The hard and the strong are comrades of death; the supple and the weak are the comrades of life. Hence a weapon that is strong will not vanquish, a tree that is strong will come to its end--The weak overcomes the unbending, and the submissive overcomes the strong.

--Lao Tzu

sun·rise\1sen-rīz\ n 1: the apparent rising of the sun above the horizon 2: the time at which the sun rises.

Darkness swept and he could feel cold hard steel slipping through the flesh of his midsection. White-hot pain surged through his body as it was slowly withdrawn. His enemy did not want to make it easy for him. The black robed figure crumpled to the ground, blood gouting from his wound. Instinctively, he reached for the source of the pain, pulling back his hand to look at it. Wonderingly, he stared at the dark red fluid that stained his hand. He could feel the world close in on him, gazing at the one who had done such a deed. Sephiroth looked into the eyes of his enemy in surprise, and the young man before him stared back. His expression was unreadable, his face nothing more than a mask. He just stood there, bloodied sword in hand, blue-green Mako eyes full of cold fury. Sephiroth waited, surely the boy would say something now. A pithy insult as he lay dying, perhaps even ask him why. Nothing. The boy said nothing. Cloud. His enemy. His puppet. Stood there stronger than him, after all he was a hero.

Sephiroth smirked, a sudden fit of coughing nearly brought the warrior down, and he struggled to stay upright. Wiping the blood from his mouth away, he addressed the boy, ".....Stop staring at me like that. You won. Enjoy the moment. I'm going to die. Revel in my defeat....."

The boy merely shook his head, the rage in his eyes softening, replaced with pity, "You don't even know, do you? You have no idea......" the boy asked him, the emotion in his eyes finally touching his face.

Sephiroth steeled, gritting his teeth, "Don't you pity me......don't you dare....." Another fit of coughing ensued, and he leaned on his masamune for strength.

"......But I do....." Cloud stated simply, his eyes glassy as he heaved a sigh, looking down at the fallen warrior. You were my hero......everyone's hero..... He shook his head, the boy turned his back on him to leave.

Not even giving him the dignity of a warrior's death, just leaving him to struggle with it on his own. The boy's figure retreated from him, its form becoming hazy as he left the lifestream. Useless rage surged through Sephiroth's body. It was short lived, he had not the energy nor the will to be angry anymore. As it was, he could do nothing anyway. He was going to die. The warrior watched, defeat sinking into his bones as the boy rejoined his friends. Sephiroth could barely see him now, his vision had begun to get hazy and the strange quality of the light in the lifestream didn't help any. Cloud returned to them, the conquering hero. A girl with long chocolate colored hair greeted him with a smile and a hug. The fighter....She was beautiful, despite looking battle worn. Her hair a mess, countless wounds scraped her face and legs, her clothes tattered, yet still very beautiful. She spoke to him, her face hopeful. Sephiroth couldn't hear the words, but he read her lips. Did you do it? Did you win? Cloud nodded. Another girl ran up to him at top speed, she was shorter and dressed as a Wutai ninja. She looked worse for wear, as if she hadn't been as careful in battle as the other had. A large gash ran over her small forehead, her one bare arm covered in dried blood, but somehow she'd managed to survive. Sephiroth realized she or someone else must have healed her, because with wounds like that she probably wouldn't be able to stand, much less run. This girl too smiled, jumping up and nearly strangling him with the sheer ferocity of her hug. The brunette fighter laughed, and helped Cloud pull the girl off.

The rest of his motley crew came in turns. That large man with the gun-arm, clapping the boy on the shoulder with a wide grin on his ebony face, muttering words of congratulations to him. Sephiroth couldn't catch the words, his sight was failing. Next came the red lion, nuzzling the boy's leg and barking sharply in approval. The toyosaurus danced around all the while, jumping up and down excitedly, shouting from his mega-phone with joy. Even the pilot and the former Turk gave the boy kudos for the job he'd done. Yes, a fine job. Cloud laughed, as the brunette fighter made a joke. He put an arm around her, and the party left. Making their way up the craggy edifice above the lifestream, and it wasn't long before Sephiroth lost sight of them. Leaving him in a pool of his own blood to die alone and pitiable. Friends, Cloud had friends. Happy to see him. Glad he was alright. Sephiroth had always been denied these things. Was it his own doing? A failing on his part or theirs? Certainly didn't matter anymore. Still, the world had always been a cold, hard place for him. From beginning to end. Born as a lab specimen, unloved, wanted by his caretakers for his value as a subject of study. Revered as a general, for his brilliance and because he won. Never valued for himself, the man alone. Hated as the enemy of the world, though he was quite sure he deserved it. Dying alone, as it should be. Even Jenova left him.....or at least she was trying. What was left of her cells in him were struggling against him, but he wouldn't let them. He still had enough energy for that, she'd died with him. She'd put him here, the bitch.

His whole life devoid of love and happiness, the only emotion he knew was anger, the only feeling, pain. It wasn't like this for others, was it? Suddenly Cloud's words rushed back at him, they caught meaning in his mind. But damn him, Sephiroth didn't want his pity. Didn't want anything to do with it....

"Why?" asked a gentle voice from behind him, "You should be pitied......."

With great effort, Sephiroth turned to look at the owner of the voice. His eyes going wide as he saw who it was. She stood there. The flower girl. The Cetra, an ancient and the last of her kind......before he had snuffed her light out. Aeris....that was her name. Aeris. She looked nearly the same in death as life, but for her clothes. Dressed in a layered white kimono, bright gold and read feathers embroidered on its pristine fabric, gold obi wrapped around her midsection. The long sleeves hung over slender arms, clasped in front of her. Her hair was pulled up into that oh-so-familiar ponytail, an elaborate clasp holding its weight rather than her old ribbon. A goddess in red and gold. Her too-green eyes twinkled, wise beyond her years and sparkling with life.

"You...." Sephiroth breathed, for the first time in his life he was surprised. It didn't last long, he'd supposed that this was the universe's way of telling him his time was up. Of course it'd be her. Of all the things he'd done, killing her had been the worst. If he was to rot in hell, she was the natural choice to send him there.

"Who said you were going to hell?" She asked, her girlish face unusually regal.

".....I assume......Why else would you be here?"

"There are always reasons......." She smiled, "All the same, you're not going to hell. You think you should?"

He thought for a moment, his mind seemed suddenly so clear, "Yes...... the things I have done.....Just send me there, I see no point in discussing anything with you."

"Really. The things you have done......" She regarded him for a moment, "Hmm... What have you done?"

"You know as well as I. Quit playing games with me." He growled, feeling an unknown emotion beginning to well from within him. Emotions. He'd rarely had them, rarely ever felt anything other than rage. What was this?

Her emerald eyes bit into him, "It's called guilt.....What do you have to feel guilty about? Aren't you Sephiroth? General..... Warrior......GOD?"

"N-no......I............Why are you asking me this? Why?" He'd always been able to take pain, but somewhere along the line this time around....he couldn't. His limit had been reached. He just wanted to die, let me die.....

"No.....not until you answer me."

".....Is this hell......Am I already here....."

"No.....Answer my question. What do you feel so guilty about?"

Sephiroth gazed at her, he was so tired, "I.....I murdered you. I killed without regret. Thousands. Men. Women. Children. Without a thought.......why?"

"Yes.....Why? Do you have a reason?"

"......I am a monster."

"Yes....yes you are or were....." She said, very matter-of-factly, "Did you ever examine why? Ask yourself what you were doing? There was a part of you that wasn't a monster, and it still remains so. When Jenova came from the sky thousands of years ago. We trusted her. She made my kind ill. Drove them mad, made them monsters......like you. Deep down, the ones who went mad....they weren't evil. Only sick. At first, those left untouched sought revenge. In time, however, they were overcome by pity for those with the madness. Releasing that they had no idea what they were doing, they were driven....made to do things against their will, by the seductive voice of Jenova. Such suffering they endured, their mind raped and ravaged. We could hardly see fit to punish them further. So we lead them to the Promised Land. You suffer as they did. More so. Not only were you used by Jenova, but by Shinra and Hojo. Your whole life has been spent in suffering."

".....What do you know?! I told you I don't want pity....."

"Your want makes no difference. When Cloud said that you had no idea..... He didn't even grasp how right he was. When I was born, I knew. I knew when I was going to die, right down to the minute. I knew when, where, how.....and who. For a long time, I found just living difficult. How can you live, knowing when you're going to die? To me, it seemed pointless. The only thing that kept me going were my flowers. I loved watching them grow. And one day I came to a realization, I could grow flowers in a barren wasteland like Midgar. I began to look around me, and finally I understood how precious all life is. The earth itself was dying......I could turn away if I liked.....but then I'd be as responsible as the ones who caused her suffering."

She grew quiet for a moment, letting the dying man consider her words. " Oh God....You knew. You....knew......" the thought broke him, "Why? You......You should have stayed away. These.....people......they weren't worth you life. WHY?!"

"It was a choice, between the lives of millions and my own. So I chose them...... I knew it was the only way. You never had that choice. Never knew humanity as I did. I had felt the warmth of their love. You felt nothing, you were used. How could you understand.....That is what Cloud meant. You don't understand how precious life is. All life. Because no one ever showed you. He left you, because he does understand. He was showing you. Letting you die as human.....die as Cetra.....not as the monster Jenova and the Shinra made you.........So, in turn I will lead you to the Promised Land.....where you will suffer no more."

Sephiroth started at the Goddess, stunned. "I don't......deserve your pity. I don't deserve anything. Why?"

"Hatred only brings more hatred. In punishment there is no reward. I forgave you a long time ago.....Forgive yourself, let go and take my hand...." Aeris smiled, a warm bright aura surrounding her serene form as she held out her hand.

Death was near, Sephiroth could feel his life slipping. No, he didn't deserve her pity. He was a worthless monster. Wasted his life. He shuddered, God....he was so tired. "Why.....why did you forgive me? Were I in your place.....I could not......"

"......I'm not you. And what you became is not who you were. Before Jenova, before this madness. You tried to be a good man. You failed. It doesn't make you beyond forgiving......Let it go......"

He looked up at her, a sudden bitter irony making him laugh, "You've become the God I wished to be......You're the Goddess, and I will be remembered as the monster who slew you...."

She looked deeply into his eyes, her warm green depths overwhelming him, "Then that should be punishment enough for you......Let go....."

Tentatively he took her hand, encircling it with his own. Her hand was so small......a tiny white flower in a overwhelmingly large field. He could feel her skin against his....When did he take his gloves off? Why couldn't he remember? Skin soft...supple.....yielding.....How could something so fragile best him? Sephiroth gazed up at her in boyish wonder, his anger spent.....and all that was left was tranquility. His hardened shell built up over the years, falling away. Goddess of Mercy.......Goddess of Light.....He lost himself in her, the world breaking away....slipping......slipping. Sephiroth let go, felt his spirit slip lose his body. His prison. Warmth.....warmth like he'd never felt enveloped him. Love. Light. All the gentle things he'd been denied, were his now. The Goddess watched him as he died. A single tear sliding down her porcelain cheek. Her work was not yet done.

Tifa Lockheart watched from the bridge of the Highwind, as they moved away from Midgar's smoldering ruins. She felt a certain strange feeling of wonder and loss, and something.....indefinable. The sun would be up soon. she noted, deep eyes distant. A noise from behind startled her. It was Cloud......she smiled.

"I heard you before you came......you're losing your touch."

He smiled, "Hey, I'm tired. Give me some slack. How are you?"

".......Helped save the world, so I'm guess I'm feeling just super...." She stopped, frowning a little. Should she? "Cloud?"

"Hmm?" He looked at her with the same questions in his eyes, moving closer to the railings. Next to her.

"When the meteor hit.....and Holy repelled it.....Did you??"

"Feel Aeris's presence? Yes.....You did too, huh?"

"Yeah.....Where do you think she is?"

Cloud shrugged, religion had never been his thing, "Heaven....probably. If you believe in that sort of thing....."

"What about Sephiroth? Where'd you think he went?"

"Hell, I guess......." Cloud rolled his eyes, not trying to be sarcastic or glib....it just....He'd never been real good at comforting others.

Tifa frowned again, "I hope not......"

A shocked cry came from him, and he gave her a odd look, "That's strange coming out of you.....I'd think that you'd want him to....well, go to hell."

"Yeah.....part of me does.....but, I've been thinking. Just then, about Aeris. She was so gentle all the time. Never really got mad at you, even if you were mean to her. Cloud, I think she knew, and I think she forgave him. I think.....that's what she wanted. What she wants. She told me once, that I couldn't go on being as angry as I was....because it'd only eat away at all the good parts of me. Till there was nothing left but hate. I blew her off.....because I was jealous of her. Now I realize, she was just trying to pack in as much life as possible. And that's what I want to do. Life is too short, I can't keep just being angry......Aeris would want it that way."

Cloud nodded, feeling the beginnings of tears in his eyes, "Yeah, I guess you're right. There should be more people like her in this world......"

"There are....." Tifa looked over at him, smiling through her tears.

The light began to break in the distance, and the two friends held hands as they watched. Sun lifting from its cradle slowly, the sky turning a bright pink as it forced itself over the horizon, waves of light unfurling like a pink ribbon tied in a young girls' hair. It was the last tangible gift the Goddess gave to her friends, a smile from the heavens. The very definition of a sunrise.

Fin