STRIPES: CHAPTER THREE
THE DEFANGED TURKS
August 30, XXXX+5
"Drinks all around! It's on me, boys! We've had a tough night, and we deserve
to forget about it," Vincent said as he pushed open the door of the posh little
bar the rookies seemed to favor. Both of them seemed pretty riled up after
having to deal with Cid, and he didn't blame them. Reno and Rude remained at
"What's the matter?" he asked the two veteran Turks.
"Ahh...this place...just isn't us, sir," Reno lied. The chic little bar with
its neo-industrial decorating had been the place where he and Rude were
recruited into the Turks seven years ago when they were just clubhopping
college dropouts, but the rookies had since turned it in to nothing but their
little pissing ground. They didn't appreciate it, and they appreciated being
responsible for it even less. Of course, Vincent was none the wiser about it,
what with being buried underground for 20-odd years. Vincent could pretend to
take Tseng's place all he liked, but he was still a poser, and none the wiser
when Reno lied through his teeth.
"All right. I'll call you if I need you, then!" Vincent said cheerily,
swiping someone else's beer off a waitress's tray. He knew image was important
to these guys, and respected them for being cool enough to brush him off.
Vincent Valentine enjoyed his new job immensely. Probably because it was his
old job, but it didn't MATTER. The junior members of the Turks flocked around
him as young Bhuddist priests flocked around the Dalhi Llama...or...whoever it
was that followed around the Dalhi Llama. Well, whoever they were, they always
brimmed with stupid questions they knew the answers to in the first place and
free beer. And the free beer was worth pandering their high-school calibur
insecurities for. Reno and Rude had dragged him along as their new official
drinking buddy. Elena had a monstrous crush on him. They told him stories
about their old leader, Tseng. Vincent thought of himself as sort of a
substitute Tseng. Hopefully ONE day they'd stop using him as a crutch. Poor
sentimental Reno, Rude and Elena. Vincent was a LOT different than Tseng.
Tseng didn't have a big gold claw for his left arm, and, by all reports, wasn't
as smooth with the ladies . Girls loved his brooding, dangerous hair and sad
backstory. They flocked in droves to get a glimpse of him on stage as he sang
Karaoke. He'd even been convinced to cut an album of Adam Ant covers. He did
this all reluctantly, of course. People just couldn't get enough of him.
was so cool.
Rude slammed his mug down on the counter. "What a fucking poser."
"Tell me about it," Elena said, swirling her Shirley Temple with her index
finger and rolling her eyes. "It took me all week to find a place without him
following me like a wounded puppy. You know, it was kinda cute five years ago
when all he did was follow us around because he used to be a Turk, too, but
this is just monstrous."
"You know who we locked up today? Cid Highwind. Cid FUCKING Highwind. And
all he did was put on his '...' face. Oh my GOD! You're a total narcissistic
prick and a complete moral poser, but come ON! These guys fought side by side
for, like, a YEAR! If I ever do that to one of you guys...I would NEVER do
that to one of you guys." Rude was livid.
Reno, who had managed to get smashed within 3 seconds of entering the place,
mooshed his hair up against Rude's shoulder. "I looooove you. You're so soft."
Rude militantly put an arm around his inebreated partner. "I love you, too,
man. I love you, too."
Elena leaned forward to address the bartender. "Hey, barkeep, what did you GIVE
The bartender took his rag out of the glass he was cleaning and pointed to the
mostly empty long-necked bottle of clear liquid with gold filings at the
bottom. "Cinnamon Schnapps. I opened it last night, so I figured, hell, might as well see if
anyone else would want some in the next few weeks. Nobody likes it because it
tastes like a christmas chemical peel. Then your friends come in and this guy
has eight shots of it in a row."
Rude moved to the side a bit and Reno ended up face-down on the counter, as if
Ed gave him a sidelong look. "Special bus."
"He's always been like that," Elena said. "Sorry about that XXXX-70 stuff. Is
there enough left there to try some out?"
With a skeptical look at her Shirley Temple, Ed cautiously poured her some of
the last un-golded goldschlager. As he poured, Elena got a good long look at
his wrist, which had a puffy bandage over it. "What happened there?"
"What, this? It's not what you think. See?" Ed replied, prying off the
bandage and revealing a tribal-styled dragon. The style reminded Elena of the
native american fire magic from Disney's Pocahontas.
Elena was, like, "OOOOoooh!!111" And then Rude was, like, "Let me see!"
Ed was happy to oblige. Rude picked Reno's head back up off the counter to show
him. He giggled immaturely and made some tiny fire-spitting sounds before
squinting at something small near its tail with his reddened eyes. "Hey,
Rude took a closer look at it. "It looks like a little XV." "XV?" Elena
wondered. "Issa roman numeral for fifteen," drawled a voice that may have once
had class from one of the tables. The figure was a man in his 30's in a
leather jacket, a wifebeater, sunglasses and a punk hairdo. He was slumped
back against the chair, one arm dangling from the side and the other massaging
Ed was startled. "Jesus, Stripes, how long have you been sitting there?!"
"Sinssabout 4 this affernooon," Stripes replied. "Shouldn't you be watching
your studio?" "Mmmprobably."
"Who's that?" Rude whispered. "I don't know," Elena replied.
Ed motioned to the tattoo. "He made this. Waltzed in here yesterday and
bought the studio across the alleyway from me. He's a genius artist, and he's
also pretty good with household repair. The place was leaking mako all over
the kitchen and he had it all clean by the time I came over at around noon to
get my tattoo," Ed said, running over and attempting to lift Stripes from the
chair - a futile effort - continuing, "but if he keeps spending all his time
and money in here, he won't be worth much of nothing at all!"
"Oh, b'quiet. Youuere my fifteenth cussomer sinssIgothere."
"Some advertising campaign..." Elena blinked.
"Sothissusm'day OFF. You have no idea how difficult it is to deal wittha
public, young man," Stripes slurred, pointing a figure paternally at the
bartender, who looked not only his age, but possibly was his senior. "N'plus,
thissussa good place t'take inna city atmosphere. REAL city atmosphere. Makes
me wish I hadda stoop."
"What are you DRUNK on? I don't remember serving you alchohol." Stripes
pointed (barely) to a very dirty bottle sitting in the middle of his table.
The label was all in Wutai-ish, or at least, it looked like it through all the
bloodstains. It was empty, but it smelled strongly of seawater. Ed passed the
"What was this?" Elena asked, pinching her nose at the smell of fermented Junon
"That was the last vestige of a past life," Stripes said, sighing a bit.
"Past life?" Rude asked.
"Five...no, it's ten years now, isn't it? Ten years ago, I lost...my son,
rather needlessly, after the war. Among other things, I started to drink, but
like those other things, it didn't bring him back. I lost myself for a little
while, then. What do you do with yourself after something that's supposed to
outlive you dies?
"I used to spend hours awake in bed, staring at the ceiling, and in front of
the television, turned to the station with nothing but snow. I didn't want to
work. I didn't want to live. I didn't want to talk to anyone or get up to
improve myself. Everything was just a haze. And then I died. When I came to,
all that washed up with me in the harbor was this bottle and one of my old
journals. Sitting on the shore reading it, I began to realize that I had
trapped myself in a needless rut. I used to think strict, bleached-clean order
was the way to go about doing things, but looking up at the graffiti on the
grates leading up to the reactor from the beach, the little girl playing with
the dolphin further down the shore, and even my own notes, unconsciously, I
realized that imperfection is a work of art. The world is teeming with life.
And I missed it the last time around. Now I have to make up for it."
"So...wait, you died?" Rude asked.
"Did you, like, jump off one of the buildings into the harbor or something?"
"No, I--" Stripes stopped and backtracked. "I just waded into the water and
hoped that the current would take me out."
"He's lying," Rude concluded, unimpressed.
"Ru-ude!" Elena glared.
"Okay, so all of that's a big fat lie. But I'm here, and I do tattoos, and
that's all that matters right now. Waddaya want from me?"
"You could cough up some ID or a medical certification," Rude offered.
"Dude, man, leaveth'guyyuhlone," Reno mumbled. "We're not on duty right now."
Stripes placed the requested documents on the table, along with enough gil to
cover all three of their tabs. "I'm not looking to cause trouble. I'm just
some punk, honest."
"Heeeey, I finally found you!"
"Oh, SHIT," Rude cursed under his breath as Vincent barged in the door with a
pair of giggling girls on his arms. Well, one was trying to avoid his claw
altogether, but you get the idea. Stripes turned around just in time for Rude
to notice the scar running down his face.
"Oh, hey! That's the guy who did my tattoo, Mr. Valentine!" one of the girls
gasped. The back of her scalp was shaved just so the barcode on the back of
her head showed through. (The middle numbers in the code read XIIII). Stripes
turned on his cuban heels, ready to face a confrontation, but Vincent was
seriously intoxicated and hardly noticed.
"Reno, Rude, Elena, I jus' got summbad news fromma top. Tifa has run off.
Guess who's job it is to find her?"
"Ours," the three replied rather deadpan and filed out of the bar.
"I better be getting back to the shop," Stripes said to himself and followed
the turks out. As he was passing Vincent, he reached out for his scarred
shoulder with his claw.
"Heyyou..." he said, keeping Stripes stopped, but unharmed. Looking him up and
down and looking back at the girl's tattoo, he grinned. "Nice job. You got
Stripes dropped his stiff look of horror and grinned victoriously. "Thanks.
The name's Stripes," he said, shaking his claw. He knew just where to reach so
that he wouldn't get cut, too. Grinning like the Cheshire Cat, he walked out
into the alleyway and disappeared.
Vincent's brain was set on off today, but something stirred in the back of his
mind. In the part that he didn't want to think about. "Huh. Oh, well. Let's