At Least Part of the Story
She was waiting for them, standing in Sephiroth’s old study, facing the door as if she had been expecting them.
Genesis and Angeal were struck, because while they had been expecting a Wutaian girl, deep down they hadn’t expected her to look so ordinarily Wutaian. She was dressed in a simple, light green yukata printed with dark bamboo stalks and leaves, with an obi of an unadorned strip of faded yellow cloth. She walked barefoot, but her geta sandals were next to the door. Her long, dark hair was pulled back and wrapped in a large but modest bun, a few dangling strands left to frame her face and conceal her ears. Below straight-cut bangs were deep, earthen colored eyes in the almond shape of her people.
Even now that she was away from her homeland, there was nothing on her indicative of her new home on the Continent. She looked very out of place in such a plain, modern apartment.
She put her palms to the sides of her thighs and dipped at the waist in a bow. Angeal mimicked her, knowing it was the Wutaian sign of respect, but Genesis did nothing of the sort. Unfazed, the woman offered her hand to Genesis in a more Continental greeting, lips smiling kindly. “Welcome, friends,” she said in only slightly-accented Continental. “It is a pleasure to meet you.”
Genesis took her hand and shook once before releasing. Her grip was firm and steady.
“The pleasure is ours,” Angeal said, smiling. He liked her. She was soft-spoken and polite, but held herself proudly, in a demeanor strangely not too far from Sephiroth’s own.
“I am Angeal Hewley,” he said. “And this is Genesis. We’re SOLDIER firsts along with Sephiroth.”
Genesis didn’t let the opportunity pass him by. “And your name is…?”
“Please call me Hana.”
“Hana, then,” Genesis repeated. “How’d you come to marry Sephiroth?”
“Genesis, can you not wait thirty sec---?”
Hana held up a hand. “It’s fine, Angeal. I know that’s why you came here. No need to dance around it.” She paused, looking past them into the living room.
“Let’s discuss this over tea, shall we? There is...much to say.” Her eyes clouded over, misting with melancholy despite the kind smile ever on her lips.
“Your Continental is flawless, Hana,” Angeal remarked.
The two men were sitting on the couch, watching as Hana prepared the tea on the coffee table. She sat very formally, kneeling on the floor and sitting delicately on her heels.
“I spent much of my childhood away from Wutai,” she explained, never pausing in her preparation of the tea. “Never in Midgar proper…but various places on the Continent.”
She took a mix of leaves the men did not readily recognize from a small, flowered fabric pouch. “It’s a recipe of my own invention,” she explained. “…People usually like it very much.”
Even though she had only heated the water in an ordinary silver pan on a single electric burner and poured it with a ladle, she did so with the grace of much practice. Such art deserved a proper teapot at the least. Angeal made a note to mention it to Sephiroth.
She scooped it into the two china cups from the box they had seen earlier on the table. Angeal almost turned down such finery, but Genesis readily accepted and Angeal did not want to disgrace her hospitality. The tea was perfectly seeped – strong enough only to make a statement without being overbearing – and the blend was familiarly comforting with hints of unique, new flavors.
“It’s wonderful,” Genesis said appreciatively, and Angeal nodded in agreement. While his approval probably meant more, as he had grown up rich and had more refined tastes than Angeal’s frugal family, Angeal could still appreciate the art with which it had been prepared and the final product.
Hana smiled and dipped into a bow. “I’m glad you like it.”
“You have to be a royal,” Genesis said, taking another sip after his declaration. Both Hana and Angeal seemed to expect him to say more, but he did not.
Hana flushed beet red and dipped her head. “No, really…I’m flattered, but I’m really no one of consequence.” She gathered the materials she had used to make tea and rose to return them to the kitchen, speaking as she went. “But I spent several years as a servant in the royal household. I don’t know the title in your language, but I was head of all the maid servants.”
“That doesn’t explain the kimono,” Genesis still pried further. “That’s not servant’s wear.”
Hana returned to the coffee table, still sitting on her knees, with her hands resting delicately on her thighs. She did not speak for several moments. “That is a family relic,” she said at last. “From an age very long past.”
Angeal looked down into his tea. Beneath the honey-colored drink he could see a design emblazoned in gold on the bottom. He tilted the cup slightly, watching the light play across the gold. It looked to be a very intricate phoenix amid thin, wispy clouds. The insignia gleamed slightly red – like the comforting glow of a flame.
The color and insignia seemed suspiciously familiar. He tried to remember the design embroidered on the kimono but could not.
Hana seemed very comfortable in the silence that ensued. She sat patiently as the two men finished their tea, a gentle and calming presence. When Genesis and then Angeal offered her their empty cups, she whisked them away to the kitchen, washing them immediately with great care, and then setting them to dry on the table.
She returned to her seat one final time in front of the men. Slowly, she took a breath, and then released it though hands clasped as if in prayer and placed before her lips.
“We met on the road to Kuro. I was with a caravan of merchants, headed south. Because of the nature of Sephiroth’s mission, he stopped us on the road and demanded a search of our cargo.”
“Nothing personal, I hope you know,” Angeal said. “ShinRa believed that weapons were being shipped through the area.”
“And we probably looked pretty suspicious, a little ragtag band like us,” Hana added with a wry smile. “Anyway, we complied. We weren’t warriors, and even if we were…”
She didn’t have to finish. It didn’t matter if the whole caravan was trained, they would be nothing next to Sephiroth. Angeal shook his head. It must be a very frightening thing to be pulled over by the silver general, of all people, especially with the rumors about him that flew unchecked across Wutai.
“Well,” she closed her eyes. “One of the cadets found weapons, and we were immediately taken into custody.”
“You were carrying weapons?” Genesis asked, suddenly more intrigued.
“They were the merchants’ personal weapons, not for sale. Even so, I was not aware they were there. I told them not to bring any more than necessary, but not only did they ignore my counsel, but they overstocked. They had enough to seem like a threat, albeit a small one.”
“And so you were Sephiroth’s prisoner,” Angeal concluded. “That’s…one way to meet your husband.” Genesis hummed, extremely amused.
“I was the only one who could speak Continental, and so I acted as the representative. Sephiroth told me that if I could prove who I was and where I was going, he would let my caravan go.” She shook her head. “I tried to explain that I was a party independent of the Wutaian army, but it wasn’t enough for Sephiroth.
“He told me if I could not secure proof then I would remain a prisoner, and subject to interrogative action by ShinRa. Because it was late and his men needed to make camp, he gave me the night to reconsider my silence.”
“Wow, he actually threatened to torture you?” Genesis was outright laughing. Angeal had to admit, Sephiroth hadn’t really shown his best colors to the woman who would turn out to marry him. Unfortunately, it sounded like she’d caught the most business-end of him there was, and his business was war.
She continued without further comment on the matter. “During the night one of my comrades managed to set me free, but I couldn’t leave them there. So I took a chance and went to Sephiroth’s tent. I thought maybe I could explain myself.
“And so I told him. Everything. We talked for a long time.”
She stopped here, and her eyes were very far away. She gazed forward, seeing nothing, for a long time. “And he…. I don’t even know how to explain…” she said softly.
She took in a deep breath and let it out as a sigh. “You might have to come back for the rest of the story later. I’m still reeling over it myself. So much has happened, and so fast.”
Genesis opened his mouth to protest but stopped when she rose to her feet. “Besides,” she continued with a smile, “don’t you have somewhere you need to be?”
Angeal checked his watch. She was right, the briefing was soon.
“You’re hiding something,” Genesis stated. “And you’re trying to avoid the subject.”
“Genesis,” Angeal scolded harshly.
His friend did not apologize for his words. As he rose he dusted off his red leather coat. “It will all come out, eventually. If we don’t get to you, ShinRa or the press will.” And without another word he excused himself.
Angeal and Hana remained in the wake of Genesis’s accusation. Angeal noticed that Hana looked extremely tired behind her carefully tended posture and expression. He felt very angry at Genesis. She had just tried to express herself in the best way she knew how, telling a very private part of her life, and he had left her with a verbal slap and called her a liar.
He would have much to say to the redhead after the meeting.
“Please excuse his unforgivable manners,” Angeal said. “Rest. You’ve come a long way and had a lot happen.”
“Thank you, Angeal. We’ll talk again soon.” She opened the door for him and left him with a smile. “…Please tell my husband I said hello.”
Angeal smiled. It was so strange to hear her say that, and yet, something about it felt right to him. “I will. You take care.”
Hana closed the door behind her and only then breathed out all her tensions. “Was that all right?”
“You said more than I would have.”
“But you would have said nothing at all.” She slid the chain across the door and turned back to her husband. “And that would not have placated them.”
Sephiroth stood by the window. She knew he’d been on the balcony the whole time, listening to every word she said. “You are quite the actress,” he said.
“I told you I was. I had to be.”
“Was it really necessary to go into all that detail?”
“You were the one who told me that Genesis has a flair for drama. Besides, the best way to tell a lie is to use as much of the truth as possible.”
Sephiroth hummed, a soft sound that Hana had learned meant something close to agreement. “Your ending was abrupt. Genesis saw through it, at least.”
“I was unprepared to discuss…that,” she said. And the statement hung heavy in the air.
“I thought I had it figured out but when the time came I couldn’t. Hopefully they’ll just see me as an awestruck bride. I’m told that newlyweds are often overwhelmed with emotion.”
“Angeal seemed to buy it,” Sephiroth said. “And he might be able to persuade Genesis.” Hana took that as something close to a compliment. After all, he would have been incapable of retelling any of their story. She knew that was why he had left the job to her.
“You should be going, too,” she said.
Sephiroth crossed the living room over to the kitchen. He looked at the counters. “There is some fruit and bread if you are hungry. I’ll come back later with lunch.”
“That will be fine.”
“Continue to make a list of the things you need for the house.”
“Then I’ll be going.”
He started to unlock the door when Hana spoke again. “One more question for you, Sephiroth.”
He stopped, hand still on the doorknob. He didn’t give verbal permission but she knew she had his attention.
“Why hide it from them? If they really are your friends?”
“We already discussed this. In explicit detail.”
“Very well. But the reason I let them in was because if we are really going to go through with this, you’ll need all the help you can get. I wouldn’t turn away what few allies you have.”
“Allies,” Sephiroth repeated, bemused. And then just like that the case was closed.
“I’ll be back with lunch.” And the door closed behind him.
Hana stood staring at the doorway for a long time. There wasn’t a sound except for the gentle rhythm of the second hand.
She eased herself onto the couch. She was alone now, for the first time in days. Several very long, hard days. Her world had been turned upside-down and inverted, and only now was she washed with exhaustion. As her body began to uncoil, she began, at last, to feel.
She had said it herself. Newlyweds were often awash with emotions, not all of them positive. The difference was, she thought as she curled into herself, that most new couples could deal with the changes together, while she had to do it all on her own.