Part One: The Importance of Family

Chapter One

The voice came from very far away, Reno thought. "Reno. Reno!" Footsteps, drawing nearer, sounded through the noise. "Reno, are you all right? Shit. Fuck. Shit."

Hands. Someone's hands. Large gloved hands. He tried to open his eyes but his eyelids wouldn't obey him. He tried to sit up, but the pain lanced through his guts like fire; embers left to smoulder and sear.

"Rude?" His head said it. He tried to say it, but all that came out of his mouth was a strangled croak. Jaw probably broken. It occurred to Reno that Rude wasn't supposed to be here. Rude didn't know. Rude hadn't known.

"No, buddy. Stay still. Drink this."

Pungent smell. Potion? Couldn't drink. Breathing was difficult. Darkness started to overwhelm him.

"Reno! Keep awake, buddy. Hell, man, what have you done? How did you get here..."


How did he get here? It was a question Reno didn't think about often, other than in regards to the old saw, "Well, when a mummy and a daddy love each other very much..." He didn't remember much about his parents, but he could remember that they did, in fact, love each other very much. Loved him. Loved his sisters, one older by six years, one younger by three.

He never did know their names. To him, they were simply "Dad," and "Ma."

His earliest memory involved a small toy helicopter and riding on his father's shoulders in the back yard of their home in Kalm Town. Reno had no way of knowing how old he was at the time of this memory, but he thought around two or three years old. He was fairly sure he hit his father on the back of his shiny head with the toy, accidentally of course, but Dad didn't seem to mind that a bit.

"Whoa there, tiger," Dad said. "I don't have enough coverage up there to take that sort of punishment. I'm sure glad you take after your mother. Maybe you'll get to keep your hair." And he'd lifted Reno off his shoulders, giving him a hug before tickling his stomach.

Reno presented the toy proudly. "'Copter," he said. "Fly."

Dad grinned widely. "Sure does, son. That's a Shin-Ra helicopter. Maybe one day you can fly one of those. What do ya reckon?"

Reno recalled being very happy, perhaps even euphoric, at the thought. "Fly."

"You betcha, buddy." And Dad threw Reno up into the air until Reno was laughing. Dad always caught him, even though Ma worried.

His father was in the military, so he was away a lot. Reno was proud of his father, always, in his army uniform, but wished he was home more.

It was true that Reno favoured his mother's side of the family. His Ma had thick long red hair and almond-shaped blue-green eyes that turned up at the corners. She wasn't classically beautiful, but to Reno, she was the light of the world.

She always said she could never keep up with him, that she never knew where he found all of his energy. Then she'd laugh and scoop him up and tell him to never change. She wasn't classically beautiful, but Reno always thought she was the prettiest woman on Planet.

She did worry about him. He knew this because she said that to him, all of the time it seemed. "I can't keep up with you," and "I worry about you, Reno." That was what he remembered most about his Ma. That, and how warm she was. She gave the best hugs.

Dad spent all of his time with Reno, and Vickie, and Ma and the baby when he was at home. While Vickie was at school, Dad would take Reno out into the backyard and they'd play, or Dad would teach him to fight. Dad never had trouble keeping up with Reno.

"You'll never be a big feller," Dad would say, "but you have speed. Move fast, and you'll always better a big lumbering guy. Best defence: don't get in the way of the other guy's fist. Remember that, son."

Dad had a lot of things to say, and Reno remembered most of them, mostly because Dad said them a lot.

"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 would nod his head earnestly, not really understanding what Dad meant, but taking the statement on board as of utmost importance.

"Your sister is a smart cookie, bub. You can learn a lot from her."

It wouldn't be exaggerating to say that Reno looked up to his big sister. She had big brown eyes and a head of red hair: an unusual combination. The baby also had those big brown eyes, but her hair, once she finally grew some, just before she turned two, was a fine light brown.

"If something scares you, laugh at it. The rush you get when you're afraid is fun!"

This last when Reno ran into his parents' bedroom and hid under the covers one night during a storm. Fact is, Reno understood that last saying of his father's very well. He was rarely afraid. But thunderstorms were a good excuse to jump into bed with Ma and Dad, and that was even more fun when Dad was home, because Vickie would jump in, too, and Dad would tickle them and tell them stories, while Ma laughed with the baby on her lap. The baby would also giggle, once she'd grown old enough to know how.

Dad had many stories to tell. He'd tell them of the company he worked for, Shin-Ra, and how they provided schools and power and light. He'd tell them of the helicopters and the army; flying and battles won. He'd tell them of the president of Shin-Ra. "He's a hard man but a fair one. He is very interested in forwarding technology and in space exploration. What do you think, kids? Wanna fly into the stars one day?"

Reno could think of nothing better.

"Look after your Ma while I'm away, son."

Sometimes, Reno would crawl in with Ma when Dad was away, just to keep her company.

One day, when he was about five years old, Reno got it into his head that he needed to get closer to the sky. Climbing their home seemed to be the best way to go about this feat. Of course, he lived with his family in a two-story, wood-framed building, so when his mother came looking for him and discovered him clambering on the roof, she freaked, just a little.

"Reno, honey, what are you doing up there?" She sounded more strident than normal.

He, on the other hand, was completely calm. "Going to fly, Ma."

"I'd really rather you didn't do that. I mean it! Sit. Down. Now."

"All right, Ma." He sat. He didn't worry about falling. He never fell. A bird landed on the apex of the roof next to him. "Hey there, bird."

"Don't. You. Move!" Yup, his mother definitely sounded on the shrill side.

He looked down. At that moment, his older sister came out of the house, so he waved.

She wrinkled her nose at him. "You moron. What are you doing up there?"

"Just lookin'."

"Right. I'm coming up there. Don't move."

"I don't think that's a good idea, Vickie," Reno heard his mother say.

"Don't be silly, Ma. I'll get him down. Easy as cake."


"Cake," Vickie repeated firmly.

Reno watched as his sister headed towards the wall of the house. He didn't bother peering over the edge, that'd be silly. He'd fall. Besides, Vickie was next to him on the roof ridge in no time at all.

"You're worrying Ma, Reno."

"Sorry," he said.

"No you're not."

"Yes, I am. I don't like her to be upset. Why is that, anyway? I'm good."

"It's what mothers do."


They sat there for a moment and Vickie slung an arm over his shoulders. "You can't do this again for a while, okay?"


"At least, not when Ma's home." She grinned at him then.

He grinned back.

Vickie's smile faded. "Reno, Ma's not very well. You can't worry her any more."

"Ma's sick?"

"Yeah. You have to help look after the baby. She runs around a lot, like you. Ma can't keep up."

Reno thought about that seriously for a moment. "Vickie, is Ma going to die?"

"Don't be silly."

"When's Dad coming home?"

"I don't know, bub."


"I don't know."


"Because I don't, Reno," Vickie said crossly. "Can we get down now?"

"If you like," Reno said. What was the big deal, anyway? He never fell. Ever. He was a cat; a big, strong cat. He could land on his feet whenever he wanted to. He was quick; he was cool; he was... hungry. "What's for dinner?"


Kalm Town, 23 years until Meteorfall

Reno woke with a start. "Dad!" Conscious thought returned as his eyes adjusted to the darkness. That's right. Dad wasn't home. He was still away. He had been away for a very long time now. It seemed, to Reno, like he'd been away for ever. Maybe longer than ever before.

Lightning flashed, shortly followed by a thunderclap that shook the room. That was a close one. Reno sat in bed for a moment, considering. Ma seemed to be doing less and less every day, like she didn't have any energy. Vickie did a lot of the chores now, even missing school. Reno did his best. He kept an eye on his smaller sister while Ma rested.

Before he'd gone to bed that night, some men from the army had turned up on the doorstep. Ma had sent Vickie and Reno straight to bed, but he'd heard her crying long after he had supposed to be asleep.

Maybe he should go and keep her company. He popped out of bed and padded down the hallway, his bare feet silent on the cold wood floor, until he reached the room Ma shared with the baby.

He looked in on the baby for a moment, in her little nightgown, her thumb in her mouth. She was still fast asleep. Good. Thunder crashed overhead again, followed by the wind, whistling through the eaves of the house like a ghost. Reno shivered.

He climbed into Ma and Dad's big bed, and placed a hand on Ma's shoulder, shaking her gently. She didn't wake up, so Reno decided that he should probably leave her asleep. She needed her rest, Vickie kept telling him. And Dad would want him to do the best thing for Ma. So, Reno just lay down next to her, willing the storm to stop. Ma was very still. And cold. Why was Ma so cold? He curled in around her.

He would keep her warm.

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