STRIPES: CHAPTER SIXTEEN
by K. Trotta


"Vincent paced the basement, in the space behind the one-way mirror, like a caged beast. Why had they sent him to look after that monstrous little brat of Hojo's? There were better things he could be doing. There were papers to fill out, and bars to sing at, and whores to fuck. And Tim was beginning to...stare at him in a discomforting manner," Tim narrated, staring at Vincent from behind the one-way mirror.

Vincent snarled. Of all the things to inherit from "father", this Timothy had been blessed with Hojo's shining wit. He put his hands on the window ledge and narrowed his eyes. "Your caricature of me in your mind is well-rounded, looks like."

"Ooo...have I hurt da wittle diva's feeeewings? Tell me, Valentine, how would you feel toward someone who ended your life before you even began to BREATHE?" Tim seethed.

Vincent shook his head and sighed. He wasn't quite sure he understood. "How are you?"

"I feel fine."

"No, HOW are you? How did you come to exist here, if you say you died before you were born?"

Tim smirked. "When a soul wants to live as much as I do, he will find a way. You had Mother abort my body, so I waited until Father started making ones I could use."

"And souls can just wait around, waiting for their bodies to be born, is that what you're saying? That's kinda sacrelige of some kind somewhere, isn't it?"

"I never said religion had anything to do with it. All I know is what happened to me. I was the product of two people who loved each other, once. You helped to tear them apart. Stopped the production of the reminder that Mother and Father loved each other once. I am the reminder of their love."

Vincent nodded. "I understand. So, I guess you see Sephiroth as the reminder of the love Lucrecia and I had for each other once, in opposition."

"...And the love JENOVA inspired in Father. You're pretty quick, opera floozy. Sephiroth stood for everything I wasn't. After Sephiroth died, and JENOVA bade Father ressurect the reminder of the love between you and Mother, and JENOVA and Father, a mistake was just screaming to be made..."

"You mean, when Hojo started to clone Sephiroth?"

"Use your terms as you like. Either way, Sephiroth's DNA contained bits of you, and bits of Mother. By this time, Father's own DNA had just about as much of Hojo in it as it did JENOVA in it. Clumsy Father, pricked his finger, accidently mixing his DNA with Sephiroth's for his second experiment in cloning. So, that's everybody...you, Mother, JENOVA, and Father in the same little petri dish. I can occur wherever Mother and Father come together, so..." Tim smiled a bit, putting the hood of his jacket up, hunkering down. He shakily reached out with his right hand, which had a roman numberal two tattooed on it, with a little ray-and-dot design circling it.

A clone.

Timothy was really a clone of Sephiroth...only slightly darker, more Hojo-like, less Vincent-like, more Lucrecia-like. He knew he'd seen Yuffie wrapped in a familiar black cloak once or twice since Cloud's trial. "I..." Vincent began.

"I don't hold any real grudge against you, mind. You really didn't know what you were doing back then. You're only slightly more intelligent now about things. Bet you never thought you were really helping JENOVA kill Father and Mother's love, though, were you?"

"Timothy, I--"

"Heh. It's all right, Opera Floozy. You owe me nothing, you don't have to be sorry. It's JENOVA's fault, all of it."

"You obviously carry some kind of thing against me, though. Otherwise you wouldn't be calling me Opera Floozy and the like."

"The only thing wrong with you now is that you've lost your purpose. I thought you swore once that Mother was the only person you loved. And now, you've completely blown her off. For shame. You've completely blown love off. Tsk tsk."

Vincent gave the younger one an odd look. "In case you haven't noticed, Lucrecia's been dead for about thirty-five odd years. Only five years have passed for me, but I can't run around being all depressed because of something that happened three and a half decades ago. All I've tried to do is enjoy life. Is that so wrong?"

"It wouldn't be so bad if you actually enjoyed it. Enjoyed singing songs badly in front of drunk people you don't know, making people who would have been your friends angry when you ran off with some chick who thought you were cute. That's not enjoyment. That's just distractions. It's commercial. It's plastic. It's single-serving. I know of several people who would have gotten real enjoyment out of that kind of free behavior, but you never really did. It was all a show. I can tell. You're exactly like Father, putting up a wall of what you are not to make other people think you're all right, so nobody'll try to dig into your soul and possibly fix what's wrong. You're still heartbroken, Vincent Valentine. You do yourself no favor to ignore it and let it fester," Tim said.

Vincent sighed. Everything was fine until bits got pointed out. "I'm tired of feeling heartbroken. I want to have fun again. That's all. Nothing wrong with fun. I want to live right now, not yesterday."

"So live now, doofus. It would help if you chose something to do that you actually thought was fun. But it's been so long since you've had fun, you don't remember what it is, do you?"

"The only people who seem to identify with me nowadays are people in their late fifties or early sixties. People...more my age. I am technically sixty-two years old, anyway. All this...new-fangled...stuff..." Vincent shook his head, "I don't understand half of it. On television the other day, I watched a cartoon monster turn into a different cartoon monster, a frightening actor dance around in a hotel, and some poor introverted fellow sweat after another man asked him if that was his final answer. Television must have been invented after Hojo put me to sleep. I've learned to convincingly smile and nod, but it's still...just some...stupid, annoying talking box. People scare me. Everything's different. Even me, even Lucrecia..." Vincent sighed, and nearly jumped as Reno, Elena and Rude entered the room.

Elena blinked. "Sir, are you all right?"

"Vincent, are you crying, sir?" Rude asked, slightly nervous.

Vincent looked at his reflection in the one-way mirror. His eyes were red, but he didn't see any tears. He reached up with his left hand to wipe his face, but cold metal contacted his cheek instead of a hand. Everything was different. He had had five years to get used to it, but now everything seemed back to square one again. He looked in the glass again and frowned, with a huff.

Tim waggled his fingers and gave him a winning smile.

"You..." he snarled at Tim, digging his claw into the ledge of the one-way mirror.

"ME! Hahaha! Isn't it amazing to call yourself that? It's wonderful just to be acknowledged as a human being! Thank you!"

Vincent growled, stood back up, regained his composure after a few seconds, and put a hand on Elena's shoulder. "You three watch over him. Don't talk to him, don't stand too close to the glass, don't listen to anything he says. He may not be Hojo, but he's just as dangerous. He could rip you apart with a sentence," he ordered, glancing back at Tim, showing off his tattooed hand and flipping him off. He did a double-take. He'd seen those ray-designs somewhere before...wings on a dragon, on the shoulder of a popular bartender...!

With no further word, Vincent dashed out the door, running noisily down all the backalleys and dingy sidestreets only burned into his brain because they were places he went to drink and sing in with the bar floozies, and ignore the junior Turks.

He turned into a familiar alley. At the end of the alleyway glowed a neon sign. Its red color flickered on and off like a dying firefly communicating its final message.

"ED'S."

Not too far beyond, there was another sign that flickered. Innocent, flourescent, and white, no trace of evil inside really perveyed in the sign, just plain old "TATTOO". Vincent heaved, partially with the effort of running half a mile in under five minutes, partially from the rage boiling up inside him. "You. Were. Right. Under. My. Nose," he rasped, "HERE. The. Entire. Fucking. TIME!" he exclaimed, feeling a sickly metallic taste in his mouth. He was limit-breaking, definately. Hadn't done that in about five years. Hadn't felt anything so strongly in five years, either. Sickening, sickening feeling, fangs beginning to protrude where they shouldn't be protruding, wings sprouting where wings shouldn't sprout. This, in exchange for his life. All his old friends were gone. His parents, his relatives, pets, aquaintances, everything, everything gone! Everything but him...

Wood was a rather easy material to break through. Vincent could have probably just done it with his claw, or jumped through the window. Yup, the whole damn house smelled like him. "HOJOOOOOOO~! Come out of...out of wherever you are!"

***

Now, where was Stripes? Stripes was on the roof, looking out at where the billboard used to be up, wifebeater tank top and red leather jacket, slicked back hair, regular run-of-the-mill Judas. No sunglasses or cigarettes, though. He was sick of them.

He'd heard Vincent coming about a mile away, seen him halfway before he got there. He could have run, or hid, or did anything but stay there, but he stayed. He didn't know why. Vincent was definately going to kill him, but he stayed put. Maybe it was out of fear...or maybe out of a seedling sense of justice. Stripes wasn't really in the mood to ponder his logic of staying, he just stayed. That was all that mattered. He didn't call Vincent to him, and he didn't hide. Then Vincent saw him. He just stood there and let Vincent slam into him like several tons of bricks, soar off the top of the building with the momentum, then back to earth, hard, into the pavement below.


Chapter 17
Index