Black on Silver

Under the Kachnar Blossoms

She was so warm and comfortable that she never wanted to move. There were soft, kind voices nearby, and though they were unfamiliar, she did not feel threatened. Slowly, as she woke, memory returned. She remembered the boy who had rescued her, and smiled as she tried to sit, rubbing the sleep from her eyes.

There he was – the boy who had helped her – only a foot or so from her face.

She yelped in surprise, jumping, and her alarm sent him back a few feet. He was now perched on the footboard of the bed, rubbing the back of his head sheepishly. “Did I wake you up? Sorry…” But he sounded more excited than sorry.

She had thought surely her memories of his hair had been exaggerated, but she was quite surprised to find that they hadn’t been. It really was that spiky, standing up every which-way except for the tame long bangs that fell to frame his face. He seemed to be about her age, or slightly older.

He was kind of…cute….

She opened her mouth to speak but all that came out was three sneezes in quick succession. After she was done, she sniffed. She was really stuffed up, and her head felt unusually warm too.

“Ma, I think she has a cold.”

“Anyone would catch cold after being out so long in that weather.” Hands reached from behind her to put a cool cloth over her forehead. She sighed deeply. It was scented with something that cleared her nose and throat a little bit. “That better?”

“Thank you,” she breathed, leaning back against the headboard, tilting her head back so the cloth stayed there of its own accord. The woman came from behind to greet her properly.

“Glad to see you’re up!” she said. She was a middle-aged woman with short black hair, streaked with hints of silver. She dressed plainly, in only a plain purple dress and an apron. Now that she had the presence of mind to notice, the entire home was plain. It was only one circular, gray stone room, and besides the bed she rested in, there were only a few pieces of furniture – a dresser with a vase of flowers and a few photos in a frame, and a round table in the center of the room on top of a large rug. Still, the large window let in plenty of light, and though there was not much, she could feel that it was home.

“Welcome to our humble home,” she continued, smiling kindly. “The two of you had quite an adventure last night, I hear!”

“I saved you!” the boy said with an enormous grin.

She nodded, an unintended sneeze following the gesture. “T-Thank you, sir, miss.” Her voice was small and hoarse.

The woman laughed kindly. “What a proper young girl you are!” She reached forward to tenderly tuck her bangs behind her ears. “But you don’t need to be formal here. You can call me Mrs. Fair, and this little ‘sir’ is Zack.”

“I like ‘sir’. It’s what they called knights!” Zack said. “And I’m gonna be a hero soon so it’s perfect!”
“Well, chivalrous Sir Zack,” his mother said, patient in the face if his enthusiasm and energy, “perhaps you should get a glass of water for this pretty little lady.”

“Right!” and he bounded out of doors.

“Where is he going now?” his mother wondered aloud quietly. “The well, maybe? But there’s water here….” She shook her head and turned back to her.

“You’ve done so much for him, young one,” she said. “All his life he’s been packing around that kit of his looking for adventure, and then you fall into his life.” She adjusted the cloth on her forehead again, then took one of her small hands into her own. “I don’t know what circumstances brought you here, but I can thank you for the happiness that you have brought to my son. He finally got to play the part of the hero that he’s been dreaming of.”

“Ma!” Zack said, reentering the house holding up a glass of something purple. “Chad had leftover juice!”

“Thank you,” she said softly, still hoarse. She hesitated, but finished with “…Sir Zack.”

The boy flushed all shades of red, but his eyes were sparkling and he smiled as if she had just made his life. His smile was so wide that she swore she could see all of his teeth. “No problem! It’s a hero’s job, after all!”

Zack handed her the juice and she sipped gratefully. It was thick, sweet and heavy, but the liquid soothed the burn in her throat on the way down and filled her stomach with warmth.

“So we’ve introduced ourselves, but we still don’t know what to call you, little one.” His mother took the glass from her.

“I’m Hana,” she said. “It’s nice to meet you.”

“Let’s go play, Hana!” Zack said in a rush, doing little jumps and running in place in his excitement. “We can go explore the jungle together! I know this great place where we can catch grubs and frogs and….”

“Slow down, Zack,” his mother said, putting her hand on his head to still him. “Part of adventuring is patiently waiting for your friends to heal when they get hurt.”

All the energy rushed out of the boy. “Oh.” Judging from what she’d seen, energy was his strong suit, not patience.

“But I have to go!”

Zack and his mother both turned to her in confusion. “You’ve got a cold, honey. You need to stay and recover your strength.”

“Why do you have to go? Stay with me!”

Zack’s mother waited for a reply, but did not push when one was not offered, tucking the covers around her instead. “Rest for now, at least until nightfall. We’ll talk once Zack’s father gets home. In the meantime,” she turned now to her son, “someone has a garden to weed.”

“Awww…Ma! But I want to—“

“After the garden, Zack.” She was kind but very firm, and Zack, hanging his head like a dejected puppy.

Hana laid back down and closed her eyes. Zack’s mother replaced the cloth on her forehead with a fresh one, and she sighed happily in thanks. Under the heavy quilt, wrapped in warmth in the walls of a real home, she drifted, and then slept.

~*~*~*~

“I have to go,” was the first thing she said when she woke up. She didn’t know exactly how long she had slept, but the sunlight through the window was more orange and the sun was low on the horizon. Zack was still gone, but his mother was attending to dinner.

When she heard her, Zack’s mother put down her cooking and came to sit beside her on the bed. “My husband called,” she said. “At work he found someone who was looking for his young Wutaian daughter, and I assumed it was you. Did you get separated from your father?”

Hana’s face went deathly white, and despite herself, she began to cry. She shook, shoulders heaving with great sobs.

“Hana? Hana, what is it?”

“I—I—I was trying to run a-a-way from him….”

“Hana,” Mrs. Fair said, alarmed. “Then…your scars…” Her face fell as she began to understand her reaction to the news. “And now he knows you’re here.” She didn’t remain somber any longer. Her face hardened in resolve. “Zack,” she called loudly. “Come inside, quickly!”

Zack came in, looking guilty. “I didn’t do it!” he insisted, probably reacting to his mother’s serious tone. “It wasn’t me!”
“Zack, get your adventure pack. You and Hana are going on a mission. A real, serious mission. It’s not a game anymore. If you fail then Hana will be captured and very badly hurt. Are you ready to be a real hero, Zack?”

Zack stood there looking at the two of them, blinking sky blue eyes several times. Confusion put aside, he stood at attention and saluted, shouting “Yes, ma’am!” before scurrying off to find his pack.

“They’re coming here. I can’t contact my husband to let him know what’s going on, so I’ll tell them that you and Zack went on a trip across the ferry. It should give you a few hours to get a head start. Do you know where you can go, Hana? Do you have somewhere that you can be safe?”

Hana shook her head no.

“…Then we’ll lead them away and bring you back here. Zack,” she said to her son, who was stuffing more things into an already overflowing pack, “what’s the best hiding place you can think of? As deep in the jungle as you can go, and far from here.”

Zack’s eyebrows drew together as he thought, but he brightened soon. “Yes! I know a perfect, beautiful place!”

“Can she stay there for a few days?”

“Yeah! It will be lots of fun!”

“Then start packing all the things she’ll need to stay. I’ll prepare food and water.”

“Yes ma’am!”

The small home was a flurry of activity. Zack’s mother prepared simple food quickly, and in the end there was enough to last her at least a week. Occasionally, she reminded Zack of various things to pack, and he was rummaging around the whole house at a million miles a minute.

“But Mrs. Fair,” Hana said as she took a large sack filled with food. “He’s dangerous!”
“You let the adults handle this, Hana. We will take care of you. You just need to hide in the jungle for a while.” Mrs. Fair crouched down to meet Hana at eye-level. “And then, when he’s gone, come back and be a part of our family. Zack would love to have a little sister.”

Hana’s eyes widened, misted over. She looked dazed, disbelieving. “A…family?”

“No child should have to live in fear, Hana,” she said solemnly. “We’ll protect you and take care of you, I promise.

“Zack,” she called again. “Go knock on doors and tell the villagers that if they see your father, they need to distract him. Have Chad go over supply shipments with him, anything! But keep it casual and discreet!”

“What’s ‘discreet’, Ma?”

“…Just tell the villagers that word. Hurry! Run as fast as you can!”

Zack was only gone for a few minutes before he returned, just as the sun was beginning to disappear behind the horizon. “Chad and Mandy and Sara can all help be discreet.”

Zack’s mother paid no heed, only helped the boy to shoulder his large adventure pack. “Now take her to that place. Run straight there and don’t stop. Take smaller paths or tread your way through the weeds whenever you can. Neither of you come back for at least two full days. When it’s safe to return, I’ll hang a white handkerchief in the window. Do not enter the house again unless you see that handkerchief, and stay out of the village!”

“Wow, a two-day mission? Cool!”

Mrs. Fair took her son by the shoulders. “Zack, I need you to be serious. I don’t think you understand that this is real danger. You’ve never known it before, but Hana has. Can you be grown up and brave for me and protect her?”

Zack frowned slightly. “Of course,” he said, as if offended.
“Then go!”

Zack took her hand and they ran straight into the foliage of the jungles of Gongaga.

As difficult as it was, Hana kept her head toward the little house in the village, not ever wanting to let that home and the hope it offered her out of her sight.

When she tore her eyes away, she closed them for a moment, cementing the memory in her mind. She knew it was the last time she would ever see that place.

~*~*~*~

Hana ran in silence, but Zack was very comfortable talking to her anyway. Perhaps at another time his idle, friendly chatter might have soothed her worried heart, but it only served to depress her more.

She could not put Zack or his parents through this.

She used the free arm that Zack was not pulling her along by to bat at the tears leaking from her eyes.

I could have had a family…

Instead, she focused her thoughts on the journey. It was rough terrain. With every step she trod over foliage – creeping vines, leaves, shrubs, mushrooms – she was amazed at the array. She’d never before seen such a vast array of plants, and the trees were filled with the calls of new and strange animals. Even the air was different here, humid and heavy, but with thousands of nameless smells. There was so much life here, strange and new as another world.

They were headed north, and Zack had told her that the ferry was to the west of the village. Though that left little danger of them being spotted, especially as they kept off the trails, it was still nerve-wracking, knowing that if something went wrong he could be behind any tree, waiting.

“…They’re so huge! I can’t wait for you to see them. Well, they’re not as big as the surrounding trees, but for a flowering tree they’re enormous. And there’s a clearing nearby where we can make a fire and roast mushrooms! I know which ones are safe to eat, and there will be so many after this damp season we’ve been having! And a stream! Dad says there aren’t any fish in it but I don’t believe him. It may rain, but I have a tent, and it’s nice and sturdy. We’ll be nice and warm inside and eat hot fish and mushrooms and sandwiches….”

She really didn’t ignore Zack on purpose, but she had too much on her mind to listen to his chatter. She was still very, very grateful for his company.

“Zack?”

“Yeah?”

She had to do it soon, before she lost her nerve. “The man chasing me…my father. He’s…really scary. Really dangerous. You should go back and make sure your parents are safe.”

Zack stopped and looked at her, confused. “But Ma said—“

“Please, Zack! You’ve been so kind to me, I couldn’t stand it if you got hurt because of me!” She let her tears flow. She didn’t even have to fake them or the tremor in her voice. “You have to help your parents, please!”

“But what about you? What about the mission?”

“I’ll be fine hiding in the jungle. Leave me the food and supplies and I’ll take care of myself. You can come get me when it’s safe or I’ll come back and find you.”

Zack frowned. “You can take care of yourself?”

Now he thinks to be practical, she thought with a sigh. “Yes, I’ve been on my own for a long time. I know how to make a fire and catch fish and gather mushrooms, just like you.”

“Well okay,” he said. “If Ma and Pa need me then I have to go. But let me show you the trees! Stay there, it’s the nicest, prettiest place in the jungle. You’ll love it so much! It’s not far, let’s go!”

After only a few more moments of breakneck pace, they broke into the area he spoke of, and Hana’s vision was washed with pink and white.

The trees were very tall, as Zack had said, though still shorter than the surrounding trees, a pocket of color in a green world. Instead of leaves, however, the trees sprouted millions of five-petaled, orchid shaped flowers as big as her hand, so thick and numerous that she could not see into the heart of the tree. Many were the softest white, but still more were a soft pink or deep magenta. Some were kissed lightly with clusters of tiny veins running like pink paint over a canvas. She could smell their soft, floral aroma on the breeze.

She was speechless before such majesty.

With these beautiful sentinels protecting her, surely no one could ever find her.

“Climb up!” Zack urged her, taking hold of a low branch himself. “It’s even better inside, and no one will be able to see you!”

Hana followed, taking hold and following close behind her friend.

Zack found a good, sturdy branch strong enough to hold the both of them and took a seat, legs dangling off one side of the branch. Hana followed suit, falling against him for a moment as she lost her balance, blushing, and scooting away abashed.

She was surrounded by the blossoms, pink and white dancing above, around, and below her. She could not see the outside jungle at all. It was an ethereal feeling. Everything she sensed was the blossoms – they were even in the air she breathed. She felt petals fall to caress her face, soft as silk, as she rested against the rough but secure and sturdy bark and listened to the soft whispers as they sighed in the breeze.

And that unforgettable scent lulled her into serenity with every breath.

She was safe. Really, truly, blissfully safe.

“I knew you’d like it,” Zack said, quieter than before. Even he could sense the reverent beauty of this place. “You can stay here. You’ll be safe in these Kachnar trees. No one will even see you.”

Kachnar. The name tasted as sweet on her tongue as their fragrance in the air.

“Thank you,” Hana said, tears of joy prickling at her eyes. “This is the most beautiful moment I’ve ever had, here with you under the Kachnar blossoms.”

Zack smiled, serene, energy bridled for the moment.

“After it’s safe for you, I’ll take you here every day. It will be our secret base, and we can have lots of adventures together!”

The Fair family’s kindness was sweeter even than the blossoms. This world of beauty would not have been the same without the mother who had protected her or the little boy who was her protector.

“You’re my hero, Zack.” She threw her arms around him. “I’ll never forget this. Never, never, never.”

Zack hugged her back, squeezing her tight. “Stay here and be safe, then come back and be my sister forever!” With a wink and a parting wave, he was gone, disappeared back into the green jungle. “I’ll be back soon!” she heard him call as he disappeared from her world.

Hana stayed, resting in this sanctuary for a while longer. There was no more sadness, only resolve. It had been a miracle that she had even been able to taste of this heaven for a day, and she was grateful. Maybe someday it would be different. Maybe someday she could return. Until that day, even knowing that she had a place in the Fair family was enough to sustain her.

Slowly, carefully, she picked blossoms from the tree – bud, leaf, and petal all together. She would take some with her so she would never forget, not even on the darkest of days. She breathed deeply, taking in everything.

The scent was ambrosia.

She would never, ever forget.

And so, for the sake of her family member’s lives, she descended the tree, ready to face her father once again, without sorrow for her fate, only resolve to meet it with strength enough to protect the ones she held dear.

“Don’t be sad, Zack,” she whispered into the jungle. “You’ve given me so much more than you’ll ever know, brother.”

~*~*~*~

He knew as soon as she came out of the door.

It was her.

Reason left. Genesis was still there, and Sephiroth was just inside his office door. He didn’t care.

Breathlessly, he threw himself forward and embraced her with all his strength. She softly cried out, alarmed, but he didn’t care. He pressed her to his chest so tightly that she was struggling to breathe.

Hana, you’re alive! I thought…I thought…what was I supposed to think?! You just left without a word and never came back! You were supposed to come back!! Do you have any idea what you…what I…I thought you were dead!” He didn’t know whether he was more angry or happy. Years of emotions he thought he had worked through long ago resurfaced. “Do you know what that does to a kid? I was so…for months!”

Hana relaxed, and understanding flooded her eyes. “Zack?” she said. Then, with a smile spread across her face, “Zack!”

Zack let her go and stepped back, out of breath as if he’d been running.

“Why?” he asked in a whisper. “Why…did you go?”

Hana did not answer, only embraced him fondly. “Zack…I’m so glad we could meet again, brother.”

Zack’s anger disappeared, and with a smile he returned her hug.

“Yeah,” he said, patting her back affectionately. “Me too, sis.”

~*~*~*~


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