Update: Another artwork update from my lovely illustrator who now has an Etsy shop you should check out! I’m so happy the artwork for this chapter is completed, as I had to remove the one that was here prior, so I’m overjoyed to have a custom made replacement.
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.
Sephiroth returns to hunting for monsters on the outskirts of the town, though he reflects, in thinking of Aeris, that their boundaries exceed his borders. Monsters “hunt” her, too, and she asks him for something the fallen can scarcely believe.
The sea was as hushed as it could be and the stars above only spoke silence. In language unmeant for mortal ears, and he had no wish to heed them. The sky and him could never be friends, his guilt and its dark bound together. Nor did he need the moon to hunt, but that crescent still carved him a horn. It shimmered pale hair and paler skin and gave the stars something to mourn.
Sephiroth dared to raise his head and face eternity’s night. He could see farther than any man and Mako light pierced the expanse, but nothing marred that glittered bed of stars and swells and past horrors. The latter existed in memories depths, tied to the threads of his flesh. He was of it, but he was himself, the shell of general filled again.
Sand barely shifted beneath his boots, and the waves made more sound than he. The high cliffs so ringing held monstrous reek, and he wrinkled his nose for the stench. Killing would bring him release but no joy. He thought of his flower abed. Her tiny hands curled upon her pillow, as she slept safe and warm, wrapped in blankets. He’d covered her when the dark poem was complete. The more morbid called slumber so swift. A somber thought lined Sephiroth’s brow, and he wondered if verse lured dark dreams. He shook that away as darker replaced for the century she had borne.
Pulling the Masamune from between, the general greeted it like an old friend. Though he sighed and bowed his head for it remembered all the blood it’d been given. It rang on the perfect steel, as his own blood sang within. Infused in the blade on the day of its forging. Like me the sword is accursed. It’s fitting then we should be kin.
Aeris drifted again to his mind. How safe she was, while he, the fallen, stalked night’s greatest horrors. No, that’s a lie. The worst are in Midgar skulking in their human skins. His left hand clenched on the great sword’s hilt for he was the worst type of fiend. Parading around in his angel’s face as if he deserved such beauty. Yet Aeris, his Aeris, as he was allowed, gazed upon him in utter awe. Beyond grateful to him that now she was safe, protected, and cared for at last. What else could I do? I owe you so much. Bright eyes found the pitiless sky. Holding you in my arms is more than a blessing. My fallen heart doesn’t deserve. How many times has sweet slumber found you in my unworthy grasp?
The next part never grew easier. He was just used to the pain. The agony of flesh and bone tearing around the black of that wing. It hurt each and every time, but the absence hurt far worse… If I’m going to kill monsters I may as well be one. Never was darkness called where eyes lived to see. The folk of the Whispers knew what he was, but there was no need for them to bear witness. Familiarity had breed fondness, not quite fear, and definite respect. They seemed almost proud of their preternatural mayor whom all still called “general.”
The hiss that ensued was completely expected, and Sephiroth stepped to the side, bisecting the creature with barely a flick so blood black as ichor did steam. Viscera erupted before the split seams, but he spun away uncorrupted. Night’s eyes glowed here at the cliffs’ base that ringed the Whispers round, but his were brighter among their thin slits, though numbers make enemies bold. His second dance of the night began, spun through blood symphony. Screeches and roars heralded his passage, while claws swiped and jaws shut on air. The Masamune unhindered by bone left death in its shimmering wake, and Sephiroth half-flew half-ran up those stones while creatures rained deadly down.
He thought of his Aeris safe in her bed as he twisted a thick neck to snap. This with his off hand for his left held a skewer of writhing flesh split around. The crack of the bone contorted his features as he remembered thin broken fingers. From the shadows, scavengers slunk to gorge themselves on reddest feast. No matter how many monsters he killed, there were always some left to feed, and the crunching caused him clench his jaw, recalling frail fingers once more. He imagined her screams as stick thin bones shattered beneath brutal hands.
It would just take a step, Sephiroth thought. I could be there in less than a blink. Within Mako cold the flames roared in wrath and his grip would’ve crushed a base sword, but the Masamune had his blood and could withstand its master’s strength.
He slid through the air, but not to Midgar, rather to the south side of town. The crags and caves were deeper here, but they were no match for Mako. Smaller monsters hissed and squealed in the gleam that called them out. They were more nuisance to the Great General than true battle like the ones on the cliffs, but to a seeker of a nighttime sail or gods forbid a child, their numbers could overwhelm. He hunted them out, these rats in the walls, though several rodents would make these a meal. He hated to do it, even for foes, but mind meddling would draw them forth. His eyes blazed like neon, spilling chill over to coat his pale skin and long lashes. Once they were summoned, rage drove the attacks, but the sword made a feast of their flesh. Blood coiled and spun drawing arcs in the air, but never glutting that metal sheen.
The gurgle of ocean drowned out running red on the surrounding sands. This cove was a favorite of elders and youths with enough space by the water to walk. Perhaps one day soon even Aeris will venture…and such thought spurred his “cleansing” on. Never by day were monsters reported, and he wanted that to be absolute. Sephiroth sniffed, scenting between the blood that their numbers had been duly quelled. Scratching diminished to gnawing on flesh, and he scowled for eternal return.
Outside the stars remained the same, and the fallen glared up hiding sorrow. Their light laid false tears upon his dry face, as he turned away from that sky. The sea hushed and muttered like a grey crone, chiding the winter white sands. The Great General left brief footprints, staring out towards the seam that morning would soon cut against. In sudden decision, he spread that black wing and with only one beat was aloft. Letting a smile loosen his face as the salt air lined feathers and hair. A few fluttered down to taint the pale beach or be lost in the ends of dark waves. Even above the sleeping Whispers, Sephiroth still shunned sight of the sky. It consented to hold him. even with just one wing, as he sailed within star strewn vaults. He chose instead to scrutinize his “city” and ensure no darkness did roam. No darkness but me…who can fly above by some grace that is ever unknown.
The moon had dipped deeper like a fading horn when Heaven’s Gate came into view, and Sephiroth soundlessly sank to the sands before the steps leading up. Silver hair spun still locked in its braid as he tossed his head with a half grin. No bangs blocked his sight, but it was too long ingrained, that motion to clear his face. His wing black as mourning shivered away leaving no trace it had ever been, and the Great General scooped up slippered shoes as even wingless he flew up those stairs.
He cleaned the great sword as always, though it would never stain nor rust. It had his blood and the “corruption” within would restore even steely veins. No gore graced his leather or pristine pale skin, not a drop marred his silver hair. It was a good hunt and none had seen him to cry either glory or bane. Sephiroth stripped the gloves from his hands pondering which would be worse. He wanted neither worship nor fear and was happy with just acceptance. Though do I deserve it? Have I made up for all the wrongs of my past?
He unbound his hair and tossed silver splendor so it flew in freedom behind. His bangs high as ever framed angelic face as he undid the straps of his coat. He needed no sight for this common task, and the leather slid smooth from his shoulders. Hanging it on his own grand canopy, and the bed, though ornate, was quite lonely. He needed no sleep and often found nightmares instead of a sightless reprieve.
Though blood rarely found him, Sephiroth always sought his shower’s solace afterwards. The water was hotter than plain flesh could bear, but his skin blushed nothing but pale. No matter the heat, no matter the soap, it never quelled angel’s scent. The general rolled Mako eyes still open for shampoo could affect no sting. The greatest irritation was how the foam did knit luxurious lashes. He lowered his head to rinse his face, suffering annoyance at plastered hair.
Even after all these years, Sephiroth felt overdone. The raining water matched his sigh, as the Great General slid soap on a shoulder. Eugenics had given him height and strength, the latter forever unmatched, but might had come at the cost of corruption worming its way through his veins. He had the most of the alien cells, and fueled by old lies, he’d been doomed. The memory brought back centuries’ pain, but he was used to it like an old scar.
Sephiroth ran the soap over his stomach, each muscle just as flawless. No scars here and no imperfections. His skin would never burn. The taint in his veins caused regeneration that would not even allow a base tan. So, he was the pale, the pure winter angel, standing out more in the seaside town. Rinsing his hands, he tilted his head to slick silver away from his face. It shimmered like rain all the way down his back, so freed past the back of his knees. He was used to it, too. The length never hindered no matter the arduous task. The general only bound it to hunt just because it was convenient. He could make the blood dance with moonlight so free, but there was no need for such arrogance now.
Silencing the shower, he rung out his hair and blinked the spare wet from his lashes. The twisted mane yielded enough moisture to quench a garden’s thirst, and Sephiroth released to rewind and squeeze the worst of the wetness away. Not even a knee-length thick silver mane could resist the strength of those hands, though it was hale, too, for not one strand was lost to block gurgling drain. He wondered then if each hair on his crown was as ancient as he. The term bowed his head. He was not an Ancient. He knew that lost truth now. Would that I’d known it before…
The bathroom was dark, for he needed no light, and was far more spare than hers. Within the mirror, he debated passing a brush through the silver skein. It was already drying due to his heat, but he gazed up to the glass instead. Emerald froze painting (and ever uncaring) that face so haunted by beauty. Appearance meant nothing to such a creature as he, buried under the weight of all sins.
He sighed to hide the rue away. This life was a study in that. It was also a way to make up for the wrongs that he could never undo. They would all be dead now anyway. Well…most of them at least. I cannot blame myself for the others no matter how much I might try. Does she remember? Does she recall? The slightest crease marred his smooth brow.
The general slipped on black pants and black shirt, leaving the latter unbuttoned. Skin and hair made stark contrast as Mako did brilliantly gleam. The rush of the sea sealed them for a moment, and Sephiroth breathed deeply in. That great sighing beast was always soothing, reminding him that monsters could be tamed.
With nightmares alive in the light of his eyes, the general shunned simple slumber. He found useful tasks to fill the long evenings; hunting monsters or mayoral work. Sometimes slight pleasure was garnered from books, and Sephiroth sighed again. The library here held no horrors. It contains fiction like the one from the past, but now I know this truth.
A broad palm smoothed over the blanket as the general glanced down in thought. The grand mattress was an extra-long king. Though it saw spare use it made little sense to have one that would be useless. So long legs stretched to the very end, but his heels did not breach the edge. An ornate footboard guarded that boundary to match what rose at the head. He did shut his eyes to black fringed splendor splayed on the frost of his cheeks.
Sephiroth half-smiled without his behest to see himself at Aeris’s door. Knocking soft to announce there was breakfast and considering he’d make something new. It has been approximately four weeks give or take a day. She was well past the point of needing bland food, and her limbs were healing nicely. He no longer needed to bandage them daily, and the limp was fading, too. Granted she spent more time in his arms. Emerald eyes partially opened. The joy grew fully on his face at such an astounding privilege. Holding that tiny maid in his embrace, ever ensuring her safety, calming her fears almost shattered all of the dark from his past.
The Great General could not even imagine being less than gentle with Aeris. She needed it more than any ere seen in this life of the last. She was so small, so frightened and frail, nor had any abuse been more brutal, but Sephiroth had to cease that dark thought lest the wrath leak from hard shut eyes. The fire within him had never died, its purpose would just burn righteous. He wished his lips pressed to her brow could destroy all threads of terror, but the general never put stock in miracles and would not start such whimsy now. He folded his hands and pondered again what he could make her in the morning.
Tea had been her drink of choice, but her curiosity for coffee was blatant. Though she couldn’t enjoy it as he did, blacker than oil and bold as a bell that rang through deepest night. It was a vestige of his true general days that he still drank every day. He imagined her taking the smallest of sips and her little face screwing right up. It’d be more than endearing as he softly chuckled, offering water to rinse it away. She’d clutch his hand between her two and thank him to his chagrin. Calling him, “Master.” His visage fell in frown for that title ever false. Sephiroth tried to separate thinking about her from remembering how she had suffered. It was impossible since it bled from her skin in gratefulness and fear.
Every breath and beat of her heart proclaimed the highest gratitude. The little maid blessed him every day, kissing the hands that had shed her blood. He’d force the mask to cover his face, staring down at this trembling display. He wanted to tell her, “No, little one…” fall to his knees and confess all his crimes, but what couldn’t be fear now clutched at his soul for her horror would break even hale heart. And what else but horror could she reveal if she remembered all I have done. I must tell her. I’m filth for this silence, even more so as I know how it burns. Silence is only an unspoken lie when the truth sleeps beneath your breath. Sephiroth’s jaw was clenched like his hands in pale mockery of prayer. He could not pray though he looked like an angel…another mockery ever cruel.
Wrathful Mako poured over his lashes though slivered eyes remained closed. What can I give her? What can I do? She needs time to heal before my ‘truth.’ An ice white lily graced his thoughts, shivering in the slums. A flower? he pondered. Well she is my rose. The highest of the flowers does deserve the grandest garden. I wonder…do lilies grow by the sea?
“No, no!! Please don’t leave me here! I promise I’ll be good!”
Her scream was heartrending to his tattered heart as emerald seared the air. His room was only down the hall and no distance for an angel in flight.
“Aeris, it’s me!” Sephiroth called through her door before lighting the dark with deep green. He expected her thrashing in throes on her bed, but the Cetra fell into his arms.
“Master, please don’t leave me here! I’m sorry I disobeyed.” She looked up with horror filling each tear as she scrabbled against his chest. “I’ll be good, master! I promise I will! I’ll do anything you want!” Squeezing her fists between opened buttons, she buried her face in his scent. “Don’t leave me in Midgar. Don’t leave me with them. Don’t leave me here to be used!”
“Aeris, Aeris, please wake up,” her protector pleaded. “You’re here in the Whispers, safe with me. I would never leave you in danger.”
“Please, master, please pick me up,” she begged him still hiding her face.
The words had barely passed her lips before the little maid’s wish was done. Now she buried her face near his shoulder among the silver soft strands. Those slender arms around his neck would’ve been lovely if not for her fear, but his sealed around in unbreakable strength seemed to thicken her sobs.
“Please don’t ever drop me, master! Please don’t give me back!” He turned his head and kissed her brow, his eyes shut so tightly they hurt. “Please don’t take your protection away and let them use me again.” Her thighs clenched together in spasm’s remembrance, and Sephiroth saw that city in flames, a conflagration greater than the last to know a less righteous wrath. “I don’t want to be used.” The tears broke her voice. “I don’t want to be beaten. Please, master, don’t let them hurt me! It hurts. It hurts so very much! I don’t want to be hurt anymore! Please, master, keep me safe! Please don’t ever leave me…”
“Aeris…” His low voice rolled through the doom that had stolen this flower’s rest. “Never entertain such thoughts, such horrors, or dark drenched dreams. I will never allow them to harm you again. They will not have fingers to grasp. I’ll remove every part that ever hurt you. Every single one I will hunt down like the monsters I killed this night. I will rip through their minds and tear out the truth but leave their wits intact. They will know what they did. They will know why they suffer, and they will die unable to scream.” He laid his head against the Cetra’s and could not witness what such words would bring, but he owed her this truth if he could not give the other, and Aeris did not pull away. Little whimpers still scorched her throat, and Sephiroth took a long breath. “You are mine forever, and you always will be. My strength is ever your shield, and my sword is your protection.” He opened his eyes then for he deserved her revulsion for invoking the cause of her death, but Aeris had none in her trembling lips nor the tear washed pink of her face. The general shifted her higher and close. As she shook he was still as a stone. “I would never just drop you, Aeris,” he said. “I’m not that kind of monster.”
“You’re not a monster, master.” She dared raise an eye where dream webs still spun to his face both grim and angelic. “You…won’t ever drop me, master, on the hard, cold ground?”
“No, little one, I’m your protector.” Pain lowered his voice, and Sephiroth had to turn away. “I…am no true angel, but I’ll be one for you…if that will destroy this fear.”
The Cetra’s frail hand quivered to lift and lay itself on his cheek. She hadn’t the strength to turn his face, but the general wouldn’t deny her. Cast in the light around shiver thin pupils, the flower maid gleamed in pure awe. “You are my angel, master,” she whispered then kissed him on the cheek. Re-wrapping her arms around his neck, Aeris sighed to savored truth. She was safe. She was held. This was real now. The other was a dream of before.
“I asked you to pick me up, master, because I was hurt. My ankle was broken and bruised. I was afraid and I was alone sitting before the sea. I couldn’t stand up because of my leg. You did pick me up. Then the sea disappeared, and we were b-back in Midgar. Back in my…church. I started to scream, and you shook me and said this was why…”
“It’s well, little flower,” he vowed once again. “You don’t have to continue.”
“I want you to know though, greatest master.” Her arms squeezed around his broad shoulders. “You told my old master I was no good. You didn’t want me, because I’m a bad slave. I begged you and begged you to show me mercy. I asked what I had done, but you just dropped me on the hard ground. O-Opened your arms and just let me fall.” Terror glued her again to his neck. “I…was naked and chained again, and my old master’s look promised pain. I screamed and struggled and called for you, but I’m just a weak, little slave. You stepped away without looking back, and paradise left me forever.”
“Aeris…” he murmured, shaking his head, forever denying this horror. Silver flowed forth, obscuring his face and shielding hers with moon’s ashes. She needed to speak to let this pain ring in the air before fading to mist.
“All of it, master…started again. The beatings, abuse, the starvation, but it was worse because I remembered that once I had lived in your arms…” She shuddered now silent, hiding her face, and Sephiroth held her close to his heart.
“Oh, little flower, how cruel is this world to give you such terrible dreams. I would never leave you, especially not there. I would burn your church to ashes ere that.” His voice pulsed so low and dark fire seethed beneath the weight of his tone. Again, the general fought stinging guilt to invoke such evil deeds, but Aeris relaxed to darkest words spinning like poetry. She kept adjusted her arms on his wide shoulders, whimpering for fear of dreams. She wasn’t strong enough to hold herself up and even if she could, he was far stronger. He’d shatter her fingers and throw her down. Aeris could not bear the thought.
“M-Master,” she whimpered, “will you put me down gently? I’m so sorry, master. I’m so very sorry. I just can’t-”
“Of course I will, Aeris.” Sephiroth lowered the maid to the floor where she fell back into his embrace.
“I just want to live in your arms forever. I just want to be safe and warm.” Those arms closed fully around the small Cetra and her tears turned soft with joy. She pulled herself close and he controlled crushing grip, looking down to always ensure. “It’s all I want. Please, master, please don’t ever take your protection away!” Her tiny hands curled against his chest every finger in violent tremble. Aeris let his scent wash over her telling herself, This is real. This is real. My dreams can’t find me wrapped in my great master’s arms. Silver hair tumbled against her face, as Sephiroth gazed sadly down.
“Aeris…” Just her name on his low voice carried with it soft command. The little Cetra raised her eyes to emerald washing the gloom. Even half lowered lids and lashes resplendent couldn’t quell what lit that visage. “You will always be safe. You will always be shielded, and you’ll live in my arms if you wish. My protection is yours beyond all of forever. That is my primary job. That’s what I’m for now, my tiny rose, the task I must always fulfill. There is nothing in heaven on earth or below that could sunder this eternal vow. No one will ever hurt you again. Filth will no more touch. What happened in darkness was abomination, what you endured was beyond all wrong. I would’ve given all that I have to take you from that hell. What I did give meant nothing compared to your wellbeing, and I will burn that place to ruin and paint the ashes with their blood.” Mako blazed and sent shadows screaming to the corners of her room.
Aeris buried her face in the wall of his chest, and Sephiroth cursed demonic words. It was too late to cage them, too late to recant, and they were only a hint of the monster. “I’m sorry, little one.” He could only regret and hope she wouldn’t pull wailing away.
“N-No master,” the Cetra whispered meeting frigid eyes. “Please don’t be. It’s…the only salvation it has. What once was holy is now desecrated. What was pure is now utterly fouled.” She re-hid her face and tears took her over for agony’s double speech. A careful finger lifted her chin, while he shook his head to negate. Just that small motion rejected the lie before it could truly be uttered.
“You are a darling, innocent, little maid,” he said to dispel all her doubts.
Aeris blinked away tears and pouted a bit. “What does ‘innocent’ mean, master?”
And despite it all Sephiroth smiled. He shifted his arms around the Cetra, squeezing her with such care. Never before had the general so needed to be in control of his strength. “It means ‘pure, guileless, and without wrong.’ It means you, my Aeris. It always has, and it always will.”
“B-But…” She bit her trembling lip, and his brows lifted in expectation. “How can I be pure, gentle master? I’ve been taken thousands of times.”
Sephiroth tilted his head to the side as emerald light cooled on his face. “Do you truly believe their heinous crimes could diminish your purity? You are innocent forever, my Aeris. No brutal act of a thousand cowards can change this unalterable truth.”
She shut her eyes to such sweet words, while spare salt made taut her face. The little Cetra fully yawned then glanced up in surprise for his chuckle. The shadows were deepest to prove it still night and Mako gleamed gentler now.
“Master?” she murmured. “Will you-” Aeris swallowed.
“Will I what, little flower? You need only ask. I’ll do anything for you.”
“Will you…” Her little hands curled now to beseech him, and Sephiroth frowned to her pleading. “Will you hold me…I mean while I’m sleeping. I know you’re holding me now.”
A gentle half grin lifted his lips, and he placed a kiss on her crown. “Nothing would make me happier, Aeris, to hold you and ensure you you’re safe. I will never say no to you, little flower. Whatever you wish I’ll provide.”
He swept the maid up and laid her back down in the midst of the rumpled sheets. Those covers could’ve fought a storm and had a less torn affect, but it was nothing to fix the bedclothes around her little body once more. Aeris closed her eyes as Sephiroth slipped in beside to hold her face to face. One arm burrowed under and one slid atop as he pulled her beneath his chin.
“Is this well, little flower?” he asked to make sure, and the small sound of joy filled his heart.
“Master…it’s wonderful. Thank you so much. Th-They can’t touch me now.”
“No, little flower.” He kissed her brow. “Now even your dreams will be guarded.”
Sephiroth wouldn’t risk sleeping himself for nightmares might make him writhe. The mere thought of harming this sweet little rose caused the fallen to feel more than vile. Even by accident no sin could be worse than hurting the Cetra again.
Aeris inhaled so slowly to savor the scent of vanilla and winter. It was her whole world and lived in the length of silver hair spilling around. Blindly her fingers found those soft strands where never a tangle would form. Sliding against the tender skin in between, his hair licked against her slim arms. He’d wrapped Aeris completely in the blankets to hold her within their folds, and with her eyes shut the little maid knew not whether his hair or hers brushed her cheeks. Beneath her ear his heart beat strong and steady as the pulse of the world. Unfaltering and unhurried, she still frowned to sorrow’s notes.
“Are you warm enough, Aeris?” Still low through his chest, Sephiroth ensured his voice was quiet, but the Cetra just smiled loving that tone that would dispel darkest dreams.
“Yes, master.” She nestled against his chest, letting her hands curl upon. “I’m so warm and so safe in your arms.”
“It is well then.” He kissed her brow. His long silver forelocks trailed over her crown in a sweet, messy morass of hair.
“I love kisses, master.” The little maid yawned, and his low laugh was sweet in her ear. He gave one to her temple, easy to reach, and halved his lids as she slipped into slumber.
Aeris awoke to the smell of vanilla and that steady beat hiding despair. A never-ending lullaby that promised much more than sweet dreams. Muted light spilled over her bed and the sea sighed slightly impatient. She opened her eyes so sleepy in summer and yawned still against his chest. He’d positioned her head to lay upon pillows so the Cetra wasn’t too stiff. It doesn’t matter. I awoke in a bed, unbeaten, unused, and unharmed.
“Master?” she murmured. “It’s morning again.”
“Yes, little one, so it is.” Aeris tilted up, and he was the same as he’d been the night before. Eyes half lidded and long lashes splayed so dark against pale cheeks. Neither veils stopped the green luminescence that would conquer clinging gloom.
“I-I’m still here.” She wriggled a bit closer, and Sephiroth shifted his grasp. “I’m still here, safe…with you.”
“Always, my Aeris.”
She buried her face in fragrant hair with joy too great to believe. “I’m…in your arms, master, wrapped in your strength. You never once let me go.”
“Of course, you are. You asked me to hold you. I’d never forsake such a vow. I’m so fortunate, my little flower, that you allowed this grace.”
“Grace, master?” She stretched a bit.
“Yes, I’m lucky you let me hold you.”
The Cetra searched angelic face, seeking for the jest. That she had the power of command. That she could refuse his touch. But I did it before. Asked him to release me, a-and he immediately did. It’s been twenty-nine days and his words have proved true. He hasn’t beaten or used me.
“I trust your dreams were more light filled?” the general asked as the breeze swayed the drapes.
“Yes, master,” she answered. “They certainly were all because you were there.”
Sephiroth raised a brow at that and what smile he’d worn diminished. “You… dreamt of me, Aeris?”
“Yes, master, I did.” She laid her hands upon his shoulders. They were just as solid and as unyielding as they’d been the night before. The little Cetra sighed relief to another absolute. “I dreamt they tried to hurt me again.” Her voice did quiver to that, and Sephiroth sealed his thin lids tight, but the light behind showed only blood.
I cannot protect her in her dreams. Only an arrogant fool would believe such nonsense.
“I…was back in my church,” Aeris continued, daring to touch the pain on his face. He gave her his gaze for she deserved that. She was speaking and he should heed. “It was like the beginning when I was first…taken. I screamed and called for you. And then you were there. Master, you were there. You appeared like an angel of light. Crowned in glory like dripping pearls, bearing a great long sword. I…felt as though I’d seen that before, but my memory holds no wound.” Utter grief rode the general’s face as he covered the hand on his cheek. “You moved faster than I could even blink and killed them all in the midst of one breath. They didn’t even have time to scream before you cut them apart. Then you came for me, a-and I was frightened because the light in your eyes was…strange, but then it receded, and I knew you again as you took me into your arms.”
“I’m so sorry, Aeris. Please forgive me.” He had to whisper lest his voice break.
The Cetra blinked up into his closed eyes. “Master, why are you sorry? You saved me even in dreams. They couldn’t touch me. As long as you hold me, I’m forever safe. Not even my nightmares can rise. You’ll just cut them down and I’ll never be hurt. I’ll just call for you…my powerful master, my wonderful angel of light. I’m so very thankful you bought me that day. You brought me to paradise. None can withstand you. No one can beat you. I’m so glad you’re gentle and good.”
Sephiroth’s eyes had squeezed tighter and tighter to every sweet, cutting word. I am now, my Aeris, but once I was darkness, and it’s never been shed from my soul. The ‘angel of light’ was once a façade. Does the veneer now truly match? She threw her arms around his neck, and he had to answer, holding her close, shielding the maiden from enemies true and unseen.
“You are my angel of light, great master, my glorious protector. You’ll never let anything hurt me again.”
The once fallen let emerald shine in the new day before kissing her on the cheek. “I am, my Aeris…” He had to accept. “Because you believe it, I must be an angel for true.”
Sephiroth rose to Aeris’s sigh, giving her privacy to dress. Besides he wished to prepare what he’d thought that last evening ere her ordeal. A soft, little call brought him back when breakfast was nearly made. The Cetra maid stood with ribbon in hand, blinking at him from her door. In finest garb, a dress of pale winter, heightened with hints of blue. Robbed of words for the dark, immense presence that gazed in benevolence down. He guessed what she wished without the request and swept his rose up in one arm.
“Thank you, master,” she whispered. “Thank you so much. Thank you for caring for me.”
“There’s no need for thanks, little one,” he murmured as slender arms slid round his neck. “Protecting and caring for you is my job.” He carried Aeris to her vanity. In the glass, green called to green, lighting both eyes and torn hearts. “The best job I’ve ever known…”
He braided her hair, twin ties at the forelocks, wrapping around her crown. The bright blue ribbon adorned at the juncture where the two plaits became one. Both flowed down the waves like deep diving fish in cascading chestnut mane. Aeris wished her hands could fly half so fast or remember the dance to bind, but they were still clumsy and held to her crown could only recall coldest chains. Sephiroth tried to reteach in silver, but her fingers just slid through smooth silk. She forced her tears back in futility, and he kissed her, lamenting the past.
“It’s well, little one. You’ll remember one day. Until then I’ll do this small service.”
“Master, you’re so kind to me,” she whispered as long fingers flew. She did try to follow his hands near her face, but it was done almost ere she could blink. He’d bless her with ribbons with hair clips or crowns, little tiaras that gleamed with true jewels. Each gem worth a fortune but never enough to amount what her joy meant to him. They went downstairs together this time so Aeris could break her fast. Just as envisioned, the coffee did cause that dear little face to screw up, but his laughter was more subdued in practice for what she’d just endured.
By the bright window, Sephiroth held her hands, while the little maid dared to gaze out. He kissed her brow before promising that he’d returned before long. She had his number and all that she needed to occupy her time. Books and the laptop he’d bought just for her and the means to procure other wants. Aeris pressed quivering lips to his hand, shyly threading their fingers together. His smile at that reached cold Mako eyes. Why does he think them so cruel?
The Cetra read while he was away and fingered the phone by her side. She knew she was safe. She told herself this over and over again. The soft cushioned couch welcomed her in, and music pealed joyous around. She could control it with her phone, too, the device becoming less foreign.
For lunch, as for always, she’d plenty to choose, and the little maid tried not to weep. The abundance of options where once she’d had none and would bless moldy scraps from the floor. Afterwards Aeris did sit by the window to watch the wind skirl through the waves. The night they had sought them still spun through her mind, and loveliness soaked memory. But now she quaked to merely imagine venturing upon the sands. Horror recalled her prior night’s vision as broken bones blazed with pain. It had been daylight in her dream when he’d taken her back to that hell. The Cetra’s eyes clenched as tight as her fists before the sea soothed with a sigh. Echoing ocean with deep cleansing breath, she returned to the couch and its comfort. The laptop she opened, but swift fell asleep in a nest of blankets and books. The cover shrouded from shoulder to toe, and Aeris just wished it were leather.
When she opened her eyes, her wish had turned real, and she was wrapped in leather lined heat. Cool only in fragrance, the scent bested dreams, a world of vanilla and frost. Sephiroth was sitting cross-legged beside, loosely holding her book in his hand.
“Oh!” The Cetra jumped to sit up and the Great General instantly caught her. “You’re back, master.” She climbed onto his lap. “You came back…” And laid her head to his chest. Shutting her eyes, the flower maid tried not to whimper in overflowed joy. He gathered her to him ensconced in his coat surrounded by strength and warmth.
“Of course I did, Aeris.” He kissed her crown. “Are you hungry? I made you dinner.”
She burst into tears and he had no words as salt coated his fingers like dew. Sniffling, the Cetra clung to his shirt awash in silver silk. She turned her face to not soil the lovely, and Sephiroth cleaned damp salt away. He gazed down at her in gentle care, unconcerned with soaked moonlight and ash. The flower maid sniffed again with less sorrow, wiping her eyes of the residue.
“Master, the sea is in your hair, tinged with vanilla and frost.”
“Is it, my Aeris?” He tilted his head, standing with her in his arms. The little maid squeaked at the change in position, shifting her grip to his shoulders.
“Yes, greatest master. It’s so wonderful…”
Dinner smelled different though she couldn’t say better, and it was sooner than normal to eat, but she had woken early due to dark dreams as the sun set the stage for rose eve. When dusk touched the sky though Aeris grew anxious to pace before fading day. Summer eyes widened as though nightfall called death, and a great shadow then fell upon.
“Aeris, what is it?” He cupped her small shoulders, and the maid jumped at the touch from behind. She did not see the mask nearly break, and he turned his face brief towards the sea. Sephiroth would’ve removed his palms, but she reached back for his hands. Twisting her gaze then back and up, her teeth pressed to trembling lip.
“I…don’t want to go, master…” The whimper was soft, but the fear in her eyes spoke loud.
The general narrowed sharpened emerald and his pupils were thin as a lash. “Where would you go, little one?”
“Walking, master,” she whispered. “I don’t want to go. Not tonight. I’m so afraid. It’s…because of that dream. I-I’m so sorry, master. P-Please don’t be angry. I know I should-”
Her guardian turned her around. Taking small hands in the expanse of just one, his gaze softened instantly. “My Aeris…we don’t have to go. What did I tell you, little flower?”
She blinked up agape, eyes darting like fish as she desperately tried to answer. The slight shake of his head and a palm to her cheek quieted trepidation.
“It’s always your choice. We’ll go when you’re ready and not a moment before.”
It couldn’t be helped. Aeris shut her eyes and tilted her cheek toward his hand. “Oh master, you skin is so…”
The general cocked his head, thumb brushing the wisps at her temple.
“Pale?” He offered with the hint of a smile.
“No…” she murmured swaying in the sensation as she forced her lids up to glance. “Well…yes, it’s that, too, but something else, master. Something about the way it feels.” The little Cetra placed her hand over his and rubbed her cheek on his warm palm. Sephiroth slid fingers over her face with careful knuckles beneath her chin. The flower maid sighed as she lifted her head, confused for what flew in her belly. “I-It isn’t rough, master. It’s nice against mine, but ‘soft’ isn’t the right word.”
“The term is ‘smooth,’ Aeris. Is that what you mean?”
“Yes, smooth!” She kissed his palm overjoyed. Mako flared bright at the touch of her lips, and Aeris grinned up in elation. “There are so many words for ‘gentle,’ great master, and I know them all because of you.”
“Not quite all, little one.” The flower maid trembled to hear him so pleased, followed by faintest blush.
“You make me feel so safe, great master. I need to feel safe right now.”
“You are always safe, my little flower,” Sephiroth assured. “We’ll stay in tonight if you so wish unless you want to watch by the sea-”
She flung herself quaking into his arms, which closed without conscious thought. As though I were made to be her protector. The thought was as brief as (he believed) foolish. I was made for war, death, and destruction even ere corruption tainted my soul.
“Please master no! Not even that. I don’t want to leave Heaven’s Gate. Please just let me live in your arms.”
“Little one.” Despite its softness that low voice held authority. “Look up at me.” And Aeris did as if he’d caught her will. Sephiroth hid his pain for that, while his forelocks caressed her cheeks. “You will live in my arms safe and warm if that is what you desire. We’ll venture outside again when you’re ready and not a moment before.” He crushed the maid closer still ever so careful to not abuse his might, but her sigh of relief showed this was still welcome and proof that his promise rang true.
“Master?” She lifted a hand to his chest, her forefinger against the black fabric. The general bent to kiss her crown where stray hairs swam against her lips. “I so love your strength. H-Have I told you that today?”
“Only a few times,” he replied not unkindly with half smile soft and amused. Dusk framed them in light, sparing lesser rays to set the sea aflame. Sephiroth shifted his gaze away, begging the dark thoughts dispel.
“I-Is anyone else as strong as you, master?”
“No, Aeris,” he said without pride. “There were…others, but they are long gone. I’m all that’s left of that tainted time.” And the most corrupt of them all.
“Good…” she whispered to quaking relief, which earned her one unseen blink. “I’m glad you’re the strongest. You’ve never hurt me, but if any were stronger…” She shook and suppressed plaintive cry. “B-But no one is. Right, great master?”
“That’s right,” he gently assured her, locking his grip around. Aeris sighed with her hands curled against his chest and allowed herself glance at the shore.
“Your arms are like an unbreakable wall.” She returned in adoration. The sands were pristine to the roll of dark waves, but he still drew summer eyes. Because I’m safe behind this shield here as well as out there.
The Great General chanced to rub her back, hiding pain when he brushed the spot. “I was created to be stronger than strong. To be better than all of the best. And I was…for a time.” His eyes pierced the window but did not touch sands instead they sheered centuries. Cutting through years like flesh around steel, bleeding past instead of blood. “It took death and blindness before I did realize what my true purpose was.”
“Y-Your purpose, master?” She stared up confused, and Sephiroth pulled her closer.
He looked back down where emerald had returned bearing residue of the mists. It faded but never completely away as he answered, “Protecting you, Aeris. That’s what I’m for. That’s why I live…again. It’s why I was giving another chance. I can repay the wrong I did and how I abused this strength.”
Summer shivered in her eyes like a thousand lost leaves. Adoring and awe blessed the Great General, and he wondered again what she remembered. Does she recall the pain? His hand squeezed at her back between shoulder blades where he knew no wound did dwell. He’d seen her flesh bare the day he’d found her. Just sharpened bone piercing blanched skin. And will it remember the mark I gave or has horror erased my dark sin?
“I love it so, master. I love your strength. You protect me. You shield me. I’m safe.”
“You give my life purpose, my little rose.” He bent and kissed the Cetra’s cheek, tasting the tears that grew there once more. She was incredibly tiny, so fragile, so soft, and she was his to guard. As I am her guardian. Is this truly my penance? My due for existence? There could be no sweeter price… Sephiroth tossed silver away as it caressed her face, and she smiled through the skein. “And not only do I protect you, my Aeris, but laws protect you, too.”
“Yes, little one. Rules and regulations by which all must abide.”
“Even you, perfect master?” she asked in full awe, as the sinking sun tried to paint silver.
“Yes, little flower, even me, and by law there is no slavery. I do not own you. You’re not my property, and I am not your master.” He hoped that this time Aeris would heed him and call his once curséd name, but the little maid only shuddered and hid her face in his chest once more.
“Th-Then who does, master?” The quaking increased to full blown terror through her broken soul. “Please not them!” Her voice grew as hoarse as far sands bereft of the sea. “You bought me. You saved me. I have to be yours.”
“I paid to free you, little one,” Sephiroth insisted holding her to his own grief. “I paid to take you from that hell. As I told you before I would’ve paid more. I could not have left you there.” Do you know what I am? I must tell you one day, and then face the hatred that will ensue… The Great General sighed and passed a hand through her hair. “You will always be my Aeris. That will never change. I didn’t mean to cause you fear. They will never find you. They will never touch you for they will have neither eyes nor hands to grasp…”
Aeris wet her lips and dared to look up at a face that could’ve been marble. Mako burned empty and cold for his visions, but then Sephiroth shifted his gaze down to her and it spun then with softer light. Melted to emerald, still cool in its hue, but not vowing death in each pulse.
“What’s stronger, master, you or laws?”
Sephiroth tilted his head, surprised he could smile so kind after thinking of horror. “That’s a bit of an abstract question.” He glanced slightly up, weighing his words as she gazed still in adoration. “Laws can be broken. My strength’s absolute, but it, too, has been broken before.”
“No, no, master! You said you were the strongest.” She hid her face in black leather again. Silver swept forward, cloaking the maid and whispering sweet assurance.
“I am the strongest, little one, but once even that wasn’t enough to forestall my defeat.” He cupped her chin to tilt her head up. “It was better that way, believe me, my flower, that time when I fell into darkness. My strength was not righteous, and I used it for ill…more than ill, abomination.”
“You’re good now, master.” She kissed his great hand, and the angelic mask threatened to break. “You’re good and you’re kind. You’re gentle and strong, and you said all those others were dead.”
“Yes…dead and gone now back to the Planet.” A place I can never go.
“I wish I could remember, master…my life before beatings and abuse.”
“One day you will, Aeris…” His voice remained caged in the well of what memory would bring. Daylight was fading like a candle burned low, but didn’t diminish the window’s light. Will she fall asleep again in my arms and bless me once more with that gift? How do I deserve this, the wonderful privilege of protecting this innocent maid?
“I’m so lucky, master,” Aeris whispered breathing his winter scent. “Beyond lucky that you found me and protect me forever more.”
“I’m lucky, too, Aeris. More than I deserve. It’s a privilege to guard you, to ever ensure you you’re safe.”
“You’re such a good protector, master,” she said to his hollow rue. “No one has hurt me since the day you carried me away.”
It’s the least I can do, my beautiful rose. He bent to kiss her brow. The little maid trembled, but he sensed no fear and that narrowed bright emerald eyes.
“Thank you for being so gentle with me, master.”
“That’s all I can be, little one.”
Sephiroth blinked and this time Aeris caught it. She gave a small, soft “Oh!” That tilted his head, and he blinked again. Long lashes swept soft on his cheeks.
“You don’t really do that!” Her own eyelids fluttered to a fast darting gaze. He laughed so low, shaking his head so silver shushed over her skin. Aeris shut her eyes fully to moonlight so swirled in vanilla and silver frost.
“No, little one. Cat eyes have no need. Very rarely will I indulge. Usually in surprise or to set folk at ease. My eyes can be a bit…chilling.”
“Not to me, master. They’re wonderful. You could find me in darkest night. That’s all that matters…that you could find me, and I’ll never be hurt again.” He bent once more to kiss her brow, and the noise she made filled his dark heart. “Gentleness and kisses,” the small Cetra whispered. “Th-That’s right, isn’t it, master?”
“Yes, Aeris that’s right. You will never know roughness or cruelty again. Those terrible days are dead.”
“I love kisses, master.”
Sephiroth slid one hand to her face, caressing his flower’s soft cheek. Warmth ruled in blush and summer was taking back the hollows beneath. Every day revealed more of the pink ingénue who’d once roamed the slums without fear.
But evil grew worse or finally found her, and the Planet gave no protection. As if to defy that cruel entity, the Great General swept her up. Her little squeak cut right through his soul as apology bathed her ears.
“No, master, it’s wonderful. I love when you hold me.” Her slender arms slipped around his neck as his powerful ones held her secure. Aeris closed her eyes, and the smile on her lips bested the setting sun. Slim fingers wove through the hair at his nape, joining a perfect weft. She whimpered a bit when he set her down but ceased when he cupped her chin.
“Open your eyes, little one,” Sephiroth said. She obeyed instantly and then squeaked. A vase filled with blooms of such hue and form adorned the living room table. The little maid lifted her hands to her mouth, breath echoing into her palms.
Aeris’s joy seeped through her skin, making Sephiroth’s smile more true. She tumbled forward to kneel at the table, and memory turned emerald to glass. The maid drew the vase toward her, breathing in multitude scents. Not a one was the same or from similar place, and she shook as she thumbed through the petals. Sephiroth forced the pain away to see his charge so posed. That darkness was over, and he’d brought her light, while the dew that now blessed them was salty.
White winter roses that grew as far north as flowers would dare to bear bloom. Then marigolds dusky, hardy, and hale born in a rocket’s shadow. Asters of purple deeper than night plucked from the fields around Kalm. Before the Mythril Mine of old he discovered poppies blood hued with black hearts. While deep in a crag of the great red canyon, the general took rouge peonies. Far in the south in what once was Mideel, he’d gathered huge dahlia blooms. Finally, yellow crocus large with smooth petals that grew in the rich mountain earth. Guilt had rained down like fire from heaven, but he had gone there for her…
“Th-They’re beautiful, master. Thank you.” She wept. “That you…that you did this for me….”
“It was nothing, my Aeris,” he answered her soft. “Nothing to pay for your joy.”
“H-How did you get all of these, master? They don’t grow in the same place. I…used to have lilies that blossomed below.”
“Those I could not find. I searched and I searched and then ventured to ask, but even their name is obscure. Roses still grow though, the highest of flowers.” He laid a broad palm to her braid. Aeris peered back over her shoulder, lip trembling with too many words. “Well,” he considered, “the second highest. The first belongs to you. As for the how, well…” He bowed his head. “I sidestepped, little one.”
“Sidestepped, master?” She turned around and sat with her back to the table.
“It’s a power I’ve always had…to go quickly from place to place. Do you remember how when we go to the doctors’ I ask you to shut your eyes? I sidestep there Aeris to keep your pale skin from being burnt by the sun.”
“I remember, master,” she whispered looking back, and he frowned to her sitting so low. As if she could tell, the maid scrambled up, and Sephiroth caught her waist. As soon as she could, she climbed on his lap with her cheek against his chest. The general just stared for moments long at this unbelievable gift. Her crown was a little ways beneath his chin. If he leaned he could rest it there, but his arms knew no indecision in enveloping the tiny Cetra. The hum of contentment she couldn’t contain shut his slivered eyes, and the little maid rested her hands on her thighs as he kissed her on the cheek. Her dress was rumpled about her hips, but Aeris didn’t care. She was held. She was warm and protected by him. No one could ever hurt her.
“Is there anything you can’t do, master?” she whispered, pulling herself even closer, wanting the sound of that steady, strong heart to vibrate though her skin. Doubly blessed for low voice through black leather surrounded her, too, with its thrum.
“I can’t change the past,” Sephiroth murmured so sad as his pulse churned the darkness. She lifted her eyes to find him through silver and her adoration was nearly too much. He could not accept it, this absolute trust, this gratitude, joy, and much more. Yes, I did ‘save’ her I suppose in a way, but that cannot repay my dark deeds. “Aeris…” he murmured to keep his voice whole. “How can you look at me like that?”
The Cetra raised a fragile hand and traced the high bone of his cheek. Upon the lash beneath the light, as she wished for fairer words. “Master, you’re something that I can’t explain. I don’t have the words for it. I lost them in horror. I know ones like pain and hunger and cold, but what you are is better than light. There is…one though.” Her fingers slid away and Sephiroth caught them for a kiss. They smelled like the flowers but not even that fragrance could mask her sweeter scent. The little maid giggled to the brush of his lips so soft on fingertips, and that brought a smile to even the general’s visage of long ago grief.
“What word do you have, Aeris?”
And Sephiroth could stand no more. Hard to the sea he turned his face, but the mask could not conceal pain. It was cracked on the edges without a seen wound, but the once fallen still bled from within. The arms around Aeris tensed as he clutched the wrist of his “lesser” hand. Without fear the Cetra laid her palm to that tension, and it eased slightly just for her.
“I-In the stories you’ve read me, there’s always that person who arrives to save the day, a-and they’re the hero or…heroine, though that one’s strange to me. Men are much stronger, but in some of the stories, the women can be strong, too.”
“That’s true in life, Aeris,” he sighed to shed sorrow though it just receded and could never be quelled.
She wet her lips before biting them soft unable to defy the Great General. Sephiroth brushed a knuckle against her temple as he shook his head to decry that, but Aeris still shuddered at the mere thought of contradicting her “master.”
“I know you don’t believe that, Aeris.”
The little Cetra gasped. Darting eyes trembled over his face as her breath came in stunted rush. He knows! He knows! He knows I’m defiant! He’ll beat me. He’ll… Then she ceased. Swallowing the fear that had no support as emerald pulsed gently down. She didn’t realize she was clutching his hand, his thick fingers threading her own. His other arm wrapped around her waist, and Aeris remembered, I’m safe. “Y-You won’t hurt me for being defiant.” The maid peered down as she processed this truth and a careful thumb traced her knuckles. She’d have to speak quickly for if he rubbed her hands, all sense would soon be lost. “You won’t hurt me for anything…”
“That’s right, little flower.” His low voice stayed quiet for joy did not want to believe. The general leaned forward and for moments long placed perfect lips to her brow. Tears seeped out of summer eyes so he kissed them away as well. “I’ll never hurt you, my Aeris.” The words cost him nothing no matter how much they were said, but to Aeris combined with his gentle deeds, they helped sheer her fear away.
“I never want to displease you, master.” Her free hand curled against his chest. “I…believe you won’t hurt me.” She lifted her head. “But please never take your protection away.”
The Great General sighed and released her hand to fully seal the maid in his arms. Crushing the Cetra as close as he dared, Sephiroth scrutinized her face. But Aeris just sealed her eyes with joy to receive more proof he’d never forsake her. His heart made for war and designed by eugenics beat just as strong in her ears.
“Aeris, I have my power for you now. I’ve no right to deny you protection and giving it brings me joy. I love protecting you.” His great heart deepened in the throes of its work, and tears she thought lost seeped still slow. “I love it as you love my strength.” He tilted his head and a sense of pure rightness filled the fallen for her sight in his arms. It’s where she belongs. It was sweet revelation. “And there is nothing you can do to displease me, because I’m no one you need to please.” Sephiroth wanted to tell her to not look at him as though his words were gospel, but considered the Cetra needed something solid and sure to cling to. I don’t deserve it, he still darkly thought, a wretch who dared reach for godhood. “I want you to be happy, Aeris, however that manifests.” There would plenty of time for truth and the hatred that surely would follow…
“B-But what will make you happy, master?” Aeris was sorely confused.
“Seeing you mirthful and well, little one, is the greatest joy I can know. Having you realize that no one will hurt you and you can do whatever you wish.” He took her small hands, gliding his thumbs over delicate knuckles. The Cetra breathed deep and laid her head back, sealing summer green. “You can do whatever you wish, my Aeris…” Emerald burned along his lashes as the light bathed her uplifted face. “Nothing will be denied you ever again.” He kissed her brow as silver locks streamed to caress her cheek and throat. “What do you wish for, little flower?” he asked.
“I want to live in your arms, gentle master.”
“Done.” He released her fragile fingers to rewrap her back in his embrace. She laid one hand on his forearm in leather, and Sephiroth stretched his fingers. The muscles beneath played against her soft palm like a perfectly well-strung harp. She shook her head still fascinated by the amount of strength below her hand. A-And it’s for me. That’s what he says. All this power is for my use. She couldn’t believe it. It made no sense, but he had yet to feed her lies. She only need ask and he’d scoop her up as easily in one arm as two.
“What else do you wish?”
“I never want to be cold or hungry, great master.” She trembled, curling into his chest. “I-I always want to be warm.”
“Absolutely, my little rose. I’ll always ensure those needs.” He gripped his elbows with her ensconced, and that half smile lit his face. “What else?”
“I…never want to be hurt again. Please never hurt me, great master!”
His mirth disappeared. “All these things are a given, my Aeris. My strength is for you and will always be, past the end of time. I will never use it against you, little one.” Never more again. The Cetra answered the hand on her cheek by laying her palm over top.
The general brushed her skin with free fingers and that lifted her eyes back to him. The rue had parted to allow a smile lift one side of his mouth. “Let’s make it simple. What’s tonight’s wish? Shall I read to you? Shall I play music? We could watch something,” he mused. “I always forget about that…or I could lead you another dance.” He chuckled when the flower maid yawned, squeezing sleepy eyes tight. She is so endearing. How could they…how could I? The general ceased that mode of thought when Aeris curled closer in. One tiny finger had found a silk lock and was twisting it slowly around.
“Will you read to me, master?” the Cetra murmured. “A-And play soft music in the background?”
“Of course, my Aeris.”
“I-I can have both?”
“You can have whatever you want.” He glanced over to the book she’d been reading. “This volume or something else? And do you want to stay down here or go up to your room?”
The maid’s head whirled with the myriad options, and she could only yawn again for first answer. “I…like this book, master. It has pretty poems. And we can stay here i-if that’s alright. If I fall asleep…”
“I’ll just carry you to bed.” He picked up the tome between two fingers, emerald scanning the open page.
“You will…” she whispered in sweetest wonder, and the general glanced down with a smile.
“Yes, Aeris, always.” He blinked long and slow. “Do you know what it means to me, my little flower, that you fall asleep in my arms?”
“I know I’m safe, master.” She peered up so grateful and took a deep breath of his scent. Sephiroth held her chin in the crook of one finger. His thumb brushed just below her lips, and Aeris bit her lower one. Slivered dark shifted from her to the book, and his low voice stroked her skin as he read.
“For there a fatal image grows,
That the stormy night receives,
Roots half hidden under the snows,
Broken bows and blackened leaves…”
She did half-slumber by the time he was done and several poems had been duly read. His voice never wavered and never once broke, it was steady as the call of the tide. Slivered pupils chased words that were cut but ever unbleeding, and Aeris observed that hunt in awe, the slim darkness that split emerald green. Even with halved lids there was never any illusion they were anything but otherworldly.
“I love your eyes, master,” Aeris bare breathed, and they widened huge in shock. Shutting them swift to inaudible curse, the general expected her gasp, but it never came and soft fingers tiptoed along the edge of his cheek. “Master…they’re wondrous just like you. I wish I knew better words.” Chancing it, Sephiroth lifted his lids and she was radiant in his light. Unafraid of what would turn men’s bones to water, burning with emerald cold down.
“Your words are fine, Aeris. You have more every day. I just…find this fascination odd. My eyes are a horror, another sign of corruption that lives within my skin.” She blinked several times re-wearing her pout, the one he found so endearing. It almost drew his smile back, but memory was far too heavy. “I…” The Great General turned away, letting Mako pierce endless night. “I don’t want you to think me a monster.” Though that’s what I’ll always be. The luckiest monster, he realized then, allowed to protect this little rose.
“How could you ever be that, dear master?” She searched deeply through Mako blaze. It swirled around that shiver thin pupil like glowing swells of sea. “You’re wonderful, kind, and so very gentle. What’s monstrous about that?”
“The vestiges of horror that cling to me still.”
Aeris tried to answer, but yawned again, and Sephiroth’s sorrow broke with a soft laugh. “Dear little flower…” His heart in its darkness swelled within as one arm slid beneath her knees.
She raised her hands to leather cloaked shoulders that seemed to go on and on. Summer stayed sealed as his scent bathed her nostrils, and Aeris didn’t know what to thank. The gratitude that filled the tiny maid’s breast would burst around her seams, but she just breathed out as perfect lips pressed soft to her brow.
“You are the sweetest person I’ve ever met, Aeris,” he said laying her gently on her bed. Brief scrutiny narrowed emerald on her clothes. Then Sephiroth shrugged. She could sleep in them (or undress when he left). Just one cringe heralded his release, shooting pain through the general’s heart.
“It’s another day’s end, isn’t it, master?”
“Yes, Aeris,” he answered, “it is.” Sephiroth placed a hand to her quivering shoulder, and the tremor slowed, but never ceased.
“It’s another day and I haven’t been used.”
“Yes, Aeris…” His voice was lower this time as Mako burned wrath on his visage. He lifted that hand to caress her cheek, and she clutched it to near desperation. “And you never will be.”
“Master…” She turned, raising her face to him where gratitude fought abject fear. “Thank you. Thank you for never using me, never beating me despite my defiance.” Quivering lips pressed to his palm, and he forced his rage behind the mask. “Thank you for never giving me to other men. Thank you so much for letting me eat, allowing me clothing and warmth and safety. You’re so very kind. You’re beyond gentle. I’m so happy I’m yours.” She squeezed his large hand as hard as she could, knowing she had no power to harm him.
Sephiroth oscillated between endless rage and haunting rue. There was never a night before slumber took her that Aeris didn’t thank him for this. Even if she were fully asleep when he laid her down, the Cetra still roused for this plea. He was her protector, and she adored him beyond the edge of his shame. You once wanted that…what you never deserved. You once wanted it from all, and now you have it from the very one who stopped you in the past. Is fate so cruel to mimic in madness what I so falsely sought?
“I will never rape you, Aeris,” he repeated the lines of a pageantry he’d never choose. “No one ever will again.” The general gazed down to her safe and warm ensconced in her canopy bed. Her window was open to let in the breeze and the sea scent it would bring. He only hoped it was not wrong to enjoy this sweet sight. Her out of harm’s way forever and all in her bed in her room by the sea. I love this vision of a flower so safe and sheltered though she still quakes.
In swift after thought, he removed his great coat and laid it over the little Cetra. She gave a little, “Mmm” of contentment and curled into residual warmth. The general fastened just a few buttons to secure but never restrain. And though Aeris loved this, she wished he would hold her, but didn’t want to be a burden, and Sephiroth sighing, as he walked away, only wished his little flower would ask.
Author’s Note: The poem Sephiroth reads in this chapter is entitled “The Two Trees” by William Butler Yeats. Because I’m a dork, I have to babble about how it’s meta that he’s reading it, because one of the more arcane interpretations of the poem states the holy tree so referenced could be the Sephirotic Tree of Life from the Qabalah. So Sephiroth is reading a poem that could be interpreted as being about the Sephiroth. Like the poetry in the last chapter, this is another one I was introduced to through Loreena McKennit’s song of the same title.