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 finds walks in the Whispers slightly less daunting, while the general battles burgeoning guilt.
Aeris wanted only to be near him and Sephiroth didn’t know whom to thank. He was too ashamed to speak to the gods, and the Planet had to hate his presence. That he dwelled on its face and not darkness and cold spoke of mercy beyond belief. When his flower sighed though in joy on his lap, he could only believe it was her. She was the reason he’d been so reprieved, and caring for her was his penance. The sweetest penance I ever could know and much more than I deserve.
With her improvement, the general could personally fulfill his mayoral duties. The most important involve culling the monsters, which grew bolder during respite. It was intolerable that they be allowed to come anywhere close to his town. Sephiroth preferred the administrative tasks, but something about hunting still called. There was a…satisfaction in the work that permits and repairs couldn’t hold.
Sephiroth’s face would grow stricken despite the mask, as he feared his monstrous nature. Do I kill as I must or must I need kill? And if there were no monsters what then? The question so troubled him one night as he read that the general stalled in mid verse. Tiny fingers then found his face and emerald cold fell upon her. Sweet adoration purified light that would chill the farthest of stars. She loves me despite…no. He lowered his head as his flower kissed his cheek. She loves the lie I’ve shown. The general still held her closer. I’ll live up to that lie because she believes, but one day the truth must come…
When she recovered, they took more walks, first to the shore and then back. Her recent ordeal returned the Cetra to beginnings of fear once more, but it faded faster for she knew she was safe. The sea that once roared to swallow her down was merely a snoring beast. Even awakened the waves only shushed eternally on the shore. The salt could be cold to curl her toes, but Aeris could always step back. Never need she endure coldness again. She had blankets, warm clothes, and his arms.
After the beach walks, Sephiroth asked her if she’d like to visit with Myrna. They’d drunk the wine their neighbor had left, and the buzzing spun Aeris’s head. She was unsure how she liked the sensation, though she giggled a lot more in it. Looking at Sephiroth through summer renewed, the Cetra would gasp as if viewing first sight. “Beautiful…perfect…my silver angel…my silver angel of light…” The Great General just shook his head, his lashes afire with jade.
Myrna’s place was obviously smaller, but Aeris loved the different view. It smelled of warmed sugar, flour and spice for their neighbor lived to bake. Set even higher than their fine veranda so the star covered palette spread wide. The “elusive” Nellie was finally met, and Aeris stared in utter awe. Not only for her impressive height, but the utter disdain for her spouse. The Cetra had never heard any woman speak so harshly of a man, and the tiny maid trembled in utter fear at what such words would’ve cost her. She squeezed her general’s hand as he sat beside sipping tea. Both he and Myrna had heard it before, but he often glanced Aeris’s way.
Back home, his flower shook in his arms, and Sephiroth was quite concerned. Stroking her hair, he soothed the maid who could only stare up through her terror.
“They’d beat me ‘til every bone was broken and I could not even whimper for mercy. I learned…I learned, master, what it meant to ever say such about men.”
“She…says that to him, little flower.” He’d give her at least that truth. Aeris jerked her head higher with breath coming fast, and Sephiroth cupped her cheek in alarm. “It’s well, little one. I promise, it’s well. You’re here with me in the Whispers. You’re not back there. You’ll never be beaten. Nor will Nellie or Myrna. Emaline is safe, as well, as are all women and children here.” Sephiroth did believe this, but there was always some doubt for he knew how pristine could hide rot. The mien of the Whispers did not seem conducive to such things being cloaked. I have been here a hundred years and I’ve been mayor for nigh on fifty. If justice exists and if it is true, I hope I’d have weeded such out. “Nellie has a sharp tongue, and if her husband did strike her, I’d hear it immediately. That is not common here, Aeris. The world is…changed. It’s different from what we once knew.”
“Master,” she whispered, laying a palm flat against his chest, “I would never ever in all of my life speak to you that way.”
Sephiroth’s face fell to sorrow as he encircled her little hand. “Even if you did, I’d never hurt you, but such words are not your style.” The barest of grins found him at that. “Though they’ve always been Nellie’s…talent.”
“H-How can she though? How can she dare…” Aeris shuddered at the mere thought.
“Well…when bitterness replaces love, that’s where such words are dredged.”
“I-I mean how can she?”
“Ah.” Sephiroth sighed in understanding. “You’re still stuck on that, little one.” He squeezed her hand so very gently, and Aeris gazed back up.
The Cetra was in her favorite seat, sideways upon his lap. She was wearing a dress with sea-green ruffles for a skirt below her knees. A sea-foam ribbon circled her waist and matched the shrug above. Aeris had agonized over her outfit not wanting to seem shown off. The thought of “dressing above her place” nearly brought the Cetra to tears, but her general assured her that never could be, while he smiled to her adornment: a square cut emerald at her throat, surrounded by weaving diamonds. In his luminescence it brought out the green in two sets of exquisite eyes. The rings she wore had smaller stones, but her gratitude for them was no less.
“There are no words any can ever say to warrant what you bore. Even if you said worse to me, you’d never suffer that.”
“But I’d never say worse to you, master! I mean…I don’t ever even want to. You’re wonderful, beautiful, and so very kind. Nellie must really not like him…”
The general chuckled sliding a finger beneath her uplifted chin. “That happens sometimes when two people are bitter and refuse to acknowledge their spleen. Kes hates her drinking, but is often away on business for weeks on end. She most likely drinks because she is lonely and Myrna’s a friendly ear.” Sephiroth sighed. “And Myrna also later tells me some of the things Nellie says.”
“Wh-What else does she say, general?”
Emerald gleamed with a grin as he kissed her brow. “Things quite…inappropriate to say about one’s mayor, my rose.”
Aeris tilted her head at that, as she blinked up quite confused. Then realization pinkened her cheeks and hid her face in his chest. Sephiroth lost amusement in guilt until his ears picked up the sound. He ran a knuckle down her exposed cheek and the little maid’s giggle grew. The wiggle that followed had him wrapping his arms around her tiny form. Not to stop it, but merely to hold her closer to his heart. A low borne chuckle matched with her mirth as emerald light danced through his lashes.
“I don’t even know what ‘inappropriate’ would be and yet…” She tittered harder. “And…I don’t even know what terrible things I would say to match Nellie’s words.” She wiped the corners of her eyes as he kissed her again. It was more than joy to see those tears so drawn from cheer not woe.
“It’s just the matter of taking the truth and twisting it with vitriol, but,” he considered, shutting his eyes as his little rose squirmed once more, “you have none of that, and I always want you to tell me if something is wrong. So nothing can fester as it does with them. Such can rot the sweetest bonds.”
“You saved me, general.” She kissed his hand. “There’s nothing you could ever do to make me forget that. I could never hate you. You’re my rescuer and my protector, my silver angel of light…”
I already did it, my little rose. I’m already ever damned. Nothing I do will erase that sin, not in one or a million years. He wished the joy of their recent past could best torture of the greater, but though light and love leaked from his eyes, cold truth would always prevail.
Visits to Myrna’s became more frequent and Nellie, too, would invite. Her place was far neater and slightly larger for her and Kes had no Em. Barely traces of another soul adorned that living space. Within his absence, her husband faded, so Nellie claimed it for her own. Aeris much preferred Myrna’s slight chaos. It was warm and inviting with sweets. There were always pies, cookies, and cakes and Emaline’s sleepy presence. Even Nellie seemed to view her home with hardly held disdain. Aeris and Sephiroth were rarely there five minutes before their hostess would give Myrna a call, and over they’d go to her high breezy kitchen whose scent conquered the questing sea spray.
The general would sit, sipping wine or hot tea, the former of which did nothing. He could imbibe a whole bottle, three, or ten, and it would make nary a difference. Even stronger spirits had little effect on his regenerative cells.
“General, you’d win every drinking contest,” Myrna told him behind darkest wine.
“Would I now?” he replied with lips slightly stained from the dark, heavy drink. “I couldn’t compete as it wouldn’t be fair. Like pouring the wine down a well.”
Their neighbor just laughed, but no giggle was hers, rather a hearty guffaw.
“Or a beauty contest.” This was Nellie who drained her glass, gaze blurry as the bottle.
“Nellica…” The Great General slid glowing cat eyes her way, freezing further words in her throat. Whether it was slivers amidst frosty Mako or the use of her full name, the sotted Nellie could not say.
Aeris yawned then, as she peered up with her chin against his coat. “You could win either, my general. There’s nothing you couldn’t do…” Her voice had grown quiet to weariness’s pall though alcohol mellowed it out. With gratitude hidden, Sephiroth stood with Aeris high in his arms. Nellie pouted, but it was good natured. She couldn’t be truly jealous. Both women had drunk themselves to near stupor with Aeris’s story revealed, and it was mere partial for not even he knew the fully extent of her hell. Sephiroth had heard the most, but the Cetra’s memory had buried some horrors quite deep.
“General,” she told him one overcast day when the sun fought for its rightful place, “I-I think I would be okay if you had some mayoral business…when I was at Myrna’s. I-If you had to go. I…think I would be alright.”
She had stopped him by the backdoor to stand there hand in hand. Sephiroth cocked his head to the side as his half smile shone more than half bright.
“Are you sure, little flower? You know I don’t mind visiting there with you.”
“I-I know, general, but…you do for my sake. I can see you answering things on your phone. I-I know you’re bored-”
“Not with you, my rose.” But he couldn’t help chuckling at her astuteness. “I’m never bored whenever you speak. My hearing is shaped for your voice, but…Myrna and Nellie tend to talk of the same things all the time.”
Aeris tittered. “Yes…with Myrna it’s baking and wine and with Nellie it’s her…’something husband.’ I can’t recall the word she used.”
“Nor should it be recalled.”
“I don’t mind it really, and they do sometimes speak of other things around town. It’s…interesting to hear conversations from other women that aren’t about rape.”
Sephiroth drew her to him then, slowly as always in case she resisted. Aeris never did and never would, but not out of fear or concern. Once locked in his arms, the Cetra then wondered why she wanted to visit at all. Silver and frost shrouded the maid in warmth beyond belief, and the scent of his skin bested even Myrna’s most fragrant spice.
“I…love talking to you best of all, general. I feel like I can say anything. With Myrna and Nellie, I mostly listen. I’m still shy about my words.”
“They will not mock you, my little rose.”
“I know they won’t but I’m still…shy.”
He brought Aeris over and stayed for some minutes just to be polite. Then kissing his little flower goodbye, the general took his leave. Trepidation troubled a heart that though broken would still best them all. He’d assured his flower his ringer was on. If she had to, she need only call, and though he did not expect her to walk back alone, Sephiroth took consolation that she had her keys and a way to disarm the door.
When he finished his task on the far side of town, early evening had set. A light mist was falling, but in searching the heavens, the fallen judged no thunder would. The dock had been checked and found to be splitting, the rot had reached critical heights. It very well could be the original pier, so he could not fault its maker long dead. Besides the funds were certainly there, and that dredged up darker thoughts. Perfect lips formed thinnest line, and a gloved hand itched for his phone. Glancing at it, the general breathed in relief that he had not missed her call.
On the way home, he bought Aeris a headband with diamond and silver leaves, then several books, while staring forlorn for the day she could come here herself. Imagining his flower amongst cases and shelves bound his blood in bittersweet. She’d clutch his hand to lead him through, pointing out all to dual delights. Sighing, the general shook silver bangs, thanked the clerk, and took his leave. Stepping away was always an option, but Sephiroth rarely did that in public. The in between was a place of shadows. He wouldn’t go there unconcealed. They know what I am. They need no reminder of the horror that dwells in their midst. But the cheerful greetings and emphatic waves gave him reason to enjoy his walk back. They…adore me, as she does. No, he realized with near stricken awe. No one adores me like my Aeris. He clutched the books tight to his side and forced himself not to snap the circlet. But…they know, while she does not. I’m…forcing her false veneration. That twisted his face into self-revulsion, as Sephiroth stepped through his front door. He’d wanted the sea to calm his thoughts so had bided a moment outside.
Expecting his phone to report any minute, the general set down today’s gifts. It’s…how many days? Oh gods, I forget. I’m sure she remembers though. More than three months now. Will she count forever? Will the thousandth day stir memory? The Great General peered down at his offerings and how paltry and plain they were. What were jewels and words to a century’s suffering? He had to do better by her. Nothing I do and no gift I give will erase my truth from her eyes. Once she knows there is no unknowing, and I’ll be a monster to her.
He sighed then glared at his silent phone. The evening was sweeping the shore. His heart did not pound and no storm sundered sky, but the pain that pierced there locked his fist. He was wrong. He had lied. Someone had hurt her. Someone had harmed his rose. He’d left her alone. He’d left her defenseless, and some man had proved his deceit. This delicate flower who’d been brutally treated for over a hundred years had been raped again because he’d been remiss and left her where she wasn’t safe. Myrna and Nellie were not her protectors. That task was bestowed upon him. He who had killed her had been given the privilege of protecting her forever more…and he had failed. He was worse than a failure, because he was supposed to be the best.
A deep inhale stalled his further berating, and Sephiroth narrowed sharp eyes. Thankfully, his thin lids would never be cut by the darkness of those thorns. Another long sniff made long lashes meet for that scent could belong to no other. Summer and sweetness without end, untainted by salt of the sea. Everything started smelling like ocean before the month was out. But not her. No. Never my rose. Her fragrance cannot be concealed. I could find her by sight. I could follow her heart. Summer would lead me there. He followed it now, though it was more instinct for she had not been downstairs. The lull of her heart and sweet, sleepy sighs brought peace to a guilt-ridden soul. Her room door was cracked, and he almost knocked, but stilled his knuckle before it brushed wood. The desk lamp was lit and the curtains were open on the high canopy bed. Wind from the shore caught the ends of the drapes to sway them like purity’s heralds. This held true despite the black leather splayed upon her bed.
With boots silent as his cat eyes proclaimed, Sephiroth approached. Her tiny, white hand was peeking out from beneath his great long coat, and more than anything the one-winged angel wished to gather her into his arms. Coat and all just scoop her up and cover her with kisses. Brow, temple, cheeks, lips, and throat…guilt tortured him for the next thought. Never for you. She may say she loves you, but she knows you not. She loves the you you wish to be, not the horror she’ll see right through. It eludes her now because she needs you to be her “great protector.” Faugh, you monster, how dare you think-
“General?” In torture he heard his old title as slim fingers spread out like a star.
“I’m here, Aeris.” He sat carefully down, leaning over her so silver skein rained. “I’m here…”
She rolled to the side blinking blearily up. As summer green cleared, her smile grew until it lit both of their faces. He did not share the expression, but that didn’t matter as Aeris reached up for him. “I dreamed of you…”
No one should dream of their death… He could not speak such and just shook his head.
“I only ever had that one terrible dream, and that wasn’t you at all. It was my terror bleeding into what’s glorious and good. Even now…” She slid fingers back to entwine with silver hair. “…even when they’re wonderful, they still can’t compare to this truth. You’re more beautiful than my dreams, my angel. They could never contain all you are.”
He veiled his eyes and covered her hand. More than anything he wanted to speak. He wanted to tell her his awful truth, but his lips refused to part. I could keep my lids closed so I wouldn’t need to see the change in her gorgeous face. From love to revulsion…and I have no one I can ask for absolution.
“How long have you been here, little flower? I was expecting you to call.”
The Cetra sat up quickly, clutching his coat as her tiny hands shook. “A-Are you angry with me, master?” For coldest emerald now fell on her face.
A crease appeared between glowing orbs as silver brows pulled together. “Angry, Aeris? How could I be angry? What have I told you, my rose?”
“Th-That you could never be angry with me…”
“That’s right, little flower, nor does it warrant. I was just concerned.” He tossed silver away to kiss her crown. “Did you walk back by yourself?”
“I-I did.” She started to tremble and Sephiroth drew her close. Encased in his coat and wrapped in his arms that were also enclosed in leather. “Myrna a-asked if I was hungry, but I didn’t know what to say. I…was, but I didn’t want to impose, and I think she figured that out.” The general smiled though she couldn’t see with her head couched beneath his chin. “It was really good, a savory pie. I thought those were only sweet.” His low chuckled warmed her, and Aeris lifted her head, stretching to greet his kiss. “Then I was tired afterwards, and I thought about calling you, but…” Sephiroth frowned as he cupped her cheek, making the Cetra wet her lips. “I didn’t want to bother you on mayoral business, and I figured home wasn’t far. Even Myrna asked if I’d be alright, and I told her I should be fine. She said she’d look after me, and I was so thankful…so happy she understood. I…didn’t quite run, and when I got to the door, I almost forgot the code, but then I remembered, and then I was home, safe inside Heaven’s Gate. I leaned on the back door for a long time but the trembling only got worse. I wanted you, general, right then and there. I wanted to be in your arms. I was so afraid of what could’ve happened. What if a man…” Aeris whimpered and pulled closer in, nor was Sephiroth remiss. Coat and all, he held her to his chest while sitting on her bed. “I…” She swallowed, then breathed deeply in so his angel’s scent filled her chest. “I wanted to call you, but again was afraid that I would be a bother, so…” Her slender arms tightened around his neck as kisses soft grazed her own. “I-I went to your room and found one of your coats, bringing it here to my own. I was exhausted, but I knew I couldn’t sleep without something of you near me. I didn’t mean to trespass on your space, master! I…just wanted to feel safe and warm.”
Sephiroth silently settled his coat more securely around. Standing effortlessly with her in his arms, he approached her open window. The screen let in breezes from the sea though the stars were slightly obscured.
“Aeris, there is never a time where you cannot call me. You’re not a bother, and you aren’t a burden. I’m yours forever, my rose. As long as you want me, as long as you need me, I’ll be by your side.” The Cetra clung tighter to her Great General beneath that wash of moon hair. The sphere above dimmed to its stolen light and not even the stars could compare. “I am proud of you, Aeris.”
“P-Proud, master?” she whispered, and his lashes caught light in their weft. “Wh-Why are you proud?”
“You walked home by yourself.” He half smiled. “You were afraid and yet you did it. That takes bravery, my rose.”
“I didn’t feel very brave. I just felt frightened…and tired. I wanted my bed. Or better…you. I wanted your presence. I wanted to be in your arms.”
“You’re in my arms now.” He kissed her cheek soft, and Aeris dared raise her head. Pulsing deep emerald covered her face as she gazed at this beautiful truth. “As for my coat, you did not trespass. I don’t mind that you went in my room. I’m standing in yours.”
“But with my permission. I…went in without your consent.” That buried her face near his neck again where silver hair made a soft nest.
Sephiroth paced a bit before the wide window, gently stroking her cheek. “I don’t think that’s true, Aeris, as I believe I told you that you could enter there whenever you wish. I don’t mind, my flower. I’m always in yours. It wouldn’t be fair if I barred you from mine.” He cocked his head to the side as she tentatively peered up again. “Do you know how you tell me you always want kisses and you wish me to hold you all night?”
“Y-Yes? That’s true, mas…I mean general.” She blushed a bit to his now jade filled eyes. “I love when you kiss me and love when you hold me.”
“And I love when you feel safe. Whatever will do that is always allowed. If you fell asleep in my bed, I wouldn’t mind.”
Aeris gasped as tiny hands clenched on his solid shoulders. “Oh…oh general, your bed must smell amazing like a sea of angel scent.”
He had to laugh sadly at that assessment. “Perhaps, though I don’t use it much. I’m usually with you in your room, though you’re more than welcome to slumber in mine.” She kissed him and kissed him and kissed him again, and the last one called time to cease. When it was done jade shrouded her face, but she was immune to the chill.
“Can we tonight?”
“Of course, we can, Aeris.” He laid his brow to hers.
The Cetra just shut her eyes to breathe. This is my wonderful life. This only this is all that I’ll know. The other could be an illusion. She knew it was not, her flesh bore the scars, her memory, ones even deeper. Once my life could get no worse, now it can grow no better…
“Ah, my Aeris, I almost forgot. I have a few things for you. I picked them up on my way home, a headband and a few books.”
Tears scored her face as her small hand caught his for her thoughts had been proven a lie.
She put the circlet away with the rest of her “crowns,” and they read from one of the novels. Alternating as Aeris sat on his lap, until her yawns became wider than words. Her head grew heavy, but not to Sephiroth who loved it resting against his chest. He finished a chapter and set the book down, consigning the page to mind. Tiny hands searched with faintest of whimpers, unappeased until he gently caught. Rubbing them softly to her humming sigh, the general stared down for long moments. It could not be believed, this rose on his lap, asleep in his unworthy arms. But it’s real. It must be. I don’t dream of light, and yet light has found me at last…
When Aeris was ready for walks once more, they started again with the beach. Once she was certain the shore was the same, they ventured about the town. She still hid from men against her protector, and he always shielded his rose. It came without thought. His arms would just close around her as she shook. Rubbing her back, murmuring soft if the fellow was just passing by. Her life had been horror for a hundred years, and the past still weighed down her present. If there was conversation, he included the Cetra, even though she couldn’t respond.
“Aeris?” he’d call and she’d raise her head to emerald cut cold but adoring. “Shall we go on?”
She reached the point where she’d shrink against him if they passed a man in their outings. Eyes glued to the figure, watching and waiting for him to make a grab. Aeris had no doubt Sephiroth would shield her, but the worst never occurred. If one stopped to talk, she’d hide against him, face buried in welcoming leather. Though she was starting to listen more to their talk instead of just trembling there.
“A good solid staff, but lightweight of course. Would you agree with that, my Aeris?”
The Cetra looked up to benevolent Mako as gentle hands stroked her back. Swallowing to the twitch of muscles there for another man dwelled far too near. Unable to speak, Aeris could still nod as tears swam through summer eyes. It was hard not to cry as she remembered the blows meted out by such a device. H-He won’t beat me, and he won’t allow th-this man to st-strike me either. She’d only glanced once, then hidden her face in her protector’s solid chest.
The boy, Edwin, had found them one day when they’d walked to Wesker’s Square. While he stayed to talk, the little maid cowered in the safety of Sephiroth’s arms.
“I…brought flowers for the little miss,” the youth shyly said to the general’s sincere thanks. Mako light narrowed on small white blooms, but their name was beyond his ken. His one arm tightened around the Cetra to make up for the other’s absence.
“Aeris, what are these? I’m not good with flowers.” A smile. “Except you of course, little rose.”
The Cetra peeked up, shifting her eyes to the blossoms that were now in his hand.
“Do you know what they are?”
She nodded quickly, twisting around to glance back at the boy. The sight had her hiding her face again, and Sephiroth held the maid closer. He expected no answer and was happy with her silent acknowledgement of the blooms.
But then he heard…
And it was almost inaudible even to his enhanced senses. A bare thread of sound drawn out on her breath uttered within a “man’s” presence. Gently he placed the blooms in her hair where a braid spun around her crown.
I-I should thank him. I shouldn’t be rude. But the task was beyond her courage. One word was all her voice would allow. She didn’t know what more would cost. What would incur by facing this “man.” He might have been younger, but the Cetra still quaked for abuse had known no age. My general is here, and he’d never allow their hands to ever touch me, b-but I just can’t. Please master, don’t make me! Her hands quivered now clasped on his chest. Sephiroth laid a warm palm overtop, shaking his head oh so slowly.
“It’s fine, little flower. You’ve done so well. You’re a marvel, my precious rose.” He moved his hand to kiss her fingers before laying his lips to her brow. Then taking the chance that she would want this, Sephiroth swept her up. It had to have taken all her resources to answer him at this time, and the boy rubbed his neck to the Great General’s nod as he bore the Cetra away.
The first time Aeris saw the church, she did not even have breath to scream. A sweet, white affair on the south side of town, its back against the mountain. The bell tolled the time, and each sonorous strike shook the Cetra in Sephiroth’s arms. Breath fast and ragged tried to call shrieks, but not even they could escape. Everything a hundred years contained wrote memory on her scars. There were no words that he could say to destroy this eternal fear, so her guardian broke his rule again and immediately stepped away. Taking her back through coldness and grey to arrive safe in her room. Sephiroth held her as long as was needed, wrapping Aeris in blankets and coat. She could not speak for unprecedented terror that the scent of silk tried to quell. He fought her fear with low, gentle words and apologies heaven would mourn. Exhaustion finally allowed her to sleep with his promises sweet in her ears. She’d awake in his arms still as protected, so emerald light bought her release.
But most of their walks were pleasant and bright, and her visits to Myrna increased. By herself now, Aeris would go the short distance right above. Sephiroth would always ensure his flower that she could call him any time. It mattered not if he was out and about or working upstairs in his office. They’d kiss goodbye and he’d watch her go to the little maid looking back. She still fought the thoughts of what could transpire in crossing that little expanse. But that’s not this place and that’s not this life. I…can go visit my f-friends.
Heaven’s Gate was bereft when she left, and Sephiroth would sigh glancing around. This is what it was before. Then closing his eyes, he rethought. No…her presence still lingers. She will return and, if it’s late, she’ll surely call. Sometimes she would, regardless the time, and joyous green bathed his phone. The first few times he met her, Aeris peered up, through worry and bitten lip. His gentle expression destroyed all her fear as she ran into his arms. The joy emanating spread poignant delight through the general’s tortured soul. Even alone in his great estate, Sephiroth was almost was happy to miss her. Happy because it meant she was finding a life beyond only him. And absence makes reunion so sweet, though I could never grow tired of her…
“You should have friends, my little flower,” he told the maid as he held her close.
“A-Aren’t you my friend, Great General?”
“Of course, I am, Aeris. I love you. I’m your friend, your general, and your protector, but you should have more beyond me. The walks will help. We’ll meet more people.”
“I…only want f-female friends.”
“Then that’s all you’ll have. It’s always your choice.”
“I’m still scared of men e-except you.” The little maid pensively pursed her lips. “It’s…so odd, general. I mean I definitely know you’re a man, but I’m not afraid of you at all even though you really want me.” As usual she was on his lap. They’d not gone out this day for steady rain’s silencing hush.
The general’s emerald was half shaded as his lashes scattered the light. He’d rested the volume of poems on the couch, as Aeris had settled herself. Prior sealed lids had tried to deny her squirming was just “inconvenient,” and so a clenched fist near cracked the book’s spine as he kissed her on the crown. Jade in hot brilliance spilled over his cheeks, anointing that chestnut hair. Aeris had caught his wrist in her grasp, and Sephiroth allowed her to guide it. Halfway round her hips so his hand rested between her parted thighs. His fingers curled without his behest, and the noise from her throat seared through jade.
“Is this well…my Aeris?” her guardian whispered, forcing his fingers to freeze, but she tilted her chin, exposing her throat, and damp summer answered instead. Her legs opened more and he tightened the arm that hovered around her waist. The general scrutinized her every reaction as his thumb stroked the tenderest skin. Mako burned jade as her thighs spread, and she was languid in his embrace. The slight slide of teeth taunted her throat as silver stroked delicate pale. Beneath a hard pulse and near past his hearing grew a whimper that held no fear.
It was Aeris who kissed him, wriggling hard to what he couldn’t believe was matched need. It can’t be…not with the monster that killed her, though she’s ignorant of that dark truth. Somewhere in her memory it has to dwell. She cannot be for you. Besides… His skin stilled like ice without cold. All she has suffered and all she has borne destroys every hope of that. Don’t you dare think it. Such thoughts prove your foulness. She is only yours to protect.
Aeris ceased the kiss with a sweet little sigh before giving her love a soft bite. Silver silk crowned her as Sephiroth couldn’t stop the amusement that now held sway. His flower was careful with the nip as if worried she would cause harm. Tilting her chin, he kissed her once more, laughing low against her lips. “If you wish to bite me, you need not be gentle. I can take the pain.”
“You’ve never hurt me, my general,” she murmured between. “I’d…never want to hurt you either. I know it’s far harder for me to do so, but in the beginning I…bit to resist.”
The horrible past came howling upon, and she buried her face in his chest. Her whimpers of pleasure now turned to raw fear, so he held her hard to his heart. Hoping steadfastness in every strong beat would soothe the dark residue.
“Thank you…” she whispered. “Thank you as always for…for just being here.”
“Where else would I be, little flower?” he asked. “My primary task is you.”
“But…you have other responsibilities, general.” She glanced up through silver rain. Sephiroth cocked his head to the side, brushing her splotchy cheek.
“You’re my main responsibility, Aeris, and have been since the day I found you. What did I tell you? The Whispers run themselves. If I resigned my position, they’d still endure, but you’re not ‘something’ I can ‘resign.’ My obligation to you transcends any pledge I’ve made to this seaside town. If you ever need me, you only need call. Will you promise me this, my Aeris?”
“I will, general,” she sobbed clinging hard to his coat.
“Even when we’re apart, I want you to know my protection is always around. Not…quite like this.” He found smallest smile to the Cetra encased in his arms. “This is the best way, and I can’t say I don’t love it, too.” Silver brows knit at his presumption. “You…do love it, don’t you, my Aeris?”
“Yes, yes!” she assured and relief smoothed the crease. “I love it beyond anything. Being in your arms protected and loved and knowing that always endures.” She curled her fingers on his cheek, as the general kissed her brow. “I can b-be away from your presence and I’m still always safe.”
“That’s right, Aeris.”
“N-Nothing bad has happened to me since I’ve walked to Myrna’s on my own.”
“I’m glad to hear that.” He rubbed her soft palm. “And has anything made you afraid?”
Aeris blinked up. “Not really, general. Only my past, a-and what could be.”
“Well, I’ll tell you this part of the Whispers is lonely. It’s only Myrna and Nellie nearby. Do you remember how we must walk for a bit before we reach more of the town?”
“Yes, general. I…I like that. There are only two men close to here.”
Sephiroth’s raised brow also lifted his lips in a saddened sideways smile. “Well there’s Miers and Kes, our neighbors’ husbands. Do you think me a monster at last?” He did not mean to sound so grieved, but could not turn it into jest.
She threw her arms around his neck to drown sweetly in silken hair. “You’re my angel of light. You can’t be a monster. You’re better than any man.”
His lids sealed in grief as he stroked her back, wishing for someone to thank. Neither gods nor Planet will listen to me, and my Aeris will just be bemused. She loves my touch…revels in it, and my true sorrow’s source is her bane.
“No one will hurt me…” The little maid shook in elation and utter belief. “Because I’m yours a-and every man here knows that.” She blinked several times as Sephiroth sighed much to the Cetra’s confusion.
“I’m yours as much as you are mine, and everyone here does know that. No one will hurt you, and I’ll never force anything upon you, little flower. You will never be compelled to do anything that makes you feel unsafe.” Aeris sighed now and the past blew away in the wind of the maiden’s breath. Residue always clung, hovering round her scars, but his forelocks swept over those lines.
On a whim one cool day on a visit to Myrna’s, Aeris brought a poetry book. Emaline perked up, though the Cetra was shy to share what she feared sparse with another. My Great General wouldn’t judge, but I bet she knows more words than me right now.
“We have given our hearts away, a s-sordid boon,
This Sea that bares her…bosom to the moon;
The wind that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers…”
Sleepy Em, though, was no bitter critic, and she put down her phone at the poem. The screen on the wall was duly ignored except by Nellie who drank to its light, but even she tapped a nail to her glass, letting it ring to words’ resonance. Myrna often had baked orders to fill, and there was always abundance for friends. Aeris caught her awe to not seem ignorant that here, too, there was plenty for all. No one was starving and neither Myrna nor Nellie bore scars upon their backs.
It was still summer so wispy clothes helped combat the midday heat. Nights were much cooler. It was a nice balance, though Aeris never minded even the heights of warmth. She wore full length skirts and covered her top whenever she went about. Shuddering at the thought of wearing the clothes reserved only for Heaven’s Gate. Those skirts had grown shorter as ruffles adorned the majority of her favorites. Some camisoles offered a peek of her belly, though the Cetra still hated that sight.
Jade would fill Sephiroth’s eyes at the vision as he slid large hands over her skin. For that alone Aeris would garb herself thus and bear the truth of every “fault.” Climbing in his lap as his sigh turned to chuckle for the Cetra nestling in. He’d close his embrace or swath her in blankets if it was a chilly day. Or, if she wanted, his leather greatcoat quite often from his very back. Quivering Aeris would look up at him, biting her lip as she squirmed on his lap…
“Aeris, dear? What would you like to drink?” The maid squeaked to Myrna’s question.
Nellie smirked but not unkindly. “There’s also plenty of wine.” But the maid went with simpler tea.
She tried to walk home alone more often than not, if she had the heart. Sometimes it was lacking and Aeris resorted to making that fearful phone call. She never quite knew what would spark such, but the thought alone choked her breath. Myrna and Nellie (if she were there) would pat the little maid’s hand. She had at least grown comfortable enough to allow this innocuous touch. Either one of them would’ve seen her back, but she wanted her Great General.
No one could hurt her while she was with him. No rough hands could bruise tender skin. Aeris nearly keeled over at the mere thought that there’d be men who’d haul her away. Not just rape and torture her, but drag her back to Midgar’s slums. She swallowed hiccupping sobs down hard for she didn’t wish to trouble her friends. Standing by Myrna’s colorful door where home was barely ten steps. But Aeris couldn’t do it. She cringed at the knob that would spill her in that fearful night. The door of the Gate would be in her clutch as brutal hands ripped her away. She’d cling to that knob with a throat full of screams, but her general would not come. Then Myrna’s would turn for Aeris had called him, and their neighbor had granted entry.
He’d open his arms like spreading wings and the Cetra would fly right in. Politeness demanded he speak to their hostess though he wanted to take Aeris home. She was safe in his grasp, but in Heaven’s Gate this little flower would bloom. Beneath the soft lights amidst the freed breeze, she could watch the sea with unbridled delight. With her angel behind her holding her close, there was nothing to bring her harm.
But more often than not and if daylight still reigned, Aeris would make that quick trek. Sometimes, delightfully, Sephiroth would call when he’d returned himself. If he had something for her or had made dinner and wanted to see if she’d partake. It was up to her, her choice where she ate, which made the Cetra conceal her tears. Myrna never minded more mouths to feed. It was an unneeded excuse to bake, and Nellie of course sought out company, though she was more likely to order. Aeris reeled at that when first it was shown that cooked food could arrive at one’s door. She’d looked at her phone in obvious marvel that this device could summon such. Later she asked Sephiroth about that, and he tried to hide hint of contrite.
“I forget what you don’t know. That’s a slight on my part. Yes, we could order. We could also go out, if you ever wished, little rose.”
“We can…order food o-or go to a place where it’s brought?”
“We can.” He crouched by her chair and placed their brows together. “If I’m ever away and you want something, you could always order it, Aeris.”
“B-But would it be delivered by a man?”
Emerald widened as he chided himself. “It’s possible, Aeris. I forgot about that. I’m sorry, little flower.” Pulling back he considered with a tilt to his head. “I suppose you could always ask.”
“Would I sound silly, though, general?”
“You ‘d sound like you were asking a legitimate question.” He gently steepled their hands to soft thread thinnest fingers. “There is no one who’d shame you, my Aeris, and if they did, they’d answer to me…” He let that dark tone ring in the silence for there was some “answers” that only called blood…awake in the city of shadows.
When Aeris returned, ever and always, he greeted her more than the sun. Wherever he was, he’d look up from his task with a smile he couldn’t ignore. It was more than the door or her soft, summer scent. The general’s heart was now drawn to her presence. Per his location, Sephiroth would descend or ascend to his little rose. Approaching so slowly to not incite fear, as the whites of her eyes slowly shrank. This was from brief excursion and not fallen presence, though he never could quite quell that doubt, but Aeris knew none of that with him now, her angel, hero and love. He’d meet her in the hall and take her small hands, drawing the Cetra close.
“Welcome home, little rose.” Perfect lips wore half smile to stall static sorrow for the tiny maid wrapped in his arms.
“Home…” she’d whisper, shaking in joy. “Home and safe…with you.”
Sephiroth slid fingers through soft chestnut hair. It was only held back by a headband. Mako glow sparkled amongst every jewel, making them sing with his light. He dreamed of the day when she would feel safe with or without his presence. It is too soon or it may never come. She might always feel safest with me. That caused a half blink that Aeris missed, lost in angel scent.
“And did you enjoy your visit today?”
“Yes, general…I did.”
“Good, little flower.” He kissed her smooth brow while picking the Cetra up. “There’s dinner and then dessert.”
She clung to his neck and held tight her sobs at the marvel that was now her life. M-My palace, my bedroom, these lovely clothes, jewelry, and best of all books. Better than that safety and warmth a-all because of him. They watched the stars from the veranda after, for the sun had already set, and Aeris fell asleep with the shimmering light of billions of worlds on her lids.
Author’s Note: The poem excerpt Aeris reads is from William Wordsworth’s “The World is Too Much With Us.”