Overnight, everything had changed.
She woke up early to make Sephiroth breakfast. She knew it probably was a useless gesture, ridiculous in the face of all that had happened, but it was all she knew to do, as she knew he would not talk to her about what he really needed.
She opened the refrigerator, wincing at the light. Even though there were no windows for her to see the pre-dawn blackness, her mind and body knew it should be dark, and she felt the light as an affront to the natural order of things. She groaned, rubbed her eyes, and reached for the eggs.
She didn’t know how to make a continental omelet, so she settled for the Wutaian variety that she knew best. She loved the smell of the sesame oil on the skillet, mixed with savory sauce as she fried the rice and then carefully enfolded it in her omelet. There was no ketchup, so she blended a tomato and added spices and cooked it until it was thick enough to pass for a sauce instead of a soup.
The small, simple gestures of cooking, the smells and flavors she had known all her life mixed with the challenge of improvisation, soothed her spirit.
She could only hope it would do the same for her husband.
She put it on a plate and poured some orange juice, though how people from the Continent loved such sweet things for breakfast was beyond her. As an afterthought she threw on some fresh herbs on the plate for a little splash of green.
She put her creation on the table, then went up to Sephiroth’s door. It was less scary now that she had actually been in there. Still, with more than a little trepidation, she knocked on his door. “Good morning,” she said, still quiet in reverence of the hour.
“What is it?” was the immediate response. His voice was fully alert, and she wondered if he had slept at all.
“I made you breakfast. Omurice. I wanted to catch you before you left for work.”
There was no answer, not even a minute later. “I’ll leave it on the table for you,” she conceded, and left.
“Unnecessary,” came his voice as soon as she turned to leave. The word stung like the crack of a whip across her back.
She had nothing left to say, so she retreated, setting the dish on the table.
She sat down on her futon in her
room. She couldn’t go back to sleep now that she was fully awake. So what now?
The silence was deafening, but as maddening as it was, she didn’t know how to break it.
Finally she reached for a brush and began to comb her long hair. The repetitive motions were enough to restore her sanity, and the whispered sigh of the bristles as they pulled through her hair broke the quiet.
Why did she feel like such a stranger in her own home?
She waited to hear his footsteps. They were a long time in coming, but eventually she saw the light from the living room spill in from the narrow gap under her door. She threw her hair over her shoulder and rose to greet him.
He was dressed in his usual SOLDIER uniform – coat and pants and boots immaculately black, even darker against the brilliant platinum of his hair and pauldrons. His back was to her, posture straight and proud as he pulled several things from the kitchen cabinet, movements snappy and precise.
His wing was gone.
Hana stared, the absence jarring her. There – his right shoulder. There was simply nothing there.
She blinked, trying to dispel the illusion. The motion, repeated several more times, did not bring the limb back.
Had it been just a dream?
She realized far too late that Sephiroth had fallen still, the small sounds of him gathering his things gone and the torturous silence returning. He had turned his head to the side and was using the full force of one glowing eye to give her a leer that curdled her blood and stopped her heart.
She jerked. How long had she been staring? How long had he just let her? Her face flushed red in shame. “S-Sorry! I just—I mean it’s—“
Sephiroth’s eye narrowed to a mere slit of danger, but he turned back to his work.
She wished so badly that he would have yelled at her; the silence that he let her suffocate under was a thousand times worse.
He put a laptop under his arm and headed for the door.
“I’ll bring you lunch,” she said weakly, choked by the miasma of his fury.
“I don’t want your pity.” He threw the barbed words at her without so much as a hitch in his step and slammed the door behind him.
When the Turk assigned to be her guard came a few minutes later, he found her standing rigid, frozen where she stood, staring wide-eyed and dumbfounded at the door.
Angeal just happened to be passing by the offices when he heard the knock.
He changed his course slightly so he could get a better look down the hallway. Hana was there, one hand on Sephiroth’s office door, and the other holding a square container wrapped in pretty printed cloth. Several feet behind her was a Turk, gun out and ready even on the SOLDIER floor.
“Good afternoon,” he called to Hana, nodding curtly at the Turk.
“Hi, Angeal,” Hana returned. She sounded tired. They’d all been through so much, and the thought of her father being so close had to be taxing as well, and it probably wasn’t made much easier by the incessant presence of the Turks. “Is Sephiroth here?”
Angeal took the doorknob and turned, as she was clearly too afraid to. “No,” he said in surprise when he found the office empty. “That’s…odd.”
Hana let herself into the office. She was dressed in Continental clothes today, with her hair in a long, dark braid tracing her spine.
“Did you need something?” Angeal asked as she crouched down to examine, of all things, the trash can beside Sephiroth’s desk.
“It’s nothing important. I just brought him lunch.”
So the wrapped box was a bento. Angeal smiled, despite his confusion when she pulled out a wad of something dark from the waste bin. “Well, he should be here. I can ask around and find him.”
“No. I’ll just leave it here.” She rose and set the colorful box in the front and center of his desk. “I don’t think he wants to see me.”
As she left the office and pulled the door shut behind her, Angeal got a better look at what she’d pulled out of the trash can: several long, dark feathers.
“His wing was…gone…this morning,” she explained. “I didn’t know what to think. I started to wonder if it had even been real.”
Angeal crossed his arms. “That’s strange,” he said. “It was definitely real.”
Hana’s fingers slid tenderly over the feathers. “I wish…he’d talk to me.” It came out so quiet that Angeal had to think about the utterance for several seconds before he understood.
“Hey,” he said, putting a friendly hand on her shoulder. “He’s raw and moody and definitely not himself. You can’t really blame him. This will pass. And I’ll talk to him. We’ll see if I can shake him out of it sooner.”
“Please be gentle,” she said.
Angeal blinked, stunned by the request. “I…will.” He swore that if he hadn’t learned by now that asking about their relationship was a bad idea, he never would. “Hana, how do you feel about—?”
“Please give this to him!” she said quickly and shoved a small box into his chest with both hands before he could finish. “And tell him…no, don’t say anything. Just give it to him.”
Angeal closed his hand around the package. It fit easily in one hand.
“I will,” he said again.
“I have to go now.”
“All right. Take care of yourself.” He looked at the Turk, who was observing everything without any emotion, a statue dressed in a suit. He seriously questioned the wisdom of trusting her to a guard employed by the company with Blackwell in direct contact with President ShinRa.
“I will. Thank you, Angeal.”
This time, it was Genesis who found her standing before Sephiroth’s door, knocking with one hand and holding a plastic container of food in the other, the Turk lurking behind her.
“Dinner?” Genesis asked, looking at the container with no small amount of interest.
“Yes,” Hana said. “Have you seen Sephiroth?”
“No, not all day today. I know Angeal went looking for him, though.”
“Not that I’ve heard of.” He watched her face fall. “I’m sorry. He’s really in a foul mood this time.”
“It’s all right,” she said. “He’ll come out of it, right?”
“Yes, he always does.” Genesis purposely withheld the word “eventually”. It wouldn’t be helpful to anyone right now.
“I’ll go back to my apartment then. See you later,” she said.
Genesis raised a hand in farewell, and watched her walk away, head down, the Turk following in her shadow.
Forget Angeal, he thought, I’m going to have some choice words for Sephiroth myself.
Zack looked from the note, to the folded clothes, and back to the note again. For all the times he’d done this, he still did not understand.
You are hereby promoted to SOLDIER First Class, effective immediately. – Sephiroth
That was it. That, and a change of uniform as a sign of his promotion. In a handful of words that did nothing to explain why this had happened or how it had happened so fast, Zack was handed his dream.
He was struck by his absence of feeling.
I should be happy, he thought. But he wasn’t. Not even close.
He felt empty, because this may have been his dream, but something was really wrong for it to happen this way.
Somehow he knew that it had to do with the events of the past few days, and he didn’t like the implications one bit.
He didn’t trust himself to talk to Sephiroth about it, and so he dialed Angeal’s number.
If his mentor didn’t have the answers, he didn’t know what he’d do.
“Yes,” Angeal admitted. “I knew this was going to happen.”
That gave Zack a feeling other than confusion to latch on to. He was angry. “Why didn’t you tell me?” he screamed into his phone. “What’s so secret? What is going on?”
“Zack,” his mentor’s voice was soft and level. “I don’t have all the answers. The only one who knows everything is Sephiroth, and he’s locked himself in the records room out of everyone’s reach.”
“So tell me what you do know!”
“…Zack. I need you to be calm and focused. I need you to think like a SOLDIER.”
“He’s using me, isn’t he?”
The line rang silent.
“So that’s it, then.”
“Listen, for once in your life, Zack. Neither of us know that. I’m sure Sephiroth had good reasons for what he did—“
“He’s using me! I’m not a real First! I didn’t pass all the tests or reviews or whatever! I didn’t earn it. He’s just handing me a title that means nothing! I’ve worked hard for years to get this and he gives it to me – except it’s empty! He’s taken all the meaning out of it. My dreams, Angeal! All I’ve done, all I’ve tried to be, it’s nothing now and he’s making a mockery out of everything I’ve ever fought for so I can be his pawn!”
“He trusts you,” Angeal pushed back, raising his voice to match the intensity of his pupil’s. “He took risks for you. He broke the rules to get you where you now stand.”
That quieted Zack. The line rested uneasily as he turned the words over slowly in his mind. “Sephiroth trusts me,” Zack repeated. “…Why? It doesn’t make any sense.”
“I don’t pretend to understand it either. But he said he had an assignment for you, something he would not entrust to anyone else. Can you understand what that means? Against all evidence from your performance evaluations he saw something in you. Something in you that is able to do what he is not.”
“…This still makes no sense. Why promote me at all? If it’s just about Hana I can guard her just fine as a Second.”
“I think it’s much more than that,” Angeal said. “There are…things a First can do that a Second cannot.”
“Really? Nobody ever told me that. Like what?”
Angeal quickly let out his answer and the line fell still. He knew that his student was coming to terms with a heavy and somber truth.
He hated it. He hated this game that they had all become entangled in. He hated the words and the lies and the secrets. He hated the pain that had reduced Sephiroth to fragments of his former self, the uncertainty that was tearing Hana to pieces, and now, a desperate move that may very well offer salvation, but at a cost to Zack that no man should ever have to pay.