Black on Silver

From the Depths of the Heart

She’d gotten it out as Genesis had taken her back to the ShinRa building. She only remembered about half of what she’d yelled at him. Her mind was such a fiery, electric slurry that she could focus on little else except trying, and failing, to make sense of herself again.

Genesis took the thoughtless words that spilled from her mouth with a smug, self-satisfied smirk.

It was infuriating. She couldn’t believe he’d to that to her, and then parade around as triumphant as he was.

So when she got to her door, she had nothing left.

She was empty.

Hana stared at the door, rested her forehead against it. Inside was silent. It was late. Outside it was already dark. Maybe Sephiroth had already gone to bed?

She knew better than to hope for that much.

When she opened the door, she was met with darkness. The lights were off, cloaking her home in shadow. Only the soft glow from one lamp spilled from the open doorway to Sephiroth’s study, and in the several feet of warmth, she saw the dark silhouette of her husband stretched long across the carpet.

Hana closed the front door as softly as she was able, and took three silent steps toward her bedroom on the right.

“Hana.” The soft voice summoned, and she could not disobey.

She moved silently to the doorway of his office, half of her body in the light, and half in shadow and hidden behind the wall. She raised one hand and rested it on the doorframe at the level of her breast, holding softly to it, though the tentative threshold did little to steady her. Words did not come. There was nothing in the world that she could say to take back what had already been spoken – and to the entire world, no less.

But he was speechless as well.

The realization that he was not silent out of anger dawned on her slowly, and as she grew more and more certain of it, she raised her gaze, degree by degree, until she was regarding him warily from beneath her bangs.

Sephiroth was sitting behind his desk, forehead resting in one hand. Through the veil of his bangs, she could see that his eyes were closed as if asleep, and though his face was smooth and unreadable, it was not serene. There were the slightest creases in his forehead, his brows were lowered, and his lips were ramrod straight and thin.

From the scene, she could read nothing.

And so she waited. And watched.

And waited. And watched.

And waited until she accepted defeat. She spun wordlessly to retreat to her room, too empty to feel the pain.

“The science labs,” Sephiroth said.

The words stopped her. His low voice, warmer somehow, came from behind and enfolded her, gently drawing her backwards in the softest, most hesitant summons to reenter the light.

“…The science labs,” he repeated. “I was raised there. And when I was not being…tested…I had little use. For the majority of my childhood, I was left alone…in silence.”

Hana turned her head to look at him. Nothing but his lips had moved.

“Unconsciously, I learned that making small noises filled the void. I tapped my pencil, or my foot, if I had nothing else. It became a habit. It wasn’t until I joined SOLDIER that I realized what I was doing, and that it was considered abnormal. I have since retrained myself to stop. I thought I had myself rid of my aversion to the quiet since I left the labs but perhaps…as you have noted…some of it lingers still.”

Hana waited, blinking.

“Reading was my escape,” he continued. “Books were the only way I had to experience the world. Geography and culture books, especially, took me out of my small world. I admit that travel was the only fantasy I’ve ever allowed myself, even as a boy.” He hummed darkly. “I might have enjoyed fiction and literature, but, as it was not considered conducive to my education, it was never provided. It might be why I still cannot bring myself to enjoy Loveless.

“I change my socks often because I had an unfortunate prank pulled on me as a Third-class SOLDIER, and because we were in the middle of a mission and I had no spares, I was unable to change my socks to rid myself of the consequences for thirty-two hours. As a result, I learned the true value of clean socks. The toothpaste…for a similar reason, actually.

“And the chocolate…was Professor Gast’s favorite.”

“Professor Gast?” Hana asked, and it took a moment to recognize the soft notes of sorrow and loss in his voice. “You mean…the man you carved the boat for?”

“Yes.”

“Oh.” She paused, hesitant to push but not wanting it to stop either, now that they were finally, finally connecting. “And…you hate yellow?”

Sephiroth’s eyes snapped to her and the bite in his voice was back. “That is…not something I will discuss.”

“Sorry,” Hana breathed, lowering her eyes again. The trespass hovered, gaping, between them, and she didn’t know how to breach it.

But Sephiroth’s face softened. “You are observant,” he said. “Even Angeal did not know those…quirks of mine.”

“Are you angry with me?”

“No,” Sephiroth said, and though she believed him, it brought her no relief. “Not angry. I know it was Genesis who put you to it. And you said nothing of real consequence.”

“Oh. Okay.”

So what now? She wanted to ask him. Where did this leave them? What did it mean? Instead, words failed and the silence stretched, tentative, between them.

“I have one question for you now, Hana,” Sephiroth said. And he rose to his feet and walked out of the light and into the half-shadow where she lingered. He approached slowly, perhaps giving her time to run, or steeling himself to do it. She could not tell. She only knew that she was staring at his boots, face aflame. She saw his shadow shift, and for a moment, she thought she saw the silhouette of his wing at his shoulder, but when she raised her eyes, gasping, to look, there was nothing there.

As she looked up, her eyes were captured in his. His eyes swirled with the lifeblood of the planet, a foreign force as living and alive as he. She was spellbound by the movement, the color. It was unnatural, but bright and ethereally beautiful.

She could feel in her blood how very, very close he was to her. Only a breath closer and their bodies would have joined. The confusing and exhilarating warmth that she felt when he had swept her off her feet in Mideel returned full force.

Hana swallowed hard, and prepared to hold her ground.

“What was it,” Sephiroth asked, “that you were about to say at the end of the interview?”

She’d thought she was prepared, but the question knocked the wind out of her.

Suddenly it was her move.

And she couldn’t make it.

“Nothing!” she said, insisting it to herself as much as to him. “Nothing at all! Just…playing my part after all.” She tried to laugh. It only made it worse.

She looked up to him. It did no good. For the three seconds that she dared to look him in the eye, she saw nothing. She lowered her gaze again.

“…I see,” was all he said.

His soft words did not match the vicious slam her heart took.

I’m such an idiot…! But what could she say now? She had no answer. She didn’t know how to fix it, or even how to begin again.

I blew it!

But one ember still smoldered. He was still so close. After all that, he hadn’t drawn back.

If she reached out just the slightest bit, she could…

Her fingertips felt his warmth, and for a moment, she could revel in him.

And then she realized it wasn’t her fantasy anymore.

His warmth was real.

Her hand was pressed flat to his chest.

She snapped her hand back and fled, scared of what she would see on his face, scared of what he would think or say, but terrified most of what was blossoming inside her. She ran from the light, she ran from his gaze, but try as she might, she could not run from herself.

She slammed her door behind her and sat down with her back to it, breathing heavily.

He didn’t run. He didn’t even say anything.

He just let me…

But he didn’t follow me either. Didn’t try to stop me.

What is he thinking…?

The dark silence held no answers. She had the feeling that it wasn’t even listening. Just as well. It couldn’t hold her emotions if it tried.

At some point she crawled to her futon and pulled the covers over herself. She didn’t know how long she waited in the dark, but fatigue pulled at her mind and her eyes. Gradually, she slipped into the twilit fringes of sleep.

It was then that one detail, lost in the heat of the moment, came vivid to her mind.

Sephiroth had not been wearing gloves. His hands had been bare.

And on his left ring finger had been the band she had told Angeal to give to him.

She couldn’t sleep the rest of the night, only stared into the darkness, and dared to wonder.

~*~*~*~

It had been a long time since he’d dreamt of her, but none of the clarity of the memory had been lost to dormancy.

He’d been young, only eight or nine, but already schooled in the art of the sword for five years. He’d already been strong enough to best several of the Thirds at sparring, and infantrymen were an outright bore.

He liked the sword. He liked the dance of the katana, quick as the wind. It was the closest thing he could think of to flying…to freedom.

But as he excelled, his captors found new ways to push his limits. Ways that made his blood run cold. Ways that made him stay up, shaking, all night long.

So when the sedatives wore off and he found himself in a containment cell with only his katana, he knew trouble was near.

He gripped the hilt, its shape and firmness reassuring. The leather had molded perfectly to every curve and crease of his hand – thinner where he applied more pressure in combat and thicker where he did not. He thought surely the one who knew him best was his blade.

He knew from past experience that shouting would get him nowhere, and so he waited. It was something he was very good at. Something he spent a good portion of his life doing. His blade was steady and sure in his hand, so he was no longer alone.

There was a scuffle above him, coming from a small entryway about six feet off the ground. He narrowed his eyes at the metal gate. So that was where his challenge would come from. He got to his feet and swung his sword in a wide arc. The metal sang in anticipation.

But what dropped down was not a monster this time, not a cadet on an experimental rage drug or a materia-enhanced half-man.

It was a girl.

A girl his age.

A girl in a yellow dress.

~*~*~*~


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