So Here I Am

By Serena Lee

So here I am..

Alone, cold, and miserable in this bottomless abyss which leads to the heart of the Planet.

Why me? I thought.

Of the millions of inhabitants on this flourishing and fertile world teeming with life, why had it been me? Why was I chosen to lead the path of destruction, and mindless insanity? Why was I born with this accursed destiny which had led me to nothing but pain and sorrow?

But I do not mourn. No, not anymore. That time has passed, and it is all behind me now.

I had held back the tears when the truth was revealed. Those tears stung my Mako eyes - tears from a fallen warrior, and of a fallen angel - but I bravely suppressed my emotions, which threatened to choke my own soul with unfamiliar feelings and pain I had never experienced in my lifetime. Those were the tears of betrayal, frustration and anguish.. and those were the tears of a mortal.

Yes, I am only a mortal.

I watched with utter amazement and horror, as the swirling flowing green, as green as my own eyes, parted like a curtain. It was not so much as the moving Lifestream which shocked me. It was the blinding light which pierced my vision, and indeed, deep into my soul. A moment of pure brilliance, stabbing through my broken body, my mind, and the cloud of vengeance which had so intimately wrapped its tendrils around my once-sane thoughts. It was a flash of enlightenment..

.. It was my life which flashed before me, from the time I was conceived, until the moment of my defeat under the bloodied sword of my rival.

No.. he is not my rival anymore. The resentment and loathing I had for him, was gone. The gaping void left was filled with sadness, frustration, disappointment, and ultimately the realisation of my true origins.

Five years.. five years of lies, and nothing else. I had immersed myself with my own delusions, fueled by the sweet, perverse voices which overtook my conscience the moment I yielded myself to her promises.

But it does not matter any longer. She is destroyed. Jenova is dead.

I could feel the burning tears starting to form from the corners of my eyes. I pull my black cape closer to my huddled form, to conserve whatever warmth there was left in me.

.. and so is Mother.

She had returned to the Lifestream without me, and against my wishes. I had no choice. That was the way of the Planet : the deceased would be reincarnated elsewhere, so the cycle of Life would never be broken. What precious moments I spent with her in the blood of the Planet, I shall cherish them forever.

I can still remember the loving and gentle embrace Mother gave to me, the comforting words she whispered to my ears which I yearned to hear, and the way she stroked my silver mane, as a mother to a long-lost child. I could still recall those agonising moments when we had to finally part - forever. But as she turned towards the tunnel of light behind her ethereal image, I smiled. It was not a wistful smile, rather, it was one of contentment and joy. Her time to be reincarnated had been delayed for almost thirty years, and I would never cause her more grief and guilt than she already had in her. The pain she must have suffered, hanging between life and death, a mere spectre of the haunting past.. I could understand how she must have felt, for I too, drifted between sanity and madness once. The emergence of Holy had cleansed her, and broken the metaphysical chains which bound her to the living world. To be released from the burdens and sins, to have the opportunity to redeem oneself with a new life.. that was what I desired, I realised, as she disappeared from my moist eyes.

A desire which the Planet had blatantly refused. I was doomed to eternal isolation instead. But I accepted without protest, for that was the punishment deemed befitting an evil entity such as I. My heart no longer harbors the foolish intentions of destroying the world, nor the lunatic quest for godhood. I curse again, the name of the being which consumed me once. Selfish indeed, the creature was. For if I had destroyed everything, I would be sealing my own fate. Without the air to breathe, without the water to flow, without the life which sustained the lands, I would have nothing to rule over, except my own death. She promised immortality, but for what reason? For what purpose would I continue to exist?

I dismissed such dark, unwelcoming memories. Shoving away five years of torment was not easy, but I had forced myself to overcome this obstacle, with the aid of the self-discipline I attained from my early years. Throughout my three decades in the living world, I had gained many invaluable benefits which a normal man would not have the chance to. I was different.. special, in some way. It is ironic that I am grateful for my years in laboratories and SOLDIER training, without which I would not have become what I am today - in some strange ways. They shaped, sculptered, and morphed an innocent child into a monster near perfection. But they were oblivious to a glaring error in their quest for the perfect SOLDIER : the child was flawed.

I am not perfect, for I am only a mortal.

But still, I am grateful. I was the General of the greatest army ever built, I was the idol in every man's envious eyes, and the desire in every women's hearts. I had the strength and abilities which were unparalleled even by the legendary heroes of the past. Wherever I stood, the ground beneath my boots became humbled by my presence. People respected, admired, and feared me. Such was my influence, and such was the power I was capable of. I looked up the clear blue skies with pride in my face, and not of disgust or loathing, even towards my employers, the ShinRa Inc. I was proud of who I am. I was, in a way, becoming a legend myself - destined to be immortalised.

A cruel twist in Fate, and the foreboding darkness descended stealthily. Merciless, and quick.. that would be the words I use to describe the day I found that accursed alien. It would be the day where the relentless fires would burn.. and burn, for the next five years.

Why me? I thought. But no reply came.

Were it not for the unusual circumstances I was borned and raised with, I would have diffused into the Lifestream long ago.. five years to be exact, in the small town of Nibelheim. However, the flames continued to lick and burn, rekindling my own will to live, the scorching madness which slowly ate my sanity away, and igniting the hatred of others. It was this fiery heat which spread around the world like a wildfire, would finally consume me, in the form of a blade in the hands of a man I once knew.

This man.. were it not for my now-enlightened state, I would have unsheathed the Masamune, and stalk him as a predator does, and trail his footsteps to all corners of this planet. I would have cried out for vengeance, and desired nothing more than his blood flowing down my arms. I shudder at such insidious thoughts which reigned supreme once in my mentally-fragile condition. I was weak, and I believed everything I saw or heard. I believed I was unstoppable. It was perhaps another irony that it was this man who sought out vengeance, and he desired nothing more than my blood flowing down his sword.

And it was then, the moment of defeat, the moment when the final blow was to be dealt, the Ultimate Sword fast descending from the heavens above me, I realised my own folly. I bled. I was afraid, for the first time in many years since I claimed the wretched alien to be my parent. I could still hear his shrill warcry ringing in my ears, as he viciously thrusted the razor-sharp tip directly between my eyes. His triumph meant the death of me, the link between us severed forever. He was no longer in my control, I realised in horror. Without a mind or body to dwell in, I was doomed.

A gust of chilly wind blew seemingly from nowhere, and I pressed myself closer against the wall, away from the advancing frost and the memories which haunt me now. Unfortunately, I found no consolation in doing so, for the walls were equally cold and unforgiving.

In our minds, linked by the powers of Je- I refuse to mention that name - I exploded, literally. Shafts of light pierced my body, and then, in a second, all that he saw with astonished eyes were small spheres of Lifestream. That was the end of me, in his eyes. His ties with Her, or me, for that matter, had been permanently cut. Or so he thought.

Beckoned by the soft, inviting green light, I was guided to the Lifestream, as all souls of the dead are. It was there, where I discovered the painful truth, reunited with my Mother, and, in my relief, watched the fate which befell my creation - the Meteor. I thanked whatever Gods, myself not included of course, that the world I once despised and wanted to annihilate, was saved by its own powers. But at the same time, I could not help feeling despair as Holy entwined itself with the tendrils of Lifestream, the synergy of all that was good and pure radiating with ever-increasing intensity, until the whole of the living world became encased, for a few moments, in a sphere of white incandescence.

My mother's time was up.

My cause had been defeated.
Je- She was eradicated.
Cloud Strife, and the humans of this Planet, were victorious. And I was, for the first time, thankful towards this man.. for the good he had done, and the evil he had.. undone.

The flames in the small makeshift fireplace I had constructed with my bare hands flickered, when the winds picked up once again. A small cauldron of stew frothed earnestly above the fire, in it were the remains of an unfortunate animal careless enough to stumble into this domain.. my domain.

I remained where I was, entranced by the shadows dancing on the coarse walls of the cave. I glanced around, frowning slightly as I observed several flakes of snow collecting at the entrance of my rather empty abode. I live here now, at the floor of the Northern Crater, in one of the numerous caves amongst the dank twisting passageways.

A shiver ran up my spine when the freezing winter winds caressed my skin, and I had to clasp my hands tightly to prevent them from becoming numb. The warm Lifestream which once flowed here like endless rivers had long dissipated, returning the womb from whence they came from. All that was left was a cold, dark crater, a wound inflicted by the calamity from the skies aeons ago, its depths forever shrouded by inky blackness and lifelessness. Nothing lives here now, not even the monsters I once summoned using the malicious influence of that wretched alien. Only death and decay accompanies me in my newfound home.

I once laughed bitterly when the Planet decided not to destroy nor reincarnate me. I was denied the privilege of redemption as enjoyed by other criminals of my time. Even the most heinous and bloodthirsty creatures were given the chance to reborn. Even the bane of the human race, Rufus ShinRa, had been allowed through the tunnel of light in which my Mother stepped into. Even Hojo, the father whom I defiantly refuse to admit as my own, seemed to saunter straight into the gateway with hopeful glee etched on his twisted face.

But I do not weep, because I knew the reason for this diabolical injustice.

I was the abomination in the Planet's eyes. No, it was not because what I had done, trying so gallantly to erase it from the solar system.. rather, it is because of what I am.

I carry her legacy with me.

I am tainted by the evil of Jenova (I loathe myself for bringing up this name), and it is a part of me. I cannot deny its now-harmless existence, nor can I separate myself from her cells.. my cells. I am, in essence, a spawn of Jenova. Not a human, or at least, not human enough to pass through the those gates of reincarnation.

Bluntly put, I was simply hauled back to the living world, and that prospect frightened me. A world of isolation, of people shunning away, a world who hated me beyond words, a world without Mother's love which I had become so dependent on, a world to which I have sinned beyond forgiveness, a world of loneliness and helplessness..

My thoughts were interrupted when I heard soft footsteps echoing down the passageways. I cocked an eyebrow, and rose to my feet. Yet, as if in response, I felt another blast of icy wind grazing against my cheeks. I chuckled.

The elements of the Planet seem to mock me, like a bully would do to a distressed child. But I refuse to submit to the misery it has caused. This winter - the first since the day of my awakening - was obviously harsher than any northern winters ever experienced. From the ceaseless rumbles of the overhead skies so high above my abode, I could imagine violent blizzards ripping towns into shreds, and hailstones raining down on the ground which would already be covered by a few feet of snow.

Perhaps there was a change in the climate, perhaps this was due to Holy's cleansing, or perhaps it was the work of some crazed human.. I would never know. I never deserted this place since I woke, and I had never ventured into the outside world hundreds of feet above me, temptingly welcoming me into its openness. I had a reason to..

"Aeris?" I called out, when a hand drew aside the fur-curtain which separated the entrance of my home from the maze of twisting tunnels outside. Her green eyes peeked in, and then her entire angelic face came into view. Long, tumbling locks of hazel-brown hair fell down her back, and it was unbraided, as usual. Her cheeks had become rosy from the cold, and yet her smile was as warm as ever. She was wearing a fur-lined winter dress, which was annoyingly pink, and a black shawl draped over her shoulders.

Aeris brushed the few lumps of snow from her shoulder and hair, walked into the cave. She had a basket in her right hand, and a package wrapped with cloth in the other, both of which she gently placed on the wooden table next to me. She grinned childishly when she noticed my arms were folded across my chest - it was one of the few habits which I carried with me since time beginning, and she didn't quite like it. It made me look fearsome and arrogant, she had remarked once. Aeris then placed her hands onto mine to pull them down to my sides.

"Sephiroth.. your hands.. they're cold, " she stammered when she touched me. Indeed, her body radiated with warmth, which contrasted so greatly with the chill I felt inside me.

"It's.. just the wind," I replied flatly, shrugging her concern away, and hoping she would not notice what I was doing for the past few minutes.

But she did. She always does. Perhaps it was of the mysterious Cetra blood in her, or perhaps she was just an incredibly perceptive person.. she could see the truth around her with amazing clarity. And perhaps it was this ability to gaze beyond the surface of a person, which set the events leading to my awakening.

I was lost indeed, when I learnt of what was to become of me. A mere soul floating eternally between life and death, similar to what happened to my Mother. But this time, it would be painfully worse.. it would be a nightmare I could never awaken from. At least my Mother had a body, and I had none - it was destroyed when the One Winged Angel was slain and sent back into the void from which Jenova had summoned. I was destined to become a slave of my own, perpetually craving for release, and yet bound by the laws of the Planet, which deemed me unfit for the passage to my rebirth.

I can still remember those moments of bewilderment when I found myself lying amongst shattered shards of crystallised Mako. Something had happened, I could not describe nor explain what it was.. but something had happened. And I was terrified, to my dismay towards my feeble show, when I gazed straight into the eyes of the Cetra I had slain a few weeks before. Both hands were clasped in a prayer, with a Phoenix Summon materia between her palms. She knelt before my recumbent form, and smiled.

My mind was throbbing with pain, and the pounding would not stop. I was totally disorientated, confused, gasping for breath, and completely exhausted. Unfamiliar sensations of sight, sounds and touch flooded my battered head, and I blacked out.

"It's.. the past, isn't it?" Aeris asked softly, hands already clasping with mine. I could feel the warmth seeping through my skin, bringing the blood surging back to my limbs.

I nodded hesitantly, trying to look as stoic as ever, but it was all in vain. She knew me too well. There was no point in hiding the truth from her probing green eyes.

She suddenly lowered her gaze and frowned. Her hands released from their grasp, dropping almost limply onto her sides. My heart ached, and I regretted having to reveal my troubles, for I knew it would hurt her as well. Instinctively, I pulled her gently towards me, so her head rested against my chest. I wanted to comfort her with my heartbeat, and more importantly, I wanted to share her warmth.. our warmth. Both of my arms wrapped around her protectively, and I could feel her hair swaying slightly against the leather fabric of my cape, as she nestled into my embrace.

"I'm sorry.." I murmured close to her ears, and could feel my breath caressing the curve of her pale neck. I felt her long sleeves brushing against my back, as she returned the embrace. My fingers involuntarily smoothed the fur on the neckline, and down into her hair, where they finally rested on the small of her back. How I wanted to console her, to bring her out of her sorrow. But I could not.. for I myself am drowning in my own as well.

The floral scent on her hair was pleasant, but it made me reminiscence back to some.. more unpleasant times before. This particular scent.. was the first thing my mind registered, when I was roused from my unconsciousness by a wet towel on my feverish forehead. I could only stare back in disbelief, as I lay here, in this very cave, while the Cetra girl wiped the sweat from my face.. almost lovingly and meticulously, like a mother to a sick child.

The days that followed were a haze, and even now I could not recall the exact details. Aeris nursed me back to health. I remained that way, bedridden, and unmoving, both from the bodily pain which sapped my strength, and the fear of provoking her. Yes, it was foolish of me, to have assumed she was a threat. But who would not, if one had murdered her cold-bloodedly? Was I expecting forgiveness, after what I had done to the Planet and more importantly, to her?

"I forgive you, Sephiroth.." those were the first words she spoke to me. Four words, and yet the sincerity touched the very core of my heart. Surprised, and quiet as a mouse - that was how I reacted.

I was delirious, sinking into unconsciousness as the fever took hold, and resurfacing into wakefulness when horrible nightmares of my past left me drenched in cold sweat. My muscles spasmed when I tried to move, sending electricity running up my back.. but I could not curl up to relieve the pain. I was forced to experience the full effects of Mako poisoning.. but at least I was not alone.

Aeris talked to me, soothing my frayed nerves with her words of comfort and forgiveness. Her voice was sweet and pure, radiating with innocence and goodness, which was unlike those of my false mother. Her touch on my clammy skin somewhat relieved part of the excruciating pain which wrecked my body. I actually found myself enjoying listening to her. She was talkative, and gentle in her care for me. I could not help but to feel eternally indebted to her, for what she saw in me, and for what she was doing. She told me many things, all of which I listened in my usual silence. I wasn't surprised when she admitted having seen me in the Lifestream, horrified by the truth of my origins, saddened by my separation with my Mother, and finally the frustration when I was denied a rebirth. She was, after all, a traveller of the Lifestream, just as I once was. In short, she knew me in my short afterlife.

She proceeded to tell me of my awakening. I did not lose a body, as I had thought. In fact, it was waiting for its owner, deep within the crater. Yes, it was the same body the ShinRa had found, and it was the same body which received the Black Materia. The truth was rather a shock to me, and it took me days to finally accept it all. I had been completely overwhelmed by the sinister powers and promises of the Black Materia, that I did not realise myself summoning the Bizzare and Seraph forms for my personal use. My will for vengeance and immortality became so strong, I became obsessed with these two transformations to lead me to my triumph, and somehow, I had drifted into them, thereby transferring the living soul into these bodies made from vibrant Jenova cells and Black Materia magic. My actual body, the one I have with me now, was actually safely stowed away, deep in the recesses of the crater and still encased with Mako. How Aeris knew this all, I dare not ask, but I did not doubt the truth in her words.

Aeris shifted slightly in my arms, and I snapped out from my daydreaming. Her fingers were twirling with one of my silver bangs, as I was too, with her long, flowing hair. Shining green eyes gazed into mine with a smile on her pink lips.

"I'm alright.." she whispered into my chest, still held in my embrace.

The delicious smell from the bubbling cauldron gave me an idea.

"Aeris, let's have some dinner, then you go get some sleep. I'm sure you had a long walk out there," I said, referring to her daily evening walks. She loved going out and exploring the tunnels, even though she knew them all by heart now. No matter how inhospitable or hostile this place was, she still loved it all. It was part of her home, she declared once. I could not suppress the urge to grin at her childish naiveness in perceiving this part of the world, but I agreed with her nevertheless.

Having grown accustomed to my constant authoritative attitude, she playfully smacked at the part of my chest which was not covered by the black cape.

"Oh, Seph.. I'm fine, and you know that!" she grinned mischievously. My lips curled into a smile, knowing that I had diverted her attention away from her own troubled past. "You sound just like my.."

Suddenly, her grin was gone, and so was mine. Inside, I was mentally slapping myself for being so tactless and I was fast thinking for a way out.

Inadvertently, my mind slipped back into time. It was almost two weeks since I had awakened, and I was feeling much better. My strength had returned, and the slight dull headache became the remnant of the poisoning episode I had suffered. Aeris and I had a rather.. unsettling friendship. We were once sworn enemies, but now we were together for reasons I did not understand, deep in the bowels of the Planet. I spoke little, usually a few words, or none at all. The fact that she seemed to have completely forgotten what I had done disturbed me, but I had no intention of bringing up my own past either. The violence, hatred and insanity which once gripped me had entirely dissipated. I had silently swore to myself never to harm another innocent life, so as long as blood flowed in my veins. Perhaps this was a punishment for my sins - to be thrown back into a world who hates me for my evil, although I do not bear the same sentiments otherwise. The very least I could do, while I lived, was to repent, and never to take another life away.

I was a changed person, so to speak.. but what about her? Why was she treating me as an acquaintance, and not running away, shrieking as everybody should? Questions, and questions..

I could have picked up the Masamune, equipped with the various mastered materias, which was found beside me, and left her in the Crater. I could have steeled myself and attempted the trek into the outer world, braving the storms of the winter which had just begun then. But I felt compelled not to, partly because I was indebted to her for saving my life - although I would prefer if I was simply reborned, but the circumstances would never permit that. I would have asked if she wanted to leave this gloomy, foreboding place, but yet I could not muster the courage to do so. She seemed to have adopted this part of the crater, of all the places in the world, as her new home. Although she does not speak, I could tell she would insist on remaining had I asked her.

Something was not right, and this uneasy feeling gnawed at me for days. I stayed with her, similarly pretending to be unaware of my past. I started to help out in the daily chores of our lives : hunting for the creatures which found their way into the Crater, and building a simple, but cozy home in this cave for the both of us. My Masamune served well as a useful tool, and there were enough fallen trees, cavernous undergrowth and loose rocks to be used as building materials. Small underground streams flowed nearby into one of the pits which once held Lifestream, forming a clear, peaceful lake. Aeris seemed to be silently thankful as I used whatever survival skills I learnt during my SOLDIER training years to make this place a more hospitable one.

We seemed to be playing a strange game of ignorance with one another, acting as distant friends, and pretending not to remember how close the Planet came to its untimely death by my own preposterous actions.

I found myself liking this game we were playing. Indeed, I was beginning to trust her, not only in the various work that had to be done on our new home, but I was beginning to trust her as a person. Still, I have my suspicions, for obvious reasons. Our distant, cold friendship slowly gave way to a closer one. We talked and chatted like old friends, usually about the weather, or the latest events happening in the crater, but never a mention of our pasts. Surprisingly, there was much to be discovered in this dark, inner sanctum which reeked of evil. Aeris, forever curious and adventurous (against my wishes, of course), would go off early in the day, and return with stories of beautiful rock formations, and wondrous cavernous structures she encountered. Sometimes, she would proudly show me the few, rare materia she had found lying in the tunnels in which Lifestream once flowed. And I would flash her a knowing smile too, mostly because I was glad to see her again. And after that, I would promptly return to my work of building our home. I was usually too preoccupied with my daily tasks for such silly explorations.

When she was not busy journeying deep into the crater, she would be tending a garden not far from our cave. There were some wide patches of ground where the dim sunlight could reach, and she made good use of them. Initially, I dismissed this as some young girl's dream of the ideal home, complete with a garden of roses and daises, a bubbling fountain in one corner, and perhaps a dainty-looking pebbled walkway to the door. In time, I came to realise how close we came to achieving her dream. From a distance, I could see our humble home, a garden of flowers, vegetables and other cavernous plants by its side, and a calm lake at the other end. She had even taken the trouble to pave a walkway to the cave entrance, lined by smooth, polished rocks she had found during her escapades.

We were soon sharing the same platter of food, the same seat as we watched the dying embers of our fireplace, and the same view as we gazed up the opening of the Crater into the nightsky high above us. The stars would twinkle as if in acknowledgement, the dark clouds would part, allowing the pale moonlight to bathe over our silent forms sitting on the rock platform beside the crystal clear lake. No words were spoken, no glances were exchanged - there need not be. We simply enjoyed each other's company in the stillness of the night.

Suddenly Aeris squirmed, and I loosened my grip in alarm. She must have sensed the distress in me, for she smiled knowingly immediately, melting away the feelings of concern before they rose up my throat. I observed, partly enchanted by our intimate closeness, and by her beauty, as she tiptoed and reached for the basket.

"I met the merchant again today, " she spoke calmly, as her fingers worked the lid of the basket off.

"Oh? So what did you buy this time?" I asked inquisitively as I turned towards the table. I could imagine her spending a generous proportion of the gils I stockpiled, for unnecessary accessories and knickknacks. Gils were aplenty, I assured myself. The creatures which either fell or crawled into the crater were dangerous and immensely powerful, and they carried with them a large amount of gil, probably plundered from unlucky travelers. More significantly, there seemed to be an endless stream of creatures arriving here although their numbers have dwindled somewhat. I assumed they were scavengers, drawn towards the stench of death and decay which permeated the air surrounded by the towering circular walls of this crater. Not only their presence helped me maintain my swordfighting and magic-using skills, they provided an ample supply of food and materials for our daily lives.

I watched as Aeris gestured towards the wrapped package. "I got us some blankets, some tools you ordered, some food from Icicle Inn.. and an overcoat for you too." I could have sworn she was winking at me.

"But Aeris, I already have three!" I protested weakly.

She turned towards me, and put a finger on my lips, effective silencing whatever words I wanted to blurt out. I sighed. Such was the power of a woman. In reality, I do not actually mind her squandering away our wealth.. perhaps it was her overly motherly figure which annoyed me somehow. She becomes concerned - perhaps too concerned - when it comes to my health and welfare.

However, whatever she had purchased, I would accept them as gifts from her. Quietly, I muttered a word of thanks to the friendly merchant for stopping by in this crater once in a while. His appearance in our lives had greatly eased the burdens and difficulties we faced. And, if I might add, he did bring some cheer into Aeris' life.

I could recall the day when I met with this man, who looked to be well into his forties. He was a travelling merchant, constantly moving to and fro from Bone Village to Icicle Inn to peddle his goods. One fateful day, his caravan became lost in a violent snowstorm which was so common in the world above us, and he later found himself at the edge of the crater after climbing up the steep slopes he thought belonged to the region around Icicle Inn. Exhausted, he decided to stop for a rest. According to him, as he was leaning against his caravan, the ground beneath him suddenly crumbled, and he tumbled his way down straight into the lake.

At that time, I was slicing uprooted tree stumps with my Masamune into the legs for a table I was working on, while Aeris watched patiently. The splash of water certainly caught me unaware, and I remember how tensed I was, Masamune raised at eye level at the new presence. Intruders usually meant danger, in the form of the creatures which dared approach this forsaken place. Surprise turned into hope when I saw a hand waving desperately above the water surface, followed by the bobbing head of a man. Immediately I went to his rescue, and pulled him out of the water. An equally surprised Aeris did her part by casting a Cure spell, and the wounds and gashes he sustained during his fall disappeared.

The man did not know who we were, but he had, for some unknown reason, assumed us to be refugees from the war above us. War? That was the first piece of news I received concerning the outside world ever. Indeed, after the fall of ShinRa, the nations of Wutai, Junon and the newly rebuilt Midgar were fighting one another for the control of the Planet. Shocked as we were, we remained calm and cool, never showing a hint of our identity to this man.

He thanked us for saving his life, and promptly asked if we wanted to take a look at his wares. And that, was how our secretive friendship with this man began. We let him believe in his own tales, and allowed him think we were escapees from the war. He promised "not to tell the other goddamn governments of your presence", and he insisted he would be back once every so often to check if we need anything from him. That was, in my opinion, more than what I could ask for. In his opinion, of course, we were merely new customers for his booming business. He would bring news from the world above us, of the latest events which transcended on the war or any happenings worth mentioning. Strangely, Aeris and I seemed rather disinterested, but we listened politely nonetheless. After all, our world was here, at the bottom of the Northern Crater.

"No, Seph. This time, it's different. It's for Spring, " she paused with a smile, waiting for my reaction.

Spring? Had time fly so quickly? It seemed days.. no.. weeks.. or was it months.. when I first opened my eyes. Time had a vague definition here. The sunlight which managed to reach the crater floor was dim, and from an untrained eye, it looked no different from dusk or dawn. We did not rely on the sun for our light, rather, it was the flames from our Fire materia, or the glowing mosses on the cavern walls, which lit up our world.

Aeris reached for her basket again, and carefully picked a flower from it. She then held it in front of my green Mako eyes with a wide grin on her young face.

"Your garden grows well today," I responded impassively.

She inched closer, and I could feel her breath against my neck. "No, take a closer look."

I took the flower from her fingers, and studied it disinterestedly. A small thing with five pink petals with a tinge of blue on the edges. Then my eyes widened in amazement. I had seen this type of plant before.. during my lifetime..

"It's an Crater Bloom, and it blossoms in spring!" She took the words straight out from my mouth.

"But.. this flower is only found on the area.. around the mouth of the Cra-" I glared at her suddenly, my Mako eyes flashing.

"You went up there, didn't you?" I spoke with a scolding voice, and my eyes narrowed. How many times had I reminded her not to venture up there alone?! The unforgiving winds would have either thrown her off-balance, or left her with a severe flu!

She giggled, oblivious to my displeasure. "Oh come on, Seph.. I wasn't even this close to the middle ledges when I found it!" She bent her thumb and forefinger, showing me a microscopic distance between them.

Aeris then beamed with a satisfied grin. "Life is returning to this part of the Planet.. and when the snow finally melts, you'll have to keep your promise of.."

I interrupted her with my own mischievous smile, ".. taking you to Professor Gast's house, and then to the Gold Saucer.. I know, I know.." I sighed in mock tiredness, as I placed the flower back onto the table. Aeris was such a dear little girl. She made me promise a thousand things - things she had not been able to do while she was alive - and I was happy to oblige her, even though she does irritate me at times with her zesty enthusiasm.

She caught me unaware when she threw her arms around me, with her bubbly laughter breaking the calm which surrounded us all, and echoing off the walls of our cave - it was music to my ears.

Once again, my mind drifted away, as I stroke her back and held her tightly in our embrace. I could still remember the first time she held me this way.. or rather, the time I held her this way.

It was almost a month after I found my consciousness when I could no longer hold back the question. I had to know, and I direly hoped her answer would explain mine as well. I was risking our friendship, and perhaps my one and only companion in this dark world we dwell in.

I took a deep breath, willing my racing heart to slow down, silently praying the stars above for strength and courage. I turned my head and took in the sight breathlessly - how beautiful she looked as she sat beside me, her pale skin glowing faintly with moonlight, her waist-length brown hair flowing as a breeze blew, her eyes shining with wonder as she fixed her gaze on the nightsky with a smile on her lips. The coat on her back wrinkled slightly when she pulled it closer to her as the breeze picked up. There was, in some indescribable way, an air of magic around us. Quiet, peaceful, and enchanting.

"Why did you return?" I blurted out, breaking the spell instantly.

She stared at me, surprised. It took her a full minute to understand what I had just asked, and her shoulders started to tremble. Regret filled my heart for having done such a rash thing.

She looked away, with a profound sadness on her distraught face. I had broken her heart, I realised. But why? What was the reason she remained in the living world with me? Surely the truth does not hurt, at least not as much as mine did?

How wrong I was that night.

"I.. had no.. choice, Sephiroth. I'm just.. like.. you.." her forlorn voice faltered at that moment, and I thought I heard a soft whimper. But I could not see what she was going through, or if there were tears in her eyes, as her face was hidden under locks of brown hair. I reached out protectively for her arm, hoping to soothe whatever despair which now troubled her.

"What do you mean?" I pressed on, although I knew well I was causing her more grief than I already should.

She told me that night, of the reason for her being with me, here in the Northern Crater. In between sobs and tears, with a voice which quivered with sorrow, she revealed her story.. and it left me in utter shock of her helplessness - more so than my own.

Her dream of reuniting with her kind in the Promised Land had been rudely shattered. After her soul finally found peace in the victory of her companions against Meteor, she sought for the Promised Land which she knew by heart of its location. She was filled with the promise of seeing her people, and spending an eternity of happiness with her mother. She knew her father was long gone, and perhaps already reborn elsewhere on the Planet - she accepted that long ago. Aeris had hoped to finally find her place in that sacred ground with her remaining true Cetra parent.

But all was gone when she stood at the Archway to the Promised Land. Her mother cried, her people wept, and the Land seemed to bleeding with their tears. Those were the tears of anguish and frustration, and they flowed down Aeris' cheeks as she knelt before the grand Arch - the boundary which separates her Cetra land from the rest of the Planet. She begged, she pleaded, and yet the gates refused to open, not even for her, who clearly belonged to the lands beyond it.

She wept that day, because she knew the reason for this diabolical injustice.

She was the abomination in the Archway's eyes. It was not because of what she had done - she had committed no crimes for a punishment of this magnitude -.. rather, it was because of what she was.

She carried the legacy with her.

She was tainted by the blood of the Cetra's descendants - the very race which now populated the world and ruled with greed and evil, the very race which survived when the Cetra had been wiped out - and it was a part of her. She could not deny its existence, nor could she separate herself from the very cells which sealed her fate before the Archway.. her own cells. She was, in essence, part human, and part Cetra. Not a true Cetra, or at least, not Cetra enough to pass through those glorious gates to eternal happiness.

Bluntly put, she was simply hauled back to the living world. A world of isolation, a world which was not meant for her, a world who had long forgotten her kind, a world without her mother's love which she had hoped so much for, a world of loneliness and helplessness..

She woke up beside the lake where Cloud had laid her in her final resting place, her Ultimate Weapon by her side just as Cloud had left there months ago, as a parting memory. Drenched, cold, and alone, she knew she could not return to her friends. She had seen them through the Lifestream, the contented lives they now lead in her absence. To emerge from the dead would mean to disrupt their lives, and that was the ultimate sin. She had a glimpse of the future through her Cetra eyes, and she knew the consequences should she return. She was living in a world in which she was supposed to have passed away.

It was then, she heard her mother's voice for the last time. Ifalna spoke to her, telling her she should find one who suffered the same fate as she did, so that she would not have to face life alone, in this harsh, unforgiving world. A red materia materialised in her palms - a parting gift from her mother. Ifalna bid her final farewell to her daughter whom she never had the chance to raise, forever severing the bond Aeris had for her people and her mother. Tears streaking down her cheeks, Princess Guard in her hands, she journeyed to the Northern Crater, alone.

Once, she would have been brave enough to face any challenges or adventures thrown at her - one of which she had experienced when she left her companions for the City of the Ancients. But she could make such a dangerous and exhausting journey, only because she held the dream of reuniting with her people should she face death. In a way, she boldly confronted the dangers hurled at her, knowing that she would have still a future no matter what the outcome was.

But now, it was different. The voices of the Planet had faded, the guidance she received in her dreams no longer accompanied her in her sleep. Her future was bleak, and full of uncertainties.. the prospects were frightening. And when she reached her destination, she knew she would finally be with someone who understood her predicaments and the cruel twist of fate which befell upon her.

Her story told, she collapsed onto me. I could feel tears forming in my very own eyes, the tears of a mortal. We shared a common tragedy, I realised. And I knew she needed me more than ever at that moment. Whilst I had reluctantly accepted my own fate as a part of my punishment for my wrongdoings, Aeris could not. She had done no wrong, committed no sins, and she truly did not deserve this kind of life here, in a world she yearned to leave. She had no one to turn to, no one to depend on, and she could do nothing about it.

I embraced her that night, and held her tightly against me. Whether my actions comforted her, or not, I would never know. What was done to us, could not be undone.. no, not even the powers of Holy could save us. Our crime was our births. The day we were brought into this world, we had sealed our own destinies forever.

I returned to the present when I heard a soft sigh. My eyes blinked once and I realised I had been cradling her embracing form for quite a long time. My other hand brushed a silver hair which had gotten into my eyes. I moved slightly, hoping she would stop hugging me so tightly and take her seat at the dining table.

I patted her shoulder once, but she did not respond. I shook her gently, and she remained the way she was, her arms around my neck, her body leaning against mine.

I smiled, knowing the reason for her sudden quietness.

With a swift yet gentle move, I swept her off her feet, and carried her to the double bed which I had proudly made for ourselves. Her eyes remained shut, and her face was a peaceful one. For a moment, as I laid her on the bed, and slowly pulling the covers over her figure, I contemplated my next course of action.

"The dinner can wait, " I murmured to no one in particular. I wasn't hungry, and in fact, I found myself stifling a yawn. It had been a long day, indeed, from the hunt, and from building a veranda in front of the entrance. The latter was Aeris' idea, and as always, I obliged without any hesitation. Besides, a cute little extension on our home would certainly brighten up things around here, I thought.

As I climbed onto our bed, I wondered about our relationship. We had become more than mere friends since the day she revealed her story. There was an unspoken understanding between us, something no one else in this world could comprehend. It was a kind of link, an association, which one feels with another who had undergone similar traumatic experiences.

Suffice to say, from that day onward, I became her best friend during the day, sharing her joy and her happiness in that we have found each other. And during the cold, lonely nights, I was there with her, cradling her in her sleep, warding away the bitter nightmares of her separation, and bringing in dreams of flowers and smiles. Whenever one of us drifted back to our past, the other would comfort and soothe. Whenever one of us felt lonely, the other would be there to console the anguished heart.

She may not know it, but I felt I had to protect her from any harm which could befall her.. physically, mentally or emotionally. I was her bodyguard, guarding her against the loneliness which I bore during my childhood years. I vowed to shield her from the dangers of the Planet, the Cetra girl I had once murdered, the person who rescued me from my doom, and now, the woman whom I think I'm falling deeply in love with. Yes, I confess from the bottom of my heart, I have feelings for her.

After all, I am now a mortal with human emotions.. .. and a lucky one too, if I might add, to have found such a lovely and beautiful woman by my side.

As I adjusted the pillow beneath my waist-length silver hair, cautious not to awake the sleeping angel beside me, I could not help but to think of the irony of it all. Here was the greatest General ever, the man who summoned the death of his homeworld, the same person who sought the glory of godhood.. and now he was simply content in living with a Cetra girl he had once loathed so much.

I sighed wearily, as my own exhaustion overtook me without much resistance. Carefully and gently, I leaned closer and wrapped my arms around her small form, relishing the warmth I felt against my skin. I placed a soft, loving kiss on her forehead, and I thought I heard her sigh as well, probably from a dream of Springtime, of blooming fields of flowers, and of the much-anticipated trip to the outside world. It beckons for us, and soon, we will be there. This time, we had nothing to fear, because we had each other now.

As my vision darkens, another breeze blew, cooling the air inside our home, and sending me off into a blissful slumber.

So here we are..

Together in each others' arms, our own warmth driving away the bitter cold, and our beating hearts comforting one another with the reality that we were alive.. although this bottomless abyss radiated nothing but death - for the moment. The path to the heart of the Planet, the same path leading to the tunnel of light and the Archway, lies so close, yet it was beyond our reach.

But I do not mind.

Because I, the Great Sephiroth, have Aeris with me.

Forever, by my side.


Author's note : This is my second FF7 fanfic, and I hoped you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing this short, but heartwarming piece. Feel free to distribute this fanfic, or host it in your website if you have one. All I ask in return, is that you GIVE CREDITS TO WHERE THEY ARE DUE!!!

Comments and brickbats are welcomed, just send 'em to Or visit my COLOURLESS DREAMS homepage at Warning, the FF-related pages MAY contain YAOI stuff. Viewer discretion is HIGHLY recommended.

Coming soon : My first FF7 fanfic, still in the process of writing at present. Featuring a whooping 30+ chapters of Rufus, and perhaps Sephiroth and Vincent. The greatest villains ever pitted against their own insanities, and a man who discovers a truth beyond his wildest dreams, it's NOT what you think! WARNING : Yaoi implicated. Do not read if you're underaged ^_^

Disclaimer's Note : blah blah blah. Squaresoft blah blah copyright blah blah blah characters and names blah blah All Rights Reserved blah blah blah don't sue me blah blah coz I'm just a poor student blah blah © 2000. Long Live SquareSoft. Thank you for listening ^_^

Serena Lee's Fanfiction