<–Chapter 20 Chapter 22–>
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.
Chapter artwork disclaimer: the featured artwork for this chapter is by NVALKYRJA. THE PICTURE HAS BEEN SLIGHTLY ALTERED IN APPEARANCE AND TO INCLUDE THE CHAPTER NUMBER AND TITLE. ALL RIGHTS BELONG TO THE ARTIST.
*******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.
The general makes a desperate confession, yet finds even more “sins” to mourn.
He opened no door for fear that she slept, and the sound would drive her to pure terror. She’d been awakened too many times with horror invading her flesh. That sweet chestnut head with a rightful crown made the fallen delight in his choice. His great wing shadowed the peak of the sun, as the light broke against feathers black. He glanced to corruption with slits chilled in sorrow, but she needed to see him for true. The sword in his grasp bore only scant blood, and Sephiroth clenched his jaw tight. I cannot approach her with what bears her death. I cannot…but I must. She deserves to see me, as I truly am, and the sword and I are kin. It can’t be dissolved, our deadly connection, my blood fills its steely veins. Yet he could not bear to near innocence, bringing that which had taken her life. He wanted to sweep her into his arms, and bask in her pure summer scent…before he so told her all his misdeeds. All of them. My time is done. My reprieve must finally end. She has to know my truth. What has protected her all of this time is nothing but her foul destroyer, playing at penitence, asking atonement. There’s no absolution for me. The greatest of generals bowed his head, and the waves of his guilt stirred sweet sleeper.
The Cetra yawned, smiling with summer eyes shut. She smoothed chestnut back where it’d fallen. The cool of the crown slid against her slim fingers. Good fortune had kept it in place. Breathing deep, Aeris fervently wished the frost and vanilla from dreaming was real. She turned to the window with forced resignation, and what she found washed summer cold. Elation and longing, adoration and pain for glory that paled the low sun.
The general was gaping, uncaring how foolish or boorish he looked in her sight. Mako so bright like frost burning flame that no living man could face, and yet Aeris gazed through winter unfreezing in joy that was ever uncut. Nor did she balk at sight of fell wing, and the sword merely twinged the deep mists. She rushed to her love, praying through tears that the sands had not woven mirage, and Sephiroth swiftly banished the blade to catch her in powerful hands. She gave a short squeak when his grip closed around that tiny waist cinched so tight. It quivered against as he tossed her up high to her chorus of giggles and gasps.
Oh, dear gods…how I forgot how very strong he is. How regally tall and so beautiful, though grief deepens those emerald eyes.
The general caught her without any effort and held Aeris to his heart. So that her sweet presence could cure a beat that had only brought death before. Moon silver hair swirled around, tangled with chestnut, caught in her crown. His great black wing brought back a world that was made only for them, and in his eyes lived the only light as they pulsed bright behind lashes’ veil.
Oh gods, I forgot, how I forgot how utterly lovely she is. How tiny, how sweet, how perfect and pure, and she is mine…only mine. But for how long? He shut his eyes tighter wishing to squeeze out the light, but it always mocked him, making sight blood to ignite his darkest truths.
He kissed her cheek and Aeris soft sobbed, wriggling in his arms. She flung her own around his neck to rest upon broad shoulders. The armor was cooler than his normal leather, but the Cetra didn’t care. She breathed in his scent, wishing to dwell in the world of his wing forever. When another kiss fell, she buried her fingers in silken pale hair like a lock. It fell over her back, kissing that skin as his lips did her precious face. She leaned back for she needed more and slanted her mouth over his, and the gleam behind his sealed eyes now witnessed something beyond bitter blood. He nibbled her lips, tasting each inch, before plunging his tongue in again. The little maid moaned, and he cupped her cheek, his other arm holding her steady. He let his lips curl up on one side as was ever and always his way. The thick fingers she had so dreamed of now caressed her soft skin. Aeris tilted her face to the warmth, and his palm fully covered that side.
“General…I missed you oh so much. I missed these large, gentle hands. I so missed your touch and your angel’s scent.”
“I’ll never leave you again, lest you wish…”
“I never want you to leave me again!” she sobbed as he bent to her brow. Resting his there and hiding the mist that would give all his secrets away. “Oh, my general, I want you so much! I dreamed of you every night…”
Mournful emerald dance through his lashes as Sephiroth unsealed his lids. He searched her sweet face in the heat of pink blush. She was nothing but sincere. As she believes it…I’d rip her apart. Those delicate petals re-torn. I’d be ever so gentle and still she would scream. He shielded his lust by turning away, and when he looked again Mako light hid it.
“Did anything happen while I was away? Did anything frighten or hurt you?”
Aeris shook her head and kissed him again, never wanting to release his lips. The perfect curve of his “angel’s bow” so soft against her own. She gently nipped him and Sephiroth chuckled, pressing his teeth to her pout. When the maid gasped, he claimed her mouth fully, leading that long dreamed for dance.
Sweetest reunion, the general thought as grief drew deep lines in his brow. He drowned the dark memories in tender kiss where they could not taint innocence.
“No, Sephiroth,” she finally whispered, sliding her cheek against his. “But I’m beyond joyful that you’re back. I’m fully safe again.”
He closed his eyes. His name on her lips was the best pain he’d ever known. Wrapping his other arm around now, her ecstasy tortured him so, but though the general could be shocked to believe, he could never deny the truth. The Cetra felt utterly safe in his arms, and no fear dwelled in her for his horror. Not yet at least, not til she knows. His brow creased to tightly sealed eyes. Aeris just sighed, a high, sweet sound, threading slim fingers through silver. Uncaring the grime that coated it now nor the reek of death and decay. It did nothing to taint his angel’s scent, which wreathed within the bane. She brushed her cheek back over his to face her general.
“Sephiroth…” she whispered once more, and he kissed her on the brow.
“Yes, that is my curséd name.”
“Why ‘curséd,’ general?”
“It doesn’t matter, little rose. Your voice will make it blessed. I come to you reeking of fire and blood and you still say you love me?”
She bit her lip, nodding with proof beyond words and a palm to his lovely face.
“What would I be without you, my Aeris?” he asked in the glow of his grief. “Less than a shell, the pale of a ghost, the winter without the spring. The world would rejoice if the inverse were true, but without the spring cruel death would reign.”
“There must be a balance, dear Sephiroth.” She smiled to his doubt. “Besides I’m the summer.” Then grinned petulant. “Remember? My eyes?”
He certainly did as he kissed them to close, but she kept winking to his low mirth.
“And you can’t be the winter, because you’re not cold!”
“No, you aren’t.”
Squirming a bit more, she clutched at his hands and asked him to put her down. He did, but still kept them around that small waist, and Aeris gazed up in awe.
“Gods…you’re so tall…” the flower maid whispered. “So broad and so strong and so regal. N-No man could stand…stand against you.”
The general sighed, remembering one, but that had been long ago. “It would appear not.” He cupped her one cheek, letting forelocks caress the other. “Aeris…my little love, it is done.” He held her close as she choked on her sobs, a century’s worth of sorrows. Cherish this now, you utter filth. When you tell her full truth…. His hands clenched as they clasped at the small of her back, right at the base of those ruffles.
She buried her face in his leather coat so her fear was muffled within.
“You f-found all the monster?”
“I found only men.” He lifted his head to stare at the distance where the ashes of Midgar still burned. Black pinions rustled, and a few feathers drifted to stain the cream carpet with black. “I was reborn from the flames once before…like a phoenix darkly rising. Reborn into something cold and dark. Tonight…was another type of rebirth.” He looked at her then and his great eyes glowed with the light of a thousand souls. “I am the worst monster that city has seen. What’s left of it now still smolders. I’m sorry your church needed to be part of that unholy blaze…”
He lowered his head in respect for her place, once sanctuary and haven, but the Cetra was sharply shaking her head, breath rushing hard through her nostrils.
“I’m a fallen angel,” he said. “I have one black wing, yet you see only the good.”
“The good is all you’ve shown.” His wing shielded more than shadowed the maid, and the general blinked in surprise. “You killed the monsters.”
“Because I am one. My soul could not be more stained.”
“You are not a monster,” she insisted, and his heart hurt to her true return.
Not that I knew…I can only guess how she was in her former life. I only killed her. I never knew her… But his own mists were now unsure.
“Not at all.” She glared up and it cracked a smile on the porcelain stain of his face. Held in his power so tiny and sweet, the Cetra rose onto her toes. It made not a dent in their height differential, so she gasped, sinking back down again. “You are not a monster at all. I should…order you not to say that.”
Pink bloomed in her warming cheeks as Aeris then coyly checked, but the general laughed, shaking back silver curtain, as his great wing then fanned the air. Chestnut so shivered in the breath of black feathers, and she inhaled fair angel fragrance. He folded her tighter in his embrace and the curl of that one wing.
“With you in my arms I am less of one. You save me from that, little rose.”
“Mm…” she murmured forgetting near all save this wondrous embrace. “Because you’re my love, my great guardian, and my glorious angel of light.”
“Angel of death…” His wing unfurled around her to sweep across. Aeris glanced back and reached tiny fingers to ride along softness backed might. She could not decide which held the most softness, that or his moon-white hair. The fronds were so glossy nor did they lack heat, and the Cetra thought once more of flight. To soar above all, corruption and pure. But there’s no more corruption below. He cleansed that. H-He did it…for me. And she was frightened to wield such might.
“It’s so lovely, just like you are. Everything about you is beauty. I’m so glad you’re safe. I…know you’re the strongest, but I still worry, Sephiroth. I’m happy you’re whole and came back to me.” The final word was near swallowed in joy.
The fallen could only bow his head in respect and reject of her words. “I am not whole.” The wing drew sad gaze. “And never have been, little rose. I’ve always been broken. I’ve no other truth, and yet…you still love me.”
“How could I not? All you’ve done for me….”
All I’ve done to you… It could not be said. Not yet, not now. He’d more to confess so she could judge him for all crimes.
“Whether angel of death or angel of light, it makes no matter now.” The Cetra pressed herself closer to him, twining spilled silver hair. “When you first s-saved me…” Summer eyes widened, but she refused to hide her face. “I thought that’s what you were…my angel of death to take me away.” Aeris reached up for his face to quell the pain that ever grew. “But you brought me here to paradise and joy that will never cease. You dress me in fineness and luxury-”
“You appear to have dressed yourself.” He relished her little hand laid to his cheek as a spark of jade poured through bright Mako. Tossing back silver, he banished the wing, which left barely a rustle to fade. Sephiroth caressed her tender palm before taking it in his hand. Aeris shy smiled to radiant praise apparent on his angel’s face, then giggled when he twirled her round to take in the rear view. He wrapped long fingers around her waist, still holding her hand in the air. The silver and platinum warmed to his palm as slivers slid over this sight. The lines on her breasts still pained his vision, but the Cetra appeared unperturbed.
She peered back and up over her shoulder as gentle fingers massaged her raised hand. Summer never left his face for she wanted his reaction, see the smolder that conquered bright Mako, and pray he’d believe their needs matched. She shifted her thighs to rustling hush and jade would make day seem as night. Biting her lip for how it trembled, she laid her small hand over his. He slid his other grip down her slim arm, letting his lips chase caress. Kissing her hand, fragile wrist and forearm, as the flower maid looked up in quiver.
Bare below as always, my flower…those petals will be my undoing. I want you, Aeris. Dear gods, I want you as I’ve wanted nothing before. I want you willing, warm, and wondrous, and that you can never be. How could you ever? How could you with me? And yet I still want to ask… He wished he could speak. He wished he could beg her, but then juxtaposed came an old image. Her cowering naked with hollow, stark eyes, as she whimpered and wept, “Y-Yes master…”
“Oh, my Aeris…” Sephiroth turned away, flinging his head to the side. Moonlight hair broke upon her soft skin like the waves caressing white sands. “Dear gods, you must know.” He released the Cetra, to her stark confusion, as both hands tore through his long hair. The high bangs were skewed for only some moments before returning perfection in frame. Then to her shock, he fell to his knees in the wake of that false title’s echo. The “master” he never was. The pain of that lie pierced his great heart, on his knees at more equal height. But that couldn’t be, and Aeris cried out as her great angel lay supine before. She knelt beside him, clutching his shoulders, patting his face as those slivered eyes closed.
“Sephiroth, no! No, no, no! What’s wrong? Why are you dying?? How could such strength ever fail?”
“No, little one…” the general murmured, reaching up for her beloved face. “I’m not dying. Never fear. My strength is as great as ever. I lost none of it in my terrible task. I’ve more than plenty to still protect you.” She clutched his hand, kissing broad palm, as he cursed his unworthy fingers, but never would Sephiroth deny her his touch if that was what she cherished. “My Aeris,” he whispered, “though my strength isn’t gone, my joy certainly will be. I must confess…confess to you. All my heinous crimes. Please hear me, Aeris, don’t make me beg. Don’t make me plead for this grace…”
“Sephiroth,” she sobbed, “your poor soul’s overburdened. It weighs down your perfect heart.” Though in her eyes he could do no wrong, the Cetra sat down by his side. With his head in her lap, while she stroked his soft hair, Sephiroth confessed all he’d done. Without remorse and barely inflection, the fallen spoke his horrors, and Aeris did nothing, nothing but listen to her love so burdened with crimes.
The sun laid burnt crimson along the grey sea as if matching what words did now flow, and the Cetra just twined and played with bright hair, brushing bangs back from his brow. She bent to kiss even as he regaled her with stories of endless death. His low voice did fumble over impaling, as he desperately searched her face, but Aeris stroked his cheek, her visage serene as her forelocks caressed winter skin. She shook them away, so he was blessed both with brush and a face that was truly angelic. Nothing the Great General told the maid caused the remotest disgust, and though Sephiroth did not embellish his lay, he also did not hide the truth. He told her all as he tightened his fists in preparation for her hatred, but she only looked sad and briefly frightened as she recalled what they had done.
When he spoke of flames, Sephiroth shut his eyes so she would not see emerald burning. So he would not need to see innocent hate, for there was no way she could love him now. This above all would stir memory for she knew of older fire. Both together would melt the mists so that hatred could ever bloom.
The crimson sea turned russet and soft more like a hearth fire than blaze. The frigid waters belied such light as mauve wove its way through red threads. Inside, the fallen still lay on the floor with his flower so worried above. Her summer scent swam so sweet through his nostrils, as soft chestnut with silver spun. He only imagined her glaring hard down with storms cutting through verdant green. While she’d be relieved that her rapists were dead, she’d have to condemn such a demon. Only abomination could perform what he’d wrought, the murder, the horror, the bane. He’d admitted to her that he’d reveled in it…enjoyed it far more than base monsters. Their screams had been song to his perfect hearing, their blood the sweetest rain. If he’d felt remorse, it only had been that he’d not killed them sooner. Send her abusers out of this plane where he hoped even beyond they’d be flayed. His jurisdiction of course ended here, for he’d never be part of that swell. Too much corruption lived in his blood, equal to human…probably more. Alien…foul, he thought squeezing his eyes. His long lashes met his tortured brow. I have to look at her. I have to face the hatred that will be my due. Perhaps that will save me from telling full truth…from revealing what I did to her.
“Aeris,” he whispered to the still air, though he could of course hear her breath. Heartbeat as well. The sound I once silenced with one brutal thrust of my sword. “I asked you to remember me well, and this was the reason why. I have done so many terrible things, more horrors than you can imagine. My true self will always be whom you loved, the one who was blessed to protect you. I love you more than life itself for life has never been kind. You are the only one in this whole wide world who never looked at me like I’m a monster.”
Why was she weeping?
“Please, Great General, open your eyes…”
A palm so soft slid down his smooth cheek, and he could never deny his rose. Those glorious lashes were sheered through by emerald light cold but sincere. Her little thumb stroked by his temple, but Sephiroth never blinked. Taking it in, what couldn’t be true, summer’s love for winter so pale.
“I will never look at you like you’re a monster, because that’s not what you are. You’re my hero, a-and if you won’t get up, I’ll just lay down, too.” And so she did upon the soft carpet with her head upon his chest. Curling her fingers against his smooth skin, as Mako shuttered to blinking awe. He curled his arm around her waist, staring at her beside. His other fist clenched as he parted his lips, desperately trying to speak. He had to tell her, tell her now, the worst of all his sins. There was no reason to keep this truth and continue to hold the façade.
“You should hate me, little flower.”
Aeris just sucked her teeth. “How could you ever think that?” She was so stubborn, this frail, lovely thing. He looked down at her in pain.
“I made sure they knew…” His sharp pupils slimmed as he skewered that city again. “Knew why they died. It is better when they know.”
Aeris shuddered and he felt like a brute to cause her such reaction. Her tiny finger traced the curve of his muscles, each solid crest and dip. The Cetra sat up and shushed back her hair. He closed his eyes, kissing those waves. Letting her finger traverse a bit lower to the abs cut above his high belt.
Dark lashes adorned winter white cheeks, as Mako light burned through his lids. It wouldn’t be right. It wouldn’t be fair. She’s only mine to protect. I should be stoic and just tell her no. But he could not even form that word. All was forgotten in that instant to the press of her lips on his chest. Right near his heart and shocked light appeared for nothing before had caused it ignite. It was only a few beats higher than normal, but love pouring had broken the bonds. That perfect heart, designed by eugenics, and made only for war and death, was now filled with something that in purity had sundered the rhythm long set.
Sephiroth choked on the breath of those words that would condemn him to hell in her eyes. I became death’s hand to slay all her abusers and burn a city to less than ash, and yet I can’t tell her the truth of our past. How am I such a coward? Because killing men comes easy for me, but truth and I have never been friends. Her adoration was flaying his soul as they lay on that ornate carpet. The lights arose as the evening descended, and the moon tempered the scorn of the stars.
A soft gurgle rose heat in the little maid’s cheeks, and Sephiroth glanced down with a smile.
“Have you eaten yet, Aeris?” He fixed her bright crown, which had become slightly askew.
“No, not yet. Well, last was for lunch then I fell asleep reading, you saw.”
“I did, little one. What a wonderful sight to see upon my return. You warm and safe, sleeping so sound, away from that reigning horror.” He brushed her soft cheek, pouring light in her eyes, but receiving far better from her. “It’s dinner time now, is it not, little rose?” He recalled they were still on the floor. It should’ve been strange and certainly it was, but Sephiroth did not really care. She was curled against his heart that then bore the weight of the Great General’s sigh. His falsehood remained, unbroken and foul, prompting the touch of her fingers. Then her stomach spoke its displeasure again, and Aeris bit her lip to soft giggle. Sephiroth easily sat them both up before bringing he and the maid to their feet.
“I…must cleanse myself, Aeris.” He glanced down, but leather hid well the dried blood. His hair faired less better, though not much adorned, there were brushes throughout the moon pale. “I can’t imagine I still smell like an angel.”
“You always do, general.” Standing hand to hand in the frame of the eve, which garbed him against her soft white.
He lowered his head and stood a bit closer. She drew him no matter what, and Aeris tilted her head far back to keep lovely face in her sight. She did not care that he’d come from killing and bore blood like the sea wore its salt. He was here. She was his. He was hers and forever would not rob them of these absolutes, but the maid also knew he always showered after he went on the hunt. And this hunt was greatest…this one done for me. He has much to wash away.
“Give me some moments then, little flower. There’s still plenty to tide you over?”
“Of course, Sephiroth!” She squeezed his great hands, and he gave her his sideways smile. It stalled then and fell, and Aeris blinked up, wondering what troubled him now.
“You deserve a fresh meal. I’ll ensure that, my Aeris. It’s been three days…”
“B-But I did make that! A few times,” she admitted. “Simple things, but I could always look up more. Salad is easy. I just put that together, and I can always eat bread and soup.”
He frowned as the crease between arched brows returned. “You should feast every day, my little flower.” He ran a thumb over the headband that dwelled behind her high bangs.
“I always feast when I see you…”
The general rolled his eyes. Though the smile was real, as was his laughter, low and sincere.
Upstairs in his room, after their brief parting kiss, the fallen stripped off soiled leather. Buckles and clasps jangled, the melody gentle in opposition to bitter blood borne. They could be cleaned later, and he gave no more thought to that task as the shower then hissed. In darkness the fallen let purified water slide over his death befouled flesh. Blood and grime swirled down the drain, leaving only pristine white. Moonlit hair and winter skin gleamed as emerald illumined the spray. Sliding pruned fingers through now squeaking silver, Sephiroth let the heat bathe his face. It was hotter than even he drank his black coffee. His skin did not even hint pink. Though, thinking that color, his lids slightly lowered, as he shook gleaming wet from his mane. Chestnut and rouge coalesced in his mind, and his vision no longer saw tiles. Instead a sweet flower filled every thought, as he spun her for loveliest view.
Blowing out his breath, the general grimaced, but she giggled again in his thoughts. Biting her lip, while dress and skin melted into the same creamy pale. Not wholly pale. He gritted his teeth. She’s pink as a fresh budded rose. He attempted to think about making her dinner, a simple, mundane task, but she invaded this normalcy. Standing before him in her little dress where just a slight bend revealed all…
Did you keep your lies so you could dream this? Are you even more of a monster? You just came from killing all of her rapists, and this is where your foul thoughts lie?
He turned them to later and what book she might choose, while he relished the maid in his arms. She’d nestle against him, falling asleep with the sweetest hum just for his ears. But then he envisioned himself in his room…and her naked upon his bed. Not as she had been. No, not that at all. She was open, willing…and waiting. Her skin would always bear its scars, traversing it like white tracks, but he’d run parted lips over each one, a path to both of their pleasures. Even the marks that tattered her belly would fall prey to his “angel’s bow.” He hated them only for memory’s pain, but they were part of she whom he loved. No longer master, that title expunged, and she’d see herself equal at last.
She’d cry his name beneath shimmering silver as each dripping petal did part. Allowing him in, though stretched to their limit, as he pushed into her ever slow. It had been so long. He had to be careful…more careful than ever before. It would be abysmal to ever be rough. They’d brutalized her for years. His slide would be flawless for he’d make her ready, a flower so ruled by sweet dew. She’d cling to his shoulders, as he gently claimed her with emerald eyes watching for pain. She was not meant to be brutally plowed, even the thought was atrocious. His Aeris was a delicate rose, the best and the finest of blooms. Only caressed and gently opened, coaxed to yield the sweetest of dew…
Sephiroth was leaning against the slick tiles, hiding behind plastered silver. He cleared forelocks from his face with his free right hand and thanked the gods he was in the shower. You foul and utterly ungrateful wretch. She allows you more than you deserve. Her presence. Her touch. Her joy and her love, and all because you’re a liar. You couldn’t tell her for your foolish heart. Will you ever reveal your foul truth?
The general redressed in black pants and white shirt, rolling the latter’s sleeves up. Silver was lit by chilly emerald, the winter meant just for himself. They’d still be frigid when he looked at her, but love was not sundered by cold. In afterthought, Sephiroth did grab a coat, one smooth velvet lined. Her thought of her soft skin brushed in that warmth, an offering to the pure.
Aeris was nibbling on bread lined in butter while water boiled for tea. She kicked her heels in little flat shoes, humming to the joy in her heart. Nor did she gasp when Sephiroth laid his greatcoat over slim shoulders. The maid wasn’t cold, but she loved the sensation, as she raised her face for the kiss. Catching those tiny hands in his, he blessed her brow before finding her lips.
“Sephiroth?” she breathed.
“Yes, little flower?” He dropped kisses on bared collarbones. I should make her dinner instead of creating an instance where I’ll need to shower again…
“Do you think we can order food?”
“You’d rather that then me cook for you?” He stalled in his soft worship.
“I…just think it’s fair.” The flower maid quivered, wishing she were on his lap. Watching her, Sephiroth wished she were, too, as jade limned the long fringe of lashes. “Y-You just came back from a…mission th-that was all for me. If I’d known, I’d have tried to make something w-worthy of your return.”
The general shook his head with saddest smile. “Aeris, you never need. You can if you wish, of course, little one, but you owe me nothing and never will.” He crouched by her side and she laid a hand to his forearm just as he’d suspected. Biting her lip, she slid her soft palm along such solid strength. The general could not help his amusement from her expected distraction. She was still as beautiful in her brief dress, though her necklace dimmed in his light. Tilting his head, he barely hid wonder she wore such an emerald for him. Matching my eyes, those abominations, and yet… He met her own. Where summer held sway and always would. Where reflected within his were fairer.
Using his phone this time without call, Sephiroth recalled prior barked orders. He was done with that, hopefully for forever, and he rested his chin on her crown. Aeris had climbed into his lap near the moment he’d sat beside. The Cetra yawned to his gentle chuckle as he wrapped her in his arms. Moon muted stars seemed strangely less harsh as the sea’s song silenced the shore.
“How did you do it, Great General? H-How did you help…everyone?”
He sighed to the night, peaceful and still, not even shocked she had known. Why else would it take so long to bring judgment to those who deserved more than flames?
“The very day after I found you, I made quite a few phone calls. After I’d brought you back from the doctors’ and you’d fallen asleep in my arms…” He ran the back of his hand down her cheek, and the little Cetra hummed. She lifted her chin, so he caressed there as well, and she could not still her squirming. He cleared his throat as his pupils constricted with starkly widened eyes. “I…ahem…while you slept, little one, I stood on the veranda, piercing the timeless sea. I was angry…and that frightened me, Aeris. I’d not felt such wrath in centuries’ time, the kind that could burn down the world…”
Sephiroth bowed his head, and it was her turn to lay calming palm to his cheek. The slightest smile broke the chill of his face for he could not view her with such cold. Shutting his eyes, he kissed her crown, and she murmured love through her lips. Sighing at that, the general continued as stray wisps through Mako swirled.
“I needed to think, to concentrate, and I knew I would need assistance.” A hard, thin smile creased his lips. “I could not do this all on my own. I needed the help of other officials, and so I made many phone calls. I would supply financial support, but I could not be involved in the act.”
“Wh-What act would that be, general?” she asked, rubbing the back of his hand. Sephiroth lifted her own for a kiss, enjoying the soft caress.
“Why, helping the other victims, of course. The ones who’d been hurt like you.”
The Cetra turned swiftly into his chest, hiding her face from cruel past, and as always without fail, his arms closed her round. The vow was murmured but no less true. She was eternally safe. He loved her. He had her. He was her protector. She’d never be hurt again.
“I lied, my rose.” The words didn’t quaver. His will was stronger than steel. “No one has been hurt like you. No one ever could.” He rubbed her shoulder, and Aeris frantically groped for his other hand. The general caught those delicate fingers and threaded them all together. With a shuddering sigh, she tightened her grip, and he brushed her soft skin with his thumb. Emerald pooled on frost white cheeks as the fallen peered down at his rose. She was squeezing his hand with all of her strength to ensure herself of his, and ever so gently he answered her summons.
“I’m so sorry, my Aeris.”
“It’s…it’s alright, Sephiroth. It’s not your fault at all.” She breathed in slowly against his black shirt where the part held deeper fragrance. Silver forelocks spilled it, too, as they caressed her lifted face, and her Great General now gazed in sorrow she wasn’t quite sure how to read.
“I should be more careful how I speak. Others have suffered, but not like you.”
“Th-Their suffering i-is just as bad given their situation.” She swallowed, remembering the light she dwelled in and the dark she would never more see. “If…they could, they’d have done to them what was done to me.”
“Well, you’re forever safe now, little one, and the others who suffered are, too. That’s why it took so very long for me to enact my…justice. I certainly couldn’t burn Midgar to the ground while the abused were still therein. I wanted my wrath to have some use beyond senseless destruction…”
His glimmering eyes found the sea again, but the far stars were now reflected. It was her next squeeze on his great hand that brought Sephiroth back to the moment. He was uncertain about those sharp lights, but the gentler moon made them less frigid.
“It was mostly my wrath that spurred me on, Aeris, as I thought about you and the others. The days you wept for them tore my heart, yet made it beat for a greater purpose. The fact that you, with horrendous abuse, could shed such tears for others made me ashamed I could not work faster. I wanted to hurt the ones who had caused this, torture them as you had been.”
He glanced away unable to face how such truth would affect his flower, but Aeris never moved her gaze where fear and forgiveness now vied. The past haunted her, but in summer, for him, could live only absolution. In truth she saw nothing there to forgive, but realized he needed it sore.
“I needed help for the others before I could do my appointed task. I’ve always been good at killing, my Aeris, but care-”
“You’re good at that, too.” She blinked up with a hard set to her lip, which was petulantly poked out. The glare from summer could not be denied, and Sephiroth was forced to concede. Looking down at his flower so safe now and happy, as her flesh gave off health’s gleam. The sharpness of bone had disappeared and no hollows haunted her eyes. Ribs no longer cut shrunken skin, and he actually need press to find them. That made Aeris giggle as she writhed, for her skin was still sensitive. Jade turned in smolder, as he tried not to leer for the firm bottom now couched in his lap.
“I suppose I am, Aeris, but then it’s a joy to take care of you, little one. To see this result of you soft and plump, exuding the rose glow of health. You could be anything and I’d love you.” He kissed her on the brow. “Who you are frames how you appear and the former will never change. The latter could vary as much as the moon, and I would not care either way. You’ll always be beauty to me, little flower.” And he gave her a brief and soft kiss.
Aeris peered down after, pouting harder, as she examined her waist and belly. Then looked at him where his shirt parted black to reveal such frosty white. The maid bit her lip as she traced flawless muscle, while silver swam sweetly around.
“But…I’ll never be perfect for you.”
Incredulity pierced through his glare. “What is imperfect about this?”
“I’m…I’m gross.” She gestured. “My stomach. It’s all stretch marks and fat.” The little Cetra shook her head and blinked now glistening eyes. “This…lower part will never shrink.”
“Do you believe for an instant, my Aeris, that I give even half a damn?”
“But you’re perfect!” She stared up at him with bemusement to his grief.
“I am not.”
“You look perfect.”
“And what does that mean? There’s nothing wrong with you, little one, and I’m no one you need to please.” Half her face was warmed in his palm. “You were forced to carry life inside, and that’s written on your flesh. I love you and all of you is perfect in my eyes. Your beauty shines from purer source and not from the pall of eugenics. I was made to look this way combined with alien cells. I’m…artificial.” He lowered his head. “You’re utterly natural.”
“You’re more than real to me…” She turned her face into the large palm that took her tears with no protest. “You’ve done nothing but care for me, Sephiroth, for two hundred and thirty-two days.” Silver brows rumpled in utter sadness at that number always named. But to Aeris each day was a gift, and she could not be more elated. “Tomorrow will be two hundred thirty-thirty, and on and on it will go…” Laying her palm flat to his chest, the white wall did not hide his heartbeat. He curled his fingers around her hand, needing no words for this vow. “E-Even when you’re not here, I’m still taken care of, provided for, and protected. Heaven’s Gate is a reflection of you. It’s like you and the house share a soul. It’s filled with light, and it’s never cold. It’s a beautiful, glittering fortress.”
Sephiroth kept his still by great will and strength, but those shoulders tensed like a battered wall.
“I think it’s odd,” he finally said, “that I share anything of heaven…”
“Well.” She smiled. “You are an angel.” Her fingers curled in the warmth of his clutch.
“You think so, my flower?” he asked with mildness unmatched by his aching heart.
“I know so, Sephiroth. It’s not the wings that make an angel.” She brushed his lips. “Nor any one you lack…”
The summons for dinner came as the hour struck out nine soft chords. Sephiroth stood before setting her down in the soft cushioned chair. Aeris pulled his black coat around her, though it was poor mimic for his arms. The man’s voice at the door gave only slight shiver, and her general’s low tone overrode it. She slipped from the chair to help set the table and pour the still warm tea. The meal was as good as the last time they’d ordered, and plenty was left to spare.
“I shall not have to cook for quite a long time,” he said as he drank the hot brew. Heated to temperatures that could scald stone after Aeris had poured her fill. He stood by the island within their large kitchen while she remained on her perch.
Kicking her little, ribboned shod feet, the maid sipped her drink carefully. It was ginger and honey and she thought, Such a treat. Then recalled she could always have it. This or hot chocolate or coffee or wine or whatever I wish to drink. I…I can have whatever I want, whenever I want…forever. The Cetra’s feet froze as she stared out the window, so speechless her thoughts even stalled.
Upstairs, she read to him ‘til yawns stole her voice, and the count of the day passed them by. He then took over to finish the task before laying the book on her stand. Aeris had wisely changed into night things before starting the evening’s elation. Though Sephiroth sighed for not much was different. She is still just as bare below.
The Great General had gone to ensure the Gate was secure for the night. It was something he did for her without question, though Aeris knew now it was rote. There was strange satisfaction that time without him would always end in his embrace, and she quivered with glee beneath heavy covers, sinking into comfort deep. The maid tried to catch his creak of return, but he was silent as the ghosts his skin shamed.
When his arm burrowed beneath her, her head tilted back for the expected kiss. Soft on her forehead but less chaste would follow as strong embrace closed around. She dwelled in a world of frost and soft silver, belying such cold for his heat. The chilly, dark night could not contend with both his warmth and Heaven’s Gate, and Aeris now relished the grip on both wrists locked like a gentle vise.
“Is it well, my Aeris?” The low voice soft rolled, and her whimper was full of need.
“It’s always well, general, when I’m with you.”
That moonlight mane tumbled as he peered down just to doubly ensure. Emerald washed over, cold without freezing, the only light her room now contained. The drapes had been drawn on her balcony window, and the canopy’s veils were sealed, too. Wispy within, more heavy without, this was now the Cetra’s whole world. She closed her eyes where joy’s tears could bloom as that gentle lock circled her wrists. Never constraining, never harming, and Aeris alone held the key. Sephiroth halved his lids so Mako was cut against those glorious lashes. His other arm closed her tender belly, as he pulled the little maid back.
“I’m happy you’re no more frightened by this. I’m overjoyed you’re not frightened of me.” She saw not the anguish in turbulent green. Her eyes were shut as she fully smiled.
“You’d never hold me against my will, nor…force me in any way.”
“That’s right, my flower.” He kissed her temple, the pulse fluttering against his lips. “I’ll never force you to do anything.” Whether through lies or duress. “The defenseless should be defended not harmed. The helpless should be protected. Hurting you or people like you is the worst of abominations.” Yet still not worse than what I became… But that could not soil his tongue. She’d start to ask questions, and if that occurred, his lie of omission would break. Like storm waves on twigs, the illusion would shatter and she’d realize the monster he was. “I’ll never abuse my strength again. I made that vow long ago.”
“So…the strong should protect the weak?” She wiggled a bit as she kissed his cheek, and Sephiroth could only sigh. He returned the press to her unlined brow, and her breathy hum shivered soft silver. He not only saved me and helped me to heal, he’ll love and protect me forever. That endless word echoed. Forever, forever…through even the mists of her mind.
“That’s right, little flower.” He stroked fragile fingers. “Though you are not weak.”
“I’m much weaker than you! Y-You’re the strongest. More than this world has ever seen…”
He winced at those words. “I doubt that greatly. Physically, yes, but there are greater strengths.”
Aeris squirmed to turn in his circling arms, and he released her wrists so she could. Curling against the wall of his chest, the Cetra’s smile ignited more tears. Breath became steady as her hands slightly curled while his own caressed her soft sides. Chestnut brushed against his throat to tiny joyous sighs. Her falling through sleep without any fear. He could not bear his whispered name…
“Aeris,” he murmured before slumber full caught.
“Mm?” the Cetra replied.
“I always have you, and you’re always safe.” He preempted her nightly devotion.
“I know, Sephiroth…” Her high voice fought sleep, which did steal a yawn in the battle. “You always, always keep me safe no matter where you are. I’m so very lucky to have such a protector. Thank you for everything.”
She pulled herself closer and his embrace answered so he buried his face in sweet hair. Aeris smelled as divine as she claimed he did, at least to his biased senses.
“You never need thank me, my little flower.”
“You deserve to be thanked.” Her eyes were full closed and gentle sleep threaded through each word’s weft. “You deserve to be thanked, lauded, and loved. You deserve everything, my angel.”
He knew she was dreaming. She had to be. There could be no other reason. The reason is she doesn’t know you’re not really an angel. She sees the one wing, the cut of your face, and innocence weaves such a vision. If she knew your truth, your entire story, she would hate you as much as the world…
<–Chapter 20 Chapter 22–>