Update: The amazing artist Bethany Annie has completed another piece for this chapter. I’m honestly thinking of replacing the current artworks with hers so they’re on the initial display, though I do like how they look closing out the chapter; however, I really want to showcase her work forefront since she’s so generous and talented. For now, you will find her next piece at the end of the chapter. Please make sure to follow her on Art Station and Deviant Art!
Update Addendum: I put Bethany’s picture at the beginning.
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.
Chapter Artwork Disclaimer: The source for the artwork featured below is located here. The original picture has been slightly altered from the original. All rights belong to the artist/photographer.
*******MAJOR CONTENT WARNING*******
Consistent and sustained graphic descriptions and mentions of rape/ sexual assault, sexual slavery/bondage, slavery, human trafficking, physical abuse, graphic descriptions of violence, mental abuse, emotional abuse, psychological abuse, body shaming, starvation, torture, forced pregnancy, forced childbirth, miscarriage, forced miscarriage, abortion, and other potential disturbing and triggering topics.
Aeris experiences gentleness, protection, and warmth for the first time in over a century from the man who once took her life. She barely has words for these concepts and is terrified “her master” will take them away.
Warm…I’m so very warm. I’ve never been warm before. Where am I lying? I’m on…a bed. A great, soft, c-comfortable bed. I’m covered. What’s this? She remembered. A…blanket. What’s under my head? A…c-cushion? N-No, that’s not right. It’s called…something else… Her head spun in the dark. I’m…not being used. I’m not…being beaten. I…I don’t understand…
Softness. It could never be softness encasing the terrified Cetra. That was for people, those who mattered, never a wretched slave. Yet she was so wonderfully warm enclosed in the opulent mattress. A great leather coat free of pauldrons enveloped her battered body. The substance that lined it caressed that bruised skin softer than a song. Light slid through a crack in the drapes, laying a thin edge on the blanket.
I have to get up. I can’t stay like this. He’ll punish me-
Then the door opened.
She tried to sit up. Her entire frame trembled, but the covers were far too heavy. I’m so weak, she thought in utter terror, straining to hear him approach. Her stomach pulled in to the sharp slice of hunger that hollowed the Cetra out, but worse was the drought that thickened her tongue as it clove to the back of her teeth.
Strong arms gathered Aeris up within the great, black coat. She squeaked, a shiver riding her skin, despite the heavy, warm leather. An angelic face coalesced into view, silver hair a pale halo around. Emerald light spilled down concern, as she blinked up at him in full awe.
“Master…” she whimpered at the sight of that visage. “I’m so sorry I can’t stand for you. I-I shouldn’t be laying down while you’re n-not. I…tried, master. I tried. I’m so weak. Please don’t beat me. I’ll…I’ll try again.” She feebly struggled to sit up in his grasp, and Sephiroth shook his head.
“Aeris.” That low voice quickened her breath as it echoed through her bones. She froze in his clutch, her body so silenced by such authority. “I will never beat you, little one. You’ve no reason to be sorry.” He sat on the bed with her on his lap. “I’ve brought you some water and soup.”
The general propped the little maid up and picked up a glass from the stand. He attempted to place it in her hands, but she was far too weak. So, he held it for her, carefully tilting the life-giving fluid in. Tiny fingers like skin wrapped twigs twitched upon his hale wrist. The general let her breathe in between sips, a stone sinking his heart when she begged. Her plaintive cries of, “Please, master, water…” made rage erupt in pure Mako. The summoner of Holy, the savior of the Planet was pleading with the world’s greatest enemy…utterly helpless in his arms.
I’m not that enemy anymore. That age is past and dust, but it can’t be forgotten, and she’s calling me ‘master,’ as if she were my property.
The Great General had sat and looked down at her, safe and warm at last. He had forgotten how little she was, how delicate, how frail. She’d beaten him in that ageless past. And now she has come to this… Not even slumber could lessen her pain. The maid jerked her head to the side. Coiling hair scraped over smooth leather, its tie long buried in grime. The dull, matted braid could not be unwound, and he’d grimaced for what that meant. Sephiroth’s suspicions had lifted like hackles the moment Mako bathed the maid. How simple the magic to hide her true state. The filth that “bought” her wouldn’t care. They did it for show just in case one of greater means came along. He clenched his fists. Why not hide it all…the stretch marks from endless births? They probably couldn’t. Those slits cut through cold. Or they didn’t care either way.
His shielding black coat had unfurled to reveal the raw, tortured skin of her throat. With narrowed eyes Sephiroth had peered over, then shielded the hiss with his lips. Delicate flesh had been nearly sloughed off by that brutal iron cuff, while the wrist he could see was near scraped to the bone, the knobs of them stretching her skin. Thin, naked shoulders were covered with bruises along with the remnants of lash. Crisscrossed in myriads, folded in flesh, layers upon layers of horror.
There’s no between, Sephiroth thought, expressionless to her high whimpers. Every breath that Aeris took shuddered, expecting further abuse. Her body clenched and spasmed in slumber as though the whip still was laid on. She wasn’t resting. She was waiting…to be beaten and raped again.
It had been long years since Sephiroth had experienced wrath that could burn down the world. He wished to return to what had been her church with Mako eyes drenched in cold flame. Sword drawn and bloody, he’d walk through the ruins and let fire caress his flesh. But that would do nothing for this tiny maid, nor would my wrath be appeased. I would be selfish to leave her for blood. She deserves so much better than that. The general had rewrapped his coat around to fight her growing gooseflesh. Briefly, he pondered materia’s soothe, but wasn’t adept at curative wielding. Nor did he think it would do much good. Her wounds were far too severe. That ability lessened…afterwards. She could perhaps perform such a task…were she not the one in need. Darkness and blood are ever my tools. I was made for destruction. Bowing his head to the setting sun, Sephiroth had stepped away. The list in his head grew by the moment, his memory adequate, though, to hold.
The glass was now empty, and Aeris flicked her tongue to capture precious drops. The sweetest of fluids, too rare to waste, now eased the back of her throat. Raw pleas for mercy spilled from torn lips as helpless she lay in his arms. “Please oh please, don’t hurt me, master.” Haunting eyes filled her whole face. The words now spoken had opened the gates. “Please don’t ever hurt me! Don’t lock me in chains. I’ll always be good! I’ll be the best, little slave. I-I’ll do whatever you wish. I…just want to be warm…”
The sobbing came, but when he touched her cheek it was dry as ancient sand. My death was kinder, he realized in horror. Far kinder than what she’s endured. “Aeris…” His low voice was hushed in its horror. “I’ll never hurt you, little one. You’ll never be chained. You’ll never be beaten. You’ll never be raped again.”
She tried lifting her hands to cover her face, but the Cetra was far too weak. So the general held her to his chest and let her weep dryly there. He’d never seen anyone sob without tears. The closest he knew was himself. But I do not weep. Cat eyes were not made for such a human indulgence. She should be able. She should be allowed to wash this horror away. He tightened his arms around her frail body, more than careful not to crush.
“Oh no, oh no! You’re so very strong!” A hidden face muffled the wail. “Please don’t hurt me, greatest of masters. Please, please, I’ll do anything. Anything not to be beaten! Anything not to be thrown through a wall. Anything not to be used. I’m tiny and weak. I can’t fight you. I can’t resist. It’d…bring you no pleasure.”
Wrath enclosed wide Mako eyes filling irises with sheer light. The sight was demonic, the rage overflowed at what he would do to her rapists.
“Little flower,” he whispered, shaking his head. Silver shushed like silent seas. “Aeris.” Sephiroth tried again. He had to speak to this. Obliterate every scrap of such notion, each shred of these ideas foul, but only his actions would prove such a truth. He stroked the Cetra’s cheek. “I promise you now and unto forever, you’ll endure no rape or torture. There is no ‘pleasure’ in that act.” His teeth cut the edge of the word. “Those days are dead, my little flower, and I am now your shield.”
“You’re so much stronger than the others. You could hurt me so much.” Fear faded her voice to nearly nothing, but Sephiroth was cursed to hear.
“Aeris, I promise I’ll never hurt you.” He lifted his hand ever so slowly, and the little maid still feebly flinched. Sephiroth slid the back of it down her gaunt cheek. “You’re no one’s to rape or beat or abuse, and you never will be again.”
The Cetra only stared up at him from hollowed out green eyes. She couldn’t defy with any denial upon her cracked, dry lips, but it all was written in the scars of her flesh, driven down to the depths of her bones.
Sephiroth sighed with no pride in his voice. “Yes…I am very strong, but what that means is I can protect you and stop any who’d do you harm.”
Mako boiled within his eyes as emerald pulsed down in rue. “Yes. It means to shield. To guard. To keep safe, little flower.”
“Safe…” She repeated blinking confused. “A-Am I safe now, great master?”
“Aeris, you are utterly safe.” He pressed her close where the beat of his heart could never lead her false.
The little Cetra breathed deeply in, and there it was swirled in her nostrils. The scent of vanilla mixed with frost unhidden by leather’s musk. Her belly pulled taut, and she scrunched her eyes shut. “P-Please master,” she whispered. “Please…” She couldn’t ask. Despite his words, he’d beat her bloody. No man had ever shown her mercy, but then she heard low and mild…
“Little flower…look up at me.”
And immediately she obeyed.
Unblinking emerald clothed her in light, split around sliver so slim. He cupped her cheek with a palm large and warm.
“You will never be hungry again.”
She choked back a sob as held before her was a steady spoon overladen. Couched in his right hand, the arm that held her, was a bowl filled with simmering soup. The need was too great, and Aeris forgot to ask permission before leaning forward. She wished she could weep. It tasted so good and was hot and not crawling with maggots. A thick mealy vegetable and savory meat that was neither moldy nor rotten. Though bland was the broth, a high-pitched noise escaped her now closed lips. She lifted those huge eyes to him again, the blank face that barely hid sorrow. All of her fingers were gripping his wrist, begging the general for more.
“We have to go slowly,” he said with regret. “Too quickly and you’ll become sick.” He gave his small charge another spoonful, and it filled her whole body with warmth. Warmth within and warmth without from the great coat and his careful arms.
“You’re…feeding me, master.”
“Yes, I am. You’re too tired to do it yourself.”
“I’m so sorry, master. I’m sorry I’m weak.”
“You’ve nothing to be sorry for. It’s not your fault you were abused.”
“I’m so weak…” In repeat her voice faded.
“It’s alright, little one,” Sephiroth promised. “You endured what no one deserves.”
“I had no choice in that, greatest of masters.”
“Your mind is still yours, though that’s no kindness in such a state as that…” The general’s gaze turned inward to darkness hiding behind the light. Is it better to keep one’s wits amidst torture or lose them to madness and pain?
“Master, please.” At the instant of plea, he went back to his primary task. The next few spoonfuls were just as good as her hunger started to break. “Where is this from, greatest master?” The Cetra licked the broth from her lips.
“From my kitchen, little one.”
Kitchen…she tried to remember.
“Do you know what a ‘kitchen’ is, Aeris?” He gave her another taste.
Tightly shut eyes tried to squeeze memory from the muddled mists of her mind. A pink flush was growing in hollow cheeks from water and nourishment. “I’m trying, master. I’m trying so hard…”
“It’s alright little one,” he told her again, clinking the spoon on the bowl. “A kitchen is a place where food’s prepared and kept, though a pantry can help with the latter. I have one of those, too.” The smile was slight only curling one side of his lips.
“You…made this for me?” It was such a shock that she missed the next offering. Then her blush deepened, and she took it in joy, placing her hand upon his. So brittle, it rested on one more than hale where pale skin mocked its winter with heat. Aeris peered down and forced back a whimper to the massive difference in size.
“I did, little one.”
“Y-You…s-soiled your…p-perfect hands for a worthless s-slave?” His skin was so warm and smooth as sea stone. Her quivering palms drank it in. Never ceasing, the heat soothed hers frail and cold. So wonderful she wanted to cry.
Sephiroth offered another spoonful, but Aeris turned her head to the side. Stomach now full, dizziness descended, but she had to say, “I’m sorry, master.”
“There’s nothing to apologize for, little one. I didn’t expect you to eat a full feast.” That smile returned to his perfect lips, as he Cetra’s parted confused. Then sighing, the general set the bowl back on the night stand beside. “You are not worthless, Aeris, and there was no ‘soiling.’ I used my hands to make you dinner.”
“M-May I see your hand, master?”
“Of course, little one.” He offered it to her with palm facing up. She had to take it with quivering two. Large, well-made, with fingers long and thick that could easily capture her limbs. Aeris tried to trace the lines in his palm, but her tremor was far too great. Curling those fingers against her wrist, Sephiroth halved his lids before spilling light down. She gasped at the brush, jolting up to silver on her cheeks.
The general gently took the Cetra’s, her fingers like northern ice. Never in his life past or now had he needed so tender a touch. His thumb slid over the knobs of her knuckles, passing over the valleys between. Unable to fit in those tortured hollows, as he caressed her poor, tired hand. He needed no patience to temper his strength, and her joy mellowed Mako light.
He’s…careful? Aeris shook in utter awe. Men were not careful with her. She was made to be raped and beaten. No one had ever caressed her like this in assurance she wasn’t harmed. And none in all Midgar or the wide world had an ounce of her great master’s strength.
“If I push too hard, you must let me know. I don’t want to hurt you, Aeris.”
“M-Master,” she whispered. “That feels wonderful. You’re…not hurting me. You’re being not rough a-at all. You’re being…easy?” She glanced up at him, uncertainty knitting her brow.
“Gentle,” he corrected, massaging her palm. The light from his eyes softened to sorrow. She didn’t even know the term.
“Gentle…” The little Cetra sighed.
“Yes, Aeris,” he whispered. “That’s all there is now. Gentle is all you will know.”
“I love it, great master,” she barely breathed. “I-I love…gentleness. Please just be gentle…never be rough, never be rough with me!” She whimpered suddenly, curling herself deeper into his guarding arms.
Both rue and rage burned long lashes as Sephiroth gazed down at his charge. Something so simple. Something so basic. Something so easy to give. It had been denied this tiny flower for so very long.
Aeris bit her lip and dared to peer up, while lifting her other hand. It shook in the air ‘til Sephiroth caught it with a smile and still gentle grip. Rapt fascination revealed her awe when his great thumb passed over that palm. He went so slow and was ever careful in controlling the pressure he used. Keeping slit pupils fixated on her to ensure his little charge wasn’t hurt.
“You’re so gentle, master.” It defied belief. “E-Even though you’re so strong.”
“Those things aren’t mutually exclusive, little one. I’m not going to abuse my strength…especially not with someone like you.”
“Someone so weak.” She trembled once more.
“Someone so in need of care.” Releasing her hand, Sephiroth slide his fingers against her shrunken cheek. Re-catching it, he passed his thumb smoothly over tendon and bone. Silver brows suddenly pulled together as the general peered sharply down. “Aeris,” he whispered in less than a hush. “Your fingers…” Lingering over the far most two, he instantly checked his grip. “…they’ve been broken.” The words ground against his teeth.
“Yes, great master, many times,” she said as one would the time. “I was such a willful slave….until the day I knew.”
“Knew what, Aeris?” He moved his caress to the delicate webs of her thumbs. The thinnest skin there was nearly translucent, the blood within easily viewed.
“Knew my place, great master.”
Sephiroth suppressed a hiss. “That was never your place, little one.”
Sliding a knuckle beneath her chin, he lifted her face to his light. Aeris could only stare up in awe, robbed of all words by that visage. The general took her two hands in his one, letting heat permeate skin still so cold.
“How long, little one? How long did you suffer? Was it truly a hundred years?”
Aeris shook her head and blinked a few times, his low voice breaking the spell. “The time is so lost, master. It’s the only life I know. The only one I remember. There is…another, thinner than mist, but I can almost see the strands.” She stretched forth a hand as if they strummed before, dissipating like dust-wrought webs.
He spread his fingers along her cheek, closing emerald eyes. “I lived in that ‘mist time,’ too, little one. It was two hundred years ago. That age is now dust, though what did occur can never be forgotten.” Behind sealed lids, Sephiroth bowed his head to the haunt of her hollowed eyes.
“I don’t think it was that long, master. I was dead…before.” He squeezed Mako tighter and turned away, and Aeris blinked at that. “But then,” she continued, “I-I was alive and my life was just pain and abuse. Though my oldest dreams were of my church and bright flowers that once bloomed there. I would just…” She paused, peering up for fear she was arousing his wrath. No man had let Aeris speak for so long, and it was strange to still hear her own voice.
“Go on, little one.” Sephiroth assured, unveiling eyes burdened with shadow.
She bit her lip and pulled closer to him, and the general would deny her no comfort. He’d donned another leather greatcoat with buttons instead of straps. No armor was needed, not in this place, and beneath was a white, button shirt. The top ones were parted, revealing warm skin as white as the fabric beside. A lock of silk hair had tumbled that way, silver against sea-foam pale.
I’m not being used. I’m being held. He’s holding me in his arms. I’m not being used… He’s stroking my face with the back of his hand. He’s…being gentle. Can a master be gentle? Why isn’t he using me?
“I would just stay inside myself, master, all of the time. Over and over inside my head, I’d remind myself who I was, b-but things slipped away, my old memories, they turned into flickering mist. I know it’s still there, but it’s so hard to see.”
“One day you’ll remember…”
“I hope I will, master.” The Cetra searched his face, wondering at his barely veiled grief. “Th-they took everything except my name. N-None of them knew or…cared what it was. But I…forced myself to remember. I was Aeris. Aeris. Aeris. M-My masters could never have that. They beat and used all the will out of me, but I always had my name…” She hid her face in his unyielding chest and tried to quell her tremble. The general’s arms curled closer around, as the little Cetra sobbed. “It’s why…it’s why…” She shook her head as gentle fingers slid over her crown. “Somehow they knew I was keeping that secret. I-It’s why they beat me so hard. It had to be, master. Why…why else would they ever hurt me so much?”
“They were cowards, Aeris.” His voice carried death, but the wrath within quelled for her. Sephiroth made sure the coat fully enclosed, but she was so little this was no hard task.
“I’d try to remember all that I’d been, but the mist and pain swallowed it. But I had my name. I-I had it, master, and they couldn’t take that away. You were the first, g-glorious master. You gave it back to me.”
“No, little flower…” He stroked her frail fingers. “It was always and ever yours. You were the one who refused to forget.”
“Gentlest master…you gave it back. You were the first to speak my name. I stayed inside j-just like I told you, and the Planet sang songs in my head. But when men were…in me, it just hurt so much. All I knew was that tearing pain. I couldn’t help it. I had to scream even though some of them hated that…”
Lifting her up, he laid brow to brow with eyes closed to not flood hers with light.
“It was all I knew, master. Silence and pain. I don’t even know how many… My oldest master was probably the first, b-but I lost count after a month. I didn’t even see them all. It was…always from behind. Sometimes the prison guards would buy me and throw me into the blackest of cells. They told my master it was the best way to keep the men pacified. The hardest of them dwelled down below, and they would just have their full way. I think I died a few times from that, but the Planet…i-it brought me back. I’d…just come back in the midst of their…use. They didn’t care that I’d been dead. The only thing that bothered them if I wasn’t alive was that I couldn’t scream. They always like that…the worst criminals. They liked to hear me scream.”
Sephiroth gripped his own solid wrist as Mako light seared the air. Her eyes were open, too afraid to close and be taken back to that hell. “I think they’re all dead now, anyway, master. That prison was closed within the first twenty years. That was my old owner, the one before, but not my first one, master. H-He didn’t take me nearly as often a-as the one you bought me from, and he’d get…so angry when I became ‘useless,’ o-or so he thought I was.”
“Useless,” the general flatly repeated, retaking both cold, little hands. Her lips twitched up into what could’ve been a smile if she’d not been mired in horror’s past.
“Wh-When I was…breeding…” Aeris quaked to the word and hid her face against him again.
“You carried a child near to term.”
“Children…master.” She shook her head in whisper lost. The general’s lashes cut the light, but could not diminish its burn. “But th-they all died. A-All of them, master. I…I’m defective.”
“No, you are not.” He kept his voice quiet lest it sorely break. I’ve no right to display any pain. “They were defective. All of the ones who dared to treat you so.”
“Master, I…” She hid her face as a shuddering sob broke against her small form. Aeris breathed in sweet scent through the folds of his coat, and Sephiroth slid a hand down her cheek. Leaning over he kissed her brow, and she wondered how such joy could be. Somehow her mind had taken some pity and woven this dream out of air.
Sweet confusion dwelled in her blinks, and he tilted his head to the side. Sephiroth slightly smile, though it was incongruent in the wake of past horror’s depths.
“What was` that, master?”
“What was what, little one?”
“That…pressing of lips to my skin.” She lifted a hand to the blessed spot where sweet memory now dwelled.
“Oh, little flower, that was a kiss. They deprived you of everything.”
“Great master…” A grimy palm shook in her sight, nails filled with the filth of the slums. “I’m dirty. Y-You…”
“…don’t care, little one, not for my sake, only yours.” He opened and slid his broad palm against hers. Aeris gasped for how warm it was. Awe stole the next for her tiny hand barely covered a fraction of his. “I could draw you a bath.”
“A…bath, greatest master?”
That title so false. A small smile remained for her sake. “Yes, a way to be clean.”
“C-Clean?” Haunted summer searched his angel’s face that he had to shut down within mask. “Will it hurt, master?”
“No, it shouldn’t, but if it does, you need only say so.” He threaded their fingers gently together, careful not to spread hers too far. The webbing between was like blood laced tissue left to bake at noon. “I bought soap that’s gentle.”
“G-Gentle like you, glorious, perfect master?” She glanced up from intertwined hands. Trying to make sense of why hers wasn’t crushed. Trying to understand why he cared.
Emerald glow softened behind his long lashes. “In a different way.”
“I want to be clean, greatest of masters.” She fumbled with his fingers. “Please…let me be clean.” The general lowered them gently and Aeris pressed her lips against. Be pleased by that, greatest of masters, the Cetra silently begged. Then pleaded aloud, “I don’t want to be dirty, f-filthy anymore.”
Sorrow seeped from Sephiroth’s mask. “You never will be again.” He easily stood with her in his arms, and her fearful squeak cut his hale heart. “It’s well, little one,” he promised his charge, as she buried her face in his neck. Pressing against that powerful pulse where silver wove splendor of scent.
Ethereal emerald cast light on the distance the Cetra was from the carpeted floor. He’s so tall, my glorious master. I-If he dropped me… Aeris whimpered and shook. The strongest of arms then tightened around, belying terror that only increased. “Please, perfect master, please don’t drop me! Don’t throw me to the ground!”
“Aeris…no, I’ll never drop you.” Rue nearly lost to his wrath. “I have you.” The softest brush to gaunt cheek released a surprised gasp. “I have you…” The promise rang deep. “You can cling to my neck. Lay your head on my shoulder.”
The maid quaked in disbelief. Expecting the floor to shatter her bones after each frantic heartbeat. Where was his cruelty? What did he want? Being carried took both strength and care. The sun in Midgar would cause lesser shock. She could not even fathom such strength…and men were never kind. She did as he “ordered,” while searching his face in hopes she’d have some sign. He pressed her close against living heat, and her brittle fingers curled. Beneath his leather dwelled only a wall to ruin a fortress in envy.
“N-No one’s ever held me, master,” she whispered in silver lined ear. Her fragile fingers squeezed together in the shadow of hopeless prayer. “Any time a man touched me, it always hurt, b-but you haven’t hurt me at all. You haven’t bruised me…”
“And I never will.” His eyes pulsed as low as his voice.
“But o-others could, g-greatest of masters.”
“No, they can’t, little one.” He held her closer and perfect lips brushed the curls of her ear. “I have you,” he whispered, halving his lids when briefly her shiver turned sweet. “I protect you now, Aeris, utterly, fully. There’s no finer use for my strength.”
“You’re much, much stronger than my old master…”
“That’s right, little one. I am.” He lifted his head, and silver caressed what bruised skin his greatcoat exposed. “No one will ever hurt you again.” The general laid her carefully down, ensuring the leather full covered. Then he pulled the heavy blankets back up, as her head sank back in the pillows.
Bleary summer tried to follow the Great General’s egress. He’d said something else once she was ensconced again in the decadent mattress, but Aeris was fading, wearying fast from constant fear of abuse. She tried to jolt up. My master has spoken. I have to answer him! But it was too much, and then a warm palm softly covered her cheek. Again, his words drifted like bubbles through brine, and a gentle kiss fell on her brow. Above the bed was a high covering with diaphanous shrouding around. The mattress itself was large enough that her spread arms couldn’t reach either end.
When Sephiroth returned, prepared and supplied, he woke the Cetra up. Her cry of terror re-tore his heart, but there was no other way. I need her permission before the next step. “Aeris…” He gentled his voice. Deadened summer looked into Mako as the general sat by the bed. A reasoned attempt to temper his height and not invade her space. “I’ve drawn your bath.” The fear didn’t change. It merely grew to quake through confusion.
“A…bath, greatest master?” Barely a whisper escaped that tortured throat. His low voice had pulled her from darkness’ depths, jolting the Cetra awake. Immediate terror claimed her again. How dare she fall asleep?
Sephiroth’s pupils sharply diminished in the dull grass of widening eyes. “Yes, little flower. Do you remember?”
She licked dry lips with drier tongue. “I-I…I’m sorry…I f-fell asleep. Please don’t hurt me, master.” Despite leather coat, she trembled so hard, it distorted the piteous plea.
“I never will.” His lowered head spilled silver skein over Mako cold. “You’re nothing to be sorry for. Sleep’s not a sin. Weariness is no crime, and your pain is not your fault.” Moonlight locks made him a sheer veil, and emerald rode the strands. “Will you allow me to help you, little one?”
“’A-Allow,’ master?” Aeris stammered, her terror more grown with bemusement.
“Yes, by your permission.”
Breath choked in her throat. She struggled to breathe as wide eyes rolled back in her skull. Sephiroth stood in concerned alarm, while silent screams wracked the maid. He’d fall upon. She’d be crushed and pierced beneath his powerful form. The oldest pain the Cetra had known would again rip her apart, but the only move the general made was to step away. His hands were hidden at his back, the clench of his fists unknown.
“I’m so sorry, Aeris…” Sephiroth whispered. “I’m…so very sorry.”
“I…want to be clean,” she barely breathed. “P-Please let me be clean.” Her withered legs shook and Aeris swallowed. “B-But great master, I…I-I can’t stand.”
“You don’t have to,” he told her, as the strongest arms slipped beneath.
The general wrapped her in a large towel, before extricating her from the coat. Though it was just as thick as a blanket, the little maid shivered still. Berating himself for neglecting the heat, Sephiroth kept curses inward. Instead he held the Cetra closer, pressed against living warmth.
Her head spun so hard thoughts cracked, seeping snippets. He’s wearing another coat. She whimpered in joy, and her protector peered down with a hint of smile. Tiny fingers curled against his black shirt where the top buttons had given way.
“Afterwards, you can rest again for as long as you need, little one.”
His low voice jolted against the Cetra whose heart leapt ahead several beats. “You’ll l-let me sleep in your bed, master?” Withered green darted in awe.
“This is your bed, Aeris, in your room in your home by the Dreaming Sea. That is…” He brief paused in both speech and step. “…if that’s well with you, little one.”
It was a dream. It had to be. Her master’s words made no sense. Awestruck, Aeris searched his face, as the general ducked through a doorway. Washed in new light, he was more than glory, and it dried all the words on her tongue. Sephiroth shook his head at false adoration so silver slid over her brow.
“Look around, Aeris,” he softly said. “This is yours, as well.”
She turned her head with a half-gasped squeak to the opulent room before. A high chandelier dripped spiraling lights to illuminate night stained glass. Grey marble and onyx adorned a large basin set high upon a dais. Its fixtures were silver, but far more muted than moonlight washed and fair. Scented water softly steamed piled high with sea-foam soap. Once summer eyes turned slightly damp as Aeris swallowed hard. Confusion tinged them, turned swift to fear when the general carried her past.
By the time he stopped, both whimpers and tears were inundating his neck. Sephiroth sighed, facing the mirror and the Cetra within duel hold. Emerald reflected Mako gleam back but did not deter his gaze.
“Aeris, I’m going to set you down. I promise I’m not going to hurt you.”
Either strength’s lack or abject fear loosened the Cetra’s arms. Her lids were squeezed. Her fingers curled. Then her bottom met something soft. Wide eyes flew open above raised hands, blur shimmering to angel’s face. She shook her head, tossing the braid so it laid like a dull snake in her lap.
Regret and rue lifted Sephiroth’s lips, and he offered Aeris his hand. Rapid blinking did not forestall her immediate response. He might very well crush each fragile bone, and nothing she did could forestall.
“Your hair can’t be salvaged, little flower. I have to cut the braid.”
She only continued to stare at him where the general crouched before. He covered her tiny hand with his other, and she trembled to see it engulfed. Closing her eyes, she waited for pain, yet the Cetra found only warmth. She lifted her head, and emerald light poured through her slum dulled bangs.
“I’m so sorry, Aeris.”
She blinked and then started, fear paling her face. He’d spoken and she hadn’t answered!
“Master, I’m sorry. Please don’t punish me! I-I should’ve answered you.”
“It’s well, little one. You need never be sorry. You have done nothing wrong.”
“You can do what you w-wish with me, greatest master.” A whimper now joined her quake.
“It’s not what I wish at all, little flower, and I mean that in more ways than one. I’ll leave what I can.” The scissors appeared in his hand as he stood, towering over again. An edge at her back that shut Mako eyes a moment before the cut. Sephiroth tried to work fingers through right above her waist, but the mats still rose high, and his torn heart beat grief at where the shorn braid did rest. It unraveled as if to remind him still that this was ever his guilt. Then a sigh from below had him gazing down to his tiny charge content. His fingers, though thick, were gentle and deft at untangling the remains. Unbothered by any filth of the slums nor century’s gathered dust.
The little Cetra parted her lips while her head tilted back all the more. At first only fear had colored her thoughts for what her new master had meant. Her memory held little but endless pain so Aeris had come to expect, but the snick snick of scissors just removed a weight she’d carried for many years. The dirt heavy braid that had only served as another conduit for pain. Arms closed around her, and the Cetra whimpered, clinging again to his neck.
“I have you, Aeris,” he instantly promised, holding her close and secure. Wrapped in a towel and his careful clutch, the little maid dared a peek. Seafoam bubbles still rose high, while lavender licked through damp air.
He lowered her in and she clung to his neck, fearing bone-cracking cold. Yet it was warmer than a dream nor was wisping mist her breath. Aeris slid from the shielding leather like emergence from a cocoon. It was waterproof, but he wouldn’t have cared if black fully dissolved. Emerald light stayed splayed on her face to monitor every nuance. She clung to his shoulders whimpering, ‘til she realized she wouldn’t drown. Mountainous bubbles closed her in their kingdom, while sweet soap seeped through each pore.
“Is it too hot, Aeris?”
She swallowed swift breaths, soothed by scented sap inundating her skin. Buried in bubbles, her braid disappeared, though matted bangs bled filth through foam.
“It’s warm, master…you let me be warm.” The water came up to her neck. Sea-foam soap dappled her scalp, as she tilted her head back on the ledge. Her broken body suspended between. Logic demanded she rested below, but sensation denied that truth. She floated. She flew in heaven’s embrace. “I was never allowed to be warm…sometimes, just sometimes, I could find a grate that wasn’t too hot to lie on. But one time I woke with burns on my ribs in the shape of the heated metal. The man who had used me beat me bloody for blocking the vent with my side. It hurt so much, master. He…struck the burnt part. It hurt so very much…”
Large hands gripped the side of the basin in a clutch that threatened to crush, but the tub wasn’t guilty, and marble whined to plead its innocence. Sephiroth placed his brow to hers and shook his head against. “Never again, little flower,” he promised. “You’ll never endure such again. You’ll always be as warm as you wish. You’ll never be without.”
“Without what, master?” She kept her eyes closed. His voice was so very soothing. It echoed in here to lowest vibration, held in the air as she was the water.
“Without anything. You’ll never be cold. You’ll never be hungry. You’ll never be beaten again.”
A droplet of water slid down her face, surely misplaced from the bath. No soap sting torment bled through her eyes, but she kept them closed just to be certain. Dampened hair clung to her back, and the Cetra’s skin recoiled. She held in the whimper for fear he’d think her ungrateful enough for correction.
“I’m going to wash your hair, little one. Is that…is that alright?”
Aeris opened first one eye then tentatively the other. Her great master knelt by the tub, learning over so moonlight caressed.
“Master, I…” Her mouthed worked the words she could never say. Was he asking her permission? She was his slave! She had no right to deny or resist a request.
Sephiroth ran gentle fingers through her free bangs and sighed. “I won’t hurt you. I promise.” He dipped a large hand in a clear patch of water and told her, “Shut your eyes.” Instant obedience hid those wane orbs, as a gentle thumb lifted her chin.
Fragrant warmth washed her brow and scalp before cascading down her back. Then gentle fingers massaging her crown released a shuddering sigh. The sheer strength in her master’s hands could still not be believed. He could crush her skull with just one hand and not even break a sweat, and indeed the general used only one to work the lather in. Rapt concentration in sliver split Mako proved his utter care.
“Dip your head in the water, little one,” he said, when the sheen of white spread from her crown. Aeris took a deep breath and slid herself forward, closing her eyes as her face sunk below. The haze of the water did not erase her as the Cetra resurfaced once more. Shimmering curtains of wetness plastered drab bangs to her cheeks.
Sephiroth repeated the process, and she reemerged with hair glistening dark. A dry towel wiped the spare soap away, making it safe for summer to see. The general then worked conditioner in, piling locks on the side of the tub. Aeris reclosed her eyes and turned her head, while his large hands rubbed lilac scent through. Her posture exposed the raw flesh of her throat, and he had to hold back his hiss.
“Does your neck hurt, little one?” he asked, sore ashamed he’d forgotten this injury.
“Not much, great master,” the Cetra replied, her lip twitching in repose. “It’s good to be clean. The pain is still there, but it feels more pure.”
“The soap in your bath is for sensitive skin, and I have other things to soothe.”
Cooling water was still far warmer than Aeris had ever been. Rinsing her hair one final time, he asked her to re-wet her head. For moments momentous she floated beneath, and Sephiroth turned away from non-memory. Without care for either coat or shirt, the general plunged in to gather her up. The former was waterproof like the last, and the latter would survive a wetting.
The Cetra gave a little high squeak as clearness streamed off of her body, but then she sat stiffly in his arms, realizing how soaked she was. A piteous whimper dissolved her voice as she imagined her punishment. His clothes were sopping and it was her fault. He’d surely beat her bloody.
“Put your head on my shoulder, little one,” Sephiroth said. She obeyed but kept fear with her eyes. Her skin was as slick as a newborn babe’s but her master’s grip was resolute. Slivered pupils remained on her face as he wrapped her in a new towel. Undisturbed by raining tress which he gathered up, as well. Aeris couldn’t help but be impressed he did this all with her in his arms. No effort seemed to cross his face just utter concern. Releasing the water was a happy task, and the slum’s filth gurgled away. Aeris slid her arms around his neck, asking late permission with frightened face.
“Always, little one,” Sephiroth assured. “You never have to ask.”
Back in the room he sat her on a plush chair, then glared around as he noticed the dim. A crook of his finger lifted the lights and illumined her awestruck face. A shiver for splendor owned Aeris’s skin. Was there no end to her master’s power?
“I’ll return, little one,” the general promised, laying a kiss to her wet crown. The gentle press shut the Cetra’s eyes. It was growing harder to believe this sweet dream. I’m not hungry. I’m truly clean. I’m warm. I’m sitting on softness. I’m not chained. I haven’t been beaten. I’m…not being used.
Her master kept his promise at return, his arms over laden with items unknown. He crouched by her side, let them spill with a clatter, when frail fingers found his face. In absolute shock the Cetra gasped to smooth skin upon her palm. What had possessed her to touch her possessor? What slid her hands to his hair? She did not know, but he smiled at her and covered that withered hand.
“Master…thank you so much for food, for letting me be warm.”
“Aeris, you never need thank me for that,” Sephiroth softly said. He brushed a thumb beneath her hold to gently stroke soft palm. Bowing his head, he took a deep breath. “I need to bare your skin.”
With never a word, Aeris pushed down the towel to reveal her pallid breasts. Her breathing came shallow as everything folded back to what life was for true.
Sephiroth fixed his eyes to her face and lifted the cover back up. “Just your neck and wrists, little one. I’m sorry. I should’ve been clearer. I’m going to put a salve on torn skin. It should help with your pain.”
Aeris couldn’t believe as he rubbed in the ointment thorough but tenderly. Ever careful around delicate limbs, he still glared for more broken bones. Both of her wrists contained several in various stages of healing. Around trembling ankles his touch was like feathers, and the Cetra just squeezed her eyes shut. It couldn’t be possible. It wasn’t real. Gentle and strong were incongruent. He should be crushing her bones in the might of his hands, throwing her down to split her in two. A ragged sob only did not close her throat because Aeris refused to allow. Never had tears spared her from pain, and she wouldn’t give in to them now. The moment would come no matter what, and she’d be used and beaten again…but Sephiroth merely moved to her neck to spread soothing salve around. The little Cetra had to suppress softest cry, as abraded torment was quelled. Rending fabric jolted her up to him holding white strips neatly torn.
“What are those, master?” She found herself asking.
“These are bandages, little one.”
“Band…ages, master?” Her fingers twitched slightly as Sephiroth swathed her frail limb.
“Yes, little flower.” He forced focus on task. “They’re used to bind up wounds.”
Aeris stared at him blankly biting her lip, as he tended her other arm. The general carefully bound both of her ankles before standing to view his work, and she lifted her face despite the sharp wince to keep him in her sights. He chastised himself before tending chafed throat, while her whimper fluttered the fabric. Cupping her cheek, he peered down in rue. Is this demanded or learned? Paper thin skin was pale as the bindings, and the sight suddenly made him sadder. I bound her, too, though for injury’s sake. I suppose it’s better than chains.
“Aeris?” he called, and the little maid flinched, but he only unwound the top towel. Dampened cascade tumbled down her small frame. “Ah, how could I ever forget? I’ll return in a moment.” Bending low he kissed her brow, and moon silk caressed her wane face.
“More gentle touch, master, more…kissing?”
Sephiroth was already to the door when he turned illumined in light. “’Gentle touch’ is all you’ll know, Aeris. I promise I’ll be right back.”
And then he swept out…out -of her room, but that made even less sense. She was a slave, and slaves could own nothing. Her very flesh was his. But he said it’s mine. I don’t understand. How could anything belong to me?
With the lights up her eyes grew huge at the size of her given bedchamber. It was bigger than most of the hovels below with a ceiling adorned in stars. It’s the same as the other, those hanging lights that seem to drip down from above. Other tall lamps stood in the corners all bright save for where the drapes hung. That was where she’d seen that strange shimmer, and curiosity turned Aeris’s head. The edge of her sight caught a swift movement, and she squeaked to jerk back around.
On the wall near her chair there was a high glass that showed this same world deep within. Squinting a bit, Aeris swung round her legs and gasped to the carpet’s caress. She leaned forward, searching the floor where high piled softness did grow. Everything’s softness, she thought in sweet awe using the chair to climb to a stand. Her legs shook as though her bones had congealed, and the Cetra clung hard to the arm. With its support she shuffled around to lean on the side in clear view.
Her face was sharp angles and terror below the pall of milk white skin. Nothing but eyes and the gaunt hollows that dwelled beneath summer so wane. Somewhere in the mist, she remembered bright green like a million lush meadows in bloom, but torture had leached that hue away leaving the residue pool below. White winding bands embraced throat, wrist, and ankle, and Aeris wished these could be her new chains. She wanted to quake, but warmth washed her flesh, and constant vigilance was oh so exhausting.
The Cetra looked down at her flaccid stomach where the skin gathered in folds. It was so incongruent…her emaciated limbs paired with this gross, hanging belly. Beneath her navel was the worst for the pink lines all coalesced. From below her ribs and all the way down, pregnancy had twisted her flesh. But it didn’t stop there. Her breasts and her hips were carved with remnants, as well. Webs upon webs and lines upon lines as if a spider had spun thick pink thread. She was the mother of a myriad dead and her body bore every scar. Slight dew made her blink, and when bleariness cleared, the mirror’s face held Sephiroth. His clothing was dry and still darker than sorrow beneath the black leather long.
“Can I be fixed, master?” the Cetra asked as he filled her entire view.
“We’re going to work on that, Aeris.” The general met her gaze, and the little maid wet her lips.
“Good. I want to be perfect for you.”
“What do you mean, little one?”
She passed a hand in front of her belly, her face expressionless. “You’re the only man to look at my front, and this is what you have to see. It’s…it’s not right, master.” She shook her head and that hand betrayed a quake. “You shouldn’t have to look at this. When I’m bent over no one can see, b-but you haven’t done that yet.”
He unclenched his jaw though his nostrils still flared. “Aeris, will you look up at me?”
She unsteadily turned and Sephiroth crouched to take tiniest hands in his. The Cetra quivered for they were a level, and that couldn’t be right at all. I belong to him. He’s my great master. H-He should tower above. My place is below…cast in his shadow. Beneath his almighty gaze.
“Master?” she whispered.
“Yes, little flower?”
“You always look at my face.”
“Why wouldn’t I look at your face?” He tilted his head to the side.
“Th-That’s the least important part, master.”
Sephiroth sighed and placed his brow to hers. There were so many lies he had to break. Tossing away the silver skein, he laid a warm palm to her cheek. “This little face shows who you are. It’s beyond important, and the only ‘fixing’ you need, little one, is for what they made you endure.”
His emerald gaze stayed on her visage as he pushed tumbled hair away. Glad it was drying to the increased heat and the tresses were turning soft. Aeris whimpered and flinched when he reached to his shoulder…and pulled black material forth. Swirling the shirt around his small charge, Sephiroth lifted her drying hair free. The smooth, black fabric was silken soft, and it smelled just like him. He eased wasted arms through the long sleeves before buttoning the shirt all the way. Rising again, the general gazed down with a half-smile for it fell past her knees. Holding up one quivering limb at a time, he carefully rolled up the cuffs. Scrawny limbs weren’t enough to secure, so he tucked fabric into itself.
This vision was false. It couldn’t be true. Her nakedness had disappeared. The tiny maid had only one tongue but a thousand would not be enough. But the tears, they remembered to wash summer green for the last clothes she’d worn had been pink…
A heaving sob tore through the last Ancient’s chest, and her weakened legs once again failed. The fallen did not. His strong arms enclosed her as nothing else ever could. Silver and silk became her whole world, as Aeris wept torment’s release. How could the Planet have so little pity? It had once been her dearest friend…back and back it had brought her again to more horror than any should bear. But this was the cruelest jest ever concocted, allowing false vision of hope. Letting the tiny maid know care and safety before ripping the sweet lie away.
She’d cried the day they took her clothes and left her naked and cold. Her breasts she’d attempted to shield with crossed arms and her sex with her shivering thighs. The lash split her back upon jagged bias, and no scream had been made for such pain, but each subsequent strike ripped others out as readily as flesh flew from bone. It would ever bear scars, a thousand white lines written there thicker and thin.
“I have you, little one.” The general bowed his head to crown her in silver light. He tightened his arms around that tiny form, and heightened sobs tore her throat hoarse. Shaking and sobbing, the helpless maid waited for mercy to be ripped away, but that strength remained, the best of all shields, and his low voice did nothing but soothe.
“You should be clothed in finery, not my plain shirt. You should be held up. You should be worshipped…” The agony of a hundred years broke against his chest. “Aeris, I promise. I swear it by blood. I swear it by light and darkness. No one will ever hurt you again. That horror ended today.”
Her voice was near gone, but Sephiroth’s enhancements cursed him so he could still hear. “I tried, great master…so many times. The Planet…it just brought me back. Back to chains, back to beatings, back to hunger and pain. That’s all I have. That’s all I am. That’s all life can be for. When I was dead…I wasn’t in pain. Pain is all I’ve known.”
He stroked her hair as those darkest words fell. “Are you in pain now, Aeris?”
“My insides hurt from what happened this morning, but right now…you’re not using me. You haven’t beat me. I’m not cold. I’m not hungry. I’m…no longer naked, and I’m being held in your strong arms.” She lifted her face where pale tears glimmered in emerald like trailing stars. “Please, great master, don’t let me go. Don’t take your protection away!”
Without any effort Sephiroth picked her up, and her scrawny arms spilled on broad shoulders. Curling long fingers against her cheek, his palm was soon drowned in that dew. Salt shimmered over leather so black as his free hand caressed her face. The general realized that she was just waiting for the curtain to rot away. Everything terrible he had done was nothing to that century.
“You gave me clothes, master. Slaves don’t wear clothes.”
“You’re not a slave, little flower.”
Almost dry tresses spilled over his arms, as Sephiroth pressed his brow to hers. He smelled so good behind her sealed lids and his arms were so steady and strong. There was no waver. There was no falter. He could hold her until time’s dark end.
“But I’m your slave, perfect master. I belong to you.”
“No, you don’t, little one,” he promised, “and I’m neither of those things. I’m far from perfect, and I’m not your master. Both titles are more than lies.” His shaken head moved hers in tandem. “You’re not my property. Slavery is an atrocity, Aeris. You cannot own a person.”
“But I’m not a person, greatest master. You paid for me. I’m yours…”
“I paid to free you, little one, not own you myself.”
“But you do own me, master,” she insisted in tremble, that angel face blurring before. “I’m yours forever. I h-have to do wh-whatever you command.” Tears overtook her, and against his hale shoulder, Aeris convulsed with sobs. “Greatest master, I’ll do anything. Please oh please, don’t hurt me! Please don’t beat me. Please let me heal b-before you use me. I’m torn, great master…all the way in…all the way inside. Please give me time! It hurts so much. Please don’t chain me in cold. Don’t leave me to freeze. Don’t take this warmth. I’m so warm now in your strong arms. Just a bit longer l-let me stay here. Please greatest master, have mercy…” Frail, weakened limbs shook on that solid wall of leather lined marble.
“Oh, little flower. Dear gods, no…no.” His mask nearly broke to such horror. The wrath whirled in Mako would burn down this world and any too close to the flames. “Aeris, I promise, you are safe now. I will never ‘use’ you. There is no ‘waiting for you to heal.’ You’ll never be raped again. I’ll never hurt you. I’ll never drop you, and I’ll never deny you warmth. You’ll never be beaten, starved, or chained. My strength is now your shield. I have you, little one.” His brow met hers again as Aeris braved fear to look up. “You’re safe in my arms, and…if you must be mine, you’re only mine to protect.”
More than all Aeris wished she could believe these wonderful words, but “safe,” “protected,” and “never being used” were not what life contained. Her eyes darted over that angel’s face paler than her own. Never were lashes half so long, luxurious fronds against winter. They were so incongruent with his silver hair, as the gleam behind rode every strand. Strange luminescence lit her skin in cold wash as slim pupils narrowed more on her face. Forever and ever around dark thin as thorn like a wick amidst emerald fire.
“You could always find me, couldn’t you master? Even in deepest dark…”
Sephiroth nodded once and slowly, and that light pierced hollow green. The mists of memory tried to invade, but she blinked as they shimmered away. The Great General’s lips lifted in saddest smile as Aeris laid her head near his neck. A quiver still shook her tiny form, and he held the maid just a bit tighter.
“You need medical attention, little one,” he murmured.
“Medical attention, master?”
“Yes, Aeris. You need to see a doctor…several ones in fact. Will that…” He pursed his lips thin so the bow disappeared. “Do you understand that, Aeris?”
She nodded weakly against his neck then remembered to answer, “Yes, master. Doctors, they…” She shut her eyes harder as if to force out memory. “They…”
“They’ll help you. They’ll help you to grow well. I can make you an appointment tonight.”
“Yes, master,” she murmured, and Sephiroth sighed, turning his head to kiss her temple. “Thank you for gentleness. Thank you for food. Thank you for letting me be warm.”
He carried the Cetra back to the bed. “You never need thank me for that. People like you should be protected. That’s what strength should be for.”
Her breathing was soft against his neck for she’d fallen asleep in his arms. The general didn’t want to put her down, but Aeris deserved the soft bed. Fixing the blankets and sheets around, Sephiroth steeled his heart for her cries. The warmth of the covers did help her trembling, but his sharp eyes still caught slightest quake. Silencing all lamps, he relit just one before softly shutting the door.
Taking a deep breath over the balcony, Sephiroth cast cold Mako down. His hundred years did cruelly mock what innocence had endured. This house, the opulence, his current position were beyond decadent now. An even more ornate chandelier conquered the ceiling above. Crystalline panels only shed light of emerald as he glared.
Silver hair shimmered as long as the leather, a cascade from crown to knees. Pale over darkness, light over horror. The way it must always be. Standing up swiftly, he walked past that staircase to another leading up to the third. His office was here and he opened the window to release the sound of the sea. What will she think when she sees this? was Sephiroth’s first saddened thought. The general sniffed as the night breeze made play with heavy moonlight hair.
Leaning forward, he woke his computer to navigate to the proper site. Emerald unblinking pierced through the prompts, as splayed fingers pushed hard at his temple. Sudden inspiration took Sephiroth swift. It wasn’t possible to explain all this horror. Nor was it his place. This was her story to tell if and how she so wished. It was bare to its bones, the explanation, and the general requested a call. Marking it urgent though guilt still twinged. For her sake I’ll abuse my position.
Long fingers ripped through silver hair as stars shuddered in the distance. There are some fires that never die, but merely transform in their purpose. Sephiroth wanted to burn her church to the ground and paint the ashes with their blood, but he couldn’t leave Aeris, not even for the moment it would take him to sidestep there. Nor is it my place. Though this rage is righteous, would such an act truly serve her? Also the others…the wretched enslaved. What becomes of them?
A heartrending scream pierced the rage in his heart, shattering it for swift flight. He was there in an instant in less than a thought, ignoring guilt to fling open her door. The little Cetra was clawing in wild struggle, tangled in blankets and sheets. Her eyes were shut tight, but the tears still escaped to scrape salt against reddened cheeks. Sephiroth didn’t think. He just scooped her up, hoping the jolt would silence this dream, but though the once flower maid curled into his arms, the terror tormented her still.
“Aeris!” he shouted, shaking her soft, but the little maid only cringed. As though in her nightmare the whip was laid on as her body was split apart. Tiny hands lifted to shield her head from unrelenting blows, and she twisted her face hard into his shoulder, but found no shelter there. The Cetra was begging, screaming, and pleading not be raped again. Clinging to Sephiroth, she cried and quaked beyond all attempts to break nightmare’s hold.
The general breathed deep, and the air seemed to still as the cold from his eyes burned the night. He drew on the power that dwelled in his darkness and called her again by her name. Withered summer opened in tremble to a light that could fill every world. Colder and brighter than neon stars, glittering like northern ice. A trembling hand lifted to catch that stark shimmer before Sephiroth halved his lids.
“Aeris…” he said softer now before kissing her on the brow. The Cetra just laid her head to his chest where that soothing and steady heart dwelled.
“I’ve never had nightmares like that before, master,” the once flower maid admitted.
“Truly, never, little one?”
“Yes…where I’m begging and pleading not to be hurt. I just…accept it, master.”
“You have nightmares about being raped, little flower.” The sorrow broke upon his face.
“Yes, master,” she whispered squeezing closer. “And being beaten and chained and starved.”
“So you lived that horror and just dreamt of more…”
“It was better than dreaming of hope. I stopped begging for mercy a long time ago. That just made them hurt me more. I…” She quaked and wet salt dry lips. “I don’t want you to hurt me either. I’ll be good, master, so you’ll never have to…”
“I’ll never hurt you, little one, regardless of your ‘goodness.’ You’re not mine to hurt or abuse. You are no one’s for such use. No one had the right to hurt you and now you have me to ensure.”
The tiny Cetra could only shudder and bury her face near his collar.
“Protect…” she sobbed. “I-Is that right, master?” She unveiled one eye towards him.
“Yes, little flower. ‘Protect’ is right. That is my new job.” He smiled slightly just for her. “I’m your protector now, and no one will hurt you again.”
Silver skein slithered over his shoulder, teasing the Cetra’s cheek. It smelled just like him, vanilla and frost, the same scent that enticed his warm skin. Tiny fingers slowly combed through hair that tangled as much as moonlight.
“Do you know where we are, little flower?” he asked.
“No, master, I don’t. I-I’m sorry.” Her little hands froze in silver’s midst as summer turned paler than frost.
“There’s no reason to be sorry,” he assured her. “We’re in my house by the Dreaming Sea in a town called the Whispers, and do you know what I am, little one?”
“You’re my perfect master a-and the Great General.” Aeris dared lift trembling gaze. She’d already answered one question wrong. What if she failed this test?
Sephiroth bowed his head to that, but still gave her a half-made smile. “Yes…the second was my title once, and I carry it to this day. Everyone here still calls me that, but I have a more current designation.”
He shifted her over to his left arm to indicate a pin on leather lapel. An elegant shield silver against black, just like his winter hair. Well made, but simple, an ocean scene with moon and waves engraved. Betwixt shore and sky expertly carved was “Mayor of the Whispers.” The pin itself boasted a replica hilt with intricate detail in miniature. It bound the shield upon his chest, behind to hold its place. The only sharp was its bright tip, but that was covered and quelled.
“What is that, master?” She ventured to touch, jolting back with a whimper, but Sephiroth took her little hand and laid it atop the cool metal.
“It’s my mark of office.” He softly laughed with his gaze now turned toward the past. “It’s more honorary than anything else, being Mayor of the Whispers.”
“’M-Mayor, master?” Aeris slight shuddered. He’d grow cross with her constant questions, but Sephiroth merely stroked her cheek without a trace of ire.
“Yes,” he explained, “in briefest terms it means I’m in charge of the town, but there’s little trouble here. The most important task I perform is hunting the monsters on the edge, though,” he considered, “perhaps I was wrong in judging how far that edge does go…” He turned back to Aeris who was looking at him as though every word spoken were gospel. Sighing, Sephiroth laid a kiss to her temple, making the little maid shut her eyes. “They just asked me one day when the position was vacant. I’d been here for quite a long time, and I suppose familiarity can breed trust.
“What I mean to impart to you, little one, is that in this place, none will harm you. You are utterly safe here in my arms in your room in this house by the sea. No one you meet will ever hurt you, and your new life will best those foul dreams.”
“Master, great master…” She curled back into his chest, shaking with what wished to be joy, but she couldn’t believe that. It couldn’t be grasped. The past century had destroyed all her hope.
“You don’t have to call me that, Aeris,” Sephiroth told her. You know my once curséd name.
Complete terror lifted the Cetra’s face as she devolved into trembling horror. She opened her mouth and tried to speak, but fear robbed her of even a whimper. The Great General’s eyes darted over his charge in worry and confusion, and all he could do was hold her close as she quaked to near convulsions. Names were not meant for one such as her. She’d screamed them in her defiance. Early on before discovering the exact definition of pain. She’d learned that day, that week, that month what torture could truly be…
Words finally took pity to let Aeris speak, though the Cetra could still only stammer. “M-Master…I…I c-can’t.” Her sobs rose in crescendo though she hid her face. “I-I don’t mean to disobey. I’m a good slave I promise! Please, please don’t bea-”
She bit back the last as hopeless tears stained her lips. Why was she wasting words begging for mercy when mercy was always denied? But the Great General just held the maid closer, murmuring low words to soothe.
“You’re…so kind to me, p-perfect master. So careful. I’m unworthy. S-So unworthy not to be beaten-”
“Aeris, stop this.” It was not meant as command, but she turned silent as stolen breath. Sephiroth sighed and softly slid smooth knuckles down her cheek. “You deserve nothing but kindness, bright dreams, and a life full of light.”
“I did used to dream that, perfect master.” Emerald washed over her face. “Long ago I dreamed of rescue…of being carried away. When I woke up and that was the worst, but then life bled into those dreams. I forget everything but pain and abuse…so that’s what I dreamed about.”
“That wasn’t life, Aeris.” Mako matched his voice to pulse now dark and low. “It shouldn’t have been. You spent a century in torment.”
Sephiroth thought again of his years in the Whispers, of the requests he’d handled last week. Of cool evenings spent on the white sands, watching dusk ripple through blue. He thought of the meetings he’d attended, of papers signed, and policies checked. During it all, this tiny flower had been beaten and raped while chained. All that minutiae seemed utterly sinful smeared on a backdrop so foul.
“What was that light before, greatest master?”
“The light from my eyes, little one?”
She shook her head and lifted a hand, unsteadily finding the curtains. “There was a light when I first awoke, master.”
Sephiroth carried her to the window. “That was daylight, little flower.”
“Yes.” He smiled so sadly as a seam between let in the stars. “From the sky.”
“B-But the sky’s made of iron, master,” she whispered confused and terrified to negate him.
“Not here, Aeris.” He parted the veil. “Here in the Whispers the sky’s made of light.”
The palette of night played host for the myriads sprayed like snowdrops high above. Aeris tilted her head back, lips parted with “Ohs” of awe. They were speaking to her, those far distant worlds, and her own world sang back in the darkness.
“You see, little one?” He held her up higher in one arm so she leaned on his shoulder. “And tomorrow the sun will reveal the light you missed today.”
The night sky above with all its adornments was far too much to behold. Her consciousness was unraveling at its thin seams, and she wished for dreamless sleep. Whether she woke in this vision or horror, Aeris needed to rest.
Sephiroth carried her back to bed, but sat down with the maid in his clutch. She’d fallen asleep in his arms again, but he chalked that up to fatigue. The scent of sweet summer belied her eyes’ lack, and he could discern leaves beneath blue. But there was something far richer, deeper, and old like loam in primordial forests.
I should put you down. The bed would be better, but I want you to know that you’re safe. Protected forever, my little flower, and tomorrow, daylight will come true. She twitched in her sleep, hunching her shoulders, and his face darkened to these phantom blows. That crumbling church crept in past his light, and anger burned hot as his blood.
He laid her back down, and in sudden motion, swept off his current coat. This one was lined and he hoped not too heavy as he tucked it around the small form. Wearily blinking, Aeris turned toward him, grasping near blind for his hand. The general gently caught both in his one, closing their smallness in warmth.
“Master?” she whispered, and despite the false title, Sephiroth couldn’t help but smile. She was tucked in his coat, wrapped in warmest blankets, ensconced in the luxurious bed.
“Thank you for not using me.”
The general froze to light bleeding eyes. “Aeris…hear me now and know it for truth. You never need thank me for that.”
“B-But if I don’t-”
“I never will. Rape is an abomination. Something that should never be. No one deserves be raped.” He sat down beside her and lowered his head with her small hands still in his grasp. “There is nothing in existence that can make up for that, that can undo such terrible wrong, but what I can do…” He lifted his gaze to a flood of sincerity. “…is ensure you’re forever safe. You’re safe now, Aeris. I promise you that. If you need me, you only need call.”
He kissed her brow one final time, marking the maid with this vow. Her hands splayed soft with just slightest twitch after the general stood. Wane eyes were closed lightly to shiver thin lids, and he could detail every vein. Sephiroth wanted to watch by her side to chase all her nightmares away. Such foolish thoughts from horror’s foul get. He bowed his head and left her with his promise.