Chapter Five

What Reno really wanted to know was how he could have kept a promise like that when he'd never had any control at all over his life. How could a five year old know what a promise even meant, let alone keep one?

His father hadn't intended to die, he knew that. No one ever did. Nevertheless, it was unreasonable, and Reno never realised that until he was much older. By which time, it was too late to change anything.


Midgar, 12 years until Meteorfall

Reno had almost forgotten what it felt like to belong somewhere, until now. After the day he and Rude had cemented their friendship with a deal, Rude had almost casually said to his mother at the dinner table that perhaps Reno should stay with them, "you know, permanent-like."

Rude's Ma had been almost girlish in her response. "That's a wonderful idea, Rudolph. What do you think, Reno?"

"I would very much like that, ma'am," Reno said.

Rude's Ma had looked at him sternly, then. "Ma'am's my grandmother. Call me Ma, or Felice. It's up to you."

Reno grinned. "Sure, Felice. If you insist." He considered "Ma" for the space of a heartbeat, but decided it wouldn't do. He'd had a Ma.

"I insist," she said, giving him another slice of meat. "Now eat up. You're way too thin."

"That's the catch," Rude commented. "You get to be s-mothered. Which is fine by me. Means she'll let up on me for a bit." He smiled at his mother, though.

Reno had a funny feeling that he wouldn't mind that, at all. In fact, he thought he would like it, very much. But if he was staying here, then he'd need a job. This whole "doing the housework instead" thing wasn't going to work for him. There was absolutely no reason, that Reno could see, why his shirt couldn't live just as easily on the floor as it could folded neatly on the back of a chair, as Rude insisted. It was Rude's room, so Reno complied, but it was a waste of time. He had better things to do. You now, like sleep, occasionally. Which was not always easy, given that Rude snored, and, for some stupid reason, regularly kicked Reno awake.

Besides, Reno could tell money was tight. He wasn't going to burden anyone, least of all Rude's Ma. Reno really liked Rude's Ma. So, he'd need a job. Just not at Krane's, he supposed, given Rude's reaction when he'd suggested it.

Reno thought, although neither Rude nor Felice brought it up, that there had once been another member of the family, someone that he filled the gap for, at least in Felice's case. Occasionally, she would stare into the distance sadly, although she'd cover and smile at him if she noticed him watching her. Reno knew she'd been a nurse, although he didn't know how it was she and Rude'd ended up down here, under the Plate, with Felice working at Wall Market instead.

Rude'd taken to the reading thing pretty well, and knocked Reno on his arse in the gym down the street a few times in return. Reno now knew exactly what not to do in a fight with a bigger kid.

Don't lose your temper. Don't overcommit. And, most importantly, don't ever call Rude "Rudolph" unless you were his mother or wanted to see stars from now until next Tuesday. Fuck, but the kid was strong for his age.

And he was angry. A lot. Reno couldn't work out exactly why, but then, Rude was a funny one, no doubt. And Reno didn't mean funny haha. Funny, weird. There was something going on with him, but he didn't tell Reno what it was. Reno didn't ask. It wasn't really any of his business, and if Rude wanted him to know, he'd say something.

Didn't stop Reno from wondering, though.

The best part of it was that there was a martial arts teacher at the gym, Zirengia. She was freaking amazing at what she did, and usually charged a fortune, for the Plate level, anyway, for lessons. But for some reason, she took Reno under her wing and offered to teach him for nothing.

It was probably because, as she said, "watching you blunder about wasting all of that natural speed just pisses me off, Reno. I couldn't stand to watch it any more."

Over a half-year or so, Rude's reading became fluid and so did Reno's fighting ability. Zirengia even gave Reno a job with some of the kids in the neighbourhood, teaching them to defend themselves.

Reno's frustration grew, however. He was getting nowhere with his family. Sometimes, he would be so happy living with Felice and Rude that he would momentarily forget about his sisters.

But only momentarily.

Sure, money was tight, although less so once Reno got his job, but Felice was a warm, kind-hearted woman and Rude...well. Rude was Rude. Reno liked him a lot.


Not long after his sixteenth birthday, only three days after Rude's seventeenth, Reno decided it was time to find out more about the family he was living with. They'd had cake. Twice. Man, but Reno loved cake.

He put his notes down on the desk and sat on the bed next to his friend. "So, Rude, tell me something."

Rude looked up from the Shin-Ra intranet handbook he was reading and frowned. "What?"

"What happened to your brother?"

Rude looked back at the book, but he wasn't reading it. His jaw worked for a while, then he sighed and put the book face down next to him. "I don't know. We think he died." He sighed. "He got involved with drugs. One day, he walked out of here and just never came home. Ma was fired shortly after that. Apparently, she spent too much time away from the hospital trying to track him down. I left school about the same time. We needed the money and our father was no help. So, here we are."

Reno nodded, placing his hand on Rude's shoulder momentarily. "Thanks, man. For taking me in."

Rude avoided his eyes, then picked up the book again. "It makes my mother happy." His tone made it clear that he wasn't going to say any more on the matter, but Reno knew there was more to it. He didn't want to push his luck, though, so he decided to leave it alone. It was weird though. The closer he and Rude got, as friends, the more Rude seemed to pull away.

He didn't have time to think about it, for there was a knock on the door.

"You boys in there?" Felice said.

"Yeah, come in, Ma," Rude said.

She stuck her head in. "What are you boys up to?" she asked, then frowned as she saw one of the Shin-Ra handbooks. She walked in and picked one up. "No. Let me rephrase that. What do you think you boys are up to?"

Reno caught Rude's eye.

Rude shrugged. "Studying."

Felice gave Rude one of her "don't presume I'm an idiot" looks. Reno'd learned early on where Rude had gained the ability to say whole sentences with one expression: from his Ma. And she was better at it. She sat on the bed next to Reno and hugged him affectionately. "Come on. Spill."

Reno glanced at Rude, who shrugged and nodded, so Reno told her everything about his family, how the girls had been taken somewhere else, how he'd never been told anything about them; where they were or how they were doing. "I've been to every orphanage in Midgar," he finished, "with no luck. There is one more, but I don't know where it is."

"And it didn't occur to you to just ask someone, I take it," she said mildly. "Like, maybe, me?"

Reno felt himself go red.

Felice sighed. "I wish I was sixteen--or seventeen--" she smiled fondly at her son-- "again so I could know everything, too, don't worry. Reno, honey, never take the long way around when there's someone older and, presumably, wiser nearby."

Rude grinned.

"Don't look so smug," Felice said. "You, at least, should know better. You know where I used to work."

Reno looked questioningly at his friend.

"Shin-Ra hospital unit," Rude said.

Reno gave Rude a steady look.

"Yeah. I know," Rude said. "But I figured Ma wouldn't want us messing around with this stuff."

"You've got that right," Felice said, watching Reno. "You two should stay away from all of this, no matter what the reason. You don't mess with the company."

"I don't want to mess with them," Reno said. "I just want to find my sisters. I don't understand why the location of this home is such a big secret, anyway."

"Same reason yours was. It's a military home," Felice said. "The girls are trained to go on to the Academy, or to the army if they're not good enough for the Academy. And..." she paused for a moment, as if she wasn't sure whether to say anything more.

"And?" Reno said. And his was? He hadn't known that. No wonder Stevens'd been so worried about expelling three boys on one day.

"And, from what I learned over time, the girls aren't always there with the knowledge of their parents," Felice said grimly.

"They're not all orphans?" Rude said.

"I don't think so," she said.

"Damn," Rude said. "That sucks."

Reno wondered briefly how many of the boys at his own orphanage may've had parents, after all. Hamill, for example. He'd been at the school because he'd been in an accident, and he'd been told his parents and brother had died. And come to think of it, Reno only had Stevens' word that his own father'd been killed in Wutai. "Yeah. See, now I do wanna mess with them."

"Reno," Felice said sharply.

"Kidding," he said with a grin.

"Look, Reno," she said seriously, "I am not saying another word until you assure me that you're not going to misuse the information."

Reno stared at his hands. "I just want to reunite what's left of my family. That's all."

Felice sighed. "I understand, and I will tell you where the last orphanage is, Reno. But there's something you have to understand, too; something not widely known. There are two major dangers in this city: the drug syndicates, and Shin-Ra, and out of the two of them I'd take my chances with the syndicates first. Corneo and his mobsters may kill you, but at least they'll face you while they're doing it. Shin-Ra does a lot of good, no doubt, but there's a price we pay for it."

"And what's that?" Reno said.

"Well. Let's just say that we're not as free as we once were. And that's all I have to say about that."


"It looks just like my old school," Reno commented as he and Rude approached the grey concrete building, surrounded by a interlocking wire fence with barbed pillars.

"Reminds me of a prison," Rude said.

"Yeah. Hardly somewhere you'd expect to see a bunch of girls playing jump rope." Reno motioned to the yard. There were at least two hundred girls that he could see, all in school uniform, within the grounds.

"What's the name of the Principal?"

"Colchek, your Ma said."

"Well, let's go find him then."

A large sign on the side of the gate declared "ALL VISITORS MUST REPORT TO THE OFFICE", so they headed in that direction. A smug-looking woman sat behind the desk in the front entry foyer. "Can I help you?"

"We're looking for Mr Colchek," Reno said.

The woman looked him up and down once. "Just one moment, please," she said, before disappearing into a side office in a flurry of clacking heels.

"Why didn't she just use the intercom?" Rude muttered.

"Didn't ask our names, either," Reno said.

A moment later, the woman reappeared. "Mr Colchek will see you now."

Reno lifted his eyebrows. "That was quick," he said as they wandered into the office.

Rude didn't say anything.

Mr Colchek was a large man with an even larger moustache. "How can I help you boys?" he said without standing, motioning them to the chairs in front of his desk.

Reno took a deep breath. "I am trying to locate my sister, Vickie," he said, then told Colchek the rest of the information he had: when their parents died; when he was taken to his own orphanage. "I have reason to believe that she was brought here with our other sister at that time," he finished.

Colchek peered at him. "Why do you think they came here?"

"Because this is the last place they could have come," Reno said.

Colchek pressed the button on his intercom. "Porter, will you please bring me File 23/458? Thankyou." He looked back at Reno. "I happen to remember having a Vickie here as a student. I believe she is the girl you seek."

The woman with the heels entered the room and handed Colchek a file, before leaving again.

Colchek scanned the file quickly, then looked up at Reno. His face was grim. "I'm sorry to have to tell you this, son," he said. "Vickie is listed as deceased."

Deceased. Deceased, what? Dead. Vickie was dead? "Deceased? How?"

"I'm afraid that information's classified."

Reno stood up and crossed his arms. "Don't give me that 'classified' bullshit. This isn't the army. What happened to her? When? How? Where? I have a right to know." Reno felt Rude's hand on his shoulder but he shrugged it off.

Colchek collected up the file and held it against his chest, his knuckles whitening. "It didn't happen here. It was after she went--elsewhere. It wasn't our responsibility. So if you're thinking of taking legal action--"

Reno worked very hard to keep his voice level. "Where did she go?"

"I don't know."

Reno and Rude exchanged glances, and Reno could see the same thought written across Rude's face that was running through his own mind. Didn't add up. "You don't know," Reno said flatly. "Then how do you know she's dead?"

"We were informed."

"Who by?" Rude said.

"That information is also classified."

"Why?" Reno said.


This was going nowhere. "What about my other sister, then?" Reno asked, trying to come at this from another angle. "Is she still here?"

Colchek frowned as he consulted the file again. "Vickie arrived here on her own."

"No way," Reno said. "Vickie wouldn't have allowed them to be separated."

"I can look into our files," Colchek said, avoiding Reno's eyes. "Her name?"

Reno winced. "I don't know."

Colchek looked at him steadily.

"But she would be about thirteen now. Big brown eyes, like Vickie's. Brown hair."

"I sympathise with you, lad. I really do. But I can't help you without a name. And we have no one of that description here."

"No brunettes with brown eyes," Rude said. "That's unlikely."

"No thirteen year-olds," Colchek said, sidling closer to his desk. "Our girls move on at the end of the year they turn eleven."

"Where to?" Rude said.

"That's none of your business, son," Colchek said.

Reno'd had enough. So close, and for nothing! "Listen to me, arsewipe," he growled. "These are my sisters you're talking about, and I want some information. I'll take that file, at least. Now. Unless you want us to beat it out of you."

Rude cracked his knuckles.

"Don't be stupid," Colchek said. "I have been more than forthcoming, especially given you, young man, have no way of proving you are who you say you are or that your other supposed sister even exists. I strongly suggest you leave now. Security is already on its way."

"He's bluffing," Reno said. "We didn't have guards at the orphanage. They didn't see fit to try to imprison us."

"Yeah, but we aren't here to keep the girls from getting out," said a voice from behind them. "More to keep them safe from, say, lugnuts like yourselves."

Reno turned around to see two security men, an older guy and a younger one. "We're no danger to anyone here," he said. "I just want to find my sisters. Sister. I don't understand why that's such a big deal. They're my family, man."

Colchek crossed his arms. "Take them out of here."

The guards took the boys by their arms and led them to the front gate silently.

"Listen, kid," the older guard said to Rude when they got there, "you're not as big as you think you are, yet, and you're probably half as tough. Take my advice. Go home. There's nothing for you to see here. And if you have a problem in future, try using your head before your fists. You'll get further." He turned to Reno. "Give it up, son. If Shin-Ra have decided that your sisters are gone, then they're gone."

"I'm not your son," Reno glowered.

"Have it your way," the guard shrugged. "Don't let me see either of you around here again, or there'll be consequences." He cocked his head at the younger guard, and they went back towards the orphanage.

"Colchek was afraid," Rude said as they passed through the institution's gate.

"And not of a long-lost next of kin suing his arse, either," Reno agreed.

"Shin-Ra," Rude said. "But, why?"

Reno frowned for a moment, thinking. Why would they classify her death? Presuming she was actually dead. Reno wouldn't believe it. If she'd died, he would have known. He would have felt it. He closed his eyes for a moment, swallowing hard. Shit. He was kidding himself. And without Vickie, he'd never find his younger sister. The baby. Why the hell couldn't he remember her name? Surely his Ma had used her name sometime.

"Reno, would you go and watch the baby? ... Reno, can you help Vickie with the baby? ... Reno, be careful, or you'll hurt the baby... Reno, look, the baby is smiling at you. She likes you."

He couldn't remember. He needed that file.

"She'd be looking for you," Rude said.

"What?" Reno said.

"The younger one. Vickie would've told her about you, right?"

"I guess so." Reno rubbed his eyes wearily. He hadn't expected this. Not this. How was he supposed to react, huh?

"Maybe Ma knows something," Rude said. "At least, she might know why all the fucking hush-hush."

Reno shook his head. "I think I need to go back to my old orphanage."


"Colchek had a point. I need my ID, and Stevens still has that. Now that I'm sixteen, he'll have to hand it over. Along with, I hope, my file."

"Surprised you didn't get that already."

"Stevens caught me at it the first time I tried it," Reno said with a rueful smile. "But then I was only eight years old at the time. But it means he stepped up security. Wish I hadn't lost his number, now."

Rude stopped walking. "Security."

"What?" Reno said.

"Why did he talk to us?"

"I'm sorry?"

"Colchek. He'd no reason to talk to us at all, man. We're a coupla kids to them. No ID for you, no proof you are who you say you are. He didn't have to say shit, ya know? Coulda just chucked us both out on our arses."

Reno frowned. Rude was right. "So why would he--?"

"I was watching him. I think he knew exactly who you are."

"Bastard." Reno started to turn to walk back towards the home, but Rude took him by the arm. "What?"

"Think about it. You've got all you're going to get there. We'll just get thrown out again."

Reno ran his hand through his hair. "So what do I do now?"

"Maybe Ma can tell us what to do next." Rude started walking again. "Or, perhaps, one of her friends will know something."

"I'd rather not involve her any further, Rude. I don't need her."

"Don't be an arse, Reno. Everyone needs someone eventually. Even you. Come on, let's go home."

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