Chapter 20 – Rising Shadow

<<–Preamble/Prelude
<–Chapter 19                                                                                                Chapter 21–>

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 artwork for this chapter is entitled FF7 – Sephiroth and was created by Deviant Artist Ninjatic All rights belong to the artist, and the work is used graciously with permission here.
“So farewell hope, and with hope farewell fear,
Farewell remorse; all good to me is lost…”
-John Milton “Paradise Lost”

FF7___Sephiroth_by_NinjaticThe sun was far higher than Aeris was used to and the Planet laughed below. It was the tiniest seam between the curtains that let the light find her eyes. Her bed was empty, but memory remained and as usually he’d wrapped her in blankets. The flower girl yawned and slowly sat up, chestnut locks falling around. She gave a little gasp while clearing her hair, not expecting to be so sore, but bit back the smile on her lips for that hadn’t been a dream.

Rubbing her eyes, she peered to her nightstand to see rising wisps of steam. A cup of tea rested there, perfectly warm to her clasping hands. How does he always know? she wondered as earl grey eased her tongue. The covers slipped down to bare a pale shoulder as the flower girl smelled something else. Decidedly breakfast had crept up the stairs, items she did not have. The mystery was almost as sweet as her drink, but her mind fluttered to other things. Looking down she found her castaway clothes and the blue ribbon tumbled upon. The dress was slipped over with bow tied tight when the Planet said she should look up.

A shiver danced along Aeris’s skin at the sight of emerald and pale. He was garbed in all black as per his normal with the pauldrons still gone. Silver swept over down to his knees, and the high bangs framed his face. Aeris stood, running straight into his arms to Sephiroth’s still sweet surprise.

“Awake now at last, my little flower?” he chuckled, easily sweeping her up. Her skin like fresh cream and that dress oh so white melded against leather black. He was holding her high with only one arm so reached up to find her lips. Aeris cupped his face in her small palms, as he covered half of hers with his one. Sephiroth carried her back to the rumpled bed, setting her down as he sank to his knees.

“What time is it?” Aeris asked while clutching the hands on her thighs.

“After one.” The general kissed her brow shaking stray strands from his face.

“Oh gods,” she gasped, glancing toward the window. “Did I really sleep that long?”

“Well…” He couldn’t hide the smile like a cat in the cream. “You did have quite a long night.”

Aeris covered her face to hide the blush, and Sephiroth was instantly shamed.

“I’m sorry, little flower.” But she shook her head, and then he heard the titter behind. Ever so gently he opened her hands to confirm it was mirth not chagrin.

She breathed in deeply before the long sigh, filling nostrils with savory scent. “What’s that smell from downstairs?”

“I made you breakfast.”

“Are you real? Do you truly exist?”

He tilted his head, lids halved to emerald gleam. “I believe I am and do. If this is the dream, I pray my nightmares are less than scattered dust…” She saw only an instant of what he had suffered after the night before.

“You’re wonderful…you know that?” She touched his cheek, and he laid his hand over this gift.

“I’m your protector, little one, tasked to ensure that you’re safe.”

The flower girl giggled. “I didn’t realize making me breakfast was a matter of life or death.”

“I owe you happiness, Aeris,” he solemnly said. “It’s the least that I can do.”

“It’s beneath you,” she told him, “and so is this. This…kneeling at my feet. I’m no one to worship. I’m just me-”

“The Planet’s blesséd daughter.” He took the hand that graced his cheek and kissed her tender palm. “And beneath me, little one?” His face was so sad, she did question the prior night. “I tried to destroy this world you love. What else could lie below?”

Another shiver rode her skin, more frigid than the first. “I..I didn’t have very much in my pantry. Wh-What did you find to make?”

Sephiroth smiled, but she saw beyond that it didn’t reach his eyes. “You had nothing at all for breakfast so I had to go to the store.”

“Wait. You went grocery shopping?”

“Yes.”

“Dressed…like that.”

“Yes. Why?”

She laughed aloud to his raised brow and then kissed him like the sky would fall. The general stood as their tongues converged, tilting her chin to uphold the dance. He sat down beside her on the bed to taste the tea and dew far sweeter. Clasping the back of her neck with one hand before sliding it under her braid. His other sought her minute fingers as she threaded them all within his. Dear gods, he thought, I want to plow this little flower until all our tomorrows are spent… Even with last night he still felt ashamed, parting from her lips with a sigh. The Cetra looked up from behind a blind smile, squeezing her hands within his.

“What gives you such mirth, Aeris?” he asked and that phrasing, too, caused such innocent laughter.

She opened her eyes and beamed up to see him now sitting by her side. “It’s just…” Her checks pinkened. “It’s just hard to imagine you doing something so mundane.”

“I did it before.”

“I know you did.” She reached for her tea, and Sephiroth handed her the mug. “Thank you.” It was still good though cooling as she took a taste then offered some to him. He wouldn’t refuse her to have a small sip, placing the cup back in her hands. “I just…never thought about it.” A bang fell across her face, and the flower girl blew it aside. With a half smile, Sephiroth tucked the errant strand behind one of her ears. She lifted the cup so big in her grasp, to finish the rest of the brew. “We can be, you know.” It was so soft no regular ears could’ve heard.

“Can be what?” He relieved her of the mug to set it on the stand.

“Like this…sipping tea, speaking of nothing, living in the light. A-After it’s done.” She shuddered, and the crack in the curtains seemed to close tighter in. “After we’ve found it, we could come back here and be like this.”

“You mean,” he said slowly, “we could be normal.” Sephiroth envisioned them holding hand to hand beneath a sky that rained white flowers. Past the walls, beyond the seas to a land he never dreamed could be, but darkness was rising, creeping over the sky, rendering cracks in his foolish façade.

“Well…” A tiny finger twisted a strand of moonlight. “The last scion of the Ancients and the Great General Sephiroth could hardly be considered ‘normal.’” She laughed while leaning forward to lay a palm on his cheek. “But we could be together, and you could be happy at last.”

Sephiroth took both of her hands and kissed them soft, closing his eyes to this lovelier dream. Please let me keep it. I have darkness enough, and that is what we soon go to face.

“You truly want me to live here…with you in this paradise?”

“Yes…” Her voice cracked to the pain that his wouldn’t. “I want that more than anything.”

“And that will make you happy?” He couldn’t believe it, as memory mocked his grief.

“There isn’t a word for what that will make me, not in one or a thousand tongues. What better reward for a redeemed angel?”

“I’m not redeemed, Aeris. I’m ever fallen.”

“Forgiveness can right that wrong.”

He stood with the Cetra in his arms embraced full in her mercy. It was as though she’d been shaped to fit there as he was made to dwell in such grace. “You should eat breakfast, little flower,” he said, carrying her towards the door, “before it grows too cold.” She nodded then forgot as he kissed her deep stealing the breath of her words. She answered him full with a song through her lips as she clung to his leather clad shoulders. The wall by the doorway was cool on her back, but it warmed quicker than memory could. He wanted her in that instant, in that very now wanted cream skin to blush against frost.

“May I, Aeris? May I have you again?” he whispered and she pulled back.

“What did I tell you? I’ll never say no.”

“I’ll still always ask, little flower.”

“Every time?”

“Yes, every time. I won’t take you without your permission.”

“What if I said I’d never deny you? Your desire matches my own.”

“What if you were tired or sore or annoyed? I’ll still always ask…”

Aeris kissed him before she gave too much away, and his hands rode down her sides. The smooth summer dress had been made for such touch and revealed a truth that caused him to smile. It was sweetly illicit to see her full covered, but know that beneath she was bare. Parting her lips with a thrust of his tongue, Sephiroth drowned in summer’s heat. Aeris’s arms tangled around his neck as he slid a palm between her thighs. Within the kiss the flower girl gasped, fingers curved as her back towards him. She clung to the marble beneath leather black, looking up with waiting eyes. Tossed silver, half smile, and deft hidden fingers found the barriers that stood in their way.

Ever so careful he penetrated those petals as the white dress spilled around. Holding her wrists in a gentle vice, Sephiroth slowly spread every fold. His unblinking gaze marked each reaction to the flawless slide in and out. Never could the general have dreamed how utterly willing she’d be. Her throat was exposed so he covered her pulse with his mouth and a bare hint of teeth. It fluttered against as it hummed in his ears, and he peered up with a low, knowing chuckle.   His flower below was softer than silk, more delicate than lace, and Sephiroth leaned forward, his brow to hers unbelieving her utter joy. He was ever watchful, ever careful not to plow too deep, but each thrust declared the undeniable truth, “You belong to me.”

Aeris looked up through the radiant fall of Mako light on her face. Her voice finally failed her. She was quivering weak from being so brought, and her lips shaped his name in their silence. He drove his tongue into her deep in mimicry of below, switching the rhythm, upping the tempo so the Cetra didn’t know what to expect.

“Can I…” she forced out, “can I have…my hands…my hands back…please?”

“Of course, little flower.” It was instant release, and, “I’m so very sorry.”

“Don’t be…” A damp palm slid down his cheek. “You know I love your strength, but I want your hair between my fingers.”

He shook it so it shimmered upon her skin, and Aeris saw nothing but light. Against her face the strands gleamed in jade, but the moonlight was still unstolen. A sudden sharp thrust contorted her features with a tiny, whimpering cry. The general froze and pressed their brows to a chorus of heart rent apologies. Shaking his head, he clutched her small shoulders and squeezed his eyes until light burst.

“It’s alright,” she told him.

“No, Aeris, it’s not…I hurt you, little rose.” He turned away as she kissed his temple.

“And then you instantly stopped.”

“You cried out in pain.”

“One cry of pain in a sea of joy. I think, my love, it’s worth it.” Tiny fingers trickled down his cheek and the general faced his fear. She was smiling and flushed with pleasure in pink, rouged cheeks and stolen rose lips. “Just because it might hurt doesn’t mean it isn’t worth it.” She shifted her hips beneath the white dress.

Sephiroth squeezed a fist to the wall to reenter his little flower. Ever so slowly he pushed through her tautness, watching each nuance of joy. Then shut his eyes to the beat of his lashes and the light that bled through thin lids. The softest petals and most tender folds opened only for him.

“I belong to you, my general,” she whispered. “I’m yours and yours alone.” She slanted her mouth against his, tying the promise between their tongues.

“You are, little flower,” he answered between kisses, within the depth of each thrust. “But how is this possible? How can such a thing be?”

“It is because I wish it.” Her hand shook on his cheek. “I am forever yours.”

Sephiroth captured both her wrists and pinned them above her head. Jaded eyes seared her upturned face as swifter thrusts made her writhe. She asked for her hands, and he let her go to slip slim arms around his neck. Aeris was splayed on the wall of his shoulders as he plunged so deep and slow. The skirt of her dress hid sight of their union, but it couldn’t conceal her reaction. Sephiroth half smiled, as she parted her lips like the petals spread wide below.

“You wish to tell me something, Aeris?”

She tried, but the Planet just laughed in her heart undisturbed by its frantic thrum.

“What was that?” he gently taunted. “I apologize. You’ll have to say it louder. There are some things even I can’t hear.”

She wanted to glare, but ecstasy caught her so she only managed his name.

“Hm, is that so? Quite interesting. You’re calling me, but I’m already here.” He tilted his head as she made a fist on his shoulder. The other hand he caught to thread their fingers, which she squeezed with all her might. The general chuckled. “It is my full name, and not the truncation. Is that what you mean, little rose?” He went slower and deeper like richest, smooth honey so Aeris bloomed fold by fold. It took her before she realized it would, but he knew and so cradled her head. She buried her fingers in his pale hair as the spasms arched her spine. Sephiroth laughed so low. “So that is what you wanted.” He kissed her brow. “Are you satisfied for now?” But Aeris only fell against his shoulder, aftershocks stealing her speech. She clung there as his final full thrusts laid his brow to hers. Smiling beneath his sudden shut eyes before lifting the Cetra up. He re-buttoned his pants and re-clasped his belt as he murmured, “My sweet, little flower.”

Her eyes were shut to shivering skin and soreness that still pulsed sweet. She threaded her fingers through silver hair though they twitched in the aftermath. His step was so smooth, Aeris barely noticed him carrying her downstairs, but when he set her down on the cushioned chair, she clung to his neck in a sudden fear.

“I’m not going to leave you, Aeris,” he promised. “I’m right here by your side.” She relinquished her hold to clutch his hands with their marvelous strength unmatched. Looking up and up until her neck hurt, and she bit her well used lips.

“I love your height. I love your strength. I love your beauty so.”

Sephiroth shook his head and crouched, but the smile lit lovely his face. “Which do you love most, Aeris?”

“Your gentleness above all.”

The laughter brought rue to flawless features. “That isn’t the trait for which I’m well known. Killing is why I was made.”

“Killing is not all you’re good for. Believe me, Sephiroth, I know…” She squeezed his hands hard, as he kissed her brow. “I’m glad that I can’t hurt you.” The words were half thought. “I’d be constantly crushing your fingers.”

“You could very easily hurt me, Aeris.” He thumbed a wisp of her tousled hair.

“How so?”

“Do you forgive me?”

“Yes with all of my heart.”

“Do you love me?”

“With that and my soul.” Tears welled like a meadow in rain.

He kissed her softly seeing her shaded in light behind his lids. “I’d be nothing without that, Aeris,” he told her. “Less than a dream of the dark.”

“Which is better forgiveness or love?”

“I believe they are one and the same. You couldn’t love me if you didn’t forgive me.”

“W-Well what do you love most about me?” She wiped her tears and he then kissed her hand.

“There’s nothing I don’t. There’s nothing I can’t. You fill all the dark spaces inside. You fashioned love into a blade and with it pierced my heart…”

She forced her sobs down, leaning forward to press her lips to his again. Sephiroth stood, still holding the moment until his very height made them part. He pushed in her chair, and it was then Aeris noticed the table was set. He’d made her more tea and eggs with thyme, and there was bacon, too.

“How do you always know?”   But Sephiroth only drank his coffee and brushed his knuckles against her cheek.

A clarion blast interrupted the meal, and Aeris jumped to drop her fork. The general caught it with barely a glance more concerned with her racing heart. “Hm,” he pondered over a sip, “that’s the second time it’s rung today.”

“Oh dear gods…” Aeris covered her mouth. “The only person it could be is Edwin.”

“Edwin?” He couldn’t help the half grin. “Another suitor now, little flower?”

“Well…” She blushed in the blaring echo. “You did tell me to ‘find someone worthy of my love.’”

He set his cup down and glanced over sadly, “And did you obey that, Aeris?”

“I…tried but you know I couldn’t.” She took his hand between her two.

“The second time you’ve disobeyed me, my flower.” He brushed her bangs aside as the phone faded away. “I can’t say that I’m not glad.”

“I’ve had my fill of puppies,” she told him, “and a general demolished my heart. It’s way too full of you to ever have room for any other.”

“I’m sorry about that, Aeris…”

She kissed his fingers to Sephiroth’s continual surprise. “Only you’d apologize for that.”

“If it makes you feel any better then you must know my broken heart only whispers your name.” He bowed his head pressing his lips to her little hand. “Tell me though, little flower, was he worthy of your love?”

“No.”

“Why ever not?” The general cocked his head to the side. Then something froze in falling light. “Aeris, was he…inappropriate with you?”

“No, no, never once!” She silenced the death that dwelled in Mako eyes, and Sephiroth sighed relieved, too.

“Good. I don’t have to kill him,” he said. “But then why was he unworthy?” Confusion filled the angelic face.

“He wasn’t you. You’re the only one worthy of my love.”

Sephiroth blinked utterly robbed of speech as bemusement now spread to awe.

“He was just another puppy.” She wiggled closer, filling her gaze with split emerald light. “And I much prefer cats.” He bent to kiss her over their clasped hands, and all thoughts of Edwin of puppies or cats were lost in the twirl of their tongues. The next ring made her giggle against perfect lips as he lifted her onto his lap. The heat of each kiss meant so much more than the blare that soon faded away.

A lock of silver circled one finger as Aeris leaned against his chest. She heaved a sigh, a bit annoyed. “I was only gone two days.”

Sephiroth chuckled, “Clearly he missed you.” He laid lips to her crown. “My thoughts only held you when I left.” Cupping her chin the bright eyes lit her face as he took in the love that it held. “You have a way, little one, of getting inside, of weaving your light through a soul.”

She wet her lips to make the jade smolder. “I barely gave him any attention and I think we only kissed twice.”

“Ah so there were kisses.” He grinned without envy to her blush.

“Puppy ones,” she admitted. “Nothing like this…” She reached up and Sephiroth met her halfway. Her voice so hidden in the folds of embrace made it that much sweeter. She completed the cycle clinging to his neck as heat seared her tongue without burn.

“What will you tell your Edwin?” Sephiroth asked in between. A hand slid down her back arcing Aeris’s spine as her fingers curled against his chest.

“Well, he was never really mine.” And I never fit against him…like I do with you. The words were unsaid, but his smile grew true as if he had still heard.

“Do you want me to break the news?” His head slightly tilted and shiver thin pupils receded in teasing gleam.

“Oh you’d frighten him half to death!” Aeris gasped envisioning poor Edwin frozen in emerald green. The snicker that followed made her feel awful for the mayor’s timid son.

Sephiroth’s low laugh blended with her mirth as he bowed his brow to hers. He tightened his arms so carefully round, inhaling scent from summer sweet skin. “I’d only tell him one thing, the truth. That you belong to me.”

“And do you belong to me, as well?” she tittered glancing up with a grin.

“Of course,” he said gently, lashes sweeping his cheeks as he rubbed his knuckles over her throat.

“It’s funny to think that…since I’m wrapped in your arms, and you could easily snap me in two…”

“You know I’d never do that, Aeris,” his voice was hushed and horrified. The flower maid gazed up through Mako light and into the heart of grief.

“I know,” she assured kissing his cheek, which caused the great eyes to close. When he unsealed his lids, pain was still there, but joy was trying to flourish. “My Great General…” She nestled her head beneath his chin, and Sephiroth stroked her hair.

“You are mine, Aeris, to love and protect.” Dark clung to his words for what the past would dredge up.

“So are you…” The world rang with black tones. She shivered a bit then glanced towards sunlight that was still uninformed of thoughts fell. “I did write that silly boy a letter, but I suppose I’d better call.”

“And what will you tell him, Aeris?” Sephiroth asked, planting the smile on his visage.

“Also the truth.” She twisted moon locks. “I’m in love with a broken angel.”

“You’re in love with the angel of death…”

She wanted the salt and the wind in her face to fight undertones of darkness, but once on her porch the waves rolled and grew from a whisper to a roar.

“I’ve never heard the sea like this.” She covered her mouth with her hands.

Sephiroth held her from behind, face a blank canvas of pale. The sky seemed suspended, half shadowed in cloud, half tendriled with stretching sun. There were more monsters. They’d grown quite bold on the outer edge of town, but that was too close…too close to her house, and ire stained emerald like glass. Within his arms, his little rose shook, and he turned his attention back down. The veranda was courted and coddled and wooed by blossoms as white as the beach. Around it upon it between the cracks they grew in stark miracle. Sand was no soil for these types of blooms, and in the rush of the waves he soft smiled.

“I didn’t think roses would grow by the sea.”

Aeris jerked her head up at that. Her own slim arms were held too tight as he slid his palms slow over. The Planet was frantic and waxed incoherent in trying to read the sea, but his touch brought her peace, and Aeris sighed as she loosened her grip.

“They do now,” she answered grinning at petals in fold. “The Planet sort of does what it wants at least in regards to my flowers. They’re all the same color, white as new ice, or winter, or silver, or moon…” She was no longer looking at her blooms, but the hair that mocked the same. The stronger wind fought it, lifting his bangs, but unable to toss heavy mane. Sephiroth raised his brows in memory and reached into his coat. The flower girl twisted around curious before an, “Oh,” escaped her lips.

“Do you remember this, Aeris? Your second gift to me. Look how it ever blooms.” The lily so withered, so battered and worn revived itself in his hand. The flower girl gasped and reached out for memory to meet touch.

“Oh my gods…I do remember. I gave this to you in my church.” She closed her palms around the flower and against her skin it shone. Behind her eyes the ones she’d left remembered her little song.

“When I was alone…” He cupped both her hands in the broad expanse of his palm. “I held to this light and remembered you in its glow. This is your doing, Aeris,” he said looking down into summer green.

“No, it’s not me.” She shook her head. “It’s all you, Sephiroth.”

The general frowned. “How could such a thing be?” He touched a soft petal and the fragrance increased though the wind tried to tear it away.

“I don’t know.” Aeris made a face. “The Planet’s being petulant now.” She glared down for a moment then jolted for shame. “Or it’s worried about other things…” The flower girl lifted the lily to him, and Sephiroth paused before taking it back. “You said this was my ‘second gift.’ What was my first to you?”

“Forgiveness, little one, then this lily…then you gave me the heart I once took…” The flawless mask broke to bitter rue, and she leaned back against his chest.

The wind shivered with winter and the flower girl shook, startled from sorrow with fear. He cloaked her tighter in his embrace to fight near choking cold.

“We have to go soon,” his voice had turned flat and grieved as the drums of the dead. “We can’t delay for long.”

“Yes, Sephiroth, the Planet agrees. It’s utterly clear about that.”

“The cold winds are rising…the greatest cold that lives beyond all the ages of the world. Vile and ceaseless and never once still.”

She shuddered even tight held in his arms, and the Great General pulled her closer. “Yes…though it has been here for only two eons its corruption could outlast the Planet itself. It is old and in that it may be ancient…”

“It deserves not that name,” he almost did hiss. “Old it may be and long may it seethe, but you share nothing of it. Your people and it will not be called within the same warm breath. The darkness will come. Imminent darkness…just like she said.” He was utterly rigid as though turned to stone, and his emerald eyes glittered like ice. Aeris shook to lay her palm to his skin, terrified it would be just as cold, but Sephiroth’s warmth still dwelt within, though the muscle mimicked mountains beneath. Her touch drew him out of that statuesque shell, and the general looked down to his rose. “There’s only one way to go to Midgar, Aeris. I cannot sidestep there…”

She shivered and leaned against him hard. “I’m almost glad for that.”

He nodded. “It wouldn’t be wise even if I could, not with what lies within.” His Mako eyes narrowed in scrutiny. “Are you afraid of heights?”

“I won’t be with you, Sephiroth.” She stretched to touch his face. “I once woke up afraid every day of my life, but now I fear no more.”

Locking his hands around her belly, the general poured his light in her eyes. “I know what we’ll find there and yet I don’t, Aeris, but I’m certain it’ll spread from the source. Poisoning all, starting below…as it did before. The foundation-”

“We’ll find it.” She clutched his great hands, hoping her belief was enough. “We’ll stop it. I did it before, and now I have you by my side.” The little Cetra shook her head wracked with guilt for her own transgressions. “Why did I ever leave the city…my purpose was there all along.”

“You needed your freedom. You needed your time to live and know joy in the sun.”

“But what about the others who didn’t have that choice?”

“That’s not your fault, little flower.” He inhaled so sharply it called a low hiss, and his heart broke to the fear in her eyes. “It’s calling me, Aeris…” he had to admit. “It’s tugging the threads of my heart, pulling me to glory and pain, but I have no desire for empty lies and pain has been too well known.” Sephiroth ground his teeth, and the wrath that bled was against horror and not now for. “It will be answered, but not by its wish. It has to be destroyed.”

“I won’t let you face it alone,” she promised. “You won’t be left for the dark.”

The anger receded and shattered to love as the general pulled her close. She met what was blatant and pouring heat down with the wrath that still limned the edges, and even beyond to the shame of his fear, the pain of his guilt never dying.

“It lies in the tower deep down below.” The blood left her face as the waves tossed and roared. “Everything’s blurry like a smeared dream, but there is something there.” He shook his head glaring in Midgar’s direction. “Something…left. That’s where it comes from.” He could find it in darkness with no eye light. Memory would lead him there.

Preparation meant they’d have to go about town, and she had to call Edwin ere that. Not that she expected the mayor’s son to make a scene, but it seemed the most courteous thing. Aeris could envision those boring brown eyes widening past his face at such sight. He’d probably just stammer before running away, and she sighed as the tone broke the silence.

Sephiroth grimly paced before her bay window, finding flaw with a myriad plans. It makes no difference, he thought watching the sun sink in shadow. I’ll destroy it before it harms her. Blood Ancient and pure must never be spilled. That’s all that matters now. His ears perked up as he heard her speak, and despite all amusement still spread.

“Edwin. Yes, I am back. You did receive my letter. I told you…I went to find my love.”

A jolt tore through Sephiroth’s heart. Aeris had said it, but it was another thing to hear her choose him over all. He stepped over to her with boots ever soundless to run smooth fingers over her throat.

The flower girl gasped. “Y-Yes I’m fine.” She glared up into pulsing jade, and Sephiroth chuckled smiling down. “I’m sorry, Edwin. I know you did. It wasn’t fair what I did to you.” He brushed his lips beneath her braid to the shivering skin of her neck. Pressing them soft to fragrant warmth as the flower girl tried to breathe.

“Ah…I’m sorry, it’s only the sea. It’s…far louder today.” Aeris gritted her teeth in perceived annoyance, and her general halved his lids. Long lashes fluttered in the wake of her breath as the flower girl begged him in silence.

“I’m so happy your parents liked me. I pray they’ll like me still. I hope one day we can be friends, but I’ll give you what time you need-” A large hand had crept up her belly to cup one breast and whispers revived in her ear. What he would do so exquisitely slow til she drowned in pleasure’s depths. Aeris’s knees nearly gave way as his lips to her neck sealed the promise. She clutched the phone tight to her ear for something mundane to hold.

“I…I…yes. No, no, I’m fine, just tired from my…t-travels.” She whirled around and Sephiroth nibbled her throat without a hint of mercy. Both mirth and need spun gleaming light as Aeris thanked the gods for the boy’s rambling speech. She covered the mouthpiece for whimper so torn and the deep laughter that followed. Sephiroth leaned to her ear and poured his low voice like honey as Aeris quaked.

“You belong only to me, little flower, and not to this boy who calls you ‘Miss Airs.’”

Shock spun the Cetra as he only grinned and kissed her brow before rising above.

“E-Edwin, I have to go. I have some errands to run. Yes, goodbye. I’m…sorry again.” She hung up the phone and stomped forward. Her guardian cocked his head to the side, crooked grin on his perfect lips. “So you were eavesdropping?!” She put her hands on her hips. “I never took the Great General for that.”

“I tried to tune out your little talk, but happened to just catch that.”

The flower girl sighed, dropping her arms. “He never once said it right. I should’ve known it wouldn’t work out.” She looked up at him shielding his grief with this mask of mirth. Finishing her step into his arms so she was shrouded in silver skein. “I love the way you say it.”

He bent low and breathed her name along the side of her neck. Aeris shuddered at that from her skin to her heart, and Sephiroth felt that beat through his soul.

“So will you keep all those promises you made?” The Cetra glanced up shyly coy.

“I’ll always keep my promises to you.”

He cupped her chin as the kiss caught her lips, but the grim of the sea stole their joy. Deeper than shadows to lay fear like ice, and the Planet whispered, Hurry. Though Sephiroth did not hear that cry, he felt it through her skin.

Their preparations took little time, but the world still urged her on. Its voice was forlorn, not like before, as though sorrow now ate at its heart. She never saw Edwin within Wesker’s Square and was both relieved and sad. The former emotion did not last long. The rumbling sea saw to that. The air of the Whispers turned grey as high vaults, and the people were shadowed below. Aeris trembled even clutching Sephiroth’s hand to the sky shelf that lingered above. A storm without warning that never did break but never ceased bearing down. Stores closed earlier citing small reasons that hid stark behind greater fear, and the crafts that shuffled and bobbed at the pier went out less and less each day. Rumors of monsters passed below breath, and in the shadows hid unspoken past. They couldn’t feel the very world hounding their steps, but knew something was awry.

The night before Aeris thought she heard thunder and quaked in her general’s arms. It was hard to tell as the wind howled to scold the rough sea that now boiled in foam. The groan from above (or was it below?) tore her from euphoria. The afterwards of lovemaking that should’ve been sweet behind gentle summer eyes.

“Aeris,” he murmured, clutching her close, “I will kill anyone or anything that ever tries to hurt you.”

“I don’t want you to kill anyone ever again.” His broken heart filled her ears.

“Neither do I.” In the dark emerald shone and she laid a hand next to that light. “It’s strange, but I truly don’t. I want this to end…I want to be free, but that will never be, little rose.”

“You will. I promise.” She stretched up to lay lips to her brow. Lost light proved he’d sealed his lids, and he held that til slumber found her. He wouldn’t sleep, but he would watch over as a good guardian should. Light would be needed no matter how fell for tomorrow the darkness would rise.

 

*

 

The mirror held vision of calmer veneer as Aeris tied up her hair. The braid and high bangs that framed her pale face even whiter against her brown dress. The air was still heavy from her warm shower, and she cleared clinging damp from the glass. I was wrong in Midgar, she thought to her mimic, far beneath the stones. I am still that pink ingénue…she’ll always live within. The slums didn’t kill her, the dark didn’t change her, and death did not wash her away. Her garb was frayed and fuzzy, but she’d rather that than something new. In Midgar before this would’ve been practical for far more serious reasons, but Aeris had no thoughts to spare for clutching, lustful hands. She wished that was the worst of fears as she looped a white ribbon around.

Her general stood tall on the balcony cutting the sea with pupils like blades. The waves thrashed the sand, which fizzled and whined, freeing shells that flashed white in the gloom. Sun residue flickered through layered skies. It was as though the storm had compounded, and only the sea tossed in its sway. The roar was in protest without any power, and the great waters now begged for help.

Silver on leather tumbled down long over dazzling pauldrons above. Aeris wondered if he’d polished them, then lost breath and thought as he turned. Sephiroth’s face held its mask even with her in his sight. Only eyes that knew could through see the seams within such flawless armor. Every buckle on his coat and boots burned with borrowed light. Moonlight and ashes framed his face so flawlessly cold before. He was the Great General, SOLDIER First Class whose strength reigned supreme over all.

Each step Aeris took towards him she feared her knees would give way. Awe in the grandeur had her staring up with eyes too dry to blink. This was what he’d been long ago before abomination raped his mind. The arrogance, the glory, the utter belief that he was better than all. Then he clasped her shoulders and all but the beauty turned into dust of the past.

“I won’t let anything hurt you, Aeris.”

“I know you won’t, Sephiroth.” His fingers were warm within the black gloves even through her brown dress.

“And I would die a thousand times more to save one drop of your innocent blood.”

“Don’t talk like that.” Her voice waned in hush. “You’re not going to die,” she commanded as her heart shamed the roar of the tide. “I’m not going to let that happen.”

“Rather me then you, my innocent one.” He bowed his head to smile so sad. “You’ve died for me before…besides,” he said caressing the skin so soft beneath her chin, “I doubt that I can. Horror keeps me alive as eugenics makes me strong.”

“It’s not so horrible then anymore if it provides that grace.”

Sephiroth slid his palm over her cheek, still in awe of her kindness. “When we come back…we’ll pick up right where we left off.” The desperation spared his voice, but turned the emerald to glass, and the maid did blink to obscure tears that would break his heart more if she shed. “I’m the worse thing that’s ever happened to you, Aeris, and I protect you now.”

“You do far more than just protect me…” She stepped into his arms. Sephiroth traced the curve of her spine, hiding the pain of this trust. Once he became what he appeared now, the general had never known fear. That was for weak and broken children not glory that silverly gleamed, but to fail her now would lie within the very worst of his crimes.

“We should go…” Aeris forced herself say for in his arms she forgot the night. The sky that looked torn became blue and fair, and the Planet laughed like a child at play. They went back inside and he shut the door so the wind left the drapes in peace. She slipped on her coat from the closet downstairs, the green one untroubled by moths. It had known Midgar before just like her brown dress. The darkness and dank would be new to her boots, and she tried hard to quiet her fingers. Larger ones and steady took the tying task away, and he lifted her chin to speak love through a kiss. Her staff and her satchel were put in their place, and Aeris tied the oak stick to a strap. Halfway to blindness with tears in her eyes that she angrily chased with her hand. This was not the time. She was dutiful daughter, and she knew what she had to do.

The sea surged before them foam coating their boots as Sephiroth held her from behind. His gaze pierced the distance, and she looked up in wonder not daring to ask what he could see.

“You know…your lashes look just like wings.” It was innocent against creeping dark. Even the Planet so mired in woe sparked a swift song at those words.

He pressed his hands to her soft belly within the careful embrace. Not daring to pray, but wishing he could ask greater will to keep this rose safe. My strength…it has to be enough. Why else do I have it now? He lifted his lips to mimic a smile and hide his expression so grim.

“It would be strange if I only had one set, don’t you think, little flower?” She returned him his smile as the waves at their feet tumbled and roared in the gloom. “Shall we go? Fate is calling…” Her mirth dissolved and Aeris nodded before Sephiroth swept her up. She clung to his neck squeezing so close his scent became her whole world. Silk wove vanilla like frost on glass panes, but the warmth there belied struggling sun. The white caps broke fizzling against his black boots, as the general walked away from the Whispers. Eyes cutting shadows and watching for monsters, which grew bolder to stir in the day. When the distance was ample, he whirled towards the sea so his coat and hair flared like two wings.

“Look at my face, Aeris.”

Lifting her head she stared at loveliness lit by grief. He held her chin gently within firm veneer so she didn’t attempt to turn.

“Will it be painful?” the Cetra asked.

“Yes. It rips through my flesh.”

Her lip trembled beneath the press of his thumb.

“It’s fine, little one. It’s worth it to me.”

“Why?”

“Because the alternative drags you through darkness…and I have you in my arms.”

Within Mako light the agony of that great, black wing unfurled. It took less than a beat to lift them aloft, as the thrum of her heart drowned out the sea. She wished to obey, but her eyes had turned traitor, and their corners caught glimpse of his shame. It was darker than the blackness that lived beyond night, but the feather near her breast warmed her skin. The wind did Aeris no favors with that cutting cold across her cheeks. A banner of moonlight streamed out from behind, and the maid let the silk bathe her fingers.

Sephiroth faced destiny with determination holding the mask to his face. His grip on the Cetra was just below crushing for his flower would not fall, and Aeris leaned forward kissing his cheek as they flew through the mist and clouds. His arms saved her from the worst of the wet so it shattered against leather black. The remnants of moisture clung to her hair, shimmering dew in chestnut. The sun burned in freedom but no hint of light touched that great wing above. It swallowed it down and gave nothing back, and Sephiroth grit his teeth flying fast. She had to bury her face near his collar for the sun had no warmth for the air. Her arms clutched tighter around his neck, but didn’t come close to his grip around.

“Have you only ever had one wing?” Through the roar he heard her still.

“I’ve always been broken, Aeris.” He had to turn to find her ear for the air so starved for words. “I don’t need it to fly, but I can’t fly without it…if that makes any sense.”

“It does, Sephiroth.”

The general’s teeth ground themselves to a halt as her hands soft clasped in his hair. She just…understood without need to explain and wasn’t horrified at all. Despite the foulness of his truth, flying had always brought joy. It was a way to pretend that he was free far above the world below. Now holding her where they’d found the sun, he wanted to bear her away. Far, far beyond where dark couldn’t reach soaring away in cerulean vaults. Then the night of his wing stained his emerald sight. He’d never be free of horror or grief. He carried them both in his soul. His blood was full tainted with that creeping dark that called his named ever and now. King of the ashes, king of the shadows. My fate was always to fall…

Aeris rested her cheek against her love’s where it defied the swift winds with its warmth. Utter wonder spun beauty on her soft face, and Sephiroth felt her awe without sight. The world was a-light this far above and she was full safe in his arms. Her braid whipped away so stroked by silver that flew ever behind in his wake.

“Oh this is better than the sea…” She stretched forth a hand for the air. It clawed at her skin, and Aeris closed her fist to cage what she sought in her palm. Sephiroth turned to witness this elation and kissed her embraced by the sky, but joy could not sunder what he knew as truth: he was carrying her towards death. The air above sliced through silver and black as though to steal his only wing. He battered the wind and it whined so conquered, and he only did not crush his rose.

I’m going to lose her, Sephiroth thought and his heart stalled in his chest. He couldn’t retreat. He was held to his promise. Blood and steel bound them together.   He turned in the air toward the city below, as feathered shadow swallowed the light.


Author’s Note: Everything comes full circle, doesn’t it?  The beginning of the end.  Next chapter What Is Found There will be posted next Friday August 7.

Thank you for your continued likes and comments!

<–Chapter 19                                                                                                Chapter 21–>

3 thoughts on “Chapter 20 – Rising Shadow

  1. Pingback: Chapter 19 – With Love Upon Your Name | The Shameful Narcissist Speaks

  2. Pingback: Northern Lights: Chapter 20 – Rising Shadow | The Caffeine Crew

  3. Pingback: Chapter 21 – What Is Found There | The Shameful Narcissist Speaks

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