Chapter Two

They say, if you are dying, that your entire life flashes before your eyes in only a few seconds.

"Family is important. It is everything. You must promise me, Reno, if anything happens to me, you'll look after your mother and sisters."

Reno wondered if his father'd had time to see his life flash by before the mako bomb blew him into ash.

Did Ma see hers as she died that night? he thought. Will I see mine?


Midgar, 14 years until Meteorfall

"So. Are we going to do this, or what?" Reno asked, crouching next to the other boys. "Let's put them arsewipes in their place once and forever. I'm sick of it." He knuckled the kid next to him in the shoulder. "C'mon Hamill. You're the boss. Make the decision."

"I don't know," Hamill said, his brows knitting. "There's more of them."

Reno watched his sandy-haired room-mate for a moment, then glanced over his shoulder, making sure that there were no teachers in the immediate vicinity. None. He squinted as the sun glared off the concrete walls of the dormitory behind him, and turned back to the other boys. "Yeah, but we're stronger, right?" Reno looked around the circle of boys, who nodded agreement. Eventually. Ten in all, plus Reno and Hamill. "See? We're all good for it. The Midgarians have run this school long enough. It's time. C'mon, man, lunchbreak is almost over. Let me tell them my plan."

"Right," Hamill said, running a dusty hand through his hair. "Reno's my First, now. He's got something in mind."

Fraser, a short, podgy kid originally from Gongaga who was bullied more frequently by the Midgarian group than any of the other boys, put his hand up. He still bore a black eye and busted lip from the last time he'd been set upon.

"We already talked about this, Fraser," Reno said, rolling his eyes, "You don't have to do that. Just speak, man. I ain't your teacher."

"H-hab-bit," Fraser said.

Fat, smart, and a stutterer, Reno thought, and, at twelve years, a couple of years younger than all of the other boys in the grade. The "bully's target" quadruple. Bad break. He shook his head. "You're my bud, right? Just be you."

Fraser almost smiled. "W-when?"

"Some time tonight," Reno said. "And this is what we'll do. Nik?"

Another boy handed Reno a long stick, then stood watch at the corner of the building, within earshot. Reno sketched quickly in the dirt.

"Right. We're not going to try going after all of them. Just Stork and Raith."

"Stork?" Hamill said. "Are you nuts? Jeez, Reno, even you can't take him down, and you're the best fighter we have."

"Who said anythin' about fighting?" Reno said. "Twelve on two ain't fair. That's their thing, not ours. We're gonna try something a little different." He grinned widely. "The goal is humiliation, not pain." He dug his stick in the dirt. "We're going to raid their room, take them both at the same time."

"How?" Kosi, a dark-haired boy, also from Gongaga, said.

"Very quietly," Reno said. "We have the Nightstaff to worry about. We'll go after they're asleep."

"Once we have 'em, what'll we do with 'em?" Hamill said.

"Something fun," Reno said.

"W-we won't h-hurt them, w-will we?" Fraser said.

Reno shook his head. "You know me better'n that, Fraze. But I am going to put the fear of Shin-Ra into 'em. No more black eyes for you, buddy, if I have anything to say about it."

This time, Fraser did smile.

The bell rang. Reno stood. "My room, eleven o'clock, if you can. Don't be seen."


"C'mon, Hamill. Where are you?" Reno muttered. "We need that camera." He lay back on his bed, hand behind his head, staring at the pipes on the ceiling, the rough wool coverlet on his bed tickling the back of his neck. However, it wasn't the pipes he saw.

Some images you could never erase, and they lived with you day and night. He had lived at the Shin-Ra School for Orphaned Boys for, what was it, coming up to eight years.

The morning he'd woken up next to his dead mother passed in a blur of sensation, and images, and confused movements All he knew was that, one day, he had a mother, a father, and sisters, and the next, he had none of these.

It had fallen to the Principal of the Shin-Ra School of Orphaned Boys to explain to Reno what the word "orphan" meant. He was told only that his Ma had been sick. It was a few more years before he'd learnt the actual fate of his father.

No one would tell him where Vickie and his little sister were. Or, even, if they lived. He remembered that Vickie had promised to come and get him when she could.

Try as he might, he couldn't remember his little sister's name. They had always just called her "the baby", even after she wasn't really a baby any more. He'd fixed the memory of them in his head. Brown eyes. But, he figured little sis would always be two years old, to him.

He didn't have much to go on.

Reno knew that, one day, he would succeed in finding them. If it was the last thing he did. After all, he'd promised his father he'd look after them.

Hamill returned, finally, carrying the camera. "I'm not sure I like this," he said, closing the door carefully.

Reno sprang easily to his feet. "What took you so long?"

"Nightstaff still up. Surveillance classroom locked. Had to pick it."

Reno whistled softly, impressed. "Way to go, Hamill."

"If we're caught, we'll get expelled."

"We're orphans, Hamill. Where do you think they'll send us? Home? You're our leader. Be one."

"Maybe being a leader means not doin' something arse backwards. I have intentions. I am not just going to end up a grunt in the regulars. And I don't want to live on the streets, either."

"Yeah, I know. So don't come then. I'll take care of it."

"I'm not a coward."

"Never said you were. You got the camera, right?" Didn't mean Reno didn't think it, though. "But you want to be a Turk one day? So practice your mission technique."

"Why don't you join up with me?"

"Don't be stupid. You don't join that department. You get invited. I don't have the nouse."

"Bullshit. You could ace every subject you're taking if you just did the freakin' work."

Reno shrugged. "I don't want to. They have to wear those stupid suits, man. Could you see me in a tie?"

"Yeah. No. Good point." He handed the camera to Reno. "Don't break it or nothin'. What are you doing with this, anyway?"

"Didja hear what the Midgar group were callin' Fraser while he was being beat on?"

Hamill shook his head.

"Faggot. 'Specially Stork."


Reno raised his eyebrows. "He protests way too much on that score, way too often. Think I'll get us some leverage." He held up a small vial. "Got me some sleeping powder from the infirmary."

"You're doing what now?" Hamill blinked for a moment, then a look of startled realisation crossed his face. "Oh, you're not. Oh man, Stork's going to kill you. That's if Raith doesn't do it first."

"Nah. Stork's not smart, or he'd be in the Academy by now. He's two years older than I am. He shoulda been outta here."

Hamill wrinkled his nose. "I don't like it. It doesn't feel right."

"Yeah, I don't care who he fucks, no worry to me, but he, and the other Midgarians, obviously do care or they'd find another insult to use. Don't know what their problem is." He sat on his bed. "Hamill, if I tell you something, do you promise not to tell?"

"You have to ask. Of course I won't."

"I'm outta here, one way or another, and soon. I need to go."

"Go," Hamill repeated soberly.

"You know why."

"Hm-nh. Your sisters." Hamill sat on his own bed, wrapping his arms around his knees. "Do you think that's a good idea? I--"

"Forget it, Ham. Ain't talking me out of it, so don't try." Reno stared out the window, watching the city lights blinking above the Plate, his eyes drawn, as always to the Reactor Core in this sector. They kinda stuck out a mile.

He turned back to Hamill. "But I think that if I go, Fraser won't have it so good in here, or a coupla others. I waited; figured Stork'd be outta here, and Raith, but Stork went stupid and Raith threw his grades so he could keep his boyfriend company. Stevens sits on his hands while the weaker boys get pummelled. Some freakin' Principal he is. But I can't wait any longer. Vickie will be old enough to graduate wherever she is, and I need to find her before she does. This is the last year, man." Reno held up the camera. "So this is insurance."

"So you don't feel bad leavin' us all here." Hamill's face was clouded.

Reno crossed his arms. "It's not like that. You don't need me. You guys just need to stand up for yourselves. Soon, you'll be able to."

There was a quiet knock on the door, and Nik and Kosi entered the room, followed by another of the other boys, Lucas.

"We're it, I think," Kosi said. "Nightstaff are still awake, for some reason."

"Figures," Reno said. "You stay here. I'm going to sniff out the lay and see what's what. If they're still up, no point all of us getting into trouble straight up. K?"

The other boys nodded. Reno gave them a half-smile then opened the door a crack, listening intently before slipping into the dark hallway. It was, fortunately, deserted. He strode down the hallway towards Raith and Stork's room, bare feet making no sound on the vinyl floor. He winced at the cold, though.

He stopped at their door, listening again, for any sound, before checking the floor at his feet. No sound; no light under the door. He tried the doorknob. Damn. Locked. Well, he couldn't pick it. Time to go back and get Hamill and the others.

Suddenly, heavy footsteps sounded from behind him down the corridor. Reno padded further down the hallway and ducked into the bathrooms, closing the door, waiting for the footsteps to pass. He didn't know which teachers were on night duty, but he didn't feel like bumping into any of them.

Weird, though. Usually, they went to bed an hour after curfew, and that was well over an hour ago.

He stuck his head through the doorway, straining to see through the darkness, then, satisfied that nobody was there, made his way back to his room.

"Door's locked," he said to the other boys. "I'll need you to pick it, Hamill."

Hamill nodded.

"We might need to wait for another half-hour, though. Wait for the teachers to get to sleep," Reno said. "Then we'll go. Hamill, you can pick the lock while Lucas keeps an eye out, then, Kosi, give Stork and Raith a whiff of this." He handed Kosi the vial.

Kosi read the label and grinned.

Reno turned to Nik. "You take the camera, but don't get caught with it, K? Hamill and I'll move Raith--he's lighter--and we'll take a few pictures, print some copies, and return the camera to Surveillance in the morning. Then I'll have myself a chat with our new best friends."

"Best friends?" Kosi said.

"Yeah. Stork and Raith. Let's get this crap fixed, once and for all."

"Reno, wait," Hamill said.


"You're still in your uniform. You need to--"

Hamill's words were drowned out by a screeching alarm. Fire alarm. Drill, or the real thing? Reno pulled his shirt over his head, grabbing the undershirt he used to sleep in. "You guys go. I'll catch up," he said as he pulled his trousers off.

He was quick. He'd changed and was in the quadrangle with the other boarders before Mr Stevens had arrived.

Unfortunately, the fire drill was immediately followed by a hostage drill, which meant an all-night lockdown. Reno caught Hamill's eye and grimaced. There would be no completing their plan that night.


Reno stared at the clock, noting, yet again, how inexorably slowly the damned hands moved around the dial. Tick. Tick. Tick. Tick.


He sat to attention, willing his subconscious to let him know what question the teacher'd asked him. Something about the denominator. "Ah... twelve, sir?"

"Surprisingly, that's correct. Now--"

The bell rang, and Reno was out of his seat and through the door before the teacher could say, "Dismissed."

He ran down the hallway, heading for the sheds, where he and the other boys had met the day before. He needed to get that vial back from Kosi.

He rounded the corner, and skidded to a stop, surveying the scene before him.

Fraser's books and papers were scattered across the concrete, moving as the breeze took them. And, right in the middle, was Raith, holding Fraser off his feet by the front of his shirt with one hand, and threatening him with the other.

Reno clenched his fists. "Argh!" he yelled, running towards Raith, who had just enough time to glance at Reno, surprise crossing his face, and drop Fraser before Reno was on him, dropping him in a full tackle from the side.

Raith pushed him off and Reno rolled to his feet, not giving Raith time to get to his own before he was on him again, grabbing him by the front of his shirt and landing punches on the black-haired boy's face, until Raith was on the ground. Reno straddled Raith, pummelling him in the face again and again and again with his fist.

Raith flailed wildly, trying to get to his feet, but Reno just felt the fury. "Pick. On. Someone. Your. Own. Size. Shit for brains!"

Then he felt himself firmly dragged by his collar, and was forced to let go of the bigger boy. He had no real choice. If he didn't go with it, his own shirt would garrotte him. His only consolation was that he could see Raith being dragged equally firmly by the Principal, Mr Stevens.

Reno turned around and faced his own captor, the mechanical sciences teacher, Weisenheimer, his usually neat white hair awry.

"What is going on here?" Mr Weisenheimer said. He sounded tired.

"I was winning," Reno growled. "Sir," he added.

"Like hell you were," Raith said.

Reno struggled to get back at Raith, ignoring Weisenheimer as his grip tightened on Reno's arms. "You can kiss my--"

"That's enough," Mr Stevens said firmly. "Come with me, boys. Now."

It didn't take long for the two boys to be dragged to Mr Stevens' office. Mr Stevens pointed at a chair outside his door. "Raith. Sit. Reno, follow me."

Reno sullenly followed Mr Stevens into the room, and sat on the chair in front of the man's desk.

Mr Stevens sat behind the desk and regarded Reno for a few moments before speaking. "Remind me. What did you want to do with your life again?"

"I'm not yet fourteen, sir. I don't exactly have plans."

"You're fourteen in a week, Reno, and you should, if you ever want to make anything of yourself."

"Who said I wanted to make anything of myself?"

Mr Stevens sat back in his chair, regarding Reno soberly. "What happened to the boy who wanted to fly? No, don't answer that. He transmogrified into the lad who'd rather spend all of his time fighting with the other boys."

"I didn't start it. He was picking on--"

"I am well aware of what he was doing. It's the only reason I still hold out some hope for you. Certainly, I can't say much about your grades." Mr Stevens looked through a couple of papers. "We both know you can do better than this. And we both know this isn't the only fight you 'didn't start'."

He stood up, walked around his desk, and sat on the corner in front of Reno, crossing his arms. "Look, Reno, I don't want to lecture you--again--but you don't seem to understand how serious this is. You could have killed Raith. All it takes is one punch in the wrong place. I'd really like to see you get to the Academy, give you somewhere to focus all of that anger."

"I'm not angry." And Mr Stevens didn't seem to care that Raith could have killed him. Or Fraser.

"You are, and you have reason. But it will get the better of you if you let it." He sighed. "I am aware of this ridiculous feud, and I will be giving Raith the same lecture as I'm giving you. You and he will be on rubbish detail for the next week. Get along with him, or I will expel you both."

Reno nodded sourly.

"I mean it. And get your grades up. I was hoping to recommend you to the Academy at the end of the year, but the way things are, there's no way. Raith, at least, has the sense to get his classwork done. Which," he added, "is disappointing, given that you are much brighter than he is. I'd like to see an improvement, and quickly. Make it good. I suspect the regular army wouldn't suit you, and that's the only other place you're heading right now."

"Well, if it was good enough for my father--" Reno stopped. The last person he wanted to talk to about his dad was Mr Stevens. "Why can't I just go to school in Kalm?"

"Because all of the Shin-Ra orphanage schools with pre-military curricula are in Midgar. Are you going to ask me another question you already know the answer to?"

"How about one I don't?"

"I don't know where your sisters are."

"I'll just keep asking until you tell me."

"I can't tell you what I don't know, Reno."

Reno glared at Mr Stevens for a moment. "Are we done here?"

"Do not talk to me like that. Have some respect."

"Sorry, sir," Reno said glumly.

"You're dismissed," Mr Stevens said, walking back behind his desk. "Show Raith in on your way back to the dormitory, please, then go to the infirmary and get your knuckles patched up. Oh, and Reno? Consider yourself under room arrest until further notice. Final strike. Make the most of it."

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