<–Chapter 17 Chapter 19–>
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.
A “dance” amongst flowers and piercing starlight yields a surprise at the end.
The great sea was visible, shining with starlight, cut with the sharp light of moon. There were houses above and houses below, but none were obscured by cruel steel. Sephiroth peered over at his little charge, but she was fascinated by peaceful waters. Though obscured by some higher roofs at times, both its scent and its hush ruled the air.
“Icicle Inn…” she murmured again, as though tasting the chill on her tongue. The name stirred the mists and through them, though dim, pulsed a green curtain of light. If Aeris reached forward , she could almost touch it, but a pleading voice drove her back. It wasn’t hers, but begging for mercy sounds the same on a million tongues. She clung to his arm, suppressing a whimper, while forcing herself to speak. “Wh-What’s a model, g-general?”
Sephiroth smiled down, sliding his fingers through her chestnut bangs. He tucked errant strands behind her ears, unsure to this new cause of fear. Memory of pain, what else could it be? Do the specifics truly matter?
“A model,” he started, rubbing a finger beneath his lower lip, “is…an exemplary example of something to which many aspire.” Blinking summer caused a slight chuckle for her sweet confusion. It so entranced her that Aeris didn’t notice the man rushing to catch a late dinner. “A clothing model is a person who wears the garb of a particular designer for the purpose of showing the populace how the clothing appears.” He grinned wryly. “Or rather how it appears on that particular person. Myriads of pictures are taken, and the images are sent everywhere.”
“And… you don’t want that, general?” A vegetable garden touting large fruit, as bulbous and orange as sunk sun stole her attention for a moment. She tried to dredge up their long-lost name, but it was gone or she’d never known.
“Dear gods, no.” He was too strong to shudder, but his lip did curl up as if just the thought were repugnant. “I’ve no desire to be a spectacle. I’ve already lived that life. Besides as I told Isadora, it wouldn’t be appropriate for the Mayor of the Whispers to…flaunt himself in that fashion. Faugh…”
The road rose even more, and the Cetra thought she glimpsed the edge of their high roof. It dipped away again at next turn, and she hoped she wouldn’t yawn. Aeris wanted to claim that she finished this walk, though his arms would’ve been utter heaven. I can have that whenever…whenever I wish. I…want to see if I can walk though. It’s good for me and will make his embrace all the more sweet when it comes. Squeezing herself closer, Aeris melded her small hand within his much larger.
Whatever disgust Sephiroth still held bled away at the touch of her fingers. He needed no starlight, no moon, and no lamps. Mako light was enough. It was corruption and yet it allowed the fallen to see innocence.
“I will not flaunt, but you never could, and Isadora has truthful eyes. I would’ve been disappointed if she had wasted all of her time upon me.” His free hand spread across her cheek, and Aeris tilted her face in the warmth. She wanted to blush and turn away, but in speaking of her beauty, he’d captured her with his own.
“She was right about your lashes though. I’ve said the very same.”
The general sighed, but kept sideways smile, as emerald made shadows on ice. “I wanted to cut them. Even half would best most, but I wasn’t allowed that option. They were part of my…image.” He lowered his head as forelocks obscured perfect face.
Sephiroth was happy that the silver bangs dampened the beam of light coming her way, but Aeris peered past to see his full face, and his heart tore with how much he loved her.
“I was required to look and…act a certain way.”
The little Cetra squeezed his hand, wishing the force could destroy his pain, and the greatest of generals stopped so distraught this tortured rose would weep.
“No, do not, Aeris. Never for me.” But even still it could not be commanded. He couldn’t command her in anything and especially not for this. Denied of all care for pain or emotion, and she uses it now for my own. The unworthy fallen who robbed her of life. How can you, my little rose?
“It was those terrible…people, wasn’t it? The ones who h-hurt you before…”
Facing his flower, he took her other hand and closed the distance between. She remained gazing up with trembling lip, waiting for confirmation, but no word was needed. His bowed head said all in the silence he’d learned to perfect. Washed in moonlight that swayed in the breeze, Aeris read the pain from his skin. Winter so warm inundated her hands where flawless flesh bound tattered soul. The only thing that conquered guilt was love beyond unending.
Salvation? Why? Why such guilt? Why do you need absolution? Oh gods, the love…it’s like the more broken, the more escapes across the abyss. But it never ceases in its flow. The source is never ending…and so’s the guilt. Oh general, why? Why are you in so much pain? Oh…oh, what they did to you…
They hurt you, too, my little rose, and then I hurt you more. Sephiroth held his flower close, but none could say who drew more comfort. She loves me…for now no matter how false. For now, it’s better than life. When it is broken, I’ll still remember this moment to taunt the cold, cruel stars.
“My Great General, my silver angel, I’ll still love you when all the stars fade.”
I lost my halo long ago and yet you still call me that…even if I still had it, light would be fouled, tinged with innocent blood. Sephiroth kept his face from contorting, lest the porcelain mask crack and fall. “We’re almost home, my little flower. I’m sure you must be hungry.”
The familiar paths leadened slippered feet, and there Aeris allowed a yawn. Nellie was drinking wine on her deck, and she raised the glass to them. A noise from the top floor turned her head with a scowl, as she downed the rest of the drink dark and sour.
The night winds on the edge of town tried to unwrap the maid’s shawl, and she was more than ecstatic that they were home and within was as warm as ever. It’s never, ever cold in here, she thought as Sephiroth secured the door. She knew that he did it only for her to allay his flower’s fears. He has no fear…at least not of that. Our terrors are different but no less dark.
Aeris stepped from her shoes with a grateful sigh, as she swept them up by the heels. Not that they hurt her feet in the least, but she wanted softness between her toes. The hallway lit up at their very presence, though she trusted his light to guide. Re-catching her general’s hand to his joy, she led him down the long hall. Stopping at her room, Aeris rose to her toes, and Sephiroth cocked his head with a sideways smile. Only one arm was needed to fully encircle that tiny waist and lift her up. They kissed far too briefly for both of their wants through a falling moonlight cascade. The Cetra tried to see how many times she could span the breadth of his leather clad shoulders. Finally, the general put Aeris down with a final kiss laid to her brow.
“I’ll be downstairs when you’re ready, my Aeris. We can discuss options for dinner.”
“Oh,” she gasped, squeezing the fingers that still allowed hers in their warmth. Somehow, someway she’d forgotten about that. A-As if it were a given. Because…it is. It is now. She blinked hard, taken aback. The tiniest whimper escaped her lips, and her distress made Sephiroth frown. He kissed her again on her flushed cheek then released the maid to her room.
The Great General walked down the stairs where the chandelier shattered light into shards. Glancing up for a moment, emerald was broken along those crystalline panes. It stained the fair light until he shut his eyes and continued his descent.
When Aeris rejoined him not long afterwards, it was in the brume of freshly brewed tea. Caressed in the haze of vanilla and rose, the Cetra drifted herself over. Sephiroth peered up from his open laptop as she sat down by his side. She’d replaced her fine shawl with a soft blanket for her arms were bare beneath. His warmth beside beckoned and she leaned against with a sigh when his arm curved around. There was already tea poured and a slice of bread buttered, not warm but still soft and sweet.
“I could make you dinner, my Aeris,” he started, turning the computer screen. “But it would take a while and it’s a bit late.” The black sky with sewn stars bore him witness.
The Cetra swiped crumbs from her mouth with a napkin, stirring honey into her tea. Such an indulgence and Aeris shook for how spoiled she must be for enjoying this treat. A large palm covered her little fingers, and she looked up to his shaking head. The thought was laid plain so he would negate it, while tipping more sweetness in. Aeris’s giggle conquered her quake, as she realized this wasn’t her meal. Once I would’ve wept to just gnaw the crusts. Now this is only a start.
“I thought we could order from here, little flower.” Sephiroth sipped his own black tea as emerald flared round the slit.
“Yes. Did I…not tell you about that?” He frowned slightly. “Have I been remiss?”
“I…think you did, general.” She put her cup down and furrowed her brow, paying more attention now to the screen.
He turned fully to her, crossing his legs as he re-laid his hand over hers. “Any time of the day or night you can always obtain nourishment. Of course, the kitchen will never be empty, but you always have a choice.” He glanced back at the screen as Aeris nibbled her lip. “This is just one site. There are many others if there’s nothing on here you want.” But her little finger was tracing the choices as the maid tried to bite back her tears.
“Th-They’ll bring us this?” she asked in shock. “B-But it’s a full meal!”
“Of course, little flower, and it won’t take much time. Twenty minutes at the most.”
He asked her if she wanted to complete the order, and Aeris chewed her knuckle before moving her tea. Pulling herself closer to the laptop, she scrutinized the screen. Her stomach gave a little flip as if to goad her on, and Aeris was glad that nothing seemed amiss as she clicked for the next page. The address came up automatically to summer green’s surprise. I should memorize this, though Heaven’s Gate appears to be adequate. His mayor’s mansion. No, our mayor’s mansion. But…I’m not the mayor. She giggled a little behind a raised hand, and Sephiroth halved his eyes with a quizzical smile. Aeris threaded their free fingers together before finalizing the order. A “thank you” popped up with estimated time, and she was unsurprised his words were true.
The buzz of his phone made Aeris jump into a residual shiver. She clutched the blanket at her throat as Sephiroth retrieved the device. He did not mean for Mako to blaze as the light turned his pupils to shards. Her delicate fingers kept his one hand still, reminding the other to spare this phone. He could not smile for that would be horror, and her innocence only held him. Just one more step and not the full leap. Some wars are not won in haste. Is that what I’m doing? Emerald pulsed cold. Am I proving my once title true?
“General?” The light shattered to soften for her, and he was able to temper his smile.
“A moment, my flower. Let me answer this.” Swift fingers formed curt response.
“Yes…work, my Aeris.”
“You’re always so diligent.”
“Well, I take my employment quite seriously.” His smile was tight but she saw no malice. “If I didn’t, well, why have the title? I must make myself worthy some way…”
When he bowed his head, he let it rest much lower against her brow.
“You’re more than worthy, Great General.” She reached for his other hand. Sephiroth relished that tiny warmth caught and encased safely within. When the door summons came, both of them sighed then laughed to sweet foolishness. Only then did Aeris’s stomach protest at emptiness only offset by bread, but the little maid gaped when her general returned with what had to be a king’s feast.
The Cetra could not name all the items, but she could proclaim them delicious. Afterwards when she had eaten her fill and Sephiroth was satisfied with his tastes, they cleaned it up and stowed it away, though he raised a brow to his flower in toil.
“You need not, you know,” he told the small maid, as she picked up several containers.
Blinking up as her bangs slid to the side, Aeris considered him holding the rest. Without any effort as always of course. She suppressed a shiver with no ounce of fear. “Well that wouldn’t be fair now that I can, general, and besides you’ve much more than I.”
Sephiroth’s lips quirked up for a moment to the one side, as was his way. His gaze followed her as she breezed around the island to the fridge. She now had her hair in pink ribbon tied. It matched the one on her brief, ruffled skirt. He hated himself for his filthy thoughts and how not even hatred could stop them.
That long chestnut tail teased her bare calves, as Aeris lifted her face to bright steel. Shuffling her burden to free a small hand, the Cetra pulled open a door. Humming a little with her head tilted back, she slid out a wooden stepstool. They were ever present all over the house to accommodate height differential, and the little maid had perfected their retrieval and open with barely a tap of her toe. Climbing up, she easily found places for what they had leftover, and the cool air shivered a few tears away for how much filled the space within. There’s so much to eat, and we can always get more. I’ll…never starve again
He stood stock still, mired in guilt from thoughts both uncalled and unquelled. Shifting the cool contents had bent the maid slightly and caused Sephiroth to sigh. She dresses for comfort and here you are gawking, a monster as foul as the rest. When she cleared her face of obscuring bangs, the tail of her hair swept tenderest flesh. The brush made her shudder a tiny, high, “Oh…” and slits caught her skin in its quake. The sound halved his lids to bright jade that poured, but he soothed it with thoughts of her rapists. Heat changed to flames within Mako eyes, and his lashes cut shadows on pale.
She stepped back down and automatically put the wooden stool back in its place. Shaking away her fallen forelocks, Aeris re-found her Great General. He was wearing the mask a statue would envy for perfection in stillness and cold, but the light was alive beneath part closed eyes. Even full shut would not shield it. Those lashes, those lips, those perfect cheekbones. My general’s so beautiful. He really is a silver angel…and he protects me now. Approaching him broke some invisible bond, so Sephiroth blinked just once. He did it much quicker than anyone normal, but brief flicker still calmed the gleam. Completing the shared task of cleaning up, his hand was paused before he closed the door.
“I forgot about those!” Aeris exclaimed, reaching for items now too high. He kissed the Cetra on the crown before retrieving what she sought. So back at the table he poured them both wine, far darker than strawberry tart. She climbed on his lap and he froze before sighing again as she settled in. Aeris ate only half the portion, while Sephiroth took one or two bites. Then she raised her face so they shared the last taste between the twists of their tongues. He wrapped his arms around her middle as the little Cetra squirmed. Behind the veil of tumbled silver where only this moment dwelled. Neither past nor future could destroy their joy in the sweetest in between.
Aeris yawned beneath Sephiroth’s smile as he laid his lips now to her brow.
“You’ve had a long day, my little rose,” he told her as he stood up. She wrapped her arms around his neck, as he held her so safe and secure. The tiniest whimper filled his ears, and he kissed the maid now on her cheek. “You’re safe, little one,” he promised her always then realized she wasn’t afraid.
“I love, love, love when you pick me up.”
“And I love holding you, my Aeris.” He smiled as silent boots found the steps, still covered in shattered light. “My strength has never had better use than shielding you, little love.”
“I love it so much,” the Cetra near sobbed, shaking as silk washed her limbs. “More than anything, Great General. I’m…worthy to be held by you…” She sat up, resting one hand on his shoulder as the other met porcelain skin. Sephiroth could only stare in awe with parted lips unable to speak. “I always want you to pick me up. You don’t ever have to ask. I’ll always say yes and yes again. I’ll never say no to you, a-and it’s not because I’m afraid of your anger. It’s because I want it so. I’m so safe in your arms.” She re-locked hers around her protector’s neck. “No one can beat me…no one can hurt me. You’re so strong it defies belief. Why did they make you so strong, general?”
“They wanted the perfect soldier.” Mako misted as he ascended, and his voice was just slightly sad, as if it were just an odd afterthought and not his grief’s great foundation. “But I failed at that, too, I’m afraid.”
“How did you fail, Great General?”
“You honor me so, little one,” he whispered, stopping at the door of her room. Aeris kissed him softly, murmuring permission as eternal as being held in his arms. “I failed because I wasn’t perfect…at least not enough to not fall.” He awakened the light just for her, for his own caught the curtains in breeze. The little maid shivered, so he walked briskly over to seal her away from the chill. The nights were growing both longer and colder, but in Heaven’s Gate she would always be warm.
“What you did in the past doesn’t matter,” Aeris told him as the skin on exposed arms relaxed. “What matters is what you’ve done now.”
“And what have I done, little flower, what of it?” he asked as he sat her on the bed. Going doing on one knee, Sephiroth held fragile hands, and Aeris whimpered to see glory so low.
“Y-You rescued me, general. You brought me here. You took me from the worst of all hells. Everything I have I owe to you. This room. These clothes. Everything. You guard me, shield me, protect me now, tomorrow…and forever.” She covered her eyes with her free hand, but that just soaked her palm with warm tears. “No one can ever hurt me here. I’ll never again be abused…”
He stood with grace and sat down by her side, encircling Aeris in his one arm. A deep heaving sigh shook her small form, but she lowered her hand then and looked up. Crystalline emerald met her gaze, their cold shaming the northern lights, but the love was unfrozen, as it seared through long lashes to swirl around pupils so slim. He cupped her chin and thumbed her soft lips, the unblinking stare stark in scrutiny. She was uncut and ever unfrightened by that which would make men’s hearts bleed. While Sephiroth wore his mask ever well, unable to fathom her adoration. He kissed his flower one last time before standing so silver swept over. It painted fair fragrance along her soft skin like the finest artist’s brush.
“I’ll be in my office, little one, if you have any need.”
“You’re sure I won’t disturb you, general?”
One knuckle traced the bone in her cheek. “You could never disturb me, my Aeris,” he promised before turning to take his leave.
Upstairs the general woke his computer and laid his phone upon the desk. He glared at it, as though willing the device to ring with what he desired, but it remained black and still as though frightened to attract vicarious wrath. Sephiroth tried to work and not think of his rose, but she crept through the cracks in the wall. Tiny fingers spun through silver silk as gentle as if they’d been there, and her sweet little voice murmured his title, and later, to his joy, curséd name. It would be blessed if only she’d say it…ah you’re both fallen and a fool. Always, forever, the general remembered her clinging to him in pure terror.
The screen before him was just mundane figures, orders, and simple requests. It did not deserve the wrath of pure Mako seeking to burn its way through. Slivered pupils slid again to his phone, and he forced his will not to extend. The compelled call would bring nothing new, and only break a two centuries vow. Some things take time, though each tick of the clock was bought by innocent torture. Another promise recalled him to open a tab and find the appropriate site. Though the mask remained grim, the slightest of smiles curled up the end of his perfect lips.
He knew she would come despite how she’d yawned, though he still found surprise at her appearance. It was now the long shirt that fell to high thigh in the customary black of “his” garb. Her garb now. His half smile grew greater. Her shirts. I just…borrow them. The thought softened Mako from what it had been, for he could not look at her with such eyes. The slight shock came when she plopped on his lap with loose thighs and squirm ere she settled. She wore no shorts beneath the black garment…nor anything at all. The general sighed though his smile turned true as he kissed Aeris on the crown. A little shiver shook all of her skin, making Sephiroth seal his eyes. He wrapped his arms around her middle, but observed she’d not brought a blanket. The whispering sea did hush through the window as the breeze broke against silver hair. His solid embrace would keep Aeris warm, but that wouldn’t suffice when he typed.
“No blanket, my flower?”
“I…forgot, general.” She tilted her head as he rubbed her hands.
With a low laugh, her guardian drew the black coat forth where it draped the back of his chair.
“It’s lined with that softness…’ Aeris murmured as she was swathed with vanilla filled warmth. Like a dragon’s belly where the fire was tempered with frost so tingeing the sweet.
“Of course, little flower,” he said to the slide of leather against the floor. “What have I told you? I always keep something close just in case.”
She pushed her arms through velvet lined sleeves much to the general’s amusement. They were even longer than his black shirt of course, and far harder for her to slide up. Sephiroth assisted, rolling them back, a task that would surmount her strength. Slender hands came finally free even paler against the black, and her guardian cocked his head to the side, silver falling in observation. Aeris grinned up at him without any guile, and he took the kiss he hoped was still there. She lifted one arm with some difficulty for the great coat was quite heavy. Sephiroth caught it for care and support as they slanted their mouths hard together. The tickle of lashes made her wriggle with glee, and only utter control kept Sephiroth still.
What would you do? How foul can you be? What separates us are my clothes and what’s right.
“Even dressed in my darkness your purity shines, my innocent, little rose.”
She positioned herself with her legs to the side, but it made no difference now. He wanted her as much as he hated himself for having the desire, and her sweet little sighs at just being near him did not help the general’s cause. As it was the first day, she’s dressed in my shirt, he morosely observed, and yet everything was utterly different. No tremble now rode her skin. If Aeris did shiver it was all of delight as a hand curled against his chest. Obscuring her vision with slow, sleepy blinks, the Cetra just quietly smiled. There were indeed moments when she forgot all save for his embrace. His angel’s scent teasing her nostrils and moonlight hair a halo around. A deeper sigh lifted her chin to expose her delicate throat, and as she relaxed in the throes of that breath, her spread legs revealed even more. The coat was fanned open, her shirt rode her hips, and Sephiroth sharply inhaled.
Ask her. Just ask…but she cannot say no. She can’t even call you by name. This purest rose cannot speak such foulness that would change it to blesséd from cursed. Catching both of her hands in his one, the fallen kissed her brow. Aeris giggled and squirmed with glee, and he clenched his teeth behind pressed lips.
When she opened her eyes, the room was full shrouded save for Mako that poured eternal. His screen had gone dark, impatient for use, and starlight could not pierce the window.
“General?” she asked and he bowed his head to give her his rapt attention. Aeris wet her lips and jade laced itself all the way down the length of each lash. “Do you always sit up here alone in the dark?”
“Well…I don’t need light to see, and though it costs nothing, I figure why waste it? When corruption will ever shine…”
“Corruption…” she murmured with a slight frown and summer eyes woke in his light. “You always say that, Great General.”
“I must always speak the truth.” That final word was cut on his teeth as Sephiroth looked away. You lie in your silence. She thinks you’re a hero when you’re the monster that took her life, and you of all people, you of all know what agony silence can bring. What was unknown. What remained hidden. What nearly destroyed it all… “It’s…made of corruption, my little flower. The light from my eyes…it’s-”
“Divine…” She stretched her hand up despite trembling arm to lay a palm on his cheek. Sephiroth covered it. How could he not? When she’d struggle to comfort him. “I don’t care what you were, Great General. I care what you are here and now. The past only matters in how much it wounds us, but it can’t touch us anymore. I-It still hurts. It still hurts to remember, but this future will ease that pain.” She trembled now in residual fear and he had the answer for that. Encircling the Cetra in powerful arms, Sephiroth murmured his ever assurance, and the memories parted to his low tone, turning to mist in their dissipation.
“Little rose…” He stroked her cheek with his forefinger’s knuckle, sliding the touch along delicate jaw. “You’ve reminded me.” He flashed his half smile. “There’s something I wanted to show you.”
Keeping one arm around his frail flower, Sephiroth rewoke the screen. Aeris squinted in unexpected light as his already slim pupils decreased. That pursed the maid’s lips in curiosity. She’d seen them shrink even in darkness nor were they ever not slits. The crystalline emerald and sometimes hot jade are what allow him to see. They tend to get sharper when he’s thinking something or angry at how I was treated. I…guess it’s a concentration thing. It doesn’t matter. They’re beautiful. No matter what my general could find me. No matter how dark it was.
“Here it is, little one.” He scrolled down a bit then clenched his teeth as she shifted around. Frontwards again. Frontwards is worse. Aeris then leaned forward. I was mistaken… Slim arms gleamed in the screen’s light more starkly for darkness of leather. The Cetra cocked her head and lifted a finger to trace the words line by line.
“What is this general?” Her braid brushed his chest as she shook the forelocks from her sight.
“Do you remember our talk of laws, my Aeris?” he asked with softer expression. She was a delight beyond breath of air, her mere presence an undeserved gift. And you want more, you selfish bastard. What could possibly be better than this? Her love for you and utter trust. The little maid rocked a bit as she mouthed the words, and silver brows creased over tightly shut eyes. He cleared his throat and didn’t know who to thank that he wasn’t in the midst of a call.
Aeris tilted her head high and back, arching her spine to look up at him. He’d plastered a smile on flawless marble while unblinking jade streamed down.
“Y-Yes, general,” she squeaked. “I c-certainly do. They…protect me, r-right?”
Instantly Sephiroth’s features softened as he again kissed her brow. The arm around her middle tightened for he was her guardian first. No, first I love her…but that’s not why I guard her. I guard her because I must. Even absent love, but that could not be. How could I not love this flower?
“That’s right, my Aeris. Your rights are assured by this.” He indicated the screen. “But this even more.” He crushed her closer and added his other arm for additional proof, and when he lowered his head the moonlight spill framed the Cetra in its cascade. “You have manifold layers of protection now.”
“Y-You’re the best one, Great General.” She reached up to kiss him, maiden and soft in that waterfall of silver hair. It washed away every doubt and fear drawn from horror’s past. She knew nothing would ever hurt her again. No man can touch me without my consent, no matter where I am or what I’m doing.
“My little flower…” he murmured against her lips as she opened for him alone. Cupping the back of her head in one palm, Sephiroth led the dance she’d begun. Pain swirled within sweet for the incongruence and how it must soon crash to the ground. She loved him, trusted him, adored him near worship… No! He turned away as her lips brushed his throat. Aware of his pain and seeking to soothe it as slim arms circled his neck. I deserve none of it, certainly never worship…but if I sought, summer would hold veneration. Mako must reflect and surpass that sweet falsehood. She’s the one who deserves to be praised.
Aeris laid her head to his chest with a yawn and smile for steady heartbeat. Her fingers unlocked from softest silver. Both hands fell to his one forearm. “Great General…” The whisper still cut at his heart where the threads shivered but never would break. “I love that these laws protect me, too. I…want to read all of them, but-” The next yawn stole her words, but his low chuckle opened one eye.
“Where’s your phone, little one?”
Aeris pawed at the desk, concentration fast slipping towards dreams. That jolted her up for she wasn’t prepared to let go of sweet truth for mind’s horror, and the kiss on her cheek further strengthened resolve to remain in this far better world.
Their fingers met, finding the phone in between and he assured it secure in her hand. “This is the address.” He told her twice. “Or you could just search for the words.” Roused for importance, Aeris made sure she saved it for later read. The phone almost didn’t make it back to the desk, but Sephiroth was always swift. Her little hand, heavy now, fell to the side ‘til he placed it back on her lap.
The flower maid shut her eyes with the sigh of one who has nary a care. I…I can sleep right here on his lap in his arms utterly protected. My dreams are sweeter because of him, a-and even if nightmares come, they’re not real. I wake up right here safe and secure. Please let me wake up right here!
“General,” she pleaded and Mako fell sharp, seeking to cut the maid’s fear. “I-I always want to wake in your arms. I always want you to hold me.”
“I will, my flower,” he promised her gently, squeezing her even more so, “for as long as you need. For as long as you’ll allow…”
“I’ll always allow it!” Aeris sat up and jade burned his half-lowered lashes. “Wh-Why wouldn’t I?” It was almost a demand.
Sephiroth’s smile did not hide his rue though her indignant tone made it grow truer. Relishing her annoyance because it showed how far Aeris had come. He raised her hand for a gentleman’s kiss though she shivered in the brush of his forelocks.
“Your feelings about me might…change once you’ve remembered more.”
“The more I remember, the more I’ll love you…though I love you so much already.”
He bowed his head and squeezed his eyes shut, so hard the glow throbbed against blood. Crushing her carefully close in his arms, Sephiroth cursed the light in his vision. He saw only red as she kissed flawless cheeks, murmuring her sweet affirmations.
There are things you don’t know about me, my rose. Things you can’t possibly remember. If you did…we would not be this way. When you know… He clenched his fists on the thought. Aeris laid her palm over the taut surface where the tension instantly eased. With her eyes on his face, she lifted that hand to lay her soft lips on pale skin. Sephiroth did not blink for the sight was too dear to obscure for even a moment, but when she shut her eyes and sighed towards sweet slumber, he did not forget his promise. Waking the computer to continue his work, more than pleased for the “fate” of his hand. She held it still as it lay on her lap…where the Cetra had placed it herself. Every so often she’d murmur and shift to the general’s now resigned sigh. It came with his awe as he’d peer down again to the chestnut spill over his coat. It was nothing for him to one handed complete the tasks so assigned for this eve. Though it took slightly longer, he’d no need to rush and every reason to prolong right below.
The baskets were delivered the next morning at breakfast. He gazed at the door ere the bell. Then her phone buzzed, but Aeris was already ensconced in the curve of his arm. Remembering that nothing could hurt her now, but a half year cannot best a hundred. Her general kissed her and stroked her cheek, hoping his touch would draw the maid back. She clutched his hand, threading their fingers as Sephiroth let their brows meet. Only when she was calm did he answer the door, though the bearer was already gone. The summons was courtesy to merely inform. and no interaction was needed.
Terror changed swiftly to utter delight and some surprise for she’d almost forgotten. Thumbing the wicker once more in new sight, as the general took from her joy. It could be shared without harm to the source, though emerald froze to recall darkest taking…
Now when they had their walks about town, Aeris always carried a basket, and Sephiroth, bittersweet with her arm in his, wished long forelocks could shield his rue. Maid and monster, arm in arm and sometimes hand in hand. How can she stand it? How does she allow? The answer turned flawless face. She does not know. Knowledge is sacred, and it’s what I’m denying my rose. But she seemed not bereft as she gave a flower to near everyone they met. Maids and children, mothers and crones, but for men she had nothing to offer. They’d taken too much even as she felt guilty to tremble in her guardian’s arm. She would scatter blossoms all about town, in the Square, and along the fountain. On surrounding benches or open her hand to let them take flight on the wind.
Sephiroth would gaze at soft soaring petals, remembering black feathered flight. Would they meet in the heavens? Would darkness drag down what was sweet and good and pure? Or will innocence triumph, as it did before to what fell from the gloom bearing death? He’d clutch Aeris to him as they watched the sea. In the Square, by the Gate, or above. It made no matter, the hush filled their blood, dimming corruption though never the light.
On the shore in the dusk, Sephiroth closed one hand around his wrist in unbreakable lock. His little flower dwelled behind, and she alone held that key. He’d open for her with barely a touch, a word, or much more than a thought. That battle was lost, and he’d given up even attempting a feigned victory. Her thoughts flowed into him at mere brush of skin, and he sighed for his own did the same. He could tell by her giggle when his mind did wander to the basest of his desires. Giggling is better than screaming, he thought, though I still cannot touch this rose. I’m no longer her master, thank whatever gods would listen to a wretch like me, but she still calls it “use,” and I’d never use her, nor has she called me by name. Above all…she loves me. Stricken he squeezed her belly so soft below. The little maid squeaked and did not quite glare, more playful than ever irate.
He’ll always protect me… She lifted her head to meet the forelocks that brushed her brow. So much obligation and far too much guilt. The edge of tide tickled her toes. It was a warm evening, a rarity now as autumn cut close at the days. The sun spun light webs over the water, but they faded before reaching the sands. To Aeris, the sea blurred like Nellie’s dark wine, but Sephiroth just saw brightened blood.
It was the horizon tingeing the deeps, and the fallen knew soon they would come. He could not escape them, their judgment so cold. It followed him, stalking his steps. The moon was far gentler, lending its light to silver that washed leather black. They were less blatant at least near that sphere, but the darkness spread out past forever. Their eternal palette to pierce cruelly through, but what lay beyond was far worse.
Aeris would grip his arms beneath leather so taut the thick fabric could split. Whispering love and sweet affirmations that strove to destroy his guilt. The heavens were gentle to her ears, murmuring light’s descant. Neither harsh nor clanging to the small Cetra as the Planet, too, sang with the spheres, but Sephiroth lowered his head to those stars where other worlds surely spun. I was born here and yet I’m not of…the corruption I bear is my curse, but I cannot blame it for my heinous deeds. I was pulled, but I could’ve fought. Soon she must know. Soon I must tell her. But cowardice still held his tongue. As he slew monsters with wing drawn in pain, he remembered that he was a craven. While killing horrors that armies would flee from, his heart mourned his flower’s hatred.
She was engrossed now in gathering blossoms, but not just to take about town. The chill was increasing even by day with the sun’s arc now cresting lower. Aeris had whimpered remembering the cold she’d been forced to endure for so long, but then Sephiroth held her, kissed her and promised again that that those dark times were dead. Her room was so cozy. Her bed full of comfort, and she had clothes to combat coming frost. Even this early it played a prelude on her windows in spindly white. Gone at a breath once morning ascended, but Aeris thought it just taunted the sun.
She entered her closet and sighed to the garb she could drape herself in for true warmth. More could be bought if the Cetra so wished, but she had plenty for coming cold. She had to remember when leaving the Gate or going upstairs to her garden. Inside was always deliciously warm so the maiden could dress how she pleased. Those ruffled skirts were his sighing bane, as she wiggled and squirmed on his lap, while Aeris glanced up to cold glinting jade that seeped ‘tween the fringe of his lashes. To her delight he’d kiss his sweet flower so fully and deep she would shudder, but that quake held neither fear nor cold, and that made the jade light spill brighter.
But for tender blooms trembling above, the sea breeze had grown cutting cruel. While Aeris had shawls and jackets and gloves, they had nothing but her promise. She whispered it to the ones that were left as the already saved were dug out. All would be salvaged to blossom through winter and spend the pale season indoors. Either with them or given away to townsfolk she trusted to task. Her general would help her and his hands were far quicker than sometimes the Cetra could follow, but he was concerned with harming the flowers, near worry he reserved for her. He also had more mayoral tasks as the Whispers prepared for deep cold.
While descending the stairs from the roof one midday with his arms full of (lesser) flowers, Sephiroth’s phone buzzed against his lapel, and the general glanced briefly down. Only when splendor was stowed in her room did the general give pause to answer. Narrowed eyes scanned the banal request before the once fallen replied.
“Aeris?” he called her from the door, and in a moment, she was in his arms. That broke the mask for ennui could not win when his flower was in his embrace. “I have some business at the lighthouse. There’s a crack in the pillar’s foundation.”
“Okay, general,” she said, squeezing closer, and he kissed her on the brow. Aeris would have none of that, though, for all and wet her lips in full kisses and true. He cupped the back of head in his palm as their tongues led a dance that drove deep.
Don’t think of that, you monster. He berated those thoughts flaying his conscience raw. Aeris stood on tiptoes nor could Sephiroth deny her the support of one powerful arm. Holding her easily as he stood up, and the little maid’s toes caught cool air. For once the chill breeze did not faze her, for better memories were being made.
“I’ll…be safe here,” she whispered still held, sliding the forelocks from his face. Her guardian nodded, and then as she squeaked scooped the maid into full embrace. Aeris rested her arms on his broad shoulders with hands clasped behind his neck. The moonlight cascade tickled her fingers as she laid kisses along his jaw line.
“You are safe here, my little flower,” he promised her, catching a few. They were maiden and quick, but no less desired, and his palm covered half of her face. The general sighed still clutching her tight, wondering how he’d let her go. His return would occur the quicker he left, and the evening would be better for parting, but neither forgiven nor little maid wished to begin that first part.
“You…you should go, Great General. I-If somebody called you, you should answer.” Her little fingers toyed with the pin that seemed too attached to his coat, and Sephiroth smiled behind shuttered eyes where lashes formed ornate fringe. She ran a thumb over that splendor, which drew a chuckle up.
“Yes…the quicker I go, the sooner return to the sweetness such evening will bring. You’ll be alright up here, little one?”
“Y-Yes, general. I will. A-And inside, too. I’ll be fine. Heaven’s Gate is my haven and h-home, b-because of you and your angelic presence.”
Pain turned that smile to grimace. He sighed. The innocent will have their beliefs. “There’s plenty for dinner if you grow hungry before I return.”
“Yes…” she whispered with trembling voice, and a tender palm slid over one shoulder. “Y-You should…p-put me down now, general.” She swallowed. “S-So you can go.” She kissed him once more over and over, and his heart hurt with how much he was loved.
This one tiny woman bears that great burden unknowing…no, no, not now.
Sephiroth carried her back to her flowers and with reluctance set her down by the beds. Her hands swept his shoulders as he stood back up before trailing down his chest. Tilting her chin, he thumbed those pink lips, and vowed that he’d return soon.
Afternoon touched the eve, and she remembered that press with strength always tempered for her. Her spade was half into the soil around roses when the ringing made Aeris gasp. She pushed back her forelocks even at realization that earth was left in that brush. It didn’t matter. She was of the Planet. What lived therein filled her veins, too. The bit on her skin could be washed away. She was more concerned for her phone. No pockets or pouches graced this plain dress with the soil ground deep in the knees, and the little Cetra huffed whimpering breaths, clutching her heart for the lost device. True luck was with her, for there the phone was, lodged between bra and soft breast. It was him of course, her Great General, but in answering she took note of a text.
“Aeris, little flower, you remembered your phone.” The chuckle was instantly blatant. Even filtered through technology’s threads, it coursed through her skin in warm quiver.
“Y-Yes, general…I did.” The Cetra stood up, brushing earth from her knees and new dust danced with old in rouged light. “D-Did you finish your task about town?”
The sea shushed beneath his words. Aeris peered over to that sultry beast, curling itself on the shore. Whether its call had come through his phone or not, the Cetra did not know. She meandered over to the edge of the roof to lean towards the waves they both heard.
“And…are you on your way back home?”
“Yes, little flower, I am.”
Her breath shivered out for the purr in his voice made the low tone resonate. Aeris clutched the phone to her ear with both hands, praying that he would say more. Quiet laughter tickled her skin, and she gasped wondering if he could tell.
“There’s something I want to show you. Will you still be atop? You’re not too tired, are you?”
“No, general,” the Cetra whispered. “I’m…never too tired for you.”
“We shall see about that when I find you again. Until soon, little love.”
“Love…” she bare breathed in the breeze. Shutting her eyes, Aeris saw him smile with neither blindness nor distance to quell.
“Always love, little one, and always protection. Wait for me in your garden.”
The wind teased some tears from her eyes’ corners as Aeris replaced her phone. She wondered what wondrous thing he’d found now, as bittersweet plucked at her heart. He needed no glory, no splendid, fair gift, no offering for his rose. Her silver angel was all Aeris desired, though she did clasp her hands in hopes of a book. But he wouldn’t have asked me to stay in my garden if it’s a book he brings. Unless, she pondered, returning to roses (there was no point in not using the time), it’s a book that concerns my flowers. Though I really don’t need one of those. The blossoms just grow without aid or request. Maybe he’s brought me more vases. A tall light winked on in the farther corner, bereft of the sinking sun. Aeris kept digging and potting the blooms, roses as pink as her lips. Maybe more pots, though I do have plenty. Maybe he found a new flower. One that will flourish under my touch. Maybe a new kind of lily…
The spade was half into soft, crumbling earth, and though surprised, the maid did not gasp. He could ever surprise her with step of cat’s envy, but he always made sure not to shock. Though it was not that which widened green eyes to the glory that gleamed by the door.
The wind had wound up to gently stir locks so silver the moon would be mocked. It would hide tonight and the clearness would bring the judgment of every cold star. How can they? she thought. How can they judge this and not shrivel out for the shame? He’d changed in the time between parting and now, surely after their sea-washed phone call. This leather was sleeker, his night hunting clothes, though no metal pauldrons graced his shoulders. Only smooth silk bathed that expanse frosting the folded black collar, yet emerald found her unobscured by forelocks. He’d pulled them back into braids at the temples to meet and unite by his crown. The long, woven tail swam among silver susurrus for a bed.
Summer eyes strained to hold back their blinks, as silent boots marked his approach. They were the high ones over the knee with silver buckles to match his coat’s clasps. Though it was only caught at the waist so the remains could increase fading light. Neither leather nor buckles betrayed him with sound, and the Cetra had to brace where she knelt. One hand drifted up to cover the space between her parted lips. It was hard not to fixate on the straps cross his chest where slim fingers so often had played.
“Oh, Great General…” The whisper echoed in the hollow of her palm. “The greatest of them all…”
“And do you know many generals, my Aeris?” He smiled in the wake of wind teased tendrils.
“It wouldn’t matter if I did,” the flower maid answered, “you’d best them all without effort.”
It was only when he bowed his head that Aeris noticed his tightened left hand. Memory fluttered the core of her fear, and the Cetra forced knowledge to quell it. He’s not them. He is not them. She reminded herself, trying to drown out past screams. He wouldn’t do that. He wouldn’t trick me. This wouldn’t be what he would give. A hundred and sixty-four days have passed a-and I won’t be beaten now. I won’t be struck or brutalized. I…I have to believe that he won’t. H-He loves me and he’s my protector. Th-There has to be another reason.
In his left hand he held two staves, one dull and one bright in the dusk. She swallowed the whimper tight in her chest to augment the beat of her heart. Sephiroth heard it and ceased forward motion as if marble did now rule his skin. His perfect face darkened with the weight of a frown more terrible with no forelocks to veil it.
“I’m not going to hurt you, my little flower.” Mako seared half lowered lids. Yet no ire touched his voice, tumbling with rue and regret. He set the staves down never breaking the link between emerald and summer green. It was Aeris who blinked quickly and often to clear the past from her vision. Her general rose slowly to hinder alarm so tall to steal sun’s waning glory. Crimson did not change him nor bathe him in blood (his memories filled that dark task). Winter skin burned pale as a dream on the edge of fluttering lashes.
“I…I know.” In speaking Aeris unwound her taut fear, webs drifting away in the breeze. She did know, though memory played out the scene of a chained wretch beaten bloody, but even in her earth stained dress, the Cetra was far beyond that. No visible luxury adorned the maid, yet she was surrounded in wealth. I have my angel. That’s all I need, but I’m still allowed to have more. I’m no longer a slave. I’m his little flower, and he’s not going to strike me with those. He’s not like those men. He’s my protector. Whatever he wants, it’s not that.
“May I approach, Aeris?”
“Y-Yes, of course.” She remained on her knees as he did. If possible Sephiroth’s expression grew grimmer as he offered the maiden his hand. She placed both hers within shining leather that could not hide the warmth off his palm. Easily lifted, Aeris gazed up nor could she help her lifted hand.
The slightest grin cracked the wall of his face as Sephiroth caught it again. Gently of course as he lowly chuckled. “Later, little one. If I’d known this garb would be such a distraction, I’d have dressed more modestly.”
Pink spots bloomed on Aeris’s cheeks as her roses shook in the wind. She hoped they weren’t laughing to her so flustered, and Sephiroth released his grip. It wasn’t like she couldn’t trace pure marble whenever she wished to duel joys. Ensconced on his lap or at night before slumber where winter’s white line parted black, but somehow it differed seeing him now in the clothes he wore out on the hunt. Even minus steel, he was resplendent. A-And he’s mine just like I’m his. She jolted up at the swift revelation, and her general lowered his lids. His expression remained as still as north waters with just jaded Mako to blaze. It was a vortex that swirled into slivers as Sephiroth lowered his head. Swallowed, devoured, but ever renewed, their chill lit her face warmed by love. Her fingers lifted of their own accord, and this time he did not stop her. It wouldn’t be fair for his found her face to slide a knuckle along her jaw.
“Do you remember when we spoke of defense, little flower?”
“Yes, general…I do.” Somehow the distance between him and her had dissipated in the space of a breath. That breeze couldn’t steal it, his rich angel’s scent, even without falling silver to spread. That streamed down his back and was not out of reach, but Aeris forced herself to hold focus. His thumb brushed her lips, shutting her eyes, and Sephiroth ceased the motion. Now was not the time to lull. They had an eternity of sweet afters.
“Do you remember when I promised I’d show you ways of defending yourself, my Aeris?”
Summer flew open as her lower lip trembled. She’d been so much more frightened then. It had seemed absurd that a tiny weak thing could ever consider her own defense. Now she looked at her hands, so covered in earth, and wondered what else they could do. He held up a finger and whirled with a sweep of silver caress on her face. The Cetra watched him, gnawing her lip as the general retrieved the staves. He beckoned her over away from the beds of flowers to more open space. Close to the sunset that peeked over the edge of a watery seam.
Aeris stopped by the doorway to pick up some boots, one of the pairs always left in that space. They were rough in appearance but soft on her feet, and something about them felt right. The thick mist had parted when they were first worn, and she figured they woke up some past. A good portion, though, for Aeris had smiled, clasping hands beneath her chin. It must’ve been before the horror when she’d just been a “flower maid.” When warmer, she did like her slipper shoes, but with autumn the boots were now better. They matched her brown dress in roughness, at least, if not directly in color. The slipper shoes, too, were piled close by, more proof of her myriad options.
Sephiroth left the sun by his side, smiling slight to his flower’s approach. He gave her the shorter of the staves, bright metal cool to the touch. Aeris clutched it, gazing down with a furrowed brow. The sea breeze twisted the long tail of her hair, and she was glad now she’d pulled that back. Her own bangs were free, though, so she shook them away, as she tested the staff for its balance. Deeper mist parted only to reveal her memories of function and form. It was simple…a much simpler one than once she had held in lost past.
“I thought of your height.” His voice closed the haze, but base memory remained. “And told them that.” He looked strange. “I…hope that’s alright, my Aeris.”
“Yes, general.” She bit her lip. “That’s fine. Th-Thank you so much! I…had one of these a long time…before.” He nodded as daylight sunk deeper down, and another lamp fluttered on. The little Cetra went back to the stave, testing the balance between shifting hands. When she found one she liked, she tentatively placed it before with a widened stance. Sephiroth still held his loose in left hand, while Aeris’s eyes grew wide.
“I thought you used a sword, general.”
And he froze like the frost of his skin.
“I’m not going to use the sword with you, Aeris.” Never, never again. That will only be used in your defense…and to cleanse the world of your abusers. “Does the staff sit well in your hands, little one?”
She lifted it again on a bias, finding the balance quicker this time. “Yes, general. It feels…natural. Not quite like my flowers, but not strange.”
“Good.” He matched her stance and Aeris blinked as his coat and hair flew in the breeze.
“Wh-What do you want me to do, general?”
“Come for me, little flower.”
“B-But I can’t hit you!” Mist made the past howl, and she nearly buckled, a wretched slave.
“That is what we’re trying to test,” Sephiroth calmly replied.
“But you’ve never hit me, a-and you never will.”
“That, my Aeris, is a given. I’m going to defend, and you’re going to strike and try to land a blow.”
“You’re not going to hurt me, little flower. Never worry about that.”
The Cetra swallowed and gripped the stave tight to her general’s mild expression. Then she chewed her lip and looked up askance. “You’re stronger than everyone though. Faster, too,” she almost accused.
Sephiroth lowly laughed, conceding to nod. “That’s right, but I can temper it…or attempt to.” Lines formed in his brow as he considered. “Suffice it to say that what we do here will certainly help in your defense. Now…whenever you’re ready.”
He appeared so at ease and so nonchalant, the stave crossing that gorgeous chest. L-Like straps and buckles, Aeris thought, knowing blush was not hidden from the light of his eyes. The evening breeze cooled it like glittering emerald, and Aeris shook the bangs from her face. This was her general, her silver angel, but what if when out there was another? Like that man in the department store, but with much worse on his mind. She gripped the staff tighter, chilling her palms, while Sephiroth’s stance mocked a statue. Only his hair and coat stirred on the wind, and Mako pulsed cold on his lashes.
Aeris stepped forward with a soft swing that briefly disturbed evening’s air. Sephiroth caught it with barely a lift of his own stave into position. Metal against wood, but the latter still held made sturdy to stand against steel. Aeris recoiled expecting an answer, but the general held his place. Gazing down still mildly, a slight curl to one side of his lips. The Cetra struck again, a more sidewards blow, and he flung his staff out with one hand. The vibration tingled the flower maid’s palms, but she recovered and drew a wide arc. Sephiroth spun away as the stave shushed through trailing tips of silver hair. Exaggerated motion caused Aeris to stumble, but she caught herself before narrowed bright eyes. Half-running, she tried to use that momentum to propel a swifter attack. The general side stepped and her staff sliced the air before clattering against the roof. That reverberation shook her to the shoulders, but the Cetra still kept her bearings. Thin lines of sweat trickled down her temple, and the evening air lost its cool.
Further away from her flower beds now, Aeris faced her general. He stood as assured and fully unruffled, lids halved over calm expression. She bit her lip and forced concentration away from flawless marble in black leather lined. Her breath had slowed, and the soft heat of the lamps replaced the sun sunk to its bed. White light traced silver that errantly brushed the leather that fell to his knees. Inhaling slowly, the Cetra cleared her face, tucking locks behind her ears. Her general waited, slight smile lifting, not enough to crack porcelain.
She took a short leap to bring her stave down on an unprotected shoulder. Sephiroth switched the angle of his, but that had been Aeris’s plan. As she landed, she shifted and formed a tight circle going after the general’s leg. But like their once waltz, he knew this fine dance, and turned on his toes to streamed silver. The motion made parrying obsolete, and that was to her misfortune. Overbalanced the Cetra gave a little cry before her back slammed against solid wall.
“I have you, little flower.” His voice broke the edge, as their mock battle came to an end. Slim shaking fingers released her spent weapon, and she tilted her head back and up. Low, gentled laughter caressed her back as Sephiroth wrapped both arms around. He bent to her crown to bless it with kisses and prove him protector, once more.
Breath and heart changed in the throes of embrace. She could not quite say they slowed. Rather their frenzy served different purpose. He squeezed her middle and smiled. Moonlight so bound did not bless her brow and the heavens, too, were bereft.
“You did so well, my little rose,” he told the flower maid. She was breathless and flushed with cheeks to dim rouge, so jade conquered Mako once more. He stood a bit straighter pulling her close as the stars pricked the back of the darkness.
“Did I, general?”
“Yes. Perhaps you’ve remembered…more of what is lost.”
“I don’t think I was ever that great.”
Sorrow held his laughter. “You’re more than ‘great,’ my Aeris. You must be for that’s how I’m called.”
Her face screwed up in skepticism. “How can I be ‘great’ when I didn’t even come close to landing a strike against you?”
Aeris, my flower, you defeated me before in a far greater way than you could imagine. Each subsequent star to break through the black forced Sephiroth still his pain. Looking at her eased it as well, which made other agony worse. I shouldn’t use her to lessen my pain. Her love for me…why? I must tell her. I’ll burn that foul city to the ground, and then she’ll know my truth…
“Your technique was good. Had I been that fool we saw in the store, I’d surely be dead.” He grinned at that in his customary way, half lift to perfect lips.
Aeris didn’t shudder because Sephiroth held her, nor did she know who to thank for this grace. She rested her hands within leather gloves, glancing down for that strange touch of skin. His warmth still bled through and he’d take them off later. Maybe I’ll ask him to take care of my back. The past tremble could’ve turned into a wriggle of glee, but then the Cetra sobered.
“You’d be with me though…if I ever went there?”
“Of course I’d be, my Aeris. So long as you want me by your side, that’s where I’ll ever be. You will never be forced to venture alone anywhere you don’t wish.”
She did shudder then and he kissed her brow, murmuring ever protection. One hand remained around her soft middle and another caught her fragile hand. Even with gloves, his fingers still found the root of tension to ease it out. “I can do this far better later,” he promised with a gentle smile. “Take care of your back…” The smile did fall as he glanced away across the sands. She squeezed the thick fingers between her own, and he answered her carefully. Thinking about their excursion again, Aeris was more than glad for his solid presence.
“I could never imagine going out on my own. I…don’t want to, general.”
“Nor do you have to, my little love, but if you choose…” He cupped her chin. Aeris looked up through falling green, wetting her lips so they glistened within. “If…you choose…” He blinked once, and the sea breeze took pity to roll one of the staves in its brush. The general recalled what he wished to say prior to dewy pink. “If you ever choose to do so, you’d have a way to defend yourself. Now,” he continued smoothing away the bangs that had stuck to her face, “in no way are you required to carry a weapon if you venture about town, but if it makes you feel more secure than by all means bring your staff. Remember this though…your lack of defense would in no way excuse an attack. As it was before it is still now. Someone hurting you is never your fault.” He had to pause and hide away for a moment behind his eternal mask. “I do keep the monster hordes at bay, but I’ve received reports in the past. Never by day, though, and never in town nor ever this close to the Gate.” The general’s smile held no joy just grim determination. “Especially now that I have you to protect, I’m more thorough along this edge.” Gripping his arms at the elbows around her, her guardian stood even taller. “No monsters will ever hurt you, my Aeris, whether they’re human or not. Protected forever, my little rose. That’s what you’ll always be.”
She turned in embrace with her own slim limbs raised against his unyielding chest. The buckles were cool, but his skin was so warm even as night brought a freeze. His arms were shielding her from the chill, too, as they did everything else. Nor did Aeris doubt he’d sweep her swift up with his coat wrapped around her small form.
“I never want to go anywhere far without you, general. You keep me safe from all kinds of monsters no matter what kind they are.”
“I’m a monster, too, my little flower…” he murmured near monotone.
“No…no you’re not. Y-You’re not at all. You’re my silver angel of light. My Great General. You’re my hero and love. There’s nothing monstrous about you at all.” She stared straight through slivers into light, and he had to shut them away. Jerking his head to finally face those unforgiving stars. He would torture himself with their judgment forever, as forgiveness dwelled warm in his arms.
“There is no darker truth than what lives in my eyes…what horror’s light reveals.” He tried not to show it, but pale lids were thin, and the gleam lit the blood from behind.
“They’re beautiful, general…” Her sweet voice destroyed him, and Sephiroth bowed his head in defeat.
General… It was bitter. Some general, defeated by stars and purity. But the latter brought light to his heart, as well, for he was happy to lose that war. Her little palm laid itself on his arm, and he returned the love-borne gaze.
“I love their bright glow.” He blinked several times, washing his cheeks with long lashes. “A-And the slit pupil doesn’t bother me. I love your eyes general, and that gorgeous fringe. You could find me in deepest dark…”
There are other things, Aeris, that make me a monster. Things I can never change. It lives in my cells and colors my dreams as black as the veil beyond stars. That’s where it comes from…my blood’s ripest horror, the thing that demanded your life. I know what I am, and I know who I was, but the truth cannot change the past.
In summer eyes far light was reflected, magnified in Mako glow. There was barely a shiver to mar perfect emerald that never froze her for its chill. Aeris blinked slowly and peered farther up to the lights that bathed myriad worlds. A roof of steel had been her sky for over a hundred years, and what festered below was better left for the shadows than memory. She refused to shudder, not while wrapped in the strongest arms, safe and assured. The sky did not fade. The stars did not melt, and though ignored now, the Planet still hummed.
“Do you think the stars are lonely up there, Great General?” she mused.
He did not wince and raised his head to let them flay his soul. “I wish they were, little rose…”
Aeris tilted her head, more concerned with him now than stars that would always endure. “Y-You know, general. I…saw a picture of something that looks like your eyes.”
“Did you now, Aeris?” Her soft bitten lip did coax a smile from his forced neutral face.
“Yes…I did.” The wind stirred the sands as she blushed. He lifted a hand, caressing that rouge, and the Cetra kissed his palm. “They were called the northern lights. H-Have you ever seen them?”’
Emerald sheered away again, but he had to answer, “Yes.”
“Are they as clear as your eyes, general? Are they at least half so beautiful?”
“I wish I remembered, my little flower. I didn’t care about beauty then…I know they keep company with the stars.” He gritted his teeth and looked back up. The light made shadows pool beneath, but which light could not be said.
Aeris blinked softly and squeezed his gloved hand, and Sephiroth answered her gentle. Ever and always he kept his grip careful for the fragile bones he’d always shield. The sight of slim fingers so pale in the black made him sigh for opposite’s meeting. He wrapped his other arm around her soft waist, guarding that space now as well. All that she is is mine to protect, that and nothing more. Let me protect her…let me have that. I was nothing for so very long.
“Why do you hate them so much, general?”
He snapped up, revealing surprise. “Hate them? My Aeris, oh no, never hate. I fear the dark truth they may veil…”
Her lips parted in query she didn’t need ask, as her general sighed again.
“Those stars are ever cold to me. They have as much warmth as my eyes. They are frigid and empty, but between in far worse. The darkness they pierce could bleed horrors.” He was caught in the weft of his rueful words and did not see the tears on soft cheeks. “Every so often I force my gaze up, and search the night for my greatest fear, but it’s already come. It’s already fallen…and I had no choice but to do the same.”
Reaching up through the shroud of silver light, Aeris caught his face. Sephiroth let her turn it back towards her judgement, but the Cetra had nothing but love. She stared straight through the slit heart of darkness and did not look away.
“Your eyes are as human as you, general. Your human and these are your eyes.”
“I’ve alien eyes in an angel’s face.”
She tilted her head as her lips quirked up. “They look more like cat to me.”
“Or snake, little flower.”
She clicked her tongue. “Do snakes have green eyes then?”
“You know what I mean.”
“I know what you mourn.”
You cannot know it all…
“Oh general…” She lifted his hand, uncaring leather blocked her soft kiss, and he could not help it. He lifted her chin and slanted his mouth over hers. Unable to pray, Sephiroth still hoped that he was not breaching a boundary. She could kiss him whenever she wished. He’d ensured his Aeris knew that, and though she had told him the very same, the general would always bear doubt.
Breathless but joyous Aeris clung to his arms as they mutually deepened. The stars bathed them both, but Sephiroth did not care. Silver shielded, and he drowned in her.
“You’re better…” she murmured against his lips as the sea breeze blew moonlight to lick. It was still perfect, bound at his crown. He was regal and she wished he’d believe. “You’re better because of that horror.”
“You say that?!” He recoiled in shock, while Aeris reeled to his change in position. Towering over again, taken aback by such statement from she whom he’d slain. Yet she was unmoved and met his cold gaze with nary an ounce of doubt.
“Before your light those stars grow dim.”
“No, Aeris…they die in my eyes. “I’m not better, my flower. I’m…different. Alien. Something that doesn’t belong.”
“You certain do so belong!” Her breath came in a huff, and the ire shocked Sephiroth to a brief laugh. “Where else would you be? You’re the Whispers’ mayor, and everyone here loves you. Not more than me, though.” She bit her soft lip, suddenly meek again. The once fallen angel enclosed her again in power that could not be broken. He shook his head slightly, but joy ever flourished on features so bathed with that love. “You’re wonderful, glorious, so very strong. Without you…” The Cetra shuddered. “Without you, I-I’d be…” She didn’t finish. She didn’t have to. All she need do was remember…where she was and where she was not as the Dreaming Sea dampened her fear. Vanilla and frost seeped over the maid with the brief hint of leather around. “Whatever you were, it doesn’t matter, a-and you b-belong to me, too.”
Aeris searched his face for sign of rage that she’d overstepped her bounds, but Sephiroth only bent to kiss her brow with joy he needed to spread. The remnants of fear dissolved in her heart, and she tugged at his leather gloves. Chuckling, the general granted her wish and divested his hands their cover.
Aeris then offered her tiny wrist, and he raised a silver brow. He tempered his joy with hesitance, unbelieving this ultimate trust. With utmost care then he wrapped his fingers around that delicate span. The Cetra sighed softly, closing her eyes as warmth spread to hand and forearm. What had been broken, twisted, and bruised was entrusted to his careful grip. Nor was this a shackle, more like the best guard. The mists through her mind recalled bangles.
“Does this mean that I can buy you bracelets?” He flashed her his crooked smile.
Aeris tilted her head so soft hair brushed his chest, which sent jade sparks through Mako eyes. She didn’t understand how she ever stopped looking. He was so beautiful it hurt. His hands were so gentle. His low voice so kind. His pale hair incredibly soft.
“You…didn’t hit me when…when we ‘fought.’ Just like you said, general…”
“No and I never will. I will never use my strength against you, Aeris. I have it for your sake. You’re the only reason I deserve it. It allows me to be your protector. It is both my penance and my joy to guard you, little rose. We stand in your garden on the roof of our house, and I have the best flower of all.”
“I have the best guardian…” She tried to stay lucid as his thumb rubbed her inner wrist. He was so tall. He was so strong, and he was her protector. She had been granted the best of them all after a century of torment. While he did look after the entire town, he believed he’d been meant for her. It was the only way his existence made sense, the only reason that he’d been brought back. The Cetra was grieved he thought like that and wished something could make him happy, but as emerald bathed her lifted face, she realized someone did.
He’s mine…all mine, just like I’m his. I’ll never be forsaken. I’m forever safe with my silver angel. My prayers were finally heard. He’ll never be rough. He’ll never be brutal. He’ll never be like them. Gentle touch is all I’ll ever know. It’s all I ever wanted. How can I ever be grateful enough? I’ll never be raped again.
Sephiroth loosed her wrist as the evening deepened, but he’d forgotten about those far stars. Both arms enclosed the little Cetra tightly to her ecstasy. Somehow the Great General always knew how much pressure to exert. She looked back and up to his quiet expression that mellowed to hold a slight smile.
“My tiny flower,” the general murmured.
“My silver angel,” she answered through moonlight cascade.
He chuckled softly, squeezing her waist to elicit a little squeak. She threw up a glare that did not shield amusement, and he kissed her on the brow. He held his lips there and tried to fathom again how he was so lucky. I am the most undeserving wretch, a liar, and a monster, and yet here she is…wrapped in my arms. My Aeris eternally. Mine to protect and permitted to love. Could any penance be sweeter? My perfect flower. My sweet innocent…I will never fail you in this.
Aeris squeezed the arms her hands rested upon. The night was growing colder, but she was so warm even lacking a coat. His abundant heat shielded the chill. Even the north wind so called by her speech could only draw rouge from her cheeks, and it couldn’t necessarily count that a win, as the maid had been blushing before.
I’m protected by a winter angel with the northern lights in his eyes. I want him to use me…no, it wouldn’t be use because I want it so. He wants it, too a-and has for a while…I can tell whenever I sit on his lap. The way he reacts and how he looks at me before hiding it behind guilt. He wants me so much, but he won’t use me, and that makes me want him more. They hurt me so badly for so very long I forgot gentleness existed. He’ll never hurt me. He’ll always make sure I don’t…t-tear around. She held back a sob to the press of his lips still warm upon her brow. He’s not like other men. He’s not like them at all. He…was never my master. He’s my Great General, but he’d want to hear…
Mako light seared the air. The so-named stood up, wide eyed in sweet shock. Aeris could not quell her tremble.
“The Great General. The Great…Sephiroth…” she whispered the sibilance once more, and his smile erased all those years. Past the centuries and beyond the mists before it was ever a curse.
“Aeris, my flower, you…said my name.” He released her hands to crush her so careful.
“Yes…” She could only breathe out in relief that he was more than pleased. Sealing her eyes as the breeze spun his scent around her like moonlight in silk. He’s not beating me. He’s not crushing my bones. He’s not hurting me at all. He’s beautiful, gentle, and kind. His embrace was the soundest of shields, the best of all armor, a fortress’ might would be mocked. “N-No one’s going to hurt me again now that I’m with you. I could…use a man’s name, and he couldn’t hurt me, a-all because I’m with you.” She had no need to panic for such a defiance, because it was no more.
Sephiroth could not garner up any sorrow for this brief interlude of joy. “You are with me, Aeris, and no one will hurt you, nor would they despite that truth.”
“I want to be with you, Sephiroth!” she exclaimed desperately. “A-And not just because of protection.”
“Oh gods, Aeris…oh gods, how I love the sound of my name on your lips. I tried to imagine how it would be, but that echo cannot compare…”
“Sephiroth…” The breath of that name shivered along strands of silver.
“Yes…yes forever, my Aeris. Whatever you wish. Whatever you want. I am yours to command.”
“I…just want you.” She blinked up to bright emerald and he cupped her chin in his hand. The Cetra swallowed to cover the noise that wanted to rip from her throat. “Sephiroth, m-my Great General.”
“That’s right, my flower. I’m utterly yours. Your protector. Your general. Your love.” He wanted to hold her fully, complete, and in an instant, she was high in his arms.
Aeris whimpered in joy, running her hands over broad shoulders. Then the little maid yawned as the eve caught her up, and her slender limbs splayed on black leather. His step was so smooth, his hold was so sure, the Cetra barely noticed his stride. She was also exhausted and hungry to boot. But not starving…not ever again. I’ll be able to eat and then go to bed, and I can sleep wrapped in his arms.
“My Great General,” she whispered again, and he kissed her on the cheek. “My…Sephiroth.”
Mako burned radiant upon every lash as the breath of that name shimmered on silver. At the top of the stairs, he joined their brows, and whispered, “It’s a start.”
<–Chapter 17 Chapter 19–>