Update: This time there’s rain, and it looks amazing. Like last picture update, I’m putting this in the midst of the chapter where it fits with the text, but of course you can see it see it at the sources here and here.
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.
Accompanied by her protector, Aeris takes a walk through the Whispers, encountering various townsfolk until something even Sephiroth cannot control occurs.
The sun was still bright in the late afternoon as Aeris stood by burnished windows. Daylight tinged clouds held the edges of dusk in a sky that was only half clear. Apprehension jumped in the Cetra’s chest behind the raised clasped hands, coupled close with slight excitement much to her surprise. Swathed in a white dress of soft layered skirts, its accents palest pink. It was fuller in length coming down to mid-calf for this evening’s venture out. A bow of that hue was wrapped round her waist and tied with a flourish behind. Aeris ran fingers along silk so smooth, though with silver it could not compare, but the Cetra still loved how the garb hid her stomach and all those hated lines. Squeezing her fist, the maid forced that down and willed her breath to slow. She was clothed. She was safe. She was here in the Whispers. Beneath full protection and care.
A slow inhale cleared Aeris’s thoughts, and she blew a long bang from her face. Her hair was pulled up into a high braid that still trickled down to her knees. The general had done that for her, too, swift fingers ever deft. Aeris had been able to brush her own bangs, a triumph she would not forsake.
She’d tried it before once after he’d bound it, pulling half of her hair from its braid. Trembling in tears, the Cetra just knew for this he would beat her bloody, but the general merely dried her face with hands forever gentle. As swift as a storm, he redid the braid, and asked Aeris if she wished to retry. The Cetra had flung herself into his arms to Sephiroth’s brief caught shock. He couldn’t care less how often she needed. He’d always fix her hair. Asking her daily how she would like it, while the little maid stared in awe.
Initially, Aeris had had no preference for she’d been too long robbed of choice, but of late she’d shown shiest desire for this, a single braid hanging long. Sometimes twin plaits that met at the crown adorned with a circlet or combs. The mirror’s reflection would widen green eyes for this unknown occupant. Dressed in full fineness, wearing such jewels that cost more than a month of her “renting.” She’d whimpered at that and squeezed her thighs tight. There’d been no soreness between for some time.
It’s been fifty-one days, the Cetra remembered, pulled back to pre-dusk through the window. The reflection was ghostly so bathed in rouged light, but she could pick out the matching pink ribbon. It called to the bow that adorned her soft waist and threatened to storm summer eyes. Even Sephiroth in tying had hidden despair before crouching to catch her small hands.
“All you need is your basket…” the General murmured, turning his face away, and Aeris dared to lay a hand to that flawless cheek. Memory’s mist shimmered and flowed, desperately trying to part. For a moment in glass, she saw pink mirage and spreading reddened haze, but the hollows that lived around summer green told stories to make the pure bleed.
A crack in the sky allowed light to fall so gleaming near Aeris’s throat. Framed by tender collar bones, a pink diamond necklace pulsed. It was shaped like a heart and bordered by smaller stones of similar worth. She fingered it, staring at the ghostly vision within the window pane. It was one of a myriad, more than she could count, fashioned from finest jewels.
She clutched at the diamond as the rings on her fingers gently brushed over her chest. It’s been fifty-one days since I was last used and since my clothes arrived I’ve never worn repeats. When she released it, the jewel at her throat twinkled like stars soon to call. A fine silver chain was warm on her skin though she’d shuddered around first cold touch. The gem though large was still far lighter than the collar she’d been forced to wear. This was the shortest Aeris could stand. No choker could wrap her throat. Even high collars on dress or blouse could be enough to call spiraling panic.
Sephiroth had bought her bracelets just once. The snap had dropped her to the floor. Aeris had curled into herself, weeping as if skies did fall. Again, she was there, naked and chained, awaiting a whip or a thrust. Then the slim band was gone from her wrist and she was in her guardian’s arms. Held tight to his chest with her head on his shoulder, fingers in moonlight hair. Her body had known without conscious thought where her salvation did lie, and through horror’s layers his low voice did thread, ever soft, ever gentle for her.
He replaced them with hair combs and shoes, one pair she was wearing right now. Flat and white with pink roses to match the ribbons at waist and crown. Nothing that touched her tender skin now was less than luxury, and the Cetra re-clasped her hands before and wished to remember old prayers.
“Aeris?” The little maid instantly turned.
His step was so silent like ghosts in the grass, and he’d no wish to frighten his rose. A flower she is, so pink and so white, a perfect and innocent bloom. He descended the stairs as her morbid mirror, long coat with silver buckles. No straps crossed his chest for the button up shirt with color to match darkened leather. Collar and top were both casually open so whiter than frost could sear through, but silver still crowned him and left nary a doubt his position and place in her eyes.
The Cetra, as always, instantly found the thick leather belt at his waist. It was too well ingrained for her to seek out what could be used to raise welts on her back. She still had whip marks both thick and thin, forever painting her flesh. The old ones were whiter than her pale skin, the later ones pink as her bows. They were over a month old, aging and faded. She laid a small hand to her shoulder. That’s where the latest and last one did fall. But I won’t be whipped anymore. I won’t be whipped ever again…never for any reason.
Aeris watched the reason approach, as her knees threatened to give way. The Cetra was still not completely convinced that death had not found her at last. That he wasn’t truly her angel of light who’d brought her to paradise. Angel of light or angel of death. It doesn’t matter. He took me away… And then he was there right by her side, palms poised to cup slender shoulders.
“Is this well, little one?” Sephiroth asked, and Aeris melted back. The general slid his arms around her, catching small hands in his own.
“Master, it’s so much better than ‘well.’ It’s the best thing in the world. I love when you hold me in your arms. It makes me feel so safe.”
“Then I’ll always hold you, little flower.” He stroked her delicate skin.
Twin tears escaped the Cetra’s eyes as she gazed at angelic features. Silver splendor had hanging bangs, too, a waterfall of moonlight, but behind that soft spill his locks had been bound in circling braids round his crown. He had plenty of hair so could choose to free forelocks or bind them within or without.
Sephiroth looked down through his long lashes that didn’t hinder perfect sight. The little maid’s lips were more pink than her ribbons, jeweled heart, and the bows on her shoes. This sweet little blossom he was blessed to guard who smiled at him now in pure bliss. She was an utter delight to hold and protect. Nothing else mattered more. He squeezed her small waist carefully, and Aeris gave a high hum. She shut her eyes, curling her fingers within the warmth of his palm. The general gently rubbed her hands where the hollows were filling out. Silver hair slithered against the maid’s throat, and she shuddered without trace of fear.
“Are you ready, my Aeris?” her guardian asked before bending to kiss her brow. The smile grew brighter to an extended blink as she cherished those lips on her skin.
“I think so, master.” Aeris peered out the window to the sea turning gold in the sun. “It’s…very beautiful out there.” She reminded herself, forcing the tremble to still. He released her hands to clasp his elbows with the maid in their midst. Aeris rested her palms on smooth black leather and the strength that dwelled ever below. No one will hurt me, she retold herself. No one can. He’ll never allow it.
“It is, little flower. The world isn’t as dark as once I, too, believed.” The general followed summer’s gaze out the window, but he was not watching the sea. “And taking a casual walk through the Whispers will expose you to many more things. I don’t want you to grow bored of me.” He pushed pain aside to force mirth through his lips, but his brow was still just slightly creased.
The Cetra gasped and turned in his arms, and Sephiroth passed a hand down her braid. “Oh master, how could you ever be boring? You know so much more than me! I…” She swallowed. “I-I don’t want you to become b-bored of me.” She quaked and curled into his arms. His ennui was far more dangerous for it could spell hell returned. No, no, no. Please don’t let that happen- She ceased the almost prayer.
“Aeris, dear Aeris.” He stroked her bangs now. “That will never occur. How could I be ‘bored’ with you, little flower? You don’t exist for my entertainment, and seeing you like this, happy and safe, dressed in luxury, covered in jewels…” He cupped her cheek and lifted her head. “Seeing you as you should be.” Emerald widened to reinforce this truth, and light spread around shiver thin pupils. “This brings me the joy of a thousand new lives…a thousand chances for sweet redemption.” He bowed his head as he said those words, and her fingertips brushed his face. Sephiroth caught her hand for a brief kiss, and the Cetra’s laugh pierced his dark heart. “Your happiness is mine, little rose. My life has never had more meaning. Seeing you joyful, keeping you safe. I love protecting you, Aeris.”
His arms were locked at the small of her back as he held his rose tight to his chest. The general swam through both elation and pain for the pink ribbon beneath his sight.
“I love being protected by you, master,” she answered, trembling with joy at those words. I’m so protected. I’m safe in his arms. Nothing can hurt me now. No can use me. Please let this be truth. Please let that life be over. His arms slid even closer around, as if Sephiroth had heard her thoughts. Am I finally safe after so many years? Will I now be protected forever? I’m not being punished for being so weak. He hasn’t used me even once.
If she stood on her toes, Aeris could lock her fingers around his neck. “You’re so tall, master.” And then she squeaked as he suddenly swept her up. She placed little kisses on his lips to Sephiroth’s low laugh and smile.
When she re-opened her eyes, they were upstairs, and the Cetra gave a little, “Oh!” Peering around to a corridor seen, but never once traversed. “M-Master, I thought were going to walk. Are you taking me to bed?”
The Great General’s chuckle vibrated her skin, and the little maid quivered and blushed. That lifted a brow, but Sephiroth still laid a kiss on her cheek. “We’re walking through the Whispers this eve, little one. It will be easier to access this way. There is a stair leading up from the beach, but it’s more direct by this door.”
Aeris couched her face in the curve of his neck, and her summer eyes drifted closed.
“Don’t fall asleep, little flower.” He smiled. “At least not before we leave. Though if you wish me to carry you through the Whispers I’d happily oblige. You know there’s nothing I won’t do for your, Aeris.” He finished, more sober in tone.
“I w-won’t, master.”
Her eyes shot full open, and Sephiroth sighed. He had to remember she took all like that. Every word he said was an order. As if I were still a general for true. I’m more hers to command.
“Do you remember what I told you about laws?” he asked carrying her down the hall.
The little maid blinked, lifting a finger to brush a pale forelock aside. She always wanted to see his face as he always looked at hers. “Yes, I…do remember. They protect me j-just like you.”
“In slightly different ways, little flower.” The crooked smile didn’t quite reach his eyes. He slid the fingers of his free hand through hers, and the Cetra clutched them tight. “I would break the law to protect you, Aeris, but you are protected within. No one has or had the right to beat, rape, or hurt you, my rose. Legality cannot change what is wrong, but wrongness should change what is legal.”
“Yes, master, yes…” She quivered with joy held in his one arm. “You tell me that all the time. I love those words, but I have a question. What is a ‘right?’ Is it like a law?”
Sephiroth kissed her between the eyes standing before the backdoor. He blinked just once with his lips to her skin, and his eyelashes brushed her brow. Aeris giggled to those tickling tines, squirming a bit in his grasp. The Great General chuckled. “You love doing that, don’t you?”
“You make me so happy, master, and…those eyelashes.” She laid a palm to his cheek when the general pulled back. His eyes were half shaded, but emerald still poured through the elegant fringe so long.
“They serve their purpose,” he said without pride, “especially since I don’t need to blink. As for rights, I have been remiss in my explanations to you.” He gave a glance up, rubbing a finger beneath his pursed lips. “A right is that which is granted and due contingent on only existence. Every being has the right to not be abused and every person, barring some crime, has the right to freedom. No one had the right to touch you, Aeris, or take you against your will. You committed no crime, yet you were tortured in the most horrific of ways. Your rights as a person were brutally denied for a century and more. There are no words for how wrong that was.”
Even through the filter of those glorious lashes, Sephiroth’s anger burned. He slid a hand along Aeris’s face to lift her gaze to him. Summer shone with unshed dew, and she ached for every word. Even the dead flames that froze Mako gleam did not deter adoration.
“Just because you are ‘little and weak,’ it doesn’t give them the right to hurt you. Besides such description is a foul lie. You are not weak, my Aeris.”
“But master, I don’t have any strength. They weakest man could hold me down and use me. Th-They always did.”
“There are many different kinds of strength, little flower.” You had the power to best me. “Just because you lack physical prowess, it doesn’t mean you are without. And besides,” he reminded her, tipping her chin, “now you have me, little one. No one can beat you. No one can rape you. No one can hurt you again.” He put his hand on the doorknob when her little voice paused the turn.
“What happens to people who break the law, master?”
“They are duly punished. Minor infractions have easier penance. Major ones are more severe.”
“A-And the men who h-hurt me…are they going to be punished?”
“Oh yes, my Aeris. Oh yes…”
“But…many of them are dead, great master, and how would you find the others?” She buried her face against his neck, trembling hard as memory clawed. I’m not there. I’m not there. I’m not there anymore. Behind this door is his nice, little town. The Whispers outside Heaven’s Gate. This is where I live in paradise. I’ll never see Midgar again.
“I have my ways, Aeris,” he promised the Cetra as she looked up again. I have my dark, dark ways. “I’ll find all the ones that are still alive, and they’ll beg me for death ere it comes…” He shut his mouth quickly, but the words had been said. Mako light widened in gleam. The shiver thin pupil slid cross her face expecting her horror to rise, but Aeris just kissed him with quivering lips so grateful for his protection. Sephiroth returned it to her cheek before opening the door to salt breeze.
Aeris peered up between ruffled bangs to the dusk stained clouds above. She blinked several times, leaning on solid shoulders as she wet her lips to the wind. The back of their house rose in the gleam shining off the shingles. This is where I live now… The Cetra remembered sniffing a few tears back. A gentle finger slid under her chin, slowly rubbing in assurance, and Aeris turned back to him with a swift kiss that made the general chuckle behind.
“Master,” she murmured, “w-will you set me down, since I’m supposed to walk?”
“Of course, little flower.” He did right away, so gently she could have floated.
“I-If I get tired, w-will you, will you-”
“I always will, little one.” With her permission, the general shielded the Cetra behind his arms, never a cage, ever a fortress, a reminder to her she was safe.
Aeris looked up at the building before, a quaint, little tenement. It was set on the higher tier behind, and there was a woman sipping tea on a deck. Sephiroth glanced up that way, too, and gave a slight nod to her presence. The tea drinker spluttered, but settled her cup before waving emphatically. Espying the maid in the general’s clutch, she clapped, nearly jumping in joy. With one finger up, she fled back inside, but unshod feet pounded the stair. The door burst open to plump form gasping with glee at the general’s greeting.
“Good evening, Myrna.” He halved emerald eyes and locked his right wrist in strong grip. Beneath it his flower’s belly clenched and her heart sped through several measures.
“Oh gods, general, is this her?”
“Yes, this is Aeris. Aeris this is Myrna.” The sea breeze swept through his hair. “She’s one of our neighbors.” To her. “Where’s your Em?” Forelocks whispered on pale, and he shook silver strands away.
Myrna scoffed. “Napping as always. Such a sleepy child. She lives in her dreams that one does, but you’ve finally brought this one out.”
“By her choice,” Sephiroth replied and Aeris gripped his hand. It was hard not to stare at this merry figure, the first one besides him she’d seen. Taller than her and plump as a pie with dark hair held up in a bun. Myrna basked in the scrutiny without any judgment and softened her gaze towards the maid.
“Well, you make good choices,” she pointedly said, her smile as warm as midday.
Aeris swallowed with summer held wide. The last women she’d seen had been naked. Chained just like her, beaten and used, but not nearly as neglected. They would just die and never come back so the masters had been more careful. In the beginning when Aeris resisted, she’d been forced to watch them eat as she starved. If one took small pity in sneaking a share, both her and that poor wretch were punished. I was just beaten harder, because if she died, that would’ve been property loss. I didn’t matter because I’d come back…come back for more abuse. She trembled and Sephiroth tightened his arms, smiling down at his charge with assurance.
“Th-Thank you,” the little Cetra whispered keeping her breath in check. Myrna reached out to pat her shoulder, but Aeris turned sharply away. Into her guardian whose grip turned to shield as he slightly shook his head. The woman blushed and drew her hand back in stiffness that wasn’t feigned.
“Where’s Nellie this evening?” Sephiroth asked, rubbing the Cetra’s back.
“Out to fetch wine.” Myrna crossed her arms over an ample bosom. “Her husband’s away on business.” She rolled her eyes then they softened once more. “You two should join us some evening.”
“Perhaps we will in the future. Aeris?” he called and she lifted her head so silver light blessed her face. “Would you like that, little one? To visit with Myrna for wine or tea?”
“W-Wine, master?” the Cetra asked and Myrna held the question back, but Sephiroth saw it despite.
“I believe it’s well known her poor situation, but it’s my Aeris’s story to tell. Suffice it to say there are foul things in Midgar, and that false title is just one result. As for wine, Aeris, well…” He glanced back at Myrna with the tiniest bit of a smile. The Cetra tentatively turned in his clutch, cautious, but curious.
The stout woman laughed and lowered her arms, as well padded shoulders relaxed. “Wine’s wonderful, child.” And Sephiroth held the mask for she was far older than Myrna. “It’s sweet or its dry, potent or wane. It’s hard to explain without tasting.”
“It might make your head a bit muddled though, Aeris.”
“Muddled how, master?” she asked. Tilting her face back up for a moment before concentrating on Myrna. It was hard to split her attention between, and she hoped he wouldn’t feel ignored.
“It has something in it called alcohol that can alter the way you behave.”
The little Cetra screwed up her face and both Myrna and Sephiroth laughed. He cupped her chin to show no malice. “Like everything, it’s your choice.”
“Ma?” A sleepy voice yawned from above and Myrna peered up with a sigh. Her drowsy daughter leaned on the rail, blinking softly down. Their neighbor, resigned, made a long-suffering face that was filled with anything but. She took her leave with a wave and a wink, and Aeris held brief eyes with Em.
“Shall we go, little flower?”
And though she was startled the Cetra was not afraid. Biting her lip, she took his great hand and spun herself out of his arms. Squeezing those fingers so hale and strong, her skin still recalled his embrace. With that assurance, she walked side by side with her Great General along the smooth stones.
There were dwellings built all along the mountain as their lights winked on in the eve. Warm and inviting, Aeris almost believed that behind each were just friendly faces. Though when has the world ever been that kind? But the cool in the breeze did not invite chill. It only smoothed back her bangs from her brow. Sephiroth bent over and kissed revealed skin, not missing a step in their walk. The Cetra leaned on him just for a moment, but her marvel went on and on.
His great leather coat fell to his calves and his black boots came over his knees. As dusk dimmed the daylight his catty eyes shone, limning forelocks with bright emerald. She wished she could touch it. But I always can, she realized again to her joy. I just have to ask him to pick me up and I’ll be bathed in that endless glow.
Children cavorted around their slow stroll for nightfall would not stall their play. The general grew solemn to remember his task of clearing the monsters away. He knew all their names. He knew all their parents’, and Aeris was beyond amazed. They called, “Mayor, mayor!” and “Great General!” as they giggled and waved to her, too. A few sham saluted, and he bowed his head, shaking it slightly in rue. His truest title held the most pain, but these small ones knew nothing of war. Aeris followed their antics with salt moistened eyes, but would not trouble her belly with touch. Sephiroth squeezed her little hand, and she clutched his one with her two.
He knew it would it happen, the moment would come, and his arms were ever prepared. But not my heart, though made to perfection, it bleeds within for this pain. Oh, little flower, he will not hurt you, but how could you possibly know? Every man is a threat, except for me. Your murderer, granted such grace. If you knew…if you remembered, you’d scream beneath my touch. The “he” in question was an old fisherman on his way home from the south docks. Over a footbridge arching high, the encounter occurred on the down slope.
Aeris flung herself into Sephiroth’s arms and whimpered into his chest. Each breath bore this fear until her voice failed and only tears were her due. The general crushed his flower as close as he dared without causing her any harm. Leather sealed forearms shielded her back and his great hands encased her thin shoulders. Sephiroth then cupped the back of her head as he gazed mildly at the cause.
Haliard Thrain. He pulled the name up easily from memory. But I believe he goes by… “Hal. A fair evening to you, sir.” Sephiroth was the elder by hundreds of years, nor was this fact unknown, but politeness had always been his forte. Well…in this life at least. Causing the apocalypse is not really considered the height of courtesy.
“Evening, Mayor Crescent.” The man touched his cap to Sephiroth’s answering nod. He gave the Cetra a cursory glance as the breeze scrunched his weathered face.
“I trust you’ve had no more trouble with monsters?” The general arched a silver brow. Only Mako eyes would’ve seen the slight flush as the old man rubbed the nape of his neck.
“Ah well, general sir, ‘twas really my fault. I was out a bit late that eve. You know that cove on the south side of town. Some of the best fishing lies in there, and there’s enough dry land to go afoot. I should’ve realized I wasn’t the only one to know about those good pickings…”
“Nevertheless, you should be able to go about unmolested,” the mayor answered. “I include that on my rounds when I go.”
Hal’s toughed skin nearly cracked to his grin as he slightly rolled up one sleeve. “Well, I have the scars to remind me now so I keep a sharp lookout.”
Emerald grew sharper than his old eyes could and bright lit the aged seafarer. “Well you’ll keep me informed if you see anything or if you have any trouble again. Aeris?” he called sliding his palm over a trembling shoulder. “Hal here owns a fishing boat that he takes out…every day?” Sephiroth glanced back up.
“Well…not every day, general sir. These old bones can’t abide the choppier sea farther out. Though it always ‘whispers’ closer to the shore,” he replied this to Aeris’s back.
“Indeed,” Sephiroth said scanning the sky that was darkening faster than night. The general sniffed and narrowed his eyes still feeling her quake near his heart. “Perhaps one day we’ll take a trip out. There are ships for such excursions.”
Aeris just whimpered and he stroked her hair and held her tight in his arms. Hal shook his head, glancing up at the mayor who hid the smolder with pale halved lids. The old man had granddaughters around the Cetra’s seemed age. He cleared his throat. “Yes, I’ve never had much use for pleasure ships but you’re fancier folk than I. Anyway, I’ve got to get on home. The missus will fuss and worry.” He touched his cap to the general again and gave Aeris an unseen nod before plodding on his way.
“There’s really no need for such occupation anymore,” Sephiroth told Aeris when Hal was out of earshot. “No practical one that is,” the general considered looking briefly after before kissing the maid on the crown. “The need comes from the want to do so, and what brings joy will never be useless.” The little Cetra chanced a glance up at him and the sideways smile held faintest rue.
“Master,” she whispered. “H-He didn’t try to hurt me.”
“No, little one, he did not.”
“B-Because you’re here and you’re holding me.”
“That is very true, my Aeris. I’m holding you safe in my arms.”
“He…didn’t ask to buy me either.” Her brow furrowed at the oddity. “He just…talked to you a-and to me.”
“That’s right, little flower.” Sephiroth touched her cheek then looked up suddenly. Aeris heard him speak another, “Good evening,” and she hid her face at the male voice in answer. Quaking in terror that it would still happen, they’d offer and he would agree, but gentle hands just stroked her hair and that steady heart soothed her ear. Never once did his arms relent in circling her round. “Aeris,” he said after pleasantries, “you are not my property to sell or give away. Do you remember what I told you about rights?”
“O-Of course, master.” Her voice was so high. “You just told me. I have the r-right to be happy to be cared for and to never be abused. You… make me so happy. You care for me and you’ve never hurt me, not even once.”
“Yes, little one.” She stood on her toes, and Sephiroth bent so she could circle his neck. Curiosity had him lifting her up, and it was assuaged with a maiden kiss. “Shall we continue on?”
The Cetra peered around from the height. Above the sky hung purple, and there was grumbling from afar. But I’m with my protector so nothing can hurt me. Nothing in heaven or earth.
“Yes…I’m not tired yet, master. You can put me down so I can walk.”
Sephiroth did so and retook her hand to continue their journey through town. A familiar figure exited a bistro as they neared the center square. She noticed the general and stumbled a bit over her high heels.
“Ah, Mathilde, a fair evening to you,” Sephiroth said with slight smile. Mathilde brightly blushed and leaned on a railing as he held Aeris facing front. The little Cetra gazed up in recognition, almost recalling a smile.
“Oh G-General Crescent and…Miss Gainsborough!” The woman gasped as she toyed with her ring. “I’m so glad to see you out.”
“Th-Thank you…” Aeris whispered. She sniffed the sea air mixed with more savory wafting from within. The hum of soft talk drifted from that direction, but she couldn’t discern female from male.
“You…have an appointment in a few days?” Mathilde asked, scrunching her brow. Aeris clutched the general’s hands, reassured by his calming smile.
“Y-Yes, I do. For both the doctors and therapist. I-It’ll be the fifty-fourth day.”
“Oh…” The number took Mathilde aback. “Well I’ll see you both then, I suppose.” She gave a little flustered wave then half stumbled down the stairs. The general gazed mildly in that direction until Aeris kissed his hand.
Their way to the Square was as slow as she needed, near meandering for him. They stopped when she had to for whatever ever reason, though the main one stayed the same. Aeris hid from every male gaze, and Sephiroth shielded her. Without word or question, his arms closed around, and his low voice would soothe every whimper. No judgments fell on them, nor would he care, and they touched her as much as cruel hands.
The center fountain shushed softer than the sea, which seemed louder in lullaby. Night had descended fully at last, but emerald narrowed to firmament darker. Gathering rain with thundery edge hovered high above, but right now his Aeris was terrified of something more mundane.
Sephiroth sighed, “Just one will do, Edwin.”
They were before an arch that led into the square. On a nearby rooftop a child blew bubbles towards the unseen stars. Lanterns swung light in the uplifted breeze scattering shadows so they couldn’t lurk.
“Sorry, general.” He settled on that, and the so-named sighed again. The boy was in his teenage years and barely half a man, but that half was enough to incite utter terror in his rose’s racing heart. She was buried against his chest once more and his arms were fully around. Edwin nibbled on ragged knuckles with a genial grin on his face. “This must be the little miss everyone’s talking about.”
A silver brow lifted at that. “Everyone’s talking, but what are they saying?” Sephiroth mildly asked.
“Oh, nothing bad, g-general sir.” A few drops of rain flickered down. The boy blinked them away, and Sephiroth tilted his head amused for he felt no wet. “Just that she was in a bad way, and you helped her out. Also, that Midgar is still occupied. I…learned about it in school.”
“I’m sure you did. Ancient history…” He stroked Aeris’s high braid. “I did render assistance to my little flower, but I could do no less. However, the details are hers to tell. Isn’t that right, my Aeris?” She only pulled closer, and he gently smiled just for her alone. Edwin just happened to be there to witness, and he took a brief step closer.
“So, she lives with you now, general?”
“That would be correct.” He kept the kind look for Aeris’s sake. She couldn’t see it, but the warmth bled through as her guardian rubbed her back. “My home and protection are forever hers.”
The Cetra wept for joy. Then cut off abruptly. I’ll anger my master! He’ll give me away. He’ll give me to him! But the powerful embrace did belie. Sephiroth just held his flower closer and murmured softly down.
Edwin stared glumly at the small maid, wishing to offer some comfort. She’d surely endured some terrible treatment and suffered for it still. “Don’t worry, miss,” he said in assurance. “The general protects you now.” He reached forward to pat her shoulder, and a large hand wrapped around the boy’s wrist with expression still utterly mild. Beneath empty emerald at least could be said for those shards shifted with slivers so slim. They lit misted rain around terrified face that had forgotten what Sephiroth was.
They all did…the citizens of the Whispers until something reminded them. Unblinking Mako attended by pupils thinner than cruelest thorn, long black feathers coating the sands, or the shine of frost skin in the sun. Then they recalled their genteel mayor had once been the world’s enemy, the evilest angel, the fallen, the fell until death had freed him from the curse. The Great General did not quite squeeze, but his grip made it clear that Edwin’s wrist was not pulp by his mercy.
“Aeris, do you wish to be touched?” he asked, as the poor boy gaped.
The tiny maid quaked and tried burrowing deeper in the solid wall of his chest. Sephiroth could do no less than tightened his free arm around. It took her some moments to shape trembling lips into the semblance of an answer, but the general had never needed patience when it came to his little flower.
“N-No, master, please. Please don’t let them touch me. Don’t let them touch me ever again!”
“It’s well, my Aeris,” he promised the maid. “No one will touch you without your permission.
“You understand our problem then?” Sephiroth solemnly asked. His brow was only slightly furrowed, the tiniest crease between unmoving light.
“Y-Yes general, sir. I-I understand.”
“Excellent.” He nodded, unlocking his fingers to enclose Aeris in full embrace. Those pupils still sliced the poor boy to shreds, as cold as the lights in the north.
Edwin held and rubbed his wrist, but all of his bones were intact. “Well…g-general sir, I’m gonna head home. I hope you and the little miss have a lovely night.”
“Have a good evening, Edwin,” Sephiroth said to the boy’s receding back. The slightest regret crept through the mask as Aeris relaxed in relief.
“Your arms are like an impenetrable wall, master,” she whispered, her face still hidden. “N-No one can ever…e-ever take me…f-from behind again.”
The greatest of generals bowed his head so his bangs spilled over bound chestnut. “No, Aeris…no can take you from behind or in any way without your consent.” The flower maid lifted her head. Standing on tiptoe, she parted her lips with summer eyes wide and bright. Sephiroth let guilt dissipate with a sigh as he bent for her chaste, little kiss. It left a slight smile as the general straightened, and gratitude softened cold gleam. Within light’s arc his free hand slid to her unmarred cheek. Aeris clutched the large wrist to kiss his palm, and he once again fought the pain.
The square was bright lit despite covered skies, lamps pulsing soft and white. Sephiroth gave a quick glance to the stairs that led to an empty shore. The refurbish seemed to be holding well at least to slits that would scrutinize. White cobblestones shimmered beneath the lamps though star fall would brighten it best. The firmament deepened and swirled far above as rain still just misted to fall.
There were couples sitting around the stone fountain, their murmur like burbling words. The sea seemed to dim this close to that fount despite how false it was. Sephiroth suspected (in mirth) it was gracious to allow the manmade to speak. He peered down at Aeris who’d returned to his arms the moment they’d stopped in the midst.
The Cetra maid shook for there were men there. Though not close, a-and I’m always shielded. Restaurants and bars inhabited the edge and voices blended together. She chanced a glance, and the fountain edge held the most interesting pageantry. People of varied and numerous type were sitting quite close together. Couples laughed and teased, sipping wine and tea, and the fountain held them in no malice. Aeris gave a brief gasp, averting her gaze when a woman smacked a man on the arm. She expected swift and brutal response, but he only gazed sheepishly back.
“Master, she struck him.” The maid was appalled, her breath besting the fountain’s song. Sephiroth chuckled behind and above.
“She did, my little flower.”
“A-And he didn’t beat her bloody.”
“No, Aeris, he did not.” He clutched both elbows and gazed down at his charge. “There are laws against ‘beating people bloody’ especially for such…minor infractions.” He half smiled up as the so hit now playfully pushed his companion’s shoulder. “They’re…playing about. It’s something couples do.”
“Couples, master?” Aeris asked, and Sephiroth frowned then to consider.
“Yes, it means two people who are together.”
“Are we a couple then?”
His brow furrowed deeper. “I suppose we are, my Aeris. I protect you and ensure you’re safe, and…you make me incredibly happy.” He blinked once, gazing down. “You bring meaning to my life, little one…” The Cetra sighed as she leaned against him and her smile tore the threads of his heart.
“You make me so happy, too, master. I wouldn’t know what that was without you.” She opened her eyes letting them scan the benches and fountain once more. Some of the couples were two of the same, some were older, and there were greater groups. The latter seemed more concerned with conversing than giggling and touching and-
“Kissing!” She tempered excitement with a whisper that caused a low, gentle laugh.
“Yes, my Aeris.” He tilted her face in the air and placed one of those on her brow.
“It’s like what we do.” She squinted in scrutiny. “They like lip to lip but for longer.”
She turned in his arms and stood on her toes, and Sephiroth couldn’t deny her. Bending down so she could press kisses maiden soft to his perfect lips. He shut his eyes and held her close wondering how he deserved such an honor.
“I love kisses, master,” she said out of breath when she’d satisfied her need for the nonce. Turning back to the fountain, Aeris smiled bright to all the soft talk and embrace. “What are they for though?” She lifted a finger to rub beneath what she’d just used. So pink and so blushing, wet with the dew of the flower maid’s gentle tongue.
“Kisses, Aeris?” His emerald eyes gleamed, bathing her upturned face. “They’re a sign of affection and protection, as well, in our case, little rose.” He kissed her smooth brow once again then both temples and cheeks. The little maid smiled throughout the fall better than misting rain.
“Affection, master? What does that mean?”
“It means a fondness, a liking for someone.”
“Oh master, I like you so very much! You saved me, you guard me, you’re kind.” She reached up to slide a palm to his cheek with the tiniest whimper of need. Sephiroth sighed, but his smile was true as he lowered his face for her kiss. She held it there and he shut his eyes, but Mako still leaked through his lids. Moonlight shivered in the breeze, sweeping over her soft lit face. He stood back up, shaking his head to clear the silk skein from his sight. The forelocks he tossed away at the last to the maid’s stare of pure awe.
“Aeris…what is it?”
His little charge swallowed. “Nobody else has hair like yours, master. So silver, so silken, so long. It’s so very shining like light from the heavens descended to grant you a crown.”
He winced at those words, but tried to pull humor to combat the stone in his heart. “And how do you know that mine is the most silken. You can’t really tell that by sight.”
“Oh, master I know it. I can just tell, and no one’s as tall as you either.”
The general slid his eyes back to the throng, breathing deep to his disbelief. What was on her face could not be for him. The fallen, the dark, the corrupted.
“I’m standing. They’re not.” Mirth tried to rally, and Aeris echoed its shade with her laugh.
“No one we passed came close to your height. A-And master?” The little Cetra bit her lip, gazing at him with eyes like green stars. “No one is beautiful…lovely like you. Pure and perfect, an angel of light.”
The pain on a face that mocked every angel made Aeris gasp to his grief. He took her tiny hand in his, rubbing the tender palm. In the backdrop of the Whispers in gentle white light with soft talk and laughter around. The Great General bowed his head to her so his forelocks caressed her throat. That changed her gasp to something else and his squeezed his eyes shut from that truth. It never could be. The pain she has suffered…the horrors that I have wrought.
“If beauty were based on one’s deed, Aeris, I would look far fouler.”
“Never master.” Her voice was hushed in dual shock at his words and her defiance. “You…you’ve done everything for me. Whatever you did before, it doesn’t matter now.”
He continued massaging her minute fingers and shedding sorrow’s light. The endless emerald that lived in his eyes flared with Mako gleam. Do you remember what I did, little flower? Do your thoughts contain that dark truth? The Cetra sighed and pressed his palm to her belly where there was no wound but his memory. Sephiroth’s teeth clenched behind a curled lip, and he thanked whoever’d listen that she’d closed her eyes. How can you, Aeris? What I did to you…another perversion, another…rape. I took you from behind… He wished to hide his face, but his hands were busy protecting this little rose. He could not weep. Cat eyes were not made for such a human indulgence.
“I didn’t know what beauty was, master, until the day I saw you. You picked me up and carried me away to this wonderful paradise where I’m not punished for being little, where I’m not beaten for being weak. No one will ever hurt me here. I’m finally safe at last-”
Flashing white fire and bellowing heavens cracked the sky like an overfilled jug. Shrieks filled with laughter heralded the exit of the younger and swifter set, but Aeris’s scream contained no such mirth as she cowered in Sephiroth’s arms. Rain darkened silver plastered his face as the general looked down nonplussed. His long eyelashes kept all of the wet from Mako that shone through deluge. The next loud report heralded more screams that faded to piteous whimper, and Sephiroth cared no more for bemusement. His flower was in dire need. Nor did he think as his wing emerged, blacker than skies above. It circled the Cetra and in that cocoon of waterproof feathers, heaven’s fury faded out. It was over his head as Mako filled the darkness but lit not one frond of that wing.
“I have you, my Aeris.”
She chanced just one eye peering up at his lowered face. Pupils and feathers bore the same black, but the latter was so soft she giggled. He parted his lips for in her fear’s midst she’d found cause to bless him with glee. His eyes lit a world made up of just them, and he bent as the maiden stretched up.
Gasps broke his ecstasy within this small space containing just the two, and the general lowered his wing to peer out at each frozen face in the rain. His great eyes widened, which could only cause horror as Sephiroth sharply inhaled. Closing them with a curse, he hid beneath feathers then vanished with her through the night.