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.
Banner Artwork Disclaimer: The featured artwork for the banner is entitled White rose I and was created by the very talented Deviant Artist RemusSirion who was gracious enough to grant me permission to use it here. The picture has been slightly altered from the original. All rights belong to the artist, and links are included for both the artist page and the work.
*******MAJOR CONTENT WARNING*******
Consistent and sustained graphic descriptions and mentions of rape/ sexual assault, sexual slavery/bondage, slavery, human trafficking, physical abuse, graphic descriptions of violence, mental abuse, emotional abuse, psychological abuse, body shaming, starvation, torture, forced pregnancy, forced childbirth, miscarriage, forced miscarriage, abortion, and other potential disturbing and triggering topics.
Aeris ventures briefly into the world outside her new sanctuary. Though the promise of protection is ever around, the little maid still finds cause for terror.
Day’s end in dusk stole through the “palace,” and curiosity caused Aeris shock. Through her window she’d seen both sunset and star, but never dreamed of venturing out. Now searching the paths of crimson and gold caused the Cetra maid to consider. The thought stayed but briefly before hollow chill filled her quickening heart, but her great guardian was never far, and his arms were always her shield.
Sephiroth had bought her a phone of the same caliber as his. Aeris was frightened she’d drop this one, too, but it was protected from such an event.
“Even if it did, I’d buy you a new one.” He cupped her trembling chin. “And when you wish, you can pick out your own cover. I just chose ubiquitous black.”
He woke the device to gentle bright, though duller illumination. Aeris slid closer, clutching his hand as her face glowed in screen light and Mako.
“You merely need to press these buttons, and I will answer your call. I can be at your side in a moment, my rose, if you’re ever afraid or in need.”
“I don’t want to be a burden to you, master,” she whispered, and Sephiroth palmed her soft cheek.
“You could never be a burden to me, Aeris. My task is to protect you. Whatever you need, I will surely provide. Whatever you want, I’ll find. What do you wish of me, little one?” Sincerity in soft baritone must surely shake the threads of this dream, but paradise was unlost, heaven unmelted, and she could only think of one answer.
“Please don’t hurt me, perfect master.”
“I will never hurt you, little flower.” He promised her once again.
Slumber still held her through most of the days as her battered body healed. Though it did lessen as daily count grew and wonder soon vied with fear. Discovering her room had a balcony, too, was quite a delightful treat. A little gasp raised a hand to her chest when the maid saw that “outside floor.” It was high noon, and the sun sheered through, heating pale skin through the drapes.
When Sephiroth returned, Aeris called for him, leading the Great General by the hand. He opened the curtains as wide as they’d go, placing palms on his charge’s small shoulders. She laid one of hers upon his smooth skin, while summer searched the great expanse.
“Do you wish to venture outside, little flower?”
“It’s…really bright out there, master.”
“That it is. You’d need sunscreen.” Her yawn caused low laughter. “And perhaps a nap before?”
The Cetra leaned back into him, shaking a bit. “I-Is that alright, master? Do you mind if I sleep?”
Before she blinked she was in his arms. “Aeris, you never need ask me for that. You may sleep whenever you need. Whenever you’re hungry, you should eat. You could change your clothes ten times a day. Whatever you wish to do, little one. You’ll never be denied.”
Dusk would now find them on the veranda watching the ceaseless sea. With Sephiroth, Aeris was far less afraid, held in strong arms from behind. His great hands were clasped below her waist in an unbreakable lock. With the railing before and him above, the Cetra basked in the sinking sun.
“Master…” she murmured looking again as the general cast Mako gleam down. Hair ringed his crown in circling braids, but the high-flown bangs were still free. They bathed her skin in silver fragrance, and emerald rained down from above.
“You’re so gentle, master…you’re spoiling me.”
“You deserve to be spoiled, little one, and you will be forever more.”
He smiled to the circlet in her hair with jade stones bright as stars. The dress she wore today was white. On her feet with flat, slipper shoes. A large, square emerald lay near her breast pulsing near deep as cold eyes.
Sephiroth’s smile softened. She seemed to like that. That stone and that aching green hue. Seeing her dressed and wreathed in jewels brought joy to his dark, ailing heart.
“My beautiful flower. My tiny rose.” He brushed her little hand with his thumb. Caressing her palm as she turned it, while tilting her face back and up. The Great General knew what his next words would bring as endless light rode his long lashes. “My Aeris…”
The Cetra turned within the embrace to sob against his chest, and Sephiroth tightened his arms around as grief lowered his angel’s face.
“I’m yours, great master. Please let me be yours!”
“You are mine for all of time, Aeris. Do you know that I’m yours, too?”
“B-But master, I belong to you.” Tears reflected cold light. “How can you be mine? I can’t have anything. I…I’m just a slave.”
“No, little flower. You’re not a slave, and I am your guardian. That’s how I’m yours. You’re mine to protect.” He slid his arms closer around. Aeris sighed, relaxing against the solid wall of his chest. His great coat was open as bright buckles gleamed and the black shirt was smooth on her cheek, but smoother still was his winter skin that emerged where the buttons did part. The Cetra raised a tentative hand to curl against pure marble. Tilting her chin, she bit her lip as tiny fingers traced solid muscle.
“Gentle master…you’re so gentle. You’re so gentle with me…” Soft bangs brushed her face as he cupped her cheek now.
“What else could I be with you, little flower? You deserve gentleness.”
“I love it, master. Please never stop. Please don’t ever be rough!”
“I will never be rough with you, my Aeris,” the Great General vowed once more. He’d say it as many times as she needed and never grow cross at repeat.
“Please don’t hurt me with your real strength!” The little maid cried as she cowered.
“What’s this, Aeris?” He held his charge closer as dusk spilled its gold on the sea. “My ‘real’ strength?”
“The kind that can turn bone to pulp, greatest master. Please don’t do that to me!” She looked up in terror, begging this grace, and every tear stained his torn soul. “Don’t crush my wrists. I know you could. Your power is immense!”
“Oh, little rose.” Sephiroth shook his head. “Now I see what you mean. That strength is for you. It’ll never be used to bring you harm.” Never more again…
“You’ll…only protect me with it, master?”
“Of course, little flower, always.”
She buried her face back into leather that did not mind her tears. “Thank you, master, thank you so much!”
“There’s no need to thank me, my Aeris.”
That made her sob harder, because she was his, and he was her great protector. Those terrible men can never find me or hurt me ever again.
Sephiroth rubbed her back, gazing down in chagrin as silver hair fell like rain. Horrendous abuse still tortured the maid even though she was safe from all harm. And I hurt her, too…longer ago, but time can’t erase that dark sin.
The end of sunlight bathed them both in rosy golden hue, and Aeris turned her head to watch the dying of the light.
“Men are everywhere, aren’t they, master?”
The Great General sealed his eyes. The fear emanating from this one small woman would’ve drowned a thousand staunch hearts. “There are no men right here, but me, little one, and I will never hurt you.”
“I-I know, master.” She pulled herself closer, and his arms closed around like a wall. “I’m starting to love it…love this strength that keeps me ever safe.”
Sephiroth’s expression softened again though rue still tinged its edges. “It always will, Aeris. I’ll never forsake you nor leave you defenseless and cold. That’s what I am, little one, your defense, your protection, and your guard.”
“Like…a guardian angel, right, silver master?” The smallest smile tried to bloom. Heaving a sigh, he shifted his eyes towards the seam of eve. Aeris bit her lip while terror incarnate ravaged her racing heart. “I’m so sorry, master.” Her quake jerked his gaze back to his flower in fear. “I-I’m sorry…I can’t help – I forget how much you hate that term. I didn’t mean to anger you…I just…” She hid her face.
“Aeris, it’s well. That’s…just how you see me. It’s strange not to think it a horror.”
A horror? Him? What an odd thought. The Cetra blinked up in confusion. Her “silver master” was wonderful.
The general gently cupped her cheek. “I could never be angry at you, little rose. There’s nothing you could do to draw my wrath.”
She smiled so brightly in sweet relief he thought the drowned sun had revived. Then the sea breeze picked up, causing her shiver as it broke against moonlight bangs.
“Shall we go back inside? I’ll prepare dinner and afterwards we’ll read. Would you like that, little one?”
She tried to hid tears, shaking with fear that this would fade. “I’m tired, master. Will you…will you pick me up?”
The words were barely out of her mouth when Sephiroth granted her wish. The Cetra squeaked with how easy it was, how smoothly she did ascend. With only one arm her guardian held her and laid a soft kiss to her brow. He turned his back on the mauve light of eve painting his black, sweeping coat.
That night the general read to her a story about a maid lost in the woods. His tone was solemn against her skin as the Cetra curled up in his arms. Lit with elation, her face was beatific that she was still safe with him. Warm and protected, wrapped in thick blankets, Aeris dared smile so sweet.
Within the tale, the maid was saved from darkness deep and great, and the general greater measured his words, forcing his voice not to break. At the end of it, Aeris gazed at him and placed a soft palm to his cheek. Sephiroth covered it, curling long fingers around the Cetra’s small and slim. She stared without guile or any fear into those bright slivered eyes, and his lips split in part for he wanted to ask, though afraid of both query and answer.
When she fell asleep in his arms per her norm, her protector breathed moments of awe. Watching this innocent slumber in peace, her fear of him leeching away. Finally, he stood to put her to bed for the Cetra deserved that soft mattress. As always she roused to relay the litany that re-broke his shattered heart.
“Thank you for not raping me today, master.” Trembling lips blessed frost white cheek. “Thank you for not beating me, too. Thank you so much for letting me eat and allowing me to wear clothes.” Sephiroth took her tiny hands, as he sat down beside.
“Aeris, I will never rape you.” He returned the kiss to her brow. “You never need thank me for that.”
“B-But…” She shook while searching his face. “If I don’t-”
“I never will. What you endured was abomination, the foulest of the foul. You will never be beaten again, little one, and never more will you be raped. No one will ever hurt you like that or in any way ever again. You will always have food. You will always have clothes. You will always be protected.” He bent to lay his brow to hers still holding those fragile hands. The Cetra’s wide eyes were stained with joy’s tears as silver silk swept her skin. “I have you, my Aeris.” The sob tore her throat, and she flung her arms around his neck. “I have you.” He pulled the maid close. “And I always will.” The gentle smile lit her face as bright as emerald eyes. Quivering fingers clutched at his cheek, and he promised once more, “My Aeris…”
“Yours forever, perfect master?”
“Beyond all time, my rose.”
Her shaking and sobbing finally subsided, and Sephiroth laid her back down. The last kiss to her brow sealed his protection, and he whispered, “Good night, little flower.”
The next morning the Cetra stood by her window, the sun washing over clasped hands. Still dressed in “night clothes,” a black, buttoned shirt, which Aeris now always slept in. She’d asked the general if she could keep one, and he had given her seven. Swathed in his scent and when fragrance faded, she asked Sephiroth to take them back. He’d shaken his head to such adoration, but would deny her no thing.
“Do you just always smell this good, greatest master?” Aeris had asked, her face pressed to his neck. The lick of soft hair against her skin brought the Cetra such joy.
Sephiroth chuckled gazing her way. “I suppose I just do, little one. This ‘vanilla and frost’ of which you highly speak.”
When the little maid breathed in even deeper, he could only laugh aloud. Aeris glanced up, sweetly nonplussed to what gave her protector such mirth, but the pull of that scent was too much to resist and she buried herself back in his hair. It smelled like warmth and safety and home. All the things he’d given her. It smelled like wonder and beauty and dreams. All the things she’d been denied.
Back in the window, a ghostly reflection held her shirt up with tentative hands. Below it the Cetra now had shorts covering slim, white thighs. She had ordered these herself after her first clothing came. They’d sent under-things (and plenty at that), but Aeris bit her lip to remember…
He’ll think I’m ungrateful and he’ll take me back…he’ll let those awful men have me! The thought had her curling into a ball by the side of her canopied bed, but his gentle words crept “Whatever you need, I will surely provide.”
Gripping the railing in both little hands, Aeris fought to ascend. The Cetra clenched her teeth to hold back wane whimpers and forced her bare feet to lift. Scrawny limbs burned in pulling her up with her only grace the soft carpet. That became doubled when she collapsed in the midst of the stairs, wailing, “Master!” Within an instant the strongest of arms closed her in wonderful warmth.
“Sweet, little flower, whatever’s the matter? You can always call for me.” His rich baritone calmed Aeris’s quake, as the maid sobbed to be held.
“I’m so sorry, master. I’m such a burden!”
“You’re never a burden, my rose.” Sephiroth carried her up the stairs and into his third-floor office.
He won’t drop me. He won’t hurt me. He won’t force me to crawl. Her skinny legs twitched useless for the moment before wiggling returned to her toes.
“I…think I’m okay now, wonderful master.” Aeris clutched as solid shoulders.
Slivers thinned on her half-hidden face augmenting his concern. “You’re still healing from endless abuse, little one.”
“Yes, great master. I know, but I should still try to stand. Will you…will you put me down?”
Sephiroth did with no hesitation. It was the Cetra who caught his large hands to steady herself from the sway.
“I’m so sorry to disturb you, master.” Aeris trembled as she looked far up.
“You can never disturb me.” He rubbed her soft palms. “What am I for, little one?”
“F-For, master?” The little maid gaped while split emerald fell on her face. “What are you for? You’re my perfect master. You’re so very strong. You can do whatever you wish. I’m the one who needs to obey.”
The general sighed with saddest smile, squeezing frail hands with such care. “I’m for you, little rose. I’m for your protection, your comfort, for helping you heal. What do I always ask? What do you wish? I will ever and always provide.” He tilted his head as she nibbled her lip. It was sad, but still sweetly endearing. Somehow he knew this time there’d be answer besides her plea not to be hurt.
Aeris freed her hands and clasped them before, making porcelain mask fall so blank. Disheveled chestnut and still bleary summer were remnants of recent nap. Her navel and lower were fully exposed where the black shirt’s buttons had parted. More clothes than a store filled her walk-in closet, with even more on the way. Yet the Cetra only wore this. Sephiroth narrowed his eyes.
“Is everything well, little flower?” he asked.
“I-I,” the little maid stammered. Wringing her hands, Aeris looked up at towering, silver glory. Summer was frozen on his winter face, and tremors near caused her to fall.
He opened his arms, and she tumbled forward, sniffing back tears of joy. Little hands curled into tight fists then Aeris squeaked to black leather’s brush. Rosy pink blossomed in once sallow cheeks, and hotter stained now pouting lips. The maid’s eyelids fluttered as she peered about at powerful arms closed around. Unsure why this made her blush even deeper, Aeris re-hid her face. The Great General’s low laughter rolled through her small frame, so shyly she opened one eye. His were half-closed, bright and expectant slit pupils intent upon her.
“I don’t want you to think me ungrateful,” she whispered.
“I could never think that, little one. You were denied everything for so very long. You do nothing but exude gratitude. It pours from your skin. It fills every word, inundates your very breath. Even the way you look up at me speaks of how grateful you are.” He touched her cheek, turning that breath to a gulp. “You are overly grateful, my little flower. I owe you so much and more. I’m happy you’ve thought of something you want…” His eyes narrowed. “Or is this something you need. If I’ve neglected-”
“No, master, not at all. Oh!” She gasped and stared with summer eyes wide. “I-I’m so sorry, master, to interrupt. Please, please don’t-”
“I never will.” He tilted his head and gave her a smile. “Now I’ve interrupted you, so I believe we’re even. Tell me your wish. What do you require of me, my Aeris?”
She shuddered as always at those words, and Sephiroth held her close to his heart. The sound of it soothed her and let her remember that she was forever his. I belong to him. I belong to him…I belong to him alone. I’m his, my wonderful silver-haired master…no one else can claim me again. She raised her head and gathered her thoughts in the light of that angel’s face. He was forever patient with lashes resplendent against his winter white skin.
“My clothes, dear master, my lovely clothes. I can’t thank you enough for them.”
“Those were only the first. There are more on the way. You’ll dress like the tiny queen you are and never be without again.”
Aeris shook at that and Sephiroth kissed her brow as he was wont to do when she was frightened, but the tremor that rode beneath his lips had naught to do with fear.
“Oh master, I’m so happy you said that…i-it’s what I need to ask. Please, please, please don’t think me ungrateful, but…the under-things, they don’t cover much.”
Sephiroth furrowed his brow in brief thought then nodded in agreement. “Yes, you’re right. Certain ones made for women tend to have that lack.”
Utter relief breezed through her chest for the general just understood.
“A-And they’re uncomfortable. I don’t like the way they feel. Do I have to wear underwear, master?” He’d bought such garments just for her. How dare she not use them all? How dare she make him waste gil? When he already spent so much?
“Not if you don’t want to, little one,” Sephiroth said not remotely perturbed.
“But I’ll be exposed!” Aeris blinked several times, squeezing her thighs together. “L-Like I am right now.” The general frowned, holding her closer with concealed shock for how she relaxed.
“And you’ll still be safe. No one will hurt you. You can be exposed if you wish.”
“Can I, master?” She gaped up in shock. “But what if…what if…”
“’What if’ what?” He smiled down at her with pure gentleness as moonlight bangs soothed her cheeks. “You’re with me now, Aeris, and I protect you. You can do whatever you want.” Sephiroth pondered a moment within her relief. “There may be other options.”
The general led her to his chair by a desk with two wide screens. He assumed she would sit, but Aeris stared up and asked, “Master, can I sit on your lap?”
“If that’s what you want, little flower,” he answered, bending to kiss her brow.
“I-I love sitting there, glorious master.”
“Do you, my rose?”
“Yes, master, so very much.”
He seated himself, and she plopped down before twisting to look back and up. Sephiroth couldn’t help the low, gentle laugh as he laid his lips to her temple. Reaching for his arm, Aeris beseeched him wrap it around her soft waist. The little Cetra would not be denied the leather-bound wall of protection. She wiggled with glee then shot up with a yelp, slender thighs all a-quake. Squeezing his arm, she whirled around while memories carved tears down her face.
“Greatest master…greatest of all. Please never brutally rape me!”
“I’ll never rape you, little one,” he promised again with mournful green lighting her grief.
“Please, please don’t. Never and never. You’d demolish my fragile insides. I’d never ever heal. I’d never stop bleeding. Just one thrust, l-less than one from you would-”
“I will never do that, my Aeris.”
She shook and sobbed in absolute terror that he’d turn and force her over. “You’d hurt me so much. You’re so powerful. I…” The words dissolved into tears. He was the master. She was the slave. He’d every right to her flesh. Every right to rip her apart and destroy her healing, pink flower.
“Aeris…” He tried. “Aeris…” Once more. “Dear gods, Aeris…no. You will never be brutally treated like that ever more again. I’ll never rape you nor will anyone. You’re always safe here with me.” He took her small hands in his warm, the only sharp piercing his eyes. Within that light, despite its cold, the Cetra divined this truth, and she allowed her breath to still as emerald lit her tears. Notes of joy played through the weeping, and Sephiroth kissed her cheek. Tentative fingers lifted to clear loose silver strands from his face, and he smiled at her, carefully laying his brow against the little maid’s.
“I love sitting on your lap, greatest of masters.”
“Even still, little rose?”
“Yes, you’ll never hurt me despite your…reaction.”
“That’s right, little flower. I won’t. Hurting you like that or in any way is an abomination.”
She swallowed and nodded, sliding her fingers through one of his moonlight bangs. Like watered silk the lock tumbled back in a fall of utter perfection. With lip between teeth, the maid turned around, flinging her gaze high behind. As always his hands were there to support the Cetra’s tentative grip. Tiny fingers relaxed and curled once she realized his promise still held.
Aeris sat down, slowly descending, and Sephiroth cleared his throat. Summer splayed huge on his angel’s face, as she shook, but settled in. His smile stayed mild even as Aeris squeaked to how “ready” the general was. Wringing her hands brought out rapid whimpers, and the little maid trembled in full.
“All well, little one?” he asked with concern.
“Y-Yes, master.” She wet drying lips then whimpered, “You really want me…”
“No, little one. I do not.” Sephiroth promised, inwardly irked as the “problem” persisted. He wasn’t remotely annoyed at his Aeris, but rather the base response. The last thing she needed was a reminder of how horribly she’d been abused. “It’s an involuntary reaction.”
“In…voluntary, great master?” Blinking summer returned his expression to angelic benevolence.”
“Yes, it means without one’s behest.”
“Beyond one’s control. It…can just happen in some situations.” His slight smile steeled as she squirmed.
“L-Like me sitting on your lap?” Aeris reached for his hands. Sephiroth locked them again at her belly before kissing the maid on the crown.
“The pressure and heat can cause that, my Aeris.” He wouldn’t lie to her. “But the physical response doesn’t reflect my thoughts about your, little one. I’m your protector, and I care for you. You’ll never be raped again.”
“E-Even though you really want me?” The Cetra had to be sure. She pulled at black leather, beseeching her guardian wrap his arms around. He instantly did, and that eased her heart along with his gentle words.
“Even though that’s what it seems.”
“So you don’t want me, master?” She rested her hands on top of his shielding arms.
“What I want’s not important when it comes to this, Aeris, but to answer your question, no. Not in that way. You’re my little rose, and my job is to protect you. I want you to be safe and warm, and that’s what I’ll ensure.” Emerald then darkened with fire so cold. “A response like this doesn’t grant me any rights to hurt you like that, my Aeris. Even if want did stir in my heart, nothing negates your choice.”
Dew warmed wane summer as her head tilted back, and he softly laid his lips to her brow. “I have you, my flower,” he murmured so gently
“Please, master, please,” she begged once more. “Please protect that part…”
Sephiroth’s brows knit slightly together. “I protect all of you, little one. No part of you will be hurt again.”
“Please protect that best of all!” Aeris trembled and cowered. He tightened his arms near instantly to prove his protection was absolute.
“I guard you.” He kissed her. “Every part…especially that one, my Aeris. You’ll never be hurt like that again or in any other way.”
“Thank you, great master. Thank you so much!”
“There’s never need, little one.” The general’s smile was slight but true, as he looked down at his charge. “I’m allowed to guard and care for you. This is the highest privilege.”
He was slightly surprised when Aeris slid his hands beneath her shirt. Playing his fingers along tender belly, her response made him tilt his head.
“Oh master.” The maid was breathless for mirth. “I…” She tittered again. “What is that? It feels so…odd.”
“Do you not like it, my Aeris?” He ceased straightaway.
“No, no, no, I love it, great master.” She reached for his other hand. “Please don’t stop i-if you don’t want. I love your hands on my skin.”
“It’s all what you want, my little flower.” He tickled the Cetra again. An almost full smile covered perfect lips to Aeris’s joyful reaction. Throwing back her head, she exposed her pale throat in squirming, giggling glee.
“M-Master…” Laughter near made the word sweet. “Wh-What is this?”
“Tickling, little one.” He kissed her temple even in the midst of her throes. The sweet little laughter tinkled like bells against the rents of his soul, and Aeris slid her hands atop his, as titters replaced every tear.
When she was breathless, Sephiroth stopped to let her re-catch the air. Her black, button shirt had bunched at the waist, but she neither realized nor cared. With no more doubt, the Cetra basked in the protection her guardian provided. Languid and pinker in his arms, the little maid squeezed his large hands. Her racing heart held no terror, and residual mirth burst in bloom. But even as Aeris whirled within joy, Sephiroth found cause for grief.
“Do you hurt at all right here, little flower?” He had found “the spot.” Memory stole the fallen’s mirth the moment his fingers brushed. No massive scar lay under his touch, only pink lines in myriad webs. My dire wound stains not her skin. It only blackens my soul.
“Not at all, dear, gentle master.” She leaned her head back, looking up at him in utter adoration. Taken aback, the general blinked as she laid a small palm on his hand.
“Sweet, little rose…” he whispered in awe.
“Wonderful master,” was the reply. Composing his face back to benign mask, Sephiroth halved his lids to shared mirth.
He rewoke the screen, while catty eyes flicked over the task at hand. Pondering some moments, he guided the mouse to open up a new tab. Aeris caught a glimpse of what looked official until it was covered by page default.
“Wh-What was that, master?” she found herself asking, a bit surprised at her gall.
“The steps leading up to Wesker’s Square are in need of a refurbish. I was looking at options for that, little rose, but your task is a bit more pertinent. Sea stairs can wait for just a few moments so we can search out what you need.”
Sephiroth ensured that Aeris was fine with placing her hand over his. Whimpering a bit, the Cetra worried he’d think this above her place.
“The only ‘place’ you have is above.” The general softly assured.
She swallowed the fear and followed the mouse as he guided her little hand. Spreading his fingers, hers tiny and cool soon interwove and warmed. It took no time for the Cetra to learn how to navigate the page, but when he went to remove his hand, she glanced up plaintively. He kissed her brow with murmured promise. “Whatever you want, little rose.”
“You’re so warm, master.”
“And I’ll keep you so. You’ll always be warm as you wish.”
Aeris leaned forward while scanning the page, arching her lower back. Again, the Great General cleared his throat, but smiled when she reached for his hand. Pulling at it as if to beseech her guardian shield her waist. With alacrity, he granted her wish, and the joy in that made Aeris squirm. She guided the mouse while biting her lip, terrified she’d make some mistake, but her guardian’s voice so low above only reassured.
Sephiroth let her pick out what she wanted as many items as she wished. He told her how to finish the order, what information to put in. “I should give you all of that, Aeris.” He frowned at his “neglect. “So you can do this whenever you need.” But Aeris so grateful just gripped his hand, and he kissed her own on his other. Giving a glance to the dimmer screen, the general considered something else. “You should have one of these, too, don’t you think, little flower?”
“You’re so kind to me, great master.”
“I’m treating you as you deserve.” He glanced at the clock. “Do you want lunch?” When Aeris answered through joyful sobs, he carried the Cetra downstairs.
The little maid blinked now in the window’s reflection, so grateful she had to quell quake. The shirt was still longer, but her thighs were full covered, and no one could invade them now.
My master still hasn’t claimed what is his, and I still don’t understand. The ghost in the window wiped a wet face, and the Cetra swallowed raw tears. Soon he’ll come, but only with breakfast, or to carry me downstairs. A-Afterwards he’ll take me to the doctors’. It’s the day I see them all. Oh, dear gods! I-I should be dressed. I h-hope I have more time.
Sephiroth knocked and the door slowly opened, a whisper upon its hinge. I must not have shut it fully last night. He gave himself silent reproach. Slipping in like a shadow, he immediately noticed the little maid by the glass. Her head slightly tilted as she dropped the black fabric, but kept her gaze towards the sea. The general set the tray he bore down and brushed a moon lock from his face. Even in daylight he shone purely silver with only his garb to show shade. He’d no more need to dress all in black, but it had always been his hue. It laid the foundation for winter hair to shimmer in silver against. The only thing whiter was his skin, a frost that would always gleam pale.
Like silent snows Sephiroth approached and wrapped Aeris tight in his arms. The Cetra maid shrieked and he pulled away as if finally, he’d been burned, but she sought his great hands, tilting back her head to see gentle concern shielding rue.
“Oh it’s you, master,” she sighed with relief. “It’s…it’s only you…”
“Little one,” he whispered. “I am so sorry. I didn’t mean to cause such fear.”
Her heart ceased its thrum of desperation while her mantra flew on repeat. I’m not being raped. I’m not being beaten. I’m not being abused. “Please hold me, master. I love it so much. I love being in your embrace. It reminds me I’m under your protection.”
“That’s right,” he murmured and she shut her eyes as those powerful arms slid around. “You’ll always be safe with me, little flower.” His low voice caressed her back.
“I’m ‘your Aeris’ now and forever, dear master.” The tiny maiden sobbed. “Th-They can’t ever hurt me again. Please tell me I’m right.” Summer bright trembled on her upturned face where her cheeks were more full and slight pink.
“That’s right, too.” He held her tight, but always carefully. She was so little the Great General could clasp his elbows and have room to spare. “You have all my strength and all of my power to shield you from harm evermore. You will never be hurt again, little rose, and your life will best brightest of dreams.”
She rested her hands on his thick forearms, leaning back with summer still damp. Silken silver spilled over her face in moonlight fragrant waves. Then came his promise:
“I have you, my Aeris.”
And tears overtook her face.
“Gentlest master, greatest of all. Thank you, thank you…” she sobbed.
“There’s no need to thank me, my little flower.” Sephiroth sighed for that title so false. His “ownership” was another protection. The general tried not to scowl.
Aeris closed her eyes and let her hands curl against the might sealed in black leather. “I’m yours forever, right, greatest master? You’ll never ever sell me? Please say you won’t! Please say I’m yours. Please promise I’m yours for all time!”
“My Aeris,” he murmured, and just those two words turned shaking legs into pulp. The days when walking had been a far dream were not so aged yet, but that didn’t matter. So long as he held her, Aeris would never fall. “I care for you now,” Sephiroth continued, “for always. Eternally. I have you, my flower. No brutish hands will bruise soft skin. No assault will invade your flesh. You are not mine to sell. You’re my little rose, and I’m your protector. This cannot be changed. You live with me now.”
“I-In paradise, greatest master?”
“That’s right, little one.” He smiled down gently and rubbed a knuckle beneath her chin.
“Master, dear master, I love your hands.” Aeris tried to breath. He didn’t quite chuckle, but his lips curled up in his now typical half smile. “They’ve never hurt me.”
“And they never will.”
Aeris caught the one now on her cheek and peered up in slight trepidation. She spun in his grip, still clutching that hand while his other arm curved around. Resting against the small of her back, holding her carefully close.
“Your hands are so large, perfect master.”
“Are they, little one?” He disengaged gently to peer at his palm with scrutinizing emerald.
“Yes,” she whispered. “So large and so gentle. I love them so much, greatest master.”
The general sighed as she laid her head down between unbuttoned leather. Reuniting his arms around the small maid, the sight brought his heart strangest peace.
“I suppose I have a soldier’s hands…” The past turned the Mako to mist. Gazing down that haze coalesced as he pondered the strangeness of fate. This tiny flower has never been safer here in her murderer’s clutch…
“Please don’t ever leave me, master.”
“I will never leave you, my Aeris,” Sephiroth promised, brow furrowing to this new fear. “I will always be here. I will always guard you. I will always be your defense.” He held her as easily with one arm to slide his knuckles along her damp cheek.
He’ll never let anyone hurt me again. Was it finally safe to believe? Could she look up and see only light from that glorious angel face? Or would the dream shatter and leave the frail maiden beaten and chained and torn? A tremor ran through her prompting low voice to murmur assurance again. Aeris took the chance to look up at him, and it was better than any belief…
That evening as dusk faded toward night, the Cetra sought out each new star. Out the bay window beside the front door, as Sephiroth stood by her side.
“Are you ready, little flower?”
“Y-Yes, master, I am.”
“Are you sure?” He gently tilted her chin. “If you’re frightened, we don’t have to go.”
“I am frightened, master, but I still want to. I…want to see all of this paradise. That’s what it is. That’s where you’ve brought me.”
In sadness, he took her small hand. Her slipper-like shoes hushed on the veranda, but his boots made no sound at all. Slim fingers tightened on his sturdy ones as she conquered each step one by one. Sephiroth rubbed a thumb on the back of her hand and that drew the maid’s eyes up to him. He asked without speaking, and she bit her lip, but shook her head to the offer. Her ankle was better and downward was easy, especially compared to up.
The sea breeze took pity and played a light song within her high chestnut bangs, but better than that was Sephiroth’s patience, which was anything but a chore. Aeris glanced up every so often with fear just waiting to bloom. He would grow angry at this delay and throw her down the stairs, but never once in the Great General’s face did the little maid witness wrath. Gentle concern ruled angelic features as her hand tightened on his with each step. The gentleness stayed but the latter receded only when the bottom was reached.
A transformed the Cetra’s expression, smoothing the worry away. Despite her feet sinking deep in the sands that near buried the lower step. It was still warm, a vestige of daylight, and Aeris was curious. Stepping out of her soft, little shoes, she let the white bury her feet. Then a low laugh caused her slight start, and she blinked in innocence up. Her guardian had tilted his head to one side letting his lips follow suit.
“M-May I, master?” she asked then quite shy.
“They’re your shoes, little flower. You may do with them what you wish.” He picked them up to set a bit higher then re-offered the Cetra his hand. The dry sand shifted beneath soft soled feet, tickling the height of each arch, while the night breeze awoke a million more stars with a sliver of moon for their guard. The shore grew cooler as they neared the sea, and she gasped as fresh salt washed her feet. That great rolling beast still did merely murmur as pale toes invaded its ken.
Aeris released the general’s hand to stare with awe into forever. She was afraid if she dared even to blink, the flicker would wash this away. All joy would smear and she would be left in bruises and chains on cement. Waves licked in foam shushed over her ankles, and her soles sunk into wet sand. The seam of the evening shivered in summer, the light that refused to die. But the sun will return. It never true leaves. It just…goes to the other side, but never to Midgar. Never that hell. The whimper escaped without will. Sturdy hands circled her little waist and lifted the maid from the waves.
Aeris opened eyes she didn’t know where closed, but her fingers clung without question. Gripping his forearms beneath the thick leather as Sephiroth set her on dry sand. He closed the Cetra in his embrace, glancing down to ensure this was well. Aeris swallowed, still so confused, still unused to giving permission, but the smile that lit his angel’s face made it more lovely than all those far stars.
“Dearest Aeris, my little rose, I don’t deserve this gift.”
“I’m the one that doesn’t deserve, master. To be so held, to be utterly safe, protected forever by you. I…am protected forever, right, master?” She swallowed in fear to presume.
Sephiroth pulled her closer in. She was so soft against his solid strength, and he peered down at the scared, little face. Smiling so gently down at her to assuage Aeris’s fear. “More than forever, little flower. Beyond the flow of all time.”
She turned to face the sea again, and her belly was soft under his palms. The memory bowed the general’s head, fingers curled where they couldn’t forget. Silver silk whispered over her face, and Aeris’s hum matched the sea’s hush. He could not remain in sorrow with that, not if she herself could find joy. In me…he thought. She finds joy in me. I am better than what she endured. It was a miracle spinning in light as emerald sealed new memory.
Aeris’s braid had been mussed by the wind nor did leaning against him help. With her eyes shut and his arms around, the moment could not be sweeter, but the Cetra was wrong for the Great General bent to lay lips to her smoothed brow. What creases there were eased away in that press, as he murmured the best of all words. His own litany created for her that promised his rose everything. She’d be protected, guarded, and safe. He’d give her whatever she wished. She was his flower, his lovely, sweet rose. She was his little Aeris. This was to soothe away the soft whimper that grew behind trembling lips. He knew why she cried…how could she believe after a century all this was true? When nightmare and torment had ruled for so long it could’ve been forever? This sweet innocent had been forced to endure what the worst of all monsters deserved. He kept his head lowered for the “worst of all monsters” was what now held her tight.
Even within the remnants of terror, the little maid shook in joy. She didn’t want whatever this was to end, and she feared at these moments it would. The absolute happiness at that gentle brush would burst to a sea of pure pain. Lips on her skin as opposed to fists, though he would lay the back of his hand. Sliding his knuckles so gently down it was like a feather’s touch. If the caress reached her neck she would quiver with gasps as soft as they were strange.
“M-Master, may I ask you something?” The flower maid caught her breath. Waves stretched forth but missed her toes before sighing to recede.
“You may ask me anything, my Aeris.” Sephiroth clasped his elbows around.
Again, she shuddered again at those words. I love that I’m his Aeris… It was like being held for a thousand long years and blessed with a million soft kisses. She was ‘his Aeris’ and nobody else’s. No other man can have me. I’m his. I’m his. I belong to him. I want to be his forever.
“I am your Aeris, master,” she whispered and Sephiroth’s smile turned bittersweet. He had saved her, and it was his presence that kept the dark horrors at bay. Aeris blinked a few times, biting her lip, and the general suppressed a sigh. It was most endearing, but seemed always to herald some of the Cetra’s deepest fears.
“Wh-Why haven’t you used me…used me, master, as I’m meant to be used.”
He shut his eyes as the sigh summoned sorrow. “You mean rape you, little flower. Aeris…” The general cupped her chin. “You were not made to be raped. No one is. What happened to you was more than vile. I will never use you, little one. No one will again. Do you know who you are? Do you know what you did? You’re the Planet’s blesséd daughter.” And you bested me…
“The Planet forsook me, master. I only had its voice, and it sang in my head as I was raped and abused.”
“That will no more be your life,” Sephiroth promised again. He threaded their fingers ever so gentle for frail bones and paper thin skin. “From now on, this is all you will know.”
“But…what am I for if you won’t use me?” Aeris shook and Sephiroth pictured dark flame for every tear. That they had done this. That they’d so hurt her she could envision no other life.
“Aeris, you were long abused. That is not your purpose. You should never have been treated so. An utter atrocity.” He slid his hand to the Cetra’s cheek. “Those days are dust and dead, my flower. I exist to protect you from that. That is my use. That is my purpose. That is what I am for. All of my strength and all of my power were given to me for this reason. I…” He glanced away, and the little maid squeezed the hand still on her waist. “I misused it long, long ago, but now I can…remedy that.”
“B-But what am I for? Why am I here, master?”
His pain thrummed the threads of the past. Stirring the mist, but not clearing it from the cobwebs of her mind.
“To be happy, little rose,” Sephiroth told her as emerald relit summer bright. “Are you happy, my Aeris? Do I make you so? Am I fulfilling that greatest task?”
A new sob near shattered her little form, stealing the Cetra’s voice. Sephiroth held her again in both arms, and she turned to re-hide her face. The shirt beneath his coat with its straps made a smooth place for her grief. Though his skin like marble between the buttons was certainly more fragrant.
“Master…I didn’t know what happiness was. All I knew was pain. You’re so kind. You’re so gentle. I’m so afraid I’ll wake. I don’t want to wake up! I don’t want to live. My life was agony…”
“Little flower, I promise you. That life’s forever gone.”
“It was all that I knew, greatest master.”
“I know, little one. It’s an abomination.” Even worse than I once was…
Aeris rested her chin against him, staring up sweet and confused. “Wh-What’s an ‘abomination,’ master?”
And emerald light pulsed sad and low. “It’s…what I am, Aeris. Can you not see…the horror that burns in my eyes? It dwells in the Mako that lights their depths and keeps my pupils thin.” They narrowed then to her rapt attention. “Don’t they frighten you, little flower?”
The Cetra maid shook her head. “No, master, not at all. They’re wonderful…just like you. They’d light the darkest night. You found me in the slums’ bitter depths in what once was my haven. You’ll always find me. You’ll always protect me. I just want to live in this light.”
“And you always will,” he ever vowed, and it brightened to the promise. Running his hands along her back caused her sweetly sigh. “You fit against me, little one…in the hollow beneath my heart.” Sephiroth leaned to kiss her crown just behind chestnut bangs.
The curl in her fingers slightly relaxed as Aeris melted against. Whatever he was doing to her back was better than the sea’s hushing song. She forgot for a moment all of her scars, all the deep furrows and lines. They all disappeared beneath his large hands, a better shield than her clothes. So much tension rode those small shoulders, a century of fear. He didn’t want to hurt her more so ended with a gentle brush to her cheek. Tilting his head, the Great General couldn’t help the chuckle to her expression. Lightly closed eyes behind thinnest lids were slight parted in sweet reverie. She deserves that…the sweetest of dreams. I’m glad I could give her this joy. If just for a moment before she remembers her past life of agony.
Aeris let his scent just fill her nostrils, uncut by the salt of the air. Her wish had been granted, and she was allowed to live in his world of protection. The tang of the sea coated her lips as dryness stung her tongue. The powerful arms around her small body slid more securely around. Just when she thought she couldn’t feel safer, he reminded her that she could.
“What am I, master?” The Cetra’s voice floated within swells of his angel’s scent. Uncold frost from wintry skin that was always more than warm.
“You’re my Aeris.” He smiled at the response. It was becoming so common and sweet. “What else could you be, little one?”
The Cetra trembled in his arms, and Sephiroth tilted his head.
“I mean, what am I? I-I’m your slave, but you treat me like a queen.”
“That is how it should be, Aeris, and you’re not a slave. You’re my little flower, and I’m your protector.”
She squeezed herself against his tall form and prayed that this was real. You never once helped me, my once dearest friend, but please, please heed my prayers now. Let this be true. Let this be life. I can’t bear for this all to be lie… Her hands curled into smaller fists as her protector murmured assurance. Even without hearing her desperate pleas, Sephiroth still knew what she sought.
The sea soothed the shore and hushed to the salt that had flooded eternities. Within the waves, unseen beasts coalesced to illumine the night dark waters. Aeris turned her head to watch them dance endlessly through the swells.
“Please say it, master,” she barely whispered, and the thrum tried to conquer her voice, but his hearing was made to catch lowest breath, and the general knew what she sought. Letting his lashes shimmer in emerald, he pressed the maid tight to his chest.
“My little flower, you’ll never be raped, and never more will you be beaten. Any and everything you could want are yours without second ask. My primary task, my sole occupation is to make sure you’re happy and well. You are mine to cherish and mine to guard. I swear it by light. I swear it by darkness. This promise is bound in blood. You are my Aeris, and I’m your protector. This will stand past eternity’s end.”
“Yes…” Her voice cracked to what wished to be joy if a century’s fear didn’t drown. “Yes, please. That’s all I want…to be your Aeris, master.”
Sephiroth smiled but hid within emerald the torture her terror did bring. “I will make you this promise as often as needed. No one will hurt you, my flower.”
“I-If anyone tried, what would you do, master?”
“I would kill them.” His voice held no remorse. It was a simple truth like his eyes were green or his hair mocked silver snows. The maid shuddered to that, and he narrowed his gaze, but could not regret the words.
“I never thought the day I went to your church I’d return with a new job.” He’d murmured it low as if in reflection, but at the word “church” Aeris quaked. Sephiroth tightened his arms again, trading his wrath for regret.
“J-Job, greatest master?” Still the maid shuddered. The general kissed her crown. Her whimpers subsided. Her body relaxed to the scent of vanilla laced frost. I’m safe right here. E-Even outside wh-where men are, none could ever hurt me. I’m with my master, and he’ll never let them. He has me in his arms. Careful palms swept through chestnut waves, sliding over those fragile shoulders. Along her blades and down her back before his embrace again locked around.
“Yes, little flower. Protecting you is the job that matters most.”
“Th-That’s your job now, master?” She sniffled a bit.
“That’s right, my Aeris. It is.” It’s the one I always should’ve done had not lies made me blind. He shook his head to scatter the past like moonlight along silver mane, and the waves matched the hush of shimmering hair, whispers echoing. “But now, yes now…”
He stood to full height, and Aeris gaped in utter awe. Tears still shimmered down her face washed in emerald flame. Benevolent fire despite its cold, cut around slivers like thorn. Sephiroth halved his lids looking down, and she wanted to play those lashes. Surely sweet music would light in that brush, so long they couldn’t be real. Yet genuine glory held Aeris close with care in the strongest arms. She was under the protection of the Great General from now until time’s end. The strongest being on the Planet guarded this tiny, frail maid. His cause now was righteous. No one could best him…and he protected her.
“Regal master, supreme master, like a king you are. No one’s better…better than you, the highest of the high.”
“No, little one. I’m not a king.” Sephiroth reined in his shock. “I am…merely a man, my Aeris.”
“Men only hurt me, greatest master. You must be so much more. A-And you said you rule the whole town.”
“I’m mayor, my flower. Remember I told you that’s a civil servant.”
“Y-You, a s-servant, glorious master?” She shook so much she’d have fallen. “No, no, no, that can’t be. Everyone should fall at your feet!”
“No, little one, never and no.” Mako light swirled in horror.
“But how could you ever be a servant?”
“Better to serve in heaven.” Her blinking awe returned his smile, slight though it might be. Cupping her cheek, Sephiroth stroked it gently, and she melted into his palm. I was the murderer, now I’m the guardian of this darling, little Cetra…the last of them all, the Planet’s protector. This honor I do not deserve. Let me be worthy of this one day. Let me finally deserve her forgiveness.
His broken heart near shattered along all its fissures.
“So I’m ‘beloved’ now?”
“Yes,” Aeris whispered, wetting her lips and tilting her head all the way up. Leaning her chin against his chest eased the ache in her neck. “You’re the gentlest, kindest, most patient master, and the strongest one of all. You protect me with your power instead of hurting me. You’re the best master I’ve ever had, and I love your hands on my skin.”
A careful finger ran down her spine where nary a wound did grow. Her back arched beneath and he tilted his head, almost blinking in his surprise. Then Aeris sighed to summer revealed and gazed back at the house. It brilliantly gleamed, lit from within with lights that were timed for the eve. Still ever large despite the distance, the sight made summer bleed. Sephiroth smelled the tears that did not yet descend and followed her now blurry sight.
“I can’t believe I live there, master. You let me dwell inside. I have a room and clothes and shoes.” She glanced down to her square cut gem. “And…j-jewelry.” The glimmering green wavered in dew that salted the Cetra’s cheeks. “I have a bed…” She cried harder, hiding her face in an unyielding chest. “I’m…sorry, master.” She pulled back with a sniff, trying to clear her tears. “I’m sorry I’m crying. They hated when I wept…u-unless they…wanted me to…”
“Your tears will not wash me away.” The waves shushed below the rue of his voice as a silk handkerchief found her face. “You will have much more than you already do. You’ll have a life, my flower. You will live here in beauty forever and have whatever your heart desires.” He lifted her chin into the air after clearing residual damp. “What does your heart desire, little one?” And his low tone returned him her gaze. Mako pulsed deep and despite the cold hue filled the Cetra with purest warmth.
“You brought me here to paradise, master, to your…palace by the sea. What else could I want? What else could I need? I’m safe and protected now.” She didn’t want to weep again and was glad he pressed her close. “I live here, great master. I live here with you. I live in your lovely palace.” She squeezed her fists to fight the pain of how much she wished it were true. “I live in the light. I get to be warm…”
“It has a name, you know?” A long bang tickled her face. The sea breeze was playful in deepening eve, and the brush lifted Aeris’s head.
“What does, master?”
“My house, little one, my…mayor’s mansion. Or should I call it my general’s mansion.” He laughed sad and soft. Peering at it and shaking his head to untorn threads of the past. She turned in his arms and that pulled him back so he enfolded the maid from behind. Her soft belly dwelled behind that wall, and his heart hurt to memory.
The Cetra’s hands fluttered to alight on the leather, glancing up to ensure his permission. The general looked quizzically at that before saying, “Of course you can, little one. You never need ask. You’re always allowed. I want you to feel safe and secure.” With a sigh that seemed greater than her small form, Aeris rested her hands and leaned back. His steadfast embrace meant she could relax, and Sephiroth’s slight smile was true. It was joy to him to see her like this though dark memory tried to invade.
“General’s estate sounds presumptuous,” he muttered, “and it’s not just mine anymore. It’s yours, too, my Aeris.” He squeezed her so gently. “Your ‘palace,’ my rose, is called Heaven’s Gate.” The little maid’s face told him all. “It was not a name I chose. It came with the house, a long time ago, when I first arrived in the Whispers.”
“M-My house, master?” Her voice was so high a mouse would be given pause.
“Yes,” he assured. “Your ‘palace,’ little one. Where else do queens reside?” His smile returned when he cupped her chin, and pale hair slide over her cheek.
Aeris turned to bury her face in his chest, and angel scent wreathed around. Regret and chagrin covered tinged Sephiroth’s voice as he promised the maid she was safe. The moon drunk sea hushed still near their feet, whispering the shore lullabies.
“Men are everywhere, master,” she whimpered, “and they hurt little thi…people like me.”
“No one will ever hurt you again,” the general vowed to dark grief. “I’ll always be here to protect you, Aeris. Your days of horror are ended.”
“I h-heard them when we were at the doctors, master. I was so afraid I’d be sold.” Aeris drew in a deep ragged breath, and Sephiroth tightened his arms. “They hurt me so very much, master,” she whispered. “I wish I weren’t little and weak.”
“Do you believe it was your size and strength that led to your abuse?” A gentle finger lifted her chin. “They chose to hurt you, Aeris. You did not choose to be hurt, and now you have me to ensure you never will be again.” She stared up at him in utter awe, wet her lips, and tried to believe.
The Great General sighed. It was something else he’d have to prove, but she wouldn’t eschew that title so false and dare to speak his name. Sephiroth tilted his head to the side wondering how it would sound on her lips. The sweet little voice calling him true, and he smiled to memory’s future.
“May I ask you something else?”
“You may ask me anything, my Aeris. As many questions as you wish. I’ll never punish you for asking questions.” He passed a hand down her high braid. “I’ll never punish you for anything. You’re not mine to punish. You’re mine to protect.” She buried her face back in his chest.
“Have you…” Aeris swallowed and raised her head to the kindness from emerald cold. “Have you always been so strong, great master?”
Sephiroth took a deep breath, inhaling the past and the memories in turmoil there. Sliver thin pupils cut through the years so he faced what he’d once endured. “I have been this strong for a very long time even since I was no longer a child. That before time is as ancient as dust, and yet I still remember…I don’t think even the centuries will allow me to forget. Nor should I.” He returned Mako haze to the little Cetra who clung to his every word. “What it was like to be weak and helpless.”
She gasped. “You, master, you weak and helpless?” How could that ever be true? His power was beyond what could be conceived. His strength defied all measure. No one could best him. And no one can hurt me so long as I’m in his arms. As if he’d heard, the embrace closed around to hold his little charge tighter. Aeris shut her eyes to cherish the sensation of being utterly safe.
“Yes, little one,” the general answered the question she’d had almost forgotten. “Though I was always…different.” He sighed again. Accepting the past had allowed him this future, though guilt gnawed him in her sight. “I did not know then what they forced upon me would give me my limitless strength. I did not know then the beatings I suffered would grant me my fortitude. I did not know then the abuse I endured would afford me my current insight.”
“Who could ever beat you, master?” Aeris’s voice was hushed with horror, and Sephiroth’s smile held no joy as he kissed her on the brow.
“They’re all dead now, Aeris. Even their shadows have faded beyond memory.” They hurt you, too, but you need not know that lest you remember it one day on your own. You have hurt enough that’s all too recent to be forced to face what’s been lost.
“I-Is that how you learned to be so gentle, master?” Aeris yawned, nestling back into him. The general half shielded the light from his eyes so emerald softly framed.
“It was easier than you think, little flower. I’ve always been graceful, and gentleness is just another type.”
The waves thrummed and churned, half-sighing her name so she turned once more in his arms. Recalling in wrath what he’d seen that first day, the general crushed Aeris closer. She squeaked to his grip, and Sephiroth immediately loosened it for guilt.
“I am so sorry, little one. I didn’t mean to hurt you.”
“No, master, no!” the Cetra assured looking up in adoration. “It’s alright. You didn’t hurt me at all.”
“You gave a squeak of pain.” One silver brow lifted high.
“I was just surprised, great master.” She pulled herself nearer, but he was still wary and kept his clutch loose. “Somehow I forget just how strong you are though I love it so much. I love your strength that keeps me safe.”
The general smiled and only then re-wrapped that strength back around. The sweetest sound escaped her throat and he kissed her on the brow.
“Kisses, master, wonderful kisses.”
“Yes, ‘wonderful kisses,’ my rose.”
“I love them, master. I love when you kiss me. It feels like your blessing my skin. My wonderful, glorious, beyond perfect master…”
Sephiroth shook his head. Bittersweet threads tore his heart, but he couldn’t resist and kissed her once more, because she loved them so.
“You like doing that, master…” Aeris murmured, and his grief eased in laughter low. The gentle vibration tingled her back as the maid melted more against.
“I love doing that, little flower.” He laid lips to her brow in longer duration. “It’s a sweet sign, a proof of protection, the mark that you’re mine to guard.”
“I’m your Aeris…”
“Ever and always.” He lifted and kissed both her hands. Then her soft palms, then every finger then both of her salt-strewn cheeks.
Aeris tilted her head back against his chest wondering why her legs were so weak. I’m no longer starving. My skin has healed…then why do my bones feel like water? She was so glad he held her for standing alone was beyond the Cetra once more. His smile though slight was more than sincere, and summer traced the line of his lips.
“I’m so protected, aren’t I, great master?” Aeris asked swept in silver and light.
“You are utterly protected, little one, safe here in my arms. You are safe in your ‘palace.’ You are safe in the Whispers.”
“In my…room, in my b-bed?” she asked. The general stroked her cheek.
“Yes, little rose. No one will hurt you.”
A harsher breeze chilled her skin. Aeris shivered with tiniest cry and Sephiroth’s heart was cut. He reached for the clasps on his great leather coat and undid them with swiftly deft fingers. Holding her still within his one arm, he divested himself of the garment. Then wrapped his little charge in the black leather that still contained all of his heat. He picked her up as the long coat trailed down, gathering her so encased in his arms. The maid laid her head on Sephiroth’s shoulder that was marble without epaulet.
“Greatest master, you did this before,” she whispered while hiding her face.
“I’ve held you quite often, little flower.” He smiled, carrying her across the sands.
“Yes, you have, and it’s wonderful, but this is a nice memory. You gave me your coat that very first day when you bought me in the slums. That’s what you did before I passed out. You wrapped me in this warmth…”
“I did, little one.” His mirth turned to shadows as regret bowed the general’s head. “Do you forgive me for that, my Aeris?”
“Forgive you, master?” She jolted confused. “What…whatever for? You bought me. You saved me. You brought me here to live with you in paradise. You’re perfect. You’re glory. What could you have done to ask me for forgiveness?”
Sephiroth’s jaw clenched so tight a lesser man would have broken teeth. His brow furrowed into a myriad lines as he forced back deepest pain.
“I should’ve swept you into my arms the moment I found you, my Aeris. I didn’t to keep the masquerade that I was as foul as the rest. So that later I could return without their knowledge of my true intentions…”
“They hurt me so much, master.” She trembled squeezing tighter into his embrace. Sephiroth would never deny her that shield and held his little charge closer.
“I know they did, Aeris, but never again will you be so abused.”
Tender palms slid over his shoulders, exploring the broad expanse.
“Master, is something beneath your shirt?”
“What’s that, little flower?” Sephiroth jerked back from where he’d been piercing the blindness of night. The reek of monsters had curled his lip though they still hid from slivered stare.
“It’s like a wall,” the Cetra whispered as her small hands couldn’t conquer one side.
“What is, Aeris?” He stayed on alert, but smiled to her occupation.
“Beneath your shirt, master.”
“That’s…just me,” he told her with no pride.
“Your shoulders are so wide, great master.”
“Are they, little flower?”
“Yes, master, they are.”
“I suppose that just comes with my strength.”
“I like it master.” She abandoned her quest to just lay her head near his neck, arms loosely splayed upon those broad shoulders, breathing in sweet, angel scent. “No, that’s not right.” Sephiroth gently chuckled to the high, musing voice by his ear. Her sweet observations were as endearing as the tiny hands over black fabric. “I love it.” Aeris lost words to a yawn. “I love that you’re so strong…”
The Great General turned to kiss her brow, still smiling to her “fixation.” He carried her back to Heaven’s Gate, and she was half sleep ere he arrived. His perfect face held gentle regret that he couldn’t show her the sign. Though he’d considered removing it for the name seemed like a cruel jest, but it dwelled below the high veranda at the apex of the stairs. Sephiroth rarely saw it, those skirling letters and often put it from his mind. That evening though, he decided to enter the house under that sign, and so he bore Aeris beneath Heaven’s Gate, and into the spacious basement.
The Cetra murmured as she dozed, and he only wished it were his name. No more for “master,” little rose. You are not my possession. How could I own you when truly I owe you, and it’s more that you own me… He shut the cellar door behind before climbing up to the house proper. The lights therein brightened to motion as Aeris roused with a yawn.
“Oh…oh, master, we’re back inside.” She squinted so fully illumined. He half dimmed his own to not frighten the maid with slit pupils within Mako corruption. To his delight though she stared straight at him as slim arms slipped around his neck. Her bangs were slight mussed, but the ribbon still held, as green as the jewel near her throat. “Your coat’s so warm, master. Thank you for wrapping me in it when I was cold. B-Both this time and the last…” She squeezed herself closer and Sephiroth relished her hug of gratitude. Granted he still fully encased the small maid, but the sentiment wasn’t lost. “Thank you so much for carrying me, master.” She shook to the joy in her heart.
“Aeris…” His low voice caused her to tremble without a trace of fear. “I will always make sure you are warm, and it’s a joy to hold you in my arms. I love it as you love my strength. If you’re ever weary, tired, or afraid, I will gladly pick you up. Even if you are none of those things, you need only to ask. It costs me nothing and brings you such joy to know that you’re cared for and safe.”
She sat back up, laid a hand to his cheek, while holding her tears in check. “You let me be warm, master. You always let me be warm.”
“And I always will, little one. You’ll always be as warm as you wish. You’ll never be cold again.”
She managed to hold her expression together before turning to clear her throat. “I’m…a little thirsty, master.” Slight fear hid behind her bitten lip, but he smiled to dispel it.
“That’s not surprising, little one. The salt air tends to deprive. I’ll fetch you some water. Would you like tea? I can make that, as well.”
“Master, you’re so kind to me.” The tiny sob turned hoarse. Sephiroth kissed her on the brow before sitting the maid on the couch. She was so small and that part did extend so it would make her a comfortable bed.
The general crouched to hold one small hand cupped within his two. The Cetra was fully wrapped in his coat, shining in its dark. “I would do anything for you, Aeris. You are a grateful, innocent rose.” You could utterly loath me as you should, and I’d still bless your name. Whatever you wished, I’d still provide, no matter what you asked. I’d live for eternity bereft of your sight, if you did demand. Do you know who you are? Do you know what I did? I could not be the ‘master’ of you. I’m the one who should serve. I’m the one who should grovel. Never you, little rose.
“I can never be grateful enough, master,” she told him, sitting up a bit from his coat. The air was cooler outside that heat to raise gooseflesh on slim arms. Her tiny body was nestled in leather and couch, bare feet shedding sand on the cushion. Sephiroth noticed but no more cared about that than her shoes outside and forgotten. “You haven’t used or hurt me at all. I…still don’t understand that.”
The general laid his brow to hers, veiling the light in his sorrow. “One day Aeris, I hope you will. You’re not for my use or abuse. You’re mine to protect.”
“I love that, master.” Her little voice quavered as if strumming the threads of sweet dream. Please, please, no. Don’t let this be false. Please just let this be true. “I love that I’m yours. I love that you have me. I love you protect me now.”
Sephiroth stood and his shadow fell over, but she was bathed in emerald light. He held her hand in just one now, careful for tiny bones. “Rest here, little one. I’ll fetch you some water and brew a pot of tea.”
Aeris leaned against the side of the couch, nestled again in his coat. It was lined in something beyond soft and she wondered what it was called. The fragrance in leather was better than air and she readily breathed it in. Her lids drifted low so lulled by scent only an angel could own.
That low and wonderful voice made summer blossom in full. Unlike tousled chestnut his silver mane still fell in utter perfection. Against the black of his button up shirt spilling over those sturdy, wide shoulders. He was holding a glass where clear liquid bled through, and she remembered how thirsty she was. But nowhere near how much I was the day that he bought me. The sudden shut eyes made the general frown as he sat down by her side. Placing the cup in her little hands, Sephiroth ensured she could hold it secure. No longer so weak from hunger and pain, Aeris did so with greater ease. She took a long drink while he straightened his coat around her little form.
“The lining’s so soft,” she said between sips.
“It’s velvet lined leather, little one. I wore it on purpose in case you grew cold.” He sat back and crossed his legs. “It seems that was a wise decision.” Relieving her of the empty vessel, Sephiroth set it on the small table. Aeris shifted to lean against him, and only wide emerald revealed surprise, but he still circled his arm around to hold the maid close to his heart.
Aeris smiled and nestled in, lulled by the steady thrum. Wrapped in his coat, enclosed in his strength, wreathed in silvery scent. “My wonderful, gentle master,” she murmured. “I’m utterly safe in your arms.” A broad palm covered one half of her face as his thumb stroked the line of her jaw. “I love it so much…you’re so very gentle. I love how gentle you are.” She gazed up at him and wished for better words. “You’re so careful, so easy, so kind with your strength. You’ve never even hurt me once.”
“And I never will.” He cupped her chin.
“I know that you could, great master…”
“No, Aeris, I couldn’t. Decency would never allow.”
“Decency, master?” she stammered, blinking several times.
“Yes,” he murmured, “it means what’s right, what’s fair, and also what’s just.”
“Like how you are with your strength, great master.”
“That’s right.” He softly smiled. Tilting her face and lowering his, Sephiroth pressed brow to brow.
“Master,” she murmured with half-lowered lids, “you are so very kind.”
The Great General squeezed Mako eyes fully shut, but not even that could conceal all the light. It leaked out along the seam to stain the glory of lashes. “I wasn’t always this way, little one.” Especially not to you. Do you remember the horrors that I wrought? Tiny fingers crept over his other hand and he couldn’t help but thread them within. That did not stop descending guilt even heavier than before. He winced in deceit for unrevealed truth and hypocrisy burned him deep. If she doesn’t remember, I should reveal so she can know in whose arms she now dwells. She knew my name and my once designation, but does she remember my past?
The teakettle rang and unveiled Mako poured over the Cetra’s face. Kissing her brow, the general rose to answer the belling call. Almost idly on the way there he set his phone to music. No wires were needed in this current age to let melody swirl through the eve. Saucer and cup were set and filled with slightly steaming brew. He allowed the kettle keep its heat in case she wanted more. Then brought this offering to his charge whose sight softened the mask of his face.
Aeris sat up with summer eyes wide to the music that woke the air. The innocent wonder could never fail to at least draw a sideways smile. Sephiroth sat down beside her again, and she returned to lean against. He gently drew the Cetra closer and her sigh of joy near broke his mask. In his embrace, she turned with a smile, hands curling against his black shirt. He smelled so good it was like a dream, and the scent of tea barely cut through. In almost half-memory, Aeris recalled that she had made that request.
“Oh master, I’m so sorry!” She jolted up. “I-I forgot all about the tea!”
“It’s well, little one,” Sephiroth assured with the drink steady between finger and thumb.
The soft pink in her cheeks called low laughter as Aeris tempered first sip. She glanced down at liquid the hue of warm honey beneath cold Mako gleam. I want to live in this light and live in his arms, she thought as she drank again. Her hand started to shake from the weight of the cup, so back it went on the saucer.
“Wh-What is this, master?” Her eyes scanned the air, and Sephiroth rubbed her small fingers.
“This music, Aeris?”
“Is that what it is?”
“Yes, what do you think of it?”
She shut her eyes and let the sound spill through ears aching for new memories. “It’s…” Her forehead furrowed as Aeris tried drawing words from tortured past. “It’s like you master.” That tilted his head to a high arched silver brow. “I mean…” Biting her lip the Cetra wove their fingers, glancing up to still assurance. His palm was so warm and made a broad nest for her little hand to dwell. “What I mean master is it reminds me of you in how wonderful it is. I…” She blushed. “I’ve forgotten the words I really want to say. I know they exist and I want to use them, but I just can’t remember.”
“One day you will, Aeris. You’ve remembered so much…” A lovely passage caused softest heart quaver. Sephiroth raised his head with half closed eyes, smiling ever so slightly.
“This…music,” she murmured. “It’s the prettiest thing.” She glanced up at him. “But you’re more than just ‘pretty,’ great master.”
The Great General shook his head to that, but still retained some joy. Her very presence causes mirth to blossom in my heart. It does not dissipate the sorrow therein, but that sorrow does not drown the joy.
“This is called a waltz, Aeris.”
“What’s a ‘waltz,’ master?” she asked taking a longer drink. The tea was sublime, the temperature perfect. She wished it would drown out dark dreams.
Sephiroth’s low chuckled tingled her skin as the little maid hummed along. “A waltz is something people used to dance to a very long time ago. Even prior to our era, except for special occasions. I still enjoy because it’s timeless, music to best the eons.”
“Dance, master?” The Cetra asked with residual tea on her lips. Brilliant Mako spilled over her face, and Sephiroth briefly considered.
“Yes…” he mused. “I can show you, Aeris, if you wish.” He put the cup and saucer down, and she took his now free hand.
“I’d love that master! Everything you’ve shown me has been so lovely and grand.”
The Great General stood, keeping hold of her hand within swells and dips of melody. His black coat released her like a cocoon to grant its occupant sweetest flight. The lights turned mute with barely a thought leaving emerald the better but gentle, and the open floor of his living room changed to a space for both boot and bare feet.
He led her easily and was so graceful, Aeris believed she flew. Never did naked toes miss a step as the melody swam through her soul. The Cetra had passed through heaven’s gate and this was what dwelled behind. She stared up in awe at her Great General as his grace made echo in her. She knew not these steps nor this sinuous weaving through chord and harmony, but his knowledge passed from hand to hand, and each step she took twirled through beauty.
Sephiroth kept his eyes on her the whole time, knowing where to place his feet so hers were never in crushing harm. Around and within the swirls of music he spun the little maid. It was an intricate dance the general had picked, but his memory never failed. His oldest title came with functions and some functions played at fancy, but his face had been empty as the sincerity that had mocked him with its lies. Now in the dim of soft sung eve, he kissed her hand in the midst of a whirl.
The dance ended with Aeris against his chest and dew like pearls in her eyes. His own called the light in the gem near her throat, and he slowly picked the maid up. She buried her face in moon washed hair with neither words nor tears to give. Up the stairs he carried the Cetra to her room where the sea whispered soft. The breeze stirred the curtains and let in the night that was gentled by moon and star. Sephiroth set his charge on the edge of her bed, crouching down to clasp little hands. Almost shyly Aeris leaned forward, brushing lips over his cheek.
“Thank you so much, master, for showing me that. It was…easy and sweet…just like you.” She blushed and he passed a hand through her hair where it was loosening from its tie.
“I’ll let you prepare for bed, little flower. Do you want me to read to you?”
She lowered her head and took a deep breath. First sunset then dancing now more. He warmed her small hands within just one, using his other to tilt her chin.
“Just call for me, Aeris, whenever you’re ready, and I’ll be by your side.”
The Cetra brushed tumbling waves of soft hair after granting ribbon its release. It had been struggling from ocean breeze and need not suffer more. Her feet were planted upon a step stool before the bathroom mirror. A wall of lights framed her face in the glass, and Aeris blinked summer eyes. No longer so withered as she passed the brush, hoping memory would return fingers’ deftness.
Sephiroth would braid it however she wished, single or circling crown. High or low, or wrapped in a bun, he knew a myriad ways. He has that soft silver down to his knees like a shimmering shroud… Though that he wore free most of the time, the only braids perhaps at the forelocks. Of course it’s worn free, because he’s free. He’s the master and I’m the slave. But Aeris didn’t look like a slave, garbed in his shirt once more. She’d carefully removed both garb and jewels putting them away in new ritual. Then quickly slipped the black shirt on so she need not see her scars.
Now that she could, Aeris preferred showers. They were quicker and she could close her eyes, though each ablution served as reclamation to the maid’s once tortured flesh. Frail hands had trembled when first she’d touched, and the Cetra had swallowed a sob, imagining fingers far thicker and rough leaving bruises in their wake, but then she imagined her tiny digits erasing what they had wrought. It took her a while since hers were far slimmer. But theirs are mere memory now.
She hated rubbing her stomach though for those lines would never ease. The pink morass that plagued her skin sent her sobbing into a tiled corner, while warmth came hushing down. No one can hurt me. No one can hurt me. No one can hurt me here. Aeris repeated her litany as the water gurgled away.
Putting down the brush, she stepped from the stool, going back to the bedroom proper. The canopied bed was ready for her with the covers pulled back in welcome. A sea breeze shivered the membranous curtains, and Aeris shook though she wasn’t cold. Curling her toes in the carpet beneath, the Cetra smiled to tickling sensation. Slippers she had, but they were rare worn for she loved this soft under her soles. Even the marble, cool as it might be, was not like hard concrete. “No, no, no,” the little maid whimpered, pushing that memory away.
The lights were low and the sea whispered, “Hush…” as the Cetra walked to her closed door. She was going to open to call for him when curiosity tilted her head.
A little latch within the doorknob found her questing fingers, and when she flicked it, Aeris found the device would turn no more to her clutch. Utter shock made summer freeze as a muffled knock shook the wood. The sweat that soaked her little palm nearly made all function fail. Her grip slid off to heightening sobs, while a low voice called out, “Aeris?”
Quaking fingers finally obeyed to re-turn the stubborn switch. Flinging the door as hard as she could, little hands folded to plead. “I’m so sorry, master! I’m so very sorry. I didn’t mean to lock you out. I just realized my door has one. P-Please-” Then awe brought stark silence.
Framed in the light of the great chandelier Sephiroth shone even brighter. His boots were higher and silver chased to match the clasps of his coat. A wide belt hovered below his chest bearing an opened cross. Above that intersecting straps that seemed black for the pale of his skin. Mayoral propriety no longer held sway, and each muscle was perfectly cut. The high leather collar spilled over to couch its edge along steel pauldrons, while that muted knock was explained by leather gloves both shiny and black. Silver bracers ringed his wrists, and she shook to see him so bound. Chains were for slaves, never for masters, but his strength seemed not sapped by the bonds.
He’d taken his forelocks and pulled them back in encircling braid at the crown. Then his deft fingers had woven together the expanse of moonlight silk. Like silver water down his back ‘til bound with black tie at his knees. Without the fringe to block such glory, his angel’s face made her knees quake.
“Oh master…” Aeris clung hard to the door awash in emerald light. “Oh master, you’re magnificent…the most glorious thing I’ve ever seen.”
“You think so, little flower?” Sephiroth tilted his head with a sad half-smile.
“Yes…” the little maid barely whispered ignoring the ache in her neck. He swept her up though with a full smile now for both her squeak and her dressed in his shirt. “You’re beautiful, master.” She stroked his face, confused why it fell in his grief. “Has anyone told you how utterly lovely you are?”
“Beauty means nothing for me, little flower.”
“It means something to me. I can’t stop looking at you, master. You’re far too perfect for words.”
Aeris took a deep breath and could’ve drowned drunk in the winter vanilla and leather. The latter was crisp though she grimaced to gloves that covered his careful hands.
“I haven’t been hunting for quite a few weeks. You’ve been my priority.” He softened his gaze so emerald pulsed low and the words were not harsh in her ears, but Aeris still hid her face near his collar where the pauldron was cool on her skin. “It’s well, little flower.” He kissed exposed cheek. “But I can smell them closer to the Whispers. They were lurking when we came back from the sea.” The tiny maid whimpered, shuddering hard. Any and everything could hurt her, men or monsters or worse.
Sephiroth held her tight so trembling ceased, quelled by the promise in strength. “Aeris, neither they nor men will ever hurt you. That’s why this is one of my jobs.” He slid a lined hand to her cheek to turn the Cetra’s face. “As mayor…and general.” He rolled his eyes with a smirk. “My task is to hunt all that’s fell, and it’s been quite a while so tonight I shall go to clear the environs around the town.”
“Y-You’re going to leave me, master?”
“Never, my flower. I’m only going to hunt, but I shall return once that job’s done, and if you need me, you only need call.” The Great General sat down on her bed and his braid spilled like snow on the side. “You’re safe here, little one.”
“I’m safe with you, master,” she whispered, flinging her arms around his neck. Sephiroth answered with his better embrace, engulfing the maiden so gentle. “But…” Aeris swallowed, raising her head to clear wisps of hair from her vision. “You’ve left before…just not at night, but I still know I’m safe. Your protection…” She ran a hand along a pauldron knowing beneath was as hard as the steel. “It’s around me always even when your arms aren’t. No one can hurt me, right, greatest master?”
“That’s right.” He pressed his brow to hers softening the light behind his lids. “And this routine hunt is another protection for they’ll grow too bold even by day.” Light fired his lashes in barely hid wrath, but they were resplendent and never would burn. “I will not have that,” he said against his teeth, just the thought of her peril a wound. A sigh calmed his face and Aeris chanced a glance unable to speak for the sight. Sephiroth peered around, eyes cutting the air with the shiver slim pupil in Mako. “Where’s your book, little one? Did you pick one for me?”
Aeris had and he held the tome open. Between thumb and forefinger that mighty volume was no weight for the Great General. The little maid leaned against his chest, tracing the straps with an errant finger. His lips quirked up momentarily to her new occupation, but joined the solemn of his visage as he read.
“When Sin claps his broad wings over the battle,
And sails rejoicing in a flood of death;
When souls are torn to everlasting fire,
And fiends of hell rejoice upon the slain,
O who can stand?”
Author’s Note: The waltz that Aeris and Sephiroth danced to was wholly inspired by this glorious and transcendent piece by no other than the brilliant Sir Anthony Hopkins performed by the magnificent André Rieu, “And The Waltz Goes On.”
The poem Sephiroth reads at the end of the chapter is from “Poetical Sketches: Prologue, intended for a Dramatic Piece of King Edward the Fourth” by William Blake. It is used in the song “Lullaby” by Loreena McKennit, which is where I first heard it.