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i. scars

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On a lazy afternoon during the summer, you stretch out on his unreasonably large couch, spooned up with Genesis in Sephiroth's apartment..  

He returned a few hours ago from some busywork mission in Mideel, killing monsters around various Shinra properties and generally intimidating the locals.  It’s a common enough assignment, but for some reason Genesis really hates Mideel.  He always returns from the island disgruntled and malcontent, and you know it’s not because of the long flight.  Genesis Rhapsodos might be someone willing to make fires out of sparks, but he actually enjoys long travel times unlike yourself.  You tried to ask him about why he loathed Mideel once, but Angeal shook his head and told you to let sleeping beasts lie.

So when he came through the door, kicked his boots off, and dropped onto the couch you rearranged yourself to accommodate him without question.  It’s not like it’s hard; you just scoot your notebooks onto the coffee table and move so Genesis can drape himself over you.  He lifts an arm and you tangle your legs together, making yourself comfortable.  When you throw an arm over his shoulder and realize that Genesis is still in full uniform, sans sword and boots.  He smells like apples and the beach instead of sweat and country backroads.  You’re not sure how he accomplishes it; after stressful and taxing missions, especially ones in Mideel, Genesis hops off the transport and makes a beeline for the nearest apartment, usually Angeal’s.  

By all accounts, Genesis should reek of monster guts and dirt, judging by the rip in his uniform collar and the grime lightly caked in various places on his person.  It’s obvious that he hasn’t showered in what must be days yet he doesn’t stink the same way Zack does after an hour in the VR room with Angeal and Sephiroth.  There’s also a little blood, barely visible on his black knit shirt and some dried on his neck.  But it’s not wet and you can’t smell any fresh blood, so whatever injuries it came from must’ve been healed already.  You can’t find it in yourself to really care; you’re just glad that Genesis is home safe and sound.

Both of you lay there for what feels like hours, napping in a warm puddle of sunlight.  It’s one of the few days of the year where the smog in the city is thin enough for clear skies, and Angeal opened the curtains early in the morning to give his plants some light.

The clock on the wall behind the couch ticks loudly, a steady, oddly soothing tempo of tick, tock, tick, tock .  You try to check the time once, but the arm Genesis has around your shoulders keeps you pinned to the cushions.  Unwilling to wake your boyfriend and with your PHS on the coffee table two feet too far away, you give up on trying to guess the hour.  It’s most likely early afternoon anyways, so you settle in for a second nap and hope Zack doesn’t return any time soon.   

You love him just as much as you love Genesis, but one-on-one moments are hard to come by when the five of you have severely conflicting schedules.  Also, there’s a very high chance that Zack will bounce you both off the couch when he sees that Genesis is home from Mideel.

 

When you wake up from your second nap, it’s still midafternoon.  Genesis is fast asleep, which makes you worry a bit.  He's always been a high-energy person and missions to Mideel have never seemed to tire him out before, but he's been sleeping through the entire afternoon thus far.  It doesn’t look like any wounds have reopened and as far as you can tell, his breathing is normal.  Genesis also doesn’t seem to be in any pain, just exhausted.  He deserves rest, so you don’t bother him.

Thanks to the consecutive naps, you’re not as tired as earlier so you continue studying.  Thinking ahead for once in your life, you'd put one of your books on the floor within reach just in case you ended up trapped under one of your boyfriends, like you are now.  The text is something gods awfully boring about history and “improved life” under Shinra.  It’s almost definitely some kind of propaganda, but you need it for the SOLDIER exam so you resign yourself to the yawn-inducing reading.  There’s something about alleged imperialism and colonialism thrown in there, which you know is definitely not alleged, but it all goes in one ear and out the other.

Then you open your eyes and come to the realization that you fell asleep again.  You remember skimming a passage on the discovery of mako and how it nearly started a war between all the cities on the Eastern Continent, but the book is gone and you’re tucked back into the crook of Genesis’s neck, and laying on top of him with his arm wrapped around your waist.  What probably happened is that you succumbed to the siren song of sleep and dropped the book, which must’ve woken Genesis, because the book is now laying on the coffee table that you can’t easily reach.  

It’s also still afternoon, somehow.

The hours pass so slowly that they feel endless.  You don’t know when the sun will set and turn day to night, but it’s not like you’re counting the seconds until evening.  You enjoy the lazy afternoon you’re spending with Genesis; it’s peaceful in a way you didn’t know you needed.  Genesis on the other hand, definitely did.  Having gone on back to back assignments for the past month, he’s had very little time to himself, or to spend with the five of you.  Hell, he’s barely been at his own apartment since the beginning of August, transport-hopping between Wutai, Junon, and Kalm.  Or where ever the hell else that Shinra wants him.  In addition to that, there’s a hefty stack of paperwork waiting for him in his office.  You’re sure he’s going to “misplace” at least half of it.  Or burn it.

You feel yourself slipping under once more, Genesis’s even breathing lulling you into a sense of safety.  It also doesn’t help that he runs warm, which only makes you drowsier.  When you wake up for the third time, the sunlight has finally faded to a darker orange, marking the first sign of time passing.  

There’s a copy of LOVELESS lying on the table that wasn’t there before and you wonder if your boyfriend had stashed it in the couch cushions somewhere.  Last weekend, Zack had been complaining about something poking him in the ass during movie night and Sephiroth hadn’t believed him.  You’re not too surprised if that’s where the book came from, Gen has a bad habit of leaving his things in weird places.

You’re about to lay back down and go for yet another nap, when you notice that one sleeve of Genesis’s trademark coat has ridden up to expose something interesting on his forearm.  

Illuminated by the dying light is a small cluster of pockmarks on his wrist.  You count about three to four little starburst marks decorating the otherwise smooth, interrupted skin.  They’re curious little things; not quite completely circular in shape and varying in color, and not quite matching his tanned skin.  The longer you look, the more they start to look like years-old scars.  You touch one after a moment, running the tip of a finger over it, featherlight.  Of course even that’s enough to wake Genesis.  He makes an unhappy noise and pulls his arm away, the sleeve falling down to obscure the marks.  Genesis seems to settle once they’re hidden again, but doesn’t fully relax.  

That reaction furthers your theory that they are scars, but you have no idea what could’ve made them.  None of the other SOLDIERs have similar markings, so you know it’s not a side effect of the mako treatments.  You don’t think that his parents were the abusive type either, and you definitely know he doesn’t have a history of self-harming.  

“Eczema,” Genesis grunts, voice thick with sleep.  He says it like you’re supposed to know what that means, but Midgar Common isn’t your first language so some of the more... unique words escape you.  

At any rate, it doesn’t seem like Genesis wants to explain it any more than he already has so you leave it alone.  For all you know, ‘eczema’ could be a code word for some weird lab trauma he shares with Angeal and/or Sephiroth.  You learned early on that a lot of things happen in the Science Department, and it's better to never ask about them.  

Though, it makes you wonder exactly where the scars came from.  It also makes you realize that you hardly ever see Genesis’s bare skin, aside from the one time he showed you an old scar on his shoulder.  The longer you think about it, you realize that you saw a couple of the little circular marks there as well.  Maybe you’ll ask him about it when you wake up in later, the same way a child asks their parent for another bedtime story. 


About a week afterwards, the door to the apartment flies open and you dive to catch the knob before it can smash into the wall behind it.  There’s already an indent beginning to form from all the times it’s been thrown open, and Odin knows that the Tower doesn’t need any more structural damage from its Trinity.  They (along with Zack) damage enough gym equipment every month that Lazard has a budget to order replacements and to pay for regular maintenance on the VR rooms since Sephiroth and Genesis trash the thing so often.

Genesis strides in after a beat, whipping his coat off in one smooth motion to dramatically throw it over the back of the couch.  One of the sleeves slaps Zack square in the face, making you snort.  When he doesn’t reach up to move it, you laugh a little harder.  Sephiroth only rolls his eyes and continues to polish his sword, ignoring the three of you.

As you watch Genesis take off his boots, you belatedly realize that there’s more of those tiny starbursts speckling his arms, as if they’re freckles.  They gather at his wrists and near the creases of his elbows, then continue the rest of the way up his arms.  Some of them look new, angry red and scattered around a thin scar that serpentines the circumference of his right biceps.  You also see some that look like they've scabbed over multiple times, rings of scar tissue accumulating where Genesis scratched the scabs open again and again.

He notices you staring and pauses mid-rant—which you didn’t realize he’d started—and just says “Eczema,” again, by way of explanation.  You nod like you understand, but the meaning of the word is still lost on you.  When you glance at Sephiroth, he just shakes his head and Zack is too busy humoring Gen to play dictionary for you.

Genesis goes on and on about some “ ignorant Third Class who doesn’t know red from Gaia fucking blood orange" who did this or that and waves his hands around in the air, and it’s almost just like any other day.


Angeal comes back from Fort Condor on Wednesday, two days later than scheduled.  Something about the condor and its nest, but you don't remember all the details.  He goes to take a nap before dinner, tuckered out from dealing with unruly SOLDIERs and oversized birds. You're burning with curiosity and want to ask him all of your questions but resign yourself to studying Shinra history while you wait. 

It's closer to four when Angeal emerges from the bedroom, shirt covered in long, silver hairs.  You snicker and help pick most of them off his chest.  In response he lowers his chin so it rests on your head.  You’re convinced that he has hair up his nose but if he does, he doesn't complain. You take the opportunity and ask him what eczema means.  Angeal doesn't pull away, but you feel him sigh against your hair.  He says it isn’t easy to explain, but you still want answers.  

From what you understand from his description, it's a kind of rare skin condition that a handful of people are born with, though it can also develop over time.  Usually it’s just dry skin and the occasional rash, but Genesis’s is more towards the dramatic end of the spectrum, which is fitting for him.  Everything is dramatic when it comes to Genesis Rhapsodos, from bad hair days to stubbed toes.  So it’s not a surprise to you when Angeal continues, explaining that when Gen gets too warm he gets itchy and ofent scratches to the point of breaking skin.  

“Too warm” ended up being almost always when he was a child, considering he grew up in Banora.  Nowadays, because of the Tower with its state-of-the-art AC and a whole health and wellness department devoted to SOLDIERs (mixed in with all the mako treatments), his eczema problem is mostly solved.  Flare ups only happen on the worst of summer days in Midgar and when he ships out to warm, humid areas like Wutaiian jungles, Mideel, and certain areas of Costa del Sol.  

You don’t really mind the scars; it’s not like they’re off-putting.  It might be because he almost always wears long sleeves and pants, but you've never notice them before and though you've noticed now, you still don't think it's that big of a deal.

“It just makes Genesis unique,” you tell Angeal with a shrug.  You don't love Genesis for his looks, though he is handsome, and everyone has scars whether they're emotional or physical.   He smiles, and that makes you guess most people don’t see it that way.  That’s unfortunate, you think, because Genesis is very handily one of the most attractive people you’ve ever laid eyes on, and you’re friends with Teef.

When Genesis emerges from the bathroom, freshly showered and already fully dressed, you hug him and tell him as such.

“Of course I am!” He indignantly says, blindly swatting at Zack when the younger man sleepily snickers.  “Did someone say I wasn’t?  Tell me where they live, I just want to talk.”

The tone of voice he uses implies he wants to do more than ‘just talk’.  You say that you felt like complimenting him which makes Genesis skeptical, but he lets it go as Sephiroth’s tired voice floats in from the bedroom.  “Abuse of power is strictly against company policy.  I will however, allow you to intimidate one executive of your choice at the next board meeting if you come to bed in the next thirty seconds.”

“I’ll have you know that I don’t need your permission to do shit!” Genesis exclaims, though he sprints down the hall.

Angeal pulls you out of the way and over to the couch where you throw yourself onto Zack’s lap, laughing when he jolts upright as he's startled.  He rubs his eyes and frowns down at you, but doesn’t push you off.  Instead he nudges you until your positions are reversed—now his head is in your lap, and then he’s out like a light.   Your older boyfriend looks at the two of you with soft eyes then goes into the kitchen to start dinner. 

At some point he hands you some veggies to prep, and Zack doesn’t so much as twitch when you accidentally drop a clove of garlic on his face.  That gives you an idea, and when Angeal comes back to collect the ingredients he finds you stacking onion skins on Zack’s cheek.  He doesn't say a word, but adds a piece of toasted bread to your growing tower, which you promptly eat.  Eventually you join Angeal in the kitchen; hearing him putter around and stirring things on the stove made you feel bad so you want to help.  Angeal puts you in charge of mashing the potatoes and making sure the soup doesn’t burn at the bottom of the pot.  While he tastes the soup for seasoning, you ask about Genesis’s scars.

“You’re going to have to be more specific than that, Cloud.” Is all he says, stirring at the bouillabaisse as it bubbles away on the stove.

“How come he hides them?  You have some scars, and so does Zack, but neither of you put in the same amount of effort to conceal them.”

Angeal shrugs and tastes his soup again.  “When we were Thirds, a lot of SOLDIERs gave Gen shit for them.  And you know how he is about his vanity.”

He offers you a spoonful of the soup, which is delicious.  

As you fish a mussel out of the pot you can imagine a younger Genesis, upset by the taunts of his peers.  It seems like both of you have that in common, except he got around it by wearing a coat.  If you tried to do something about it, you’d probably get yourself court martialed.  In fact, the only reason you don’t fail inspection is because Genesis and Zack tag teamed your superior into letting you to keep your earrings.

“Funny thing is, Genesis nearly did too.  Shinra didn’t like his 'display of insubordination' by modifying the uniform without permission.  Then Sephiroth stood up for him, and now Firsts are allowed to customize their uniform.”

You find that ironic.  Shinra hates nonconformity, especially from people who are loud about it.  But the minute someone proves to be useful, or has someone higher up the power chain intervenes, Shinra will bend over backwards to accommodate them.  Well, maybe not bend over, but once you’re Somebody with a capital S, the Shinra execs will do a lot of things to get on your good side.  You’ve seen it sort of happen with Zack and you’re sure you'll see it happen to you once you’re a SOLDIER (and involved with the Trinity in the eyes of the public).

Anyways, not many Firsts take advantage of the ability to customize their uniform.  It’s amusing to know that the privilege was basically an appeasement because the board thought Sephiroth would go apeshit if they punished Genesis.  Maybe you’ll get your own jacket when you make First; Genesis thinks you’ll be stunning in black, Sephiroth voted green, and Zack is under the impression that you and him will have matching blue motorcycle vest-coat-things.  

And speaking of Zack; he appears behind you, evidently awake from his nap.  He digs a finger into the mashed potatoes while he thinks you aren't looking.  Instinctively you hit his hand with the wooden spoon and shoo him away from the stove like you’re his Ma.  As a light punishment, Angeal makes him set the table and sends you to fetch the other two lovebirds for dinner.

In the bedroom you find Genesis wide awake and plaiting strands of Sephiroth’s silver hair into tiny braids while the man sleeps.  That, or he’s doing a fantastic impression of an unconscious body.  

“What’s ‘Geal cooking?” Gen asks.  “It smells good.”

“B-Bou-Bo—” You can never pronounce Banoran words; that language is like the antithesis to Old Nibel and Midgar Standard at the same time .  

“That Banoran soup-stew with the unpronounceable name.” You huff, annoyed.  

Genesis says its name perfectly, his faded accent curling around the vowels in his mouth.  It sounds elegant, coming from him.  

“Bouillabaisse,” Sephiroth flawlessly says, without opening his eyes.  He grins when you groan in frustration.  Sometimes your partners are the worst, but deep down you know it’s all lighthearted teasing.  

“Now that you’re done making fun of me, dinner’s on the table.” 

Before you can storm out, one of Sephiroth’s hands shoots out to drag you onto the bed.  It’s almost impressive how easily he pulls you in, but you’ve seen the man lift an entire transport with a single hand, as well as stop a blow from one of Scarlet’s metal deathtraps.  Genesis drags you in for a chaste kiss, Sephiroth plants one on your shoulder, and then the three of you are at the too-small kitchen table.

Someone’s foot is hooked around your ankle, you have a foot hooked around someone’s knee, and Zack accidentally elbows you every time he gets up for more soup.  Pa’s table back in Nibelheim is twice as big as the one you’re sitting at now, but you find that you enjoy the casual intimacy the close quarters bring.  

And then Zack drops a spoonful of bouilla whateverthefuck in your lap, and you let out a long-suffering sigh.  Angeal wordlessly hands you a napkin and somehow Sephiroth manages to insert himself between you and Zack, willing to be the victim of any future soup accidents.  It’s the first time in a while that the five of you are all home, and you realized how much you missed it.  



You end the day how that one afternoon began; curled up with Genesis on a couch that has no business being in Seph’s apartment.  

Genesis fell asleep while the five of you watched a movie, and you’re about to even as The Bride chops off O-Ren’s head.  You’ll probably end up staying the night on the couch, the others not wanting to disturb you and Genesis if both of you are tired enough to sleep through the entire movie.  Or, maybe you’ll wake up the next morning to find yourself in bed.