Title: Diamond in the Rough

Fandom: Final Fantasy VII

Author: Nietzsche's Itch

Characters: Sephiroth, Tifa

Genre: Friendship, Hurt/Comfort

Rating: T

Status: Oneshot, Complete

Disclaimer: I do not own FFVII

Summary: She finally knows what they see in him, and wishes she had realized sooner. But better late than never. Part of the Redeeming Features series.

When she entered the bar, Sephiroth was sitting by the window with a cup of coffee and a book in his hand. He was paying attention to neither.

The once angel was staring listlessly at the people passing by outside the window, seemingly lost in thought. She doubted he had even heard her come in. If she was quiet about it, she might be able to get back upstairs without him noticing her. But even as her muscles tensed in preparation to walk away, she paused to wonder why she needed to leave.

It was her bar, and her territory, even if he was a semi-welcome guest by now, with most of them having accumulated a tolerance to his presence and Yuffie unbelievably having struck up a burgeoning friendship with the ex-general. There was no reason she should be the one to leave. After everything that had happened, she should feel angry, vengeful, not nursing a vague sense of guilt every time he avoided her gaze, or accepted the tacit exclusion that was enforced with every word and gesture. In her heart, she knew what the problem was, ever since the motley group had returned to the world of the living, Tifa had been struggling between the memory of the killer she remembered, and the man who wore his face but was undeniably human.

She couldn't see the forest nor the trees for the flames that consumed them, or the cold ruthlessness that had been evident in him that fateful day.

However, she was never one to be wilfully blind, and the past few months had opened her eyes to a few things that she wasn't sure she wanted to acknowledge.

Despite's Aeris's confident pronouncement of Sephiroth's innocence, placing the blame for every major misdeed from the burning of her hometown onward on the demonic entity, she prevaricated. Tifa would never presume to doubt the wisdom that her friend and sister possessed, but just this once, she speculated that she might be wrong…hoped she was wrong.

Because if Sephiroth had been as helpless as they had, without even the solace of a friend to give him hope for tomorrow, then he was not only equal to, but even more of a victim than the rest of them. And that would mean that Tifa was being cruel without cause, if she could have provided any justifiable cause for her cruelty thus far. Aeris had been so emphatically earnest when she had described the suffering he had endured as he watched Jenova destroy his life and so many others. But it was only now that she was able to disassociate the alien and the man in her own mind.

Sephiroth didn't speak to her. He didn't attempt to engage Cloud in conversation overmuch, and the reverse proved true, but they at least were both warriors, and were bonded by such things. Tifa didn't know how to relate to him, and would wager that he felt the same.

It was unsurprising, of course, Nibelheim would never be a distant memory, not to them, and would forever remain a monument as to where it all went so irrevocably wrong. It was the start of everything, and the catalyst for the chaos that was to follow.

So why did she feel as if she had kicked a dog when it was down every time he hung his head at the sight of her? She needed a new perspective if she was ever going to see him as anything less than the demon that had worn his visage.

Tifa began to watch him.

Whenever he found himself in their company by incident or circumstance, he gravitated towards the few friends he had before his fall from grace, and it was not lost on Tifa how they seemed to rally protectively around the man who one would assume needed no protecting from anything.

When tempers were flaring high and old grudges were in danger of being resurrected, Zack would quickly jump in with a random or nonsensical comment that would divert the focus to him. Angeal was like his shadow, ever-present and patient in difficult times, as if trying to give him the comfort of knowing he would always be behind him if he were to stumble or fall. Even the perpetually antagonistic Genesis helped in his own unique way, by generally irritating the group at large and making himself thoroughly dislikeable, though there had been a few occasions when the ill will towards Sephiroth reached a peak and he had loudly berated the unfortunate person who had made the disparaging remark before he took the marginally less confrontational route.

He was professional and polite with Rufus, though this might have been a result of his neutral relationship with Lazard. He was calm and collected when dealing with Reno, which was more than many could boast, and indifferent to the rest of the Turks.

Then there was Avalanche itself.

Puzzlingly, his relationship with Cloud was the one most well defined. Tolerance, empathy and perhaps the beginnings of mutual respect. Next was Yuffie, who had seemingly taken to him when he had emerged from his usual stoic shell to help her with a prank, and she seemed to genuinely like him too. Aeris was another matter, for she appeared willing and able to forgive all past transgressions, but the transgressor was of a different mind. Tifa hated to admit it, but he was more like Cloud than either of them knew with regards to self-punishing tendencies.

Cid, Shera, Shelke and Nanaki were ambivalent, Barret was borderline hostile and Reeve was almost friendly to him. She had caught Vincent staring at him with an uncharacteristically conflicted expression any number of times, and from what he had told them all about Lucrecia, she had a feeling she knew what it was, and she could only hope that her friends feelings would not be hurt beyond repair if her suspicions proved true.

It was the children, and their interactions with him truly forced him to see what the real Sephiroth was like. He had all of his strength still, and a gentleness unnatural when he cleaned and treated Marlene's grazed knee after a fall, or carried Denzel to bed after he had fallen asleep at the table like the boy was made of glass. He was patient with them, listened attentively to them and treated them as adults within reason. And they appreciated him for it. Perhaps they had known all along what the others simply hadn't wanted, or been able to see.

What she hadn't wanted to see.

In the time she had spent immersed in her thoughts, the sun had begun to rise and filter through the windows, casting a dim glow on the man on the other side of them, and with a start she realized how odd the play of light looked as it softly illuminated him. For Sephiroth was always in the periphery, by accident or design, and rarely endeavoured to venture out from the fortress of shadow he invariably made in the darkest, emptiest corner he could find.

A gem, unpolished and unrefined, but with careful handling had the potential to be honestly great.

Quietly, she went into the kitchen, and came out a minute later bearing another cup and a pot of fresh coffee. She strode over to him, and Sephiroth started a little in surprise and anxiety as he noticed her standing beside him.

"Feel like some company?" she asked simply, hoping he would accept the request in the spirit it was intended. Sephiroth eyed her warily, but seemed to acknowledge her peaceful demeanour. Gesturing vaguely toward the other chair, she took it as assent and seated herself, laying her burdens down and pouring herself a cup of coffee.

Tifa shook the pot idly in his direction, and he looked askance at her for an instant before hesitantly sliding his empty cup across the polished wood. She smiled faintly and filled it up, and they shared an unprecedented moment of amity as they watched the world go on outside.

Sephiroth might not be ready to leave the safety of the shadows just yet, but she could keep him company on occasion until he was. That's what friends do, after all. And Tifa was intrigued to see how this diamond would truly shine in the revealing light of day.