<–Chapter 16 Chapter 18–>
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.
Author’s Note: I mention the “in between/sidestepping” a bit in this chapter. It’s a concept I came up with while writing Northern Lights. This story takes place in sort of an alternative branch to that. I have a whole thing about that, which I won’t bore you with right now, but it’s another “what if” of the already huge “what if” that is my Aeriseph fanfiction. Hopefully, you’ll surmise from the text what the hell I’m talking about (if you haven’t read Northern Lights). I guess I was kind of lazy with writing this in assuming anyone who’d read it would’ve already read that, but it is explained in Chapter 4 of the previous work.
Aeris takes the chance on a more meaningful outing to find a highly coveted item.
Much to his guilt, the general loved the days at a time his Aeris would stay in the Gate. Loved for there would his flower be, ensconced in his arms on his lap. Napping or reading or asking him questions, which grew into conversation. Oft times her fingers woven in silver, as she practiced and tried to recall. The way of the braid, and he’d gently re-show her over and over again. She was better with nails, and his were now colored black with the shine of the stars. A void he could study, draped around her, as the Cetra dreamed on his lap. Hers were light pink and shimmered, too. She’d insisted to make them match, and he could not deny his love of the sight: her tiny hand topping his broad. Seeing it curled there seemed so right, a sign of her rightful place. He was her support. He was her protector. This was an absolute.
The Great General could still not believe how tiny his little rose was. Her wrists were so small he could easily wrap them both in the clutch of one hand. Her fragility caused him a sadder awe for the delicate bones in his grasp. His strength could shift mountains but even a weak man could crush her wrists into pulp. Yet none ever will, he thought looking down to where she slumbered so safe on his lap. I guard her now. She lives here with me, forever within my protection. As if Aeris knew, the tiny maid smiled as tears limned pale, shut lids. She curled closer in and her great protector tightened his arms around. No one will ever hurt her again. He gently stroked her cheek. In shuddering joy, she turned toward his touch even in deepest sleep. Sephiroth hoped her dreams were of light and his unworthy hand hadn’t marred it, but Aeris pressed her lips to his palm before slumber descended again. She’ll never know anything but luxury. She’ll never want or need. Nothing rough or coarse or foul will touch delicate skin again. It was delicate, pale and soft to the touch, sensitive and smooth. Only the finest of lotions and soaps would ever caress this flower, and only his gentle hands, so large and warm, were privileged to rub it in. She’d shudder at that: such opulence, such fine things just for her. He treated her like a tiny queen and Aeris would weep in joy. For one hundred years she’d wished to be safe. Now there was nothing she would be denied. Sephiroth kissed the maid on the crown. “I have you,” he murmured. “Forever, my rose.”
“Protect…” she whispered half asleep. Splayed in his arms, her soft throat exposed, her creamy thighs loosely open.
“Always, my flower. Always protect. You have every ounce of my strength. All for you, Aeris. It’s all for you now.” I’ll never hurt you with it again…
Never had Sephiroth spoken so easily to anyone in his life. He need not consider what shadows or lies lay behind every breath. He need not play a game of words to prove the hollow victor, and Aeris reaffirmed that nothing she said would cause her any pain. No question was barred, no topic was censored, and kiss and caress were her due. She was safe in his arms, wrapped in soft blankets, as the sea brushed the shore for a frame. It’s like I live in a picture now. He was certainly picturesque. Silver splendor cascading down. A monochrome study, perfect and pale, colorless save glory in green.
Sometimes the rain would silence the sea with a susurrus of its own, and though thunder was rare, poor Aeris still quaked for a world she feared would crack. Shame shut his eyes as Sephiroth vowed lowly that that would never come. He wanted to ensure her that dark past was dead, but he worried what gate that would open. In all of his strength with all of his power, Sephiroth feared that the most. As guilt fully flayed him with never seen wound, and he clutched the little maid tight. Never too tight though, even as she squeaked then giggled in the crush of his arms.
“I love your strength, Great General,” she’d tell him every day. He’d merely smile in the wake of her yawn as rain dimpled the sand outside. Silver would shiver over her skin as Aeris nestled into his embrace. With her head couched in the crook of one arm and her lips in a permanent smile. It belied the tears that seeped forth as Aeris thought, A hundred and thirty-three days. It never ends. It never stops. This paradise is forever. The gentle voice and gentler thumb both soothed and eased away tears, and she’d clutch that hand and kiss every finger, as emerald ice broke on her face. Afterwards she’d press his palm to her belly, and his still was due only to strength. Careful fingers found the spot, and pressure called giggles not screams.
“May I have my hand back, little flower?” He forced the slightest mirth, while she grinned with half-opened eyes.
“Y-Yes, general, and may I have my mug?”
He chuckled, placing it in her hand. She’d clutch the warm tea that he’d made for her or sometimes this “new” drink: hot chocolate. Sephiroth explained it was common in winter, though of course she’d have it when she wished. When first Aeris sipped it, the salt of her tears had stolen a portion of sweet. That something so good could be for her who’d once been a wretched slave. Then she looked up and up some more to her protector so pained by his love. Flinging herself into sheltering arms beyond gratitude or speech. Her Great General had swept her up then, murmuring nothing but sweet assurance.
“Everything you could ever want is yours. Anything you could desire.”
“I just want you and safety and care…”
“That, my Aeris, is guaranteed.”
Once, only once, the Cetra forgot to put her cup on the desk before napping. The tea (for it was) slipped from her fingers, spilling over her lap. It soaked through her blankets to her soft skin, thankfully cool to cause no harm. The maid awoke gasping as Sephiroth chuckled, untroubled by the swift soaking wet. She had myriad blankets and more clothes than a store. Both could be easily changed, but all hints of mirth ceased in the next moments for her sobs would cause stone hearts to bleed. Aeris covered her face with tea-stained palms, shaking like grass in a gale.
“Please, please, please, I-I’m so sorry! Don’t hurt me! I-I’ll clean it up!” But she couldn’t rise. All she could do was quake, as she stared up with eye whites like her skin. The offending cup was pressed to her belly as it shone with residual tea.
“Aeris…” Sephiroth kept his voice low, offering his free hand palm side up. “It’s well, little flower. It’s only spilled tea. You’ll never be hurt for that. I’ll never hurt you. Not for any reason.” He shifted her upward with his supporting arm, and she swallowed past the lump in her throat. Mako blazed bright as he tried to quell rage at what this accident had wrought. “You will never be harmed again, little one, no matter what you do. No one has or ever had the right to hurt you, and you always had the right not to be hurt.”
The shudder left her with a huge sigh that could’ve emptied the Cetra out. She remembered once more where she was not but even greater where she now was. With him, my general, always with him. Only the remnants of fear remained. Her little hands descended, unmasking her eyes, and Sephiroth massaged those tender palms.
“General, wh-what if I spilled tea on my phone or y-your phone or your k-keyboard?”
“I’d buy new ones, Aeris,” he mildly answered, gently pressing the back of her hand. The Cetra turned her face into his chest against a soft swath of silver. Sephiroth’s brow drew a line down the middle as she squeezed his hand hard as she could.
“I…I once spilled water, Great General,” she bare breathed, but his hearing was perfect. “One of th-them gave it to me for a…r-reward.” He held his rose tighter, as if to preempt what horrors her next words would contain. “Because…I’d been…good. I-I hadn’t fought, though I couldn’t then…I was too weak. I was so thirsty. I think it’d been days. I was dying again…from the thirst. But…” The breath pulled was ragged, and the general could feel the flames rise in emerald cold. “My fingers were broken, a-and…and I dropped it…” The ghost of that shatter tortured her ears, but the memory of what had caused her next screams stole what remained of her voice.
“I have you, my Aeris. I have you forever. You will never endure that again.” I’ll find him, my flower, if he still lives, if I must rip through a thousand minds. I will find him. I’ll find every one and prove myself the worst monster of all…” You could drop ever vessel we have in the Gate, and I’d still never hurt you. Cups aren’t your bones. Tea isn’t your blood. I don’t care if the former is spilled.”
The careful palms rubbing her upper arms fought the memory that tried to abuse. Sweet affirmations fell down from above as readily as the kiss to her crown, and in blindness his scent wreathed sweet around, cutting through the pain of the past. She grabbed his one hand, so careful and strong, and clung to that like a lifeboat. My bones aren’t broken anymore, though the memory will never heal. They’ll never be broken or bruised again, she remembered as Sephiroth kissed her. I’ll never be broken or beaten or bruised. She looked up into pure Mako light.
But in her garden, she knew not one fear to gaze at the Whispers from up high. Aeris was giddy at how she could observe everything from this vantage point. Watch it all, completely safe, on the roof of Heaven’s Gate. The first time she saw Miers returning home, the Cetra ducked behind the ledge. Praying the sea would silence her breath and the wall would hide her from sight. Then frowning a bit, the flower maid realized it wouldn’t matter if he could. He can’t get to me, th-though I don’t want to taunt. Wh-What if he found a way?? But watching the man walk up his stairs, Aeris recalled Myrna and Em. If her h-husband hurt her or tried to hurt Em, Myrna would do something about it. That’s not this world…it’s the one I left, th-the one that I was saved from… The little Cetra also had no doubt that her general would allow none of that, and beside his word, she just…felt it. The Whispers hummed with utter peace.
Sometimes in the midst of turning dark soil, Aeris would shut her eyes. Her soft palm would lay itself to the dirt, though it was separated from the rest. Earth called to earth ever and always, and even “forsaken” the Cetra still heard. Her fingers would curl as it filled beneath nails, and her brow knit to the voice of the ages. Seasons and splendor parted before and time flowed back before those thick mists. She heard the word, Daughter…and her hand squeezed to fist as she forced herself not to cry. Sea sides and mountains ran behind summer like rivers of ancient past, and then a black crater covered in snow, falling in desperation. Seeking to bury, striving to hide, praying winter would win that war. A great eye was open, dimly blood burning with darkness slit at its core…
Aeris revealed summer with a tiny smile. Slivered pupils held no fear for her. He could find me…alone in the dark. In the horror whose name is Midgar. She whimpered and shook, nor would her mind ever go to that scar. The earth held that burden. Its roots were too fouled for the Planet to ever forget, but a block had been placed in the Cetra’s mind so she could see all except that.
Pots and vases of bursting blooms lined the roof’s walls and edges. Even as autumn came crisp and cool, her flowers continued to blossom. Their colors changed to more muted hues as summer dimmed and fled. But their abundance never ceased, and the day came when a lily appeared. The center was misty goldenrod and the edges a sweet, warm peach. In the midst of a patch of wintery asters, it shone like the sun among snow. She cupped it between her dirt covered palms, inhaling the oversweet scent. Then stumbling to her unshod feet, she ran to fetch Sephiroth.
Through the roof door and down the long stairs as the evening softly reigned. She found her Great General in his dark office, poring over his phone. His expression was grim yet satisfied as slivered eyes sliced the screen. They widened just slightly as he glanced up, though Aeris balked in fear he was busy. But the sideways smile cut through alabaster, as he put his phone down to catch her.
He was dressed in black, as always of course, with both shirt and coat sleeves rolled. The leather would barely go halfway up so thinner fabric rested on top. The stark contrast between his forearms and clothes made pale skin look near luminous. His eyes of course stole the glimmering glory as he looked down at his rose. She let herself just cling to his neck, while he locked his arms at the small of her back. Saying no word, just sealing bright eyes though the blood pulsed through his vision. The sweetest of moments has found me again. My Aeris is in my arms.
“Dear general,” she whispered to him, stirring silver by his ear. “There’s something I want you to see.” He chuckled and stood, picking her up. Aeris squeaked just a bit then it died with a whimper, as she realized she was above him. Without any effort, Sephiroth held her high so he was obliged to look up. A smile slightly parted those perfect lips to see his flower in her rightful place, but he had to relinquish to leave his office, and she trembled a bit in his arms. Sephiroth kissed her cheek with his own quiet murmur, promising her all was well.
“To your garden, my flower?”
“May I carry you?”
“Yes. You m-may. I’m sorry if I interrupted you. I-If you were busy with work.”
“Never am I too busy for you,” he assured the little Cetra. Opening the door to the outside, he carried her back up the stairs.
The scent of the lily was all but forgotten for angel scent now washed her face. She wanted to live within it forever. And I can. I can if I wish… She slid slim fingers through silver hair that was worth far more than gold.
A few stars speckled the firmament, as the sun fought the creeping dim, but it was late, the sphere was tired, and some battles aren’t meant to be won. Sephiroth gazed around her garden whose green shamed the light in his eyes. The beds had increased for myriad flowers, and he wondered what he’d see on the wing. Rue forced the fallen to shut his eyes as the little maid breathed a sweet sigh. He put her down gently, and Aeris took his hand, leading her angel between. Her smaller, bare feet traversed the paths easy, and his grace allowed him to abide. When she knelt, he copied the motion, and Mako light did not taint his sweet rose.
“Your lilies have returned to you at the last,” he said as she brushed the smooth petals.
“Yes…I knew they’d find me again.”
“Summer lays dying, yet your flowers bloom.” He reached and she gave him her hand. Without hesitation, with nary a qualm. He rubbed it and sadly smiled.
In less than a week they caught up with the others in hues from burnished to white. As nights turned cooler, the flower maid worried that all blooms would wither and fail, but though some were shriveled when she re-attended, the majority clung stubbornly on. Aeris put them in pots and elaborate vases, and Sephiroth helped carry them down. Then one day as autumn lengthened, the Cetra scrutinized the flowerless town.
“There are no flowers, Great General,” she murmured, looking out from the roof in his arms.
“They’re very rare, my little rose.” He half smiled gazing down. “I seem to be blessed with the best of them all, but the salt breeze seems not to their liking. Now that you’re here though, there seems an impetus for them to keep you company…”
They still took their walks through air grown brisk, and Aeris first shook to the chill. As the sun set on the sands in the evening, though she wasn’t cold held in his arms. No, this shiver was memory’s call for what she’d been forced to endure. Sephiroth still swept his great coat from his shoulders to envelop the Cetra within. As always with her it was soft velvet lined and angel scent sweetened the leather. Aeris remembered the glorious moment when he had first swept her up. The instant that proved that only sweet care would be her due until forever. His heartbeat and warmth had seeped to her bones even through utter terror, and still now as he carried her back through the mists of late evening rain.
“We don’t have to go anywhere, little flower, if it’s too cold for you. You’ll never be cold. You’ll never be hungry or without shelter ever again.”
Aeris gazed between him and their beautiful house, bright and welcoming. Their Heaven’s Gate. And my silver angel. Her soft lips quirked up. “I…could just stay inside all through the…winter?” The Cetra confirmed that was the right term as Sephiroth ascended the stairs. Sand shivered off the soles of his boots as he made not a sound on the steps. That always amazed her, his utter stealth. She’d only hear him if he wished. But he never scares me and always makes sure I know when he’s there.
“That’s right. Though I have a feeling that you may just love the snow.” The crooked smile almost reached his eyes for her awe in gazing up.
“It’s the same hue as your hair…”
Sephiroth laughed low. “It’s more like my skin. Did you find some pictures?”
“I did…it was beautiful.”
He opened the door and a savory scent drowned her nostrils in soon to come dinner. The warmth and light made the Cetra inhale as she laid her head on his broad shoulder.
“I’ve…warm clothes now.” She remembered aloud and the general kissed her cheek.
“You do, my Aeris, and you could have more if they’re not warm enough. They make heavier kinds for winter’s chill.”
“It…always comes once a year.”
“That’s right and then spring returns.” He tilted his head as a thought caught him quick. “And in spring it will be a year.”
Aeris turned to hide in Sephiroth’s collar, and she shook but did not sob. He wanted to curse his foolish tongue. Better to tell her the truth about me…then remind her of how she suffered. But to his surprise he heard in her breath, “Thank you. Thank you…” said over. “Thank you so much. Thank you forever. Thank you until time ends…”
“It is nothing, my flower. It is nothing at all.”
“It’s so much more than nothing to me…a-and I still want to walk.” She lifted her head, and Sephiroth brushed chestnut strands away. She kissed him first chastely then kissed him deep, murmuring, “I have you now, and I’m safe.”
“That’s right, my Aeris. You always have me and you are safe forever.”
“I love that no matter how cold it is, I can always come back to this warmth.” She nestled herself back in strong arms and great coat. “And this warmth even better. I…” She blushed, and Sephiroth quickly blinked curious to this sudden pink gleam. He silenced the thought so lascivious in admonishment she couldn’t see. “I want to spread flowers all over the town, but… I need something to hold them. I…used to do that all the time, but I think I took money for blooms. I don’t need to do that anymore. A-All thanks to you, general.”
Elation and grief played behind the mask that tried to hide aught but beauty. “You’ve remembered then, my Aeris….”
Summer shifted to his gaze frozen in emerald. She kissed him slowly as silver and chestnut tangled to frame their faces, and in that brief moment Sephiroth could forget that he was the worst of all monsters. The lie thinned in splendor of this sweet communion, and he knew naught but the taste of her lips. It was another in between where only his true self could dwell, and she loved him despite all of his sins and all of the pain he had wrought.
“You’ve never hurt me, Great General.” His joy broke like a shattered wing. The feathers so sharpened slashing his soul as he laid his brow to hers. “Never, never…” Aeris continued, unknowingly causing him pain. He kept his eyes closed for fear the truth would shimmer so slim in the light. He had his grace so needed no sight to carry her to the dining room. Another guilt ruled him for it was quite late for the flower maid to take dinner, but Aeris didn’t mind nor was she starving as she had been six months ago…
Sometimes she and he would stand in swirling scent on her balcony hushed by the sea. Sometimes, alone, she’d put down occupation and step out amidst her “kin.” She’d lean on the railing and deeply sigh as the stars pricked their light on the shadow. She had myriad colors, but the hue of pink ruled in this outside space and her room. For her general, she had flowers, too, but they were all shades of white. Attempting to match the pale of his skin as her blooms sought the pink of her lips. The flower maid would hold several up to his face as Sephiroth slightly smiled. He fought to contain his joy in expression so it remained ever mild, but his eyes following could’ve melted the ice of emerald with the love held therein. The lilies were closest and the roses did try in their mimic of silver snow, so now when he slid back his balcony’s glass, their scent mixed with sand and sea.
Myrna and Nellie were blessed with her blooms til their houses were near filled as well. Whenever Aeris now went to visit, she brought with her a few pots. Myrna would smile politely, of course. Flowers weren’t flour to her, but Nellie’s wide grin would cut reddened cheeks, and she’d stick cuttings in old wine bottles. Emaline was more than delighted and would set down her phone wide eyed. She would ask Aeris how she could grow such, and the Cetra was shocked she recalled.
The maid shyly gave Myrna a flower for Miers, feeling bad still, though all reassured her. Nor had the Cetra re-met him again. Myrna would always text her before so Aeris would know when to come. Otherwise they’d meet in Heaven’s Gate or over at Nellie’s house. Even with blossoms that place was sepulchral and not to its mistress’ delight. No one shamed Aeris or said she was silly, but the maid wished she could conquer her fear.
“What if I were with you, little one?” Sephiroth asked one clear, cool eve. She was ensconced in her typical place, on his lap up in his office.
“M-Maybe, Great General? We could try that.” She wished her voice didn’t squeak, but her guardian as always just chuckled gently and kissed his rose on the brow.
“You just let me know when you want to, my Aeris. There’s no rush on this, little one.”
There were so many flowers in Heaven’s Gate now Sephiroth smiled while damping his senses. He cared naught about that for it made Aeris happy, but even she looked pensively round. The days were grown shorter and from Myrna’s house came a symphony of fall spices. Aeris sniffed long and was then overjoyed at the drink full of apples and steam. Either at Myrna’s or by the large window that faced the sighing sea. Her general would join her, when home, to observe what would endure til all time had unwound. Sipping his own cider, sometimes they’d add a shot of a gift from Nellie. He was unchanged, but she’d be all giggles, which turned the bright Mako to mellow. The burnish of dusk would stain the blue sky earlier every day, and Aeris would live for those clearest of nights where summer would spill with bright stars. Sephiroth gazed at her, unforgiven by heaven, only allowed joy in mirage.
It was both mundane flowers and his precious one that made the general think of that store. Aeris had searched for baskets online, but she wanted to touch her options. She’d nibbled her lip for he’d assured her that she could buy multiples. Glancing to the screen as she squeezed his hands, the Cetra considered her choices.
“I…” She trembled and Sephiroth tilted his head so silver swept over her neck. The flower maid shuddered and he narrowed his eyes for worry her quake was from fear. “I…don’t like any of the ones I’ve found here…” she admitted with trepidation. It took all the courage the Cetra could muster to lift her gaze back up. She knew she was safe, believed it as fervently as once she had prayed to the Planet…but that had failed her, what she’d held so tight, though its song still swirled bright through her heart. Aeris ignored it. I have better friends now. I have him…it did nothing for me. Please, dear general, don’t think me ungrateful. Each day I count only grows sweeter.
Sephiroth cupped her cheek in his palm. “You’ve the right to not like them, my Aeris.” He scanned the items she’d pulled up, emerald bright on the screen. So he would remember what they looked like and could avoid those of similar worth.
He recalled them the morning he slid on his coat and straightened his mayor’s pin. He always wore it when he went out, even if nothing were planned. Tossing his silver mane free of the leather, he tamed it back with a pass of his hand. The only mirror he had was in the bathroom, as he debated a method to bind. There was no vanity contained within winter skin or heart held together by pain. And eugenics of course. Never forget how you were made and all of the horrors you wrought. He lowered his head but briefly before deciding moonlight could be free at noon. The forelocks in emerald obscuring his sight were so common their absence was strange. Even when braided away from his face, Sephiroth often left the long bangs.
Black was the shirt beneath leather coat, the antithesis of the lily within. He carried one always now close to his heart, because it had come from her. The fragrance was cloying, but he didn’t care. It reminded him of his Aeris. His collar was open and one button below. He couldn’t recall when he’d last worn a tie. Past the mists…it’s been that long when I was forced to. Such formalities are not needed now, and I have better use for this space. Mako light halved but it never dimmed as he imagined soft chestnut right there. Her dear little “Mm” of utter contentment as the flower maid drowsed in his clutch.
The once general rolled up his sleeves as far as they would go. Not very much upon his forearms, about halfway ‘til it grew too tight. He was more concerned with the fabric fraying when the sweet, “General?” made him turn. He’d heard her approach beneath conscious senses, but delight still filled fallen heart.
“Yes, little flower?” The Cetra was framed in the light of his open door. Dear, little hands clasped close to her chest, and the half smile died on his lips. It was incongruent…that dreaded position and what poured from her skin at his sight.
Observation dampened some grief as a brow raised to her current garb. A long dress lined in lilac and shawl over shoulders so slim. The hair behind Aeris’s own high bangs was held back with a diamond band, and he noted a few rings upon tiny fingers of amethyst and gold. She must be planning to visit at Myrna’s…dear gods, my flower is lovely. How do I have her? How is she mine? How can I be granted such honor?
Sephiroth stretched a hard toward her approach, and she took it while still staring up. Her neck would start to ache for his height, but that pain was worth it to her. Glancing down, Aeris noticed his sleeves and pink intruded upon creamy skin.
“Great General, I…I love your appearance. I love the black leather on frost. I love the way your forearms look wh-when you roll up your sleeves.” Slim fingers slid over thick, solid muscle that any fortress would mourn, and though alabaster would try to mimic, dead stone was not half so warm.
Sephiroth bent to kiss her crown where the innocent fragrance swirled. “Always so flattering, my little flower.” He couldn’t help the low laugh amongst waves. Standing back up, he tossed away hair to her ever and purest awe. That drew a sigh, but he was at least happy that these things about him brought her joy. “Will you go to Myrna’s while I am out?”
The blush deepened as she squeezed his hands. “I…” The Cetra blinked several times, suppressing the squeak to spilled silver. Stepping closer, she somehow found herself pressed on the wall of his chest, as Sephiroth discovered his arms were now wrapped around this tiny, soft maid. Aeris wet her lips when those forearms she’d praised slid securely against her back. Jade light curled along each long lash as the Great General held her tight. So halved the pupil was less visible, but Aeris saw none of his horror. Those lashes beat his frost white cheeks, freezing on that which mocked snow. He wished that shame would quell the lust, but the former grew greater to fail.
“I want to come with you, Great General…” the maid barely breathed and then hid. His long coat had not been buttoned yet. She was closer to the heat of his skin. Near where the edge of the leather did fall, so Aeris drowned in it and vanilla frost.
Jade and emerald warred in shock, while her words settled with the hush of the sea. “You…wish to venture out with me, my rose?” He hardly dared speak her request.
“Yes…” The tiny squeak caused him to chuckle in hopes of allaying her fear. Aeris squeezed her hands to fist and glanced up again at her angel. The crooked smile was back on his lips, but it was always gentle and never mocked. “C-Can I come with you, Great General? I…don’t want to presume-”
“Dearest one, this is not even a question. Of course, you can come with me. I’ve awaited the day when you’d be ready to see what more this world can hold.”
She looked up at him, eyes wide to the white, as he sealed his strong arms around. Summer eyes fluttered, and Sephiroth very gently smiled down at his flower.
“Please, please promise n-no man will touch me.”
His knuckles caressed her soft cheek. “Never, little one.”
“J-Just you.” She pressed her hand over the top of his, and Sephiroth held Aeris closer.
“Just me…as you wish.” Mako couldn’t hide all his awe.
“A-And no one will hurt me, r-right, general?” The tremor was slight, but still there.
“No, Aeris.” He cupped the back of her head. “I promise you that as always.”
She took a deep breath, and his scent held the vow in winter and silver light. “Because…no one here would d-do that, a-and if they tried, you’d protect me.”
“That’s right, my flower.” He tightened his arms, and she tried not to sob with relief.
She could go out with her Great General, her silver angel of light. They’d done so many times before. But that was in the open, outside in the air. This will be in a store. What if…what if we get separated, and a m-man drags and hides me away? What if my screams are muffled or silenced? What if he can’t find me?! Tears threatened to tear the Cetra’s resolve to do this mundane thing, while Sephiroth murmured constant assurance and caressed her shoulders and back.
“Aeris, I promise no one will hurt you, and you can still choose not to go.”
“But I just asked to!” the flower maid sobbed, making black darker with tears.
“And you can change your mind.” The general shook the hair from his face and cupped her chin in his hand. His other arm stayed securely around, more than enough for support. “Aeris, there is nothing and no one who’ll stop you from doing all that you wish. You can choose and rescind whatever you want. You’re beholden to nothing, my flower. If you wish to come with me, I’ll be overjoyed, and if you wish to stay, I’ll be the same. But that doesn’t matter, how I feel, sweet one. What matters is what you wish. You’re safe here and you’ll be safe there. I’ll never leave your side.”
The Cetra blinked away what remained of her tears, and they slid down her cheeks to his hand. His gentle expression belied burning Mako for what caused her pure heart to bleed. “I…want to go with you, Great General. You’ve never lied to me.”
Pain shut his eyes as her love stained his palm, which Aeris then softly kissed. That hand that guarded her tender side squeezed into a fist, but the Cetra beamed up at him in pure trust. There was no doubt in her mind he’d protect her. He’ll be by my side or, even better, behind. He won’t let them use me or touch me. I won’t let him out of my sight, she vowed. So long as he’s there I’ll never be hurt. He protects me now. All of this power and all of this strength is used to keep me safe. I have a protector, my Great General. I’ll never be raped again.
“The only question now, my flower, is do we walk or do we step there?”
Confusion flushed her cheeks for a moment before realization dawned. Turning her head, Aeris searched through his window. The day was full grown, but quite muted. Sun and clouds fought an epic war, currently in stalemate.
“How far away is it?” Aeris peered back up, and Sephiroth kissed her on the brow. She was so endearing it was hard to resist. Especially since I have permission. The sweet, little giggle that followed the press told the general that it did still stand.
“Halfway across the Whispers, my Aeris.” He cocked his head. “And it’s also midday. The sun’s obscured, but you could still burn.”
“It’s amazing how you don’t…” Scanning the arms that were back around her, she still marveled at that for his whiteness.
Sephiroth sighed, for though love fought past grief and was stronger the latter was older. “Tanning and…burning are signs of skin damage. All of my cells regenerate quickly due to the corruption within.”
The Cetra laid a hand back to his arm where the cuff was rolled against leather. “It’s wonderful then if it does that. I’m glad you can’t be hurt…”
Oh, my Aeris, if you knew. “Nor can you, my flower. I won’t let you be hurt by anything or anyone ever again.”
With ever ease he picked her up, the motion so smooth in his strength. His ears were blessed with that sweet, little, “Mmm,” of her utter contentment and joy. Slender arms slid around his neck, and she rested her head on his shoulder. Without her behest, Aeris closed her eyes in utterly natural response. The little maid sighed, completely relaxed, safe in her guardian’s arms. Her next words, too, flowed with barely a thought. “I love this, Great General. You have me…you always have me, my powerful angel of light. You took me away. You brought me to heaven. I’ll never be hurt again.”
Every part of his heart broke into fragments, too shattered to ever be healed, but regeneration is a double-edged sword, and eugenics a curse for the damned. I was made to suffer, and the gods are cruel to make it so sweet as this. It’s because I dared attempt their glory. I deserve so much more than pain…yet I can’t speak the words to call hatred from this rose I love more than their light.
Silken silver warmed little hands as Aeris tangled her fingers therein. The kiss to her cheek grew the greatest smile that all of her flowers would envy. “I think maybe we should…step there, my general, but then we could maybe walk back.”
Despite sorrow’s thoughts, low laughter echoed against her little form. “That seems the wisest decision, my Aeris, and walking both ways might fatigue you. Not that I couldn’t carry you, but…” He shrugged so Aeris slightly startled, and Sephiroth cursed himself for a brute. She had been resting on his shoulder, but soft giggles eased his harsh judgment. At least for this minor “slight.”
“Are your eyes shut, little flower?”
“Mmhm.” She squeezed summer green even tighter.
The general scanned her face eased again on his shoulder. He was swifter than silence for the in between’s horror came from its alien source. It called the cells home to that dead world, and he never wished Aeris see that. Rather my truth be revealed to her now. Rather my horror be known.
Shaking his head, Sephiroth banished the thought as emerald seared to his step through the air. Briefly so briefly, he smelled the cold deadness of a world long bereft of life. Then the music of water from fountain and sea and the bustle of folk in the Square. The sky was clearer in the center of town, and he gazed concerned now for his Aeris. She shifted herself closer to him in what he hoped wasn’t cold memory. It was a warm, mid-autumn day, and she did have a shawl for her arms. If need be, he had his leather coat, though he admonished himself for not switching to lined.
The little Cetra raised her head, while her grip stiffened upon his broad shoulders. She wished she could quell her fear of the world, but it was a hundred years ingrained. Wesker’s Square, though, was worlds away from where she’d been enslaved. The sun shone, though its heat was veiled, and she had the better one in her guardian’s arms.
There weren’t that many people about, but the whimper still came for the men. So much bigger and stronger than her, they could use the small maid at their whim. Hold her down, beat her and bruise her, tear through her tender insides…the strongest of arms then shifted her higher as if Sephiroth sensed her terror. No, no, not “arms.” You always forget…he’s holding me in just one. He’s so much stronger than them all, and he’ll never let them hurt me. He’ll never drop me. He’ll never leave me. He’ll always be my protector.
People skimmed by them so close she was shocked not to feel the breath of their pass, and her Great General gazed mildly around before it turned to soft love upon her. Aeris kissed him, and the moments extended to a forever she wished would just last. The townsfolk continued to pass them by with nary a word for their mayor. This caused the Cetra to frown a bit and summer narrowed on passers-by.
“General…why is no one startled. D-Didn’t we appear out of air?”
“They can’t see us yet, my little rose. We’re still below the first layer.” His brows knit tight with a pensive look as he carried her towards the back arc of buildings. “Or rather the second. This plane is the first. Where we are is below this world’s fold.”
She stared at him mostly, though summer darted, as the Cetra chewed her lip. Sephiroth kissed her on the cheek, elegantly bypassing a handholding couple.
“No one can see or hear us, my rose. I don’t want my appearance to startle.” He laid his head so brief to her brow. “I…don’t want them to recall what I am. That night in the storm when we sidestepped away and you were sheltered beneath my wing…” Aeris slid a lock from his face that had fallen for this sudden grief. “I was…concerned about what that would cause. I usually take care how I go. They need no reminder their mayor’s a monster.”
“Great General…” She laid a soft palm to his cheek, and his broken smile lifted towards.
“Is that your new name for me now, my Aeris? Am I that wonderful to your eyes?”
“Yes…more than wonderful, Great General.”
“My sweet and flattering rose.”
The noise and bravado of a group of youths passing made Aeris cling to his neck. “Th-There are men here, general…e-everywhere they are.” She hid her face in fragrant hair.
“I know, little one.” His breath brushed her throat, stirring soft chestnut strands. “They will not harm you. I promise, my Aeris. I’ll never let that occur. Besides…” He did smile as she lifted her head, trusting her angel completely. “They can’t see you at all right now. Does the world seem greyer to you?”
Taking the chance, the Cetra did look around to the fountain and square in wane light. Though the sun had won a decisive battle, Aeris felt no danger to her skin. This wasn’t the full cold of the in between (which shivered her in remembrance of Midgar), but a stillness like the world held its breath unsure if exhale would bring ice or fire.
Aeris swallowed her whimper that was more shock than fear at how the mixed groups did mingle. In the set that had startled with jovial air, she saw maids as boisterous among. This day was warmer than others had been, and all were dressed to enjoy. One’s skirt was as short as the kinds Aeris wore protected in Heaven’s Gate, while her top bared a stomach adorned with a ring as she leaned loosely back on the bench. Surrounded by men, she dared speak and laugh. Why wasn’t she terrified? They could just grab her and drag her away for beatings and torture and rape?
That horror was too much to contain, and Aeris clung to strong leather clad shoulders. She shook so hard that Sephiroth clutched her now in both of his arms. Effortlessly, he ascended a set of stairs at the Square’s outer edge. “I have you, my Aeris,” he spoke litany that he hoped would dispel her fear.
“Please don’t put me down, general! Please don’t let me go!”
“Never, my flower, not while you’re afraid. You won’t be forsaken again.” He paused in the midst of steps leading up, shaking silver from his vision. The slight lift to his lips proved their destination lay right before Mako green eyes, but he glanced to his flower still lost in her fear of what she’d endured in the past. “Aeris, we should reappear.” The smirk was half mirthful, half wry. “I’ll still hold you and won’t put you down until you wish me to.”
“…okay,” she whispered and so in shadows he stepped back through the veil. They always existed, and the brightest light gave the most to be obscured. Sephiroth heard no gasps or shouts and breathed an inward sigh. He was vigilant ever to check before stepping, but there was always that chance he would miss.
The doors shushed open in their slide to let general and Cetra through, and Aeris peered up with just one eye at the fluorescent light spilling far down. She squinted, though it was not for the brightness, but rather for how they would dare. Are they trying to match my general’s shine? It’s the wrong color and not half so lovely! She picked her head fully off of his shoulder to bask in that emerald glow, while Sephiroth wore his mild expression with a brief chuckle as though he knew why. That laugh though slight seemed to breach terror’s wall that poor Aeris always carried. White floor and white light surrounded her, and faint music trickled down. It was not near as gorgeous as what he had played. The Cetra again frowned at mockery.
“This place is bigger than our house.” She had to at least give it that, and a longer laugh quivered her ribs before Sephiroth kissed her brow.
“It’s what passes for a department store here.”
“De…partment store, general?”
He went for her cheek, but she faced him instead, turning it to a maiden kiss.
“Yes, little one, it’s a place where many different things are sold of varying price and quality.”
Aeris blinked and craned her neck, scanning haphazard registers. Somehow their name was jostled loose in the misty part of her mind. They were off in the corner with unfocused people. She jumped a bit as a customer passed, but it was a woman, and Aeris soon settled though Sephiroth wasn’t remiss in assurance. He carried her into the store proper, glancing at the directory. Before them was clothing, and Aeris squeezed his shoulders with excitement in her squeak.
“General, c-can you put me down so I can see better, p-please?”
As easy as placing a doll in a house, Sephiroth did as she bid, but she kept his angelic face in her sight, captured as all was forgotten.
“Am I what you wish to peruse, little flower?” He tried to pull mirth, but it waned. “You can look at me whenever you wish.”
“I can never look enough.”
Sephiroth sighed, but Aeris took his hand and lifted it to her lips. If fissures could form in emerald so cold, it surely would have shattered, pouring forth broken light. And corrupting all it would touch. He shut Mako tightly to prevent the spill, and Aeris blinked several times as she turned. Palming the dresses, blouses, and more, she did take a few steps to explore. Out of the aisle but keeping his hand, as the general forced his mask back in place.
“So, this is where you purchase my clothing and shoes!” she exclaimed to the mystery’s resolution.
“Oh, gods, my Aeris. No.” Sephiroth wrinkled his nose in disgust. She’d removed her shawl to try on another, gaping to his haughty denial. “This place is far too lowbrow for you. You’re elite, my little flower. All your clothes and shoes are the highest quality, either made specifically for you or tailored to fit your small form.” Slivers sliced inferior garb that could’ve fallen apart for the shame. The arrogance was for her sake alone, and Aeris bit her trembling lip. “They have no sandals encrusted with diamonds nor slippers of platinum adorned. This is the most pedestrian place, and you are a tiny treasure.” He scoffed, casting sharp light around so no inch of the store was uncut. “I wouldn’t even buy you a hairclip from here since all yours contain precious gems. Maybe a ribbon,” Sephiroth conceded as Aeris’s cheeks flushed hottest red. “I believe they have silk. Though…I did come here that very first night I found you…” He lowered his head and his pupils receded so thin in that sea of green light. Aeris reached out and caught his hand, and the general gently squeezed hers. “This was the first place I thought of, my Aeris, to buy what you desperately needed. The gentle soaps and mild lotions to ease your damaged skin.” His arrogance fell as he beheld her and softened that stark angel’s face. “They should have flower baskets here…there’s a nursery in the back.” He smiled a bit then released her hand so Aeris could shrug out of the shawl. It was scratchy and harsh on sensitive skin. She was happy then for his hauteur.
With her own smooth garment back in place, Aeris readily retook his hand. Her slippered shoes made soft padding steps on linoleum not made to keep secrets. So cart wheels were noisy as well as footfalls, though Sephiroth’s boots made not a whisper. Like about town, Aeris stuck to his side if they bypassed any men, and like about town, her general offered greeting knowing each person by name. How does he do that? How does he remember? But she was far more awed than curious.
Clutching his one hand in both of hers, the maid balanced worry with glee. The entrance was no longer within sight, hidden within numerous aisles. Her heart picked up speed at escape’s disappearance, and her general kissed her brow as they walked. He murmured, as always, his gentle assurance that the Cetra was safe and secure. I’m w-with him so of course I am. I don’t have to be afraid. Nothing will hurt me…not even in here though inside there’s…no place to run. She swallowed, suppressing what shiver she could. She’d been caught in what once was a haven. Walls had provided Aeris no shelter, and she’d never seen home again. But I’m home now. I h-have my Great General, my protector, and my love. She tried to read signs as they passed beneath and Sephiroth so gracefully ducked.
He smelled the green growing before Aeris did, but suspected she had pre-awareness. A wall of half windows and a door leading in revealed lonely nursery. Sephiroth let her go before Aeris asked so she could rush to those smudged windows. Standing on tiptoes to see past the smears, each bud rang a bell in her soul. Not nearly as vibrant as her rooftop blooms, the Cetra would still never judge. Flowers were flowers and green was green. Her purpose was to love them all. Tilting her head, she half shut the summer that autumn waned shoots would regret. They were well looked after, if a bit lonely, with more mechanized care than manmade.
Sephiroth gazed, too, with hands clasped behind. He’d never thought of the flowers here. Like what the general had mentioned before, these were beneath her, as well. Not that his Aeris would ever think that, but he’d gathered her blooms from pure source. The ones in her garden came to her freely: the return of old, sought after friends.
A tiny, sweet sigh made him turn his head to her coming back down on her heels. Pushing the long bangs out of her face, Aeris surveyed the racks behind. They contained tools for handling what grew in the greenhouse behind. “Hmm,” she considered, seeking for baskets before taking his proffered hand. She freed her own quickly for in the next row a cry of glee heralded clasped palms. It was now Sephiroth’s turn to sigh as that sight always brought ancient pain.
Tinier baskets for limited blooms gathered and lolled on these shelves. Aeris pursed her lips as slender fingers tickled along each wicker handle. Only a handful of flowers would fit in these minute offerings. Peering around that aisle’s corner, the Cetra jumped up in elation. There were more containers of much larger size, and she clapped little hands as she hummed. The flower song just buzzed through her lips, while she examined the myriad baskets. Soft wicker, hard wood, some banded, some mixed, some pale as the sand and some ebon. Some painted brightly, some duller than ash, some well-made and some splintering. She thumbed every crevice of wicker wood frame, carefully over the rough. Sucking her finger after one lesson, but tasting no blood in the scrape. The remnants of earth still dwelled in the fibers, caught in the weft of each twine. A little palm scooped up the fragrance in wave, and she smiled to the faint scent of books.
Aeris knelt on the clean tiled floor as she examined the baskets for blooms. The ones so rejected were gently replaced with no malice towards their malady. Unknown where such propriety came to leave no clutter upon the white floor. The shelves were restocked as she narrowed her choice to a trio of three different types.
The first large and open with a thread of dark wood running around twists of rich brown. It was curved on the sides where the handle completed the circle so smooth on her arm. The maker had taken soft skin in account and had polished that arc past all roughness.
The second was deeper, and her hands shook to hold it as the maid swallowed sobs with raw throat. A flat-bottomed basket with handle thin twined, it would rest in her elbow’s crook. Quelling the keen that grew her in her gorge, her eyes blurred til she saw lilies gold. Blinking relieved only sight not remembrance, but she did not put the basket back.
Finally, the last was conic and deep, one to bear longer stemmed blooms. Roses, callas, and orchids perhaps. The flower maid ticked them off. The handle was rougher and left slight indents in her soft forearm. If I go with this I’ll just wear long sleeves. This is the best of this type.
“Do you need any help, miss?”
Aeris whirled about with one hand to her chest and the other braced to the floor. Looming over the maid as she knelt on the tile was a man with plain clothes and a tag. He was frowning down, and the Cetra could not form a scream from her open lips. Only breath rushing and over paced heart filled her ears as she tried to beg. It wouldn’t matter for men have no mercy, and she was nearly in perfect position. All he need do was push Aeris over, force her down and toss up her dress. He took a step forward with outstretched hand, and the maid scrambled up with a cry. Knocking the baskets aside in her rush before she ran into a solid wall.
“Aeris.” The low voice broke against her ribs, but soothed the tremble there. He went down on one knee, kissing her brow, as she clung quaking to his neck. Powerful arms enveloped the Cetra in the vow she was safe evermore. Whispered terror assailed his ears, as he picked his little rose up. She shuddered in fear, but also pure awe at how easily he did ascend. Effortless strength now holding her high, while she buried her face in sweet silver.
“Please, master, please! Don’t let him touch me. Don’t let them hurt me again!”
Sephiroth held his flower close, as tightly as he dared.
“No one will ever hurt you, my flower. I have you. You’re safe in my arms.”
He forced Mako mild to lift his head so the sales clerk was caught in the gleam.
“I was just asking if she needed some help, Mayor Crescent.”
“You were,” the general agreed. He caressed a slim shoulder with intermittent glances always to ensure. The whimpers were below normal hearing, but Sephiroth was cursed with far better. She’d been so happy just moments before. But her fear finds a way to remind. “My flower was startled by your appearance.”
“Well, I was just doing my job,” he said crossly. “Obviously, I’d no intention of hurting her.”
Emerald flame poured from deep frozen light, as incongruent as it was wrathful. No blink ceased that burning, and the sales clerk paled held within twin Mako beams.
“Aeris?” Sephiroth called to his rose. “Were you afraid that this man would hurt you?”
“Yes, master…” Her voice barely stirred the air before her breath. “Please, don’t let him. I don’t want to be hurt. I don’t want to be hurt again!”
“You won’t be, my Aeris, nor did he intend any harm…though how would you know that?” Those last words were hissed, and he narrowed his eyes as the slivers turned thinner than thorn.
If he could’ve moved, the clerk would’ve bolted, but plain tiles had been turned to deep sand. “I…I’m sorry, g-general. I d-didn’t mean-”
“I’m not the one who needs your apology, nor should this just be for the startle.”
“I-I’m sorry, miss.” He did sound sincere, though Sephiroth held his glare for some moments. Breaking the hold, he allowed the poor wretch to scurry away in disgrace. There were many departments for him to hide in, and he was lucky it was a large store.
“I-Is he gone, great master?”
“He’s gone, my rose.”
“You…won’t let him hurt me?”
She clung to his neck as her tremors subsided, surrounded by his angel’s scent. “I love how big and strong you are, and how you’re my great protector.”
He turned to face her and squeezed the maid gently, rewarded with a high “Mm.”
“I always will be, little flower. It’s my eternal purpose.”
His next gift was softer, a sweet maiden kiss, and the general now clung to this moment.
“I think I’m okay to stand again.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes…but please hold me still.”
He did so and Aeris pressed her face to his chest, as his arms made a fortress around.
Clearing his face of silver hair, Sephiroth let gentled green pulse down.
“You’re safe, little flower. I have you, as always.” Moonlight bangs and impossible lashes tried to obscure the light, but it flowed forth unceasing in care. Aeris curled her hands into fists for a moment before releasing them in a sigh. Blinking up to the silver frost fall, she caught silken spill in her fingers. Though otherworldly, it grounded the Cetra in the reality of his protection.
“He…reached for me, Great General.”
“Yes,” Sephiroth sighed, “he was quite boorish.”
“Mannerless and uncouth.” A smile cracked the mask. “And not a very good sales associate I might add.”
She wet her lips, salt rimed and dry, and he bent to kiss her brow. Throwing an arm around his neck within reach, Aeris returned it in sweeter communion. She neither realized she’d lifted up to her toes nor that they were suspended in air, but when Sephiroth set her down, she turned to face forward still held in his arms. He ran large hands along her waist, and Aeris arched her back. Staring up with dewy eyes and lips of blushing pink.
“You only do that for me, little one…” Sephiroth was near hushed in his awe.
“No one else is allowed to touch me. Only, only you. I only want you, Great General. Now until forever. No other man is w-worthy to touch me.”
He squeezed that soft waist to her squeak. “I’m honored, my flower. You honor me…in more ways than I deserve.”
She returned the squeeze to her protector’s hand, recalling her current task. Three baskets still waited for her choice on the floor, and her cheeks pinkened as she remembered.
“I need to pick one.” She peered up at him, biting her lip to the indecision.
“Just one, little flower?”
“Well…yes, I c-can’t have them all.”
“Can’t you, my Aeris?” he asked.
All three were gathered and brought to the front where Aeris balked a bit before the registers. Sephiroth placed his hands to her shoulders and caught the eye of a free cashier. She waved them over emphatically with a bright smile on her pierced lips. The Cetra was more curious about her adorned ears, though she blushed to the compliment on her rings. Fumbling her wallet among awkward fingers, the maid was thankful she didn’t drop it. Though Aeris’s breath and pulse matched duel worry, the woman just smiled and waited.
The Cetra had practiced this bit of course after talking to her general. You just handed your card. A-After you struggle to get it from your purse. Forcing herself not to cry in frustration, which greatly helped her cause. Relief’s silent sigh escaped her lips as the transaction was done with no trouble…but then there was a screen to review before she needed to press her thumb. Aeris held her breath to keep her hand steady while she waited to be rejected. L-Like before. I was bought and delivered…they hated what they’d received. I was too f-fat, because I was bre…pregnant or later, for some, too thin. Th-They beat me then raped me anyway to t-teach me a h-hard lesson… Dinging acceptance distorted the visions, freezing poor Aeris with fear, and large palms descended to ease her shoulders, warming the taut skin even through her thick shawl.
“Did you want us to send this to your address?” the cashier asked above the crinkling bag. The wicker and paper appeared to have quarrel that settled when the baskets did.
“Y-You can d-do that?” the flower maid whispered. T-The man that…reached for me could still be lurking, b-but my general won’t let him touch me. He says he w-wouldn’t hurt me. He’s just…boorish. Her lips quirked up at the term.
The cashier was nodding. She had a plump, pretty face and her name tag was emblazoned with stickers. “We certainly can, Miss Gainsborough. That way you don’t have to carry them around. In case you had other errands to run or didn’t want to be burdened.”
Aeris glanced back and up to her general who held mild mirth on his face. He half veiled his eyes and his lashes caught light to lay shadow on marble skin. The cashier glanced over and instantly blushed then cleared her throat, awaiting the answer.
“It’s your choice, little flower,” Sephiroth murmured laying his hand over hers on the counter. Aeris swallowed and returned her attention to the question at hand.
“Y-Yes, that would be…nice. Wh-When would they get there?”
“No later than tomorrow, but if you need them tonight, we could put a rush on delivery.”
“No…t-tomorrow would be fine,” Aeris assured, and the woman typed in a few things.
“Heaven’s Gate, of course?”
“Yes, that’s m-my house…” A nod confirmed it was true as readily as Sephiroth squeezing her hand. The address to such gave the Cetra pause, but the general confirmed that with no fuss.
“It’s a well-known location,” the cashier explained, “but I still have to verify the number. Alright…well did you find all you needed with no trouble?”
Aeris nodded, needing to recharge her words, and Sephiroth, though he raised a brow, decided to keep his silence.
“Good, well if you need anything or don’t get your delivery, my number’s on the emailed receipt. It’s Maeve. My…name, not my number.” She grinned as she smoothed off her name tag, and some glitter came away on her hand.
“Th-Thank you, M-Maeve.” The cashier smiled fully, and Aeris sighed relieved that she hadn’t messed up her name. Then she blushed fully that she had allowed the sigh to escape at all, but that didn’t change Maeve’s expression.
Outside, the evening set dusk afire despite the great, grey sea. Sephiroth’s lids remained half veiled, but his expression was less than mild. The crimson flare of dying day was echoed in Mako light, and his lashes caught the threads of both flame and yet they were ever unburned. Soft chestnut leaning against his arm broke the spell of ever damnation.
“General?” The soft whisper turned his head, gaze already gentled for her. “The sea looks like fire is bathing its surface. It’s…so beautiful here.”
He tried to smile. He truly did at her innocent assessment, but the flames still lived eternal within, and emerald sealed for it could not fall on her. But the kiss could, so perfect lips slightly cooled upon Aeris’s smooth, pale brow.
“Do you still wish to walk home, little flower? We could always sidestep if you’re tired, or I could carry you. You know I don’t mind. I relish you in my arms.”
The Cetra threaded her arm through the crook of his, leaning against with sweet sigh. She peered up through the silver frame to expectant and quiet expression.
“I…think I’m alright to walk, general, but if I get tired…”
“You only need ask. The Whispers are lovely at sunset, my rose. We made perfect time this day.”
Arm in arm they descended the stairs that had earlier brought them up. Wesker’s Square was more subdued, but not less populated. There were less rushing youths and more lolling couples, and Sephiroth glanced down in brief awe. She’s…with me, a murderer…monster. The horror that took her life. Again, my cowardice comes to claim me for again I cannot speak.
“Mayor Crescent!” A woman approached them from the south side, her dark dress billowing in the winds. It was lined in red and her black boots were too shiny to just be simple leather.
Aeris only startled half as much as she had in the department store. Not a man, she reminded herself as the figure stopped with a hand to her hip. She tapped her one foot, but an impish grin belied what annoyance that might have projected.
“Isadora.” Sephiroth shook away silver bangs just as stirred by her dress in the breeze. “To what do we owe the pleasure this eve?”
“The pleasure’s mine, general.” Her voice held an accent as crisp as an apple, and she darted a look to Aeris. Eyes lined in black and winged without smudge lifted to less mischievous grin, but when her attention returned to him, she near matched his own sideways smile. “When are you going to come to my studio and give the world what it deserves?”
Emerald narrowed but still flooded the night before he remembered himself to blink. Isadora’s face had paled in such gleam before the chill caused spreading delight.
“Yes…that’s exactly why, general. The portraits would be glorious!”
“Isadora,” Sephiroth began with a sigh as Aeris’s curiosity piqued. “It would be…most inappropriate. We’ve been over this before.”
Isadora waved a gloved hand, dismissing his words to the wind. “Your beauty is more than appropriate for all of my designs. You know I deal in mostly monochrome and you exemplify that hue. I wouldn’t even have to enhance your eyes. They’d naturally stand out!”
“That may be,” he patiently replied, “but it would still not be proper. As Mayor of the Whispers I can’t possibly consider such a vainglorious act.”
“Ah, general.” The designer whirled with her hands in the air, while Aeris gaped in fascination as her black dress circled her knees. “One day you will kill me,” came the lament.
No…my killing of innocents is done.
“You’re perfect, you know.”
“Many do think that.” Emerald slid down to his Aeris who squeezed his arm to confirm.
Just that slight motion pursed Isadora’s lips, and she stroked her chin, now set on her. “You’re both far too stunning to be kept locked away. Yes, even in Heaven’s Gate. Gods…” she muttered beneath her breath. “The both of you…ah, why am I dreaming? If it’s not to be it’s not to be.” Stomping forward, she glared up at him, and Aeris was too entranced to be startled. “Will you at least tell me what you use for your lashes?”
“My…eyelashes?” He half lowered the splendor, and Isadora sighed.
Light was fading fast, but Aeris was sure she saw a hint of pink in the woman’s cheeks. Her own eyes were also lined in fair fringe, but the Cetra knew about false ones now.
“Come, general. Silver hair and eyelashes that dark? You have to do something. None are that long…not even by half! If you won’t model for me, at least give me that. They’re the best ones I’ve ever seen.”
“I’m sorry, Isadora, but I’m afraid I do nothing. They’ve always been like this.”
The fashion designed narrowed her eyes, glaring up through that unending light. She couldn’t look long despite fascination for that unwavering pupil’s cut. The thrill was delightful and was one of the reasons she couldn’t resist her requests.
“None at all,” he admitted.
“And no eyeliner either?”
“And they’re real?”
Sephiroth shut one eye and with his free hand tugged at the base of the fringe. Crystalline emerald blazed as his lid lifted from the surface, and Isadora took a step back, ill at ease from better sight of that gleam. The general presented his open palm where his fingers held no lash or smudge.
Isadora’s sigh lifted her folded arms, and she glanced at Aeris as if for help. Unknowing what to do, the little Cetra hid her face in black leather.
“Well…” She had to concede in defeat. “Can I at least design false ones with yours for my muse?”
“Certainly.” Sephiroth nodded, glad it was settled. “I’ve no objections to that, Isadora, so long as they don’t bear my name.”
“No, no, no, of course not, general. I was thinking more something that evokes ‘angel…’” She looked confused to Sephiroth’s sigh. “Well if either of you…” She held up a finger. “…decide to change your minds, you know where to find me. The offer always stands.”
Isadora grinned grandly at them both before whirling away through the flares of her skirt. The click of her heels drowning out sooner than the thread of her lamentations. Sephiroth waited a tidy spell before continuing in the same direction. His own boots were silent, but his flower’s little slippers sighed a hush beyond endearing. Aeris glanced up as they exited Wesker’s, wetting her lips as she chewed on her words.
“She had an interesting voice, Great General,” she observed as the arch passed above. Lights wound the pillars in autumn burnish and more winked from the dwellings around. The last streaks of day surrendered with grace to allow the stars their due. Shared with the moon that cut a thin slice from the night to bleed radiance.
“She’s originally from Winterborough.”
“W-Winterborough, general?” Her voice squeaked in question, and Sephiroth patted the hand on his arm.
“Yes…” Streetlamps and starlight danced throughout silver as the past swirled through Mako eyes. “You might remember it as Icicle Inn. The name changed a century ago. Since the town’s always been more than the inn and has grown a bit in that time.”
He slid his arm around her shoulders for she shuddered at the term “century.” Aeris wound fingers around moonlight hair, shutting her eyes in full trust he would guide her. Her entire world just consisted of him, and inhaling swirled angel scent. That’s all there was. That’s all there could be, distilling the memory’s dark. With a sigh, the Cetra let their arms re-entwine, gazing up with pink lips lit in emerald. Sephiroth bent to kiss her brow, and she caught his lips in sweetest after.
“So, Icicle Inn became Winterborough, a-and they speak like Isa…dora there?”
“That’s right, my flower. It’s call an accent.” He half-smiled. “In truth, everyone has one.”
“I’ve noticed the people here talk, well, not ‘funny,’ but slightly different than you do.”
The general chuckled and ducked down low to pass beneath more autumn lights. They’d been strung across the end of the lane where the Cobblestone Way led them up. It was dinner time so the Whispers were quiet though back in Wesker’s there’d be more hum. The bistros and pubs would contain low talk and merriment in every glass. Sephiroth glanced down to his flower who was having no trouble with the low-grade rise.
One day, he thought and imagined them sitting in the Chatham Inn with bread and wine. Awaiting their order as she swung her heels and reached across for his hand. If the server were male, it would no more matter for her fear would be broken by time. No, he remembered, I’ll never see this. She’ll know my truth long before then. If she would go there, it’d be by herself or with some righteous, non-murdering other. Never her killer. Never the fallen. My existence will be for her hate.
“I love the way you talk, general. Your voice is so gentle and low.”
As if from a trance, his eyes cleared the haze that torment and doubt can bring. “I…never quite lost my archaic tone, Aeris.”
“Well, I love it, Great General. I’d never want you to talk any other way.”
Emerald seared through halved lids as he smiled. “We sound a bit similar, little flower, more so than the folk of the Whispers. From a different time, I suppose, my Aeris. I’ll keep this voice for you.” One day you will hate it when you are remembered what I did to you and your friends…
Author’s Note: Isadora has real life inspiration in a gorgeous and wonderful Sephiroth cosplayer Ferasha. Not only do I admire her work, she’s actually deigned to give me tips and send me prints of my favorite general, super soldier, and fallen angel.
Sephiroth is not the only cosplay she glorifies, though. She has two fantastic renditions of Cersei from ASOIAF/GOT as well as numerous other characters. I knew I had to give her some part in one of my stories, and what better one that a fashion designer since that’s what she does. I only hope the description of her voice shows it justice.
<–Chapter 16 Chapter 18–>