Update: The previous artwork for this chapter has been removed as I believe it belongs to an artist who no longer wants her work reposted. I wasn’t able to find definitive proof that this was that specific artist, but it looks visually similar enough to her other work that I don’t want to take a chance. I’ll be going through all of the chapters and removing any art by that individual as well as deleting it from my image files, so you might see some missing images until I can replace them. I’ll also be making a post about why I’m so adamant about doing this. Thanks all!
Disclaimer: Final Fantasy VII, its characters, and settings are all property of Square Enix so I can take no credit nor claim any ownership of that. I do take some credit for the story’s plot.
Banner Artwork Disclaimer: The featured artwork for the banner is entitled White rose I and was created by the very talented Deviant Artist RemusSirion who was gracious enough to grant me permission to use it here. The picture has been slightly altered from the original. All rights belong to the artist, and links are included for both the artist page and the work.
CHAPTER ARTWORK DISCLAIMER: The featured artwork is of unknown origin and source. it has been slightly altered in appearance and to include the chapter number and title. all rights belong to the unknown artist.
*******MAJOR CONTENT WARNING*******
Consistent and sustained graphic descriptions and mentions of rape/ sexual assault, sexual slavery/bondage, slavery, human trafficking, physical abuse, graphic descriptions of violence, mental abuse, emotional abuse, psychological abuse, body shaming, starvation, torture, forced pregnancy, forced childbirth, miscarriage, forced miscarriage, abortion, and other potential disturbing and triggering topics.
Aeris recovers from her newest ordeal under the general’s unwavering care.
Aeris slept more often than not and dark dreams returned to torment.
“I have you.” She’d hear, low and assuring, as strong arms tightened around. Her hand was couched in one large and warm, long fingers curled over to shield.
“I’m still here…” She’d whisper as he kissed her brow and promised his rose it was true.
With so much sleep, Aeris was terrified to forget a day in her persistent count, but Sephiroth. knowing what it meant to her, always made sure he kept track.
“What day is it, master?” She’d reach for his hand, which he’d never deny his rose.
“It’s the 71st, Aeris. It’s been more than two months since you were last abused.”
Squeezing his fingers, the Cetra gazed up in bleary gratitude. A shuddering sigh shut her eyes, as she turned her face to the painted dawn. Soothed by his touch and assured by his words that she was safe still evermore.
The general had some uncanny knowledge to know when his Aeris would awake, and he’d always have something prepared for her, and no request would be ignored.
Her follow up appointment was three days later and they were more than pleased with her progress. She herself asked if she could leave the bed, and they said to still stay off her feet, but…so long as it was comfortable and the general was willing, he could carry her about. Aeris beamed in delight, and Sephiroth told them his willingness was never in question. She could eat again in the opulent dining room, drinking tea as they watched the sunset. She still might fall asleep as the dusk turned to eve, but she always awoke safe and warm. Ensconced in blankets in bed or with him, no matter her nightmares’ torment.
Myrna came knocking one of the days with two pies and a bouquet of flowers. It was the backdoor and Sephiroth raised a brow as his neighbor then sent him a text. He sent quick response for Aeris’s terror had stretched to near height of the stars. She’d flung the comforter over her head and cowered beneath blessed darkness.
“Master, please no!” And he stared in confusion to this revival of terror. “They’re coming! They’re coming to get me. Don’t let them! I don’t want to go! Please don’t…”
“Aeris, you’re not going anywhere. It’s just Myrna and Em at the door.” He cupped her shoulder beneath the shroud. “What is this new fear, little one?”
Tiny fingers dared the air as she allowed one eye to follow. “Th-The knocking…sometimes they’d just come for me if an arrangement had been made. Every time I heard knocking I…never knew if I’d been sold to someone else. Not that it mattered…master or buyer. I’d be raped anyway…”
He kissed what part of her face was exposed, murmuring, “No one will rape you, my Aeris. You’re safe her as always with me in your room. Do you hear the hush of the sea?”
The little Cetra uncovered her ear and the sighing shore answered his words. “Y-Yes, master, I hear it. I’m…still here with you.” She blinked up at him again.
The general smiled, brushing his hand up her cheek as the tiny maid counted each breath. “That’s right, little flower. You’re with me. I have you, and you’re ever safe. You’ll never be bought or sold again. You are not property.”
“I’m not…” She kissed the gentle fingers before pushing herself back up. Sephiroth helped so her back could rest against the myriad pillows.
He kept her hand briefly in his as he stood, brushing the delicate knuckles. “I’ll return in a moment, my little rose. Myrna has something for you.” With a half-smile and those cryptic words, the general left the Cetra, though he hoped in afterthought that this mystery would not draw more fear.
Pale peonies accompanied strawberry pies to which Sephiroth expressed dual gratitudes. Then Myrna produced a bottle of wine to the general’s raised silver brow.
“And is the little miss accepting visitors?” she asked as her daughter suppressed a full yawn.
“A moment,” the general replied as he shuffled flowers and pastries around. The wine was stowed into a deep pocket of his ubiquitous, leather coat. With nary a waver he retrieved his phone and prompted it contact his Aeris.
A whimper jolted the Cetra awake and she initially cowered, but when she realized it was her guardian’s summons, her hands could not work fast enough.
“Little flower.” His low voice even filtered made prior quake find different form. For several seconds Aeris lived in that resonance, closing her eyes to the curl of her fingers. “Little flower, are you there?”
“Y-Yes, general…I’m here.”
A quiet chuckle rolled through her ears and she could imagine how emerald eyes smoldered. “Are you up for a visit?”
“A visit, general?”
“Yes. Myrna and Em wish to know.”
“Oh.” The Cetra blinked several times, gazing around her room. Her legs felt lead heavy and her shoulders tight while chestnut hair spilled in sweet mess. It was evening again and Aeris bit her lip for this was becoming her most favored time. “I…” The silence had stretched too far, but though she could not even hear him breathe, Aeris could still sense his patience. No…he wouldn’t need patience as he always says. He never needs patience with me. “I’m a bit tired, general, a-and I want to spend the evening with you. I…love spending the evenings with you. B-But don’t tell them that. She’s…very kind and even kinder to come and see me.”
“It is well, little one. You’re allowed to be tired. You’re allowed to be anything you wish. I’ll see you in a moment?”
“Yes, general. You…will. I’ll…see you and I’ll be in your arms.”
Sephiroth could not help the full smile as he held the phone in the crook of his shoulder. “That’s right, my Aeris. Now rest, little love. You need as much as you can take.”
He apologized to both most graciously while Myrna sighed with her hand to her hip. But it was all good-natured as she said, “I still hope we can have our evening of wine and tea.”
“I’m certain we can when my flower is better.” Good nights were said as he shut the door. Sephiroth locked it in afterthought though not because he feared any harm. The general in truth feared nothing at all, but it made Aeris feel more sheltered. In no world did Sephiroth believed for a moment that any would dare invade here, but he would do anything for his rose and allaying this fear was so simple. Nor did he conceive of lying to her and claiming what wasn’t was locked. Disgust twisted his perfect features as he gazed again at the gifts in his clutch.
The flowers brought gasps of happiness as Aeris clasped her little hands. Had she not been healing she’d have bounced in place, but instead she reached for the blooms. “General, I love them! How nice of our neighbors to bring me this wonderful gift.”
“There’s pie as well, Aeris, strawberry, I believe, and also a bottle of wine.”
“Mmm.” She’d nestled her nose in the flowers. Sephiroth sat down on the bed, cocking his head with a small grin.
“You said ‘our neighbor,’ little rose,” he murmured to softest eye gleam.
“Oh! Yes, I did,” Aeris realized jerking up from the blooms. “I-Is that alright, general.”
He leaned forward to place brow to brow. “You know it is, my Aeris. Our neighbors. Our house. My little love.” His face gentled in the wash of her tears.
My little hands and delicate fingers will never be broken again. My tender skin will never be bruised, a-and this is…normal. This isn’t a privilege. It’s an ordinary, common thing…
Wrapped in blankets like softest cocoon, the little maid nestled close to his heart, and the general would often pause in his task to let limitless light shimmer down. Sometimes she slept. Sometimes she watched. Sometimes she read on her own. The latter would usually be done on her phone or one of her smaller books. If she watched what he did, Sephiroth kept an ear poised for quiet murmurs.
“Are you alright, my Aeris?” he’d ask when he heard, and the Cetra would gasp in surprise. The soft sounds were curiosity deferred for she was still wary of asking questions. Memory contained their agony’s cost and her scars would never forget.
“I’m…fine, general.” He’d respond by wrapping his arms in warmth’s augment. It was hard not to chuckle at such sight for little more than her face could be seen. Sometimes a toe would appear from the folds or her hands if she held a device, but no matter what when he enfolded his flower, she lost all thoughts but joy. The horror of past receded but brief to give Aeris a reprieve.
“Did you have a question for me?”
“Y-Yes…?” It was soft as a dove.
“Aeris,” he murmured, kissing her brow as silver caressed exposed skin. “You know you can ask me anything, anywhere, at any time.”
“I…don’t want to disturb you though, general, or i-interrupt again.”
He thumbed the Cetra’s lower lip with emerald fired lashes. “And what happened to you when last that occurred?”
“N-Nothing bad at all. You answered my question when you were finished and didn’t punish me.”
“That’s right. Nor will I ever because I’ve no right.”
“Yes…” She kissed his thumb as it passed over. “I-I’m not yours to p-punish, my general.”
He smiled fully at that. “Yes, my Aeris. You’re realizing this truth.”
“I’m yours to love…” Just one tear fell. Sephiroth still caught it on his forefinger as he cupped half her face in his palm.
“And protect, little flower. Remember that always for they both go hand in hand.” Small fingers snaked out from the warmth of the covers to find the heat of his.
“A-Always protect, right, m-my general?”
“That’s right, my Aeris. Always.” She squeezed his hand as hard as she could. It was much stronger than those first days, but still made no dent in his power.
“I love being protected by a big, strong general.” His low laugh rolled through her skin.
“Is that how you see me, my little flower?” He blinked at her long and slow.
“How else could I…” the little maid whispered, and Sephiroth’s joy fled with a sigh.
“What was your question, little one?”
“Well…” She blushed a bit, changing rue to interest in endless emerald eyes. Small, clinking bottles then drew his attention as Aeris set them on the desk. Sephiroth tilted his head with half-smile, blinking now in bemusement. It took a moment for their name to alight, more time than their various hues.
“Do you wish me to color your nails, little one?” he asked, picking a bottle up. Though larger, his hands were steadier than hers, which still so often shook. A lightly hued pink dwell in the set as well as black, green, and-
Silver… Slivers slid over in sad scrutiny. Did she pick such colors for me?
Aeris looked up, biting her lip. “N-Not quite. The brushes are kind of big for my nails, a-and I wanted to practice. Y-Your nails have a much larger surface. D-Do you mind…Great General?”
“Of course not, my Aeris.” He put the jar down near the other ones on his desk.
She examined each one while chewing her lip and glancing at him in between. “Wh-What color do you think is best?”
“I really don’t think I could say.” He lifted the darkest. “Black I suppose would be the most apt…or red for other reasons.”
The Cetra’s brow furrowed. “I didn’t bring red.”
She picked up the pink, pouting with scrutiny. Scrambling around, she lifted the bottle to hold it against his lips. Mako light flooded and were he not Sephiroth, he’d look quite silly with slivered eyes crossed.
“It matches…” she murmured. “I-It’s really light pink, so it won’t really show.” Aeris blushed again, surpassing the polish. “I don’t want to impede your mayor’s position.” To which the Great General scoffed.
“If colored nails could diminish my job, it’s not worth very much, my rose.”
She gave a soft squeak when his hands found her waist in the deep layers of blankets. Facing her forward, he laid his right hand within easy reach on the desk. Aeris glanced at the bottle in her clutch, unscrewing the top in decision. Tongue between teeth, the Cetra leaned forward, barely hearing the low laugh behind. The larger nail surface was far easier, but Aeris still gasped at mis-stroke.
“It’s well, little one.”
She breathed her relief at seeing pale skin so smeared. Taking it slower, but humming her joy while he slightly smiled above. The bare lift of lips could never contain what Sephiroth felt for his Aeris. Typing and working the mouse with his left until she was ready to switch. Soft, sweetest breath had blessed his great hand, which she had attempted to lift.
“Ah, I’m so sorry.”
Her handiwork came into view. Aeris chewed her lip in scrutiny, as Sephiroth glanced with mild smile. He moved the mouse to give her the other.
Then she said, “I-I think I should do two coats.” And so he switched again.
“People used to believe I wore mascara,” he told her, as careful flicks laid color cool.
“Really, general?” The Cetra looked up. He kissed her on the brow. Aeris closed her eyes and slowly inhaled winter so warm and sweet.
“Just so.” He lowered his lids, splaying those lashes before the smoldering cold. “When you can manipulate genes and cells, though, what need for mundane tricks?”
The little maid swallowed then took both his hands, holding them up to her sight. Mako above gave more light than needed, and his low laugh just doubly confirmed.
“You’ve made me quite lovely, my little rose.” His tone concealed most of his sadness, but Aeris still slowly raised her eyes before laying a kiss on them both. The gentle press of innocent lips nearly stripped him raw, but Sephiroth long had known this pain, and only bowed his head. Breathing a sigh, he gazed at his screen then found a true smile for her. “It would not be fair to leave you bereft. What color do you choose?”
“Silver…” she whispered with no hesitation, and he could do nothing but blink.
Afterwards graced in winter and blush, they went back to their tasks. He to the work of protector and mayor and she to healing from hell. Curled up and warm with her cheek on his chest and his powerful arm around.
The Cetra’s eyelids fluttered a bit as she tried to follow the screen. “Are you granting another permit, general?” A gentle hand stroked her cheek. I’m rewarded for questions. She trembled. Not punished. He tightened his hold to quell her shake, gazing down to always make sure.
“Not this time, Aeris. I’m afraid my work now is far more tedious. I have to review and approve these requests that will take from the monthly budget.”
Aeris scrunched her face while biting her lip as she carefully shuffled around. Silver hair licked along her throat as the Cetra dwelled within this shroud. He tossed it away to clear both their faces though his bangs still teased her cheek. Almost idly Aeris wrapped a small finger around the draping lock, and Sephiroth could not help his slight smile as he awaited her next request.
“I-I’m sorry, general.” She looked up with scared summer. “I…don’t really understand.”
“It’s well, my Aeris,” he assured the maid. “No one will punish you for misunderstanding. It’s my job to explain.” Stark Mako poured as his lids lowered, but Sephiroth expected her cruel past now. His expectation was not disappointed though he took no joy from that.
“I’d be…hurt for not understanding s-something I was ordered to do.”
He wrapped the maid in both arms once more knowing what such “orders” had been. There were no words he could say to heal such a pain from demanded atrocity. Gentle knuckles rubbed a cheek that would never more bear a bruise, and Aeris turned to kiss his hand again in gratitude.
“You have me now, though, and I never have to worry about being…ordered again.”
“That’s right, little one. You’re not mine to order just as you’re not mine to chastise. Remember, I’m your general. I am yours to command.”
Aeris quaked at that, having such power over the greatest of them all. “You’re my general, but I’m your Aeris.”
He nodded in silver spill. “Yes, and as my Aeris you have every right to ask any question you choose, and as your general I have an obligation to explain anything you don’t understand. So…” He laid a finger to the screen, which was now closer for her view. “This is the budget for the month and these are the current expenses.”
“A-And that’s what left?” She glanced up to confirm her summation was true and ensure she’d not interrupted. No…he was done speaking, a-and even if not, he wouldn’t hurt me for such. I…don’t want to be rude, but he doesn’t seem mad. He’s smiling at me like he normally does. He…only really smiles when he looks at me.
“You’re correct, little flower.”
“It seems like a lot that’s left, general. The expenses don’t take much away. H-How much are the requests?” Sephiroth lifted a silver brow, as his lips turned up more at the corners. Guiding the mouse, he brought them up, housed within a new window. “Thirty?” she wondered. “No, that’s how many. Where’s the total…oh, I see now.” She leaned forward slightly and the blankets slipped back from where they covered bare shoulders. Running her finger down the list, the Cetra just skimmed the words. She tapped the screen after finding the number, and glanced back up to the budget’s remains. “That’s…still not that much. There’s a lot left over. That’s…a good thing, right, general?”
“Yes, Aeris.” He grimaced slightly as she slid back. “There’s always a surplus here.”
“So, there’s always more than you could need?”
“That’s correct, my flower.”
Aeris blinked as memory’s mists parted with the whispers that it had not always been so. That there were those who had been without then she shivered as bumps rode her skin. Sephiroth covered her quaking shoulders and enclosed her in his arms. As always, she thought, as always, he has me. She shut her eyes until it passed.
“What happens to the surplus?” She tilted back her head and he blessed her brow with a kiss. Long lashes shimmered in soft emerald light as the Great General reveled in innocence.
“It’s marked as such and put away…digitally that is. Most of money is like that now and gil even comes in bills.”
Aeris squinted at the abundant number as she chewed at her lip. “But…if it’s put away every month there’s a surplus, and there’s always a surplus here, then what’s the monthly budget without it?”
Sephiroth stared at her for several long moments then laughed to her sweet confusion. “Dear little flower…you were sorely mistaken about your ‘misunderstanding.’ You are far more astute than many a financier.”
He clicked a spot on the screen and the starting balance greatly reduced, but was still not surpassed by the monthly expenses or requests. The surplus was lesser but it still endured as Aeris tapped the screen with her finger.
“I always look at it both ways,” the general told the Cetra. “The planned monthly budget and the one with the surplus from the months before.” He peered down at her as long lashes painted their darkness against fair skin. “In a world where power does not kill the Planet, the possibilities are endless…” Shutting his eyes, Sephiroth turned away, but Mako still seared through the pale. However, the general could never deny her tiny fingers tangling with his. He smiled through grief and mist memory that coalesced in deepest green. Clearing his throat, the general went back to the task at hand, but he left his one in her possession as he approved every request.
“So…everyone gets what they want?” Aeris asked with utter awe.
“Yes, little one, this month at least. No one had a conflict. There would’ve been a notification if such a thing occurred, though I check them all anyway to ensure.”
“What would be a conflict, general?”
Sephiroth rubbed her knuckles with a smile. You make my title sound so sweet, but my name would sound even sweeter. Still…my designation fell so much colder from those who just wanted to use. You will not use me, though I wish you would. I want to be useful to you…
“Say two parties wanted to use the same portion of Wesker’s Square at the same time or say two properties wished to expand into the same space. That would cause a conflict that would then need to be resolved. One or the other would have to concede, compromise, or request an arbitration.”
“A-And would you be the one to…do this a-arbitration?”
The general nodded. “I would be as mayor, little one, since I’d have no conflict of interests, but…” He tilted her chin with her hand still in his. “That happens very rarely. There’s not a lot of conflict here…no battles to be fought.” Light misted away to far yesterday past even his madness and grief until her little squeeze brought him back. Sephiroth kissed the top of her head before finishing up some loose ends. He closed the window, but Aeris observed behind there was another. When she leaned forward the blankets slipped again to reveal pale shoulders bare.
“This is my budget, I suppose, little one. Rather, it’s what I now have.” He opened a spreadsheet alongside that screen. “This is more accurate for a budget. It’s good to keep one just in case.”
Aeris devoured the figures with summer eyes that grew wider to contain. She glanced back and up at her great guardian whose expression had waned to mild. “General…” she whispered, “you have more than the month. Much, much more.” Low, quiet laughter shivered her skin, and the Cetra again squeezed his hand. “You have more than the surplus. I…knew you were rich, th-that’s how you…saved me, but-”
“I helped you, my Aeris.” It was kind interruption meant to correct and never to chide, but Aeris shook her head to deny.
“You saved me, general,” she whispered. “’Helped’ isn’t enough to ever explain what you’re still doing for me. Even ‘saved’ and ‘rescued’ don’t encompass everything you’ve done.”
Tiny fingers caressed his cheek, and he could hardly stand the pain. Sephiroth closed her in his arms, but she continued her gentle torture. No, little one, the fallen thought, because you don’t know everything. You don’t remember. Memory was kind to at least rob you of that. If it hadn’t… Mako pierced his lids so he saw only the blood between. You allow me to touch you on false pretense. It’s wrong. It’s filthy…like me. I can’t let this go on. I have to tell you. You have to know what I am… He opened his eyes and emerald fell wane for hope had fled his dark soul.
“Since the day you picked me up,” Aeris began and the damning words died at his lips, “I’ve known paradise unceasing. No matter how terrified I am, this life of joy never ends. No matter how I tremble, no matter how afraid, what I endured never returns. Because of you…” Her voice broke and her hand fell to her face as Sephiroth shielded her with his arms. Emerald light covered her purified by what could never be designed. “I do nothing for you,” she sobbed. “Nothing at all and there’s no way I could ever repay. I could never return what you’ve given to me, not in one or a million years.”
“Oh, my Aeris,” he murmured, stroking her hair, which was just a little bit wild. Greater guilt shot through him sharp as a blade that he’d neglected this task, but the little face staring up through soft streams of salt was just as beautiful through tangled waves. He retrieved a silk sheaf to attend to her tears, as Aeris tried to quell their fall.
“You see? Even this…” She covered her face then quickly moved her hand, but his anger was nonexistent. Staring up, she blinked over and over as the wet was gently dried. “You always, always clean my tears. You’re always thinking of me…”
“I can think of nothing else but you, my Aeris,” he whispered while wiping her eyes. You don’t how much I owe. This goes beyond what money could mend. You claim you can never repay me, but it is I who owe the debt. What price for blood shed so unwilling? What price for death by the fallen’s hand? “Aeris…you’ve given me someone to love and a reason to be alive. What is gil to me? What use is money or wealth? What matter is my position? Anyone here could do such a task. I was not custom made for this work…” He lowered his head into ageless grief, and she squeezed their threaded fingers.
The Cetra continued to adore without fear when he returned his gaze to her. Neither the slits nor the light of corruption disturbed the little maid. She basked in it, each moment more joyful ‘til Aeris thought she’d overflow. He took her little hands in his and bent so their brows were together.
“They only reason I care about such is it allows me to care for you. I was able to help in your direst need, so my wealth had use that day. My strength allowed me to pick you up and carry you away, and it also assures you that you’re safe, which is equally important.”
“I’m safe here with you, my general,” she whispered so her voice wouldn’t crack.
“That’s right, my Aeris, always.” He tilted his head to the side with a smile. “Do you know all the reasons you’re safe?”
Between the twin glows of the screen and his eyes, Aeris pondered the gentle question. “I’m safe because I’m in your arms.” Sephiroth wrapped them around fully to confirm. The little Cetra gripped his forearms, which were like marble beneath his black coat. “I’m safe in Heaven’s Gate, a-and if I were in my room and in my bed, I’d be safe there, too. I’m safe no matter where I go in your, I mean, our beautiful house.” Aeris refused to cry again as the general cupped her cheek. “I’m s-safe in the Whispers, e-everywhere e-even though I’m still afraid.” Sephiroth halved his lids to her stammer. This one was the next thing she’d need to believe. The first two were now absolutes.
“And why are you safe, Aeris?”
“Because you protect me, general, a-and so do laws, and you also uphold the law.” The little Cetra squinted in thought at how they all wove together. “But…” She circled her arms around his neck, pulling herself up off his lap. “I prefer your protection the best.” She pressed their mouths together. The general held her steady for her slender limbs trembled, and Aeris turned her head to the side. Tiny moans passed between their lips as his other arm covered her. Thick fingers dug into her hair, cradling the Cetra’s head. He nibbled her lips and asked entry with a gentle circle. Opening for him was the easiest decision Aeris had ever made, while silver hair tumbled in moonlight cascade as the afternoon waned jealously.
Sephiroth was not forceful and yet there was power that could never be denied. It was inherent in this sweet communion, but Aeris trembled for all of that power belonged to her alone. She could pull back at any time and he’d honor her decision. Not even once had he ever forced her to accept any physical connection. If the maiden grew breathless and sought to draw air, he would never hold her to him still. He might kiss her brow, cheeks, temples, or hands, but Aeris knew if she cringed he would stop. If she asked him to not touch her, her general would obey, nor would he react with ire. Aeris deepened the kiss to hide her soft whimper that all of this was by her choice. She did not want tears to spoil the sweetness, but the past could not foul angel’s scent. It wreathed around her like moon silver wings in cascading, silken hair.
A great sigh of breath lifted the maid’s head, and his mouth closed careful on her throat. “Is this well, little one?” Her hands curled on his shoulders for the vibration upon her neck. Sliding away his silver bangs, Sephiroth eyed her ecstatic face.
Her covers fell back and to his relief she was dressed in her normal bed clothes. “His” shirt’s shoulders drooped with sleeves rolled back and bunched up at her waist. My relief? he thought in utter guilt as the lips to her throat caused a writhe. The general sighed with eyes now opened, as he carefully set Aeris back down.
The Cetra wriggled to nestle in with contentment that tore at his heart. He wrapped his arms around her tender belly, but it was Aeris who pushed herself back. Glancing down at the wall his thick forearms made, the little Cetra beseeched them close tighter, and he couldn’t deny her anything despite grimacing as she squirmed.
“I love sitting on your lap so much, general.” She tilted her head back and up. He smoothed his features and peered mildly down, but her innocence still drew a small smile. Lowering his face, he kissed her brow while silver light streamed around. Allowed to flourish as jade fully burned behind his hard shut eyes. A lock of it was captured by her finger, and Sephiroth sighed, but was happy to lose.
A summer sea breeze curled cool through the window, spilling silver strands to the fore. He pulled the blankets back up to bare shoulders, which made his flower’s eyes drift gently closed. She yawned and the general squeezed her soft middle so it ended on a squeak. Not quite a glare was shot up at him to which he could not help his low chuckle. Yes, little one…be annoyed at me. I’ll add it to my greatest guilt. Then he felt more for worry he’d hurt her, but Aeris laid her palms to his arms.
“You’ve never held me too tightly, my general,” she murmured to the strong, steady beat of his heart. “You’re so gentle and strong and beyond beautiful.” The little maid yawned again. “I don’t know which is greatest.” Quick sleepy blinks fluttered her eyes and beat dark lashes against pinkened cheeks. The computer screen turned black to its slumber as Aeris fought her own. Bowing his head to the weight of her praise, Sephiroth shut his eyes. Long, jade-lit lashes tangled together like hands immersed in prayer.
“General?” she whispered, uncaring that light had lessened to wane afternoon. The residue of Mako hummed on his lids, impossible to fully quell.
“Yes, Aeris.” He wanted to bathe her beauty in light, but he forced his cold eyes remain closed, tighter and tighter as his little rose shifted so she now sat to the side.
“Why are you so sad?”
Shock released his lids and emerald poured down as jade ebbed in surprise. She was running slim fingers over his knuckles, while staring up with parted lips. The question still danced among summer leaf eyes with worry curled on the edges. It could not be borne…this maid’s sweet concern when she had endured such a hell.
“What do you mean, little flower?” Sephiroth asked though he knew very well the answer. His voice stayed despondent and more because she had called sorrow out. Aeris reached up to touch his face and he covered her little hand.
“You’re the saddest and yet most beautiful angel, the most haunting I’ve ever seen.”
“And do you see many angels, my Aeris?” he asked, turning away from her care.
“No…” Tiny fingers still curled on his skin beneath his greater hand. “But I can tell you’re the saddest, the most broken and torn, yet still beyond the best.”
Sephiroth shook his head, which did not negate the sweet truth of her words. “Don’t flatter me too much, my little flower. I do not deserve your laud.”
He had to smile even without mirth. Her innocence was so endearing. “Your adoration, my Aeris. I apologize. I often use archaic terms. Even after two hundred years, my words are still of the past.”
“Ar…chaic?” She blinked up as her hand slipped down to clasp soft with the other. The Great General placed his brow to the maid’s, full wrapping her in his arms. Joy fought with sorrow to purity’s continued confusion.
“Out of date, my flower. Old-fashioned…as I suppose I must be. I was ‘fashioned’ a long time ago.”
“General…I love the way you talk. I love your voice against my skin. It’s low and gentle, rich and kind.” She laid soft palms against his forearm. For moments Aeris just closed her eyes to bask in the thrum of his heart. She breathed in the scent of vanilla blessed winter as the strongest grip held her tight. But never too tight and never rough. Always protection and never harm. “I love, love, love being protected by a big, strong general.” He smiled at that in his bittersweet way, letting light play on his lashes. The Cetra reached up to run trailing fingers over his cheek and jaw. “You deserve so much more than my adoration. You’re my hero…my angel of light.”
Yes…I deserve your hatred. I love you as deep as the darkness filling the emptiness between the stars…and you love me. How you love me…the worst of all monsters, because you don’t know. You love an illusion, a light shrouded lie…and you think that I’m an angel. I must tell you the truth, and yet I can’t speak, because I so fear your hatred. I am a coward who now fears the truth when once that was all I desired. He hid his own face in her thick chestnut hair, which carried the scent of lilacs.
“I…love you so much, my general,” she whispered. “M-More than being clothed. More than warmth I love you. I would…” She swallowed as she looked up to sorrow through Mako light. “I would go without water for you without…food. Before I had nothing, but now I have you, and you’ve given me everything.”
“Oh, my Aeris…” He cupped her cheek and softly stroked a pink lip. Bare brush brought a shudder that widened emerald as the Cetra sharply inhaled. “You are so responsive to my touch…” The blink could not hide his awe.
“Y-You’re the first man to touch me gently in over a hundred years, a-and you’ll be the last.” Her voice held the plea. “I never want another man to ever touch me again. Please promise they never will!”
“I promise, my Aeris.”
“Only you, Great General! Only, only you!”
He blinked several times as he brushed her cheek with the back of a large, careful hand. She lifted her chin as his knuckles slid down, softer than silk wrought feathers. Over a throat that could not hold its moans as joy’s tears overflowed.
“Please, oh please…” the little maid sobbed, “I only, only want this. Only you, general.” She took his great hand shaking in her grasp. Kissing it, blessing it with her tears as Sephiroth held her closer. Slivered eyes darted in disbelief in a stunned, angelic face.
“Only this, little one,” he managed to say. “You will only have what you desire. Never more will you be neglected. I’d go without light for you.” It fell on her face to illumine the joy and love that was uncontained. His fingers curled against her fair skin as he tried to take in this truth. It cannot be truth based on the lie caused by my omission. “There is nothing you could ask that I would deny. I’d walk through fi-” Horror froze the damning words that’d almost burned his tongue, and Sephiroth swallowed the bitter past that would rise despite deadest flames. His hand did not shake for strength was his shield in fighting what could consume. Keeping one arm around his fair rose, he rewoke the screen with a touch.
The waner light turned Aeris’s head as the spreadsheet came back into view. A bitten lip accompanied rapid blinks while little hands clutched his arm. “General?” she whispered, and he looked down, squeezing her a bit closer.
Guilt made Mako burn glaring and bright, and the screen paled to endure. She did not deserve the fall of corruption, yet through it she was resplendent. Innocence has turned the foulest to good. Nothing can taint her soul. Would that I had been given such gifts. Self-deprecation tightened his shoulders for how selfish was such a wish?
“Yes, little flower?” he answered for hearing her voice gave him nothing but joy. He did not deserve to his dark estimation, heart sinking to added guilt.
“Does it cost a lot to take care of me?”
He blinked just once and quickly. Gazing down at that little face with lower lip worried and gnawed.
“It’s more than worth it, my Aeris. Caring for you is a joy not a chore.”
“But…does it cost a lot?”
He tossed his hair back and caught her hands. The little Cetra squeezed them now, and with a small smile he answered that gentle. “You’re persistent, aren’t you, little rose?” The general’s expression grew truer while he kissed her on the crown. “The cost means nothing to me, Aeris. I wish I could spend more. You want so little, and I have surplus.” Blood money. The pain hurt more than erupting wing. “When I was a true general so long ago. The highest ranked earns a high salary. Then…centuries of interest.” Her confusion eased torment nor could he help the gentle laugh. “I’ll have to explain that to you, won’t I?”
Aeris made to answer, but yawned again. A little high hum escaped her lips as she laid her head back on his chest. Sephiroth brushed her cheek with his knuckles, and the Cetra gave them a kiss. His fist stalled in its place against her soft lips. No matter how often this sweetness happened, the general’s gratitude grew no less. Neither did hers for his always kept promise that he would never strike her. His jaw clenched in anger for what she’d endured and never for Aeris herself. She kissed him again, trembling this time as cruelest memory made her whimper.
“Never, my flower,” he ensured her again. “Neither now nor eternity. No fist, no whip, nor anything else will injure you ever again. No one will beat you, my tiny, soft rose.” He slid his arms more securely around.
“Thank you, my general. Thank you so much.” She wept for this wonderful promise, but Sephiroth had to shake his head.
“I can no more accept your thanks for this than I can for non-violation. You are no ones to rape, to beat or abuse.”
“D-Decency, right, general?”
“That’s right.” He placed his lips on her brow for the briefest and sweetest of seconds.
“And…laws?” The struggling smile grew true to his own. He was pleased. B-But that’s not what matters, she thought in some awe as he returned to the computer. What matters is…me, a-and not because I matter to him. Though that is wonderful because he matters to me. He matters so very much…
“Do you earn a lot for being mayor?” she asked, peering at the screen again. All the figures were fuzzy to sleepiest summer and her hand covered another yawn. The low gentle chuckle caused Aeris to gasp as her eyes fluttered closed at sensation.
“It’s a respectable amount,” he told her while inputting more information, “though I don’t keep it.”
“What do you mean, general?” Aeris asked resettling the covers around her small form. Using his thick forearms for her support, the little Cetra pushed up from her seat. She pulled the excess from beneath before plopping back down on his lap. Nestling her bottom firmly in, Aeris covered her legs as she sighed. She was overjoyed no motion caused her pain even without medication.
Sephiroth’s fingers froze over the keys as jade swallowed pupils so slim. He forced a taut mask he’d not break with a blink, as this tiny flower still squirmed. He wished to berate himself again for a monster, but remembered she had asked a question.
“I…don’t need it, little one. I have no need of more money. I have plenty and more to spare. My mayor’s salary goes back to the town. It’s added into the monthly budget.” Tapping his lips, the general pondered. “This may be the reason I keep the position as someone else would probably take pay.” He typed a few things, but stalled once more as Aeris shifted again. She squirmed a bit longer, and he shut his eyes, chancing to open just one glancing down. Her ear was pressed against his heart as her hands curled at his chest. Sephiroth circled her waist with one arm, holding his flower secure. It would not stop her squirming if that’s what she wished. He would never force her to be still.
Aeris gazed up at him, wetting her lips and he bent to that invitation. Untainted sweetness filled his mouth and a brush to her neck stilled the maid. She could only quiver as soft sliding knuckles teased the skin beneath her chin. He left kisses like rain on her lips and brow, both checks, tender temples, and throat. The little Cetra quivered from her core through her skin unknowing where the next would fall. Then Aeris let loose a piteous wail and the general ceased all motion. He lessened his grip around the Cetra and braced his heart for her escape, but Aeris still sat there weeping for both the past and the joy it so stole. She covered her face so blessed by those kisses as grievous apology rained down.
“I’m so sorry, Aeris. I’m so very sorry. I was being too forceful with you. I know what you’ve suffered, the horror and pain. Let me beg you for forgivene-”
“N-No…” She sniffed and looked up at him. “No, that’s not it at all.” Burying her face in his black shirt, the Cetra slowly inhaled. This scent is my world. This breath is my life. “P-Please, master…hold me again.” And Sephiroth did despite blinding pain at that horrible title’s returned. Aeris hid herself against that dark fabric backed by the wall of his chest. Every second of breath reminding the maid where she was and where she was not.
“Your kisses are glory, G-Great General.”
The better title did not call a smile. His brow was full furrowed as Sephiroth stared down with Mako light unstill.
“It’s just…when I didn’t know where they would happen it reminded me…” She quaked, squeezing small fists.
“I understand, Aeris, and I’m so sorry my actions remembered such terror to you. I won’t do it again.”
“But general, I want it!” That caused a deep crease between his silver brows. Aeris pushed new tears from her face before Sephiroth sought a means of relief. Suppressing her sniffles, the Cetra considered that he must keep a supply just for her. L-Like the blankets or velvet lined leather coats. He’s…always thinking of me. “I want you to kiss me. I love it so much, and I loved what you were doing before. It’s so wonderful, so gentle, so kind. I…don’t want my past to steal this sweetness.”
A careful hand lifted to her and Aeris pressed her cheek to his palm. The warmth of it covered the whole of that side, while the gentlest thumb stroked the high bone. He could make no motion not cloaked in grace so even tentative leaning was smooth. Aeris looked up until the last moment when his lips met her brow. Her Great General held it there for long moments, wishing the promise could be driven in. That nothing would ever harm her again. That her safety was ever assured, but the past could never be so defeated. He knew that better than most.
“My flower,” he murmured against her skin while holding the tiny maid. “I don’t want your past to steal future joys either, and I never want you to fear. If you ever feel overwhelmed by anything, I want you to tell me, Aeris.”
“And I want you to always kiss me, general. What happened right now…it wasn’t you. It’s never you at all…”
“But I reminded you of the horrors you endured.”
“But…” She laid fingertips to his chest. “Your gentleness will override these horrors, and what you do won’t remind me of them.” She smiled to the sweep of moon silk on her face. “One day the kisses will outnumber the blows, and I want that day to come soon.” The yawn overtook her, and he returned her smile though sadness laced its seams.
“Do you wish to sleep, my little flower? Your yawns are fighting your speech.” He laughed as another overtook her next words. “And winning it would seem.”
“C-Can I nap…here, my general?” she asked clinging swift to his shirt. “Please, oh please, I just want to be near you. I…want to sleep safe in your arms.”
Mako eyes narrowed at what could’ve been fear as he encased her again. “Dear little rose, of course you can. I’d never deny this request. I…selfishly love it, too. I love holding you, Aeris. I’m happy you allow and can sleep peaceably in my arms.”
The Cetra sighed while turning her face to the solid wall of his chest. “L-Learning all that was a bit tiring,” she said as if giving an excuse. It was muffled within soft, velvet lining, but Sephiroth clearly heard. A gentle hand caressed the line of her jaw, and Aeris faced a mild expression.
“Little one, you need no excuse for ever being weary. Even were you not recovering, you wouldn’t need such, my Aeris. You have the right to exhaustion no matter if you did one or a thousand things.”
“M-Maybe one day,” she murmured, “I can stay awake without needing to take a nap.”
“Maybe one day you won’t judge yourself for needing one, my rose.” Her eyes were soft shut and he half smiled down, dimming cold emerald light. “I’ll always be here, little flower,” he promised, clutching his elbows with ease. Messy chestnut tumbled over, melding with silver on her face. “You’re beautiful. Do you know that, my Aeris? You’re beyond what I deserve to see.” He sealed his lids ashamed in that moment for corruption lit innocence.
“Master?” she called with quavering voice. The dream had been short, but savage.
“Yes, little one?” he answered, keeping those slivers still veiled.
“Wh-What does a true general do?” Her fist tightened upon his black shirt as she tried to will better visions.
“A true general…” Sephiroth sighed, hesitating only a moment to lay a soft kiss to her brow. The tension flowed out of her in that instant, as the fallen exhaled in relief. The little Cetra opened one sleepy green eye to her guardian’s introspection. “A true general,” he finally said, “defends the weak, protects the helpless, and oversees those who should do the same.”
Aeris sat up so the ear to his chest could better hear his heart. Though always steady and strong in its beat, the Cetra could still divine pain. “Then…you are a true general.”
The so-named blinked slowly as slivers slid over his rose with nary a cut. “I…suppose now I am, Aeris. Now, I truly am. Though I lead no armies and fight no battles, the truth of that finally endures.”
Satisfied, Aeris fell asleep with a smile. Sephiroth kissed her brow once more and hoped her next dream would be bright.