A/N: Written for 16 candles LiveJournal community challenge, using the prompt #11 – Rainy Day Inferno. This one is slighly lacking on the inferno bit, but I still have only a vague idea where this is heading. Multi-chapter fics are not really my kind of thing, so I apologise if the plot development seems too slow.

Warnings: Mostly worksafe, nothing too explicit. Self-beta, might contain odd mistakes.

Disclaimer: Square Enix still owns all.


Stepping Stones

Shelke had woken up early. Used to the darkness of the underground, she found it a little difficult to adapt to the life above the ground. With the first rays of the sun, even if the sky was heavily overcast, she was up. Back at the Seventh Heaven she always stayed in her bed, unmoving, and waited for someone else – usually Tifa – to get up first. Shelke did not wish to roam the still-sleeping house like a restless ghost; not after the first time she had done that. Tifa had woken up, found her awake and had been worried. Then and there, Shelke had found out that she did not like making people worry.

This situation, however, was different. This man was a foreigner, the building they were in was foreign, and all such unknown things could easily prove dangerous. From her position on the chair, Shelke had studied Reno carefully while he slept. He did not look dangerous, not the way his hair was messed up, not with that relaxed expression on his face. Only a few times she had seen a muscle twitch in his cheeks and taking a look at Reno's eyes, Shelke had found that they were moving very fast behind the closed lids. He was dreaming about something not very pleasant, she deduced.

Shelke had checked the pockets of his jacket in case he had mako with him. She needed her next dose, otherwise she could not fight, and there was no doubt that she would end up in a fight before she could return to Seventh Heaven. Things like that happened with girls who looked as small and young as her. It was one of the things she had to learn quickly in this over-ground world. The short hours of sleep had allowed her to recover enough to function properly, but it was definitely not enough to defend herself on the streets.

Shelke had also studied Reno's weapon which he had forgotten on the table. She had not touched it, careful to not turn it on and wake the sleeping man. Technically, she knew how it worked. She had seen different weapon prototypes during her research hours, analysing some of them to provide her former teammates with information on their enemies. Two minutes spent in a synaptic net dive, and she would know more about Reno's weapon than he could ever fathom.

Of course, it had been back in those days. Now Shelke had changed sides and lived together with the people she had once fought against. But this man, Reno, she immediately elaborated, was different. She did not know which side he was on, yet.

When Reno woke up, it was already midday. The rainstorm still raged on, but in a lesser volume. The air in the small room was damp and dreary and the Turk did not want to get out of the bed even though he knew he had to. He turned on his back and remembered – a second too late – that he was not alone in the bed. One look to his side and he found the spot empty. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw a flash of blue and turned his head to find the girl sitting on the chair he had occupied last night.

In the dimly lit room her eyes were glowing with a pale blue light. Reno searched his mind for the name of such a phenomenon, but could not remember it. Not yet, anyway.

"Yo."

Shelke inclined her head slightly, an emotion that could be called amusement appearing on her face. "You sure say that a lot."

Immediate situation analysis: old habits died hard.

Reno did not reply. They were two individuals who did not know the value of or the need for a proper morning greeting. Sure, people around them used those words all the time, and when addressed with them, they automatically would reply with the same, but in other situations they were freely omitted without a second thought.

Reno ran a hand though his messed hair, which only served to mess them up more. "When d'you get up?"

"At sunrise," Shelke replied without thinking.

Reno glanced over at the window. The curtain was still drawn shut, but had it been open, Reno was more than certain that he would see an overcast sky. Sun rarely shone on Midgar. It was always grey clouds and an even greyer rain. He chose to not comment on Shelke's words.

"You wouldn't happen to know what time is now?" Reno did not have his watch with him. Lately, he had started forgetting it at home. That way, he could take a few liberties off his tight schedule. Of course, work did not disappear, but he could pretend, at least for a moment, that he was in no rush.

Shelke shrugged and looked over at the window as well. "Midday, I think."

Reno chose not to question that, since his guesses would not bring any certainty either. Instead, he chose to show off some of the renowned Turk bravery by shoving the blanket aside and jumping out of the bed. The cold, damp air made him shudder and he moved to pick up his jacket. Shelke moved her legs aside, giving him enough room to pass by and only then Reno realised how small this room actually was. With Shelke sitting there, there was barely enough place to move between the bed, the table, and the chair. It was, he decided, an uncomfortably narrow room.

Disappointment reflected on Reno's face when he lifted up his jacket. It was still damp and he shuddered just to think that he would have to put it on and go back into the rain. Nevertheless, he pulled it on, struggling a little with the sleeves of his shirt that was got caught up. He must have looked quite silly, struggling and flailing to get the jacket fit properly and the shirt twisted on his body, because Shelke chuckled.

Reno huffed and struggled on, annoyed to get laughed at by a child.

"Do you need help with that?" Shelke asked in all seriousness.

"No, I'll... uh." He shook his left arm angrily, trying to force the damp sleeve of his jacket to turn. "I'll manage," he ground out and almost tripped over his own feet, getting overbalanced in the narrow space. When he straightened up again, he found two small hands pulling his shirt down. Shocked, he stilled all his movements.

"Here, I'll help," Shelke offered when she was already helping. One determinate pull, and the white shirt straightened somewhat. Reno found that his jacket already fit him better. Confused, he tried to adjust it and found that it was not sticking to him so tightly.

Once certain that Reno would be able to handle it himself, Shelke stepped back and resumed watching. Absentmindedly, she was analysing him and his movements. Her memory had already stored all the visible balance points which he had no great control over. It could come in handy later, if Reno suddenly decided to attack her.

While Shelke concentrated on self-defence, Reno concentrated on the awkward feeling she was giving him. For the first time, he had almost seen her as an adult. It had to be her behaviour, the Turk decided. He was used to kids behaving childishly, like they should, and was not prepared to be met with the seriousness of a grown-up. He shrugged it off though, deciding that it was just his feverish mind – for he had finally remembered that he might have caught a fever – playing tricks on him. And so, he opted to move on to a new subject.

"You hungry?"

Shelke tilted her head to the side curiously. Was she? She did not know much of the things these over-ground people were used to. She did not think she had ever felt hunger. Back in the days of Deepground, mako had mulled and erased all senses and feelings, and for as long as she had her daily dose, she was content and needed no more. In the Seventh Heaven, Tifa always made sure she would eat her meals, and even if was not satisfactory enough, the food did lessen her crave for mako.

Mako withdrawal, Vincent had called it on the day when Shelke thought she would die if she did not get another dose. Shelke had wondered how Vincent knew what it was, but did not dare to ask. She feared that such subject would open a tightly shut door and who knows what could happen then. Later, she had remembered who, or what, Vincent was. She also remembered that Cloud had been a part of the SOLDIER program. She had researched both of them in the past, and knowing what they had gone though, it should not have been a surprise for them to know such a thing.

They had given her some make; it had been little, too little to make the craving go away, but sufficient enough to last her for a while. Mako was hard to get by, Cloud had informed her seriously. Shelke appreciated that. Cloud never treated her like a child, and neither did Vincent. Others often tended to overlook her real age and paid more attention to her physical appearance.

Now she wondered what the hunger could feel like. The way she felt during mako withdrawals? She doubted it. Though there was a strange emptiness in her stomach. Deciding that that must be it, Shelke nodded. "Yes."

Reno grabbed his EMR from the table and strapped it back into place. Shelke got up and stepped aside, letting him pass by. He was, after all, the one with the key to the door. As he walked to unlock it, he pondered all the closest places where they could get food. Most of them were not suited for bringing a child into, and it had to be a relatively cheap place or one where he knew the owner so that the expenses could be added to the ShinRa's bill. This left him with only one choice.

"Do you have mako?" Shelke suddenly asked.

When Reno turned around to regard her, she seemed surprised at her own daring. His eyes narrowed in suspicion. What was this girl thinking? "Why d'ya ask?"

"I..." Shelke stumbled over her words, thinking that maybe she had dared too much, but finished the sentence nevertheless, "...need it."

"What for?" Reno demanded, but she did not reply. She even avoided his gaze, now being certain that she had spoken out of place.

Seeing that she was not going to answer, Reno did not pry. Kids were strange these days. Still, he decided to keep an eye on her, just in case.

They walked down the streets quickly, trying to shield themselves from the still pouring rain as best as they could. Not a word was spoken and the silence around them grew more and more awkward.

When Reno opened the door to the low-class café, he breathed a sigh of relief. The place was not overcrowded and yet had enough people to make the two newcomers not stand out. They blended into the crowd of the locals perfectly and to a casual observer they would appear no more than a father and daughter having a lunch together. Their somewhat similar colour of hair and eyes made it easy to disguise as such.

They ate in silence, enjoying the warmth of the small café. It was somewhat cosy, despite the bland furniture and the barely-discernible sound of distorted music coming from the beaten speakers behind the counter. The lively chatter drowned out most of the sounds, and they were not threatened by the same tense silence from earlier.

All too soon, the meal was over and the time to walk back onto the street came. "Come, I'll take ya home," Reno offered, standing up.

Shelke understood it the way it was meant – as an order, but did not protest. The absence of mako in her body was making her more agreeable, especially if it meant that she would not have to deal with the street hooligans on her way home.