Black on Silver

The Company's Vengeance

Sephiroth had warned her that ShinRa would waste no time, but that the siege began the following morning was an unpleasant surprise that put her in a decidedly foul mood.

It started off slow and innocent, but that didn’t fool her for a moment.

When Sephiroth left the apartment that morning, he’d called a warning inside to her to watch her step. It was a good thing he had. Groggy and disoriented as she had been from a night of restless sleep, she had almost tripped over the garden in the hallway.

Flowers, and lots of them. The expense must have been staggering, as there were no flowers in Midgar, meaning they’d all been imported. There were several arrangements, some as classic as roses and baby’s breath but one or two that looked distinctly tropical, perhaps from as far away as Mideel, and one was a wisteria bonsai that made her ache for both her homeland and the summer sunshine.

She carefully moved them inside. Yes, it was a trap, but it was a beautiful one, and she would milk it for all she was worth. They would only last a little while, but she would have a few days of bright color and sweet scents in her home, and that put her in a slightly better mood as she snipped the cards off and tossed them in the garbage without so much as a glance at the recipients.

It wasn’t like she didn’t know anyway.

Only an hour later, there was a knock on the door. Through the peephole she saw an unfamiliar woman bedecked with almost more jewels than clothes. “Can I help you?” Hana asked, though in truth that was the last thing she wanted to do.

“Oh dearheart, you sound absolutely dreadful! My name’s Raye; I’m the President’s fiancée. I won’t keep you long, I just simply had to make sure you were all right, and give these to you.” She held a bright pink package up to the keyhole for her to see. The sympathy in her voice was about as fake as the rest of her painted, plastic face, and Hana immediately wanted nothing to do with her. But she had a part to play too – and she supposed that made her somewhat of a hypocrite. She opened the door, keeping her eyes downcast and shy and her hands clenched tightly.

The moment Hana had opened the door wide enough, she found herself in a tight hug. “Uh…!” She had not expected that and was extremely uncomfortable, but the woman did not let go.

“Sweetie, it’s going to be all right! I lost my Schnookums once and it was so dreadful I thought I would die myself, but life really moves on, okay? You mustn’t lose hope!” Raye laid it on way too thick. Hana thought that while the President had probably sent her on this errand in the first place, even he would have disapproved of this level of theatrics.

Hana did all she could: forced a small smile and nodded – politely, she hoped – until it was over and Raye was gone. The package was expensive chocolates, which she didn’t even like, and a jeweled necklace, which was too gaudy for her tastes. She did, however, start to wonder if the company was rearranging their budget just for her sake.

She ate lunch in Sephiroth’s office to find that he had been similarly assaulted by the generosity of the company.

Her first clue had been his hair. Since she had met him, not a single strand had ever been out of place in the immaculate platinum flow. Now, he had two large tangles in his hair – one on each side of his head. Had he been tugging on it? The expression on his face told her that she probably couldn’t get away with asking. All the same, for the sake of his dignity, she silently pointed to at least make him aware of it. He raised his fingers to feel, then closed his eyes and sighed very, very deeply as he realized. So he hadn’t known. She smiled sheepishly to try to brush it off but she doubted anything would sweeten his mood now, especially because, as far as she could see, he didn’t have a brush handy.

“Teriyaki,” Hana said, pulling a bento box out of a plastic bag. “Nice, friendly food.”

“Thank you, Hana.” She knew that the weariness and frustration in his voice were not directed at her and took no offense from them. He took the lunch, clearing away a stack of papers to make room for it. During all this, he could barely look at her and continued to furiously fill out the forms on his desk, but he slid a box her way.

“A cell phone,” he explained, not even a hitch in his fluid handwriting as he spoke. “It’s provided by the company so it’s probably tapped, so keep from saying anything sensitive. Keep it on you at all times.”

“Okay,” she said. She had no experience with phones, but Sephiroth had seemed to account for that. On the touch-screen, there were only two buttons labeled “Call” and “Crisis”. She pressed “call” experimentally, and four names came up: Sephiroth, Zack, Angeal, and Genesis. She nodded. She doubted she would need it for much else.

“If you are in immediate danger,” Sephiroth said, “the ‘crisis’ button will alert me whether or not my phone is set to silent, as well as send a signal to the Turks and general security. If I do not respond within sixty seconds, Zack, Genesis, and Angeal will automatically get the signal too, no matter where they are or what they are doing.”

“Okay.” It was well programmed for her needs, and just holding it in her hands was very reassuring. She pressed “call” and found that she’d missed a fifth name because she hadn’t scrolled down. Her face furrowed. “Who’s Shotgun and why is he in my phone?”

She,” Sephiroth said, finally turning his attention from the forms to his lunch, “is your permanent arms instructor.”

“A Turk?”

“Yes. And extremely capable with a gun. I’m told that she’s nearly unrivaled in her skill, even as new as she is to the Turks.”

“Oh.” She knew better than to try to argue at this point. Did the fact that her teacher was a woman make her feel any better? She couldn’t decide. “And I’m training…?”

“You’ll begin again at two this afternoon. She will pick you up at the apartment.”

So soon? she wanted to complain. But she couldn’t. With all that was going on now, a constant battle on at least two fronts, it was suicide to think that she could completely rely on Sephiroth’s protection at all times.

That didn’t mean she had to like it.

He was eating with one hand and typing on his laptop with the other. One part of her knew that he was only working to clean up the mess they’d gotten themselves in, but it hurt a little that he didn’t have even the time to spare a glance for her.

“I wanted to go into town with Zack today,” she said.

Sephiroth looked up from his papers and his lunch and his laptop screen and, for the first time since she’d entered, looked at her. He examined her very carefully, staring long and hard at her face as if to read her. The move confused her. Had she said something wrong?

“…After training?” she added, but even that didn’t seem to be what he had been looking for.

Eventually he nodded and waved a hand dismissively, returning to his lunch and his laptop. “That is fine. Take care and have a good time. I will make sure Fair’s schedule is cleared.”

She felt guilty that she’d just given him one more thing to do. “Thank you,” she said instead of apologizing. His expression soured in response to something that came up on his laptop screen. “Is ShinRa getting to you, too?”

He gave her a half-glance, his typing uninterrupted. “It’s nothing I can’t handle.”

That’s not what I asked…

“Okay,” she said, getting to her feet and picking up her plastic bag. “I have bento boxes for Genesis and Angeal too. For helping us so much.”

“Hmm. They’ll appreciate that. Genesis, especially, is always complaining about the cafeteria food.”

“Is there something you want me to get in town?”

“No. Cover up well, but take your time and enjoy yourself. I will likely not be home until late.”

“Okay…goodbye.”

“Have a good day.”

She was annoyed by how busy he had been, but she tried to remain optimistic by telling herself that at least ShinRa hadn’t made any seriously drastic moves against them yet.

What she didn’t know was that they had.

~*~*~*~

Sephiroth had tried to shake the President all day. When he’d come in early the email was waiting for him.

Sephiroth, I am sorry to hear of your wife’s loss. With the war ending on top of this tragedy, she must be very distraught. Please reassure her that ShinRa will be more than happy to provide anything that she stands in need of. My fiancée has expressed concern that Hana has no friends, especially during these trying times, and wants to reach out to her. We would be honored if you would do us the honor or joining us and the heads of departments for a modest banquet in her honor so that we could give your bride the proper welcome to ShinRa that has been sadly neglected until now. –President ShinRa

Sephiroth spent a lot of time drafting his reply. He knew full well that if he was sucked into this there wouldn’t be so much wining and dining as there would be gilded threats and manipulation. Modest banquet? ShinRa didn’t know the meaning of the word “modest”. And that all the heads of departments would be there just reaffirmed his suspicion that he would be subject to a gang attack.

President ShinRa, I thank you and your fiancée for your concerns on our behalf. Hana is especially grateful for the flowers that were sent to her this morning. However, I must decline your generous offer for tonight. With the war ending there is much I need to attend to, and Hana has expressed a desire to grieve alone for the time being. I fear that such a large social event would only make her more anxious and uncomfortable. I will inform you if she has need of any assistance from the company. Respectfully, Sephiroth

He had left his office to pick up the day’s paperwork from the mailboxes. To his surprise, he had only a small handful of forms in his box, but on top was a memo handwritten on company stationary in very red ink,

My soul, CORRUPTED BY VENGEANCE HATH ENDURED TORMENT to find the end of the journey in my own salvation AND YOUR ETERNAL SLUMBER. –“Respectfully”, Genesis

Sephiroth raised his eyebrows. Genesis was threatening to kill him now? Putting the ridiculousness of the suggestion aside, had he done something? The poetry he was used to, but quotes around his closing line, the red ink, and the liberal use of capitalization and font enhancements were particularly suspicious.

The President’s response was waiting in his email inbox when he returned.

Sephiroth, Thank you for your diligence in attending to the remaining matters of the war, but I have taken the liberty of re-assigning your workload to your lieutenant general so that you will be free to relax with us tonight. You are the hero of this war and the company owes you a great debt; come and dine in the luxury you and your bride deserve. I will expect you and your wife at six in the ballrooms. –President ShinRa

It did explain Genesis’s note.

Sephiroth hated fighting with words. It was stupid and useless. They both knew what the other was up to, so why dance around it? Although, he had to admit, the President seemed to be tiring of it as well, as his last sentence had practically been an order.

He weighed his options and decided that he would simply not show up. He was not yet in a position to meet them on equal terms. He could find an excuse later – to go now was suicide. He needed more time to prepare for the onslaught.

He wasn’t bothered that the company had taken away his workload; he had enough to do regardless. It just meant he had to print his own forms.

He gave Genesis several hours to calm down. It helped that Hana had put a bento outside his office door for him. He slipped the forms he needed Genesis to sign under the lunchbox, hoping the food would sweeten him up a little. It must have worked to at least some level, as the forms were signed and sealed in his box two hours later, though with another note that read, “The fates are cruel, no honor remains,” stapled to the packet. He’d apologize later.

There was a message on his answering machine from the President reminding him of the banquet in an hour. He deleted it without even listening to it all the way through. Soon after, a delivery boy from the mall brought him a package from Hana that she had told him to deliver immediately. Inside was a brush and a simple hand mirror – nothing fancy, but plenty effective. He appreciated the thought and felt much better knowing that the rats’ nests in his hair were finally managed. He stored both tools in his desk drawer in case a similar incident happened in the future.

At six-thirty, another errand boy came by with a pot of coffee, which Sephiroth gratefully accepted. He downed one cup right there and then asked for a refill to get him through the rest of the day. He had expected the caffeine to speed up the process, but instead, strangely, time seemed only to drag slower. Every glance at the clock only frustrated him more until he threw it across the room to keep it from agitating him any further.

Eventually, it was done. He added his final signature, and then his seals in ink on the forms and in wax on the envelope he sealed them in. He surveyed the thick packet with satisfaction. Normally such a procedure would take a month, and he had tackled it in a day. Granted, he had cut corners, but the only ones who had the authority to challenge him on it were also the ones who would most easily be cowed into submission with a few well-placed glares and some off-handed comments as icing on the cake.

It was one of the few perks of his position. When he needed power, it was always there.

He knew he had done too much. He was drowsy and dizzy and his thoughts were mush. His limbs were heavy and colored circles obstructed his vision. Had he eaten? Maybe he had skipped lunch again.

Sleep. It would fix everything.

He forced himself to his feet and made to leave. Something crunched beneath his boot as he left but he didn’t care enough to even look.

He saw Genesis just farther down the hallway, exiting the training room with his sword still drawn and a thin sheen of sweat on his face. Maybe the redhead had said something to him, but Sephiroth couldn’t remember. Regardless, he was surprised to see him. “Genesis? What are you doing out so late?”

“It’s not even eight, Sephiroth,” Genesis said. “And you have half a clock on your shoe.”

“Oh,” Sephiroth said, looking down at his boot. As Genesis had said, the toe of his foot was haphazardly decorated with bits of glass and a minute hand, and when he raised his foot it dinged like the alarm bell. “How…didat get there? It was on my besk—desk…”

“Were you dancing on your besk?” Genesis asked with a moderate sneer. “Or, more logically, did your clock find its way to the floor?”

Sephiroth stared at his shoe. He should have been alarmed by how dumbfounded he was, but he didn’t have the capacity to move past his confusion. “I don’t bremember.”

Genesis sighed. “So I’m not going to hound you about the terrible injustice you’ve done me today because you look like death warmed over, but don’t think I’ve forgotten.”

“Why isthe block…?”

“Stop worrying about the clock,” Genesis corrected angrily, “and get to bed before you hurt yourself.”
Sephiroth said something but it was utterly incoherent. Genesis sighed as he watched his friend go. He was really going to work himself to death one of these days.

And he’d left the door to his office open.

He really must have had a bad day to let something like that happen.

Genesis peeked into his friend’s office for good measure. As he had assumed, the sad remains of Sephiroth’s desk clock were on the floor. Even more surprisingly, his day’s work was still on his desk.

“I thought you wanted these filed asap,” Genesis muttered, picking up the package. It didn’t make sense. He worked the whole day at suicide pace on this, and now he was leaving it where it would do no good? He sighed. Sephiroth looked like he’d had a rough day, Genesis admitted. Maybe almost as rough as his own with all that paperwork dumped on him like that…
All the same, he made sure to lock up Sephiroth’s office and took the package to the Lazard’s mailbox.

The thought briefly crossed his mind that maybe Sephiroth hadn’t even been in a state to make it home.

He shook his head and shouldered his sword. Sephiroth was a big boy. He could walk himself home.

~*~*~*~

The world was really blurry but he was pretty sure he’d made it to the elevator. It was much brighter than usual and…smaller? And why wasn’t it going anywhere? Though his kinesthetic scenes were definitely out of whack, he was fairly certain that he was supposed to be going up instead of rocking side to side. What kind of elevator was this? And what was that weird smell?

Voices, finally. Someone had found him. He couldn’t make out features except for dark hair and glasses that reflected light into his eyes uncomfortably.

“I specifically instructed one cup. What kind of imbecile can’t properly count to one? Now that he’s had enough to knock the Midgar Zolom stupid we’ll have to drag him down.”

Something grabbed his arm, but he could barely tell. His muscles had stopped doing as they had been told a while ago and at some point they’d started losing sensation too. Something deep, deep in his sluggish mind was screaming that something was wrong, but the fog was so thick that he could barely hear it, much less understand it.

The person was now right in his face, so close that their noses were almost touching and he could feel their hot, rancid breath on his face. He still couldn’t make out their features. “Happy to see me, Sephiroth?”

Something akin to instinct sent one last, desperate spasm of alarm through his body, but the haze swallowed it entirely somewhere along his spine. In the wake of the panic was blue, fluid calm. Fight? No! Preposterous! He was warm. He was calm. He was…happy? But he was also…tired…so very, very tired…

He wasn’t conscious to feel his body hit the floor.

~*~*~*~

It was four in the morning when Genesis was jarred awake by an explosion of sound. He sat upright in bed and his sword was in his hand almost before he could open his eyes.

But the noise wasn’t coming from the building’s alarm systems; it was coming from his phone. The screen was flashing red as the device screamed.

His mind didn’t have time to piece the situation together. He had enough instinct, gained in the war, to clothe and arm himself in the darkness, his brain waking much more lazily than his body, which was charging toward the threat before he had time to register that he, himself, was actually awake.

Hana. It was her crisis call. He’d only been told about it that morning in an email but there was no mistaking it. That initial realization gave him the motive and the direction he needed. He bolted for the stairs; she was only three floors away and the elevators would not even be there in the time he could make it to her apartment.

Pieces came along the way. He’d gotten the call, which meant Angeal and Zack would be on the way too, and maybe even some Turks if he was particularly unlucky.

It also meant that Sephiroth had neglected to answer her call.

Or – and the realization stopped him in his tracks – Sephiroth had been unable to answer her call.

The way Sephiroth had been acting when he saw him in the hallway…

Genesis swore loudly, his hissed curses echoing in the stairway.

He reached for his phone and dialed Hana as he sprinted. She picked up immediately.

“Genesis I’m so sorry I just didn’t know what to do!”

“What happened?” his voice was level. After all, he was pretty sure he knew what was actually happening.

“I-I—“

What. Happened.” He wasn’t angry, but he was forceful and deliberate.

“N-nothing! Not…not to me! It’s not me! It…I-It’s Sephiroth…!”

~*~*~*~


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