Black on Silver

Shopping, Fangirls, and Other Miseries

At Hana’s insistence, the first things they shopped for were kitchen supplies so she could start making “proper meals, immediately.” At his insistence, their second priority would be a Continental style wardrobe.

Sephiroth was only physically present, and not active in the selection at all. Hana was happier that way. He was absolutely no help in selecting which pot or spatula would be better, and she eventually got tired of asking his opinion only to get a blank stare in return.

After all, the only reason he had come with her was for show.

…And perhaps protection as well, he thought grimly as he repressed the urge to glare at the small swarm of paparazzi on their tails. Filthy vultures in his eyes, all of them, far too eager to ram their beaks into the private business of others.

This time, it would work to their benefit, and therefore, he reminded himself, they must be tolerated.

Their staged performance was eagerly being eaten up. They were still recording their every move, mouths never ceasing the commentary. He was giving his wife the dream shopping spree, and letting her buy literally everything she wanted, with a small smile and full, genuine approval. Women everywhere were probably green with envy with both her companionship and the free reign he allowed her in regards to his credit card.

He trusted her to use that money wisely. Hana was not frivolous. She bought good quality necessities, and tried to save money wherever she could without sacrificing an item’s durability.

“You’re sure money is no issue?” she asked every time she picked up an item. He had assured her that it wasn’t. And it was the truth. His salary as SOLDIER General was rather high, and his living and food expenses were taken care of by the company, so the vast majority of every paycheck just sat in his account. He supposed that by some standards he was wealthy. It was a strange thought. After all these years, that money gathering dust in the bank was finally coming in handy now that he had something to spend it on – or, more accurately, someone to spend it for him.

He’d probably get an alarmed call from his bank later. They’d likely assume theft before they believed that he’d really spent more in one day than he had in the previous six months combined.

“I think that’s it for cooking tools,” Hana said, dropping a silver whisk into the cart. The cart was mostly full, filled with bulky boxes that contained pots, pans, and appliances like a rice cooker and microwave. “Now we need dishes.” She took the cart and started wheeling it away. He would have pushed it for her, but she was a woman with a mission, too focused to even notice that he had extended his hand to do it before she was gone.

She stood in the dishes section and stared. Laid out on counters was dish after dish after dish of every shape, size, and color. “Woah,” she said as she took it all in. “I didn’t expect so many to choose from!”

“Choose wisely,” Sephiroth said wryly, sending an intense stare in the direction of another TV host that looked like they were building up the nerve to approach. One interview had been quite enough. “The style you pick will likely become the next trend in Midgar.”

Hana nudged Sephiroth in the forearm. “Come on, ignore them. Help me pick.”

“I truly have no preference.”

“Oh?” Hana asked. “Well then, how about these?” She held up a set in the shape of spring daisies, petals alternating neon pink, yellow, and teal.

Sephiroth’s nose wrinkled. Hana laughed. “See? You do have a preference.”

“I don’t particularly care…as long as they don’t render me blind.”

Hana put the plate back, still chuckling. “Cute, but hardly practical for everyday use. And surely not dignified enough for the high and noble table of the great General.” She raised her nose haughtily and gave a condescending huff at the flower plate.

Sephiroth raised an eyebrow. He wasn’t sure what she was getting at (if she was imitating him, she was doing an awful job), but she appeared to be in a good mood. An exceptionally good mood, especially considering her recent ordeal.

Acting, he reminded himself. That’s what she was doing. She was acting the part of a happy newlywed. And he was supposed to be doing likewise. He didn’t have anywhere near the talent she did, but he smiled approvingly for the sake of the press. They had to play and—flirt—for the scene to work.

She picked up another set, mostly white, but the edges were ringed with light red that faded darker until the very rim, which was deep crimson. Sephiroth nodded approvingly. Simple and tasteful. She put the display back. “The set is….” Together they started to scan the walls, looking for the right box.

They found them at exactly the same time.

Right at Hana’s eye level, within her reach, were turquoise plates of elegant china, painted in expert Oriental style with branches ripe with dainty pink cherry blossoms. The set was true Wutaian style, with many smaller plates and bowls instead of fewer, larger items, and came complete with matching chopsticks and teacups.

He knew she saw them because her breath hitched ever so slightly. But as soon as he turned to her to ask the awe had been wiped from her features. She had found the boxed set for the red dishes and was hauling the hefty box into the cart. “Glasses next!” she said, already wheeling the cart away.

Sephiroth looked again at the china dishes. She had clearly loved them, why had she left them without as much as a word? He looked at the price. Oh, that’s why…and hardly practical either. More for show than anything.

He frowned, perplexed. He understood and appreciated her logic in turning them down, but he had also clearly told her, repeatedly, that money was no object. A set like that was a rare find on the Continent, and the splurge really wouldn’t have offended him....

Was this some kind of test of his perception and generosity? Would his passing them by be held over his head later? He’d heard so many stories of women’s cues being lost on men…was this one of them? What was going through her head? What was he supposed to do? He would have given anything to know.

He remembered something then, something said to him in the tumultuous moments before their marriage ceremony.

The paparazzi were focused on him, anxiously anticipating what he would do. How much of the exchange had they understood? He scoffed and followed after Hana. He would give them nothing further. They would only blow this trivial annoyance into something significant, which it clearly was not.

Hana had put the dishes out of her mind, but he couldn’t. What was she thinking? Why did she pass them by? It irritated him to no end. He even looked back several times, and the set was always there, as if to mock him. For some reason, he felt like this was some kind of test, and he felt the pressure. The whole time Hana spent selecting glasses and silverware, he spent trying to ignore the annoyingly obtrusive thoughts in his head. I should get them. No…she is fine without them…but she clearly wanted them…

The effort in banishing them only led to a headache, and his patience was wearing dangerously thin before they had even started to shop for her wardrobe.

“Hey, are you all right?” Hana asked, touching his forearm with her fingertips. They had both agreed that physical touch a necessary staple in their act of romance, but it was still unnatural, for the both of them.

He considered telling her the truth, but headache would signal annoyance. And while it wasn’t the shopping itself that was annoying him, it would seem that way, and would deflate their dreamy little outing for the press. “No,” he said. “All done here?”

“Yes, let’s go.” From the look on her face, she had already guessed that he was annoyed.

He stood back and let her and the cashier handle the checkout process, handing over his credit card when prompted. She thanked the man, and Sephiroth stepped forward, putting his hand on her shoulder. “Go on to the clothes store across the way,” Sephiroth said, sending a specially crafted glare at the paparazzi to ensure they did not follow her. “I’ll arrange the delivery of these goods with the clerk.”

Hana nodded and did as she was told. The clerk, a man with a salt-and-pepper beard hiding most of his lower face, gulped under the scrutiny of the general. “We don’t normally deliver, sir.”

Sephiroth slid a generous handful of gil over the counter. “Make it happen,” he said. “Bring it to the ShinRa lobby. The receptionist will be expecting it and will make arrangements from there for the goods to be brought to my door.”

The man gulped again, his Adam’s apple bobbing. “Yes, sir. I’ll…send my son later today. Thank you for your business, sir.”

He should be grateful, Sephiroth thought. With all the press I’ve brought here, I’ve just made this place famous.

“And,” Sephiroth said, eyes darting behind him one last time, “there is one more thing….”

~*~*~*~

Hana had always been fascinated by Continental fashions. Traditional Wutaian clothes did not display even near this variety. There was everything from the sleek, pristine style of the business class to the baggy, purposely torn clothes of the rebels. The bright to the subtle, plain to gaudy, lots of fabric to very little – it was all woven together in an array she did not quite understand. What you wore said something about you, something entirely more than rank or status. It represented personality, values, and attitudes on a much more individual level than Wutaian wear allowed.

She stared at the racks and racks of clothes, not knowing where to even start.

She recognized none of the fashions from the last time she’d been on the Continent. Not only had her locale changed since she was a preteen, but so had the times. Fashion was ever-evolving. It was dizzying, but exciting at the same time.

She stood at the entrance, looking at a large map of the store posted in a frame on the wall. The women’s section was on the north end, subdivided into so many sections that it made her head hurt, and she needed to visit every one. Sighing, she made her way back. It would be exhausting, but potentially a lot of fun too.

Women’s Tops was the first section she encountered, labeled from a sign hanging from the ceiling. It was as good a place to start as any.

The music was serene, the paparazzi were preoccupied with Sephiroth at the moment, and there weren’t many shoppers in the area. It was peaceful to leaf through the racks of clothes on her own, exploring each piece in all its uniqueness. Before long, she had four or five shirts draped over her arm, none of them similar in any way. She had decided somewhere in the middle of the second rack that the best way to find what she liked was to try on radically different items and then find others similar to the ones she liked.

“You, Wutai girl!”

Hana jumped at the harsh, accusatory call. Naturally, she was the only Wutai girl present, so there was no denying that it was her that they were after. To make matters worse, the other customers’ attention had been drawn as well. Her cover had been blown, and now she was the subject of everyone’s stares. Whispers started immediately.

What was taking Sephiroth so long? This never would have happened if he’d been here.

The speaker was a woman in her early twenties, dressed in a trim, no-nonsense business suitcoat and skirt, a white, billowy blouse spilling from inside the jacket. Her hair was a dusty blonde, pulled back in a bun so tight that you could see the strain along her hairline. Her hands were on her hips, nose up in the air, shoulders thrown back proud. Thin, tight lips were pulled into a slight sneer, looking down disdainfully on Hana through half-moon glasses on a beaded chain around her neck.

You don’t know your size. You will need to be fitted.” That was all she said. The thin, sharp heels of her shoes clacked on the ground as she marched away.

Only several steps later did Hana realize that she was being asked—or commanded—to follow. As much as she was intimidated by this woman, she had a point. She had no idea what size she was. The shirts in her arms ranged from two to thirty; it was a problem that she hadn’t considered as she was gathering.

She pulled the clothes tighter to her and followed.

But she knew it was a mistake when the woman took her by the shoulders, pushed her into a changing-room stall, and locked the both of them inside.

~*~*~*~

She couldn’t be abducted, Hana reasoned. The only way out of the changing room was the way they came in. There were no weapons in sight, and she wasn’t big enough to throttle her. No imminent physical threat was evident. That aside, she felt that the gut-dropping sensation of danger that had suddenly seized her was more than reasonably justified.

Her assailant may not have been armed, but her eyes burned with an indignation that drained the blood from Hana’s face. She had no idea what she had done to incite that fury; regardless, she feared the way she single-mindedly focused all that rage on her.

“So what’s the truth?” she spat through clenched teeth.

“…I’m sorry?” Hana asked. Act naive and innocent. Be a ditzy little airhead, Sephiroth had said. The more they underestimate you, the better. Keep your cards close until it’s time to play. In this situation, however, she did not have to feign her confusion.

“Who’s right?” she said, still staring her down. She wasn’t that much taller than Hana, but her righteous anger amplified the difference. “Who brought who back from Wutai?”

Hana blinked, and slowly she was beginning to realize what was going on.

Oh…no...she’s a fangirl....

“Are the rumors true?” she continued, throwing her words like strikes of a whip. She leaned in close, flaming eyes only inches from hers. “Did you really hex him?”
“No! That’s completely insane!” Hana said.

“Then why else would he bring back a flimsy, filthy little blip like you?”

Hana’s mouth fell open, but nothing came out. The stall was small, and there was no room to maneuver away. She swallowed and forced her spine to straighten, even though she was straightening her back against the corner.

“I don’t have to answer you,” Hana said, softly but resolutely. “Our private lives are none of your business!”

Not exactly a ditzy answer fitting with her starry-eyed tourist act, but she had had quite enough of this already. The sooner she nipped this in the bud, the better.

They were at a deadlock. The woman upped the ire in her eyes, and Hana met her gaze with one of steel. “If that’s all you have to say,” Hana said, “then I have better things to do.”

Several seconds passed before the woman closed her eyes and pulled back from her visual assault. She pushed her glasses up her nose with one finger and gave a sigh. “You don’t act like a dainty little war bride, girl.” There was something akin to amusement in her voice. “I fully expected you to break the moment I started shouting.”

That raised Hana’s hackles. “Sorry to disappoint,” Hana spat. Her assailant had backed down on the intensity but Hana was not about to follow.

“Hmph. So frailty isn’t on your list of sins, at least.”

“And who are you to judge?”

“You may call me Milda,” she said dryly, looking condescendingly at her through those glasses, a glare passing over the lenses so she couldn’t properly see her eyes. “And you have made a grave mistake in crossing me.”

I’m not the one who has done the crossing! You’re the one who pinned me in here!”

“Not without just cause, you miserable little fool.” She examined her pristine, manicured fingernails at arm’s length.

“Jealous, much?” Hana sneered. “You’re disgusting!”

Milda’s eyes flared like dry leaves in a fire. The burst was brief, but the remnants smoldered in the crazed heat of passion.

“Do not compare me to those sniveling fangirls who are whining because their eye-candy is taken.”

“And how are you any different?” Hana shot back, unintimidated, forcing her opponent back as she took deliberate steps forward. “Bullying me in here because I married who I did, accusing me of something as ludicrous as witchcraft. You know nothing about anything but you sure parade like you do! What’s next? ‘I know what’s really best for him?’ Or maybe ‘He’d be so much happier with me?’”

Milda pursed her bloodless lips, brows dropping threateningly. “The difference,” Milda said through grit teeth, “is I do know that you,” she pointed a harsh, accusatory finger at Hana’s chest, “are the absolute worst thing that could ever have happened to him!”

She ended on a shrill shriek that filled the small dressing room. There were no other customers near, but that cry was likely to have drawn attention from outside. Milda’s mouth snapped shut, perhaps realizing this, but it was far too late to do anything about it.
“Listen, filthy whelp,” Milda sneered. “I do know what is really best for him, and I swear this….”

She took that accusatory finger and jabbed her harshly to punctuate every word, sending Hana back until she was cornered again.

“It. Is. Not. You.”

“Is everything alright in there, Hana?” The voice was Sephiroth’s.

Hana looked at Milda, who seemed to have drawn the same conclusion. Her eyes were wide, the rage gone and replaced with wonder. “His voice…” she mouthed with a swoon, falling to her knees. Tears were brimming at the corners of her eyes. “I…heard him speak….”

Hana’s own anger was extinguished at the sight. Something about her was pitiful now, and sad. “Yes…dear,” she said to her husband. It was still hard to say the word, but it was another necessity that she had to get used to for as long as they continued their charade with the press. “Everything is fine. I’m just being fitted.”

“All right,” he said. “Don’t take too long, we have a lot of places to visit.”

“I’m just about done.”

She turned to Milda, who had since composed herself. She brushed off her skirt, making sure it lay perfectly flat, and righted her glasses. “Hana,” she said, calm as a summer’s dawn. “We will meet again.”

She opened the door to the stall and walked out, heels clacking the beat of her footsteps. She stopped several feet from the doorway leading out into the store. “You’re wasting your time in the regular women’s section,” she said with a snort. “You’re definitely a petite.”

“Thanks for the tip,” Hana said, unsure if she had meant that offensively or not. At any rate, she was unwilling to fan the embers of their argument.

Milda turned and faced her then, staring straight into her eyes without anger or guile. Hana saw it, then. Behind the anger was something else, something she wasn’t entirely sure she wanted to see.

“Don’t you dare hurt him,” Milda whispered. “Not one frown, not even one crease in his forehead, got it?”

Hana frowned deeply. “I’ll…try.”

Milda lowered her head, pivoted, and ran.

~*~*~*~

“Did you see her?” Hana asked him.

“Briefly,” Sephiroth replied, muted, as they reporters were getting bolder and were closer than before. “Her head was down as she ran past me. She couldn’t even look at me. Tripped a little, too.” He scoffed softly. “She should have known better than to try to sprint in those heels.”

“Ah,” she said.

“Your first encounter with a fangirl,” Sephiroth said with a grim half-smirk. “I’m glad you survived. Some of them can be even more prone to violence.”

“You knew she was a fangirl?”
“I guessed. I heard some of your…ah…conversation, and the way she ran past me confirmed it. I’m sorry,” he said. “I thought something like this might happen. I shouldn’t have left you alone.”

Hana shrugged. “Unavoidable. You’re a celebrity. It was bound to happen sooner or later.”

“Indeed.” He observed the way she searched through the shirts. “You are extremely distracted,” Sephiroth noted, and she was. She was flipping idly through the racks, looking at the shirts, but not seeing. She couldn’t even remember anything about the last several items she had seen.

Hana shook her head. “I just can’t get it out of my head, I guess.”

“Are you upset?”

“No. Just…thinking. I don’t understand it at all.”

“Don’t think about it, then,” Sephiroth said. “I stopped trying to understand a long time ago.”

“Maybe that’s best.”

Milda had said they would meet again, but how? If she was just a citizen off the streets, it would be unlikely that they would ever see each other again. Perhaps she worked for ShinRa, or was had access to some sort of inside information like the press. She was dressed so smartly that she would not have been surprised, but she could also have been a businesswoman or shopkeeper or unemployed for all Hana knew.

Who was Milda, and why had she lodged herself so firmly in Hana’s thoughts?

~*~*~*~


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