Chapter Three

What had happened to the by who wanted to fly? Reno wondered.

The answer was simple. He'd died the day his parents had, not to be reawakened until many years later, the day he found a family.

But this was not yet.


Reno'd had better weeks. It wasn't so much the graffiti or garbage duty, or even the enforced "be nice to Raith", that bugged him. It was the room arrest. He couldn't stand being locked up. You may as well try to stop the wind from blowing.

He wasn't locked up, exactly. The orphanage-come-school didn't actually do that. He just wasn't allowed to leave his dorm room unless he was in class or heading to meals.

It basically amounted to the same thing.

As if it wasn't bad enough that none of them were allowed to leave the orphanage without a teacher present.

He figured the best way to handle Raith was to take the advice his mother'd given him, a long time ago. "If you can't say something nice, don't speak."

Reno had never been so quiet in all his life.

So, his routine went something like: up, breakfast, class, detention, study, dinner, room, try to sleep. The inactivity was going to drive him nuts, and he never did get a chance to get that vial back from Kosi.

In fact, all of the guys had been conspicuous by their absence, even Hamill, and even during class. And while they were out gallivanting around doing frig knows what, Reno was left to pace around his room, or jack off to a copy of Midgar Boobs magazine just to get rid of some excess energy.

They were planning something, but they weren't telling him what it was.

"You don't want more trouble," Hamill said when Reno asked him about it after lights out. "It's already a done deal, anyway."

"What is?"

Hamill just grinned. "'Night, Reno."

Reno growled and pulled the covers over his head.

His "no talking" policy lasted only two days, mostly because Raith was a nit who spent the time doing whatever he could to annoy Reno. There were comments about Reno's mother, his bright red hair, the size of his dick, and his sexual prowess, all of which Reno ignored. As for the first three, there was no point worrying about things he had no control over. As for the last, well, he would have sex when he was damned well ready to, and not a moment before. He had more important things to worry about.

Like, how the hell he was gonna get out of this place and finally fulfil his promise to his father.

Finally, Raith found something that hit enough of a nerve for Reno to respond.

"So, Reno," he said casually as they scrubbed at a back wall covered in Midgarian epithets while the rest of the school was out playing sport, "you doing that kid Fraser?"

"Don't be a shithead," Reno snapped without thinking, then gritted his teeth as he realised he'd said it out loud. You idiot, Reno, he thought. He sighed noisily. "Why don't you just leave the kid alone? You gotta have better things to do than beat up on someone half your size."

"Yeah. I would, but he's a maggot."

"Come on. Apart from coming from the wrong part of Planet, what has Fraser ever done to you?"

Raith stopped scrubbing for a moment and looked at Reno with a small, sardonic smile. "He's your friend. Why don't you ask him?"

Whose idea had it been to invent indelible ink? Reno scrubbed at a single spot, cursing whoever it was for a blind freakin' moron. "Don't need to," he muttered. "It'll be something stupid on your part." Like, Fraser looked at Stork wrong one day and Raith felt like going all 'defend my fuck buddy' on his face.

Raith shook his head and continued scrubbing. "Ya know, if not for the fact you insist on standing up for that bunch of retards, you'd be one of us, Kalm Town or no."

"Oh. Be still, my giant throbbing dick. I am just so honoured. You have made my day, and I have now seen the error of my ways. Would you take me into your group? Please? Oh, wouldja puh-leeze?" Reno turned and leaned against the wall, arms crossed. Not for the first time that afternoon, he resisted the urge to punch Raith in the face. Arrogant son of a whore. "What makes you think I'd want to be one of you lot anyway?"

"Everyone wants to belong somewhere," Raith said lazily.

"Screw you." Reno wasn't going to admit that Raith'd hit another nerve. No way.

Raith dropped the metho-soaked cloth he was using into a bucket, then closed the space between them, leaning one arm on the wall next to Reno's head and putting his other hand on Reno's hip, curling his palm over the hipbone and trapping Reno's arms against his chest. Their mouths were close. His breath smelled like peppermints. "You comin' on to me now, Pony Boy?" His dark eyes glittered a challenge.

Dickhead. "You want me to mess up your face for you again?" Reno said in a low tone, glad that his voice, for once lately, didn't crack.

The older boy had him fairly effectively pinned to the wall, his thigh pressing against Reno's crotch. Yeah. That was uncomfortable for two reasons; the first being that Reno had absolutely no interest whatsoever in Raith, and the second being that despite this, he was still getting a hard on. Mind you, lately he could think of mud and his dick'd stand at attention. Meant nothing except that most fourteen year-old boys would fuck a tree, if they could.

If Raith wanted to play chicken, though, Reno wasn't going to be the first to blink. He glared at the older boy, pouring as much contempt into his gaze as he could, trying to think of anything but mud. Or trees.

Raith's mouth curled into a smile and he shifted his hips so that both of his thighs pressed against Reno's. "You could try," he said. "Whaddya reckon, Pony Boy? Wanna ride?"

Gods. Raith's dick was so hard Reno could feel it pressed against his own even through the thick fabric of their winter trousers.

Think of bad stuff. Being locked up. An image of Miss September flashed across Reno's mind and more blood rushed to his groin. Oh, shit. That didn't help any. Crap. Crap. Crap. Kittens being tortured by chocobos. The smell of Hamill's socks on gym day. Mr Weisenheimer eating spaghetti. Quadratic equations! "Get off me," he growled, pushing his elbows forward ineffectively, trying to free his arms.

"What is going on here?" barked Mr Stevens.

Oh, thank Shiva, Reno thought.

Raith jumped back from Reno, crossing his hands in front of him. Reno, for his own part, was glad that his school shirt was untucked and the tails reached mid-thigh.

"When I told you two to 'get along', this is not exactly what I had in mind," Stevens said, a tired look on his face.

"It's not what it looks like, sir," Raith said, his face red.

"I think it's exactly what it looks like, Raith, and you should know better. Forget the rules for a moment; you're sixteen, above the age of consent. Reno isn't. And from what I saw, your attentions weren't at all welcome." Mr Stevens turned to Reno. "Do you want to press charges?"

Charges? What? Reno frowned, realising that this was his opportunity: he could rid Fraser of Raith, at least, and get out of here. He opened his mouth to speak, fully intending to say, "shit, yeah," then caught sight of Raith's demeanour.

The older boy stood behind Mr Stevens with his hands stuffed in his trouser pockets, his eyes downcast. He looked... frightened. Genuinely afraid. It was not something that Reno had seen before in this brash bully. Everyone wants to belong somewhere. Crap. Raith'd been talking about himself.

Barely aware he was doing so, Reno shook his head, cursing himself for a sentimental fool.

"Are you sure, Reno?" Stevens said.

"Just a misunderstanding, sir, and my fault," Reno said, shifting his shoulders. "Won't happen again."

Mr Stevens' eyes narrowed for a moment as he glanced from one boy to the other. "Fine, then," he said, sounding relieved. "See that it doesn't. My office when you're done here, boy." That last said to Raith as Mr Stevens walked down the corridor.

Reno picked up his rag and started scrubbing again.

"Reno, I--"

"You owe me one," Reno said, not bothering to look at him. "And don't ever touch me or any of my friends again. And that goes for your boyfriend as well."

Raith said nothing, but Reno smelled the sharp tang of metho as the other boy resumed cleaning off his section of the wall.

Reno smiled to himself. Now, all he had to do was wait and see if this new attitude would take.


"He did what now?" Hamill said incredulously after Reno filled him in on the events of the afternoon after lights out.

"And the end result is I think we've got the truce we need." Reno leaned back against the headboard of his bed.

Hamill watched Reno soberly. "Oh, that's not good."

"Beg yours?"

"I have something to show you." Hamill got out of his bed and opened a drawer, pulling out some pictures. "You know how you asked me last night what we were up to?" He walked over to Reno and dropped the pictures in his lap. "Printed these out for you."

Reno sighed. "What did you do?"

"Look at the photos."

Reno turned his bedside light on, and did. Damn. He should have tried harder to get that vial back from Kosi. "You carried out my plan." His plan, and some. The others hadn't just put Raith into Stork's bed. They'd both been stripped naked as well, and fashioned into a tight embrace. Reno winced, wishing he'd never thought of the stupid plan in the first place.

Damn. He was going soft on the bastards. "Who took them?" Reno asked.

"Xavier," Hamill said. "Went in with Kosi and Nik while I stood watch."

"Do they know you have these yet?"

"Kosi and Harvey spoke to Stork after dinner tonight. He wasn't happy."

"Damn." Well, any hope of staying on friendly terms with Raith was gone. Not that Reno wanted to be friends, but having Raith owe him one was better than blackmail, any day. He put the pictures in the nightstand next to his bed and switched off the lamp, giving the picture of his family next to the lamp a silent fleeting 'goodnight', as he did every night. "This is going to come back and bite us, Hamill. Fact is, Raith doesn't care, at all." Neither should he, really.

Hamill shrugged and got back into bed. "Stork does, so he won't say anything, and those are the only copies. The other guys won't talk; the entire idea was to keep it quiet. The empty vial was thrown into the incinerator and I returned the camera tonight. Seriously, Reno, what could go wrong?"

Reno could think of about a dozen things, but he kept them to himself, rolling onto his stomach and hugging his pillow in an attempt to get comfortable.

"Reno?" Hamill's voice was muffled.


"How far would you've gone with Raith chicken? You know, if Stevens hadn't shown."

"I don't really want to talk about it."

"Sure you do, or you wouldn't've told me."

Reno sighed. "Only as far as a punch in the face and Raith hitting the floor. Go to sleep, Ham."


Reno finished emptying the last garbage bin. Where the hell was Raith? Trust him not to turn up on their last day of detention, leaving Reno with all of the work. Arsehole.

He put the can down and headed for the closest toilets, passing through deserted halls, then washing his hands clean of muck before he inspected himself in the mirror, running wet hands through his hair. He nodded. Sharp enough.

Then he frowned. Deserted halls? What?

He went to the door and peeked out. Had someone called a drill? He hadn't heard any alarms.

Maybe if he just headed back to his room.

Mr Stevens was waiting for him when he got there. Hamill was sitting on his bed, looking nervous.

Reno's eyes were drawn to the Principal's hands. He was holding a camera. Shit. "Hey sir," he said. "'Sup?"

"Don't 'sup' me, Reno," Stevens said. "Come with me."

Reno caught Hamill's eye. The other boy shook his head and shrugged, looking confused.

When they reached the Principal's office, Stevens put the camera on his desk, then went to his window and looked out into the afternoon. "Sit down."

Reno sat. "What's happening?"

"Reno, I have always liked you. You're misguided sometimes, but you're a kid with a good heart." He turned around and looked down on Reno. "That's why I am going to trust you to tell me the truth."

"About what, sir?"

"Don't play dumb with me. I am not stupid, and I am perfectly aware of what's going on around here. Stork tells me he's being blackmailed. He claims, by you." Stevens paused. "I don't buy a word of it. Fill me in."

Reno shrugged. "He promised he and his cronies would leave us alone, I promised the pictures wouldn't get out."

"So... smart enough to get the picture, not smart enough to remember to wipe it from the camera before returning it. Like I said, I don't buy it."

Idiots. How could they have forgotten something so rudimentary? Well, he was already in trouble. He sighed. "Truth is, it was all my own idea, sir." Reno was able to say that honestly. After all, it was the truth.

"Hm," Stevens said. "Well, maybe you'd better see what else is going on."

"What, there's more?"

"Don't be flippant with me, boy." He handed Reno his organiser with the vid turned on. "This was piped straight into the teacher's lounge as well."

Reno looked at the screen, narrowing his eyes so he could see better, and understood. No one had stripped Raith and Stork to take those pictures. No one had needed to. Reno got a very brief glance of the two youths en delecto before he switched the organiser off.

"That's... kinda unpleasant," Reno remarked, handing the organiser back. And going way too far, he thought. Still photos, kept under wraps, were one thing. Piping someone's private life into the teacher's lounge was entirely another. "Why are you showing me this?"

"Impressing the serious nature of the situation. Now, tell me: who did this?"

It had to be one of his friends, but which one? Not Hamill; he, at least would've said something. It didn't matter. Well, he'd already admitted to the photos. He may as well go the whole cabana.

Besides, for some stupid reason, he actually felt responsible. "I already told you."

"Oh, Reno." Stevens drew a tired hand across his eyes. "I was hoping you wouldn't do that."

"Do what, sir?"

"You and I both know that you had nothing to do with this. You're bright, but you, lay a infra-red v-line? I don't think so. You failed that class miserably."

"You were the one who told me I could do anything I set my mind on." Reno grinned wryly. "I set my mind on it."

Mr Stevens took up his favourite position on the corner of his desk. "If you continue with this insanity, I will have to expel you. Do you understand? I really don't want to do that. Just tell me who was involved."

Expulsion was the only way out of here. Reno looked the Principal in the eye. "You'll have to expel me, then. Sir."

Stevens sighed. "Terrific. Well done."


"Sarcasm, boy. Three expulsions in one day, and I have people to answer to. I'd appreciate it if you would give me a break."


"Raith and Stork have to go as well."

"Why? They haven't done anything wrong. They're over age."

"We have rules here for a reason, Reno. If they were at the Academy, that'd be one thing, but Raith made his choice there. This is a home and school for children, not hedonistic teens." He crossed his arms. "I suppose I should be delighted to be rid of the three worst rabble-rousers in the school all at once, but the fact is, I won't be happy to see you go. And Raith had potential, too. He should have been at the Academy last year. Unfortunately, I can't gloss over this one like I did with yesterday's incident, not with the entire staff privy to the details." He shook his head tiredly. "Come on, Reno. I'm giving you one last chance not to completely fuck up your future, here. Work with me."

Reno blinked at Stevens' use of language, but held firm. "Can't help you. I'm sorry, Mr Stevens." And he was. The Principal had, Reno supposed, been all but his father all of these years. And the man looked genuinely sad. Go figure.

Stevens leaned forward. "Raith has already told me he knows who it was. And it wasn't you he named."

"Raith is mistaken then, sir."

"He seemed very sure of himself."

Reno snorted. "He's always sure of himself. Doesn't make him any righter."

"More right," Stevens corrected absently.

"So who did he think it was? If I can ask."

"Raith claims that it is Fraser who has been blackmailing Stork for some time, and he found out only a few weeks ago. He also claims that you knew about it."

Shit. That made way too much sense for Reno's liking. It explained Raith's sudden dislike for Fraser, even beyond the regular feud. He glanced up. Stevens was watching him closely. Better make this good. "Of course he's claiming that. He's had it in for Fraze for ever."

"So you have nothing more to say?"

"No sir."

"Fine, then, since you're so damned determined." Mr Stevens sat behind his desk and signed a form, handing it to Reno without looking at him. "You're officially out. Congratulations."

Reno stood and wordlessly took the form.

Mr Stevens looked up at him. "Good luck, son. Be careful. I hope you find what you're searching for." He paused, then pulled out his wallet, placing a couple of hundred-gil notes on the desk. "Take it. Please. And, unofficially, I'm a call away if you ever need anything."

"Thankyou, sir." Reno picked up the money and stuffed it into his pocket, then turned and headed towards the door.

"Oh, and Reno?"

Reno turned. "Sir?"

"Your sisters, most likely, would have been taken to another orphanage here in Midgar. I have no idea which one, but I'd try the Sector 6 girl's home as a starting point. Happy birthday."


Reno couldn't get his clothes shoved into his kitbag fast enough. No, not the uniforms, wouldn't be needing those. The picture of his family, wrapped carefully in a shirt, went into the inside pocket.

Half of the non-Midgarians were in the room.

Hamill sat on his bed, watching Reno with a scowl. "This isn't fair," he said.

"It's entirely fair," Reno said. "The whole photography thing was my idea. And I want out of here, anyway. No point you lot taking my fall."

"No point you taking ours, you mean," Harvey said. "It was us screwed up."

"So, good then," Reno said, grinning, trying to look happier than he felt. "Works to my advantage. Not trapped here any more." He looked directly at Hamill. "Things to do."

Hamill nodded. "Yeah. Yeah, leave him alone. If Reno feels the need to play boy hero, let him."

"N-no." Fraser took Reno by the arm. "I-I'll tell them it w-was me."

"Don't you dare," Reno said. "Hear me? I'm getting' exactly what I want. And so are you. They're gone. Besides, you wouldn't last three days on the streets."

"W-what will you d-do?"

Good question. "Don't worry, Fraze. I'll be fine."

"W-will we see y-you again?"

Reno grinned and slung his bag over his shoulder. "Count on it."

He turned and left the room, then walked through the dormitory to the large concrete and metal entrance gate, and out onto the plate. He glanced at the sky and took a deep breath, feeling free for the first time in all of the years since his mother'd died.

Sure, he had no home, very little money and no future, but he'd get by. The most important objective he had right now was to find his sisters and reunite what was left of his family.

Because family wasn't just everything. It was the only thing.

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