Secrets, Spoken and Otherwise
Angeal turned the card over as the elevator doors closed, the hologram catching the light and reflecting it in a full spectrum of color. He’d worked all day and jumped through every hoop and red tape trap imaginable to get it. So much trouble for such a little thing.
“The floor you have requested – Records - is restricted,” a female recording responded.
After all that effort, the moment of truth where he waved the card through the scanner was disappointingly anticlimactic.
The floor buttons flashed green and there was a pleasant, electronic chirping confirming his clearance. “Access granted,” the elevator said, and he began to ascend.
He pocketed the card. Sephiroth had sure picked a good place to hide, but he had finally cracked it.
This floor was colder than the rest, he noticed immediately, and if there were windows behind the steel-plated walls, he could not tell. The lights above were bright, their harsh gaze leaving no corner in shadow. The place felt cold, sterile, silent.
This was the place where ShinRa’s darkest secrets were kept.
He was greeted by two infantrymen – not rank and file, but in darker uniform decorated with badges and much more heavily armed. Wordlessly, one held out his hand. Angeal had been told to expect this protocol, and surrendered his phone, weapons, materia, regular company ID, and the special clearance badge he had been given.
When it was made absolutely certain that he was entering with nothing except for what was naturally under his skin and what clothed him, he was permitted entrance. The entire lengthy process of scanning and swabbing had been conducted in mechanical silence.
But he was in at last, and Sephiroth proved easy to find.
The records rooms were sectioned off by department, but the walls were made of windows from ceiling to floor to discourage anyone inside from trying anything mischievous. The ceiling was dotted with security cameras and mirrors to view around corners and eliminate blind spots. It really made Angeal uneasy to think about the type of information they were hiding in here, but that wasn’t what he had come for.
As it turns out, Sephiroth had not only come to this place to be unreachable. He was studying hard in the Science Department’s archives. Five towers of tomes on the desk, neatly sorted for his purposes, and several others on the floor were the only company he kept. He was reading, flipping the pages with one hand, and scribbling away in a notebook with another.
Angeal chose to believe that Sephiroth was so singularly focused on his research that he did not notice him come in, instead of that he was being ignored.
Angeal cleared his throat, and his friend’s furious scribbling ceased.
“Angeal?” Sephiroth asked, voice weary but tinged with surprise. “You managed to get clearance?”
Angeal was happy he came just then for more reasons than one. Here, on his own, Sephiroth had once again driven himself to the brink of collapse. His eyes were red, ringed with ashen darkness, voice raspy from disuse. He doubted the man had slept since he entered, and he was clueless about how he had taken care of his basic needs like food or drink. Knowing the ferocity of Sephiroth’s focus, it was likely he had fasted for most, if not all, of his stay here.
Besides the exhaustion, something was off about him, something reminiscent of how he had behaved at the gala, but Angeal couldn’t put his finger on it.
“It wasn’t easy,” Angeal said. “What have you been doing here?”
Sephiroth grunted and waved his hands over the records, not bothering to grace him with the obvious answer.
He wanted to drill the man about what in all of Gaia could be so important to go on such a hunt, but it wasn’t what he had come for. “Well, it’s time to go home.”
“I have not found what I am looking for,” Sephiroth said. “And I intend to stay until I do.”
“No, my friend,” Angeal said. “You’re coming with me to get a hot meal, a hot shower, and a good night’s rest.”
“I am not coming with you until I have found what I came for.”
Any sane person would have let Sephiroth have the last word. Even starved and exhausted he was a formidable foe, and he knew how to put his foot down. But Angeal didn’t have the time to argue. He needed to be in Sephiroth’s apartment in twenty minutes, and Sephiroth had to be with him. He had expected resistance, and had come prepared.
“You will come with me when you hear what Hana is about to do.”
“Hey, Genesis?” Hana’s voice was soft, daunted by the task, but behind her uncertainty was an iron core. She would not let herself falter. She would do this.
“Yes?” he prodded. She was letting her focus wander, possibly because it was too terrifying to focus on what needed her attention.
“I’ve been reading Loveless these past few days.”
“Oh? Have you been enjoying it?”
“Yes. But—“ She shifted, uncomfortable in her high-heels. “I keep wondering, why is it titled that? Loveless?”
Genesis hummed softly. “Why do you think it is?” he asked.
“Well,” she said, uncomfortable with
more than just her shoes now. “I know most of the theories are about the three
friends but I think that the title…Loveless…doesn’t
refer to them.”
“Oh?” Beyond them, almost in a different world, they heard the applause, muted by thick and heavy curtains. The sound made her face harden. “Then, who would it refer to?”
A light flashed green above them, and Hana stood up straighter, answering the call. “You’ll do fine,” he said, putting a hand on her shoulder for support. “And I’m right here in sight if you need me.”
Hana took her place at the border of the shadows they now waited in and the blinding light beyond. “When the prisoner is wounded,” she said, “he is rescued by a woman. A woman from the enemy camp, even. And even though they live together, they aren’t happy. He is tortured by the past and she…” Hana trailed off, transfixed by the light.
“The final act is missing,” Genesis said. “We cannot know that they remained that way, in the end.”
“But what if we’re not missing the ending at all? What if it’s right there staring us in the face, from the very beginning?”
“I don’t follow you, Hana. But it’s your time. You cannot fail.”
The music began to play, and at once she was drawn into the light.
“What if that is her ending?” he heard, a sorrowful question against such cheery music and anxious applause.
Tension built until at its peak, seven spotlights converged on Hana, who had only taken one step beyond the shield of the curtains. Against such light, Genesis saw only her silhouette, a cutout of shadow in a world of searing light.
Hana’s final whispers were almost drowned out by the roar of the crowd waiting to receive her.
“In the end…was she…loveless, too?”
Angeal had never seen such blatant shock on the Silver General’s face.
His eyes were riveted to the television. He didn’t need any explanation. The image said it all.
Hana walked onto the stage, head held high, a nervous smile on her face as she waved to the thousands gathered in the audience to see her. She was dressed in black, the sweetheart neckline bodice fitted tight to her waist encircled with a thick band of silver and rhinestones. Her collarbone and shoulders were covered with a sheer, shimmering silver fabric, decorated as her waist was with fine silver embroidery and crystals. The skirt fell straight and slender to her ankles, ending just before latticed high heeled shoes. Her dark hair, similarly, had been left to fall straight down her shoulders, her sides, to sway gently as she walked and waved. Her hands, too, were sheathed in black satin up to her elbows.
The talk show host literally greeted Hana with open arms, and the two women embraced before the hostess led her to center stage, where she was seated in an armchair.
“What a surprise it was,” the hostess said as the applause finally died down, “when I get a call from this ravishing young woman last night. For the first time, the people of Midgar get to speak with the woman whose marriage has entranced the world! Here on Anita’s Corner, we are going to hear from our very own, local princess!”
The crowd went wild.
Angeal didn’t know whether everything or nothing was going through his friend’s mind, but he knew for certain that the man had been knocked so out of balance that he was just short of senseless. “Why?” Sephiroth growled, voice low and heavy with the threat of violence.
“Because we were running out of options and time and you had gone AWOL,” Angeal said. He had little sympathy for his friend right now, though he had just taken a severe blow in a weakened state. All the same, he pushed his friend down by the shoulders until he sat. “She’ll be on for a while,” Angeal said. “May as well get comfortable.”
“On public television? Why would she--?” His face darkened as he answered his own question. “Genesis,” he hissed, “is a deadman.”
Angeal was unfazed. This wasn’t the first time Sephiroth had threatened homicide and he still had yet to make good on it. “You’ll want to hear what she says now, they just finished the pleasantries,” Angeal reminded him, and Sephiroth’s mouth snapped shut.
“So tell us a little about yourself, Hana,” Anita said, leaning toward Hana from where she sat in her own armchair. “We have been dying to meet you!”
“I’m really just a country girl from Wutai,” Hana said with a small laugh. Her voice was stronger than anyone had expected. “I’m truly not very interesting.”
“A strange thing to say!” Anita said, jumping on the bait. Though Genesis had assured Angeal that the vast majority of the proceedings would be scripted, it was hard to tell for him, who knew, and possibly impossible for those who didn’t know. The two women were great actresses. “Not even a week ago, we learned that you were Wutai’s princess!” There was a small spattering of applause, but more indistinguishable, excited shouts, and one or two whistled cat calls.
“That’s why I’m here,” Hana said. She folded her hands neatly in her lap, back ramrod straight and shoulders squared, but head slightly bowed so her hair veiled her face in sorrowful shadows. It was a moving image that Angeal knew Genesis had carefully trained her to create.
“The press has been releasing false stories about me,” Hana said, letting the slightest waver dip her voice in places. “Much of what has been said about Sephiroth and me these past weeks has been lies, and we have been hurt for it.” She raised her head then, staring straight into the camera, and her voice was ablaze with righteous anger. “I have come to tell the world the truth, and end this madness myself once and for all.”
The crowd cheered long and loud, rallied to her cause. Angeal raised an eyebrow. That was all it took? Sephiroth seemed skeptical as well.
“We will gladly help you,” Anita said again, taking one of Hana’s hands in both of hers. “So let’s start, from the very beginning: tell us the story of how you met Sephiroth.”
Angeal felt Sephiroth turn to stone beside him.
“He was on a mission in Kuro,” she said. “And we met while he was searching for his objective.”
“What a miracle, to cross paths like that!”
“An unlikely coincidence, yes, but it was hardly a good thing. I was his objective, or at least, he thought I was at first.”
“He was sent to hunt you?” Anita and the crowd gasped with the thrill of the horror of being the infamous General’s prey.
“Oh, it’s not nearly that glamorous. He was searching for weapons being shipped through the area,” Hana said. “And my little caravan had overstocked on weapons, though I didn’t know it. Not for the war, but for personal use. One of them was a blacksmith hoping to sell in the next town. It was never about the war, just a stupid oversight of the caravan leader to be traveling such roads with such cargo. Regardless, we looked suspicious, and Sephiroth had his orders.” Hana smiled wryly. “Our first meeting was him taking me prisoner.”
The crowd and Anita gasped.
“But we cleared up the misunderstanding,” Hana said. “And…that’s where we began.”
It was an awkward place to stop, but Hana’s voice indicated that she was done telling the story and so the crowd went with it and applauded. Angeal wondered if the audience was following a script too.
“And so the next question,” Anita asked before the applause had completely died out. “Are you really Wutai’s princess?”
“It’s a huge exaggeration,” she said. “I have a place in line for the throne, yes, but it’s distant. I’ve only lived in the palace for a handful of years, and I so much prefer life outside its walls. I would never, ever want to take the throne from Godo or his daughter, who will succeed him. The life of a princess wouldn’t suit me. All I want is a simple life of peace with my husband, here in Midgar.”
“Clever,” Angeal said as the crowd applauded again. “She didn’t deny it, but downplayed it and moved on, distracting them with romance again. Really, she’s diverting the blows without revealing anything vital. Genesis scripted it well.”
“Hmph,” Sephiroth said. “So it was scripted. I might have known Genesis wouldn't let her do this without his hands all over his so-called handiwork." Hana and Anita were talking about her dream house now, and what her current decorating plans for her apartment were. "The public will really buy this over the news?” he asked.
“Look at the crowd. They’re eating it up. Newspapers can’t give the people a show like she can. Honestly, this might prove to be one of Genesis’s better ideas. The press won’t dare go against her once she’s won their hearts.”
And the rest was just that – winning their hearts.
Hana talked about some of her favorite things in Wutai, and some heartwarming stories from her childhood. They talked about trivial things like the things she wanted to see in Midgar. The mayor of Midgar even made an appearance and formally welcomed her to the city. Laughter and applause was liberally applied throughout all the proceedings and all talk was kept carefully, deliberately, away from anything to do with Sephiroth.
There were only five minutes left in the program. By now, Sephiroth had relaxed, watching with mild interest, content that nothing of real consequence was going to be said.
“It’s been such a joy to have you here with us on the show,” Anita said. “But our time grows short. Still, we have time for one final treat!”
Sephiroth straightened. Something had changed in the audience, and he had sensed it. Angeal looked to his friend and shrugged. Paranoid, he thought.
“Now, earlier today, we polled the audience about the one thing they would most like to ask you if they could.”
Even Angeal caught it this time. Fear flashed unchecked across Hana’s face for one brief second before she resumed her pleasantly interested smile.
“And you’ll have to forgive us. It’s such a silly little thing, but if you would indulge us we would be so grateful…”
The whispers in the crowd were growing. The camera panned over the expanse of people. They looked eager, hungry.
“But we just heard so much about you, and nothing about your husband! The rest of us aren’t as fortunate as you to see him every day, and so we were wondering if you could give us just a tiny little glimpse into what he’s really like. Tell us what it was that made you fall in love with him.”
“Stop this. Now,” Sephiroth ordered.
“How?” Angeal asked. “Are you going to lay siege to the studio? There’s nothing we can do!”
“This was not scripted,” Sephiroth said. And Hana’s mounting terror as she tried and failed to evade the question was proof.
The crowd was chanting now: “Tell us! Tell us! Tell us!”
Angeal could just picture Genesis’s smirk as he watched from the sidelines, eagerly waiting to hear how Hana would respond to the one question that he had deliberately not prepared her for.
Every alarm in Hana’s head was blaring. She couldn’t hear herself think over the noise in her own mind, let alone the din surrounding her, pressing her further and further back into the corner she had been forced into.
She looked offstage where Genesis was lingering unseen behind the curtains. Thus far, she’d done everything without his help. Now, she was left high and dry when Genesis answered her distressful plea with a look of false bewilderment, shrugging as he held up the pink card that he had promised held every last question that she would be asked.
He had straight-up lied. She just knew it.
Anita looked innocent enough. She was probably following the script they had agreed to. It was all Genesis’s fault. She never, ever would have agreed to it if she had known that it would end this way.
Why would he do this to me?! What does he want me to say?!
“My husband is a very private man,” she said, giving resistance one last go even though her heart knew it would be useless. “He would not---“
“Oh, Hana, just something little! We wouldn’t want to pry, after all.”
But that’s exactly what you’re doing!
There was no escape from the scrutiny of every pair of eyes on the planet. There was only one way out and that was straight through it.
Slowly, she closed her eyes, summoning up an image of her husband. She pictured him with one raised eyebrow, as if he, too, was awaiting her response.
And so when she spoke, she spoke not to the world, but to him.
Sephiroth had risen to his feet and turned his back to the television, letting Hana’s words break across him like waves.
“He loves to read,” Hana began, the crowd stilling as she spoke, perhaps the entire planet waiting with baited breath as to what she would say. “Mostly nonfiction. He’s extremely well educated all around, but his favorite thing to study is the Planet. He reads a lot about geography, but also lots of touristy books. I think he really likes to travel. He gets souvenirs from every place he goes, too. Little trinkets that he keeps in a drawer, with a map with a mark for every place he’s visited.”
“Really?” Angeal asked his friend. “I didn’t know you enjoyed that part of missions so much.”
Sephiroth said nothing, eyes wide as his secrets were laid bare.
“He has a special bench under the window in our apartment. It’s so comfortable – I think it must be down cushions. He loves to stretch out in the sunlight and lose himself in a book. I think he likes its warmth, and sometimes, despite himself, he’ll fall asleep there. It’s okay because there are lots of pillows behind him for when that happens. He’s so peaceful there, not at all stiff and guarded like he is in public. His calm is…contagious. You can feel it to the marrow of your bones.
“I don’t know why, but he much prefers quiet sound to silence. For all that he’s known as a silent man, he’s much more at ease with sounds or music in the background, and he really gets quite irritable if it’s too quiet for too long. Even doing the dishes or running the washing machine helps. He has a small noisemaker that plays the sound of the ocean waves as he sleeps. And on his wall, hung where he can see it as he lies in bed, is a beautiful poster of the ocean.
Despite Sephiroth’s scoff, the smallest half-smile played at the corner of his tightly pressed lips.
“He’s much more particular about his toothpaste than his shampoo. He has an obsession with clean socks that I will never understand, and changes them two or three times a day. He whispers when he sleeps. He hates the color yellow. He’s very particular about his nutrition but he has a soft spot for white chocolate, fudge, and cakes…but mostly for the ganache, I think.”
The rooms – the studio and the apartment – were silent.
“I—I’m not so sure I understand him better than anyone else. But I…want to. And I will…never stop trying to. Because…in the end…against everything I ever thought could happen…I--”
A flurry of ice shards from a Blizzaga spell shattered the screen.
“So,” Angeal said slowly, “I take it that all of that was true.”
Sephiroth’s silence was answer enough.
Angeal closed his eyes and silently sighed. There were no words; there was nothing he could say.
Genesis’s ultimate scheme was clear now. But it was cruel of him to choose such a stage for Hana and Sephiroth’s relationship to play out on.
“From Hana,” Angeal said, taking the small box Hana had given him and setting it on the top of the couch. “I think you have a lot of thinking to do, and I’ll leave you to it.”
Sephiroth may as well have been made of stone. His face and eyes were unreadable.
“…But…” Angeal said softly as he headed for the door. “Maybe I should suggest that your normal tactics of waiting and stonewalling will not work.”