<–Chapter 18 Chapter 20–>
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.
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Chapter artwork disclaimer: the featured artwork for this chapter is by an unknown artist and from an unknown source. THE PICTURE HAS BEEN SLIGHTLY ALTERED IN APPEARANCE AND TO INCLUDE THE CHAPTER NUMBER AND TITLE. ALL RIGHTS BELONG TO THE ARTIST. if you are the fore mentioned or have any identifying information about them, please let me know.
*******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.
Sephiroth prepares for a special hunt that will leave Aeris alone for several days.
Aeris awoke to the Great General’s voice.
“The timing is imperative.”
The miasma of sleep did circle her round, shielded from nightmares within in his embrace.
“I am normally a very patient man, but it is running dry.”
The little Cetra was swathed in no less than two blankets along with her guardian’s arms. Light from the ceiling augmented the screen for she’d been reading before her nap. Her head rested on her general’s chest, hand curled against his shirt. Dream webs stung her eyes so she blinked them away to fade amidst summer soft.
“It must be done soon. You have the first funding.” Frost skin was so taut without twitch. “Winter will be upon us soon. This cannot be suffered to wait.”
The phone was tight in Sephiroth’s grasp, as the other hand draped her pale thigh. Sporadically, he’d couch his phone to his shoulder and release the maid to type. Swifter than shot his fingers flew over keys that whirred to the pass. But Sephiroth always returned his embrace with hands lolling about her smooth hip.
Deeply inhaling his angel’s scent, the little Cetra yawned. Her prior read book was splayed on his desk with edges like curling wings. She had no doubt he’d done this for her so she could mark her place. Another yawn shut her clearing eyes as a kiss found its way to her crown. Right behind her jeweled headband whose gems gleamed in emerald light.
Aeris added a stretch to her yawn, spreading her fingers wide. Silver bangles adorned her wrists, ringing soft as they slid down her arms. Now that she could adorn slender limbs, they were almost always festooned. Within the week of that major breakthrough, Sephiroth had bought at least fifty. Always insistent that only the finest would ever touch her skin. The Cetra could wear multiples every day and still not repeat for a month. She liked them loose (for obvious reasons) so they’d gathered on her forearms. Quite a few were too large even at smallest setting, but she was happy to gift them to friends.
Initially, the Cetra could just stand one limb being covered in what were not shackles. Her skin twitched in remembrance of that cold truth, and she’d gripped her arm, fighting visions. Sephiroth had closed her in his embrace, making sure not to hinder her movements. If she wished to remove them, she was free to do so, but Aeris breathed herself past that point. Her ears were filled with his low assurance, as the hushing sea wove between words. She’d been barefoot and her toes curled in soft carpet that could never be broken concrete.
Now she could bear jewelry on both of her wrists, and the clink did not bring back her chains. She had the “key” to unlock all these links, the press of a dainty finger. There came a day soon when he swept her up, and a leg bore platinum anklet. Shifting the flower maid to one arm, the general’s thumb brushed that adornment. She’d kissed him full then and hid her slight tremble in the desperate grip on shoulders so wide.
Today her white skirt was unruffled and pleated, the blue ribbon behind besting the hem. She wore the same hue in her hair, as well, a high, loose ponytail. Between it and her forelocks the headband glittered with crystalline sapphire blooms. The blanket around her bare shoulders obscured the necklace against her chest. Oval shaped and surrounded by diamonds, so blue the great sea would be shamed.
There would be no going outside today. The sky was grey as steel. She’d trembled at that, while she had dressed, and a whimper escaped her tight throat. But she was not there, and the sea was her guide in reinforcing this promise. The Cetra then found a white camisole, the hue bright against her soft skin. Pink, too, was preferred, though that hue brought a tremble that quaked through a sea of mist. Quite a few dresses bore that color, too, but there was a lack like a hole in her heart…
Plummeting temperature had written white frost all over her balcony window. Curiosity lifted a delicate hand to trace the spiraling white, but a whimper forced Aeris’s finger back down for the memory of darker cold. The rest of her flowers were finally indoors, and that was where, too, she’d remain. The grey sea matched greyer sky, and the maid only shivered to vision. It was nearly midday and yet near dark as dusk with no hint of sun in the sky.
So incongruent… She shuffled her feet on thick carpet not yet in her shoes. The sealed window was a clear barrier to the bleak chill of salted air. Out there it’s so cold and bitter, but in here it’s cozy and warm. She’d shed her robe so stood there in white with so much skin exposed. I never have to be cold again. Her breath misted the glass before.
“It begins tomorrow,” the general ordered with authority that shivered pale skin. She loved his voice. The rich, low vibration that echoed through his chest. “Gil means nothing. If you need more, I can easily provi-”
Sephiroth swallowed his last word for the Cetra had shifted around. The blanket slipped slightly to reveal near bare skin with only slim straps soft upon. Aeris tugged a bit to unwrap her cover, lifting up from her general’s lap. When she plopped back down, he sharply inhaled and held it as she rocked her hips. The flower maid tilted up her head to meet boiling jade above. It fell on slight shoulders with fair skin exposed where white lines littered the pale. Tracing cruel vestiges of her past helped Sephiroth regroup his words. Shame filled him, too, though it did nothing to quell his natural response.
“I apologize,” he said to the unknown ear. “Finances are no issue.” Mako seared along her scars, while Aeris melted into his touch. She glanced up again, and her general’s brief smile was warmer than the dawn. “As soon as it’s done-” His teeth snapped together for the maid squirmed again on his lap. Sephiroth blinked quickly several times. “As…soon as it’s…finished, I must know. Instantly. Without delay.” There was an echo beneath his tone, and his eyes had turned neon bright. “You will call me the moment it is done. There is no denying this order.”
The flower maid swallowed, as, for a sharp moment, all warmth was sucked from the room. This was something beyond his “general’s” voice. This was a voice to fill souls with need. The Cetra could not know to whom Sephiroth spoke, but she knew without doubt, if he so commanded, they’d throw themselves into the sea. He closed his eyes for the space of a moment and bowed his head before slivers found her. They were ringed by emerald, through now cold light that could only adore. Aeris smiled up, unsure why she’d been troubled as he caught her little hand. The tender might of his thumb eased what tension remained in her fragile fingers, and the maid leaned forward to examine the screen, but it was merely mayoral work.
Sephiroth’s next answers were curt without cutting, commanding, but not of command. He tried but failed to keep his gaze up as he gave assent to answers received.
“Excellent.” Swiftly, he typed a few lines as Aeris attempted to follow. A smile ruled one half of his face as he silently kissed her cheek. She held her giggle as he replied, “I expect this in less than-” But she did not hold her still. She plopped back down in the perfect position for him to plow her like fresh earth. And you’re bare below…as always, my flower. I love that you trust me so. He clenched his jaw and tempered the grip on his poor, suffering phone. “I apologize again,” he said through tight teeth as the maid wiggled upon straining buttons. “Give me a moment, please.”
She didn’t mean to, but his grip at her waist made the Cetra giggle. Aeris did love this new little game of “distracting” her Great General. He’d always pause or stall in his action then glance down with a raised brow. Gentle amusement ever spreading across his exquisite face. If she looked up at the very moment, she could see his pupils constrict. That was if he didn’t blink or shut his gleaming eyes. She hoped, she hoped…she wasn’t sure what she hoped, but she was no longer afraid. She’d look up at him with her lip in her teeth, and he’d cup her chin in his hand. Glacial jade threatened to consume summer, and Aeris wet her lips to this chill. Then he’d sigh and kiss her brow, emerald blooming behind his pale lids. His fingers still shivered down her pale throat, bringing a shuddering hum.
Lifting without effort, he set her back down in a less distracting place. “So mischievous, my tiny flower…” She quivered to the growl in her ear. “Are we so playful today?” A moan rode her lips to that brush of perfection, and the low chuckle did nothing to ease. “Shall we play later, my little rose? Whatever game you choose…”
“My general…” she murmured, turning to face. “I…” It was uncertain what she meant to say. Her palm found his cheek as Sephiroth kissed her, keeping it brief to not sink submerged.
“After, little one. I promise you that. Can you wait ‘til I finish this call?”
“Yes…” she bare whispered, trembling with want as her fingers lost all strength to fall. He caught them and kissed her on the crown, returning the phone in remembered grim. Waiting with clenched teeth as Aeris re-shifted so that she now sat to the side. The tiny Cetra rested her head against him, eyes half closed in what was not sleep. Though his speech to the party over the line was the “general’s” voice again, Sephiroth could not help sporadic smiles for the joy her presence did bring.
It had been far too cold today for Aeris to venture out, but she’d still put on little slippered shoes with huge bows on the toes. Lined in pearl and pure white gold, they served only to adorn. The bows’ centers were diamonds and the shoes were embroidered with flowers cloaked in lace. She probably owned twenty of slight variation, but Sephiroth couldn’t care less. She deserved them. What he envisioned…what would re-stain his soul was something else also for her. It doesn’t matter what sins I must bear…and it will free others, too.
As he planned revels of raining blood, the general saw hair bound in bow. Behind her crown. And double that, he thought for the band near her high bangs. The hair adjacent had been pulled back to give the bow something to hold, and he idly stroked that chestnut fall to the little maid’s humming delight. She relaxed her neck to couch her head against a leather clad bicep. He’d ventured out, while she remained in, and returned with moonlight full of winter. The scent was more acrid than his fair aroma, as Aeris had run to his arms. Sephiroth kissed her brow silently, as emerald sharpened towards his phone.
Incongruent, he thought, while typing. I plan horror while holding this rose. She’s a doll, too. He tilted his head. A lovely and delicate one. There are so many reasons my task must not fail. How can I be worthy of her?
Despite his guilt and his self-doubt, Sephiroth adored this vision. Aeris was as she was meant to be. A terrible wrong had been set aright. She was forever protected in powerful arms. In my arms. It gave him sweet pause. I’m allowed to be the last Cetra’s protector. The fallen could’ve laughed at that, but his pain was too great for mirth. I, who killed and now lie to her, am allowed to touch the pure. But he could not deny she was covered in elegance, glimmering gems, lit by glittering eyes. That final caused his brow to crease that such light would dare wash her, but she was untainted as ever by it. She was untainted by all…
“Soon then,” he finished, and Aeris sat up to his voice as sharp as a blade. Sephiroth placed the phone down with slight hesitation. He had other calls to make. Other demands and other compulsions, but he glanced at her and made it still. Things were in motion, though he cursed the time, but accepted he’d have to endure. I endure…how selfish I am. She bore that century’s torture. I endure nothing. I only atone and hope my actions can make things aright.
He painted a smile that became real when he sat Aeris up. It was impossible to be somber in the face of such glee when he wrapped her in both of his arms.
“General…” Her high voice called him sweet. and the so-titled tilted his head. Long lashes splayed upon pale cheeks and expectation made Mako gleam purer. “Sephiroth…” It was too painful, that long waited joy, and he sealed his lids to withstand it. For Aeris, herself, the maiden still trembled to what terrors that name did destroy.
He slid his knuckles under her chin to rub the tender skin there. She tilted her head to expose her pale throat in absolute surrender.
She trusts me so much, my little flower, only because she knows not. She doesn’t remember how much I hurt her and the horrors that bled from my sword. How am I worthy to hold this fair rose, so open in my clutch?
He stopped, a kindness for her, for the Cetra could not speak through caress.
“Will you…take care of my back?”
His brow furrowed until he remembered, though he bowed his head to her utter faith. That she would allow his curséd hands upon that which he had destroyed.
“Of course, little flower.” Then he clenched his teeth as she shifted back around. Tiny, innocent, lovely…and mine, he thought, my beautiful Aeris.
She closed her eyes as the screen dimmed unused. Warm palms covered her lower back. He’d slid them beneath her camisole, and that shudder released a soft cry. His thumbs travelled up the line of her spine as long fingers enclosed her soft belly. The little Cetra had no doubt he could break her back with no effort. But he never will… She braced herself against the chair’s arms, rocking her hips as she settled in.
The powerful hands froze in their place, tightening slightly as he shut his eyes. I’ve been alive for two centuries and I’ve never had such a reaction. And it’s for a woman whom I not only killed, but who was raped for a hundred years. You think I’m your hero, my little flower, but I’m really the worst of all monsters. Guilt did not ease the base effect. And it will only grow worse.
The straps of her shirt dug into her shoulders, and Aeris hunched them in a bit. He’d continued easing his hands up smooth skin, and the Cetra took that as impetus. She slipped the camisole over her head, arching her back in divesting. Then, reaching behind, she fumbled at fastens and hooks that would lay her top bare. A gentle hand stilled her, and his low voice only did not break.
“Do you want my assistance, little flower?”
She flashed a smile with the tilt of her head. “Yes…yes, please do, Sephiroth.” It was done swift with a flick of his fingers as summer eyes bathed winter skin. Aeris freed her shoulders from those straps and leaned against him with a sigh. Enclosing the Cetra in both of his arms, he relished the quiver that lurked against. He had an utterly lovely, tiny, sweet maid ensconced on his lap bare below. And now bare above. Only soft chestnut waves could tickle the skin of her back. No…I’m wrong. I can, too. I’m allowed unbelievable privilege. Her little pleated skirt gave a modicum of cover, not enough to really speak on. And it would appear I am again wrong, he considered as three buttons popped. A shiver shed small bumps down her arms as the maid gave a little gasp.
The general now slid warm palms over her shoulders and to his relief Aeris stilled. He ran his hands down both slim limbs, all the way to her tiny hands. The bumps multiplied to his gentle caress, but that ensured she wasn’t cold. In tortured slowness, he skimmed his touch up, letting his thumbs trail her inner elbows. Aeris threw her gaze back, face slackened with want, and Sephiroth kissed her brow as he chuckled.
When he reached “the spot,” the Cetra shuddered, but it was neither in pain nor fear. Her spine arched against his powerful fingers, and he wanted to be flayed for his thoughts. It was the same…the same depravation, another sin borne of desire. And this is my own. I have no excuse, no outside will to blame. I want her writhing and crying my name while those petals part below….it doesn’t matter how gentle I am. There’s no way she won’t scream in torment. I have the illusion of her consent to fuel my putrid mind.
Gods…it’s worse when she says my name. “Yes, little one?” he said aloud, fingers pressed to her shoulder blades. She made a soft sound that creased his brow before he forced a sigh.
“You…you really want me.” It was not a question, and emerald flew open in shame and a hint of pure terror.
Little one, I want you more than forgiveness, and that would be unfair. You’d feel obligated to fulfill my want…my crude and selfish desire. You’re not for that. You’re not for me. Another perhaps, not the fallen. When you’re ready, and no moment more. But all that came out was…
Her little face was earnest in staring up at angelic pale, but for once the fear was only his own. Aeris held none for her Great General. Nearly naked upon profound desire, the Cetra merely blinked. He owed her a life. He owed her the world. The least he could do was respond.
“I won’t…lie to you, my Aeris. I do want you…but you’re mine to protect and cherish and love, never to take for my own. I…can’t do that. You’re not for my use and never for my base desire.” He ran his hands up and down the span of her back where risen blood had bloomed it soft pink. She quivered and tried to retain concentration as strong fingers soothed every ache.
“But…what if I-I want you, too.”
“I’m terrified I’d hurt you, and you were hurt for so very long. Any more is intolerable.”
“But if I…consent then it’s okay, and you’d never try to hurt me.”
“But if I did, Aeris, it would be abysmal.” He wrapped an arm around her waist. So that he could concentrate on one slender shoulder, as Aeris kept summer eyes on his face. That made it worse, her utter trust as her hands rested on his thick forearm. Sephiroth couldn’t help it. He had to look down, and his height granted him enviable sight. Her breasts were full with their tips and her lips vying for the pinkest. He forced his mind from what else could enter such a contest of heat. That soft flesh was crisscrossed in myriad marks, and wrath partly cooled his ardor. Some were from lash and some were from stretching in forced impregnation.
But the very worst one of all began at one shoulder, biased her breasts before crossing her stomach. It wrapped around the opposite hip, and Mako could melt winter with rage. It was not the scar he expected to see and half-wished his own would replace. What dwelled there was thicker than her wrist. He could not imagine how she had screamed. There was no creature on earth that deserved such a blow, but this tiny maid had helplessly borne it.
Across her soft stomach the scar wrinkled up, and he gently fingered the edges. Aeris gasped, pulling her belly in, so Sephiroth ceased swift, meeting her gaze. Blinking quickly and wetting her lips, the Cetra laid her hand over his. Trust and true love widened her eyes as she pressed his back down in permission. The general returned to his scrutiny, brushing the once tortured flesh. He wondered why the texture changed as it crossed from breast to belly. His touch made the Cetra writhe again, but her past abuse troubled him now.
“How many days has it been, little one?” he asked, trying to quell empty wrath.
“Two hundred and two,” came instant reply. Though it was half musing, as he shook his head, the number was instantly known.
“Does this hurt you, my Aeris?” He carefully pressed with his gaze on her face for reaction.
“No…not at all.” The little maid smiled. “I love the brush of your fingers. No one is stronger…stronger than you, and no one could ever be gentler.”
She shook then as memory stole over her skin, staring down at that still blatant scar. Sephiroth wanted to cover the spot to shield her eyes from that pain, but it was her flesh, and Aeris deserved to reclaim it in every part.
“Wh-When I first…got this, it hurt more than death. I’d been…pregnant then.”
Sephiroth’s fingers froze again as emerald turned pale on still face. The fire lurked behind the cold. “They…beat you while you were with child.”
“Y-Yes,” she confirmed, quaking in fear as she turned her face into his chest. Those arms as always were her shield, nor did they fail her now. Smooth black leather slid around as he remembered his primary task. So held, the Cetra looked back up, twisting a finger in moonlight hair. The slightest smile parted the waves of dark anger that whitened his angel face.
“I …stole food,” she continued. “I was starving, and it hurt so much, but…I wasn’t empty then.” She looked down at her stomach. “And that made the hunger far worse. It was gnawing my insides, scraping my ribs. I couldn’t take the pain. I didn’t think anything could hurt more than this, but then…he yanked me around. Struck me so hard across the jaw that it cracked and I lost what I ate. I…threw it up then he hit me again for getting it on his shoes. I cowered on the ground, crying and begging him not to hit me anymore. I said I was sorry as he kicked me over, helpless on my back. Then…th-then…”
Sephiroth kissed her brow and murmured forgotten words only meant to soothe. Swallowing tears, Aeris remembered that she was now safe and protected. I can speak of this. I can let it out. They can’t hurt me anymore…
“I never saw what he hit me with, but my body was seared in two. Across my shoulder, between my breasts. It opened from there to my hip. I couldn’t even scream. The blow stole my breath, and then gushing heat flooded that line. Then…different blood made my stomach clench, and I…I lost the child, but he didn’t care. He didn’t care. He didn’t care at all…”
Sephiroth could do nothing but hold her close as the tiny maid squeezed her eyes shut. Seeking to drive the past from her vision and cover it with softer mist. The powerful arms encased her frail form as his thumb caressed fragile hands. As tight as he dared, the general held her with brutal judgment silently vowed. Wait. You must wait. You must wait til it’s time. They will call you and then it begins. I know it is selfish and not wholly for her. I’ll enjoy it far too much…
“There are no words I can say, little flower, to destroy that terrible day. All I can promise is that you’re now safe from all forms of every abuse. You will never be brutalized like that again. The past marks your flesh, but can’t touch your future. No one can hurt you now.”
“B-Because of you…the G-Great Sephiroth.”
“Yes…” he said in grief. Now you say my name, but my truth remains hidden. Just a word would set you screaming, and I would be worse than that coward.
Aeris twisted more fingers in silver light hair, and ran others over his chest. The tangible truth of her great protector was calming the Cetra’s heart. His wonderful scent and powerful arms to destroy foul memory’s hold. Finding a smile, she tried to decide the smoothest, his skin or silk shirt. The sleeves were rolled back just a bit with cuffs open, too tight upon large forearms. Beneath her touch, thick muscles rippled, and she wanted to weep, she was so safe. Safe from the past that had made that scar. Safe in her Great General’s arms. She could just sit here and idly think about how beautiful he was. Even near naked and upon his lap, she was more safe than in Midgar and clothes. Bending, she kissed the back of his hand before running small fingers against. Her bangles and bracelets jingled to movement, sweet music for sweeter motion.
“Sephiroth?” she whispered again.
“Yes, little flower?” he answered.
The Cetra swallowed, blushing beneath summer eyes. “Y-You can touch me. You…can touch this part.”
Emerald blazed. “Are you…sure, little one?”
She bit her lip, while still looking up, and pink filled the space against teeth. Slivers were searching and searching some more, seeking out hint of the joke. It had to be there or some kind of coercion then the little maid grasped his wrist. She struggled in lifting his heavier limb, but then his palm spread to cup one soft breast. He was beyond gentle in this exploration so mindful of her bitter scars. Hoping the invitation ran true, the general joined his other hand. Shame clawed his heart for lustful thoughts could not have imagined them better, but truly he would’ve loved them despite, if only because they were hers.
The Great General carefully squeezed, and Aeris gasped as his mouth found her neck. Knowing the balance of teeth, lips, and tongue to make the Cetra sing. Under a silver waterfall, Aeris need not cage her moans. He thoroughly tasted the skin of her throat then slid his lips down that soft line. Within his cupped palms her soft flesh had tightened, and the warmth only descended. He left gentle bites on what breast was exposed for greedy hands would not give up their clutch. Sephiroth was aware of how their sight made her feel, but he hated only her past. He wanted to bless every line with his lips, as if by doing so they would be eased. That was of course a silly pipe dream, but her wriggling moans proved the thought not in vain.
“Sephiroth…” she whimpered, and he sealed his eyes to not corrupt her with lustful jade. The sound of his name at last on her lips burrowed through the dark of his heart, leaving light in its wake as mourning still clawed. He played his fingers and her head tilted back. Harder than he would ever take her, Sephiroth drove his tongue deeply in. Aching to taste as she answered back, sighing his name in the brief in between. It was too much to bear that curse now, a blessing from one he’d so utterly wronged.
“Sephiroth, I want you. “D-Do you believe me?”
“I want to, little one,” he rasped. Desire had stolen the low melody as tiny hands played with dark buttons. She wiggled a bit as she strummed her fingers down the line of his shirt. “I want to,” he said, “but I can’t.” Once you know my terrible truth, I’ll never touch you again. I’m only allowed on borrowed time. When it’s all done, then she’ll know. I’ll fall to my knees and lay down my sword bloody at her feet. I’ll tell her the truth…all of it then, and her hatred will rain like their blood.
He kissed the Cetra on the brow as one final tear was shed. It gleamed in summer as she gazed up, and he caught what was meant for him. As usual she fell asleep in his arms, utterly sure she was safe. She’d never more know rape’s wakeup call. He couldn’t stand the truth of her trust. This vulnerable flower splayed against his chest that was slightly exposed due to her ministrations. He finished up his work before checking his phone, but not even slivers could cut out a message.
In the days that followed, Sephiroth endlessly paced, barking orders and curt commands. His silent boots turned him and turned him again, and he could’ve worn groves in the floor. He tempered it only when Aeris was near…the “general’s voice,” not the pacing. He would never speak to his flower that way and did not even want her to hear it. It wasn’t for her, but there’d been few times where in the midst he’d felt a tug on his coat. He was not a man easily taken surprised, and in that moment, he nearly glared down. The maid dressed in white, clutching her book, immediately gentled his sight. Peering up with her bottom lip out in a pout, while a white ribbon swam through chestnut. The other side of the phone continued to buzz, and Sephiroth mechanically answered. He stepped closer to Aeris cupping her cheek to ensure here nothing was wrong. Whomever he spoke to must’ve been so relieved that something had softened that cold. He finished the call and scooped the maid up, so she laid her head to his shoulder.
Starlight had fallen one day from the heavens. Aeris gasped while staring out. Sephiroth was beside her in less than an instant, his hand between her shoulder blades. The pain always found him whenever he touched, and guilt descended not long after that. What right have I? What right to feel pain when I was the bringer of torment. Then she clapped her hands and near jumped with glee at the sparkling motes from above. Through frosted glass, framed by the glistening sea that churned cold upon the white sands.
“The season’s first flurries,” Sephiroth explained. Aeris leaned against him, and the general glanced down then jolted as his phone did ring. Torn between answering and this sweet moment, his free hand clenched into fist. The tone swiftly faded, and he shut his eyes, creasing his brow in the process. They will leave a message or they will text me. A hundred years can wait but a few moments. Mako boiled over his lashes, and he thanked whatever gods would hear him that her gaze now chased the snow.
“It’s cold, i-isn’t it, Sephiroth?” she asked, stretching forth a slim finger. The tip traced an arc in the window’s mist, but she didn’t pull away from the chill. Dinner and warmth permeated the air, as those crystalline stars shimmered down.
“It is, my Aeris, but in here it’s warm, and it will always be.”
While she was eating, he sat right beside, and in shock then remembered his phone. Night had now fallen as the snow ceased, and Sephiroth retrieved the device. Barely containing the crush of his grip for that long-waited response. It said one thing. One word.
He replied just as tersely.
In that space of forever, he felt tiny fingers inching along his free hand. That reminded the general to loosen his grip on the phone that had done him no wrong. Aeris squeezed in their little game, and of course he answered her gentle. Then he released, as he heard the buzz. He’d take no chance with her fragile bones.
Aeris sipped tea as she kicked slippered feet. Now pink bows ruled over her toes laced upon diamond lined shoes. Sephiroth caught her free hand this time and was kissing it when the phone shook. He took in every inch of her beautiful face, slender shoulders, slim arms, tiny hands. The white dress lined in pink that blushed over her breasts to the rose drop gem near her throat. All of her, Sephiroth did now protect, and for all of her, he’d sell his soul. He was already damned. What did more death matter? They’d hurt no one ever again.
Without even looking as he kissed her brow, Sephiroth typed out three words:
Now it ends.
The sky was a sheet of iron again. By the balcony Aeris shivered. It was the coldest day she’d known since… The little maid shivered again. The chill had come creeping through her screen after last night’s fleeting warmth. Evening had fallen like a new spring and only cool sweetened the air. The Cetra had stood on her balcony, facing the burbling deep. It, too, seemed pleased to bask in strange warmth that did not match the late season. She’d left the glass open before going to bed. Her general had gone out to hunt. She expected to wake in his shielding arms, but only her blankets held her. Though she had plenty, it wasn’t enough to break the clinging cold. The maiden had whimpered as it drew forth harsh dreams of what never would be again.
Aeris scrambled to the window and groggily forced it close. It had taken nearly all of her strength, but at seal warmth soon returned. She’d sighed in relief while rubbing her arms to the slide of soft black fabric. When she’d calmed enough to venture downstairs, the Cetra sighed in relief. He was in the kitchen, poring over coffee before a near banquet spread.
The general looked up as she ran to him, and what emptiness he wore washed away. He’d already changed out of hunting clothes, his silver hair fully dry. Bound at the crown in a way she so loved, braided behind high flown bangs. Aeris half-wondered how a ribbon would look in that sea of moonlight hair. Giggling a bit as his arms closed around, she raised her head for a morning kiss. He poured her some tea at ever perfect temp before scooping her up in his arms.
The little maid sighed, “I love how you can just casually pick me up. It’s…nothing for you.” She leaned on one shoulder and slid her palm over the other. He wore a black coat as always untroubled by either heat or cold.
“It’s everything to me, though, little one.” He attempted to put her down, but Aeris whimpered and clung to his neck, so he was obliged to keep her on his lap. As always, her warmth permeated his walls, and his reaction was sighing and same. But if she insisted on breakfasting there, Sephiroth would never deny her.
“Why did you make so much food, general? I…can’t eat this all.” She buttered some toast, looking back and up as he kissed her on the brow. He slid an arm around her waist as she Cetra sealed her lids in bliss. The butter was infused with honey and the bread could’ve been delivered that morn. There was bacon and jam and eggs and scones. Her head swirled with the veritable feast.
He cooled pale light on top of her head, as his little flower indulged. Sephiroth couldn’t lie, but did not want to ruin her cheerful and sweet repast. “There is something I must do, my Aeris…and it may take me a couple of days.”
She swallowed the tea that washed down a scone and twisted now to look up. While she rubbed her shoulder with the opposite hand, he recalled where her scar did lie.
“You’re g-going to hunt, S-Sephiroth?”
“You could say that, little one.”
“Are you…going to be safe?”
He held the tiny maid close to his heart, shaking his head to her sweet concern. Oh, little flower, where I am going and why is for you…or to fulfill my selfish desire. Am I truly different? Have I really changed? Or am I still that murderous monster?
“I’ll be fine, Aeris,” he assured his sweet love with a crooked not quite cocky smile. “My safety is fairly assured.”
She shifted around and reached for his face gazing up from beneath furrowed brows. He tilted his head, wondering where her worry had its source. “I just don’t want you to be hurt.”
“That…would be difficult.” He enclosed her in his embrace as a “reminder.” Not like she’d forget what had kept her safe for two -hundred three wonderful days.
“I know physically, dear general,” she agreed, smoothing silver against her palm. “But I can see how you look so distraught, a-and I want to protect you from that.”
She glanced aside worried she sounded a fool, but Sephiroth only looked sad. He did not laugh nor mock her wish. How is it I am so broken…that this once abused maid can see cracks in a mask I once thought without flaw.
“It seems I, too, will never want for protection so long as you are here.”
“A-And I’ll be here forever, dear S-Sephiroth. I’ll never leave you forsaken. Wh-When you return, I-I’ll be right here, waiting to run into your arms.”
He kissed her crown, lips lingering there amongst the fair, flower fragrance. “I know you will, Aeris, as I will always care for you, little one. Since I’m not sure how long I’ll be gone, I made enough for several breakfasts. Also, lunch and dinner, too, and tea, of course.” He slightly smiled to hers. “You’ll never starve, my little flower.”
Aeris pursed her lips now at the table. “But I can always make my breakfast, and there’s always plenty of food.” She laid a hand to his solid chest. “You…didn’t have to do this.”
He clutched her thin fingers and gave each a kiss. “I wanted to, little rose. My life’s purpose now is caring for you. Every moment in that is a pleasure. The look on your face when you saw this spread was worth every moment of preparation. You are grateful for the smallest of things. It shines forth from your heart.”
“But this is hardly ‘the smallest’ of things!” And he loved her more for her “defiance.” “You must’ve spent hours preparing all this, a-and there’s even more?!”
The general chuckled now catching her fingers to weave them between his own. He also loved viewing her delicate hand ensconced against his broad palm. “Yes, all put away now. I left out breakfast since that’s the meal to start the day.”
“Y-You hunted all night, and then came home to make more than breakfast for me.” She wiped away tears with her free hand as his half smile still lifted his lips. “I don’t do anything for you at all!”
“You make me happy. Incredibly happy. Beyond measure of all. Your joy is the greatest gift.” Sephiroth’s free arm slid back around as she squeezed the fingers spreading hers. “Aeris, beyond all odds, I found you, and now you’re here with me, but not only that, you love me, my flower, and you allow me to be your protector. Never think you do nothing for me. I should do everything for you…”
He lifted his head to gaze out at the sea before slivers cut their way east. Cherishing this lovely maid warm on his lap before the hours would prove him a monster. For ‘everything’ meant seeking out those who had brought her to his arms. Aeris tugged on his collar, and when he peered down, their tongues melded within tea stained kiss. Though he’d drunk coffee, the dark brew did nothing to sour an angel’s fine taste.
“D-Did you let Myrna and Nellie know?” she murmured against his mouth. His palm brushed her back, tracing her spine, and that returned her to the kiss. Sephiroth forgot the question in that deep moment intent on the dance of their tongues. She pushed his free hand down her soft sides, and he chuckled while biting her lip. The general gripped her hip, which was now soft and smooth with the edges of bone plumped away. He nibbled again at her near swollen lips, as Aeris slid his hand up her leg. Wiggling hard she awakened again what he had somehow forgotten. A series of kisses seared over her neck, while Sephiroth rubbed her inner thigh. Brushing thick fingers over that tender span, as the Cetra’s legs spread ever wide. There was no softer skin in the world, but he would not breach this pale wall.
“So playful, my flower…” His teeth grazed her throat, and the little maid whimpered with need. “To answer your question,” he hummed on her pulse, “I thought I’d let you do the deed. You know you’re safe here and will be in the interim while I am away, but you can let them know in case you’d like company.”
“I don’t think I’d want to leave Heaven’s Gate knowing you’re not here.” She shuddered a bit, and he held her tighter, twining fingers through chestnut hair. It was unbound and free spilling over, covering his arms with its fragrance. Aeris swallowed while looking up into falling Mako light. “I kn-know I’m safe so long as I’m with you, but what if…” She hid her face in his chest. Recalling their excursion to the department store and the man who’s frightened her there. He’d been so annoyed and irritated. If she’d been alone, what would he have done? “As long as I’m here, no one can hurt me. I have locked doors and security.”
“That’s right, my flower.” He kissed her brow. “You are always safe in your home.”
“I c-could call Myrna and Nellie to visit,” she considered, twisting long strands of pale hair. Falling forelocks melded with chestnut and honey so lit by burgeoning day.
“You could do that as well, my Aeris,” he told her. “You can do whatever you wish. I will have my phone, but… I may not be able to answer you right away.” Thumbing her lip, the general resisted the kiss that always called, but Aeris pressed them there to fulfill his wish, if not in the place so desired.
It still struck Sephiroth as a marvel when he looked down at this sight. A lovely, little maid ensconced on his lap dressed only in his black shirt. As it had been when he had first saved her, and yet it could not be more different. He cheeks was a-glow, her summer eyes beaming with ancient and innocent light. No more did sharp angles cut her sweet skin nor did bruises mar. The scars they remain. I’ll repay every one ever drawn on her tender flesh…
“You’re such a beautiful and soft, little thing,” the general found himself murmuring. Light radiated from his halved lids, tumbling off the splendor of lashes.
“S-Soft and weak,” came her worried reply. “Unlike you, S-Sephiroth.” She squeezed the lock of hair so held as he gently stroked her fingers. “You’re big and strong, a-and you protect me. I can’t be more grateful for that.”
“I should start counting, too,” he told the Cetra with a keen half-smile.
“C-Counting?” Aeris peered up with huge eyes, but he’d never tease her cruel.
“How often you praise my strength, little flower. It must be at least three times a day.”
She squeezed his forearm coated in leather to the solid muscle beneath.
“What would happen…” Her lips were so blushed they would’ve shamed finest rose. His smile tightened, as Sephiroth circled his other arm ‘round her small form. “What would happen if I went outside d-dressed like this, general?”
“Your legs would be cold.” He gathered them up in his arms on his lap so the little maid sat sideways. Not that it mattered much anymore. He’d want her as much regardless. “The bright light of day is deceptive. The cold does not touch me, but I’m still aware of how it would affect those it will.”
“N-No, I mean…” She swallowed her fear as his warmth did surround. “I mean what would happen to me if I did. If I dared to venture out…”
“Nothing, my Aeris. Nothing would happen. You’d enjoy a fine time forth.” He brushed her cheek and that lifted her eyes to kindness unhindered by cold. “No one would touch you, little one, not unless you allowed.”
“B-Because I’d be with you.”
“That’s right.” He nodded. “If you wish. You need never go alone. While I’m away you are not obligated to go anywhere by yourself.” Squeezing her carefully, the Great General reassured that his strength was forever for her. “But even if you were alone, my Aeris, no one would touch you still.”
She buried her face in his unyielding chest and took a ragged breath. Vanilla and frost swirled through her nostrils as he carefully caressed her shoulders. Every day it became easier to believe in this miracle. That no man would drag her screaming away to rape her ever again. That no man would beat her or starve her in chains. That these things were anathema. But she was still frightened. Despite two hundred days, a hundred years was far longer. Her delicate flesh was no longer torn, and she was no longer an unwilling vessel. Looking down at her minimal garb, she clutched his large hand for assurance.
“They wouldn’t see this as an invitation, a-an invitation to-”
“No.” Sephiroth stood then with her in his arms as the whimper troubled her throat. Silver spilled like liquid frost as he held the small maid without effort. “Aeris, my flower, look at me. Look around at where you are.” He carried the Cetra to the window where morning light greeted the sea.
She did clench her fists, but had to obey, and winter beauty met frightened eyes. Emerald so lined with glorious lashes that scattered light as it pulsed down. Undiminished in day, it was less startling, but could never be ignored.
“I cannot lie and promise you I know what dwells in every heart.” His gaze slid against roiling waves and Aeris followed the path of that light. The sea was ever quiet as it slowly churned like red wine to horizon’s deep burn. “But know this now.” He turned to her as tender palms brushed broad shoulders. “You are protected for all of time from all of horror’s past. If anyone tried to hurt you like that, they would be brutally punished, and in my time as mayor here, I’ve never heard such a report. That does not mean that it never happens or happened in the past, but if it did, there is no swifter justice I’d enact.” Fire should not burn within such cold eyes, and yet they blazed with living heat. In memory of other conflagrations or in promise of others to come…
“Sephiroth…” she whispered and in that instant they changed, the death held within receded. He could not look at his precious Aeris with such terrible eyes.
She has known my death before…
The Cetra brushed the bangs out of his face, wondering how she could be so lucky. The arms around her were inexorable power. There was not the slightest waver or give. She knew she was tiny, but just the mere position should’ve caused some fatigue? But not him. No…never him. “This is all that I ever wanted.” I won’t cry. He’s…going away, but he said he’ll be back. It will only be a few days. “All I need life to be. Just you holding me…utterly safe and guarded by your endless strength.”
Sephiroth chuckled as he counted, Two. “It’s all you’ll know, my Aeris.” He cupped her soft cheek and she was drawn again to light so cold, but never had winter been so full of what emerald could contain. No stars did ring in those Mako eyes where crystalline gleam swirled. He could not change the color’s coldness, but that did not diminish the love.
“I love your strength, Great General.”
And he had to softly laugh. Three. Then mirth turned to rue for the reasons why were far from humor’s ken.
“I’m forever safe.” Laying her head near his neck, Aeris deeply sighed. Kisses covered her temple and cheek then his lips traced the line of her jaw. There was nothing the Cetra needed to do save bask in this beautiful moment. He’ll come back. He’ll never leave me forsaken. I’ll stay in Heaven while he’s away, safe and secured by locked doors, and laws and…decency I suppose, though I trust locks far more, and I trust him most of all. “My general…” The title sweetened was poured in his ear, and he laid his lips now on her brow. Hiding his pain behind closed eyes so his Aeris would not worry to see. “My Great General,” she continued, and he sighed. Then… “My…Sephiroth.” The so-named could not help the smile that beamed through even his rue. He took the name, accepted it to cherish upon her budding lips.
When evening was falling, he swept down the stairs on silent boots up to his thighs. They were bound above and below the knee in silver beaming bright. No buckles adorned, not in this part. Those were saved for his swirling coat. It flared in the wind of his descent as the clasps in platinum gleamed. Against the black leather, they would shine even in shadows where night would be blind. Most hung open except for the top, though that revealed his high belt. The insignia her fingers would surely trace. Before it is splattered with blood…if I am to be the hand of death, I may as well look the part.
His epaulets shimmered in dying day as he passed before the window, and the book fell from Aeris’s nerveless hand as the little maid rose to her feet. She was not sure how she remained standing as her summer eyes could not stay still. The straps so dark crossed over his chest, their fastens hidden in leather and steel. The former swam darkly against the soft eve like a billowing sail of shadow. Swallowing light as he bowed his head so silver splendor could spill. It was unbound and not even that fall made it hush against his coat.
Aeris approached in awe of this glory to barely whisper its name. He was not the mayor anymore, nor was he borne down by his rue. The latter was hidden in magnificence so only the angel remained, and he looked down at her and offered his hand full cloaked in leather smooth. The little maid took it and gasped to the brush of his thumb upon her skin. His thick wrists were circled in polished steel bracers, and her lip trembled at how he just gleamed. It was more than his eyes. He was limned in light despite the death dark of his garb.
Cold as midwinter in beauty so harsh, he held the mask even for her. The only gentleness now lived in his hand, so careful with hers so frail. He looked down his nose, as if in practice for the worms that’d soon crawl at his feet, but Aeris had never been unastute, and his wrath was not focused on her. His lips held no curl, no mirth, and no joy, but his face would make whole angels mourn. She wanted to trace that bow they so cut, coax a smile to be drawn on the pale. But for once the flower maid was unsure if even she had such power.
As always. his visage seemed shaped to pull envy from those who’d give all for mere half. Aeris’s lips were no stranger to pink, but his pale coral seemed now far better. Those slivers were on her, as corruption so danced in the heat of Mako wrath, but he truly saw through her, slicing through past, and the Cetra squeezed one hand with her two. As to play their game, then hers lost all strength as emerald merely widened. He did not trust himself in bare shielded wrath and would take no chance with fragile bones.
Never had slivers been so slim, swimming in a luminous sea. All worlds would be lit by fire burned cold to shame the far lights in the north. The mist that she’d carried for so very long dissipated in Aeris’s mind. Smoke turned to ashes and ashes to flames, and there he was washed with winter among. Her mind shut it down, and her trembling lips parted.
“You’re…you’re like a god.”
Thus did greatness fall with grace to its knees to lay its brow upon purity true. One hand remained “captured” within hers, the other braced hard against pain. Silver hair spread like falling snow upon the leather black, and Aeris stepped forward to lay her palm upon her guardian’s cheek.
“No, little flower, never for that.” His sorrow would drown the sea. “Never a god. Never and no. I’m not even angel.” Pain rent a face of angelic perfection despite prior words to decry.
“Of course, you are,” the Cetra whispered, stubbornly squeezing his hand.
When the general lifted his head, it was Aeris he saw. I will become a monster for you. I will sell what remains of my soul, and when I return, I’ll tell you my truth so you will know you loved a horror. “Remember me, Aeris, as I am now…even though I am dressed to call death. See me now here and think of me well,” he pleaded to her sweet bemusement. As he paled in black, she was dressed in white, and the bow in her chestnut hair matched. What they were and what they could be were as plain as his hidden black wing. She was not for him…only his to protect, and he was foolish to think otherwise.
The Cetra’s confusion made him love her more, and she dared to brush silver silk hair. “Sephiroth, your protection’s the best thing in the world. I could never think of you better.”
He took her other hand in his, while kneeling to her on that floor. You’ll think of me worse when I return, but it’s my appointed task. “My protection of you is an absolute, Aeris.” His grip was careful yet more intense. She whimpered, but it was not for crush, rather for his pain. “Think of me well,” he begged her again. “Don’t forget what you see me as now.”
“S-Sephiroth…” She trembled. “Wh-What are you saying. Please tell me you’re coming back!” Her terror broke him in summer, destroyed by tears to summon storm.
“Of course, of course, I’ll always return. I’ll always come back to you. You draw me like salt swims deep in the sea or like dew must court the rose, but…” He lowered his face to her light. “How you see me might change, little one. I want you to remember that what I do…and what I did can’t alter my feelings for you. Yours will fade once you know the truth-”
“I’ll always see you as my hero,” she interjected now frightened only for him. “There’s nothing else you could ever be.”
The whisper came through the mists of his mind. Sephiroth winced, clenching his jaw. She heaved a cry, throwing her arms ‘round his neck to the fallen’s unseen shock. He’d no choice but to encircle the maid in unbreakable embrace.
“Sephiroth, I love you,” she sobbed in his ear. “Don’t go to where love cannot reach.”
“How can I, little one?” he realized then, closing his eyes to the sweetest of moments. “When I love you, too, and it will find me in whatever dark I might fall.” Regardless what happened, she did love him now, and now was all that mattered. The past and the future froze in eve’s light, but the general knew it could not last. He had a task he’d vowed to fulfill, and he could not bear the stars’ judgment. If he did not leave soon, they surely would find him. Once I go, they’ll be hidden by steel. He drew Aeris back and laid lips to her forehead, pouring protection full through her third eye. As he released her, emerald half open when she blessed his brow as well.
“Be safe, my angel, and…come back to me.” She covered his mouth with her own. Before his insistence how he was unworthy, before he could drown her in rue, and Sephiroth answered for he had no choice. He loved her beyond hope and reason. Though she would hate him once she knew his truth, he’d love her forever and still. Her life would be hers to live as she wished, and he’d never more trouble her sight. He’d have no right to her time anymore…what he had was selfishly borrowed. Her hair was mussed a little bit to the large hand cupping her head, but the deep kiss was worth it, and she’d remember the scent until it came to her ken once more.
Rising now, Sephiroth took a step back, watching her as she covered used lips. They glistened in pink from their sweet communion, and he shook his head with a sad smile. Only Aeris could break the porcelain mask. He bowed his head before stepping away.
<–Chapter 18 Chapter 20–>