STRIPES: CHAPTER FIVE
AND OUT OF THE SEA CAME A BEAST...

September 2nd, XXXX+5
10:35:46 PM

Lingering by the sea, Stripes watched the waves roll back and forth along the shore. Just barely a year ago, he crawled out of it as nothing more than another of JENOVA's creatures, very much as he expected to be, considering the state he had put himself into just before dying. As a ticket out of his personal hell, Hojo had agreed to start over as a monster to escape the ambient prison of guilt he had trapped himself in.

He had no more form than a very large snail at first, existing as just a translucent glob of poison. During the night, she had him pick off unprepared travelers and idiots who strayed too far from their camps. Sometimes a Turk or two, just for kicks.

Every morning, he would sink back into the sea, undetected, and every night, he came back as more of himself. With each day of rebirth, came more of his consciousness. As his head became less serpantine and more human, regaining his arms, he began to listen to the little girl singing on her deck every night as he crawled out of the sea. After that, he began to understand how much he frightened the people he was killing before they died. When his tail split, he began to neglect his "duties" until the little girl went to bed, and started to be more particular about who he killed. Once he was able to stand under his own power, he prowled the dark corners of the city after dark and watched people, remembering how little he'd interacted with them when he was alive. His dogged loyalty for JENOVA and the passive, unspoken urge to bring down humanity she inspired , began to wither and die.

Hojo had spent one lifetime in her service. It was unneccesary for him to spend another one tied to her.

As his face began to look human again, he discovered that he could look just as old or young as he wanted to, and transform back into the glob of poison, or whichever form of his he wished. JENOVA left Junon for him to conquer, and after she left, he obliterated the monsters left in his charge quietly and just watched the humans move about. Watched them sing and dance, cry and despair, create and destroy, get in arguments and leave, change their minds and come back. He grew to know and love them, even though they had no idea he was even there. He could swim through walls and fly high above the city, but he was still a monster, and they seemed happier not knowing he was there. At the end of July, he had the oppurtunity to pose as fully human, but refrained because he had no need to pose. Until AVALANCHE came.

He watched Cloud's AVALANCHE enter his city. He brought Tifa and Barret, whom he'd both beaten into psychological subversity under the threat of Aeris or harm done to Marlene. Reeve, Yuffie and Cid followed reluctantly, along with a multitude of Turks led by a Vincent Valentine who had shed his dignity for the sake of spiritual survival by becoming an idol. It interfered with the way the little girl sang on her porch every night, and the ice cream man who only came out after 10, and every other little unimportant thing he had come to love about Junon. It was time for him to pose.

On August 15th, XXXX+5, at 9:25 PM, he reached out of the sea with an arm instead of a flipper. His hand grasped on a sharp rock, he saw the water pulling away from his arm leaving marks on it in the shape of several interlacing Vs. As Hojo, Stripes clearly identified this as JENOVA's marks. Despite his quiet rebellion against her, he was still her property. He dulled the beautiful and elaborate markings down to a garish emulation of a WARNING sign, and sat on the beach, thinking how to establish himself, listening to Priscilla sing. He had no clothing or material possessions, and trying to access his old bank accounts would be asking for trouble. As Priscilla turned to go to bed, he thought of something and dove back into the water, grabbing the attention of her dolphin, who made such a racket that the girl came racing down to the shore as fast as she could.

He was a stow-away on a ship sailing from Costa Del Sol, and they threw him overboard. He'd drifted for days, and by chance alone, ended up in the harbor. He was willing to do an honest day's work, so Priscilla's family let him help around the neighborhood until he was able to get up enough money to move to Upper Junon. The local band jacket had been Priscilla's. Her boyfriend had lent him a wifebeater, and the jeans and boots were an old pair of her grandfather's. He had promised her that he'd return the jacket as soon as he found one of his own, and the revenue he'd just made from his first two tattoos was enough to afford him the red one, so it was time to give this one back.

Stripes lingered by the sea a little longer, wondering when JENOVA would notice his seperation. He put his hand into the water, and let the markings on his arm run into the sea, revealing the much more delicate scrollwork of Vs that were concealed by the blocky Charlie Brown chevrons. The sand pulled into similar v-patterns as the water around his hand receeded, taking with it, he hoped, a little more of JENOVA.

"Stripes!" came a voice from behind him, "I thought that was you!"

"I came to give you your jacket back. I made enough to get another one," he said, peeling it off. It was always a little small for him, and the rain had given the dying summer one last cushion of warmth.

Priscilla took it back and held it to her chest. She was pretty for a 14-year old. But that wasn't why he'd told her everything about him. "Trying to wash summore of JENOVA away?"

Stripes nodded. "I figure, if I can just sever the psychological connection I have with her, I can still retain all my powers."

"Aw, Stripes. You don't need your powers to still be the awesomest ex-ShinRa scientist turned lover-of-Junon ever," Priscilla giggled. "You don't need to be anything other than human to just live here like everyone else."

"I know. But I still have to throw Strife out for good, and he's a lot more powerful than I am right now, so I have to hold onto the freaky powers until I can get rid of him."

"But what if JENOVA comes back and you have to sacrifice the powers for your freedom?"

"I'm hoping that won't happen," Stripes said, looking out to the sea again. "If I spent enough time, I could mop up all the pollution myself and Junon wouldn't have to worry about mako poisoning ever again. And if I can get Cloud and his assholes out, I can lock brains with the mechanics in the city and try to get some sort of hydroelectrics or solar power grid up."

"Don't get tangled up in trying to do too much at once, mister," Priscilla warned, looking up at him with little doe eyes.

He was a sucker for that kind of thing these days. "Must...resist urge...to...pat...head...ungh...!"

Priscilla straightened out her bangs and put on her jacket. "So, have you made any progress?"

"You'll never guess who's just run into my place by accident."

"Who?"

"Tifa Lockhart."

"Score."

"But the Turks have started to hang out at Ed's across the street, so it's gonna be difficult."

"Which Turkses?"

"Reno, Rude and Elena."

Priscilla 'pffft'ed.

"Vincent knows where it is, too, though."

"But he's not there a whole lot."

"I'm just gonna wait that one out. I'd better go back and check on her," Stripes said, sighing and giving Priscilla a hug from the side. "See you later, kid. Say hi to your grandfather and your boyfriend for me."

"Byebye, mister," Priscilla called after as he tromped back to the elevator.

Next...
Back...