Tifa walked through the streets of Junon wearing her old clothes.

She was cold.

A tank top, a miniskirt and suspenders weren't the warmest things in the world to wear, especially in the beginning of fall.

She had run away three days ago.

Tifa figured that Cloud would send the Turks after her, after all, she was his wife and deep down inside, she knew that he loved her...she hoped he loved her.

But that was not the point.

He would have to stop acting as if he didn't.

Cloud didn't belong at the head of a monopolizing power company. He belonged behind the desk of his own nick-nack shop. Lord knows they had bought so much stuff on their journey to defeat Sephiroth five years ago to set them for life just about anywhere. Cloud owned his own condo in Costa Del Sol. He and Tifa could have lived out their lives in luxury by the sunny beach! Why the hell had that dummy placed himself under that much stress? It was going to kill him!

A cold wind blew through the streets and Tifa shivered.

She REALLY wished she had bought some -decent- new clothes.

She had had five whole years to do why didn't she?!

Tifa cursed herself for her stupidity and looked around for a place to warm up. She turned into an alleyway and walked down it. No signs were mounted along the walls. The only light came from a door at the end.

It was yellow, almost orange.

It gave off the impression of being at least a little friendly.

A sudden bolt of lightning pierced the sky, illuminating the area.

The warm, yellow light flashed neon green for a split second.

Tifa had her head turned to the sky.

"God it's going to rain?!"

Tifa ran for the light as it started to drizzle.

The door was open, thankfully, and Tifa shoved herself inside.

She looked around. The place looked much like an inn. It had a front desk, and an open guestbook. A couple comfy looking chairs dotted the lobby. She decided that this was definately an inn.

She looked around for a teller, but there was nobody behind the desk.

Well...may as well sign the guestbook, Tifa thought to herself, taking the pen in her hand.

She looked at the peculiar little guestbook.

The numbers started at 15.

There had been no other pages before.

A name occupied #15: Edward Thomson.

Tifa wrote a T in the 16 slot, but stopped.

The Turks might pass by this area...better not sign my own name.

Tifa put her first initial down and thought for a while.

Maiden name was Lockheart...easily referenced...

Tifa recalled a song her father used to sing to her when she was a child.

Edel weiss
Edel weiss
Ev'ry morning you greet me
Small and white
Clean and bright
You seem happy to meet me
Blossom of snow, may you bloom and grow
Bloom and grow for-ever
Edel weiss
Edel weiss
Bless my homeland forever

Tifa recalled...edelweiss were little white flowers that occasionally dotted the Nibelheim landscape. They meant "precious white" in Nibelheim's archaic, forever unused, native language. Tifa didn't think of herself as precious at the moment, but she was sure somebody did. She changed the T she had written down to a believable E. and put her last name down as White.

The only person that could possibly track her down from that obscure reference was her father...and her father was...

She didn't want to think about that.

Anything but that.

She wanted to be mad at Cloud now!

Lightning crashed.

"In my veins...flows the blood of the Ancients."

NO! Tifa didn't want to think about Sephiroth!

She wanted to stay mad at Cloud!

Cloud...Cloud had killed Sephiroth...

Killed him for killing his mother...

Killed him for killing her father...


Killed him for killing his friend...

His friend...

His friend that was her boyfriend.

His friend that he himself pretended to be.

His friend that he still thought he was...

There. That was better.

If she could stay mad at Cloud, her running away could be justified.

Tifa put down the guestbook pen again and started to look upstairs for the innkeeper. It became apparent that this hadn't been an inn for very long. The paint was fresh, and the carpet was clean. It wasn't easy to keep anything clean in Junon these days.

On the second floor was a sitting room, a bathroom and a room full of art supplies...and another set of stairs. Could the innkeeper be an artist?

The third floor had another room full of art supplies, a laundry room and a small bedroom with a single bed. What kind of an inn was this?

She stepped into the room and looked at the floor. Slightly messy, with a few hundred pens strewn around on the ground, half of them chewed off at the ends. There was a phone with a green neon light around it on the end table by a lamp that hadn't been turned off. The bed was half-made. The room smelled like Old Spice. Tifa was beginning to doubt this was an inn at all.

A small stereo rested on the dresser behind the door. A squiggly CD tower stood next to it. Tifa took a close look at the titles.

Nine Inch Nails - Downward Spiral
Marilyn Manson - Mechanical Animals
Nine Inch Nails - Pretty Hate Machine
Stabbing Westward - Darkest Days
Smashing Pumpkins - Adore
Smashing Pumpkins - Machina
Madonna - Ray of Light
Cher - Believe Single
Sting - Ten Summoner's Tales
A Charlie Brown Christmas
Les Miserables Soundtrack
The Midgar Neutered Boys' Choir Sings 20 Christmas Classics
Weird Al Yankovic - Bad Hair Day

Tifa had abolished the thought of this being an inn by now. She wondered why a person would leave their residence unlocked. Especially in Junon. That was just plain stupid.

Then again, not many residences had guestbooks. Tifa was puzzed beyond puzzing puzzleness.

She took that puzzlement up to the forth floor, and out the door onto the roof. It was raining as if God himself had had someone dear to Him die. She looked around, through the rain...

Lightning crashed.

...and saw the figure of a man in a white tank top near the edge of the roof.

"Sir, don't jump! It's not worth it!" she cried.

The man had been leaning on the edge of the roof with his elbows. He pushed himself up and turned around. "Young lady, I think you should observe things more carefully before you make such a rash judgement."

Tifa blinked. That voice sounded a little bit familiar. She couldn't place it, though. "I'm sorry, sir. It...well...just seemed the thing to assume with all this rain pouring down."

"Suicide rate has gone up since ShinRa fell...heh."

Tifa smiled, crossed her arms and nodded. Another thing to be mad at Cloud for.

"Yes, sir, but you shouldn't just stay up on the roof like this dressed like that in the middle of the rain. You'll catch--"

"Pneumonia and die! HAHAHA!" the man laughed as if he had said those words one thousand times over.

The man stepped closer and Tifa could see his face. He didn't appear to be much older than 30. His sunglasses shielded her view of his eyes, but not the three jagged red lines across his face. He had apparently been standing by the roof since before it had started to rain.

He looked her up and down. "You don't seem to be dressed appropriately for the weather, either."

Tifa looked down and immediately covered herself up.

The man motioned for her to step back in the door to go downstairs, and she did. He followed behind her, locking the door behind him. They didn't speak until they reached the main lobby on the first floor.

The man looked at his guestbook. "Miss...White? You don't seem the type to want a tattoo..."

Tifa started. "T-tattoo?! No, no...I thought this was an inn! I don't want a tattoo! I'm a good girl, I am!"

"You must forgive me. I've only been in town for three days. I haven't gotten a sign yet."

"You were up on the roof the entire time? What were you doing there? Were you watching me?"

"You? No, my dear, I was waiting for the rain."

"But it's so cold out there already! I'm beginning to think maybe you -did- have a death wish."

"What about you? How long have you been wandering around like that?"

Tifa covered herself up again in shame. "Three days..."

"Stay there. Let me get you a towel," said the man, running upstairs.

It was then that Tifa noticed the strange markings on his arms...

Lightning crashed.

Tifa gasped and fell back into one of the lobby chairs. Was it a trick of the light? Was it just her brain eroding away? Was it just a...flipper she just saw in the lightning?, not a was more like a shark fin...or a sharpened knife.

Tifa shook her head. It was only that she was getting sick from running around for three days. Yes, that was it...Tifa sighed. She was getting too old for this shit.

The man came back down with a large, white towel and dropped it on her head.

"There. That thing'll keep you warm through an Icicle Inn-sized blizzard and then some!"

Tifa uttered a muffled "Thank you!" and closed her eyes.

She felt safe in this place - for now. There was something about it that made it feel like home. Something about the way that man moved...She couldn't place it...Tifa took the towel off her head and took another look at him.

He was rather puny...though he seemed to be working out.

He rummaged through some files behind the counter as if he had lost something important. He kicked the desk.


That was how Zangan kicked!

She remembered her old martial arts teacher fondly. She supposed this man was one of his older students. "Excuse me, sir...but I don't know your name."

"People call me Stripes," said Stripes, taking out a small paintbrush and testing something on his striped arm.

He was left-handed.

"Gee...I wonder why they call you that!"

"Don't be too liberal with your use of the sarcasm button, Miss White. Might get you into some deep...shee-yat, if you take my meaning," Stripes warned, testing out a new word he had learned at Ed's yesterday. "What's your real name?"

Tifa gulped. "I'd...rather not say."

"Oh? Why is that?"

"I'm running away from...people. If they question you, they might get you arrested."


"You can call me Edel."

"Edel White..." Stripes looked at Tifa with a disbelieving smirk.

Tifa brightened. "Yes! Edel White. I...'m a student at the local college. I study..."

Lightning crashed.

"...Mako emissions!"

Stripes laughed.

"What's so funny?"

"I thought Mako energy was outlawed. I heard President Strife--"


Stripes stepped back and blinked. "Excuse me..."

Tifa wrapped herself up in the towel and looked at the floor. "I'm sorry..."

Stripes shook his head. "You needn't be, child. I think you need to rest."

"Where's the nearest inn, then?"

Stripes sighed exasperatedly, but with good humor. "You don't have to pull the non-imposion stunt with me, Edel..."

"You mean I can sleep in your room?"

"No. I have a really nice couch upstairs in one of the supply rooms. I would rather you dry yourself off first, though. The bathroom's on the second floor. I'll -try- to find you some dry clothes. You must excuse me, for I don't have much in the way of anything a woman would wear. I don't cross-dress."

Tifa laughed heartily at this. She remembered when "Claudia," Aeris and herself had stormed Don Corneo's mansion. It was -her- idea, but it sure turned out to be funny. Hah...the old geezer had chosen Cloud...what a dimwit.

Tifa stopped laughing with a sigh. Stripes looked at her as if she had three heads.

"My own little private joke...eheh..."

Stripes smiled and sent her upstairs.

Lightning crashed.

Behind his sunglasses, Stripes' eyes glowed green...

A brighter green...

Than Sephiroth's.

Chapter 3