Update: This time I’ve been graced with two pieces from my illustrator friend. You will find them both interspersed in the text at the appropriate places. Is this a not-so-subtle attempt to get any of you who have to re-read the chapter? Mmm, it’s a possibility 😉 Please make sure to follow Bethany Anne on Art Station and Deviant Art!
Disclaimer: Final Fantasy VII, its characters, and settings are all property of Square Enix so I can take no credit nor claim any ownership of that. I do take some credit for the story’s plot.
Banner Artwork Disclaimer: The featured artwork for the banner is entitled White rose I and was created by the very talented Deviant Artist RemusSirion who was gracious enough to grant me permission to use it here. The picture has been slightly altered from the original. All rights belong to the artist, and links are included for both the artist page and the work.
*******MAJOR CONTENT WARNING*******
Consistent and sustained graphic descriptions and mentions of rape/ sexual assault, sexual slavery/bondage, slavery, human trafficking, physical abuse, graphic descriptions of violence, mental abuse, emotional abuse, psychological abuse, body shaming, starvation, torture, forced pregnancy, forced childbirth, miscarriage, forced miscarriage, abortion, and other potential disturbing and triggering topics.
Aeris is in desperate need of medical attention, and the general is more than willing to do whatever it takes to ensure she receives such care.
I haven’t been used yet today. Aeris blinked, still warm within blankets and pillows, still fully encased in his black leather coat that still breathed vanilla and frost.
Wispy hair near muffled her gasp, as she squinted towards daylight returned. From a split in the curtains, a shaft sauntered forth, painting stark sun on the carpet. She squeezed her eyes shut, now more terrified that all of this wonder would melt. Sightless, the low roar rolled even louder like the purr of a giant beast. Patterned on top were higher soft cries. Aeris covered her head as she quaked.
The knock at the door called a full wail and more cowering beneath the leather.
“Aeris?” The voice was gentle and low. She chanced a glance from her hiding place.
“May I come in?”
“Yes, master,” she had to reply.
Sephiroth entered and slid slivered eyes over the empty bed. The mattress was stripped to the bottom sheet, as smooth as the day it was laid. Sitting the tray he carried down, the general circled the room. She’d pulled all the bed things down to the carpet and blinked up with frightened eyes.
“Why are you on the floor, little one?” Concerned drew fine lines on his brow.
“I had to use the bathroom, master, b-but I couldn’t climb back in the bed.
“You were able to walk to the washroom?” he asked.
“N-No, greatest master, I crawled.”
Horror and sorrow covered his face as the Cetra fought with her fear.
“I p-pulled the blankets and pillows down. Are you angry at me for that? I’m so sorry, perfect master. I didn’t mean to dirty your coat!”
“Aeris, it’s fine,” he swiftly assured, as more grief now held sway. “Why didn’t you call for me, little one? I would’ve helped you both ways.”
“Great master, you’re so kind to me. I’m your slave. I shouldn’t be trouble.” Despite aching neck, Aeris forced herself to keep him in her sights. He was dressed completely in black today from his boots to his broad shoulders. A shirt to match the one that clothed her contrasted the pale skin below. His coat was still leather but without the straps to be fastened by silver bound buttons. Only two at his waist along with a belt so the garment flared near to the floor. That thick band shivered Aeris’s skin. It would serve to put her in her place. I won’t forget. I never will. I’ll never make him beat me.
Sephiroth sighed as he scooped her up to the Cetra’s surprised squeak. “You’re not my slave, and you’re not any trouble. I’m here for you, little rose. If you ever need me, you only need call, as I promised you last night.” He’d gathered her up within his black coat so Aeris was twice engulfed. She shut her eyes, quivering in joy to such warmth and gentleness. “I’m sorry you had to sleep on the floor,” Sephiroth said as he set her down. Peeling the leather back like a cocoon, she gaped as he sat beside.
“Master, you’re…apologizing to me?” the Cetra whispered nonplussed.
Sephiroth took her tiny hand and lifted it for a soft kiss. The little maid whimpered and he released her, murmuring, “I’m sorry,” again.
“Master…I’m a slave. No one’s apologized. No one ever should.”
“Aeris, if one does something wrong or thoughtless then they should ask for forgiveness. I’m sorry for causing you any more fear. I tried to quell it with that kiss, but I only made it worse.”
“Oh…” The little Cetra blushed, and Mako flashed surprise. “I-I didn’t mind that, master. I like kisses. They feel so soft on my skin. I was just startled after…apology. I’ve never had that before.”
He took her fragile hand once more into the might of one. Running a thumb over her knuckles in gentle feather touch. To his lips he raised it up and kept her eyes within his. Letting smooth strokes sooth her skin while he reached over with his free hand.
If the Cetra was startled by that gentle press she was shocked by the breakfast tray. “Master, what…what is that?” She kept her gaze forward, refusing the torturous view. Until Aeris saw it, her stomach was quiet, but now hunger gnawed her insides. Eating has the disadvantage of wanting to do so again.
“It’s breakfast, Aeris. Breakfast for you.”
“But…you just fed me last night.”
Sephiroth frowned with pupils sliced thinner.
“Most people eat at least three times a day. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, and sometimes tea. I told you you’d never be hungry again. Nobody should be, little one.”
“Please don’t ever starve me, master!” The Cetra clung to his thick arm. “I’ll do whatever you want. I just want to eat at least once a day. That’s all I really need.”
“Aeris,” he whispered, “I’ll never deprive you. You’ll eat as much as you wish.”
She wept and clung to the Great General’s side, her tears painting rain on black leather. Circling an arm around the small maid, Sephiroth laid a kiss to her crown. The hair there breathed lilacs, the scent of shampoo, but always below was the better. That ancient aroma, a world at its dawn, uncorrupted by man or other…
Clenched to fist against her soft belly, his large hand was white-knuckled tight. No one should need be overjoyed at what all deserve to have. Driven to tears of happiness that I’ll “allow” her to eat. “Never again, Aeris,” he said aloud though the words ground against his tight teeth. “Never again will you be starved. You live with me now, and I care for you.”
“In this paradise, master?” she could barely ask.
Sephiroth thumbed her wet cheek. It would’ve been sweet, were it not so sad, how the little maid saw her mere room. “That’s right, little one, and you’ll want for nothing. Everything you need I’ll provide.” When he rubbed her back, the Cetra sniffed and lifted her head with closed eyes. Pale tears still tinged her lashes with salt, and he cleaned the excess away.
“You’ll always be warm and protected now, Aeris. Never more will you be starved.” He opened his hand upon tender belly. “No whip or chain will ever harm your fragile flesh again.”
“Please, master, please! Don’t let them touch me!” She desperately begged for this grace.
“I promise they never will.” He forced the words through his teeth. Caging the rage to not cause her terror for he knew what his wrath could do.
“Please, oh, please, their brutal hands!” She cowered against Sephiroth’s chest. “Don’t let them bruise my skin! Don’t let them hurt me anymore. Please, master, don’t let them find me!”
Slivers were swallowed by Mako flame as the truth of her pleas cut his heart. “No man will ever touch you, Aeris.”
“I only want you, greatest master.” She buried her fingers in hair mocking moon.
He parted his lips for no words first would flow, and a sudden slow blink caught him shocked. “Then…that’s all you shall have.”
Sobs rose in chorus to wonderful words, while she shook in strength’s embrace. It couldn’t be true. It couldn’t be real. He kissed her again on the brow. Slid careful knuckles along her jawline. Let her associate this with gentleness now, he thought, glad summer stayed still veiled. Only thin lids hid the maid from his wrath. Though it was for her and never against, emerald light churned with dark fire. What he wished to do to all her abusers would tear her apart with screams.
Sephiroth covered her fingers, murmuring, “It’s alright, little one.” She sniffed as a handkerchief cleaned her pink face, near silken as silver bright hair. Whimpering with joy as he drew her closer, and her eyes found the tray on his lap.
There was a bowl just like last night, but it was filled with what looked like pale lumps. Then wedges as bright as the strands through her curtains, glistening slices of light. Last were two vessels one tall and one round, filled with water and steaming dark.
“Oh master,” she whispered. “Is this all for me?”
The general cupped the back of her head. Her gratitude pierced his war forged heart for this bland excuse of a meal.
“All of it, little one.”
“But what about you? Aren’t you hungry, master?”
Sephiroth shut his eyes.
“I’m fine, little rose. You’re my main concern. Do you think you can hold the bowl?”
“I’ll…try, master. If I can’t then I’m sorry.”
“You never need be.”
He cupped it easily in his one hand before placing it in her two. They quivered to rest even on her lap and scrabbled at the smooth sides. The bowl slipped through fingers far too weak, and she wept as sweet nourishment fell. Sephiroth caught the vessel without second thought, couching it back in his palm. With his other hand he stroked Aeris’s face.
“It’s still well, little one.”
“I’m so sorry, master.”
“There’s no need to be.” Silver bangs spilled on her brow. Trickling lower to tangle with tears the Cetra tried to sniff away. The Great General cleaned her face once more with nothing but gentle care. Afterwards Aeris fell against his side, too weakened and drained to sit up. Around her, arms locked secure and hale, lifting the maid to his lap. Summer gazed up at a face still angelic, light undimmed for being cut.
This morning, as the night before, Sephiroth fed his charge. Mako behind halved lids did burn, but she wasn’t meant for his wrath. He’d known war without and war within, and yet her plight was worse. In the mist of memory, he’d commanded men who’d have surrendered their minds for less.
“I know it’s bland, Aeris.”
“It’s wonderful, master. It’s the best thing I’ve ever eaten.” She shut her eyes and savored the taste spinning along her tongue.
“I hope to change that, little flower. Here, try one of these.” When she lifted her eyes, a bright wedge gleamed on the broad plain of his palm.
“What is it, master?” Her little hand wobbled, but she maneuvered the slice to her mouth.
Sephiroth laughed low to her non-hesitation and laughed harder to her next face.
“It’s called an orange. It’s a type of fruit that they often make juice of the same.”
Bursts of sweetness coated her tongue like a thousand sun-filled days. “Master…” she whispered and reached for his hand. “I was wrong…that was the best.”
“Would you like another one?” he asked, and the joy on her face burned his heart. This tiny thing…these bits of light meant more to her than the sea to a fish. Aeris savored just two more, holding her sobs at the third. He finished the rest so it went unwasted then retrieved the tea from the stand. Emerald eyes narrowed to scrutinize warmth, but he’d no context for judging high heat.
“Little one, see if it’s too hot. Lay a finger against.”
At the instant of command Aeris did so, and Sephiroth had to slow down her grasp.
“Not so quickly, though. I don’t want you to be burned.”
“I’m sorry, master.” Her shoulders hunched in as if his words had been a blow.
“Aeris,” he called, “look up at me.”
Again, without question, the Cetra obeyed, and Sephiroth suppressed a sigh. “You have nothing to apologize for. I just don’t want you to be hurt. I find it hard to discern heat as it has no effect on me. I can tell it’s there but worry I won’t know what will burn your sensitive skin. You’re very delicate, little flower, and you suffered so long in abuse. I want everything from now to make up for that and for you to never be harmed.”
She buried her face against him, and the general stroked messy hair. The “command” still filtered despite gentle words, and the Cetra stretched tentative finger. Smoothest surface met her hand and beneath a delicious heat. It was almost like him with the white of the vessel matching his winter skin. Rising steam was similar, too, and anything but season’s cold. Apologies for weakness swam to her lips but drowned in that first soothing sip. Sephiroth didn’t force any extra down. He merely leant inexhaustible strength.
Gentleness, softness, and ever warmth, she thought as the brew bathed her tongue. “What’s this drink, master?”
“It’s tea, little one,” the general replied.
“Tea,” she repeated. “I like it, master.” She took a full sip. “I like it very much.”
The general smiled still helping the Cetra hold the little cup. It was the smallest one he could find and could fit in the palm of his hand. “It’s not too hot for you, is it?”
“No, master,” she said. “It’s perfect. It tastes so good. It…kind of tastes like you smell.”
He raised a silver brow at that with a sideways smile. “Well, it’s rose and vanilla,” he told her. “Do I smell like roses, Aeris?”
“Rose…” she whispered the flower’s name, taking a sniff of half-drunk tea. Shaking her head, she looked back up behind her scattered bangs. “No, it’s the other. You smell really good. Did you know that, perfect master?” The heady brew was making her bold.
Sephiroth laughed lowly. Despite all she’d suffered, the maid still retained her sweetness. “I’ve heard it whispered by those less vocal, but I’ve never caught the scent myself. I suppose since it’s mine, I’ve grown used to it.”
“Master,” she whispered, “you smell so good.” Hollow summer reflected this truth. “It’s that vanilla and something else.”
“And what else is it?” Sephiroth cocked his head to the side, quite enjoying this little talk. The general wasn’t proud. That was lost to the ages. He just accepted what he was, but to hear this sweet whimsy from the little maid’s lips was far better than her days of horror. Filling her memory with something else was integral to recovery, and if the Cetra found his scent comforting, it was something else good in her world.
Aeris furrowed her brow as he rubbed her hand as gently as before. “I want to say cold, but that’s not right. You’re not cold, greatest master. There’s a warmth to the winter beneath your skin.”
“My eyes are quite cold, little one.”
“But, master, they’re not cruel at all,” she replied within frigid light. The roiling Mako drew her in, but Aeris was unafraid. She tugged at the hand ensconced in his, and he released her with no hesitation. Tiny fingers reached up for that glow, astride it upon his fair face.
The general tilted into her touch. They’re not cruel now, little one. He hid his surprise at her utter wonder for few could abide his sharp stare.
Her gaze jerked from him to the whispering window, and a whimper curled her towards his chest. Though perplexed, Sephiroth would not be remiss as he held his little charge closer.
“Wh-What’s that sound, master?” Her voice muffled on leather.
“That sound, Aeris? That’s the sea.”
“The sea?” She revealed one eye. “You…mentioned that before, greatest master.”
“Do you know what the sea is, little one?”
“No, master. I don’t. I’m sorry.”
“That’s not your fault.” He cupped her chin. “I wouldn’t expect you to remember.”
A low bell chimed melodic trill right near Aeris’s ear. The poor maid recoiled once again, but she was trapped in his arms. Sephiroth gently set her beside before tending to his phone. Scanning its face, he returned to the Cetra still cocooned in his great coat. She was clutching her arms as her stare shivered up. Anything strange could cause horror’s return.
“It’s well, little flower,” the general assured. “I set an alarm for the time.”
The hollows before her slender shoulders thinned along with her fear. “What is that, master?” I’m asking too much. He’s more patient than I deserve.
“It’s my phone.” Frowning at the fading screen, he stowed the device in an inner pocket. “Well that’s what it technically is. I use it for much more. It recalls appointments, plays music, takes pictures and notes amongst many other tasks.”
He placed the tray back on the nightstand before offering her open hands. Unmoving eyes sheered light through long bangs, as the general asked without command. The little maid swallowed, wetting dry lips before burying her fingers in warmth.
“I received a call this morning, Aeris. The doctors can see you today.” He brushed a thumb along skin tight knuckles. “They took my urgency to heart. I requested all women for you, little one. Is that acceptable?”
Aeris breathed deep and nodded her head, squeezing his steady fingers. “Y-Yes, master. Thank you. Please…no men. Wh-What will they do to me?” The Cetra’s voice was tiny as she and would’ve been lost save for greater hearing. Sephiroth massaged both her hands now in tandem, making sore summer seal. What pain dwelled within obeyed his command to leave her flesh and joints.
“They’re going to examine you, Aeris.”
“You mean…” She quaked. “They’re going to use me.”
“No.” He vehemently shook his head as her haunted eyes flew open. “No one will ‘use’ you, little flower. Examine…” A mask fell on his face. “Examine means to check over.” Bright eyes cut a darkness the past couldn’t break and no mountain of time could bury. Mists in the Mako near swallowed the slit. He shook his head swift and haze melted. “I won’t let anyone hurt you, Aeris. Not even for an exam. They’ll help you, I promise, little flower. They’ll help you grow well again.”
“My insides hurt, master,” the Cetra whispered, squeezing his hands tight as her thighs.
“I know they do, little one.” He cupped her cheek and forced emerald to witness that pain. “You can tell them that and whatever you wish. Whatever you want to reveal. I briefly explained when I made the appointment, but it’s your story, little rose.”
“You call me such sweet things, master.” She near sobbed. “Such wonderful, wonderful things.”
“I’m just calling you what you are.”
“You’re so gentle and kind to me.” Her lip was trembling, as Sephiroth stood, and her gaze followed his ascent.
“I’m just treating you as you deserve.”
“But I’m a slave.”
“No, you’re not. I hope one day you’ll believe that.
“Thank you, master. Thank you for clothes…for oranges and water and tea.” The last word called the tiniest smile as his silver hair brushed her brow.
“Aeris.” He released one of her hands to lay a gentle palm back on her cheek. “I told you before. You never need thank me for things that all should have.”
The little Cetra quaked through her skin. The greatest master of all was displeased.
“Little one, it’s fine,” Sephiroth quickly added. “I’m not angry with you at all.” He sighed, curling fingers against her wane cheek. “You’re responding to decades of abuse. I must remember that. I apologize.” A whimper struggled against her lips, but it ceased when he swept her up.
“I don’t know how I stood…stood in my church when you bought me yesterday.”
“I should’ve just picked you up. Immediately, with no delay, the moment you fell in my sight. My ruse be damned, you needed me then…”
“You have me, master. I’m yours.”
He shook his head and Mako paled. “You needed more, little flower. I should’ve swept you into my arms. Wrapped you warm in my coat.”
“But master, you did all that!” She laid quaking fingers to frost white cheek, stroking it desperately. Sephiroth turned to her with the shade of a smile that disappeared at her next words. “I thought I was dead, finally free when that sweet warmth closed around. I didn’t realize you were holding me, because it didn’t hurt. I thought I was floating through the Lifestream, because I was in less pain. Then I passed out and woke up here with you in paradise. You brought me here, master. You allowed me to rest on such softness and warmth. Th-That’s what I sleep on, softness and warmth. Please don’t take them away!” Her little hand clenched against his check, and Sephiroth covered it, shaking his head. “I don’t want to be flung on cold concrete covered in nothing but chains. I love the blankets and the bed. I’ll do anything, great master. Anything you want! Please let me be warm.”
“Little flower, all that is yours.” He tightened his grip carefully. “I have you, now. You’ll never be hurt. You’ll never be chained again. You’ll sleep on softness with all the blankets you could ever need.”
She started to sob. It couldn’t be real. It had to be a trick. A teasing dream after so long. This joy could not be true. Life without pain didn’t exist. A world with chains was a lie.
“Gentleness, Aeris.” Sephiroth kissed her brow. “Gentle is all you’ll now know. All I’ll provide, my tiny, soft flower. I protect you now. Everything needed you shall have. All you want is more than given. You will be deprived of nothing. You’ll never be without again.”
Sephiroth cradled her in one arm and ensured his great coat fully shielded. A glint of silver caught emerald reflection to the pin still on this lapel. “Lay your head on my shoulder, if you wish, little one, and put your arms around my neck. I have you.” He murmured the last in her ear before kissing the wispy hair.
“Thank you, master.” She had to obey, fighting another sob. All too soon this dream would end, and the truth would be torn through her flesh. “Thank you for carrying me. Thank you so much! Thank you for being so strong.” A low chuckle vibrated against her ribs, and Aeris shut her eyes. Her fingers were tangled beneath his soft hair that flowed on in silken rush.
“You seem fixated on that fact,” he murmured, exiting her room. “Yes, little flower, I am very strong, and that strength is now your shield.”
“You’re so strong, master. I love it so much. You’re gentle with your strength. All the others…” She quaked. “Th-They hurt me. They hurt me because I’m weak. I tried to fight master,” she sobbed in his ear, “in the beginning I did. They just…broke my hands.”
He sealed his eyes, but the wrath just seared through his thin lids and luxuriant lashes. “They hurt you because they are cowards, Aeris. Strength should be used to protect. As I told you last night, I promise you now and vow it for all of time. I’ll always be your guardian, if you so wish me to be.”
“G-Guardian, master?” Another strange word muffled near his neck.
“Yes, little one.” Sephiroth gazed down as Aeris curled in his arm. “That’s the same as protector. I guard you. I keep you safe.”
“You…You’ll be my great protector, master?” She could barely eke out the words.
“That’s right, Aeris.” He kissed her damp brow. “You’re under my protection.”
The Cetra sobbed and buried her face against that silver washed leather. None of his words could stymie her tears. They were too wonderful.
“Never more, Aeris. Never again will you be raped and abused. Anything you want will be given to you. Everything you need is mine to provide.”
She clung to his shoulders with her feeble grip, shaking with the weight of her tears. “Please don’t ever hurt me, master!”
“No, little flower. I’m your protector.”
“Yes…” Her voice creaked as the maid raised her head. “Please, great master, I’d like that so much.”
“Then that’s what I am, little rose.”
One hand trembled to lay itself to his cheek so Sephiroth gave her aid. Holding the haunting green eyes in his own as he carried her down marble stairs. They split at the landing, and the Cetra gaped for opulence never dreamed. Those crystalline lights that hung in her room ruled the high ceiling here, too. Each subsequent step made them rise higher til they melted like summer mist. The split staircase curved around the center with holds darker than winter wood.
The general opened the high front door and kissed her temple in gentle assurance. She lifted her eyes to sorrow in smile, as he brushed a finger beneath her chin.
“Kisses, master?” she whispered, wondering if they held the promise.
“Yes.” Sephiroth laid his forehead to hers.
“A-And gentle touch?”
The Cetra turned her face back into his neck breathing his wonderful scent. She was clothed with his shirt, wrapped in his coat, and shielded by endless strength. He was taking her to people who’d help destroy the ache so deep inside. Her thighs spasmed, and Aeris whimpered for the last time they’d been forced apart. Please oh please, let me be safe now. I don’t want my life of pain! Never and never. I want to be here. With my master. Safe in his arms…
The front door shut with a quiet click, as a cool breeze pinkened her skin.
“Open your eyes, little flower,” he said and when Aeris did, paradise bloomed.
A great sultry beast rolled on the far ground, thrashing it winter white. It left behind foam as if to remind the sands of their ordered hue, but behind this was blue that swam deep as night to a horizon that limned its long edge. The distance parted the Cetra’s lips while salt wind swept her bangs against leather. Above that great creature that shushed in her ears lay painted cerulean vaults. The wispy white of impatient brush that did not quite obscure its bright king.
The light pierced her eyes, and Aeris cried out, hiding her face in Sephiroth’s hair. He shifted his gaze with nary a blink from the breeze tempered warmth above. Brushing her cheek with his free hand, gentleness coaxed her face back his way.
“I apologize, Aeris. I should’ve warned you.” Emerald narrowed on translucent skin. “You should never look at the sun full on…unless you have eyes like mine.” She chanced a peek back up at him where Mako lit her without pain. Gleam held its balance with daylight above, and those slivers was near nonexistent.
“Where are we, master?” She took a quick glanced before darting her gaze back to him.
“Far from Midgar, little flower, by the shores of the Dreaming Sea.”
“Good,” she whispered. “I’m glad we are, master. I never want to go back there again.”
“You never will, Aeris. I promise you that. This place is now your home.” Mako light burned against his lashes that were fashioned to take such heat. The Great General kept his face towards the sea to hide the flames that now raged in his eyes.
Aeris clutched his shoulders and dared to look back with that solid strength for support. The ornate door swam into her view behind veils of moonlight hair. Sephiroth’s boots was more hushed than that sea as he stepped towards the white wood rail. Like inside the steps split into twain, leading down to the shore on both sides. They soared above the shimmering sands, and Aeris was higher still.
“Oh master!” she gasped. “You live in a palace, a-and you let me come inside.”
“Not quite a palace, little flower.” He laid his brow to hers. “This is my mayor’s mansion, I suppose, though I purchased it myself long ago.” He half veiled his eyes and exquisite lashes tangled with Aeris’s own. “Money has never meant much to me, and I’m more than glad for that now.” He took her small hand from where it lay, carefully threading their fingers. Aeris just stared in utter awe. She’d gladly drown in the sound of his voice and never regret the lost air. “It’s another type of power, another strength. Something else I can use to protect you.”
“I owe you so much, master,” she said, as gentle fingers slid through her own. The skin between was smooth as still cream and more than a shade or two whiter. Far thicker than hers and Aeris didn’t doubt it could withstand the lash. But no one would ever dare to beat him. She shivered to such a notion. If he knew he’d throw her down and break each fragile bone. He was the master. She was the slave, the only one meant to be beaten.
“You owe me nothing, little one.” Dear Aeris, you knew my name. Do you remember the horrors I wrought?
The maid choked back an emptying sob, weakly squeezing his hand. “You brought me here, master, to this paradise. You must be my angel of death.” Never could Aeris ever imagine the anguish tormenting his face. Eyes of bright emerald could never bleed tears, but their pain was not any less. The little maid gasped as new trembling took her. “I’m so sorry, master, please don’t hurt me. I-I spoke out of my place. I-”
“Aeris…” He shut pain behind his lids. “You never need be sorry. Innocence can only speak truth.” He cupped her cheek in his warm palm, hiding agony still in sealed green. The light leaked out along his lashes, and she wanted to brush it away. Sighing, the general lifted his lids, pupils mere shivers in sun. They slid to that orb without hesitation, as he said to her, “Shut your eyes. We’re going to move very fast, and I don’t want you to be frightened. The sun is too bright for your pale, tender skin, and I won’t have you burnt.”
“Burnt, master?” She’d hidden soft summer at the instant of his command. “It can do that?”
“Yes.” He shifted her in his arms, fixing the long coat around. “Too much can burn it brighter than blood, and you won’t be hurt again.”
She ran her palms blindly over his shoulders, leather clad and like a steel wall. Her eyes remained closed though they darted behind as her brows lifted in concern. “But what of you, master? You’re just as pale. Won’t the sun harm your skin?”
Sephiroth jerked his face towards her, gaping in utter shock. “Aeris, dear Aeris, sweet little rose. How can worry about me? When your suffering could never be borne, you’re concerned I might be hurt?” When she turned to lay her lips to his palm, the general could only sigh. “I won’t be burned…not by sun or fire. My skin will never allow, but your tender pale would sizzle and crisp as red as an autumn leaf. You won’t endure that or any pain, so long as I can help it.” Tears escaped her still sealed lids, binding together her lashes. She laid her head upon his shoulder and Sephiroth wrapped her in both of his arms. The Cetra didn’t know why chill clutched her heart for an instant before warmth returned. Then, “We’re here, little one” filtered through the silence Aeris didn’t realize had called.
The doors breathed open to the general’s approach as townsfolk greeted him by title. His instant appearance caused no great stir. The Whispers were used to his strangeness. Inside was temperature warmer than cool, but Aeris still shook in his clutch. Sephiroth ensured the Cetra was covered, but knew it was not the chill.
The phone in his pocket rang as she jumped to the muffled report. Not missing a step, the general retrieved and thumbed a quick response. He glanced back around when it was done, refusing to scowl for the past. This place was as clean as health would demand, but the sameness ended there. There were no “specimens” screaming below. Neither she nor he were that now…
“How are you, general?” It was one of his neighbors, smiling and plump, with her pouting daughter in tow.
“Myrna and Em.” Sephiroth gave a nod, eyes halved over passive expression. The child glanced glumly and shuffled her feet, too cross to pretend true politeness. Blinking a bit, Myrna held her smile though curiosity tinged its edge. She started to ask, but only exhaled, letting words fade on the breath. Sephiroth used that breeze to then step away, leaving farewell in his wake.
“Aeris,” he called. The little maid trembled, and he murmured to allay her fear.
“Yes, master?” She dared not lift her head as the general picked up his pace. The growl of men’s greetings raked her as they passed, and she struggled to hold her screams. He was going to sell her. That’s why this reprieve. He wanted her fresh and untorn. She’d fetch a good price. That’s why they were here. They’ll help you grow well. So, he’d said. She’d grow well enough to sell for good gil. The little maid wanted to beg. But he was her master, and it was his choice. She was his to use as he pleased. Her heart convulsed over a stomach clenched like fist in her fear. If I vomit on his great black coat, he’ll break every bone in my body.
“I told them that I helped you.” Sephiroth pushed open a steel wrought door. “Is that acceptable, little one?”
“I don’t understand, master. Are you asking me?”
“Yes, Aeris, I am. It’s the truth, but not the full story. That’s only for you to tell.”
“Master…” She tentatively touched his face as he held the door with his shoulder. “Everything you’ve done for me has been wonderful, a-and it’s been less than a day.” She lowered her head and the general tilted his, confused to the source of her shame. “I wish I were useful to you, master.” And that softened his expression so sad.
“My Aeris,” he murmured, holding her closer as he ascended the stairs with ease. “I’m the one who needs to be useful. You’ve been used enough. That will never happen again. Your happiness will bring me joy.”
The former flower maid choked back a sob, confusion vying with fear. I’m his Aeris. What does that mean? Does it mean he’ll never sell me? Does it mean I’m safe forever more? Does it mean I’ll never be used? I want that. I want that so very much. I want to be his Aeris…
She couldn’t believe how quickly he flew up the numerous steps. Effortless, graceful with not one lost breath as he held her in his one arm. Sometimes the other would steady the maid, but that was for her benefit. Aeris just stared at his face in profile, cut from angelic mold. She wanted to touch it, the smooth, frost-white skin, framed by high silver bangs.
Another steel door was swiftly pulled open, and Sephiroth ducked through low lintel. Sliver sharp pupils scanned the signs, as they swayed relieved not to be cut. He turned on his heel to follow the arrows with words that blurred Aeris’s eyes. She knew what they were and what they should say but trying to read made her dizzy. The Cetra managed to keep her head up as the carpet whizzed by in bright smudge. Thinner and flatter than what lined her room. My room. The thought made whirling worse.
Sephiroth entered the appropriate suite, shaking silver away from his face. The motion served twofold, clearing his vision and raising the receptionist’s head.
“Mathilde,” he said, towering over the desk and greeted by reddened cheeks. “I believe we’ve arrived on time.”
“Yes, general. I mean Mayor Crescent. I-I mean the Great General.”
Sephiroth sighed. “Just one title will do.” The half-smile could soothe or mock.
Mathilde took a drink of long cold tea, but it failed to cool hot flush. She frowned at the note on the appointment in question then blinked at the maid in his arms.
“They’ll see you both, very soon…general.” She stuttered on his most common title, and Sephiroth turned to the waiting space.
The chairs here were plush, luxurious and soft for Aeris’s abused flesh. His embrace was gentle. He made sure of that, but the general’s arms were solid muscle. He set Aeris down, ensured leather still sheltered before taking a seat by her side. Crossing his legs, Sephiroth caught fragile hands, and brushed delicate skin with his thumb. The Cetra whimpered and, using his palms as a grip, tried to climb into his lap. Scanning the chairs, he located a pillow and, once that was placed, picked her up.
Winter hair covered the little maid as readily as his arms, and Aeris breathed through that silver shroud like silk upon her lips. The general gently smiled down, his gleaming eyes lighting the strands. “You’re safe, little one,” he murmured once more. “These people will help you, I promise. No one will harm you here or elsewhere. You’ll never be hurt again.”
“Thank you, master,” she whimpered in whisper, wishing she could believe. Sephiroth lowered those lashes resplendent, coating his cheeks in black fringe.
“After we’re finished, I’ll take you back home where you can rest while I make you lunch.”
“Yes, the midday meal. Remember what I said?”
“Yes master, I do…” Speech was lost. Sobs rendered silent when her guardian kissed her brow. These strange concepts. These wonderful things couldn’t be meant for a slave. She squeezed his great hands, and her bottom lip trembled.
“My Aeris…” was his reply.
Yes, yes, I’m yours! I want to be yours. Summer bled as her shaking increased. You haven’t hurt me. Please let me be yours, yours for all of time. I’ll do anything, master, anything at all to be “your Aeris” forever more.
“Please, master…” she breathed, and Sephiroth narrowed his eyes, but for greater senses he wouldn’t have heard. “Please let me be your Aeris…”
“You are my Aeris, little one.” The Great General raised one brow bemused. “I’ll never let anyone hurt you again. You belong to me, but I don’t own you, and I’m as much yours as you are mine.”
“Miss Gainsborough?” a raised voice called, and Aeris startled to jerk around. What pink tinged her skin shivered full out so it bested the whites of her eyes. Sephiroth stood to the approach of a woman with a tablet in her hands. “Miss Gainsborough, right?” She repeated the name, glancing down to confirm.
“No,” the maid stammered, curling tight in his arms, “my n-name is Aeris.” And I belong to him. She squeezed her master’s solid hand and he answered her ever gentle.
The aide pushed her glasses up to her crown where they held the hair out of her face. “The general said that was your surname?”
“Oh.” She startled with a blink. “I-If my master says, it must be true. I didn’t know I had a…s-surname.”
The woman’s face softened as she stuck the stylus into her hair for safekeeping. “You can follow me then.”
The halls here were more muted, the art calm and blue. Potted plants painted the air. I remember their names. Aeris recalled, the soft fronds allowed to brush sun.
The general carried her into a room that was both warm and bright. Low, gentle voice doing nothing but soothe as her heartbeat assailed his sharp ears. The paper laced table crinkled beneath when Sephiroth set her down. Burying both hands in his one, Aeris whimpered to fix her gaze up. The greatcoat slid off like a black leather sheath revealing a trembling, white rose. Still towering over, he kissed her crown, and the Cetra forced tears to stem. He’d have to grow angry eventually at her perpetual sobs.
“Can I take your pulse?”
The little maid gasped to the now spectacled aide. She’d set down the tablet, though the stylus rose high like a spire held in her bound hair.
“It won’t hurt, Miss Gainsborough.” She held up her hands as though her palms spelled out the promise.
Aeris looked back at her great protector who stroked encouragement through her fingers.
“P-Pulse, great master?”
“Yes, your heartbeat.”
“I’m going to measure with this.” The aide cupped the draped stethoscope. “It’s been warmed for your comfort.”
“G-Good. I like warmth,” Aeris said
The woman slipped the tool over her ears and slid the end between Aeris’s buttons. Hiding her face against Sephiroth’s chest, the maid’s heart increased to the press. She swallowed a sob, terrified she’d failed this test she wasn’t prepared for. The metal was not as warm as him, but it didn’t chill her breast. When it was removed, the maid breathed again and dared glance to the aide with her screen.
Temperature taking was easier with the glass tube under her tongue. The blood pressure test was a bit harder, requiring an upper arm, but the woman was patient. L-Like my great master. And explained it all to the maid. In the end Aeris bit her lip and sought the same shelter again. Squeezing his hand with her one still encased to the tightening of the cuff. Pressure releasing brought forth a quake with whimpers she couldn’t hide. Stowing the stylus back in her hair, the aide scanned the tablet again.
“I’ll fetch the doctor.” She left with a click of the door to send her away.
Sephiroth wrapped one arm around Aeris, still holding her little hand.
“Is it well, little flower?”
“Yes, greatest master.”
The sad smile didn’t sour his kiss.
Aeris relaxed. I’m utterly safe. I have to be. He’s kissing my brow again. That’s what those mean? Those wonderful kisses. They mean that he’s my protector. They mean I’m his Aeris. No one’s hurt me. No one has yet. I’m still in my master’s arms.
“Do you want me to stay with you, little one, when the doctor comes in?”
A wail filled her throat, as the Cetra’s chest heaved, and summer turned blind with new tears.
“Don’t leave me, master! Please, please, don’t leave me!” She buried her hands back in his one.
“Aeris, I’m here, and I’ll never leave you.” Sephiroth picked her up. Bowing his head so bangs spilled in splendor, tangled in desperate tears. “I wanted to check. To ensure, little rose. The choice is forever yours. I’m sorry I scared you. That’s not what I meant. I’ll never abandon you. You’ll not be forsaken nor ever neglected. Whatever you need, I’ll provide.”
When the doctor arrived, Sephiroth slid his gaze, and the poor woman took a step back. He blinked for her sake, silently cursing, but raw terror had made him forget. “She wishes me stay.” It was not a request, and more than a mayor’s demand.
“Of course, general.” The doctor unfroze. “If that’s what Miss Gainsborough wants.”
Sephiroth averted his gaze when such courtesy was required, but those times were brief for nothing invasive tortured the little maid. He was quite surprised when they explained needles how easily Aeris accepted. The doctor drew blood in numerous vials, while the Cetra watched unafraid. She squeezed his large hand as she observed but did not seem bothered by it. In contrast, Sephiroth narrowed his eyes with emerald cold burning on red. The blood of the Ancients flowed not within him nor now by his curséd hand. Instead freely given…he shook his head to scatter the dark thoughts away.
Testing was done immediately with a device the physician held. Sephiroth recognized the sphere lodged in the instrument’s port. His eyes slid to Aeris whose own were shut, hiding any recognition. A drop on a slide inserted within drew a line through the doctor’s brow. Scanning results, she nodded a bit before making the proper selections. The Cetra squeaked to the knock on the door, but it was only the aide returned. Her guardian’s arm was still around her. His large hand was still in her clutch. Stylus still hair-bound, the aide set the case on the counter within easy reach. The doctor thanked her, and she smiled at Aeris before taking her leave again. The Cetra stared quite curiously when the medicines were injected. Prior to each, the cause was full told, though the little maid barely blinked.
Not even scissors caused her terror, though the general darkened to memory’s edge. They cut off her bands, replenished the ointments and bound the abrasions again. That caused more tremble for fingers not his upon her tender skin. No men though, she thought over and over. No men are here except him, and he hasn’t hurt me. He can’t be a man. My master is better than that. So enraptured was she with this revelation she missed the instructions to him.
After rebinding Sephiroth rubbed her back, while Aeris whimpered into his chest. Her poor head was spinning. They’d gone room to room, depending on what needed checked. Of course, the Great General carried her there, repeating fore mentioned vows. She was safe and protected. He’d take care of her. Then remind her of rest, lunch, and home.
Once all was done, the Cetra fought yawning, terrified he’d think her defiant. Sephiroth assured the maid she was safe, nor did he grow cross at repeat. Aeris inhaled sweet, silver scent, resting her head upon silken source. Wrapped in black leather and held in his arms, she sighed to stir moonlight strands.
The last of the questions were not for her, and Aeris was more than grateful. I’ll say something stupid and shame my great master. Then he’ll…then he’ll… She quaked. The general ensured his coat fully cloaked her, as the maid hide her face in his neck. At the front desk he held her one-armed, frowning to fill out the forms. A swift glance to her confirmed with a sigh, and the general did what was needed. All her prescriptions were housed in his pocket as secure as the rose in his clutch.
Aeris fell asleep before they left the building with that low voice soothing her fears. She’d no idea what Sephiroth said, but still struggled to form a response. Terror re-gripped for she had to answer. He’d not sold her yet, but if she disobeyed, he might return her to Midgar. No! Please no! Aeris forced her head up even as sleep dragged it down. Parting her lips like a fish on the sands, she tried to tell him she’d obey. Whatever he’d asked. His every command. She would do anything he wanted. Don’t take me back! Don’t leave me there! Curling hands clenched on black leather. Her hollow eyes widened, but nothing would come. Then perfect lips blessed her damp cheek.
“Thank you, great master,” Aeris barely mouthed. He wasn’t angry at all. It didn’t make sense, but he wasn’t angry, and protection did nothing but grow. The little maid’s head fell on sturdy shoulder where dreams dwelt more green than her eyes.
Reverie continued when Aeris awoke, wrapped warm and safe in her bed. A splash of rose light was laid on the cover from a slight part in the drapes. That great sleeping beast now known as the sea rolled its snores on the patient white sand. Brushing loose tendrils of tickling strands, she winced to recall filthy braid. Then seeping mist sheared through that horror, and pale flowers blessed her palms. The long bangs still flew low enough to her chin while a pink bow adorned her crown…
The knock scattered past, dissolving the mist, and the Cetra called, “Yes, perfect master?” Her little voice wavered, as she clutched blankets up. What if it isn’t him? What if he sold me back while I slept? What if-?
Emerald lit the dim. Light of the dusk framed glory in fire but never diminished his pale. Nor did Mako fade from the sun as Sephiroth approached. Aeris fought to rise and swing scrawny legs over the side of the mattress. I should stand for him. The greatest of masters. But the Cetra could barely sit up. She had to lean over against towered pillows, as the general sat down beside.
The little maid whimpered and struggled again to hold herself upright. Clasping her shoulder, Sephiroth helped his charge so she rested against his side. Sniffling a bit, she sought his free hand, which the general would never deny. I’m allowed to protect and warm tiny fingers. How is this a gift I deserve?
“Did you sleep well, little one?”
“Yes, master. I did, though I’m still afraid I’ll wake up.”
Silver brows knitted above mournful face as Sephiroth stroked her cheek. “One day, and I hope it’s soon, you’ll know this is no dream.” His lips lifted slightly but sorrow held tight to his angelic face. “It’s too late for lunch. I’m sorry for that, but you need your rest, little flower. I’ve prepared food.”
“Again, greatest master?” She stared up in full shock. Not once, but twice this day, he’d soiled his hands making food for a slave.
The general brushed her cheek with his knuckles. Mako blazed frigid and bright. Wrath incongruent to gentle caress that now traced the curve of her lip.
“That’s right, little one. Remember I told you you’ll never be hungry again. You only had breakfast and a stressful day. Now you only need answer one thing. Would you like me to bring it up here to your room or carry you down to kitchen?”
Aeris continued to gape up at him, searching his face for the trick, but swirling Mako held no lie as light skirled the cut of those pupils. Bathed in emerald the little maid’s awe enraptured now more than her terror.
“I…master, you’re asking me?”
“I am, Aeris. It’s your choice. Either up here or downstairs. I’ll carry you there if you wish.” Concern creased his brow for the shrunken legs paler beneath his long, black shirt.
“I’d…” Sudden heat drew spots on her cheeks, and Sephiroth tilted his head. Freed of fear she was so endearing, and he wished she’d remain this way. “I’d…I’d love that.” Aeris squeezed his large hand and let her tongue wet sweetest smile. “I’d love to see your…kitchen, master, and I love when you carry me.”
The general returned her joy’s expression before rising to sweep his charge up. Placing her palms upon his broad shoulders, the Cetra could not help but squeeze. His low, gentle chuckle still managed to startle, and Aeris jumped a bit in his clutch. The baritone murmur soothed the maid swift. “I’m sorry, my Aeris,” he said.
The great glass lights above ornate steps were now lit like a calm holiday. Black boots were voiceless on their scattered dance in display upon marble veins. He carried her through the living room that dwelled off the stairs’ right side. The carpet here looked just as soft to what crinkled her toes up above.
Evening was falling behind the bay window that framed his dining room, and though the kitchen had a table, too, this one was fancier. She deserves that, Sephiroth thought, setting Aeris down. She sank in soft cushion, her head still a-whirl for the arms were upholstered and soft. Undoing his coat with the pin back in place, he swung it from broad to frail shoulders. The Cetra caught her breath to keep back tears for the endless warmth shielding again.
“I’ll return shortly,” her guardian promised then disappeared beyond her sight. Aeris craned her neck in that direction, and her eyes caught the palette of heaven. White of the waves contrasted the black, while the sky played eve’s symphony. The horizon was greedy so the seam of its edge shed all the light it devoured. So entranced was the Cetra that she didn’t startle when the bowl of soup clinked down before.
“I apologize, Aeris.” The low voice broke the spell, as he towered over again. Only a whimper answered such words as Sephiroth crouched down beside. “I know it’s boring to only eat soup, but they said to be kind with your stomach. It’s a different type if that makes it better, and I’ve brewed you herbal tea.”
She laid her hands over his on her chair, staring into pure emerald. There was no response the Cetra could form. How could food ever be boring? He was letting her eat more than twice a day when just once was luxury. Aeris started to shake for she had to answer, but her tongue was as heavy as lead. Sephiroth slid fingers through her loose hair, and the sensation eased that burden.
Sitting beside her he sipped his own tea between helping the little maid. It was thicker soup, almost a stew, still so good she started to weep. Dashing the tears from her eyes in fear, she glanced at her master above. The mug of hot liquid was half to his lips, the gleam in his eyes full of grief.
“Aeris, you may weep if you must. You need no permission for that. I wish for your smiles to outweigh your sobs, but you’ve no need to fear the latter. I’ll never punish you, my little rose. You weren’t made for abuse.”
Tears shivered on the ends of her lashes but did not stain her cheeks. She swallowed them down and went for the water glistening in a clear cup. She still couldn’t lift it, but a thin metal tube easily solved that issue. With the tea she was better. It was a small cup and half-filled, though her fragile hands shook.
The light dance had ended once Aeris was done and the stars held the sky in their sway. Sephiroth picked her gently back up, his step smooth as sea-washed sand. Cradling the Cetra in one arm, he tucked his laptop under the other.
Muted waves welcomed her back to the dim that was lifted by soft lamplight. The canopied bed bore rumpled clothes from her previous fitful sleep, but it was familiar, as was the room, a surprise after only one day. I’m safe here, she thought. At least I have been. And I’m…I’m safe here, too. She leaned her head on black draped steel, held in the might of one arm.
Sephiroth put the laptop down first on the empty desk near the door. Aeris he sat on the edge of her bed with his black coat trailing down. He hated her flinch when he reached in his pocket to pull a tape measure forth. Crouching down to her level, the general took her hands, and silver hair spilled on her legs.
“You need clothes, little one,” he told the maid. She blinked several times looking up.
“But, great master, I have your shirt. You…gave this to me.” Summer burned with the start of new tears. Was he going to take it away? She squeezed his large hand with trembling lip, pleading with no words to spare.
The general gently caressed her palm, calming the fear in soft brush. “You need more than that. I gave you my shirt, because you had nothing else. You’ll have a whole wardrobe.” He stretched out the tape. “May I, little flower?”
“I don’t understand, master?” He’s going to bind me. Why is he asking me this?
“May I take your measure, Aeris?”
“Yes, little one. It won’t hurt, I promise.”
“You’re asking me, master,” she whispered in awe. Again, he’s asking me…
“Yes, I am.” He tossed back his hair before standing again. A few silken strands remained on her thighs, pale against borrowed, black garb.
No one had ever asked Aeris permission. That was a right of the strong. She had no rights. She was a slave. He owned her in every part. Tumultuous breath cut through her silence. She stared up at him, her powerful master who was so tall he made her neck ache. He was waiting, and too soon he’d grow impatient and beat her for failing to speak.
“Master, I’m sorry. I…I can’t answer.” She braced herself for the blow. It wouldn’t help. He was far too strong. He’d hurl her through a wall. Unconsciousness would be a brief gift until thrusts tore her back to awareness…
Sephiroth gently squeezed little hands, peering down in concern. His long silver forelocks brushed her face as the Cetra still shaking blinked up. “Aeris…sweet one, I’m not going to hurt you. No one will ever again.” The pulsing light from Mako’s depths held grief as he stared down. His sigh tried to tame the wrath within for what she had endured. “I’m going to take your measurements, Aeris. You won’t be hurt or abused.”
He recalled they’d recorded her height at the doctor’s and her pitiful weight as well. The former was simple. They’d asked her to lay down upon the paper-laced table. A tape was placed from her crown to her toes, and the minute inches taken. As for the other, that took calculation, a subtraction from him holding her. Aeris couldn’t stand for either of them, and that had creased Sephiroth’s brow. More tests had revealed one definite culprit, and she’d whimpered and hidden her face. It proved too much for curative spells even with dual wielding. Pain could be eased, but flesh had to mend only in its time. The general’s task was once more to sooth, as he’d promised her safety and care. Hiding the wrath that cold fired Mako for what this pale rose had endured.
“Are you able to stand for just a few moments? You can lean on me if you wish.”
“I’ll…try, great master. Please don’t be angry…don’t be angry if I fall.”
“I can’t be angry with you, Aeris, and I won’t let you fall.”
“I’m so weak, great master.”
“That’s not your fault.” He assured as she covered her face.
The Cetra dared glance between her fingers, and relief smoothed her features behind. He’s not angry. I won’t be hurt. I won’t be beaten right now. “Master, my insides, feel much better…they don’t hurt as much as they did.”
His pupils receded in crystalline seas, but he nodded now for her sake.
Memories drifted through the mist of injections into tiny veins. She shook her head to his now narrowed eyes as the past rippled under her skin. This wasn’t the same. There were no more needles, just innocuous bottles of pills.
“I need to measure your waist, little one,” he said as he held out his hand. “Unfortunately, that one and your hip require you be upright. It won’t be for long.”
Aeris laid her frail fingers in the enveloping warmth of his palm. Sliding his other around her soft middle, the general lifted her up. Her legs shook then buckled, and a sharp cry escaped before Sephiroth held her to him. His arm closed around, and tiny toes twitched some inches off the floor.
“I have you, my flower,” he promised again. “Just lean against me. It’s well.”
Ever so slowly he set the maid down where she quaked to cling to his shirt. Men had touched her everywhere. Touched and done far worse. Aeris just waited…waited for pain when he looped fabric round quivering span.
Scanning the number, Sephiroth consigned it to his memory. He did the same for one at her navel, noting the larger figure. Aeris stared up at rapt concentration while silver sweet blessed her brow.
“Your hips now, Aeris.”
The maid shut her eyes, and her hands followed suit against the smooth of his shirt.
“Is that still alright?”
“Yes, master,” she whimpered. I told him he could. It’s all my fault now if he hurts me. She waited for fingers rough and thick to invade her torn insides. His hands were right there. It had to happen. Anything else would be absurd. But the only thing his fingers did was hold her trembling waist. Afterwards all closed that tender span to sit the maid back on the bed. Aeris released her captured breath as softness closed her once more. Wonderful warmth covered cold dappled legs, and he cared not his coat cloaked the floor.
“You did well, little flower.” When he kissed her brow, she wanted to weep for joy. Instead tiny fingers slid over his cheek, so he kissed them, too, as he rose. Sighing then, Sephiroth shook back his hair. “Now I need measure your chest.” Haunted summer near shadowed his light, but the general finished it swift.
Aeris blinked, pouting and beyond confused. He’s like no master before…
“You’re so tiny, Aeris.” His musing tone pulled her from the strange reverie.
“Yes, master. I am. Does that displease you?”
“No and you need not to worry about that.” The little Cetra stared up at him, washed in the scent of leather and frost.
She wears no mask, the general thought, unlike what I’ve done for years. This was her face, utterly blank with fear waiting along its edges. What was before then? Was that her face, too? The endearing, the wonder, the awe? Or was that the veneer that covered this truth.
“Are you still frightened of me, little flower?”
“Yes, master,” she said instantly, “I’m terrified of you.” Please, please, please take pleasure in that. I’ll tremble as hard as you wish. His face was blank and fear made her faint, but she couldn’t lest he be angry. Quaking violently, Aeris kept her eyes glued to Sephiroth’s empty visage. “You’re so much bigger and stronger than me. You’re the greatest master I’ve ever had. No one can compare to you. No one even comes close. Your strength mocks them all, and your very height is making my neck hurt to look up. You could break every single bone in my body, but I’ll never make you do that! I’ll never disobey you, master, and I’ll tremble as hard as you wish.” She increased it as whimpers rode every breath. “I don’t want you to ever hurt me. Please don’t hurt me, greatest master. Please don’t beat me. You’re so strong. You’d hurt me so much. Please oh please don’t use me right now! You’d…you’d rip me apart. I’ll do anything, anything you wish. I’m truly terrified of you, master. I live in abject fear of your strength. I have no power, no power at all. I’m nothing. I’m no one. I’m yours. I’m your possession, your property. I belong wholly to you. D-Does that make you happy? Does that please you? Do you want me to tremble harder? I’m so very sorry I can’t stop my tears. I’ll try again, master. I’ll try…”
But it did no good for weep Aeris did for what tortures he’d make her endure. For how her life would continue to be pain. He wanted to fall at her feet.
“Aeris…I promise. I swear it by light. I will never hurt you.” He ran his thumb carefully over her hand. She blinked at that, utterly stunned. He traced waving lines with his forefinger. The lightest of touches. The shadow of feathers. The tiny maid shuddered in awe. Lifting her head, it shone from her face…and slid knuckles under her chin. The maid shut her eyes were twin tears twinkled before gentleness brushed them away. “This is what strong hands should do: aid and caress, never injure. Is this well, little one?”
Tears tore her throat, as the little Cetra nodded. Remembering herself, she attempted response, but it was less than a half-formed breath. Sephiroth shook his head, though her eyes were still closed. Aeris wanted to pray this was real.
“You never need apologize for any sadness or fear. You don’t need to be sorry when you weep. It’s my job to relieve you of all. If I can’t prove that I won’t hurt you, then that fault lies with me.”
She did not sob. The tears fell silent on his outstretched hand. Her voice, though thickened, remained unruined by the running salt. “Everything you’ve done for me, great master, has been so gentle and kind.”
“I want to do more ‘til you fully believe you’ll never be hurt again. Until joy and wonder erase the fear that still withers your summer eyes.” He bent forward and kissed her brow, and the quavering joy overflowed “I have a few more measurements to take, but you can stay seated for them.”
Laying the tape around one wrapped wrist, he hid his shock for its size. The general could capture both in one hand and still have room to spare. Her ankles were next, and he went carefully. The abrasions beneath were far worse. In afterthought, he laid the measure against the fluttering wrap at her throat.
Aeris cast haunting eyes his way, trembling in silent fear. He’s going to shackle and beat me until I’m broken beyond repair. When Sephiroth scooped her up, it only confirmed the Cetra’s newest nightmare. Wanting to whimper, the little maid dared not and tempt a fate far worse. He’s taking me now…outside to be chained. Yet that moment was wonderful. The strongest of arms held Aeris with care against his solid shoulder. No, not arms, just one like before. He can pick me up with just one. She buried her face in his winter hair thinking to at least have this, but the general only carried her to the desk where the laptop was open but dark. Sitting down with the maid upon his lap, he woke the computer from its sleep. Aeris stared at his face in the glow of the screen that could not outstrip Mako sheen
“You’re not going to chain me, master?”
Sephiroth blinked once and glanced down. The Cetra was nestled between his arms, unable to hide her shock.
“No, little one.” Horror hushed his voice. “Chains will never bind you again.”
“B-But…” She stammered and Sephiroth abandoned the keys to enclose her in his embrace. The warmth shut her eyes, and Aeris knew even dreams could not best this gift. “But what if I run away, great master?”
“Do you wish to leave, little rose?”
Shaking and sobbing through her shattered heart, Aeris buried her face in his chest. The general held her carefully close as moonlight shrouded her grief.
“No, master, please! Don’t send me away. Don’t ever let me go! Don’t let them hurt me. I’m safe in your arms. You…you…” Her tiny hands curled to fists as if she could force the words out.
“I protect you, little one. Is that what you’re trying to say?”
She nodded then re-hid her face, weakened by the force of each sob.
“Aeris,” he whispered, “look up at me.” Sephiroth found a patch of soft, exposed neck. The Cetra gasped in surprise at the brush, obeying his gentle “command.” “I will never leave you, and I’ll never send you away. This is your home now, my little rose, and I look after you. Whatever you want, you shall have. You owe me nothing and never will. It’s a joy to me to protect you, to ensure you’re happy and well.” He slid a finger beneath her chin, shaking his head to her adoration. “I hope one day to see joy blossom where only fear has grown.”
“M-May I kiss your hand, great master?”
“Of course you may, little one.” His eyes smoldered above his smile, but when salt stained lips pressed to his broad palm, the general clenched his free fist. She’s blessing that which shed her blood… “All they did was hurt you, Aeris, for a century and more.” Haunting summer looked up at him with terror still filling the edges. “Those days are dead, my little flower. You’re under my protection. No power can erase the past, but I promise it’s no more. I have you, my Aeris. You’re safe forever. That long nightmare is done.”
The Cetra could only blink up at him, struggling to understand. Darkness and cold and pain without end was all that made sense to the maid, but this wonderful dream so different from all just continued on. He’s my master. His word is law even if it makes no sense. But…if he won’t use me, what am I for? What else could my life be?
“Master,” she murmured as he went back to the keys. “I deserve to be used and beaten.”
“What nonsense is this?” His voice formed an edge, slicing the words at the tips of his fingers. Wrath seared hot through frigid emerald wedding flame to frost. His lashes caught fire but would never burn in the swells of endless light.
Aeris cowered and covered her face, cringing away from his rage. “I-I’m little and weak, greatest of masters. This world’s for the strong. Th-Things like me only exist to serve all their needs.”
Sephiroth rubbed her fingers, forcing a blink and regretful for ire’s lash. A gentle thumb passed over her knuckles in proof that not all strength was for ill.
“No one deserves to be beaten and raped because they’re tiny and weak. In fact,” he added, gently massaging the delicate palm in his clutch, “minute size and miniscule strength mean they should be extra protected.”
“But the weak exist to serve the strong, master.” Her head spun to his strange words.
“That is the foulest lie, my Aeris,” he said it firm but gently, “and I tell you this as I’m likely the strongest being this world’s ever seen.” A darkness swam among bright green, the dregs of grief’s regret. “People like you…” He relinquished the keyboard again to envelop his charge. “…only deserve to be protected from those who think like that. Children are smaller and weaker beings. Do you believe so for them?”
Aeris jerked up her stricken face where all color had fled. Sealing her lids, the little Cetra hid the haunt of withered summer. Children… Her free hand slid down to her belly, pulling away as though her flesh burned.
Sephiroth cursed himself with inward bile. “I’m so sorry, little one.”
“Master…” She caught his hand this time, weakly pushing her fingers between. She peered up at him with bitten lip, and the general kissed her brow. Glancing at the screen one final time, Sephiroth retrieved his phone. He entered the number from the website and as it rang jotted down measurements. His memory was perfect, but he wanted to ensure he made no mistake in this.
“Yes, this is Mayor Crescent.” The general leaned back, clearing the hair from his ear.
Aeris had shut her eyes, but a smile claimed her lips as he shifted her without effort. He can just put his one arm under my legs and easily pick me up. He never tires…not in the least. I spent the whole day in his arms. No men hurt me. No men used me…all because of him.
“I was wondering if I could make a request. Yes…the ‘Great General.’” Sephiroth sighed to acquiesce. “I’d like to place a rather large order, and it will be quite complex. Certainly, I can hold.”
Aeris shook in utter gratitude to be in her master’s embrace. Clothed in his shirt, draped in his coat, his arm wrapped securely around. His voice rich and low caressed her skin, the vibration both soothing and warm. He ran idle knuckles along fragile cheek, then traced the line of her jaw. The Cetra shut her eyes. This couldn’t be life. It couldn’t contain sweet caress. Knuckles were attached to fists, and fists only did one thing…
A whimper escaped on the edge of her breath, and Sephiroth murmured, “I have you.”
Aeris gripped his hand so awed by size difference. Her tiny digits were less than matchsticks, yet they wore the same shade of pale.
“You may squeeze my hand as hard as you wish. You won’t hurt me, little rose.”
Weak pulses framed her feeble grip, and Sephiroth lost what mirth he’d had. That anyone could harm someone like this incited wrath to burn down the world. Even my crime, horrendous as it was, had been kinder than that. Yes, I did kill her and I must atone, but I didn’t make her wish she could die.
He raised his head suddenly, saying, “Yes, I’m still here. Good, you’re exactly whom I need. I know very little about women’s clothing, and I require it all.” Peering down at his charge swathed in black fabric, the Great General’s smile returned. Intermittent squeezes made Aeris gasp as her fragile wrist began to ache. “A moment,” he said, moving the phone. “Don’t injure yourself, little flower.” He unlaced their fingers and gripped her frail hand, once more massaging her palm.
The little Cetra could barely breathe. How could he be so gentle? His hands were the largest she’d ever seen and yet they weren’t crushing her wrists. His easy caress was destroying all pain, driving it out of her flesh. Aeris held her sob at memory’s horror, while her master’s low voice shut her eyes.
“I apologize. What I was saying is I need every type of female garb. Yes, under-things, skirts, sweaters, and shoes of every kind and color. Indulge me another moment. Aeris?” he called.
“Yes, master?” She jolted up. His baritone timbre was so utterly soothing the Cetra had nearly been lulled.
“You always preferred dresses, didn’t you?”
She parted her lips to silent still tongue as memory flayed her raw. The mist softly shivered but would not part on the recesses of her mind. The little maid quaked for again letting silence prove what a terrible slave she was.
Sephiroth stroked her cheek with a sigh before kissing her on the brow. “Just dresses and skirts and blouses to match and anything else you might think. I have all the sizes. Are you ready for them?” He read them off twice to be sure. “Oh, and jewelry. Let’s not forget that.” A pause. “I suppose just a set of each. And hair clips and ribbons of each hue and type. Make sure some of the latter are pink, and all of the jewelry must be real gems, true gold, silver, and platinum. My little rose should feel like a queen. Nothing base will touch her skin.”
At no point did Aeris’s gaze leave his face, as the strange speech filtered down. I love the feel of his voice against me. The word “pink” jolted her heart.
“Her coloring? Fairer than the mist with the first blush of dawn on her cheeks. She resembles a tiny porcelain doll with large, deep, summer-blessed eyes. Her hair is chestnut waves down to mid-back with bangs similar to mine. Yes, she’s lovely, beyond so. Beautiful’s the word I would use. A picture? I will check with her when this call is done.”
Aeris blinked up with hands curled on his chest. My master’s eyes are utterly exquisite. I’ve never seen lashes half so long. Does the light live along every strand? The blinks grew longer as his low tone wreathed around her as readily as his embrace.
“When do you think it will be delivered? In less than two weeks, is that true? Wonderful, that’s sooner than I had hoped. You’ve been absolutely helpful.” He wrote down a name. Then he wrote down a note in flowing and neat shorthand.
Sephiroth removed the phone from his ear and shifted his arm around Aeris. When he lifted the tiny Cetra up, she fully shut her eyes.
“Master?” she whispered, resting her cheek against a leather lapel.
“Yes, little one?” He gathered the little maid closer to him after laying the phone on the desk. Her legs had slight slipped, and he could tell she was weary with meager means nearly spent.
“How strong are you?”
Sephiroth tilted his head to the side, emerald bathing the drowsy face. Never had terror and curiosity come together in such a strange, innocent way.
“I’m honestly not sure. It was…given to me long ago.” He shifted his gaze as his eyes sheared the past. Those sliver thin pupils cutting the light that radiated Mako around.
“Given to you?” she whispered, as memory mist shivered in storm, but it was too thick, the shapes were all shadows, and Aeris just shook her head.
“It was and I was led to abuse it. The wages of that were death, but now I have you to protect, little one. I can try to repay those crimes.” He lifted her chin and she wet her dry lips, caught in cold emerald swells. “I don’t know for certain my powers’ limits, but I could’ve easily crush all your chains. It would take not a fraction of one hand’s grip to render that steel into dust.”
What would it be like to possess such strength? Silver caressed her skin. It would be wonderful. No one could hurt me. I could break every bond. Aeris curled hard towards his chest with a whimper for daring to dream defiant. You’re not that strong, and you never will be. You’ll always be tiny and weak. Made to be hurt, born to be beaten, meant to be used by the strong. Yet the very strongest was holding her tight as gentle as the sleeping sea. The tiny Cetra was overjoyed, beyond grateful he wasn’t brutal. She trembled still despite the great coat, despite his shielding arms.
Sephiroth looked down at the maid on his lap and tried to fight his rage. She wept as she quaked with hidden face, thanking him over and over. Blessing his kindness, praising his strength, awed by his gentleness. Her scrawny limbs laid against leather with hale forearm beneath. He shifted it, pressing his little charge closer, and she raised a blood leeched face.
“You’re so strong, great master.” She whispered still shocked.
“Yes, little flower. I am.” He cupped her chin to hold her gaze. “Your clothing will be here soon.”
My…clothing? She jolted in the hush of his breath, which was sweet as his skin mixed with cloves. It made no sense. I have his shirt, but he says I’ll have more. What else do I need? “Thank you, great master.” Her hand grazed his cheek and he covered it with his palm.
“There’s no need, Aeris. I’m glad I can do it. I’m glad I’ve the means to help you.” He lifted his head and shook away winter, while she basked in the sweep on her skin. “May I take your picture?”
“Pic…ture, master?” The Cetra peeked up at the strange question as the general picked up his phone.
“A digital image of yourself,” he said, lighting the device though Mako dimmed the display. “They asked for one in order to better match your coloring.”
The explanation made even less sense, but Aeris could only obey. He positioned her face with thumb and forefinger before capturing haunting pale.
“Do you want to see?” Sephiroth asked.
“If you wish, master.”
He sighed, but still placed the phone in her small hands where even slight weight came with tremor. Aeris looked down at the gaunt, hollow face, blinking her haunting green eyes. Confused as to why the image didn’t mimic before she realized it wasn’t a mirror. Her face had been caught so still in the screen, but she could’ve been viewing a stranger. A sudden spasm jolted her wrists, and the phone went plummeting down. Sephiroth caught it with barely a glance, but Aeris let loose a high cry.
“I’m sorry, master! I’m so very sorry!” Quaking hands covered her face. The maid couldn’t bear it, his wrath to descend when he’d been nothing but gentle and kind. “Please don’t beat me. Please don’t hurt me. I’ll do anything you want! Anything, master! Just please don’t-” Tears silenced her pleas. They leaked through her fingers as piteous sobs ravaged the Cetra’s throat.
“Aeris, sweet flower, I’m not going to hurt you.” Sephiroth closed her again in his arms. Clearing damp tendrils from her face, he wiped away tears with his thumb. “I will never beat you, little one. There’s nothing you can do to ‘make me’ commit such an atrocity just as you did nothing before. They chose to hurt you.” He held up his phone to her parted fingers. “Do you think this device matters to me compared to your wellbeing? What do I care? It can be replaced. Your little hands concern me more.” He took them both, their frailness apparent, their shaking a plea for mercy. “No one will ever hurt you again. You were not meant for such abuse. No one deserves what you bore.”
Her breathing came too rapidly to register the silk sheaf on her face.
“You’re not going to strike me in anger, great master?”
“I’ll never strike you at all. No one has the right to beat you. Not me nor any man.”
“Thank you, great master,” the frightened maid whispered. “Thank you for being so kind.” She rested her head against his solid warmth, still shaking despite the black coat. He brushed her cheek with the back of his hand then returned to his phone. A few deft touches were all it took to send the picture along, and narrowed eyes checked a few things more before shutting the laptop down. Peering down with words on the edge of his lips, Sephiroth ceased in that moment’s sight.
“Oh Aeris…” he whispered, the light from his eyes staining tears’ residue. “This is the third time in merely two days you’ve fallen asleep in my arms. You feel that safe with me, little one, despite your soul rending fear? What did I do to deserve such a gift, this beautiful repentance?”
“Master?” she murmured within half sleep, and the general grimaced in guilt. “Master, where am I?” The fear had returned. “It’s dark. I can’t see your light.”
“You’re here with me, Aeris. You’re safe in my arms. Open your eyes, little flower.”
Summer fluttered open unsure as a bird whose wings were only part-grown. “Oh…oh master,” she sighed to the heart of relief. “You have me. I truly am safe.” Her sight adjusted to the room a shade darker without the laptop’s light. “It’s…nighttime. The days over, master. It’s done. The sky…it’s dark.”
“Yes, it’s evening now, little one. It was a quite a long day for you.” That slight smile lifted his lips as he observed her still peering around. She hunted the room with fervent view as if waiting for it to melt. “What is it, Aeris? Whatever’s the matter?”
“I haven’t been used today, master. It’s…been more than a day.” She buried her face back into her hands, but no longer had tears to weep. “I don’t understand. I haven’t been used. I don’t understand at all…”
“Oh, little flower, what can I do? How can I help this pain?”
“You haven’t used me, master,” she dryly sobbed. “You haven’t hurt me at all. You’ve been nothing but gentle, gentle and kind. It’s been…it’s been a full day.”
She shook her head behind her hands before they fell weakly down, turning then to hide her face against his solid chest. The smooth black fabric took her grief before Sephiroth stood with the maid in his arms. Striding out of the room with decided purpose, the general carried her downstairs. She didn’t dare look. She hardly dared breathe. Perhaps now the sweet dream would break. It couldn’t be possible that twenty-four hours had passed without brutal assault. She was carefully shifted to his right arm before the sharp snap of his fingers.
“Aeris…” That low voice trembled her skin but somehow stilled shivering fear. She raised her head, blinking in the dim light of a room that though large was still cozy. A response formed on the edge of her lips, dissolving before the high shelves. The Cetra shook tangled hair away and placed both hands on solid shoulders. The walls of the room were filled with books on tall and deep stained wood. Softly lit lamps barely shook the dark that was more full of fuzz than gloom. Like rich, sleepy wine it soaked every crevice with no enmity for mingling light. A fireplace rich with memory’s warmth chaperoned a trinity of chairs, while a low wooden table of lighter stain bore the burden of bare coffee mugs.
“Wh-What is this, master?” Aeris found her voice hidden in the room’s gentle dim.
“This…is my library, little one.” The Great General bowed his head. Only the wisps of memory drifted, but they were enough to touch deepest guilt. Aeris found herself tilting her head as a palm laid itself to his cheek. Sephiroth covered her hand with his own, then in afterthought slid it beneath. Kissing her knuckles, he smiled for the skin had been warmed by abundant heat.
There it was again, her endearing and innocent awe. I wish for this to destroy her fear, for wonder to cease her pain. “Yes, little one,” he said aloud. “It’s filled with writing from the ages. Literature far more ancient than me, but not more ancient than you…I brought you here to pick a book.”
“You want me to pick one, master?”
Sephiroth chuckled. “Yes, my flower. Take as long as you wish. That arduous task is yours.”
“You’re ever so patient with me, master.” She could barely breathe her awe.
For the upper tiers Sephiroth held her high so the Cetra could trace each spine. The words were a jumble, and she quelled her whimper that the titles just flowed through her eyes. Though Sephiroth had told her to take her time, Aeris frequently checked. Nowhere in his angel’s face lay ire or impatience. His slivered eyes scanned what books she dwelled on, but he’d no judgment either way. The general had read everything here more often than he cared to admit. Time and guilt don’t make fair friends, and better words might drown out the dark.
The tome she chose was near bigger than her, and Sephiroth softly smiled. It was placed on the end of a middle shelf taking up the full length of that corner. The spine was dust lined for it had been a while since he’d disturbed its rest, but to Aeris the motes spun in emerald light and she recognized the word, “poetry.”
Sephiroth carried both book and maid back up to her welcoming room. He turned out the light because he needed none and let the volume choose its page.
“…The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity…”
The general glanced down in frowning concern for such blood-soaked verse, but the little Cetra was smiling so bright in his arms with her lids lightly shut. Her tiny hands were no more clenched, but curled resting against the black coat. His low voice so soothing could put her to sleep and made even dark words shine so bright.
Please let me wake up right back here. I don’t want to go back to my life. I want to live in his arms ‘til the death of all time. Please let him be my protector…
Author’s Note: The poem Sephiroth reads near the end is an excerpt from The Second Coming by William Butler Yeats.