Northern Lights

"She whispered softly
To tell her a story,
About how she had been wronged."
~ "Wash Away Those Years," by Creed

Deep in the Sector 3 slums, a young man was asleep in a chair, his hands locked behind his head. He looked to be about 17, and he was lean, but with a man's body. His hair was the colour of flames, and pulled into a short, messy ponytail. Strands of it fell over his shut eyes, which were blue-green when opened. He was clad in a pair of baggy black pants, and one leg was propped up on the table before him. Except for the pants and a gauzy, blood-stained bandage on one arm, he wore little. A tattoo of a black rose traced down one shoulder blade, and several silver earrings hung from his ears. A fly buzzed around the mostly bare room, and towards a young girl.

She brushed it away with a grimace, blowing her bangs out of her eyes. Her hair was the same fiery shade as the young man's, but hers was plaited in a thick braid down her back. She was dressed in a set of blue coveralls, a black T-shirt visible under the unzipped top. A line of freckles danced across the top of her nose, and her eyes, which were a bright green, were currently focused on a knife on the desk her brother's feet resided on.

Silently she reached her small hand up to grab the knife, but it was just as quickly intercepted by the hand of the young man in the chair.

"Nice try, kid. You're gettin' better, but you still ain't good as me."

"Damn cocky shithead," she muttered under her breath.

His eyes widened. "And just where'd ya learn words like that?" he asked with a thick city drawl.

She laughed softly. "And ya have every right to be surprised, dear brother. I often forget that you are the Great Reno, Possessor of the legendary Profanity-Free Vocabulary." Her metropolitan accent matched his.

He looked at her quizzically. "Huh?"

"I was being sarcastic."

Reno was still confused. "Huh?"

She sighed, defeated. "From you. I learn words like that from you."

A look of sudden understanding appeared on his face. "Oh..." He gave a short laugh before speaking again. "See, when ya speak English, it's really a lot easier to understand ya."

"That was English, doof."

"Yeah, well." He closed his eyes and tried to sleep again.

"Why are you so lazy?" the girl asked him.

"Why do you ask so many questions?" he countered, opening one eye in her direction.

"It's impolite to answer questions with questions."

"No, it's impolite to disturb someone's sleep." He shut his eyes and leaned back in the chair. The girl, seeing her brother's eyes closed, rose silently and tried to make her way to the door. "No..." her brother admonished.

She stomped her feet. "Oh, I see. Cause you're a lazy ass, I don't getta have any fun."

"Exactly, Rory. You're catchin' on."

"My name is Aurora," she hissed. He knew that, after all, he was her brother, and if anyone besides him had attempted to call her that, she would have taken their head off. She spun to face the outside and tromped out the door, but was just as quickly stopped by a hand on her shoulder.

"Rory, I said no."

Rory pouted a moment, before turning herself around to meet the eyes of her captor. "Reno, what's with the sudden ‘motherly instinct' of yours?" Reno stopped a moment before turning around and going back to his chair.

"Am I your mother? No! Then I ain't got no instinct. Sit your ass down, you're going nowhere." Rory glared, then stalked off to one of two small rooms behind Reno. "Where the hell you goin'?"

"To sleep!" she shouted back.

"It's seven at night!"

"You were sleepin'," she pointed out with a sneer that she had obviously acquired from her brother.

"That's different. I need my sleep." He clasped his hands behind his head and shut his eyes, leaning back in his chair.

"Yeah, ‘cause you're old and stupid."

"I ain't old!" he snapped. "I'm only...17, that's only 5 years older than yourself."

Rory smirked. She had caught him. By baiting him with her arguments, she had gotten him to argue himself into a corner. "Then why can't I go out?" she asked calmly.

He sighed defeatedly. "Why you wanna go out, anyway?"

"I'm hungry, and there ain't no food."

He laughed to himself and scratched his head. "Ain't there ever?"

She folded her arms and looked defiantly up at him. "No. Got any gil?"

"Yeah, yeah, lemme get it an' we'll go get some grub." He jammed his hands in his pockets and stalked back to the other of the two rooms. The small residence, formerly a shop, had been closed down when there had been a fire. The blaze had only been minor, but the shop was not extremely profitable, and the small damage done had been enough to put it out of business. To Reno, Rory, and most of the other ‘street rats,' the words ‘Closed' and ‘Abandoned' were beacons of hope to them. The store had been turned into a dilapidated, yet livable environment.

Reno pulled on a thin, white tank top and opened a steel box, finding a few gil. It looked like it might be enough to get something for Rory, Reno himself could wait, but it didn't look hopeful. He sighed and sat down on his mattress. Dammit, it just wasn't fair to her. He was 17; already as screwed up as he was ever gonna get. He was rough, dumb, and could only get what he needed through stealing, lying, and beating the shit outta people. She was his little sister, a beautiful, smart, cunning little creature with a sharp wit and sparkling eyes...and a good heart. She cared about people, and things, and things that happened to people. Reno didn't care. He didn't know how. He had always felt it had been his decision to leave, when in reality, they hadn't had a choice. They had been kicked out of their own home, but it had been Reno's decision to at least try and live.

He had, in essence, taken the bullet for her. He had gone out and ruined his own self, his own chances at hope and purity and all the dear sweet things she possessed, just so she could have a chance. He knew that she would die for him, because she had honor. He would die for her, so as not to have ruined himself in vain.

He sighed, and pocketed the few gil.

"You ready yet?" he asked Rory as she impatiently hopped up and down by the door. Reno grabbed his switchblade off of the desk and put it in is pocket as they walked out of the door.

"Did ya get some money, Reno?" Rory asked, jogging to keep up with his long stride.

"Uh, yeah." He flicked a strand of hair from his eyes.

"Will it be enough to get something? For you too?"

He blinked, but kept walking. "Um, maybe. Maybe enough for you."

"Reno, what if it isn't?" she nearly whined.

He hated it when she asked questions. That usually meant he had to answer them, and saying many of his ideas aloud did nothing more than to reaffirm him as scum. "Then, um, I'll just take somethin', like I always do. You know what to do to distract, right?"

"I won't do it," she said defiantly and folded her arms.

"Please Rory," he begged, just a hint of pleading in his voice. "Ya know I don' like-"

"HEY RENO!" a voice called. Reno looked up from beseeching Rory to see a group of his friends standing about. To Reno, they were more than just friends, they were his fellow gang members, the Jackals, and they were like brothers and sisters. Occasionally they drew envy from Reno's sprite of a biological sister, which caused her to mope uncontrollably.

"What up, Johnny!" Reno shouted back, stalking over to the other young man. His hair was a shade of red that rivaled Reno's own, and was styled into long spikes. He wore a black leather jacket, and spoke with an incredibly thick city drawl.

"Ah, nothin' much, Reno. We jus' hangin' out. Rulin' our turf, jus' like always." Both young men laughed, and shared a cryptic hand motion. Reno turned to the rest of the group. A blonde girl wearing a pair of tiny cut-offs and a tight tee shirt pouted at him through lipstick-red lips.

"So Reno, when ya gonna take me out like ya promised?"

"Lessee, Sienna, when ya get that job at the Honeybee Inn like ya promised!" he jousted back, and was instantly rewarded with laughs and high-fives from the others.

"I'm workin' on it..." she trailed.

"They won't hire ya, babe," a man with blue hair and a black goatee bantered. "They'll only hire classy dames there, not hookers in trainin'." More laughter ensued as Sienna stomped her foot.

"You're such a jerk, Tweak," said haughtily, turning to face a black-haired Jackal with several piercings and a cigarette poised at his lips. "Not like you, Mode." She clasped her hands and placed them under her chin, batting her eyes up at him. Mode, ever calm, rolled his eyes.

"Make up your mind, toots," Reno admonished.

"But why, when there's so many big, strong men around..." she reached up to squeeze Reno's bicep. He drew his arm away, raking his hand through his hair.

"Cool it Sienna." He looked up to the other guys. "Has she been in heat like this all day?" They laughed as Sienna pouted again, folding her arms under her breasts.

"Hey look," Tweak noticed, pointing at Rory, who stood several yards away, studying some graffiti and looking very bored. "Ya brought the squirt. Hey Rory!" He shouted. Rory glanced over at them.

"Don't call me that, my name is Aurora," she shouted at them.

"Aw c'mere, Female-Reno-Junior!"

Rory's eyes flamed and she showed off a certain hand gesture she had picked up from her brother earlier that week.

Tweak laughed and slapped Reno on the back. "I'm proud, man. You taught her well. C'mon, come over here, squirt!"

"Wait a sec, Tweak," Johnny advised, holding a hand up. "I got somethin' to tell Reno, and I don't want the kid havin' to hear it." Reno's eyes widened in questioning as he looked at Johnny. "Caiman is out to get your ass up on a pole, dude."

"What? What the hell'd I do to him?"

"Don't you know who Caiman is, man?"

"Uh, no."

Johnny put his hands on Reno's shoulders. "Caiman is the dude you jumped last week."

"He stole my favorite switchblade, and some of the gil I was savin' for Rory! He Goddamn well deserved it, the MF-er. I got a new blade, so if he wants it, tell him to c'mon, I'll kick his ass back to nursery school..."

Johnny looked into Reno's eyes. "Dude, Caiman is the leader of the Vipers."

Reno's eyes widened. The Vipers were a rival gang, ‘rival' meaning they had never directly spoken concerning turf. If you and your guys were any good, after you spoke about turf, the other people were no longer around to be ‘rivals' with. "The Vipers?" Reno knew they were not a good group to be rivals with. They were ruthless, and to them, honor was to one's own, and never to any others. The Jackals would occasionally know when to stop, where the Vipers would stop at nothing. The two had never rumbled, and inwardly, Reno knew it was because they didn't want to. The Vipers would much rather resort to much crueler methods of winning their wars. "Aw, shit."

"I just wanted to let you know that he himself is on a rampage for your ass. We need ya man, you're our leader. Don't get yourself hurt, cause, you're all, like, my best friend and shit." Reno grinned at the extent of Johnny's emotion.

"Be cool, man," Reno admonished, turning back to the rest of his friends. "Hey Rory! Come say hi to my friends!"

"Your friends can bite me," she snapped back.

"Aw, now that's not real sociable-like," Johnny said, leaning back on his heels.

"C'mon, Rory," Reno asked. Rory sighed and trudged over. Reno crouched down as Rory climbed onto his back, clutching him piggyback style.

"Hi assholes," she greeted them tiredly as Reno stood back up. They all laughed.

"She takes after you," Mode noted with a grin.

"Yeah, well. C'mon Rory, let's go," he said, walking off. "See y'all."

"Hey Reno?" Johnny shouted. "You watch yourself man, okay?"

"Yeah, whatever. See ya." Reno waved at Johnny and continued to walk off.

"Put me down," Rory ordered the second they were out of sight. Reno obliged and crouched, allowing her to climb onto the ground. "Reno, I don't want you getting in trouble with that Caiman guy," she said in a motherly tone, after a moment.

"You heard that?" he asked, worried.

"Yeah." She paused. "Reno, if you get pissed off and jump people when they steal from you, why do you steal from them?"

Oh no. Another question. "Rory, I..." He paused. "Rory...sometimes, you gotta do things. They're not things ya like to do, but sometimes, ya gotta do them to survive. I don't like it when ya find out some of the things I do, cause I don't ever want you doin' them." He folded his arms, hiding the track marks on his inner elbows. "Promise me you always be good," he begged, kneeling so he could look her in the eyes.

She blinked. "Why?"

Because I don't know how long I'll be around, the way things are goin' for me. "Because..." He took a breath. "Because I asked, and I'm your big brother, and ya love me. Please, Rory?"

She looked, and saw he was serious. "Sure. Sure, I'll be good."

Reno smiled. "Thanks." He stood back up, and they began walking again, soon reaching an alley right by the market. He stopped by a cart that sold baked goods and glanced at a sign, muttering a curse. He didn't have enough gil. Turning, he knelt by Rory again. "Kid, I need ya to help me out, c'mon, can ya do a little actin' for me?"

The ever present sparkle in her eyes faded and her features held honest confusion. "I thought I promised to be good," she said in a small voice.

Reno shut his eyes for a moment. Oh God, how he hated any life that made him confuse her and lie to her like he did. She was everything to him, the only thing that meant anything, and yet she was the part of him that took the most mistreatment. "Yeah, yeah, I did. But Rory, ya need to act, or..." Or what? Well, he knew what, but if he did that, then he would be extremely sick with himself. But the wound would heal, and she needed to eat. "Or ya gotta let me cut ya. Not deep, I promise, but just enough to make ya a little upset. Okay?"

"I won't lie, or act. Not after I made you a promise." She bravely held out her arm to him, shutting her eyes.

Reno took a deep breath and pulled out his switchblade, flipping it open. He bit his lip, trying to bite back the feeling of disgust that was growing within him. Damn it, damn any world that made him do this to her! She wasn't a purebred slum child; she was a princess with a heart of gold. Shutting his eyes, he quickly, and lightly as he could, sliced the top of her arm.

She gasped, and drew back, tears threatening her eyes. "Reno! Reno that hurt..." her face contorted as she tried to hold back the emotion.

Reno felt sick to his stomach. "Rory, Rory please...here," he dropped a kiss on her arm, right above the bleeding wound. It was nearly two and a half inches long, and bleeding profusely. "There, that'll make it better, I promise. You know what to do. Go on."

Rory nodded and ran into the market, holding her arm and stopping just outside of the baked goods booth. She let the tears stream freely as the merchant at the booth left his post to tend to the crying girl. Reno stealthily crept from the alley and snatched a paper-wrapped item from the stand, along with a few gil. Pocketing the newly acquired items, he went back into the shadows, and waited for a moment, resting his head against the cool brick of the alleyway. Let Rory forgive me, he silently prayed to no one at all. He stopped and shook his head. Prayers were foolish when prayed by the faithless. To have faith, one had to have hope, and all his hope was personified in the form of a bright-eyed, yet cynical twelve-year old. He had just hurt his hope. Shaking his head again, he stalked from the alley and reached Rory, in the market. "Rory! There you are! Did ya hurt yourself, kid?"

The merchant looked up at Reno as the young man drew the girl to her feet. "And who're you, boy?"

"He's my brother," Rory said, rolling her shoulders and offering them both a weak smile. Reno returned it.

The merchant looked at them both. He recognized the young man as the leader of the Jackals, and therefore a criminal, but the girl easily passed for his little sister. They both had the same red hair, pale skin, and sharp features. "Alright, alright. Get outta here and you two be careful."

"Right sir," Rory said politely. "Thank you for the bandage, sir." She tugged the wrap on her arm as her and Reno walked off. When they reached the shadowy alleyway, Reno crouched and hugged Rory.

"I'm sorry, kid." He begged his apology, pleaded for her forgiveness.

"It's okay, Reno. I'm fine. Hurts a little, that's all." She hugged him in silence for a moment. "Did ya get me somethin' to eat?"

"Sure." He reached into his pocket and pulled out the package. She unwrapped the paper and began to slowly eat the sticky bun, savoring the sweet taste.

"It's good. Want some?" she asked, holding out the pastry.

Well of course he did, it was food, and good food at that, but it was for her. He was a waste of human skin, and she a beautiful princess-at-heart. "Nah. You have it." They walked in silence for a while, before Reno looked up and saw the figure walking down the other side of the street.

Even in the darkness, Reno could see he was tall and well built, with platinum blonde hair slicked close to his head. He wore a long dark grey coat and torn up, baggy jeans. His eyes flicked around dangerously as he searched for his prey. This was Caiman.

Reno knew he was the target. Muttering a curse, he turned to Rory. "Hey Rory, go on home, okay? I got somethin' to talk about with a friend."

"Don't lie to me," she ordered. "That's Caiman, isn't it."

Reno set his jaw. "Yeah, it is...Rory, just go...go see Sienna and the boys, okay? They'll take care of ya ‘til I get back."

Rory nodded slowly and ran off.

Reno looked after her. I hope to hell that I get back, he thought, palming his switchblade and walking toward Caiman.

Caiman crossed the distance between them faster and stalked to Reno, glaring at him. "The hell...you babysittin' or somethin', Reno?"

"No, that's my sister," he answered, his face cold as death. He would not fight him. Not now, when he had to go get back to Rory. "Why you out lookin' for me, Caiman?" he asked.

"My wounds have healed, Reno. The wounds that you gave to me. It's time to return the favor."

"I ain't gonna fight ya, Caiman," Reno stated calmly.

Caiman flipped out his switchblade, formerly Reno's switchblade, and held it menacingly. It took all of Reno's self-control not to pull out his own knife and end Caiman's pathetic existence right then. "You ain't? I bet you will. I bet I can get ya to fight back."

Reno narrowed his eyes challengingly. "Try me, Caiman. You can take that little knife of mine an' gut me like a fish, and I ain't gonna fight you back. Not here, not now." Caiman darted forward and quickly slashed Reno's cheekbones, first one, then the other.

Reno's head jerked back, and he shut his eyes as the blood dripped down his face. He gently touched a hand to his cheek, glaring at Caiman. "I ain't gonna fight you," he said slowly.

Caiman quickly flipped in his blade. "Watch yourself, Reno. You watch all that's dear to you."

Reno chewed the inside of his lip, but remained otherwise unfaltering. He knew only one thing dear to him, and he hoped to hell he could protect her. "Don't do anything you might regret, Caiman."

"I'm a Viper. I have no regrets." He pocketed the knife and turned his back on Reno, walking off.

Reno's cheeks still smarted from the knife. The blood had dried, leaving his face feeling stiff.

Wary, he turned and began walking home.

****

"Rory, c'mon Rory, it's okay," the black-haired man consoled her.

"Don't call me that, Mode," she sulked as another tear rolled down her cheek. "Only Reno can call me that."

Sienna scoffed and stalked across the burnt-out shop, swatting Mode's hand off of Rory's shoulder and replacing it with her own.

"Aurora, doll, Reno's gonna come back."

"I know, he's just gonna be all bloodied up," she sniffed.

"Don't worry kid, Reno can take Caiman out," Johnny said, resting a hand on Rory's head.

She hiccuped. "That's not what you were actin' like earlier."

Tweak sighed. "Rory-" He stopped as he saw the girl glaring. "I mean, Aurora, Reno's just talkin' to Caiman, that's all, yeah."

Sienna looked up from comforting Rory to raise an eyebrow at Tweak. "She ain't that stupid, Tweak." Rory coughed as two more tears dripped off of her chin.

Mode took a long drag off of his cigarette and held it, before blowing it out thoughtfully. "At least ya told us where he is, kid." Rory sniffed.

A moment later, Reno stormed into the abode. His cheekbones were cut with twin slashes, and blood had dried on his face. His eyes held danger, but Rory saw past the mask and into the fear that lay behind. "Reno!" she called, jumping up and running to him. He touched her head absently as he walked past. "Reno?" she asked, confused as to why her brother seemed so distant.

Johnny looked up at him. "Reno, you want us to leave?" Reno nodded slowly, and the other Jackals left.

"But don't..." Reno started, seemingly numb. "Don't let your guards down, okay?"

"Sure, no problem," Mode, the last to leave, answered before exiting.

Reno dazedly walked back to the cracked sink and began to wash the blood off of his face.

Oh God, oh God, Caiman, the Vipers...they never made promises they couldn't keep. And they had promised to find a reason for him to watch his back. He winced as the soap entered the wounds on his face. He probably needed stitches, and if he went to the hospital he could probably get himself and Rory off of the streets for a night, but Reno would not allow it. If the Vipers were going to come after him, let it be in his own home, where he knew every step, every creak, every escape. He shut off the water, flinching as he patted his wounds dry. Turning his head sideways, and glancing in the cracked mirror, he ran a finger alongside the edges of the slashes.

"Reno?" a small voice asked from behind him. His eyes shifted and he saw Rory in the mirror, standing in the doorway. She was dressed for bed in an old shirt of his that reached her knees and slid off one shoulder.

"Yeah, Rory, you go on to bed and I'll be there in a minute." She smiled weakly, and padded to her room. Reno watched her walk out, then turned, rinsing the blood off his hands.

He studied his hands, callused, cut, and worn. The hands that fought, stabbed, and stole from his adversaries were the same hands that held his little sister, stroked her hair as she cried.

The same hands that cut her were the same hands that bandaged her wounds. He clenched his hands into fists, turning on his image and stalking out of the small room.

Rory was already in bed, curled up under the covers, when Reno entered. She smiled at him. "I'm sorry," she said.

"For what?"

She shrugged. "I dunno. You just looked like you wanted someone to take the blame, and I thought I would work." Reno gripped the doorjamb. She had tried to help, but her words cut like shards of diamond.

"Mmm. Don't blame yourself, I'm just in a poor mood, that's all. It ain't got nothin' to do with you." She smiled again, and held out her arms to him. He crossed the floor, kneeling and hugging her closely. He felt her small arms wrap around him, and the feeling that should have been sweet and reassuring was bitter. He felt so undeserving. "Hey, Rory, I'm sorry about today," he said earnestly.

She disengaged, her face alight with the smile only he saw. Not the smile of bitter cynicism, the one much too old for her young face, but the one that could light up even the darkest of catacombs. The one that kept his candles of coherence lit. "It's okay, Reno. Now I gotta scar, just like you. You got scars, now so do I."

He swallowed hard and offered her a weak grin. "G'night, Rory," he mumbled, kissing her forehead. "Get to sleep."

"Night, Reno." She snuggled under the covers, the exertion of the day quickly taking its toll on her.

He walked out, shutting the door to her room and entering his own. Her small girlish voice echoed in his head, trapped in the prison of his skull. ‘Now I gotta scar, just like you. You got scars.' He did. He had scars all over him, fight scars, abuse scars, drug scars, initiation scars, needle scars, scars from people he had considered his best of friends. And then, perhaps, the scars that were the most prominent, the irreversible scars the street had left on his poor, young soul when he had still been a boy. The scars that cut so deep he still bled inside from them, and those were the ones that ached so bad they kept him awake at night, shaking and clutching the edge of his reality, praying to anyone or anything he could keep his grip.

‘Now I gotta scar, just like you.'

Just like him. He never wanted her to be just like him, to endure the screaming of his soul, the aching of his tortured mind. He never wanted her to have her heart ice over, to have her eyes voluntarily fail her, to leave her blind to cruelty.

‘Now I gotta scar.'

"No!" He adamantly denied his thoughts, throwing his head into his hands and raking his fingers through his hair. "No..." He looked down at his hands, the hands that held the capability to cut and to heal. They were shaking. He shook all over, his rage slipping into place of his sanity. He had to gain control, or he would lose his mind. There was no way he would let himself sleep tonight, not with the promise of Vipers at his door, not with the promise of nightmares in his brain. He lay back on his bed, panting. The strain his thoughts put on him was dangerous, which was exactly why he tried not to think. He thought with his fists, with his blade, and that was how it had to be. It had to be. There was no going back. He shut his eyes against the pain of thought, setting his jaw. He could feel himself slipping...Hold on, Reno...slipping...further and further....No...c'mon, don't do this...

He let go.

****

Reno's eyes flew open, his mind racing. Had he been asleep? Oh God, oh God, he had let his guard down, for a minute, for only a second he had loosened his grip and let himself drift away...

Rory. ‘You watch all that's dear to you...'

Rory. He rolled out of the bed, running to her room. Her optimism grew in him, and he expected to open the door and see her, breathing peacefully, sleeping soundly.

If the streets had taught Reno anything, it had been to always expect the unexpected.

Rory' s bed was empty, and the sheets were rumpled. The window was smashed, and it was obvious there had been a struggle. "Oh shit, Rory?" he shouted. He knew she wasn't there, but where? Where was she?

God damn the Vipers, damn their conniving ways. They could have had him, they could have burned him at the stake, but they had to take Rory. He ran out the door and into the black streets, still calling her name. "Rory!" he yelled, his question turning into a plea. She had to be here, she wasn't gone. He found himself in the center of the empty market, calling her name over and over. Suddenly he felt a pair of hands close on his shoulders. He turned around, blade in hand, prepared to gut his assailant.

It was Johnny, his eyes wide. "Where is she!" Reno yelled, his voice just short of cracking with emotion. "Where?"

Johnny clutched Reno's shoulders and shook him, trying to break him out of his panicked trance. "Reno. Reno! I know where Rory is. I was comin' to tell ya, when I ran into ya here."

"Where?" Reno felt frozen, his insides one brick of ice. God damn the Vipers, damn Caiman, let them all burn...

"The hospital, some guy loaded her into his car and took her to the hospital."

The hospital...oh God she was hurt... "The hospital! Who was the guy? Was he a Viper? Dammit, Johnny if he was a Viper..."

Johnny looked Reno in the eyes in an attempt to calm him down. "Reno, Reno, he wasn't a Viper. It was some older guy. He found her in the street..."

"Oh GOD, in the street...what'd they do to her..." Reno rambled, Johnny's voice barely registering.

"She was...well, she was pretty beat up, man. I dunno how else to put it...but the man said he was gonna take her to the hospital and get'er all patched up...Reno? Reno?"

Reno had spun and made off for the hospital at run, his nightmares nipping at his heels.

****

The secretary looked up as the young man stormed into the hospital lobby. He was breathing heavily, looked like the typical criminal punks that ruled these streets. "Yes?" she questioned haughtily.

"My sister..." he panted. The young man may have been a criminal, but she could see true emotions, fear and pain in his eyes. Perhaps she could at least hear his problem before calling security.

"Name," she sniffed.

"Reno." He coughed.

The secretary raised an eyebrow. "Your sister's name is Reno?"

Reno shook his head, clearing the cobwebs of confused exhaustion out of his brain. He had run without stopping through two sectors to be here, and it hadn't been easy. But he had to get to Rory. The thought was pure adrenaline, racing through him like a drug. She needed him, she was hurt. His hands, his wounding hands had to heal her and make her whole once again. "No...her name's Rory."

The secretary raised her eyebrows and typed something into the computer terminal to her right. "There are no Rories, I'm sorry." She offered a bitter smile, and motioned to the door.

Reno collapsed in near-exhaustion, holding himself up by the desk.

Rory needed him. She was hurt.

He stood back up, the desk supporting his weight. His eyes held cold danger and determination, and he lit them afire as he stared the secretary down. "Maybe she checked in as Aurora, or Aurora Reno, or maybe she wasn't able to check in and ya need to search that little NETWORK-" he punctuated the word by slamming his hand on the top of the monitor, "of yours for every red-haired, green-eyed, twelve-year-old beautiful little girl that came in here tonight! I'll wait, miss." He folded his arms as his defense, his fear turning into his raging attack.

The secretary went pale and looked at Reno. He looked like a dumb delinquent, but held a deep love for the sister he spoke of. "Upstairs, room 236. She's in serious condition, and you'll be lucky if you can even get in to see her."

Serious condition? Didn't that mean she could die? No, she wouldn't. Not without him there. He turned on his heels and sped up the stairs, his heart the only thing racing faster than his mind. He reached the room soon enough and looked in.

Rory was there, hooked up to machines. She looked so tiny, dwarfed by the tubes and pipes. She was awake, but looked tired, world-weary. She was too young to be weary of this world, but then again, so was he. He turned the knob, entering the room to the apparent shock of the nurse.

"You can't be in-" she began.

"Rory!" Reno called, interrupting the nurse.

The nurse grabbed his arm and looked at him, angry. "You can't be in here."

"I'm her brother, I'm the only one who takes care of her..."

The nurse's eyes fell. "Right. If that's true, come this way, I need to speak with you." Reno kept his eyes locked with Rory's as the nurse led him to the other side of the room. She drew a curtain between them and Rory, then turned to Reno. "I don't have to assume that you two are..."

"Stupid street punks?" he snapped angrily. "Yeah, that's us. That's all we are, all we'll ever be."

The nurse pursed her lips. "Please, if you'd listen. As you can see..."she checked her card. "Aurora is in quite serious condition. She's awake, but only because we have her on life-support. Please keep in mind that life-support is quite expensive per day, and I don't believe you have the money to pay for it..."

Reno knew where this was going, and he tried desperately to steer it away. "No, no, c'mon, there's gotta be somethin', I can work here to make the money...anything..."

The nurse laid a hand on Reno's shoulder. "The salary you would be paid yearly, is what the life-support would cost weekly."

Reno sat down on the other bed, feeling faint. No... "There's..." he laughed nervously. "There's gotta be somethin', anythin' I can do...you...you're NOT tellin' me that my little sister's gonna die!" Tears threatened his eyes and he gulped, attempting to hold them back.

"Son...there's..." The nurse squeezed Reno's shoulder as his head dropped into his hands and his fingers tugged through his hair. "There's really nothing that can be done. I suggest you save yourself some trouble and let us turn the machine off."

Reno looked up at the nurse, horrified. "Are...you sayin' that we should kill a little girl? My God, I got more good in me that that..."

"Son, she's in a lot of pain. She was stabbed several times in the stomach." Reno felt sick, and the world began to spin. He choked back the tears, the sobs that begged to escape. "We sewed her up, but there's a good deal of internal bleeding that can't be fixed. I'm sorry son. We'll give her some medicine to put her to sleep, then I'll turn the machine off. She won't even know."

Reno gulped. "Only...only under one condition."

"What's that, son."

He looked up at the nurse, his eyes wet with tears. He was sick of holding back, but he had to be strong for Rory. Just this one last time. "I gotta do it. I gotta pull the plug, no one else can."

The nurse nodded. "I'll let you see her now." She pulled the curtain back and let Reno see Rory. Up close, it was all Reno could do to keep from crying out. Her face was a mass of bruises, as were her arms. A large gash snaked down the left side of her face, as well as one near her collarbone. One of her eyes was swollen shut, and her lip was split. Reno nearly burst into tears. His little sister, his bright angel, had had her wings torn. Underneath all of the tubes and bandages, he could barely see her, but she was still beautiful, for she was there.

He was afraid to hold her, knowledgeable of her deep wounds. Did she know? Did she know what was going on, or that she was going to die? Oh God Oh God Oh God... "R-Rory!" he choked out. He looked into her one visible eye, and nearly became lost in the green tormented pool. "How ya feelin', kid," he mumbled, stroking her forehead.

Her lip trembled. "My stomach hurts," she whimpered.

Reno's breathing quickened as he tried to hold back his emotion. Those bastards, those Vipers, look what they had taken from her. She wasn't supposed to die, she was supposed to grow up and get a wonderful job, get married at a faerie-tale wedding. She had to have a great guy, one that was nothing like her brother, and make beautiful nieces and nephews to keep away from Uncle Reno, if he were still alive. She was supposed to grow old, and live a long life. She was only twelve years old, and all of her life had been stolen from her unjustly. He tentatively sat down on the bed, holding her as if she were a fragile doll. "It's okay, Rory...you're gonna be okay..."

Her lip trembled again, and with a small wail, she burst into sobs. "Reno, I don't wanna die...I don't wanna die..."

He squeezed his eyes shut as tightly as he could, letting a few tears slide down his cheeks. Rory fell against his chest, shaking with sobs. "Shh...shh...Rory, you're not gonna die...you're gonna be okay..." he trailed off as his voice cracked.

"Then why won't you look at me when you say that?" Reno nearly choked, horror-stricken as Rory continued her sobbing. She realized she was going to die. His Rory, his innocent, realized she was about to go away from everything she had ever known. "Reno..."she sobbed. "I don't wanna leave you....I don't wanna leave...I wanna stay here....Don't let them make me go..."

Reno held on to her, tightly as he could without hurting her. "Shh....Rory, shh...just..." He didn't know what to tell her to do. He shut his eyes, and quickly opened them again. Whenever he shut his eyes, he saw the horrors of reality. What would an innocent, a young girl with an imagination see? "Just close your eyes...imagine things are different...imagine things are okay...where do you wanna be? You can be anywhere in the world."

"I...wanna be here with you." Sobs overtook her as she once again fell into Reno's arms.

The nurse came in with the IV bag that held the sedative to send Rory into her dreamless sleep, before Reno was to pull the plug. "Hey Rory," he beseeched softly. "The nurse is gonna give you some medicine to help ya sleep, okay?"

She sniffed. "Okay."

"Anything, um, you wanna tell me, cause I think they'll make me leave while you're sleeping." Reno felt so sick. It had always hurt, lying to Rory, and now it hurt most of all.

"I love ya."

"I love ya too, kid." He squeezed her against him until she murmured a soft ‘ow.'

"Hey Reno?"

"Yeah."

"Since you're goin' out, do ya think you could scrounge up the gil to get me some ice cream from the cafeteria?"

Reno's heart splintered. Her innocence... "Uh, sure."

"Reno?"

"Yeah."

"You ain't gonna leave ‘till I get to sleep, are ya?"

He hugged her. "Wouldn't dream of it." She smiled and lay against him. "Night Reno."

"G'night, Rory." He kissed her forehead. In a moment she yawned, and drifted to sleep.

Reno looked up to the nurse, who nodded once. Reno reached over and laid his trembling hand on the wall plug, drawing blood as he bit his lip.

He tugged.

The monitor went dim, and Rory arched slightly in her sleep, her final breath catching slightly before she exhaled, one last time. "Oh my God..." Reno shook all over, unable to comprehend the depth of his actions. "Take out the tubes," he ordered the nurse. "Take out the damned tubes..." The nurse complied, before leaving the room and shutting the door behind her.

The tubes gone, Rory was no longer attached to any machine. Reno drew her into his arms, holding her tightly as he could. "Oh God...Rory...Rory, wake up, c'mon kid, it's Reno, c'mon, you're all better, the hospital fixed you Rory, COME ON!" He sobbed his final words, breaking down. His sobs shook through him like storms, knocking him to a depth he had not previously known existed. What was left for him?

His faith, his hope, his belief in life...died in his arms as he tried desperately to revive it. "RORY!" he sobbed at the top of his lungs, the tears burning hot paths down his scarred cheeks. The salt stung his wounds, but the pain in his face was trivial.

His heart had burst, and his life, his love, was spilling as he tried to pick it back up. All he wanted was to hear her laugh, see her smile. He wanted to hear her cuss out his friends, he wanted to get mad at her and have her sneer back at him. He wanted her to cry again.

He feverishly wished for five more minutes, even two minutes, or one. Even five seconds so he could say all of the things he should have said, would have said. It was hopeless, now.

Without Rory, his life was hopeless.

She was his beacon, his Northern Star, calling him to a home whose location was meaningless. His home was where she was...

Where was she now? Was she finally the princess she deserved to be in life, but could never achieve? Was it his fault? Her questions had always made him uneasy, but he would give his own life to hear her ask him one more ethical question, and for him to have to reaffirm himself as the scum he believed himself to be.

He lived for her, to make her happy, keep her safe.

Now what did he live for? His purpose, his hope had died in his arms only moments before.

Suddenly, realization swept over him like a tsunami. She had died because of him. Because he was worthless, rough and dumb, she had died. She had lost her life over something so trivial, so stupid. Someone had stolen a few trinkets, and paid with a few bruises. Then a little girl had paid the ultimate price.

Caiman and the Vipers would pay their own price. Reno knew he would see to that. Rory's death would be avenged.

Reno stopped, brushing away his tears and looking up. He had a cause. For the first time in his life, he fought for a cause, a true honorable cause. He would attack the Vipers, and kill as many as he could before they took him down.

He reached up and took one of the silver hoops out of his right ear, gazing at it. It was a simple earring, engraved with a small J. Each of the Jackals owned one, and when the ring was gone, you weren't a Jackal. He gently placed the earring in Rory's small, cold palm and curled her hand around it.

"This is yours to keep, kid," Reno mumbled, laying down next to her in the bed. He gently wrapped his arms around her, and laid his head near her shoulder. As he glanced up at her, he began to feel choked again. She looked so peaceful, so serene. As if her sleep wasn't eternal.

He gently shut his eyes, letting another heavy tear roll down his face.

****

"Reno..."

The word was a soft summons, a song beckoning him amidst the sound of her childish giggle.

"Reno, c'mon already..."

He opened his eyes to see a young girl, standing in the middle of a field. She was clad in a pristine white dress that did nothing to hamper her progress as she ran about the meadow, laughing in the sunshine. Her hair was plaited into a thick red braid, and her green eyes sparkled when she smiled.

"Reno, you comin' or what?" she demanded with a grin, stopping in the field.

"Rory..." he breathed, unable to believe it was her. "Rory!"

"We made it, Reno! We're outta Midgar! C'mon, come play with me," she pleaded, bouncing on the balls of her feet.

He laughed with genuine joy, a feeling that was foreign to him. It was almost as foreign as the feeling of sunshine on his face, the scent of a field of grass. Everything was exactly as he had imagined it, eerily so. He raised an eyebrow at his little sister.

"Reno! Come here! We finally made it outta Midgar, so get over yourself and come frolic in the damn flowers!"

It was definitely Rory. Reno ran to her, but stopped as a wall of solid steel dropped in front of him. He turned in shock as walls dropped from all sides, closing him in. There was no roof, but the barriers were too high to climb.

He could still hear Rory, begging for him to come. "Reno? Reno, come on! Reno, I need your help, why aren't you here?"

"Rory!" he shouted, pounding the partitions with his fists. "Rory..."

"Reno, why can't you be here for me when I need you most?"

Reno sat up, drenched in a cold sweat. He was still in Rory's hospital room, but she was gone, the sheets had been changed, and the towering machines were gone. Her childish voice still echoed in his head, pulled straight from his dream.

Reno, why can't you be here for me when I need you most?

He shook his head, clearing the image from his head. The sounds of her pleading scattered, and he found he was able to collect his other thoughts, of which there was only one.

Revenge.

Reno leapt out of the bed, filled with a suddenly crystallized emotion that burned paths through his veins, keeping him alive.

He turned out the door, his purpose hardened in his mind.

****

Johnny looked up as Reno burst into the small abode he called home. Johnny had been reclined on the floor, and appeared to have been praying. His forehead had rested on his clasped hands, and the small act of solemnity, of civilization struck Reno. Reno was speechless.

"Hey, Reno!" Johnny said, feigning cheer. He knew it was useless. The look of chiseled hatred in Reno's icy eyes said more than words. "Rory...is...?" he asked softly.

Reno winced at the mention of his deceased sister's name. "She, uh....she didn't..."

Johnny nodded, and stood up, clapping a hand on Reno's shoulder. "Hey, man, I..." Johnny was doing all he could, but there was little to be done. When the streets raised you, they were the only ones to hear your cries. "I was prayin' for her, man."

Reno turned his gaze to Johnny. "Why?"

"What?"

"Why? Why were you prayin', and who were you prayin' to? Where'd you find your faith? And most importantly, what made you think that there is a god? He, or She, or It put us here, and He, or She, or It takes us away. And this, this god of yours, does It get a real kick outta stealin' little girls away?" Reno spat the words as if he was sucking poison from a snakebite.

Johnny stilled, unable to argue. "I..." he began, unsure of what to say. He didn't know where he got his faith.

"Look, just forget about it, okay? I came here to get some weapons from you. And if you're gonna help, don't for a second do it because I'm a Jackal. Cause I ain't."

"What?"

"I ain't a Jackal. These streets, they were my sister's mother, and her murderess. I'm sick of it. Caiman, the Vipers, they killed Rory, and they're gonna go to wherever it is that you think bad folks go when they die. They're goin' down, if I have to follow them." Reno blinked. "Help me because you're my friend. You're my brother, Johnny, and it's time for me to leave Mom. Think of it as my final wish."

Johnny nodded. "Right. Right, man, Follow me." Johnny led Reno into his weapon room, his head spinning.

****

Reno leaned on a brick wall outside of Caiman's place, his eyes shut tightly. His breath came in short gasps, and he tried with all of his might to calm himself. He couldn't. He knew what he wanted to do, and he was not afraid.

He was not afraid to die, to sacrifice himself for his cause. He just couldn't handle the pressure.

Reno knew he had one chance to kill Caiman. If Caiman did not die, then Reno would die at his hand. However, Reno would not let that happen. If he had to claw him to death with his bare hands, Caiman would not live.

Reno breathed again, struggling to regain his composure. He had no way of knowing how to clear his mind, generally there was never much to clear out of his one-track mind. But this time, he had a purpose for his actions.

Reno looked up to the stars, losing himself in their beauty. He nearly gasped at the sight, for such things had never been noticed by the young man, who for a moment would have appeared as an innocent boy to anyone watching. His gaze turned to the heavens, he watched and wondered. What happened up there? In the whole world, outside of his urban prison, what went on? Did people love each other based on hearts, and not initiation rituals? Did sisters die there?

He didn't know, and was convinced he would never find out. However, for that moment, lost in the night sky, Reno saw where Johnny's faith could have bloomed. Reno wanted so badly to have faith, to believe in something besides hatred. He refused to pray to any deity who would take Rory from him, so instead he prayed to her. His dear little sister had to be an angel, somewhere up there, so his soul reached out to her.

"Rory? Hey, it's me, kid. I dunno what I'm doin' and I think that any other time I'd feel like an idiot for talkin' to myself, but I need to talk to you. I need to believe in something, and you were the only thing I ever believed in. You saved me for all 12 years you were in this hole with me, kid. Thanks.

"I gotta ask you one more favor, though. I dunno if we'll end up at the same place someday, and I doubt that guys like me end up wherever you are. But please Rory, I'm doin' this for you. I need your help, kid. Someone's gotta look out for me, and you were the only person who ever cared. You gotta watch me. I need someone to look out for me, just once, and no one ever did. And now, just once, can ya watch over me? Thanks kid. I owe ya. I owe ya my life, my sanity. I owe you everything, Rory. Everything." His voice cracked slightly as a single tear dripped off of his chin and landed on his pants leg, leaving a small wet spot against the fabric.

He reached into the twin holsters at his sides and brought out the two guns Johnny had supplied him with. He kissed them each, holding them up to the sky. "Rory, gimme hope, strength, anythin'. Anythin' at all."

He lowered his hands, mentally ending his prayer. Reno never thought of it as a prayer, to him it was a plea, a summons, and in his mind, he was on his knees, kneeling at Rory's altar. Still clutching the cold metal weapons, he turned and silently began walking towards the door.

The wind whipped around him, and though he wore no coat, he did not flinch. His heart would never get any colder than it was at that moment, and a fire burned within him.

Reno's inferno.

His crimson hair blew around his wounded cheeks, and a ball of cold steel wrapped around his empty heart. He was ready. He paused in front of the door, glaring daggers. He cocked both guns and with a breath, kicked the door open.

Three Vipers resided in the room, and gasped as Reno entered. Two of them were dead in a second, while the third lunged for him. Reno ducked the man's attack and spun, bringing the butt of his left-hand gun down on the man's head. He crumpled, and Reno quickly prevented him from ever awakening. Reno stood silent, aghast at the violence that lay in his path. Three men lay dead, their blood spilt on the ground.

Suddenly, a pain like no other erupted in Reno's side. He gasped and dropped the gun in his left hand, grabbing the wound. He felt a knife slide out, and looked up into the face of Caiman.

"Reno."

"Caiman, you...."

Caiman let out a chuckle, which grew into a maniacal laugh. "How ironic that your death shall be on my hands as well, considering it was I personally who gutted your dear little sister...."

Rage overcame Reno's pain and he brought the muzzle of his remaining gun into Caiman's mouth, backing the larger man against a wall. Caiman's eyes widened, and he gagged in shock. "The worst taste in the world," Reno spat, shaking with anger and hatred for this man, "is the taste that rises in the back of your throat when you realize that the only thing close to you is dead. The second worst..." he paused, reveling in the fear that grew in Caiman's eyes. "Is lead." And with that, Reno pulled the trigger, turning his head as Caiman joined his fallen comrades. The gun fell to the floor with a clatter, and Reno looked around at his destruction.

He stumbled out into the street, gasping for breath and grabbing at his wounded side. He fell against a wall outside, gazing almost dreamily up at the stars. He doubled over and coughed, spitting blood onto the pavement. His eyes turned back to the heavens and let himself concentrate on its beauty as his pain and loss of blood took its toll on him.

As his eyes slid shut, he focused on something he hadn't noticed before. A dazzling display of shimmering coloured lights, dancing across the sky.

The Aurora.

****

"Wake up."

The voice penetrated Reno's black haze, pulling him out of his slumber. His side burned with pain, but he was no longer bleeding. He still lay in the streets, though, but a man stood before him. He was tall, with ebony hair worn like a cape. There was a dignity about his Wutain features that seemed calm, yet powerful, all at the same time. "Who are you?" Reno croaked, angry to be alive

"I am Tseng, that is all you need know. I have been watching you, Reno."

Reno fumed. The fact that this man knew him didn't matter, what mattered was the fact that he had, yet again, been pulled from Rory. The son-of-a-bitch, he was gonna die. Reno tried to stand, but the pain reaffirmed itself and he fell. "What..." he hissed through clenched teeth.

"Tell me, Reno, what is your heart's wish?"

Reno swallowed hard, thinking of the sister he had been forced from. "My heart is dead."

A wicked grin spread across Tseng's otherwise calm features as he extended a hand to Reno. "Then come with me."

~33~

Author's Note: This one will be a little longer than my others, but this story deserves a lot of explanation. Firstly, I just wanna say that I cried so hard writing this, y'all don't even know. And BTW, the aforementioned Creed song caused me sob even harder. That said, I just wanna hope somebody picked up on the fact that Caiman means crocodile, because I think that's wicked cool of me. Okies, all done. I love Pip!
Tangerine Dreams ~
~ Tini!