Chapter 13 – Establishments

<<–Preamble/Prelude
<–Chapter 12                                                                                                Chapter 14–>

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.
Artwork Disclaimer: The below picture is located here on this website. It was neither drawn by nor does it belong to me.
“Until we have seen someone’s darkness, we don’t really know who they are
Until we have forgiven someone’s darkness, we don’t really know what love is.”
-Marianne Williamson

Chaptr 13 - Establishments

The sky was clear, the dawn spoke of roses, and Aeris was alone. Wrapped again in two blankets, she waded from fading dreams. Sitting up to the spill of freed chestnut, the flower girl squinted in daylight. I’ll have to get used to that…seeing the sun, and she frowned as she rubbed her eyes. The quiet of a humble seaside town was so different from the mute of the slums, for though the sea ever hushed, it was part of a silence that never held distant screams.

Aeris sat cloaked in this peace to the occasional gull call and wondered about her heart. It was jack-knifing so sharp to the side as though a stone grew in its midst.

Neither window nor chair revealed her protector, nor did she hear the shower. The old book of poems remained open close by, and for some reason that sight soothed her pulse. An open book meant there was more to the story, though that seemed a silly girl’s wish. A slip folded beneath caught summer washed eyes, and she reached to retrieve a note.

My Dearest Aeris,
I shall return later. I’ve ordered breakfast for you.
Your faithful guardian,

S.

Like everything about him his handwriting was beautiful, and the letter shook in the flower maid’s hand. Is there anything you don’t do to perfection? she thought in sweet relief. Of course he had kept his promise just made the night before, though Aeris’s lips were a little too sore to bite them in shame of her doubt. She read the note again, tracing the curve of the “S,” penned in flowing calligraphy. The space between his words and the elegant mark kept drawing the Cetra’s gaze, as though he yearned to say much more, but something had stilled his hand.

The knock on the door made Aeris jump with the letter clutched to restarted heart, but it was only the breakfast he’d mentioned therein, though she marveled at his judgment of time. The terns and the gulls were noisy companions, and she missed the scent of frost white skin. Her tea was vanilla with rose curling under, but she refused to soil the flavor with salt. It was amazing to her that he knew she’d want toast with strawberry jam and eggs. She didn’t want to consider he’d delved through her mind, and twice accuse him in such a short while.

Afterwards a shower so hot to paint pink, while Aeris remembered his skin wouldn’t burn. Is this how it’ll be? she chastised herself, rinsing the shampoo from her hair. Are you going to be like a stupid, young girl with a silly high school crush? You faced death and beyond. You called down the light in order to save this world. The world she’d saved chuckled like a thousand strings thrumming beneath the flower girl’s feet. Aeris ignored it, which drew deeper mirth, as she finished and groped for her towels. I’ll have to find flowers or grow them myself. I managed well enough in the slums. Something to focus on…maybe the sea will give better advice then you.

Draping the one towel around her small body, she used the other to dry her soaked hair. The glistening waves would tangle and soon if she didn’t get a brush through them quick. A twinge of envy for silver so smooth pushed her towards this task. She eyed the hairdryer and debated the danger of wet hair in the thrall of the breeze. The breath from the sea was gentle if cool, but the sun would soon warm the wind. Then Aeris remembered she need not ever feel guilty for power here. An endless stream of laughter tickled through her toes, and she stamped to her dear friend’s delight.

When her hair was dry, she brushed it out until the chestnut was soft and more tamed. Then the flower girl recalled her clothes were in the satchel by the bed. She was wearing a towel, but that wouldn’t stop the look that would fill gleaming eyes. Blushing beyond what she knew was polite, the little Cetra forced her mind to be still. Scanning the room, she tiptoed soft out unable to ignore the mussed sheets. She wanted to climb on the bed and just wait. I shall return…and so he had promised.

Scoffing at her foolishness, Aeris grabbed her travel bag before daring to drop the towel. Her bare skin shivered and this was not from the breeze through the open panes. If Sephiroth came back in the midst of my dress, I’m not sure I would complete it…oh gods. She stifled a giggle. When did I become so coy? For better or worse, he did not return, and Aeris dressed herself in plain brown. She’d have to go shopping. The thought made her smile. It was normal and simple and free.

Back to the bathroom the flower girl went and lifted her locks back and high. The bangs she left forever free as she twisted the long tail of hair. Here I can play the silly, young girl. A pink ingénue if I had pink. A jolt hit her gut for she did have her dress, stained doubly ancient with blood. Shaking herself from memory sharp, Aeris met the mirror’s gaze. The image thrown back appeared happier than she, so she matched it for that stranger’s sake.

Sitting on the bed, the Cetra dug through her satchel to retrieve scattered gil. She was a little ashamed it was in such disarray, but she’d no need of it until now. You’ll never want nor have need to spend a gil of your own…the low voice echoed in her head, and even the memory tingled her skin. To make her hands do something besides tremble, she counted and recounted the notes, stowing it away in the dress’s deep pockets, as a sudden worry made her freeze. She had no ID nor any way to prove she was who she was. And who am I? Who shall I be? The maiden who saved the world? I just want to be Aeris, the flower girl, but can I ever be just that again?

The room key was lurking beneath the old book and right beside Sephiroth’s letter. Aeris thought for a moment and picked up the pen, tapping the end on her lips. If he came back and found me gone, he’d probably think the worst. The general’s mask would break to this worry, and she placed the pen for her own sweet report.

My dear and gentle guardian,
I, too, shall return and quite soon from errands about the town. I didn’t want you to worry if you came back and found me gone.
Thank you for breakfast. You always somehow know what I’ll like.
Your little flower,

Aeris

The Cetra imagined the soft sad smile that would spread across his beautiful face. Mako light chasing the words as they fled from the sliver of his vision. He would like the way she’d referred to herself, his own sweet words rendered back. She left the note on top of the book and closed to window to ensure it would stay.

*

The sea had been stiller than silent shadows and even the dark dared not breathe. Stars spoke in whispers and he prayed that his eyes would not waken the sleeping maid. Sephiroth untangled himself and wrapped her in blankets for the wind had grown colder that eve. Aeris half-murmured, but he silenced his ears to not hear her calling his name. How she could dream about him without nightmare was beyond his comprehension. The general walked to the window, inhaling the air, salt and mist cutting his nostrils. Inside was summer and Sephiroth smiled before caging his face once more. Because he couldn’t resist, he went back to his flower. A lock of chestnut was tickling her cheek, slid aside as he kissed her temple. “I’ll come back, little one. I won’t break my promise.” And his written words held to this truth. Forcing himself to not crush the pen, Sephiroth pored over those letters, but a note of brief parting was not the right place to lay what would be absurd.

The room door was the type that could lock from within and he did so before it was shut. There was not even a desk clerk but merely a bell being courted by both dust and rust. The lights were dim, not that that mattered for no human eyes were begging to see. Outside the ocean murmured and foam vied with the stars for whiteness in capping the waves. The streetlamps pulsed soft and did not compete with this dance of what nature had wrought, but Sephiroth wanted the nooks without light, and slipped down the stairs like a ghost. In a town such as this no one was about. No one wholesome…the once general thought.   I need to find those that skulk in the dark. The ones who would hate to find me. When the hours are small and the shadows are smaller to make room for encroaching dark.

He halved his great eyes to shield the bright light though it never could be diminished. Then drew the sword from in between and it came clean to his hand. It rang soft once to greet an old friend though only his ears could hear. Blood called to blood in steel and flesh veins, and he sighed for he had missed its grip. With eyes narrowed, Sephiroth searched the blade, but no remnants of monster remained. He hoped it had died, but knew too well hope was a fool’s waking dream. It had writhed itself free in torture and pain, and now probably waited and seethed. The darkness of memory bowed the pale face, but only pain cut his heart for that truth. He was half-tempted to enter that shadow realm to seek corruption out, but had other obligations this night. He did step through one layer to conceal himself and cast the Whispers in shimmery grey. Anyone wandering had no need to witness the terrible sight he must cut. Expressionless, tall, and with a sword like white fire, any townsfolk would die from fear. If she saw me now… He quelled agony, stalking the alleys with purposeful stealth.

Cats and rats fought their ancient battle and every now and then a dog would bark. The windmills were silent to simple ears, but Sephiroth heard the whirr of their wings. There was always a breeze here, always a wind from the sea unto the mountains. He gave the town’s founders respect for their prudence in picking this locale of air. Behind the houses, around, between, the great general wound his way. Shifting Mako plastered dim with lurid, emerald green, but no murderers lurked, no burglars fled, and no rapists left their victims in blood.

Light laughter did catch Sephiroth’s attention close to Wesker’s Square. By a blinking streetlamp, a couple cavorted, the man reciting bad poetry. The general stood in plain view and invisible, watching with one raised brow. It was strange to think he’d had far better luck with the tiny rose he had slain. The Masamune dropped low to his morbid thought as the woman came running by. Even distracted he smooth stepped aside so she passed just a space from his form. Looking back from her companion’s tug in shiver as if she’d brushed a ghost.

Down on the beach the great general could smell there were monsters far past the town. Closer to Costa and nowhere too near, this truth tried to fight obligation. She’d never be foolish to venture through night. She survived Midgar’s slums for too long. The blood in the blade stirred the blood in his veins, but a statue did move more than he. When he drew the Masamune it meant death needed done for the sword was not called in vain, but in the town proper there was nothing to kill and nothing for him to fight. He could surely seek the beasts beyond the ken, but that would be for selfish purpose.

I am useless this night. I’m useless here…I’m useless here to her…

*

A man in the lobby smiled Aeris’s way, peering over from the sign he was reading. A shot of adrenaline coursed through her limbs as he went back to his perusal. Her breath sounded loud through the waves of each beat before she recalled she was not in the slums. There had been no malice, no danger, no lust, just a simple and friendly grin.

The sky was the hue of warm, dusky sea, crinkling mist along the edges. Striations in blue cut through the clouds so sunlight could bleed in between. Aeris breathed deep the cool, sea-washed air made fresher from last evening’s storm. Ruffling wind lifted her bangs, but she smiled as her braid proved too heavy. From the top of the stairs, she could see several ships out to sea from the southward dock. Then the sun broke the shroud and beat down in warning, and Aeris’s skin sang of missing sunscreen. The obsidian steps would’ve been slick by the shore, but beneath her feet they just proved black glass. Buildings below did offer her cover, as she chastised herself for the lack.

I could’ve just asked the desk clerk where the town’s bank is…but a little adventure in a place she was safe was a welcome change from her life in the slums. There were also the townsfolk who nodded or spoke as she saw or passed them by. It was both strange and wonderful. The only thing amiss was her small hands were empty. Neither her guardian’s fingers nor her flower basket lay within her clutch.

In Wesker’s Square she circled round once and a woman asked if she were lost. The flower maid smiled and shook her head to a raised brow but conceded smile. The Cetra had glimpsed what she so sought behind a sundry store. She wondered if she would see Sephiroth, the flush creeping when the thought was half formed. But the maiden was lucky in pairs for composure would fail her if he’d been within. The bank also accepted she was who she was with neither issue for ID or name. The latter had her breathing relief for Aeris had no wish to be famous. She’d done what she’d done because it was needed and not to cultivate glory. Then the maid she wondered if he had been there to prep their minds for her arrival. Stop it, she chided as they counted her gil, he said he would never do that.

Outside the Cetra blocked her eyes from the sun, which had burned through the layers of clouds. There was a quick haven behind the low bank, a longer shadow cast by a steeple. The church was formed of grey granite stone that must have been brought by the sea for such purpose. There was a graveyard slightly behind, and Aeris clutched her hands to her chest. If only…she wished, but wishes were foolish for she’d died before the Whispers were born.

No flowers grew inside, just polished pews, not too fancy but not like her own. The nave had a carpet, the altar was clean, and the stained glass was whole without fissures. Aeris shut her eyes and brought herself back to her sanctuary in the slums. The light there was brighter to her sad surprise while her lilies grew wild and free. Fragrant white coated each inch of her church, scattered in ruins like snow. The vision allowed her to see slanted doors and children creep in with great care. Eyes dulled by poverty shed off their scales to the unfettered wonder of youth. The ones they picked renewed almost immediately for other tiny hands to embrace. The flower girl swept her tears away, but refused to let in shame. She could pray anywhere, through the Planet she could see, but it was still nice to know she could come here.

The upward walk back to the Chatham Inn left the little Cetra breathless. I’ll have to get used to climbing stairs, she thought as she unlocked the door. The bed had been made and the room had been tidied, window opened and curtains spread. The freed wind had fluttered the note to the floor, and Aeris sighed as she picked up. Climbing onto the bed, she grabbed her book, too, before rereading his elegant lines. Then to the volume the page was there waiting for whimsy’s little love song.

She’d only shut her eyes for what felt like a second nor did she hear the door, but when Aeris awoke an hour had passed and there he was before. The book was open over her stomach and her arm was behind her turned head. Monochrome coalesced into what was now dear, his eyes bleeding light to look down. Aeris rolled to her feet and rushed into his arms, which fulfilled their purpose closing her round.

She runs to me again, he thought squeezing her tight. Right into a monster’s embrace…

“Oh you came back!”

“Did you think that I wouldn’t?” The low voice gently chided. Holding her easily in his one arm, Sephiroth cupped her cheek with a smile. Leather shushed so smooth near Aeris’s ear and the pauldrons gleamed in the sun. She wondered why now he was wearing his armor more than curious to where he had been.

“I knew that you would. You promised me you wouldn’t leave without saying goodbye…” Her bitten lip froze the mask to his face so his smile forgot its joy.

Why is this so important to you, Aeris? You should be glad to be quit of me. I’ll always be your murderer…that can never change. Soon your life will start anew and then you can forget.

In contradiction she pulled herself closer to bask in his presence and scent. Her hands were squeezed against his chest as the flower maid shut her eyes. He slid his other arm back around, and Aeris wanted this moment forever. To live right here, to forget about time and all that it would soon steal.

“With you,” she began, “here in your arms is the safest I’ve ever been.”

“It was, little flower, but you’ll be safe in the Whispers far more than you are with me.”

“That’s not true, Sephiroth.” She lifted her head and his bangs swept her cheeks as she blinked. How did she forget in these brief hours how beautiful he was? The light spread out from beneath his long lashes as her protector gazed sadly down. Aeris wet her lips and didn’t miss the brief gleam as she said, “Who could dare hurt me where I am now? Held in the great general’s arms.”

Sephiroth sighed and looked away out the window, the sea breeze soft swaying his hair. “No one will hurt or bother you here, Aeris. I went out last night to check.”

“That’s where you where!” she exclaimed.

“Yes…initially.”

“You went out to make sure everything was safe…” Dark thoughts dissolved to her voice. He peered back down into pure adoration that tightened his arms around. Aeris squeaked and his heart was cut as if caressed by his very blade.

“I’m sorry, little one.”

“No, you’re alright. I just forget how strong you are.”

Sephiroth shrugged and Aeris just giggled unsurprised by his response. “It’s just something else that was given to me. Another product of eugenics.”

She laid a cheek against a cool buckle. “It may have just been ‘given to you,’ but you’ve protected me with it. That makes you worthy beyond anything. Worthy of more than forgiveness….”

“I’m worthy of nothing.” He lifted her chin so her eyes were drawn into crystalline emerald flame. Aeris parted her lips but all words were lost. His glory had robbed her of speech. “Somehow I forgot how perfect you are, my beautiful, tiny rose. Innocent and also ever forgiving for an underserved wretch like me.”

“Stop that.” Aeris tried to make light, but her soft voice faltered to grief heavy as steely rain.

“For you I will, little flower,” he conceded, “and I must tell you it is done.”

“What’s done?” she asked with furrowed brow.

“The house belongs to you.”

Aeris buried her face in his chest and tried hard not to weep, while he rubbed her back between the blades and forced himself not to remember.

“So that’s where else you went today…” It was muffled, but he still heard. Aeris sniffed and raised her head, tears ringing her summer eyes. “I suppose you won’t tell me how much it cost?”

Sephiroth shook his head. “I would if you asked, but please do not. It didn’t bankrupt me, I promise.” His lips quirked up in a sideways smile as a tear escaped her clutch.

“I can never thank you enough for this…”   She clasped her hands behind his neck. This forced her to stand on the end of her toes so he circled her waist with one arm.

“You’ve no need to thank me at all, little one. I owe you much more than a house.”

“You think far too little of yourself, Sephiroth.”

“No, Aeris, I think far too much…” He looked away and back out the window. Mercy was too much to bear.

The Cetra stretched up as tall as she could and caught his face in her little fingers. Surprised and amused despite his remorse, Sephiroth allowed her to turn it.

“Will nothing break this awful guilt? What else could you possibly do?”

Maybe die for you, little flower, though corruption will never allow. “Nothing on heaven or earth.”

“I forgive you, Sephiroth.”

Pain and joy shut his eyes. The Mako gleam, shaded but never extinguished, pulsed bright behind his lids. He fell to his knees with hard set jaw and laid his head to her heart.

“Oh little flower, say it again. Say you forgive me…”

“I forgive you. It was true yesterday. It was true in the past, and it will be true forever.”

“Those words make guilt tremble and cling to hold on, but its claws are dug deep in my soul.” He opened his eyes, the emerald washed sea parted by shadow so thin. “Do you think my mother forgives me, too?”

Aeris shook her head to palest tears. She laid her hand to his cheek and tried to capture his pain in her tiny palm. It wasn’t enough and the Planet, too, lamented it could not hold so much grief.

“I’m sorry, little one, to make you weep. You don’t deserve anymore sorrow.”

“Neither do you…”

Sephiroth sadly smiled before standing again with still lowered head. Clearing her tears, he kissed her brow, more troubled by her sadness than his. “Did you find my note this morning?”

“I…did,” she sniffed. The memory of their correspondence though did draw out a smile, and Aeris turned looking for the page. It was right on the bed, near enough to hand that she need not leave his arms. “Your handwriting is beautiful, but I’m sure you know that. It was like reading art.”

Sephiroth chuckled low as he took the short letter, scanning the writing with a flick of his eyes. “I wrote this with my off hand…I wanted to see if I still could.”

“Are you serious?” She snatched the letter back, rereading the promised words. “You did this with your right??”

“I was forced to be ambidextrous remember.” His brow furrowed in scrutiny. “The left would’ve been far better.” Aeris had to look again, and the general tilted his head. “I see that you wrote a brief note, too.” And just as she pictured, the saddest of smiles lit his beautiful face. “You called yourself ‘my little flower…’” Like forgiveness it filled his torn heart, but the rents would not let the joy stay.

“I…am your little flower,” she told him placing her cheek on his chest.

Oh Aeris…you can never be mine. I already…had you long ago. I lost all my chance in that fallen act.   You’ll find another who’s far more worthy.

Aeris met his gaze with a bit of chagrin, which raised a frosted brow. “So you’re not angry that I left the inn?”

“When have I been angry with you, Aeris? What gives me that right?”

The flower girl sighed but still managed to smile. It was a small relief. “I went to the bank after I ate breakfast, and I also found the church.” Excitement crept over her little voice and he wanted that grin on his lips.

“That’s good, little flower.” He brushed her smooth cheek. “You should lay down a foundation. You should establish yourself in this place.”

“You’re really not upset or angry?” Her head slightly tilted and she searched his cool eyes seeking some shred of ire.

“Why would I be, Aeris? You’re free, little one, and this is where you’ll reside.” He stood up straighter, shaking the hair from his face as it swept soft over her skin. “If I didn’t think this place was safe, I would never have left you alone.”

Sephiroth wouldn’t tell her the turmoil he’d borne in making that decision last night. To ensure her security he had to leave her, which seemed counter to the cause, but taking her along in the dead of night would’ve been far worse. All his senses had told him the hotel was safe and she had a locked door for a guard.

“Be wary though for there are monsters beyond the edge of town.” Aeris shook a bit and without a thought he carefully crushed her close. “It’s alright, little one. Within town you’re fine whether walking at morning or eve.”

“Well I don’t intend to go walking at midnight…unless I’m guarded by an angel.” She covered her mouth but the giggle escaped, as Sephiroth bowed his head.

“That again, little flower?” His teeth cut the words as the general forced his gaze through the window.

“That always,” she insisted, “you’re the best kind again, the great and the beautiful, better than before the fall. You have to know this. You have to believe this.” She didn’t dare turn his face back around. Once was enough for indulgence, and he seemed to be steeped in pain. “Sephiroth, you quite literally picked me up and carried me away yet you claim you’re not a hero.”

“I’m not.” He barely parted his lips and Mako seared double blue.

“How are you not?” She had such persistence for one so very small.

“Because of all I’ve done.”

“All you’ve done also includes all you’ve done for me.”

“All I’ve done in my last life nearly cost this world its future.”

Aeris stretched to kiss his cheek, and he couldn’t help but turn for her lips. The general bent to meet her halfway, and she silently thanked him for that. Fingers tangled in chestnut and frost-lit white as her lips yielded before his tongue. Her tiny waist trembled beneath his hands as they slid up her sides. Aeris pulled back to breathe, then he brushed her throat, and she hid the cry against his lips. Somewhere beyond what her skin could contain, she felt him undoing her braid. Passing long fingers carefully down and the binding could only obey. It shushed over his chest where the leather left bare, while he looked down with light on her face. The flower girl splayed against her protector with the Planet’s joy in her heart. She remembered it then, the lay of her lilies, and Sephiroth cocked his head as he listened.

“Are you humming, little flower?”

“Oh, you can hear that?!” Her cheeks burned as the melody ceased.

“It’s lovely. What is it?”

“A…song from the Planet. I always hummed it while tending my flowers. Do you…do you want to hear it?” she asked with tiniest voice, as shy as a child’s first play.

“There are only a few things I want more.”

Held breath escaped like captured breeze, before Aeris slowly inhaled. Then she hummed harmony with the great world, the melody without any words. Slow through her mind the soft petals shook as if woken by her sweet song. The pain in Sephiroth’s face receded as he half veiled his eyes to the lay. It was soft as a dream on the last edge of night, hiding power in thinness of sound. Just like her, was his thought. Everything about her tries to indicate weakness, but there hides the greatest strength, and yet she’s not deceptive. She’s not deceptive at all. It’s this world that keeps her under wraps. It’s greatest and gentlest weapon…

The blush had drained to leave her pale for such passion was needed to sing. Aeris looked up worrying her lip with embarrassment waiting in the wings. He brushed a hand against her face and the flower girl shut her eyes.

“If I had heard that song just once, I could’ve endured a million times more. It would’ve filled my soul with so much light no torture nor madness could drive it out. Thank you for that, little flower,” he whispered. “It’s something I’ll never forget.”

“No one has ever heard me sing that…it was only for my flowers.”

“You do me too great an honor then,” Sephiroth said as he bowed his head. A palm to his chest made him look back up to forgiveness in summer eyes.

“I can’t sing to them now, but I know they still grow unaided and bright in the slums.” Her pretty face fell. “I guess they didn’t need me at all.” The general placed his hand over hers, completely covering the little fingers.

“Do you truly think that they would grow without your presence in this world?” Curling under a thumb he rubbed her soft palm. “You’re the Planet’s daughter, the one it loves best. I do not doubt here, in very short order, the flowers will outdo the waves.”

“I wish you could see that…” She squeezed his hand so tight she hurt her own.

“Don’t harm yourself, Aeris,” he said to her gasp. “Not on account of me.

“I’m alright,” she assured as he massaged the small hand. “I just wish you could witness that day, if it ever comes, when all the flowers bloom, but…I know what you have to do, Sephiroth, and you have every right to seek that.”

He sighed and kissed the top of her head. “That’s something else I found out today.”

“Wh-What did you find out?” she asked, gathering worry on the edge of her face.

“Well, I bought a map and some things have changed from what you and I remember.”

“Oh, can I see it?! Do you mind?”

“Of course I don’t, little flower,” he told her. I only mind letting you go.

But he did so still to her matched chagrin and pulled a rolled tube from his coat pocket. The table where they had not eaten dinner was as clear as the night they’d arrived, so Sephiroth spread the paper there weighing the corners down.

“The salesman gave me quite a lock when I brought this up for purchase.”

“Do you think he recognized you?” Aeris asked throwing a worried glance.

“No, nothing like that,” Sephiroth assured, smoothing out the wrinkles. “But he told me most maps now were digital. You know,” he said waving his hand as if trying to stir up the term, “on a phone or some kind of device.”

“Oh,” was all she could think to say leaning over the map so spread. He stood tall above and emerald light washed the northern end like the lights from above. If you had a phone and I had one, too…it was too silly and stupid to ponder. There were girls still in school far less foolish than her as Aeris imagined herself pacing round. In front of the window of what was her house with phone crooked in a collarbone cage. Then his voice like a cello with strings sad and low murmuring, “Hello, little flower…”

“Aeris?” She didn’t quite gasp pulled from daydream to his inquisitive glance. Focusing her eyes, she sought out the familiar and could only sigh when her eyes fell on Midgar. The mapmaker was blunt and had painted it black, an old bruise upon the world. Kalm was green she supposed for the mythril, but Mideel was even greener.

“The Lifestream still flows there,” Sephiroth said noticing where her gaze fell, “though I hardly need to tell you that.”

Aeris nodded, brushing her palm on that spot, “Yes, it hasn’t receded yet. It’s only been a hundred years…” Her smile was just as sad as his eyes. “That’s nothing to time’s measure. Our lives are so very small.”

“And yet they can be so important.” He slid his hand against hers. Together they crept from south to north, past the Whispers and across a white sea. Broken by landmasses too large to be islands but too small to be full continents. Sephiroth lingered, eyes still as dead flame, questioning without hope of an answer. Aeris stayed by him, laying her fingers across his much longer ones. He opened his hand and she took the offering, letting them thread soft together. Her protector peered down where the curve of her neck was exposed by the tilt of her shoulder. The warm smell of her like sweet summer at dusk beckoned his lips to that space, but the general was nothing if not stoic and stern when it came to his own desires.

“Here, little one.” His forefinger waited beneath a blue town, the northernmost one on the map. He forced his eyes towards the unfamiliar word as they narrowed in sharp scrutiny. “This is the placed once known as Icicle Inn. It’s called Winterborough now, I suppose since the town is more than the inn.”

“That sounds like my name!” Aeris exclaimed.

Sephiroth raised a brow, caught confused for an instant then realization eased the silver arch down. “What is that, little one?” It was soft to hide shadows of shame everlasting that spanned a century until now.

“Gainsborough,” she told him, and darkness shed light to the forgiving squeeze of her hand. “A-And what’s yours?”

Sephiroth passed his free hand over the north, slivered pupils seeking the truth. “I suppose it would be Crescent.”

“That sounds very nice…” she told him leaning against his arm. “Sephiroth Crescent.” She tried the name out. “It makes you seem whole like the person you are. Monsters don’t get full names.” She grinned up in triumph.

“You’ll take that small victory, won’t you, Aeris?” He shook his head, but still had to smile.

“I will,” she replied with a tilt to her chin and lips wet in invitation. So he took what was offered hoping past doubts that he had not misunderstood. Sephiroth curled fingers on her cheek as silver framed their faces in frost. He only truly shut his eyes to welcome this briefest moment, a time where no nightmare could worm its way in despite Mako gleam being veiled. The flavor of grass and honey and storm coated his tongue as they danced, and he wanted it all, every last taste though it never could be depleted. I should stop this. I should cease right now. But he only deepened the kiss. Aeris clung to his neck as his hands clutched her waist, ever careful for tiniest span. He didn’t even realize he’d lifted her up, as Aeris hummed to her feet’s sweet relief.

“Your same song, little flower?”   Murmured so gently when he broke himself to let the kiss end. It lingered on his lips along with her sweetness as a sudden breeze fluttered the map.

The weights held it in place as Sephiroth sighed, turning his head towards his fate. Wind made the sunlight flicker like scales, obscuring what they had just seen, and he wished without whisper that that could be true so it would lead him to his soul’s desire.

“Um, Seph?”   Her little voice emptied his heart of all except one foolish thing.

“Yes Aeris?” He looked back around to her smile still strange for him being so close.

The flower girl rested her hands on his forearms, laughing as her feet kicked the air.

“Oh, I’m sorry, little flower.” He put the maid down, quickly removing his hands. She reached for his fingers before he could hide them, and the general relented to his relief. “I didn’t hurt you, did I?”

“Of course you didn’t!” she admonished as if the notion were more than silly. Laying her cheek against his chest, renewed sight of the map dampened her joy. His arms enfolded her sure and strong as they both viewed the too soon future. It could not be ignored manifested as real right before their so different green eyes. Aeris twisted a finger around one of his bangs as Sephiroth pulled the flower maid closer.

“It’s cold up north. Do you know why?” the Cetra finally said.

“It’s because it’s near the pole.” That was an easy fact. “The Planet is warmer near the center and colder at either end. The furthest south is much the same. That’s just simple science.”

“You’re right.” The moonlit hair swam like silk against her palm, smoother than even the waves of that sea with a color to rival the foam. “But the cold descends farther south than it should.” Aeris nodded towards the northernmost town. “It would never be warm, but winter would break. It’s always winter in Winterborough…” She breathed in deeply. “Because of the horror from long ago. Two thousand years and the Planet still needs to heal itself from that terrible wound.” Aeris squeezed her eyes shut to the dejection that tore through his battered soul. The slump of his shoulders that had nothing to do with the weight of the armor above.

“It’s always winter beneath the northern lights…” he whispered.

“And beneath the lights it’s always winter.” She lifted her head to his face, but emerald was burning on the very place he had just named. Smoothing the lock that still caressed her hand, Aeris brushed it against her skin. It smelled so clean, but not like shampoo, more like frost with a bare hint of fire. Vanilla scent swam like a halo around. But he’s already rejected that insight. What would he accept? Not glory, not beauty, even forgiveness, which he yearns for like light…because he doesn’t accept it, not from himself. That’s the saddest thing of all…

Dusk descended with evening to call, and they walked by the sea after dinner. The sky crisped its fringes to let fire rule so horizon bled out on deep blue. There were others enjoying the nightly display not far from Wesker’s Square’s steps. The crafts that bobbled slowly were solely for pleasure to the once general’s sweeping gaze. The sea seam’s illusion was too much to resist for those who had means to draw closer, but even though his sight was perfectly suited to cut through that beautiful mirage, he had Aeris before him, wrapped in his arms and lulled by the heavenly pageant. She kept looking up to cool pulsing green that grew brighter as starlight broke through. The moon had been waiting for this very chance to light hair that enhanced its hue, and the Cetra had no choice but to watch him, for she’d have the ocean every day. In only a few days past that soft eve, she took possession of the house. Kes personally handed her newly made keys as Sephiroth stood by her side.

“Like I said, miss,” the lame man said in what was now the flower girl’s foyer, “if you need anything just call.”

“Thank you,” she told him, offered her hand, which he hesitated a bit to take. The general was easier though Sephiroth gripped a bit tighter than really was fair. Shaking squeezed digits, Kes left them alone as night once again played its part. Red fingers drawn across a blue sky that was shushed by the quieting sea. Aeris led Sephiroth to the bay window perch and to his still surprise sat on his lap.

“Will you use the stars to find it?” she asked as they lit her face.

“No, little one.” He locked his arms around her. “I’ll just sidestep to Winterborough. That’s where I’ll begin…the northern lights surely fall there.”

“Oh.” The Cetra leaned against his chest, placing a palm on the solid, smooth surface. Her imagination had had him just walking away, striding sadly across the pale sands. The black of his coat and the light of his hair forever billowing in her eyes. It would have been the last sight she’d have, though she prayed it wouldn’t be the last memory. I’m so stupid…of course he’d sidestep. He’s been there long before. Why walk and wait even longer for what he’s been waiting his whole life to find. She envisioned then his beautiful face as he stepped forever from her sight. Her breath choked a sob, and his hand stroked one cheek while his lips pressed to the other.

“It’s alright, little flower. Remember I promised I won’t leave without saying goodbye, and besides…” He lifted her chin. “You’ll be so happy here you won’t even remember your terrible life before. “ Sephiroth kissed her and wished he could draw out the memories that brought her such grief, but the poor Planet’s daughter was cursed with remembrance despite his powers to make minds forget.

When she grew tired enough for sleep to come calling, the general carried her upstairs. He pulled thoughts away from his poor heart’s desire even as she sighed in his arms. The long braid and ribbon were right by his hands, begging to be undone. Then the sweet spill would bury his hands as her skin smelled like summer in storm… New sheets, new blankets, new pillows, new drapes made up the bed that was there, but Aeris still roused, clearly chagrinned when Sephiroth set her down.

“I do feel a little bit strange,” she admitted, “to be sleeping in somebody else’s bed.”

I can think of a wonderful way to make it our own…the general thought crouching down to her level. He was a master at controlling his face, but that turned his eyes deepest jade.

Just…ask me. She laid a hand to his cheek, knowing he never would. He would never feel worthy, and then the maid blushed for how vain must she be for such thoughts?

The flower girl changed into night things while he stood on the balcony, facing the tireless sea. Aeris found him when she finished, meaning to call, but approaching instead. The ocean was dark save for foam caps and stars, while the Whispers behind was soft lit. He took her small hand without need to look, drawing the Cetra before. They watched the sea, which never changed, but never grew tiresome. Its sameness was different in the bloom of a cap where it burst from a night black wave. The moon behind shroud awakened dark blue when it was allowed to escape, and they would’ve watched longer had not the wind chilled her, so he lifted her into his warmth.

My dear friend, Aeris shut her eyes as she drowned in his silver wreathed scent. Please don’t let him go away. I’m such a selfish child… She had to stop before she wept.

Sephiroth thought nothing for he forced his mind’s silence for fear she was right about him. What if manipulation was just inherent and it was so without his wish? But it would be my wish, and that’s only selfish. She deserves a new life without old horror. She deserves a world without me…


Author’s Note:  I do so love tea, and there’s more in this chapter to laud.  The “tea” of “vanilla with rose curling under” that Aeris “refuses to flavor with salt.”  That would be such a shame…to soil such fabulous flavor.  It is again made by my friend Katherine McIntyre the same as the lovely lavender mentioned in Chapter 11.  The Refreshing Rose Loose Leaf Vanilla should more than satisfy your curiosi…tea.

The end of Part I is nigh with Chapter 14 Forget Me Not, which will be posted next Friday June 26.  Thank you as always for your comments, likes, and support!

<–Chapter 12                                                                                                Chapter 14–>

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6 thoughts on “Chapter 13 – Establishments

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