September 3, XXXX+5
4:45:45 AM

He didn't understand what she felt at the time.
All he saw was her buckling under when he needed her the most.
All he saw was her running away from something she swore to do.
She volunteered for the project, and it was her idea to involve their son.
She had no right to talk about free will all of a sudden.

Stripes lie awake in his bed, staring up at the ceiling tiles.
Back before he died, he used to force himself to think that 'oh, that was such a long time ago,' and 'that has no bearing on what I'm doing now."

But the reality of the situation was that it had everything to do with what he was doing now, and because of that, it brought the past down even heavier on his head.

He'd spent the past four years in a purgatory of his own thoughts, picking out every instance in which he could have turned back. Even one word said differently, a tone of voice, a touch, a turn of the head, and things could have turned out differently...
Stripes turned on his side.
Through a view of the corner of his alarm clock and his closet, he continued to ruminate. He recalled seeing her as she stepped behind Vincent for protection, and the maddening image he got of her "freedom" being her riding in a posh convertable car with the petulant Turk...

The spiteful coldness she began to address him with near the end was passed on into Sephiroth, as well.

"I pity you, old man," he used to say.

He remembered the stress on his neck as she pulled on his tie as she died, laughing, "...and you know what the funniest part is?"

"No, I don't. What's the funniest part, Lucrecia?"

"He's...not even yours...hahahahahhaha!"

He sat up violently, seething, full of hatred, and embarassed despite himself all over again. He should have walked away right then. Found his own freedom. Walked away from her and JENOVA and Sephiroth, let Dr. Gast handle it. But no, he had to have it his way. Had to make the boy his to get her back. But the more he tried to pull Sephiroth under his control, the more like both of his parents he became, and the more he got caught up in trying to supress it.

Reckless, irrational, obnoxiously honorable, freedom-loving, consdecending, and beautiful. It was more than he could stand.

However, if ever there was anything hateful about Sephiroth, it came from Hojo himself.
Hojo saw his passive-aggressive compeditive streak come out aggressive-aggressive in Sephiroth, his seething anger when he couldn't do something right the first time, his paranoia-induced emotional wall of 'I'm too cool to talk to you. Talk to the hand. Leave me alone. I'm better than you.'

"I pity you, old man."

Hateful little boy.
In that sense, he really was his son.
The more he hated him, the more he was his, Stripes remembered.
That was the mantra he worked under when he was creating the clones.
Who does he think he is, burning down Nibelheim, anyway? Dammit. I guess it's up to me to fix it now. I'm the only one who knows how it works.

He remembered having the little yellow-haired punk that killed his son stuck in a mako tank with his raven-haired friend. It seemed prudent to use their living tissue to bring Sephiroth back to life. Stripes remembered vaguely telling Cloud that he was one of the clones himself, but it was really more like the clones were small pieces of him. Maybe that was why they were so scary.

An outstretched arm with the number two on its hand.
It was reaching for him.
Malformed lips parted.
A voice too old for its body went...

Stripes shuddered. Not going there tonight.
He allowed his thoughts to pour over to more current events.
He hadn't stopped to think for a second about who Cloud would connect with. He was just a little runt of a guard back then. People like him can only go so far on their own. But that was the problem. He'd latched on to so many other people that it actually made him able to stand on his own. And with them, Stripes could only guess what Cloud had in mind, with his stolen and mismatched dreams. He himself had had JENOVA to guide him. And all JENOVA really wanted, and still did, was a reculmination of her scattered power. In order to fully become a cog in her machine, he gave up caring about Lucrecia. He put aside his humanity, and in return was rewarded with being more or less not responsible for his own actions. If Lucrecia had lived, he couldn't imagine what she would have gone through.

He thanked himself a little for insuring Cloud's phobia of science. Then again, he didn't see Tifa ever agreeing to be strapped to a chair and given needles until she was so full of poison she couldn't see straight. The more he thought about it, the more he thought he should have pushed Lucrecia to run further away. If he had been more angry and abusive, she wouldn't have stayed. If Vincent had been a little less chicken, he could have run away with her. But knowing himself back then, he probably would have chased them to the ends of the earth.

Anyway, he hoped Cloud was enough transformed into his own martyr that he didn't care anymore.

He counted the days on his fingers, recalling what he had done to cope with the loss of his wife.

Nope. He's probably at his most dangerous right now.

to give to her the priceless peace
of giving up control