Chapter 8 – In Between

<<–Preamble/Prelude
<–Chapter 7                                                                                                    Chapter 9–>

Disclaimer: Final Fantasy VII, its characters, and settings are all property of Square Enix so I can take no credit nor claim any ownership of that. I do take some credit for the story’s plot.
Artwork Disclaimer: The featured picture is originally from NASA’s website and has been altered from original form by my friend Tom C who can do wonders with MS Paint and was kind enough to render this picture when I sent out a desperate plea.
Author’s Note/Music Suggestion:  The quote for this chapter, which you will soon see below, was first introduced to me in this marvelous AMV.  How could I resist its influence in quote and the opening paragraph?

“Hush child, the darkness will rise from the deep and carry you down into sleep…”
-Heather Dale “Mordred’s Lullaby”

Chapter 8 - In Between

He didn’t mean to sleep. He never did. Sleep is darkness rising. Perhaps it was the sight of her peaceful slumber that allowed him shut his eyes, but what waited behind howled with the horror that he would dare show his face. They came…everyone he’d ever wronged, the entire world and those long dead who cried out for justice. Blood coated his fingers, never to be cleaned, and hers clung the hardest of all. He would drown in the blood of the innocent and yet still never die. It filled his lungs, inundating each vessel as the cells within screamed to the flood. Her forgiveness meant nothing as she died on that altar in a city forgotten by time.

Pre-dawn warmed the wind as it stirred the curtains and strived to lift silver hair. His head was flung against the back of the chair, and his teeth cut his breath so it hissed. The blood was receding but left always its stain in the recesses of his mind, when a noise so near split his lids as bisected green shifted down. Upon his lap with her head on his chest was nestled one tiny flower, and his arms were wrapped around her as if this were the most natural of things. This can’t be a dream. Those are all nightmares, but it certainly can’t be true. But her smile was as real as the Mako light, and summer blessed him with open eyes.

Aeris yawned and curled her hands on his skin. “I was having such a lovely dream…” His high belt hovered just below, and she traced the insignia there.

“All your dreams should be lovely…” Sephiroth barely whispered as if she were a bird and would fly.

“So should yours,” Aeris told him, “but I know they’re not. You were having some terrible nightmare.”

“That’s just the way it is, little flower. It’s why I rarely sleep. Also I can see the blood in my lids and that spurs the horrors on.”

She shivered at that and he tightened his arms, regretful that she should worry.

“I know…you were thrashing quite wildly, but you stubbornly refused to cry out. I had to do something and somehow managed to catch a hold of your hand.”

A sharp inhale flared his nostrils. “Aeris…I could’ve hurt you. You should’ve just let me writhe.”

“No.” It was full adamant as the Cetra lifted her gaze. “No one deserves to suffer like that. I won’t have it so, and besides…the moment my skin met yours you were instantly stilled.” A smile played out on her pink lips and his parted in utter awe. He couldn’t resist lifting her chin so her hair shivered over his arm.

Aeris’s heart could’ve outpaced a train the moment his thumb brushed her cheek. Silver hair tumbled like a caress along the edge of her throat. It was so shining she could’ve believed it gave off its own softer glow. Half-veiled lids spilled light and lash against alabaster skin, and she could only wet her lips as the dust motes spun in the sun.

Two days ago, he thought, I was chained in darkness with nothing to wait for but pain. Now the little maid I brutally killed is wrapped in my arms on my lap. Even bathed in unholy light she’s beautiful beyond all reason. Oh, little flower, what I want now is more insane than godhood and doom. “Aeris,” he whispered, “what…is it?”

“Your beauty,” the words caught the end of her breath. “It’s…indescribable.” “

You think I’m beautiful?” A silver brow arched, which did nothing to disprove the claim.

“I don’t think anything.” She laid her hand atop of his as it completely covered her cheek. “You are. It’s a simple truth set in stone like salt deeply stains the sea.”

His palm slid down to the side of her throat, and Aeris had to bite her tongue.

“Stone can weather,” Sephiroth said sadly, “and salt can always be purged.”

“Your beauty never will,” she whispered. “It’s beyond even stone or sea.”

She saw winter skin and silver hair framing a face made for an angel, but the once general knew the truth. He looked like a ghost that was haunted by rue bleeding light from his Mako green eyes. He’d never combine that and think, Here is beauty, and memory poisoned the vanity he’d had, but to Aeris’s eyes he was more than glory, and she could barely breathe through her awe.

Sephiroth bowed his head and shut his eyes fully. He could never be what she believed. He would’ve told her this, but she stole the cruel words from his lips with her own. Utter shock shivered beneath his skin as he kept his slivered eyes closed. The world was turned and this gift he’d been given belonged to some righteous other, but it was his for now and it would be neither wasted nor untasted. The once general wrapped the Cetra full in his embrace when she parted her lips against his. Tilting back her head he claimed her soft mouth, which was cool and sweet as her lilies. Sephiroth seared kisses down her chin and throat stopping short of the nightgown’s collar. Then he again split her lips with his tongue and the strength in it made Aeris quake.

He tasted like vanilla tea with heat enough for a dragon’s belly. The hand in her hair crept to her cheek, and his fingers fanned slowly open. Tracing her mouth with the tip of his tongue, he pressed his teeth to her bottom lip. Aeris gasped and he smiled so slowly to let the dance begin anew. Sephiroth kissed her as though he drank deeply of life and her mouth held the last sip of air. Slowly at times to savor the sweet and then harder to name it his own. Her own hand slipped through that silver washed mane as the other called palm to palm, and he threaded their fingers together so gently to offset the force of the kiss. Everything in the rhythm said only one thing. You belong to me. She couldn’t help but squirm upon his lap, the Planet singing joy in her ears. The former general swept her up as he stood with their tongues still entwined, and when he laid the flower maid on the bed, her hands tumbled onto her fanned hair. Running parted lips over hers, Sephiroth pulled back to see Aeris’s face. Her skin was flushed to rival new rubies and her heart could’ve woken the deaf.

He kissed her neck where the flesh pulsed warm, but couldn’t resist what arose from her lips. The buttons of her gown would be easy to conquer. The back of his hand brushing down, but he stopped himself to rest brow to brow against her moistened skin.

“Oh Aeris…” he said in blindness, shielding her from corruption in light. “Do you know how much I yearned for this? How I wanted you in my arms? But I don’t deserve to touch you or even hold you in my sight.”

She was weak with the taste of vanilla and the imprint of his palms. Lying on the bed looking up at him as he caged her between his hands. It took every ounce of concentration to slide a hand to his cheek.

“You deserve to touch me, Sephiroth, because I say you do.” She had to shut her eyes and just breathe for long moments as he laid his lips to her cheeks. Brushing them over her temples to take the slow tears from green eyes. “If I didn’t want you to, well…I couldn’t stop you, but you be can certain that I’d fight.”

“I would never hurt you, Aeris.” He retreated in shame, but the little Cetra grabbed his hand.

“And that’s why you deserve this, because I know you won’t.” She sat up trembling with no ounce of fear, but Sephiroth was still concerned. Sitting up beside, he wrapped an arm around and pushed chestnut waves from her face. His eyes were still closed as it ran through his fingers like summer grass hushed by the wind.

“Sephiroth?” she asked and her voice called a smile. “Sephiroth, please open your eyes.”

“Not after this, Aeris…you shouldn’t have horror to spoil what I hope was sweet.”

“They’re not horrible to me. Please?”

He breathed a sigh but kept his smile. There was no resisting her pleas. The long lashes lifted, and he gazed down to the most beautiful face ever seen.

Aeris’s head was slightly tilted as she leaned against his chest. “I don’t know how they did it…”

“How they did what?”

“How they made your eyes so green…it’s like an emerald sea without stars.”

He halved his lids, but his fingers kept running through her unbound hair.

“As they made everything about me, little one. Just an arrangement of-”

“Genes and cells?” She couldn’t help it and started to giggle as he raised a silver brow. That made it worse and Aeris hid her face til he lifted her chin and stole the mirth from her lips. Sephiroth ran a finger so slow down her throat, releasing the moan that waited there, and against her lips he found his own laughter, a low chuckle that said it all. Pulling back with another soft bite on full red, he kissed her brow before raising his head. The once general shook fallen silver away where it swam against her skin as it flew.

“No one…” she whispered, “has ever kissed me like that before. I didn’t think such power was possible.” The flower girl slipped a finger along a white buckle where it contrasted leather black.

Sephiroth tilted his head and looked down at her with a crooked grin. “So you’d compare me to your past lovers?” And Aeris lifted her gaze to his face. Summer green trembled like leaves tossed in gale, and she couldn’t bite her lip for its soreness.

“I really wouldn’t call them ‘lovers,’ but you know I dated Zack…”

The past shrieked to destroy this moment so he held his gaze to her face, while Aeris turned to yesterday without any fear so that she could follow her musings.

“Ah that poor boy…he was so awkward and adorable just like-”

“A puppy.” They both said it and the laughter was shared as he leaned his head down to hers. Sephiroth kept his eyes open so green called to green and she drank the light from his in.

“None of the others had eyes like that.”

“None of the others were monsters.”

“You’re not a monster, Sephiroth. How many times must I tell you that?”

“Maybe just once more, Aeris. Maybe this time I’ll believe…”

He kissed her again to take the blesséd words as they poured out her lips. Clutching her hands, he rubbed the soft skin so careful for fragile bones.

“You’re so gentle.” He raised a brow. “Well you are to me.”

Sephiroth pressed his forehead against hers again so silver streamed over her face. “I can’t be anything but that with you, Aeris. You deserve no less.” He peered down at their joined hands, and held one of hers up to his eyes. “You spent your days giving life to lilies, and yet your skin’s so soft.”

“Well,” she considered, “lilies don’t have thorns. The Planet saved those for the roses.”

He sat up and pushed the hair from his vision so it tumbled over his black coat. Aeris caught a lock to twirl in her fingers as her other hand remained warmed by his.

“I think,” he said, “it kept you unimposing in order to hide your true power. How did you manage that, little flower?” He tilted her chin, half-lidded eyes still burning. “Those three weaklings I killed could’ve broken you. How did you keep yourself safe?”

“I learned how to survive.” Her voice followed her face to lift even and ever higher. Staring into endless green was like falling through doorways of light. “Do you…” She peered askance. “Do you think I’m helpless?”

“No, not at all.” He shook his head to the shiver of silver around. “There are far greater powers than physical strength, and you have them all.”

“Like what?”

“Like innocence for one.”

“Innocence isn’t power…”

“It is if you’re praying for light.”

“It didn’t help me much in the depths of the slums.”

“But the Planet guided you there.” His thumb had begun to trace her lips, and Aeris tried to remain coherent.

“Yes…I was very lucky. I-I actually think it led me to you. I would never have run down into that place, especially not without any protection.”

He tilted his head and cupped her chin as the flower maid tempered her breath.

“I…used to carry a staff back…before, but I didn’t have it when I woke in my church.”

“Why didn’t you purchase another one?”

“The only weapon shop was in Sector 2…”

“Did you wish to buy one here in Kalm?”

The Cetra opened eyes she didn’t know were shut and rubbed the back of her neck. Sephiroth instantly released her saying, “I’m sorry, my little flower.” He bowed his head, as Aeris laid hers against his coat.

“It’s alright,” she assured. “I like looking up at you, but you are really tall. I know it’s just an arrangement of ‘genes and cells.’” She grinned to his astonishment. “But that doesn’t mean it’s worth any less.” Aeris sighed as Sephiroth leaned forward to kiss her on the crown. “And to answer your question, no I don’t. I know that you’ll protect me.”

Slanting her mouth up to his, she let vanilla spill over her tongue. Then almost shyly Aeris bit his lip and laughter mellowed so low. “You won’t make me bleed, my little flower. You need not be so careful.” She smiled up at beauty so shining and pure as the morning light made him a halo.

“Oh!” she exclaimed, pulling back. “Oh, I’ve missed the sunrise!” The Cetra scrambled over the bed and ran to the open window. Sephiroth gazed down to the vacated space before approaching her from behind. Aeris’s gaze darted out the bay window, her hands clasped to her chest, and the once general remembered his life was for grief as he witnessed the flower girl’s pose.

“I’m so sorry, Aeris,” he whispered the words laying palms to her small shoulders. “How long have you waited for dawn…”

The daylight streaming awoke amber and honey in waving chestnut hair, and the wind came to play so gently with strands it was like the touch of his fingers. She looked over her shoulder and up at him, morning painted upon her cheeks.

“Well…to be fair, I kissed you first. You just proved you could do it better.” She placed her palm over one of his hands, and that cut through a layer of grief.

“Even your true smile holds such sorrow,” she murmured as he looked away. It was impossible to hide from the soft, summer gaze that always saw the truth.

“I can’t help it when I look at you,” he replied with jaded eyes piercing the morn. “I want to not always see what I did, but I don’t deserve to forget.” The flagstones below where the stars had held court were now host to swift, passing feet. “You don’t want to stay in Kalm, do you, Aeris?”

“No.” Her voice was musing soft. It gentled the negation. “I want the sea and besides there’s a reactor here…”

He only had to sniff but once before confirming, “Yes.”

“I thought this was a mining town…”

“It is. They mine mythril here and have for a very long time.” Sephiroth lowered his eyes then to a past she couldn’t see. He remembered the serpent that had guarded the swamp since he had killed it himself. Impaled on a tree for blocking his way…his hand lowered to Aeris’s stomach.

She pressed her palm to his warm skin, as she searched the brightened expanse. It looked like forever to sight that had witnessed only darkness and shade for so long.

“I want to find a city that doesn’t rape the Planet in order to survive.” The flower girl tilted back her head to see him looking down. His face was so calm she could almost forget it had once held madness and rage. “Do you…think that such a place actually exists?”

Directness would’ve led him to, “No,” but he was not the general now. Still Aeris saw it in his eyes and gave a little sigh.

“You should have breakfast,” Sephiroth decided. “Do you wish to order or go downstairs?”

“Oh, can we order?” Aeris asked, facing him with her hands still clasped. He kept his expression purely blank for the damning past stood right before. Without hesitation she took his hand and raised it for a kiss, and the mask fell away the instant her soft lips brushed against winter skin.

“You would kiss the very hand that shed your blood…if only the world were half so forgiving.”

Aeris turned his hand over to scrutinize the lines. “I don’t see any blood on you now.”

“It’ll always be there, little flower. Nothing can wash it clean.”

“Forgiveness can.” She looked up at him and shut her eyes as his other hand stroked her cheek. Aeris caught it for another kiss before he slipped from her grasp in full pain.

“We can order if you wish.” He was sitting on the bed perusing the menu from last night. The flower maid followed and jumped up beside to scan the choices there.

“You won’t have to buy thirty dishes this time because you don’t know what I want.” She merrily tittered and Sephiroth glanced away, letting long hair shield his face.

“Oh dear gods…” Aeris gasped. “A-Are you ashamed of that? Did I make the great general blush?” She couldn’t help laughing. It was too incongruent, but when he touched her hand all mirth ceased. “Why do you hate that title so much? You were a hero then.”

He shook his head. “I was never a hero. That’s just how they justify war. The memories of how I became what you name are bathed in endless blood, and afterwards what I was revealed to be-”

“Is nothing like who you are now.” The Cetra smiled and leaned on his side, bathed in that silver light scent. “You always call me ‘little flower,’ and it sounds so sweet. I should have a name for you. I mean it’s only fair.”

The smallest of smiles touched Sephiroth’s lips as he let their fingers meet. “I see why the Planet chose you, little one. You’re completely without guile.”

It’s was Aeris’s turn to look down now, as her shoulders squeezed even smaller. “I’m not a very good daughter at all. I’m running from what I should do.”

He lifted her chin and his light tinged the morning to paint softly on her face. “You told me you had no knowledge of your task. Maybe you were supposed to leave Midgar to find out what it is.”

“Maybe…” she said and he kissed her brow, which couldn’t help but bring back her smile.

“You can call me whatever you wish to, Aeris, if that will make you happy.” I only have one title now and that will ever be ‘monster.’ No matter what sweet name you invent, that’s what I’ll always be…

“I’ll try to think of something good,” she promised as he picked up the phone.

After the order was placed, she climbed back on his lap, much to Sephiroth’s still surprise. But his arms already knew what they should do and enclosed her in their warmth.

“You know, I’ve never felt this safe…” He snapped his gaze down at those words.

“You can’t mean that, Aeris.”

“You know I do,” she insisted. “Who better to protect me than you? Who could ever hurt me here held close in your arms?”

Sephiroth’s brow knitted together as Aeris twisted a moonlight lock. “No…” he considered, “I suppose you’re right. I would be your greatest threat.”

“And you’re not a threat at all.”

“But I’m still your murderer.”

She pulled herself closer to the growing shock he couldn’t hide. “No, you’re not. You’re my friend, and none of my friends are murderers.” The silver buckles cooled one cheek as his hair caressed the other. He looked down at the Cetra, shaking his head so silver swam against her skin.

“The only use I have in this world is being your protector.”

“That’s not true at all, Sephiroth,” she insisted. He chose not to argue and instead take the kiss as sweet flowers spread over his lips. Aeris laid her head against his chest and curled her fingers there. She closed her eyes to a beat that thrummed so steady, but something in it made her frown.

“Oh Sephiroth,” she whispered jolting up, “your poor heart is broken!”

“I greatly doubt that, little flower. It’s as strong as eugenics can make.” He stroked her hair from crown to waist, smiling gently at her worry.

“No, Sephiroth, can’t you tell? It’s broken just like you.”

He froze, his hand at the place on her back that did not hold a wound. Briefly, he turned his awareness within and even swifter shut his mind to the truth.

“Aeris, no…don’t you dare. Don’t you dare weep for that.”

But it was too late. She’d soaked her soft palms in the pain of a myriad tears. “I can’t help it. Oh, it’s too sad. You’re a broken angel…”

A knock on the door saved the so-named and he lifted her from his lap. The little Cetra did not hear what transpired, but assumed it was their breakfast. Careful hands wrapped around her wrists to reveal her face to emerald bright. He was kneeling before her on the floor with a tissue in his grasp.

“I envy you, little one…” Sephiroth whispered.

“Why?” she quelled the sob in her throat.

“It would be easier for me to bleed than to weep. Any tears I once had turned to ash.”

“That’s what tears are, didn’t you know…blood from a rendered soul.”

“I suppose I have no soul left to rend.”

“You know that isn’t true.” She slammed her fist down on her thigh, as Sephiroth cleaned her face.

“Come, little flower,” he said as he stood, offering her a hand. “You should break your fast so you have energy for your stubbornness.”

Aeris glared, but she still clutched his fingers while sliding off the bed. She was glad there were not thirty platters this time, but lifting a lid made her think of the cats. Had they wandered in waiting through the dead garden of her cold, empty house? Aeris bit into toast and the sweet, buttered bread brought her back to yellow lights. The urchins sleeping in the slums, only ignorance granting them peace. They’d not yet seen the cruelest things the dark world had to offer, and the flower girl swirled the grease from the eggs to spoil luxury with regret.

“What it is, Aeris?” Sephiroth’s voice made her jump, which lowered the once proud head.

“It’s…nothing really. Well nothing you can do and nothing I can do either.”

His glowing eyes narrowed in scrutiny and the flower girl heaved a sigh.

“I was just remembering everyone in the slums. The Planet sent me to help them, but I’m sitting in the sun eating delicacies that none of them could even dream.” She threw down the bread as anger coursed inward followed swiftly by defeat. Sephiroth turned and took both her hands, his head titled to the side.

“Would it help them if you starved?” he asked and the flower girl lifted her gaze. His expression was mild with half shaded eyes, which did nothing for intensity.

“No…I suppose it wouldn’t.”

“And would it help them if you wallowed in squalor, trapped by murderers, rapists and thieves?”

The little Cetra shuddered. “No,” she whispered, looking up as his fingers warmed her own.

“You’ve only one murderer to handle now, and you seem to be doing quite well.”

“You’re not a murderer, Sephiroth,” she insisted with fire behind her voice.

“I killed fifty men yesterday, Aeris, and that’s not even my record.”

Her cheeks flushed as she squeezed his hands.

“I…think that’s different. It wasn’t base murder. They didn’t really give you a choice…” His sad smile told her he thought she was kind, and then she asked, “Did you enjoy it?”

“No,” he told her, “not in the least, though their lives meant nothing to me. It was…just a task that needed fulfilled, a mission to be completed. They would’ve hurt you and that’s unallowed. No one will hurt you again.” He bowed his head. “I never expected that you of all people would insist upon my innocence.”

“You don’t need innocence to be good.” Aeris swallowed in slight fear creeping up for what she now possessed. “B-But I think you’re right. I was doing nothing in the slums. Maybe the answer lies out here and not in that steel covered tomb.”

Sephiroth bent low to kiss her brow and Aeris shut her eyes and smiled. He gave her a mug full steaming with coffee, and she wrapped her fingers around. The yelp that followed cut a rent in a heart that was already bitterly torn.

“Are you burned?” he asked cupping the small hands, her palms red before his sight.

“I-I don’t think so,” she tried to assure, but it was hard to concentrate. He ran a long finger gently over the blush and didn’t even depress the flesh.

“I’m sorry, Aeris. I…didn’t think. The heat has no affect on me.”

“It’s alright…” She gripped his hand before memory could, as he grabbed the other pot.

“Hm, they didn’t bring us any tea. I thought I’d ordered that.”

Aeris retrieved her tossed toast and dipped it in the eggs. “Do you not like coffee?”

“Of course I do.” He poured another cup. “I was just remarking on its absence. There are people who don’t like coffee?” He asked as if the hundred plus years had unwound.

The Cetra giggled, covering her full mouth for only his voice held the shock.

“Yes,” she conceded. “They do exist. Some people only like tea.”

He lifted a brow to that as he took a drink of what would’ve shriveled her tongue, and the maid bit the question back though it tingled her lips to ask. Blowing the steam from atop her cup, she added cream as a distraction.

“I’ve always enjoyed it,” Sephiroth mused swirling the black brew so it welled. “Though it has no effect on me.”

“What do you mean?” Aeris asked as she wrapped the egg in the remaining toast.

Her protector gave a sideways glance, lids lowering as he thought. “Most people drink coffee to become more aware, but caffeine does nothing to me. I’m always aware. I’m always awake. I have my tainted cells for that…” The thought would’ve been bitter from any other lips, but he just said it because it was so.

“Then it does have an effect.” She was struggling to both nibble and hold her messy sandwich together. He turned to her fully and Aeris couldn’t imagine being interrogated under that gaze. “You enjoy it. That should be effect enough.” Giving him a smile that would light up the slums, she admitted defeat and that she was full. Her own cup was now cool enough to sip, and neither flower girl nor former general thought anything strange of sitting together in the Kalm hotel drinking coffee in the late morning sun.

When only the black dregs stained their cups, Sephiroth walked to the window. Despite all the joys that morning contained, he would not watch Aeris disrobe. One liberty did not lead to the next, though lesser hands would be dust in his grip. Through a veil of silver he saw his epaulets by the window, and his eyes flashed for he’d almost forgotten.

Unfastening his coat he swirled it from his shoulders to stand bare-chested in the breeze. Though it was a bit chill, Sephiroth wasn’t cold as he watched the people below. Where once he would’ve believed that was their place, now he felt a twinge of sad envy. To be like them. To be so normal. To not bear abomination. She could be though, he considered while re-strapping the first pauldron. Not here, not now, but someplace and soon. I’ll take her there as I vowed. It’s the least I can do. It’s the best I can give her, a life in exchange for death. He ran fingers through the silver skein as it shivered against his back. His hair was far softer than the lick of the lash he’d last remembered there. There was almost sympathy for his prior captor in trying to tear what was already long torn. For the crowd’s delight he’d peeled back the leather and laid on the whip between shocks. What stripes were grown had healed in a mere moment as Sephiroth’s flesh knit around. There would never even be a scar, and slivered eyes turned towards his wrists. They’d wanted him to be perfect, so no blemish would ever mar that flawless skin. If scars there would be, I’d have them here. My track marks would shame an addict. He finished his work and shook the coat out so bright armor shone in the sun. His torture in Midgar had been like a reprieve. He’d endured worse as a boy.

The shush of her footfalls gave Aeris away even though she was still bootless. Sephiroth turned his head to his little flower watching with a soft part to her lips. She’d frozen in place so pierced by his eyes as he lowered the coat in his hands. Her simple brown dress covered her again for practicality and for travel. Not that it mattered what clothes she would wear. She’d be stunning nonetheless. Her high brushed braid still fell to her hips, and only a fool would say her garb matched. The chestnut waves had been tamed in pink tie, but the light still caught honey and amber. That ribbon adorning lowered his eyes, and he wondered if she’d done that on purpose. She has no guile, he quickly remembered, and her memories are sweet within pain.

When the emerald shifted Aeris found she could walk to the brilliance that waited before. Never was skin more white in this world so bathed in the humble daylight. He could’ve been a statue so perfect was he with each muscle carved from pure marble. His hair was all colors and then none at all as if it mocked the very sun, and the breeze that now stirred it moved only scant strands for it was too lowly to touch. Aeris stepped closer raising her hand so soft fingertips grazed his chest. It was like alabaster for there was no give beneath the flawless cover. In Sephiroth’s grip the leather creaked as though begging for voice to cry.

“You’re so much warmer than me…” she mused in innocence to the torture her touch had so wrought.

“My average temperature’s higher,” he said behind his teeth, eyes burning like jade drenched coals. “The corruption causes that, too.”

“You’re not corrupt,” she told him.

“I am, little one. The abomination lives in my cells.”

She clicked her tongue. “It may live in you, but it’s not all you are. You’re more than your genes and your cells…” She lifted her eyes and bit her lower lip, and that was all that he could stand. Sephiroth tossed his coat and swept her up for a kiss that would end the morning. Careful not to mess her braid he clasped the back of Aeris’s head. His moonlight hair spilled on her belly as her mouth unfolded like a rose soaked sweet in dew. Tiny hands tried the width of his shoulders before settling into silver skein. He turned his head to slant their mouths together and caught the tears from her cheeks with his lashes.

“Ah little one, I was afraid this would happen,” he said in the interim.

“You…afraid?” She couldn’t believe it as she slipped a bright lock from his face. “Whatever could you be afraid of?”

“That I’d never stop kissing you.” To prove it he entered her mouth so slowly, she couldn’t help but writhe in his arms. Aeris’s head fell back and he let his lips drift down to lay soft dew on her neck. Her dress dipped deeper than her nightgown did, and the smolder left his eyes for brief rue. One final kiss was laid long on her brow and he set his little flower down. Sephiroth let her lean against his chest as he swirled the coat over his shoulders. The air in the leather held only his scent, and she wanted to drown in that swell. Strong hands wrapped around Aeris’s waist to set her on the window ledge, and the Cetra almost blushed to his subtle smile as he fastened the locks of his coat. Still watching her Sephiroth shook out his hair so it swirled surely as moonlight does fall.

It’s him again…but then it isn’t, she thought as he turned away. All black and silver and emerald and pale, but beauty above it all. It was madness before and riotous anger that hid the glory from his face. He returned with her shoes to much gratitude, and when he looked down she thought, And grief. Sephiroth made sure her bag was near to hand as Aeris laced up her boots. The sun through the window made her skin glow more naturally than Mako eyes. It put a sheen to her cheeks and proved to all sighted that this was where she should be. Not buried in squalor beneath a cold plate to linger with wretches and shades.

“Shall we go, little one?” He offered his hand gloveless as she would want. Sephiroth was still growing used to that. They’d been a filter between him and the world, but the world now included her soft, trusting palm as they walked down the still shaded hall. A few shafts of sunlight stirred the dust on the curtains, but not enough to disturb the dim.

Aeris slipped from Sephiroth’s grip when the morning air greeted her face, and he was left to gaze up at the burning sphere with neither blink nor squint for the heat. Between kissing and breakfast the morning had aged, and now it was almost noon. He followed his little charge down the steps more sedately than her near skips. His glamour was up, though he still looked imposing to the few people about the town. It was hard not to with his height and demeanor and the fact he was dressed all in black. He didn’t invade minds, but took quick assessment, and that told him that his flower would be bored. Even the stars in their courtyard by night had become earthbound dust by day. She’d be safe here, but I promised the sea and I won’t forfeit that vow.

“Se-” Aeris turned to see what held him, and her face turned as pale as his hair. Clapping a hand over her mouth, white tinged the green round her eyes. Sephiroth sealed the distance to her unfazed even as knowledge lit emerald bright.

“I’m so sorry…” she whispered, and he shook his head sharply touching her brief beneath the chin.

“Never, little one, never apologize. Not even if you turned me in. I have no right to forgive or even accept such words from your innocent lips.”

She took his hand and walked beside as the late morning radiated in green. People passing bid them, “Good afternoon,” and beamed that such travelers would visit. Beneath her feet the Planet hummed loud, and Aeris gasped for shame in forgetting. Oh dear friend, what have I been doing? And the swirled music made her blush.
“Aeris?” Sephiroth questioned. “Are you alright, little flower?”

“Y-Yes…it’s just the Planet.”

He cocked his head as he glanced down. “Is it always in your head?”

She considered that as her dear friend pulsed lowly, some petulance in its vibration. For its unfathomable age, it could be quite childish, but Aeris still sensed mirth.

“I can always hear it,” she explained, “but it’s usually an undercurrent unless it needs my full attention. The voice is as part of me as my own blood, the music like my very breath.” She shuddered and he moved closer, scanning the streets for the source of her fear. “There was only one time I couldn’t hear it and that was in the basement of that Sector 2 shop. There was something wrong down there.” Aeris full shivered. “I never want to find out what.”

“You’re gone from that place, little flower, and you never have to return.”

“But I have to one day, once I figure out how to help the people in the slums.” She gripped his one hand with her two, and her determination bled into his flesh. In the life that was lost he’d had men in his command who’d not a fraction of her bravery.

“What is the Planet saying to you now…if you don’t mind me asking.” They crossed a street with only two parked cars. Most traffic in town was by foot.

Aeris tilted her head with a sweet, little smile, and Sephiroth remembered that they were in public. “It’s happy we’re leaving. It’s overjoyed I found you. It won’t shut up about that.” She giggled as a gang of children ran by, sadly reminding her urchins in grey. The light would paint them in colors unknown, and they’d forget their lives had ever been wretched.

“Did it tell you to trust me?” Sephiroth asked, and he was looking up to hide his grief.

“Yes…but I didn’t want to believe it. I was still so afraid. I thought you’d…done something to it in order to get to me.” She was ashamed to admit, but still couldn’t lie as his face blanked to the mask.

“I never had that power, Aeris.” The breeze bore the whisper that held her name, and her skin shivered to his low voice. “I had others far darker, but for your dear friend I could neither hear nor influence.”

The houses turned smaller and downgraded to cottages dotting unbroken green. The maid’s cheeks were tinged pink as they avoided the dust of a woman sweeping her steps. That color narrowed emerald in scrutiny as Sephiroth glanced again to the sun.

“Do you have sun protection, little flower?” he asked, and Aeris blinked and shook her head.

“N-No, I guess I didn’t think about that. Wh-What about you?”

“My cells regenerate far too fast for me to tan or burn.”

“Well…” she stammered. Of course they would. “That explains why you’re so pale.”

“And ever will be.” He lowered his head as Aeris squeezed his hand. They passed the final house on the outskirts and fields grew beneath their feet. “It’s as though I wear a death shroud.” He looked up again at the sun. “A winding sheet of my very skin.”

“I would say it’s useful,” Aeris considered. “It’s one less thing to worry about.” Her practicality for horror made Sephiroth smile and he brushed his fingers over her cheek. The touch lifted her lips as she rose on her toes trying to see the endless distance. The sky held only wisps of clouds, and though the sun reigned it wasn’t too warm. Somewhere on that horizon lay the ocean, and Aeris’s heart gave a jump for that fact. But they’d have to cross a great expanse before finding that distant shore. “How long will it take to reach the sea?” And then how do we cross? My maps were less than useless with that…they showed neither ferry nor bridge. The elation that had lighted in her breast turned swiftly to worry and rue, and Sephiroth stopped and turned toward her laying a gentle palm to her face.

“Not as long as you think, little flower. I…was not fully truthful with you.”

“What do you mean?” she asked very slowly, and her protector looked away as he sighed.

“Do you remember in Midgar when we stood in your garden and I sidestepped out of your sight?”

“Of course…how could I forget something like that?” She bit her lip. “I was…still a bit scared of you then.”

Sephiroth lifted her chin in the air, lowering his lids over the light. “Never be ashamed of that, little flower. Your caution kept you alive.” He dropped his hand back to his side, finding it hard to make the motion smooth. “I told you I could hide out of sight, but I didn’t tell you the rest. Within the between I can sidestep again and go to places far away. It’s…” He bowed his head and silver trickled over. “It’s how I went so quickly from place to place in my mad rush for godhood.”

Aeris stepped closer and laid her hand atop his, saying nothing but praying for peace. The world swirled her mantra, and though Sephiroth couldn’t hear it, he felt her mercy down to his bones.

“But what this means is I can take you, too, so long as we’re skin to skin.”

“Then why didn’t you do this in Midgar?”

He half smiled at her astuteness. “There are layers to it, little one. Three to be exact. Well,” he considered, “technically four if you count where we are right now. In order to pass through and wind up elsewhere, I need to go through to the fourth, but in Midgar I can only step through one. The last two layers are blocked. I can go in between but moving within is like swimming in a sea of thick dusk.”

“How are they blocked?” Her brow wrinkled beneath her bangs as they blew in the wind.

“I’m not sure.” He gazed over her head, and she wondered if he could see the far shore. “I think it may be the abundance of reactors, but it’s always been that way.” The emerald pulsed slightly and that told Aeris his vision was towards memory. “Though I believe it was done on purpose so they’d know when I was there. I can’t truly sidestep, but I can disappear and essentially be invisible.” He avoided the past and peered down at their hands, pulling her slightly closer.

“You…you told me what it was like in there. That Midgar looks greyer if that’s even possible.”

Sephiroth smiled. “Yes, but you always look the same…” The Mako glow softened. “Even down in the fourth, you’d beckon me back with your light.” The wind burned Aeris’s cheeks to blush, and he traced a finger along delicate bone. “You’ll see how it is when I take you within.” Her eyes were lifted and white circled the green, so he told her, “Don’t be afraid.” Stepping even closer, a mere finger was between them as he rubbed the back of her hand. “But I must tell you this, Aeris, we can only be ourselves in between.”

“What does that mean, Sephiroth? I’m always myself. So are you.”

Oh Aeris…you have no inkling what I’m hiding from your innocent sight. “You’ll see, little flower. I don’t want you to be frightened by what will be revealed.”

“You mean be frightened of you.” She sighed with relief to his hidden confusion. “I’m not frightened of you.” She blinked looking up and her smile shamed the sun.

“I hope to always keep it that way…”

He carefully tightened his grip on her hands and the Mako gleam jumped in brightness. Aeris wet her lips as the Planet murmured under, unsure of its daughter’s intentions. In between…that’s where the sword waits…she wondered if it missed his touch.

“Step with me, little flower,” Sephiroth said, and she shut her eyes as he led her through air.

*

The sun hung above like a burning black ball and the sky was a stale, milky white. In between the step she had pulled herself closer to lay her head on his chest. His arms knew their business without being told and had wrapped around the flower maid. Even beyond the black of his coat, everything lay in shadow. Smears of shade floated in the air and coalesced into howling mouths. Aeris shut her eyes as a whimper escaped, and a gentle hand stroked her hair.

“Look up at me, my little flower, and tell me what you see.” Sephiroth broke a silence that was so complete that death couldn’t make it deeper, and though he used nothing to make her do so, his very voice drew obedience. The only hue that existed as the oily shades swirled lived forever in his eyes. Raw, roiling Mako, bisected by darkness poured light only on her face, and that shiver that now rode Aeris’s skin touched both fear and awe. She trusted him. She really did…but that wing made night white as ice. His skin was lit to the palest of fires, and his hair was so silver it burned. He had to hold her with just his right hand for the Masamune held his left. The long blade cut the darkness and was the only true match for him as the shadows swayed. “What is my truth, little flower?” he whispered.

There was only one answer. “Light…”

“You see more than that, Aeris…you see the horror.”

“I see only you.”

Sephiroth shook his head and that spare brilliance scattered swallowed down by silent shades. “I’m right after all, and the light you see is reflection of your own.” He sighed as his lashes covered the heat still unburnt to splay long on his cheeks. He pressed her closer and Aeris squeaked in shock at the tightness of his grip. Chagrin loosened it as he thought of the shore, and he said, “Step with me again, little-” A thousand scratching nails thundered through his ears as the shadows swallowed their silence. Frightened summer green and a small outstretched hand were the last things he saw in the blackness. Clawed from all layers, the once general crashed on grey sands like a black draped wave.

Sephiroth sputtered and splayed on his back beneath blue washed sky and daylight. At his boots lapped the western sea, the beach squelching between his fingers. He rolled to a stand shaking sand from his mane, eyes wide as he searched the expanse. To his left lay the stone silent coastal town, once bright walls now as grey as the shore. Gulls called and wheeled unperturbed by the stillness, as Sephiroth whirled in the surf. Mako eyes could’ve seared a hole in the world, as desperation destroyed his mask. From sea to shore and all between, Aeris was nowhere to be found.

*

She was alone and her dear friend was gone, extinguished from her mind like a match. There was nothing but stillness and darkness and cold, so empty it could’ve collapsed. The flower girl’s every breath stirred the silence, and it hated her for that alone. The sun’s great lidless, empty eye cursed her presence as it rotted, and the milky sky roiled while the shadows oozed against. They seemed to coalesce into a long, jagged wound, and black blood seeped like tears from the edge.

Aeris stifled a cry and fled, calling his name but no low voice calmed her fear. She screamed and pleaded for her dear friend, but no music filled her soul. It was neither blocked nor quelled, just gone. As though it were dead or had never known life or spoken to Cetra ears. She covered them now to at least explain why she now dwelled in silence. This place was flat and the ground was as black as the sun that held her in judgment. She didn’t want to look at it. It was engorging to swallow her down. From all corners and none, the scratching crept hushed, and Aeris had no place to hide.

Light erupted on her right side, and she whirled with her hands to her mouth. Relief swelled her heart as it flooded her chest to see that pale sight before. So what that his great, unfurled wing stained the darkness. He hadn’t abandoned here.

“Sephiroth!” she cried and his eyes slid over. His pupils were near nonexistent like an empty shiver of night. Silver hair could’ve been made of the pale metal for there was no wind in this place. The emerald widened as his face remained blank, and Aeris fought breath to run fast. The step so disrupted would soon be complete once he wrapped her again in his arms. She wished she could fly through the air as he’d done when he carried her through the wastes, but it didn’t matter. He’d come back for her, and the Cetra was safe again. Then to his grip was drawn from this dim the Masamune that had eaten her heart. In his left hand it found her once more to shine with insatiable hunger. His face held nothing as Mako pre-tore her, promising the great sword her hot blood.


Author’s Note: Chapter 9’s title is The Devil You Know.  Until May 22 and as always thank you for your support. *bows*

<–Chapter 7                                                                                                    Chapter 9–>

6 thoughts on “Chapter 8 – In Between

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