branch. He didn't suspect a thing, as he was used to being challenged like this by executives and doctors. It wouldn't take him long, he was swift at everything, so Genesis didn't waste a moment. The very second Sephiroth was a safe distance up, Genesis had his arms around Angeal and their mouths were together. The kiss was brief, but passionate nearly enough to bruise.
"I wish we could just do this in front of everyone," Genesis sighed when they separated.
"Exhibitionist," Angeal joked, smoothing the older boy's hair back into place. "We can't risk Hollander taking it badly, he could separate us. And Seph might feel left out."
"I know, I know our reasons, it just sucks."
"Bite me, I don't have to be poetic every moment."
Sephiroth landed beside them, rather cat-like, and held out part of a branch loaded with yellow blossoms. "I suggest you cultivate it in the lab first if you wish to replicate the tree."
"Thank you, darling," Genesis said, slipping the branch into a plastic sample bag.
"What is wrong with your mouth? Your lips appear to be swollen."
"What? Oh, um, nothing. I, uh, kissed the tree. Guess I got carried away."
Sephiroth believed him; it was the sort of thing nature-loving Genesis would do, as long as there weren't bugs involved.
"Would you like me to find some orris root? It is helpful for both edema and anaphylaxis."
"No, thank you dear, I'll be fine."
Angeal shielded his eyes and scanned the horizon - or what he could see of it beyond the trees. "We're making good time. Gen, do you want to take a break?"
"I don't need breaks, you over-concerned hunk of worried man-meat. Now, I appreciate a little coddling as much as the next girl - "
"Boy, fine, but just because I tend to get sick much too often in the filthy city that is our beloved home does not mean I'll do the same out in the Goddess's glorious - "
"Gen, shut up a minute. Is this yours?" Angeal said quickly, holding up a doll-sized triangle of white satin.
"Hmm? Of course not, you nagged us to keep our White Capes close and that's what I'm doing, even though it is so not my color. Isn't that yours?"
"No, I just found it on the ground, and those frog things are everywhere. It must be one of ours, there's no one else around, and where's Seph?"
A suddenly-pale Genesis gaped and wordlessly pointed to a pile of leather clothes on the ground...
...a pile of Sephiroth's clothes...
...with a silver frog sitting in the middle of them.
"Are you sure you've got him?"
"Yes, yes, Sephiroth is cooperative even as a frog. I'm a little more concerned about the fact that Hojo is going to murder us."
"No, he won't."
"I want my ashes buried under my favorite tree."
"Gen, if we keep calm and don't lose our heads, Hojo will never find out anything happened. We just need to get ahold of a Maiden's Kiss, and I'm sure the town we're closest to has them."
"I want apple blossoms and red lilies for the viewing."
"C'mon, it's not far."
"What's the place called?"
"Gongaga," Angeal said, slowly as to not let his tongue get tangled. "It's called Gongaga."
The young SOLDIERs quickly found the path that led to the village, a trail that was clearer and better maintained than all the others. As Angeal suggested they do, they agreed to remove their new 1st Class badges, as one never knew what towns had a problem with ShinRa and which didn't. Their cover story, should they need one, was that they were just boys from Banora seeing the world. As they reached the first sign of habitation, a small graveyard, Angeal quietly reminded Genesis.
"I know, I know," Genesis said, rolling his eyes. He was very proud of their rank and not pleased in the slightest. "Watch out, chibis approaching."
Angeal didn't have enough time to get out of the way, and a group of giggling children raced past him on both sides. He smiled, having always liked kids. One of his ongoing struggles with Genesis was the decision of whether or not they should someday adopt. So far he was winning, but suspected Genesis intended to leave most of the parenting - and all of the cleaning up - to him.
They halted for a moment, and Genesis lifted the frog he held up to eye level, wincing when it croaked inquisitively at him.
"At least he didn't run, I mean hop off," Angeal said.
"Poor Seph, he's not used to being unattractive."
"For a frog, he's actually pretty handsome. You want me to hold him?"
Genesis, who even as a child would never touch something as dirty as a frog, shook his head and gently patted the little creature.
"Just be good, Seph, we'll have you back to your lovely little self in no time."
"See, he has complete faith in us," Angeal tried to convince Genesis. "Let's keep going."
The air was warm and humid, unlike what the boys were used to in the temperate climates of Midgar and Banora. Angeal was grateful they weren't in this part of the world's hottest season, or it would definitely be uncomfortable. Genesis thought it was similar to Costa del Sol, where his parents had taken him once, only the heat was drier there. Nice and tropical as this area was, with its lush forests and exotic flowers, considering Sephiroth's situation, the boys were eager to fix him and get going.
Angeal approached the first person they saw, an elderly man walking slowly with a cane. He was clutching a spray of wildflowers, and from the looks of it headed toward the cemetery.
"Excuse me, sir? I hope I'm not bothering you, but is there an Item shop here that sells Maiden's Kisses?"
"Ah, what's that?" The old man laughed heartily. "There'd be no need for such things if maidens weren't so stingy, eh?"
Angeal laughed politely.
"Young Zeke's been running the Item shop since his dad passed on. You won't be finding Maiden's Kisses there, though."
Angeal's heart sank. There were other villages around the woods, but all smaller and therefore less likely to have what they needed. At this rate, it looked like they'd have to journey all the way back to Cosmo Canyon.
"Don't look so down, my boy," the old man went on. "What you need is Zara, the village healer. She's the mayor's wife."
Angeal felt Genesis stiffen, and looks of annoyance and love passed between them in an instant.
Gen, they won't be -
Not all mayors are like my parents, I know. Thanks, 'Geal.
"Yeah, we get a lot of Frog cases 'round here," the old man went on, peering through his spectacles at Sephiroth. "Can't say I've ever seen a silver frog before, though."
"Thank you, sir," Genesis said, quickly bowing his head and hustling the group along before any questions could be asked.
"Cross the footbridge, and it's the first house you reach! Next to the ornamental pool!"
Genesis and Angeal followed these directions, observing the village as they went through it. Though small, the town appeared cheerful and thriving, bustling with shops and outdoor stalls selling produce grown locally. The homes were all storybook cottages, with brick chimneys and flower boxes in every window.
"You've got that smile on your face, 'Geal. Don't tell me - you're thinking this would be a nice place to raise kids."
"...well, yes, a little. Mostly I was thinking how well the plants grow here. We should have brought a Banora White, just to test it."
"Maybe we'll come back someday. With more bug repellant."
"Bugs were created by the Goddess too."
"Even She can make mistakes, then."
The ornamental pool was shining brilliantly in the bright sun, and it was dotted all over with white-flowered lily pads. Even Genesis, ever the critic of all things aesthetic, stopped to nod at it. They reached the closest house to it and knocked on the rounded door. It opened after just a moment, but they saw no one until they looked down at the floor.
"Ruff!" the creature said twice. It was a little boy, Angeal figured to be between five and seven, with a head full of short black spikes and a beaming smile under pale blue eyes. Angeal found himself kneeling down, and smiling himself.
"Hello. Is your mother home?"
"Ruff! I'm a doggy. I can't answer questions."
"What's wrong with it?" Genesis whispered.
"Zack, what have I told you about answering the door?"
The voice preceded the woman by just a moment, a pretty one with long hair like a black waterfall down her back. Like her son, she was dressed in vibrant colors, and her eyes were the same cerulean. She opened the door wider and smiled at the two strangers.
"Zara Fair, please call me Zara. Welcome to Gongaga."
Angeal bowed. "My name is Angeal, and this is Genesis. We're travellers from Banora."
"You've come a long way. Do come in and have some tea."
"Oh, we don't want to be a bother."
"Nonsense, it would be my pleasure," Zara said, ushering them into the house. "And don't mind Zack, he's just very imaginative."
Angeal and Genesis found themselves in the living room of a small but cheerfully decorated home, with windows that let in the early afternoon light and colorful ceremonial masks adorning the walls. Zara settled them into chairs at a round wooden table and bid them make themselves at home while she went to the kitchen. Little Zack ignored her requests for him to follow her, but Angeal insisted he didn't mind the child, who was now sniffing the guests' boots. Genesis watched the boy with a certain amount of wariness, perhaps even suspicion, while Angeal was amused.
"We used to play pretend games too, Gen."
"Hmm, yes, but I don't think I ever romped about on my hands and knees, certainly not in front of strangers."
Angeal thought for a moment, and decided that yes, Genesis had always been careful about his dignity. "Kids are less worried about what people think."
"Yes, yes, innocence is adorable and all that. You might be singing a different tune if it tries to mark its territory."
"Use pronouns, Gen."
Zack sat on his knees and looked up, blue eyes wide. "What's your name?"
"I thought puppies couldn't talk," Angeal said with a smile.
"I'm not a puppy anymore."
"Ah. My name is Angeal."
"Ooh," the boy said, clearly impressed. "Mama says angels watch over people and protect them. Are you here to watch over me?"
Angeal was a littled bit flustered, having never been confused with a celestial being before. He couldn't think what would be the best thing to say, so he settled on gesturing to Genesis and saying "Mostly I watch over him. But I can watch over you for as long as I'm here."
"Yay!" Zack exclaimed, and hugged Angeal's leg.
"My angel," Genesis whispered, his eyes luminescent.
Zara returned with a tray, and poured tea for the two teenagers. They complimented it with sincerity, and she explained that the blend was a town specialty, made of local herbs and berries.
"You said you're from Banora?"
"Angels come from heaven, silly Mama," Zack said, then went back to ignoring them. He was under the table playing with a set of toy cars, occasionally driving them over Angeal's boot and up his leg.
"We've always wanted to travel," Genesis said, fully in polite-boy mode. "We've just come from Cosmo Canyon."
"A wonderful place," Zara said. "My husband Owen studied there for a few years, and my teacher in the art of healing is an elder there."
"That's why we've come, because we've been told you could help our friend."
Genesis held up the frog that had been sitting patiently on his lap.
"Oh dear." Zara smiled. "A friend of yours got too close to the Touch Mes, I see. Yes, I can help. I'm often called upon for just this problem. I don't have any of the reversal pills made at the moment, so it will take a little time. First I'll have to get some more willow bark."
"We can get it for you," Angeal offered. "I noticed a small grove of white willows near the village entrance."
"Ah, you too are a lover of trees. Thank you, I would appreciate that."
Genesis and Angeal stood, but stopped there. Zack was once again clinging to Angeal's leg.
"I wanna go too!"
"We wouldn't mind watching him, if you don't mind, ma'am," Angeal said before Zara could reprimand the boy.
"Well, if you're sure. Zack, promise you'll behave."
"Promise!" the boy said happily, and eagerly accepted Angeal's offer of a piggyback ride.
Genesis couldn't be persuaded to leave Sephiroth behind, but accepted the offer of a hand-woven basket to carry him in. They set off the way they had come, the short distance to the village entrance. The SOLDIERs noticed that having Zack with them made them much more welcome in the small village, the boy's presence being a sign that they were friends of the mayor's family. Everyone they passed said hello, and a few observed aloud that Zack had made some new friends. The child's calm insistence that one of them was an angel received indulgent smiles.
"Here we are," Angeal said, gently letting Zack down. "White willow bark takes a little time to get. It peels, but breaks if you pull too hard. Keep an eye on him, Gen."
Genesis nodded, though the presence of children always made him feel unsure of himself. He was a young man with a good heart, though, and watching Zack talk in reverent whispers to the wildflowers was almost enough to curb his uneasiness.
"I see you're gentle with flowers," he tried. "That's good. They are gifts of the Goddess."
"Mama said the Goddess made the whole world, and she's a nice lady. Did she make fish too? I like fish."
"Yes, the fish, and the clouds, and even you, little one."
Zack beamed. "Daddy says a golden condor brought me to him and Mama."
Genesis smiled. "My parents said a stork brought me to them."
"What's a stork?"
"It's a bird with a long beak."
"Did we come from bird eggs?"
"Maybe. The Goddess can do anything, so I'm sure she can hide babies in bird eggs."
Zack's attention shifted to the basket Genesis held, only noticing it just now. "What's in there?"
"A friend of ours. He's been turned into a frog."
Zack's little eyes widened. "You're not s'posed to touch the Touch Mes. You get in big trouble for that."
"He is in trouble, but your mother says she can fix him."
"Mama always helps people who are sick." Zack edged closer, and pointed to the basket. "Can I see?"
Reluctantly, Genesis lifted the lid, and there was Sephiroth, having lost none of his patience in his transformed state. He observed his new observer with a familiar analytical stare, and croaked out a "Ribbit!" Zack seemed to be delighted.
"I've never seen silver frog. He's pretty. Ooh, is he a prince that a mean witch put a spell on?"
"I don't believe so," Genesis said, amused by the child's inventive mind.
"I know how to find out!"
Without warning, Zack leaned into the basket and placed a noisy kiss on the frog's head. Sephiroth's eyes looked all around; he seemed to be perplexed about what had just happened to him. Genesis looked mildly scandalized, and Angeal continued his work on the tree while choking back laughter.
Seph's first kiss, and it's a little boy in a foreign land. The thought was both touching and hilarious.
"I guess he's not a prince," Zack said, shrugging. "But he's still pretty."
"Very pretty," Genesis agreed.
"Okay," Angeal said at last. "This should be enough bark. Let's head back."
Zack ran ahead of them, giving the two a chance to talk privately.
"Can you believe it, 'Geal? I always hoped Seph would have a normal first kiss, something special."
"Considering how unusual Seph is, this might be considered normal for him. At least it seemed to be given with genuine affection, and we know that's something he deserves and needs."
Genesis sighed. "I worry about him, 'Geal. I worry he'll never have the happiness we do."
"I know, I worry too. But Seph will always attract attention, good and bad, and somewhere in there, the right person will come along. We've got to believe that."
"I do. I will." Genesis smiled wanly. "Typical, isn't it? Even as a frog, he gets more attention than me."
Angeal put his arm around Genesis as they walked. It wasn't what Genesis had been hinting for, but as always, he welcomed the warm touch.
They returned to the mayor's house just as a tall man with messy black hair was on his way out of it. He was dressed plainly and casually, apparently needing no symbol of authority, and had a kind face with wire-rimmed glasses.
"Daddy!" Zack shouted happily, and almost knocked the man over.
"Hey, Zacky!" The mayor lifted up the boy and spun him around. "Being good for Mama? She said you've made friends with our guests."
"One of them is an angel," the child loudly whispered.
"Then I'll be extra polite. Hello," he greeted the teenagers, and offered the hand that wasn't holding Zack. "Owen Fair. Welcome to Gongaga. May the sun shine on your path, as we say here."
"I'm Angeal, this is Genesis," Angeal said, while Genesis watched in surprise. The warmth this man exuded was the polar opposite of his own parents.
"I'm off to settle a dispute, but you'll find Zara inside," Owen said, pausing to kiss Zack before he went off.
Zara was waiting for him, and complimented Angeal's work at stripping the bark so neatly. She poured them some more tea and said she would need to do her work in the kitchen, so Angeal again offered to look after Zack. The boy seemed pleased by this and crawled onto Angeal's lap.
"Friendly little thing, isn't he," Genesis commented dryly.
"Are you finished being a puppy for the day?" Angeal asked the child. The sight had been rather cute.
Zack yawned. "I'm too sleepy to be a puppy," he said, leaving them no time to debate the logic of that. "Tell me a story."
"I don't think Loveless is what he had in mind, Gen."
"Fine, brute." Genesis leaned his glossy auburn head onto Angeal's shoulder. "Tell us a story."
"Hmm, let's see..."
Zack blinked his heavying eyes. "Do you know any stories about SOLDIERs? My friend Alex says he's gonna be a SOLDIER when he's old enough, and that maybe we could be SOLDIERs together."
Genesis and Angeal shared a look.
"Okay...once upon a time, there were two brave SOLDIERs named Alex and Zack."
Zack snuggled into Angeal's chest with a happy sigh.
"One day the two brave SOLDIERs were patrolling the streets of a small, quiet town. All of a sudden, a beautiful maiden came running through the village gate, shouting that a terrible dragon was heading their way. The SOLDIERs sprang into action, gathering their comrades together and telling everyone else to hide behind the stone walls of the king's castle. As the sun rose higher and morning became afternoon, they could finally see the dragon walking down the road toward them, a huge blue beast covered with hard scales, flapping enormous wings and breathing gray smoke.
"When the beast was close to the village gate, Alex called out 'What do you want here, mighty dragon?' The dragon roared back that it was angry, and wanted to take out its anger on everyone in its path.
"'If you try to harm this village or anyone in it,' brave Zack shouted, 'we will be forced to destroy you.'
"'Destroy me?' laughed the dragon, 'You can try, but you will be destroyed yourself, just like every other man foolish enough to face me.'
"To show its deadly power, the dragon reared back on its hind legs and exhaled a stream of fire, burning a nearby tree until nothing was left but ash. The villagers watched from behind the castle walls in great fear, but - Gen? How long has he been asleep?"
For Zack was indeed deeply asleep, breathing quietly into Angeal's shirt, far away as only dreams can take us.
"Passed out after the first sentence." Genesis smiled. "I do like when you get creative, 'Gealy. What happened next?"
"Oh...Zack the courageous SOLDIER sees that the dragon has a thorn in his paw, and realizes that's why he's angry. The SOLDIERs pull it out, and the dragon settles on a nearby mountain and protects the village for the rest of his life."
"Not quite Loveless, but I rather like it. What do you think, Seph?"
The silver frog blinked its bulbous eyes several times.
Zara came in just then, and stopped short at the sight of her son. "He's...asleep?" she said quietly, sounding amazed.
"Yes, ma'am, I think he tired himself out with all that playing."
"Usually it takes me hours to get Zack to take a nap. You have a wonderful skill, Angeal, I hope you get to use it on your own children one day." She handed a small paper bag to Genesis, who jumped to his feet. "Just put this in your friend's mouth, that'll change him back almost instantly. And tell him to be more mindful about his White Cape from now on."
Genesis bowed, and Angeal said "How much do we owe you?"
Zara laughed softly, a wonderful sound. "I feel like I should be paying you for baby-sitting. If you can get Zack in his bed without waking him up, we'll call it even."
Angeal gallantly protested, but Zara was firm. The young SOLDIER stood carefully, followed Zara into the boy's small, toy-strewn bedorom, and made his way slowly over a train set and carved wooden animal figures to the purple-blanketed bed. Zack stirred a little as he was set down, but his eyes remained closed, and he contentedly murmured something about angels, and was still save for the gentle rise and fall of his breathing.
"He probably won't remember me," Angeal whispered to himself, "but I won't forget you, little guy." More than ever, Angeal hoped for a future for himself and Genesis, a future that included children who would be told bedtime stories and taught to value honor.
"Only the Goddess knows," Zara said softly as she led them out. "Perhaps your path will cross ours again. I hope so."
Before they left, Angeal tried once again to pay Zara for her service, and was again cheerfully refused. She said goodbye to them at the front door, and stood there to wave to them until the Gongaga road took them out of each other's sight.
"Nice town," Genesis said as they headed back to the cover and privacy of the forest trail. "Wouldn't mind coming back, if we ever get time off again. Unlikely. Okay, Seph, hold on..."
"I'm kind of sad to leave," Angeal murmured. "It was so peaceful, and that little boy - mmf!"
Angeal's words were swallowed and transformed into soft moans. Genesis, always one to take an opportunity when it was offered, had put down the basket and pulled Angeal into a passionate kiss. Angeal very quickly forgot what he had been trying to say, and enjoyed the heat and steely softness of his Genesis, the flame that only his earth-like steadiness could withstand. By the time they broke apart, both boys had to heave for nearly a minute to catch their breath.
"Still want kids, 'Gealy?"
"More than ever," Angeal admitted, because Genesis never made him regret an honest answer. "But only if I can have them with you."
"Well..." Genesis smiled, and the afternoon sun shone on his beauty in a vision of fiery gold. "If they're as cute as that one was, I guess we can consider it. Maybe we should just go back and steal Zack. You were so cute with him."
This time, it was Genesis's further words that were swallowed in a slow, sweet kiss.
"All right," Genesis said at last through slightly swollen lips, "let's get Seph back to his usual gorgeousness."
He coaxed the frog to leap out of the basket onto the dirt of the trail, and with some difficulty managed to put the large pill into its mouth. He then backed away, and it seemed the two friends blinked and there was Sephiroth. Beautiful, flawless, and completely naked. Genesis and Angeal felt slightly perverted looking at him and quickly gave the younger boy his clothes, but Sephiroth had grown up in a lab and never learned to be ashamed of nudity. He accepted his clothes and donned them in a slow, thoughtful manner, looking quite puzzled.
"An unusual experience," Sephiroth termed it when questioned. His memory of his time as a frog was hazy. "Dr. Hojo will be displeased that I cannot recall the sensation with more accuracy."
"Pfft, why tell Hojo at all?" Genesis said as they began to walk.
Angeal nodded his agreement. Their youthful chatter soon turned to other topics, and neither he nor Genesis mentioned to Sephiroth that he'd had his first kiss, silently agreeing that it didn't really count. But as they went, Angeal's thoughts frequently returned to that sweet little boy who'd hugged his leg and fallen asleep on his lap. The puppy. Angeal wondered if he would ever see Zack again.
And as we know, he does. :)