Sticky and scarlet it seeped from her stomach, soaking through pristine pink and trickling further South. Uneasy breaths came with rapid force, hysterical whispers escaping the back of her throat as she slumped, gazing incredulously at the liquid now tainting her digits. She hadn’t thought it would hurt this much when Gaia had first planted the seed of an idea. She knew her duty, the role she played was the salvation of many, but she hadn’t seen it playing out like this. Not so rife with agony and with fear.
Lying in a crumpled heap on the floor, Aerith trembled, dazed emerald squeezing shut as flashes of torment crossed her consciousness. Memories of the nightmare, reliving the moment that had brought her to this fateful end. The silver haired demon had done this, Sephiroth’s humanity a far cry from what she remembered of him, of what she hoped was still buried beneath those layers of cold and calculated indifference. It was his gilded blade that had punctured her soul, piercing through flesh and sealing her fate.
Maybe this way, he’d see what he’d become and redeem himself. That wasn’t so foolish was it? To cling to hopes of a better tomorrow while teetering on the cusp of death? Something warm was calling to her, familiar and affectionate, a song designed to lead her home. She wanted to stand, to follow it and dance, to listen to the life-infused song as her own heartbeat slowed. She couldn’t though, not with one thing still left to do, not with a hand still grounding her so firmly to this reality.
Somewhere in her mortal daze, a hand had seized her own, fingers curling around hers and squeezing tightly. “It’s alright…it’ll be alright.” Soothing words had told her as she raised ever so slightly, cradled in familiar arms as she dared to open her eyes. Blurred vision took a moment to focus, her consciousness and resilience fading as she painted on a serene smile. Tseng had come back for her. After all those years of watching from the shadows, her guardian angel had remembered to come in her hour of need.
”…then why do you look so sad?” Aerith coughed, crimson liquid trickling from the corner of her mouth as her fingers reached upwards, lithe digits pressing to his cheek and leaving an adornment of red smudges. Her thumb touched his lips, pushing at the edge of his mouth until it curved how she needed it to. “Smile Mr.Tseng…you’ll live longer.” She whispered carefully, the spastic trembling of her hand unhelpfully letting it quiver until her grip slackened. Her hand almost dropped, but like a mind-reader he caught it, cementing her touch in the one place it was supposed to remain.
"Then smile now Aerith. Keep smiling." He used her own logic, yet the burden of the situation was beginning to show. Misery lingered behind his eyes, fear tinged with a great sense of remorse creeping through the facade of emotionless calm he so often adopted. He held her tighter, close enough to feel the subtle graze of her dying breath, to feel the heartbeat he’d protected for so very long. He couldn’t stop death, he was no necromancer, but he could try. He could hope and wish and make this moment last an eternity instead of the small stretch of seconds just ticking by.
"I’m always smiling; you just can’t always see it." Another cough and her breathing faltered, blood bubbling at the back of her throat as she winced, her eyes flicking closed once more as she resigned to her fate. Her smile lingered, messy and flecked with ruby, but for the Turk she would always wear it. In life or in death.
"Stay with me Aerith. Stay with me…" Over the years he’d seen a great many people die, and each one had struck at his heart with such force it could drive any man to madness. Bargaining always came before acceptance, bartering for a soul and a second chance. The Turks had been different. They knew the hazards of their job, the remit of work was often baptised in blood, but with flowers she should have been safe. With flowers, he should have been able to protect the Cetra instead of letting the legacy of her people die with her.
"I’m still…be h-here… silly, in your h-heart and… m-m-mind." Grazing Tseng’s tainted cheek with a ghost of a kiss, the Ancient paled, her blood pooling beneath her as she took her few final fabled breaths, the cold of her passing gradually being replaced by the earlier warm tug. A hand in this life, was replaced by one in the next, a SOLDIER’s fingers tugging her on her way, far from her battered and broken shell to the centre of all existence. To a world full of flowers and family, sunshine and light, old friends and fallen lovers once again united in a show of solidarity.
Left only with her faded memory, the Turk bowed his head, whispering a quiet prayer over his fallen charge as something silver glistened and trickled from his eye, his grip never wavering as he continued to hold onto the source of Gaia’s salvation who had paid the ultimate price. “We’ll meet again someday Miss Aerith…” He told her almost inaudibly. “…but until we do, I’ll be sure to wear that smile in your honour”.