STRIPES: CHAPTER EIGHT
FILTHY

September 3, XXXX+5
9:45:27 AM

Cloud was twirling and clicking a pen as Barrett stood in front of him, blubbering excuses. The only reason he was still awake was that his fingers were poking painfully on the side of his head as he held it up with one hand. He had seen better days. He hadn't slept or shaven since Tifa left. Who would have thought that the loss of someone he thought was so tertiary take such a toll on him? Oh, well. Barrett was still talking.

"I-I ain't seen 'er for about a week. You SURE she didn't leave Junon? She coulda gone anywhere."

He'd had enough. "Barrett Wallace, I've known you for a good five years, and in that time, you've done absolutely no work on making yourself anything but completely transparent. You've known Tifa for at least ten, and you two are probably closer as father and daughter figures than I would ever hope to be with her as a husband by this time. I understand you want to protect her, but I don't think I need to remind you that your REAL daughter is in much more danger than Tifa will ever be if you don't tell me the truth."

Barrett gulped. "Shit. You really are heartless. You would nevuh act this way if you had a kid..."

Cloud sat up. "But I don't, you see. I'd actually think this situation would be a lot worse if I did. Don't make me propose this again. Tifa or Marlene, Mr. Wallace."

"God dammit, all right! Tifa stopped at my house after she ran outta the AVALANCHE building. She didn't know where she was going, so I gave her a bag of some of my old clothes n' some bread, too. That's all. She couldn'ta gotten that far without it runnin' out by now, 'specially with the rain. She musta foun' someplace by now. Now leave me alone and let me get back to my DAUGHTER!"

Cloud was sated with this information. "Marigasco! Tell Valentine to call off the search. We'll let her get comfortable for now. Once she thinks she's safe, she'll start milling around like normal, she'll make some friends, and then we'll make friends with those friends, too. Then we'll have her."

As the young turk with the mohawk ran off to find his boss, Barrett blew his top. "You filthy sonnovvaBITCH!"

"Mr. Wallace, I advise you to watch your language."

Barrett opened his mouth to retort."You know, Cid can't see Shera from prison, either. But she's a grown woman. She can take care of herself," Cloud insinuated, sneering gleefully.

Barrett stomped out of the office. The Turks positioned in the room made to follow him, but Cloud waved for them to stand down. "Let him go. There's really nothing he can do, anyway. You can go do whatever. Keep watch and take out any monsters on the outskirts of the city."

His eye twitched as he mentioned the monsters.

WHITE NOISE.

He found himself with his hands on his head again and his breath had quickened. Something was coming. He slowed his breathing and took a look at the schedule on his desk. There was a rather insignifigant cargo ship coming in from Costa Del Sol today. Cloud narrowed his eyes. Can't fool me twice.

He buzzed for his secretary. "Miss Kisuragi, come into my office, please."

"Y-yes, sir," her small voice answered back.


Yuffie had no idea how she got into this mess. She was quick, she could lie on her feet, and she could steal Cloud's entire fortune out from under his nose. But unlike most men with financial power, she could honestly say that Cloud was a lot stronger than she was. At first, she stayed because she was concerned for her friends, but now that she was roped into this run-down, horrible, polluted city, she wanted nothing more than to leave. If she ran, especially now, it would bring more shit down on Barret and Tifa and Cid and Reeve. She was going to take her leaving quietly, act as bland and forgetful as possible. The day he hired on another secretary and he could begin to forget her name, she could run. Like the wind on the back of a gazelle freed from its tether.

Or something.

She tripped over her high heels and scrambled to regain her balance as she exited her office. She always tripped, but she never let herself fall. Cloud stood up as she entered his office. He looked nearly on par with Reno as far as slovenliness went.

"Ah, good. Send a memo out to Vincent that I want that cargo ship, cargo and all, double-inspected before any of it enters Junon. Stowaways are to be strip-searched and locked in quaranteen. Also add that he won't ask questions, please," he added, darkly, pointing to his forehead.

Oh, God. Here we go again. He thinks he's psychic now. Vincent's the only one thick enough to believe it, too.

Yuffie smiled a chickenhearted, simpering smile and nodded politely. "Yes, sir. Right away, sir."


Cloud felt his eyes linger on her for a bit longer than he normally would, but he couldn't put his finger on why. He dismissed her with a hand and sat back in his chair, slouching as he rubbed his forehead. He was developing a migrane. He could hear whatever it was that was coming.

I'm ready for you, bitch...
Don't think I'm not.

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