Chapter 10 – A Heart Made for War

<<–Preamble/Prelude
<–Chapter 9                                                                                                  Chapter 11–>

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: I did not create and therefore do not own the rights to the featured artwork, which was found here in the Fotolog library of a user named aerithita. I was unable to locate a definitive source or find a way to contact the user for such information. If you are the creator of this piece and if you do not approve of me using it for my fanfiction, please let me know and I will remove it immediately from this site and all others where it is used. If you are the creator/artist and are fine with me using it, please give me your information, and I will gladly update this site and all others.

***Warning: Potential rape/attempted rape flashbacks***

“Some old wounds never truly heal, and bleed again at the slightest word.”
– George R.R. Martin, “A Game of Thrones”

Chapter 10 - A Heart Made for War

The voice of the sky crashed through the night and tried to tear cracks in the walls. Rain lashed and spattered the window ledge so rich red turned the color of blood. The wind streaked an icy hand through the veil and Aeris shrieked and clung tight to his neck. Confused, Sephiroth looked down to witness her summer eyes tightly closed. Her breath conjured sleep even as her heart raced, and another crack increased its tremor. The former general kissed her soft on the brow, making to rise and shut out the storm, but her swift sob stilled him in place when he tried to untangle her fingers.

“No, no, please don’t leave me,” she begged him. “Don’t ever leave me again.”

“I’m not going to leave you, Aeris,” he promised, halving his eyes as the light behind swirled. The sky crackled and hissed like a snake in the flames before booming with loud, mocking laughter. The little Cetra wailed, curling into his chest, and though muffled he still heard her cries.

“No, no, please don’t!”

Sephiroth stroked her cheek with the back of his hand as her tears trembled on leather black. Crooked, icy fingers dripped through the sky, clutching the clouds as they roared at release. Aeris’s sobs tried to best heaven’s fury, her arms locked around his neck. He couldn’t leave her like this even for a moment, so swept her up and walked to the window. The maid’s eyes were shut, but warm salt was defiant to paint harsh lines on her cheeks. Holding her in one arm, the once general reached out and closed the pane as the skies spoke their spleen.

“No, please don’t hurt me!” she whimpered and in white fire Sephiroth froze.

“Aeris,” he whispered. “I’m not going to hurt you. I’ll never hurt you again.”

Please don’t rape me,” she sobbed into his neck, while rain brutally slashed the windows. “I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to wander down here alone…”

Sephiroth jerked his gaze down with emerald burning the mask. “I’m not going to rape you, Aeris,” he whispered, but she continued to violently quake. Heartrending sobs seeped over the leather as the storm stirred and boiled the sky. The once general wrapped her tight in his arms and pressed his head against hers.

“I didn’t mean to…please let me go. I’ll never come back here again. Just don’t—“   She screamed and flung up small hands as though to ward off a blow.

“Aeris!” The power in his voice left the flower girl in quiver with her breath a rushing gasp. He hated using such authority with her as the guilt shut emerald eyes. “I have you, little one. I promise you’re safe. I swear on my true mother’s name.” She’s trembling and terrified here in the dark, and I’m all she has for comfort…

“Who…who is that?” She lowered still shaking hands and her eyes moved behind closed lids.

“It’s… me.” He didn’t want to say his curséd name, but she shivered in his silence. “Sephiroth…”

“Oh!” Aeris opened her eyes. Her pupils were tiny and the once general wondered if she could actually see. “Oh, it’s you.”

“Yes, little flower. It’s me.”

How she’d contained the sigh that shook her small form, Sephiroth would never know. “It’s you…” She blinked as awareness dawned upon her surrounded by leather and winter skin. Her little body near melted within his embrace, and the once general hid his awe in the dark.

You have me.” She clutched his solid shoulders. “I’ve been in your arms all along.” Her eyes gleamed white as they darted up. “Please don’t let them rape me, Sephiroth.”

“Aeris, I will never let anyone rape you. That is…beyond abomination.” He tightened his grip around the maid, and all her shivering ceased. She blinked quickly as moon whitened silver whispered over her face.

“You…you won’t?”

“No, little flower. You’re safe in my arms. No one can hurt you now.”

“I-If anyone tried, you’d…be right there will all your strength and glory?”

“That’s right,” he assured her, smiling gently and not arguing the last. “In all of this world there has never been a little maid more safe.”

“Are you…” she choked out around swallowed tears, “really as strong as Cloud said?”

“No, little one.” Sephiroth shook his head. “I am far stronger than that…”

“You promise you won’t let them hurt me?” She stared straight into his slivered pupils with emerald ever lit.

“Aeris…” His low voice rolled soft through her, drawing power from the air. “I swear by the blood in my veins, the breath in my throat, and the light that lives in my eyes, no one will ever hurt you again. You are under my protection and anyone who tries will pay in bitter rue.”

“Hero…”   She whispered in the dark, blind to his utter pain. “That should be my name for you. My hero,” she breathed so soft.
“You’re still dreaming, Aeris.” His voice didn’t break only due to the will behind it. “A far nicer one than your last.”

“My hero…” she repeated and then she yawned to re-close summer eyes. Laying her head against his chest, Aeris fell into peaceful sleep. Flowers now grew behind her lids, and the little maid smiled in the sun.

Sephiroth could not shield his shock nor cover his endless grief, but he was tasked to carry her back to bed and lay down by her side. The flower maid curled towards him breathing deep, and the once general kissed her crown. What grace has been given me? He veiled emerald light against the darkness and didn’t move til she woke the next morning.

*

Sunlight blurred through the streaks left behind as the storm blew away to the north. His eyes looked full closed and lashes resplendent splayed against his cheeks, but even in day she saw that green glow simmering across the seams in his lids.

“You’re not sleeping, are you?” Aeris asked.

“No, little flower.” He kept his lids sealed. “Sleep is for the innocent. I didn’t want you to be frightened if you woke again in the night. There was terror enough for you in your dreams without my baleful eyes adding fuel.”

Her small body shushed against the sheets as she pulled herself closer. Sephiroth enclosed her in his arms and rested his chin on her head. The summer scent spoke of endless green leaves and fields that could hold no more flowers. He smiled though she couldn’t see, thinking blindness would be worth this small moment.

“I…woke during the night?” His joy tore apart as he gazed down to her wrinkled brow.

“You…don’t remember, Aeris?” Locks of soft hair had tumbled over her face, and Sephiroth cleared them away. She frowned and shook her head at the question, and her protector lowered his head.

“It was bad…wasn’t it?” the little Cetra asked.

He nodded running quick fingers through silver to push his bangs aside.

“Will you tell me anyway?”

“Why would you want to face a horror that you need never know?”

“You’ve told me yours,” she answered him softly. “It’s only fair that I should know mine.”

He could never deny his little flower so granted her request. Aeris was curled against his chest when the darkness was full told, but she lifted her head with gratitude swimming in the depths of summer green.

“You stayed by my side…”

“Of course I did. I couldn’t leave you like that.”

“You could, but you didn’t.”

“No I couldn’t, my flower. What kind of protector would I be if I did?”

She smiled at that, and he tilted his head, confused at this sudden mirth.

“What is it, little one?”

“You called yourself ‘protector,’ instead of ‘monster’ or ‘murderer.’”

“I am still those things.” Sephiroth bowed his head. “That will never change, but…I do protect you now.” Endless green spread its light on her face. “I can’t kill your nightmares, but at least I can be a lesser one when you awake.” His unblinking gaze captured expression that pierced his broken heart. “Please, little one…have mercy,” he begged. “You mustn’t look at me like that.”

“Look at you like what?” But the flower girl knew as her fingers grazed his cheek.

“Like I’m a hero.”

She smiled at him, bright without pity because she did truly believe. “Well, I’m sorry, Sephiroth, but that’s what you are. You’re going to have to accept it.”

“This adoration is unwarranted.” He caught her small fingers, closing them all in his hand. Aeris half smiled at his unique phrasing, enjoying the warmth of his palm. Though her fingers were immobilized, he was always so careful and made sure never to squeeze too tight.

“How is it ‘unwarranted?’” She tugged at her hand and he immediately released. “You saved me from rapists. You brought me out of the slums. You pulled me from the horror you know too well…”

She shuddered and he held her closer, but still shook his head all the same. “Aeris, I could save you a thousand times and still never find redemption. All of the selfless deeds in the world won’t forgive my terrible acts.” He touched her cheek and she lifted her face to shine brighter in his light. “And if you have any mercy, my little flower, you will not name me ‘your hero.’ I don’t deserve it and I can’t take not in forever or today.”

Grief swam soft in summer eyes and Sephiroth regretted his words. But what else is the fallen but regret? Rather that than let her court fallacy.

“Well…” She bit her lip and dark lashes obscured the emerald. “I suppose I could call you the ‘great’ or the ‘beautiful.” She grinned, but did not mock. “You were once called the Great Sephiroth and you most certainly are beautiful.”

The former general sighed and shook his head again.

“Really?” she asked. “Even that you won’t accept?” She let his visage fill her vision as her lips parted with her awe.

He lifted a brow and resisted the urge to kiss her until the sun burned the sea. “There’s nothing great about me, Aeris, and beauty isn’t for monsters.” He slid his hand down her check where his palm brushed her neck, and the Cetra arched her back with a gasp.

“Just more proof that you aren’t one…” She kissed his palm still looking up. “I just…can’t understand how anyone could be this gorgeous…and you don’t even think you are.” His lids descended lower so green lit his cheeks and within splendor on white brushed those lashes. Aeris couldn’t resist and ran a thumb against the fringe. “These can’t be real, but I know they are…I’d trade my book of poems for a fraction.”

“That would be a poor exchange, Aeris,” he murmured looking up. He still never blinked as her small fingers stirred the tines on his lower lid. They were just as long and if he did dare to shut, he could catch a snowflake in between. Taking her hand with extra care he threaded their fingers together.

“It’s like…” she pondered as concentration slipped. “It’s like every aspect of you is perfection.”

He sighed again.

“See!” She tilted her face up to his and a mere breath would close the distance. “You don’t even have morning breath.” Sephiroth couldn’t help but laugh so low as that breath disappeared between. He asked permission by tracing the shape of her lips before entering them so slow. Pulling her up onto his chest, he held her tight as her hair spilled around. The fragrant waves were caught in one hand, as a little sound fluttered her throat. Sephiroth sat up completely with her on his lap and his brow pressed tight to hers. The river of silver had wrapped her round as readily as his arms, and Aeris laughed within its spill, reaching up for another taste.

“I can’t believe how it never tangles,” she whispered sliding fingers through. Despite the night it still flowed smooth and smelled so good she could’ve swooned. Grinning a bit mischievously, the flower girl caught sight of her pink ribbon and leaned over to catch its end.

“What are you doing, Aeris?” he said between his teeth, but the flower girl just tossed chestnut locks from her face, playful smile warming her lips. He bent to that teasing intruder, letting it spread across his own as slim arms went around his neck and her body bent into his. Aeris splayed against his chest, and the once general tilted his head to the side. The pride couldn’t flourish over the rue, but neither stopped her when Aeris reached up to bind silver in fraying tie.

“Really, little flower?” He shook his head so the long tail slid over leather. “I doubt such flourish looks half so fair on me compared to you.”

“I woke in my church with this ribbon, you know…” Her gaze flicked to an unseen past. Sephiroth wondered if she remembered the recent or the far gone when blood had stained other pink. Not three feet away it dwelled so hidden by her mundane travel bag.

“And you sully your memory by placing it on me.”

“You don’t ‘sully my memory,’ Sephiroth.” She nestled close to him so her protector held her tight once more. Aeris looked up to his face now empty and long hair tied in pale queue. “It doesn’t change anything…you still look so sad.” And he regretted his sorrow only because it made his flower upset.

A knock that was both polite and expectant brought a blessed distracted. Sephiroth lifted Aeris off of his lap and back onto the bed. She folded her legs beneath and it took all he had to go and answer the summons. It was the cheerful bellhop of course with a breakfast cart now in tow. “Morning sir and miss,” he said above the clatter of crooked wheels that were many years old. “Sorry it’s late. The cook likes his sleep and is harder to wake than a stone.” The former general raised a brow and took a quick glance out the window where daylight pulsed rosy with dawn. The bellhop went about his work with a whistle, clearing the table of last night’s diner and setting it with morning’s repast. If he noticed how his guest was now adorned, he gave no outward sign.

Aeris slipped off the bed to change, but before her egress Sephiroth noticed the pink spots on her cheeks. Leaning against the wall with folded arms, he asked, “Do you have a shop that would sell sun protection?”

“Of course,” the man said as he straightened the coffee pot and set the cream by its side. “I’ll fetch some for you.”

“That won’t be necessary. We’ll pick it up on our way out.”

“Oh no, sir, I insist.” The bellhop said and Sephiroth shrugged before reaching for gil. As his host went to take it, the once general held tight, looking down at the smaller man.

“This place called ‘the Whispers.’ You say it lies south?” Emerald green washed astonishment.

“Y-Yes, sir, it does.” He wanted to blink or avert his gaze, but was frightened of what would result.

Sephiroth, in some shame, let go of the money, and the bellhop caught himself stumbling back. “How far would you say?”

“About half a day on foot since the train’s not yet running.” He was relieved as his guest cocked his head. Shakily stowing the gil in his pocket, he glanced out the large bay window. “You just follow the shore and you’ll easily find it. I think that you’ll both like it there.”

“I certainly hope she does.”

When Aeris reappeared dressed for the day, Sephiroth was sipping coffee. Legs crossed he stared into the darkest of shadows though the window crowned him in light. He smiled behind his cup for her dress was the same brown and she still shone through its drabness. Her hair was braided, but her bangs were free, and he stood unknotting the ribbon. Silver splendor washed down his back as he went to pull out her chair. When the little Cetra sat, her protector bound the top of her braid with pink. Running the rope within his palm, he tightened his grip at the bottom, and she gave a sharp gasp as he pulled. It tilted her face up for his smooth, claiming kiss full of vanilla despite the coffee.

“You were right about that, my little flower,” he murmured. “Braided hair is far easier to grab.” He crouched by her chair so their bangs tangled together and she slid a small hand through silver light. I’m haunted by the past and bound by the future when all I want is this very now. The bowed head confused her in all it contained as Sephiroth rose to let her eat. The repast included hot, buttered toast and a fruit platter of beloved strawberries.

“Just think, little flower,” he said drinking tea now, which she readily joined in enjoying. “Wherever you end up, I’m sure you can have your fill of these every day.” It made him smile to envision her basking in life instead of rotting in the slums.

“The Whispers, right, like the bellhop said.”

“Yes. I’ll take you there today.”

Aeris tapped the fork on her half empty plate, brow wrinkled as she remembered. “But…the Whispers are south and you need to go north-”

“That doesn’t matter, Aeris,” he assured her, loosely holding his cup. “You’re my first priority…and the dead can always wait. It’s what they’re best at. Waiting and haunting our memories. I’m haunted by the memory of a woman I never knew…” His thoughts had formed word without his behest and swirled dark as the dregs of cold tea. “I wonder if that’s even possible.”

“You can be haunted by what you think it should be and tortured by its absence.”

“It’s not really a memory then, is it?” Sephiroth glanced up and she froze in rueful jade light. “It’s…just an empty ideal. Although I must’ve seen her at least at one point. I just…never knew that I did.”

“I think that’s the most wrenching thing of all,” she whispered. “To see and never know, but…I don’t think you ever saw her. She couldn’t bear the pain. That’s what I was told and she ran away not long after you were born.” Aeris bit her lip and lifted her eyes, and he fought to maintain the mask. “Do I still haunt you, Sephiroth?”

He set the cup down and bowed his head. “You will haunt me ‘til the death of time.”

She shuddered. “I never thought I’d be alive again and even then be a ghost.”

He reached across for her tiny hand, real and fragile within his fingers. “It’s memory that haunts me, little one. Memory, blood, and death…and this is terrible breakfast conversation.” He was more than happy for the knock of interruption and went to meet the bellhop again at the door.

“It’s the strongest one we have, sir,” the man said, handing over the requested tube. “I figured, well…” He looked between the two of them with their skins to darken snow.

“It’s for her, not me.” Aeris blushed at the table, her face full of gratitude.

“Alright…well, take your time coming down.” He winked to Sephiroth’s scrutiny. “Checkout’s whenever you wish. We’re not going to quibble with our only guests.”

When they were alone again Aeris caught his hands and looked up to whisper, “Thank you.”

“I said I’d protect you, didn’t I? And the sun can be dangerous on the shore.” He laid a palm upon her cheek. “You already have a little more pink than can be considered just blush.” And then he smiled as beneath his palm her soft skin fulfilled his words.

He replaced his epaulets and she tried not to watch, but he was framed in the window’s gleam. A proud man would’ve done such on purpose, but she knew Sephiroth didn’t care. He could’ve been a statue for such alabaster skin with each muscle so cut to perfection. Sweeping the long coat back over his shoulders, he snapped the straps and fastened the buckles. The high boots were pulled on and the silver bindings shimmered, but could not rival that shining hair. He reached into a pocket to retrieve black, leather gloves, and Aeris quelled her disappointment. When he pulled them on though, his fingers were bare, and the flower girl smiled again.

Aeris kept her own coat unbuttoned as she picked up her travel bag. She wanted the sea breeze to raise bumps on her skin so the sun could ease them away. The cold of the sands was not the chill of the slums, and she yearned to revel in the difference.

“Shall we go then, little flower?”

“Let us go then, you and I…”

Sephiroth, laughing soft and low, took her hand where leather and skin melded together and nothing could rival that heat. He caught her other hand in his, and Aeris suddenly froze.

“A-Are we going to sidestep there?”

The once general bowed his head as her fear cut him deep. “I wouldn’t do such even if I could. I can only sidestep to places I’ve been before, and the Whispers are unknown.”

Aeris sighed with relief and then felt terrible. It wasn’t his fault what had occurred in between, but he squeezed her fingers needing no explanation.

The desk clerk was drowsy to the end of his shift and yawned while checking them out. He tried not to blink under neon green, but was wide eyed for the generous tip. Costa del Sol was still just as quiet as if the town hushed for the sea on the shore. The murmur of waters was ever pervasive, and Aeris half-wished that she could stay here, but she was tired of silence and said a quick prayer that a whisper would be enough.

The storm had left only a palette of cirrus to wisp along beside the sun. That bright, unblocked orb made the sands glimmer as the ocean washed the shine from the shore. It was an endless battle and Aeris felt the heat on her face, looking at her protector in gratitude. A world made of colors could not be for him, he walked in monochrome. It’s as though he always stands in between. Here in this world and without.

A sharp gust from the north ripped Aeris’s braid forward and the flower girl hunched in her coat.

“You’d think it be warmer since we’re going south.”

“Are you cold, Aeris?” Sephiroth glanced down sharply, but she reassured him with a smile.

“I’m alright…I actually like it. It’s a nice balance between sun and wind.”

The former general gazed out on the sulky grey waves as cliffs rose to the west of the waters, but when Aeris slipped her hand from his, its absence was all he could feel. She crouched to unlace and abandon her boots before greeting the lapping waves. The sea was so cold it tingled her toes, but Aeris enjoyed the shiver. She held her drab dress up to her knees so the salt could cleanse her legs. Wet sand slithered against her skin and she giggled as her feet sunk deep. The never ending rush and crash of the ocean was the lullaby for the shore. The sun tried to awaken, but the sea called it back to sleep and dream eternal. Through foam cool and gurgling, Aeris stepped and the hue brought her gaze back to land. Sephiroth wore no clear expression as his hair sailed soft in the wind. The sun did nothing to mar flawless pale, as she felt the heat past her protection. Caressing her ankles, the waves enticed her to stay, but the flower girl escaped now ignoring the sea that roared behind her for this loss.

Heels and toes soon shimmered with sand, and Aeris laughed as it buried her feet. Still clutching her dress, she fought the shore’s shift as it scraped the skin of her soles. She’s running towards me, Sephiroth thought, when by all rights she should run away…

“And did you enjoy your cavort, little flower?” he asked, while hiding her small hands in his.

She peered around for her shoes and swept them, opting for sandy bare feet. Sephiroth took them for she already had her travel bag to carry. Leaning against his arm as they continued to walk, Aeris missed his happiness mixed with pain.

“I did…oh, how I’ve dreamed of the sea. It could wash all of Midgar clean.”

He had to keep his step measured to match slower pace. Beauty softened at innocence, as Aeris grinned brightly with eyes shut in the world of her thoughts. The salt air, though cold, reminded her of freedom with every full drawn breath, and though she was blind, she need never fear for her protector was right beside.

“I hope the Whispers are what you seek, little one.” He passed a palm down her braid. “This should be your joy every day. You should be able to wander where you want with no fear of what haunts the night.”

“You’re right,” she assented, opening her eyes. “But that’s just not how it is, at least not in the slums. But…” she considered. “I’m not there now…I’m here on the shore with you. I wouldn’t be able to see this beautiful place if it wasn’t for you, Sephiroth.” She took his hand between her two palms and kissed the exposed fingers. Sephiroth gazed down in hidden wonder letting those same fingers lift her chin. “You deserve so much of my gratitude.”

“I deserve nothing.” His thumb traced her lips unable to resist. “I have obligation, but seeing you like this, seeing you so happy…it brings me the semblance of joy.”

“Only the semblance?” She stepped right before him, her toes sinking into warmth.

“Even the semblance is more than I deserve.” His free arm locked around her waist, heat causing the emerald to burn. “I want to see you happy and only hope my selfish want won’t steal your joy away…” He lowered his head and claimed her lips as the waves faded to mere murmur. The north wind spilled silver and chestnut around to mark this sweet communion. It shivered her skin and made him remember what he had no right to forget. The kiss on her brow reaffirmed his protection and her skin made the sun block taste sweet.

It was late afternoon when they saw their first windmill, almost blending in with the sand. The overcast sky had halved the deep blue and lent strength to icy north bluster, but the wind served its purpose to spin circling blades on a tall and skinny pole. Aeris approached as Sephiroth watched, while the Planet hummed beneath. What is this, dear friend? But she received no answer only soft laughter like tinkling bells. Other windmills soft dotted and they started to see a hint of emerging lights. The little Cetra squeezed tight her protector’s hand not quite cautious enough for fear.

“Do you…smell a reactor around here, Sephiroth? The Planet’s being petulant.” She dug in a heel to gentle song that neither made sense nor rhymed.

He closed his eyes and sniffed the breeze as it streamed silver and black. Opening them full to light on her face with day meandering toward the horizon. “All I smell is salt and summer, the endless sea and you.” Aeris closed her eyes, too, and tried to catch but could only smell ocean and sand. She stopped when the gulls announced evening was present in worry she was being mocked.

Sand walking is tiresome without any shoes, though Aeris had barely noticed. To be traversing ground that wasn’t cracked concrete was too much of a blessing to miss. But soft skin felt stretched to every step even as she voiced no complaint. As if sensing the soreness beneath her feet, Sephiroth swept her up. Aeris slipped her arms around his neck, and her lips brushed his ear to say, “Thank you.”

“No thanks is needed. What else am I for? What other purpose can I have?”

“Do you need to have a purpose?” The flower maid asked. “Can’t you just be, Sephiroth?”

“No…I must have some reason for being alive when others far better are gone.”

He easily held her in his right arm with her boots still gripped in those fingers, leaving the left free as he flexed his hand, unwary but ever watchful.

“Just in case?” she asked and he turned to face her.

“Just in case,” the once general replied. Her lips were far too close to resist the sweet kiss that caused them to gleam. The flower girl laid her head against his epaulet watching the past as it faded behind. Even on sand his boots were so silent and the great sea soon grew hushed.

“Silver sands and whispers…” Aeris breathed in his scent. “They’re almost as white as your hair.” She sat up momentarily, brushing back one of his bangs, liquid silk running between her fingers. “Almost…” The shore had curved to show the dusk drinking liquid gold in rippling waters. The sea was so silent now on the sands it was likened to a lullaby. “It’s as though the two are lovers,” she said, “but one of them is shy.”

Sephiroth chuckled. “You’ve been reading too much poetry, my little flower. It’s taken root in your soul.” She rubbed her cheek against his and in fading daylight he wished time would cease. “Which one is shy, do you suppose?”

“Oh surely the sea without doubt!”

“And why would that be?”

“If you could hear some of the thoughts from the Planet below, you’d know it was no bit of shy.” And he smiled to the heat of her blush. “Well we know why it’s called the Whispers,” she decided.

“Because the lonely sea whispers to the shore…”

The sun was splitting the purple horizon when the cottage came into view. By the rising sea wall made of grey stone, it looked bright by comparison. The flower girl lifted her head suppressing a yawn, still surprised how his smooth step had lulled. “Oh there’s a sign there.” She squinted in grey. “It’s too dark for me to read it.”

“For sale or rent,” Sephiroth said with a quick turn, sight untroubled by coming dark.

Aeris’s nod gave way in surrender to the persistent yawn, and she laid her head on his shoulder.

“Falling asleep again, little flower?” His low voice soothed without mock.
“I can’t help it…” she murmured without looking up. “I feel so safe with you. Before in the slums, I could never sleep without keeping one ear to the wall. I was never safe even in my own house. I even took chance with my church. I believed it was a sanctuary, but never wanted to test those limits, but now with you, I know for sure nothing can ever hurt me…”

“That’s my ever promise to you, Aeris.” He kissed her on the brow. The flower girl’s smile would’ve shamed brightest day so evening dimmed more in her light. “If the Whispers aren’t safe or aren’t what you want, I’ll take you someplace else. I won’t…leave you until you’re where you deserve to be.”

Her arms tightened round his neck at those last words, and the Planet’s melody turned mournful and slow. Green cat eyes gleamed bright in the twilight and illumined what lay close at hand.

“You…can put me down if I’m a nuisance,” she said, but only clung ever closer. “I know you’re stronger than a hundred-”

“A thousand.”

“A thousand men.” Aeris blinked. “Really?” She lifted her head squinting to his slight smile that left her unsure if he teased. “Well, either way I hate to be a bother.”

“You can never be a bother to me, little flower. How many times must I tell you that?” The words caught him and Sephiroth did smile, and Aeris laughed softly aloud. “And besides, you’re not wearing shoes.” He lightly touched one of her soles and the gasp raised a silver brow. The Cetra’s cheeks burned with what she wished were only remnants of sun, but the dusk wouldn’t hide anything from Mako eyes.

“I-I think you just like carrying me,” she playfully accused.

“Maybe I do, little rose.”

“Oh that’s not fair!” she said in a huff, squeezing a fist on his shoulder.

“What isn’t fair?”

“Now you have two names for me and for you I don’t even have one!”

Sephiroth laughed lowly, hiding pain behind mirth only she had the power to bring. She should be screaming and fighting to escape my grasp as she did the first day that we met, and yet she basks in it with arms around my neck and the taste of her lips on mine…

He could think of that no more, but was led to distraction as the light against night lit pure silver. The town was attended by numerous windmills, their soft blades fanning new eve. A wide staircase led up from sea the beneath a sign that said Wesker’s Square. The steps were sandy but smooth beneath the shore’s leavings, rails polished but not too posh. Soft bulbs sat on black lamp posts and no yellow or red tinged their light.

Sephiroth’s boots crunched the displaced shore as he slowly ascended the stairs. Passing beneath the sign that ever creaked to the susurrus of sea behind. The endless waters ringed the town as it completed the shape around, while the Whispers leaned in on all who approached like a child with a tongue full of secrets. Wesker’s Square was far more round with what appeared to be shops on the fringe. Not far behind the sign was a curved stone bench where a pair of lovers laughed and lounged. A bottle of wine made whimsy their third, and the man, looking up from his giggling companion, raised his glass to neon green with a wink. Sephiroth hurried farther in, glad Aeris didn’t see for her shame. Restaurants fine and bistros cozy had her nostrils twitching for missed midday meal.

“Mmm.” The hum vibrated in his ear. “That really smells amazing, but I think if I had to sit at a table I’d probably pass right out. How embarrassing would that be?”

“To me? Not embarrassing at all, little flower. It’s been quite a long day for you. I…must apologize,” he admitted circling the perimeter as each passerby nodded their way.

Aeris shook the bangs from her face, drowsy and amused. “What are you sorry for now?”

“I regret that I can’t find a hotel, but there are higher tiers beyond.”

The flower girl shivered as she peered around, and Sephiroth’s heart sank as he realized why.

“It’s not like that, Aeris. There’s no hidden horror. No children to die underground.”

“You can tell that, too?”

“Yes and I promise…this is not like the place that you left.”

His search lead them back to the stairs once more just from the other side, and Sephiroth raised his eyes to scrutinize above seeing houses but no needed inn.

“You look lost, sir.”

The once general lowered his gaze to the fisherman before. The smell of him left no doubt. But the man held no malice, so Sephiroth didn’t judge, as he did a quick scan to make sure.

“Perhaps I am,” he replied, cool collection tingeing his words, “but that hardly matters. I’m seeking an inn. My little flower needs her rest.”

He shifted his arm to a tiny soft sigh and Aeris peered about with an, “Oh.”

The fisherman’s grin cracked weather worn cheeks. “We don’t get many visitors to the Whispers. Most who come tend to abide.”

“That’s what we’re hoping,” Sephiroth replied, while Aeris covered her yawn with a blush.

The fisherman tilted his chin to point. “The one you’ll want is the Chatham Inn. It’s right on the side of the mountain. There’s another here in Wesker’s Square but it’s more for the bar folk when they get too toasted to figure out how to stumble on home. Not for the likes of you fine folk. I’m sure your wife will be comfortable there.”

Sephiroth’s eyes widened to the far white and almost broke his mask. “Thank you,” he said and heard her repeat sweeter, before he whirled to hurry them off. More steps graced his feet as Aeris rested on his shoulder, but she was awake enough to twirl a lock of bright hair.

“Sephiroth?” she murmured where no one could hear, and his face was stricken since she couldn’t see.

“Yes, little one.”

“When you cast your…” She bit her lip before lifting her eyes to his face. “…angel glamour, do you think they can see your cat eyes?”

That had him sliding them towards her, but Aeris didn’t regret her word choice. The second level houses were quaint and homey, made of sea washed stone. The third level held a little more décor, but there was no real envy between the two and above did not overshadow.

“I’ve never really thought about it, little flower,” he admitted. “Whether they see them and then just forget or if they look like any others. They probably just look like ordinary eyes so very unlike your own.”

“I never liked mine really.” Aeris pulled herself closer to the warm pulse that beat strong at his neck. The sea breeze was relentless even higher up, and her open coat had turned to traitor.

“And why is that, Aeris?”

“They made me different because they’re so green, though not half so green as yours.”

“I don’t think they’re any less, little rose, a fairer hue without corruption.”

“I think it’s what you make of them,” she sleepily insisted, blinking to keep her gaze clear. “You have the same eyes you did before, but they hold no horror now.”

He kissed her brow and then looked at the inn up a long flight of stairs. This could be called the City of Stairs, he thought glad he carried his little rose. As in Costa del Sol no one thought it odd that he held a small maid in his arms. The looks they did get filled him with shame for what he would never deserve.

Chatham was less fancy than the inn from last night, but it held the quaint air of the town. No suite was theirs, but a cozy room with a fireplace and a view to the sea. Moonlight caught waves rippling far from the shore, but they gentled before lapping the beach. Something about the location caused them to still so lullaby replaced any roar.

Aeris sat on the brick lip near the fire, warming her hands and her face. Exhaustion and hunger fought hard for possession, and the former nearly won the bout. It was only an instant, but sleep took her over so she almost tumbled with a yawn to the floor. Sephiroth caught her from behind so she fell against his chest. Her eyes were shut as she turned her head in complete trust and utter surrender. Her guardian looked down with unbridled torture, as he enveloped her in his embrace.

“I have you, little flower.”

“I know…” was her reply. “It’s why I’m never afraid to fall.” She rested her hands on leather clad arms whose strength could not be matched. “You’re far warmer than the fire. It’s nice…” she whispered as a knock sounded at the door.

“That’s dinner, Aeris,” Sephiroth promised. “I’m going to lean you against the mantle. Are you cold? Do you want my coat?”

“No, it’s fine. You’re just answering the door…I’ll be in your arms again soon. It’s worth it…” She looked up, face lit from within and touched his cheek with her fingertips. “Those few moments…with a little cold to remind me of what soon awaits…”

He realized his heart, despite its perfection, had not been built for this type of agony. It was a heart made for war for death and destruction, never meant to accept forgiveness. The summons came again and he leaned suddenly forward to kiss her temple before standing up. He positioned her as easily as one would a doll before opening the door to aroma’s fog. The young woman delivering blinked up at his face and immediately forgot how to speak. He still wasn’t remiss in tendered thank you and left her gleeful to near skip away.

His little flower remained where he had placed her, breath steady in between swaths of sleep. The floor was upholstered in soft piled carpet, and he knew she wouldn’t mind. Picking her up, he descended to his knees and placed her leaning before. “Aeris?” he called not too loud to startle so sleepy summer was revealed.

“Oh.” She blinked with a little stretch in the perimeter of his arms. “I think I may be just too tired to eat.”

“You should try to have a little.” He lifted the lid of the platter before them on the carpeted floor. “I should’ve thought to bring something for you to have for a midday meal.”

“Well to be fair you carried me at least half the way. You always seem to know when I’m tired.” This close to him and more awake his fair scent even bested the meal, but concerned emerald had her peering around to what would be this night’s repast. Seafood soup with mutton pie and there was bread to dip in the broth. She nibbled on the pie, ate the moistened bread, and had a few spoonfuls of soup, but it was the tea afterwards that brought her the most satisfaction. That and her guardian’s arms.

No light shone but fire and emerald, which trumped the subdued flames, and in his eyes the shadows danced for they too were filled with his light. She rested against his chest, supported by one arm, sipping her tea with a little smile. He slipped her other hand into his still half clothed in black leather. It wasn’t enough. He needed soft skin so smooth against his palm. As if I deserve it, the general thought. The hands that spilled her blood. But the thought didn’t stop him from removing the glove and folding her fingers in his warmth.

“You know,” he pondered half to himself, “I haven’t killed anything today.” Mako light scattered against the window like sprinkled stars on the firmament.

Aeris blinked up. Her tea was half gone, and it was chamomile to push her to dreams. “Is that such a terrible thing, Sephiroth?”

“It’s a strange thing,” the once general allowed. His slivered eyes still cut the beyond. “I was made for killing, but today I did nothing but protect.”

“That seems to me quite wonderful, since I was the one protected.”

“But I didn’t really do that either.” He shifted his gaze down, hiding surprise at her still beaming smile. “There was nothing to threaten you today, little flower. No one to bring you harm.”

“But you were there in case something did.” She wriggled a bit closer and he carefully tightened his grip at her waist. “And besides…” Aeris admitted closing her eyes, “I love being in your arms.” She sighed and turned her face to black leather where his scent was so sweet below. “Will you read to me, Sephiroth?”

“You know I will,” he murmured rubbing her palm. “You don’t ever have to ask.”

“How should I request it then?” She squinted up so all she could see was his light.

“Just…tell me to.”

“No, I won’t do that. You’re not mine to command.”

“I’m not so sure about that, Aeris,” he said. “I would do anything you asked.”

The Cetra bit her lip as summer green quivered like grass blades before a storm. “What if I asked you to kill someone?”

“Would you really ask that of me, Aeris? Does the rose crave blood at last?”

“No.” She shivered, and he let go of her hand to enclose her in both of his arms. “Not at all, but…what if I did? What would you do? What would happen if I did ask?”

Sorrow stole the lie that was his joy even as it hid behind his face. “You would truly ask me to take life after what you endured?”

“No, Sephiroth. I’m…so very sorry. You know I never would.” She lowered her head, squeezing hard her lids, until long fingers lifted her chin. The little Cetra was quite shocked to see the beginnings of a smile.

“What do I keep saying? Never—“

“Apologize. Yes, Sephiroth, I know.”

“Where’s your book, little flower?” She reached in her coat’s pocket and pulled the volume forth.

“Read the love song, won’t you please?”

But the tome opened up to something else, and he read that instead.

“Death be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for, thou art not so,
For, those, whom thou think’st, thou dost overthrow,
Die not…”


Author’s Note:  The poem at the end of this chapter is Death Be Not Proud by John Donne, and it belongs to him and his estate.  I can take no credit for that work.  I was actually going to have Seph read Aeris the Prufrock poem again (and it is referenced), but that one had been rattling around my head for fairly obvious reasons.  Oh, if you want to see some adorable artwork of a young Sephiroth reading to an even younger Aeris, check out here, here, and here. Again it must be said that theses are not my pictures.  I did not draw them; I did not create them.  Unfortunately the one who did is unknown.  The links from my Pinterest lead to an empty tumblr.

Oh, and the chapter picture totally inspired that final reading scene.  That’s why I wrote it as it was.  I found the picture and knew I had to write a scene around it.  I mean, he’s reading to her for goodness’ sake! ❤

The next chapter is entitled Despair’s Desire, and it will be posted next Friday June 5.  Again as always, thank you for your support!

<–Chapter 9                                                                                                  Chapter 11–>

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