AUTHOR'S NOTE: This is a Christmas fic for Chocobo Goddess; when I asked what she wanted in the fic she said Sephiroth and Aeris in a forest with the masamune and chocolate … O-o
So here it is.
He hated these trees.
He hated the way they grew so close together, their trunks entwining with each other to create an impenetrable barrier. He hated the fact that no matter which way he turned, they were always in his path. He hated the way their thick foliage blocked out the sun, making it hard for him to determine which direction was north. He hated the way their branches reached out seemingly of their own volition to tangle in the long lengths of his pale hair. Several long hours had passed since he'd entered this forest -the Ancient Forest- and he was almost certain he hadn't ventured more than 100 feet beyond his starting point. At one point he thought he may be able to hack his way through the oppressive greenery with his sword. This idea had been quickly laid to rest upon his discovery that no matter how quickly or savagely he struck the tree, it would mysteriously heal itself twice as fast. What he hated the most about this situation, however, was the fact that it was entirely his own fault. Yes, he'd heard the rumors about the forest; it was magical, it was possessed, and it had a life of its own. Those rumors didn't deter him at all, and he'd disregarded them as mere hearsay. What he wanted lay beyond the forest, and nothing would stand between him and his goal.
Except, apparently, these trees.
"Confound it!" He shouted, hurling his masamune in a fit of sudden rage. The long blade sailed end over end before embedding itself with a ringing sound deep into the trunk of one of the offending trees. He stared at it furiously, breathing quickly, hands fisted at his sides. This was ludicrous! Here he was, the great and legendary Sephiroth, being held captive by a bunch of overgrown shrubbery! Cursing, he strode to the tree and attempted with one hand to wrench his weapon free. It didn't budge. Running through every foul word in his extensive vocabulary, he gripped the polished pommel with both hands, braced his feet, and pulled. Abruptly the blade slid free of the tree, and propelled by the force of his own strength he stumbled backwards to land in an undignified heap at the base of yet another accursed tree. He lay there, partially stunned, wondering if perhaps the Planet, ascertaining his master plans, was playing a cruel joke on him.
A soft laugh rang out then, and he was on his feet and facing the sound in an instant. A girl stood several feet away, leaning slightly against the trunk of one of his newfound enemies. She was clad for the most part in pink; a button up dress that fell to just below her knees, a jacket a shade darker going over top, and a pair of the ugliest brown boots he'd ever seen on her feet. In her hand she held a metal staff adorned by a single jewel at the top, and he could not see any other weapon upon her. She was slight of build, and with her chestnut hair bound back in some sort of intricate braid she was undeniably comely. She watched him with a small smile, and even from where he stood he could see the mirth dancing in the depths of her eyes.
"You must have offended the Forest somehow," she said when he did nothing. "It's not usually this cantankerous." He didn't reply, but regarded her coolly. Was this some sort of deterrent the Ancients had sent? Perhaps her fragile appearance was a deception; perhaps she was a creature sent to dispatch him. He scowled, and brought his masamune before him to grip securely with both hands. Seeing the movement, the girl's smile widened, and she made a chiding noise. "You'll never get through it that way."
Irritated, he said, "What way?"
She gestured with her staff to his weapon. "Using that. The more you hurt the trees, the angrier the Forest gets."
And the angrier I get, he thought silently. Aloud he said, "Then please, enlighten me. How am I to pass through these trees?"
It was her turn for silence; her smile faded, and she studied him with an inscrutable gaze. Finally she replied, "Perhaps you were not meant to pass through here."
He knew it. She was one of theirs. "And I suppose you have been sent to stop me?"
She shook her head. "Not at all."
"Then how did you happen upon me?"
"I," she said, walking to stand before two trees with trunks braided around each other, "was simply passing through. I heard you shouting, and came to see what the problem was."
He opened his mouth to reply, but the words never left his mouth. The girl laid her free hand upon the tree; at her touch, it began to shudder and quake. Very slowly it moved, twisting itself free of the other tree. Its branches trembled violently, filling the air with the rustling of leaves, until finally it stood apart and separate from the tree it had been entwined with. The girl glanced back at him, face expressionless, before she turned and stepped through the path that had just been opened. He hesitated only for a second; sliding his sword into the sheath across his back he strode determinedly after her.
"How were you able to do that?" He called after her.
She paused in her steps, partially turning to answer him. "I understand this place, and it understands me. It does not want to keep me out."
"But it does want to keep me out?"
"I don't know yet."
He closed the distance between them, and as he did so he scrutinized her. She did not appear dangerous, but after what he'd just seen he wasn't going to underestimate her. If she could make her way through this cursed forest, then he was going to accompany her … with or without her permission.
As if reading his thoughts, she said, "You can follow me, if you'd like. You can be my bodyguard."
His incredulousness at her words must have been mirrored on his face, for she abruptly burst into laughter. "Your … what?" he asked coldly.
Unperturbed by the tone of his voice, she replied lightly, "My bodyguard. In case we encounter anything dangerous."
"I thought this place understood you?" He tossed her words back to her mockingly.
Her eyes flared with sudden annoyance. "It does. But that doesn't mean it understands you." She cast him a decidedly haughty and venomous glare. "Stay here if you want. I can guarantee you won't make it far." And with that she spun around and began marching ahead.
Torn between utter indignation at her proposal and grim amusement at the entirety of his situation, Sephiroth hesitated for only a moment. "Alright," he said, easily catching up to her with his long strides. "I'll be your bodyguard. But only," he emphasized, "Until we're through this forest."
"And what are your plans once we're through?" Her tone was lightly inquisitive, but he could read something lying hidden underneath.
"That's none of your concern," he snapped, annoyed at the question and her unspoken presumptions. "Do we have a deal or not?"
She levelled him with another steady, studying gaze. This close, he could see her eyes were a dark, glittering green. "We have a deal." She said quietly, and began to walk again.
Hours passed, and true to her word, the Forest did seem to understand the girl. His charge, Sephiroth amended with a humourless smile. The progress they were making was considerable, and it almost seemed as if the trees went out of their way to make her journey easier. The Forest apparently had not entirely forgiven him for his earlier rudeness, however; long branches still managed to painfully tangle themselves into the length of his hair, and roots that the girl effortlessly passed over raised themselves in order to impede his progress. Maintaining a steady stream of quiet obscenities, he followed several paces behind the girl, keeping himself constantly alert should something decide to make its unfriendly presence known.
Some time later the girl halted; with her back against a tree she sank to the ground, legs crossed in front of her. Sephiroth, catching up with her, took note of her drawn face and sweat-damp hair and realized that her journey through the forest wasn't as effortless as he had first assumed. Lowering himself to sit against a tree opposite her, he asked, "You've been using your magic to open a path, haven't you?"
She shot him a glance, clearly startled by his observation. Leaning her head back, she said in an amused voice, "My magic?"
"Your power, your ability," he fluttered one gloved hand in the air. "Whatever it is you used back there to make those trees move."
She was silent for so long he thought she wasn't going to answer, her gaze focused on something on the ground before her. Finally she blinked and looked at him. "My ability … Yes, I've been using it."
"I thought you said the Forest didn't want to keep you out."
"It doesn't. But neither does it welcome me."
"Back there," he gestured back the way they had come, "It seemed as though the plants were moving out of the way for you-" he paused, seeing the small smile that crept across her face. In sudden understanding, he said, "That was part of your magic."
"Ability." She corrected, readjusting the length of her dress over her legs. "Yes, that was a part of it. I can make a path, and the Forest will let me. Whereas others …"
"Make no progress whatsoever." He finished wryly, reminded of just how she had come to find him.
"Yes." She said, and her smile grew. A companionable silence fell among them both, and the girl shifted her staff so it sat across her lap. Lulled by the gentle cacophony of birds and other forest inhabitants, Sephiroth copied his companion and let his own head rest upon the trunk behind him. Suddenly curious, he asked, "What is your name?"
Her eyes had been closed again; they opened slightly to regard him. "Aeris."
"Gainsborough. Who are you?"
He hesitated for a fraction of a second. Would she know him by his name? "… Sephiroth."
She nodded, and her face didn't alter expression. Apparently, he mused dryly, his fame wasn't as extensive as it was rumoured. He asked then, "And what has brought you to this wretched place, Aeris?"
He almost missed it; a flash of something hidden, something secretive, passed through her eyes. She said softly, in an echo of his earlier words, "That is none of your concern." With that she rose to her feet, using her staff as support. "We should continue. Dusk is not far off."
Intrigued and a little irritated by her refusal to directly answer his question, Sephiroth also rose to his feet. Abruptly he thought to ask her how she knew night was close when the sky was hidden from them by the thick leafy canopy, but she had already begun to walk. He followed wordlessly, but this time he watched his companion carefully, looking for the indications of her power that he had missed earlier. They were subtle signs, hardly noticeable -a hand laid lightly upon a tree, a whispered word before a mass of thick brambles. Trailing in her wake, he pondered her ability which seemed so inherent; his eyes were continually drawn to her slender form. Sudden realization that he was staring made him shake his head, and as they went on he fought the urge to look at her, to speak with her. When finally he realized what the problem was he halted in his tracks, thunder-struck.
She was … appealing… to him.
"Is something the matter?" She asked, noticing that he had stopped and turning to see what was the matter.
Quickly closing his open mouth, he said, "No."
"Why did you stop?"
"Because I felt like it," He replied rather rudely. "May we continue?"
Her eyes narrowed, and she nodded curtly. As she began to walk again he cursed himself over and over again. Perhaps this thrice damned forest was having an effect on him … ridiculous, a warrior such as himself subject to a minor infatuation such as this. As he mulled his revelation over in his mind his gaze studied in minute detail the burnished strands of her hair, the cautious grace with which she moved –
"Damnit." He growled with feeling, shaking his head to dispel any and all notions of his being attracted to the girl.
To Aeris, his mind corrected snidely.
Warring internally with himself, he averted his eyes from the girl before him and continued on.
Night found them, as far as Sephiroth could measure, a fair distance from where they had begun. As the light filtering through the foliage slowly faded, Aeris drew to a stop in the midst small clearing. Uncertain whether the clearing was a natural phenomenon, or if it had been created by her ability, Sephiroth stalked the perimeter as Aeris wearily settled herself against another tree. Should anything unfavourable approach them in during their respite, he would be able to see it. Satisfied, he turned to find the girl gathering twigs and grass from the surrounding area and arranging it into a pile before her. From one of the pockets on her dress she withdrew tinder and flint; before she could strike them Sephiroth knelt at her side.
"This is easier," he said by way of explanation as she cast him a curious look. Withdrawing his masamune and utilizing one of the many materia set into its pommel, he ignited her kindling with a small burst of white fire. Sheathing the blade, he caught the admiration which passed over her face. "Have you no materia of your own?" He asked.
Again something slid behind her eyes, a whisper of a thought that she struggled to hide. Averting her gaze from his, she set about searching through another pocket. "I have one, yes."
"Just one?" He didn't wait for her to respond, as his eyes caught sight of what she brought forth from her pocket. "What is that?"
She frowned at him. "It's food."
He stared at the brown bar covered in silver foil she was unwrapping. "Food?"
"Well," she said, and shrugged. "Not really food. It's more like candy."
"Candy." He repeated flatly.
Aeris stifled a laugh at his expression. "Yes. Candy. It's chocolate, and it's probably the best thing I have ever tasted."
Rising, he moved to sit on the opposite side of the fire, choosing a tree to lean against. Still eyeing the chocolate she held, he said, "Is it standard for travelling rations?"
She laughed outright at this. "Not at all, but I love it, so I brought some with me."
She began to eat the chocolate, breaking one piece off at a time and eating it delicately. It was suddenly a ferocious struggle for Sephiroth not to stare at her, and he diverted his attention by picking up fallen sticks and adding them to the fire. He was so absorbed in his task that he didn't notice when she re-wrapped the rest of her chocolate and tossed it to him. It struck a glancing blow off his shoulder and landed at his side; he looked up to see Aeris smiling at him.
"Go ahead," she urged. "Try some."
He picked the foil wrapped piece between two gloved fingers and regarded it in the firelight. "I do not think-"
"Don't think," she interrupted. "Just try it."
For a moment he debated it throwing it back at her; intrigued by her delight in something as simple as food he decided to heed her advice. Unravelling the foil through the leather of his gloves proved impossible, and so he pulled them both off and laid them at his side. Aware of her scrutiny, he cast her a glance before breaking of a piece of the chocolate. Her face was illuminated partially by the dancing light of the flames, but he could still see her smile. With a resigned sigh he placed the chocolate in his mouth. Determined to chew it and swallow quickly, he was surprised when it seemed to dissolve in his mouth. His disconcertment must have been obvious, because he heard a soft laugh from the other side of the fire. Abruptly a taste like nothing else he had ever experience flooded his mouth, and he savoured it a moment before swallowing. Blinking at Aeris across the flames, he said, "I can see why you enjoy this so."
Almost completely hidden now by the dark, she said, "Have the rest."
He complied, enjoying it thoroughly. When he was finished, he threw the wrapper into the fire, which, without fuel added, was beginning to dwindle. Sephiroth stood and began a slow perusal of the clearing, picking up anything that could be used for kindling. Crouching by the fire to add them one by one, he darted a quick glance at Aeris. A small smile touched his lips briefly; she was curled on her side, head pillowed on one arm, fast asleep.
He settled himself then back where he had been and brought his knees up against his chest. He could see Aeris clearly now, illuminated as she was by the growing flame. It was a long time before his eyes grew heavy, and it was a long time that he pondered the mystery within the girl.
It was what brought Sephiroth up from the depths of his enthralling dreams, images and thoughts which tantalized and beckoned. Heat had encompassed him, and writhed now within his very core. He woke with a gasp; it was with heavy disorientation that he found himself on his back mere inches from the dying fire. He struggled into a sitting position, and the very movement felt awkward and heavy. Something fell across his brow, and with a shaking hand he brushed back the wayward strand of his hair. For a moment he was still, feeling a chaotic mass of something indefinable, something inexplicable roil within him, growing within him –
He was suffocating; he rose to his feet and with a frenzied twisting of limbs removed his heavy coat. It fell from his fingers to land with a dull thud. Torso bare but for the wide leather straps of his scabbard, he let his head fall back as the cool night air flowed across his sweat damp skin, raising shivers to crawl up his spine. It wasn't enough; a craving stirred inside him, wanting something more … He shook his head suddenly, trying to dispel this haze, this strange heat that threatened to overwhelm him. What was happening? Why was his pulse so fast, so erratic? Why did he feel as though the world were spinning? What was it that this beast, this intangible yearning inside of him wanted? A strangled sound escaped him as everything reeled, and he dropped heavily to the ground. His gaze was drawn to the fire, to the memorizing dance and lick of the white flames as they seemed to caress the air. Movement attracted his attention then, and he focused somewhat dazedly on the huddled for of Aeris.
Lying there … that was what he wanted, what would make this sickness fade. He knew it as clearly as he knew his own name. She would take it from him, she would heal him, and so it was with fervor he came to his feet and skirted the fire. A twig snapped beneath his heel; at the sound Aeris stirred. He stopped in his steps, watching as her eyes fluttered open, watching as they focused on him standing above her and rapidly widened. She whispered, "Sephiroth?"
Her voice –it was the siren's call, and he slowly came to his knees before her. She was sitting now, and as he reached for her she scrambled backwards. "What's wrong?" She asked breathlessly, eyes wide and frightened.
"You." He answered thickly, falling to all fours. He followed her, a slow, languid, predatory movement, as if he had muscles in places he shouldn't. Her breathing had quickened; he heard the sound, and it enflamed him, lured him. She came to her feet quickly, just as he reached her; he caught the hem of her skirt in one hand and pulled. For a moment she resisted; he pulled harder and a harsh tearing sound filled the charged night around them. She dropped to her knees in surrender, and as he reared above her she gasped.
"Wh-what is the matter?" She stammered.
"You." He said again. This close, he could catch her scent; it was sweet, exotic, and it was driving him mad. He caught her by the arm before she could move away, and using her as leverage pulled himself closer. She was trembling in his grasp, and as he buried his face in the hollow of her throat something flashed through his mind.
-don't hurt her-
He wouldn't. He didn't want to. What he wanted to do was primal, animalistic, and giving into the urge he caught the tender flesh of her neck gently between his teeth. It was as if a switch had been thrown, for Aeris stopped breathing, stopped moving, and became simply still.
"Sephiroth …" She said, and her voice was quavering. "What is happening?"
Something was clawing it's way up from the bottommost depths of his mind, fighting this affliction. Pulling back slightly, he whispered in her ear, "The chocolate … what have you done to me?"
She pulled away so swiftly she broke free of him. The part of him not completely overshadowed by dark desire read and understood the real confusion and fear in her expression. "Chocolate? … I never-" She broke off then, sucking in a breath, and a sudden blaze of understanding lit her eyes.
"What is this?" He demanded, throat tight, reaching a hand towards her face. "What have you done to me?"
"I've done nothing." She whispered, but she wasn't recoiling now. He saw this, saw that she was no longer surprised, and saw that she knew what was to happen next. His rush of righteous fury at being manipulated in such a manner died immediately as the craving returned. He reached for her again, and when his hand closed around the back of her neck she didn't fight. He moved so that only the slightest bit of space separated them; as his mouth hovered for a moment over her own he read in the enigmatic depths of her eyes something that gave rise to utter euphoria.
He claimed her lips then fiercely, as though she were something he had searched forever for and only just found. His hand fisted in her partially unbound hair, holding her captive for his touch, for his need … it was but a second before she responded; her own fingers crept up to braid themselves within his own silver strands. She met his kiss with a feverish eagerness, and as she did so the voices, the lust, the madness driving him receded like a tide, and left him with clarity once again.
He didn't pull away. He didn't demand an answer. He broke the kiss, and staring that instant directly into her eyes realized that this was something he wanted for himself, this was something he had longed for, if only he would have admitted it. Aeris watched him silently, trepidation evident in her expression. She was giving him the choice, he knew then, to stop this all before it began …
He breathed, "Aeris," before he kissed her again, pressing her body down, down, to the ground beneath his own. His touch was both savage and kind, and her own was just as desperate. To meet a need, to fulfill the desire –that was all that mattered now.
It was all that ever mattered.
She watched him for a long while; watched as the sun crept over the paleness of his skin, watched the way it shone in the silver spider-threads of his hair. He lay on his side, one arm cast over the bare skin of her stomach, the other pillowing his head. In repose, there was something in the lines of his face and the lay of his long lashes against his cheek that bespoke of an innocence long ago lost. With a wistful smile she brushed fingers across his lips; he stirred but did not waken. Her smile faded, and for a moment something heavy and bittersweet brought a rush of hot tears to her eyes. She fought them back, fought the tightness in her throat, and set about extricating herself from his grip. Lifting his arm, she laid it gently at his side and then set about searching for her dress. It lay in a crumpled heap near the now dead fire, and gripping it she rose to her feet. Chill morning air caressed her naked form; shivering she hastily dressed, locating her jacket and boots. Her staff was where she had left it, and kneeling she took hold of it. Her eyes moved to Sephiroth, marvelling at the way his arrogance was lost in his slumber, and she sighed.
"Will he waken?" She asked quietly, standing again. Tilting her head, she listened to the silent response. A solitary tear traced a glittering path down her face at the answer.
"You use me cruelly." She murmured. Shaking her head as if to dispel the voices that haunted her, she knelt again at Sephiroth's side. For many long minutes she studied him, memorizing, regretting. And when the call came to her again, she stood and spun around violently.
"I am coming," she spat. "You needn't worry. I will be there soon."
Once last fleeting glance she cast at her lover before turning and walking away. She leaned heavily on her staff with each step; the agony she felt within was wearing on her physically. In seconds she was gone, the Forest knitting together behind her, until the clearing was surrounded once again by an impenetrable mass of vegetation.
Slumbering unaware, Sephiroth lay still, dreaming of the one thing he had ever really known, and the one thing he had ever really cherished.