Another day in the espionage business, another illegal weapons-development centre shut down, without loss of life or limb
Ryuuzaki Umi sat on the edge of a metal hospital bed in medical, staring up at the director. “What,” she said, flatly.
“We have the notes your mission retrieved, of course,” the director continued. “the lab are already starting work on an antidote. They’ll do all they can.”
“Because unless they come up with something, I’ve got about a day left before I die, is that what you‘re telling me?”
Lips pinched together, the director nodded. “Essentially, yes.”
“But I feel fine now!”Umi burst out, flailing her arms enough the thin cotton she was wearing slipped sideways. “And - wait, what about Hikaru? She was exposed, too.”
The doctor who had been half hiding behind the director leaned around her to answer, while staying back out of reach. “We’ve analysed the residue on your clothing and that Ms Shidou was wearing - from the chemical evidence and your accounts, she had a far milder exposure to the gas as she was only in the room momentarily while freeing you. There is a good chance the dosage was low enough she will survive without an antidote - and the hostages were free of any chemical traces at all.”
“You saved them,” the director said, and Umi stared at her a moment longer before shoving off the bed.
“Well, good. Now we’ve gone over that, I want some clothes. And shoes. I guess you’ve disposed of mine? I’ve got things in the gym, I just need someone to fetch them-”
“Hey!” the doctor said, throwing his hands up. “Where do you think you’re going?”
“If I’ve got twenty-four hours to live, I’m bloody well not spending them in medical!” Umi snapped, her voice wailing higher. “I’m leaving!”
The doctor quailed away again, but the director stood fast. “We need you here to administer the antidote as soon as we have it,” she said, so calmly Umi really wanted to hit her.
“I don’t live that far away-”
“But there are enough agencies who will try to keep you away, once the news travels, which it will. You pulled twenty-seven people from that facility, and half were children - we have had to contact the police to notify them, and the press are already gathering. We can’t keep them all quiet. You have enemies, Umi, who will keep you from returning until you are far beyond help.”
“But…” Umi dropped down on the bed again as her legs went weak, ignoring the creak it made. Her hands gripped the edge of it so hard her fingers ached. “Please, Director. I don’t want to be here! I want-” She flushed, taking a breath and letting it shudder out.
Emeraude held a hand up to stop her, the fierce mask melting a little and her voice gentling. “I’ll send him down. But you have to stay here, where we can keep you safe, until the lab are done.”
“You won’t be feeling well enough to care where you are in about ten hours,” the doctor added, so helpfully.
Glaring, blinking back an embarrassing rush of tears, Umi crossed her arms. “Just tell me it’s not transferable through contact with someone else. You made me have about five decontamination showers, so that should be fine, right?”
“Right?” the doctor said, looking confused. “But why -”
“Good. Now get out.”
The Director nodded, and steered the still-baffled doctor away to the door. It shut behind them, leaving Umi in the small room with nothing but the single bed with its industrial sheets, a single moulded-plastic chair, and the door to the little en-suite behind her.
If she had a day, she wasn’t going to waste it just sitting here worrying whether they’d find an anti-toxin in time.
Clef’s head shot up at the knock on his office door and he sighed, relieved at seeing Emeraude stood there. “Thank the heavens. Are they out yet? It’s been two hours without a word from medical…”
The words dried up as she came in, and he got a decent look at her expression.
“What?” he demanded, voice going hard. He was standing with no memory of getting out of his chair, fists on the desk in front of him. “What is it?”
“…Experimental neuro-toxin,” Emeraude said, knowing better than to try to cushion it. “Hikaru will probably be okay, Umi had a far larger dose. Labs have the development notes, they’re working on an antidote as fast as they can, but…”
“How long?” Clef asked, hearing himself as if from a distance, his head very quiet.
“A day, roughly.” Emeraude took a breath as he stood there, unmoving, large parts of him trying to make the words make sense. “I can’t let her leave here - you know the risks -”
Walking swiftly, Clef was at the door before she finished. “I’m going to her, then,” he said. “Room?”
“Seventeen,” Em replied. “She asked for you. Clef… I’m sorry.”
The corridors passed in a blur. His key card let him into medical, and he ignored everyone else there to go straight for room seventeen. The door slid open for him, and he was halfway across the room before it shut, wrapping his arms about Umi as she shot forward to meet him.
“What were you thinking?” he demanded, his voice breaking. “Getting yourself exposed to some toxin - why do you always rush in to things?”
“I was thinking ‘Oh shit, they have hostages,’ mostly,” Umi told him, her face pressing to his neck and her whole body trembling slightly.
“What happened? Here, let’s sit down, you can tell me about it.”
“Later,” Umi said firmly. She let him get them both sat on the narrow bed, but instead of talking, she got her hand in his hair and pulled his face to hers for a kiss, hot and open-mouthed.
It took him several minutes to pull back, his own hands shaking with pointless adrenaline. “Wait, Umi -”
“They told me I’m going to be feeling like shit soon enough,” she said, looking up a him absolutely seriously. “I can talk to you then. Right now, I want to do more than talking, while I’m able to appreciate it.”
“I’m not having sex with you in medical! There are cameras in here, Umi!”
“If I die, do you want to be thinking about how you denied my last request? Really?”
He glared at her. “You are not going to die. Our labs are the best, and I’m sure Fuu is making certain they’re all well-motivated to work on your problem right now, with you and Hikaru both in trouble.”
Her voice shook. Clef closed his eyes and pulled her in as tight as he could, his hands clutching so tightly at her hospital gown that his knuckles ached.
“You’re not going to die,” he repeated, his voice little more than a whisper. “I can’t - Umi -”
He was the one who turned his head and started the kiss, it was his hands sliding up into her hair, pulling her closer. His tongue coaxing her mouth open as she pressed into him with a moan. The kiss grew saltier by stages as tears started to slip down his face.
By the time he pulled back, they were both breathless and damp eyed.
“Wait here,” he said, and pressed a kiss to her forehead before stepping back and peeling his jacket off. He had a number of things ‘just in case’ which he kept in his inner pocket - a couple of old-fashioned lock picks, a small battery-powered electromagnet - a handful of condoms, since he’d started dating Umi, which he tossed her way now - and a couple of sticks of chewing gum.
He took the last of those now, and the plastic chair, and dragged it over to the door. Stood on it, he could reach high enough to stick a small piece of the gum over the hidden lens on the ceiling there, finding the tiny hole for it with his fingertips.
“I checked I can’t pass it on, at least,” Umi said as she watched him dragging the chair to where he thought the next camera was. “I asked.”
“I don’t care,” Clef said, too rattled to be anything but honest. The silence behind him grew solid, suddenly, and he flinched. “They’re going to work the antidote out,” he said, and it was thin excuse, but enough for them to hold onto for now as he continued about the room with the chair screeching on the floor as he dragged it.
Three minutes later, he got off the chair one last time. “I don’t think I got them all,” Clef muttered, glancing about as he came back to the bed.
Umi pulled his face back to hers and kissed him hard, open-mouthed unrelenting. “I don’t care,” she said when she had to let him go so she could catch her breath. “Hell, if the worst happens, at least you’ll have a video.”
Clef glared at her. “You think if you die, I’ll want a video of us fucking?”
“A 21st century memento-mori,” she told him, and started unbuttoning his shirt.
He started helping even while he argued. “No, I-”
“Clef, they said I don’t have that long before I start feeling bad. I don’t want to waste any of it. Please.”Her voice wavered, and Clef caved completely, wrapping his arms about here and pulling her close enough they were pressed together body-to-body.
“How long do we have?” he asked, softly.
“Ten hours before I feel atrocious, apparently, so less than that.”
“I hope this bed is stronger than it looks,” Clef muttered, pulling a laugh from her as she ‘helped’ him unbutton his shirt, crinkling it up and getting her hands in the way as she ran her fingers up over his skin.
“We’ll file a complaint if it breaks,” she told him, the paused. “Did you lock the door? …Do these doors even lock from the inside?”
“Isn’t that a bit picky for someone who didn’t care about all the cameras?”
“Cameras aren’t direct, like a doctor walking in on us,” she insisted, and he rolled his eyes and went back to the door. There was no visible lock and no visible key panel, but he eyed the wall by the door for a moment, then slammed the base of his hand into it. A hidden panel into the wiring of the door popped open. He pulled three of them out, broke them apart over one side of the panel, and left them dangling.
She held onto the sheet as she watched Clef walk back to her, trying to will her hands to stop shaking.
“There,” he grouched, “now the door has no power. Is that better?”
“Much,” she told him, and dragged him down to the bed as soon as he was within reach.
There was a tight panic in her chest, keeping her from taking a decent breath, but Clef’s hands hot against her back were so immediate the sensation blanked out everything else. She pulled him closer, wrapping her legs about his waist, whining in the back of her throat as his hips shifted restlessly against hers.
This. Let this drown out the world.
He pulled away in spite of her grip to strip the rest of the way, dropping his clothes on the floor. All she had on was the hospital gown - they hadn’t even given her any underwear. So it was the easiest thing in the world to pull it off and draw him back down to her.
Leaning back on the thin mattress, she let him press down over her, his weight skin-to-skin against her body, grounding her even as his mouth and his hands drove every thought from her head.
When he reached for the condoms she’d dropped at the head of the bed, she opened her mouth and got cut off by him glaring at her.
“No. You are not going to die, and we are not in a position to have children.”
“It isn’t instant,” she told him cheerfully. “They take like nine months to bake before they’re done, I think you’re meant to use that to prepare.”
“…You sound like you belong in a gingerbread cottage,” he huffed, rolling his eyes. “I’m not risking it, no matter how much you try to distract me with horrible statements.”
“Well, worth a try,” Umi stretched out on the bed and enjoyed the way that made him fumble as he tried to open the packet. “…If it’s my dying wish, would you-”
“You. Are. Not. Going. To. Die.” he hissed, and he was over her again, pinning her down with his glare as much as his weight. “And no I wouldn’t. You’re a brat and I wouldn’t give you the satisfaction.”
“Ah,” Umi moaned, eyes closing and her head falling back as he pressed into her. “Mean, Clef- do that again -”
“Denial’s good for the soul,” he gasped out, pressing his face to her neck and holding still a moment, his whole body trembling as she wrapped her arms and legs both about his back, then bucked up into him. “It’s- cleansing. Something -” She scratched her nails down back and his hips jolted, making both of them gasp.
It didn’t take long, not with both of them on edge like that, and they curled together tightly in the aftermath. The room was clinical and cold, and the thin sheet was scratchy, but it was enough to keep them warm when Clef was draped over Umi’s back, one hand tangled with hers against her chest. Umi pulled him closer still, worming back until their legs were tangled together. “…If you’re going to make this last at least six hours, you’re going to have to up your game,” she told him, failing to sound put-out by his performance.
“Mm.” Clef pressed a kiss to the back of her neck, and politely didn’t point out she’d been the one driving things that fast. “Best to take the edge off, first.”
“Oh?” She shivered slightly at the rough murmur of his voice in her ear, the way his hand pressed low on her stomach, warm against her skin. “Before what?”
“Before seeing how many times in a row we can get you off. We’ve only managed three, before this, but normally we’re exhausted from work, or work interrupts. But if we have hours…”
He slid his hand lower, where she was still hypersensitive from what they’d already done, and she cried out, arching back against him.
Six hours in, she was trembling too much to pretend it was the exhaustion or the sex. They’d cleaned up in the tiny en-suite, Clef washing her hair for her as she stood shivering under the near-scalding water, her body losing the ability to regulate itself. Clef got them back into clothes, and into the bed, and at some point he fixed the door and let the doctors back in.
There wasn’t much they could do to help. Umi started to lose time, clinging onto Clef whenever she surfaced from the muffling fog and became aware of the pains which started as prickling in her hands and feet, and spread.
By the time that original doctor came back with the director, she couldn’t understand why they were trying to get her to pay attention, for several long sliding moments. But she let Clef help her sit up and extended her arm and the prick of the needle was sharply different to everything else - it stood out enough she complained and tried to push it away, but multiple hands got in the way, guiding her back on the bed.
The doctor’s scowling, flushed face came into sharp focus for a moment, with that new hurt ringing through her. “When I said you were fine for contact, I didn’t mean several hours of intercourse!” he snapped, and Umi blinked at him, before the fog grew heavier and she went all the way under.
Clef pulled the sheet up over Umi’s shoulders again, careful not to knock the IV line and just raised an eyebrow at the embarrassed man who was trying to look anywhere but at him. He felt too hollow to even be relieved, as the anti-toxin was added to the bag. “What did you expect?” he asked, without any real curiosity. “You’ve been here a year, now. You should know better.”
He got glared at. “I’ll have to fetch a dose for you, too,” the doctor grouched. “You’re lucky we made extra.”
Emeraude sighed, and pointed to the door. “Enough, Issacs. He’s right, you should have known better. Fetch that dose now, please.” She waited until he had gone, then sat heavily in the chair by the bedside, looking at Clef. “You should know better too, of course.”
“Probably,” he agreed. He smoothed Umi’s hair back away from her face. “He didn’t say…”
“Didn’t say what?”
Clef glanced at Emeraude, but couldn’t keep looking at her. “If this is going to reverse the effects, or - or if some will be permanent-”
He was cut off by Em getting up and flinging her arms around him. “At least ninety percent reversal,” she told him, and he started to shake. “From their estimates and the experiments they’ve had time for, more than likely it will be total reversal - there’s no permanent damage yet. Another five hours would have been different, but she’ll be fine.” Emeraude pulled him closer as he closed his eyes, hard against the prickle of tears, everything actually hitting him.
“…Thank heavens,” he managed, voice breaking.
Emeraude patted him on the back and pulled away as he made himself sit up. “It should be quicker, too. A couple of hours - the dehydration should be sorted by then. After she couldn’t drink the last hour or so, some of the trouble is down to that, not even the toxin. They didn’t want her on a drip until they had it ready - some nonsense about it slowing the toxin’s progress. But in another shift you’ll both be out of here.”
“I’m taking tomorrow off,” Clef told her, rubbing a hand over his eyes and slumping back against the wall. “So you know.”
“Slacker. You haven’t don any work today, either,” she teased him, voice gentle. “Take Thursday too, both of you. But by Friday the place will be falling apart so you’ll have to be in by then.”
“Yes, Ma’am,” Clef told her, and got thumped on the arm just as the doctor came back with a syringe and a guest - Hikaru was hovering behind him, a plaster on her arm, looking worried.
“May I -” she started, but fell silent when she saw Umi flat on the bed, the IV hung from it’s pole by her side.
“Come in,” Clef told her, eyeing the approaching needle with distaste. “I hope I’m at least hydrated enough it’s just the one injection?” he asked.
“With a booster in a few days, to be certain,” the doctor grouched. Hikaru eyed them slightly as Clef held his arm out as an offering to be stabbed, but didn’t ask why he needed a dose - she always was more sensible than Umi.
Emeraude ushered Hikaru into the chair, and steered the doctor out - Clef suspected he was going to get an unpleasant talk about his failure to understand human psychology. Hikaru, however, looked stricken as she sat on the chair, hands clenched her knees.
“It’s not your fault,” Clef told her. “And she’s going to be fine.”
Hikaru looked at him, then, her eyes huge in her face. “If I’d only been a bit faster, she wouldn’t have needed to -” she swallowed.
“As someone who knows very well how fast Umi moves when she needs to - I doubt anyone mortal could have changed what happened without knowing the future,” Clef told her, wryly. “But I wasn’t there. Will you tell me what happened?”
Hikaru straightened up, some of the colour coming back to here cheeks. “Yes.”
It took a while, but by the end of it, they both knew it wasn’t Hikaru’s fault. It wasn’t Umi’s either, for once - both of them had done all they could. Clef was wrung out, bu the end. Hikaru looked at him, then nodded, and stood. “I’ll go find another bed to bring in here. You should take a nap, while Umi’s still asleep, there’s not room for both of you while you’re trying not to disturb the cannula.”
“It’s fine,” Clef protested. “I’m fine -”
“I’ll stay and watch, make sure she’s okay, so you can get some sleep.” Hikaru said it so firmly she reminded him of Emeraude, and he crumpled, gave in.
Hours later, they finally released Umi; she was complaining about having a headache and trembling like she was exhausted, but herself again.
Clef was groggy from the nap he’d had, and with his own lingering headache from the anti-toxin. He wrapped his coat about Umi when she didn’t have a spare, got them into a taxi, and took her home. To his home. He asked her, as the got into the car, if she’d rather go to hers; Umi yawned and tucked her head against his shoulder. “Yours is quieter,” was all she said. So they stumbled over the threshold together, kicked off their shoes, and he saw her tucked up in bed before he raided his kitchen for something to eat.
Turned out he didn’t actually have any food, but the combini on the corner owed him several favours, and sent a couple of their pre-cooked meals over with some fruit and several unpleasantly healthy drinks over when he called.
Eating was a struggle, but he felt better afterwards, and Umi looked less frail. Then they curled up together in his sheets and fell asleep yet again, Clef’s face pressed to the back of Umi’s neck, his arm wrapped tightly over her chest so he could feel her breathing steadily.
Umi woke up all in a rush, jolting as she did so, eliciting a mostly-asleep grumble from Clef as he curled tighter against her back.
The muttering and the arm about her side were so blissfully familiar that Umi relaxed instantly. It didn’t take much longer to place the bed she lay in as Clef’s and then the pinching ache in her elbow brought back the last… however many hours it had been.
Pulling a face, Umi wormed out of the bed. (Clef grumbled, but remained fast asleep. She always felt obscurely privileged that he would sleep through her moving about, now.) She had her own toothbrush in the bathroom here, and made use of it to scrub the taste of too long without a drink from her mouth.
Dehydration really shouldn’t have an aftertaste, but it did. She fetched a glass of water and downed it, before finding an apple on the bedside table and eating that, which helped more. Then she got back into bed. Clef was still fast asleep. She wriggled in close and pulled his arm back over herself, grinning as he curled into her again, holding on even unconscious.
Laying her head down, Umi caught sight of the clock. She’d known it must be fairly late by the warmth of the light through the thin curtains, but from here she could see the clock on the bedside table, and she’d not been worried about it, after they were released, but…
“Hey,” Umi said, poking Clef in the chest until he grumbled at her. “Hey, Clef.”
“What’s it?” he muttered, eyes opening a crack to peer blearily at her.
Umi beamed at him. “I’m not dead!”
“Huh?” He woke up a little more, leaning back on his pillow. “Oh.It’s been a day?”
“Yep. And I’m not dead. Let’s celebrate!”
He leaned in to kiss her willingly enough, if still mostly asleep. (And he could do with brushing his teeth, too, but Umi didn’t care.) Twisting, she managed to grab his shoulders and pin him back into the pillows, and that woke him all the way up in a hurry.
“You’re incorrigible,” he said, eyes dark as he watched her settle across his hips. “You know that? You were nearly dying, what, ten hours ago?”
“Mm.” She shifted her hips against his, and grinned as he bucked up. There was a familiar flush on his cheeks. “But I didn’t. Anyway, I’m the one who should be tired still, not you.”
He glared, though there was very little heat to it when his hands were sliding over her hips. “I got an hour’s rest yesterday, and we didn’t get here until seven in the morning, so I’ve had six hours of sleep after a rather stressful day, thank you.” His hands slid lower on her legs. “…Plus, you wore me out.”
Umi laughed, and bent to kiss him.
Afterwards, Clef seemed perfectly happy to curl up and fall back asleep, and Umi wasn’t adverse to this plan. Her mind, however, seemed determined to keep replaying highlights of the last two days for her. She made herself breath evenly and calmly and let it flow… until it hit on something which made her go very, very still.
“Hmm?” Clef said, pressed to her shoulder again.
“Clef…what did you mean, ‘I don’t care’?”
“Wha?” he muttered.
Umi rolled over to face him. “When I said I couldn’t transmit it, you said ‘I don’t care’! What- you can’t -”
He eyed her warily, “…You shouldn’t fuss. I was stressed, nothing happened, so can’t you just… forget it?”
“Clef!” She thumped him on the chest. “That was serious! That sounded all - all ‘until death do us part’ and all that!” She thumped her hand on him again, something unnerved in her chest making her feel a little lost, ungrounded. “That was like a proposal! You cant propose without a ring, I won’t accept it!”
“It was nothing like a proposal,” Clef complained, while her heart beat too fast. “A proposal would have been ‘Hey, let’s do some paperwork and file for marriage while you may be dying.’ Very different!”
“You didn’t even apologise for not having a ring!” Umi wailed. She was fully aware this was nonsense, but it was better to fret over nonsense than Clef trying to die with her. “I bet you’d be terrible at finding a ring, too, wouldn’t you. I won’t marry you without a ring. I want something sparkly!”
“Oh, for-” He leaned up and over her, pulling open the second drawer down on the bedside cabinet and rummaging in it a moment before he pulled away. “Here. Is this sparkly enough?”
Umi stared in confusion at the small box he’d dropped on her chest, then reached for it with shaking hands. It was black and without any mark on it, and the hinge was somewhat stiff, but it opened and she forgot how to breathe. A sapphire caught the light, little diamonds either side of it glittering, the whole thing not overly bulky but elegant. She stared at it without words.
When she tried it on, it slid onto her ring finger and fit like it had been made for her “…Have you been creepy and measured my ring-size while I’m sleeping?” she asked, but she couldn’t stop her voice shaking even as she joked.
“It fits? Huh.” He blinked at her hands. “…It was my great-grandmother’s. I figured if you didn’t hate it we could get it resized… I guess that means it’s fate.”
For a long time, Umi lay there, staring at her hand and the ring gleaming there.
Eventually, though, she kicked her brain into motion. “Hey - none of that was a proposal! I want a real proposal, Clef, not ‘I guess it’s fate’!” She looked down at him, a jittering fizz running under her skin, and then - deflated.
He’d fallen back asleep, looking thin and grey against the pillows.
“I’ll bug you later, I guess,” Umi muttered. She carefully put the ring back in its box, then set it on the bedside table where she could see it as she lay back down.
A couple more hours of sleep. And then she could make Clef actually ask her, with real out-loud words, to marry him.
Friday morning, they walked into work together, and it took about three seconds for Hikaru and Fuu to grab Umi and drag her off down the corridor, staring at her hand - she’d refused so far to admit anything he’d said was a proposal (his attempt when he woke up again was apparently ‘not romantic enough, you aren’t even dressed, you can’t propose in pyjamas.’) but she was wearing the ring anyway, and refused to give it back, so Clef was pretty certain they were engaged and she was going to be telling him he hadn’t managed to propose all the way to their wedding.
He watched them go, and went back to his own office, ignoring the looks he was getting from the agents scattered through the main room. Yes, fine, he and Umi had made a spectacle of themselves again. It wasn’t like that was new, and he didn’t actually care.
Not, at least, until he got into his office and found a thumb-drive laying on his desk. He eyed it, warily; only three other people could get in here, and Umi had been with him for the last few days.
He was poking it with the end of a pencil when Emeraude rapped on the door and came in, shutting it behind her. “Are congratulations in order?” She asked, grinning.
“Possibly. Apparently I’m incompetent at proposing, so maybe not.” He poked the drive again, and looked up in time to see the smirk she hid back under her grin. “…Did you leave this here?”
“You were right, you missed one,” she said, and watched him.
It took a long moment of confusion before Clef connected that statement back to cameras, and then he flushed hard, dropping down in his seat.
Emeraude laughed. “I wiped the video from the servers for you, before the Doctors could find it and declare it important diagnostic footage. But I saved you a copy first. I guess you can consider it an engagement present.”
Clef looked at it, face so hot it was verging on painful. “…Thank you for erasing it, at least,” he managed. “Which one did I miss?”
“You can always watch it and find out,” Em told him, and slipped out laughing when he glared. “But not on work time! I’ve just sent you three emails I need you to deal with!”
“I want a raise!” he snapped back at her, and she vanished, leaving him staring at the thumb-drive as if it was going to explode. But that would have been far easier to deal with. Instead, he pocketed it, to deal with later, and started his computer, sighing as it started pinging as it downloaded a dozen emails labelled ‘URGENT!’. Just another normal day in the office.
Except he could see Umi out in the main room, glancing again at the ring on her finger. He grinned, helplessly, and got back to work.