Someone Wicked This Way Comes
He heard furniture moving as he raised his hand to knock on the door. Amused, he listened. He could hear her push and shove, murmuring words in her native tongue that didn’t sound very happy or triumphant. Sometimes he heard a short skid of wooden legs on carpet, but most of the time he just heard her body hit the barrier, push, and stop.
Then he knocked. The sounds abruptly stopped, but no footsteps approached. He knocked again. “I know you’re in there, Hana,” he said.
The door opened a crack, and the woman peeked out. He could only see her eyes. The chain was still on the door, preventing him from opening it further. “Oh, hello, Genesis.” She was very out of breath.
“Good afternoon,” he returned. “Remodeling?”
Hana’s eyes smiled. “Something like that,” she said. “Or…at the very least, attempting.”
“Hmm.” He held up a small package wrapped in shining white and silver paper. “I brought you a wedding gift.” He raised it and turned it lengthwise so it would slide through the door.
“Oh!” She was caught aback, and didn’t extend her hand to take it even as it intruded halfway into her apartment. “Oh, that’s very kind of you! You really didn’t have to…”
“It’s just a trinket,” he said. “And it’s customary. You guys did get married, after all.”
She finally took hold of the gift but did not pull it through. “Please, come in. It’s…a mess. And I’m not much better, but let me at least sit you down and get you something to drink.”
“It’s really not that big of a de—“
He’d been in Wutai enough to see that gifts were a big deal. He knew only that much, but at least he was aware of his own ignorance.
He had come to make peace with her. And because he didn’t know her customs, he would play along.
“I would enjoy more of that tea,” Genesis said. And, truthfully, he would. After that meeting, a hot drink would be especially welcome.
She shut the door and slid off the chain, then welcomed him into her home. She hadn’t been lying: it was a mess. It looked like she’d been successful with the couches, and they rested in new positions, but the bookshelf was at an odd angle at an odd place in the room. She had removed the books and the television from it, and they were heaped on the couch. She flew quickly, moving the stacks to the floor. She was dressed in one of Sephiroth’s ShinRa logo t-shirts (Genesis had never seen the man wear it, but the company gave them out at least every year), which was more of a nightshirt on her, and what looked like a pair of his jeans as well. He couldn’t tell under the baggy shirt, but he guessed they were cinched tight with a belt to fit around that tiny waist, and the legs were rolled up at least three times so they wouldn’t drag on the floor. It was the first time he’d noticed how tiny she was compared to him.
“I’m sorry I’m not really dressed, but it would be impossible to do all this in a dress…”
“It doesn’t matter to me,” Genesis said. At her gesture, he sat on the cleared couch. She pulled over the coffee table and set his gift on it.
“I’ll start the tea. Please make yourself comfortable.”
And so she began, and in no time at all, she returned to him with steaming tea in one of her heirloom china cups. Genesis accepted wordlessly, nodding his thanks.
Hana alighted on the second couch, some distance away, not directly in his line of sight. But she turned her body to face him and he adjusted similarly. She moved like a heron, with perfected, weightless grace.
“You cannot be a simple traveling merchant,” Genesis said, taking a long, drawn-out sip afterward. He shrugged his shoulders nonchalantly. “But that’s not why I’m here. You don’t have to say anything.”
Hana nodded appreciatively, with the slightest bow at her waist.
“How do you like Midgar?” Genesis asked, gently waving his cup to make tiny waves in its surface and mix the contents.
“I can’t really say,” she said. “I haven’t seen it, except through the window.”
“Sephiroth’s keeping you prisoner here?”
She flushed. “Oh, no. It’s nothing like that. It’s just that ShinRa hasn’t made my identity card or elevator key yet…and so I can’t get past security without someone with clearance, and Sephiroth’s been busy.”
“Ah,” and he took another sip. Something about the blend tasted floral, and he could barely catch the aroma in the rising steam as well. “What is in this tea?”
“A lot of different things. Herbs, plants, and spices that remind me of home.”
“Mmm. From Wutai?”
“All but one.”
“Oh? And what’s the one that’s not?”
Hana smoothed the t-shirt over her lap. A needless gesture, probably done out of habit for when she wore her finer wear. She smiled wistfully and traced her finger on her thigh – drawing a symbol Genesis did not recognize. “Petals from a flowering tree in Gongaga. It is one of my favorite scents in the world.”
Gongaga. He had heard the name somewhere, recently. But he couldn’t place where. “That explains the floral scent then.”
“It’s actually one of three flowers mixed in the tea.” She smiled. “I’ll leave the other two to your imagination for now.”
“But I know they come from Wutai. I’ll pay more attention to the flowers next time I’m deployed there.”
Hana’s posture relaxed. It was a gradual change that he’d seen slowly evolve over the course of their conversation. Gradually, she was opening up, letting down her guard. Genesis was surprised to find that he had done the same.
“You can open the gift if you’d like.”
“Don’t you want to wait for Sephiroth?”
“He won’t appreciate it. Pity, that.”
She took the package and fingered the paper before carefully peeling at the corners. When it was fully exposed, she looked at it for a long time before she dared to caress the cover of the book. “Loveless,” she said. “And it’s…so beautiful!”
The cover was made of deep red leather, embossed with gold and silver that shone in the light. The paper was good quality, thick and sturdy, slightly colored to look like parchment. Even the script was elegant, easily readable, but with a flair that was reminiscent of true cursive. Attached to the spine was a bookmark of thick, scarlet ribbon.
“Genesis, this is not a trinket! This is a work of art!”
Genesis smirked, pleased. “In truth, this was a test. I wanted to see if you had finer tastes than your woefully lacking husband. You passed excellently.”
“This must have cost—“
“Inconsequential. True beauty requires some cost, surely you can appreciate that.”
“But I can’t take—“
“You can,” Genesis said. “It’s a gift and I will be offended if it is not read and beloved as it was intended to be. Are you familiar with it?”
“I’ve heard of it, but never read it.”
“Then consider it an assignment.”
Hana pressed the book to her heart and fully bowed. “I will. Thank you, Genesis.”
“And while you’re at it, you can try to inspire some appreciation for it in that husband of yours.”
Hana smiled. “I can try, at least.”
“You’re all right,” he said as he finished the tea. “I think you and I can get along quite well.”
“I’m glad to hear that. Last time you left I was quite sure you didn’t like me.”
“I’m still suspicious,” he said. “Everything about you is tangled in mystery. I guess you and Sephiroth are similar in that, at least. But…” He shrugged. “Everyone has the right to privacy, I guess. And I can’t fault you for that.”
She didn’t say anything, but took his empty teacup to the kitchen where it was immediately washed and set to dry. He liked her much better now that she wasn’t standing on ceremony, every movement calculated and executed to perfection. She seemed human.
Sephiroth, too, had been that way at first.
The more he looked, the more the two really had in common.
“You need help moving that bookshelf.”
“Oh, it’s all right. I’ll get it.”
“It wasn’t a question,” Genesis said, smirking again. “Where do you want it?”
Hana pointed to the wall opposite of where it now stood. Genesis went to work.
He didn’t blame her for not being able to move it; it was surprisingly heavy in addition to being large – wider even than his arm span and up to his chest high. “This thing is old as dirt, but it must be real, solid wood,” Genesis said with appreciation. “It could probably be something beautiful if it was sanded down and refinished.”
“That was my intention,” Hana said. “…As soon as I get out shopping for supplies.”
“You’ve certainly got your work cut out for you,” he said as he pushed the second end against the wall, stepping back to see if it was straight and centered.
“You won’t recognize this place by the time I’m done with it.”
“Heh. I’m looking forward to it. Maybe then he’ll actually spend some time here.”
Hana nodded and then bowed when it had been peacefully silent for a few moments. “Thank you, Genesis. For the book and the shelf. I’m very glad you dropped by today.”
“Thank you for the tea. I fully intend to discover what is in it.”
“You can try,” she said with a smile. “There are over twenty ingredients.”
“As smug as he is. Maybe you two aren’t so mismatched after all.” Genesis stepped through the doorway. His back to her, peering back through his crimson hair, he said, “Tell your husband ‘thank you for the promotion’ for me, and that I’m looking forward to the board meetings. Use as much sarcasm as you can muster.”
“I will,” she promised.
“See you later then.” Genesis raised his hand in parting and left.
He had taken the day off work. It would probably further back up the paperwork needing to be done, but that was Sephiroth’s problem now, and Genesis considered it more than fair retribution after he had been through that meeting, with the promise of more to come. As he approached the elevator, he finally decided to go to the SOLDIER floor. He’d just stay away from the offices. He didn’t have anything better to do, and doing nothing was better than doing paperwork.
It was when the elevator dinged as he arrived at his destination that the light went on in his head. He knew exactly where he’d heard about Gongaga recently. Smirking, not even taking his usual pleasure as his expression scattered several Second-Classmen, he took out his phone and dialed.
“Angeal, what is the name of that overactive Gongagan puppy that you mentor for? And, assuming he is training on the SOLDIER floor like a good little Second-class, which I admit is a stretch, where could I find him?”
“That bad, huh?”
Sephiroth groaned as he slipped off his boots and set them on the rack by the door. It had taken Hana all of two seconds to make that conclusion.
“We both knew it would be,” he said, and entered his home barefoot. The house had been freshly cleaned, and even though it hadn’t particularly needed it, he appreciated the fresh scent. “I suppose it went as well as could be expected, given the circumstances.”
Hana was crouched on her toes, using a small hand-broom to sweep the small hardwood area in the kitchen. Next to her was a pail of water and washcloth. “If you need to use the kitchen I can wait to mop.”
“No, go ahead,” Sephiroth said and made his way to the couch, setting a plastic bag on the kitchen table. “Dinner,” he explained. “Just sandwiches.”
“I’ll eat after I finish.”
Hana tucked a few stray strands of hair behind her ears and continued her work.
Sephiroth watched her from where he sat on the couch. It really wasn’t fair to have her locked away in his apartment all day, but there wasn’t much that either of them could do about it. The elevators in ShinRa took key cards that only allowed to access specific floors, depending on rank and position. The upside was nearly impeccable security, but the downside was if you didn’t have a keycard, you couldn’t go anywhere, which was Hana’s current position. It seemed like she’d kept herself busy by cleaning and rearranging thus far, but that wouldn’t last much longer.
Not that he dared to let her go alone into the city just yet either.
“Genesis came by to give us a wedding gift.”
“Oh?” He had a feeling he knew what it was from the start, but his suspicions were confirmed when he saw the red volume on the shelf – currently the only book that was not stacked on the floor beside the bookshelf. He went to pick it up, leafing through the pages gently. “Hm,” was all he said.
“It’s a very nice gift,” she said.
“It’s also a very overt jab at my attitude towards the work. Well, perhaps you will enjoy it.” He put it back on the shelf.
“You don’t like it?”
“I don’t dislike it. I simply don’t care for it. A sentiment that is not helped by his incessant quoting of it.” He sat back on the couch. “If you enjoy it, you might go see the live production on stage.”
“I’d really like that.” She said it timidly. He focused on her – he didn’t understand. She wasn’t herself tonight. But she didn’t look at him, focusing on scrubbing the floor with her washrag.
She’d never been this…subdued.
“It’s done,” Hana said, gathering her materials and setting them out of the way.
“Thank you. It looks nice.” The apartment was still slightly messy from her remodeling, but he didn’t mind. The state was only temporary. And her work so far had done much to open up the place.
Hana went to the table and pulled out a sandwich, then made as if to go into her room. It was mildly alarming. Was something he was doing chasing her away?
Sephiroth sat at the table and pulled the seat next to him out for her. “Stay,” he said, and she obeyed. He hoped it hadn’t sounded like an order. He hadn’t intended it to be.
Hana sat down slowly, holding her sandwich in both hands. She was on the left side of the table facing the wall while he sat on the rear side facing the front door. She began nibbling as he fished his own meal out of the bag.
“I am meeting with Tseng of the Turks tomorrow,” Sephiroth said. “I will arrange for him or for one of his men to train you to use a gun.”
“I told you I’m not a fighter,” Hana replied, still refusing to meet his eyes. “And I don’t like guns.”
“We did not agree that you would become a fighter, we agreed that you would learn to defend yourself. I won’t always be nearby.”
Hana still didn’t look at him, but by the set of her jaw he knew she was upset. Very upset. She had hated the idea from the beginning, and only agreed grudgingly. He had tried to be as lenient with her as possible, and he had made concessions for her sake, but on this he could not budge. It wasn’t safe to have her untrained and unguarded. Not for her. Not even for him.
Even so, perhaps he had pushed too hard and too fast. “Would you prefer a different weapon?” he tried.
She sighed. “A katana can’t stand against a gun. And that’s what most of my attackers would have.”
She spoke sense now, and was following his logic. He hummed, pleased that he had made his point. But he also noticed something else in her voice. “Do you have any interest in using a katana?”
“I can arrange for you to be taught.”
Hana said nothing, but was running out of sandwich.
“You are not yourself,” Sephiroth said. “What’s wrong?”
Hana let her hands, now only holding bits of crust, fall to her lap. She seemed to shrink in her seat, posture falling.
“I’m…thinking. About a lot. I’m sorry, I guess I’m just preoccupied.”
“There’s no need to apologize.”
The two ate in silence.
Hana spoke only several minutes after she had finished her dinner, staring at the paper bag it had come in. “When Genesis came, he asked about what was in the tea. And ever since, I’ve been thinking about all the things in it. Everything I put in there is tied to a memory. At first I was very happy, remembering it all, but then my mind wandered to…other things. The things I’d rather…forget.”
Sephiroth respected her silence, waiting without pressure to speak. Hana deeply appreciated his patience, especially during times like this.
“How long do you think it will be before he gets here?” she asked in a whisper.
Sephiroth gathered his trash and put it in the paper sack before he answered. “Assuming that the news of our marriage has spread back to Wutai by now, and he’s already had a few days on the road, I’d guess he’d make it within the week. ShinRa security should slow him down. Maybe if we’re lucky they’ll take care of the problem for us.”
Hana shook her head. “Maybe Oniichan will get here first.”
“That is the more favorable outcome, but will he be able to stop him?”
“Then we will prepare for the worst.” He rose from the table and threw the trash away. “I will see if I can get you trained starting tomorrow.”
“Sephiroth?” Her voice was very small now, and her hands were clenched in shaking fists. Her head was bowed so low that he could see the entire part in her dark hair. “Will you…kill him?”
Sephiroth hesitated. Fear. She was very, deathly afraid. That’s what was behind it all.
“Sleep tonight. There’s nothing that can be done now.”
“You didn’t answer my question.”
“You will not like my answer.”
“I had a feeling I wouldn’t. Say it.” Her challenge rang in the air. Sephiroth tensed, as if in preparation for battle. Instincts he only called on when threatened. How had she learned to trigger them so quickly?
“Very well,” he said, crossing his arms. “Unless the situation forces my hand, that decision is yours to make. I won’t take that from you.”
“You won’t,” she shot back, quiet but venomous, “or you can’t?”
Sephiroth’s eyes narrowed. Now she was really treading on dangerous ground. “You are upset and irrational. Do not turn this on me.”
“It’s already on you.”
Under his simmering temper, he acknowledged in passing that he was unpleasantly surprised by how she had gone from terrified to spiteful and angry so quickly. “Do not challenge me, Hana.”
“Don’t patronize me.”
The entire exchange was extremely confusing and irritating.
She’s afraid, he told himself as he took a deep breath. She’s like an animal backed into a corner.
The insight didn’t give him any further directives on how he should respond.
“Hana,” he said, level and emotionless. “Yukihana.”
The use of that name jarred her. “What?” she said, and her bite was gone.
He knew he could not say the words with the emotion with which they were meant to be spoken.
But he knew the words, and they were all he had.
“Kowa kute mo daijoubu…bokura wa mou…”
Sephiroth said it, but he saw her lips mouth the final words along with him.
Hana laid her head on the table. He heard her breaths. In. Out. In. Out. In…
“Does it sound as hollow to you as it does to me?”
And then at last she met his eyes. Wide, wet, vulnerable. Pretense was gone, stripped away. And in those depths he saw worlds of untold, undiscovered turmoil.
And in him, behind the thinnest layer of steel, he knew she saw the same.
What have you brought out in me? The thought flashed simultaneously through the two minds connected by only one frail thread.
Then and there, in the silence, with nothing but each other, the truth kept at bay until now flooded over them in paralyzing waves, ripping the thread they each grasped from their hands.
What have we done?!
In Hana’s mind, she saw that final thread fall into the darkness of the impassable chasm between them.
She didn’t even have the strength to grab after it as it disappeared.