By Lady Sanzennine

Disclaimer: Everything belongs to Squaresoft Inc.


The unforgiving, icy winds clawed and whipped against her slight form and the snow continued to fall.

Aeris hugged herself tightly as she forced her legs to continue forward. One foot, then another. Never mind the fact that her teeth were chattering violently and she could no longer feel her toes that seemed so far away from the rest of her body. She had to keep following him. He certainly wasn't about to stop for her. And if she were to fall too far behind now, if he were to forget about her, she'd certainly die. The merciless northern climate and her lack of supplies as well as survival experience…

But, he needs me, Aeris desperately tried to reassure herself. After all, he'd been the one to kidnap her and force her on this godforsaken journey towards the northern crater. She was still essential to his plans.

But what if he were to go too far before realizing she was missing? What if when he finally backtracked, she was already in a state beyond hope?

No, he wouldn't be so careless. He would see to it that she led him safely through the Sleeping Forest first. It would only be afterwards that he'd dispose of her. She shivered, as much from the bitter cold as from the fear that had encased her heart since she'd started on this voyage with Sephiroth.

In a matter of a fleeting moment, her life had been flipped completely out of sorts. Had it only been a week ago that she was still happily tending flowers in her church? Blissfully uninvolved with the drama that had become her life? Sometimes it seemed so surreal…Little good-girl Aeris, joining the rebellion and then getting captured by the Great Sephiroth.

Overwhelming fatigue dominated her senses as she struggled to keep her focus upon the uneven ground beneath her. Her breath was ragged and came only in short, tired gasps. She needed to rest. It was ridiculous of him to think that she'd be able to match him in stamina. Not that'd he care, of course, she thought bitterly. He'd just as soon drag her along. It didn't matter to him what condition she was in, as long as she survived long enough to get him through the Forest.

Suddenly, she stumbled, her foot catching against the protruding ground, obscured by the freshly fallen snow. She landed hard on her side, though she hardly felt a thing having long been rendered numb by the cold.

It was surprisingly…comforting, just lying there like that. To just succumb to the lure of sleep and the promises of peace it brought. She no longer felt the cold. All that was left was an intense weariness and something akin to total apathy.

What did it really matter if she were to just remain as she was, on the icy, snow covered ground? Not like anyone would really care…In her broken, fragmented mind, faces flittered across her memory. Elmyra, Tifa, Cloud…

Would Cloud miss her, she wondered? Was he searching for her now?

Oh, what did it matter? Gods, she was tired. Nothing mattered anymore. And why should it? Everything was doomed to Hell anyways. There was no hope. That had died long ago, alongside humanity's soul.

No one really cared. Loved ones were mourned for set periods of time and then quickly forgotten. For six months there's the prescribed true mourning, and then another six of half mourning. All of it false, the emphasis being on continuing with your own life. Because really, what else mattered in this world?

Certainly not her sacrifices.

Vaguely, Aeris was aware that she was quickly losing what was left of her weak grasp on reality and truth. But lying there in the soft embrace of the Planet's snowy terrain, she no longer cared.

Her eyelids slowly drifted shut, closing out the midnight blue sky and its stormy countenance. Only one thought pervaded her mind now. It cycled through what was left of her consciousness and blocked out all thoughts of consequences and duty.

Let me sleep.

She didn't feel the slashing wind against her dry lips and face. Nor did she notice the snow beneath her body melt and absorb into the slightly torn fabric or her clothes. But even through the haze of hypothermia and her consuming weariness, she felt a pair of strong arms come around her gently, lifting her from the icy pool of what could have been her eternal resting place. She found herself cradled against a warm chest, and without thinking, curled closer to the delicious warmth radiating from it. In the midst of the barren, frozen landscape, such heat was a small piece of heaven, fallen to Earth.

Like a twisted, malevolent angel. Misguided and abused, Aeris thought, as her eyelids fluttered open. He filled her vision – broad shoulders and beautifully chiseled features framed by almost unearthly, silvery strands of hair.

This was the man she'd dreamed about all through her childhood, just like every other starry-eyed girl in the world. The man completely beyond reach and thoroughly beyond hoping for.

And yet, he was there before her, studying her with a gaze of mako intensity. And as always, his coldly beautiful features revealed nothing of what he was thinking.

Aeris' teeth chattered as the warmth of his body began to penetrate through the frozen shell of her wet clothes. She felt herself being lowered to the ground. Glancing around, she saw that he'd taken her to a cave. It was small and cramped, barren except for the one large pack that Sephiroth had carried, containing all of their supplies, and the remnants of a campfire that had long ago been extinguished. There was also one large blanket, spread out to cover the hard packed dirt floor of the cave.

It was onto the center of the rough blanket that he placed her. For one moment, his face was so close to hers, she could feel the butterfly caress of his warm breath against her frozen cheek.

It was insane. It defied all reason and sensibility. But had it not been for the total numbness of her limbs, she knew that she would have reached up and touched his face, perhaps even tasted his lips. If for no other reason than to assure herself that he was real. That he was truly there, so near to her.

That she wasn't alone.

She let her tired eyes drift shut once more as her mind sifted through scattered memories. Had it been so long ago that she'd been smiling brightly among the security of friends? Never dreaming that things would come to this…Kidnapped by the general the world had thought long dead. Thrown into a dangerous, spiraling vortex of undecipherable emotions and a desperate struggle to protect what little was left of the Planet.

The smiles and the laughter of the past…concealing the pain that lay beneath. There had been countless nights, lying awake in the darkness with the covers pulled high to her chin, wishing and praying that the Planet's screams would cease.

Could a person ever be truly happy when something so dear to them, something that spoke within their minds, their very souls, was locked in constant agony?

Alone. Isolated. Such feelings and lasting impressions could not be escaped. Memories of her childhood, of being locked in glass domes and kept totally alone were impossible to forget. Such emptiness, recollections of reaching and crying out, only to be met with the firm resistance of unbending glass and the painful glare of cold fluorescent lights – they haunt you forever.

Perhaps that's why she'd always surrounded herself with gaiety. Why she ensured that she was never alone - or at least that there was someone close by at all times.

Some termed it clingy. Many viewed such feelings as weak and disgusting.

But in the blackness…

Aeris opened her eyes again with effort as she felt a light touch through her nearly deadened nerve endings. Shock did not register in her fragmented mind, merely confusion.

"What-" she began. Her voice sounded strange to her. Dry and cracked, and impossibly tired.

"Your clothes are soaked," Sephiroth calmly informed her. It was the first time she'd heard him speak since the first day he'd kidnapped her. Then, it had only been a few curt, clipped words explaining why he'd done so. Now his voice was soft – almost gentle – if that were even possible for him. "If you stay in them any longer you'll die."

His long, self assured fingers made quick work of the buttons that held her thin jacket closed. It was completely inappropriate for the strenuous journey towards the Sleeping Forest, but then again, he'd never taken her comfort into consideration when dragging her north with him. She realized then that it was a miracle that she's survived this long.

He carefully slid the opened jacket from her shoulders, fingertips brushing against the bare, frozen skin of her upper arms. She shivered as she felt the searing heat of those fingers burn through her icy skin. He'd removed his gloves, she noticed. Strong, yet graceful hands, roughened by years of training and battle.

He tossed the discarded garment in the direction of the abandoned campfire and reached for the remaining fastenings on her dress. Whether she blushed or not, she didn't know. She still couldn't feel most parts of her body.

The top few buttons of her dress came undone. Only the whisper of the wind beyond the cave pervaded the cold night air. Aeris held her breath as his hands traveled lower, slowly revealing more of her pale skin, now slightly tinted blue. At the back of her mind, the thought that she looked awful flitted about, followed by a flood of shame as the fact that her enemy was undressing her took root.

But all of that was drowned under a sudden, startling realization.

She didn't care. At that moment, it simply didn't matter.

In the vice-like grip of life and death, presented with your own mortality, what did names, titles or roles mean? Battle lines were drawn by people, not ordained by the gods. And if that was so, then why couldn't they cross those lines, if only for one night? If only for one moment? To revel in a bond forged by desperate loneliness and fruitless searching.

Perhaps he felt it as keenly as she did.

In the darkness, did he long to reach out the same way she did? Did he taste the bitter flavor of loneliness and the need for companionship as strongly as she?

What in Heaven's name was she thinking? Contemplating the possibility of consorting with the enemy…No. it was simply ludicrous.

But he was certainly beautiful. Every inch the fallen angel. Piercing mako green eyes, nose as straight as a blade and chiseled cheekbones. And sensuous lips she found herself imagining the taste and texture of.

One burning hot hand slipped under her back, lifting her upwards slightly so that he could pull the wet dress from her body. It joined the long forgotten jacket by the campfire. Sephiroth turned back towards her, his captive and ward until she led him past the Forest. His lips pressed together in irritation when he saw that her undergarments were also completely soaked. The implications of fully undressing her did not escape him. Under normal circumstances, he might even be pleased, but it was neither the time nor place for such leisurely exploits.

With a soft sigh, he hastily removed the rest of her frozen garments, frowning at the coldness of her flesh. Had he not needed to keep her health in mind, he would have paused a moment to admire the creamy perfection of her body, albeit slightly discolored from the cold. But a mere temporary affliction, that was.

He reached over and pulled on the edge of the blanket so that half of it lay beneath Aeris while the other half covered her body. He noticed that she was not yet shivering, still entirely frozen. It was a bad sign. He patted her cheek gently when it seemed that she was about to sink into unconsciousness – one she would likely never wake from.

"Stay awake," he commanded. "If you fall asleep now, you'll die." Then he rose to his full height and headed towards the campfire. "I'll join you shortly," he told her.

Damn her weakness. Her collapse in the snow would set them back. As if her unbearably slow pace hadn't caused him to lose enough time already. Sephiroth extended one arm before him, casting a low level fire spell. The leftover tinder from the old campfire burst into a crackling, dancing flame. He reached down and placed Aeris' clothes closer to the flame where they would dry faster, but far enough to ensure that they would not be consumed along with the firewood. A faint smile curved him lips at the thought of his captive's only clothes destroyed. But it was quickly replaced with a frown as he realized that it would put a further hindrance on his plans.

He turned back to Aeris and quickly shed his clothes. First and foremost he had to guarantee that her life was temporarily out of danger. He couldn't afford for her to suddenly die on him now. After they passed through the Sleeping Forest, however, then he could dispose of her. He glanced down at her tired, yet angelic face, taking in her struggle to keep her eyes open. She was clutching desperately at her last threads of consciousness.

He threw back the corner of the large blanket and climbed into its folds beside her. Perhaps he wouldn't kill her afterwards, as he'd originally planned. She could be of use to him yet. Even he, indescribably jaded after all the years, was not entirely immune to her beauty. There was nothing ethereal about her. She was earthly, as pure and sweet as summer rain. A firm rooting in the dreamland they walked.

His warm skin brushed against the icy coldness of her body. He gritted his teeth against the immediate instinct to pull away from the unpleasant sensation that touching her was bringing at the moment. Nearly frozen to death, even the most beautiful woman in the world would be a trial to hold in a man's arms. Nevertheless, Sephiroth steeled himself against his natural reflexes and pulled Aeris' frosty body into his embrace.

Utterly ridiculous. It was nearly laughable that he, Sephiroth would be caught in such an unfavorable situation. He was so close to achieving his destiny – so close to phenomenal power such that none had ever witnessed before. And here he was, forced to warm his unwilling captive with his own heat.

Though, he admitted to himself, such a body next to his under different circumstances could be quite a pleasure indeed. She was lithe and well curved, and fit perfectly against his much larger form. Yes, under different circumstances…different times and different fates.

It almost made him think, if only, if only.


Continuing to embrace his freezing companion, he fell into a fitful sleep brought only by the discipline of meditation.

And within the impenetrable darkness of subconscious dreams, emptiness and longing reigned. Unquestioned and all consuming, gnawing on the fringes of sanity or whatever was left of it. Always thoughts of why whirled viciously through the soul, never allowing a moment's true peace.

Why had he ever been conceived?

To be a mere pawn in other's plans? In the cruel machinations of Fate? To live a life of metaphorical solitude and forever wonder at the foreign emotions that poets and artists spent centuries glorifying.

That elusive sensation called love.

Oh, but to feel it just once…As a babe in the arms of a loving mother, secure in the knowledge that safety is assured and all the world is but a playground for the innocent. Or the arms of a lover, enveloped in the promise of eternity – not for wealth or title but for a soul as unique as each freshly fallen snowflake, pristine and untouched from Heaven's realm. For a carefree, genuine smile that did not disguise an ulterior motive…

But such luxuries were reserved for the blessed and the fortunate. For a fallen angel, there could never be anything but the cold, lonely darkness.

And so one option remained. And one alone.

To rule everything by means of indisputable power, to have it all - the world beneath his feet. To be worshipped and revered not just as an extraordinary man, but as a God.

To rule over a desolate, barren planet…

Such was the edict of Fate. The only path left for him to walk. Almost like his duty, really, to fulfill the cruel wishes of sadistic destiny. And Sephiroth had always been incomparable when it came to matters of duty.

So let it burn. Let the world burn, and through its self-fed pyre, let it cleanse its own countless impurities and festering wounds.

As for the emptiness in his soul that would remain even after carrying though Fortune's wishes, it was his curse. His to bear for eternity, for the unforgivable sin of being born beneath the wings of a star crossed lifetime. It wouldn't be too difficult. The cold barrenness, he had endured all his life. The bitter loneliness, he was well acquainted with.

Ah, and the darkness. It suffocates and blinds, settling the world into a strange type of calm.

Let me see not the light,

Never once in all my life.

For just one taste of the forbidden

Can bring not but desire and strife.

To taste a bit of Heaven, deliciously forbidden ambrosia, would forever leash the hapless fool who gave in to temptation. For once can never be enough. One single, insignificant taste of perfection enslaves you and escape is impossible.

Those were the thoughts that first penetrated Sephiroth's mind when he awoke to the feeling of a wonderfully soft, pliant body intertwined with his. Gone were the last remaining beads of ice water upon her skin and the last traces of chill. All that remained was luscious warmth and the satiny feeling of her smooth skin against his.

She stirred in his arms, still asleep as a soft sigh whispered past her lips. He now felt what hadn't immediately registered in his mind upon first waking – soft breasts pressed against his well muscled chest and one slim thigh nestled between his own. His reaction was instinctive, naturally, and completely mortal. His body hardened.

How long had it been, he wondered, since he'd last enjoyed the pleasures offered by a female form? Weeks? Months? Whatever the length, it had been far too long, he realized.

Without thinking, one hand came up to carefully smooth back the stray tendrils of chestnut hair that had fallen into her face during the night. His fingers lingered a moment longer, treasuring the feel of strands of pure silk gracing calloused skin. Smooth perfection to his harsh roughness.

Sephiroth slowly raised himself up until he was propped up by one arm. With the other, he shifted Aeris until she was untangled from his body.

She was indescribably beautiful if her sleep. He wondered why he hadn't noticed until now. Preoccupation with the journey? Likely. But now he had the opportunity to compensate for that error. Her skin was creamy perfection, smooth, supple, and glowing by the light of the campfire. Delicately arched brows, well bred nostrils and high cheek bones, all in harmony to produce a work of art. And rose-tinted lips that were lush and inviting.

His thumb ran lightly along the length of her lower lip, a mere butterfly caress that still did not wake her. In his mind words ran like a chant, blurring together into an incoherent torrent of emotions. Warnings, desires, need and caution warred within him.

Stay away from the witch…but, she's so beautiful…ah, but she could be your undoing…

But that was ridiculous. He was not a foolish, untried youth who would lose his head to whatever attractive girl was nearby. No, there was an undeniable attraction between them, a connection on some strange obscure level that neither would ever admit to. There was a sudden, irresistible need to reach out and touch her in a way that went beyond the shallow physical. As if…as if clinging to a last lifeline while struggling with the unrelenting, malevolent waves of the sea.

Let me see not the light. Let me taste not the forbidden.

For somehow he knew without question that joining with her would leave the course of their paths forever altered. She was not like the others. Not superficial or meaningless like the others.

His fingers splayed to run across the soft curves of her face, tracing the line of her jaw, her brow, brushing teasingly against her temple and then venturing lower over the slim column of her neck. Still in her sleep, Aeris stirred. He leaned down to close the distance that separated them. His lips touched hers, fleetingly, then again. Slowly, he ran the tip of his tongue over her bottom lip until he felt her shift once more beneath him, coming closer to consciousness with each passing moment.

Madness. Utter madness. As his mind continued to wage its inner war, his body continued the slow, languorous process of waking the beautiful woman that lay sprawled so wantonly beneath him.

Really, what did he have to lose, he asked himself. A few moments pleasure and a confused, but likely more willing captive Cetra he would gain. He alone held all the cards and she was subject to his mercy and desires.

Nevertheless, an insidious voice continued to whisper silently.

Fate has a twisted sense of humor.

Aeris' eyes fluttered open and in their crystal depths her disorientation was clear. In the moments between first sight and first thought, in that waking dream world, her drowsy mind hardly even registered the fact that she was unclothed and lying beneath an equally bare man.

All she felt was a familiar surge of joy. The simple wonder of seeing and breathing, feeling the somewhat coarse blanket beneath her as well as the hard, unmoving ground. And from above, incredible heat that she welcomed like the summer sun upon her face – so rare a sensation when living in Midgar.

Nearly dying from the lashing cold had taken its toll on her mind and emotions. And in her sleep, that age old yearning had returned full force. Like reaching out into the darkness for an intangible, wraith-like entity. Always chasing after ghosts and never really knowing why.

At least, never admitting why.

Suddenly, all the sensations her body was experiencing fully dawned on her. She felt the incredible warmth surrounding her weakened form and the soft tingling of her lips. With effort, she brought her vision into focus and her eyes widened at what she saw.

In a thousand years, she never would have dreamt that such a day could come to be. Shinra's incomparable legend – a man so revered in the past, he had almost become mythical in the tales of his countless exploits on the battlefield – gazing down at her in such a manner. His eyes were heavy lidded with passion and his wonderfully well built body covered hers entirely in a way that was both primal and possessive.

A torrent of mixed emotions assaulted her at once. There was shame and embarrassment over such impropriety entwined with a thrilling sensation because she, Aeris, had made Sephiroth want her.

But all of that was crushed under a somber realization.

What would transpire in the next few moments? He would use her to satiate his lust, and whether or not she was willing would matter little. If she refused to cooperate, she didn't have the strength to fight him. And a man bent on global destruction had no conscience to speak of. One way or another, her death was inevitable. And so close, she could easily count the days remaining in which breath would continue to enter her body.

So what did it matter? What did anything matter in the end?

Time had trickled by on the brutal journey by Sephiroth's side. The days had been strenuous and the nights cold and lonely, filled only with silence. And in the stillness, what had there been to do save contemplate the futility of life? Ever onward, on a spiraling, twisting path that always lead to the same destination.

Romantics and idealists claimed that the only important thing, the only thing worth living for in life's bitter journey is love. And yet, love disintegrates as though it were merely a delicate flower – growing, blooming, but ultimately wilting beneath the burning rays of the sun. Or, if not destroyed of its own accord, then it's ripped away by the greedy claws mortality and tragedy. Nothing lasts forever and nothing is truly sacred.

So why bother?

Why not simply stop fighting and give in? Give in to the inevitable, the unavoidable. Give in to oblivion.

The tension disappeared from her body instantly. Yes, surrender and sleep. Mayhap if she were lucky, it would be an everlasting sleep. Only then, in the eternal peace of death…perhaps she would find the true happiness that had been denied to her on the lonely plane of the living.

Her lustrous lashes lowered to rest softly upon her skin.

Sephiroth leaned back slightly, his acute observation taking note of the change in the flower girl. For one moment it had seemed that she was as vibrant and full of life energy as she'd been among her rebel friends before he'd kidnapped her. And now she lay there like a corpse or perhaps a brave virgin sacrifice before the hungry eyes of the beast. One corner of his mouth tugged upwards at the thought.

"I had not thought you'd be so frigid," he spoke.

Aeris' eyes flew open in surprise. Since he'd first lured her away from Avalanche's camp and stolen her away, he hadn't said two words to her much less a complete sentence. To have heard him speak again, the second time in mere hours was disconcerting.

She turned her head to the side to look away from him. That veiled gaze was strangely disturbing. "All women are frigid when there's no proper incentive."

A pause. The uncomfortable silence caused Aeris to sneak a quick glance at Sephiroth from the corner of her eyes. What she saw was as useless to her as always. His expression never revealed anything about the thoughts encased firmly within his mind.

Inwardly, Sephiroth seethed. An impeccable memory could be more than irritating at times, for he remembered with perfect clarity the laughter in her eyes and the playfulness of her demeanor when she'd been by her friends.

When she'd been with Cloud.

Could it really be that the foolish, poor excuse for a boy, Cloud Strife could succeed easily where he failed in the dealings of this woman? A mere puppet could best him? What a preposterous idea.

He would have just obeyed the commands of his body and taken the girl – willing or not, but pride held him back. So she believed herself immune to him? That would be seen to now and any claims of frigidity would be firmly trampled before the sun rose and their journey continued.

Sephiroth shifted his body until he lay beside Aeris instead of covering her. He reached out beyond the folds of the blanket towards the traveling pack that he'd left close to their makeshift bed by the campfire. A slight smile curved his chiseled lips as his searching hands finally found one of the ration packages that he'd packed for their travels. Though he'd never admit to appreciating anything even remotely related to Hojo, he'd always been quite thankful to the science department for developing modern food packages for the army. Plain beef jerky was outdated and now replaced with nutritious meals that were portable, self heating and actually good tasting.

He held a tightly sealed container in his hands which he knew contained a confection of rotini pasta and chicken. It would suit his purposes nicely.

Beside him, Aeris shivered with the sudden loss of the warmth of his body. She inwardly cursed herself for being so weak and for briefly missing the feeling of his skin touching hers. But before she had a chance to wonder what he was up to now, he turned back to face her and she found her gaze trapped by the intensity of his eyes.

Surely it was some twisted joke of the gods to bestow such hauntingly beautiful features on the devil. Then again, hadn't Lucifer been the most beautiful of all Heaven's angels?

"You must be famished by now," he said softly, shattering her thoughts.

It was the drowsiness, she told herself, that was making her feel so out of sorts. Her fatigue, and yes, her hunger, were playing strange and cruel games upon her mind, making it so incredibly difficult to remember who she was and who he was. How else could a few whispered words and a heated glance so unravel her?

"Yes, thank you," she replied as she reached for the container in his hands while trying to keep the blanket between his eyes and her bare skin. Before her fingers could touch it though, he quickly moved it slightly out of her reach. She looked at him puzzled.

He smiled at her wolfishly, leaving her no doubt that it was not food that he wished to devour, but her.

"Patience my pet," he said as he let eyes drop for a moment to where the blanket had slipped slightly from her movement. Though only her collar bone had been bared and a hint of skin beneath, it was a lovely view all the same. "Did you know that the best trained and prized of all hunting birds and hounds are fed only by their master's hand?"

Aeris' brow furrowed and she opened her mouth to ask what he meant by that unexpected comment. She promptly closed it again when Sephiroth peeled back the plastic lid of the meal container. Delicious scents wafted from the slightly steaming contents of the box and her mouth began to water. Her stomach rumbled slightly, now reminded with full force just how long it had gone without food.

She watched in rapt fascination as he carefully picked up a piece of the bite sized pasta with long, precise fingers. Sometime when she'd been distracted, he had shifted closer to her and now she felt the hard length of his body pressed against hers. He was so close, his heat so near and enticing. Combined with her overpowering hunger, she thought she might go mad within moments.

Following his example, Aeris tried to reach out again to begin the inelegant task of eating with her fingers, but again he moved the meal package out of her reach.

"Sephiroth!" she nearly yelled. This was ridiculous. Just what kind of game was he trying to play?

He merely grinned at her again with male confidence and the full knowledge of his own power. "What did I say about being fed by the master's hand?"

Aeris' jaw dropped open and her eyes widened in surprise and shock. For the span of several heartbeats, her mind was a completely clean slate. Finally she chocked out, "You're kidding, right?"

He shrugged and proceeded to bring the rotini piece to his lips. Slowly, deliberately, they opened and closed around it and his tongue flicked out to clean off the sauce that had covered part of his fingers. His burning mako eyes never left hers.

Inwardly, Aeris groaned as she fought an internal battle. She would not subject herself to anything this humiliating. Fed by her master indeed. How dare he? But as time crawled by and he continued to enjoy his meal while watching her squirm, her resolve began to crack.

Sephiroth studied her intently as he ate. He admired the way she didn't give in immediately and how she tried so valiantly to defy him. He also admired the way her lips reddened slightly as she caught her lower lip between her teeth.

While Sephiroth was amused, Aeris felt like she was going to scream. But in the end, true hunger is incredibly motivating. When faced with the option of continuing to feel as though her stomach were devouring itself and humbling herself before a man she was starting to detest…it was only a matter of time.

She didn't hate anything or anyone. It was too strong of a word. But maybe this one time, she'd make an exception.

"Fine," she ground out. "You win." Hell, she was lying in a cave without a stitch of clothing and sharing a blanket with him. Moments ago, she'd been ready to just lie there and let him rape her. So, she told herself, this couldn't be that bad. Somewhere deeper and quieter within her thoughts though, she was trying to convince herself that being fed in such a fashion would not be erotic at all.

He was a monster, she reminded herself. A soulless, conniving monster.

That knowledge had better be enough to prevent her from doing anything unbearably foolish.

Sephiroth wasn't feeling nearly so torn or confused as the girl beside him. He picked up another piece of pasta with his fingers and lifted it the short distance to her lips. He suppressed a smile as he watched her hesitate, then pluck the food from his fingers with her teeth, careful to keep her lips away from his skin.

She might have preferred it that way, but he wasn't satisfied. His hand changed position slightly so that the knuckle of his forefinger gently caressed her full lower lip. Though she tried to suppress it, he felt the tremor that ran through her body. Her eyes lowered and he noticed the way her eyelashes cast soft shadows against her skin by the warm light of the fire.

"Was that really so hard?" he asked. His voice was just above a whisper, soft and seductive against the muted whistling of the wind beyond their shelter.

"I – I don't know," Aeris replied, still dazed by the effect of his careful touch. "You've surprised me so many times tonight."

Sephiroth chose a chunk of chicken this time. He paused in bringing it to her mouth to ask, "How so?"

Aeris parted her lips to accept the offered morsel but before she could take it with her teeth again, he placed it in her mouth and then took his time sliding his fingers out from between her warm lips. Her body involuntarily trembled again and she felt a curious warmth spreading leisurely through her every limb.

She chewed slowly, wanting to delay the disconcerting feelings that accompanied his fingers each time he fed her. After swallowing, she answered his question cautiously, "I didn't think – what with your reputation and everything – that…"

"That I could be gentle?" he finished for her in an amused tone.

Aeris blushed and Sephiroth inwardly noted how becoming she was with her cheeks tinted a faint pink and glowing in the firelight. Desire shot through him but it was under control.

She nodded while trying to avoid his eyes.

"We are all multifaceted," he told her as he continued the pleasurable task of feeding her. "There's no such thing as black and white or good and bad. Only shades of gray."

Aeris was somehow unsurprised to hear such words from his lips. She spoke between bites, "And if we're all a blend of both sides, then there's always a way to move along the scale."

"So say the dreamers," he stated nonchalantly.

His gaze dropped from her eyes to her inviting mouth, watching intently as she accepted another morsel from his fingers. The mako of his eyes flared bright when she seemed to forget herself. Lost in preoccupied thoughts, she didn't notice that she'd leaned in far enough to allow her lips to touch his fingers, and her small pink tongue flicked over the rough skin to clean off the sauce.

She pulled back quickly, but he was faster. One hand pressed against her upper back to keep her where she was while the other traced her lips with one finger. He leaned down, his face scant inches from hers, until she could feel his warm, clean breath against her cheeks. She closed her eyes and waited in breathless anticipation, lost in the intoxicating effect of his nearness.

He'd shown her a side of him that she'd never have imagined. A tender and almost caring side that left her dazed and unsure. It was likely all just a carefully controlled attempt at seduction, but still, she couldn't help but be affected. If he could show such control, such careful restraint, might he not be more than what people now thought of him as – an insane, cold blooded murderer?

He could have forced himself on her at any time. Though he couldn't kill her yet, out of necessity, it would have been so easy to have treated her cruelly along their journey. But he hadn't. Negligent and inattentive he might have been, but certainly not brutal or malicious.

Gods, she wanted…she wanted to believe that there was a hidden man beneath the surface. She wanted to cling to that image she'd seen in her mind's eye that one insignificant moment several nights ago when she'd waken to his tortured cries.

Might there not be a way? Couldn't there be a chance, no matter how slim and improbable, that he could be saved from both the unheard demons that haunted him and from himself?

She felt the indescribably light pressure and delectable warmth of his lips upon her eyelid, sweeping slowly from one corner to the other. His warmth retreated, only to return a moment later to favor her other eyelid with the same treatment. She trembled in his arms and her lips parted slightly. His mouth traveled downwards following a leisurely trail from her temple, over her cheek, to finally pause at her mouth. Aeris held her breath as he brushed his lips against hers teasingly and then again. Waves of heat rushed downwards through her body to coil in her belly and lower as her skin seemed to come alive for the first time in what felt like an eternity.

Perhaps the Planet was singing in her ears or maybe it was just her blood rushing through her veins in a never before felt excitement that claimed both the mind and body. Somehow, despite all their differences, beyond their strictly drawn battle lines, coming together like this felt so right, so perfect. It was as though in a sadistic sense they were always meant to join together, though the games of fate prevented such dreams from being realized.

Then suddenly it was over. His inflaming touch withdrew and his lips parted from their all too brief interlude with hers, leaving a universe of unexplored possibilities and sensations behind. With his warmth, the music that had coursed through her nerves left her as well, and all that remained was a sharp feeling of emptiness and longing.

Disappointed and angry at herself for being so, she looked up at him, wondering what unfathomable thoughts were passing through his head. He merely smiled at her again – a smile that was breathtaking each time it showed not only for its physical perfection but because she'd never seen it before this night.

"We should finish our meal before it gets cold," he told her. Her reaction pleased him immensely, though he was careful not to show it. Indeed, his little flower girl was not nearly as frigid nor as impervious to his charms as she would have had him believe only a short while ago. He could sense her frustration as keenly as he felt it in his own body. Ah, but patience was a virtue that brought many rewards.

Aeris tried hard not to stare at him in disbelief. The man was impossible. Just what did he think he was doing?

She carefully raised herself upon one propped up elbow while using her free hand to pull on the blanket it to keep it covering what it should. "Yes, you're right," she agreed coolly. "No sense in wasting perfectly good food." She silently applauded herself for how collected her voice managed to sound when all she could really think about was the fact that she wanted to wring his neck while simultaneously kicking herself.

She had lost her mind. There was no other explanation for her behavior. She should have demanded a long time ago that he get out and get dressed. If she hadn't known with certainty that her own clothing was still damp, she would have done it herself. Anything to at least appear decent in front of this man.

Her captor, a man known throughout the world as a killer, the man bent on global destruction…And she was dallying with him? Her face flamed as she suddenly remembered her friends and what they would undoubtedly think of her if they ever knew what had nearly happened.

But there was still that strange, unexplainable side of her that even now did not want him to leave her in the warmth of the blanket alone. There were still that undeniable attraction that made little sense, went beyond the physical, and commanded her to stay and explore whatever was happening between the two of them.

Sephiroth had put the meal container down when he'd started kissing her. Now, he reached over to where he'd left it and brought it to rest between his propped up elbow and Aeris'.

Noticing this, Aeris asked in surprise, "You're letting me eat by myself now?"

One corner of his mouth curled up in a charming partial grin that made her heart skip a beat. "No," he said. "You're going to feed me."

Perhaps she should have refused. Perhaps she really should have told him to put his clothes on and keep his distance from her. But regardless of logic and propriety, she didn't complain, but simply did as he bade. Tentatively, she picked up a piece of pasta between her forefinger and thumb and raised it to his lips. Where she had been careful in avoiding touch between her lips and his fingers, he did just the opposite.

He leaned forward and deftly caught her fingers between his lips. His tongue retrieved the food she offered while deliberately moving over her soft skin. His eyes never left hers.

A simple, innocent kiss devoid of further implications had nearly undone her. This was finishing the job he'd started.

She swallowed as she determinedly reached for more food when he finally deigned to release her captured fingers. In the next unforgettable minutes, she learned just how deliciously erotic the simple act of eating could be. Sephiroth continued to sensuously tease the skin of her digits, his tongue caressing and his teeth gently nibbling. It wasn't long before she was so distracted by the tensely coiled heat in her lower belly that when he resumed his earlier task of feeding her, she mimicked his actions without thinking.

His eyes gleamed in pleasure, knowing one more bar had been crossed.

Aeris licked away the sauce that coated the tips of his fingers and he felt his body harden in response. How much longer could he continue this before losing all control?

"It's not fair," she whispered after a moment. "You shouldn't be able to do this to me." She felt herself slipping away from reality and into a waking dream world that was infinitely better. It was a world where she could simply drown in the intensity of his eyes and bathe in the feelings of rightness that she couldn't deny.

"Do what?" he asked, just as softly. "This?" He raised two fingers to the pulse point of her throat, enjoying the feel of the rapidly rushing blood through her veins. "Ah, but my pet, we've only just begun."

He slowly lowered his head over hers until their lips just met. He just hovered there, waiting.

Desire quickened her breath while it slowly but surely morphed into a burning need. It was as though he could read her mind and body as well as she, for just when Aeris felt as though she would crack from the tense anticipation, Sephiroth's tongue come to trace her lower lip.

Her head fell back slightly as a soft sound of pleasure escaped her lips. They parted of their own accord so that her breath could mingle and play with his. His tongue slowly slipped in to explore the soft, heated crevices of her mouth, stroking with infinite patience, savoring every passing moment. Paths of fire raced through her body, bringing all of her senses to full awareness. The intoxicating masculine scent of him and the wonderfully hard and unyielding feel of his body pressed against hers worked like a drug on her mind.

Sephiroth smiled inwardly as he felt his now willing captive arch up slightly so that her breasts pressed against his chest. The motion deepened their kiss, bringing him further into the depths of her sweet, yielding mouth. Yes, she was his now. Her compliance decreed it so.

He longed to bury himself within her hot depths and ease the almost unbearable ache that had grown in his loins, but he held himself in check. It would not happen until she was ready. Until she cried and pleaded for their joining.

To enslave the senses is paramount to enslaving the heart and soul.

Sephiroth tore away from the enthralling delights of the flower girl's mouth to study her expression. Emerald green irises had darkened to the shade of cypress needles and their pupils dilated in passion. Heavy lidded eyes gazed up at him dazedly above a pair of glistening, kiss swollen lips.

"What were you saying earlier about proper incentive?" he whispered before shifting their bodies so that she lay on her back with her head pillowed in one of his large open palms.

Before she could answer, his knowing lips found her delicately boned ear and began to caress each curve and crevice, nibbling gently when he came upon the lobe. His path continued lower, down the column of her neck and he paused there to lavish the same careful treatment over her rapidly beating pulse point and along the sleek line of her collarbone.

His ministrations were finally rewarded with a soft moan from his companion before she licked her lips and spoke. "Sephiroth," she said unsteadily between breaths, "I-"

Aeris gasped suddenly as his clever fingers traced along the curve of her breast, sending chills down her back. They were such foreign sensations to her body, but so pleasurable she wished for them to never end. She arched her back, wanting to feel more of the incredible heat of his hands upon such a sensitive part of her body.

Sephiroth pushed the blanket away from her skin to expose her perfect breasts to the glowing light of the fire and his ravenous eyes. His hand paused a moment, still cupping one small breast while he admired the feminine curves of her body. She was small and lithe, lovely without being overly voluptuous.

"You're beautiful," he told her sincerely. In his jaded eyes, she was a masterpiece created by nature's hand – so pure and simply wonderful in the midst of all the tainted, falsified beauty of the world.

The last Ancient. As though Heaven itself had ordained she be his.

"And you're amazing," she whispered in breathless admiration. His body was as perfect as his face and if he were to suddenly sprout wings – either white as freshly fallen snow or black as polished obsidian – she would not have been surprised. She knew with perfect certainty that from this moment on, for however long Fate allowed her to live, he would remain her fallen angel.

The image of his eyes was forever seared into her memory at that moment. It was as though for one instant and one alone, the veil had dropped away, revealing the truth she'd always known on some level.

They say the eyes are the windows to the soul. And when the walls of ice are torn down, for however insignificant a time span, the eyes don't lie. And what she saw in their haunting mako depths moved her in a way that she would never be able to describe. The sudden connection that had come to life between them was so real and so heartbreaking she could have cried.

Yes, the nights had always been so cold. So lonely. Isolated in this bitter, unfeeling world where sin and corruption, greed and indifference reigned. He'd reached out in the darkness just as she had, feeling and searching for one lifeline – any lifeline – to cling to in the midst of the tempestuous, violent waves of reality.

In a world filled with such cruelty, a tiny crumb of compassion had been too much to ask for. How much had he suffered before firmly encasing his heart in a shell of nearly unbreakable ice? How much of him had been destroyed before he'd learned that hate and power were the only ways of surviving the world as unscathed as possible?

There's no such thing as black or white…Only shades of gray.

Then might he not…? Might there still remain a way, a chance no matter how slim, that the man he would have been – should have been – could still be saved?

Dear gods, let there be a way. Let there be some hope for your fallen angel.

"We're the same, you and I," Aeris said. Her eyes had become moist and now threatened to spill unbidden tears. "Two sides of the same magic."

A sad smile softened his sharp, beautiful features. "Light to my darkness."

She returned his smile as she closed her eyes. "Yes. Opposite paths and destinies. But now we're here." She breathed in deeply, reveling in the scent of him mixed with the campfire and delighting in the feeling of life. No matter how short it was to be she would enjoy ever last infinitely precious second of it. Here, with him. "Now we're here," she repeated, "Together. And I don't want you to stop, Sephiroth."

Let her friends think what they would. Let the entire world frown upon her and call her wanton, a faithless whore who consorted with the enemy. It didn't matter because they didn't understand.

They didn't know of the hidden pain and emptiness. All they saw was a one-dimensional monster beyond hope of redemption and an equally single faceted flower girl who felt only happiness and love.

Let the blind live in their simple little world. They had their own – if only for this one night.

As one, they reached for each other, they lips meeting in perfect time and their tongues dancing together in the intricate pattern of lovers with not one care for the world beyond their warm, secure universe. Her arms wrapped around his neck, and one hand tangled itself in long satin threads of silver starlight while the other stroked the smooth skin of his well muscled back. His body was so wide, so strong, the entire length of it like velvet covered rock.

One of his hands slipped between their bodies to softly stroke her breast. Calloused fingers grazed over the orb and nipple so lightly, Aeris shivered from the sensation. It hardened immediately from the loving attention of Sephiroth's hand to become an incredibly sensitive nub, straining upwards for more.

Her hands traveled down the back of his body, tracing along the long length of his spine and then brushing against the hard flesh of his buttocks. He groaned into her mouth and she smiled, pleased that she could extract such a reaction from him.

Sephiroth pulled his lips away from Aeris' with a ragged breath to venture lower on her body, kissing a trail along her jaw, down neck, shoulder and the length of her arm to finally reach the tips of her fingers. One by one, he placed a soft, chaste kiss upon each finger tip and in the center of her small, cupped palm.

Aeris was moved beyond mere words. Yes, it had begun as a purely sexual venture, just an act to relieve the tension that had naturally grown between a solitary pair traveling together for so long. But now…

Something beautiful had developed. Something indescribable and precious that was meant to be savored.

If only for one night…

But surely there was a way. There had to be a way to ensure that this was not the end. That when the dawn broke and the sun rose, their paths would be forever altered to allow them a true chance at life – together.

Sephiroth's lips moved to the thin skin of her wrist, showering her everywhere with hot, open mouthed kisses. When he reached her inner elbow, Aeris trembled in his arms again. When his knowing lips found an already hardened nipple and he began to lick and suckle, she cried out into the night and threw her head back in pleasure.

He pressed his swollen manhood to the outside of her thigh, letting her feel the full force of his passion. She gasped as he did so, amazed at how hard his body had become and slightly nervous too.

"I promise you, I won't hurt you," he swore to her once he released her captive breast. He would see to it that she had the experience of her life tonight. Tomorrow the sun would rise and they would continue on as they had before, along separate paths laid down by Fate.

Paths that could only end in tragedy and despair. For they could never really be together. A thousand miles lay between them. A thousand obstacles had to be overcome, and in one lifetime, a thousand was far too great a number.

But tomorrow was an eternity away. For now…

You're the only one that seems to understand.

Let me taste not the forbidden…

But now it was too late. He had sampled one morsel of contentment, here by the flower girl's side. And all it would succeed in doing would be to make their paths even harder.

His hand left her cheek, where his thumb had been stroking her creamy skin. Down her body it traveled to slowly caress the slim length of her thigh.

"Aeris," he breathed. Softer than a whisper. More heartrending then the power of death.

"I know," she told him sadly. "I know."

Yes, she understood. Tonight would change nothing in terms of what the future had in store, though they both wished it otherwise. But they would be altered. They would be arise different people than the ones they had laid down as. But not different enough to be able to conquer the difficulties between them.

Perhaps if they'd met sooner, before his heart had hardened irreparably, there might have been a way. If they'd met before he'd lost his mind and slaughtered an entire village, there could have been a measure of hope. Perhaps if they'd been further from his destination, his ultimate goal, there might have been some chance. But now…now their paths were set.

And they both accepted their star-crossed fates.

His fingers skimmed the incomparable softness of her inner thigh, sending rivulets of flame to pool in her feminine core. She moaned parted her legs as she reached blindly beneath the blanket to grasp his swollen length in her small hand. Sephiroth groaned deeply at the incredible sensation of her fingers lightly stroking him and his mouth descended upon hers with the full force of their mutual passion.

His hand traveled slightly higher to brush against her outer femininity. Aeris was far from satisfied at such a fleeting touch and arched towards him. With careful control he stroked her wet, creamy depths, finally sliding one finger in to explore her most secret crevice. She cried out in pleasure though the sound was lost in their kiss.

Sephiroth continued to hold himself in check. Soon. Soon they could join and ascend the peaks of rapture together.

While his finger slid in and out of her with tantalizing slowness, his thumb carefully caressed the hardened nub of flesh at the apex of the juncture between her thighs. Beneath him, he felt Aeris' body jerk and tremble uncontrollably, making his own control slip even more.

She was beyond thought, encased entirely within a spectacular cocoon of pure feeling. The incredible sensations flooding outwards from her core, from where his finger seared, overwhelmed all else. She was filled with an incredible longing, and incredible need to feel him inside her.

He tore his lips from. "Tell me the words, Aeris," he commanded raggedly.

Her arms came around his body to hold him tightly to her. Her eyes met his and held them, refusing to break the intimacy of the moment. His finger slid out of her hot depths as he positioned himself over her.

"Love me, Sephiroth," she whispered.

Just one night.

He slowly slid into her delightfully tight depths, gritting his teeth to prevent himself from letting go and taking her in a manner that could brutalize her. He felt the resistance of her maidenhead and paused, his arms straining to keep him from letting go. He was unsurprised that she was still a virgin, innocent as she was. But nonetheless, he felt flattered and somehow humbled that she had saved it all this time and was willing to give it to him.

"It will only hurt for a moment," he told her softly before leaning in to capture her soft mouth.

With that, one quick thrust and the barrier of her innocence was torn. Her cry of pain was muffled in his mouth but the unpleasantness was quickly fading for her, lost in the ecstasy and wonder of the moment. Above her, Sephiroth laid perfectly still, waiting patiently for her to adjust to him.

Finally as one, their bodies began to move in a dance that was beautiful, timeless, and tragic. It would be their first night and their last, and that made it infinitely more precious.

Paths of fire coursed through their bodies, bringing with them a spiraling, cresting sensation and myriad emotions. Pain and longing, joy and awe.

And perhaps, somewhere unseen and deeply buried, there was even the beginning of that mystical emotion trumpeted and glorified through the eons that no one truly understood. Perhaps, had time and circumstance allowed it, the frail seedling of love could have grown and flourished, rising up to meet the summer sun.

And perhaps in dreams, it would.

Fire and light met and exploded in a tremendous, heartbreaking crescendo, sweeping the two lovers along over the crest of passion. Their cries rang through the night, each calling the other's name as though desperately searching through the darkness for their lost love. Their names a prayer, a dream, a deepest wish upon each others lips, screaming to the heavens of the cruel injustice of their fates.

And then there was calm, the silence disturbed only by the crackling fire and their gasping breaths. The pair basked in the afterglow of their spent passion and surrendered themselves to the fatigue that had been with them ever since the day they'd first began their journey.

Their bodies remained intertwined and they held each other close. They knew that come morning, it would be over and they'd never again experience the unique wonder and elation that they'd found in each other's arms.

But for one night, they drank uninhibitedly the nectar of the forbidden.

Yes, it was too late to alter their destinies.

But that one taste of perfection made their tragic ending worthwhile.

And for that single night, they were no longer alone.