Path of Seduction Chapter 5

By Ardwynna Morrigu

Disclaimer: I do not own FFVII or any of its characters. I have borrowed them only because I must write to exorcise the plot demon that has its prickly little hands wrapped tightly around my soul.

A girl did not survive in the slums by being naïve. Aeris whirled on Sephiroth, breaking out of the soft, dreamlike aura he had carefully constructed around them. "How dare you! Do you expect me to just fall down at your feet and give you what you want? What kind of girl do you think I am?"

Sephiroth blinked in surprise, caught completely off guard. The gossamer threads of his half-formed manipulation spell were torn away, giving way before the girl's rage as easily as a spider web. Aeris paused for a moment, debating whether or not to swing her gauntleted wrist across his perfect, pretty face. She decided against it, standing rapidly, boots in hand and anger marring her expression. Sephiroth watched dumbfounded as she spun on one heel and began to march off. Almost immediately the headache began.

'You see now what I was telling you! I was right all along, you reckless, stubborn idiot! She won't be fooled by your stupid little games!' Sephiroth cringed at his mother's tone, swallowing what would have been a desperate scream of agony. His vision blurred with the pulsating tension in his head. He tried to get up, though he knew the futility of trying to outrun Mother's rage. She would push him till he blacked out and let him wake in miserable agony to remind him never to disregard her. Past experience had taught him that, though he had never discovered the reason behind her fierce, possessive protection. The throbbing grew worse, muddling his thoughts. He knew only pain and darkness and his mother's voice, now whispering sweet words in a tone that was a mockery of concern.

'Now, now, my little one, you'll forget all about that one. She's no good for you. Trust me now. Mother knows best.' Still the pain grew within him, coursing throughout his body. Sephiroth looked around blankly, seeing only near perfect darkness, and some distance away, a softly luminous pink haze, like dust from heaven. It grew slowly smaller, moving further away. Sephiroth hung his head in despair. Would even heaven deny him the relief he had craved all his life?

'Forget her!'

He was barely aware of curling up on his coat or of his pitiful shuddering. "Please," he whispered, "Please!" It was a hopeless last effort, a sad call for help to whatever merciful being might be listening. None had ever helped him before and he knew in his last few conscious moments, that none ever would.

Satisfied at having enforced her will, the creature in his mind fled from it, creating distance between her and her pawn. There was a disturbing presence nearby, retreating, but still uncomfortably close.

The presence in question was raising quite a clamor of its own. Some hundred Cetra voices were shouting, screaming at their last descendant to make her escape.

"Run away, Dear One, while you still can! The time for confrontation is not yet arrived!"

".not strong enough yet, little one! Don't risk anything now!"

"Devious, like the one who owns him. Deception is their way of life!"

Spurred on by her Elders' fears, Aeris' steady march had become a hurried flight along the beach, though she struggled to keep her footing on loose sand. To compound the situation, the Planet itself was trying to cut through her desperation, prickling at the back of her mind. With one violent surge, the Planet's consciousness broke through to her, a relentless deluge in her bloodstream, flooding down to every pore, literally taking her down with it. She quickly rolled over onto her back, shaking sand out of her hair as she prepared to run for safety once more.

But the Planet was not yet ready to let her go. She was hit once again with the strange sensation deep within her, an inexplicable longing. Aeris struggled to make sense of what the planet was trying to tell her. Had everything gone mad? Had she? It seemed that the Planet was actually trying to pull her back towards what she had just left behind. Did the Planet want to get her hurt, or worse? Where was the sense in it?

She stood, turning towards the stairs that would take her to the main part of town and back to the inn. The strange, emotive humming that was the planet's voice stirred within her, pleading with her not to leave just yet. Cetra that she was, she could not ignore the way her very blood sang in harmony with the voice of the spirit that was Mother to them all. She paused, slowly turning on the sand. The chill wind took her hair as she steadied herself, blocking out the clamor of Cetran elders to focus on that one soft hum.

The Planet seized its chance, drowning her consciousness in way it had never needed to before, rapidly submerging her individuality, wrapping her identity in its own song. The girl felt the voice carry her spirit where it would, away from herself, in true communion with the Planet and exultant in it. She plunged through the depths, sailed the wide plains. She was every crashing wave, every trickling stream and darting fish. She was the feather- light reed and the stately ancient forest. She was lumbering, slumbering plains beast and the sharp-eyed night bird, flying, and then, she was pure spirit, soaring high above a moonlit beach, forever trying to reach kindred among the stars but pulled inevitably back to the center of being by emotion that coiled like rope around her.

She could feel, intensely, every nuance of sensation in every fiber of the vast being she had become. She felt the thrill of the chase, the hunt; she knew the sharp pain of fangs closing upon her throat. She laughed where laughter was and where there were tears, she grieved. She felt it throughout the entirety of her expanded awareness and it was a sharper knife for that.

One solitary sorrow, one pain and torment in particular stood out, calling to her, burning like flames dangerously close, though somehow, shielded. The agony pulsating through her being seemed more on the Planet than of it, alienated, isolated from the soothing ties of lifestream. No child of the Planet should ever have to suffer so. She could not tell if the thought was her own or that of the greater being whose consciousness she shared, but immediately, she was filled with the need to take the pained one into her arms, take the pain wholly into herself, make it part of her, part of the Planet and thus redeem the lost one. It was some time before she realized that the insignificant speck that was her physical form was walking back to the very one she had fled.

In shock, Aeris sprang loose from the connection with the Planet, gasping for air. The world truly had gone crazy and she with it. The ecstasy of her joining with the Planet faded. Disappointment welled up from the space in her mind where now only her usual tenuous link remained, along with one final plea for remembrance, for mercy. The voices of her ancestors faded, still crying out for her to head to safety. She stood motionless, staring along the length of the dark beach. She closed her eyes, taking a few calming breaths as the wind slowed, bringing her the scent of salt and a message, softly whispered.

"Please," her eyes flew open when she heard it, "Please." One breathy whisper, full of pain. In the distance, where before glowing eyes had drawn her in, there was only a shadowed heap on the sand. If anyone had been there to see her she would have seemed to be a statue of carven ivory, lit by the pale moon. Only the slow rhythm of her breathing gave her away. She stared unblinking, deep in thought before moving, merely shifting her weight from one foot to the next. Her next move was more decisive.

She began a steady trek back across the beach towards the fallen warrior, walking with purpose. There was no trace of the fear that the Cetra had raised in her. This was her decision and she was prepared to live - or die- with the consequences. She dropped her boots on the sand once more as she approached the huddled form.

He appeared to be sleeping, curled up for warmth against the wind. She knelt beside him, studying his face. He frowned a little in his sleep and his hair had blown across his face like a veil.or a shroud. Aeris shuddered as the thought arose. How had he fallen asleep so quickly? She grasped his wrist to feel for a pulse, to make sure he really was just sleeping. The beat she found was faint, but steady. Hesitantly, she reached out for his shoulder and gently shook him.

"Wake up. Sephiroth, you can't sleep out here. You'll freeze." There was no response so she shook harder. "Sephiroth, wake up! Someone might find you!" He did not stir. Worried that he was sleeping far too deeply for a warrior, Aeris leaned over him and gently brushed the hair out of his face. Fingertips brushed gently against his cheek.

Green eyes flew open, staring unseeingly up at her. Aeris froze, distressed, then leaned back on her heels, giving the man room to sit up. He drew himself up slowly, blinking rapidly as if trying to clear his head, stared directly into her eyes. His expression was blank, as if he had never seen her before. Aeris would never have believed that a great warrior like him could ever wear such a face. Then without a word, he turned to face the surrounding sea and sand as if the beach were the most interesting sight in the world.

Aeris watched him as he leaned forward, locking his arms around his knees, gazing out at the ocean as if he had never seen such a thing and certainly not as if he had been nearly comatose not five minutes before. He sat staring for so long that Aeris felt as if she did not exist. After the scare he had given her and the trouble she had gone through to make sure he was all right, not to mention the danger of simply being in his company, his sudden disregard of her presence was a slight to her pride. Anger welled within her.

"Apologize!" The word left her lips before she could stop it.

Sephiroth blinked, looking over at her in surprise, "Apologize?"

Aeris was almost seething. After all the liberties he had dared to take with her, and his blatant propositioning, he dared to act so oblivious. Aeris could hardly begin the dressing down he had coming to him.

Whip-fast, he met her eyes with his own and his gaze focused to such astonishing clarity that Aeris feared her heart would stop. He held her gaze with his eyes and she, like a startled animal, could not even think of looking away.

"You came back," he whispered softly, "You heard me and you came back." He looked out at the sea, his eyes shining and his voice nearly, nearly trembling with wonder, "You came back."

Aeris found herself speechless. What state of mind was he in? He spoke before she could think further. "Aeris," he began, head bowed, voice soft, "I know I have been extremely forward with you, and if I have caused you discomfort, I sincerely apologize."

Aeris almost sputtered. How did he keep doing that? Every time she thought he would act one way, he kept surprising her, again and again. Just how many facets were there to the silver-haired enigma? She could not help staring. He sat there before her, a pale figure with paler hair, lit by soft moonlight. He would have seemed like a marble statue before her if not for the soft hint of color in his face. Was he blushing?

He turned his head just as the thought crossed her mind. There was a questioning look in his eyes. The very ocean seemed to slow down as she looked at him. He must have been still dazed from whatever had caused him to slump unconscious to the sand. Where was the self-assured hint of a smile? What had happened to the brazen warrior who chased his goal relentlessly? Was this gentle being patiently waiting, as if for an answer simply the result of the as yet undetermined blow to the head? Or had he been hiding all this time, from her, from those who had known him before, from the world? No wonder then, that he had always been so elusive.

"I accept," she whispered, fearing to disrupt the near silence. Her words were rewarded with a gentle smile, a genuinely heartfelt one from the pleased look in those eyes. He turned back to the sea, completely absorbed in his study of waves. Aeris shifted on the sand, debating for a moment before sliding over next to him, resuming the position she had held barely an hour before. He appeared not to notice and that suited Aeris' purposes perfectly.

He rested his chin on his arms, crossed on his knees, and gazed out at the crashing waves, in a little world of his own. Silver locks of hair drifted across his bare shoulders. He paid them no mind, no longer boldly attempting to entice the girl beside him and for that, she was silently thankful.

Aeris mused on their first meeting, shivering as the image of him nude, with water beading on his skin came to mind. She saw, in her mind's eye, the contented look on his face as he soaked in the icy stream. The guilty thrill she felt at remembering the way the water ran down his skin in shimmering rivulets as he rose was irrepressible. And here he was again, by the water, completely entranced by it.

"You like the water very much, don't you?" she asked. Sephiroth blinked, turning suddenly, looking as if he had forgotten she was there.

"What?" he asked, trying to clear the fog from his mind, the remnant of his mother's punishment.

Aeris persisted, "The water. You seem to like water very much."

Her voice cut through the cloud in his mind, much the way her earlier touch had soothed the worst of his pain. He almost smiled as he answered, "I do. A soldier bathes when and where he can, after all." She actually smiled at that thought.

"Fair enough, I suppose," her eyes glowed with hidden laughter as she leaned forward, mimicking his position, content to join his study of waves for the time being.

But he had already moved on from the waves, unable to remove his eyes from her form. The feeling that there was more about his love of water to tell would not leave him. Thinking was slower after one of his headaches and he could not for the world find the words to explain what cool waves and ripples meant to him, how flowing water soothed the ever present burning in his blood, how complete immersion erased his pain much the way her gentle touch had. How could he tell her that her presence drove anguish away, that to him, she was water? She was soothing water and he wanted, even needed to be completely immersed in her. Frustrated with his inability to think clearly, he flopped backwards, stretching himself out on his coat, avoiding the sight of the water in an attempt to clear his mind.

Aeris glanced back, then impulsively imitated his move to lie full length beside him, as if by copying his actions she could understand what was wrong with him. If the Planet willed that she make sure he was all right, then so be it. He lay back with his head pillowed on his arms, staring up at the sky. She turned to study the stars with him, dreamily gazing at the flickering pinpricks of light. Life beneath Midgar's plate had denied her such a view her entire life. Her heart pined, torn between aching at the beauty before her and longing for the loving home she had left behind to find it. She sighed, and beside her, the silver haired one sighed softly with her.

Green eyes met across the small distance between them and just as hastily broke away, letting silence wash over them. The wind toyed with thick locks of hair, silver and brown, making them flutter low on the sands. Their owners paid them no mind, focusing instead on keeping the sounds of breathing lower than that of pounding surf. Aeris nearly lost herself staring at the stars, forcing her mind to relative stillness while wishing her pounding heart into sedation. A sigh escaped her nonetheless.

Sephiroth cut through the quiet first, "They are beautiful, aren't they?"

"What?" Aeris had heard only his voice, not his words.

"The stars. They are beautiful," he glanced quickly in her direction, as of not daring to do more.

'Yes, they are," she smiled, venturing to fill the silence with more than inane remarks, "I never got to see the stars before I left home."

"You are from Midgar, yes?" Sephiroth asked, noting the wistful tone of her voice, "Do you miss it?"

Her eyes grew distant, "I miss my Mom. And my garden. But the city itself.I'm not so sure."

A silver eyebrow arched, questioning, "You do not miss your home?"

"Mom made my home. My garden is home. My church is home. But," emerald eyes widened to reflect the heavens, "I couldn't stay there forever and there's no way that giant plate could compare to this!" She seemed utterly content.

The swordsman smiled again, "Well, my Lady, since you are relatively new to the practice of watching the heavens, allow me to show you the brightest and best players on the field, as named by the wise and wondrous Ancients long, long ago." He won the laugh he had been hoping for and Aeris looked expectantly at him.

"All right. Do you see those six stars that make a sort of rectangle?" He pointed and Aeris tried to follow the line of his arm. At her nod, he continued, "That is Daeran the Protector, a powerful king who set aside his sword and married the warrior queen of his enemy for the sake of peace. Those seven stars a little to the right, the ones that make a cross, are Daeran's Sword."

Aeris smiled brightly, soaking up the constellation lesson like a child hearing a new fairytale. "Is the queen there too?"

Sephiroth grinned back, "She is. Up there." He pointed again, this time at a mass of dim stars that in his mind's eye formed sinuous waves of flowing hair, set against a line of brighter ones that made the silhouette of a proud woman. "The nameless Dark Queen. Ancient Legend had it that they were very happy together." He paused to note Aeris' intense concentration upon the constellation before continuing. "They delighted in outsmarting mutual enemies and meddling in the business of friends."

Aeris laughed again, moving closer to his warmth. "Any children?" Her eyes were full of amusement as she looked at him.

"None that I've heard of."

Aeris closed her eyes in disappointment, "How sad for them." She nudged Sephiroth with her elbow, "Tell me more!"

He could hardly deny the warmth he felt having her at his side. "That L shape there.that's the one, with the three stars making a small triangle in front of it. That's Vandana the Priestess because it looks like a woman kneeling in prayer." Aeris tilted her head at an odd angle, her head coming to rest against Sephiroth's shoulder.

"I guess I can see that. What's next?"

"That little zigzag over there is Taia, the crown."

Aeris shook her head in disbelief, "That's a crown? It's nothing more than a squiggle."

"Squiggle or not," Sephiroth intoned, "its central peak points directly North and it has been considered one of the most important constellations by sailors and soldiers for centuries."

Aeris huffed with mock disdain, "Important it may be, but I still say it's just a squiggle. I don't see how anyone could look at that and see a crown."

Sephiroth rolled onto his side to face her, amusement etched plainly on his face. "You'll just have to take that up with the Cetra next time you see them, won't you? They're the ones responsible for it."

The warmth Aeris had felt was ripped away from her, replaced by cold gravity. Sephiroth was still smiling gently at her and had apparently meant no harm by his comment. Was he aware that she was Cetra herself, the way he believed himself to be? Was he truly Cetra, cut off from the Planet in a most unnatural way? What could he tell her about her ancestors?

Sephiroth slowly sensed the serious turn her thoughts had taken. The careless grin slid from his face to be replaced by a brow frowning in concern. The wind picked up around them, blowing sand with fierce determination and chilling everything in its path. Aeris shivered violently, feeling the lack of warming laughter acutely.

"Aeris, are you all right?" He reached over to touch her arm, then pulled her into a loose embrace as the icy wind ran over them. Aeris buried her face in his chest to shield herself.

Sephiroth spoke again, "Aeris, it is cold out here. Do you want to go back to your friends?"

She looked slowly up at him with an unreadable expression on her face. Emerald eyes met glowing lifestream. Sephiroth felt his heart thump within its cage, aware that it was being searched and measured.

"No," she whispered, "No, I want to stay here, with you."

The swordsman stared in mild shock until her words sunk in. Then he wordlessly pulled the little woman against him, wrapping her tightly in both arms. Slender arms wound their way around his body and delicate little hands weaved through his hair. The wind howled along the sand, threatening to freeze the pair in their embrace. Sephiroth buried his face in Aeris' hair as he rolled her beneath him, nestling her into the soft lining of his coat and shielding her from the wind with his body.

Gentle nuzzling against his neck made his eyes flutter open. Aeris' face was just inches from his own. He stared, breathless, feeling her heart racing against his own as he searched her eyes and found the permission he had dared to hope for. This time, when he lowered his head to brush her lips, she met him halfway with a soft, chaste kiss. He lost himself in the gentle pressure before moving to press soft kisses on her cheek.

Aeris protested the loss of his lips with a quiet whimper and Sephiroth claimed her mouth once more, delicately nibbling on her lower lip. She moaned against him, running her hands up his chest and around his neck to tangle her fingers in his hair once more. Slowly, he deepened the kiss, obeying her insistent tugging and finding her deliciously open to his attentions. He plundered her lips with furious passion, releasing her only when she pulled away gasping for breath and left her throat temptingly exposed.

Boldly, he moved in to cover her neck with moist kisses, moving lower as she gasped wordless approval. He tenderly traced the neckline of her thin dress with kisses. He could feel her pulse racing beneath his lips, sending an electric thrill throughout his body. When her chest heaved against him he almost lost all control. He reached up again, pulling her arms away from his neck and lacing his fingers through hers. She made no objection when he placed his full weight upon her, pinning her beneath him and holding her hands in place above her head.

He paused as he felt her legs moving beneath his own. The wind had blown her skirt open up to her thighs, leaving her legs bare to the cold night air. He moved his own to shield her skin from the chill, reveling in the feel of her shapely legs against his own even through the leather. He stole one brief moment to catch his breath and gaze at the perfect woman beneath him. The emerald eyes that reflected the myriad stars above were glazed with passion. The sound of her breath mingled with the rushing of the tide. He knew that if he desired it, her body would be his for the taking. His plan could be set in motion. But something held him back, a little prickling at the back of his mind that told him it was too soon. His breath was harsh, his pulse stampeding, but he would ignore his body's needs for her sake, determined not to betray her trust so soon after earning it.

Aeris grew impatient and surged upwards as much as his hold on her would allow, to kiss him again. He met her lips fiercely, tracing them hurriedly with his tongue before demanding entry. He tasted her deeply, with a fervent passion, but even as he relished the outlet for his lust he realized, deep within, that it was not enough. His body craved even this temporary satisfaction, but his heart, long silent, was quietly aching for more.

Chapter 6

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