"Stripes" had been right about not having any clothes that could fit a girl.
After she came out of the bathroom, Stripes had obviously forgotten to fulfill his promise of finding her clothes and sent her into his room herself. All she found in his closet were one or two beat up flannel shirts, about thirty or so tanktops and a leather jacket. She wasn't going to touch anything that had been flung on the floor and she was embarrassed to go searching through his buraeus. She decided to ask and ran back up the stairs, nearly colliding with him.


"Oh, I'm sorry, Stripes...uh...I wasn't able to find anything in your closet and I don't want to be rummaging through your dressers without your per--"

"Help yourself."

Tifa turned red. "But I--"

Stripes turned her around and pushed her gently back towards the room. "Get dressed, child, you're starting to stink."

Tifa, who had just spent the past 3 days running around Junon, snorted. "Heh. Starting?"

Stripes pointed to the door. "Go."
Tifa went.

Why does he treat me as if I were three?

Tifa approached one of the four dressers placed around Stripes' bedroom.
Each of them had four drawers.
"Drawer full of pencils."
"Drawer full of pens."
"Drawer full of inks."
"Drawer full of comic books."
"Dammit, Stripes, what do you do?! Paint yer clothes on?!" Tifa yelled.

"There's four dressers in there! You just started with the wrong one!" Stripes shouted up from the first floor in reply.
"Drawer full of paints."
"Drawer full of paint brushes."
"Drawer full of Transformers?! STRIPES! Don't you have about 3 other storage rooms?!"
"More than meets the eye!" Stripes sang.
"Keeeep trying!"
"Drawer full of whiteout and correction fluid..." Tifa moved to the third dresser.
"Drawer full of tattoo pens."
"Drawer full of CDs."
"Drawer full of BOXER SHORTS?!"
There was a dull thud heard from upstairs.
Stripes snickered.

Tifa stopped twitching and sat upright again, redfaced, slamming the dresser drawer shut as she moved to the final bureau. She was hoping she wouldn't have to stumble on something like that.
"Aha...drawer full of t-shirts!"
"Drawer full of jeans!"
"Drawer full of crayons?!"
"Drawer full of..." Tifa's voice softened so that Stripes couldn't hear what she was saying, "...playbooks from the old Midgar Theatre..."
"Woman, you touch those programs and you're dead!"

"Loveless, Once Upon a Mattress, My Fair Lady, Fools of Kulyenchnikov, Death of a Salesman, South Pacific, Othello, Les Miserables..."


Tifa's head bolted up with a gasp.
She had forgotten her alias.

"You had better be!"

There was that older tone of voice he uses again...

Suddenly, Tifa heard the door open. Her ears perked as she heard someone step in. No...not step...saunter. A familiar voice spoke to Stripes: "Heyyy, Stripey-boy! What's shakin'?"

Whose voice was that?

Tifa straightened herself up as quietly as she could and peeked downstairs. She saw a fire-engine-red rattail sticking out from a rumpled navy-blue blazer and a bald man in sunglasses.


Tifa gasped and looked for a place to hide. Stripes' room was tiny, so there wasn't much of a choice.

"Reno! Rude! How's it...hanging? In for a tattoo?" Stripes offered, "I'll...take half off the price for you two! W-what dyeeoou say?"

Stripes, it seemed, had a hard time with slang.

Well, he looks like he's from Wutai, all right...

"Naw, man, we're on the job," Reno replied, shaking his head.

Tifa was sweating bullets. The closet was full, she was too big to fit in a drawer and-- The bed. There was space under the bed.

Rude held up a picture of Tifa in one of her disgusting pink suits. "Have you seen this girl?"

Stripes took the picture in his hand and squinted at it. "What a disgusting pink suit."

There WASN'T room under the bed. There were three gigantic plastic storage bins and a decimeter of space between them.

"Hey, ease up on the poor lady. She's President Strife's wife. She dressed like that to get Cloud to associate Lady Aeris with her. Poor dame. Ran away because of it, I'm guessin'. Have you seen her?" Reno explained.

Tifa stopped.

Stripes shook his head. "No, I'm sorry. If I had seen her, I'd be all over her with my autograph book and she'd probably would have run away from me. Heh!"

Rude sighed and shook his shiny head.

"Have you guys had any good leads at all?"

Reno shook his head. "Nope. This is the first place we've searched aside from the bar. We got the order on our desk yesterday, but Vincent kinda just forgot to tell us about it till t'night. 'E's gettin' soft, 'e is. Heh heh!"

Stripes' expression was blank for a while, then suddenly came a great burst of laughter: "Another night of wine, women and song?"

Rude smiled and posed. "Had a little too much of the wine..."

Reno completed the quote: "But the WOMEN didn't mind!"

All three stooges laughed for a moment, then the reality of the case pushed its way back into the realm of priority, strangling the hilarity till it died. Reno wiped some hair out of his face and stretched. "Weylp...better get goin'. Thanks fer nothin', Stripey-boyee!"

"Yes, I love you too, Reno."

The Turks opened the door. "G'BYE!"


Tifa let out her breath and her head sunk with a sigh of relief to the floor.

Stripes shook his head and walked up the stairs with a huff.

Tifa sat bolt-upright in fright as he walked in the door, leaned against it, folded his arms and looked at her.


"You've got some explaining to do," Stripes said in the voice that betrayed his age.

"If you knew who I was when I--"

"And I knew who you were the moment you walked in my door..."

"--then why didn't --"

"I turn you in? Because you ran away for a reason."

"I did?"

Stripes nodded. "Everything has some kind of reasoning behind it. I know not what your reason was, but I'm quite sure you have one."

"Cloud...has never stopped thinking of Ae-...thinking of her since the day she died. I dunno WHY the Hell I could have married him. Even on our wedding day as he said his vows, his eyes, his motions, his words....they all were insincere! Sometimes I wish...sometimes I wish she weren't dead. Then at least Cloud wouldn't pretend!"

Stripes was silent for a while and looked down. "How old were you when you got married, miss?"

Tifa looked puzzled. "Twenty-one. ...Why?"

Stripes looked up at the ceiling and grinned sadly. "Marriage...isn't something you rush into. Marriage is a promise of faith and trust that two people have stopped looking around for mates. Once it's said, that's it. No one else. That's what marriage is. Trust. Unfortunately, most people are attracted to the concept because it guarantees them at least one night of sex, tax benefits, etc, etc. How long had you known Cloud?"

"Since we were about three..."

"But didn't he go off somewhere for a while...?"

"...Yes. Tried and failed to get into SOLDIER. Never saw him again until he was twenty-one."

"Hmm...Times change. People change, too."

"But he went to join SOLDIER so I'd notice impress ME."

"Then what is this thing you speak of concerning A--"

"Don't even say that name."

"Whoooo...a cold wind."

"A justified cold wind!" Tifa fumed, getting to her feet.

"Woah...woah...calm down! You need to relax for a day or two, get it off your mind." Stripes suggested.

"I DON'T WANT TO GET IT OFF MY MIND! IT'S BEEN BOTHERING ME FOR FIVE YEARS AND I WANT TO END IT! I don't wanna calm down! I wanna stay mad at Cloud! Mad! MAD MAD MAD MAD MAD!" Tifa stomped her feet.

Stripes frowned. "You look like a twenty-six year old, but you act like a two-year old!"

Tifa turned red in the face and tears started to surface. "Shut up! If you were in my position, you'd be stomping your feet and bawling your eyes out, too! I'm NOT going to calm down! Justice must be served!! I need to stay mad! Do you, Str--"

"ENOUGH!" Stripes yelled as loud as he could. The walls reverberated with his voice and he seemed to get a little taller, his fingers extending, and his nails growing into sharp claws.
"What--" Tifa began. Stripes returned to normal before he continued.

"Don't talk to me of Justice. Justice was murdered decades ago. What do you think you're going to do? Go back and blow up the AVALANCHE building, ah?"

Stripes had her licked. And she knew it. Tifa sighed and shook her head.

"There, now, that's much better."

"But what am I gunna do nooooooooow?"

"AFTER you've calmed down substantially, I suggest you go back to AVALANCHE and tell Cloud how you feel...with about ten other people you know in the room who will agree with you. He couldn't stop you then. Depending on that, I hope you can work it out from there."

"So I can stay?"

Stripes rolled his eyes. "I said that about a minute ago, didn't I?"

"I'm sorry, Stripes. I just...I...I..." Tifa couldn't finish. She just started to cry loudly. Stripes repressed the urge to put his fingers in his ears and walk away in disgust. Tifa grabbed the closest thing to cry on she could find, and that was Stripes. He squirmed a bit, but got a little used to it after about 15 seconds.

A few last peals of thunder from the storm rolled by.

Lightning crashed.

Chapter 4