In the Silence
“Okaerinasai,” Hana said as Sephiroth stepped into his apartment.
The call made him pause. It was a strange feeling to be welcomed home…by his wife, nonetheless. It was a reminder that his new life with her would take a lot of getting used to.
“…Tadaima,” he returned, belatedly, as he was well aware. He set his keys and a small stack of files on the kitchen table. Hana’s voice had come from his old study – now her bedroom, he reminded himself. He turned to see her inside the open doorway, on her knees, folding her clothes neatly. He had yet to get her proper shelves, but she was making do with tidy piles in the corners of the old study. Her clothes were beautiful, vibrant in both color and pattern, and they added a life of their own to the room, decorations in their own right, especially when there was nothing else in the room but her neatly rolled futon.
“How was your day?” Hana asked, not looking up from her folding. Her hands and arms moved fluidly, rhythmically, with as much grace in her housework as in her dancing. She was on her best palace behavior.
“Rather uneventful,” Sephiroth said. He supposed that his own formality followed naturally from hers. He would not upset the balance. “And yours?”
“The same,” she said, placing a sunshine-yellow yukata on the top of one of the piles. “Except for running into Zack, I suppose.”
And training with Tseng. But Sephiroth didn’t push her. Tseng had said she was upset when she left. “How do you know him?” An inquiry, not an accusation.
“He found me when I collapsed during one of my escapes. His family took me in, and helped to hide me when my father came looking. They asked me to be a member of the family.” She smiled softly, neatly folding her hands in her lap and looking at them wistfully. “I…couldn’t let them take my fall.”
“You surrendered to your father, then.”
“He would have killed them.”
Sephiroth didn’t deny it. “Does Zack know this?”
“All he knows is that I disappeared. I didn’t say anything, and I couldn’t go back.”
“Did he run into your father at all?”
Hana sighed deeply. “I don’t know. I don’t know what happened on his end at all. I guess it’s possible. When I…surrendered…my father was in their home. But I don’t know if Zack had made it back by then or not.”
“He will have to be sworn to secrecy then. He may know.” He exited the room and went back to the table, grabbing a file and leafing through the contents.
Hana rose to her feet and leaned against the doorway. “You don’t have to threaten him. He’s like my brother. He’ll do it willingly. We can trust him.”
Sephiroth put down the file, gently closing it with his fingertips. “As much as I hate to take a risk on a boy you knew fifteen years ago for one day, it appears that we have no choice.”
Hana pursed her lips but said nothing. The space between them was still raw and sore from their argument last night.
Sephiroth opened a silver case on the kitchen table to find a black handgun. “This is your weapon?” he asked, picking it up and examining it.
“Yes. Its name is Baka.”
Sephiroth smiled wryly, unseen, as his back was still to her. He flipped open the magazine to examine the ammunition, then reloaded and looked down the barrel and through the sight. “It’s a good gun,” he said. “Some of the Turks don’t even have a weapon as good as this.”
“How much did you have to pay them for that?” she asked.
“Little, actually. They owed me.”
Sephiroth chuckled, a quiet, dark sound. “A certain Turk has an unhealthy obsession with causing me trouble. One of his schemes went too far and caused significant damages to my personal property.”
She was grateful for the lighter note and his small laugh. Even those little things were like aloe on a burn. Nothing was truly healed between them, but the humor eased the sting.
Hana looked around the house. It was still slightly disorganized due to her remodeling, but there was nothing obviously broken or missing, and she’d just been in his office that afternoon, and it was as immaculately clean and tidy as he normally kept his home. What had been destroyed, she wondered?
She was about to ask when there was a knock on the door. As if called to attention, her lazy posture straightened. “Were you…expecting someone?” she asked.
“No,” Sephiroth said as he went to answer the door. He unlatched the bolt and pulled the door open. “…But I might have guessed.”
“Sorry to intrude unannounced,” Angeal’s voice said. “Especially if I’m interrupting something?”
Sephiroth did not respond to the quip but left the door open for his friend as he sat himself on the living room couch. Angeal considered himself admitted and let himself in, smiling warmly at Hana. “Good evening,” he said, bending down to slip off his boots. “Been a day, hasn’t it?”
Hana nodded. “Welcome,” she said. “Have a seat, I’ll make you tea.”
“Ah, before you get to that,” Angeal reached behind the front door to grab a package previously hidden from her view, “you might want to open this.”
“Oh, Angeal, you didn’t have to!” Still, Hana came forward and took the gift from him so he could use both hands to get his shoes off.
“I heard that Genesis beat me to the punch,” Angeal said. “But…congratulations.” He looked over at Sephiroth on the couch and added, “To the both of you.” Hana sat down with the gift and untied the ribbon, then went to work on the wrapping paper.
“Hmph,” Sephiroth said. “The two of you are making such a fuss out of this.”
“It’s all right. I’m pretty sure it’s in the fine print of any marriage contract that the bride and groom must be fussed over.”
“I would have seen it if it was.”
“It’s implied, then. This is what friends do when friends get married. Genesis is mad he didn’t get to throw you a bachelor party.”
Sephiroth grimaced, offended by the very thought, but Hana let out a gasp of surprise.
“Angeal!” she cried. “It’s…so beautiful!”
In the middle of the torn, fallen wrapping paper on her lap was a tea kettle, soft turquoise and decorated with a white blossom and sage green vine print. Even Sephiroth raised his eyebrows at the item. She stroked its surface gently, as if unbelieving that it was real. “I’ve never…had one of my own. It’s so beautiful and perfect. Thank you!”
“You should try it out,” Sephiroth said.
“Yes! I’ll make tea right away!” And she ran excitedly to the kitchenette to get started, clutching the kettle to her heart.
“That’s a lot of money,” Sephiroth said quietly when Hana was just out of earshot, who was too happy and busy to eavesdrop anyway. “Especially for you.”
“It’s a special occasion,” Angeal said. “And tea is an art in Wutai. Genesis said it was nothing less than offensive to have her do it out of a common pot. Look at how happy she is. She’s like a kid again.”
Indeed, Hana’s entire face was radiating happiness, and she softly sang songs in her native tongue. Sephiroth smiled softly. “You’re right. Thank you.”
“I’ll serve you just like I served Emperor Godo himself at the palace!”
Angeal watched Sephiroth’s face as he, in turn, watched his wife. It wasn’t love in his eyes, or even particular fondness, of that he was certain, but there was something there, something that he’d never seen in his friend before.
“You have been blessed,” Angeal said as the tea kettle began to whistle. “She’s a good woman. Strange as the circumstances might have been, I think she might turn out to be one of the best things that could have happened to you.”
“You speak too soon,” Sephiroth said. “Far too soon.”
The statement confused Angeal. “You haven’t resolved that argument with her yet?”
And then Hana came over to the coffee table, gliding as smoothly as a breeze, alighting before them and kneeling on ceremony. She set the tray with her teacups and the new kettle on the table, bowed, and then served them. Every movement, no matter how slight, from her shoulders to her wrists to her fingertips, was as choreographed as a dance, flowing grace transforming the actions from a task into an art.
“And they say Wutai doesn’t have magic,” Angeal said with a smile, bowing slightly at the waist as she did while he took his tea from where it was gently cupped in her palms.
Hana withdrew her hands and began to prepare the tea for her husband. When she offered it to him with the same formality, he cupped his own hands around hers, and as she slid away the cup was left in his hands. The touch had been no longer, perhaps even briefer, than her contact with Angeal had been. Sephiroth dipped his head in thanks and began to drink.
Watching the two of them was both fascinating and confusing. There was very clear, defined space between them, physically and socially. Though Angeal had not known Hana very long, he couldn’t think of a time when Sephiroth had treated her with anything indicating closeness. It wasn’t that he was harsh or unkind, but as far as Angeal could tell, their relationship was closer to resembling something between colleagues than the bond between a husband and wife.
Awkward newlywed stage, Angeal reassured himself, but something about it unsettled him deeply. In the back of his mind, despite the serenity of the situation and the calming influence of the tea, a voice kept whispering that something was very, very wrong.
“I’ll never use anything else for tea again,” Hana said. “This is perfect. Thank you so much, Angeal!”
Angeal set his empty cup down on the table. On the bottom of the cup, a fiery phoenix emblazoned in red and gold blazed in the light, and he thought at once of that kimono he and Genesis had found.
“You’re welcome, Hana.”
She whisked the dishes away and began to clean them in the sink. “The house looks better already,” Angeal said. “More open and homey. It’s amazing what a little rearranging can do.”
“Hana’s work,” Sephiroth said. “She has big plans for this place, but she’ll need supplies.”
“Paints first,” Hana said from the kitchen. “But I can’t decide on a color.”
“The white is a little sterile for a home,” Angeal agreed. “I’m pretty sure paint was the first thing Genesis did to his place too. Except he had the money to pay someone else to do it.”
“Pity the painter couldn’t talk any sense into him,” Sephiroth said.
Angeal chuckled. “Genesis does have unique tastes.”
Hana finished with the dishes and came to rejoin them, sitting on the floor opposite of where they sat on the couch, across the coffee table.
“I did come to ask a favor, Hana,” Angeal said.
“What do you need?”
“I want to borrow your husband for a few hours tonight.”
Hana scoffed. “He hardly needs my permission to do anything. You should be asking him.”
“What are we doing?” Sephiroth asked.
“The usual. Genesis will meet us there.”
“Seconds are out?”
“Mandatory rest after evaluations. They won’t be allowed in until tomorrow.”
“I can----hmm?” Sephiroth’s attention immediately turned from Angeal to Hana. Angeal missed what had happened, if anything had at all, but she was staring intently at the large window over the balcony. There was nothing to be seen – the curtains were drawn closed. Hana’s face was oddly blank.
“Did something happen?” Angeal asked.
“No,” Hana said. Her smile was fake. “Just thought I’d open the windows! I never got to see city lights in Wutai, I like them a lot.” She got up and pulled the drapes aside. Outside, Midgar sprawled out before them, glittering like colored stars against the black night. She hesitated, and then pulled the window half-open, letting in the crisp night air. The drapes swayed around her until she gathered them and tied them to the side.
“They really are a sight, aren’t they?” Angeal said.
“We should get going. Genesis will be waiting,” Angeal said.
Now Sephiroth was looking out the window too, eyes narrowed.
“…Is everything really all right?” Angeal tried again. The air was electric.
Sephiroth turned his eyes to Hana, who met his intense stare with a vacant, open face. Angeal knew communication was passing between them; he felt the tension, but could decipher nothing.
“Yes,” Sephiroth said at last. “Yes, let’s go.” And he got up off the couch, making his way to the door. Hana nodded, smiling as Angeal did the same. Out of the corner of his eye, Angeal caught her shoulders relaxing in a silent sigh of relief.
“O—kay,” Angeal said, unnerved, but playing along for the sake of the peace. “We’ll be back in a few hours or so,” he said to Hana.
“Have a good time,” she said. “Please don’t hurt yourselves.”
“Heh,” Angeal said, drawing his sword. “Your husband will probably be fine. It’s Genesis and I that are in danger of being hurt.”
“Then please play nicely, Sephiroth.”
Sephiroth scoffed at the remark. “I have my phone if you need me.” And, without saying goodbye, he closed the door.
Hana was both terrified and relieved to be alone. They were both raw and needed time to vent and recover, and they could do that better when they were apart. Sephiroth could do that with his sword. She almost felt sorry for Genesis and Angeal, who would receive the brunt of his frustrations.
She stole a glance out the window again. She could have sworn she had seen something, a shadow pass as a silhouette over the curtains.
A bird, she thought, purposefully denying that it had been much too big for that to be the case.
She sat down at the kitchen table. Her body said she was hungry but her mind said she did not want to eat. She laid her head down on the table, resting on her folded arms, lengthened her back, and fell into deep, rhythmic breathing.
All was tensely still and silent.
Everything is all right, she chanted like a mantra. Everything is all right….
When she arose she had clarity of mind, but she knew it would not stay. As she sought for something to distract her, the copy of Loveless that Genesis had given her caught her eye. She took it gratefully, trying to nestle herself into the pillows on the couch, but finding her body seemed rather stiff. She managed to pull her knees into her, though it felt awkward, and placed the book against them to read.
It’s been a long time since I’ve been able to read, she thought gratefully. It was something she had sorely missed.
Hana thumbed through the sturdy pages, listening to them whisper as she turned them. Each act had a poem at the beginning, before going into the script. As she flipped, a word in the poem of act four caught her eye.
Vengeance. Her mind was drawn again to what had happened in the training room. She didn’t want to face that part of herself again.
But she had a feeling she would have to. Soon.
A gust of wind unfurled the gathered drapes, the hollow, breathy scream of its passing piercing the roaring, seething silence.
She took a deep breath.
“My soul, corrupted by vengeance,” she read aloud to herself, slowly, heavily. She stood, tall and proud, the book open in one hand, turning her back to the window and walking to the kitchen table.
“…Hath endured torment, to find the end of the journey…”
Sephiroth’s image came unbidden into her mind. Something pulled her shoulders back like him and raised her chin. She felt as if encased in silver steel, her body preparing her for something that her mind was not yet ready to accept.
“…In my own salvation…”
As if pulled by puppet strings, as a soul enslaved to the body, hands only barely shaking, she reached to clasp her gun in her other hand. Its weight and form were natural and comforting in her palms.
“…And your eternal slumber,” hissed a voice that was barely hers.
Loveless dropped to the floor. But not the gun.
And as she whirred around, her eyes confirmed what he heart had already known from the moment the shadow had passed over the drapes.
They had found her.