STRIPES: CHAPTER TWO
August 30, XXXX+5 7:47:38 PM
The stale metal doors of the old office elevator closed behind Tifa Strife as
she reached the floor of her husband's office. The shouts coming from down the
hallway denoted that Cid had reached his wits' end.
"God DAMMIT, Strife...!"
The cluster of Turks gathered around the door on the left side of the hallway
put their hands in their pockets nonchalantly, fingering the triggers on their
guns as Cid continued his stream of verbal abuse.
"You CAN'T outlaw science, you stupid dumbfuck chickenhearted coward! It's
fine if you mess up your own goddamn life, but your stupid policies have had
people using outdated machinery that's five times as dangerous as a mako
Tifa stopped where the Turks accidentally barred her way. She recognized the
feral look of quiet disdain Rude put on whenever Cloud rebuffed Cid's plans to
upgrade technology. Reno had on his usual "Why do I have to be here for this
part?" look. Elena was absent from this gathering. In her place were a couple
of new recruits, doing their best to look intimidating as they could when they
were really just hiding behind Vincent, who, as always, had on his scary,
stolid blank mask.
It was Cloud's turn to speak: "We can't risk that kind of corruption, Cid!"
"Why not? People are dying in hospitals because we can't manufacture medicine
to cure the illnesses that were caused by the old mako machinery that you still
force the populus to use! Look around you. Even your own office reeks because
you're too cheap to hire people to figure out what removes the smell of urine
The Turks filed into the room after that outburst, and Tifa stepped in behind
them to see the irate Mr. Highwind dangling her husband by the collar over his
desk. Cloud's normally shy and smug countenance melted away into a scowl at
the pilot's upsetting lack of cooperation. With an unnatural strength, he
grabbed Highwind's left arm and twisted it backwards, pinning his wrist to the
corner of the desk. With an incredulous look and a silent mouth movement of
pain, Cid let go of Cloud's collar with his right hand and crouched over as the
younger man held it to the desk. Somewhere in there was a slow crunching
Cloud's voice lost all pretense of courtesy. "If you're going to declare war
on AVALANCHE, declare war on AVALANCHE and not me personally. Or, if your
problem is with me personally, don't waste my time at work."
Cid's face had contorted into a ball of leathery laugh lines and wrinkles as
Cloud pressed his hand harder into the desk. If he opened his mouth, he was
going to holler so loud that the ghosts of Midgar could hear him.
Seeing as he wasn't going to get anything more out of Cid tonight, Cloud
released his grip. Cid lifted his hand from the desk and cradled it just in
time for Cloud to push him to the ground. "Lock him up with the rest of them,"
he spat. Cid glowered up at him. 'Them' included nearly all of Junon's
respectable citizens imprisoned for revolting against AVALANCHE or old ShinRa
Cloud's neandertal-like look of non-amusement grated Cid's nerves. Fucking
punk. Acting like he's older than me when he's really just a goddamn chicken.
Being rebuffed by Palmer year after year was better than this shit.
"Go ahead, lock me up. Soon, the only people you'll have working for you are the scared
little kids who don't know any better. I'm fuckin' tired of alla this. I hate
the way yer terrorizin' Barret into being silent. I hate the way yer keepin'
Tifa as a pet, and I hate the way yer smothering out every last bit of life in
this goddamned city!"
"If Tifa and Barret have problems with the way I run things, I expect them to
say so themselves," Cloud retorted slimily, shifting his eyes to Tifa, who was
still standing in the doorway behind the Turks. "Well, what are you waiting
for? I said, take him away."
The rookie Turks took Cid by the elbows to lift him up and the old pilot cried
out in pain as they neglected to go easy on his damaged arm. "OW!! You're
nothin' but a goddamn guinea pig behind those stupid muscles, ya punk! I hope
you fry in hell!"
Tifa daintily side-stepped as the Turks dragged Cid out the door, and evaded
the murderous look Cloud gave him, hoping it wouldn't carry over into her
conversation with him. Rude closed the door in a rather upset manner behind
the Turks, and they were alone.
Cloud didn't speak for a few minutes. Breathing rather hard as he clenched his
teeth at the door, it was almost as if he didn't see Tifa there at all.
Normally, this would not have upset her. Being free of Cloud and his emotional
rollercoasters was a treat, especially since they moved from Kalm to Junon.
But in this situation, she knew he would see her the moment she turned to
Cloud sat down in his chair and swiveled it to face the window behind his desk,
putting a hand to his forehead. This was his normal sympathy-get routine.
Tifa could dance this dance very well. "Cloud..." she was expected to say, and
did, running toward him like a sixteen year old girl and kneeling in front of
"Why don't they understand?" Cloud moaned through the hand on his forehead,
index finger and middle finger flat against it, thumb tilted perpendicular,
ring finger arched up, and pinky finger extended.
"They don't know what you've gone through, so they couldn't possibly appreciate
what you're trying to spare them from," Tifa replied. It was a rhetorical
question, but if she didn't answer in the proper fashion, things would only get
worse for her.
Cloud came out of his misery quick today and smiled at her. "Thank you, Tifa,"
he said, brushing his hand across her forehead and wiping off the thin layer of
sweat that had formed from the stress of coping with this latest argument.
"You know, I've had thoughts of running away, just you and me, and never coming
back here again," he said.
"I think that would be a great idea, actually," Tifa said, truthfully, hoping
desperately that he was serious. She loved him, but the stress he put on
himself with AVALANCHE had turned him into even more of a...creature...than he
had been five years ago. Living for himself could be the best thing that he
could do for himself at this point.
"So you don't think I can do it, either?"
"That's not what I said, Cloud."
"You don't have to say it. I can see it just fine. You, Reno, Rude, even
Vincent. Nobody thinks I can do this!"
Tifa stood up. "Maybe if you stopped chewing on your insecurities every day,
you could get over this and move on. I think leaving this all behind would be
a great idea. It'll be just you and me, and we can relax. ShinRa is gone.
SOLDIER is gone. Sephiroth and JENOVA are gone. Nothing's going to pop out of
the ground and get you. And even if it is, that's your personal problem and
you need to take time out for it anyway. Outlawing science just because you
got locked up by Hojo isn't helping ANYONE. Not everyone who studies science
is a demented sociopath like he was. Doing away with science takes care of
people like Hojo, but what about the people like Professor Gast who actually
did some good in this world?"
"You're wearing taupe today," Cloud said evasively.
It was true. Cloud had recently bought her a set of business suits and skirts
that were blazing shades of red and pink. He threw a fit because they were
expensive, and made her look like Aeris. "You gonna lock me up, too, now?"
Cloud gave her a petulant, deadpan look, and snapped his fingers. A new and
unfamiliar group of Turks rounded the corner.
Young, unskilled hands grabbed her by the arms. If she were anyone else, it
would have hurt. "You left Nibelheim because you wanted to impress me. Now
that you've impressed me, all I ever wanted to do was help you rest and leave
the hard part to people who don't think it's so hard. But you don't want to
rest. You want to do everything yourself. And you don't want me. You want
Cloud's dead expression didn't change, and Tifa's voice remained level.
"And that's fine with me. I'm just sorry I didn't realize it sooner so I could
have avoided this situation in the first place," she said. The Turks began to
walk her out, but she didn't feel like being sheepish today. She easily
tripped them up and slammed them into the floor with her elbows. Cloud was
barring the door in a blink.
"If it's a fight you want with me, fight with me and leave those poor kids
alone." Tifa was happy to oblige, and socked him in the face with the wedding
ring he gave her. His face to one side, Cloud opened his eyes and said to the
closet, "I knew I should have gone with something without a stone in it."
A right hook found Cloud's diaphragm and knocked him out into the hallway. "If
it's really Aeris you wanted, you should have stuck to your imagination instead
of trying to convert me into her."
Finding his breath and putting his head up against the hallway wall, Cloud
replied, "Oh, so it's my fault for pursuing someone I've liked since
gradeschool. And my fault for joining SOLDIER to impress her and expecting
something back after all the pain and humiliation I've been put through."
"Pain and humiliation is braids and pink business suits. If you're going to
mess up your life, do it on your own terms," Tifa replied with another
vowbreaking left hook.
Cloud's face was red with rage. "I'm not going to go easy on you just because
you're a girl, now, you know."
"I have never found anything about you easy to deal with," she said, kicking
her heels off and bracing herself.
Boys have heavier fists than girls. It's an unfortunate fact, but true. All
the womens' rights legislature in the universe can't change the fact that
someone born with the musculature to fix cars and kill boar for dinner can
cause a lot more damage to someone who was born to have children. Even a
trained athlete like herself could take serious bruises. And Tifa let Cloud
get a good, clean shot. In a way, he deserved it. In a way, she had promised
to help him. But in a way, Cloud had not done his part enough to deserve her
help. So in a way, he could still go to hell and learn to stand on his own if
he was so obsessed with moving forward on his own to stop and let her have any
sort of effect on him.
And yet, he still called after her as she ran for the elevator, and forced his
fingers through the door at the last minute, but was too late. She looked up
at the closed doors as the elevator descended, and he knealt down until he
couldn't hear the creaking of the cables anymore.