Categories > Games > Final Fantasy 7 > Something Almost Admirable

Something Almost Admirable

by Ardwynna 1 review

The sacrifice meets the one who will wield the blade.

Category: Final Fantasy 7 - Rating: R - Genres: Angst, Drama, Erotica - Characters: Aeris Gainsborough, Sephiroth - Warnings: [!] - Published: 2005-12-16 - Updated: 2005-12-17 - 6518 words - Complete

Disclaimer:Final Fantasy VII is the property of Square-Enix. No profit is sought from this work.

Winner of Saddest Drama Award in Mediaminer's 2004 Big-Ass Fanfic Contest.

Something Almost Admirable

She had left everything. Left it all behind with those who would have more need of it. She did not need much at the moment, would need nothing at all soon enough. On the surface of the little nightstand, sturdy, but so aged that the wood had worn away to the ridges of its grain, she had left her potions and remedies, all her share of herbs and talismans she had carried as balm against a long, difficult journey. She had left her staff in the corner of that rustic cottage in the village of her dead love's youth. Right beside the bed, where the blond who seemed at times dark-haired lay, she had left her bracelet, armor for her slender wrist unnecessary now. For this purpose she had committed herself to she had need of no protection but that of the Planet, and this only for a short while more.

The dead need nothing, after all.

Perhaps she had been selfish, then, to allow herself a few small comforts. The pack on her back held little in the way of food. She had trusted herself to the Planet's bounty for that. But what need for the hairbrush? Surely the state of her hair hardly mattered now. Neither did how well she slept. That large old blanket that had served as her sleeping bag thus far was perhaps the ultimate vanity. What did her stiff joints and bruised skin matter in the face of the Planet's pressing need for her help? There would be no worry for them in the end. No worry for anything. Still, it had kept her warm, kept her from freezing, and for that it seemed the Planet overlooked its presence.

She had come so far. The journey was almost over. She had lost track of time with only the cycle of light and dark marking the course of the days upon her mind, focusing solely on her purpose, her mission, guided northward by the pull in her blood, an undeniable need. She had walked unmolested by man or beast, her trail like the flight of an arrow towards its target. The Planet had fulfilled its share of the bargain. When she hungered, there was food. When she tired, it allowed her to rest untouched by other vessels of lifestream that roamed its surface. It had protected her, preserved her life, and in return she would relinquish that life for its sake.

She was Cetra and knew the necessity of it. Only the soul of one who went into the rituals fully knowing would do. And there was no other way. The others, they would not have understood, so she had left them in the dead of night, without good-byes. Not even a soft kiss on the blond one's brow as he lay in that troubled sleep, for that would have eased her heart more than his suffering. She hoped, as she wandered slowly through the forest of her people, that he had recovered. Perhaps the dark-haired shade inside might be missing her, just a little. But she could not afford such idle, selfish thoughts now. The place she sought was just beyond the trees. The path was clear.

She stopped for a while to lean against the smooth trunk of a slender tree, her mind needing more rest than her feet, closed her eyes, slowed her breath. The air was cool here, and alive, resonating with formless voices, the spirits of her people, brushing so closely against her mind and yet still so far away. She knew not so much in her mind as in her blood, that had they found no trace of something of themselves in her, something they could recognize, they would have closed in and driven her mad. But she was Cetra, if only in part, and imbued with the Planet's purpose, so they left her alone. They hovered at the edge of her consciousness, whispering amongst themselves that this was the one, the sacrificial lamb, the one who must live till the time she must die.

It was lonely here.

She could feel the slow sinking of her feet into the rich earth below, the blades of grass that brushed against her calves and though her eyes were shut, could still sense in a motley of mild colors the movement of the leaves above, the shifting of the light that filtered upon her face. She would cherish such small sensation, for soon there would be none.

It was sooner than she thought. Within the space of a heartbeat the play of light upon her face went dark, blocked by some immense shadow. The spirit voices in her head reeled back in fear and fled and when she opened her eyes she could think only one thing.

She had failed.

"Hello, pretty. Stirring up trouble, I see," The words bore astounding malice for being so softly spoken. The pale figure in black towered over her, leaning in towards her with one arm above her head. Before she could even think of running, a gloved hand grasped her chin firmly, tilting her head up to meet cold, glowing eyes that promised nothing but suffering. "There's really only one way I deal with troublemakers," and here a vicious smile touched his lips, "but I'm sure for you, I could think of something more... lenient. Those leather-clad fingers traced her lower lip and that cold, deep voice woke a near-paralyzing fear for her life and body that she had not thought she was still capable of.

He mistook her silence for acceptance and leaned in closer to claim his prize, his hand trailing downwards to brush soft leather against her throat, then moving lower. She could not keep from trembling at that gentle touch, but when the gloved hand reached the curve of her breast it grew at once hungry and vicious. It grasped the tender flesh in a way that promised only more pain and immediately roused all the instincts of self-preservation she thought she had abandoned. She wrenched herself away with a shrill yelp, catching the dark warrior by surprise as she turned to flee. She could not die yet. This was not the Planet's cleverly devised plan. It was not the right time, she had not yet prayed. She had to live.

But the one behind her had other plans. He lunged out, recovering from his brief lapse to grasp at her, but his hand only closed around her backpack He pulled it sharply backwards, preparing to show her the error of her ways as soon as she landed flat on her back in the dirt. Again, she surprised him, flinging her arms back in her flight so the pack slid off her shoulders as she fled deeper into the forest, leaving him to hold it behind her. He stumbled for an instant, then smirked at her shrinking form as he recovered his step.

"It's no use, little one!" he cried after her, "You're already dead!"


Her heart was threatening to break out of her chest by the time she neared the end of the forest, the spirits howling alongside her in her flight. She slowed, finally stopping for breath, leaning heavily on a tree for support. Her chest burned as much with the increasing cold as with exertion. In between labored gasps she spared a thought for the meager belongings she had left behind. No matter.

She straightened and forced herself to keep walking forward out of the dim green woods and across the strange grey rock that she knew would lead her to what had once been her people's stronghold. The path was serpentine in its twisting, formed of great scale-like plates, as if some giant creature had shed its belly and let it harden for her to cross ages after.

The trees were more foreign now, their branches low and spread to catch what sunlight filtered into this hidden valley where her life would end. They fluttered with an odd sluggishness in the sharp breeze, as if they moved to the slow-rolling currents of the sea instead of the impatient air. She was struck by the impression that the entire valley had risen out of the ocean at her people's bidding. If only she had time enough to explore what was left of her ancestors' civilization, the abandoned city up ahead. But she had no time for idle speculation or sight-seeing. The strange tiles of the path became a smooth stone walkway across a lake of rippling blue. A glimpse into the surface showed her a blurry figure in pink, with hair all mussed from the journey and for a moment she lamented the loss of the hairbrush in her pack, before brushing aside the thought. There was work to be done and it did not matter what was left behind so long as she left any danger behind with it.

Only the danger was not behind her anymore. He stood right ahead with a mocking smile, right where the stone of the path split in three different directions, barring her way to the city and her task. How could she get past him now? In one hand he held her little pack, sagging with its emptiness. His smile grew more arrogant as he lifted it.

"Don't you want this back?" his voice was smooth, silky cruelty. Before she could answer he opened the bag and boldly rifled around. He drew the blanket out partially and held it towards her as she stood, mouth agape at his brazen behavior. "Sure you don't want this? You'll probably freeze to death without it out here. Honestly I don't know how you made it this far with so little", and here he raked his eyes over her, roving slowly down and back up her figure. "You're hardly the sturdy type."

She shivered from his cold words, his violating stare, sent up a silent prayer that she could be anywhere but here. He saw the fine tremors of her body. "You'll freeze out here when night falls. I hope you know that." He stuffed the folds of the worn blanket back into the pack and paused in his action when something in it caught his eye.

A hairbrush, all soft bristles and dark, polished wood, a lush rose against a network of fine vines carved in smooth relief into its back. Quite a feminine looking thing, but who was he to turn his back on fortune? He had possessed no combs of his own since the Day of Fire. While the silken length of his hair hardly needed more taming, he had missed the soothing rhythm of such grooming, the tingle and caress of yielding bristles against his scalp. He reached in and pulled the brush out, eliciting a gasp from the girl on the path. He looked up at her with a venomous smile.

"I'd have thought you would want this back at least. You could certainly use it." His smile grew even more satisfied as the tint of fear slid from her green eyes to be replaced by a subtle outrage. It suited her, making her as delectable as her fear did , in his eyes, and he wondered what she would look like with either emotion completely consuming her slender frame, how much it would take to get her in that state. Oh, manipulation was a drug, and an addictive one at that.

He dropped her pack to the ground and sat beside it, keeping an eye on her as he folded his legs beneath him and slowly, with a languid grace, began to brush his hair. Through heavy-lidded eyes he saw her cheeks turn red with rage, her little hands form trembling fists at her side. Such pent-up emotion, all that constrained passion. Flaring emotions drew him like few things could. He wanted to see that passion freed, to see her to lose control. It was time to up the stakes.

Setting the brush aside for a while, he reached into the pack and drew out the old, worn grey blanket, a type he had seen before. It was not the warmest, softest thing on the market but it served its purpose to the poorer sort of traveler and it would serve his purpose now. He unfurled the length of it, noting the one side marred with dust, then folded it to preserve the clean part, keeping it inside. In no time at all he had fixed the thing for sleep, lying it right across the hub of the path. He enjoyed the girl's helpless rage all the while, the way the delicate eyebrows tilted down in anger, the way the rosy lips parted in surprise.

"I hope you don't mind," he said casually, standing with a sly look in his eyes. "It will be night soon and it gets bitterly cold here. I certainly don't want to wake up dead." His hands moved to the clasp at the front of his coat, eyes drifting closed with the confidence that she watched his every move. The buckle was undone and the coat fell open. He tilted his head up just the slightest bit so he could see her without her knowing it. He relaxed his shoulders to let the leather slide slowly off, enjoying all the while the deepening of the red tinge to the girl's cheeks, its spreading in a pink flush that warmed her entire face. Was it rage at his brazen behavior, or weak, maidenly shame?

He twisted his arms deftly out of the supple leather, detaching the heavy shoulder guards and folding the coat into a neat pillow with the ease that came with long practice. The gloves followed quickly, as did the cumbersome belt and shoulder-straps. He lay his sword aside, still within reach and made himself comfortable on the little bed he had fashioned. He began to work on his boots, smiling through long, silver bangs at the girl just a few feet away. The fine tremor of fury in her body was so enticing. With unhurried grace, he reached for the brush again, taking as much pleasure in the calming action as in the growing of the girl's anger to a torrent of outrage.

"That's my hairbrush! Give it back!" she shrieked, red-faced and livid but still afraid to move. He laughed softly.

"What an impractical little thing you are. I wasn't lying about the cold here. There's one thing here that could save your life and instead you ask for this useless little brush. How vain." His voice never lost that taunting lilt. His hands never lost their slow, steady rhythm. "I suppose if I did hand it over you would make a pretty little corpse." He leveled a sly, knowing gaze at her. "But you'll be a corpse either way, so I'm not so inclined."

That froze her on the spot. She stared at the swordsman in shock, confronted so openly with her fate and feeling the dread grow slowly in her bones. And she had dared to think she had resigned herself to her path. Gods, it had to be, she had to die, but not here in the middle of the pathway just minutes from the sacred place, without the words of faith. The silver-haired devil blocked her path, stoking what was left of the fire of life within her to fury...and shame.

Hers was an unworthy soul to bear the words to the center of the Planet's being, to wake the spirit within. But there was no one else, no one of the right blood, no one who knew what to say, what to do, what it meant. She was the only one who could and she would either take her place at the altar and perform her duties at the appointed time, or die on the pathway to the city from the cold, or on the sword of that green-eyed demon who guarded the way idly brushing his hair.

With her brush.

"Give it back," she whispered weakly, unable to muster more strength for her words, "It's mine."

"If you want it, come and get it," the demon blithely replied, never pausing in his action. She made no move. Gleaming eyes slanted up at her accompanied by the haughty smirk. He moved one hand away from his hair in a path calculated to draw the eye to his body, then lightly trailed his fingers along the blanket's worn fabric. "There's room enough for two if you change your mind when night falls." The slow journey of his eyes along the curves of her figure left no doubts about his motivation in making such an offer. She frowned, stepping back.

"Better to freeze!" All the venom she could rally was not enough to shake one silver hair out of place.

"Suit yourself. I only offer... a night's warmth. The offer stands." His eyes closed and he said no more, only brushed thick sections of silver hair with measured strokes, root to tip, front to back, sighing from the gentle pleasure of it. She stood waiting for him to tire, determined to take her chances the moment the opportunity presented itself.

The sky far overhead turned deep violet. The pattern of light reflecting off the metallic strands dimmed. The demon's pale form was engulfed in shadow and as he had promised, the wind grew so bitterly cold it seemed to have sprouted teeth. It nipped at her bare arms and legs and bit right through her clothes, howling across the rocks to whip her braid to a violent frenzy. Her fingers grew numb and her calves ached from standing so long. What else was there to do? She could have run back to the forest of her people to seek protection there. Or tried to get past his little camp, head straight onwards towards the altar, if he would let her pass. But she did not dare.

And truly, she was not in such a hurry to die, for the sake of the Planet or not. The rage and embarrassment stirred up by his arrogance had roused other things in its wake. Fear and dread were made more potent. Wonder had reawakened. She had stood watching the changing of the light not as one condemned and resigned, but as a young woman with plenty of life left in her, ignoring for a while that it was no longer hers to live. And something else threaded its way into her consciousness as she stared at the quiet demon before her, swordsman's arms turned towards a gentler task, slender fingers guiding moon-pale hair behind strong shoulders.

She turned her face away from the sight, studying her rippling reflection in the dark water beneath the pathway. Were her cheeks really so red, or was it just the water marring the colors? The wind was apparently cooler than she had thought. Even the lake seemed to shiver from it, the deep blue of the sky shattered and shaken in its reflection till it turned an indifferent black and lost all distinction of its own. The moon, calm in her deliberate flight above, splintered in the water, her reflection gaining gaping blackness in inconstant patterns, at times seeming to be the specter of Death come to remind a girl that her time was near. When next she looked at the path she had to tread, the demon had turned in for the night, wrapped snugly and unmoving in her very own blanket. Life was determine to be unfair to the very end, it seemed. She was tired, cold. She could hardly feel her toes. Warmth and rest. She needed them both terribly. And he had offered both, if she were brave enough.

Was she?

The grim face of Death stared at her from the water. She would choose, here and now. Certain death from exposure and exhaustion, if she continued to stand there. Possible immediate death if she took a demon's word. Death at the end of it all either way, but on one path meaningful, and on the other, rendered useless by her fear. Better for the chance at being useful. She had done little in her life worth mention. The Planet Willed that her death be otherwise. If only she could tell if a demon's word was more trustworthy for his angelic looks.

She took one step on a foot that seemed to tread on knives. Pain shot through her legs as she walked, limbs roused out of numbness by movement. A few halting steps brought her close to the makeshift camp, the light tap of boots on stone echoing thinly through the valley, yet failing to rouse the demon in her blanket. He seemed to be soundly asleep and as he had said, there was space enough in the improvised sleeping bag for two.

She bent down and pulled off her boots, wincing at the pain in her feet. Slowly, she slid herself beneath the covers, fearing to wake the devil she would soon be sleeping beside. The little bed had become a pocket of warmth against the cold. The familiar folds of the fabric brushed her skin in welcome and she nestled herself deep inside, edging as far away from the hell-spawn's form as she could. It was a dangerous, perilous place to be, she knew. He could choke the life out of her with his bare hands if he had a mind to, and she would not be able to wrestle free.

A worthless existence crowned by an empty death. But there was still the chance that he would sleep through the night, that perhaps he would keep his word. She curled up with her knees to her chest, her back to the demon with the hair of liquid light. She had wanted rest and rest she would have. She willed her mind to silence, quelled fear with hollow reason and let herself drift. Sleep was all she could afford to concern herself with for now.


He had not been asleep. He had not slept in months. He had just lain quietly still and let the girl think what she would. He had sensed every move she had made. He had heard her footsteps on the stone, felt the slight rustle of the blanket as she slid in beside him, the slight tug on the cover as she curled up into a little ball, trying to make herself as small as possible. That had been several hours ago and the girl was now sound asleep beside him. He turned and edged closer, propping his head up on one elbow to look at her.

She was such a pale little thing, fragile, delicate... weak. It was even more apparent at night when there was no sunlight to lend her false vigor. Asleep, with no rosy blush to lend life to her cheeks, she seemed such a frail child. The memories of her blushing stirred within him.

Innocence was so tempting. He had long abandoned any of his own. It would be so easy to grasp hers, steal it, defile it, make her his and completely break her in. What resistance could she put up? She was but a feeble little child, though for all her youth and weakness she was a tender little morsel.

A light nudge on her shoulder was all it took to make her roll onto her back for his perusal. The mussed hair he had taunted her about framed her face most invitingly, the strands that had worked loose from the braid strewn about the blanket in a way that almost suggested the work of a lover's hands. The fine eyebrows did not frown in sleep, but instead arched elegantly above eyes that even closed seemed haunted by sorrow. The pale skin had borrowed the slightest blue tint of the late night's air. The swell of her lips was no less inviting for being shadowed, and the steady rise and fall of her chest as she breathed... such a tempting sight. How could he possibly turn it down and still call himself a man?

He trailed one hand across her brow, down one soft cheek, along the firm line of her jaw to her throat, her delicate neck, and further still to the yielding firmness of her breasts. He frowned. There was too much cloth in the way. He made short work of the buttons, parting the thin fabric to either side to expose her to the waist. His prize lay still clothed in lacy white, but it was enough for now. Baring any more of that pale skin would wake her sooner than he cared to. He had no worry for the cold air reaching her. He had warmed the blankets himself with a mild variant of a fire spell. She would sleep comfortably until she could not help but wake. Silver brows arched as he wondered how long that would take.

He had never been one to make his move softly. He closed in to press a kiss just above her collar bone, then another, and still more, till the kisses became a series of light bites on her flesh, not hard enough to mar the skin, not hard enough to wake her, but enough to fuel the lust within the demon hovering above her. The taste of her soft skin was intoxicating and he could only think of getting more. He ran his hand roughly down her body and back up to that white lace, caressing the swell of her breast, matching her slow breathing with his own heavy gasping. He needed more. He easily adjusted himself to lie atop her, keeping his weight off with his arms and trapping her legs with his own while she lay unaware. Just the sight of her beneath him was exquisitely stimulating. And having her completely at his non-existent mercy like this, whether she knew it or not... She would know soon enough. He bent his head to run his tongue down the side of her neck to the tender spot where it met the shoulder, then bit down. Hard.

She woke instantly, gasping for breath from the sudden pain, eyes flying wide open with shock and fear. The silvery demon above moaned his appreciation when her chest heaved reflexively upwards to brush skin against skin. The contact burned through her senses. Why was her body so bare? Why was he touching her, lying on her like this? She had not wanted this. This was a violation. It was vile. She countered with every reaction a slum-raised girl possessed, trying hard to beat him off with her fists when she could not free her legs to kick, but the grin on his face only widened with each move she made. He caught her wrists in his large hands and pinned them to the ground above her head, squeezing till she let out a shrill gasp of pain. The glow in his eyes intensified, the light of a cold hell shining through and freezing her in it as she saw how he enjoyed her suffering.

"Calm down, little one," his honeyed words did not hide his wicked intent, "You chose this, after all." He leaned in to trace her trembling lips with his tongue, then claimed her mouth in a vicious mockery of a kiss, enjoying the pained whimpers that rose up from her throat as he tasted her. She fought him still, twisting her head from side to side, finally biting down on the invading tongue for the split second it afforded her to wrench her mouth free.

"Let me go," she kept her eyes closed as she pleaded, not daring to look into green hellfire. "Let me go, please. I did not ask for this!" He made a small sound of derision in reply and she felt it rumble in his chest, separated from her own only by that flimsy bit of lace.

"Why bother begging, little girl?" He leaned in to nuzzle her throat and send his whispers roaming across her skin. "You're dead already." He pressed a damp kiss just below her jaw. "Why not lie back and enjoy what pleasure is left to you?" He took an earlobe between his lips, enjoying the slight tremors he felt as he teased it with his tongue. "It can be so enjoyable. I promise you, I can make your body sing with pleasure." He turned to ravish her neck, feeling her quiet cries of distress through his lips, entranced by the way the light vibrations increased when he used his tongue, touched the hollow of her throat. He felt her body go limp beneath him. The slender wrists he gripped stopped fighting uselessly for release, so he took a chance and let them go.

She did not beat upon his shoulders as she had before. She did not scream or try to kick him. The rising of her chest against his became a series of desperate, shallow gasps and when he looked up at her face he saw only despair in her eyes, the damp crooked trails that marked the passage of tears glimmering slightly in what light there was. A pretty little toy, no matter what her expression. So enchanting with the sparkling new tears that coursed her skin. He smiled again and stroked her cheek, her tangled hair.

"That's better, little one. I won't have to hurt you now. Not much." He twirled a strand of dark hair around his finger. "Oh, I promise you it won't hurt long." He untangled his hand and ran it slowly down her skin, circling her navel and moving back up again, repeating the long caress with a certain prideful precision. She shivered but he knew it was not from cold. "No man has ever touched you this way. Am I right?" he asked in a deep whisper as his fingers played with the edge of her lacy undergarment. Her trembling answered for her. He bent low and let his lips and tongue mark the trail between her breasts, took the lace between his teeth and pulled it out of the way, rewarded with a stifled cry.

He knew he could shatter her silence and resolved to have her screaming before the night was out. "I'll have you wanting this so badly you'll beg for it!" Never losing his wicked smile he bent down and kissed a nipple, eliciting a sharp gasp. A slight shift and it was in his mouth and he teased it mercilessly. He moved his hands down to grasp her hips and hold them down a bit, though he enjoyed her helpless bucking. He straddled her, wrapped one arm around her waist and leaned back pulling her up with him, brutally devouring her breast as the blanket slid off his shoulders and settled around his hips.

Her head hung back limply. She tasted her own blood from where she was chewing her lower lip. The devil's touch was everywhere, his hands roaming boldly over her body. Sharp electric thrills were radiating out from those hungry lips on her breast, searing their way into her soul, waking desire she had not known she possessed and even raged against. It did not matter what became of her body so long as she lived to the appointed time. No reason to take the chance of making him hurt her more than necessary for this vicious act. His vile words burned in her memory, but as he had also said, she was already dead. The sanctity of her body did not matter so long as she could still pray to wake the divine power within the vessel she protected. Let the demon take his pleasure. It was only her flesh he claimed. She would remain untouched. She would...

She gasped, her train of thought lost as that bold hand stroked her legs, moving higher up her inner thigh. Oh, he was a cruel, skillful demon, able to drag her mind back from where she had fled so easily. She bit down her cries again, determined not to give him that satisfaction, but he seemed just as determined to wrest it out of her. She felt his tongue working its way over her chest and let her limbs fall lifelessly as he hoisted her up higher, exposing her to cold air that she could barely even notice now. It did not matter. Nothing mattered. Only living. Living so she could die. And she would not scream... but then the hand on her thigh moved higher and probed her through the thin cloth of her underwear. She did scream then, a piercing cry made all the more desperate for the realization that one trespassing, abusive, enticing touch had brought.

Her body was singing.

Just as he had promised, every nerve in her body was screaming for more. The fear and shame he had roused in her mind was overshadowed by the indefinable something he had awakened in her body, that even now rebelled against what her mind had dictated as its course. Why should a young, healthy woman go so willingly into death with so much left undone? Why should she leave songs unheard, food untasted, sensations unfelt... children unborn?

She knew the instant the demon threw her flat on her back once more that this was what she had guarded against. She knew her path could not be altered, that there was no other way to stop the devil atop her. But her body did not quite agree, grasping every last chance to reaffirm its existence, to show her that she was very much alive. Those kisses on her shoulders were so close to swaying her. She was so near to admitting that she wanted those large hands to move to higher again.

But she couldn't. There was no way she could afford to drift from her course, not with the Planet, with her friends depending on her. A hungry mouth moved up to hers and this time she matched the demon-angel's passion, moaning wantonly against his lips. She wrapped her arms tight around his neck, tilting her head back and guiding him to her throat. He was almost purring with delight at having a lover who was willing and responsive. His arms wrapped completely around her body and pulled her tight against his chest. The heat his body offered was so much more tempting than the blanket had been. It would be so easy to lie here and take her pleasure with him and make the song of her body soar.

But she could not.

As if she had been stung she pushed him hard, screaming in terror again. The tears flowed forth, renewing their glistening trails on her cheeks. The devil above sprung back in shock at all the sudden changes of heart she had made within the last few minutes watching as she began to tremble again, her thin body racked by deep sobs.

"Please don't! Don't do this!" she was whispering, "No more, I can't... don't do this to me... don't, don't, don't, don't ."

He was completely confused. "Don't what?" His voice was harsher than he had intended, "I thought we were through this part, that you wanted it!"

Her face contorted with even more grief. "Don't... don't make me want it! Don't make me, please," the words were a strangled cry but he heard the last part perfectly, "I'm already dead. Don't make me want to live... please..."

It was coming together for him now, her desperate pleading making some sort of sense and for the first time since he had accosted her in the forest, something like pity and understanding, things he thought he had long abandoned shone through his eyes. "Don't make me... please, don't make me want this," she continued, and he heard the words she could not get out past the tears and sobs.

Don't make me want what I cannot have.

He took pleasure in cruelty, in harshness... but she was just a child and doomed to die. Her death was part of his plan, a subtle part, but set beyond alteration and she knew this. They were all there to fulfill some part of his grand design. She knew what her fate was and had accepted it, perhaps had even embraced it. He saw now how she had steeled herself for the inevitable end and sighed at the wonder of it. Inside, she was braver than she had first appeared, to face such an unkind fate, to hold steadfast and not be swayed even though the prize was no prize at all. There was something almost admirable in her. She was as much a warrior as he.

He took his weight off her and lay to the side once more, moving his hands over her trembling body, taking some time to readjust her clothes and pull the cover of the blanket back up around her shoulders. Her crying quieted to a few irregular hitches in her breathing and the tears no longer fell so freely. He leaned over her but she kept her face turned away, staring blankly across the stone pathway. He did not expect more. On an impulse, he lifted her head and slid part of his makeshift leather pillow beneath her then settled in close to her side, keeping his hands to himself this time as he leaned towards her ear and whispered, "You are stronger than you know, little one, and I would have been honored to make you mine."

It earned him a few more tears from those night-darkened eyes, the only acknowledgment he would get for those words. He lay back, waiting for her to fall into the deep sleep she needed before wrapping an arm around her waist in the comfort she would not have accepted before. For one brief moment in the stillness he let himself lament that there was no time to make things right between them. He sighed against her shoulder, stirring the strands of dark hair in a slow dance across his face. He had no more solace than simple warmth to give her and for her sake, he would be gone before she woke.


When it was done, her death made swift and painless, her friends hung her nearly empty little pack on the branch of a tree near the lake where her body had been laid to rest. They had not opened it to see the few things that lay inside, had not seen the few long silver hairs tangled with chestnut on the brush's soft bristles. The demon would say nothing himself, guarding what he knew of the girl, what little they had shared, as the rare gift of human feeling that it was, however cruelly wrought and wrenched from the jaws of pain. In the end, only that Hidden City would remain to bear witness.

And it said nothing.

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