Black on Silver

The Flower and the Tree

She tried again at breakfast, but this time there wasn’t even an answer when she knocked on his door. He hadn’t come home when she had finally fallen asleep last night. Maybe he hadn’t returned at all.

The ever-present Turk was getting easier and easier to ignore, and for that, she was grateful. She didn’t need anything else on her plate.

And she was tired of ShinRa. Its walls were like a prison – a cell she now shared with her father, the man she hated most in the world.

She didn’t consciously make the decision to leave; her feet just carried her out. She tripped over fresh flowers and gift-wrapped boxes on her doorstep, paying them no mind.

The air in Midgar – reeking with pollution – was sweeter for the freedom that it offered her. As she walked, faces turned and whispers followed. Once or twice, people made as if to approach her. She quickened her pace. Whether she lost them herself or the Turk dissuaded their pursuit was an irrelevant difference that she neither knew nor cared about.

She went to the only place she knew to go: Ma’s izakaya.

It was midday, just as it had been the last time she had been here. She felt a quick pang in her heart as she remembered what had happened that day. She missed her brother. Not as he had been last time she had seen him, but the way they had been as children.

She stopped her thoughts before she could remember that he was sitting in a prison in Junon. She could not care about anything else or she would burst.

She held the key that Ma had given her in her hand, but she didn’t want to use it. The izakaya would not open until nightfall, and she was the only person on that street. Ma and Pa would be cooking, preparing, even at this early hour.

She raised her hand and knocked instead.

Ma opened the door, wiping flour off her hands with a towel. “Hime-chan,” she said, surprised. But it did not last long. The woman took one look at Hana’s face and threw her arms around her.

Doushita no?” Ma asked.

“Ma,” Hana said through the lump in her throat. “Itaitasukete!

~*~*~*~

Ma’s philosophy on care was food first, then words.

Hana had been brought straight upstairs and seated at the kotatsu, a blanket draped over her shoulders. Ma had brought tea immediately, and soon after, Pa had brought ramen. Everything was warm and familiar. She loved the food, she loved the tatami beneath her, and she loved the caress of her native language on her ears.

Only when she had eaten and Pa had whisked away the dishes was she allowed to speak at last. Ma sat behind her on a stool and pulled the dark lengths of Hana’s hair into her hands, brushing with long, soothing strokes.

“Ma,” she said, speaking in her native tongue and loving how it danced from her lips. “So much has happened.”

“I am so glad you came, Hime-chan,” Ma said. “I read the news of you and was so worried. You can rest here, for as long as you’d like.”

“I wish I could,” Hana said. She closed her eyes. She loved the feel of her hair being combed. Ma was so gentle and rhythmic that it was easy to lose herself in the motion. With every slow stroke, another one of Hana’s fears was put to rest.

“Is it all right if I call you Hime-chan?” Ma asked quietly.

Hana smiled. “It is when you say it.” She opened her eyes when a revelation hit her. “You knew. You knew who I was even before it leaked to the press.”

Hai,” Ma affirmed. “I always knew.”

“How?”

“So very long ago, I was a member of the royal court, in high enough station to hear the whispers of the Kazehawa line.” Ma laughed softly. “They told me I was foolish to believe, but I did always have a soft spot in my heart for legends and fairy tales.”

“Legends,” Hana said softly. “And…fairy tales.”

Ma pulled out a small bottle of oil that smelled like yuzu and rubbed two or three drops on the comb to run it through her hair.

“Sephiroth got hurt,” Hana said. “Very badly. And ever since it happened, he’s been….”

Ma hummed her understanding. “He is a man of great pride,” Ma said. “He will not want to admit his wounds, and so he is probably withdrawing, putting on his strongest and scariest face, yes?”

Hai, soudesu. And with the false stories the press is putting out, and the succession, and my father…”

“It’s a very bad time for you and your husband to be divided,” Ma said.

“We were never joined to begin with. I don’t know how we ever convinced ourselves that this would work.”

Ma stopped combing, neatly folding her small, weathered hands in her lap. Hana stared ahead, hair gleaming with the oil, but her eyes were dead.

Hime-chan,” Ma said. “There’s something I want you to have.”

Ma got up from the stool and went to the solitary dresser. She pulled out many yukatas, t-shirts, and slacks, placing them on the top of the structure, and then pulled out a thin, rectangular box. It was lacquered, made of cherry wood and embossed with elaborate gold kanji.

“Oh…no! I can’t--!”

But Ma kneeled beside her at the kotatsu, tenderly setting the box in her lap and pulling the lid open for Hana to see.

Inside, nestled in a bed of velvet, was a set of kanzashi pins. Tender sakura blossoms were formed of metal, silk, jewels, and tiny pearls, arranged in perfectly set bundles and framed by wisps of a feather-light, translucent cloth.

Hana’s hands ghosted over the beautiful pins, stunned by the workmanship. She felt the smoothness of the kushi comb and kanoko dome, the precise folds of each tiny petal on the tsumami falls, the perfect sphere of the tama pin, and savored the tinkling of dangling metal strands on the ogi-bira and the tiny bells at the ends of the pins.

“I can’t take these,” Hana said. “These are relics. Priceless. And I have the set passed down to me by my family.”

“You are Hana, the flower,” Ma said. “The sakura blossoms suit you. The Kazehawa phoenix pins you carry are important too, and you should treasure them. But I am an old woman, with no daughter to pass these to.” She closed the box and slid it into Hana’s lap. “I would bequeath them to you, Hime-chan, and with them, give you whatever power is left in my ancestral line.” She took Hana’s hands and placed them over the top of the box. “It will not be much, but should you ever find yourself in Wutai, it might be enough to offer you some protection.”

“Ma,” Hana said, smiling. “I…I will accept these.”

Ma patted Hana’s hands. “It will not be easy going back. You will have to be strong while your husband is not. But I believe in you. You are Yukihana. You are the flower blooming amid the snow.”

“Flowers can’t bloom in the snow,” Hana said.

“Can’t they?” Ma asked, and there was a knowing twinkle in her dark eyes.

The look made Hana suspicious. “And nothing can grow in Midgar. This place…it is death.”

“I am Matsuko,” Ma said. “Literally ‘pine tree child’. And it has not been easy, but I have found life here, and grown.” Ma smiled, wisdom etched into the lines on her face. “And I believe you can too.”

~*~*~*~

Pa was sweeping when she went downstairs. He looked up at her, silent but kind. He saw the kanzashi set in her hands and nodded.

Ittekimasu,” she said. “I have to go back.”

Itterasshai,” he said.

Hana gave him a smile and slid the wooden door to the side, parting the fabric behind it to exit.

“Pain,” Pa said, as she left, “opens the heart.”

Hana looked back to him but he had resumed sweeping. She left quietly, the simple words as meaningful to her as Ma’s wisdom.

~*~*~*~

Angeal had told her that Sephiroth was in the records room, and that he was nigh unreachable until he came out. Cell phones weren’t allowed, and neither Genesis nor Angeal had the clearance to get in to talk to him. They could apply for it – Angeal said he’d put in the paperwork already – but it would take time.

But he had to come out sometime.

She tried, halfheartedly, to take him sandwiches for dinner, thinking that maybe hunger would drive him out of his self-imposed prison. But it didn’t. His office and their home were empty.

Zack wasn’t answering his phone, and Angeal and Genesis were swamped covering Sephiroth’s share of paperwork in addition to their own.

So she sat on the couch and waited, the Turk in the background only adding to her deep loneliness. She tried to lift the pall from her home – she burned some incense, made tea, turned on the TV, cleaned the house and then tried to paint, but didn’t have the energy.

The only relief she found that night was the oblivion of sleep where she simply ceased to exist.

~*~*~*~

When she woke up she felt different.

She had energy now, and drive. The feeling wasn’t so much readiness for the day as it was the raw momentum to drive herself through it regardless.

The little things helped her feel more in control. She got up, made her bed, showered, brushed her teeth, and dressed. Today these monotonous things gave her a sense of accomplishment. She was moving. Life was moving, and she could accept if not enjoy the fact that she was being carried along its current.

The movement screeched to a halt as she opened her bedroom door to see the plate of omurice, untouched after two days, sitting alone on the table.

It was the straw on the camel’s back. Everything burst in that moment.

She screamed and heaved the plate of food at the wall with all her strength. It shattered on contact, rice and egg flying and the tomato sauce dribbling down the wall in thin streams that looked disturbingly like blood.

I can’t take it anymore!” she screamed so loud that she felt her throat tear. “I hateyou! I hate you! You blind, ignorant, selfish, egotistical, cold-hearted, frigid, unfeeling, prideful bastard, you did this to me! I hate you. I hate you! I hate you!

Hana didn’t even care that the Turk watched her rave and rant, screaming sentences in mixed Continental and Wutaiese at the wall, shaking, sobbing, heaving her fists and shoulders into the solid barrier again and again.

But years of shady and dangerous missions and a few ill-fated romances with women on the side had taught him well when it was time to call for backup.

~*~*~*~

She wasn’t happy to see him at all. When Genesis opened the door, Hana turned to look at him with wild eyes, narrowed in anger. She had a large shard of plate in her hand, and with him watching, she flung it at the wall in one last fit before she stormed to her room and slammed the door behind her, leaving a mess of egg, rice, what he hoped was tomato sauce, and shards of porcelain in her wake.

“Dear Goddess, help me,” Genesis sighed.

His first thought was to dial Zack, until he remembered that the new First Class SOLDIER had gone stone silent and hadn’t taken a call since he had been promoted. Sephiroth, though the problem was his by all accounts, had gone AWOL, and Angeal was back at the office, juggling all three of their workloads while he sorted this out.

He had volunteered for the task, he admitted, thinking whatever it was would be better than paperwork. He had been wrong. Apparently the Turk had not been exaggerating when he said that Hana had exploded.

“You can go,” he said to the Turk, who was all too happy to oblige. Shady dealings, constant danger, and gruesome death were all things that he had signed up for as a Turk, but volatile women, not so much.

Not that he had either, he thought bitterly to himself. But he was stuck with it anyway.

He surveyed the scene, taking stock and trying to figure out the best course of action. He found his answer in a series of simple questions. Did he want to talk to her? No. Did she want to talk to him? Most likely not.

So he decided against it.

Genesis helped himself to Sephiroth’s couch and turned on the TV. Embers, he reasoned, were much easier to work with than flames, and so he let her smolder and seethe out of his sight, where he didn’t have to handle it.

When the sports game he was watching took a particularly dull turn, he went to the kitchen. On the counter was Hana’s satchel of tea, and so he boiled water and helped himself.

It might have been the scent that drew her out, or maybe she had cooled enough to talk without persuasion from the tea. Either way, she emerged, exhausted, haggard, and humiliated.

“Sorry,” she said. “I really lost it this time.”

Genesis sipped his tea, regarding her over the rim of his teacup. “You’re only human,” he said.

“I’ll clean up.” Though she owed Genesis zero duty to do so, she worked quickly to right the house. Genesis suspected that it was less about being courteously clean for guests and more about erasing the evidence of her embarrassing rampage.

“Sakura,” Genesis said as she cleaned. “It’s one of the ingredients in the tea.” She turned for a second to look at him before resuming her work, scrubbing the wall with a wet washrag in long, vertical strokes.

“Yes,” she said. “How did you know? Did you recognize the smell or the taste?”

“Neither. I guessed,” Genesis said. “Given how important the flower is to Wutai.”

“Hmm. Lucky you.”

Genesis let her clean without further interruption, waiting for her to cool further. When she was done, she looked better. The weight was still on her shoulders but she bore it better now that she had released so much pent-up tension.

As she worked to clean, Genesis’s mind churned, mulling over an idea that had been irritating him for the past few days.

“I have a solution,” Genesis said, “that may help you evade your father.” She probably thought it a diversion from the matter at hand. Truthfully, it wasn’t, but he wasn’t about to tell her that.

“Do I have to undergo extensive preening again?” Hana asked wearily.

“Not as extensive as last time.”

“That’s not reassuring,” Hana said.

“I told Blackwell that he could not best me,” Genesis said. “And he cannot. In this arena, I am the master. At minimum, we will seriously stall his assault, and at best, we can turn it on its head.”

“Those are lofty words.”

“They are the truth.”

“I’m not sure I believe you,” she said. “But…I’ll hear you out. I have nothing to lose.”

Hook, line, and sinker. It had been too easy, and they both knew before the plan was even presented that Genesis was preying on her desperation to get her compliance.

He wondered if she could really go all the way through with it, because they were running out of options.

“Desperate times call for desperate measures,” was how he prefaced the explanation of his plot.

And Genesis’s smile was scaring her.

~*~*~*~


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